Do Not Be Afraid of the Assyrian
1, 2. (a) From a human standpoint, why did Jonah seem to have good reason to be reluctant to accept his commission to preach to the Assyrians? (b) How did the Ninevites react to Jonah’s message?
IN THE middle of the ninth century B.C.E., the Hebrew prophet Jonah, son of Amittai, ventured into Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. He had a weighty message to deliver. Jehovah had told him: “Get up, go to Nineveh the great city, and proclaim against her that their badness has come up before me.”—Jonah 1:2, 3.
2 When he first received his commission, Jonah ran off in the opposite direction, toward Tarshish. From a human standpoint, Jonah had reason to be reluctant. The Assyrians were a cruel people. Notice how one Assyrian monarch dealt with his enemies: “I cut off the limbs of the officers . . . Many captives from among them I burned with fire, and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their hands and their fingers, and from others I cut off their noses.” Still, when Jonah finally delivered Jehovah’s message, the Ninevites repented of their sins and Jehovah spared the city at that time.—Jonah 3:3-10; Matthew 12:41.
Jehovah Takes Up “the Rod”
3. How does the reaction of the Israelites to the warnings delivered by Jehovah’s prophets differ from that of the Ninevites?
3 Do the Israelites, to whom Jonah also preached, respond? (2 Kings 14:25) No. They turn their backs on pure worship. Indeed, they go so far as “to bow down to all the army of the heavens and to serve Baal.” What is more, “they continued to make their sons and their daughters pass through the fire and to practice divination and to look for omens, and they kept selling themselves to do what was bad in the eyes of Jehovah, to offend him.” (2 Kings 17:16, 17) Unlike the Ninevites, Israel does not respond when Jehovah sends prophets to warn them. So Jehovah determines to take stronger measures.
4, 5. (a) What is meant by “the Assyrian,” and how will Jehovah use him as a “rod”? (b) When does Samaria fall?
4 For some time after Jonah’s visit to Nineveh, there is a decline in Assyrian aggression.* However, at the beginning of the eighth century B.C.E., Assyria reasserts itself as a military power, and Jehovah uses it in an astonishing way. The prophet Isaiah conveys a warning from Jehovah to the northern kingdom of Israel: “Aha, the Assyrian, the rod for my anger, and the stick that is in their hand for my denunciation! Against an apostate nation I shall send him, and against the people of my fury I shall issue a command to him, to take much spoil and to take much plunder and to make it a trampling place like the clay of the streets.”—Isaiah 10:5, 6.
5 What a humiliation for the Israelites! God uses a pagan nation—“the Assyrian”—as a “rod” to punish them. In 742 B.C.E., Assyrian King Shalmaneser V lays siege to Samaria, capital of the apostate nation of Israel. From its strategic location on a hill some 300 feet [90 m] high, Samaria wards off the enemy for almost three years. But no human strategy can block God’s purpose. In 740 B.C.E., Samaria falls, trampled under Assyrian feet.—2 Kings 18:10.
6. In what way does the Assyrian go beyond what Jehovah has in mind for him?
6 Although used by Jehovah to teach his people a lesson, the Assyrians themselves do not recognize Jehovah. That is why he goes on to say: “Though [the Assyrian] may not be that way, he will feel inclined; though his heart may not be that way, he will scheme, because to annihilate is in his heart, and to cut off nations not a few.” (Isaiah 10:7) Jehovah means the Assyrian to be an instrument in the divine hand. But the Assyrian feels inclined to be something else. His heart urges him to scheme for something grander—conquest of the then-known world!
7. (a) Explain the expression “Are not my princes at the same time kings?” (b) Of what should those today who forsake Jehovah take note?
7 Many of the non-Israelite cities conquered by the Assyrian were previously ruled by kings. These former kings now have to submit to the king of Assyria as vassal princes, so he can truly boast: “Are not my princes at the same time kings?” (Isaiah 10:8) The false gods of prominent cities of the nations could not save their worshipers from destruction. The gods worshiped by the inhabitants of Samaria, such as Baal, Molech, and the golden calves, will not protect that city. Having forsaken Jehovah, Samaria has no right to expect him to intervene. Let any today who forsake Jehovah take notice of Samaria’s fate! The Assyrian can well boast regarding Samaria and the other cities he has conquered: “Is not Calno just like Carchemish? Is not Hamath just like Arpad? Is not Samaria just like Damascus?” (Isaiah 10:9) They are all the same to the Assyrian—spoil for him to take.
8, 9. Why is it that the Assyrian goes too far when he sets his sights on Jerusalem?
8 However, the Assyrian goes too far in his boasting. He says: “Whenever my hand has reached the kingdoms of the valueless god whose graven images are more than those at Jerusalem and at Samaria, will it not be that just as I shall have done to Samaria and to her valueless gods, even so I shall do to Jerusalem and to her idols?” (Isaiah 10:10, 11) The kingdoms already defeated by the Assyrian possessed far more idols than do Jerusalem or even Samaria. ‘What,’ he reasons, ‘is to prevent me from doing to Jerusalem what I did to Samaria?’
9 The braggart! Jehovah will not allow him to take Jerusalem. True, Judah does not have a spotless record of supporting true worship. (2 Kings 16:7-9; 2 Chronicles 28:24) Jehovah has warned that because of her unfaithfulness, Judah will suffer much during the Assyrian invasion. But Jerusalem will survive. (Isaiah 1:7, 8) When the Assyrian invasion occurs, Hezekiah is king in Jerusalem. Hezekiah is not like his father, Ahaz. Why, in the very first month of his reign, Hezekiah reopens the temple doors and restores pure worship!—2 Chronicles 29:3-5.
10. What does Jehovah promise regarding the Assyrian?
10 So Assyria’s proposed attack on Jerusalem does not have Jehovah’s approval. Jehovah promises an accounting with that insolent world power: “It must occur that when Jehovah terminates all his work in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, I shall make an accounting for the fruitage of the insolence of the heart of the king of Assyria and for the self-importance of his loftiness of eyes.”—Isaiah 10:12.
On to Judah and Jerusalem!
11. Why does the Assyrian think that Jerusalem will be easy prey?
11 Eight years after the northern kingdom fell in 740 B.C.E., a new Assyrian monarch, Sennacherib, marches against Jerusalem. Isaiah poetically describes Sennacherib’s prideful plan: “I shall remove the boundaries of peoples, and their things stored up I shall certainly pillage, and I shall bring down the inhabitants just like a powerful one. And just as if a nest, my hand will reach the resources of the peoples; and just as when one gathers eggs that have been left, I myself will gather up even all the earth, and there will certainly be no one fluttering his wings or opening his mouth or chirping.” (Isaiah 10:13, 14) Sennacherib reasons that other cities have fallen and Samaria is no more, so Jerusalem will be easy prey! The city might put up a halfhearted fight, but with hardly a chirp, its inhabitants will be quickly subdued, their resources plucked up like eggs from an abandoned nest.
12. What does Jehovah show to be the right way to view things with regard to the Assyrian’s boasts?
12 However, Sennacherib is forgetting something. Apostate Samaria deserved the punishment that it received. Under King Hezekiah, however, Jerusalem has once again become a bastion of pure worship. Anyone wanting to touch Jerusalem will have Jehovah to reckon with! Indignantly, Isaiah asks: “Will the ax enhance itself over the one chopping with it, or the saw magnify itself over the one moving it back and forth, as though the staff moved back and forth the ones raising it on high, as though the rod raised on high the one who is not wood?” (Isaiah 10:15) The Assyrian Empire is a mere tool in Jehovah’s hand, much as an ax, a saw, a staff, or a rod might be used by a woodsman, a sawyer, or a shepherd. How dare the rod now magnify itself over the one who uses it!
13. Identify and tell what happens to (a) the “fat ones.” (b) ‘the weeds and thornbushes.’ (c) “the glory of his forest.”
13 What will happen to the Assyrian? “The true Lord, Jehovah of armies, will keep sending upon his fat ones a wasting disease, and under his glory a burning will keep burning away like the burning of a fire. And Israel’s Light must become a fire, and his Holy One a flame; and it must blaze up and eat up his weeds and his thornbushes in one day. And the glory of his forest and of his orchard He will bring to an end, even from the soul clear to the flesh, and it must become like the melting away of one that is ailing. And the rest of the trees of his forest—they will become such a number that a mere boy will be able to write them down.” (Isaiah 10:16-19) Yes, Jehovah will whittle that Assyrian “rod” down to size! The “fat ones” of the Assyrian’s army, his stout soldiers, will be struck with “a wasting disease.” They will not look so strong! Like so many weeds and thornbushes, his ground troops will be burned by the Light of Israel, Jehovah God. And “the glory of his forest,” his military officers, will come to their end. After Jehovah finishes with the Assyrian, so few officers will remain that a mere boy will be able to number them on his fingers!—See also Isaiah 10:33, 34.
14. Describe the progress of the Assyrian on the soil of Judah by 732 B.C.E.
14 Still, the Jews living in Jerusalem in 732 B.C.E. must find it hard to believe that the Assyrian will be defeated. The vast Assyrian army is advancing relentlessly. Listen to the list of cities in Judah that have fallen: “He has come upon Aiath . . . Migron . . . Michmash . . . Geba . . . Ramah . . . Gibeah of Saul . . . Gallim . . . Laishah . . . Anathoth . . . Madmenah . . . Gebim . . . Nob.” (Isaiah 10:28-32a)* Finally the invaders reach Lachish, just 30 miles [50 km] from Jerusalem. Soon a large Assyrian army is threatening the city. “He waves his hand threateningly at the mountain of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 10:32b) What can stop the Assyrian?
