Speak at times of God’s sovereignty, sovereign control or governing of the world. True and accurate to do so. But….what does it really mean? God is in charge, we all get that, but how? And why does it matter, in the here and now, where we live? A word used in previous generations, always capitalized, way of referring to God – Providence. US Declaration of Independence closes: “And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” So we don’t swap one term for another and still not find a helpful answer, consider Confession:
LBCF Chapter 5, Divine Providence
5.1 GOD who, in infinite power and wisdom, has created all things, upholds, directs, controls and governs them, both animate and inanimate, great and small, by a providence supremely wise and holy.
5.2 Nothing happens by chance or outside the sphere of God’s providence.
5.3 Ordinarily, in His providence, God makes use of means.
5.4 …in a variety of ways He wisely and powerfully limits, orders and governs sinful actions, so that they bring about His holy designs.
5.5 God, who is most wise, righteous and gracious, frequently allows His own people to …experience the sinfulness of their own hearts. This He does in order to chastise them for sins which they have committed, or to teach them humility. …His purpose is also to cause them to realize their need to depend fully and at all times upon Himself.
5.6 God, as a righteous judge, deals otherwise with wicked and ungodly men. …He abandons them to their own innate corruptions …with the consequence that they harden themselves by the use of the very means which God employs for softening the hearts of others.
5.7 All things are controlled providentially for the good of the church.
Our text highlights a number of the principles found in this chapter of the Confession – God’s use of means, the different responses of people to those means, God’s exercise of his authority over the actions of men.
A. God uses means to keep his promises v.5-6
This segment of story began chapter 8: Judah afraid of Ephraim and Samaria, joined in alliance with Assyria (rather than trusting God for protection, btw). God said OK, have what you want; but here’s how it’s going to go down. Isaiah, paint a billboard, name your son Maher Shalal Hash Baz – “Speeding to the Plunder, Hurrying to the Spoil”. Well, that won’t be the end of it: Assyrians will indeed seize the spoil, take the prey, then I’ll deal with them.
God promised number of things to Judah – deliverance from Ephraim and Samaria, also severe discipline for rejecting God and his way of doing things. Assyria would be means God used to accomplish both ends. Punishment would not be delayed, Assyria was on the march and would move quickly against Judah.
Divine Providence means God lacks no resources to carry out his purpose; also means, unlike those from many parents, God’s are not empty threats. When God threatens to discipline his people, rest assured it will indeed happen; only one thing can avert certain disaster – genuine repentance, turning back to God and seeking his forgiveness. History bears out that didn’t happen in Israel. God is justified in calling them a godless nation, deserving of his anger.
Same could be said of Assyria – godless nation – had no thought of God or for God, content to do their own thing in their own way. Made their plans, designed their campaigns without considering rightness of them according to God’s standard. In reality, were simply following their desires for greater power, more possessions, larger territories under their control. Assyrians satisfying their desires meant hardship for Judah – possessions Assyrians acquired used to belong to Judah, territory they brought under their control was once the Promised Land of Israel.
Assyria meant Judah’s loss for Assyria’s gain; God meant Judah’s loss for Judah’s good, causing them to turn back to him. Important note: Assyria being used as God’s means of disciplining Judah didn’t relieve them of responsibility for own sinfulness. They had sinned against God and their neighbor, would be held accountable for that.
B. Wicked people harden themselves v.7-11, 13-14
had no intention that actions should bring glory to God v.7
Assyria’s purpose to destroy, to continue military conquest without restraint; God’s purpose was for them to be means of disciplining Judah but not to destroy them. God also intended that Assyria should be done with military advance when Judah had been overrun, not that Assyria should become an all-encompassing world power.
usurped position that is only God’s – king over kings v.8
king of Assyria viewed himself as the highest authority and subject to no one; his underlings were as kings to the rest of the world.
