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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Isaiah 36

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” (Isa 1:1; 2Chr 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 time. The same goes for Isaiah 38-39, in which the mortal illness of Hezekiah and his restoration and the visit of the envoy from Babylon are described. This informs us about the exile of the people and the deliverance 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 humiliating 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 (Isa 10:12-19; 33-34; Isa 14:24-25; Isa 30:28-31; Isa 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 corner 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.

Verses 1-3

March to Jerusalem

Hezekiah is a pious king. The LORD is with him. When Sargon, the father of Sennacherib, dies four years ago, Judah, together with many other nations, including Egypt, casts off the yoke of the king of Assyria and serves him no more (Isa 36:5b; 2Kgs 18:5-7). That is why Sennacherib goes up against Judah. He takes all the fortified cities – forty-six in number – except Jerusalem (Isa 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 (Isa 10:28-32). Jerusalem is kept in a wonderful way and the enemy destroyed in a supernatural way (Isa 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 Isa 36:2 precedes what is written in 2 Kings 18 (2Kgs 18:14-16). 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 great tribute 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 (Isa 36:2). He commits treason (Isa 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 (Isa 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 (2Kgs 18:18), Hezekiah sends three distinguished officials (Isa 36:3) to the place of meeting. Hezekiah does not go himself, possibly because he is ill at that moment (Isa 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 (Isa 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 (Isa 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 in Egypt (Isa 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 (Isa 30:3; 5; cf. Eze 29:6-7). This will have given their confidence an extra blow. 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 (Isa 36:7). The people have pronounced the same. But Who exactly 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 (Isa 36:8). In great arrogance he proposes to make a bet. He gives two thousand horses if Hezekiah can supply two thousand riders 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 (Isa 36:9). Yes, he indeed believes that Hezekiah – in reality the leaders of the people – has placed his trust in Egypt (Isa 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 (Isa 36:10). Perhaps he has heard of the prophecy of Isaiah (Isa 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 bit of courage.

Such an assertion has a paralyzing effect on people who do not have their own fellowship with the Lord and are not personally 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. At that time Aramaic was the language used by diplomats in international consultations. The mass 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 (Isa 36:11) to humiliate the people even more deeply (Isa 36:12). What they fear is exactly what he wants. He goes even further. He portrays the men as so starving that they eat their own dung and drink their own urine. Not that this is already the situation, but he predicts it will be so. That’s why they are better off with just surrendering. Then they will be better off, as he says further on.

Rabshakeh comes even closer to be heard even better (Isa 36:13). Everyone must hear what the great king of Assyria has to say. They should not trust Hezekiah (Isa 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 (Isa 36:15).

Then Rabshakeh asks for surrender and to come to him out of the city (Isa 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 (Isa 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 (Isa 36:18-20). 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” (Isa 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 delivered 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 (Isa 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 (Isa 36:22). Their torn clothes speak of a deep indignation because of the blasphemous words of Rabshakeh. The situation seems hopeless to them. Thus they report to 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". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.