A Growling Lion and a Hovering Hen

God’s promises to his Son in eternity will be brought to pass. The consequent covenants made with sinful men must also be brought to fruition. This is done meticulously through the mysteries of providence: “Having been predestinated according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11). The historical narratives of Scripture are fascinating as we know that God is at work, but the foibles and vain machinations and sinful thoughts and actions of fallen men seem so perplexing. We find in the story of God’s protection of a people unwilling to be protected one of those mysterious combinations of divine purpose and human foolishness.

I, The Vanity of Trust in the Egyptians (1-3)

A, To Whom do we go for help?

  1. Isaiah pronounces a woe on those who rely on the strength of the creature for help and safety. Egypt Maintained a powerful, well-trained army with horses and chariots. They are very many and they are very strong. Humanly, this kind of alliance is desirable. But this is not a match between worldly powers but between the covenant people and an idolatrous nation. Their hope was to be in God, not in Egypt. Even so, the church must rely solely on the promises of the word of God, the power and purpose of God in calling his elect, and rely solely on prayer and the sword of the Spirt for its work.
  2. He contrasts the help of the creature with the help of the Creator who also is the Covenant-maker with Israel. How bizarre, that a nation formed by divine power in pursuit of divine promises should desire to turn to earthly power of non-covenant people for their protection.

B, The Lord shows his faithfulness and intimate involvement in every stage of historical events (2). Here we anticipate the final declaration of the chapter concerning the certainty of God’s words. He will call back neither his threatenings nor the certainty of his promises. Though his people will be chastened severely, they will not be finally eliminated. Though Egypt is strong, they cannot give the protection that God himself will give, for God has the honor of his name invested in the survival of this people.

C, The Lord will demonstrate his superiority to Egypt (3).

  1. They are “men and not God.” Isaiah had warned in 2:22, “Stop regarding man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for why should he be esteemed?” How simple the reality, but how much at the root of all sin, rebellion, and evil. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . Then the Lord God formed man of the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Genesis 1:1, 2:6). This is God’s world, God’s rules, God’s rule, God’s purpose and decree. He alone is powerful and self-existent and we exist from our beginning and then from moment to moment by his sustaining power. To arrogate to ourselves any aspect of the divine prerogative and power and purpose is sin and utterly foolish.
  2. “Their horses are flesh and not spirit.” God will send his angels, swifter than horses, perfectly holy rational beings who do all his commandments at his bidding, and effect immediately the divine purpose. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). The sons of Judah should have borne that in mind from the activity of the destroyer on the evening of Passover (Exodus 12:23). So, the spiritual being would soon destroy the Assyrians by himself. The ultimate Spirit–infinite eternal and unchangeable—is God Himself operating peculiarly and powerfully in protecting and calling his people from darkness to light. No flesh—either of horses or of men—can do this.
  3. Both the arm of flesh and those who trust in it will “come to an end together.” Though the Assyrian would be defeated by God, the continued penchant for protection from Egypt would bring about the eventual humiliation of Egypt by Assyria and the downfall of Jerusalem at the hand of the Chaldeans.


II. The Lord protects even this untrusting people (4-5).

A. He uses the image of a young lion (4), asserting his right to his prey. The Lord of hosts, as a young lion over an animal he has slain, will keep constant grumble, growl, and warning against any one who dares to intrude on his territory. No matter how many “shepherds” of the flock from which prey was taken gather, none will dare disturb the young lion who is jealous for his trophy. Neither Egypt nor Assyria can keep God from executing his plan. God is not intimidated by the boastfulness, the noise, of opposing forces or of those who seek to insert themselves into his place. So the attempt to interrupt God’s claim over his people will bring down the Lord of hosts to Mount Zion to “wage war” for his people and for his own honor.

B. Like a great flock of birds (5), God hovers over Jerusalem, watching it with a million eyes, protecting it from any invasion.

  1. The lion is fierceness and strength, while the birds are gentleness and watchfulness, but also a readiness to intervene with any threat to their young, from the sparrow to the eagle. I have been attacked by robins in the spring if I brought my mower too close to their nesting tree and I have seen chickadees attack a hawk in mid-air if they felt a threat to their young.
  2. This image probably has specific reference to the boasting of the king of Assyria in 10:12-14. Verse 14 says, personating Sennacherib, “And my hand reached to the riches of the peoples like a nest, and as one gathers abandoned eggs, I gathered all the earth; and there was not one that flapped its wings or opened its beak or chirped.” Sennacherib would learn just how devastating God’s hovering over his people would be and that the flap of the wings of his angel would send Sennacherib home in humiliation.
  3. Jesus likened himself to a domestic fowl in emphasizing how tenderly he cared and how closely he would protect any who would trust him: “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not” (Matthew 23:37; See Psalms 17: 8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4).
  4. The reference to God’s rescue of his people by passing over them brings to mind the fatal night in Egypt when by the blood of the slain lamb the Israelites were passed over: “He will pass over and rescue it.”


