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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 37

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 37 Hezekiah’s Reaction and Its Consequences - The Miracle of Jerusalem.

Hezekiah reacted to the words of the Rabshakeh by praying to Yahweh, and turning to Isaiah for guidance, a fact which indicated Isaiah’s prestigious position. On this Isaiah assured him that he need not be afraid because God would deal with the matter. This was followed by a further demand from Assyria, which Hezekiah also laid before God. Isaiah then came to him with the assurance of what God was going to do. The result was that the Assyrian army was destroyed and the king of Assyria, having failed to capture Jerusalem, returned to his own land, where he was later slain.


Verses 1-7

King Hezekiah Pleads For the Intercession of Isaiah (Isaiah 37:1-7).

Isaiah 37:1

‘And it came about that when king Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of Yahweh.’

The result of King Hezekiah’s receiving of the message was that he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth, signs of mourning and repentance, and went to the Temple to seek God. In spite of his failures he was a godly king, and humbly sought God over Jerusalem’s difficulty. He was acting here in his position as ‘a priest after the order of Melchizedek’, coming before God on behalf of the people in a non-sacrificing priesthood (Psalms 110:4). We note that he is now dignified by being called king. It is no longer the Rabshakeh who is speaking.

Isaiah 37:2

‘And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests, to Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz.’

He next sent an official deputation from the Temple to Isaiah. This included his two chief ministers and the leading men among the priests, ‘the elders of the priests’. So both secular and religious leadership were being involved. It was an appeal from the whole nation to God through Isaiah. This brings out how Isaiah was now viewed, as an exceptional prophet who had special influence with God. The fact that he does not summon Isaiah into his presence possibly indicates the sense of humility that he feels. He recognises his present unworthiness.

Isaiah 37:3

‘And they said to him, Thus says Hezekiah, “This day is a day of trouble, and of reproof, and of blasphemy. The children have come to birth and there is not strength to bring them out.” ’

Note that ‘king’ is dropped again. The words are from Hezekiah’s mouth and he is sending as a suppliant to the representative of the great King Yahweh, not as a lord and master. He is feeling humbled. Hezekiah’s message begins by bringing out the position. It is a day of trouble and distress. It is a day in which God has reproved His people. It is a day when God’s name has been horribly blasphemed by the king of Assyria, or alternately it is a day of disgrace.

So the emphasis is on the fact that this is a day of great distress, although a day of admittedly deserved distress, and a day when they are all disgraced. And he admitted that they did not know what to do. They had brought this trouble on themselves and they did not know how to cope with it. (It is often only when we admit that we have come to the end of our own strength that God steps in).

‘The children have come to birth and there is not strength to bring them out.’ This was probably a well known saying, indicating that something was occurring which they could not cope with.

Isaiah 37:4

“It may be that Yahweh your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master has sent to reproach the living God, and will rebuke the words which Yahweh your God has heard. For this reason lift up your prayers for the remnant who are left.’

This statement supports the translation ‘blasphemy’ above. The king of Assyria has brought reproach on the name of Yahweh in front of the people. Now Yahweh’s reputation is at stake. His hope therefore is that Yahweh will respond in some way in order to clear His name, and he asks Isaiah to pray for what is left of the kingdom, once so large, and now reduced to a pitiful remnant (see Isaiah 1:9). Thus he centres his prayer on concern for the name of Yahweh. (This should in fact be the central factor in all our prayers, for only then can we pray ‘in Jesus’ name’).

Note the humble ‘Yahweh your God’, repeated twice (not ‘Yahweh our God’). It suggests a feeling of unworthiness, and a recognition of Isaiah’s special place before God. The reference to the living God, however, does demonstrate a certain level of faith. He knows that Yahweh can do something, if He will.

‘Lift up your prayers.’ He sees Isaiah as having a special power in prayer due to his close relationship to God.

‘For the remnant who are left.’ Only a small remnant of Judah was left. Sennacherib in his annals claimed to have taken into captivity ‘two hundred thousand, one hundred and fifty’ of the people of Judah together with great spoil (probably two hundred large units, one smaller unit, and a half unit as they were organised for the march). There were therefore many of the people of Judah who had already been taken into exile, even if we do not accept the number literally, and a great many would also have been slaughtered. And many others had by now been made part of other kingdoms, their region having been handed over by Sennacherib to other kings, while even others would be hiding in the mountains. Thus those left in Jerusalem were a relatively small minority of what had once formed his kingdom.

