Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
The events in this chapter occur in 701 B.C., when Sennacherib besieges Jerusalem.
Isa. 37:28-29 – But I know your sitting down, your going out and your coming in, and your raging against Me. Because your raging against Me and your arrogance has reached My ears, I will put My hook in your nose and My bit in your mouth; I will make you go back the way you came.
When Hezekiah hears of Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem and the Assyrian’s blasphemous boasts, the king of Judah asks Isaiah to seek the Lord on the people’s behalf. Isaiah delivers three messages from the Lord, according to Willmington’s Bible Handbook (S. 368):
- Message 1: “Don’t worry, he’s doomed” (vv. 5-20).
- Message 2: Sennacherib’s rise and ruin (vv. 21-29).
- Message 3: “Neither army nor arrows will enter the city” (vv. 30-35).
These messages are fulfilled (vv. 36-38). The angel of the Lord miraculously destroys the Assyrian army. Sennacherib returns home and, some time later, is assassinated.
“The Angel of the Lord,” who strikes 185,000 Assyrians dead on the hills surrounding Jerusalem, is a “theophany,” an appearance or manifestation of God to people. Many commentators believe the Angel of the Lord (distinct from “an angel of the Lord” or “an angel sent by the Lord”) is the pre-incarnate Messiah, who appears in numerous places to different people throughout the Old Testament: to Hagar in the wilderness (Gen. 16:7-11); to Moses in the burning bush (Ex. 3); to Balaam as he rode his donkey (Num. 22:22-35); to Gideon beneath the oak of Ophrah (Judges 6:11-24); to David in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 24:11-17); and elsewhere.
Don’t be Afraid (Isa. 37:1-7)
Like the envoys sent to meet the Assyrian commander, King Hezekiah tears his clothes in anguish over the Rabshakeh’s threats and in response to the pagan’s blasphemy. The king also puts on sackcloth and enters the temple as a public declaration that the nation’s destiny is fully in the hands of the God of Israel. He sends Eliakim, who is in charge of the palace, and Shebna the scribe to Isaiah, declaring this “a day of distress, rebuke, and disgrace” and seeking a word from the Lord through the prophet. Picking up the imagery from Isa. 26:17-18, they compare Judah to a woman so weakened in pregnancy that she is about to die in childbirth.
Although the Assyrian commander mocks the living God in hopes of driving Hezekiah to abandon his faith and agree to surrender, the king turns to the Lord for deliverance. Matthew Henry writes, “Rabshakeh intended to frighten Hezekiah from the Lord, but it proves that he frightens him to the Lord. The wind, instead of forcing the traveller’s coat from him, makes him wrap it the closer about him. The more Rabshakeh reproaches God the more Hezekiah studies to honour him, by rending his clothes for the dishonour done to him and attending in his sanctuary to know his mind” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 37:1).
Isaiah tells the messengers to assure the king not to be afraid. The Lord has heard the Rabshakeh’s boasting and blasphemy and will not permit them to go unpunished. He will put “a spirit” in King Sennacherib, influencing his judgment and causing him to return to his country, where he will die by the sword. This comes to pass as Sennacherib, who has turned to the southwest to face off against Judah’s allies, hears of the death of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers and goes home to regroup, only to be assassinated.
Sennacherib’s Letter (Isa. 37:8-13)
Sennacherib has left Lachish, the city from which he stages his assault on Jerusalem, in order to address a threat from Tirhakah, a Cushite army commander who later will become king of Egypt. Word has arrived that Tirhakah has come to the aid of Judah, and Sennacherib moves his forces five miles north of Lachish to meet the Cushite army. Not wanting to fight a war on two fronts, Sennacherib sends a threatening letter to Judah’s King Hezekiah, urging him to surrender immediately. He reminds Hezekiah that other nations’ gods were powerless to stop the advancing Assyrian war machine and that Judah’s God will fare no better. Gozan, a city on the Habor River, fell to the Assyrians a century earlier. Haran, a city in Aram, is now an Assyrian stronghold. Rezeph, also a city in Aram, had long ago been subdued. The arrogant king lists other places and their leaders that have fallen into Assyria’s hands.
Matthew Henry comments: “Great successes often harden sinners’ hearts in their sinful ways and make them the more daring. Because the kings of Assyria have destroyed all lands (though, in fact, they were but a few that fell within their reach), therefore they doubt not but to destroy God’s land; because the gods of the nations were unable to help they conclude the God of Israel is so…. Thus is this proud man ripened for ruin by the sunshine of prosperity” (S. Is 37:8).
Hezekiah’s Prayer (Isa. 37:14-20)
Hezekiah takes Sennacherib’s taunting letter to the temple and lays it out before the Lord. What follows is a great prayer of faith. The king begins with praise, acknowledging the Lord of Hosts as the one true and living God, the Creator, exalted above all things and sovereign over the kingdoms of the world. Referring to Him as “God of Israel,” Hezekiah remembers (for God needs no reminding of) the special covenant relationship between the Lord and His people. The king’s reference to God being “enthroned above the cherubim” points to His presence, the Shekinah glory, in the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem’s temple (1 Kings 6:23; 8:10-13). The cherubim “are so inseparably associated with the manifestation of God’s glory, that whether the Lord is at rest or in motion, they always are mentioned with Him (Nu 7:89; Ps 18:10)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 37:16).
The king confesses God’s sovereignty over all the kingdoms of the world, including Assyria, which has demolished its enemies and run roughshod over their false gods, gods of wood and stone “made by human hands” (v. 19). But now Sennacherib has overstepped his bounds, mocking the living God and treating Him and His people with contempt. Hezekiah’s plea is simple, humble and direct: “Now, Lord our God, save us from his hand so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord – You alone” (v. 20).
God’s Answer (Isa. 37:21-35)
The Lord’s reply to Hezekiah’s prayer provides a three-fold assurance: Jerusalem will not be taken; the Assyrians will not stay; and the Jews will not starve.
The “Daughter Zion,” like a young virgin, will not be ravaged by the barbarous Assyrians. She may look at the enemy and shake her head in scorn because he cannot touch her. The Lord will spare His remnant for a number of reasons. First, to glorify His name (vv. 23, 35). Sennacherib has mocked the God of Israel and the Assyrians have exalted themselves above all men and gods, but they will soon learn to fear the one true and living God. Second, the Lord will spare Jerusalem because of His covenant with David (v. 35; 2 Sam. 7). He promised that one of David’s descendents would reign on the throne forever. Ultimately this is fulfilled in Christ. It’s true that Jerusalem will fall and the temple will be destroyed a century later at the hands of the Babylonians, but God’s promise stands and His timing and purpose are unchallenged. A third reason the Lord will spare a remnant is because of His promise to use Israel as the means by which the Abrahamic covenant would be fulfilled and all the world would be blessed through the Messiah (Gen. 12:1-3).
The Lord’s second assurance to Hezekiah is that the Assyrians will not stay (vv. 23-29). God addresses Sennacherib directly in these verses, reminding the king that his empty and blasphemous boasts will not thwart the plan of God. Ultimately, the Lord will humble the king and his army and lead them like cattle away from Daughter Zion: “I will put My hook in your nose and My bit in your mouth; I will make you go back the way you came” (v. 29).
The Lord’s final assurance is that the Jews will have enough to eat – comforting words to people under siege. Although normal agricultural pursuits would be interrupted momentarily, the cycle of planting and harvesting would return to normal within three years (v. 30). Warren Wiersbe observes that Psalm126 may have been written to commemorate Jerusalem’s deliverance from the Assyrians: “The harvest promise in verse 30 parallels Psalm 126:5–6. The seed would certainly be precious in those days! That grain could be used for making bread for the family, but the father must use it for seed; so it is no wonder he weeps. Yet God promised a harvest, and He kept His promise. The people did not starve” (Be Comforted, S. Is 36:1).
