Isaiah 37


‘When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. They told him, “This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the moment of birth and there is no strength to deliver them. It may be that the LORD your God will hear the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the LORD your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives.” Isaiah 37:1-4

Jerusalem’s Deliverance Foretold

This chapter begins by telling us about Hezekiah’s appeal to Isaiah for help. When Hezekiah heard the report of what Rabshakeh had said, Isaiah 36:22, he was humbled, he humbled himself in garments of mourning and sought the place of prayer.

The reference to ‘children who come to the moment of birth and there is no strength to deliver them’, was a well-known proverb used by people when they are desperate and in an almost hopeless situation, Hosea 13:13.

Hezekiah acknowledged that all human resources had failed. He had failed in all his plans to make alliances with Egypt and Babylon, and so, as a last resort, he went to God. He was anxious that God take note of the blasphemous words of Rabshakeh.

Although Judah had failed to put God first in their initial defence against the Assyrians, God was delivering Jerusalem for a greater purpose. It wasn’t in His plan at this time to take Judah into captivity.

‘When King Hezekiah’s officials came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Tell your master, ‘This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Listen! When he hears a certain report, I will make him want to return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.’” Isaiah 37:5-7

Here we read Isaiah’s reply, Isaiah counselled courage and promised Sennacherib’s retreat. The answer is quick and straight to the point, God will destroy Sennacherib, Isaiah 36:18, by causing him to retreat to his own land where he would die by the sword, Isaiah 37:38.

Douglas, in his commentary, says the following.

‘There were no less than four things which God promised would thwart and prevent Sennacherib’s purpose toward Jerusalem. First, God would put a spirit into him, secondly, he would hear a rumour, thirdly, he would return to his own land and fourthly, in that land, he would fall by the sword.’

‘When the field commander heard that the king of Assyria had left Lachish, he withdrew and found the king fighting against Libnah. Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the king of Cush, was marching out to fight against him. When he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah with this word: “Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria.’ Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my predecessors deliver them—the gods of Gozan, Harran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar? Where is the king of Hamath or the king of Arpad? Where are the kings of Lair, Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah?” Isaiah 37:8-13

From these verses through to verse 38, we read of God’s deliverance of Jerusalem. They record a second attempt by the Assyrians to force the surrender of Jerusalem and its deliverance by God.

When Rabshakeh returns to Sennacherib, he moved the Assyrian army from Lachish to Libnah. Sennacherib found it impractical to go immediately to Jerusalem because he feared immediate war with Ethiopia and so, he sent his messengers to deliver another ultimatum to Hezekiah.

Rabshakeh’s ultimatum was directed to Hezekiah, reminding him that Assyria had already conquered many major cities. Sennacherib blasphemes Hezekiah and his God, in other words, Sennacherib is stating that his god was greater than the Holy One of Israel.

Hezekiah’s Prayer

‘Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, LORD, and hear; open your eyes, LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. “It is true, LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, LORD, are the only God.’ Isaiah 37:14-20

Hezekiah receives Sennacherib’s letter and proceeds to humble himself before God in prayer.

Hezekiah prays to God for help, he prays to the LORD Almighty, the One enthroned between the cherubim, Exodus 25:21-22, etc, and it’s here, Hezekiah’s faith is in sharp contrast to the polytheism of the Assyrians.

The gods made by men’s hands had perished, the great God of the universe cannot be destroyed by any fires which man may kindle. He is the Eternal Spirit.

If Jerusalem were delivered, then the nations who had been defeated by the Assyrians, would know that the God of Israel was the only true and living God, Isaiah 42:8 / Isaiah 43:10 / Isaiah 43:13 / Isaiah 43:25 / Nehemiah 9:6 / Daniel 9:18-19.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following, concerning Hezekiah’s prayer.

‘It acknowledged that Jehovah is over all nations and all men, the creator of heaven and earth and that in him only is salvation. The basis of his petition, moreover, is directed toward the benefit of all the nations of the earth, that they might know the one true God, and it is not marked by the narrow object of what would benefit Israel only.’

