Isaiah 36-37 Covenantal Deliverance And Preservation Of The Remnant.
Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came up against and took all the cities of Judah, except for Jerusalem (v. 1 Cf. II Kgs. 18:13ff.; II Chron. 32:1ff.). What occurs in this chapter, through to 39:8, is an “historical bridge between chs. 1-35 and 40-66 directly parallels 2 Kin. 18:13-20:19. It records the fulfillment of Isaiah’s predictions that the Lord would judge Judah by bringing the Assyrian army to the gates of Jerusalem and would then judge that proud army by destroying it there, preserving a faithful remnant in the city. Hezekiah’s faith contrasts with that of his father, Ahaz. Hezekiah by faith accepted a sign when confronted with illness (30:7, 8); Ahaz refused to ask for a sign (7:12)” (NGSB p.1083).* Sennacherib sent his leaders to meet king Hezekiah at Jerusalem (v. 2).
“Rabshakeh was the royal counselor for military affairs. According to 2 Kin. 18:17 the king also sent his “Tartan” (“commander in chief”; cf. Is. 20:1 and as his “Rabsaris” [“chief officer”]). According to 37:36, 185,000 troops were killed in the siege of Jerusalem. Lachish (was a) fortress town in the western hill country of Judah, guarded an important road that led into the highlands south of Jerusalem (Jer. 34:7)” (Ibid. p.1083). It was at the “upper pool” that Isaiah had met with Ahaz (v. 2). Due to judgment against Shebna as recorded earlier (22:15ff.), “by 701 B.C. Shebna had been demoted to serve as secretary, and Eliakim had assumed Shebna’s office (36:3, 22)” (Ibid. p.1059 v. 3 Cf. 22:20). Rabshakeh mocked Hezekiah for thinking he could defend Jerusalem when all the other cities had fallen (v. 4).
The Rabshakeh regarded Hezekiah’s confidence as based on empty words (v. 5). After all, in whom could they trust? Was it Egypt? They had been broken (v. 6 Cf. 30:1-7; Ps. 146:3; Ezek. 29:6).** However, he also mocked Hezekiah for placing his trust ultimately in the LORD. In Sennacherib’s mind, the other cities fell because Hezekiah had torn down their idols, commanding them to worship as the LORD had prescribed, at Jerusalem (v. 7 Cf. II Kgs. 18:4; II Chron. 31:1). The Rabshakeh continued to mock Hezekiah by pledging 2000 horses, when they both knew Hezekiah did not have enough riders, and Egypt was no longer a help (vv. 8-9). However, the Rabshakeh made the fatal error of bearing false witness, claiming that the LORD commanded him to take “this land and destroy it” (v. 10).
Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah wanted the Rabshakeh to speak to them in Aramaic, the language of international diplomacy, instead of Hebrew that would be understood by those who stood on the wall. They didn’t want the people to lose faith by heeding the lies of unbelief coming from the Rabshakeh (vv. 11-12). In speaking to the people the Rabshakeh was in fact telling them that it was Hezekiah who was the deceiver (vv. 13-14). Furthermore, he attempted to cast doubt on the word of the LORD through Isaiah his prophet, spoken also by Hezekiah (v. 15). He tried to bribe them from leaving the land and city promised by their covenant LORD (vv. 16-17). The Rabshakeh tried to convince them that their God was no different from all the others that he had defeated (vv. 18-20).
However, the people obeyed the word of Hezekiah and remained silent (v. 21). Up to this point Hezekiah had not been present (v. 22), so when he heard what the Rabshakeh had said, like Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah he tore his clothes, and he also “covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD” (37:1). He then sent the latter men, and the other “elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz” (v. 2), no doubt because he wanted to hear the word from the LORD. The Rabshakeh was guilty of blasphemy, so when the men got to Isaiah they relayed the words of Hezekiah that it was a “day of trouble and rebuke and blasphemy,” and the people needed strength (v. 3 Cf. 22:1ff.; 26:16). As the remnant, it was their faith and hope that the LORD, Isaiah’s God, would be their God (v. 4a Cf. 33:2).
The remnant of Jerusalem believed that by bringing the words spoken by the Rabshakeh before the LORD through Isaiah the prophet, that the LORD would answer them with deliverance (v. 4b). As a result, they went back to Hezekiah with a word from Isaiah (v. 5). “Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid of the words which you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me. Surely I will send a spirit upon him, and he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land” (vv. 6-7). “Sennacherib renewed his attempt at persuading Hezekiah to submit to and depend on Assyria. By making folly of the gods of the nations, he challenged Hezekiah to stop trusting in the Lord (sic)” (Ibid. p.1085 vv. 8-13 Cf. 36:18-19).
When Hezekiah read the letter he immediately took it to the LORD in prayer (vv. 14-15). He addresses “the LORD of hosts, God of Israel,” the LORD of the covenant, and the God of creation (v. 16). Hezekiah viewed the king’s words as a reproach against “the living God” (v. 17 Cf. Ps. 74:22-23). He admitted that the other nations had indeed fallen, and their gods were of no help to them, because they were manmade, as was their religion, including the northern kingdom of Israel (vv. 18-19 Cf. II Kgs. 15:29; 16:9; 17:6, 24). He prays for victory not so much for he and his people, but rather “that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the LORD, You alone” (v. 20 Cf. 33:22; Ps. 83:18). Because Hezekiah turned to the LORD in prayer with the goal of His glory, Isaiah had an answer for him from the LORD (vv. 21-22a).
The remnant of the southern kingdom of Judah was “the virgin, the daughter of Zion,” who under Hezekiah’s leadership would despise and laugh Sennacherib to scorn, shaking her head at him behind his back (v. 22b). His sin was in reproaching and blaspheming “the Holy One of Israel” (v. 23). By his own strength he assumed he had scaled the heights of Lebanon for fruit, and dug wells for water-from the highest to the lowest points he claimed his victories and treasures were of his own doing (vv. 24-25). The LORD God made clear to him that all his strength and victories came from the Lord alone (v. 26 Cf. 25:1; 40:21-23; 45:21). This alone is why the inhabitants of those nations “were dismayed and confounded” (v. 27). Because of his rage against the Lord, the Lord would hold him back like a horse with a bridal (vv. 28-29).
It is vital to understand what is the answer to Hezekiah’s prayer. The LORD gave him a sign of His blessing on the remnant-the land and the people would be fruitful. There would be covenantal blessings seen in the life of the faithful remnant. They would bear fruit upward because the LORD would cause them to take root downward. In response to Sennacherib, who boasted of taking booty from the highest heights to under the earth, the LORD would keep the remnant as His own (vv. 30-32 Cf. 59:17). The LORD would force Sennacherib to return by the same way he came. Also, the LORD would accomplish this by the same means he used to cower the nations before Sennacherib-fear of a formidable enemy (vv. 33-34). In this protection of the remnant in the city, the LORD would continue to fulfill His promise in the Davidic covenant (v. 35 Cf. 9:7; 31:5; 38:6).
With the above words, which by their very subject matter point to the new everlasting covenant with the Servant Messiah to come, we find the appearance of the pre-incarnate Son-the Angel of the LORD, who was the one who killed 185,000 (v. 36)! He whom the LORD predestined for the crushing of the nations was himself crushed (II Kgs. 19:25-26). This happened in fulfillment of the word given to Isaiah earlier. “Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Lord has performed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, that He will say, ‘I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his haughty looks’” (10:12, 33-34). Rather than repent, Sennacherib returned to worship in the house of his god Nisroch, and his own sons murdered him there, with his son Esarhaddon reigning in his place (vv. 37-38 Cf. Ezra 4:2).
*“About 701 B.C. Hezekiah ruled with his father Ahaz as co-regent from 729-715 B.C. and was sole king from 715-686 B.C. Some explain the “fourteenth” year as a copyist’s error for “twenty-fourth,” while others suggest that Isaiah is referring to the beginning of Hezekiah’s independent rule in 715 B.C. Sennacherib was the king of Assyria from 705-681 B.C.” (Ibid. p.1083).
**“Hezekiah had depended on Egypt for support (30:2, 6, 7, 13; 31:1, 3). But as Isaiah had said Egypt could never deliver Judah because she too was under divine judgment (19:1-15; 20:3-6)” (Ibid. p.1084).