THE BOOK OF ISAIAH
Part II: Historical Narrative (36:1-39:8)
Holy and Eternal Father,
Open our hearts that we might take joy in the gifts You have given us that we so often take for granted. We are thankful for Your daily blessings in our families, our friends, and in our faith communities. Reawaken our sense of gratitude when we become overburdened with the anxieties of daily life, and help us to balance those demands with our prayer life that is so necessary for our spiritual health. We know that no matter what the world throws at us, that You will give us the grace to persevere in the midst of those struggles so long as we keep our focus on You and the path to salvation to which Jesus has called us. Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us in our study of the struggles faced by good King Hezekiah and the victory You gave him over his enemies. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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In the third
year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz became king of
Judah. He was twenty-five years old when he came to the throne, and he reigned
for twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Abijah daughter of
Zechariah. He did what Yahweh regards as right, just as his ancestor David had
done. He abolished the high places, broke the pillars, cut down the sacred
poles and smashed the bronze serpent which Moses had made; for up to that time
the Israelites had offered sacrifices to it; it was called Nehushtan.
2 Kings 18:1-4
king of Assyria advanced and invaded Judah, and laid siege to the fortified
towns, intending to demolish them. Hezekiah, realizing that Sennacherib's
advance was the preliminary to an attack on Jerusalem, consulted his officers
and warriors about sealing off the waters of the springs outside the city, and
they supported him. [..]. Acting with determination, he also repaired all the
damaged parts of the wall, built towers on it, constructed a second wall on the
outer side, strengthened the Millo of the City of David and made quantities of
missiles and shields, he then appointed generals to command the people,
summoned them to him in the square by the city gate and spoke as follows to
encourage them. "Be strong and brave; do not be afraid or tremble when you
face the king of Assyria and the whole horde he brings with him, for there are
more on our side than on his. He has only human strength, but we have Yahweh
our God to help us and fight our battles." The people took heart at the words
of Hezekiah king of Judah.
2 Chronicles 32:1-3, 5-8
Part II of the Book of Isaiah covers the reign of good King Hezekiah of Judah. Chapters 36-39 can be seen as the connecting bridge between Isaiah Part I and Part III. This section can be divided into three main events:
Historical review of the men concerned with the events in Isaiah Part II:
Many parts of Isaiah Chapters 36-39 are found verbatim in 2 Kings Chapters 18-20. The unnamed inspired writer(s) of the Books of Kings testifies that he drew much of what he wrote concerning historical events from the official annals of the kings of Israel and Judah (mentioned 33 times) and some other sources. But 1 and 2 Kings and also 1 and 2 Chronicles are not simply a recounting of the historical events of the United and Divided Monarchies. The inspired writers were more concerned with the spiritual condition of Israel and Judah's kings and the faithfulness or lack of faithfulness of the covenant people during that period that finally led to the judgment against Judah and the Babylonian exile. It is reasonable to assume that since the writer of the Book of Kings had access to the Book of Isaiah that he would also make use of what Isaiah recorded concerning the reign of King Hezekiah with whom Isaiah had such a close relationship.
Chapter 36: Sennacherib's Invasion
As to Hezekiah,
the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to forty-six of his strong
cities, walled forts, and the countless small villages in their vicinity and
conquered them by means of well-stamped earth ramps and battering rams brought
near to the walls, combined with the stack by foot soldiers, using mines,
breeches, as well as sapper work. I drove out of them 200,150 people, young and
old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle
beyond counting, and considered them booty. Himself I made a prisoner in
Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.
Annals of Sennacherib King of Assyria
Sennacherib was the son of King Sargon II of Assyria, the king who completed the conquest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and deported its citizens into Assyrian lands to the east. Sennacherib ruled the Assyrian Empire from 705-681 BC. The chief concern of his reign was the continued resistance of the Babylonians to Assyrian rule which culminated in the complete destruction of the city of Babylon in 689 BC. He carried out military campaigns against the nation of Judah, against other nations in the Levant, against the kingdoms of Anatolia and against the Arabs. He was also known as a builder, and it was during his reign that Assyrian art and culture reached its peak.
