Isaiah had just finished reassuring God’s people that what lay ahead would be a devastating ordeal, yet God did not want God’s people to be afraid. Their crucible would soon pass, and those who harmed them would receive just judgment from God.
God Has the Power
Isaiah reminded the people of two previous events when Israel was greatly outnumbered but, by God’s power and their faith they had been victorious.
The Lord of hosts will wield a whip against them, as when he struck Midian at the rock of Oreb; his staff will be over the sea, and he will lift it as he did in Egypt.Isaiah 10:26 (NRSV)
The Rock of Oreb
Early in Israel’s history, when the tribes were first trying to establish themselves in Canaan, the Midianites were able to so overpower them that
the Israelites provided for themselves hiding places in the mountains, caves and strongholds.
For whenever the Israelites put in seed, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the east would come up against them. They would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the land, as far as the neighborhood of Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel, nor any sheep or ox or donkey.
For they and their livestock would come up, and they would even bring their tents, as thick as locusts; neither they nor their camels could be counted, so they wasted the land as they came in.
Thus Israel was greatly impoverished because of Midian, and the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.Judges 6:2-6 (NRSV)
It was a desperate situation.
In response, God raised up a judge named Gideon, then whittled Gideon’s fighting forces down to a mere three hundred warriors. If there would be victory, it would clearly be by divine and miraculous might.
By God’s guidance and enabling, Gideon created a scene which confused and frightened the Midianite army, causing them to flee in terror.
And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after the Midianites.
Then Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and seize the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah and the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they seized the waters as far as Beth-barah and the Jordan. They captured the two captains of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb; they killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb, as they pursued the Midianites.
They brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon beyond the Jordan.Judges 7:23-25 (NRSV)
It was an iconic story of the Lord’s infinite and eternal power, to the praise of God’s glory, for the good of God’s people.
Staff over Egypt
Perhaps one of the most famous scenes in the entire Hebrew scriptures is the moment Moses lifted his staff over the Red Sea and the Lord caused the waters to rear up and stand back as giant roiling walls of waves to allow the twelve tribes of Israel to pass through.
The Egyptians pursued and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers.
At the morning watch the Lord, in the pillar of fire and cloud, looked down on the Egyptian army and threw the Egyptian army into a panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.”
So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea.The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained.
But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.
Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.Genesis 14:23-20 (NRSV)
On both of those occasions, the people had nowhere to look but up to God, and God delivered them against all odds. Incredible, miraculous, mighty, God’s power is best displayed when you and I recognize our own weakness.
Isaiah also encouraged the people they were like an ox growing so strong that the muscles of their neck would break the yoke of the Assyrians.
On that day his burden will be removed from your shoulder, and his yoke will be destroyed from your neck.Isaiah 10:27 (NRSV)
A Terrifying Vision
As Isaiah became wrapped up in his visions, he saw the Assyrians as seemingly relentless in their march, passing through Aiath, thirty miles to the north. Then they would pass through Migron and store their supplies in Micmash. Nothing could seem to stop them, now that they were traveling light. Going over the pass, they would camp overnight In Gebah, barely six miles from Jerusalem. This must have seemed like a horror movie to Isaiah, and to the people who listened to his horrifying oracle
The Assyrians would fill all the people in these next districts with dread, trembling, fleeing, crying out, looking for some place to hide. Finally, they would come to a halt at Nob, at the north end of the mount of olives, under two miles from Jerusalem. The Assyrians would be able to see the temple from where they were camped that night.
This very day he will halt at Nob;Isaiah 10:32 (NRSV)
he will shake his fist
at the mount of daughter Zion,
the hill of Jerusalem.
And the Assyrian conquerors would be ready to lay waste to that holy hill.
A Terrifying God
But, in the midst of Isaiah’s hoarse delivery of the awful vision before him, there came a sudden, startling interruption.
Look, the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts,Isaiah 10:33-34 (NRSV)
will lop the boughs with terrifying power;
the tallest trees will be cut down,
and the lofty will be brought low.
He will hack down the thickets of the forest with an ax,
and Lebanon with its majestic trees will fall.
When everything seemed hopeless for Judah, The Lord would fight for God’s people, fighting Assyria at the very doorstep of Jerusalem.
That is my own takeaway from this passage. We live in a rough world in which terrible things happen, where often there is no escape. It can be agony, traumatizing, awful, and relentless. Life can deliver some crushing blows.
In the midst is not a time to ask, “What can I learn from this?” Perhaps that will come later. But in the moment, round-eyed with anguish, we search for God’s presence, for our Lord is certainly with us, even in the thick of it, even in the darkest pit of it, the wracking pain of it. For our Lord has promised us,
Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.Deuteronomy 31:6 (NRSV)
I have said this to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution, but take courage: I have conquered the world!Jesus, John 16:33 (NRSV)