O Assyrian, the rod of my anger, and the staff in their hand is my indignation.…
The figure of Assyria as an aggrandizing power is here set before us. "About B.C. 1100, the rule of Assyria, under Tiglath-Pileser I., had stretched from Kurdistan to the Grecian Archipelago, including the whole of Lebanon and Phoenicia. But a strong league of the Hittite kings of Syria had effectually humbled it, and torn away from the successors of the great king all his dominions on this side the Euphrates. After a hundred and fifty years of obscurity, Assyria once more, in the middle of the ninth century B.C., under its warlike king, Assur-Nazirhabal, entered on a career of conquest, and cleared its home territories of their Babylonish garrisons. He was succeeded by his son, Shalmaueser II., who proved the Napoleon of his day. After conquering Babylonia, he marched in triumph to the shores of the Persian Gulf, and exacted tribute from the petty kings of Chaldaea. But these triumphs only kindled his military ardor. He now determined to extend his empire to the ancient grandeur it had obtained under Tiglath-Pileser I. The kingdom of Damascus and the states of Palestine were thus in imminent danger. A new era of mortal struggle had come to them - a struggle only to end, after an agony of more than a hundred years, in the destruction of Damascus and Samaria, and the degrading vassalage of all the nations from the Euphrates to the Levant. Henceforth all Western Asia trembled at the name of Assyria. The heavens were black with tempests, driving, with only momentary lulls, across the whole sweep of Syria and Palestine" (Dr. Geikie). Fixing attention on Assyria, we observe -
I. SELF-WILLED ASSYRIA, CARRYING OUT ITS OWN PLANS. Describe the historical facts. The poet seems to be watching this aggrandizing king determined to push his conquests to the Mediterranean, and become master of the world. The career and spirit of the first Napoleon are full of effective comparisons. The lust of conquest ever grows with success, and the Assyrian king had no more thought of God than Napoleon had. He simply meant to serve his own ends. These great world-conquerors are prominent examples of "taking life into our own ordering, and resolutely fashioning it to our own ends;" and they are examples, too, of the curse to all around, and the ruin to the man himself, of every self-willed life.
II. OVERRULED ASSYRIA CARRYING OUT GOD'S PLANS. What a supreme humiliation for conquering Assyria was this prophetic declaration! Assyria was, in actual fact, only carrying out the purpose of Jehovah, who was known to the Assyrians but as the God of one of the little states which they would be obliged to overrun. Assyria and its proud king were only Jehovah's rod and staff, executing for him the fierceness of his indignation. Assyria was now as much the servant of God judging and punishing Syria and Israel, as the Hebrews had been the servants of God in exterminating the Canaanites, whose cup of iniquity had become full, and was running over. God makes "the wrath of man praise him, and the remainder of wrath he restrains."
III. THERE IS EVER CONSOLATION FOR GOD'S PEOPLE IN GOD'S OVERRULINGS. We should always try to look beyond man's little plan, and see how things fit into God's great plan. We may never be satisfied with what things look like, we should ask God to teach us what they are. There are no forces working in the moral or intellectual world of today which are out of God's range. We need never be despondent. The purposes of grace are overmastering purposes. It is always true that "man proposes, and God disposes." As practical appeal, show how important for us it is that we should be kin with God, fit into his purposes, and do his will, not just by his overruling and mastery, but by our own spirit of surrender, submission, and joyous service; never saying, "What shall I do?" but ever looking up to God and saying, "Lord what wilt thou have me to do?" - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation.