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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Isaiah 36

Verses 1-3

Introduction

Overview of the intersection – Isaiah 36-39

Isaiah and Hezekiah – Assyria and Babylon

The intersection includes Isaiah 36-39 and can be divided as follows:
1. The siege and deliverance of Jerusalem (Isaiah 36-37)
2. The illness of Hezekiah (Isaiah 38)
3. The envoy from Babylon (Isaiah 39)

Isaiah 36-39 contain the historical part of the book of Isaiah. They largely correspond with the description of the history of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18-20 and 2 Chronicles 29-32. The histories mentioned in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles are part of “the vision of Isaiah” (Isaiah 1:1; 2 Chronicles 32:32).

The fact that these histories are also described by Isaiah means that they also have a prophetic meaning. The historical description of the Assyrian armies’ attack on God’s people and God’s salvation of His people in Isaiah 36-37 is an example of what will happen in the end times. The same goes for Isaiah 38-39, which describes the mortal illness of Hezekiah and his restoration and the visit of the envoy from Babylon. This informs us about the exile of the people and the liberation from it. Both events take place shortly afterwards, but also refer to the end time.

Isaiah 36-37, which deal with the invasion and the vile retreat of the Assyrians, are the historical fulfillment and illustration of what Isaiah prophesied in previous years and what is recorded in Isaiah 7-35 (Isaiah 10:12-Psalms :; Isaiah 10:33-Nahum :Isaiah 14:24-Lamentations :; Isaiah 30:28-Obadiah :Isaiah 31:8). Isaiah 38-39 containing the story of the illness, restoration and failure of Hezekiah, form the historical basis for the second major part of the book, Isaiah 40-66.

In the prophetic previous part the prophet described the actions of the Assyrians. He also pointed out to God’s people that this enemy will cornered them because of their unfaithfulness to the LORD. He has spoken strongly to them not to be deceived into entering into anti-Assyrian alliances. God uses the Assyrians as a disciplinary rod for His people. The only way to be saved and happy is that of repentance and trust in the LORD.

Isaiah also spoke time and again about the fact that the LORD will destroy the Assyrians. In Isaiah 36-37 we see the other side. We see how Isaiah encourages Hezekiah when he is cornered by the Assyrians. Hezekiah is a pious king. He is a type of the faithful remnant of Israel in the future. The LORD wants to save Israel and use it as a servant, but that is only possible if Israel wants to go the way of faith. God always encourages those who trust in Him. For the unbelievers, God does not have such encouragement. Nor do they trust in Him and seek their support from allies.

March to Jerusalem

Hezekiah is a pious king. The LORD is with him. When Sargon, the father of Sennacherib, dies four years before, Judah, together with many other nations, including Egypt, casts off the yoke of the king of Assyria and serves him no more (Isaiah 36:5; 2 Kings 18:5-Judges :). That is why Sennacherib goes up against Judah. He takes all the fortified cities – forty-six in number – except Jerusalem (Isaiah 36:1). The last fortified city, Lachish, has almost fallen. An important part of Egypt’s army was defeated in the battle of Eltekeh, thirty kilometers west of Jerusalem. This fulfilled the prophecies about Egypt (Isaiah 20; 30-31).

The march to Jerusalem in 701 BC has already been described by Isaiah (Isaiah 10:28-Jonah :). Jerusalem is miraculously preserved and the enemy destroyed in a supernatural way (Isaiah 37:36). Ultimately, Isaiah 36-37 are about the end of the times of the nations, the full redemption of Israel, and the beginning of the realm of peace.

What follows in Isaiah 36:2 precedes what is written in 2 Kings 18 (2 Kings 18:14-Nehemiah :). There we read that Hezekiah is oppressed and sends an envoy to the king of Assyria to ask him for the conditions to buy off the threat. The king of Assyria imposes a heavy estimation on Hezekiah, which he pays with all possible means. Instead of leaving now, the king of Assyria sends Rabshakeh, or chief officer, from Lachish – an important city in Judea between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean, which he has seized – with a large army to Jerusalem (Isaiah 36:2). He commits treason (Isaiah 33:1). Such is the enemy. After the money he also wants the souls.

Rabshakeh, or chief officer, stands at the place where Isaiah met King Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah, and foretold to him the march to and the conquest of Judah by the king of Assyria (Isaiah 7:3). In this way the Holy Spirit reminds us of the contrast between the faith of Hezekiah and the unbelief of Ahaz. It is a place that speaks of cleansing (water) and whitening (fuller’s field), both of which can only be obtained by faith.

After Rabshakeh has called for the king (2 Kings 18:18), Hezekiah sends three distinguished officials (Isaiah 36:3) to the place of meeting. Hezekiah does not go himself, possibly also because he is ill at that moment (Isaiah 38:1).

Verses 4-10

Rabshakeh’s Speech

Rabshakeh, who also speaks Hebrew, begins a pruning speech in these verses against the delegation of Hezekiah. He proves to be a cunning diplomat. He presents his king in all his power. Against that greatness he places the total helplessness of everything on which Hezekiah – whom he consciously does not call a king – and the people trust. In this way he wants to frighten his opponents, so that they give up every resistance as useless.

Rabshakeh represents his great king and speaks on his behalf (Isaiah 36:4). First he aims at the trust of the people. If the trust can only be eroded, victory is within reach without a long struggle. This is also an important question for us: What is our trust based on? As soon as our trust in the Lord is gone, the enemy has gained the victory.