Hezekiah was 25 years old when his father King Ahaz died, and he became sole ruler of Judah. He was either king from 727 to 698 BC or from 715 to 686 BC. The former dates are calculated by a synchronism with the reign of King Hosea of Israel (2 Kng 18:1), while the latter dates are derived from a synchronism between 2 Kings 18:13, Isaiah 36:1, and Sennacherib's inscriptions. The differences in date may be accounted by the fact that Hezekiah probably served as his father's co-ruler for a number of years and the differences in which the Assyrians and the Northern and Southern Kingdoms calculated the reigns of kings.(1)
The practice of elevating the heir to co-ruler was common when a Davidic king was ill and worried about a smooth succession for his son or when the nation was threatened by war:(2)
Isaiah does not record that King Hezekiah withdrew from the alliance his father made with the Assyrians, but it is recorded in the Book of 2 Kings: And so Yahweh was with him [King Hezekiah of Judah], and he was successful in all that he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and refused to serve him. He beat the Philistines back to Gaza, laying their territory waste from watchtower to fortified town (2 Kings 18:7-8).(3) When Sargon II died and his son Sennacherib succeeded him in 705, a number of Assyrian vassal kingdoms revolted and declared their independence, including the Kingdom of Judah. It was Hezekiah's revolt against the Assyrians that brought about the Assyrian army's invasion of Judah.
The year of the Assyrian invasion of Judah was 701 BC. Isaiah chapters 36:1-38:8 contain a near verbatim repeat of the narrative found in 2 Kings 18:13-20:11, but it does present some additional information not found in Isaiah. For example Isaiah does not mention that Sennacherib's invasion was in response to Hezekiah's revolt (2 Kng 18:7-8) or the details of the invasion found in 2 Kings 18:13-16 ~ 13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria advanced on all the fortified towns of Judah and captured them. 14 Then Hezekiah king of Judah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish, "I have been at fault. Call of the attack, and I will submit to whatever you impose on me." The king of Assyria exacted three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold from Hezekiah king of Judah, 15 and Hezekiah gave him all the silver in the Temple of Yahweh and in the palace treasury. 16 At which time, Hezekiah stripped the facing from the leaves and jambs of the doors of the Temple of Yahweh, which an earlier king of Judah had put on, and gave it to the king of Assyria. Also see 2 Chronicles chapter 32 and Sirach 48:17-25.
Realizing an Assyrian invasion was imminent, Hezekiah attempted to form an alliance with Egypt. It was an alliance that was condemned by the prophet Isaiah when Hezekiah's embassy was leaving for Egypt to ask the Pharaoh for Egyptian support against the Assyrians in c. 703-02 BC (see Is 30:1-7; 31:1-3). Sennacherib's campaign against the rebellious states of Phoenicia, Philistia, and Judea in 701 BC is documented in Assyrian Annals and bas-reliefs.(4) According the Assyrian records, the imperial Assyrian forces captured forty-six Judean towns. The most important fortified Judahite town was Lachish. Sennacherib took the city in 701 BC and set up his headquarters there. When Sennacherib took Lachish, about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem, Hezekiah capitulated and sent a letter repenting his rebellion together with a large amount of tribute to the Assyrian king, hoping to appease the Sennacherib and to save the nation of Judah. Unfortunately Hezekiah's tribute and his repentance did not appease Sennacherib. A more complete history of Hezekiah's reign including his many religious reforms is found in 2 Chronicles 29:1-32:33.
Isaiah 36:1-10 ~ King Sennacherib's Rab-shakeh
(cupbearer-in-chief) addresses King Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem
1 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria advanced on all the fortified towns of Judah and captured them. 2 From Lachish the king of Assyria sent the cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh] with a large force to King Hezekiah in Jerusalem. The cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh] took up position near the conduit of the upper pool on the road to the Fuller's Field. 3 The master of the palace, Eliakim son of Hilkiah, Shebna the secretary and the herald Joah son of Asaph went out to him. 4 The cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh] said to them, "Say to Hezekiah, The great king, the king of Assyria, says this: What makes you so confident? 5 Do you think empty words are as good as strategy and military strength? Who are you relying on, to dare to rebel against me? 6 There you are, relying on that broken reed, Egypt, which pricks and pierces the hand of the person who leans on it. That is what Pharaoh king of Egypt is like to all who rely on him. 7 You may say to me: We rely on Yahweh our God. But haven't his high places and altars been suppressed by Hezekiah, who told Judah and Jerusalem: This is the altar before which you must worship? 8 Very well, then, make a wager with my lord the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses if you can find horsemen to ride them. 9 How could you repulse a single one of the least of my master's soldiers? And yet you have relied on Egypt for chariots and horsemen. 10 And lastly, have I marched on this country to lay it waste without warrant from Yahweh? Yahweh himself said to me: March on this country and lay it waste.'"