In fact the quaint number of those taken into captivity, a round number and yet not a round number, suggests either an exaggeration of a not very clever kind, or that in the ‘two hundred thousand’ the ‘thousand’ signifies something other than a number, possibly say two hundred family groups or units organised for marching, and a further one hundred and fifty persons. There are certainly many indications in Scripture that in Hebrew an ’eleph (‘thousand’) originally did indicate such family groups or military units of a certain size, only later becoming solidified to mean a thousand. And it was not an age when numeracy was prominent among non-experts.

Isaiah 37:5-7

‘So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah, and Isaiah said to them, “Thus shall you say to your master. Thus says Yahweh, Do not be afraid of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, and he will hear a rumour, and will return to his own land, and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.’

‘So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah.’ This is a resume of what has already been mentioned, a regular feature of Hebrew literature. We would write ‘thus the servants ---’, or ‘so the servants having come ---’.

We note firstly that the narrative now calls him king again. It is an official narrative, and Isaiah sends him a reply from Yahweh in stately style. He gives King Hezekiah the respect that is his due. He has no need to pray because he knows that Yahweh is about to act. There is a time when prayer becomes unbelief. They are to tell King Hezekiah that he is not to be afraid because God intends to rid him of Sennacherib by means of a rumour which will cause him to return to his own land, where he will be murdered. No time limits are given. He is not saying that it will all happen immediately, only that he will not interfere with Hezekiah again. The facts are within God’s timing.

This does not contradict what follows. This is an assurance to Hezekiah, weak in faith. God knew that to promise a wonder would be too much for Hezekiah’s faith, while a rumour would probably appear to him as an acceptable possibility. And it is indeed quite probable that one reason why Sennacherib did return home was because of ‘a rumour’, either of a further Egyptian force being gathered, or of dissension at home, or both.

For God did not at this stage wish to publicise the great wonder that He intended to do. When it happened He wanted it to have its full impact. It was to be a wondrous and unexpected sign to His people and to the king with a hope of producing repentance and faith, and was to be a judgment on Assyria for their behaviour and attitude. It was not just to be seen as a means of relieving the city. Whereas here He is speaking of relieving the city in response to Hezekiah’s request so as to ease Hezekiah’s mind.

Note first Yahweh’s charge of blasphemy. He had heard what had been said, and was passing judgment on it. The king of Assyria was a blasphemer who had brought on his own head what was about to happen.

‘A spirit in him’. A presentiment of doom that would cause him to act swiftly. It may have been news of family intrigue, or warning of a possible dangerous rising elsewhere, or apprehension at the possible size of the Egyptian army. But we are not told.

‘And I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.’ To fall by the sword in his own land indicated treachery. This occurred around twenty years later when he was assassinated in 682 BC (see Isaiah 37:38).

‘Young men.’ A description dismissive of these great men. To Him they are of little account. They are ‘youngsters’. They are but boys compared with the Rock of ages.


Verses 8-13

The Rabshakeh Sends Messengers to King Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:8-13).

Isaiah 37:8

‘So the Rabshakeh returned and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah, for he had heard that he had departed from Lachish.’

Meanwhile the Rabshakeh had returned to the king of Assyria, finding him at Libnah. Whether this meant that Lachish had been subdued, or whether that siege continued while the one at Libnah was also going on we are not told. It is probably Isaiah’s way of indicating the surrender of Lachish. No doubt the siege at Jerusalem also continued. In 2 Kings 18 where he is mentioned there is no suggestion that the Tartan returned with him. He possibly remained behind to supervise the siege of Jerusalem. The Assyrian annals suggest that the siege was not pressed heavily but was more in the nature of an encirclement of the city, ensuring no movement out or in. The positive pressure would come later when more troops were available once the other cities had been subdued. They knew that Jerusalem would be the most difficult to take, and were trying to slowly starve them out.

Isaiah 37:9

‘And he heard say concerning Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia, “He has come out to fight against you.” ’

On his arrival at Libnah news came that the long awaited Egyptian army was making its way northwards under Tirhakah. The suggestion that Tirhakah was too young at this stage to lead an army is no longer tenable. He was not yet king (the description was by the author looking back, which was common oriental practise), for the crown was held by his brother Shabatarka , but he himself became king around 690 BC. Tirhakah was the son of Piankhy who died at least fourteen years before the accession of Shabatarka (702-690 BC) to the throne, and he had been summoned by his brother to join him on his accession, being about twenty years old. Thus at this time he would be about twenty one, and that meant in those days that he was of full age.

