Humility in the Hands of a Sovereign God
February 21, 2016
Passage: Isaiah 10:5–10:23
Sermon from Isaiah 10:5-23 by Tim Foster
Good Questions Deserve Good Answers
I’m of the opinion that you get out of a book what you put into it. That if you ask good questions, you get good answers. And the better your questions, the better your answers. The first time I came across this passage many years ago, I thought “Huh - Must be one of those weird prophecy things that no one really understands”, and was content to move on. I was young.
But as I got older, this passage – and a couple others I had seen like it – began to be a bit more perplexing. After all, I believe that God gives us His Word as Inspired, Inerrant and Infallible. My task is the proper Interpretation and Implementation of it. But if I interpret or apply it incorrectly, bad things happen.
So this passage presented a challenge to me: How is it that God can “command” the king of Assyria to do a wicked thing like demolish another nation? That’s wicked, isn’t it? And how can God then punish that king for doing what God commanded him to do in the first place? Doesn’t that make God Himself morally culpable for the sins of the king of Assyria?
You see – in our society, if I get a gun and go rob a bank, I’m culpable for armed robbery. So far, so good. Do the crime, do the time. And if I have no gun, but merely drive the getaway car for an armed robber, I’m still on the hook. Better still, if I have no gun and no getaway car but merely pay handsomely for the armed robber and his getaway driver, our laws still hold me culpable for being an accessory to the crime. In our culture, I’m morally culpable, and I go to jail just like the robber and the driver. But it’s not just our culture – in Exodus 21, we read that if an Israelite knew his ox was likely to gore someone to death and he didn’t properly secure his beast, he was morally culpable and was to be executed for what amounted to willful negligent homicide. So the Bible is no stranger to the idea of moral culpability running up and down the chain of cause-and-effect. If the domino falls on one end, the man pushing the domino on the other end is culpable. That makes sense to me.
Yet that’s not what is happening here. God is not morally culpable for the sins of the king of Assyria. Why?
Ask And You Might Receive…
I decided to take my good questions to a man who knew a lot about the Bible and asked him to help me make sense of this passage. He looked at it, flipped over a bunch of pages and said “Here’s what you need to know: God soooo loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That whosoever believeth in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. That’s what you need to know. Son - Do you believe in Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins?” “Yes – but how does that help me with Isaiah 10?” “That’s the Old Testament. We don’t need to worry about it. We’re in the New Testament. Saved by grace, praise God!”
I considered that line a dead end in helping me understand Isaiah.
I asked another man –an elder at a church [not our own church, mind you]- about this passage. He looked at it and said “Well. I don’t know what it means, but I can tell you this: it can’t mean what it says. Because when we consider all of Scripture, we know that God doesn’t do these kinds of things!” “So – what does it mean?” “I don’t know. But it doesn’t mean what it says. It’s a mystery. God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts; His ways are higher than our ways. One day, when we get to glory, God will explain it all.”
I considered that line a dead end. I asked a third man.
He knew the passage well. He said “What does it say?” I said “Well – I’m paraphrasing here, but God is sending the king of Assyria and his army as His rod of correction to punish godless Israel. The king is thinking he’s doing it all under his own steam. He looks at his track record of destroying other cities and figures taking Jerusalem will be a piece of cake. He brags about how he’s doing it all in his strength and his wisdom. God looks at his pride and the fruit of his pride – namely, the path of destruction he’s weaving all across the lands – and God sets out to punish the king for doing exactly what God told/commanded him to do. God insists the king of Assyria is a tool in His hands and has no business boasting in himself or his evil accomplishments. God then promises safety and restoration for His remnant.” “Right. It means exactly what it says,” he said. Well, on one hand, I appreciate the idea of the Bible meaning what it says. It’s hard for me to look favorably on a method of handling difficult passages that involves avoiding it and burying one’s head in the sands of more comfortable Scriptures, or insisting that a passage doesn’t mean what it says, without being able to offer a sensible rendering of that passage. But at the same time, I have to confess that I found the meaning of this passage somewhat problematic. “And this sounds right to you?” I challenged, “for God to ‘command’ a person to do something evil, and then hold him morally culpable for doing that evil thing and punish him for doing it?” “What does the Bible say? Not only here, but in other places.” That sent me searching to find out what’s going on here.
