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Kings of Judah

Hezekiah, Part 2

Isaiah 36-39

Lesson audio


See Isaiah 36-37

The taunt of Sennacherib

It is usually a good idea to talk your opponent into surrender. That way you get all the plunder you came for, plus a larger number of slaves (no casualties). In this particular instance, Sennacherib has successfully invaded most of Judah, and has now gotten around to the mountain cities – starting with Jerusalem. He correctly discerns that if Jerusalem falls, Judah is his. His approach is much the same of the modern world to the church:

  • He proclaims his might and conquests. Does this sound familiar? We here that evolution explains everything, that the old immorality is now the new morality, and (most especially) there is nothing you can do about it.
  • He finds fault with the religion the Jews rely on. There’s always something to criticize. In this instance it is the destruction of the “high places,” spots where the people had constructed altars to God outside Jerusalem. The Law commanded that the people only worship at the Temple, but you can see that Sennacherib is using the world’s logic here. A modern parallel is the argument that the Scripture says nothing about abortion, therefore it must be OK.
  • He then makes his offer of easy surrender. For a while you can stay in Jerusalem, but then I will take you off to somewhere else – it’s a great place, really. There you will lose your identity as Jews, your religion – but you’ll enjoy the vineyards.

The method hasn’t really changed in three thousand years, has it?

Hezekiah’s unusual reply

Sennacherib expects Hezekiah to reply in kind; we might call it trash talking today. Hezekiah’s response is rather a surprise:

  • As he has made all preparations for this, he goes to the man of God (Isaiah the prophet) with clean hands. It is an acknowledgment that he is not seeking God’s help – rather he is appealing to the one who rules creation. He doesn’t want just help – he wants salvation.
  • (See Isaiah 37:4). He does not tell Isaiah what to do or say, but phrases it tentatively, “It may be…”.[1] He then asks prayer for the remnant that survives in Jerusalem.
  • Isaiah’s answer is simply to point out who is the God of battles.
Isaiah’s prophecy

See Isaiah 37:5-8

Isaiah, in short sentences, outlines God’s answer to Sennacherib:

  • First, do you know just who you are blaspheming? It is not Hezekiah, but the living God. And just how does the living God see your power?
  • Next, he points out that all of Sennacherib’s success was planned by God long ago. God has permitted his victories; why is the man bragging about them?
  • In answer to Hezekiah’s request to pray for the remnant, Isaiah assures him the remnant will survive.

It is perhaps the most direct intervention into military affairs God ever makes. The angel of the Lord, identified by many commentators as the pre-incarnate Christ, slaughters 185,000 Assyrians.[2] It is completely unexpected.

Things not going according to plan, Sennacherib withdraws home to Nineveh. There he is killed by his own sons; it does not do to taunt the living God.

A map of the campaigns is shown below:



Hezekiah’s Illness

Isaiah 38

Illness and miracle

The incident is a famous one in Scripture, and unfortunately has become embroiled in one of the most famous “preacher stories” (read: pious fraud) of all time. But we may obtain some use from the incident:

  • If nothing else, we see the example of Hezekiah in the contemplation of death. “Teach us to number our days.” It is a lesson for all of us; one of the great men of Israel shows that he too must die.
  • Note the humility with which Hezekiah responds. He turns his face to the wall and with bitter tears begs the Lord to remember him. It is not with pride of accomplishment; Hezekiah turns his face to the wall, a gesture of speaking to God alone. His tears and his pleading are heard.

Which brings us to the miracle of the steps. We should note that the shadow on each step was a way of telling time. As the sun went down, more and more steps would be in shadow. (The KJV has this as a sundial, but this is a mistranslation. The translators were unfamiliar with a “step dial.”)

This has given rise to a myth – that this incident, combined with the long day of Joshua, are verified in modern astronomical calculations. Unfortunately, this is one of those preacher stories that’s been around for a long time – and it’s false. The entire method depends upon having a measurement of planetary locations before the long day of Joshua. The story then goes that the two incidents add up to exactly 24 hours (no way to determine this from Scripture – but it’s one of those details added for verisimilitude.) Supposedly, some scientist (e.g., Newton) or agency (e.g. NASA) discovers that there is time missing in that the planets are not where they are supposed to be, but off by 24 hours. This is usually connected with the author stating his brother works for NASA.

The problem is, quite simply, we have no such prior observation. You can’t tell if a watch is losing time unless you have something to compare it to – and we don’t. There are other difficulties as well (accuracy of observations in ancient times, translation and incompleteness of records). Finally, even if such observations did exist, this theory would only provide one possible explanation – not proof.

Hezekiah’s Psalm

Hezekiah now provides us with a psalm which records his thoughts on his deliverance. We may learn from these:

  • (Isaiah 38:10). Hezekiah tells us that this happened to him “in the prime of my life.” The lesson for us is that none of us is guaranteed tomorrow; with James, we should begin our plans with, “If the Lord wills it…”
  • (Isaiah 38:15). Even the king must humble himself before the Lord (“I will walk humbly). Why? Because his soul has been through the anguish of being near death. He knows that he is but dust.
  • (Isaiah 38:17). Here we see the key: Hezekiah recognizes that his suffering and near-to-death experience were for his own benefit. By his suffering he was brought low; he humbled himself before God – who then forgave his sins.

In our sufferings we often cry out for deliverance; do we remember afterwards to praise God for what he did for us in and by our sufferings?

Envoys from Babylon

Isaiah 39

God tests Hezekiah

We need to read a parallel account to see what God is doing here:

2 Chronicles 32:31 NIV But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.

Note that God left him on his own to see what he would do. The Babylonians came seeking the miracle they had heard of; they do not know to seek the God of miracles. But it’s a start. They are inquiring because of what they heard – or is it just possible that they saw the sun go backwards in the sky? Either way, Hezekiah should be showing them the living God. He doesn’t. He shows them his worldly treasures instead.

What was the test

We can see that God was testing him in three ways:

  • He was testing his pride. His treasures he may think are the result of his own wisdom and work. It takes humility to say, “Not me, but Him.”
  • He was testing his worldly desire. Just what does Hezekiah think is important here?
  • He was testing whether or not his desire for peace and safety was stronger than his trust in God.
Ultimate downfall

God has, for many years, protected Judah even from the worst of her kings. He tells us that he did this for David’s sake – David being a “man after God’s own heart.” Because of this incident, Hezekiah is told of the doom of Jerusalem. It is a fact that all empires and nations eventually fall; usually for the same reason: sin. But there is some good news in this: there will be a remnant of the faithful preserved.

One wonders: is America heading for such a fall – and soon? And will God preserve the remnant?

[1] Isaiah 37:4 NIV It may be that the LORD your God will hear the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the LORD your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives."

[2] Assyria is roughly equivalent to modern Iran; Babylon is in what is now Iraq.

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