Sennacherib’s Demise (Isa. 37:36-38)
As God promises, the Assyrians fail to take Jerusalem. The angel of the Lord, who some commentators say is the pre-incarnate Messiah, strikes down 185,000 enemy soldiers in a single night. The carnage the next morning is difficult to fathom: There are no signs of a struggle, no battle wounds on the fallen; just a massive army of soldiers lying dead on the hillsides. The Lord promised to chop down the Assyrians like a forest (Isa. 10:33-34), pummel them like a storm with fire, rain, a torrent and hailstones (Isa. 30:27-30), and destroy their leader (Isa. 30:31-33), and now He is true to His word. The work of God on this fateful night reminds the Jews of His sovereignty in bringing both deliverance and judgment (Ex. 12:12; 2 Sam. 24:15-17).
News of the Assyrian defeat prompts Sennacherib to leave Judah and return to his capital city of Ninevah. Twenty years later, as a result of a power struggle, he is assassinated by two of his sons while worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch (or Asshur, the chief Assyrian god depicted as an eagle-headed human figure), thus fulfilling Isa. 37:7 (see also 2 Kings 19:7, 35-37). Although Sennacherib mocks the God of Israel, his own god is unable to save him.
Matthew Henry summarizes: “God can quickly stop their breath who breathe out threatenings and slaughter against his people, and will do it when they have filled up the measure of their iniquity; and the Lord is known by these judgments which he executes, known to be a God that resists the proud. Many prophecies were fulfilled in this providence, which should encourage us, as far as they look further, and are designed as common and general assurances of the safety of the church and of all that trust in God …” (S. Isa 37:21).Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
The oracle in Chapter 19 describes four different kings who are trying to control Egypt around 720 – 711 B.C., according to Gary V. Smith in The New American Commentary. If so, this would place Isaiah’s prophecy in the reigns of Judah’s kings Ahaz and Hezekiah.
Isa. 19:1 – Look, the Lord rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. Egypt’s idols will tremble before Him, and Egypt’s heart will melt within it.
D.A. Carson summarizes: “This oracle is a strong expression of the truth that God smites in order to heal (see v 22). The initial breakdown is followed by a renewal which goes beyond anything promised to a Gentile nation in the O.T. Perhaps Egypt is shown here in its two aspects: first, as the worldly power to which Israel was always looking (cf. 20:5) and secondly, as part of God’s world, for which he cares, with a place in his kingdom in which present ranks and races will be quite superseded” (New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, S. Is 18:1).
While Egypt must suffer God’s judgment, Isaiah depicts a glorious day when the nation will be converted and worship Him. When the Egyptians are converted (vv. 18-22) they will openly honor the Lord with an altar in the center of the country and a pillar near the border (vv. 19-20). The Egyptians will offer sacrifices and gifts to the Lord (v. 21) and, along with the Assyrians and Israelites, joyfully serve Him (vv. 23-25). Other Old Testament prophets wrote of Egypt’s future as well (see Jer. 46; Ezek. 29-30).
The Lord’s Message to Egypt (Isa. 19:1-15)
Here and in other passages of Scripture the Lord is seen riding on a cloud (v. 1; see also Ps. 68:4, 33: 104:3). In Canaanite mythology, the same imagery is used of Baal, the god of rain and fertility. But the Lord, not Baal, is the true Giver of rain, something the Egyptians will sorely need (vv. 5-10). The Egyptians’ false gods will not be able to save them from approaching judgment. Forced to abandon their trust in idols that “tremble” before Yahweh, the Egyptians will be reduced to infighting, despair and defeat at the hands of “harsh masters” and “a strong king” (v. 4). Isaiah does not identify the strong king, but possibly it is the Ethiopian ruler Shabaka or the Assyrian king Sargon.
Matthew Henry writes: “Isis, Osiris, and Apis, those celebrated idols of Egypt, being found unable to relieve their worshippers, shall be disowned and rejected by them. Idolatry had got deeper rooting in Egypt than in any land besides, even the most absurd idolatries; and yet now the idols shall be moved and they shall be ashamed of them” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 19:1).
The Lord also will afflict the source of their livelihood, the Nile River, interrupting the annual flooding that brings water and mineral-rich silt to its banks. As a result, papyrus reeds, plants, and every cultivated crop will wilt. Fishermen using hooks or nets will fail to get their catch of fish in the receding, putrid waters. And those who derive their income from flax, or from linens made of flax or other materials, will lose their livelihood. The entire economy will come to a halt despite the feverish way they invoke their pantheon of gods.
Zoan and Memphis (vv. 11, 15) are the two largest cities in Lower (northern) Egypt in Isaiah’s time and serve as important administrative centers. Although many leaders in these cities profess themselves to be wise, steeped in the ways of their fathers, God has given them “a spirit of confusion” (v. 14) so that the princes are “complete fools” and Pharaoh’s wisest advisers offer “stupid advice” (v. 11). The nobles of Egypt boast of their antiquity, but even with thousands of years of accumulated wisdom, they are not able to see the calamity coming, or prevent it. “Without access to God’s wisdom and plan, people are left confused and misguided. Fearing God and depending on his wisdom is where every wise person must start (Prov. 1:7)” (Smith, p. 358).
Egypt Will Know the Lord (Isa. 19:16-25)
The six-fold refrain, “On that day …” (vv. 16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 24) points to the day of the Lord and features the conversion of the Gentiles – in this case, the conversion of Israel’s enemies, the Egyptians and Assyrians. This is a future promise of judgment followed by blessing.
Both Egypt and Judah will see their roles reversed in the days ahead. In contrast with Isaiah’s day, when Judah thinks about appealing to Egypt for help, a time will come when Egypt is in terror as she recognizes that Judah is the stronger nation, held firmly in the uplifted hand of the Lord Almighty.
The “five cities” (or “several cities”) of verse 18 are unknown but could represent the rest of the nation. The “City of the Sun,” however, likely is Heliopolis, a major city in the south of the Nile Delta dedicated to the worship of the sun god Re. The dramatic change in this city – where the Lord is exalted above all Egyptian gods – will demonstrate to the world that Egypt has repented of idolatry and placed its trust in the one true and living God.
Some commentators suggest that the cities mentioned here are near the Egyptian border and engaged in commerce with Israel. If so, the cities could be Heliopolis, Leontopolis, Migdol, Daphne (Tahpanes), and Memphis. Isaiah’s prophecy that the Egyptians will speak the “language of Canaan” (v. 18) likely means they will embrace the Jewish religion and desire to study God’s Word in its original language. When will all this take place? After the Messiah comes and sits on the throne of David (Zech. 14:9; John 17:21).
An interesting side note about verse 19: In about 170 B.C. a temple was built at Leontopolis by Onias IV, an ousted Egyptian priest who appealed to this verse as justification. But the intention of this passage, it seems, is to point out that this once profane land one day will become holy ground.
Verses 23-25 give us a magnificent foretaste of the Gentiles’ full inclusion in God’s kingdom. “Israel will have only an equal part (a third, 24; but not third place), and her distinctive titles will be shared out with her cruelest enemies” (D.A. Carson, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 19:16). This must be an unbelievable prophecy for the listeners in Isaiah’s day. The nation’s sworn enemies, and pagans as well, one day will be God’s people, sharing in Israel’s covenant blessings, having their prayers heard and answered, offering sacrifices to the Lord, and receiving spiritual healing. It will happen, and from our New Testament perspective we may anticipate this day just as the faithful in Judah did 2,700 years ago.
Gary V. Smith writes: “Knowing how the radical Muslims control much of Egypt, Iraq, and Iran today, this prophecy still seems an amazing promise of the miraculous transforming power of God’s presence and grace. The prayer of every believer should be that the people in their own nation would respond as the Egyptians will and consequently join the many nations that will worship at God’s throne some day in the future” (p. 364).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips