July 24th, 2021 - Isaiah 36-39
We have encountered the events of today reading before, in 2 Kings 18-30. Jerusalem’s rescue from Assyrian king Sennacherib is a focal point of Isaiah chapters 1-39. The Lord promised to rescue His people by remaining present with Jerusalem and by preserving a remnant. Back in chapters 7-8 we saw Hezekiah make a foolish alliance with the Assyrians but by this point the alliance was no longer advantageous to the Assyrians and they had broken the alliance. Now they were on the march from Assyria, headed south along the Mediterranean coast. They were defeating country after country, killing kings and many residents and destroying entire cities and towns. Even Judah was affected with nearly all the country swallowed up by Assyria. That is except for Jerusalem. Today we see that the Lord preserved His people through godly king Hezekiah, who had learned to trust in and have faith in the Lord. Hezekiah faced the same tests as Ahaz did though Ahaz failed miserably. King Sennacherib ruled in Assyria from 705-681 B.C. Hezekiah, like many other kings under his vassalage, had reasserted his independence when Sennacherib came to the throne in troubled circumstances. But by 701 Sennacherib was ready to punish Hezekiah. He had recorded having conquered some 46 fortified cities and many villages, and having taken 200,146 captives. Hezekiah responded by trying to appease Sennacherib but it was too late. See 2 Kings 18:14-16.
Today’s reading also describes the blasphemous threats of Sennacherib against Jerusalem. We see Hezekiah’s appeal to Isaiah, who ridiculed Sennacherib, and the eventual flight of the blasphemer. The year was 701B.C., the 14th year of Hezekiah’s reign. Sennacherib was based in Lachish, a city about 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem. This city had to be defeated before the final attack on Jerusalem could be launched. Lachish guarded Jerusalem from this position along the main road from the south. Thirty three years earlier Isaiah had met Ahaz in the same place, challenging him to trust in the Lord, but Ahaz refused and trusted Assyria instead. This time the challenge to trust the Lord came from mocking, foreign lips…Sennacherib. Here Eliakim is second in rank only to the king. Hezekiah sends his top three officials out to meet the messengers of king Sennacherib. The Assyrian chief of staff, also called the Rabshakeh, tried to use intimidation as his first tactic. He rightly argued that Egypt had no ability to rescue Judah. Even Judah had figured that out. It is interesting that this chief of staff saw the primary conflict not between the gods of Assyria and the Lord but between Sennacherib and the Lord. Like they were even close to being on the same plane. This chief of staff also showed he did not know the Lord because he was sure that when Hezekiah tore down all the pagan shrines and altars, this angered the Lord. His offer of a deal involved horses, lots of horses… 2,000 in fact. But he was sure Judah couldn’t find riders or charioteers for that many. He was mocking the Judeans because he knew they had no one trained to ride. God’s earthly army was comprised of foot soldiers who did not have the latest weapons or technology. The Rabshakeh also claimed that it was the Lord Himself who instructed Assyria to attack. It was common practice for a king to claim the approval of a deity in destroying another kingdom. This claim was consistent with Isaiah’s prophecy in 10:5-6. Aramaic had become the international language of the Near East, known and used by those who were experienced diplomats and men of commerce. The Assyrians were masters of psychological warfare, speaking in Hebrew so the common folks would hear and understand. His hope was to demoralize the people with dire predictions of what would happen to them If they listened to the Lord instead of the Assyrians. Verses 13-20 contain the Rabshakeh’s second speech, this one claiming his nations gods were much more powerful than the Lord. After all, no one had been able to stop the Assyrians. That meant their gods had great power. Little did he know!
Hezekiah had already shared with the people what Isaiah had brought back from the Lord and he was trusting wholly in Him. The Assyrian was tempting the people with provisions that the Lord had promised to provide, trying to take the place of the Lord. It was tempting but it was also a trap. Hezekiah had instructed the people not to speak and they were obedient. His staff who had met with the Rabshakeh tore their clothes in despair and they went to see Hezekiah. When he heard he too tore his clothes in a position of grief and mourning. This was not good news but Hezekiah’s faith had grown and instead of despair, he took the letter from the Rabshakeh and headed to the temple to speak with the Lord. After all, where else would a man of faith go? He sent his officials to seek Isaiah and receive his prophecy. They were all hoping the Lord had heard the blasphemy of the Assyrian chief of staff. Hezekiah’s hope was not based on Judah’s or even his own goodness. Not even on the presence of the temple in Jerusalem. He was concerned about the Lord’s response to the the Rabshakeh’s blasphemy. Isaiah’s message was, do not worry. God Himself would deal with the Assyrians and rescue the remnant of His people in Jerusalem from their distress.
Prayer is powerful and it moved God’s heart. Isaiah predicted Jerusalem’s rescue. She is personified as a young woman who mocks the Assyrian king. Everyone seemed to know that Sennacherib’s speech was not so much an insult against Judah as it was against the Lord. The Assyrians boasted about their greatness. In fact verses 24-25 are Assyrian boasts. But the Lord, through Isaiah has some things to say. Assyria was God’s agent of destruction, but the Assyrians did not realize they were but a tool in God’s hand, fulfilling what God had planned long before. Assyria was utterly and openly hostile to the Lord which only brought them even greater condemnation. In fact, they would be led away by hooks in their noses and bits in their mouths like animals…just they did to their victims. Verses 30-35 is a prophecy of salvation. Jerusalem and the remnant would be spared and they would remain under the Lord’s protection. But because of the Assyrian siege and destruction of agriculture, the people of Judah would not be able to plant and harvest as usual. It would take three years for everything to revert back to normal, plenty of time for the people to work on trusting the Lord and His provision. Passionate commitment here shows the zeal of the Lord for His people. And again we read of the Lord’s protection over Jerusalem. Not one Assyrian would enter Jerusalem. No arrows would be shot and no siege works would be built. Despite their advanced military techniques and great power the Assyrians would not succeed against Jerusalem. Why? For the sake of king David and the promises God had made to him, and for the Lord’s own honor. He took the blasphemy personally. Things did not end well for Assyria. The Lord sent His angel to the Assyrian camp outside Jerusalem and in one night 185,000 Assyrian troops were killed. King Sennacherib returned to his own land and to his capital city of Nineveh. It wasn’t many years after that he was worshiping in his temple to his gods and two of his sons killed him and fled. A third, Esarhaddon became the next Assyrian king.
The events of chapter 38 most likely preceded chapters 36-37 even though Isaiah puts things in a different order. Hezekiah became deathly ill and Isaiah went to visit him with a message from the Lord. He was to put his affairs in order because he would not live. After Isaiah left Hezekiah wept bitterly, reminding God he had been faithful. Apparently he had no heirs at the time. However, his son Manasseh was 12 when he died. He had prayed and he had trusted. God sent Isaiah back to Hezekiah with a different message. God had heard his prayer and saw his tears and would give him 15 more years of life. God also promised to rescue Hezekiah and the city from the Assyrians…something that happened in 701 B.C. Hezekiah responded to Isaiah’s news with a two part poem of praise. Verses 9-14 were lament and 15-20 were praise. The place of the dead spoken of here was thought to be entered by going through gates. The ancients did not understand the afterlife as we do. For them it was a shadowy place where all the dead were together but God did not exist there and there was no praise. Hezekiah’s lament was that if he died he could no longer enjoy fellowship with God, his family or his friends. We see here the brevity of life. But, now Hezekiah would walk humbly, as though he had previously taken his life and good health for granted. Now he recognizes these gifts can be taken away at any time. But this is Isaiah and his words to Hezekiah about the restoration of his health also point towards the restoration from exile Judah would experience in the future. This would occur after the Babylonian exile was over. For a brief moment all is well. Ahaz and Hezekiah are bookends here. Ahaz represented an ungodly king and Hezekiah the one who as godly. Ahaz brought disaster upon his people while Hezekiah brought hope and rescue from the Assyrians. Leviticus 13 tells us you cannot go to the temple with an infection so Hezekiah is treated at home and given a sign…the healing of the troublesome boil… that the Lord would save him.
Chapter 39 brings a different prophecy for Hezekiah. He was exemplary in godliness, prayer and care for the people of Jerusalem. But he failed the Lord miserably by parading his financial and military strength before the envoys from Babylon. By showing the envoys all he had, he told the Babylonians he had the resources to be a worthy ally. This prophecy may come as a surprise given Hezekiah’s faithfulness but back in chapters 10:3-4, and 20-23 the exile of both Israel and Judah had already been announced. The Lord had promised He would spare Judah from the Assyrians, and He did, but He also made it clear that if Judah did not change her sinful ways disaster would come and God would not rescue the people. God was trustworthy but that did not mean His people followed suit. And until the Babylonian exile, God’s people would continue to be woefully disobedient.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
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