I remember the first time I watched the classic The Wizard of Oz. As a child, I waited with fear and anticipation when Dorothy’s ragamuffin crew made it to Oz. Hearing his terrifying voice, I knew that Oz had to be a great and powerful and fearful creature. I was certainly surprised when viewers got a peek behind the curtain to see that he was just an ordinary man. His voice was booming and foreboding, but he was just a human, after all.
In Isaiah 37:21-28, God pulls back the fearful curtain to give us a clearer picture of the true identity of Assyria’s leader, Sennacherib, who has taken delight in mocking the Lord. The text tells us that he has scaled the mountains to cut down the tallest trees and has dried up the streams of Egypt with just the sole of his foot (Isaiah 37:24-25). He is strong and fearful and foreboding - but like Oz, when the curtain is pulled back, we are reminded that he is just a man. Why should Israel fear a man who has supposedly scaled the mountains when they worship a God who formed the mountains? Does a man who professes that he can dry up a region’s waters terrify them? Their God once flooded the whole earth in judgment.
What’s more, Sennacherib isn’t just a man - he is a puppet in the hands of the living God. God warns Sennacherib that He has determined from days of old what would come to pass - He has allowed Sennacherib to come this far and to bring terror to Israel and surrounding nations to fulfill His own purposes. But now, God will intervene. As John N. Oswalt explained, “Just as God brought [Sennacherib]on stage, He can take him off again. To God, the mighty Assyrian monarch is no more than a bull with a ring in his nose or a horse with a bit in his mouth” (John N. Oswalt, Isaiah: NIV Application Commentary).
Sennacherib is His puppet and His servant, even if he doesn’t realize it - and now God has determined that his time has come to an end. The man who arrogantly mocked the Lord will meet His maker. We see God’sword hold true in verses 36-39; Sennacherib and the Assyrian armies are not defeated by Israel’s might but rather by an angel of the Lord. God Himself brings an end to the booming voice and the man who mocked the God of Israel, reminding us that He alone is supreme and all-powerful.
Isaiah 37:21-38 (ESV):
21 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22 this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:
“‘She despises you, she scorns you— the virgin daughter of Zion; she wags her head behind you— the daughter of Jerusalem.
23 “‘Whom have you mocked and reviled? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes to the heights? Against the Holy One of Israel! 24 By your servants you have mocked the Lord, and you have said, With my many chariots I have gone up the heights of the mountains, to the far recesses of Lebanon, to cut down its tallest cedars, its choicest cypresses, to come to its remotest height, its most fruitful forest. 25 I dug wells and drank waters, to dry up with the sole of my foot all the streams of Egypt.
26 “‘Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass, that you should make fortified cities crash into heaps of ruins, 27 while their inhabitants, shorn of strength, are dismayed and confounded, and have become like plants of the field and like tender grass, like grass on the housetops, blighted before it is grown.
28 “‘I know your sitting down and your going out and coming in, and your raging against me. 29 Because you have raged against me and your complacency has come to my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will turn you back on the way by which you came.’
30 “And this shall be the sign for you: this year you shall eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs from that. Then in the third year sow and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. 31 And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. 32 For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
33 “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 34 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 35 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”
36 And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 37 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh. 38 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword. And after they escaped into the land of Ararat, Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.