IV. The Turning Point of Hezekiah’s Reign: A Shift from the Threat of Assyria to the Captivity of Judah by Babylon, 36:1-39:8
(1:1-12:6) DIVISION OVERVIEW: a turning point now takes place in the great book of Isaiah. A shift occurs from Assyria’s threat to Judah over to the captivity of Judah by Babylon. The shift takes place during the strong, godly reign of King Hezekiah of Judah. This division of the book of Isaiah opens with a scene of terror—the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians. Doom hung heavily in the air. Hezekiah’s response to the impossible situation is to turn to the Lord and cry out for divine help. In doing so, Hezekiah moved the heart of God and we see a gripping picture of God’s power to deliver His people from any circumstance. God promised and carried out the deliverance of His people. Overnight, 185,000 Assyrians were slaughtered by the Angel of the Lord and the threat of Assyria was eliminated.
However, immediately after Judah’s deliverance from Assyria, another crisis struck. King Hezekiah was smitten with a deadly illness and his days were numbered. Once again, Hezekiah responded by seeking the Lord, and the Lord again responded in compassion, delivering Hezekiah from certain doom. The king was healed completely and given fifteen more years to live. But what happened next would change the history of Judah forever and mark the beginning of its fall.
After God’s great deliverances, Hezekiah became filled with pride and a false sense of security. When ambassadors from Babylon came to seek Judah as an ally, Hezekiah foolishly showed the foreigners all the national treasures. Immediately afterward, Isaiah prophesied the future invasion of the nation by Babylon and the subsequent fall of both Judah and its beloved capital, Jerusalem. Some generations later, the prophecy was completely fulfilled: Babylon conquered Judah, plundered the treasury, and took the survivors captive, scattering the exiles throughout the Babylonian Empire.
Although Hezekiah was a righteous ruler and a committed follower of the Lord, his prideful actions would contribute significantly to the downfall of the nation and change its destiny forever. Total destruction and captivity would now hang over the nation and its people like a dark, heavy cloud.
The Turning Point of Hezekiah’s Reign: A Shift from the Threat of Assyria to the Captivity of Judah by Babylon, 36:1-39:8
A. The End of the Assyrian Threat: God’s Power to Deliver His People, 36:1-37:38
B. The Stage Set for the Coming Captivity of Judah by Babylon: The Power of Prayer and the Danger of Sinful Pride, 38:1-39:8
THE TURNING POINT OF HEZEKIAH’S REIGN: A
SHIFT FROM THE THREAT of
ASSYRIA TO THE CAPTIVITY OF JUDAH BY BABYLON, 36:1-39:8
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A. The End of the Assyrian Threat: God’s Power to Deliver His People, 36:1-37:38
(36:1-37:38) Introduction: When facing a serious trial, how often has fear gripped your heart, buckled your knees, and dissolved your courage? How often have you been gripped with despair or felt utter discouragement? And when facing a temptation, has your will to withstand ever collapsed? Have you given in to seduction when the appeal was just too enticing? Have you allowed your flesh to be aroused, your passion to run wild to the point that you could no longer resist or refuse?
Standing tall and holding fast for the Lord—being a real man or woman—is the great practical lesson of this Scripture. This is the story of Hezekiah, perhaps the greatest king who ever ruled the Southern Kingdom of Judah. In God’s sovereignty, He knew that a strong, righteous king would need to be upon the throne of Judah right after the fall of Israel, the Northern Kingdom, under the assault of Assyria. Thus, God moved to turn the heart of a young man to the Lord, a young man who was reared in one of the most ungodly environments imaginable. Although the godly reign of Hezekiah would not stop the tide of wickedness from flowing throughout Judah, it would significantly delay the hand of God’s judgment from falling upon them. The Southern Kingdom of Judah would not fall to Babylon for over 100 years. Note this fact: after the fall of the Northern Kingdom, the Southern Kingdom of Judah is often given the ancient name of Israel. This fact needs to be kept in mind as the remaining kings are studied. This is, The End of the Assyrian Threat: God’s Power to Deliver His People, 36:1-37:38.
1. The Assyrian invasion of Judah by King Sennacherib: a decision demanded—trust the power of man or of God (36:1-22).
2. The Lord’s assurance of deliverance: God’s promise to the believer (37:1-13).
3. Hezekiah’s desperate prayer for deliverance: seeking the Lord for help (37:14-20).
4. The rescue of Judah from the Assyrian threat: God’s wonderful deliverance (37:21-38).
1. (36:1-22) Persecution, by Whom, Enemies—Oppression, by Whom, Spiritual Enemies—Enemies, Works of, Threats and Oppression—Judah, Wars of, Against Assyria—Assyria, Invasion of Judah: because of Hezekiah’s rebellion against Assyria and his military moves against the Philistines, the Assyrians eventually turned their attention to Hezekiah, king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Having conquered all of the Northern Kingdom, the Assyrians now invaded Judah. The invasion took place in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, but note: Hezekiah had expected the invasion by the Assyrians. He had prepared Jerusalem by fortifying the capital, by making more weapons for the army, and by organizing the citizens’ army. He went so far as to stop up the springs outside the city in order to block or conceal the water supply from the Assyrians (2 Chr.32:1-6). A dramatic, suspenseful account of Assyria’s invasion and threats against Judah is pictured:
1. The military campaign launched by Assyria against the western world of that time was huge. Thus, they easily conquered all the fortified cities of Judah (36:1). According to the historical records of Sennacherib, he captured 46 fortified cities, numerous small towns or villages; captured over 200,000 people; and, through his siege, trapped Hezekiah in Jerusalem just “like a caged bird.”
2. Remaining behind at Lachish with the main army, Sennacherib sent an envoy with a large number of troops to position a blockade around Jerusalem (vv.2-10). With this action, the Assyrian king was initiating a propaganda war of intimidation, threatening and demanding that Hezekiah surrender Jerusalem to the Assyrians. After setting up the siege around the capital, the three officials sent by Sennacherib approached the city and stopped at the aqueduct of the upper pool (v.2). Note that the location of the canal or aqueduct was called the Washerman’s Field, which means that it was a popular place for residents to wash their clothes. Obviously, this spot was within earshot of the city walls, for the Assyrian officials called out and summoned Hezekiah to join them in negotiations for surrender. But instead of joining the negotiations himself, Hezekiah sent three royal officials whose positions would match those of the Assyrian officials. By this action, Hezekiah was insisting on being treated as an equal to the Assyrian king. Had the king of Assyria himself come for negotiations, Hezekiah no doubt would have carried out the negotiations personally, king to king.
Standing face-to-face with the Judean negotiators, the Assyrian commander challenged the tactics of Hezekiah and asked why he was so confident (vv.4-7). Claiming that he was the personal spokesman for the great king of Assyria, he questioned three of Hezekiah’s actions:
Þ He cast doubt on Hezekiah’s claim of military strength, alleging that Hezekiah’s words were empty and the Judean army was weak (v.4).
Þ He also scoffed at Hezekiah’s dependence upon Egypt, claiming that in an actual war, Egypt would splinter like a reed and cause the defeat of any ally who was leaning upon it (v.6).
Þ Continuing to belittle Hezekiah, the Assyrian spokesman questioned Hezekiah’s dependence on the Lord (v.7). But note that he showed a complete misunderstanding of God and of idolatry, for he claimed that Hezekiah had displeased the Lord by destroying the high places and altars of worship throughout Judah and Jerusalem.
Having questioned Hezekiah’s military strength, his alliance with Egypt, and his dependence on the Lord, the Assyrian commander then demanded that Hezekiah surrender (vv.8-10). Obviously a skilled negotiator, the commander gave four strong reasons why Judah’s king should concede defeat:
Þ Hezekiah should surrender because of the weakness of Judah’s army. Ridiculing the fact that Judah had few horses and horsemen, the commander declared that he would give 2,000 horses to Judah if they could put riders on them.
Þ Hezekiah should surrender because the whole army of Judah could not defend itself against one of Assyria’s least ranking officers (v.9).
Þ Hezekiah should surrender because Judah could not depend upon Egypt.
Þ Hezekiah should surrender because even the Lord Himself was now against Judah (v.10).
Note that the commander declared that the Lord had actually instructed Assyria’s king to attack Judah and destroy the nation. No doubt this struck fear in those who overheard the claim. Keep in mind that the Northern Kingdom of Israel had already fallen to Assyria. Could God actually be behind the Assyrian invasion, using the Assyrians as an instrument of His judgment?
