Isaiah 36-37 Delivered at InterVarsity
I will admit to you that if I am watching someone play sports, I would prefer to see someone who quietly shows up and just gets the job done. Some people really like to watch someone who likes to trash talk their opponent at every opportunity. And if you are one of those types of people, you are going to love the text that we are going to look at this evening.
Our text contains a trash talker who in his pride and arrogance speaks rashly to the LORD and to His people. On the surface, it appears that this man has every right to do so. He is a military of the greatest army of that day. He is serving King Sennecherib who he refers too as the ‘great king’. The army of Assyria have conquered every city that they have come up against. And after they were done ravaging their fortified cities they would burn that cities idols and loot their treasures.
It is because of all of this that the opening verses of our text tonight are so sobering, terrifying and intimidating. These are the words, “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army.” (36:1-2)
The greatest world power is currently standing on Jerusalem’s doorstep with a big army. The army is boastful and arrogant as they have routed all forty-six fortified cities in Judah. None has been able to withstand the attack of the Assyrians.
When the military leader of Assyria comes, he asks a series of questions that set the tone for these two chapters. The military leader, called the Rabshekeh, begins to speak to the people by asking:
On what do you rest this trust of yours?
Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war?
In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me?
I can almost imagine that this army almost believes that Jerusalem should immediately open up the doors to the city and let them come in. They seem to believe that they should lay down their weapons and simply accept the fact that they are already beaten. But when they arrive the guards are stationed in their posts and the gates are closed and barricaded. Therefore the Rabshekeh asks in what they trusted, in whom they were trusting and why they thought that words would somehow be powerful enough to win this war.
Knowing that a siege of the city could take several years Assyria seeks to intimidate and discourage any hope and trust that Judah might have. He does this by beginning to trash talk his opponents so that they would be thrown into confusion and disarray.
First, he attacks their trust in their alliance with Egypt. He does not lie to Judah about the futility of the alliance but speaks truthfully about the weakness of it. Because Assyria has already captured all of the fortified cities there is no clear path for Egypt to come to their rescue. They would be of no help to Judah.
Secondly, he attacks any trust they might have in the Lord. He wrongly suggests the Hezekiah’s righteous reforms would have limited the peoples ability to truly worship the Lord. He says that because Hezekiah has limited the way that the Lord is worshiped that they can expect no help from the LORD.
Thirdly, he mocks their military might and their ability to repulse even a single military captain of Assyria. This would have been very distressing for the people on the walls to listen too. They are out numbered and they are over powered.
Forth, he claims to have the Lord’s favor in this campaign against the people of Judah. How could they hope to win this battle if their own God had authorized this battle and conquest? He also says twice that his intent is to destroy the city and to show them no mercy!
Fifth, he seeks to intimidate the people in Jerusalem by saying, “You are doomed to eat your own dung and to drink your own urine.” I can’t imagine that the moral inside of this city is doing all that well by this time.
Sixth, he begins to speak maliciously and deceitfully of Hezekiah hoping that it would sow seeds of discord within the city. He says, .
Do not let Hezekiah deceive you
Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord
Do not listen to Hezekiah
Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us”
Seventh, he offers the people a peaceful way out if they will surrender. This must have been a tempting promise to these people.
Eighth, he reminds the people of all of the other cities and ‘gods’ who have fallen before the Assyrians. Then he reminds them that they will be no different.
Here is a man who has trash talked the people of Judah in eight different ways. By doing this he hopes to intimidate and scare them into submission.
One of my friends from high school joined the Marines. When Desert Storm began he found himself right there on the front lines as the war broke out. He told me a story that I have never forgotten. The night before the fighting was set to begin the coalition forces sent out special forces to plant white flags in the desert randomly. That night the military detonated concussion bombs that don’t do much damage but they are so loud that they can scare and traumatize the enemy. The next morning when the Iraqi soldiers looked around and saw the white flags they supposed that their fellow soldiers had surrendered and so they came out and surrendered to coalition forces without incident. This was a vivid reminder to me that these sort of mind games really work.
What would you do if you were in their situation?
Would you give up?
Would you surrender?
