The Prophet Series: Isaiah part 29 (chapters 36-37) - The conclusion to the Book of the King. He is the Rock and final word of history.
In Isa 6-12, God contended that divine grace would triumph over all the world and that the throne of David would reign unopposed with one King over all nations from God’s holy mountain, Zion.
In Isa 13-27 explored the world as it then was, giving oracles concerning the nations that surrounded Israel as well an oracle for Israel herself. In them God showed fulfillment of promises in real time (the time of Isaiah’s writing) and promising fulfillment of promises for the near future (invasion of Assyria and Babylon, for example). God used these as evidence for His promises that concerned the very distant future, i.e. the end of time when God would bring to completion the accomplishment of all His good pleasure, even including in those promises a glimpse of Egypt and Assyria worshipping Him in harmony with Israel. God would truly rule all the world in perfect righteousness and the world would respond with love.
God then limited the field of view in chapters 28-35 to the embroiled history of Judah, Assyria, and Egypt occurring in the years leading up the Assyrian invasion of Judah. God in essence gave us a look at the frame of some history to all history, and then zooming in to this part of history, in which He would exact a miraculous deliverance of a very undeserving Jerusalem. By zooming into this historical event in this last section of The Book of the King (Isa 1-37), God asks the witnesses to come forth to the stand and testify before all mankind in order to answer the question that is eventually on every man’s mind, “Is God truly King of all?”
Isaiah concerned more with faith than details.
Sennacherib accedes the throne of a powerful, conglomerate empire; previously conquered nations test the new king and rebel; the new king squashes the Babylonian rebellion and then turns west to squash all others; Judah is in this path; 46 cities in Judah fall to Sennacherib; king Hezekiah of Judah pays him off; he takes the gold, promises to cease, and breaks his promise and invades (2KI 18:13-16).
Isaiah mentions none of this quite interesting intrigue. The prophet is only concerned with what faith can do during the hard crises of life, not how the crises came about.
The king’s servant reproaches Yavah.
Rabshakeh, the servant of Sennacherib king of Assyria (okay, you got those names down?), meets the servants of king Hezekiah outside the walls of Jerusalem and delivers his message. Rabshakeh’s arrogance will grow as we will see. He calls his king the “great king” and he demands to know why Hezekiah would have any confidence.
"What is this confidence that you have? 5 "I say, 'Your counsel and strength for the war are only empty words.' Now on whom do you rely, that you have rebelled against me? 6 "Behold, you rely on the staff of this crushed reed, even on Egypt; on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him. 7 "But if you say to me, 'We trust in the Lord our God,' is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, 'You shall worship before this altar'?
Isaiah had warned Israel that if they didn’t listen to him, that foreigners would teach them (28:9-11). Notice that the servant uses the words confidence, counsel, strength, rely, trust in the Lord, and worship in his mockery of Israel. These same words have been used by the prophet Isaiah for years as he called Israel and her leaders to change and put their trust and reliance upon the Lord God.
By the time of this speech, Assyria had already defeated Egypt at the battle of Eltekeh. Judah had put their hopes on the help of Egypt rather than the help of God, as we have noted in past blogs. The defeat of their false hope in Egypt confirms the warning of Isaiah.
Because you have said, "We have made a covenant with death,
And with Sheol we have made a pact.
Everything happening before their eyes is confirming what they were told. It’s too late to walk by faith when sight confirms the promise.
In 36:7 Rabshakeh hints at the fact that the people are doomed because king Hezekiah took down the altars to Baal and the Asherah (2KI 18:4). This tidbit of lie is meant to scare the population, many of whom were worshipping Baal and probably still wish they openly could. Hezekiah did a good thing there, and the lie is that it will mean their destruction. The glaring truth is that Yavah Elohim alone can deliver them.
