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Sunday, June 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 36

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verse 1

Isaiah 36:1

Sennacherib King of Assyria came up


Sennacherib was one of the most magnificent of the Assyrian kings.

He seems to have been the first who fixed the seat of government permanently at Nineveh, which he carefully repaired and adorned with splendid buildings. His greatest work is the grand palace at Koyunjik, which covered a space of about eight acres, and was adorned throughout with sculptures of finished execution. He built also, or repaired, a second palace at Nineveh, on the mound of Nebbi Yunus, confined the Tigris to its channel by an embankment of brick, restored the ancient aqueducts which had gone to decay, and gave to Nineveh that splendour which she thenceforth retained till the ruin of the empire. (G. Rawlinson.)

Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah


1. That a people may be in the way of their duty, and yet meet with trouble and distress. Hezekiah was reforming, and his people in some measure reformed; yet their country is at that time invaded, and a great part of it laid waste. Perhaps they began to grow remiss and cool in the work of reformation, were doing it by halves, and ready to sit down short of a thorough reformation; and then God visited them with this judgment, to put life into them and that good cause. We must not wonder if, when we are doing well, God sends afflictions to quicken us to do better, to do our best, and to press towards perfection.

2. That we must never be secure of the continuance of our peace in this world, nor think our mountain stands so strong as that it cannot be moved. Hezekiah was not only a pious king, but prudent, both in his administration at home and his treaties abroad. His affairs were in a good posture, and he seemed particularly to be upon good terms with the King of Assyria; for he had lately made his peace with him by a rich present (2 Kings 18:14), and yet that perfidious prince pours an army into his country all of a sudden, and lays it waste. It is good for us, therefore, always to keep up an expectation of trouble, that when it comes it may be no surprise to us, and then it will be the less a terror.

3. That God sometimes permits the enemies of His people, even those that are most impious and treacherous, to prevail far against them. The King of Assyria took all, or most, of the defenced cities of Judah, and then the country would, of course, be an easy prey to him. Wickedness may prosper a while, but cannot prosper always. (M. Henry.)

Verse 2

Isaiah 36:2

And the King of Assyria sent Rabshakeh

Invasion of Judah by Assyria

In chaps, 36-39, a historical part follows, which retiring from the ideal distances of chaps, 34.

, 35. into the historical realities of chap. 33., begins with the statement that “at the conduit of the upper pool in the road of the fuller’s field,” where Ahaz preferred the help of Assyria to that of Jehovah (Isaiah 7:3), stands anembassy of the King of Assyria with a section of his army. (F. Delitzsch, D.D.)


Rabshakeh or Rab-Sak, the chief cup-bearer, or general staff-officer in the Assyrian service, entrusted with diplomatic business. It is the title of an office, and not the name of a person. The “Tartan” was the supreme military officer, or commander-in-chief, while the “Rab Saris” was the chief of the Eunuchs, and a confidential officer. Rab-chief. (B. Blake, B.D.)

The Rabshakeh,

Sennacherib’s Bismarck. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D.D.)

Verses 4-20

Isaiah 36:4-20

Rabshakeh said unto them

War orators

We have a class of speakers in this country who are silent on all great social and cosmopolitan topics, but make themselves heard and felt the moment any matter of warlike fascination comes to the surface.

All other questions float down the stream of public opinion without causing them even to indicate their existence. But let a question involving blood appear, and with marvellous celerity all these pugilistic men come from the obscurity of barracks and service clubs, and from no one knows where, often fuming about no one knows what. They remind one of those animals noted for their bloodthirstiness in the warm regions of Africa--the caribitos (Serrasalmo)

Their haunts are at the bottoms of rivers, but a few drops of blood suffice to bring them by thousands to the surface; and Humboldt himself mentions that in some part of the A pure, where the water was perfectly clear and no fish were visible, he could, in a few minutes, bring together a cloud of caribitos by casting in some bits of flesh. With equal ease we can collect our war orators if we only give them one sanguinary pretext. (Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)

Verse 5

Isaiah 36:5

Now on whom dost thou trust?


Trust in others sometimes dishonoured

That question may not be without importance in matters of ordinary life. We have all to trust our fellows, more or less, and I suppose we have all had to smart in some degree, as the result of it. We may trust the mass of men in trifles without any serious consequences; but when it comes to large sums, when the whole of a man’s fortune, for instance, is staked upon the character and reputation of someone else, then it is not altogether an unimportant question, “On whom dost thou trust?” Many have rested on some choice friend, and found him play the Judas! How often have our dearest counsellors turned away from us as Ahithophel did from David! How frequently have we confidently rested upon the integrity, friendship, and fidelity of some person whom we thought we knew and could trust, and we have found that “Cursed is he that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm.” Use discretion in all your transactions in life, as to how far you will trust the sons of men. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

In whom art thou trusting?

Let us put this question, and collect A LITTLE BUNDLE OF ANSWERS.

1. I think I hear some answer, “I do not know that I have thought about the matter at all; I hope it is a long time before I shall die, and there is no need to trouble myself before it is necessary, and, therefore, I put the matter off.” Do not you think that you are very foolish? There is a gate to death, ay! and to hell, too, from the place where you are now sitting. Suppose you were sure of a long life, would you wish to delay being happy?