Would you organize a revolt against Hezekiah?
Isaiah 36:21 shows us how the people in Jerusalem respond. “But they were silent and answered him not a word, for the kings command was, ‘Do not answer him.’”
I observe at least three things in this verse. First, little details in these types of situations really matter. Hezekiah commanded them to remain quiet and this seems like such a minor thing to think about while you are preparing your men for battle. If the Rabshekeh can be a trash talker, why can’t we?
Secondly, we find out that little details like this, when they are obeyed can make all the difference. The Rabshekeh is trying to start a fire with his words but the people of Judah are not giving this fire any oxygen.
Thirdly, we see that the people of Judah are loyal to Hezekiah even under such frightful conditions. They do not turn against him and revolt. This makes me wonder if we are a people of this same character and honor. Or do we change sides quickly if it suits us, like Judas did with Jesus.
We live in a world of Twitter, Facebook, Social Media, 24 hour news, call in radio talk shows, and discussions with our friends. There is not much silence these days. But consider just a few random verses that begin to show the value of being quiet in these moments.
Joshua 6:10 -”You shall not shout or make your voice heard, neither shall any word go out of your mouth, until the day I tell you to shout.”
Proverbs 23:9 - “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.”
1 Peter 3:4 - “...but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”
In Isaiah 37:1 we find Hezekiah’s response to this situation when the messengers return and tell him what has been said. We read, “As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord.” (37:1) He also sends for Isaiah the prophet and asks him to pray for the people.
This verse shows us that Hezekiah feared the Lord more than the Assyrians, that he humbled himself, that he sought the Lord in this moment of distress and that he and Isaiah prayed to the Lord. Would I have done similar things? Do I now do such things?
Because of this response, God promises to deliver them from the hand of Assyrian’s saying, “Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.”
Consider this in light of Matthew 24:6, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See to it that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.”
There is no doubt that wars scare us all. But I do not think that I fully appreciate the fact that rumors of such things can have a devastating effect upon those caught up in them as we will see.
Everything about war scares me. And yet, we also see that ‘rumors of wars’ is not anything better. Rumors are deadly and destructive. Wars can be fought for years but rumors can destroy a nation very quickly
This makes me want to ask a question. Is America a rumor mill? I have found of late that what is true in the morning is proven to be false by noon. And what is called truth at noon is considered false by evening. So if America is a rumor mill, this ought to scare us and make us pray to the Lord!
God immediately begins to fulfill His promise to Hezekiah by sowing a rumor that will mislead Assyria into other conflicts. So the Rabshekeh again tries to discourage the people of Judah lest there be a re-kindling of any hope and confidence.
And this is when we see Hezekiah’s second godly response: “Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the House of the Lord, and spread it before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord...”
There are several things that I really appreciate about Hezekiah’s response. First, Hezekiah received the letter. He did not ignore it and pretend it did not exist. I know that I often try to ignore things that I do not want to deal with. I put off studying for something important. I fail to acknowledge the important tax document that came for me to use for my taxes. I put off looking at a bill that will soon be passed due.
Secondly, Hezekiah read it – the king read the letter. He accepted responsibility for it and this allowed him to be moved to pray and trust in the Lord.
Hezekiah went to the House of the LORD. He did not question God’s promise that he had given through Isaiah earlier. He did not go to the wall to survey the situation. He did not give a pep rally to motivate the troops. He did not go to the strategy room with the generals. No, he did the right thing – he went to the house of the Lord.
He takes the letter and lays it out before the LORD. He did not tear the paper us or dismiss it out of frustration or anger. He used it as evidence, as testimony, as a witness against Assyria before the LORD. I honestly am not sure that I would have thought to do this.
Be aware of the intimidation tactics of your enemy.
Remember the value of remaining silent. Give your words to prayer and praise. Isaiah 41:1 - “Listen to me in silence, O coast lands; let the peoples renew their strength; let them approach, then let them speak; let us together draw near for judgment.”
Know the damage rumors cause and don’t engage in them.
If we will be obedient to be silent towards our enemy, engage in prayer and praise repeatedly, then God will have the last word and action! - Consider Isaiah 41:14