Isaiah 36-39

Much of the first thirty-nine chapters of the book of Isaiah are a contrast between two of Judah’s Kings: Ahaz (Isaiah 7-14; 2 Kings 16; 2 Chronicles 28) and Hezekiah (Isaiah 13-39; 2 Kings 18-20; 2 Chronicles 29-32). Isaiah exhorted the former to trust in the Lord and ask for a sign of deliverance from the Assyrian King, Tiglath-pileser (Isa 7:10-19; 2 Kgs 16:1-14). Ahaz rejected Isaiah’s message—and because he chose not to stand firm in his faith, he did not stand at all. Since the day of Ahaz’s disastrous decision, Isaiah had exhorted Judah to avoid any alliance with a foreign power and instead cast all of their expectations on the Lord—who alone could deliver them from the Assyrian siege. The drama of the narrative is thick; what would Hezekiah do?

King Sennacherib sent the Rabshakeh to intimidate Hezekiah in the by-then-surrounded city of Jerusalem (Isaiah 36). The Rabshakeh warned Hezekiah of trusting in Egypt and tried to persuade him against trusting in the Lord. The Assyrian leader was a man of political skill; why not just surrender to the Assyrian forces, he suggested, according to God’s will (Isa 36:8-10)? He taunted the people of Jerusalem, bidding them to do anything but trust the Lord—since no other god had been able to deliver its people from the mighty Assyrian forces (Isa 36:13-20).

“When King Hezekiah heard their report,” Isaiah noted, “he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, and went to the house of the LORD” (Isa 37:1). Hezekiah sent an envoy to Isaiah, informing the prophet of the Rabshakeh’s boasts and asking him to intercede for the survival of the remnant. Judah’s king was a political leader with few political options left to his disposal; if Jerusalem were to be delivered, it would be by the grace of the Lord alone. Isaiah replied to the king with the word of the Lord, “Don’t be afraid because of the words you have heard, which the king of Assyria’s attendants have blasphemed Me with. Look! I am putting a spirit in him and he will hear a rumor and return to his own land, where I will cause him to fall by the sword” (Isa 37:6-7).

And it came about just as Isaiah prophesied. In light of a sudden threat from the king of Egypt, Sennacherib had to adjust his military strategy and pull back from Jerusalem (Isa 37:8-9a). Sennacherib did in fact go back the way he came (Isa 37:29, 34), after he saw 185,000 of the Assyrian warriors fallen from the angel of the Lord (Isa 37:36-37). While Hezekiah continued to trust in the Lord when he was terminally ill—and received a sign that his life would be prolonged fifteen years (Isaiah 38; 2 Kgs 20:1-11; 2 Chron 32:24-26)—he showed contempt for his God by allowing the Babylonian envoy to investigate the treasures of his house (Isaiah 39; 2 Kgs 20:12-19).

In Isaiah 10-35, the prophet urged Judah and her leaders to rely wholly on the Lord during the crisis in the north. The Lord’s answer to Hezekiah’s prayer (Isa 37:21-35) provides a point of synthesis for Isaiah 1-39 and proves informative for the storyline of Scripture. The Lord’s motive for rescuing Judah was that He had a plan to redeem a people for His glory. “This is the LORD’s declaration,” Isaiah proclaimed, “I will defend this city and rescue it, because of Me and because of My servant David” (Isa 37:35). But this deliverance was temporary. Because of Hezekiah’s folly before the envoy from Babylon and Judah’s continual idolatrous practices, within two generations Nebuchadnezzar marched into Jerusalem and destroyed the city (2 Kgs 25:1-21; 2 Chron 36:15-21). Hezekiah and Jerusalem would be rescued from Assyria, but not from the Lord. As the prophet had predicted, the Lord would raise up a nation to discipline His people for their idolatrous ways (Isa 29:1-10). In the flow of redemptive history, it becomes clear that the ultimate significance of the city of David rests upon David’s greater son, Jesus Christ. In Christ, Jerusalem has an eternal significance. The author of Hebrews described Jerusalem as the heavenly abode where the followers of Jesus assemble with Him and the angels in a festive gathering (Heb 12:22-24). There, John wrote, God’s people will be in the Lord’s presence forever (Revelation 21).