Sennacherib’s Fall

‘Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word the LORD has spoken against him: “Virgin Daughter Zion despises and mocks you. Daughter Jerusalem tosses her head as you flee. Who is it you have ridiculed and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride? Against the Holy One of Israel! By your messengers you have ridiculed the Lord. And you have said, ‘With my many chariots I have ascended the heights of the mountains, the utmost heights of Lebanon. I have cut down its tallest cedars, the choicest of its junipers. I have reached its remotest heights, the finest of its forests. I have dug wells in foreign lands and drunk the water there. With the soles of my feet I have dried up all the streams of Egypt.’ “Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone. Their people, drained of power, are dismayed and put to shame. They are like plants in the field, like tender green shoots, like grass sprouting on the roof, scorched before it grows up. “But I know where you are and when you come and go and how you rage against me. Because you rage against me and because your insolence has reached my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came.’ Isaiah 37:21-29

Here we read Isaiah’s reply as a prophecy against Assyria. 2 Kings 19:20. God’s answer came through Isaiah, God’s prophet.

God would remind Sennacherib that he was not fighting against human beings but the eternal God.

He reminds Sennacherib that all his boasted powers would fail, he couldn’t have done any of the things over which he boasted if God hadn’t been working for him.

God tells Assyria that He gave her power over the nations and He would control Assyria. Because Sennacherib had acted so arrogantly, God is going to send him back to the place from which he came.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Assyrian sculptures represent both captives and beasts as being led in this manner. Some of these ancient sculptures may be seen at a place called, Khorsabad, where captives are led before the king by a cord attached to a hook or ring passing through the underlip, the upper lip, or the nose. The ear was also used for such purposes.’

Archer, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Animals, especially bulls, were led in this manner, and that God here promised to humiliate Assyria by treating her like a wild beast, And compelling her to return home with her objectives unrealized.’

‘This will be the sign for you, Hezekiah: “This year you will eat what grows by itself, and the second year what springs from that. But in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit. Once more a remnant of the kingdom of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. “Therefore this is what the LORD says concerning the king of Assyria: “He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city,” declares the LORD. “I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant!” Isaiah 37:30-35

Here we read of God’s sign and promise to Judah. In around one year from now, the Assyrians would be gone from Judah. Farmers would be back in their fields, cultivating their land. After they had reaped the volunteer harvests, they would plant their own fields and harvest their crops.

The promise was made definite for two reasons.

1. For God’s sake.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘God had been reproached and blasphemed by Sennacherib. As his name and power had been thus blasphemed, he says that he would vindicate himself, and for the honour of his own insulted majesty would save the city.’

2. For David’s sake.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘On account of the promise which he had made to him that there should not fail a man to sit on his throne and that the city and nation should not be destroyed until the Messiah should appear, Psalms 132:10-18.’

‘Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king.’ Isaiah 37:36-38

Here we read the account of God’s act.

There are four main theories concerning the identity of the ‘angel of the LORD’.

1. A special angel messenger, a heavenly being, who acted as God’s representative, but God Himself.

2. God the Father, showing Himself as a divine manifestation to humanity. This is known as a theophany, the appearance of God.

3. God the Son, manifested in a pre-incarnate body form. This is known as a Christophany, the appearance of Christ.

4. The figure is sometimes a manifestation of God and sometimes an angelic heavenly being representing God, depending on the context of the text.

The following Scriptures, show us that the ‘angel of the LORD’, is actually a manifestation of God Himself, Numbers 22 / Joshua 5:13-15 / Judges 2:1-4 / Judges 6:11-24 / Judges 13:2-25.

I think the above Scriptures should be enough for us to understand, that the ‘angel of the LORD’, is none other than God Himself, in human form.

The ‘angel of the Lord’ may well represent a Christophany, that is, a pre-incarnation appearance of the Christ. It shouldn’t surprise us that God revealed Himself in human form, after all, God Himself came in human form in the form of Jesus, John 1:1-14.

In a single night, God’s angel smote the army of Sennacherib and 185,000 of his soldiers died, 2 Kings 19:35-27. Sennacherib departed, 2 Chronicles 32:21, as all those who oppose God will eventually depart. Their pomp and power will pass into history and only the cause of the Great Eternal God will triumph.

Hailey, in his commentary, says the following, concerning the last verse.

‘It is not impossible for Isaiah himself to have added this historical section. If he began his prophetic work at age 30, he could have lived unto the murder of Sennacherib, which was about sixty years from the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry. The account was probably added as Isaiah edited his book before his death. Two facts stand out clearly, 1. Through Isaiah, God declared what he would do, and 2. he did it, but how quickly was this remarkable deliverance forgotten by Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son, who was one of the most wicked kings of Judah!’

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