February 20, 2014.
Daily Reading: Isaiah 34-39.
Background: Isaiah 29-33.
It should be noted that the text found Isaiah 36-39 is quoted in/from II Kings 18:13 to 2 Kings 20:19, with the only difference (besides a minor word change here or there) being Hezekiah’s prayer found in chapter 38. These chapters also serve as a transition from the oracles concerning mostly the Assyrian captivity of Israel to the coming Babylonian captivity of Judah.
Concepts and Connections.
1. The courtroom of the Lord: Likely a continuation of Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 33, Isaiah begins this chapter in the courtroom of the Lord as He calls all nations to hearing. The plea from His people has gone up, and He has heard, and He is angry. There is a lot of vivid and graphic imagery in this chapter used to describe the wrath of the Lord and the coming destruction of the nations of the world, with the specific nation of Edom (the people that descended from Esau who have had much conflict with the children of Israel) mentioned in verse five. Chapters 34 and 35 are very much connected, as chapter 34 talks of the destruction of the nations and chapter 35 turns this destruction into restoration and rejoicing of the people of God. The prophecy of destruction found in this chapter might have a double fulfillment, as many prophecies did, in that the oracle was speaking of the coming had of Assyria and/or Babylon that would destroy much of the known world and then a second fulfillment with the second return of Christ, though it is hard to say with certainty. Regardless of the specific object of the prophecy, there are some general truths that are taught within it. God will hold the nations of the world into account when they are to be blamed for their actions. Though they were not given the special revelation of the Law, they did have a moral law placed within their hearts and the Lord God is a righteous judge (see Romans 1:18-31). It can also be gleaned from this chapter that the Lord is attentive to the prayers of His people and He will rise up to answer those who walk in His will. No man can stand before the will of God and prevail; all things that He says will surly come to pass.
2. The word of the Lord will surly come to pass: At the end of the chapter, there is an appeal to go back and look at the book of the Lord when these things come to pass, so that men will know that the Lord is God and that His prophecy always rings true. We can have confidence that if the Lord has said something, it will come to pass. The word of the Lord will stand forever. This is not to say that He can’t change things that He has determined to do (such as He does with Hezekiah that we will see in the chapter 38, or as can be seen for the city of Nineveh in the book of Jonah), but rather that all the nations of the world can be confident that the word of the Lord will indeed take place, and no man can stop it by his own power, or even by the power of all mankind combined. We can take much comfort in knowing that the Lord is in control.
From destruction to rejoicing: Once again, continuing on from the last chapter, the vidvid imagery of destruction and turning the land into a wilderness of wild beast, the oracle then turns to what the Lord will do when He restores the land and once again brings joy and rejoicing for His people. The obvious implication of the time period this oracle points to is the Messianic age, though it could have a double fulfillment in the second coming of Christ, when all things will be restored to their original glory and the His redeemed shall dwell with the Lord forever. The beautiful language and imagery of this chapter is in contrast with the vivid and graphic imagery of the previous chapter. The land is rejoicing in its renewal, and there are many wonderful works being done, such as the blind receiving their sight and the lame walking. When John the baptizer sends messengers to Jesus in Matthew 11:2-6 and asks Jesus if He was the one who was to come, Jesus answers by saying “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them…” Jesus is making a reference to all the prophecy that was made about Him in the Old Testament and is answering John’s question by His actions rather than by His word alone. Though it may not be a specific reference to this passage found in Isaiah, it fits the context of the point of the oracle. There was coming a time after God’s destruction of the nations (probably referring to the Assyrian or Babylonian destruction) when all nations of the earth would be blessed through the Seed of Abraham, Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Indeed, there would me much rejoicing to come.
