Woe to the Rebels!
1. What terrible error did Jeroboam make?
WHEN Jehovah’s covenant people were divided into two kingdoms, the northern ten-tribe kingdom came under the rulership of Jeroboam. The new king was an able, energetic ruler. But he lacked real faith in Jehovah. Because of this he made a terrible error that blighted the whole history of the northern kingdom. Under the Mosaic Law, the Israelites were commanded to travel three times a year up to the temple in Jerusalem, which was now in the southern kingdom of Judah. (Deuteronomy 16:16) Afraid that such regular journeys would make his subjects think about reunification with their southern brothers, Jeroboam “made two golden calves and said to the people: ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here is your God, O Israel, that brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’ Then he placed the one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.”—1 Kings 12:28, 29.
2, 3. What effects did Jeroboam’s error have on Israel?
2 In the short term, Jeroboam’s plan seemed to work. The people gradually left off going to Jerusalem and took up worshiping before the two calves. (1 Kings 12:30) However, this apostate religious practice corrupted the ten-tribe kingdom. In later years, even Jehu, who had shown such commendable zeal in clearing Baal worship out of Israel, continued to bow down to the golden calves. (2 Kings 10:28, 29) What else resulted from Jeroboam’s tragically wrong decision? Political instability and suffering for the people.
3 Because Jeroboam had become apostate, Jehovah said that his seed would not reign over the land, and in the end the northern kingdom would suffer a terrible disaster. (1 Kings 14:14, 15) Jehovah’s word proved true. Seven of Israel’s kings ruled for two years or less—some for only a few days. One king committed suicide, and six were assassinated by ambitious men who usurped the throne. Especially after the reign of Jeroboam II, which ended about 804 B.C.E. while Uzziah was reigning in Judah, Israel was plagued with unrest, violence, and assassinations. It is against this backdrop that Jehovah through Isaiah sends a direct warning, or “word,” to the northern kingdom. “There was a word that Jehovah sent against Jacob, and it fell upon Israel.”—Isaiah 9:8.a
Haughtiness and Insolence Earn God’s Wrath
4. What “word” does Jehovah send against Israel, and why?
4 Jehovah’s “word” will not be ignored. “The people will certainly know it, even all of them, Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria, because of their haughtiness and because of their insolence of heart.” (Isaiah 9:9) “Jacob,” “Israel,” “Ephraim,” and “Samaria” all refer to the northern kingdom of Israel, of which Ephraim is the predominant tribe and Samaria the capital. Jehovah’s word against that kingdom is a strong judicial statement, for Ephraim has become hardened in apostasy and is brazenly insolent toward Jehovah. God will not protect the people from the consequences of their wicked ways. They will be forced to hear, or pay attention to, God’s word.—Galatians 6:7.
5. How do the Israelites show themselves unaffected by Jehovah’s acts of judgment?
5 As conditions deteriorate, the people experience severe losses, including their homes—commonly made of mud bricks and inexpensive wood. Are their hearts softened as a result? Will they heed Jehovah’s prophets and return to the true God?b Isaiah records the people’s insolent response: “Bricks are what have fallen, but with hewn stone we shall build. Sycamore trees are what have been cut down, but with cedars we shall make replacement.” (Isaiah 9:10) The Israelites defy Jehovah and spurn his prophets, who tell them why they are suffering such hardships. In effect, the people say: ‘We may lose houses made of perishable mud bricks and inexpensive wood, but we will do more than make good for these losses by rebuilding with superior materials—hewn stone and cedar!’ (Compare Job 4:19.) They leave Jehovah no choice but to discipline them further.—Compare Isaiah 48:22.
6. How does Jehovah undermine the Syro-Israelite scheme against Judah?
6 Isaiah continues: “Jehovah will set the adversaries of Rezin on high against him.” (Isaiah 9:11a) King Pekah of Israel and King Rezin of Syria are allies. They are scheming to conquer the two-tribe kingdom of Judah and to place on Jehovah’s throne in Jerusalem a puppet king—a certain “son of Tabeel.” (Isaiah 7:6) But the conspiracy is doomed. Rezin has powerful enemies, and Jehovah will ‘set on high’ these enemies against “him,” Israel. The term ‘set on high’ means to allow them to wage effective warfare that will bring about the destruction of the alliance and its objectives.
7, 8. For Israel, what is the result of Assyria’s conquest of Syria?
7 The dissolving of this alliance begins when Assyria attacks Syria. “The king of Assyria went up to Damascus [the capital of Syria] and captured it and led its people into exile at Kir, and Rezin he put to death.” (2 Kings 16:9) Having lost his powerful ally, Pekah finds that his designs on Judah are thwarted. In fact, shortly after Rezin’s death, Pekah himself is assassinated by Hoshea, who thereafter usurps the throne of Samaria.—2 Kings 15:23-25, 30.
