A. Hezekiah’s prayers and Sennacherib’s threats.
1. (1-5) Hezekiah seeks Isaiah in the time of great distress.
And so it was, when King Hezekiah heard it, that he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD. Then he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz. And they said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah: ‘This day is a day of trouble, and rebuke, and blasphemy; for the children have come to birth, but there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the LORD your God will hear all the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to reproach the living God, and will rebuke the words which the LORD your God has heard. Therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’” So the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah.
a. When King Hezekiah heard it, that he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth: The tearing of clothes and the wearing of sackcloth (a rough, burlap-type material) were expressions of deep mourning, usually for the death of a loved one. Hezekiah received this report regarding Rabshakeh seriously, knowing how dedicated this enemy was to completely conquering Jerusalem.
i. Hezekiah’s initial reaction was good. He saw the situation for what it really was. Often, when we are in some kind of trial or difficulty, we handle it poorly because we never see the situation accurately. Jerusalem’s situation was desperate and Hezekiah knew it.
ii. There was good reason for Hezekiah to be so humble before the LORD. “City after city has fallen to Sennacherib and long lines of deportees are already snaking their bitter way into exile – and it is all Hezekiah’s fault! He followed the lunatic policy of rebellion and was bewitched by Egyptian promises. He might as well have sold his people himself. But even when a matter is our own fault we can still pray about it. And the Lord can always be trusted to pity his people.” (Motyer, commentary on Isaiah)
b. And went into the house of the LORD: Hezekiah’s second reaction was even better. He did not allow his mourning and grief to spin him into a rejection of the LORD’s power and help. He knew this was a more necessary time than ever to seek the LORD.
i. When it says, went into the house of the LORD, we should not think that it means that King Hezekiah went into the holy place itself, which was forbidden for all except priests. It simply means that Hezekiah went to the courts of the house of the LORD, to seek God in the place which was open to him as a man of Israel.
ii. A previous king of Judah, King Uzziah, saw his reign tragically ended when he broke this command of the LORD to stay out of the holy place of the temple. 2 Chronicles 26:16 says, But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the LORD his God by entering the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. In response, God struck Uzziah with leprosy and he was an isolated leper until his death.
c. Then he sent Eliakim… Shebna… and the elders of the priests… to Isaiah the prophet: The third thing Hezekiah did was also good. The king sought out the word of the LORD, given through the prophet of the LORD.
d. The children have come to birth, but there is no strength to bring them forth: Hezekiah put these words in the mouth of his messengers to Isaiah to express the total calamity of the situation. This was a proverbial expression for a disaster – a woman so exhausted by labor that she could not complete the birth, so it was likely that both mother and child would die.
e. It may be that the LORD your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh: Hezekiah knew that their only hope was that God would take offense at the blasphemies of Rabshakeh and rise up against him.
i. “The impudent blasphemy of this speech is without parallel. Hezekiah treated it as he ought: it was not properly against him, but against the LORD; therefore he refers the matter to Jehovah himself, who punishes this blasphemy in the most signal manner.” (Clarke)
f. Therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left: “Isaiah, pray for us. Our nation is devastated by this Assyrian invasion, and Jerusalem alone is left standing. Pray for the remnant that is left.”
2. (6-7) God’s word of assurance to Hezekiah.
And Isaiah said to them, “Thus you shall say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Do not be afraid of the words which you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me. Surely I will send a spirit upon him, and he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.”’”
a. Thus says the LORD: Isaiah was aware that he spoke as a prophet of the LORD. Without hesitation, he spoke as if he were speaking for the LORD God of heaven. We can be sure that Isaiah did not take this lightly. The fate of the nation, and his entire credibility as a prophet, were riding on what he said.
i. Isaiah, speaking for the LORD, was about to make a bold prediction. His prophecy would be entirely “provable.” It would either happen or it would not happen; Isaiah would be known as a true prophet or a false prophet shortly.
b. Do not be afraid of the words which you have heard: Perhaps we can sense a gentle rebuke in these words from the LORD. “Hezekiah, it is good for you to seek Me so passionately. But the words of the Rabshakeh are only words. Do not be afraid of them.”
c. With which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me: How these words must have cheered Hezekiah! Before, he had hoped it may be that the LORD your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh… to reproach the living God (2 Kings 19:4). Now, the LORD spoke through the prophet Isaiah, saying He had indeed heard those words. It was evident that God took this offense personally.
