Fr. David's Lent Reflections Day 17
Here we come to the 17th day of our Lenten journey, God bless you as you travel the path to the Cross and to our Lord’s resurrection. Our reading from scripture is Isaiah 10:12-23.
And it shall come to pass, when the Lord shall have finished doing all things on mount Sion and Jerusalem, that I will visit upon the proud heart, even upon the ruler of the Assyrians, and upon the boastful haughtiness of his eyes. 13 For he said, I will act in strength, and in the wisdom of my understanding I will remove the boundaries of nations, and will spoil their strength. 14 And I will shake the inhabited cities: and I will take with my hand all the world as a nest: and I will even take them as eggs that have been left; and there is none that shall escape me, or contradict me.
(let me pause here for a moment: the words we’ve just heard are words spoken by the king of Assyria, describing how he will conquer the entire world - this is what it means by saying “remove the boundaries,” that is, the whole world will be one kingdom. The next part of Isaiah’s text is God’s answer to the Assyrian king:)
Shall the axe glorify itself without him that hews with it? or shall the saw lift up itself without him that uses it, as if one should lift a rod or staff? but it shall not be so; 16 but the Lord of hosts shall send dishonor upon thine honor, and burning fire shall be kindled upon thy glory. 17 And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and he shall sanctify him with burning fire, and it shall devour the wood as grass. 18 In that day the mountains shall be consumed, and the hills, and the forests, and fire shall devour both soul and body: and he that flees shall be as one fleeing from burning flame. 19 And they that are left of them shall be a small number, and a child shall write them.
And it shall come to pass in that day that the remnant of Israel shall no more join themselves with, and the saved of Jacob shall no more trust in, them that injured them; but they shall trust in the Holy God of Israel, in truth. 21 And the remnant of Jacob shall trust on the mighty God. And though the people of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant of them shall be saved. He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because the Lord will make a short work in all the world.
In this reading, God says through Isaiah: “Shall the axe glorify itself without him that hews with it? or shall the saw lift up itself without him that uses it, as if one should lift a rod or staff? but it shall not be so…” The prophet speaks here specifically to the king of the Assyrians, whose name was Sennacherib, the greatest of the Assyrian kings. Isaiah tells Sennacherib that he is an axe in the hand of God, sent to punish the people of Judah, but the axe can be as quickly abandoned by the hand that wields it as it can be used by the same hand.
In our present culture, there are many evil and pagan agents that seem to have the upper hand. This can be seen as a punishment upon the church, divided and possessed by confusion as it is. We must never revel in the knowledge that we, and here I mean the Orthodox Church, have kept the faith whole and in its fulness. We have many stains in our history and in our present that have harmed our proclamation of the gospel. But also, where have the other churches come from? Were they placed here by aliens when we weren’t looking? No, not at all. Christianity started with the Orthodox, and is in the state it is now as offspring of the early Church. No, we cannot be triumphant, because the Lord may need to punish the Church more before restoration is possible.
But we do not lose hope. The punishing agents of our culture are still in the hands of God, and their present success is not the end of the story. Just as the axe at the time of Isaiah belonged to God, so the axes of today do as well.