To appreciate what’s going on here, and to see how Israel got to this place, we need some historical perspective. Let’s start with the beginning of the people of Israel at the foot of Mt. Sinai. In Exodus 19, the leaders of this newly-formed people-group agree to live by God’s commands and some of the ‘fine print’ of that contract is laid out in Leviticus 26. (If you haven’t read the chapter lately, you really need to.) God tells His people “If you walk in My statues and keep My commandments, you’ll be blessed.” We see 11 verses of prosperity and blessings. They get rain; their crops will be plentiful; they get peace from neighbors; no affliction from wild beasts; one of their soldiers will chase 10 of their enemies; 5 will chase 100, and 100 will put 10,000 to flight. On and on and on. Good stuff all around.
But if they do not obey Him and do not keep His commandments – 26 verses of woes, calamities and bad stuff –in a series of 4 escalations- will rain down on them from above: terror and wasting disease, crop failure, and subjugation by enemies. And if they don’t repent, 7x more plagues. Wild beats eating their children and livestock, desolate highways, God will bring their enemies against them (v25), He will cut off their bread. “My soul will abhor you” (v30), “I will lay your cities to waste..bring the land to desolation – so much so that your enemies will be astonished”. On and on and on. And in this dire warning, we see Moses lay out the key to pleasing God. It is not knuckling down and obeying the Law by some great feat of human strength or wisdom. Perfection in the Law by human means was impossible. The only way they could cope with the demands of the Law was to have their hearts circumcised – a ‘surgery’ that could not be done by human hands. We see this in 26:40-45.
As they moved on from Mt. Sainai towards the Promised Land, the Israelites refused to obey God and move forward to conquer the land. So the Lord sent them wandering in the wilderness for 40 years until the older generation died off. As the next generation was about to move in to occupy the Promised Land, Moses repeated the conditions of the Covenant to this new generation. In Deut 28, we see the exact same format, laid out in a bit more detail: 14 verses of heaven opening up and pouring out wonderful blessings on their obedience, followed by 54 verses of curses poured out on them from God if they disobeyed. V16: Cursed in your city; cursed in your country; cursed in your basket; cursed in the fruit of your body. On and on and on. You really need to read this chapter. And again, like before, Moses points out to them a reason they refused to obey God despite the full manifestation of His abilities to bless them and sustain them: [+] But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. (Deuteronomy 29:4)
This idea of not having a heart to understand, eyes to see or ears to hear is the same idea Moses spoke of earlier about having their hearts circumcised. It’s something only the Holy Spirit can do. In fact, Bible students would do well to take a good cross-reference and chase down the Bible’s use of the “heart, eyes and ears” throughout the rest of the Scriptures. It comes up again in Isaiah 6 as part of Isaiah’s divine commission as a prophet, and is quoted or referenced in all 4 Gospels, in Acts, Romans, Corinthians and across the New Testament. In fact, across the whole NT, Isaiah’s use of the heart, eyes and ears in chapter 6 is the 3rd most frequently cited OT passage. We might save that for a future sermon [if the elders ask me back].
The reason why I refer to Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 is that these chapters serve as a prophetic road-map for the nation of Israel. They’re Cliff Notes, if you will, of the history of Israel, written out as a prophecy before the people engaged in those actions. So anytime we see major events in the history of Israel, we can trace them all the way back to Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. Indeed, we see God announcing to them beforehand that He would send their enemies to punish them for their disobedience.
