Learning from your Father’s Failure

Isaiah 36-37 SCC 9/15/13

An ultimatum 36:1-20

36:1: The fourteenth year of Hezekiah was 701 B.C. On an Assyrian record, Sennacherib claimed to have taken 46 cities of Judah during this campaign. The record is on the Prism of Sennacherib now in the British Museum.

36:2:  Rabshakeh is a title that seems about equivalent to field commander. Lachish stood about 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem. A bas-relief, now in the British Museum, shows Sennacherib besieging Lachish. The place where the Assyrian commander took his stand near Jerusalem was the same place where Isaiah had stood when he urged Ahaz to trust God 23 years earlier. It was because Ahaz failed to trust God earlier that the Assyrian official stood there now. The very nation that Ahaz had trusted proved to be the greatest threat to her safety only one generation later. Father and son both faced a threat of destruction, both recognized the inadequacy of their own strength, but one trusted man and suffered defeat; the other trusted God and enjoyed deliverance.

36:3-4: Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah were all important officials in Hezekiah’s to hear this first speech by Rabshakeh. The Rabshakeh told the Judean officials to give Hezekiah—he did not call him a king—a message from “the great king,” a title the Assyrian monarchs arrogantly claimed for themselves. He questioned Hezekiah’s confidence that led him to rebel against Sennacherib. His message: There is no deliverance in faith in your God.

36:5-6: The commander claimed that Hezekiah’s strategy lacked wisdom and arms that it only amounted to empty words. Ironically, it would be the “empty words” of a rumor that would defeat this king 37:7. Judah should surrender because Egypt would not help her. He knew that some of the Judean nobles had put their trust in Egypt and had sent ambassadors there to make a treaty. But he also knew, better than those officials, that Egypt was not only an unreliable ally but a dangerous one, an opinion Isaiah shared.

36:7: No deliverance would come from trusting the Lord. The Lord would not help her. The Rabshakeh knew about Hezekiah’s religious reforms in which he had removed many of the altars from the land. Evidently the commander believed that removing altars would antagonize the Lord, but Hezekiah was really purifying worship.

36:8-9: She did not have enough military manpower to win. Judah was so inferior militarily that the commander felt safe offering his enemy 2,000 horses. He believed that the Judeans did not have enough cavalry soldiers to ride them. His offer was the equivalent of giving one’s rival a long lead in a foot race.

36:10: Assyria had authority from the Lord to attack Jerusalem. Perhaps the commander was referring to Isaiah’s prophecy that God would send Assyria against His people. NB: This speech challenged everything Isaiah had been preaching.

36:11-12: Hezekiah’s officials interrupted the commander when they heard this last unsettling claim.

Aramaic was the common language of diplomacy. The Rabshakeh, however, spoke to the kings’ officials in the common Hebrew that all the people of Jerusalem understood. He explained that his message was for all the people not just the politicians in Jerusalem. All the people were, after all, doomed to the horrible conditions of siege warfare wanting to shock and terrorize the people by using the most crude and disgusting terms he could to picture siege warfare.

36:13-17: He appealed to them to listen to Sennacherib’s message to them. Hezekiah could not deliver them, he boasted, nor would trusting in the Lord work. The Rabshakeh promised that if the city surrendered the people would enjoy peace and prosperity rather than war and starvation. They would be deported but he pictured the land where they would go as similar to their own but even better.

36:18-19: The commander was mistaken, however, in comparing Israel’s God to the gods of the nations, specifically Aram (Syria). Even Samaria had fallen to Assyria 21 years earlier; their gods, including the Lord, did not deliver them. Of course, the Lord had handed over the Northern Kingdom to Assyria because of her idolatry, but the commander viewed its demise as a result of Assyrian supremacy.

36:20: Was the Lord able to deliver His people when they simply trusted in Him, or was He no better than all the other gods of the nations?

The response to the ultimatum 36:21—37:7

21-22: The people listening to this invitation did not respond out loud because Hezekiah commanded them to remain silent. Hezekiah’s officials then returned to their king, who had not dignified the occasion with his presence, to report what had happened. They tore their clothes as a sign of extreme distress over the present crisis.

37:1: Hezekiah’s response was also extreme grief, but he went into the temple. He wanted to seek the Lord’s wisdom and help in prayer. It is not clear how involved Hezekiah had been in making the treaty with Egypt, but his personal repentance here set the pattern for the nation.

37:2-4: Then the king sent his highest officials and some of the leading priests, who were also in mourning, to visit Isaiah. The leaders of Judah, speaking for their king, acknowledged that he had come to the end of his rope. The Assyrian invasion of Judah had been like labor pains for the king, but now the crisis had peaked and there was no human strength left to expel the enemy. Hezekiah confessed that he deserved the adversity that had overtaken him, which had signaled an end of hope and resulted in great embarrassment. Yet he did not appeal for divine help on the basis of his own needs but because of the Lord’s honor and the needs of His people. The king appealed for Isaiah’s prayers on behalf of the remnant.

37:5-7: So the officials came to Isaiah, and the prophet responded by sending them back to the king with a message from the Lord. Hezekiah was not to fear the blasphemous claims of Sennacherib’s underlings. The Lord promised to lead the king away from Jerusalem and back to his own country where he would die by the sword. A message placed in Sennacherib’s ear would be the sovereign Lord’s instrument.

The royal letter received 37:8-13

37:8-9a: The Rabshakeh returned to his master having learned that Hezekiah would not surrender. He found him five miles closer to Jerusalem than Lachish, at Libnah, where he was fighting the people of Judah. The message that Tirhakah, King of Ethiopia, was coming to engage him in battle caused Sennacherib to decide to terminate further campaigns in Palestine and return to his homeland temporarily. He apparently was a military leader that Sennacherib did not want to engage at this time.