i. The servants of the king of Assyria: Servants is “a deliberately belittling expression, ‘the king of Assyria’s lads/flunkies’.” (Motyer, commentary on Isaiah) “He calls Rabshakeh and the other officers of the army the slaves or servant boys – we could say the errand boys – of the king of Assyria.” (Bultema, commentary on Isaiah)
d. Surely I will send a spirit upon him, and he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land: Here, the LORD God assured Hezekiah that He would indeed deal with the Rabshakeh. He had heard his blasphemy and would bring judgment against him.
i. Significantly, in this initial word from the prophet Isaiah, there was no mention of Jerusalem’s deliverance or the defeat of the Assyrian army. God focused this word against the Rabshakeh personally.
ii. “The rumour was, that Tirhakah had invaded Assyria. The blast was that which slew one hundred and eighty-five thousand of them in one night, see verse 35.” (Clarke)
3. (8-13) The response of Rabshakeh to King Hezekiah and Jerusalem.
Then the Rabshakeh returned and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah, for he heard that he had departed from Lachish. And the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, “Look, he has come out to make war with you.” So he again sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus you shall speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you, saying, “Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” Look! You have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by utterly destroying them; and shall you be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered those whom my fathers have destroyed, Gozan and Haran and Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah?’”
a. So the Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: This must have seemed to Hezekiah to be the fulfillment of the LORD’s promise through the prophet Isaiah. The Rabshakeh left Jerusalem and Hezekiah must have thought, “Now he’ll go back to his own land and be killed, just like the LORD promised. Good riddance! Thank You, LORD!”
b. The king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, “He has come out to make war with you”: While the Rabshakeh was away, the Assyrians learned that Egyptian troops (under an Ethiopian king) were advancing from the south. This would be the Egyptian intervention Assyria feared, and that many in Judah trusted in. As Isaiah prophesied, it would come to nothing (Isaiah 20:1-6 and 30:1-7).
i. “Actually Tirhakah was only a prince at the time, but because he assumed the throne in 690 b.c., the title ‘king’ is used proleptically.” (Wolf, commentary on Isaiah)
c. Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you: The Rabshakeh was not in Jerusalem, but that didn’t stop him from trying to build fear, discouragement, and despair in Hezekiah. He sent a letter to the king of Judah to attack him from a distance.
d. Have the gods of the nations: If read with an eye of faith, these must have been trust-building words of the Rabshakeh to Hezekiah. In counting the LORD God of Israel among the gods of the nations, the Rabshakeh blasphemed the LORD and invited judgment.
i. The Rabshakeh listed many cities that the Assyrian army conquered, utterly destroying them: “The list of city-states put to the ban (Hebrew herem; ‘exterminated’ or destroyed completely, rsv) reminds the reader that it was not only Israel who used this method in warfare (see Numbers 21:2-3; Joshua 6:21).” (Wiseman)
4. (14-19) Hezekiah’s prayer.
And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD. Then Hezekiah prayed before the LORD, and said: “O LORD God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God. Truly, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands— wood and stone. Therefore they destroyed them. Now therefore, O LORD our God, I pray, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the LORD God, You alone.”
a. Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD: Hezekiah did exactly what any child of God should do with such a letter. He took it to the house of the LORD (to the outer courts, not the holy place), and he spread it out before the LORD. In this, Hezekiah boldly and effectively fulfilled the later command of 1 Peter 5:7: casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
i. “As a child bringing his broken toy to his father for repair, so Hezekiah laid the issues in God’s sight for resolution.” (Patterson and Austel)
ii. “In verse 14, Hezekiah reacted to the second letter in a different manner. He didn’t go to Isaiah. He went to the temple and prayed alone, taking his plea directly to the Lord. Both kinds of prayer are appropriate for a believer who is facing a crisis.” (Dilday)
iii. “When therefore letters come to you, anonymous or otherwise, full of bitter reproach; when unkind and malignant stories are set on foot with respect to you; when all hope from man has perished, then take your complaint – the letter, the article, the speech, the rumour – and lay it before God. Let your requests be known unto Him.” (Meyer)
iv. One old preacher received a letter with no sender or return address on the envelope. When he opened it, he saw a single piece of paper with only one word: “Fool!” He took it to the pulpit the next Sunday, and said: “I received an unusual letter this week. Never before have I received a letter where the writer signed his name, but forgot to write anything else!”
b. God of Israel: This title for God reminded Hezekiah – and the LORD also, in our human way of understanding – that the LORD God was the covenant God of Israel, and that He should not forsake His people.
i. As recorded in Isaiah 37:16, Hezekiah also used another title when he addressed God, crying out “O LORD of hosts.” This title for our God essentially means, “LORD of armies.” Hezekiah was in a crisis that was primarily military in nature, so it made sense for him to address the LORD first according to the aspect of God’s nature that was most needful for him. “LORD of armies, send some troops to help us!”
c. The One who dwells between the cherubim: Here, Hezekiah saw the great majesty of God. Surely, the One who dwells between the cherubim would never allow the Rabshakeh’s blasphemies to go unpunished.
i. “He is our Judge, Lawgiver, and King, and is therefore bound by the most solemn obligation to save us, or his name will be tarnished.” (Meyer)
d. You are God, You alone: God is a simple title for our Master, but perhaps the most powerful. If He is God, then what can He not do? If He is God, then what is beyond His control? Hezekiah realized the most fundamental fact of all theology: God is God, and we are not! God is God, and the Rabshakeh or the Assyrians were not!
e. You have made heaven and earth: In recognizing the LORD God as Creator, Hezekiah saw that the LORD had all power and all rights over every created thing. We can almost feel Hezekiah’s faith rising as he prayed this!
f. Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see: Hezekiah knew very well that the LORD did in fact hear and see the blasphemies of Rabshakeh. This is a poetic way of asking God to act upon what He has seen and heard, assuming that if God has seen such things, He will certainly act!
g. Hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God: In his prayer, King Hezekiah drew the contrast between the living God and the false gods of the nations the Assyrians had already conquered. Those false gods were not gods, but the work of men’s hands – wood and stone, so they were not able to save them from the Assyrians. But Hezekiah prayed confidently that the living God would save them, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the LORD God, You alone.
B. God speaks concerning the situation.
1. (20-21) Sennacherib is worthy of scorn – not fear and trembling.
Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Because you have prayed to Me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard.’ This is the word which the LORD has spoken concerning him:
‘The virgin, the daughter of Zion,
Has despised you, laughed you to scorn;
The daughter of Jerusalem
Has shaken her head behind your back!
a. Because you have prayed to Me: The glorious answer which fills the rest of the chapter came because Hezekiah prayed. What if he had not prayed? Then we are to think that no answer would have come, and Jerusalem would have been conquered. Hezekiah’s prayer really mattered.
i. We should ask: How many blessings, how many victories, how many souls saved for Jesus’ glory, lie unclaimed in heaven until the LORD can say, “because you have prayed to Me”?
b. The virgin, the daughter of Zion, has despised you, laughed you to scorn: The idea is that the Assyrians had come to ravish the daughter of Zion, the city of Jerusalem. But God would not allow it. “Jerusalem is represented as a young girl rebuffing with contempt the unwelcome advances of a churl.” (Grogan, commentary on Isaiah)
i. Jerusalem could be called the virgin, the daughter of Zion for several reasons:
· She was unpolluted with the gross idolatry of the pagans.
· God would defend her from the intended rape by Sennacherib and the Assyrians.
· She had never been invaded or conquered by another since the days of David.
2. (22-28) God’s word to the King of Assyria and his representatives.
‘Whom have you reproached and blasphemed?
Against whom have you raised your voice,
And lifted up your eyes on high?
Against the Holy One of Israel.
By your messengers you have reproached the Lord,
And said: “By the multitude of my chariots
I have come up to the height of the mountains,
To the limits of Lebanon;
I will cut down its tall cedars
And its choice cypress trees;
I will enter the extremity of its borders,
To its fruitful forest.
I have dug and drunk strange water,
And with the soles of my feet I have dried up
All the brooks of defense.”
‘Did you not hear long ago
How I made it,
From ancient times that I formed it?
Now I have brought it to pass,
That you should be
For crushing fortified cities into heaps of ruins.
Therefore their inhabitants had little power;
They were dismayed and confounded;
They were as the grass of the field
And the green herb,
As the grass on the housetops
And grain blighted before it is grown.
‘But I know your dwelling place,
Your going out and your coming in,
And your rage against Me.