At the coronation of Queen Elisabeth II on June 2, 1953 “the Orb with the Cross [was] brought from the Altar by the Dean of Westminster and delivered into the Queen’s right hand by the Archbishop [of Canterbury], saying: Receive this Orb set under the Cross, and remember that the whole world is subject to the Power and Empire of Christ our Redeemer.” Even as Defender of the Faith the Queen of England is subject along with the whole world to the authority of Christ.
believed himself invincible v.9-11
no nation or city-state had been able to withstand Assyrian assault. Starting with the most distant – Calno <=> Carchemish <=> Hamath <=> Arpad <=> Samaria <=> Damascus, the Assyrian army relentless in its advance, Judah and Jerusalem were next and would be no different. Gods of other nations had failed to protect them, Judah could not expect Yahweh to intervene on their behalf. Since Assyria had prevailed over territories of the gods, perhaps Assyria should be considered Lord of lords as well as King of kings.
successive victories inflamed his pride, inflated his self-image v.13-14
In Assyria’s view it was Assyria’s strength, ability to develop winning strategy that was source of success. Campaigning wasn’t that tough, kinda like stealing eggs when the bird isn’t around the nest. Yet, didn’t acknowledge that they had taken what was not theirs, what in fact belonged to God. Psa. 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”
God’s indulging Assyria’s desires further alienated Assyria from God. Assyria under a succession of kings – Tiglath-Pileser, Shalmaneser, Sargon, eventually Sennacherib – had been SO successful, what need for God? Absolutely self-sufficient, with enough power and wisdom to rule the entire earth. Important note: be careful when you ask God to give you what you want, especially when it is something that will probably displease God. God gave both Judah and Assyria what they wanted; it was painful for Judah, destructive for Assyria.
C. God limits, orders and governs sinful actions v.12, 15-16
with respect to sin, God draws the line in the sand and no one crosses it. Purposes and strategies and powers of sinful men or nations are as nothing when they come up against the limit God has fixed.
with respect to discipline, God also draws the line in the sand. When it has accomplished God’s purpose, rod of discipline will be removed. God had specific purpose for Judah, a precise plan by which that purpose would be accomplished, he would not deviate from it. Assyria, whether they realized or acknowledged it or not, were subject to God’s purpose. When they reached the line God had set, he would not simply stop their advance; he would deal with sinful boastful arrogance.
Assyria would, in God’s time, be consumed as they planned to consume the nations. Their world-conquering army would be conquered; as a world power they would last only a short time, replaced on the world stage by Babylonia, also acting as God’s means. Important note: that sinful actions seem to proceed unchecked is only outward appearance; reality is that God uses variety of means to limit sin, to regulate it, to use the naturally sinful desires and actions of fallen man to bring about his good purpose.
D. The Holy One – both light and flame v.17-19
Ex. 14:19-20 Just as pillar of cloud beside the Red Sea was “a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other”, so the Holy One of Israel has two different purposes described in our text. To Judah, God was a light – the source of truth, wisdom, salvation, the light that would shine in the darkness of their hearts with regenerating power. In this particular set of circumstances God would show his power, his supremacy over all other powers, Judah’s need to turn back to him and acknowledge him as their God.
In the very same circumstances, God would show his invincible power to Assyria, his determination that justice would prevail, his ultimate purpose that he receive the glory due him. To Assyria, then, God was a consuming fire that devoured everything they had trusted in, what compared to God’s glory was nothing more than thorns and briers that would be instantly burned up.
Important note: even the wicked are not totally consumed in this life; God graciously leaves some witnesses who have the opportunity to break the cycle, to repent and turn to him in faith. The forest of Assyria would not be totally burned up; a few, few enough that a small child who can’t count very high would be able to number them, will remain.
The Holy One is present in his world today – as a light to those who are joined to him by faith in Christ and trust him for their future, as a consuming fire to those who reject him as their Lord and King, trusting in their own solutions. May God give each of us discernment to recognize his providential care of his children, courage to bear up under hardship when that is our lot, humility to submit to Christ as our Lord and King in every area of our lives.