15, 16. (a) Why does King Hezekiah need strong faith? (b) What basis is there for Hezekiah’s faith that Jehovah will come to his aid?
15 In his palace in the city, King Hezekiah grows anxious. He rips his garments apart and covers himself with sackcloth. (Isaiah 37:1) He sends men to the prophet Isaiah to inquire of Jehovah on Judah’s behalf. They soon return with Jehovah’s answer: “Do not be afraid . . . I shall certainly defend this city.” (Isaiah 37:6, 35) Still, the Assyrians are menacing and supremely confident.
16 Faith—that is what will carry King Hezekiah through this crisis. Faith is “the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.” (Hebrews 11:1) It involves looking beyond the obvious. But faith is based on knowledge. Hezekiah likely remembers that ahead of time Jehovah spoke these comforting words: “Do not be afraid, O my people who are dwelling in Zion, because of the Assyrian . . . For yet a very little while—and the denunciation will have come to an end, and my anger, in their wearing away. And Jehovah of armies will certainly brandish against him a whip as at the defeat of Midian by the rock Oreb; and his staff will be upon the sea, and he will certainly lift it up in the way that he did with Egypt.” (Isaiah 10:24-26)* Yes, God’s people have been in difficult situations before. Hezekiah’s ancestors seemed hopelessly outclassed by the Egyptian army at the Red Sea. His forefather Gideon faced staggering odds when Midian and Amalek invaded Israel. Yet, Jehovah delivered his people on those two occasions.—Exodus 14:7-9, 13, 28; Judges 6:33; 7:21, 22.
17. How is the Assyrian yoke “wrecked,” and why?
17 Will Jehovah do again what he did on those previous occasions? Yes. Jehovah promises: “It must occur in that day that his load will depart from upon your shoulder, and his yoke from upon your neck, and the yoke will certainly be wrecked because of the oil.” (Isaiah 10:27) The Assyrian yoke will be lifted from the shoulder and the neck of God’s covenant people. Indeed, the yoke will be “wrecked”—and wrecked it is! In one night, the angel of Jehovah kills 185,000 of the Assyrians. The threat is removed, and the Assyrians leave the soil of Judah forever. (2 Kings 19:35, 36) Why? “Because of the oil.” This may refer to the oil used to anoint Hezekiah as king in the line of David. Thus, Jehovah fulfills his promise: “I shall certainly defend this city to save it for my own sake and for the sake of David my servant.”—2 Kings 19:34.
18. (a) Does Isaiah’s prophecy have more than one fulfillment? Explain. (b) What organization today is like ancient Samaria?
18 The account of Isaiah discussed in this chapter has to do with events in Judah more than 2,700 years ago. But those events have the utmost relevance today. (Romans 15:4) Does this mean that the major players in this thrilling narrative—the inhabitants of Samaria and Jerusalem as well as the Assyrians—have modern-day counterparts? Yes, it does. Like idolatrous Samaria, Christendom claims to worship Jehovah, but she is apostate to the core. In An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Roman Catholic John Henry Cardinal Newman admits that items Christendom has used for centuries, such as incense, candles, holy water, priestly garb, and images, “are all of pagan origin.” Jehovah is no more pleased with Christendom’s paganized worship than he was with Samaria’s idolatry.
19. Of what has Christendom been warned, and by whom?
19 For years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have warned Christendom of Jehovah’s displeasure. In 1955, for example, the public discourse entitled “Christendom or Christianity—Which One Is ‘the Light of the World’?” was delivered worldwide. The talk graphically explained the way that Christendom had strayed from genuine Christian doctrine and practice. Thereafter, copies of this powerful lecture were mailed to clergymen in many countries. As an organization, Christendom has failed to heed the warning. She leaves Jehovah with no choice but to discipline her with a “rod.”
20. (a) What will serve as the modern-day Assyrian, and how will it be used as a rod? (b) To what extent will Christendom be disciplined?
20 Whom will Jehovah use to discipline rebellious Christendom? We find the answer in the 17th chapter of Revelation. There we are introduced to a harlot, “Babylon the Great,” representing all the world’s false religions, including Christendom. The harlot is riding a scarlet-colored wild beast that has seven heads and ten horns. (Revelation 17:3, 5, 7-12) The wild beast represents the United Nations organization.* Just as the ancient Assyrian destroyed Samaria, the scarlet-colored wild beast “will hate the harlot and will make her devastated and naked, and will eat up her fleshy parts and will completely burn her with fire.” (Revelation 17:16) Thus the modern-day Assyrian (nations associated with the UN) will deal Christendom a mighty blow and will crush her out of existence.