Despite the Israelites’ frequent superficial commitment to obey God, they steadfastly refuse to obey Him on a permanent basis. God sent a series of prophets warning them to repent - until they passed the tipping point. Isaiah comes on the scene, and now announces their doom: The time for repentance has passed. As promised by Moses, God is now sending Assyria to destroy Israel for her refusal to obey and follow God. In chapters 8-9, we see a 4x escalation of God’s judgment (matching the 4x escalation of Israel’s disobedience), and that takes us to Isaiah chapter 10. That’s Israel’s history in a nutshell.
As for Assyria, the Bible doesn’t spend much time on Assyria’s history, so we won’t either. Rest assured, they were real people in real places doing real things. If you’re interested, you could go to London and visit the British Museum today and see on display Assyrian artifacts from this time period. In their own words, they boast about their exploits against their enemies, including the Israelites. Take a look at the Assyrian murals for the “Siege of Lachish”, taken from the city of Nineveh, Assyria’s capital. Take a look also at “Sennacherib’s Annals”, a stone document attesting to the exploits of Assyrian King Sennacherib. (These events are recorded in Isaiah 37, 2 Kings 18 and 2 Chron 32).
That takes care of the historical perspective of these two peoples in Isaiah 10.
But what about the moral issues of Isaiah 10? Is it right for God to punish people by using other wicked people? Is it right for God to bring about wicked activity through wicked people and then hold those wicked people culpable for those sins? We might ask: where is God’s moral culpability in all this?
Let’s take these questions one at a time, starting with the idea of God bringing judgment on people, and see what the Bible has to say about this.
- If we start at the very beginning in Genesis, we only need to go a couple pages before we see all humanity suffering death as a consequence of sin. Death is God’s judgment for sin. We see this spelled out in a bit more detail in Romans chapters 3 -6. And what was the “great sin”? Eating a piece of forbidden fruit. We won’t take time to flesh out the gravity of this sin, but at the very least, I need to call our attention to the absolute holiness and purity of God, and His absolute refusal to tolerate any sin, even of the “smallest” amount. All sin brings death! We humans need a solution to this perplexing problem of sin. And all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is focused on the remedy of this sin problem. We’ll get to that shortly.
- If we continue in Genesis, a few chapters later, we see God using water to bring judgment on the entire earth, destroying every living, breathing being except 8 souls and some animals in Noah’s Ark
- Fast forward just a few more chapters, and we see the Trinity acting in concert, using fire and brimstone as a means of divine judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Gen 18:16ff, the Lord states that His action as righteous judge of all the earth is an example for all of Abraham’s children to observe.
- In Exodus 7-12, we see God bringing out a series of Ten unique Plagues, each plague designed to systematically decimate the Egyptian pantheon of idols. Whether it was water to blood, infestation of frogs, lice and flies, livestock disease, boils, fiery hail, locust, darkness and the killing of the firstborn son of anyone in Egypt whose house was not covered with the blood of the lamb. If Egypt had a god, Yahweh knocked it down to the ground so the Israelites would know He is God; so the Egyptians would know He is God; so the whole world would know that He is God (Exod 9:16), and He does not share His glory with another [+] I am Yahweh, that is My Name; I will not give My glory to another or My praise to idols. (Isaiah 42:8) Speaking of the Ten Plagues and the Exodus as stories so the whole world will know He is God - Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: of all the movies and documentaries made about stories the Bible, the most popular story set to movie is the life of Christ. The second most popular story is the Exodus.
- Two chapters later, we see water again used by God to drown Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea.
- In Numbers 16, we see God opening up the ground to swallow Korah and any other Israelite who would contend against Moses.
- In Numbers 21, we see God sending serpents in the desert to punish the rebellious Israelites, and a bronze serpent being raised for them to look on and be saved.
- If we put Leviticus 20 together with Genesis 15:16 and Deuteronomy 9, we see that God used Joshua’s sword – the work of human hands – to punish the seven Canaanite nations for their wickedness.