Whatever their stated views about the Egyptians the Assyrians knew that they were a real threat, and that they would need to rally their siege forces in order to meet their army. Thus he determined to try to end the siege at Jerusalem as quickly as possible, and sent messengers there with that end in view.

Isaiah 37:9-10

‘And when he heard it he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah, king of Judah, saying ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you, saying, Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ ” ’

We note immediately the change of tone. Now he is addressed asKingHezekiah, and rather than him it is said to be Yahweh Who is at fault, seeking to deceive the king. Nor is there any mention of Egypt. That threat is now too real and he does not want Hezekiah, if he knows about it, (and these things had a way of getting through siege lines), to have it brought to his attention.

Isaiah 37:11-13

“Look, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by destroying them utterly. And will you be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered those whom my fathers have destroyed, Gozan and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden who were in Telassar? Where is the king of Hamath, and the king of Arpad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, of Hena and Ivvah?”

The old argument is once more produced, and it was a solid one. All that was claimed was true. All these cities and places had at one time or another been conquered by the mighty Assyrian army. And had Jerusalem worshipped Baal or Molech (which of course some did) then the same would have been true for them. But Hezekiah had introduced reform and had concentrated worship on Yahweh, and large numbers had followed him. Thus they served the living God (Isaiah 37:4), and therein lay the difference.

Gozan is Akkadian Guzana in the region of Tel Halaf on the Upper Habur river. Israelites were deported there in 722 BC. It was an Assyrian provincial capital but had rebelled in 759 BC and was harshly dealt with. Haran was an Assyrian centre that had rebelled in 763 BC and was sacked by the king of Assyria. Rezeph is Akkadian Rasappa and was an important caravan centre on the route from the Euphrates to Hamath. It is modern Resafa, two hundred kilometres east north east of Hama in Syria. No details are known of its sacking, but clearly it had happened at some stage. ‘The children of Eden’ (Ben-eden, an abbreviation of Bene-beth-eden) were south of Haran on the Euphrates (compare Amos 1:5; Ezekiel 27:23). It is probably to be identified with the Aramean state of Bit-Adini. It blocked the path of Assyrian expansion to north Syria and became an Assyrian province in 855 BC. Telassar is probably Til-Assur (mound of Assur), but is unidentified.

Hamath was in central Syria and Arpad in northern Syria. Sepharvaim may have been Sibraim in Syria. Ivvah is probably Ava (2 Kings 17:24) and Hena is probably Ana on the Euphrates.


Verses 14-20

King Hezekiah Seeks To Yahweh (Isaiah 37:14-20).

Isaiah 37:14

‘And Hezekiah received the message from the hand of the messengers and read it, and Hezekiah went up to the house of Yahweh and spread it before Yahweh.’

Hezekiah was slowly learning what he must do. No longer did he call for ambassadors from other countries but took the message and spread it before God in the house of Yahweh. It was a direct appeal to Yahweh by the intercessory priest of the order of Melchizedek, who represented his people before God, pleading for his city. The idea was that Yahweh Himself would then see it and know what had been said.

Isaiah 37:15-20

‘And Hezekiah prayed to Yahweh, saying, “O Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel, who dwells between the cherubim, you are the God, even you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Bend your ear, O Yahweh, and hear, open your eyes, O Yahweh, and see, and hear all the words of Sennacherib which he has sent to reproach the living God. Of a truth, Yahweh, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the countries and their land, and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they have destroyed them. Now therefore, O Yahweh our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you are Yahweh, even you alone.” ’

He describes Yahweh as dwelling between the cherubim. In the Holiest of all, the inner chamber in the Temple, was the ark of the covenant, over which was the mercy seat, the throne of Yahweh. And to each side of the mercy seat was a cherub (Exodus 37:6-9). This was seen as depicting the heavenly reality (see Isaiah 6:2-3; Psalms 99:1-3). Yahweh was Lord over creation.

He declares his faith that Yahweh is the only God and over all the kingdoms of the world, He is the Creator and maker of all things. Then he appeals to Him to listen to what he has to say. Let Him consider how His name has been blasphemed and what reproach is being brought upon it. (If our prayers had more concern for God’s glory and less for our own desires they would be more effective. Compare the Lord’s prayer).

But then he has to admit that the king of Assyria was to some extent right. They had indeed laid waste many countries and humiliated many gods. But that was the point. Those gods had been made of wood and stone and therefore could be destroyed. They were simply man-made.

Then he prays that Yahweh will reveal this difference and show His great power by intervening as He has promised (Isaiah 37:7), demonstrating to the whole world Who He is and what He can do.

The whole prayer emphasises that the teaching of Isaiah has not been lost on him, and that his mind is now clear on these central truths of the uniqueness of Yahweh, the folly of idolatry, and the transcendent power of Yahweh.


Verses 21-35

Yahweh’s Reply Through Isaiah (Isaiah 37:21-35).

Isaiah 37:21-22

‘Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says Yahweh the God of Israel, In lieu of the fact that you have prayed to me against Sennacherib, king of Assyria, this is the word which Yahweh has spoken concerning him. ‘The virgin daughter of Zion has despised you and laughed you to scorn. The daughter of Jerusalem has shaken her head after you.’ ” ’

God’s reply to him came through Isaiah. It is Isaiah who is in control of things not Hezekiah. God has heard Hezekiah’s prayer, and, because he has put his trust in Him, tells him what His word against Sennacherib is. ‘Yahweh has spoken.’ And being the word of Yahweh it is not only spoken but will be powerfully effective.

His message is in derisory tones. Sennacherib is likened to the great and important suitor who is scorned by the young woman, Jerusalem. She has rejected his offer with laughter because she despises him. She shakes her head at him as he departs, the forlorn and rejected suitor. Such is Jerusalem’s reply to the Great King. He is dismissed as an unsuitable suitor, to walk away with head bowed.

God’s Reply to Sennacherib’s Claim to Omnipotence.

Isaiah 37:23-25

“Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? And against whom have you raised your voice and lifted up your eyes on high? Even against the Holy One of Israel. By your servants you have reproached the Lord (i.e. the One Who is truly Lord), and have said, ‘With the multitude of my chariots I have come up to the height of the mountains, to the innermost parts of Lebanon. And I will cut down its tall cedars, and its choice fir trees, and I will enter into his furthest height, the forest of his fruitful field. I have dug and drunk water, and with the sole of my feet I will dry up all the rivers of Egypt.’ ”

But it is not only his rejection by Jerusalem that needs to be considered. That was dealt with in derisory fashion. Now the more serious charge is to be dealt with. By his actions and words he has brought into disrepute the Unique One, the Holy One of Israel, the Sovereign Lord Who is over all things, and challenged His omnipotence. His words have been a reproach against His very Name and therefore sheer blasphemy. The picture is vivid. He has raised both his voice and his eyes in arrogant defiance. ‘On high’ stresses the crime. He had to lift up his eyes because he was challenging the One Who is on high.

‘Raised your voice and lifted up your eyes on high.’ The verbs were used of God’s glory in Isaiah 6:1. So the idea may be of one who was seeking to imitate God.

Furthermore he has boasted about what he was going to do with his power and might, his omnipotence (his multitude of chariots, those final proofs of man’s might). He was going to humiliate Lebanon and dry up Egypt. ‘Lebanon’ here includes the whole land of Canaan, as often elsewhere. The destruction of trees except for specific purposes was by general acknowledgement not a part of warfare, but Sennacherib defies convention. He is above them. He comes to destroy the trees, bringing dismay on the population. But he does not only intend to destroy the trees, he sees them and the rivers as also representing the proud peoples who live there whom he will humiliate. So Lebanon will be denuded of both great men and trees. He, Sennacherib, is lord of the land and of what it produces, and will rid Lebanon of its choicest fruit.

And he is also lord of water supplies. Whenever he digs, he drinks water. His diggings never fail. In other words, when he wishes for it, it is always there under his control. And thus he can, and will, dry up the Nile and its tributaries by the use of his foot, by simply treading on it, together with people who live by it (the whole of Egypt). In this way all that Lebanon and Egypt were renowned for will be destroyed by his seemingly omnipotent power, and all their people will be cut or trodden down. All will be humbled before him. He would show the world what he was. It is quite probable that this was based on exact words known to be used by Sennacherib in his diatribes.

And indeed, rather ironically, showing the world what he was is exactly what he did do, and was the reason why God would destroy him.


Verses 26-29

Yahweh’s Reply. The King of Assyria Is But Yahweh’s Tool And Will Be Dealt With Accordingly (Isaiah 37:26-29).

