New European Commentary

 

About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan


Deeper Commentary

Isaiah 36:1  Now it happened in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all of the fortified cities of Judah, and captured them- Hezekiah reigned 29 years (2 Kings 18:2), and the sickness after which he was given 15 years therefore happened in the 14th year or his reign- the very same time that Assyria invaded (Is. 38:1). Trials so often come together, in such an intense and extreme way that the situation can only be of God rather than mere bad luck or coincidence.

Isaiah 36:2 The king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem to king Hezekiah with a large army; he came and stood by the aqueduct from the upper pool in the fuller’s field highway-
The washer or fuller uses the same word for 'washing' as used in the context of cleansing from sin (Ps. 51:2,7; Jer. 2:2; 4:14; Mal. 3:2). The suggestion was that they could repent and be cleansed of their sin. This location was significant, because it was there that Hezekiah's father Ahaz had been met by Isaiah and his son Shearjashub [a man of sign, 'a remnant shall return / repent'], with their demand for Jerusalem to surrender to God (Is. 7:3). So Hezekiah was intended to recall how Ahaz had been faced with Isaiah at that same spot; and the call was to repent, to be washed, to become the remnant which would triumph. Circumstances repeat in our lives and between our lives and those of others; in this case, the experience of Ahaz repeated in the life of his son Hezekiah. And we are intended to join the dots and learn the lesson.


Isaiah 36:3 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, the son of Asaph, the recorder came out to him-
"Shebna" is an Egyptian name and may have been installed in office by Hezekiah as part of his deal with Egypt, upon whom he trusted rather than solely in Yahweh. He had the office of being "over the house" but by the time of the Assyrian invasion Shebna had been replaced in this office by Eliakim (Is. 22:15,20; 37:2). However, Shebna had not been completely 'hurled away' for his immorality of Is. 22:15-19 as required by Is. 22:17, because he is mentioned here as being the "scribe", a senior secretary, although Eliakim was "over the household". This seems typical of the partial response made to Isaiah's prophecies. But it seems Yahweh accepted that partial response and repentance of a remnant, and so the invaders were destroyed and the awful outcome threatened upon Jerusalem in this chapter was averted or at best deferred.


Isaiah 36:4 Rabshakeh said to them, Now tell Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this in which you trust?-
LXX "Why are you secure". GNB "the emperor wanted to know what made King Hezekiah so confident". Clearly Hezekiah did have some faith; and real faith is always evident to others. Rabshakeh's words are a tacit admission that Hezekiah did indeed trust in Yahweh.    

 


Isaiah 36:5 I say that your counsel and strength for the war are only vain words-
GNB "Do you think that words can take the place of military skill and might?". This is the essence of our temptations today- to think that the ideas of God's word are merely abstract and philosophical, and have no cash value in reality. But God's word is active and powerful, once spoken, it is done. The "counsel" in view is primarily the prophecies of Isaiah (s.w. Is. 5:19; 28:29), and in the last day application, the "counsel and strength" of the Messiah of Israel (Is. 11:2 s.w.). But Rabshakeh may have been mocking the "counsel" of the false prophets (see :6), which had been to trust in Egypt rather than Yahweh (s.w. Is. 19:3,11; 29:15; 30:1; Jer. 19:7). The "counsel" or prophetic word of Yahweh, however, was what could save Israel; it was that which would bring them back from captivity and reestablish Yahweh's Kingdom in the land (s.w. Is. 44:26; 46:10). Although most in Judah still refused to trust in Yahweh's "strength for the war" (s.w. Is. 30:15), yet by grace and in respect to the faith of the remnant, He still saved them from Assyria at this time.

Hezekiah had taken counsel with men in order to try to avert the fall of Jerusalem (2 Chron. 32:3). Isaiah had earlier warned against trust in human "counsel" (s.w. Is. 5:19; 19:3). Woe was pronounced upon those (like Hezekiah?) who took counsel from men rather than God (Is. 30:1 s.w.). Prov. 25:28 LXX advises doing things with "counsel". As explained on Prov. 25:1, this may be a justification of Hezekiah, who dealt with the Assyrian crisis by saying he trusted in God's counsel to overcome the Assyrians (2 Kings 18:20 AV). Like Solomon, Hezekiah's Proverbs are all Divinely inspired and true, but he seems to insert into them a subtext of self justification.