2. I hear one say, “I thank God I am about as good as most people; when my poor neighbours have needed charity, they have never found a churl in me. I hope I can say it will go well with me, and if it does not, sir, it will go badly with a good many.” I am afraid it will go badly with a great many; but I do not see what consolation you ought to get out of that, for company in being ruined will not decrease, but rather increase the catastrophe. The sum and substance of your confidence is, that you are trusting in yourself. Now, do you really and honestly think that you are of yourself sufficient to bring yourself safe to God’s right hand? I think your conscience can remind you of some slips and flaws.

3. “I trust in my priest; he has been regularly ordained; he belongs to an Apostolic Church; he tells me that he will forgive my sins if I confess them to him, and that when I come to die he will give me my viaticum.” Do not be misled; your priest might as well trust in you as you trust in him.

4. “Well, God is merciful. He is not so severe as to be unkind towards us, and we dare say, though we may have a good many faults, yet as He is a very good and gracious God, He will forgive our sins and accept us.” If you go to God out of Christ, you will find Him to be a consuming fire, and instead of mercy you shall receive justice.

5. “Well, sir, I do not say that I can trust to my works, but I am a good-hearted man; I am a man of good intentions, and though I have a great many faults, yet I am good-hearted at bottom, and I think God will look at my heart, and will put me right at the end, notwithstanding my slips and wanderings by the way.” It will turn out, I am afraid, to be a delusion and a snare. Your heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Do not talk about its goodness any more, for when you do, you give God the lie, and how can you expect to go to the heaven where God is, when you are thus insulting Him all the while?

THE CHRISTIAN’S ANSWER. “I trust,” says the Christian, “a triune God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” To some this does not look like a real trust. “Why, we cannot see God,” says one. “How do we know all about this Trinity? Is this a real trust?” Cannot you trust in a thousand things you have never seen or heard? Some of you may be earning your living by electricity, but you never saw it. Some have said, “But does God interfere to help His people? Is the trust you impose in Him so really recognised by Him that you can distinctly prove that He helps you?” Yes, we can. We can say, also, by way of commending our God to others, that we feel we can rest upon Him for the future.


1. Drive out all unbelief. If we have such a God to trust to, let us trust with all our might.

2. Let us seek the Holy Spirit’s help in this matter. The Author of our faith must be the Finisher of it also.

3. Let us try to bring others to trust where we have trusted.

4. We must prove our faith by our works. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Unregenerate human nature bad all through:

That is a very silly thing which people say of men when they die, “Oh, he was rather loose in his morals, but he was a good-hearted man at bottom.” It reminds me of Rowland Hill’s saying, “Yes, but when you go to market to buy apples, and you see a number of rotten ones at the top, if the market-woman says, ‘Oh, never mind, it is only the rotten apples at the top, they are very good at bottom,’ you will say to her, ‘My good soul, I will be bound to say the best are on the top, and they will not improve as you go down, for generally they will get far worse.’” And so if a man is bad on the surface, I cannot tell how much worse he may be down below. It is said there was a man who used to swear and drink, who, nevertheless, applied for membership with Mr. Hill, and gave this reason for it, that though he did drink occasionally and frequently swear, yet he was good at bottom. Mr. Hill said, “Then you think I am going grovelling down through the dirty foul filth of your life to get the little good that is somewhere at the bottom of you! Why, sir, it will not pay for the risk of digging out, and I am not going to do it.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verse 11

Isaiah 36:11

The Syrian language

The Syrian language

The Syrian language i.. Aramaic, spoken between Palestine and the Euphrates, the language of international intercourse and commerce in those days. (A. B. Davidson, D.D.)

Verses 13-21

Isaiah 36:13-21

Hear ye the words of the great king

The bland insinuations of the enemies of God’s people

When Satan would tempt men from trusting in God and cleaving to Him, he doth it by insinuating that in yielding to him they may better their condition; but it is a false suggestion, and grossly absurd, and therefore to be rejected with the utmost abhorrence, when the world and the flesh say to us, Make an agreement with us, and come out to us, submit to our dominion and come into our interests, and you shall eat every one of his own vine, they do but deceive us, promising liberty when they would lead us into the basest captivity and slavery.

One might as good take Rabshakeh’s word as theirs for kind usage and fair quarter; therefore, when they speak fair, believe them not. Let them say what they will, there is no land like the land of promise, the holy land. (M. Henry.)

Verse 19

Isaiah 36:19

Where are the gods?



Hamath at the north border of the Holy Land, a large town on the Orontes, depopulated by the Assyrian in 720. Arpad, Aradus, a town on the coast, now a heap of ruins. Sepharvaim, or Sipar, a town to the north of Babylon, built on both sides of the Euphrates. (B. Blake, B.D.)