37:9b-13: Sennachreib warned Hezekiah, through messengers and a letter not to let messages from the Lord deceive him into thinking that Jerusalem would survive. After all, all the lands that the Assyrian kings had invaded had fallen to them, he claimed. None of the powerful cities of the upper Euphrates received help to overcome Assyria from their gods. Likewise the cities of Aram had not been able to resist takeover.

The response to the letter 37:14-35

37:14-15: When Hezekiah received Sennacherib’s letter, he took it with him into the temple and laid all the enemy’s words before the Lord in prayer.

37:16-20 Hezekiah began his prayer: A pattern for our prayers when in distress.

1. By acknowledging the Lord’s uniqueness. He was not like the gods of the nations but the only true God, who dwelt among His people, the creator who rules and determines everything.

2. Hezekiah asked the living God to pay attention to the reproachful blasphemies of the Assyrian king. He acknowledged the Assyrians’ superiority over the nations they had overrun, but he ascribed this to the fact that those nations had only gods of wood and stone to defend them.

3. Finally, he asked God to deliver Jerusalem so the nations would know that He alone was God. In short, he prayed for the glory of God.


This part of Hezekiah’s reign concerns his war with Assyria when under siege in Jerusalem. What do we learn from his experience? When you or your family or your disciples or any believers are under attack by ungodly people, forces, and situations they have created:

1. Build you/them up physically, making all possible changes to strengthen them in mechanical ways. Eliminate chaos in their health, finances, personal habits, relationships and disciplines. Hezekiah fortified Jerusalem and had the army posted strategically.

2. At the same time you build yourself/them up, encourage them not to depend on that strength but on God, fearing Him not the forces of evil as Isaiah had counseled Hezekiah 37:6.

3. Lead yourself/them in taking the battle to Go din fervent prayer as Hezekiah had done when confronted with the odds against him in 37:3: 14-20.

4. Your/their personal internal battles, like with bad health or depression or worry can be more difficult then struggles against external enemies as Hezekiah testifies through his prayer.

5. Bring yourself/them back to God as a priest, ready for service and sacrifice as Hezekiah did when he went to the Temple to spread the letter out before the Lord and removed the altars in the land.

6. Take your/their internal conflicts to God with sincerity of heart since God often responded to a heavy heart in desperate need.


The prophet first explained what God would do 21-29

37:21-22: The Lord explained that it was Hezekiah’s trust in Him, expressed through his prayer that led to his receiving information about what He would do. Hezekiah would see the Lord’s hand at work more clearly because he had prayed.

37:23: Moreover Assyria had spoken disparagingly of the Holy One of Israel. She had reproached, blasphemed, spoken out against, and lifted her eyes proudly against Him. As the person of God filled Hezekiah’s prayer so the person of God filled Isaiah’s response.

37:24-25: Assyria’s sin included her failure to recognize God’s hand in her fortunes. She proudly thought that her own might was responsible for the victories she had gained and that she controlled her own destiny. She considered herself omnipotent rather than acknowledging that the Lord was.

37:26-27: Assyria had not heard the truth. She lacked the divine revelation that helps people see the realities of life. It was the Lord, not the Assyrians, who was responsible for all of Assyria’s conquests. He not only planned them long ago, but He also brought them to pass. That explains why she was able to subdue her enemies and take over their territories. God is sovereign.

37:28-29: The Lord knew everything about the Assyrians, including their raging against Himself. Because they raged against Him and felt complacent about controlling their own destiny, He would teach them who was sovereign. He would lead them away as they had led prisoners they had taken captive in war, by putting hooks in their noses.

Isaiah gave the king a sign that He would indeed do it 30-35

37:30: For two years normal agriculture would be impossible around Jerusalem, but God would cause the land to produce enough to sustain the inhabitants. Fruitfulness has always been God’s blessing on those who trust Him. Then the third year, planting and harvesting as usual would resume.

37:31-32: Additionally, the surviving remnant of the people of Judah would increase in numbers and become stronger, like the plants just mentioned. They would enjoy security and prosperity. The Lord would preserve a people for Himself in Jerusalem and would include the Davidic line of kings, as He had promised. His own zeal to remain true to His word and to bless His people would perform this. It would not depend on the faithfulness of His people.

37:33-35: The Lord promised Hezekiah that Sennacherib would not even besiege Jerusalem nor would he attack it, from close range or from farther away. He would, instead, return to his own land the same way he came. On his prism, referred to earlier, Sennacherib claimed to have shut Hezekiah up like a bird in a cage, but it was really the Lord who protected Hezekiah. The Lord would defend Jerusalem and preserve it, not so much for the sake of Hezekiah and as a reward for his faith, but for the Lord’s own reputation and for David’s sake, to whom He had promised an everlasting dynasty, which culminated in Messiah.

The Lord’s deliverance 37:36-38

37:36: The Lord Himself slew 185,000 of the Assyrian soldiers in one night. Evidently this was an act of the angel of the Lord similar to the slaying of the Egyptian firstborn before the Exodus. The angel of the Lord may have been the preincarnate Christ. Sennacherib had sent a messenger to intimidate Hezekiah’s people and, ironically, the Lord responded by sending a messenger to destroy Sennacherib’s army.

37:37: Sennachreib, the great “king of Assyria” then returned to Assyria having lost a large part of his army and having heard a rumor about the advancing Ethiopian ruler. He lived in Nineveh for 20 years before his death, and he conducted other military campaigns, but none in Palestine.

37:38: Ironically, it was while worshipping in the temple of his idol in Nineveh that God affected Sennacherib’s assassination, whereas it was while worshipping the true God in His temple in Jerusalem that God moved to spare Hezekiah’s life. Hezekiah went into the house of his God and got help, but Sennacherib went into the house of his god and got killed.