“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” Most laws are designed by those in power to maintain their power, and by those who have money to keep and increase their money. It’s why the government has to regulate banks, businesses, and even the government itself. But when the government is in bed with the banks and businesses, God says, Look out! The poor have no political, managerial, or judicial power. For those in power to take away the little bit they have is abusive, wrong, and sinful. It’s like the school bully picked on the smallest kid—the easiest target.
V. 3: “What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?” Money is useful in good times and bad, in trouble, and even in crisis. But in times of disaster (tsunamis, earthquakes, war), it’s worthless. In times of disaster, money becomes one of the most worthless things to possess.
v. 4: “Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.” The only fates awaiting these abusive people are slavery or death. God’s hand is still raised, because the point is not just to punish, but to reform and to turn them back. He won’t stop until they turn back. That’s why his anger isn’t turned away, and his hand is still upraised.
v. 5: “Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath!” Just because God uses you doesn’t mean you are pleasing to God. Matt. 7.21 says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” God will use whoever he wants, even Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar. But that doesn’t mean you’ve got an in with the King.
vv. 6-10: Because the King of Assyrian is a pagan, smug and confident in his own power, puffed up with pride, gloating over how big he has made himself. The halls of power are enamored with the halls of power. “Look how powerful I am! I am a Master of the Universe. Look how successful I am!” There is nothing wrong with power or success. What matters is how you got it, and what you do with it. So in this case, the Assyrian king is abusive and sinful. This man esteems himself mightier than the gods themselves. It’s the very breath of Satan himself, just like the king of Tyre in Isa. 14.12-14.
But look at v. 11: “shall I not deal with Jerusalem and her images as I dealt with Samaria and her idols?” Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you, as a “believer”, will get special treatment, or that you can get away with more, and that you can just let “sin abound”. God’s people are just as accountable as everyone else, or even more so. Verse 12: there will be a day of reckoning, even if the Lord is using you. All are accountable. Mt. 7.21-23; 2 Cor. 5.10. C.S. Lewis says, “How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and things them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound’s worth of Pride towards their fellow-men. I suppose it was of those people Christ was thinking about when He said that some would preach about him and cast out devils in His name, only to be told at the end of the world that He had never known them. And any of us may at any moment be in this death-trap. Luckily, we have a test. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.”
vv. 13-15: Pride is a misperception of reality, of how things happen, and the forces of cause and effect. People think they are solo operators and not seeing the complexity of reality. When pride and power converge, the result is intimidation, domination, and abuse. But people are not gods, no matter how successful or powerful they are.