Isaiah 36–37. Jerusalem Passes the Crisis With Assyria.
Key Notes: Events preceding the crises. Assyria's ultimatum to Judah. The fatal flaw: defying God.
The projected attack of Assyria on Jerusalem has been a focus of Isaiah's writing from chapter 7–35. In Isaiah 7–12 the Prophet confronted Ahaz because Ahaz had decided to counter the alliance of Ephraim / Syria by appealing to Assyria. Isaiah denounced this move. Now Hezekiah's envoys meet the Assyrian king Sennacherib's chief at the same location where Ahaz and Isaiah first met. What will happen?
First, we review the events in Hezekiah's life that led up to the second confrontation between Judah, Assyria, and God.
IIChron.29: Hezekiah was 25 at his coronation, and lived to age 54. In his first year he related God's anger against Israel and the bad outcomes of war to the neglect of the temple. The Levites cleared out the temple in sixteen days and dumped the trash in the Kidron Valley. Service was restored, and the sin offering, burnt offering, thank offering and peace offerings were made. Then the assembly brought its sacrifices--too many for the priests to manage.
IIChron.30: Hezekiah sent a letter to the people of the Northern Kingdom (Ephraim and Manasseh were under Assyrian control) to come to Passover. Few came; most mocked. But the people of Judah responded heartily. The Passover was held during the second month due to time constraints and was awkward because many were ceremonially unclean.
IIChron.31: After Passover, the people went through the cities of Judah, breaking down altars, high places, idols and Asherah poles. Tithes for the priests and levites were restored and distributed.
IIChron.32:1–3 "After these things and these acts of faithfulness Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them for himself."
We understand that this is not in reaction to Hezekiah"s faithfulness, but is God's prophecy concerning Judah working itself out. And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and intended to fight against Jerusalem, he planned with his officers to stop the water of the springs that were outside the city. Hezekiah cut a tunnel through the solid rock to bring water inside the city walls so that the people would have water during a siege. It is called Hezekiah's tunnel and can be seen in Jerusalem to this day.
Isa.36:1–22. When Hezekiah was 39, Sennacherib sent his commander, the Rabshekeh, with an army to Jerusalem. " In the Babylonian Chronicles, Sennacherib said he shut up "Hezekiah the Jew" "like a bird in a cage."Three of the king's officers went out to meet him. (Note that Eliakim is now steward of the palace and Shebna has been demoted to secretary as Isaiah prophesied. Isa.22:15-)
The Assyrian commander was a master at propaganda.
•He taunted them for resisting using mere words.
•He sneered at Egypt, their ally, as a broken reed, only hurtful to Israel.
•If Judah relied on God, why was Hezekiah tearing down high places and altars around the countryside? How could God not judge such people?
•Judah has no cavalry, and no trained horsemen. Assyria would give them 2000 horses if they could find riders for them.
•God had told Assyria to destroy Israel. Isa.10:5 but not Judah.
•When the delegation asked the Rabshekeh to speak Aramaic, he was vehement, and shouted over their heads to the defenders on the wall to warn them that they would starve to death during a siege.
•He told the defenders not to trust Hezekiah. He could not deliver them from Assyria.
•The defenders should open the city, and return to their homes until the Assyrians deported them to another pleasant land.
•Hezekiah's God was not better than the gods of the nations Assyria had already conquered.
The delegation did not reply, but returned to Hezekiah with their clothes torn as a sign of distress.
Isa.37:1–4 Hezekiah went to the temple in sackcloth and sent his officers to Isaiah to pray for Jerusalem. The Rabshekah had mocked the Living God.
37:5–7 Isaiah promised that the king of Assyria would go home to die in his own country.
37:5–13 When Sennacherib heard that Tirhakeh, king of the Egypt/Ethiopia was coming to fight, he sent a letter to Hezekiah.
•Don't let your God deceive you.
•No gods of the other conquered nations have been able to deliver them.
37:14–20 Hezekiah spread out the letter before the Lord in the temple and prayed to the God of all creation to hear and see how Sennacherib had mocked Him. Although it was correct that the non-gods of the nations had not protected them against Assyria, God must save Judah so that all the kingdoms would know that JHWH alone is God.
37:21–29 Isaiah wrote a taunt-song against Sennacherib.
The virgin daughter of Zion mocks the would-be rapist.
Assyria's bragging did not recognize that her successes were under God's sovereign will.
Now Sennacherib's ragings will be stilled. God will put a hook in his nose and send him home.
37:30–35 The people will not be able to have a good harvest for two more years, but God will save Jerusalem for His name's sake and for David.
37:36 The angel of the Lord destroyed 185,000 Assyrian troops overnight without a fight. We know of at least one bacterium ( the Meningococcus) that can devastate groups in crowded conditions and lead to dramatic and sudden loss of life. Sennacherib went home and was assassinated 20 years later in the house of his god by two of his sons. His god did not protect him.
The Rabshekeh was as subtle as the serpent.
Forget your assumptions:
•You have a leader who is helpless.
•You have an ally who is more trouble than he is worth.
•You have offended your God by your actions.
•You have no military strength.
•Your God is no better than the gods we have already destroyed.
•Here is a deal. Give up and come over to my side. I will see that you are well cared-for. (Sennacherib's previous betrayal of Hezekiah is ignored.)
The envoys did not respond. [If Eve had been silent when the Tempter approached her, sin might not have come into the world.] Hezekiah prayed that God would be glorified. The answer was clear. The consequences to the enemy were devastating. Jerusalem was saved.
The Greeks had a word for it: "hubris". It is ruthless, scornful pride, the right of might. It is the Assyrian’s presumptuous, defiant insolence. Greek tragedy is rich with the working out of arrogant pride. It is characteristic of the rich, the victorious, and the impudent young. It leads to all kinds of violence and abuse. It is a mockery of God and in Greek tragedy, it demands punishment from the gods. The decay of Sparta and the fall of Athens was attributed to hubris.
When it is clear that human beings are challenging God directly, we can reasonably predict the outcome. The steward of the Titanic is reported to have said "Not even God can sink this ship."
Let us remember to fear God.