Posted: 11 May 2011 12:00 AM PDT
ISAIAH 9:8–10:4 RETURNS TO THE theme of judgment, but this time it is directed not against the southern kingdom of Judah (as in Isa. 5:8–25) but against the northern kingdom of Israel (characterized as "Ephraim" and "Samaria," Isa. 9:9). The passage is broken into four sections, each ending with the same refrain: "Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised" (Isa. 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4). This refrain answers the question, "What will God do with a people who will not seek him even in a situation of social collapse and threatening devastation?" These are already marks of God's judgment on the nation, but still there is no sign of repentance. So what will God do? The answer is that, even though God's judgment is gradually being ratcheted up, transparently it is not yet enough—so his anger is not turned away; his hand is still upraised. God has already sent a "message" against Jacob (Isa. 9:8), but they have not attended to it; "the people have not returned to him who struck them, nor have they sought the LORD Almighty" (Isa. 9:13). What is left is the "day of reckoning" (Isa. 10:3).
There is another rough progression of thought running through the four sections. The first two sections tend to emphasize the moral decay: "everyone is ungodly and wicked, every mouth speaks vileness" (Isa. 9:17). But wickedness burns and devours like a forest fire (Isa. 9:18). Soon there is social disintegration and cultural collapse (Isa. 9:20–10:4). Ultimately the Assyrians will obliterate the northern kingdom. (Syria fell to Assyria in 732 B.C., Israel in 722. Judah was devastated by Assyria in 701, but not totally destroyed; that awaited the Babylonians a century later.)
Once again this section of Isaiah, for all that it condemns the populace of the northern kingdom for their wanton sin and failure to heed God-given warnings, lays primary responsibility on the leaders. The Lord "will cut off from Israel both head and tail.… [T]he elders and prominent men are the head, the prophets who teach lies are the tail. Those who guide this people mislead them, and those who are guided are led astray" (Isa. 9:14–16). "Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?" (Isa. 10:1–3).
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