See the parallel passages in 2 Kings 18:26-37 and in 2 Chronicles 32:9-23. When Sennacherib became king (705-681 BC), he immediately set about putting down the revolts against the Assyrian Empire generated by his father's death. First he addressed the revolt in Babylonia which gave Hezekiah some time to prepare of an inevitable Assyrian invasion. Hezekiah appears to have consolidated Judah into four administrative districts and stored food supplies for his army in specially marked containers. He also prepared Jerusalem for a possible siege by repairing and strengthening the city walls, adding a new line of walls and building watchtowers. The springs outside the city walls were stopped up and the city's main water source, the Gihon Spring, was redirected into a tunnel to fill a new reservoir made at the southwestern end of the hill of Zion in Jerusalem (2 Kng 20:20; 2 Chr 32:1-8, 30). "Hezekiah's Tunnel" was an engineering marvel for its time, and today water still flows through it the 1,748 feet from the Gihon Spring to the pool of Siloam through the limestone bedrock of Jerusalem. Two teams dug the tunnel from opposite ends and met at the mid-point.
2 From Lachish
the king of Assyria sent the cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh] with a large force
to King Hezekiah in Jerusalem.
The town of Lachish was the largest and most important city in Judah after Jerusalem. Its ruins are believed to have been identified and are located about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem and 15 miles west of Hebron. It was from the siege of Lachish that King Sennacherib sent a delegation led by his chief minister to demand the surrender of Jerusalem.
The Assyrian title "Rab-shakeh" is usually translated
"chief-cupbearer." He was not the chief butler as the name suggests but
probably held a high military office which gave him unique access to the king.
The Hittites had a similar title (gal-gestin, "wine-chief") for an
official of military rank. Sennacherib's chief minister met the ministers of
Hezekiah near the conduit of the upper pool on the road to the Fuller's
Field (verses 2b-3).
Question: Who are King Hezekiah's ministers Eliakim and Shebna? See Is 22:15-23.
Answer: Shebna is probably the former vicar/master of the palace of King Hezekiah and Eliakim is the man God chose to replace him.
That Shebna the secretary is the deposed and disgraced former master of the palace may be suggested by the fact that the fathers of Eliakim and Joash the herald are both named in verse 3 but Shebna's father is not named.
Question: What is significant about the place where
the Assyrian Rab-shakeh met Hezekiah's representatives? See Is 7:3.
Answer: It is the same place where God told Isaiah to meet Hezekiah's father, King Ahaz, to discuss an earlier threatening military situation (Is 76:3). It was where Ahaz refused to trust God to protect Judah for her enemies and preferred to make an alliance with the Assyrians to protect his kingdom.
Now, ironically, the people Ahaz chose to trust have become the greatest threat to Judah and the Davidic throne. There are two important points to notice:
That the Rab-shakeh speaks Hebrew may be one of the reasons he was chosen to head Sennacherib's delegation. But where did he learn to speak in Hebrew? It was customary for conquerors to take promising children from conquered peoples as hostages and to educate and indoctrinate them into their culture to become interpreters, military leaders, and even royal governors of a conquered people. An example is the prophet Daniel who was taken as a captive to Babylon along with other children from Jerusalem and educated to serve the king of Babylon (the Book of Daniel 1:3-7). It is possible that the man who rose to the rank of the Rab-shakaeh was taken by the Assyrians in 732 BC when they conquered and took into exile the northern tribes of Israel in the Galilee and across the Jordan to the east. His misunderstanding of altars to Yahweh (36:7) may be evidence of this since the people of the Northern Kingdom did not worship at the one altar in Jerusalem but had many altars dedicated to Yahweh throughout the Northern Kingdom contrary to the command in Deuteronomy 12:8-12 (also see 1 Kng 11:36).
4 "Say to
Hezekiah, The great king, the king of Assyria, says this: What makes you so
confident? 5 Do you think empty
words are as good as strategy and military strength? Who are you relying on,
to dare to rebel against me?
Sennacherib's Rab-shakeh asks three questions of Hezekiah and his ministers, and then, without waiting for an answer, proceeds to answer his own questions in verses 6-10.
Question: What four examples does the Rab-shakeh give to highlight Judah's plight? See verses 6-10.
The Assyrian commander ridicules Judah's alliance with
Egypt and compares the Egyptian Pharaoh to a "broken reed" that pierces the
Question: What is the significance of the comparison?
Answer: A reed is not strong enough to support any weight and is brittle. When it breaks the sharp pieces can cut one's hand. Egypt cannot save or support Judah and the failure of the Egyptians will be the cause of Judah's injury.