These are just a few examples in just the first 5 books of the Bible. Many more examples can easily be found all throughout Scripture. Nahum says that even the whirlwind and the storm are tools He uses for judgment. The consistent pattern throughout Scripture is this: If we have sin in our lives – and all of us do – God can and will use whatever means He chooses in order to bring about judgment. Whether the people in question are Israelite, Canaanite, Egyptian, Babylonian or Assyrian (yes, even American), He judges when He chooses, by whatever method He chooses, according to His will, His timing and His choosing. This is Divine freedom and Divine prerogative. Our only escape from this judgment is through His Son.
What about the question of punishing human agents that He sends. Do we see other places in the Bible where this is done? The answer is not just ‘yes’, it’s a resounding ‘yes’!
A classic case study is found in Exodus 4-12 where we see God’s sovereignty at work in Pharaoh’s heart. Before Moses even gets to Egypt to demonstrate divine miraculous signs, we see God meeting him along the way in a huddle where God informs Moses about their game plan, drawing it out in the sand, as it were. If anyone asked me to make a movie about it, my version of “artistic license” would have a conversation like this: “Ok Moses – I’ll be the Rock. You’re the stick and .. Pharaoh will be the piece of grass. Here’s what We’ll do…” Forgive me for my paraphrase. That’s how my mind works. I don’t mean any disrespect to sacred Scriptures, but hang on to that mental image while we read this next verse:
And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, "Let my son go that he may serve me." If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” (Exodus 4:21-23)
Here we see God giving Moses specific instructions to tell Pharaoh, yet behind the scenes, unbeknownst to Pharaoh – call it His “secret will”, God is hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that he won’t obey God. And then God punishes Pharaoh for not obeying God.
Now many people will try and attempt to defend God by saying “Well – that’s not really what’s going on. Put these chapters on a timeline and you’ll see that in chapter 7, Pharaoh hardened his heart first. God was just giving him more of what he did first.” I don’t see that as a satisfactory answer.
- First of all, we are diminishing the glory and sovereignty of God when we reduce Him to being merely a cosmic butler who dutifully responds in kind to Pharaoh’s actions. ..or our actions. So let’s not go there. Besides – there are many evil characters in the Bible who were saved by the grace of God. People like Paul the Apostle. If God merely hardens those who are hard, how do we explain God saving Paul?
- Additionally, chapter 4 (where God states His objectives in hardening Pharaoh’s heart) precedes chapter 7 (where Pharaoh hardens his heart). An honest assessment of this narrative will consider the ramifications of chapter 4 before exploring chapter 7.
- Thirdly, this explanation side-steps God’s intention as stated in 4:23. God says He was going to harden Pharaoh’s heart “so that” he would not let God’s people go. We can’t dismiss God’s stated intentions. It was God’s intention that Pharaoh not let His people go – until God was good and ready for Pharaoh to let them go.
- And if we insist on looking at who acted first, we need to consider Ps 105:25: when giving a brief history of the people of Israel, the Psalmist says “God turned their hearts to hate His people”. God acted first. In fact, in the rest of the Bible, every summary of this episode in Exodus is described as God hardening Pharaoh’s heart.
We could go into a greater detail in our analysis of these chapters of Exodus, but I trust the point has been sufficiently made: God’s sovereignty over all the earth includes His sovereignty over the hearts of men, even when it involves actions for which they are punished. And as you might imagine, Exodus isn’t the only place where see God’s sovereignty over the hearts of men. Proverbs has a verse that sums up this idea:
"The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will." (Proverbs 21:1)
Even King Nebuchadnezzar realized the truth of the extent of God’s sovereignty.
"At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored Him who lives forever, for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have you done?”
…. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are right and His ways are just; and those who walk in pride He is able to humble. (Daniel 4:34-37)
That’s an example from the Old Testament. How about one from the New Testament? After all, I’ve had friends that say God doesn’t do these kinds of things in the New Testament. What does the Bible say?