Yahweh’s reply to Sennacherib is to point out what He has accomplished in the past. He wants it to be clear that Assyria is not the only one that can cite prior victories, and that indeed Assyria are the new boys on the block.

Isaiah 37:26-27

‘Have you not heard how I have done it long ago, and formed it of ancient times? Now I have brought it about that you should be to lay waste fenced cities into ruinous heaps. That is why their inhabitants were of little power, they were dismayed and confounded. They were as the grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the housetops and as a field before it is grown.’

Yahweh points out to Sennacherib that he ought rather to recognise that he himself is but a recent phenomenon. Let him therefore now consider what Yahweh has done. Who was it Who formed the world in the first place? It was He, Yahweh, who set up the world and shaped it, and Who is Lord of fruit and water. And Sennacherib should recognise that it is only because it is within Yahweh’s plans that he has even been permitted to make ruins out of defenced cities. That is the real reason why the peoples have been so easy to deal with. It is because Yahweh has brought it about. In that he had spoken truly (Isaiah 36:10).

‘That you should be to lay waste fenced cities into ruinous heaps.’ Bringing cities into a condition of ruin has already been shown to be part of God’s final purposes (Isaiah 17:9; Isaiah 24:10-12; Isaiah 26:5; Isaiah 27:10), Sennacherib is thus but helping on God’s process.

‘They were as the grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the housetops and as a field before it is grown.’ That is, they were temporary and passing (Psalms 37:2; Psalms 103:15-16; Psalms 129:6), soon withered and struggling to survive. Note the fourfold description which is a prominent feature of this passage, pointing to universality.

Isaiah 37:28

‘But I know your sitting down, and your going out, and your coming in, and your raging against me.’

Again the fourfold structure. God wants him to know that He knows everything about him. He may try to hide his movements and his plans from men, but he cannot hide them from God. He knows all that he does. He knows when he sits down, He knows when he goes out, He knows when he comes in, and He is privy to every word he speaks. And He is especially aware of his diatribes against Himself. ‘All things are open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do.’

Isaiah 37:29

‘Because of your raging against me, and because your insolence has come up to my ears, therefore I will put my hook in your nose, and my bridle in your lips, and I will turn you back by the way by which you came.’

God wants him to know that He has noted his words and his insolence and will therefore deal with him for what he is, a recalcitrant. The picture language expresses the reality of what is happening. He may think that he is going back to Assyria of his own volition, but it is actually because God is ‘dragging’ him there. The hook in the nose was, as monuments reveal, Assyria’s regular bestial way of controlling prisoners, and the bridle was especially for guiding and holding back the horses of which he was so proud. So, as Sennacherib’s master, Yahweh will drag him along towards his homeland, in the same way as many prisoners have been dragged, and, as Sennacherib’s rider, He will pull on the reins and direct him back to where he came from. Yahweh would accept Sennacherib’s offer of horses to ride on so contemptuously made. He will use the king himself as a horse to ride on. Sennacherib’s contemptuous offer has rebounded on him (compare Isaiah 36:8).


Verses 30-35

Yahweh’s Assurance of Deliverance to Jerusalem (Isaiah 37:30-35).

At this point Isaiah turns his thoughts back to what Hezekiah really wants to know. What is about to happen to Jerusalem?

Isaiah 37:30

‘And this shall be the sign to you, you will eat this year what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs from that, and in the third year, sow, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit.’

The sign that what he has described will come on Sennacherib is given by a promise of what is to occur in the future (compare Isaiah 7:14-15). While for the next year or so they will have to survive on crops that grow of themselves, they have Yahweh’s promise that by ‘the third year’ they will once again be eating cultivated crops and grapes. (Even if we take it literally this is not exactly three years. Part of the first year had gone so that the period was less than three years). But the sign is found in the promise. The fact that Yahweh could promise crops within three years was a satisfactory sign that His words could be depended on.

The words reveal the practicalities of the situation. What is gathered by the population once the Assyrians have left, ‘what grows of itself’ (compare Leviticus 25:5; Leviticus 25:11) will be sparse. It would be required for survival. For no sowing had taken place since their arrival, and the Assyrians will have made use of much that was there. By the second year enough would grow to enable some to be set aside for sowing. Thus the fuller harvest awaited the third year. The vines would take a little longer to bring under control, but would be sufficient to produce some sort of crop within the period, for some vines would have survived the ordeal. It would be a case of restoring them to fruitfulness. He may also have had in mind that the Assyrian withdrawal would take time.

This incidentally demonstrates that the Assyrian army were still encircling Jerusalem. Had they not been, some sowing would have taken place. People were used to taking advantage of lulls in the fighting in war-torn countries, but here there had been no lull.

Isaiah 37:31-32

‘And the remnant who are escaped of the house of Judah will again take root downwards and bear fruit upwards, for out of Jerusalem will go forth a remnant, and out of Mount Zion they who will escape. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will perform this.’

Then the remnant who remain will flourish. The mention of Mount Zion stresses that this will be Yahweh’s deliverance. It is reminding us that it was because Mount Zion was His earthly dwellingplace, and was in Jerusalem, that Jerusalem will be delivered. Through His power they will have escaped destruction, and will be able to rebuild their shattered lives. We must remember that Jerusalem would not only have its own population but would be packed full with refugees. They will again be able to take root (find security) and bear fruit (enjoy blessing and prosperity).

This is the closest that Isaiah comes to equating Mount Zion with Jerusalem, but its distinction must be maintained. It is not without significance that ‘escaping’ is linked with Mount Zion. They escaped because He was protecting them. The deliverance was Yahweh’s, the result of His zeal on behalf of His people.

The remnant here are not the godly remnant of Isaiah 10:21 but the remnant of Isaiah 1:9, they are survivors, like the one tenth in Isaiah 6:13 a rather than the holy seed of Isaiah 6:13 b. They are, however, a reminder that God is preserving the nation with a view to what He will produce from it in the future.

Isaiah 37:33-34

‘Therefore thus says Yahweh concerning the king of Assyria, “He will not come to this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor will he come before it with a shield, nor cast a mount against it. By the way that he came, by the same he will return, and he will not come to this city,” says Yahweh.’

The besieged city would expect that one day Sennacherib himself would come to supervise the final taking of the city. He would want to be in on the final action, and like kings often liked to do, he would want to fire a symbolic arrow there. But here Yahweh promises that he will not even approach it, never mind arriving and shooting a token arrow, and bearing a shield and supervising the building of a siege mount.

It was typical of even great men that they liked to be thought of as warriors, and to display themselves in armour and have at least a token part in the action so as to mention their presence there in their inscriptions. (Compare the heads of armed forces today who love to display row upon row of medals which mean little). But Sennacherib would not go through these false paces here. His departure to Assyria would be soon enough for this not to happen. He would return to Assyria by the route that he had taken, and it would not lead past Jerusalem.

Interestingly the reliefs in Sennacherib’s former palace illustrate this, for they did portray him as personally viewing the spoils from Lachish, a siege in which he did personally take part. So he did like to be personally connected with his triumphs, a fact which is brought out in these verses.

Alternatively this may be referring to the fact that Jerusalem is ring-fenced by the Assyrian army but not actually under attack, so that Yahweh is saying that that attack will never come.

Note again the fourfold description, “he will not come to this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor will he come before it with a shield, nor cast a mount against it.’

Isaiah 37:35

“For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake, and for the sake of David my servant.”

The defence of the city is not for its own sake but because of His past promises, and because of His future intentions. And especially because of His promises to the Davidic house. His future intentions include within them a crucial place for the line of David, as Isaiah has already made clear, especially in chapters 6-11, even though it will not apply to the current house of David. It is not without significance that David is here called ‘my servant’. This is preparing for Isaiah’s coming revelation concerning God’s Servant, and linking Him back to the coming David.


Verses 36-38

Yahweh Reveals His Omnipotence And His Promise Is Fulfilled (Isaiah 37:36-38).

Having made His ‘boasts’ Yahweh now fulfils them, so much so that within one night the army of Assyria is decimated, and not by a human hand.

Isaiah 37:36

‘And the angel of Yahweh went out and smote in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty five thousand, and when men arose in the morning they were all dead corpses.’

In response to Yahweh’s words the vast army of Assyria was decimated by the Angel of Yahweh, that is, by Yahweh Himself acting through His ‘angel’, His ‘other self’. Compare here 2 Samuel 24:15-17 where a similarly described occurrence was through pestilence. The comparison might suggest that this also was through pestilence. Whether this took place outside Jerusalem or whether it was in the main camp at Libnah, or even in both, we are not told.

Interestingly enough Herodotus speaks of large numbers of vermin being connected with the camp of Assyria around this time when he speaks of ‘a multitude of field mice which by night devoured all the quivers and bows of the enemy, and all the straps by which they held their shields --- next morning they commenced their flight and great numbers fell as they had no arms with which to defend themselves.’ This reflects a plague of vermin which resulted in disaster. Knowing nothing about Bubonic plague the source probably sought some rational explanation of the decimation of the army, for the rats who spread the plague would also eat the edible parts of any armour.

‘One hundred and eighty five thousand’ might signify one hundred and eighty five military units, for eleph could mean ‘a military unit, a captain’. It is unlikely that anyone would count the number of dead in such a situation, while the loss of a certain number of military units would certainly be noted.

We know little about the Assyrian encounter with the Egyptian army. Sennacherib’s account, while claiming victory, is very guarded and his description of the after effects limited to the capture during the battle of certain Egyptian and Ethiopian charioteers and nobles. Had it been a resounding victory he would undoubtedly have said much more. If in fact the Egyptian army came on them after the plague had done its work (as Herodotus words possibly suggests), and after the rumour of Isaiah 37:6 had reached them, and they were in the process of withdrawal, we can appreciate what a mixed up affair it must have been. We might gather from the description that the battle was a stalemate, and sufficient to hasten the Assyrian withdrawal and ensure their non-return for some time.

Isaiah 37:37

‘So Sennacherib, king of Assyria, departed, and went, and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.’

The overall result of his loss of men was that Sennacherib returned to Nineveh with his army. Note the fourfold verbs ‘departed, and went, and returned, and dwelt’, indicating something doubly witnessed and therefore certain. Hezekiah and Jerusalem were able to return to normal life.

Isaiah 37:38

‘And it came about that as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, smote him with the sword, and they escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned instead of him.’

Finally we learn of the assassination of Sennacherib, as God had declared (Isaiah 37:7). This took place through members of his own family. Of course he would have many sons with many different loyalties (always the problem of having too many wives) and attempts at the throne would explain such an assassination. Alternately they may have been gaining revenge for some injury done to them or their families. These were not his actual heirs who in fact would seek to track down the murderers and kill them.

So these three verses are a summary indicating the fulfilment of what God had said He would do and more (Isaiah 37:7). They glorify Yahweh. On His own He had smitten and defeated the Assyrian army, on His own he had caused Sennacherib to leave His land and return to Nineveh, and on His own He had arranged the assassination of him there. To the author it is irrelevant when these things happened. What mattered was that they did happen. In point of fact the assassination took place twenty years later (unless with some we see two invasions by Assyria, the one ending in the treaty that was made (2 Kings 18:14-16), and the other a later act of rebellion. Assyrian records are not intact for this period).

‘Ararat.’ That is Urartu as found in Assyrian inscriptions. It was in the neighbourhood of Lake Van in Armenia and was at this time enjoying a brief revival of strength after its battering by the Cimmerians. The sons clearly saw it as a safe refuge from the wrath of Esarhaddon, Sennacherib’s heir.

The house of Nisroch may possibly be the Temple of Nusku at Nineveh. (This assumes a waw changed to a resh - Nswk becomes Nsrk - whether deliberate or accidental. Although waw and resh are very similar in Hebrew, it is quite possible that the change was deliberate. Such changes were frequently made, sometimes in order to indicate contempt, and at others in order to bring out a specific idea. Note how Arad is also changed to Adra, and Nergal is dropped altogether. It is in order to demonstrate that these deities are unimportant and that their names do not matter). The names Adrammelech and Sharezer probably signify Arad-Melek and Nergal-shar-usur. (Arad and Nergal were two Assyrian deities). On the other hand a western Semitic name is a possibility for one of his sons and would not be unlikely, for Sennacherib was married to, among others, Naqi’a-Zakutu, a woman of western Semitic origin. Shar-usur means ‘he has protected the king’ and we would expect it to be preceded by the name of a god. The late Greek writer Abydenus refers to them as Adramelus and Nergilus.

The Babylonian Chronicle confirms this by telling us that ‘his son killed Sennacherib, king of Assyria, during a rebellion.’ The Nineveh Prism of Esarhaddon says, ‘my brothers raved and did everything that was not good against both gods and men and plotted evil, even drawing the sword within Nineveh against divine authority. They butted against each other like young goats in order to exercise the kingship.’ The Rassam cylinder of Ashurbanipal says ‘I smashed the rest of the people alive by the very figures of the protective deities between which they had smashed Sennacherib, my own grandfather.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 37:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-37.html. 2013.

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