Then Isaiah the son of Amos sent into Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the Lord, God of Israel, Whereas thou has prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him: (Vss. 21, 22b).
It again shows how that the secrets of the Lord are with them that fear him. If the God-fearing king has taken the Lord’s side against Sennacherib, the Lord now also takes the side of His servant against the blasphemer to deliver him out of his clutch.
The virgin, the daughter of Zion, has despised thee, has derided thee; the daughter of Jerusalem has shaken the head after thee. For whom hast thou scorned and reviled? And against whom hast thou lifted up thy voice and raised up thine eyes on high? Against the holy one of Israel (vss. 21.23).
The appellatives virgin etc. denote the true church in whose sanctified mind the world-power stands out as an object worthy of derision, seeing that it exalts itself against the only true God. The nameless folly of it! And the credit of this posture of the saints belongs to the Lord alone. For He sets enmity. And so they too speak concerning the blasphemer the very world that the Lord speaks concerning him. And therefore what they speak will surely come to pass. The world-power is doomed to extinction.
By thy servants thou hast reviled the Lord . . . (vs. 24a).
This blasphemy consisted (Isaiah 36:7, 15) in branding trust in Jehovah foolishness, and in concluding that, because they had conquered heathen nations, it followed logically that the people of God would be conquered, and thus in placing Jehovah in a class with idols. Moreover what they did, they imagined that they had done by their own might, and that what was still to be done could be done in the same way. The prophet sets forth this thought in verses 24, 25.
And said, By the multitude of my chariots have I come to the height of the mountains, to the sides of Lebanon; and I will cut down the tall cedars thereof and the choice of the fir trees. And I will enter into the height of his borders and to the forests of his fruitful fields (vs. 25).
In a word, as a conqueror of nations he presses irresistibly on to his chosen destination, now Jerusalem. No one can stop him, either man or God. Such is his boast that to a large extent he already has made good apparently. He has subdued the lands of Lebanon. Hamath, Arphad, Syria, Phoenicia, the kingdom of the ten tribes, the greater part of Judah, and Philistia are actually in his hands. The conquest of Jerusalem must follow as a matter of course. For there is none to deliver. Such is his reasoning.
I have digged and drunk water, and with the sole of my feet have I dried up the rivers of the besieged places, that is of the lands that I was in the act of conquering (vs. 25).
He has dug wells to supply his troops with water, because the existing ones were insufficient. Thus he has drained away their water from their inhabitants.
To the vaunt of the Assyrian the Lord replies.
Hast thou not heard that I have made her long ago and that I have formed her of ancient times (vs. 26a)?
I take the meaning of this verse to be this: Hast thou not heard that this people—Jerusalem, the Israel according to the election—is my workmanship? That is, dost thou, not know that I brought it out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; led it through the Red Sea, wherein the Egyptians were drowned, and through a howling wilderness, and planted it in the promised land of its abode, driving out before it all the inhabitants thereof. From this thou canst see how precious this people is in my sight and what a simple thing it would be for me to destroy thee instantly in its presence, and that therefore thy conquests must be ascribed to my providence and not to thy power and wisdom. But the verse can also be translated: Hast thou not heard that I did it long ago and from ancient times formed it, and the meaning taken to be: Hast thou not heard that there is an almighty God by whose counsel and direction thou art raised up and these wars and destruction ordained and sent.
Now I have brought it to pass, that thou shouldest reduce defenced cities to ruinous heaps (vs. 26b).
That is: thou art operative as my scourge. My ax art thou. I swing thee. For by my power dost thou exist.
And their inhabitants were short of hand; they were terrified and ashamed: they were as grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the housetops, and as corn that is blasted before it is gratin up. (vs. 27).
This explains the success of the Assyrian. The Lord gives the inhabitants of the cities into his hand by laying the terror of the conqueror upon their hearts.
But I know thy sitting and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me. Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up unto mine ears, therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest. (vss. 28, 29).
To say that the Lord’s knowledge is determinative is to say that the Assyrian comes forth from a sovereign providence; it is to say that he lives and moves and has his being in God. This certainly is the truth represented by the imagery of this text: And I will put a hook in thy nose etc. What was to be the divine working by which this raging beast was to be returned to his own place, time would have to reveal. This much is plain that he will return to his home defeated, dispirited and humbled, a trophy of God’s warfare.
