Isaiah 10b – The Arrogant Assyrians
Isaiah gets into the mind and thoughts of the king of Assyria at least twice in Isa 10. In 10:8-11, the king boasts that even his commanders are as great as kings and one town is the same as the other to the conquering Assyrian army. The king boasts of tearing down the idols (and by implication, the gods) of the other nations, promising to do the same to Jerusalem.
Just a few verses later, Isaiah again looks into the mind of the Assyrian king as the king boasts of accomplishing his conquests purely with his own strength and cunning (as opposed to God’s viewpoint, who wields the king and his army as a shepherd holds a staff; 10:5-6). Notice how many times the Assyrian king says “I” and “my” in just a single verse:
“For he says: ‘By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I have understanding; I remove the boundaries of peoples, and plunder their treasures; like a bull I bring down those who sit on thrones.’” (10:13 ESV, emphases mine)
Five times in a single verse, “I” or “my” is used. Surely the Assyrian king thinks all credit for conquest is due him, not YHWH!
The king during the Syro-Ephraimite war, which took place during the time of Isa 7–12, was Tiglath-Pilesar III. Annalistic Records during his kingship have been uncovered by archaeologists, along with many from other Assyrian kings before and after his time. Here is a selection of records from Tiglath-Pilesar’s term. You’ll read a similar “me-centric” perspective in these records (and notice many of the same towns mentioned here also mentioned in Isa 10):
“I received tribute from Kushtashpi of Commagene, Rezon of Damascus, Menahem of Samaria, Hiram of Tyre… Pisiris of Carchemish, I’nil of Hamath… I laid siege and conquered the town Hadara, the inherited property of Rezon of Damascus… I brought away as prisoners 800 of its inhabitants with their possessions… I destroyed, making them look like hills of ruined cities over which the flood had swept…” (Translation by Luckenbill; in James B. Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed., pg. 283; translated smoothed out for readability).
I, I, I, me, me, me… these are the words of the prideful Assyrian kings. They were self-focused, self-congratulating, totally devoid of the proper credit that should have been God’s. From the mind of the Assyrian king, all that was accomplished was his doing. But from God’s perspective, Assyria was being used as an instrument of judgment in the hands of the Almighty.
We would do well to remember this in light of any accomplishments that we enjoy in life.