III. The Double call to Israel (6, 7)

A,  Repentance commanded (6)

  1. Repentance from wrong-doing, from law-breaking, is an intrinsic duty of all moral beings. All are made in the image of God and have the duty to love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. The universal failure to do so as children of Adam brings the universal verdict of sin and guilt with the corresponding duty of repentance.
  2. Jesus pointed out this universal duty when he looked at two tragedies, one moral and one natural, as in fact judgments that warned of the need for universal repentance: “I tell you, nay, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5). Jesus did not deny that both instances represented just retribution from God for sin, but also emphasized that susceptibility to such temporal divine intervention was possible for all and was a mere precursor of the awaiting eternal judgment.
  3. Peter told those who heard of Christ’s conquering death, burial, resurrection, and ascension that these events called on them to repent and embrace the full meaning of this redemptive work of Christ (Acts 2:33-39).
  4. Paul told a Gentile audience in Athens and demonstrated to them the foolishness of their idolatry. On the basis of such a rational and moral insult to the true God, he warned against a judgment to come and verified its certainty on the basis of Christ’s resurrection. He proclaimed, “Now he commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:29-31).
  5. This call to repentance is to the covenant people of Jerusalem who have sought refuge in the arm of flesh, ignoring the power and promises of God in whom alone they have present safety and future prosperity. For the sake of his covenant with Abraham in time, and with his Son in eternity (Titus 1:1-3; Hebrews 13:20, 21), the perpetuity of Judah is sealed until the establishment of the new people of God, after the resurrection and during the apostolic age (1 Corinthians 6:16-7:1; 1 Peter 2: 5, 9, 10).

B. Repentance granted (7) – Though repentance is rightly demanded, by grace alone it is granted only to the remnant.

  1. Peter preached at Pentecost in the context of a universal command to repentance that the promise would be given to “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39). Peter told his scattered churches that they were a people who were to proclaim the excellencies of “him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
  2. Paul told the Corinthians that “to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God.” He also admonished them to “consider your calling,” for they could only conclude that callings had come to them based, not on their merit or power, but only on God’s election (1 Corinthians 1:24-28).
  3. The article on “Effectual Calling in the Second London Confession says, “Those whom God has predestinated unto life, he is pleased, in his appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call by his word and Spirit out of that state of sin, and dearth, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually, and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ.”
  4. “In that day every man will cast away his silver idols, etc.” This is a certainty because of God’s purpose. Some will listen to this call, be restored to the land after the exile, seek the Lord in earnest (Nehemiah 1), and look toward that final consummation of divine redemption (Malachi 3:16, 17; 4:4-6).


IV. The Certainty of Assyria’s demise (8, 9)

A. Instead of by the power of any human agency, Assyria will fall by the sovereign intervention of God. See the pronouncement of Isaiah 30:31-33. After the insultingly arrogant boasting of Rabsheka (2 Kings 18:27-37), Isaiah told Hezekiah of the sudden defeat of Assyria and Sennacherib (2 Kings 19: 6, 7). An angel of the Lord went through the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 men in the evening (2 Kings 19:35).

B. “His rock will pass away because of panic.” The seemingly immovable leader and inspiration of Assyria will wilt before the intervention of God. “So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home” (2 Kings 19:36).

C. “His princes will be terrified at the standard.” The sudden death of 185,00 men left a terrifying sign of supernatural presence, a wrathful presence with the power of death in its hand. So striking was the reversal that no one could deny that the God of Israel had taken on the entire army of the Assyrians and had lifted his own standard that said, “Life is mine and death is mine. Do not defy my honor.” Two of Sennacherib’s own leaders killed him as he worshiped his god Nisroch. They escaped to a different land. All the perpetrators of false gods, no gods, and blasphemers of the one true and living God will be terrified on that day. “And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of he Lamb” (Revelation 6:15, 16).


V. All of this will occur in accordance with the pronouncement of God—“Declares the Lord.” For his own glory, God made a covenant agreement with Zion through the patriarchs. He will not fail to bring about what he has declared. His fire could refer to the sacrificial fire on the altar which could never go out (Leviticus 6:12, 13). In the temple, the fire burned as a symbol of his redemptive purpose and the necessity of the manifestation of the fire of Gods’ wrath in the means of redemption. This declaration is from the God who is holy, who will by no means clear the guilty, but is filled with wisdom combined with mercy and will forgive transgressions. This is because the fire of God’s wrath was fully quenched in the body of his Son on the cross.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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