Christ and the Cross
It goes without saying that the greatest sin – the most heinous, wicked act in the history of humanity was the crucifixion of the Messiah. The Son of God, holy and without sin, come in flesh – yet beat to a pulp, whipped to within an inch of His life, and crucified on a criminal’s cross and hung out naked in open shame.
You cannot get any more wicked than that.
We know that God knows all things and we know that the death of Christ was fore-told by prophets. But was this evil event planned by God?
Let’s see what His Spirit-inspired Apostles have to say about it:
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know- this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22-24)
"The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against His Anointed’ [As Bret pointed out last week, this is a quote of Psalms 2] - for truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:26-28)
Specific actors (wicked men, all of them), carrying out God’s predestined definite plan. And this plan was pleasing to God. Later on in Isaiah 53, we read that
"Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned-every one-to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)
"Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He [the Father] has put Him [the Son] to grief; when His soul makes an offering for guilt, He [the Father] shall see His offspring; He shall prolong His days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. (Isaiah 53:10)
We’re obligated to conclude that the crucifixion of Christ was not only the predestined plan of God, but that God was pleased to do it. And were these human characters morally culpable for their actions for this evil deed? You bet. Even Judas is on the hook:
"The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! [that would be Judas] It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24)
If you want to read up more on what God thinks of Judas’ part in all of this, read Psalms 109. In Acts 1, Peter says that it’s about him.
Again, there are other examples we could draw from Scripture, but the consistent pattern we see is this:
- God ordains the actions of men, yes, even the condition of their heart
- Men –not God- are culpable for the sins of men
- God can and will make every proud man humble one day
- God is free and just to punish man for his sins
There may be a more theologically polished way to phrase it, but that is the undeniable, consistent pattern we see all throughout Scripture. God ordains the plan; man is culpable for the actions; God is just to judge. Yes, even here in Isaiah 10.
Masters and Tools
At first pass, this causes us to recoil. And that’s only natural to demand an explanation: “What about man’s autonomy and freedom and ability to make his own choices for his own life?” But let’s look at Isaiah 10 and how God responds to the prideful boast of the king of Assyria in v14:
"Shall the axe boast over Him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against Him who wields it? As if a rod should wield Him who lifts it, or as if a staff should lift Him who is not wood!" (Isaiah 10:15)
Do you get the impression that God isn’t particularly impressed with the King’s sense of autonomy and freedom to direct his life the way he sees fit? I think Isaiah is making his point in 4 different ways just to make sure we clearly understand what’s going on:
- An axe doesn’t take credit for how the Person swinging the axe decides to swing the axe.
- A saw doesn’t tell the One using the saw how He needs to go about doing His business.
- A rod, which is nothing more than a stick, can’t even lift itself up
- Nor can a staff lift up the One who is lifting up the staff
The great king of Assyria, for all his great strength and abilities, is nothing more than a tool in the hands of the King of all Kings. Nebuchadnezzar had it right: who are we – finite, feeble, fallible men to tell an omniscient, omnipotent, holy God how He ought to order His universe?
Pride and a Fall
We dare not lose sight of the pride of man here. In fact, it’s one of the main points I wanted to bring out. You see; the arrogant heart of the Assyrian king was deeply offensive to God. In this case, we see in v 12 that the arrogant heart of the Assyrian king yielded the “fruit” of imperialistic destruction of Israel.
So a good question we can ask at this point is this: is it possible for a military leader to engage in an unprovoked military attack on foreign lands, and do so without pride? I doubt Putin’s objectives in Crimea are without pride. You can rest assured that pride motivated Hitler to expand his footprint all over Europe. I hardly believe the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor out of humility. I don’t recall anyone in ancient Greece called Alexander the Humble.
