This may seem like a trite lesson to draw from a lectionary reading about judgment like the one today from Isaiah 10. Yet it is important in relationship to God to know when not to take things too far.
Let me give you the backdrop. Though we sometimes have difficulty in modern times thinking of God as a God of judgment (more on that at a later time I think), in this passage in Isaiah, Assyria is portrayed as the instrument for divine judgment. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had lived in idolatry and injustice long enough and God was sending a nation of “pagans” or outsiders as his means for punishing them.
In verse 6 of the passage God describes what he intends for the Assyrians to do “Against an impious nation I send him, and against a people under my wrath I order him To seize plunder, carry off loot, and tread them down like the mud of the streets.” Yet in verse 7 we find that this is not what the Assyrians have in mind: “But this is not what he intends, nor does he have this in mind; Rather, it is in his heart to destroy, to make an end of nations not a few.”
Rather than simply delivering God’s punishment on the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the Assyrians also want to put an end to many nations. Even more than this, Isaiah envisions the Assyrian king taking credit for everything, not viewing himself simply as God’s instrument.
To this God’s response is “Will the axe boast against him who hews with it? Will the saw exalt itself above him who wields it? As if a rod could sway him who lifts it, or a staff him who is not wood! Therefore the Lord, the LORD of hosts, will send among his fat ones leanness, And instead of his glory there will be kindling like the kindling of fire.” In other words, the axe (i.e. the instrument = Assyria) cannot boast over its maker. And, in this case, rather than being God’s instrument the Assyrians take matters too far and do so in a manner of arrogance.
This is serious business here dealing with the rising and falling of entire nations as well as stern judgment. This is why I said the lesson I draw from it may seem a bit trite; however, I don’t think it any less important. It is important to keep in mind boundaries and to give credit where credit is due.
Was there at some time some task God entrusted to you with, but now you feel it may be time to say no? Perhaps it’s time to turn over the reigns to someone else. Do you sometimes not give God the credit for what he has done in your life, rather keeping that credit for yourself?
Let us take stock today and consider our calling. What is it that would should really be focusing on at this time of our lives? Need we repent of our arrogance and return to a life of humility?