Rabshakeh goes so far as to say that Yavah sent him. And, in a way he doesn’t understand, he is right. God did send Assyria, but not for the destruction of Jerusalem. God put the bit in this violent horses’ mouth and moved her to Judah so that Judah would see the power and love of God fantastically on display one last time. Isaiah had prophesied this, and Isaiah had prophesied that Jerusalem would one day be destroyed, but not this day. This leads us to believe that Assyria was aware of these prophecies and they were using a false interpretation of them to put fear in the hearts of the king and the people. We find this pattern in Satan’s work. He uses the scripture, but falsely interprets it so that people will believe a lie, and simultaneously think that it came from God. Satan did this to Jesus when he claimed to know the interpretation of PSA 91:11-12 (MAT 4:6).
Rabshakeh’s second speech - arrogance feeds on itself, growing further towards destruction.
Confidence in one’s arrogance builds and becomes greater arrogance. Great arrogance makes for complete blindness until it leads to ruin that cannot be seen.
Rabshakeh (Rab for short from now on) speaks Hebrew so that the people on the wall of the city, watching the meeting, can hear him. He wants to strike fear in them and he knows how. He reminds them of the horrors of siege warfare. They all know how badly it will go for them if Assyrian begins a siege of the city. And, giving Rab the benefit of the doubt, we could classify this as legit diplomacy. It’s easier for everyone (Judah and Assyria) if the people in the city come out, throw down their weapons, and go peacefully into captivity. Rab even promises them safe travel to their deportation locale and nice plots of land when they get there.
Then, pressing for a quick solution, Rab even tells them that faith in Yavah is a lie. The Assyrians were definitely aware of Isaiah’s prophecies, or he wouldn’t have said this. Spies are not a modern-day invention. Yet it is here that the cool arrogance of this weasel goes too far.
Now, moving to a fatal error, but yet confidently, Rab claims that Yavah is no stronger than the gods of the other lands that Assyria has already taken. He boldly shouts to the city of Yavah that Yavah cannot stop Assyria.
Chapter 37 - Hezekiah forced into a corner.
Hezekiah is lauded by God as a good king (2KI 18:5). But he was certainly not perfect. His errors of trying to get help from Egypt and paying tribute to Assyria are recorded for us as obvious errors of not trusting in God for deliverance. And, he was not ignorant of those errors, for the prophet had warned him along with the nation. But that was then, when the Assyrian army was not panting a few miles away to the north, and this is now, when Sennacherib’s servant stands a few feet from his wall demanding surrender and promising horror as a consequence to him and all of Jerusalem if he stands.
Simultaneously, this is a painful and a wonderful place to be in. This is when any semblance of human strength comes to an end. Hezekiah’s hand is forced. There is no one else and nothing else to depend on anymore, other than the Lord our God. He sends messengers to Isaiah.
And they said to him, "Thus says Hezekiah, 'This day is a day of distress, rebuke, and rejection; for children have come to birth, and there is no strength to deliver. 4 'Perhaps the Lord your God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to reproach the living God, and will rebuke the words which the Lord your God has heard. Therefore, offer a prayer for the remnant that is left.'"
The king says it right - there is no strength in us and I pray that God will defend His own honor. Hezekiah doesn’t say something self-centered like “God defend me” or “God defend your people” as if they were the true value at stake, but rather, “God defend Your name.” Hezekiah realizes his own sin and the sin of the people. They cared only for themselves but nothing for the sake of the Lord. He doesn’t appeal to God for his own safety, but for God to defend His name against the blasphemy hurled against it.
Isaiah doesn’t pray.
Isaiah is asked to pray, but he doesn’t. This isn’t a failure or cold-heartedness. Isaiah knows he doesn’t have to ask God since God has already said what He would do.
'Thus says the Lord, "Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me. 7 "Behold, I will put a spirit in him so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land. And I will make him fall by the sword in his own land." '"
Do not fear. I will make the enemy fall. Hezekiah did not believe this when it was first spoken to him, but now, forced into vice, he must believe or despair.
