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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 23: Hezekiah’s Mistake

Isaiah 39:1 says,

1 At that time Merodach-baladan son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered.

During the Assyrian invasion of Judah, Merodach-baladan II was the king of Babylon from 721-710 B.C., having established his independence from Assyria for more than a decade. He had been a district ruler in Chaldea, but after an Assyrian viceroy named Eriba-marduk usurped power in Babylon, Merodach-baladan killed him and took the throne for himself about the time that the Assyrian army was conquering Samaria. This is recorded in the inscriptions of Sargon, who ruled briefly before his son Sennacherib succeeded him.

When the king of Babylon heard how the Assyrian army had been destroyed at Jerusalem, he was ecstatic, of course, and immediately sent ambassadors to congratulate Hezekiah on his victory and on his recovery from his mortal illness.

The underlying purpose of sending these ambassadors was to make a military alliance with Hezekiah against any further aggression from Assyria. Perhaps he calculated that King Sennacherib would not want to attack Babylon and risk another encounter with the God of Hezekiah.

The Assyrians made no attempt to subjugate Merodach-baladan until his ambassadors tried to make an alliance with Hezekiah. But then, in 710-709 B.C., Sennacherib (who had not yet been assassinated by his sons) re-conquered Babylon and drove out Merodach-baladan. Years later, Sennacherib’s son, Esar-haddon, was given the throne until his father was assassinated. At that point, Esar-haddon drove out his murderous brothers and assumed the throne of Assyria itself.

Historians disagree about the length of Sargon’s reign. His reign was either very short (as I believe), or as some would have it, he reigned until 705 B.C., which, if true, would indicate that the fall of Samaria took place about 701 B.C., rather than in 721.

In my view, Sennacherib conquered Samaria in 721 B.C. and ten years later failed to conquer Jerusalem. When he returned to Nineveh in disgrace, he began to call himself by the name of his father Sargon, or Sharru-kin, “Rightful King.” It was not uncommon for kings to have more than one name, and we could easily see how Sennacherib could have caused confusion to later historians.

The King’s Treasure and Armory

Isaiah 39:2 says,

2 Hezekiah was pleased, and showed them all his treasure house, the silver and the gold and the spices and the precious oil and his whole armory and all that was found in his treasuries. There was nothing in his house nor in all his dominion that Hezekiah did not show them.

It appears that Hezekiah intended to make an alliance with Merodach-baladan. Considering him to be friendly, and having Assyria as their common enemy, Hezekiah showed the ambassadors his entire arsenal—mostly to prove that Judah was strong enough militarily to be a worthy ally. Since Judah had been greatly reduced in population after the Assyrians had deported most of the people, Hezekiah probably felt somewhat inadequate in making a military alliance with Babylon.

“But,” the ambassadors no doubt asked, “what about the enormous tribute that Sennacherib demanded of you? Did you ever recover that?”

“Oh, yes,” said Hezekiah. “Come, I will show you.”

So Hezekiah showed them all of the wealth that the destroyed Assyrian army left behind. No doubt this included the tribute money, along with a massive amount of additional gold and silver, spices, and “precious oil” (perhaps frankincense).

Isaiah’s Reprimand

Isaiah 39:3, 4 says,

3 Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah and said to him, “What did these men say, and from where have they come to you?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.” 4 He said, “What have they seen in your house?” So Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shown them.”

These questions suggest that God had already spoken to the prophet, telling him that whatever the king had shown these ambassadors would be taken back to Babylon in the near future. So Isaiah questioned Hezekiah to confirm his revelation and to learn how much would be taken and where it would go.

Isaiah 39:5-7 then gives the prophet’s verdict,

5 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts, 6 ‘Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house and all that your fathers have laid up in store to this day will be carried to Babylon; nothing will be left,’ says the Lord. 7 ‘And some of your sons who will issue from you, whom you will beget, will be taken away, and they will become officials in the palace of the king of Babylon’.”

This is the first indication that the people of Judah were to be exiled to Babylon. The prophecy is remarkable in that Assyria was the reigning empire at the time and would remain so for another century in spite of the disaster at Jerusalem.

The prophet even foretold the captivity of Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh (2 Chron. 33:11), who was later taken captive by the king of Assyria and taken to a Babylonian prison for a season. Manasseh, however, was not made an official in the palace of the king of Babylon. He was simply restored to his throne after he repented (2 Chron. 33:13).

A few generations later, King Jehoiachin was taken to Babylon as a captive (2 Chron. 36:10), along with much of the king’s treasure and the vessels of the temple. This looting was completed in the reign of Zedekiah, who ruled Jerusalem when the city was finally destroyed in 586 B.C. (2 Chron. 36:18-20).

Daniel was taken to Babylon and trained in the ways of Babylon, its language and culture, suggesting that perhaps Daniel was somehow related to the kings of Judah. If so, this would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy.

Hezekiah Submits to the Word

It is common for men to fail in the aftermath of great success. It seems that success gives men such confidence that they let down their guard, thereby squandering all that they have gained. The lesson here is that spiritual success should not be confused with spiritual maturity.

Isaiah 39:8 concludes,

8 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord which you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “For there will be peace and truth in my days.”

The king was humble enough to accept the word that Isaiah had given him. He must have discussed this further with the prophet, because he understood that this captivity would not take place during his own lifetime.

Repentance is always rewarded, even if the judgment itself cannot be reversed. We see from biblical history that repentance always postpones divine judgment to a later time. Judgment is finally carried out upon an unrepentant generation.

This ends the historical section as well as the first half of Isaiah’s prophecy. It is also the end of Book 5 in our commentary. It ends with a prophecy of discouragement and despair that points to an inevitable Babylonian captivity, not unlike the book of Genesis, which ends with the death and burial of Joseph in a coffin in Egypt (Genesis 50:26).

But then, even as the book of Exodus brings deliverance and redemption to Israel, so also does Isaiah 40 open up a new chapter with a word of comfort and restoration.