8 Syria, Israel’s former ally, is now a vassal of Assyria, the dominant power in the region. Isaiah prophesies about how Jehovah will use this new political alignment: “The enemies of that one [Israel] he [Jehovah] will goad on, Syria from the east and the Philistines from behind, and they will eat up Israel with open mouth. In view of all this his anger has not turned back, but his hand is stretched out still.” (Isaiah 9:11b, 12) Yes, Syria is now Israel’s enemy, and Israel must prepare for attack from Assyria and Syria. The invasion succeeds. Assyria makes the usurper Hoshea his servant, exacting a hefty tribute. (A few decades earlier, Assyria received a large sum from King Menahem of Israel.) How true the prophet Hosea’s words: “Strangers have eaten up his [Ephraim’s] power”!—Hosea 7:9; 2 Kings 15:19, 20; 17:1-3.
9. Why can we say that the Philistines attack “from behind”?
9 Does not Isaiah also say that the Philistines will invade “from behind”? Yes. Prior to the days of magnetic compasses, the Hebrews indicated direction from the viewpoint of a person facing the sunrising. Thus, “the east” was the front, while the west, the coastal home of the Philistines, was “behind.” The “Israel” mentioned at Isaiah 9:12 may include Judah in this instance because the Philistines invaded Judah during the reign of Pekah’s contemporary, Ahaz, capturing and occupying a number of Judean cities and strongholds. Like Ephraim to the north, Judah deserves this discipline from Jehovah, for she too is riddled with apostasy.—2 Chronicles 28:1-4, 18, 19.
From ‘Head to Tail’—A Nation of Rebels
10, 11. What punishment will Jehovah bring against Israel because of their persistent rebellion?
10 In spite of all its suffering—and despite the strong pronouncements of Jehovah’s prophets—the northern kingdom persists in rebellion against Jehovah. “The people themselves have not returned to the One striking them, and Jehovah of armies they have not sought.” (Isaiah 9:13) Consequently, the prophet says: “Jehovah will cut off from Israel head and tail, shoot and rush, in one day. The aged and highly respected one is the head, and the prophet giving false instruction is the tail. And those who are leading this people on prove to be the ones causing them to wander; and those of them who are being led on, the ones who are being confused.”—Isaiah 9:14-16.
11 The “head” and the “shoot” represent “the aged and highly respected one”—the leaders of the nation. The “tail” and the “rush” refer to false prophets who utter words pleasing to their leaders. A Bible scholar writes: “The false Prophets are called the tail, because they were morally the basest of the people, and because they were the servile adherents and supporters of wicked rulers.” Professor Edward J. Young says of these false prophets: “No leaders were they but, following where the leaders led, they simply flattered and fawned, a wagging tail on a dog.”—Compare 2 Timothy 4:3.
Even ‘Widows and Fatherless Boys’ Are Rebels
12. How deep into Israelite society has corruption penetrated?
12 Jehovah is the Champion of widows and fatherless boys. (Exodus 22:22, 23) Yet, hear what Isaiah now says: “Jehovah will not rejoice even over their young men, and upon their fatherless boys and upon their widows he will have no mercy; because all of them are apostates and evildoers and every mouth is speaking senselessness. In view of all this his anger has not turned back, but his hand is stretched out still.” (Isaiah 9:17) Apostasy has corrupted all levels of society, including the widows and fatherless boys! Jehovah patiently sends his prophets, hoping that the people will change their ways. For example, “Do come back, O Israel, to Jehovah your God, for you have stumbled in your error,” pleads Hosea. (Hosea 14:1) How it must pain the Champion of widows and fatherless boys to have to execute judgment against even them!
13. What can we learn from the situation in Isaiah’s day?
13 Like Isaiah, we are living in critical times prior to Jehovah’s day of judgment against the wicked. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) How important, then, that true Christians, regardless of their situation in life, remain spiritually, morally, and mentally clean in order to retain God’s favor. Let each one jealously guard his relationship with Jehovah. Let none who have escaped from “Babylon the Great” ever again “share with her in her sins.”—Revelation 18:2, 4.
False Worship Breeds Violence
14, 15. (a) What results from demon worship? (b) Isaiah prophesies that Israel will experience what ongoing suffering?
14 False worship is, in effect, the worship of demons. (1 Corinthians 10:20) As demonstrated before the Flood, demon influence leads to violence. (Genesis 6:11, 12) It is no surprise, then, that when Israel turns apostate and begins worshiping the demons, violence and wickedness fill the land.—Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 106:35-38.
15 In vivid word pictures, Isaiah describes the spread of wickedness and violence in Israel: “Wickedness has become aflame just like a fire; thornbushes and weeds it will eat up. And it will catch fire in the thickets of the forest, and they will be borne aloft as the billowing of smoke. In the fury of Jehovah of armies the land has been set afire, and the people will become as food for the fire. No one will show compassion even on his brother. And one will cut down on the right and will certainly be hungry; and one will eat on the left, and they will certainly not be satisfied. They will each one eat the flesh of his own arm, Manasseh Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasseh. Together they will be against Judah. In view of all this his anger has not turned back, but his hand is stretched out still.”—Isaiah 9:18-21.