In the second point, the Rab-shakeh thinks they have offended their God because Hezekiah has limited the worship of Yahweh to only one altar. He does not understand God's command that sacrifice and worship must be limited to the one sacrificial altar in the Jerusalem Temple. In fact, Yahweh approved of Hezekiah's religious reforms (2 Kng 18:3-4; 2 Chr 31:1).
In the third point the Rab-shakeh makes the insincere offer to give Hezekiah 2 thousand horses if he can find men to ride them, and in his fourth point he brazenly declares that the Assyrians are favored by Yahweh.
Isaiah 36:11-12 ~ King Hezekiah's Ministers' Request
11 Eliakim, Shebna and Joah said to the cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh], "Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it; do not speak to us in the Judaean language within earshot of the people on the ramparts." 12 But the cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh] said, "Do you think my lord sent me here to say these things to your master of to you? On the contrary, it was to the people sitting on the ramparts who, like you, are doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine."
Aramaic had become the dominant language of the region,
and therefore, the diplomatic language, but the Assyrian commander was speaking
Question: Why did Eliakim want the Assyrian minister to speak in Aramaic instead of Hebrew and why did he refuse?
Answer: Eliakim didn't want the people to understand what the Assyrian was saying and become alarmed and disheartened. The Rab-shakeh wanted the people to understand what he was saying for exactly that reason, so he refused to speak in Aramaic.
While the diplomats understood Aramaic, the common people did not, and Eliakim did not want the people standing inside the top of the city walls to hear the terrible things the Assyrian minister was saying to intimidate them and to cause a rift between the king and his people. The Assyrian minister refused the request because it was his intent to speak directly to the people and to cause them to oppose their king's plans. His reference to dung and urine in verse 12 was intended to make the people think of the terrible consequences of a prolonged siege.
Isaiah 36:13-22 ~ The Rabshakeh of King Sennacherib attempts
to intimidate the People
13 The cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh] then drew himself up and shouted loudly in the Judean language, "Listen to the words of the great king, the king of Assyria. 14 The king says this, Do not let Hezekiah delude you! He will be powerless to save you. 15 Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to rely on Yahweh by saying: Yahweh is sure to save us; this city will not fall into the king of Assyria's clutches. 16 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for the king of Assyria says this: Make peace with me, 17 surrender to me, and every one of you will be free to eat the fruit of his own vine and of his own fig tree and to drink the water of his own storage-well until I come and take you away to a country like your own, a land of corn* and good wine, a land of bread and vineyards. 18 Do not let Hezekiah delude you by saying: Yahweh will save us. Has any god of any nations been able to save his country from the king of Assyria's clutches? 19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Where are the national gods of Samaria? Did they save Samaria from my clutches? 20 Of all the national gods, which ones have saved their countries from my clutches, that Yahweh should be able to save Jerusalem from my clutches?'" 21 They, however, kept quiet and said nothing in reply, since the king had given the order, "You are not to answer him." 22 The master of the palace, Eliakim son of Hilkiah, Shebna the secretary and the herald Joah son of Asaph, with their clothes torn, went to Hezekiah and reported what the cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh] had said. *This word refers to any multi-grain plant like wheat or barley not to the maise/corn of the new world.
The Rab-shakeh stopped addressing King Hezekiah through his ministered and directly addressed the people listening and watching from the city wall. He continued: 14 The king says this, Do not let Hezekiah delude you. He will be powerless to save you. The literal translation is to "save you from my hands." It is a phrase repeated six times with slight variations from 36:14 to 37:20; "hands" is the key word that identifies the theme of this section which is the threat of falling into the hands of the Assyrians.
Question: What three arguments did the Assyrian
minister make to the people of Jerusalem in his attempt to persuade them to
The expression "vine and fig tree" is found frequently in Scripture and expresses a peaceful and prosperous life (i.e., 1 Kng 4:25/5:5). Eating from the fruitful vine or fig tree and drinking clear well-water are a vivid antithesis to the squalid conditions the besieged people of Jerusalem will experiencing as the siege drags on and they find themselves drinking their own urine and eating their own excrement.
17 ... until
I come and take you away to a country like your own, a land of corn [grain
crops] and good wine, a land of bread and vineyards.
Question: How does the Assyrian minister describe the land of their exile? Of what does his description remind you from Israel's history? See Dt 8:7-10.
Answer: The land into which he promised to exile them is described as being very much like the Promised Land God gave the covenant people where they are now living.
21 They, however,
kept quiet and said nothing in reply, since the king had given the order, "You
are not to answer him." 22 The
master of the palace, Eliakim son of Hilkiah, Shebna the secretary and the
herald Joah son of Asaph, with their clothes torn, went to Hezekiah and
reported what the cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh] had said.