1. Background: For the textual background of King Hezekiah and his reign in Judah, see II Kings 18. Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz (a king of Judah who did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord), who began to rule over the kingdom of Judah when he was 25. Hezekiah did what was right in the sight of the Lord and he actually brought a revival to Judah while he reigned as king. His reign is one of the ones that we are given the most information about of the minor kings (minor only in terms of amount that is written about them). Hezekiah is said to have followed the Lord fully at the start of his reign, tearing down the alters of worship to false gods and leading Judah back to the Lord. We will Hezekiah’s faith and trust in the Lord as we examine the following chapters. The northern tribes of Israel, on the other hand, had not followed the Lord, and during the reign of Hezekiah, the Assyrians came in and overpowered the Northern tribes of Israel, leading them into captivity just as was predicted in prophecy as God’s punishment for them forsaking Him for other gods. Now the hand of Assyria was pressing in towards the Southern tribes of Judah, which is where the story picks up here in Isaiah.
2. Taunting and intimidation: Sennacherib king of Assyria has taken the fortified cites of Judah and has now sent a messenger with a great army to Jerusalem for the purpose of intimidation and to get them to surrender to the king of Assyria without a fight. The Rabshakeh (the chief of princes or the chief cupbearer, a military leader in Assyria) comes into the city and speaks in the language of the people, calling Hezekiah to come and surrender. He taunts Judah by saying implying that they don’t have even enough man power in their army to fill 2,000 chariots if supplied by the king of Assyria himself. He taunts them for trusting in Egypt to help them, and the leaders of the city ask the Rabshakeh not to speak in the language of the people because they did not want them to hear what he had to say. But the Rabshakeh was speaking in their language on purpose, because he was trying to intimidate them. He then turns to discourage the people from listening to the voice of Hezekiah when he tells the people that the Lord God of Israel will deliver them by recounting that none of the gods of the other nations have been able to save them from the hand of Sennacherib. He openly mocks the Lord God and gives the message that Assyria will overcome His power. He thus tells the people not to follow Hezekiah, but rather come out and surrender, promising them a land like their own when they surrender to Sennacherib. The people didn’t say a word, for they were told by Hezekiah not to say anything to the Rabshakeh. Those who are against us will often taunt us, even implying that our God cannot deliver us from our trials and tribulations, or even from their own hand. They will try to intimidate us into surrendering into their hand, whether literally or figuratively. We must take courage to not give in to their taunt and intimidation, for we serve a God who is omnipotent, always in control, and does not fail. It does not matter what man has to say about Him, for He will prevail, as we will see in the following chapter. Take heart when the evil one comes, for we serve Him who is greater than all.
1. Turning to the Lord in times of trouble: Unlike what the kings of Israel had done when they were met with fierce opposition, Hezekiah goes straight to the Lord when he receives the message from the Rabshakeh, sending word to Isaiah the prophet to inquire of the Lord and plead the case of Judah, telling of how the Rabshakeh had mocked His holy name. This prayer is well received by God and Isaiah sends a message back to Hezekiah saying not to fear, for the Lord would cause the king to return to his land and fall by the sword there. However, when the Rabshakeh returns to Assyria to find the king fighting against Lachish after hearing a rumor (just as the Lord had said) that the king of Lachish, he sends word to Jerusalem once again to intimidate the people, warning them not to be deceived by the word of Hezekiah that the Lord would deliver them. Once again Hezekiah goes straight to the Lord, spreading out the letter that the Rabshakeh had sent mocking the Lord so as to show God what was being done. Hezekiah prays for deliverance, a deliverance that we will examine next. There is a good lesson for us to take to heart in this story. Since Hezekiah was devoted to the Lord, that’s whom he sought when trouble came upon him. We too need to seek protection and deliverance from the Lord when we are in times of trouble rather than trusting in our own power or the power of others. The Lord looks after those who are His. Let us trust in Him.
2. Mock the Lord, and He will answer: Sennacherib and the Rabshakeh had made a fatal error: they had mocked the Lord God Almighty. The pride of the king of Assyria had led him to believe that he was more powerful than the Lord God, just as the gods of the other nations had fallen to him. What Sennacherib didn’t know, however, was that it was the Lord that had enabled him to take the other nations, specifically the house of Israel, and it was only through Him that the king was able to prevail to this point. But now the tide would change, for the Lord had heard the plea of His people and He was rising up in His anger due to the mockery of Assyria. The Lord reminds Assyria that the things that were happening were His plan all along, as they had been written in the days of old, and that no man could stand before God. There is much hope that can be found in the Lord’s answer to Hezekiah’s prayer from the point of view of the oppressed, for the Lord was rising to fight for them, and He would indeed prevail. He would turn the king of Assyria back into his own land and there he would die by the hands of his own sons. The angel of the Lord went out and struck 185,000 men in the camp of Assyria, and they turned back to their own land. Sennacherib would soon die as he was worshiping in the house of his god by the hands of his sons, Adrammelech and Sharezer. Their was a lesson to be learned: Mock the Lord, and He will answer.
1. The power of prayer: The story that is recounted in this chapter is one of great interest as it highlights the power of sincere prayer. After being delivered from the hand of Assyria, Hezekiah falls ill, perhaps to the point of death. Indeed, God sends Isaiah to Hezekiah to tell him to get his house in order, for he will surely die. After hearing this message, Hezekiah turns to the wall and prays to the Lord God, weeping bitterly and recounting the good things that he has done in the sight of the Lord. It is important to note that God has already told Hezekiah that he will not recover, but will die. However, God hears the prayer of Hezekiah and sees his tears and decides to add 15 more years to the life of Hezekiah, sending word by Isaiah once again. If this does not display the grand power of righteous prayer, then it is not likely that anything will. God tells Hezekiah that he is going to die, Hezekiah prays, God hears the pray and says “Alright, I will heal you after all.” James talks of the great power of prayer in James 5:16, and Peter also says that the Lord hears the prayer of the righteous (see I Peter 3:12). The ears of the Lord are open to His children, and our prayers and request hold much weight in the sight of God. This can be clearly seen in the words of Jesus in the sermon on the mount when he says “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (see Matthew 7:7).” There is great power in prayer, and this is something that we all need to remember as we seek to mature in the Spirit of the Lord.
2. Praising the Lord: After the Lord sends word that He will heal Hezekiah, the king writes a psalm of praise to the Almighty, recounting His deeds and praising Him for HIs healing, one of the only parts of this story that is not recorded in the account in II Kings. Notice Hezekiah’s faith in the Lord, as the psalm sings of an illness that has already passed, though it would seem that he hasn’t physically been healed yet (see verse 21). When Hezekiah heard the word of the Lord, it was as good as done in his eyes. He knew that the Lord was faithful and that he would gain 15 more years of life. Hezekiah rejoiced in this matter and gave praise to the Lord. When we are delivered from a situation that we have prayed about or any time our prayers are answered, let us not forget to praise the Lord God above who has been attentive to our request and has come through in His strength. He is worthy to be praised, and we need not neglect this important aspect of worship.
Pride goes before a fall: After Hezekiah recovers from his sickness, Baladan, king of Babylon, hears of his recovery and sends messengers with a gift for Hezekiah to honor his recovery. However, Hezekiah makes a very poor decision after the Lord grants him recovery. It would seem that Hezekiah garnered some pride in all that he had, that he Lord had blessed him with in his endeavors and conquests, and he wanted to show Babylon how great he was. He received the massagers gladly and took them into his treasure house to show them all the treasures that he had allotted over his reign, in all the kingdom. Pride goes before a fall, however, as Isaiah comes to him after he makes the foolish decision to show all of his treasure to Babylon and prophesies that in the time of his sons, Babylon will come and take Judah captive, taking all of the treasures that Hezekiah had showed to the messengers for the king of Babylon. It would seem that Hezekiah had little remorse, for he tells Isaiah that his word is good, as it implied that he would have peace and security for the rest of his days. This indicates somewhat of a spirit of selfishness. Let us not make the mistake of Hezekiah, flaunting what we have before the eyes of men. It is only asking for trouble, and it leads to both pride and selfishness.
This chapter sets the scene for the oracles concerning Babylonian captivity of Judah that would soon come to pass.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Matthew 17-19.
Do not provoke the Lord to anger.