Rabshakeh mentions three things on which, according to him, Hezekiah and the people rely. Do they sometimes rely on propaganda, on firm statements, on encouraging each other (Isaiah 36:5)? Talking about policy is not the same as vigorously implementing it. No, you don’t win a war with a big mouth or woolly language. Do they then put their trust in someone else? Yes, he knows, they trust Egypt (Isaiah 36:6). But that trust won’t help either. It will even turn against them. Instead of being helped by it, they will be wounded by it.

Rabshakeh here talks to the people in the same spirit as Isaiah did with regard to Egypt (Isaiah 30:3; Isaiah 30:5; cf. Ezekiel 29:6-Judges :). This will have given their confidence an extra hit. Isaiah appealed to Judah on their trust in Egypt and severely warned of the consequences. Now they hear it from the mouth of the enemy who surrounded Jerusalem. So Rabshakeh is aware of their plan to use Egypt as an ally!

Here we see that the search for protection with people against other people fails. Only if we seek our protection with the Lord we will not be ashamed. Not that Hezekiah himself has made this covenant. That is what the responsible leaders have done who do not have the faith of Hezekiah. Yet it is said to Hezekiah, because he is the king and therefore ultimately responsible whether he knows about it or not.

Rabshakeh has another arrow on his bow. With the previous two arrows he aimed mainly at the people and their leaders. Now he wants to hit Hezekiah. He has strongly expressed his trust in the LORD (Isaiah 36:7). The people have pronounced the same. But who really is this God? It is a God from Whom you apparently can remove altars just like that and who does nothing against it. And then Hezekiah also determines that this God can only be worshiped before one particular altar. What kind of God is that?

Sowing doubt about God has always been satan’s strongest weapon. If our trust is not based on the God Who revealed Himself in the Bible as His perfect Word and in His Son Jesus Christ, Satan will succeed in sowing doubt with us. There is only one object of worship and that is the Lord Jesus. Everything else must be removed. The world will call that narrow-mindedness; for the believer, every removal of the wrong means more freedom.

Again Rabshakeh mocks the powerlessness of Hezekiah (Isaiah 36:8). In great arrogance he proposes to make a bet. He gives two thousand horses if Hezekiah can supply two thousand horsemen for it. With this he emphasizes the hopeless position of Hezekiah. On the other hand he exalts the heroism of even the smallest soldiers of his lord’s army (Isaiah 36:9). Yes, he wants to believe that Hezekiah – in reality the leaders of the people – has placed his trust in Egypt (Isaiah 31:1). After all, Hezekiah himself has no power at all.

In his discouragement rhetoric, Rabshakeh shoots his last arrow. It is about the will of the LORD (Isaiah 36:10). Perhaps he has heard of the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 10:5) and is responding to it. Very confidently he says that the LORD has sent him with the command to destroy the land. Such a reference to the will of the LORD must surely deprive Hezekiah of the last leftover of courage.

Such an assertion has a paralyzing effect on people who do not have their own fellowship with the Lord and are not independently occupied with God’s Word in order to learn His will.

Verse 11

Defense of the Envoy

It seems that Rabshakeh has reached his goal. The delegates are afraid that the people will be impressed by Rabshakeh’s speech. Humble, almost slavish – they speak to him about themselves as “your servants” –, at least in an attitude unworthy of the people of God, they ask Rabshakeh not to speak in Judean, Hebrew, but in Aramaic (Isaiah 36:11). At that time Aramaic was the language used by diplomats in international consultations. The masses of the people didn’t understand that language.

As an application we can say that the enemy uses a combination of biblical expressions and modern theology to undermine our faith.

Verses 12-20

Continuation of the Speech

Rabshakeh uses the submissive request of the envoy (Isaiah 36:11) to humiliate the people even more deeply (Isaiah 36:12). What they fear is exactly what he wants. He takes it one step further. He portrays the men as so starving that they take their own dung and their own urine. Not that this is already the situation, but he predicts it will be so. That’s why they’d better surrender. Then they will get it better, as he says further on.

Rabshakeh comes even closer to be heard even better (Isaiah 36:13). Everyone must hear what the great king of Assyria has to say. They should not trust Hezekiah (Isaiah 36:14). He is an impostor who will not be able to save them. Neither should they believe the talk of Hezekiah about the LORD that He will be able to save them (Isaiah 36:15).

Then Rabshakeh asks for surrender and to come to him out of the city (Isaiah 36:16). If they do, they may first feast on their own fruit trees and on water of their own cistern. Then he will give them a land that is as good as the one they live in now (Isaiah 36:17). With this he makes an allusion to exile, but presents it as pleasant.

Again he presents the trust in the LORD, to which Hezekiah has called, as useless (Isaiah 36:18-Proverbs :). Once again he points to undeniable achievements. In his pride he equates the LORD with the powerless idols of other conquered countries. It is a ploy of Satan to put the God of the Bible, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, on a par with the idols of, for example, Islam and Buddhism.

In listing the gods of the various countries, the name of “Samaria” (Isaiah 36:19) must have particularly affected the envoys of Hezekiah and the people who were listening. After all, Samaria is their brother nation which, precisely because of their idolatry, has been handed down by the LORD into the hand of the king of Assyria, who has deported them and scattered them.

Verses 21-22

Report to Hezekiah

Rabshakeh’s words do not have the effect he intended. The people do not enter into discussion, nor do they panic, but remain silent (Isaiah 36:21). Hezekiah ordered this reaction. That is not to say that the words of Rabshakeh have done nothing at all. The delegates have been deeply impressed (Isaiah 36:22). Their torn clothes speak of a deep indignation because of the blasphemous words of Rabshakeh. The situation seems hopeless to them. This is how they report Hezekiah.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 36". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/isaiah-36.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.