The people of Jerusalem kept quiet as the king had ordered. They remained loyal to the king despite the frightening speech of the Assyrian Rab-shakeh. The three Judahite ministers tore their clothing as a sign of their grief and went to the report the message of Sennacherib's commander to their king.
Chapter 37: God Delivers His People
Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz prayed and cried out to Heaven
about this, and Yahweh sent an angel who destroyed every warrior, commander and
officer in the king of Assyria's camp. So he had to retire shamefacedly to his
own country and when he went into the temple of his god, some of his own sons
there struck him down with the sword. So Yahweh saved Hezekiah and the
inhabitants of Jerusalem from the clutches of Sennacherib king of Assyria and
of everyone else, and gave them peace on every side.
2 Chronicles 32:20-22
Isaiah 37:1-7 ~ Hezekiah sends his Ministers to consult
Isaiah and Isaiah's reply
1 On hearing this, King Hezekiah tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and went to the Temple of Yahweh. 2 He sent Eliakim master of the palace, Shebna the secretary and the elders of the priests, wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. 3 They said to him, "This is what Hezekiah says, Today is a day of suffering, of punishment, of disgrace. Children come to birth and there is no strength to bring them forth. 4 May Yahweh your God hear the words of the cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh] whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to insult the living God, and may Yahweh your God punish the words he has heard! Offer our prayer for the remnant still left.'" 5 When King Hezekiah's ministers came to Isaiah, 6 he said to them, "Say to your master, Yahweh says this: Do not be afraid of the words which you have heard or the blasphemies which the king of Assyria's minions have uttered against me. 7 Look, I am going to put a spirit in him and, on the strength of a rumor, he will go back to his own country, and in that country I shall make him fall by the sword.'"
4 May Yahweh your
God hear the words of the cupbearer-in-chief [Rabshakeh] whom his master, the
king of Assyria, has sent to insult the living God, and may Yahweh your God
punish the words he has heard!
The use of the words "your God" sometimes suggests the person is not fully committed to Yahweh, like King Saul in 1 Samuel 15:30. However this is not the case for Hezekiah; see verse 20 where Hezekiah refers of Yahweh as "our God." His reference is to the solidarity of their belief in Yahweh as the "living God" unlike the idols of the pagan Assyrians. Tearing one's clothing and wearing sackcloth was a sign of grief and mourning. The king went to the Temple to pray while his ministers and the most senior chief priests were sent to consult Isaiah.
3 They said to
him, "This is what Hezekiah says, Today is a day of suffering, of punishment,
of disgrace. Children come to birth, and there is no strength to bring them
Unlike Elijah and Elisha who were men of action, the prophet Isaiah is a literary prophet who prophesizes in a poetic style. Perhaps the ministers are approaching the prophet in the same stylistic form with this poetically descriptive saying concerning the condition of the nation of Judah. The meaning is that children about to be born cannot emerge from the womb when the mothers come to the birthing stool and haven't the strength to push the babies out. This is a descriptive image of Judah's desperate impotence and may have been a common saying of the times. As with the previous chapter, this entire passage is recorded in the Book of 2 Kings Chapter 19:1-7.
Question: Why did Hezekiah describe the people of
Jerusalem as a "remnant" in verse 4b?
Answer: They are only a portion of the original twelve tribes, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and even the tribes of Judah and Benjamin have been diminished by the Assyrian invasion and the destruction of so many Judean towns.
5 When King
Hezekiah's ministers came to Isaiah, 6 he
said to them, "Say to your master, Yahweh says this: Do not be afraid of the
words which you have heard or the blasphemies which the king of Assyria's
minions have uttered against me. 7 Look,
I am going to put a spirit in him and, on the strength of a rumor, he will go
back to his own country, and in that country I shall make him fall by the
Isaiah told the ministers and senior priests to assure the king that Yahweh will intervene. He also told them not to fear the words of the Assyrian king's flunkeys (the Hebrew ne'arim means "youths" or "people of a subservient status" and has a pejorative connotation). The "spirit" in verse 7 must be an ill spirit because it will cause the Assyrians to withdraw from Judah back to their own country.
Question: What prophecy does Isaiah make
concerning King Sennacherib?
Answer: He predicts the death of the Assyrian king.
