1 As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. 2 And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. 3 They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, ‘This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. 4 It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’”
5 When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, 6 Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. 7 Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”
8 The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. 9 Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “He has set out to fight against you.” And when he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’” – Isaiah 37:1-13 ESV
The Assyrian army surrounds the city of Jerusalem. An emissary from the Assyrian king, speaking fluent Hebrew, has taunted the people of Judah, warning them not to trust in their king, their allies or their God. And he has tempted them with the tantalizing offer of peace and prosperity if they will only surrender. And though the text tells us that “the people were silent and did not utter a word” (Isaiah 36:21 NLT), the thought of giving up must have crossed the minds of many that day. Why suffer certain defeat and death when the king of Assyria was promising so much more?
“Make peace with me—open the gates and come out. Then each of you can continue eating from your own grapevine and fig tree and drinking from your own well. Then I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards.” – Isaiah 36:16-17 NLT
Even King Hezekiah was devastated by the news of what had taken place outside the walls of Jerusalem. He immediately went into mourning and entered the temple to pray and seek the aid of God Almighty. He even sent two of his administrative aids to Isaiah the prophet with a request that he intercede with God on their behalf.
“This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.” – Isaiah 37:3-4 ESV
These were dark days, and the outlook was grim. But rather than give up, Hezekiah looked up. He turned to God for help. And he sought the aid of the prophet of God, hoping that Isaiah had a direct line to the Almighty and could enlist His support.
Hezekiah, while a good and godly king, had a somewhat limited view of God’s sovereignty and power. He questions whether God has heard what the Assyrian emissary has said. It’s as if He thinks God might be unaware of their predicament and must be informed of all that is going on. What he failed to understand was that all of this was God’s doing. The Almighty was not clueless, He was in control of all that was going on. The Assyrians were His instruments of judgment upon the people of Judah, but they could do no more than He permitted. And while their army was impressive and their taunts were impactful, they were not to be feared.
“This is what the Lord says: Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me from the Assyrian king’s messengers. Listen! I myself will move against him, and the king will receive a message that he is needed at home. So he will return to his land, where I will have him killed with a sword.” – Isaiah 37:6-7 NLT
It’s interesting to note how Isaiah prefaced his message from God. He said, “This is what the Lord says.” When the Assyrian emissary approached the walls of Jerusalem with a message for King Hezekiah, he had stated, “This is what the great king of Assyria says” (Isaiah 36:4 NLT). Isaiah seems to be purposefully juxtaposing the word of God against the word of King Sennacherib. Both sovereigns had spoken, but only one would be right. The word of God would trump the arrogant boasts of the Assyrian king. His threats of destruction and deportation would never happen. Before Sennacherib could even launch an attack on Jerusalem, he would receive news that would force him to return to Assyrian, where he would be assassinated. His grandiose plans for conquest would end in his own death at the hands of his own sons.
What is interesting to note is that God does not tell Isaiah or Hezekiah another important detail regarding His defeat of the Assyrians. The book of 2 Chronicles records that God did far more than plant a message in King Sennacherib’s ear. He destroyed the Assyrian army.
And the Lord sent an angel who destroyed the Assyrian army with all its commanders and officers. So Sennacherib was forced to return home in disgrace to his own land. And when he entered the temple of his god, some of his own sons killed him there with a sword. – 2 Chronicles 32:21 NLT
Most likely, Sennacherib would have left the majority of his army in place and returned home without them. But God had other plans. Not only was the king forced to leave Judah, his army would be destroyed. He would return home in disgrace and defeat, where things would get only worse.
Sennacherib’s sin was that he had mocked the living God. He and his men “talked about the God of Jerusalem as though he were one of the pagan gods, made by human hands” (2 Chronicles 32:19 NLT). His officers “mocked the Lord God and his servant Hezekiah, heaping insult upon insult” (2 Chronicles 32:16 NLT).
And they were not done. Isaiah records that the Assyrian emissary continued to mock Hezekiah and his God.
“Don’t let your God, in whom you trust, deceive you with promises that Jerusalem will not be captured by the king of Assyria.” – Isaiah 37:10 NLT
And he gave as proof all the other nations and gods the Assyrians had conquered along their way to Jerusalem. But Sennacherib’s mistake was in thinking Yahweh was nothing more than just another impotent god who would prove incapable of standing up to his power and might. In a sense, he saw himself as greater than God. And he had a track record of success against all the other pagan gods to prove it. But this time, he was wrong. He was up against the one true God. And as God told Moses centuries earlier:
“Look now; I myself am he! There is no other god but me! I am the one who kills and gives life; I am the one who wounds and heals; no one can be rescued from my powerful hand!” – Deuteronomy 32:39 NLT
Sennacherib could brag and mock, but God would have the last word. The Assyrian king could boast about all his previous victories, but this battle would not go his way. It would end in defeat and his own death. God was about to turn the day of distress, rebuke, and disgrace on its head. It would be the Assyrians who saw their army and their hopes of victory crushed.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.