So is it possible for someone to invade foreign lands in a humble way? Absolutely! Joshua would be an excellent case study in humble, obedient military warfare. And there are several reasons why I would say this:
- They were obeying God. Now I know many people will object to that and point out that most military leaders tell their soldiers they’re on a mission for their god. Even Hitler and ISIS told their soldiers they’re fighting for their god. But stick with me, and you’ll see Joshua doing things you’ll never see ISIS or the Nazis or Putin doing.
- Remember how Rahab the Harlot hid the Israelite spies in Joshua 2? In 9-11, she says that she had heard how the Lord worked against Pharaoh at the Red Sea, and she knew Jericho was doomed [remember that God said He wanted the whole world to know about it?] In asking the spies for safety, she was – in a very real sense – running to the arms of Joshua to find safety from the sword of Joshua. Bret talked about this same concept last week: we run to the salvation of Christ now in order to escape the judgement of Christ to come. Rahab is doing the exact same thing. But ask yourself this question: If Joshua and his men were blood-thirsty warmongers, why would the spies agree to her request? If I were making a movie about this story, I’d depict the scene like this: “Rahab – excuse me for a minute. Bob – a word, please. What on earth are you thinking?! Have you lost your mind!? You can’t make this deal! Number 1: We’ve been given explicit orders BY GOD to destroy all the Canaanites. Number 2: She’s a WOMAN! A woman helping us? If word gets out back home, how are we supposed to live that one down? Number 3: She’s a PROSTITUTE!! I can hear my mother now…” These spies had no way of contacting Joshua for further instructions, and if they were blood-thirsty conquerors, they should have had no expectation that Joshua would honor their agreement. I steadfastly maintain that there is only one satisfactory explanation here: they knew Joshua would sign off on it because they knew Joshua was the kind of man who would give mercy when repentance was sought. God-fearing men and women resonate with Micah 6:8 “He has already shown you, O man, what the Lord requires of you: DO Justice; LOVE mercy; WALK humbly.” This is true of all God-fearing men and women from Adam to you and me. DO Justice – For Joshua, this meant being the sword of judgment on the Canaanites. LOVE Mercy – when repentance was sought, mercy was poured out in abundance. WALK Humbly – a man after God’s heart will be humble.
- We see another example of Joshua’s humble love of mercy in chapter 9 with the Gibeonites. That’s the story where the men dress up as distant foreigners and trick Joshua into signing a peace contract. But ask yourself: Since we know that the Gibeonite people had a collection of well-fortified cities, how did these guys come to think this hare-brained plan would work? If I were making a movie, here’s how I would depict it
King: Men - I’ve called this war council because surely by now you’ve heard how Joshua and his men utterly destroyed Og and Sihon east of the Jordan River. And that large plume of smoke you saw two weeks ago – that was the city of Jericho. And the smoke from last week – the city of Ai is no more. I have good reason to believe we’re next on Joshua’s list. Now, granted, we’re much larger than Ai, but I’m a little concerned. Let’s hear some suggestions on how we should handle this threat that’s headed our way.
Leader 1: We should form an alliance with our other Canaanite brethren!
Leader 2: Excellent idea. And let’s call in the Philistines too!
Leader 3: [There’s one in every crowd] We know Joshua is only interested in Canaan, not other lands, so let’s do this: let’s get some ambassadors, dress them up in rags and stale food so they look like distant travelers, and trick Joshua into signing a contract. Then when Joshua comes knocking on our door – voila – we can wave the contract at him and because he signed it, he’s got to leave us alone!
What on earth made these men think Joshua would live by his signature on a piece of paper? I don’t recall Sadaam Husein abiding by the sanctions the UN laid on him. Neville Chamberlain learned the hard way that Hitler’s autograph doesn’t mean diddly. The ink barely dried on Obama’s contract with Iran when Iran was off violating that contract. But maybe if we got ISIS to sign a contract – tricked them into signing a contract – they would quit all that fighting over yonder. Ya think? There’s only one explanation: they knew Joshua was the kind of man to place more value on a written contract than on a blood-thirsty quest for imperial dominance. This speaks, again, to the kind of humility that Joshua had that the King of Assyria did not have.