Having held out the promise of the disgraceful retreat of the Assyrian out of the holy land, the prophet turns to Hezekiah and names a sign to the king that shall be as a pledge of the promise given.
And this shall be a sign to thee, Ye shall eat this year that which groweth of itself; and the second year that which groweth of itself; and in the third year sow ye, and reap and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof (vs. 30).
It must be supposed that at the time that this word was spoken, shortly before the expulsion of the Assyrian, there was great scarcity of bread in the land. For the people had been robbed of their crops. Yet the command of the Lord is to the effect that there shall be no seeding and harvest before the third year. And the assurance is given that in the meantime there shall be food enough of that which the land as uncultivated shall yield of itself. It was a testing of faith in the wonder-working power of the Lord, as apart from this power Canaan was not that productive. Those first two years would thus be sabbatical in character. The enemy would no more be in the land. According to II Kings 19:35 his expulsion was to follow almost immediately, even that very night. What was promised is an era of rest for God’s believing people,—a never ending rest in the final instance.
And those of the house if Judah that escaped and remain shall increase and take root downward and bear fruit upward. For from Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and from Mt. Zion those that escaped shall go forth. For the jealousy of the Lord of hosts shall do this (vss. 31, 32).
That all these promises are to the true believers only that at the approach of the invader put their confidence in Jehovah by fleeing to Jerusalem is plain from the statement: and they shall bear fruit. The reality signified is Christ the vine and His fruit-bearing branches, the church of the elect, grafted in Him by a, faith that is living and indestructible. They are always “the remnant,” “those that escaped.” They shall increase and be established. And they go forth from Jerusalem whose gates are now open, for the Assyrian is no more. And all is to be the accomplishment of the Lord. For He is a jealous God. He wants His people for Himself only. It is this that moves Him to save His people.
Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning the king of Assyria, Not shall he come unto this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor go before it with a shield, nor cast a mount against here. By the way that he came, by it shall he return, and shall not come unto the city, saith the Lord. For I will protect this city to save her for mine own sake and for my servant David’s sake (vss. 33-35).
Then, that same night, (See above) the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred a fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh (vss. 36, 37).
The mention of the angel of the Lord reminds of the destruction of the firstborn in Egypt. (Ex. 12:15 sqq.), and the plague in Jerusalem (II Sam. 24:15 sqq.) In these three places the angel is said to smite. Hence, angel of destruction. In II Samuel 24:15 the destruction that was wrought by the angel is called a “Pestilence.” A pestilence is to be understood in our passage. It was the sword by which the angel wrought. The Lord laid His plague upon the Assyrian’s heart so that as moved by the terror of God he returned to his own place. That “terror” was the hook in his nose and the bridle in his lips by which the Lord turned him back by the way that he had come. He had seen the finger of God and was afraid. For the great number that perished in one night is something wonderful.
This deliverance from the power of Assyria was permanent. The Assyrian shall not return. God’s people have nothing more to fear from him. So it was promised. He shall not come into the city, bitt by the Way he came, by the same he shall return. He was swallowed up in victory. So the imagery of the text presents him to view. The sign too, as it required three years for its realization, signified not merely a momentary but a permanent deliverance of the city from the world-power,—of the city—the Jerusalem below was but shadow—that one day will appear with Christ in glory.
So will the Lord save the city for His own sake and for David’s sake. For to David, that is to Christ, were the promises.
Sannecherib returned and dwelt in Nineveh. Here he dwelt, that is remained. And here he reigned still twenty years, and undertook five more campaigns. But none of them were directed against Judah and Jerusalem.
And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nishrosh his God, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped unto the land of Ararat; and Esarhaddap his son reigned in his stead (vs. 38).
Such was the end of Sennacherib who had dared to revile Israel’s God.
