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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 37

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



The first four verses here begin to enumerate the things which Hezekiah did because of the desperate situation that confronted him. His first move was one that indicated his deep distress, repentance and sorrow. He covered himself with sackcloth and went into the temple to pray. He sent Eliakim and Shebna and the elders of the priests all covered with sackcloth to seek out Isaiah and to request his assistance in the prayers for “the remnant that is left.”

Verses 1-4

“And it came to pass when king Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of Jehovah. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the son of Amoz. And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of contumely; for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth. It may be Jehovah thy God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master has sent to defy the living God, and will rebuke the words which Jehovah thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left.”

These words represent a profound change in Jerusalem. The king himself appears as a penitent seeking the aid of God. The sinful party that advocated alliances with Ethiopia and Egypt is nowhere in evidence. Hezekiah now professes to believe what Isaiah for such a long time had been telling him, i.e., that only a remnant of Israel would finally be spared.

The reference to children that have come to birth and the absence of strength for them to be born was a well known proverb of a desperate and almost hopeless situation (Hosea 13:13). “Hezekiah rent his clothes in token of the deepest humiliation and distress. He well knew how largely he himself was responsible for the terrible blow”(F1) about to fall on the kingdom. He had disregarded God’s warning and had gone forward with that Egyptian alliance. He had also turned away from Isaiah; but now in utmost distress he sought him whom he had so long ignored. Note his reference to Jehovah as “thy God,” in his words to Isaiah. That does not mean that Hezekiah did not believe in Jehovah, but that he recognized Isaiah as a more faithful follower of Jehovah than Hezekiah had been.

Verses 5-7

“So the servants of Hezekiah came to Isaiah. And Isaiah said unto them. Thus shall ye say to your master. Thus saith Jehovah, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, and he shall hear tidings, and shall return unto his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.”

Isaiah did not need to be solicited for prayer on behalf of Jerusalem; he had already been praying and was ready with an answer when Eliakim and Shebna with their delegation arrived. As Douglas pointed out, there were no less than four things which God promised would thwart and prevent Sennacherib’s purpose toward Jerusalem. “First, God would put a spirit into him; secondly, he would hear a rumor; thirdly, he would return to his own land; and fourthly, in that land, he would fall by the sword.”(F2)

“Servants of the king of Assyria” Hailey tells us that, “The word from which `servants’ is here translated is a term of disparagement, a term that Leupold translates as `lads’ or `young chaps.’“(F3) It leaves us with the thought that, “you boys have not said anything of importance!”

Verses 8-13

“So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah; for he had heard that he had departed from Lachish. And he heard say concerning Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, He is come out to fight against thee. And when he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly: and shalt thou be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them, which my fathers have destroyed, Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden that were in Telassar? Where is the king of Hamath, and the king of Arpad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, of Hena, and Ivvah?”

One of the unresolved questions mentioned in the introduction to Isaiah 36 concerns the Tirhakah mentioned here in Isaiah 37:9. Some say he was too young to have led an expedition against Sennacherib at this time, being only about ten years of age; but there is too much ignorance of the whole political picture of that period of history, and there is too much ignorance about Tirhakah himself (Does this name refer to a dynasty rather than to an individual?) for anyone to be troubled by such speculations. As Hailey said, “Until contrary evidence is provided, we will assume that Tirhakah was of sufficient age to have led an army against Sennacherib.”(F4)

This message from Sennacherib was little more than a somewhat extended repetition of the message he had already sent to Hezekiah by Rabshakeh. He did mention a few more cities that had fallen to previous Assyrian kings, such as Gozan, one of the towns to which the Assyrians had deported some of the Northern Israelites (2 Kings 17:6). Haran was located on a tributary to the Euphrates river and was prominent in Jewish history; for that was where Abraham settled when he left Ur of the Chaldees; there Terah died; and there the Word of God came the second time to Abraham. There both Isaac and Jacob received their wives. Eden was an important city that had supplied the kings of Damascus, of whom Amos prophesied that, “God would cut off the inhabitants from the valley of Aven, and him that holdeth the scepter from the house of Eden; and the people of Syria shall go into captivity” (Amos 1:5). The Assyrian kings indeed had been God’s instrument in the fulfillment of Amos’ prophecy.

Kelley noticed that this message was delivered both orally and by letter,(F5) that being apparently the principal difference between them.

Verses 14-20

“And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up unto the house of Jehovah, and spread it before Jehovah. And Hezekiah prayed unto Jehovah, saying, O Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, that sittest above the cherubim, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth, Incline thine ear, O Jehovah, and hear; Open thine eyes, O Jehovah, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, who hath sent to defy the living God. Of a truth, Jehovah, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the countries, and their land, and have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, therefore they have destroyed them. Now therefore, O Jehovah our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art Jehovah, even thou only.”

Hezekiah’s spreading out Sennacherib’s letter in the temple was “a symbolical action” representing his prayer to Jehovah.(F6) It should not be thought of as the kind of worship seen in the prayer-wheels of the Buddhists, and the petitions written on pieces of paper and attached to sacred trees.

Hezekiah’s prayer here is a model in some ways. It acknowledged that Jehovah is over all nations and all men, the creator of heaven and earth, and that in him only is salvation. The basis of his petition, moreover is directed toward the benefit of all the nations of the earth, that they might know the one true God, and it is not marked by the narrow object of what would benefit Israel only. As Archer said, “He grounded his petition upon the need for the vindication of God’s glory, not upon his own personal need, or that of his people; because he realized they little deserved divine favor.”(F7)

Verses 21-25

“Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent unto Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word which Jehovah hath spoken concerning him: The virgin daughter of Zion hath despised thee; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee. Whom hast thou defied and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel. By thy servants hast thou defied the Lord, and hast said, With the multitude of my chariots am I come up to the height of the mountains, to the innermost parts of Lebanon; and I will cut down the tall cedars thereof; and I will enter into its farthest height, the forest of its fruitful field; I have digged and drunk water, and with the sole of my feet will I dry up all the rivers of Egypt.”

This paragraph is only part of the message that Isaiah sent to Hezekiah, giving the answer of the Lord to Hezekiah’s prayer. Note that the reason for God’s favorable answer was based upon Hezekiah’s earnest prayer against Sennacherib.

The whole substance of God’s answer may be seen at once in the fact of the daughters of Zion and of Jerusalem shaking their heads and despising Sennacherib. The rest of the paragraph deals largely with God’s acknowledgment of the arrogant and sinful ambition and boasting of the Assyrian invader.

Such expressions as “the virgin daughter of Zion,” are not references to the moral excellence of the people. “They mean that the city, or cities, referred to have not been conquered, or raped, by a conqueror.”(F8)

The last verses here are a continuation of the boastful threats of Sennacherib. He brags about what he has done and will do! He will even dry up all the rivers of Egypt with the sole of his feet. What a terror he is to the people of all nations. There is an amazing amount of truth in what this beast of a heathen was saying. As a matter of fact, no other nation of human history ever surpassed the sadistic cruelty and ruthless passion for destruction that marked the ravages of Assyria. They were referred to throughout the world as “the breakers.” The monuments they left behind show how they gloried in the suffering of their captives and the injustices heaped upon the helpless people by their wicked conquerors. It is amazing that God tolerated their existence as a world power as long as he did. Such merciless behavior on their part deserved the sentence that God executed upon them as foretold in the prophecy of Nahum.

Verses 26-29

“Hast thou not heard how I have done it long ago, and formed it of ancient times? now have I brought it to pass, that it should be thine to lay waste fortified cities into ruinous heaps. Therefore their inhabitants were of small power, they were dismayed and confounded; they were as the grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the housetops, and as a field of grain before it is grown up. But I know thy sitting down, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy raging against me. Because of thy raging against me, and because thine arrogancy has come up into 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.”

“Hast thou not heard how I have done it long ago” “Jehovah is here the speaker”;(F9) and the message is addressed to Sennacherib. He is not to believe for a moment that his conquests were due to any special ability on his part, but to the fact that God was merely using him as an instrument, such as a saw, or a razor, and that his conduct was so offensive to God that he would be sorely punished and that God would use another instrument to punish him, and that he would be rewarded with the same kind of cruel and inhumane punishment he had so ruthlessly meted out to his unfortunate victims.

Douglas pointed out that, “Isaiah 37:29 here is God’s explanation a little more fully of what he had already prophesied in Isaiah 37:7.”(F10) As we have frequently observed this procedure of adding details with each subsequent mention of prophesies or commandments in the word of God is followed throughout the Bible.