The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, "Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand, 25 to break Assyria in My land, and I will trample him on My mountains. Then his yoke will be removed from them, and his burden removed from their shoulder. 26 "This is the plan devised against the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out against all the nations. 27 "For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?"
And the Assyrian will fall by a sword not of man,
And a sword not of man will devour him.
So he will not escape the sword,
And his young men will become forced laborers.
Is it not clear to all of us that the word, the promise comes to us before it is needed? Faith in God’s word now is a guarantee of stability in whatever pressure the future is sure to hold.
The evil servant returns with Hezekiah’s reply.
The narrative shows us that Rab returned to Sennacherib, not far to the north of Jerusalem, with Hezekiah’s reply. We’re not told what that reply was, but from the message sent back to Jerusalem by Sennacherib, we know it was a refusal of the terms and that the city of God would leave their fate to God. How absolutely beautiful. Power is not in armaments, might, horses, diplomacy, treaties, nor deception. It is in faith in God.
Hezekiah received Isaiah’s reply and found his faith. He takes the letter from Sennacherib out of the hands of the still arrogant Rab, reads it, and silently walks away towards the Temple of God to enter and pray. The Hezekiah without faith was full of panic. The man of faith is without panic.
"O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, who art enthroned above the cherubim, Thou art the God, Thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. Thou hast made heaven and earth. 17 "Incline Thine ear, O Lord, and hear; open Thine eyes, O Lord, and see; and listen to all the words of Sennacherib, who sent them to reproach the living God. 18 "Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have devastated all the countries and their lands, 19 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. 20 "And now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that Thou alone, Lord, art God."
This is the way to pray. He is occupied with God’s essence above all else (vs. 16). He speaks to a living God who sees and hears, but directs those senses to the enemy in desiring that God defend His name (vs. 17). He focuses on God’s glory - “that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, Yavah, are God!”
God answers prayer.
God sends His reply through Isaiah. What neither treaties, diplomacy, armaments, nor gold could achieve, faith and prayer has done.
God says (ISA 37:21-35):
“I have seen everything” - they mocked you; they raised up against Me.
“I control everything” - Long ago I planned all of this. The hard facts of human history are My plans. I didn’t make Assyria the greedy, proud, conquering aggressor that they were, but I put a bit and bridle in their mouth and led them forth.
“I alone judge in the end” - I put My hook in your nose Assyria. As you have led your captives, I now lead you.”
“I alone bless” - Just in case anyone thought that Assyria’s withdrawal was no more than happy chance, I will add a sign. For two years normal agriculture will be impossible, yet the land will bring forth its produce enough to feed all. Not until the third year you will be able to sow and reap, and yet none of you will go hungry.
God promised that Assyria wouldn’t shoot one arrow over the wall of Jerusalem and they didn’t. God defended the city for His own sake and for the sake of His servant David in order to preserve the covenants.
It was a beautiful and miraculous deliverance, and as beautiful as it was, it was also deadly, for it was the last chance for Judah to change her ways and avoid the fate of the Northern Kingdom that they witnessed just twenty years prior. In this way it is just like the gospel. The gospel is the proclamation that the world has one King, one Savior, and in love He died for all that whosoever may believe in Him and have eternal life. It is the fire of the altar, the victorious entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the resurrection, and more; all of which set before the eyes of the world the truth of the one God, the one way, the one truth, the one life. Now that it is seen it is as beautiful as it is deadly, for all men must now choose for or against it.
The Angel of the Lord executes victory:
185,000 Assyrian soldiers die in the night. A confounded Sennacherib returns home deflated, confused, and embarrassed. Is it any wonder he never returned to Palestine again. Twenty years later he would be assassinated by his sons while he worshipped his pagan gods in their temple. The one who mocked the living God would have his life taken by a surprise attack from his own sons while he was surrounded by his own gods witnessing the treachery but unable to speak or do anything. Figures of stone and wood hear no prayers.
“And I will make him fall by the sword in his own land."
Remember, God’s word will always come to pass.
To Him be all glory and majesty,
Pastor Joe Sugrue