The Rod of God's Anger
A study in prophecy
In Part 1 we dwelt upon the history of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib's campaign in and around Judah during the period 711-701 BC and its relation to the prophetic fore views of Daniel and other prophets. The subject now for examination is that part of Daniel's 11th chapter that describes the exploits of the 'king of the north' who at the Time of the End will embark upon a career of world conquest. He will ravage the nations and meet his doom by Divine intervention when he attacks the restored and converted people, God settled in the Holy Land, the nucleus of the Messianic kingdom upon earth. The parallel between the actions and fate of the Assyrian and those of his greater counterpart at the end of the Age is best shown by a process of verse by verse examination of the relevant passage, Daniel 11.36-45 RSV.
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Vv. 36-37. "And the king shall do according to his will; he shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of godsÖHe shall give no heed to the gods of his fathers, or to the one beloved by women; he shall not give heed to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all."
Sennacherib was victorious wherever he went and no nation was able to withstand him: with his continuing victories his arrogance grew apace. He counted himself superior to all gods, as witness his words in 2 Chron. 32.13-15 (RSV) "Do you not know what I and my fathers have done to all the peoples of other lands? Were the gods of the nations of those lands at all able to deliver their lands out of my hand?. . . . no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand. . . how much less will your God deliver you out of my hand?" The 'God of his fathers' is Asshur, the national supreme god of Assyria (Asshur was their deified ancestor, a son of patriarch Shem). The "one beloved of women" is a term, according to Gesenius, applicable to the goddess Ishtar, Queen of heaven and revered by all Semitic peoples. Asshur and Ishtar were the two leading deities of the Assyrians until the time of Sennacherib but he neglected their worship in favour of a lesser god, Nisroch.
If the analogy holds good, the "northern power" at the end of this Age is one which repudiates and defies every type of religious faith and worship, and, to use the NEB rendering, utters "monstrous blasphemies" against God Most High. The reference to Ishtar might well constitute a hint that the very considerable section of the world Church that reveres the Virgin Mary as worthy of worship is also included in this rejection. The "king of the north" is thus shown to be completely atheistic and to have banished God and all expressions of religion from his policy and practice.
Vv. 38-39 "He shall honour the god of fortresses instead of these; a god whom his fathers did not know he shall honour with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts. He shall deal with the strongest fortresses by the help of a foreign god: those who acknowledge him he shall magnify with honour. He shall make them rulers over many and shall divide the land for a price."
Sennacherib had adopted, as his favourite deity, Nisroch, a god depicted on the tablets with the head of a vulture, a fitting choice for this man. According to Isaiah 37.38 it was while worshipping in the temple of this god that he met his end. Nisroch was virtually unknown to his predecessors; Sennacherib elevated him to the front rank. To this god the Assyrian dedicated the fruits of his many conquests. By virtue of the destruction of Sidon all world trade between the west, south and east was diverted to pass through Nineveh and came under Assyrian control. The 37th chapter of Ezekiel gives a vivid picture of the trading wealth which passed from Phoenicia to Assyria at this time although that chapter refers to the similar calamity which fell upon the sister city of Tyre a century later at the hands of the Babylonians. The Phoenicians had recovered their lost trade control in the meantime following the fall of Assyria. By means of his military conquests Sennacherib controlled, politically and commercially, all the ancient Bible lands, with the exception of Egypt, but extending into South Arabia and far into the interior of Siberia. Having conquered, he left the local national kings and rulers in control subject to him, on payment of heavy annual tribute in treasure and kind, thus "dividing the land for a price".
Similarly the 'king of the north' of Daniel's vision can be expected to attain considerable commercial supremacy in the world, in the name of a hitherto new and unwelcome ideology which can well merit the description of a "foreign god", a god of fortresses, a military power. There will seem no power that can withstand this relentless conqueror steadily submitting one nation after another to his will.
