Isaiah 36 (ESV)
Sennacherib Invades Judah
In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah,
This is about the year 700 b.c., during the reign of the godly King Hezekiah of Judah. The events of this chapter are also recorded in 2 Kings 18:13-27 and 2 Chronicles 32:1-19.
This begins a four-chapter section different than the prophecies recorded before or after. Isaiah 36 and 37 describe the Lord’s work against the Assyrian threat. Isaiah 38 and 39 describe the response to the Babylonian threat.
“This is history at its best, not dull recital of statistics and dates but an account which enables us to sense the haughty arrogance of the Assyrian and the chilling clutch of despair at the hearts of the Israelites.”
Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 2 And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh (a title, meaning something like “field commander” or “chief of staff”) from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army.
Lachish was thirty miles south-west of Jerusalem. Archaeologists have discovered a pit there with the remains of about 1,500 casualties of Sennachaerib’s attack. In the British Museum, you can see the Assyrian carvings depicting their siege of the city of Lachish, which was an important fortress city of Judah. To read more about the historical context and to see more of the reliefs, go HERE; really, it is quite interesting! Or watch a very short video HERE about the Lachish reliefs, by the Megalim Institute.
And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. 3 And there came out to him Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.
4 And the Rabshakeh said to them,
Who was the Rabshakeh? Actually, it is a title, not a name. It describes the “field commander” for the Assyrian army, who represented the Assyrian King Sennacherib. “Rab-shakeh, an Assyrian title, possibly originally ‘chief cup-bearer’ but by this time some high officer of state.” (Motyer)
The mention of Lachish is important historically. Lachish was thirty miles south-west of Jerusalem. Archaeologists have discovered a pit there with the remains of about 1,500 casualties of Sennacherib’s attack. In the British Museum, you can see the Assyrian carving depicting their siege of the city of Lachish, which was an important fortress city of Judah (see picture at top).
“Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 5 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 6 Behold, you are trusting in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 7 But if you say to me, “We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar”?
The Rabshakeh knew that King Hezekiah had implemented broad reforms in Judah, including the removal of the high places (2 Kings 18:3-4).
The high places were spots of “individual worship” which were prohibited by God’s law (Leviticus 17:1-4). Israel was commanded to bring their sacrifices to the official center for sacrifice (the tabernacle or later, the temple). In the pagan world at that time, it was customary to offer sacrifice wherever one pleased – altars would customarily be built on high hills, in forested areas, or at other special places. That practice may have been fine for the time of the patriarchs. But now, God regarded sacrifice at high places as an offense. Hezekiah did right when he took away the high places and the altars, demanding that people come to the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifice.
This command runs completely contrary to the way most people come to God in our culture. For the most part, Americans have an entirely individualistic way of coming to God, where each person makes up their own rules about dealing with God as they see Him. In the book Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah and his colleagues interview a young nurse named Sheila Larson, whom they describe as representing many Americans’ experience and views on religion. Speaking about her own faith and how it operates in her life, she says: “I believe in God. I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It is ‘Sheilaism.’ Just my own little voice.” This “pick-and-choose-as-I-go-along-according-to-my-inner-voice” approach is just like picking your own high place and altar to sacrifice to God the way you want to instead of the way God wants you to.
8 Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 9 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 10 Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this land to destroy it? The Lord said to me, Go up against this land and destroy it.’”
Ouch! The Rabshakeh taunts them, saying, Even if we give you two thousand horses, you will still lose in battle against us. So just give up now. This is the entire reason Rabshakeh is at the aqueduct, speaking to these leaders of Hezekiah’s government. He had the vastly superior armies; he could have just attacked Jerusalem without this little speech. But Rabshakeh would prefer it if Judah would simply give up, out of fear, discouragement, or despair.
11 Then Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 12 But the Rabshakeh said, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and drink their own urine?”
Rabshakeh doesn’t care if the common citizens of Jerusalem hear him. That’s how he wants it! The more fear, discouragement, and despair he can spread, the better. Rabshakeh pointed forward to what conditions would be like in Jerusalem after an extended siege. He wanted this to disgust everyone who heard it, and he wanted to magnify the sense of fear, discouragement, and despair.
13 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! 14 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you. 15 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, “The Lord will surely deliver us. This city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” 16 Do not listen to Hezekiah. For thus says the king of Assyria: Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 17 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards. 18 Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 20 Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”
The Rabshakeh mocks King Hezekiah, and also (so unwisely!) he mocks God, counting the Lord as merely one like all the other gods.
21 But they were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him.” 22 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn, and told him the words of the Rabshakeh.
Though they were silent, no doubt they were still deeply affected by this attack. It didn’t just roll off their back as if it were nothing. They have the same experience Paul described in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9: 2 We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. Things were hard, but the battle was not lost yet!
Have you felt like everything is against you — like you have a Rabshakeh telling you how hopeless you are and what a mess your future will be? Do not believe it! You can exchange all of that junk for the joy of the Lord! HERE is Darrell Evans and “Trading My Sorrows.” Yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes!