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Nothing happens on this earth without God’s help and approval. Nothing happens that He doesn’t want to happen as part of His ultimate good plan. That includes all forms of evil. We have trouble getting our minds around this. We read the news in the morning and see descriptions of people attacking other people and nations going to war. We know their reasons are carnal and selfish and evil, so how can God really be involved?
Through the mouths of His Old Testament prophets, Yahweh explains the mechanics of human wars from His perspective. He is the ultimate Director of all nations. He is the One setting up governments, placing rulers in power and causing empires to rise and fall. He knows that people want to attack each other because they’re evil at heart. When this doesn’t work for Him, He foils their plans. But when He wants a nation to be attacked because He wants to discipline them, then He lets battle plans be successful.
Now we hear about war happening somewhere in the world almost every day. The losers of a war find themselves in terrible situations: assaulted, killed, and captured. What happens when people become desperate and hurting? They turn to God. On this earth, all suffering is about spiritual growth. God uses pain to motivate rebels to repent or to push the obedient on to the next level of maturity. We really start to progress in life when we learn to look for a spiritual lesson every time suffering enters our lives. We slow down our progress when we say silly things like “Suffering is from Satan. God never wants us to be in pain.” Those who make such claims aren’t reading their Bibles very closely. From Genesis to Revelation, God is intentionally inflicting people with trials. In the historical books like Genesis and Judges, trials are described from the human perspective and it’s easy to forget that God is causing it all on purpose. But when prophets are around to explain the events from God’s perspective—like Moses did in Numbers and like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel do in their books—then we get a much clearer picture of what’s really going on.
Isaiah 10 is one of many passages in which Yahweh describes the mechanics of war. He has intentionally riled up the nation of Assyria to come and ravage Israel because He’s furious about His people’s hardcore rebellion. Listen to the intentionality of His language:
“Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger! I use it as a club to express My anger. I am sending Assyria against a godless nation [Judah], against a people with whom I am angry. Assyria will plunder them, trampling them like dirt beneath its feet.” (Isa. 10:5-6)
Notice how God is taking credit for all the brutality of war here. He says that He is the One who is the sending the Assyrians to attack the Jews. We are erroneously taught not to associate God with such things, yet all throughout the Bible He makes it very clear that all suffering is ultimately His idea.
What makes the prophetic books so thrilling is that we finally get to hear God’s perspective of earthly events. Realizing that God is the One who is directing all of the wars in this world will drastically change how you view current events. We’re not used to thinking of Him as being the One causing people to attack others, and yet He is.
Now let’s consider the human view. The Assyrians were a pagan nation. They didn’t believe in Yahweh, so did they actually hear Him commanding them to attack Israel? No. Like most people today, the Assyrians based their conclusions about life on many false beliefs. As far as they were concerned, they went to war because they wanted to. God understands that the Assyrians don’t understand the big picture and He now explains what their perspective is:
“But Assyria’s king doesn’t understand that I am using him; he doesn’t know that he is a tool for Me. He only wants to destroy other people and to defeat many nations.” (Isa. 10:7)
Like most people today, the king of Assyria thought that going to war was his own idea and that God had nothing to do with it. But in reality, God has used this king’s evil desires to entice him into attacking Israel’s southern kingdom of Judah. As God continues to explain, we learn that the king of Assyria has been attacking a lot of nations lately with great success, so he’s arrogant. He thinks he is unstoppable.
“The king of Assyria says to himself, ‘All of my commanders are like kings. We destroyed the city of Calno just as we did Carchemish. Hamath fell before us just as Arpad did. And we destroyed Samaria just as we did Damascus. Yes, we have finished off many a kingdom whose gods were greater than those in Jerusalem and Samaria. So we will defeat Jerusalem and her gods, just as we destroyed Samaria with hers.’” (Isa. 10:8-11)
In these times, every nation had their gods, so to conquer a nation was also to conquer its gods. Notice how the king of Assyria doesn’t even recognize that Israel’s God is Yahweh—he thinks she worships many gods like the nations around her. This is a real statement on how bad Israel’s idolatry problem has become—she’s so busy publicly worshiping other gods that the whole world has noticed. This was the nation who was supposed to be a shining light of truth and a testimony to the fact that Yahweh was the one true God. No wonder Yahweh is livid.
So now we’ve got a good picture of what’s going on: Yahweh is using Assyria as His spanking paddle, but Assyria is oblivious. The king of Assyria doesn’t care about helping Israel get right with God, he just wants to grab her land. Will this evil king go unpunished just because his actions are useful to God? Not at all. God is just. Isaiah now explains the next phase of God’s plan:
After the Lord has used the king of Assyria to accomplish His purposes on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, He will turn against the king of Assyria and punish him—for he is proud and arrogant. (Isa. 10:12)
This is how awesome God is: He uses our evil intentions to further His good plan and at the same time doesn’t let anyone get away with anything. It’s very impressive. We now get a detailed description of the king of Assyria’s rotten heart attitude—this is the reason Yahweh will be punishing him next:
The king of Assyria boasts: “By my own power I have done these things, and by my wisdom, because I have understanding. I removed the boundaries of nations, I plundered their treasures; like a mighty one I subdued their kings. As one reaches into a nest, so my hand reached for the wealth of the nations; as people gather abandoned eggs, so I gathered all the countries; not one flapped a wing, or opened its mouth to chirp.” (Isa. 10:13-14)
The king of Assyria thinks he is “the man.” His ego is huge, and he is giving himself all of the glory. From God’s perspective, this is an obnoxious attitude. God gives humans their every breath, so how can they ever claim to do anything without Him? The king of Assyria has been empowered by God—all the victories he won were handed to him. It’s God he should be acknowledging and praising for his successes, not himself. God now criticizes this pompous king’s flawed perspective:
“An ax is not better than the person who swings it. A saw is not better than the one who uses it. A stick cannot control the person who picks it up. A club cannot pick up the person!” (Isa. 10:15)
Here Yahweh likens the pompous king to an ax, saw, stick and club—all tools which lie useless on the ground unless someone picks them up and puts them to use. Yahweh is the One who picked Assyria up and put her to use for His purposes. Yahweh should be getting the glory—instead the helpless tool is doing all of the boasting. It’s time for Assyria to get a lesson on Who’s really in charge.
So the Lord, Yahweh Almighty, will send a terrible disease upon Assyria’s soldiers. The strength of Assyria will be burned up like a fire burning until everything is gone. God, the Light of Israel, will be like a fire; the Holy One will be like a flame. He will be like a fire that suddenly burns the weeds and thorns. The fire burns away the great trees and rich farmlands, destroying everything. It will be like a sick person who wastes away. The trees left standing will be so few that even a child could count them. (Isa. 10:16-19)
Here Yahweh is describing severe devastation. Assyria is in for a massive beating. She is next in line to receive harsh discipline from God. Later on we learn that Yahweh plans to raise up another nation to come and destroy Assyria. He will start another war, He will choose another evil king to be His instrument of destruction, and once again that evil king will try to take the glory. So God will then punish that evil king by bringing in another nation and starting yet another war. On and on the cycle continues, and it is still going on today. All wars are directed by God. All wars are His instruments of discipline.
The next time someone tries to tell you that nations are fighting over oil or land or politics, remember that this is only the human perspective. What really matters is God’s perspective, and He teaches us in the Bible that He has constructive purposes for allowing war. It’s always about driving people back to Him. God wants all nations to be saved.
Unlike atheistic America, some nations today still associate themselves with fictional deities, as was the norm in Bible times. These nations will sometimes try to start “holy wars”—claiming that their gods are telling them to harm others. In the past, the Christian Church has played this same game—doing violence to others in the Name of God and then pretending to be morally right in His eyes. While it is true that God directs all wars, trying to use Him as an excuse to harm others is wrong. God’s original plan with Israel was that she view Him as her top military Commander. She was supposed to seek His direction before engaging in any military activity. There were many times that He specifically told her to go to battle in the Old Testament—He even authorized her to kill people. But there is a big difference between military commanders who are really trying to honor God and those who are just using Him as a convenient excuse.
Men like King David and Joshua really cared about pleasing God. Because of this, they received clear instructions from Him about how and when to lead their armies into war. In these cases, they could legitimately say “God told us to kill people.” They also gave God the glory for their victories and followed His instructions about what to do with the people and cities that they defeated. It is an entirely different thing to be humbly led by God on the battlefield than it is to use religion as an excuse to do evil.
Today, we can’t find a single nation on this planet that sincerely honors God. Some like to throw His Name around, but their societies are filled with evil and idolatry. When such nations claim that God has told them to start some holy war, we should not believe them. When God is being properly served, we will find reverence, humility and a desire to honor Him in all things. When all we see is greed, cruelty, and self-glorying, we cannot accept that people are listening to God, no matter how many Bible verses they quote.
As Israel demonstrates throughout the Old Testament, people often respond to God’s discipline by hardening their hearts even more. Instead of softening, they grow more stubborn and increase the evil that they do. God responds to this by intensifying their suffering. He disciplines them in new ways: raising up corrupt leaders who will pass unfair laws and make their daily lives miserable. The more we push God, the harder He will push us back until either we repent or He decides to take us off of the earth.
The good news for those of us who are trying to please God is that He never loses track of us in the shuffle of war. When we know our hearts are right before Him, we do not need to be afraid when He comes against our nations in anger because we can know that He isn’t angry with us personally. Instead, we can be like Daniel, Jeremiah and Shadrach: people who greatly pleased God by faithfully serving Him during seasons of harsh discipline. God might be furious at your nation today, but He does not want you to be afraid of His anger if you know your heart is right before Him. If God starts a war and we are killed in the midst of it, He is giving us the greatest reward of all by taking us to Heaven with Him. There are no accidental casualties of war—every soul that dies is hand-selected by God. Death is not something we Christians need to fear. We don’t need to fear hardships either, because no matter what happens, God promises that we will benefit spiritually from all trials if we are willing to learn from Him.
Spiritual joy can make hardships surprisingly less hard. The satisfaction of knowing God is pleased with our lives can give us the courage to face anything. When we remember that God is always with us and that He is carefully orchestrating each one of our lives so that we can reap some spiritual benefit from every experience, then there is nothing left to fear. We are not lost like bits of wreckage floating in a stormy sea. We aren’t the defenseless prey of Satan. Evil people can’t come against us anytime they feel like it. Nothing happens to us apart from God’s good plan for us: this is what we learn by studying the Old Testament and absorbing God’s constant reassurances that He is controlling every aspect of this universe. To those who are sincerely trying to please Him, understanding God’s sovereignty brings great peace and comfort.