Inquiry for gods:

These inquiries may, by a slight accommodation, be used as showing some characteristics of false gods, and showing, by implication, the glory and worship which are due to the one living Lord. Men have a distinct right to inquire for their gods. Almighty God Himself does not shrink from this test of personality and nearness. He will be inquired of. He has proclaimed Himself accessible. “Come now, let us reason together.” God is within reach of the heart of man; and religion, as well as bringing with it a Divine fear, brings with it also a Divine companionship. Men cannot live on mere sublimity. Man cannot get hold of infinitude. He must have something that he can lay the hands of his heart upon. God must give miniatures of Himself, which little children even can put away in the hiding-places of their love as their chief jewels. (J. Parker, D.D.)

What is a man’s god?

A man’s god is whatever is the supreme object of his admiration and trust. It may be beauty, it may be strength, it may be money, it may be fame, it may be self-righteousness, it may be self-confidence. Now there are times in life when a man instinctively or by force inquires for his god; and he who cannot, in such critical hours, find his god, has made the profoundest and saddest spiritual mistake in the bestowment of his affections and the gift of his trust. There are times when you are dissatisfied with yourself; when you feel your utter nothingness. Take a season of utter prostration, when the strong man is withered. At such a time we look out for something greater than ourselves. Is there no one who can meet us in this extremity of feebleness, who can come down to us, not in the thunder of His great power, but in the condescension of His almightiness? Look at a time of commercial panic, business distress, when no man knows whom to trust. Man cannot be satisfied then without the supernatural; he may even drift into superstition. Atheists pray when they are in extreme pain or peril. There are times when all men either come quietly, with reverence and tenderness, to seek God who has withdrawn for a moment, or when they are startled, are frightened into momentary devotion. (J. Parker, D.D.)

Man-made gods

1. Some people have made money their god, and there is not a more helpless god in all the temples of idolatry. He will never come to you in the crisis of your life. He will make little compromises with you, help you over divers stiles, solve certain little problems for you. But when your soul is in agony, when your life has wrought itself down to the one last spasm, he will be a dumb god. We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. If you could take a five-pound note with you across the grave into yonder invisible mysterious world, nobody would know what it was. You would have to explain it, and nobody would believe you. You might hold it up, and show the watermark, and lecture upon it, and turn it round and round, and nobody could change it.

2. There is another god that some men are making. Its name is Luck! Some men say, “Things will not turn out so badly after all. I have always been able to get upon the sunny side of the road, and something will occur to get me upon that side again. I have trusted the chapter of accidents. My chances have always turned out right, and they will turn out right again.” There never was so mocking an idol as luck. The young man who throws in a game of that kind and is lucky, will have another game to play. He has another competitor who will force him, and say, “Now you must have the dice out again.” The name of that last competitor is Death, and he will play you. The young man says, “I do not want to play.” Death grasps him by the throat, and says, “You shall play!” Now he gets hold of his dice-box, and Death always wins.

3. Some men’s god is a well-favoured countenance. They trust to their shape, figure, bearing, expression. They say, “My face is an introduction, a certificate, a guarantee: wherever I go a space is cleared for me.” A very superficial god! I can imagine such persons brought into circumstances which will try their god severely. Yonder is a man lofty in stature, portly in bearing, commanding in all the attributes of external person. He says that he feels a pain piercing him. He is taken home, and betakes himself to his bed. His physician comes to his room and says, “This is a case of small-pox.” That god of his will be dug in the face till the man’s own mother will not know him, and the sister who loved him best will pray to escape from his presence. God can blotch your skin! God can send poison into your blood! And you, who sneered at ungainly virtue, at unfavoured honesty, may be a corrupt, worm-eaten, pestilent thing in the dirt! What, then, if any man should say to you, Where is thy God? (J. Parker, D.D.)

The revelation of the true God in times of human need

This part of the subject is not free from difficulty. Many a man has felt the most intense pain on observing what he supposed was God’s absence from the scene of human affairs. This difficulty must be grappled with if we would be honest to all sides of our great subject. In reply to this difficulty I suggest three things.

1. As a mere matter of fact, attested by a thousand histories known in our own experience, God has appeared in vindication of His name and honour.

2. As a first principle in sound theology, it must be admitted that God Himself is the only true judge as to the best manner and time of interposition. By so much as He is God this point at least must be conceded. Let us be fair to the Almighty, as we would be fair to man. Stephen was taken by the mob, dragged out and stoned. “Where was his God then?” was once the mocking inquiry of a well-known freethinker. Go to Stephen himself for an answer; and when he, outraged and dishonoured, said with his dying breath, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,”--to have wrought in the human soul, under circumstances so tragic and terrible, a desire like that, was to do more for Stephen than if he had been lifted up by myriads of angels out of the hands of his murderers and set in the sun! Do not let us forget God’s spiritual gifts to us. Though the stones were falling upon him and he was in the last agonies, he said in a whisper, the sound of which shall survive the voices of all thunders and floods, “I see heaven opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” It is only in crises, in extremities such as these, that the highest reach of faith is realised, and that faith itself becomes victory.

3. Then the very absence of God, being dictated by wisdom and controlled by love, must be intended to have a happy effect upon human faith. When God is absent, what if His absence is intended to excite inquiry in our hearts? It is in having to grope for God we learn lessons of our own blindness and weakness and spiritual incapacity. (J. Parker, D.D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 36". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/isaiah-36.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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