Because your rage against Me and your tumult
Have 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.
a. Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice, and lifted up your eyes on high? Against the Holy One of Israel: The LORD, speaking through Isaiah, simply said to the Rabshakeh, “Do you know whom you are dealing with?” The Rabshakeh obviously did not know.
i. Curiously, this prophecy may have never reached the ears of the Rabshakeh. After all, Isaiah didn’t exactly have free access to him. But perhaps before his terrible end, God found a way to get this prophecy to him. Or, perhaps God had it for this blasphemer as a special message in hell. At the very least, this prophecy would have been hugely encouraging to Hezekiah and all of Judah, even if the Rabshakeh never heard it on this earth.
ii. Sometimes God speaks to the enemy more for the sake of His people than for the sake of the enemy himself.
b. By the multitude of my chariots, I have come up to the height of the mountains: Here, the LORD described the great pride the Assyrians had in their own conquests. But they forgot that the LORD was really in charge (Now I have brought it to pass, that you should be for crushing fortified cites into heaps of ruins. Therefore the inhabitants had little power). Even if the Assyrians didn’t know it, they owed their success to the LORD.
i. “God then confronted Sennacherib with that which he had apparently not considered: Sennacherib’s successes were foreordained by God… Sennacherib should not boast as though what he had done was either self-generated or self-accomplished.” (Patterson and Austel)
ii. This was humbling for the Assyrians. All along, they thought it was because of their mighty power they had accomplished so much. Here, God made it plain that it was His power that did it.
iii. “With the soles of my feet was Sennacherib’s boast that he commanded so many soldiers that when they marched across riverbeds, they literally dried up the rivers.” (Dilday)
c. I know your dwelling place, your going out and your coming in: God knew how to find the Assyrians. And because Assyria went too far in blaspheming the One who made all their success possible, therefore I will put My hook in your nose… and I will turn you back by the way which you came. This was an especially dramatic statement, because this is exactly how the Assryians cruelly marched those whom they forced to relocate out of their conquered lands. They lined up the captives and drove a large fishhook through the lip or the nose of each captive, strung them all together and marched them. God said, “I’m going to do the same thing to you.”
i. “The Assyrian practice of leading foreign princes captive with a ring or hook in the nose is depicted on Esarhaddon’s stela at Zenjirli showing him holding Tirhakah of Egypt and Ba’alu of Tyre.” (Wiseman)
3. (29-31) God will prosper wounded Judah.
‘This shall be a sign to you:
You shall eat this year such as grows of itself,
And in the second year what springs from the same;
Also in the third year sow and reap,
Plant vineyards and eat the fruit of them.
And the remnant who have escaped of the house of Judah
Shall again take root downward,
And bear fruit upward.
For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant,
And those who escape from Mount Zion.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.’
a. You shall eat this year such as grows of itself: “The invasion prevented sowing in 702 b.c., but when the threat lifted in 701 they would find sufficient growth to preserve life; in 701 the withdrawing Assyrians still inhibited agriculture, yet in 700 there would still be enough through ‘chance growth’. Thus the Lord would confirm retrospectively that it was his hand that dispersed the threat.” (Motyer, commentary on Isaiah)
i. “When in the harvest of the third year the people ate in abundance, they would know assuredly that God had been in the entire crisis.” (Patterson and Austel)
b. For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant: As much as the Assyrians would like to crush Jerusalem and Judah, they would not be able to. God would preserve His remnant.
i. “The doctrine of the remnant (vv. 4, 30) left by God’s grace through times of trial was demonstrated by Isaiah, whose son was named Shear-Jashub, ‘remnant will return’ (Isaiah 7:3; 37:30-32). Israelites fled to Judah so that in one sense Judah also included the remnant of Israel to carry on God’s name and work.” (Wiseman)
4. (32-34) God will defend Judah for His sake.
“Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria:
‘He shall not come into this city,
Nor shoot an arrow there,
Nor come before it with shield,
Nor build a siege mound against it.
By the way that he came,
By the same shall he return;
And he shall not come into this city,’
Says the LORD.
‘For I will defend this city, to save it
For My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.’”
a. He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there… for I will defend this city, to save it: God plainly and clearly drew a line. Although the Assyrian military machine was poised to lay siege to Jerusalem and ultimately crush them, they won’t. The king of Assyria would not come into this city because God promised to defend it.
i. It is hard for modern people to understand the ancient horror of the siege, when a city was surrounded by a hostile army and trapped into a slow, suffering starvation. King Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem lived under the shadow of this threat, but God’s promise through Isaiah assured them that Sennacherib and the Assyrian army would not only fail to capture the city, but would not even shoot an arrow or build a siege mound against Jerusalem. God promised that they wouldn’t even begin a siege.
b. For My own sake and for My servant David’s sake: This explains why God promised to defend Jerusalem. God would defend His own glory. Often, we unnecessarily think that we must defend the glory of the LORD. But that isn’t really the case. God is more than able to defend His own glory.
i. God also does it “For My servant David’s sake.” King David had died almost 300 years before this, but God still honored His promise to David (2 Samuel 7:10-17). God defended Jerusalem, not for the city’s sake at all – Jerusalem deserved judgment! But He did it for His own sake and for the sake of David. In the same way, God the Father defends and blesses us, not for our own sake – we often deserve His judgment – but He often does it for His own sake, and for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.
ii. For I will defend this city, to save it For My own sake and for My servant David’s sake: “Jeremiah later argued that those who traded on this prophecy as meaning that the temple in Jerusalem would never be taken were superstitious and presumptuous (Jeremiah 7:1-15).” (Wiseman)
C. God defends Jerusalem.
1. (35) God strikes down the mighty army of Assyria.
And it came to pass on a certain night that the angel of the LORD went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses— all dead.
a. The angel of the LORD went out: Simply and powerfully, God destroyed this mighty army in one night; 185,000 died at the hand of the angel of the LORD. Against all odds, and against every expectation except the expectation of faith, the Assyrian army was turned back without having even shot an arrow into Jerusalem. The unstoppable was stopped, the undefeated was defeated.
i. The prophet Hosea made this same prediction: Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by the LORD their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen. (Hosea 1:7)
ii. “Herodotus, the Greek historian, recorded that one night Sennacherib’s army camp was infested with mice (or rats) that destroyed the arrows and shield-thongs of the soldiers. He probably got this tradition from Egyptian sources, and it could well be a somewhat garbled version of the event recorded here.” (Grogan)
b. There were the corpses – all dead: This was not difficult for God to do. In a manner of speaking, it was far harder for the LORD to get the heart and minds of His people in the right place. Once they were there, it was nothing for God to dispatch one angel to do this.
i. Some have speculated that there was a natural means that the angel used. “This has been thought to be a bacillary dysentery which had a three-day incubation period.” (Wiseman)
2. (36-37) The defeated Sennacherib is judged in Nineveh.
So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went away, returned home, and remained at Nineveh. Now it came to pass, as he was worshiping in the temple of Nisroch his god, that his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer struck him down with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat. Then Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.
a. Departed and went away: This happened exactly as God said it would. But he left still full of pride. After this retreat from Judah, Sennacherib commissioned a record, which is preserved in the spectacular Annals of Sennacherib (the Taylor Prism), which can be seen in the British Museum. It shows how full of pride Sennacherib’s heart still was, even if he could not even claim he conquered Jerusalem.
i. “I attacked Hezekiah of Judah who had not subjected himself to me, and took forty-six fortresses, forts and small cities. I carried away captive 200,150 people, big and small, both male and female, a multitude of horses, young bulls, asses, camels, and oxen. Hezekiah himself I locked up in Jerusalem like a bird in its cage. I put up banks against the city. I separated his cities whose inhabitants I had taken prisoners from his realm and gave them to Mitiniti, king of Ashdod, Padi, king of Ekron, and Zilbel, king of Gaza and thus diminished his country. And I added another tax to the one imposed on him earlier.” (Cited in Bultema, commentary on Isaiah)
ii. “The Biblical account concludes with the much debated statement that the Assyrian army was struck down in some way during the night with considerable loss of life, following which the siege was called off… The Assyrian Annals tacitly agree with the Biblical version by making no claim that Jerusalem was taken, only describing tribute from Hezekiah.” (T.C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum)
iii. “God spared Sennacherib, not in mercy, but in wrath, reserving to him a more dreadful and shameful death by the hands of his own children.” (Poole)
b. Now it came to pass: Between 2 Kings 19:36 and 2 Kings 19:37, twenty years passed. Perhaps Sennacherib thought he had escaped the judgment of God, but he hadn’t. He met the bitter end of death at the end of swords held by his own sons.
i. An old Jewish legend – and nothing more than a legend – says how it was that Sennacherib’s sons came to kill him. Sennacherib was troubled at how God seemed to bless the Jews so much, and tried to find out why. Someone told him it was because Abraham had loved God so much that he was willing to sacrifice his son unto the LORD. Sennacherib thought he would be even more favored by God, and decided to kill two of his sons in sacrifice to the LORD, becoming even more blessed than Abraham and his descendants. But his two sons learned of the plan, and killed him before he could kill them, thus fulfilling the word of the LORD.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission