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Isaiah: Prophet of Salvation Book 5

Isaiah is the prophet of Salvation. He is also known as the truly "Universalist" prophet, by which is meant that He makes it clear that salvation is extended equally to all nations and not just to Israel. He lived to see the fall of Israel and the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria, and he prophesied of their "return" to God (through repentance). He is truly a "major prophet" whose prophecies greatly influenced the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Isaiah 36-39: The Assyrian Siege of Jerusalem

Chapter 20: The Letter and the Prophecy

While Rabshakeh was consulting with the king of Assyria in Libnah, it appears that reports came of an Ethiopian (Cushite) army approaching. As we saw in our study of Isaiah 20:1-6, Ethiopia was ruling Egypt, or at least some portion of it. Tirhakah was the current Ethiopian king and was the last of the three Ethiopian kings which formed Egypt’s 26th dynasty. He was known in history books as Taracus.

“Egypt was in part governed by three successive Ethiopian monarchs, for forty or fifty years: Sabacho, Sevechus, and Tirhakah. Sevechus retired from Lower Egypt owing to the resistance of the priests, whereupon Sethos, a prince-priest, obtained supreme power with Tanis (Zoan in Scripture), or Memphis, as his capital. The Ethiopians retained Upper Egypt under Tirhakah, with Thebes as the capital. Tirhakah’s fame as a conqueror rivalled that of Sesostris; he, and one at least of the Pharaohs of Lower Egypt, were Hezekiah’s allies against Assyria.” (Commentary on the Whole Bible, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, p. 469)

The king of Assyria believed that Hezekiah might be influenced by this approaching Cushite army, thinking that Assyria might yet be defeated. So he hastily wrote a letter to Hezekiah, warning him not to try to fight the Assyrians.

King Sennacherib’s Letter

Isaiah 37:9-13 says,

9 When he heard them say concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “He has come out to fight against you,” and when he heard it he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, 10 Thus you shall say to Hezekiah king of Judah, “Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you, saying, “Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the lands, destroying them completely. So will you be spared? 12 Did the gods of those nations which my fathers have destroyed deliver them, even Gozan and Haran and Rezeph and the sons of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, and of Hena and Ivvah?”

King Sennacherib spoke of his “fathers” who had destroyed various other countries and cities in recent years. His father was Sargon (Isaiah 20:1), who reigned only a short time and is not even mentioned in secular histories. Sennacherib’s grandfather, Shalmaneser, had begun the campaign against Israel (2 Kings 17:3; 18:9).

Hezekiah’s Response

Isaiah 37:14 says,

14 Then Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord.

This was a proper response. Hezekiah obviously was concerned about the threat, but he showed no real fear. Though his faith may have been somewhat shaky, his reaction was nothing like what we saw after Rabshakeh’s ultimatum (Isaiah 36:22). This time, instead of asking Isaiah to pray for him, Hezekiah himself went to the temple to pray.

Isaiah 37:15-20 says,

15 Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, saying, 16 “O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17 Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your 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 Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, Lord, are God.”

Hezekiah recognized that Sennacherib’s power to destroy the gods of the nations was real, but those gods “were not gods [or God] but the work of men’s hands.” The king understood that the God of Israel was “the living God,” the Creator Himself. Hence, the king deferred to the Creator, passing the letter up the chain of command to God Himself. Hezekiah recognized that the king of Assyria had challenged God, and therefore he did not take the threat personally.

Hezekiah’s Journey of Faith

In studying of the history of Judah and Jerusalem, many miss Hezekiah’s personal struggle as the crisis caused him to grow in faith. Prior to the Assyrian threat, he had depended upon his foreign alliances for his protection. In effect, he had deviated from Moses’ instructions to the kings of Israel in Deut. 17:16, telling them not to depend on horses from Egypt.

Yet Hezekiah had sent ambassadors to Egypt and Ethiopia to solicit their help (Isaiah 20:5; 30:4), as if God needed help from the flesh to defend Jerusalem. Isaiah was indignant about the king’s lack of faith and made it clear that “the Egyptians are men and not God, and their horses are flesh and not spirit” (Isaiah 31:3). Hezekiah’s lack of faith must have exasperated Isaiah.

However, God was also working within the heart of the king, and He brought Hezekiah into a crisis to turn His heart. When all hope was lost, and when the king had nowhere else to turn, he finally sent word to Isaiah to appeal to the God of Israel. Hezekiah was no different from anyone else in this regard, for this seems to be the norm even among believers.

This was also the main lesson in the life of Jacob, who thought God needed fleshly help to fulfill His promises. It was not until his own crisis, when Esau was coming with 400 men to kill him, that he wrestled with the angel and discovered the sovereignty of God. This revelation then changed his nature, his heart, and the angel gave him a new name, Israel, “God rules.”