16. How are the words of Isaiah 9:18-21 fulfilled?
16 Like a flame that spreads from thornbush to thornbush, violence races out of control and quickly reaches “the thickets of the forest,” creating a full-blown forest fire of violence. Bible commentators Keil and Delitzsch describe the level of violence as being “the most inhuman self-destruction during an anarchical civil war. Destitute of any tender emotions, they devoured one another without being satisfied.” Likely, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh are singled out here because they are the main representatives of the northern kingdom and, as descendants of Joseph’s two sons, they are the most closely related of the ten tribes. Despite this, however, they interrupt their fratricidal violence only when they war against Judah to the south.—2 Chronicles 28:1-8.
Corrupt Judges Meet Their Judge
17, 18. What corruption exists in Israel’s legal and administrative system?
17 Jehovah next focuses his judicial eye on Israel’s corrupt judges and other officials. These abuse their power by plundering the lowly and afflicted ones who come to them seeking justice. Isaiah says: “Woe to those who are enacting harmful regulations and those who, constantly writing, have written out sheer trouble, in order to push away the lowly ones from a legal case and to wrest away justice from the afflicted ones of my people, for the widows to become their spoil, and that they may plunder even the fatherless boys!”—Isaiah 10:1, 2.
18 Jehovah’s Law forbids all forms of injustice: “You people must not do injustice in the judgment. You must not treat the lowly with partiality, and you must not prefer the person of a great one.” (Leviticus 19:15) Disregarding that law, these officials draw up their own “harmful regulations” so as to legitimize what amounts to outright theft of the cruelest kind—taking the scanty possessions of widows and fatherless boys. Israel’s false gods are, of course, blind to this injustice, but Jehovah is not. Through Isaiah, Jehovah now focuses his attention on these wicked judges.
19, 20. How will the situation of the corrupt Israelite judges be changed, and what will happen to their “glory”?
19 “What will you men do at the day of being given attention and at the ruin, when it comes from far away? Toward whom will you flee for assistance, and where will you leave your glory, except it be that one must bow down under the prisoners and that people keep falling under those who have been killed?” (Isaiah 10:3, 4a) The widows and fatherless boys have no honest judges to whom to appeal. How appropriate, then, that Jehovah now asks those corrupt Israelite judges whom they will turn to now that Jehovah is holding them to account. Yes, they are about to learn that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”—Hebrews 10:31.
20 The “glory” of these wicked judges—the worldly prestige, honor, and power that come with their wealth and position—will be short-lived. Some will become prisoners of war, ‘bowing down,’ or crouching, among other prisoners, while the rest will be slain, their corpses covered with the war dead. Their “glory” also includes ill-gotten riches, which will be plundered by the enemy.
21. In view of the punishments that Israel has received, has Jehovah’s anger against them ceased?
21 Isaiah concludes this final strophe with a grim warning: “In view of all this [all the woe that the nation has so far suffered] his anger has not turned back, but his hand is stretched out still.” (Isaiah 10:4b) Yes, Jehovah has more to say to Israel. Jehovah’s outstretched hand will not be drawn back until he delivers a final, devastating blow to the rebellious northern kingdom.
Never Fall Prey to Falsehood and Self-Interest
22. What lesson can we learn from what happened to Israel?
22 Jehovah’s word through Isaiah fell heavily upon Israel and ‘did not return to him without results.’ (Isaiah 55:10, 11) History records the tragic end of the northern kingdom of Israel, and we can only imagine the suffering that its inhabitants had to endure. Just as surely, God’s word will be fulfilled on the present system of things, especially on apostate Christendom. How important, then, that Christians give no ear to lying, anti-God propaganda! Thanks to God’s Word, Satan’s clever strategies have long been exposed, so that we need not be overreached by them as were the people of ancient Israel. (2 Corinthians 2:11) May all of us never cease to worship Jehovah “with spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) In that case, his outstretched hand will not strike his worshipers as it did rebellious Ephraim; his arms will warmly embrace them, and he will help them along the road to everlasting life on a paradise earth.—James 4:8.
a Isaiah 9:8–10:4 is made up of four strophes (sections of a rhythmic passage), each ending with the ominous refrain: “In view of all this his anger has not turned back, but his hand is stretched out still.” (Isaiah 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4) This literary device has the effect of binding Isaiah 9:8–10:4 into one composite “word.” (Isaiah 9:8) Note, too, that Jehovah’s “hand is stretched out still,” not to offer reconciliation, but to judge.—Isaiah 9:13.
b Jehovah’s prophets to the northern kingdom of Israel include Jehu (not the king), Elijah, Micaiah, Elisha, Jonah, Oded, Hosea, Amos, and Micah.
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Wickedness and violence sweep through Israel like a forest fire
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Jehovah will hold to account those who prey on others