Isaiah 37:8-13 ~ Sennacherib sends Messengers to
Hezekiah a Second Time
8 The cupbearer [Rab-shakeh] turned about and rejoined the king of Assyria, who was then attacking Libnah, the cupbearer [Rab-shakeh] having learnt that the king had already left Lachish 9 on hearing that Tirhakan king of Cush was on his way to attack him. Sennacherib again sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, 10 "Tell Hezekiah king of Judah this, Do not let your God on whom you are relying deceive you with the promise: Jerusalem will not fall into the king of Assyria's clutches. 11 You have learnt by now what the kings of Assyria have done to all the other countries, putting them under the curse of destruction. Are you likely to be saved? 12 Did the gods of the nations whom my ancestors devastated save them "Gozan, Haran, Rezeph and the Edenites who were in Tel Basar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of Lair, of Sepharvaim, of Hena, of Ivvah?'"
See the parallel passage in 2 Kings 19:8-19. The Judahite town of Libnah was named as one of the Levitical cities (Josh 21:13; 1 Chr 6:57). The city was west of Lachish and Sennacherib had moved from Lachish to attack Libnah. The citizens of the town of Libnah were devout and had revolted against King Jehoram of Judah when he had apostatized from the covenant (2 Kng 8:16-18, 22). Sennacherib and his army left Libnah when he heard that Tirhakah king of Cush was on the way to attack him. Tirhakah later became the Pharaoh of the 25th Egyptian dynasty. After receiving his ministers' report on Hezekiah's reply to their demands, Sennacherib sent another series of threats in a letter to Hezekiah similar to the first threats delivered by his ministers.
12b Gozan, Haran,
Rezeph and the Edenites who were in Tel Basar? Where is the king of Hamath, the
king of Arpad, the king of Lair, of Sepharvaim, of Hena, of Ivvah?'"
Gozan was one of the places to which the Israelites were deported after the capture of Samaria by the Assyrians (2 Kng 17:6; 18:11, 1 Chr 5:26). Texts found in the ruins of the city mention the exiles descendants. Haran is located in northwest Mesopotamia. It was Abraham's home before the migrated to Canaan and the wives of Isaac and Jacob came from Haran or nearby (Gen 11:22-32; 12:1; 24:10; 27:43; 28:10). According to 2 Kings 17:24 the conquered peoples who were brought in to settle the depopulated land of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva [Ivvah], Hamath and Sepharvaim. This is similar to the list of kingdoms conquered by the Assyrians in 2 Kings 18:34 and 19:12-13
Isaiah 37:14-20 ~ Hezekiah's Prayer
14 Hezekiah took the letter from the messengers' hands and read it; he then went up to the Temple of Yahweh and spread it out before Yahweh. 15 Hezekiah said this prayer in the presence of Yahweh, 16 "Yahweh Sabaoth, God of Israel, enthroned on the winged creatures, you alone are God of all the kingdoms of the world, you made heaven and earth. 17 Give ear, Yahweh, and listen; open your eyes, Yahweh and see! Hear the words of Sennacherib, who has sent to insult the living God. 18 It is true, Yahweh, that the kings of Assyria have destroyed all the nations (and their countries); 19 they have thrown their gods on the fire, for these were not gods but human artifacts "wood and stone "and hence they have destroyed them. 20 But now, Yahweh our God, save us from his clutches, I beg you, and let all the kingdoms of the world know that you alone are God, Yahweh."
See the parallel passage in 2 Kings 19:14-19. Hezekiah's prayer can be divided into three parts:
15 Hezekiah said
this prayer in the presence of Yahweh, "Yahweh Sabaoth, God of Israel,
enthroned on the winged creatures [cherubim], you alone are God of all the
kingdoms of the world, you made heaven and earth.
According to God's word to Moses, He resides among His covenant people above the cherubim on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 25:18-22; and see the same form of address in 1 Sam 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2; Ps 80:1; 99:1). Hezekiah must have offered His prayer in the Holy Place of the Temple's Sanctuary. His prayer is a testimony to his complete faith and trust in Yahweh. His statement in verse 15-16 is a direct rebuttal of the arrogant words in Sennacherib message in verse 12.
Question: What is significant about Hezekiah's
prayer? See Ex 20:3-4; Dt 5:7-8; 6:4; the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed.
Answer: Hezekiah confess his belief in the most basic tenant of Yahweh's covenant with Israel and the New Covenant in Christ Jesus. Monotheism is the belief that there is only one God. Yahweh is the One True God and all other so-called gods are only images made by men.