Vv. 40-41. "At the time of the end the king of the south shall attack him; but the king of the north shall rush upon him like a whirlwind, with chariots and horsemen, and with many ships, and shall come into the countries and shall overflow and pass through. He shall come into the glorious land and tens of thousands shall fall, but these shall be delivered out of his hand, Edom and Moab and the main part of the Ammonites."
In Sennacherib's day the 'king of the south' was Egypt, the other and much older empire. Egypt was being steadily circumscribed and restricted by the rising power of Assyria. There had already been clashes; now the Egyptians marched north to give battle whilst Sennacherib was still in Syria. The Assyrian advanced at a furious pace; his armies swarmed over Syria, Phoenicia, the land of the Philistines. Samaria and Judah, and met the Egyptian forces at Eltekeh, south-west of Jerusalem. The Egyptians were defeated and withdrew. A feature of this campaign was that the kings of Edom, Moab and Ammon came to Sennacherib with protestations of friendship and in consequence he left these three countries alone. They did not suffer the horrors of war. But in Judah, "the glorious land", he did take more than two hundred thousand captives, and sent them to Nineveh with much spoil. Although the Scripture history says nothing about his use of ships, it is known that shortly afterwards Sennacherib employed a great fleet of war galleys in his wars with Elam. His grandfather, Shalmaneser, originated Assyrian maritime power by using sixty ships manned by eight thousand rowers in his attack upon Tyre. It is perfectly feasible to conclude that Sennacherib's advance through Syria and Philistia towards Egypt was accompanied by a war fleet sailing along the Palestine coast to assist in the attack, and that Daniel's vision at this point was a reflection of that fact.
In like manner does the end-of-the-age 'king of the north' advance upon the Holy Land where God's people of faith await his coming. His quarrel at this moment is not primarily with them but with the latter-day "king of the south" who is his great adversary. He has provided himself with 'many ships', a new departure for this king of the north who has previous1y relied upon land warfare. The Semitic Arabs of the adjacent lands, pictured in Daniel by Moab, Edom, Ammon, are on terms of amity with him and escape his wrath, but the people of God do suffer his vengeance in proportion as they are still allied with the "king of the south". Not until that link is broken does God deliver. So just as Sennacherib at the corresponding moment took captives and a great spoil from Judah, so does the latter-day king of the north exact his toll from restored Israel while they still look for salvation to the "kingdoms of this world". This is shown more clearly in succeeding verses.
Vv 42-43 "He shall stretch out his hand against the countries, and the land of Egypt shall not escape. He shall become ruler of the treasures of gold and of silver, and all the precious things of Egypt, but the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his heel."
Here the dark shadow of his approaching doom begins to fall upon Sennacherib. He seems to be at the point of success; he now besieges and captures the Philistine fortress of Lachish, the last effective barrier to his advance into Egypt proper. He has left behind him an elaborate sculpture commemorating the fall of Lachish in which he is depicted reviewing the treasures he has captured. But Egypt, now thoroughly alarmed, had called up all her available allies to meet the threat of the terrible Assyrian. The Ethiopians, the Lubim, the Nubians, the Phutites, all the powerful peoples of Africa came out of Egypt under the leadership of Tirhakah the Ethiopian monarch, to give battle. The result appears indecisive; Sennacherib claimed a great victory but Egyptian lore asserts that Egypt was saved by the interposition of Egypt's gods who intervened to destroy his army. Certain it is that he did not set foot in Egypt proper although he did destroy Egyptian influence in Judah and Syria. And the statement that the Libyans (properly Phutites) and Ethiopians shall be "at his heel" (not "steps" as AV) seems almost to indicate that at this point he was compelled to desist and turn back.. Almost immediately came the miraculous deliverance at Jerusalem when the besieging army was destroyed by the angel of the Lord and the Assyrian "returned with shame of face to his own land".
Now all this, translated to the events of the end of the age, seems to picture an unexpected slowing up or check to the worldwide conquests of the king of the north for a reason not immediately apparent. The king of the south is down but not out; he is still capable of offering battle but all the advantage and initiative is with the king of the north. There would seem to be no reason why he does not follow up his acquisition of the treasures of the king of the south by advancing completely into his territory and taking full possession. But he does not do so. Instead he pauses in his onward career to settle once and for all this vexed problem of the people of God ensconced in their own land. When at last the inability of the king of the south to help them has been abundantly demonstrated publicly they avow their faith in God, that He will deliver. The arm of flesh has failed them. The carnal weapons in which they had put their trust are cast aside, and they wait in calm confidence to see what the Lord will do. And here, with two great powers facing each other and the people of God trapped between them, comes the climax to this momentous drama.
Vv. 44-45 "But tidings from the east and the north shall alarm him; and he shall go forth with great fury to exterminate and utterly destroy many. And he shall pitch his palatial tents between the sea and the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, with none to help him."
It was at this point, whilst the Assyrian armies were besieging Jerusalem and Hezekiah was praying to God for deliverance, that news came to Sennacherib from Nineveh that rebellion had broken out in his subject lands of Babylonia and Elam in the east and Armenia in the north. It was imperative that he return to deal with the rebels. The immediate result was to step up his attempt to capture Jerusalem; the extent of his fury is indicated in the Old Testament by the combined promises and threats directed against the besieged people of Jerusalem, threats to which they disdained to reply. He was at this time superintending the removal of the treasures from the captured city of Lachish and the sculpture above referred to shows him seated in front of his royal pavilion whilst thus engaged. It was the custom for kings in those days when on active service with their troops to have such a pavilion-tent for personal use and this sculpture of such at Lachish is a striking commentary on this verse. Lachish lies "between the sea" (the Mediterranean) "and the glorious holy mountain" (Mount Zion - Jerusalem). Sennacherib in his inscriptions had already boasted that he would "pitch my silken tent not only in the high places of the north" (Syria, where he did do so) "but in Jerusalem itself, and profane its palace gardens" (which in the event he certainly did not do. This incidentally is alluded to in 2 Kings 19.23.)
Here he came to his end. In the night the Angel of the Lord passed over the Assyrian host and slew of them a hundred and eighty-five thousand men. The Assyrian, the rod of God's anger, the scourge of Israel, was suddenly and irrevocably broken by God whom he had defied, and made his way back to Nineveh never to return. At that point he passes out of the Scripture story; in reality he lived a further nineteen years before being assassinated by his sons, but that is no part of the prophetic picture. With the loss of his army, and his precipitate flight from Jerusalem, he came to his end with none to help him.
So it will be at this end of the Age. One can picture the dread invader establishing his headquarters on the very borders of the Holy Land and exulting at the prospect of imminent and easy victory, and then the coming of tidings from the east and north which convey a new danger. The tidings that would be most likely to constitute a threat to this hitherto invincible world ruler would be that of the active intervention of Heaven. The Assyrians looked to a mountain in the far north-east as the abode of the gods and the centre of Divine rulership. 'The Mountain of the East' they called it, and sometimes 'the heights of the North' (this is alluded to in Isaiah 14.13). From there had come their ancestors after the Great Flood. One of the phenomena of the closing events of this Age must be a dawning realization on the part of the evil forces of this world that the powers of Heaven are joining issue with them and that the fight will be to a finish. The vision of Rev. 19 where the Rider on the White Horse from Heaven is seen facing the powers of evil and completely overthrowing them is a parallel picture describing the same event. If this be a valid interpretation, then this intimation that Heaven's powers from the "east and north", the centre of Divine rule, are on the way, to give battle to all world evil. This is followed almost immediately by the spectacular and miraculous deliverance of the trusting people of God in the Holy Land and the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom on Earth. Logically enough the following chapter, Daniel 12, declares at this point that Michael, the traditional archangel-protector of Israel, 'stands up', and the reign of blessing begins. This chain of obscure allusions in these few verses of Daniel 11, related to the known details of Sennacherib's campaign at the time of Israel's earlier but similar trial of faith, is valuable guidance to an understanding of the detailed sequence of happenings which will characterize the final few years of 'this present evil world'
(to be concluded) AOH