“I will put my hook in his nose” Assyrian sculptures represent both captives and beasts as being led in this manner.”(F11) Some of these ancient sculptures may be seen at a place called, “Khorsabad, where captives are led before the king by a cord attached to a hook or ring passing through the underlip, the upper lip, or the nose.”(F12) The ear was also used for such purposes. Archer noted that animals, especially bulls, were led in this manner, and that God here promised to humiliate Assyria by treating her like a wild beast, “And compelling her to return home with her objectives unrealized.”(F13)

Verses 30-32

“And this shall be the sign unto thee: ye shall eat this year that which groweth of itself, and in the second year that which springeth of the same; and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof. And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and out of mount Zion they shall escape. The zeal of Jehovah of hosts will perform this.”

Dummelow’s explanation of these verses is as follows:

“This year, the year of the invasion, since the harvest has been destroyed they must eat of the aftergrowth (the volunteer production). Since they have not been able to sow this year, next year they must also depend upon what grows of itself, but the year after, they will be able to sow and reap freely, for the land will be free from enemies.”(F14)

“It is evident here that the person addressed has been changed from Sennacherib to Hezekiah. Such transitions without a clear indication of them are common in this prophecy.”(F15)

Archer observed that this promise of the restoration of suburban Jerusalem was fulfilled during, “The 113-year interval that elapsed before Jerusalem fell to the Chaldeans.”(F16) “The blessing of God was upon them, and in a short time, Judah recovered her ancient vigor and was able to extend her dominion over nearly all of the old Israelite territory.”(F17)

Despite this, however, there is a frightening and ominous note here in Isaiah 37:32 where “the remnant” is repeatedly mentioned. It is a warning that the punishment of Judah is yet destined to fall upon the city, that it will be sacked and devastated, and that “only a remnant” will be preserved. Historically, Judah paid little or no attention to this warning.

Verses 33-35

“Therefore thus saith Jehovah concerning the king of Assyria, he shall not come unto this city, nor shoot an arrow there, neither shall he come before it with shield, nor cast up a mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and he shall not come unto this city, saith Jehovah. For I will defend this city to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.”

This is a prophecy that, “Sennacherib, after meeting the Egyptians under Tirhakah at Eltekeh, would not return to renew the siege of Jerusalem, but would flee homeward by the shortest route possible.”(F18) We believe that this prophecy was fulfilled exactly as indicated here. We are aware that some have tried to contradict this by inscriptions deciphered from ancient Assyria; but, as stated above, no Christian should allow Satan to contradict the word of God with any kind of inscription ordered by any unqualified son of the Devil such as Sennacherib.

Verses 36-38

“And the angel of Jehovah went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and four score and five thousand; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead bodies. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. And it came to pass that as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esar-haddon his son reigned in his stead.”

Scholars make a point that the actual assassination of Sennacherib took place in 681 B.C., some twenty years after the events of this chapter; but, if this is indeed accurate, it does not contradict what is said here. The text merely states that “it came to pass.”

Tradition has a story that these two sons of Sennacherib who murdered him lived to found substantial dynasties in Armenia. Nothing is known of their motives for murdering their father, but it was evidently not for the sake of succeeding him in the throne. The identity of what god Sennacherib claimed and which he was in the act of worshipping when they killed him is not positively identified. “Nisroch might have been the title of some better-known deity.”(F19)

Homer Hailey’s summary of this section is excellent:

“It is not impossible for Isaiah himself to have added this historical section. If he began his prophetic work at age 30, he could have lived unto the murder of Sennacherib, which was about sixty years from the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry. The account was probably added as Isaiah edited his book before his death. Two facts stand out clearly: (1) Through Isaiah, God declared what he would do, and (2) he did it; but how quickly was this remarkable deliverance forgotten by Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son, who was one of the most wicked kings of Judah!”(F20)

Some love to speculate with regard to just how “the angel of the Lord” executed so many men so quickly. No dogmatic answer is possible; but Barnes pointed out that God usually employed natural means in achieving many of his great miracles, as, for example, in the instance of the “strong wind” that rolled back the waters of the Red Sea, or the terrible hail as one of the plagues in Egypt (Exodus 9:22-25). His conclusion was that, “The most satisfactory explanation is that it was a great storm of hail, with thunder and lightning… This description in its suddenness, its terror, and its ruinous effects accords more nearly with the account of the destruction than any other speculation that has been made.”(F21)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 37". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/isaiah-37.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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