21, 22. Who will motivate the wild beast to attack God’s people?
21 Will Jehovah’s faithful Witnesses perish along with Babylon the Great? No. God is not displeased with them. Pure worship will survive. However, the wild beast that destroys Babylon the Great also casts a greedy eye in the direction of Jehovah’s people. In doing so, the beast carries out, not God’s thought, but the thought of someone else. Who? Satan the Devil.
22 Jehovah exposes Satan’s prideful scheme: “It must occur in that day that things will come up into your [Satan’s] heart, and you will certainly think up an injurious scheme; and you must say: ‘I shall . . . come in upon those having no disturbance, dwelling in security, all of them dwelling without [a protective] wall . . .’ It will be to get a big spoil and to do much plundering.” (Ezekiel 38:10-12) Satan will reason, ‘Yes, why not incite the nations to attack Jehovah’s Witnesses? They are vulnerable, unprotected, without political influence. They will offer no resistance. How easy it will be to pluck them like eggs from an unprotected nest!’
23. Why will the modern-day Assyrian be unable to do to God’s people what he does to Christendom?
23 But watch out, nations! Be advised that if you touch Jehovah’s people, you will have to reckon with God himself! Jehovah loves his people, and he will fight for them just as surely as he fought for Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah. When the modern-day Assyrian tries to annihilate Jehovah’s servants, he will really be battling Jehovah God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ. That is a battle that the Assyrian cannot win. “The Lamb will conquer them,” the Bible says, “because he is Lord of lords and King of kings.” (Revelation 17:14; compare Matthew 25:40.) Like the Assyrian of old, the scarlet-colored wild beast will ‘go off into destruction.’ It will be feared no more.—Revelation 17:11.
24. (a) What are true Christians determined to do to prepare for the future? (b) How does Isaiah look further ahead? (See box on page 155.)
24 True Christians can face the future without fear if they keep their relationship with Jehovah strong and if they make the doing of his will their primary concern in life. (Matthew 6:33) Then they need “fear nothing bad.” (Psalm 23:4) With their eyes of faith, they will see God’s mighty arm raised high, not to punish them, but to shield them from his enemies. And their ears will hear these reassuring words: “Do not be afraid.”—Isaiah 10:24.
Additional information regarding the identity of the harlot and the scarlet-colored wild beast is found in chapters 34 and 35 of the book Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand!, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Box/Pictures on page 155, 156]
ISAIAH LOOKS FURTHER AHEAD
The 10th chapter of Isaiah focuses primarily on the way that Jehovah will use the Assyrian invasion to execute judgment upon Israel and on his promise to defend Jerusalem. Since Isa 10 verses 20 to 23 are located in the middle of this prophecy, they can be viewed as having a general fulfillment during the same period. (Compare Isaiah 1:7-9.) However, the wording indicates that these verses apply more specifically to later periods when Jerusalem too would have to answer for the sins of her inhabitants.
King Ahaz tries to gain security by turning to Assyria for help. The prophet Isaiah foretells that at a future time, the survivors of the house of Israel will never again pursue such a senseless course. Isaiah 10:20 says that they will “support themselves upon Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, in trueness.” Isa 10 Verse 21 shows, however, that only a small number will do so: “A mere remnant will return.” This reminds us of Isaiah’s son Shear-jashub, who is a sign in Israel and whose name means “A Mere Remnant Will Return.” (Isaiah 7:3) Verse 22 of Isa chapter 10 warns of a coming “extermination” that has been decided on. Such an extermination will be righteous because it is a just punishment on a rebellious people. As a result, from a thickly populated nation that is “like the grains of sand of the sea,” only a remnant will return. Isa 10 Verse 23 warns that this coming extermination will affect the whole land. Jerusalem will not be spared this time.
These verses well describe what happened in 607 B.C.E. when Jehovah used the Babylonian Empire as his “rod.” The whole land, including Jerusalem, fell to the invader. The Jews were taken captive to Babylon for 70 years. After that, though, some—even if only “a mere remnant”—returned to reestablish true worship in Jerusalem.
The prophecy at Isaiah 10:20-23 had a further fulfillment in the first century, as shown at Romans 9:27, 28. (Compare Isaiah 1:9; Romans 9:29.) Paul explains that in a spiritual sense, a “remnant” of Jews ‘returned’ to Jehovah in the first century C.E., inasmuch as a small number of faithful Jews became followers of Jesus Christ and began worshiping Jehovah “with spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) These were later joined by believing Gentiles, making up a spiritual nation, “the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16) On this occasion the words of Isaiah 10:20 were fulfilled: “Never again” did a nation dedicated to Jehovah turn away from him to human sources for support.
[Picture on page 147]
Sennacherib reasons that gathering the nations is as easy as gathering eggs from a nest