The Word Made Fresh
1When King Hezekiah received their report, he tore his clothes, draped himself with sackcloth and entered the temple of the LORD. 2He sent the manager of his palace, Eliakim, along with Shebna the royal secretary and the senior priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. 3They said to Isaiah, “King Hezekiah declares this day to be a day of trouble, distress, and disgrace. It is as if babies are ready to be born, but there is no strength to deliver them. 4It may be that the LORD your God has heard the words of the Rabshakeh. The king of Assyria sent him to make fun of the living God. Surely the LORD your God will turn his words back upon him. Please, raise a prayer for those of us who remain.”
5 When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, he told them, 6“Tell your master that the LORD says, ‘Don’t be afraid because of what you heard the servants of the king of Assyria say to belittle me. 7I will see to it that he hears a rumor that will cause him to return to his own land, and there I will see to it that he is killed by the sword.’”
8Then the Rabshakeh returned and found that his king had left Lachish and had gone to attack Libnah, 9and the king had been informed that King Tirhakah of Cush was planning an attack. So, he sent messengers again to Hezekiah of Judah to say, 10“Don’t let your God trick you into thinking that Jerusalem will not fall to the king of Assyria. 11You have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the surrounding kingdoms. They are completely wasted. Do you think you’ll fare better? 12Have the gods of those other peoples rescued them from my predecessors – Gozan, Haran, Rezeph and the inhabitants of Eden in Telassar? 13Where is the king of Hamath today? Where is the king of Arpad? Where is the king of Sepharvaim? Where are the kings of Hena and Ivvah?”
14When Hezekiah received the message and read it, he went into the temple and laid it before the LORD. 15He prayed, 16“LORD Almighty, God of Israel, you who occupy the throne above the cherubim, you alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth, for you created heaven and earth. 17Listen, O LORD, and hear. Open your eyes and see. Hear the words of Sennacherib mocking the living God. 18It is true, LORD, that the kings of Assyria have defeated nations and lands, 19and have burned up and destroyed their ‘gods,’ although they were not really gods but only figures of wood and stone shaped by human hands. 20Now I beg you, O LORD our God, rescue us from his hands so that all the nations of the earth will know that you alone are God.”
21Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent this message to Hezekiah: “The LORD, the God of Israel has heard your prayer concerning King Sennacherib of Assyria. 22This is the LORD’s answer:
‘Assyria laughs at you in scorn, O virgin daughter of Zion,
and tosses her head haughtily behind your back,
O daughter Jerusalem.
23But whom have you really mocked and scorned?
Against whom have you dared to deride and treat with contempt?
Against the Holy One of Israel!
24Your messengers taunted the LORD.
And you said, with my many chariots
I have scaled the mountain heights.
to the farthest corners of Lebanon.
I cut the tallest cedars and felled its finest cypresses.
I marched all through its farthest settlements
and thickest forests.
25I dug wells and drank waters.
With my feet I dried up all the streams of Egypt.
26Haven’t you heard that I decided all this long ago?
I planned in ancient times what is happening today;
how you would make the strongest cities fall apart
in heaps of ruin
27while their people, strength all gone,
without hope, without guidance,
have become like wild things growing in the fields,
like grass upon the housetops that is dried up and wasted.
28But I know when you arise, and I know when you sit down,
and I know when you go out, and I know when you come in,
and I know when you complain against me.
29And because you have arrogantly complained against me,
I will put a hook in your nose and a bit in your mouth,
and I will turn you around
and send you back from whence you came.’
30“And this will be your sign, Judah: This year you will feed on whatever grows by itself. Next year you will eat what grows from that, but in the third year you can sow and reap and plant your vineyards and partake of the produce. 31Those who are still alive in Judah shall again be settled and grow 32because those who are left shall spread out from Jerusalem, and a group of survivors will appear from Mount Zion. The ardent fervor of the LORD of hosts will see to this.
33“So, the LORD says this about the king of Assyria: ‘He will never set foot in this city or shoot an arrow there or stand against it behind a shield or build a ramp against its walls. 34He shall return to his place by the way that he came, and he shall not enter this city,’ says the LORD. 35‘I will defend this city and protect it for my own sake, and for the sake of my servant David.’”
36That same night the angel of the LORD went and cut down one hundred eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. The sun rose on their dead bodies. 37Then Sennacherib, king of Assyria, returned home to Nineveh, 38and one day when he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with their swords. Then they escaped to Ararat, and his son Esar-Haddon succeeded him.
This chapter is almost identical to 2 Kings 19. There are only a few inconsequential differences.
1-7: Hezekiah is distressed over the situation and sends his envoys to the prophet Isaiah for advice. They ask for his prayers, and he tells them to report to Hezekiah that the siege will be lifted because Sennacherib will be recalled to his country and there he will be killed.
8-13: The chief prince of the Assyrians, the Rabshakeh, finds Sennacherib happily besieging Libnah, having succeeded against Lachish. Sennacherib has received intelligence telling him of the plans of King Tirhakah of Ethiopia to attempt an advance against Assyria, so he redoubles his effort to overthrow Jerusalem quickly. He sends the Rabshakeh back with a letter outlining all his conquests in an effort to impress Hezekiah enough that he will surrender.
14-20: Hezekiah takes the letter into the temple and spreads it out for God to see. He acknowledges God to be the creator of the world, and the gods of the nations Sennacherib has conquered are mere carvings of wood and stone. He begs God to rescue them from the Assyrians.
21-22: God answers his prayer through Isaiah who sends a letter to Hezekiah which he says is God’s response. Assyria has taunted you, he says.
23-25: This time, however, Sennacherib is not toying with a weaker kingdom, but taunting the Holy One of Israel, he says. Sennacherib thinks he is invincible because he has defeated other nations from Lebanon to Egypt.
26-27: Sennacherib doesn’t realize that his victories have all come about because the Holy One of Israel allowed him to be victorious.
28-29: God promises to punish Sennacherib’s arrogance by forcing him to return to Nineveh.
30-32: Isaiah tells Hezekiah that things are about to return to normal after nearly three years of being under siege and unable to plant or harvest the crops and vineyards.
33-35: God promises that Sennacherib will not breach the walls nor ever enter Jerusalem.
36-38: That very night a plague strikes the Assyrian camp and decimates their army. Sennacherib is forced to withdraw. He returns to Nineveh where he is assassinated by two of his sons. A third son, Esar-Haddon, becomes the next Assyrian king. He will turn out to be a somewhat less ambitious king, and the death of Sennacherib marks the end of the Assyrian threat to Judah. Another more powerful empire will arise, however, with its capital at Babylon, about which we will learn more in chapter 39.
Perhaps a key lesson from Isaiah is that sooner or later God will decide that we have strayed far enough. When we face circumstances that are painful and seem to go on and on, maybe we are being given a sign that our faith has not been as important in our decision making as it should have been.