As was stated in the previous article, while Rabshakeh and the army under him was laying siege to Jerusalem, his master Sennacherib was warring against Lachish and Libnah a Canaanite city. Thus at the time the king of Assyria had two armies in the field, one at Lachish under his own direct command and another at Jerusalem under the command of Rabshakeh. Perceiving that he had failed by his blasphemies to move Hezekiah to a voluntary surrender of the city, Rabshakeh returned to his master (Isaiah 37:8). The question in whether he returned to the king with the great army with which he appeared before Jerusalem, the sacred narrative leaves unanswered. If he did take his army with him, then Sennacherib met the fearful overthrow of his host not before the walls of Jerusalem but in the vicinity of Libriah. But perhaps Rabshakeh did leave his troops behind while he returned to his master, and that the plague ravaged in both armies. This is the view of some.
The text does not state that in returning to his master Rabshakeh took with him his army. All that we read is that “Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria” warring against Libnah (Isaiah 37:8). This makes the impression that his troops remained behind, while he returned. If this was so, there is some ground for the view that the 185,000 lay dead before the walls of Jerusalem.
What favors the view that Rabsakeh returned with his troops is the following consideration. While Sennacherib was occupied with the siege of Lachish, he received report that Tirhakah king of Ethiopia was come forth to make war against him. What could be more likely that it caused him to send word that Rhabshakeh lift the siege of Jerusalem and hasten to join his forces to those of his master for the impending war as purposing to renew his war against Jerusalem when the Ethiopian menace had been removed? If this is what actually happened, the Assyrian met the fearful overthrow of his army in a region other than that of Jerusalem.
But the promise as it reads at vss. 6, 7 of chapter 37 must also be taken into consideration. I quote, “And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid of the words (of Rabshakeh) that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a report, and return to his own land.”
It is not certain that the report that Sennacherib was to hear was the tidings that the king of Ethiopia had come forth to make war against him. It is not unlikely that the reference is to the dreadful tiding that 155,000 of his army that enclosed Jerusalem had died of the pest in one night, and that, as seeing the finger of God in this, he, as activated by the terror of God, slunk away with what was left of his mighty army and returned to his own place.
Then there is the text at 37:22, “The daughter of Zion has shaken her head after thee.” So reads the Hebrew text. Here the picture seems to be that of the inhabitants of Jerusalem shaking their heads at what remained of Rabshakeh’s great army, after the calamity had struck, were withdrawing from before the walls of Jerusalem.
It is plain that no definite answer can be found to the question: where did the overthrow of Sennacherib’s army take place? Before the walls of Jerusalem or elsewhere?
Turning now to the Book of the Chronicles for further light on the course of events after the overthrow of the Assyrian, we learn this (II Chron. 32:22, 23). When the Lord had saved Jerusalem from the hand of the king of Assyria, many brought gifts to the Lord to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah, so that he was magnified in the sight of all nations. Then follows a brief notice of Hezekiah’s sickness. It reads, “In those days Hezekiah was sick unto death, and prayed unto the Lord; and he—the Lord, spake unto him and gave him a sign. Thus according to all the sacred accounts in our possession (the accounts contained in II Kings, II Chronicles and the prophecy of Isaiah) Hezekiah’s sickness occurred after the overthrow of Sennacherib’s army. It took place, according to each of these accounts, “in those days,” that is in the days of the Assyrian invasion and the siege and deliverance of Jerusalem in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign.
In a previous article (The Standard Bearer for July 1) I asserted that the Lord’s promise to the smitten king that He will deliver, the city proves conclusively that the king’s sickness occurred before and not after the destruction of the enemy. And so I took the position that the arrangement of the material that forms the historical piece of Isaiah’s prophecy is not strictly chronological.
However having studied the entire account, it has become plain to me that Hezekiah’s illness could just as well have taken place after the overthrow of Sennacherib’s host and that therefore no valid reason can be advanced for the position that the arrangement of the material in question is not chronological. The promise that the Lord would deliver the city from the Assyrian was twice given. It was given when Hezekiah was sick (Isa. 38:1 sqq), and just before the overthrow of the Assyrian’s army in answer to Hezekiah’s prayer that the Lord rebuke the blasphemer (Isa. 37). The fact that after the destruction of the Assyrian’s host and his return to his own place, the question must have risen in the minds of God’s anxious people whether the tyrant might not return and avenge himself lends support to the position that Hezekiah’s sickness and the announcement to the king that in. response to his prayer the Lord would heal him and deliver him, took place after the overthrow of Sennacherib’s army. It meant that the God-fearing king was once more assured that the Assyrian would never return and that thus the deliverance from his hand was permanent.