Overview of Isaiah 36-39
This week, we find ourselves in a historical narrative section of Isaiah. These chapters are paralleled in 2 Kings 18:13-20:19 and tell us the story of King Hezekiah. Isaiah’s primary audience was the kingdom of Judah, led by Hezekiah from 715-686 BC. We’ll see that Hezekiah’s faith in the Lord sometimes wavered -like the faith of the Israelites. Israel has placed her faith in false gods and foreign nations rather than turning to the Lord. Her ultimate punishment awaits her: exile in Babylon. But we will also be reminded of God’s supreme power - that He is a God greater than any other god or country or enemy the Israelites will face.Isaiah calls the people to trust in the Lord and to turn from their sin. As we read these verses, we’ll see ourselves in the characters in the story. At times, Hezekiah chose to trust in the Lord - but at other points, he was blind to his own sinful pride. Will we choose to trust in the Lord? Do we see our need for Him in our brokenness and our sin?
Devotion for Isaiah 36
Who will you trust? This is the question that King Hezekiah and Judah are forced to answer in Isaiah 36. The historical situation is grim. We begin this section of Isaiah in 701 BC. Israel, the northern kingdom, has fallen to Assyria, and they are threatening to take over Judah; in fact, the text tells us that “Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them” (Isaiah 36:1). Things don’t look good.
The Rabshakeh of Assyria plays a prominent role in this passage; although we never are told his name, we know that he is the third-highest ranking officer of the Assyrian army. He approaches Judah’s officials with a message for Hezekiah and subsequently for the people of Judah: “On what do you rest this trust of yours?”(Isaiah 36:4). It’s the question we’ve heard throughout Isaiah, really, isn’t it? Hezekiah’s father, King Ahaz, chose to place his trust in Assyria rather than in the Lord. His apostasy led them into the situation Hezekiah faces today as Assyria surrounds them, ready to bring siege and destruction.
The Rabshakeh calls God’s people to trust in Assyria, arguing that no god could save them, because the gods of the other countries they had defeated never came to their people’s defense (Isaiah 36:18-20).“Don’t let Hezekiah mislead you by telling you that your God will deliver you,” he taunts. Instead, he holds out a tantalizing promise, declaring that if they trust in Assyria, all will be well (Isaiah 30:16-17).
We answer the same question every day, don’t we? Who will we trust? When the odds are stacked against us and when it seems like all hope is lost, will we choose to trust in God or will we choose to trust in the things and the ways of the world? Can we trust God? This chapter makes me a bit uncomfortable as I consider what might have been going through my head as I heard the Rabshakeh taunt God’s people.Would I have wavered in my trust in that moment? And, do I waver in my trust today? Am I placing my confidence in my abilities or my bank account or my status in life or my own comfort, or is my confidence in God alone?
The fallacy of the Rabshakeh’s argument is that he decided the God of Israel was just like the gods of the other nations. He was mistaken. Israel’s God is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Anything else they could have trusted in - including Assyria - would be lesser. Only the Lord is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is the One who commands the winds and the waves and is the Lord of hosts - the armies of heaven and earth are at His disposal. In comparison, every other god seems small and fleeting and insignificant and weak - because it is! Why would I trust in anything or anyone else other than this God - even when the allure of worldly powers like Assyria might seem so tempting?
Isaiah 36 (ESV):
36 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 2 And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer's Field. 3 And there came out to him Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.
4 And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours?5 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 6 Behold, you are trusting in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 7 But if you say to me, “We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar”?8 Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 9 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master's servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 10 Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this land to destroy it? The Lord said to me, “Go up against this land and destroy it.”’”
11 Then Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 12 But the Rabshakeh said, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and drink their own urine?”
13 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! 14 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you. 15 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, “The Lord will surely deliver us. This city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” 16 Do not listen to Hezekiah. For thus says the king of Assyria: Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 17 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards. 18 Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand?20 Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”
21 But they were silent and answered him not a word, for the king's command was, “Do not answer him.” 22 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn, and told him the words of the Rabshakeh.