 

Now in whom do you trust, that you have rebelled against me?- That Hezekiah was trusting in someone or something else apart from his own strength was so obvious; and there may have been a genuine element of curiosity in the question, as well as it being a rhetorical question. Hezekiah's rebellion against Assyria was because of his trust in Yahweh; Zedekiah rebelled later against Babylon and yet Jerusalem fell (s.w. Jer. 52:3). Zedekiah attempted to copy the external behaviour of Hezekiah but without trust in Yahweh, and so it didn't work out. And so there abides a lesson for all of us who are tempted to imitate the external faith and action of others without having the same internal faith and trust.


Isaiah 36:6 Behold, you trust in the staff of this bruised reed, even in Egypt-
"Bruised reed" in Is. 36:6 is better "broken reed", and this is the very phrase used about how the Messiah, the Lord Jesus, would not break a "bruised / broken reed" (Is. 42:3). Egypt were a broken reed, recently broken in battle and now useless to save Israel. They were too weak to uphold the weight of Judah if they were to lean upon it for strength. God turns the figure around- He as it were is in need of man, He wishes to trust upon us; and although we are broken reeds, we will not be crushed nor will He be disappointed. He so wishes to work with us.

Which if a man leans on it, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him- "Lean" here is the same word for "steadfast" in Is. 26:3 "You will keep whoever’s mind is steadfast in perfect peace, because he trusts in You". The LXX understands this to be a description of the "righteous nation" of Is. 26:2. They are saved from their traumas by the state of their mind. And Yahweh will respond to this through the work of His Spirit on the human spirit, to keep their mind in perfect peace. This is the peace which comes from knowing sin is forgiven. "Mind" here is literally 'imagination'. We must ask what are our fantasies, our hopes, according to which we live, think and feel day by day. If they are above all for the Kingdom, then we will be 'kept' in this. In Isaiah's immediate context this was in contrast to leaning upon Egypt for salvation (s.w. Is. 36:6 "lean"). The great salvation of the restored Kingdom could have come apart at that time, but it was precluded by a lack of real faith and focus on the Kingdom in the majority of Israel.

Judah did as it were trust in Egypt, and so were left with pierced hands. But that was exactly what the Lord Jesus experienced on the cross. Here we have one of many examples of where although He did not personally sin, He on the cross experienced the sufferings for sin which were due to God's people.   


Isaiah 36:7 But if you tell me, ‘We trust in Yahweh our God’, isn’t that He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar?’-
Rabshakeh argues as if the high places and altars to the idols were actually used for Yahweh worship. And that was true. Judah justified their idol worship by claiming it was a form of Yahweh worship; and that is an abiding temptation for God's people of all ages. Rabshakeh mocked at the idea of a religion which had only one altar and high place; although that was indeed appropriate to the worship of the one true God who had given one specific way of approach to Him.


Isaiah 36:8 Now therefore, please make a pledge to my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them-
Although many in Judah had fled into Jerusalem, the siege conditions and battle losses meant that there were not even 2000 fighting men within the city. But the Assyrians were destroyed by just one Angel, a member of the Angel cherubim, the heavenly horses and riders who stood for Israel. They were left with no human horses nor army, so that they might trust in Yahweh of Hosts of Angelic armies and the cherubim chariot. And this is why we too at times are stripped of all human strength.

"Make a pledge" is literally to be sweet or pleasing, and it appears to be sarcastic. But it is the word used by Hezekiah when he asks Yahweh to "undertake" or be sweet to him in the oppression of his sickness, which came at the same time as the siege of Jerusalem (Is. 38:14).See on Is. 36:1.


Isaiah 36:9 How then can you turn away the face of one captain of the least of my master’s servants, and put your trust on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen?-
There are various translation options here. LXX "And how can ye then turn to the face of the satraps? They that trust on the Egyptians for horse and rider, are our servants"; GNB "You are no match for even the lowest ranking Assyrian official, and yet you expect the Egyptians to send you chariots and horsemen". 2 Chron. 32:21 uses the same phrase to describe the king of Assyria turning away his face in shame from Jerusalem after the Angelic destruction of his army; all was to be dramatically reversed overnight. Just as Joseph was elevated from prison rags to royal glory in a few hours, so God can work very quickly to save us from otherwise humanly impossible situations.


Isaiah 36:10 Have I come up now without Yahweh against this land to destroy it? Yahweh said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it’-
Rabshakeh appears to have been an apostate Jew, speaking fluent Hebrew, fully aware of the situation within Judah (:7,8) and of the prophetic message that Yahweh would be behind their invaders; and quoting Isaiah's prophecies in :12,16. We can look to some possible equivalent in the events concerning the latter day Assyrian.


Isaiah 36:11 Then Eliakim, Shebna and Joah said to Rabshakeh, Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it; and don’t speak to us in the Jews’ language in the hearing of the people who are on the wall-
As suggested on :10, Rabshakeh knew Hebrew and was likely a renegade Jew. The fact the Jewish leadership knew the Assyrian language is a tacit reflection of the way they had made it their business to communicate with them in the past, in seeking ways around the Assyrian threat other than through trust in Yahweh.


Isaiah 36:12 But Rabshakeh said, Has my master sent me only to your master and to you, to speak these words, and not to the men who sit on the wall, who will eat their own dung and drink their own urine with you?-
As noted on :10, Rabshakeh was aware of the prophecies of Micah and Isaiah. He was fully aware that Isaiah had opened his prophecies by insisting that his message of judgment was against both the heavens and the earth, the leadership and the ordinary people; for they were alike guilty.


Isaiah 36:13 Then Rabshakeh stood, and called out with a loud voice in the Jews’ language, and said, Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria!-
This very loud voice becomes the prototype for the great voice of Babylon (Jer. 51:55), akin to the great voice of Goliath the Philistine / Palestinian, which is to be answered by the far greater voice of Yahweh in the last days commanding the Angels to unleash judgment upon the latter day Assyrian confederacy (Joel 2:11; Rev. 16:1; 18:2). But in the immediate context, this "loud voice" is that of Is. 29:6 bringing destruction and judgment upon Jerusalem; they were condemned, but were saved by grace and God's respect of the prayers and repentance of a small minority. The loud voice of the "great king" of Assyria is being set up as a parody of that of Yahweh, who is the supreme "great king" (s.w. Ps. 47:2; 95:3; Mal. 1:14).    


Isaiah 36:14 Thus says the king, ‘Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you; for he will not be able to deliver you-
This was part of his narrative, that the gods of the nations were "not able to deliver" them from the Assyrians (s.w. 2 Chron. 32:15). He encouraged them to see the one true God as just another god, another source of secular strength as good as anything else. Yahweh the one true God is not, however, just another religious system. There is something awesomely and radically different. Rabshakeh's words recognize that Hezekiah alone was seeking to lead the people to totally trust in Yahweh. His influence was considered hugely significant. As we noted on Is. 1:1, the reforms of Hezekiah were largely ineffective in encouraging the general populace towards spirituality. In accordance with that, Rabshakeh perceived Hezekiah as effectively seeking alone to persuade the people to trust Yahweh.


Isaiah 36:15 Don’t let Hezekiah make you trust in Yahweh, saying, Yahweh will surely deliver us. This city won’t be given into the hand of the king of Assyria’-
Rabshakeh appears to know the very words of Hezekiah within Jerusalem, supporting the suggestion made on :10 that he was a renegade Jew. Hezekiah's faith that the city wouldn't fall was presumably based upon Isaiah's prophetic words; and yet Isaiah also speaks as if the city would fall, unless there was repentance in Judah. Perhaps Hezekiah really believed that the repentance of a minority would be counted by God as enough, and that their prayers would ensure the salvation of Zion. And this huge faith in Divine grace was rewarded.


Isaiah 36:16 Don’t listen to Hezekiah-
As noted on :14, it seems Hezekiah was singlehandedly seeking to persuade the people to totally trust in Yahweh.

For thus says the king of Assyria, ‘Make your peace with me, and come out to me- LXX "If ye wish to be blessed, come out to me". Receiving peace or 'blessing' (LXX) was what comes from Yahweh; Judah were being offered covenant relationship with a false pretender to Yahweh. All this is the stuff of the latter day antiChrist; for an anti-Christ is strictly not someone against Christ but rather posing as the Christ, a fake, imitation Christ.

And each of you eat from his vine, and each one from his fig tree, and each one of you drink the waters of his own cistern- Rabshakeh promised the Jews an Assyrian Kingdom where everyone sat under their own vine and fig tree- consciously parodying Micah’s contemporary prophecies of God’s future Kingdom (Is. 36:16 cp. Mic. 4:4). The Assyrian Kingdom was set up as a parody of Solomon’s, which was the Kingdom of God (1 Kings 4:25; 2 Chron. 9:8). A glance through the descriptions of the beasts- the Kingdoms of this world- reveals that they are all set up in terms of the Lord Jesus and His Kingdom. Rabshakeh was aware of Isaiah's prophecies as he quotes from them here; see on :10. And in essence the world today offers a fake, imitation Kingdom of God.


Isaiah 36:17 Until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards-
As noted on :16, Assyria was presented as an imitation kingdom of God. The 2 Kings record adds: "a land of oil olive and of honey". The language all alludes to God's descriptions of the promised land, which were familiar to Rabshakeh (see on :10). The allusions are to Num. 14:7; Dt. 8:7-9; 11:11,12.    


Isaiah 36:18 Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, Yahweh will deliver us. Have any of the gods of the nations delivered their lands from the hand of the king of Assyria?-
"Persuade" is 'seduce', as if the Assyrians had the one true religion and Hezekiah was seducing Judah away from it. The Assyrian inscriptions describe and portray their wars as religious wars between their god Asshur and the gods of the nations they conquered. It was perhaps this very aspect to the Assyrian boasts which as it were provoked Yahweh to action. His unique victory against Asshur when all other gods and religious systems had failed was intended to help the Gentile nations see the utter supremacy of Yahweh- and to turn to Him.     


Isaiah 36:19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria from my hand?-
Rabshakeh, knowing the prophecies of Isaiah (see on :10), may be alluding to the common prophetic theme that Judah were in fact no better than Israel, and would face the same judgment. And he knew that Samaria, the ten tribes, had trusted in the gods of the surrounding nations. Hamath and Arpad were in Syria, and so probably Sepharvaim was likewise. Is. 8 and Is. 10:9-11 had condemned Israel for their trust in Syria against Assyria, and clearly their covenant with Syria had involved taking on the worship of their gods.


Isaiah 36:20 Who are they among all the gods of these countries that have delivered their country out of my hand, that Yahweh should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?-
The point of course was made: Who or what indeed were any of those gods compared to Yahweh.


Isaiah 36:21 But they remained silent and said nothing in reply, for the king’s commandment was, Don’t answer him-
The "they" appears to refer to 'the people on the wall' (2 Kings 18:36). Again we get the impression as on :14 that Hezekiah was in direct contact with the common people- despite being terminally ill at the time (see on Is. 36:1). It was unexpected that Rabshakeh should address the common people (:11,12), so perhaps the king urged them immediately to silence, whilst Rabshakeh was speaking. 

I suggest that Prov. 26:4 alludes to this: "Don’t answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him". This verses is clearly intended to be connected with Prov. 26:5 ["answer a fool according to his folly"], the idea being that there are times when a fool should be answered according to his folly, and times when he shouldn't be. This is one of the Hezekiah Proverbs (see on Prov. 25:1), and the allusion may be to how Hezekiah commanded the people not to answer Rabshakeh, who is thereby interpreted as the archetypical "fool". But a fool must at times be answered (Prov. 26:5), and the idea may be that God will answer fools like Rabshakeh in His own way and in His own time; and we don't need to. But we then get the hint that Hezekiah, like Solomon, was using the Divine truth of the Proverbs with a subtext of his own self justification, just as we can.


Isaiah 36:22 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn, and told him the words of Rabshakeh-
This sign of sorrow was to be turned into joy. But for now, there was sorrow. Their deep grief however suggests they didn't believe Hezekiah's assurances of Divine salvation; see on :3,11.