When Joshua’s men found out they’d been tricked, they wanted to kill the Gibeonites. But Joshua restrained them: “We have sworn an oath. Don’t touch them lest the wrath of God fall on us” (v19)
And when the remaining Canaanites banded together to punish the Gibeonites for making that contract with Joshua, the Gibeonites turned to their newfound allies, and God told them to respect their contract and fight for them. Like Rahab, the Gibeonites came to Joshua for sanctuary, and received mercy – even though they came in false pretenses!
Joshua was Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly. And if we had more time, we would explore the connection between Joshua and Jesus. Joshua is, after all, a type of Christ. The imagery is both beautiful and breathtaking.
But let’s get back to Isaiah 10 and the issue of the king’s pride. Because we need to contemplate something Isaiah is bringing to light: if it is a heinous crime of pride against God for man to think that his might, his strength or his wisdom have brought about this successful turn of military affairs, let me ask you this: how much more insulting do you suppose it is to God if we think that our might, or our strength or our wisdom have brought about a turn in spiritual affairs in our lives? Do we dare to think that we – through some great feat of human strength and wisdom – have laid ahold of the truths of God and taken part in His salvation?
As Bret pointed out last week, our cries for mercy, redemption and salvation come about not because we wised up to God, but precisely because God – according to His purpose and His plan and His will – poured out on us the spirit of supplication and grace. Listen to that verse again:
"And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on Me, on Him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over Him, as one weeps over a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10)
Did you catch that? He first pours out His spirit on us, and then we respond in cries for mercy. That, by the way, is the same thing Jesus said to Nicodemus: “You cannot see or enter the kingdom of heaven until you’ve been born again by the Holy Spirit”. That’s how dead and lost we are: if He doesn’t pour out His Spirit on us, we’ll never think to cry out for His mercy.
It is a fact that we have all sinned and can not reach God’s holy standard of perfection. It is a fact that our sins – no matter how small – make us worthy of eternal death (that is, hell) and eternal separation from God. It is a fact that God will judge anyone and everyone who has sin.
But that’s not the end of the story. God, in His great love for us – even though we were sinners deserving of death, God sent His sinless Son to take on our sin and die in our place. Just like Bret said last week, the only way to escape the judgment of our sin is to run TO the One who is coming to judge us all. If these things aren’t clear to you and you want to understand them more fully, by all means, talk to me or any of our elders or members here - we would be thrilled to talk to you more about the new life that only Jesus Christ can offer.
Those run to God for salvation and continue to lean on the Lord will see His sovereign plan come to fruition. Our passage today closes on that note.
"In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. For the Lord God of hosts will make a full end, as decreed, in the midst of all the earth. Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts: 'O My people, who dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrians when they strike with the rod and lift up their staff against you as the Egyptians did. For in a very little while My fury will come to an end, and My anger will be directed to their destruction.'" (Isaiah 10:20-25)
For those of us who do believe – Yes, God will accomplish all His will – but we dare not succumb to fatalism and presume that His sovereignty doesn’t mandate our zealous pursuit of His will. In other words, God’s sovereignty is no excuse for man’s indifference. The parable of the servants and the talents should remove all doubt. You remember what happened to the servant who sat on his talent, right? And yes, while it is also a fact that God will use us as His instruments to accomplish everything He sets out to do, at the same time, we dare not lift ourselves up in pride thinking we did any good thing by our own wisdom and our own strength. Listen to Paul:
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13)
So I need to ask you: where is your heart on these matters? Are you a stranger to the things of God, thinking that you’re living out your life on your terms with your strength and your wisdom? Or are you humbly passionate about the will of God and the work He has tasked you with?
May God bless the preaching of His Word.