Hezekiah’s crisis changed his heart as well. It is a sad commentary on human nature that we do not seem to part with our dependence upon the flesh until we are hopelessly threatened. In fact, it is in such times that the old man of flesh dies and the new man is begotten within our spirit. It is not hard to see how Hezekiah’s crisis changed his heart.

Isaiah’s Prophecy to Hezekiah

Isaiah 37:21, 22 says,

21 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent word to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Because you have prayed to Me about Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22 this is the word that the Lord has spoken against him…”

It appears that Hezekiah himself did not receive a direct word from God when he prayed at the temple. Yet God heard his prayer and gave His answer through the prophet. It was a lengthy answer, extending from verse 22 to 35. Isaiah 37:22, 23 begins, saying,

22 … She [Assyria] has despised you and mocked you, the virgin daughter of Zion; she has shaken her head behind you, the daughter of Jerusalem! 23 Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? And against whom have you raised your voice and haughtily lifted up your eyes? Against the Holy One of Israel.

Note first that God was viewing Jerusalem as a “virgin,” in spite of her long history of spiritual adultery with other gods. This is an example of how God calls what is not as though it were (Rom. 4:17, KJV), imputing righteousness to those who are far from righteous. The word of God brings things into existence (Rom. 4:17, NASB), so when God speaks, things either come into existence or, if already existing, things are changed to conform to His word. Hence, God never lies, for even if He affirms something that is not presently true, the moment He speaks, it becomes true, whether it is seen or not.

Secondly, the word shows that this threat was not really against Hezekiah but against God Himself. Hezekiah had passed on this problem to God, and God answered accordingly. We either internalize such problems as if we are sovereign beings, or we recognize the sovereignty of God, knowing that the problem is His to solve.

Isaiah 37:24, 25 continues,

24 “Through your servants you have reproached the Lord, and you have said, ‘With my many chariots I came up to the heights of the mountains, to the remotest parts of Lebanon; and I cut down its tall cedars and its choice cypresses. And I will go to its highest peak, its thickest forest. 25 I dug wells and drank waters, and with the sole of my feet I dried up all the rivers of Egypt’.”

Assyria had already conquered Phoenicia, metaphorically cutting down its kings (“its tall cedars and its choice cypresses”). Assyria had “dug wells and drank waters,” that is, it had taken full control of foreign lands. It had “dried up all the rivers of Egypt.” In other words, Assyria had already devastated Egypt, which depended upon its rivers and canals.

Yet Assyria failed to recognize that God Himself had raised them up to bring judgment upon Israel and Judah on account of their continual violation of the law and their lack of true faith. The king’s ignorance of the situation made him arrogant, thinking he had done all of this by his own free will. For this reason, he did not hesitate to reproach the Lord.

Isaiah 37:26, 27 gives God’s response,

26 “Have you not heard? Long ago I did it, from ancient times I planned it. Now I have brought it to pass, that you should turn fortified cities into ruinous heaps. 27 Therefore their inhabitants were short of strength. They were dismayed and put to shame; they were as the vegetation of the field and as the green herb, as grass on the housetops is scorched before it is grown up.”

The script had been prewritten before the creation of the world. God had planned it out from the beginning that Assyria would “turn fortified cities into ruinous heaps.” There is no question that God is indeed sovereign and that this powerful king of Assyria was not acting on his own free will. He was following the script to the letter.

This revelation foreshadowed that which is found in Isaiah 45.

It was because of God’s planning that the fortified cities “were short of strength” and could not withstand the Assyrian assault. God’s plan was for those cities to resemble “grass on the housetops,” which, because of the heat and the lack of cool soil, “is scorched before it is grown up.”

Isaiah 37:28, 29 concludes the word regarding Assyria’s “free will.”

28 But I know your sitting down and your going out and your coming in and your raging against Me. 29 Because of your raging against Me, and because your arrogance has come up to My ears, therefore I will put My hook in your nose and My bridle in your lips, and I will turn you back by the way which you came.

God tells the Assyrian king that he cannot do anything without God’s knowledge and direction. The king’s arrogance is in the fact that he thought his will stood above the will of God. He thought he had planned his wars independently. God calls this “arrogance.”

But Assyria was only an ox or a horse in the sight of God. In other words, Assyria was God’s servant. For this reason, God would put a hook in the nose of the ox and a bridle in the mouth of the horse. When a hook is put into the nose of an ox, the animal loses any “free will” he may have thought that he possessed. He must do the will of his master.

This too was part of the divine plan that was written “from ancient times.” The sovereignty of God is a lesson that all men must learn some day.