3. When it was time for the Judean officials to speak, they surprisingly requested that the Assyrian envoy speak in Aramaic, not in Hebrew (vv.11-12). There was a twofold reason for this:
Þ Aramaic was the international language for diplomacy and commercial transactions throughout western Asia.
Þ The Judean people standing on the wall could overhear the negotiations. By overhearing the threats of the Assyrian envoys spoken in their own Hebrew language, there was the danger that the crowd would be gripped with fear and despair.
But the Assyrian commander refused, for he realized the importance of propaganda, of destroying the people’s confidence. Even in responding to the Judean officials he sought to turn the hearts of the people on the wall. He stated that his message was for all the people and not just for leaders because the people themselves would suffer the most if Assyria attacked. What a skillful negotiator the Assyrians had!
4. Still the commander was not through with his propaganda: launching a second major speech, he addressed his words more to the crowd standing nearby than to the Judean officials (vv.13-20). Shouting an appeal for them to hear the great king, he encouraged the people to oppose Hezekiah, to actually instigate a revolt against him. He declared that Hezekiah could not deliver them from the Assyrian forces, that the king was only deceiving them by persuading them to trust the Lord, for the Lord would not deliver them (vv.13-15).
Still shouting out to the crowd on the wall, he challenged them to surrender and make a peace treaty. He claimed life would be far better for them under Assyrian rule (vv.16-17). Under the Assyrians they would have plenty to eat and drink; whereas if they continued their opposition, they would end up eating their own filth and drinking their own urine (v.12). If they surrendered, though, they would be transplanted to another fruitful land, a land just like their own there in Judah.
Finally, the commander challenged the people to make a decision: to choose life, not death (v.18). To choose life, they must not listen to Hezekiah, for he was misleading them by his promise of the Lord’s deliverance.
In closing his second speech he threatened the people with the power of Assyria (vv.19-20). He bombarded them with provoking thoughts, laying out three disturbing scenarios:
Þ No nation had ever been delivered from Assyria, not by any god.
Þ No god was able to deliver Samaria, that is, the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Þ How, then, could the Lord deliver Jerusalem from the hand of the Assyrians?
5. Note the response of the people to the Assyrian threats: they kept silent (vv.21-22). Concluding the negotiations, the royal officials of Judah carried their report to Hezekiah. But note how they approached him: with torn clothes, a sign of distress and grief.
Thought 1. Hezekiah stood fast for the Lord, stood fast against a brutal and murderous enemy. And just think: the enemy was the superpower of that day with a far superior military force. Sweeping all across much of the known world, the Assyrians had already conquered and subjected nation after nation under their rule. Their conquest had even included the Northern Kingdom of Israel and all the cities of Judah except Jerusalem itself. Now the Assyrians were standing at the gates of Jerusalem, threatening to totally destroy the capital and to exile all its citizens, scattering them all over the world. But even with the enemy at the gate threatening utter destruction, Hezekiah held fast to his faith in the Lord and stood strongly against the enemies of God and God’s people.
What a living, dynamic example for us! No matter what may confront us—no matter how terrible the trial or temptation, the pressure or distress, the threat or ridicule, the persecution or abuse, we must stand fast for the Lord. Standing up, standing tall, being a real man or woman for the Lord is one of the great needs of our day. We are not to be weaklings. Our knees are not to buckle. Our courage is not to collapse. Our hearts are not to shrink back. We are to persevere, endure, stand fast for the Lord, trusting His Spirit to empower us.
“And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved” (Mt.10:22).
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Ga.5:1).
“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Ga.6:9).
“Only let your conversation [behavior, conduct] be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27).
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th.5:21-23).
“Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession” (Heb. 4:14).
“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)” (Heb. 10:23).
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).
“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pe.1:13).
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (1 Pe.5:8-9).
“Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (2 Pe.3:17-18).
“Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee” (Re.3:3).
“Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” (Re.3:11).
“But cleave unto the Lord your God, as ye have done unto this day” (Jos.23:8).
“If iniquity be in thine
hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles.
For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear” (Jb.11:14-15).
—Preacher's Outline and Sermon Bible - Commentary