Isaiah 37:21-29 ~ Isaiah's Intervention
21 Isaiah son of Amoz then sent the following message to Hezekiah, "Yahweh, God of Israel, says this, In answer to the prayer which you have addressed to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria. 22 Here is the pronouncement which Yahweh has made about him: She despises you, she scorns you, the virgin daughter of Zion; she tosses her head at you, the daughter of Jerusalem! 23 Whom have you insulted, whom did you blaspheme? Against whom raised your voice and lifted your haughty eyes? Against the Holy One of Israel. 24 Through your minions you have insulted the Lord, thinking: With my many chariots I have climbed the mountain-tops, the utmost peaks of Lebanon. I have felled its mighty cedars, its finest cypresses; have reached its furthest peak, its forest garden. 25 Yes, I have dug and drunk of foreign waters; under the soles of my feet I have dried up all Egypt's rivers. 26 Do you hear? Long ago I prepared this, from days of old I actually planned it, now I will carry it out. You were to lay walled cities in heaps of ruins; 27 that was why their inhabitants, feeble of hand were dismayed and discomfited, were weak as grass, were frail as plants, were like grass of housetop and meadow under the east wind. 28 But whether you stand up or sit down, whether you go out of come in, I know it (and how you rave against me). 29 Because you have raved against me and your arrogance has reached my ears, I shall put a hook through your nostrils and a muzzle on your lips, and make you return by the road by which you came.'"
See the parallel passage in 2 Kings 19:20-28.
Question: What are main points of Yahweh's response to Sennacherib?
22 Here is the
pronouncement which Yahweh has made about him: She despises you, she scorns
you. The virgin daughter of Zion; she tosses her head at you, the daughter of
Question: Who is the "she" and who is the "you" in verse 22?
Answer: The "she" is the "virgin daughter of Zion" who is "the daughter of Jerusalem" and the Church of the Sinai Covenant. The "you" is Sennacherib.
Sennacherib's insults and his boasts that he will destroy Jerusalem is seen by God as an assault on the God of heaven and earth. In the Assyrian king's boasts, he thinks of himself as godlike in his accomplishments.
God responds to Sennacherib's boasts with: 26 Do you hear? Long ago I prepared this, from
days of old I actually planned it, now I carry it out. You were to lay walled
cities in heaps of ruins; 27 that
was why their inhabitants, feeble offhand, were dismayed and discomfited, were
weak as grass, were frail as plants, were like grass of housetop and meadow
under the east wind. 28 But
whether you stand up or you sit down, whether you go out or you come in, I know
Yahweh's message to Sennacherib is that he could have accomplished nothing without the divine plan of God that foresaw and allowed it.
29 Because you
have raved against me and your arrogance has reached my ears, I shall put a
hook through your nostrils and a muzzle on your lips, and make you return by
the road by which you came.'"
Question: What is God's judgment against Sennacherib and the Assyrians?
Answer: But because of his personal attack on Yahweh, Judah's God, the Lord God will rein him in like a domestic ox with a nose ring or like a donkey or horse with a bridle to make the king go back the way he came. It is the God of Israel who is the Great King and not Sennacherib who is powerless before the One True God.
Isaiah 37:30-31 ~ God gives King Hezekiah a Sign
God said through His prophet Isaiah: 30 "And this will be a sign for you: this year will be eaten the self-sown grain, next year what sprouts in the fallow; but in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 31 The surviving remnant of the House of Judah will bring forth new roots below and the fruits above; 32 for a remnant will issue from Jerusalem, and survivors from Mount Zion. Yahweh Sabaoth's jealous love will accomplish this.
Hezekiah receives the promise of a "sign" that what God
has foretold through Isaiah will come to pass.
Question: God also gave a "sign" to Hezekiah's father King Ahaz through Isaiah in Isaiah 7:14 when Ahaz refused to ask for a "sign" that God would save Ahaz and his people. What was Ahaz's sign? Was it fulfilled?
Answer: Ahaz's "sign" was that a virgin of the house of David would give birth to the Redeemer-Messiah. St. Matthew announced that it was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ, son of David in Matthew 1:23.
Question: What is Hezekiah's "sign"?
Answer: The sign is living off the land without sowing crops this year. The next year they will do the same, and in the third year everything will return to normal and a remnant of the covenant people will be preserved from Jerusalem.
A "sign" is a work of God that points forward in time to a more significant event; in this case the sign will be two years of having enough to eat from what is naturally produced by the earth without sowing seed. It will point to life returning to normal in the third year. The only time the land laid fallow for two years in a row was when a Sabbath year (every 7th year) was followed by a Jubilee year that was observed after every 7th Sabbath year that came every 50th year (Lev 25:1-12). In the third year after a Sabbath and Jubilee years, the land could be sown again. The "rest" for the land in a Sabbath and Jubilee year was a test of faith for the covenant people to trust God to provide for them from the land. Later when the prophet Jeremiah called a covenant lawsuit against Judah in the 6th century BC, he included in the riv (lawsuit) against Judah the claim that Judah failed to observe the Sabbath years. The point here may be that like the Sabbath year followed by a Jubilee year in which the land will not be worked until the third year, it will be the same for Judah because it will take two years for life to return to normal for the remnant of the Kingdom of Judah, and they will have to trust God to provide for them.
31 The surviving
remnant of the House of Judah will bring forth new roots below and the fruits
above; 32 for a remnant will issue
from Jerusalem, and survivors from Mount Zion. Yahweh Sabaoth's jealous love
will accomplish this.
Once again we return to the sub-theme of the faithful "remnant" of God's covenant people that He will preserve (see Is 1:9; 10:20, 21 twice, 22; 11:11, 16; 37:4, 31, 32; 46:3). The preservation of a remnant of the children of Israel is necessary to God's divine plan to bring forth the Davidic Messiah-Redeemer to save mankind.
Isaiah 37:32-35 ~ Yahweh's Prophecy for Assyria
Isaiah continued with his prophecy: 33 "This, then, is what Yahweh says about the king of Assyria: He will not enter this city, will shoot no arrow at it, confront it with no shield, throw up no earthwork against it. 34 By the road by which he came, by that he will return; he will not enter this city, declares Yahweh. 35 I shall protect this city and save it for my sake and my servant David's sake.'"
It is Yahweh's promise that King Sennacherib will not
attack or harm the city of Jerusalem and its citizens in any way.
Question: Why does Yahweh say that He does this for the sake of "my servant David"? See 2 Sam 7:16, 29; 23:5; 2 Chr 13:5; Sir 45:25; 47:11/13; Is 11:1-5, 10-13; Jer 23:5; Ez 34:23-24; Mt 1:1).
Answer: Yahweh made an eternal covenant with David and therefore must preserve David's family line. It is God's divine plan that the Messiah shall come from the line of David and from the nation of Israel/Judah to save mankind.
Isaiah 37:36-38 ~ King Sennacherib's Punishment
36 That same night the angel of Yahweh went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. In the early morning when it was time to get up, there they lay, so many corpses. 37 Sennacherib struck camp and left; he returned home and stayed in Nineveh. 38 One day when he was worshipping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer struck him down with the sword and escaped into the territory of Ararat. His son Esarhaddon succeeded him.
See the parallel passage in 2 Kings 19:32-37. Hezekiah had Yahweh's promise that the city will not be taken nor even attacked. That night the army of the Assyrians was silently struck by the Angel of Yahweh. When the king and the surviving members of his army discovered the dead in the morning, they immediately abandoned the siege of the city of Jerusalem and returned to Assyria, just as Yahweh had promised.
Question: What other prophecy by Isaiah was
fulfilled? See verse 38.
Answer: Sennacherib died by the sword as Yahweh predicted.
Assyrian annals record that the king and his army gave up the siege of Jerusalem, but no reason is given for the sudden retreat in the Assyrian documents. Sennacherib was indeed assassinated in the year c. 681 BC by two of his elder sons, and he was succeeded by his youngest son Esarhaddon.
Questions for reflection or group discussion:
Often the leaders set the tone for the nation and its people. People are likely to follow the example set by good and righteous leaders, but often also follow the example of immoral leaders who, it seems, give the people the license to behave badly. Compare King Ahaz (2 Kng 16:1-4, 10-18; 2 Chr 28:24-25) with his son Hezekiah (2 Kng 18:1-7; 2 Chr 29-31; 32:24-33). In what ways were the father and son different and how did their leadership affect their people? How would you judge moral leadership in your nation today? What would you say are the chief causes of moral decline in the modern age?
1. See the document "Dating the Reigns of the Kings of Judah and Israel."
2. The same practice occurred in the Northern Kingdom with Jehoash and his son Jeroboam II (2 Kng 14:8-13; 2 Chr 25:18-23) during the threat of war.
3. Only three kings remained loyal to the Assyrians and one of them was King Padi of Ekron in Philistia. His own subjects, however, deposed him and carried him to Jerusalem where Hezekiah imprisoned him despite Isaiah's warning to avoid such entanglements. Hezekiah's imprisonment of Padi is recorded in the annals of Sennacherib and is given as one of the reasons the Assyrians besieged Jerusalem (The Ancient Near East 1:199; Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 287).
4. Elaborate reliefs of the siege of Lachish decorated the walls of the palace of Sennacherib and now reside in the British Museum in London. The reliefs that were discovered lined about two-thirds of one room in a ceremonial suite. Originally, the entire room was probably decorated with reliefs.
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