Sunday, May 04, 2008

Weekly Meditations: Is. 36-37 (part 2)

[continued from here]

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. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer's Field. 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.

And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: 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? 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. 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”? 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. 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? 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.’”

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.” 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?”

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! Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you. 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.” 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, 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. 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? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 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?’”

But they were silent and answered him not a word, for the king's command was, “Do not answer him.” 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. (Is. 36)

As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, ‘This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’”

When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: 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.’”

The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “He has set out to fight against you.” And when he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’”

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: “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 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 were destroyed. So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.”

Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:

“‘She despises you, she scorns you—the virgin daughter of Zion; she wags her head behind you—the daughter of Jerusalem.

“‘Whom have you mocked and reviled? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes to the heights? Against the Holy One of Israel! By your servants you have mocked the Lord, and you have said, With my many chariots I have gone up the heights of the mountains, to the far recesses of Lebanon, to cut down its tallest cedars, its choicest cypresses, to come to its remotest height, its most fruitful forest. I dug wells and drank waters, to dry up with the sole of my foot all the streams of Egypt.

“‘Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass, that you should make fortified cities crash into heaps of ruins, while their inhabitants, shorn of strength, are dismayed and confounded, and have become like plants of the field and like tender grass, like grass on the housetops, blighted before it is grown.

“‘I know your sitting down and your going out and coming in, and your raging against me. Because you have raged against me and your complacency has come to my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will turn you back on the way by which you came.’

“And this shall be the sign for you: this year you shall eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs from that. Then in the third year sow and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh. And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword. And after they escaped into the land of Ararat, Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place. (Is. 37)

Chapter 37 opens with King Hezekiah hearing from his officials the taunts of the Assyrian Rabshakeh (37:1). With the taunts of the Rabshakeh in his ears, King Hezekiah sent his representative, Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests to enquire of God through Isaiah the prophet (37:2). Knowing the sheer hopelessness of the situation, Hezekiah called upon the Lord in admission of weakness and helplessness, likening himself and Judah to a woman who has not the strength to bring forth her children at the point of birth (37:3). Noting the blasphemy uttered against the living God by the Rabshakeh; the general of the Assyrian army, Hezekiah called upon God to vindicate His name and rebuke the Rabshakeh (37:4).

Isaiah the prophet, in response to Hezekiah's enquiry, conveyed the word of God to Hezekiah and Judah. God has indeed heard the young Assyrian general blaspheming His name and mocking Him, and judgment has already been pronounced against the king of Assyria who is behind all this (37:6). God has proclaimed certain doom for King Sennacherib, that he would withdraw against Judah to fight off another aggressor, and that he would die in his own land by the sword (37:7). And indeed it was so. The Rabshakeh returned to find Sennacherib fighting against Libnah (37:8), and that Tirhakah king of Cush (an ally of Egypt) has marched out with his army to oppose him too (37:9). All of this of course would divert the Assyrian campaign to conquer Judah, and thus aid her. The Rabshakeh saw that Judah would be given a reprive for now, but probably angry that he could not defeat Jerusalem as he intended to due to the military intervention of Egypt's allies, he shoots forth a second tirade against Hezekiah and YHWH pronouncing their doom as sure (37:10-13). He thus mocks Hezekiah and his faith in God, comparing them to the rulers and gods of the nations which Assyria has conquered so far, furthermore taunting them that these nations have been utterly destroyed, being slaughtered as a sacrifice devoted to the [Assyrian] gods (charam (Heb.) — to be devoted unto destruction) (37:11), so what more they?

With this, God's honor and glory is at stake. The Assyrians wiped out their enemies as a sacrifice unto their gods, and the Assyrian officer threatened to do the same for Judah and YHWH. Such blasphemy and challenge will not go unanswered. Hezekiah offered the blasphemous, mocking letter before the Lord in the temple, and prayed to God about it (37:14). In Hezekiah's prayer, Hezekiah called upon the true Creator God to incline His ear to hear the mocking words of Sennacherib and his officer, and punish them and save Judah to exonerate His Great Name. Acknowledging the fact that Sennacherib has wiped out nations and desecrate their gods; casting them into the fire, Hezekiah pointed out that they were not true gods but the work of men's hands, wood and stone, and thus useless and unable to deliver their people from the Assyrians (37:15-19). Yet YHWH is living and true, and Hezekiah called upon Him to magnify and glorify His Name in destroying proud and arrogant Assyria and saving Judah from Sennacherib's power (37:20).

In response to Hezekiah's humble request, God send a prophecy through Isaiah the prophet against Sennacherib and the Assyrians (37:21-22a). In this prophecy, we can see God's reponse to those who mock His name, and His hot, fiery wrath would fall upon them soon.

God first states that Judah (representing God's people, the Church) mocks the Assyrians (37:22b). He rebukes Assyria and mocks them in return, calling them to see the Majesty of the High and Lofty One they in their degenerate foolishness have reviled (37:23). The military achievements of the Assyrian Empire were boasted of as showing how powerful they were in subduing the nations and terrifying even their competitor Egypt (37:24-25). Yet God rebuked them, for ultimately it was He that have determined their strength and given them their might. God has predetermined their victories and conquests of nations; that they would conquer and subjuate peoples in destroying these nations and their cultures (37:26-27), thus they actually have nothing to boast about, for their power was given to them by God to accomplish His purpose. Yet they credit it to their false gods, and blaspheme the God who is actually the Person giving them the victory over their enemies.

With this, God pronounces judgment upon the arrogant instrument of His wrath Assyria. God states His knowledge of Sennacherib's hatred towards Him, and pronounces that He Himself will turn against Assyria. He would 'put His hook in Sennacherib's nose, and His bit in His mouth' (37:28-29), basically reducing him to size by making situations turn against him. Isaiah further prophesies that Sennacherib and the Assyrian army would not even mount any from of attack against Jerusalem, but would return back to Assyria through the same route they came (37:33-34), as the LORD Himself has taken up the defence of the city Jerusalem against Assyria for the sake of His Name which was blasphemed by the Assyrians, and for his servant David (37:35)

As for Judah, God promises restoration from the oppression of the Assyrians, and that within three years they would be able to sow and reap the fruits of their harvests (37:30). God promises also that Judah as a nation would re-establish itself from the remnant after the terrifying devastation and possible deportation of the Jews during the the Assyrian invasion. The LORD Himself would ensure that this is the case, for His Name's sake (37:31-32).

Verse 36-38 tells us of the terrible judgment that awaits the Assyrians as God moved against them. The angel of the LORD moved against the Assyrian army, supernaturally eliminating 185,000 Assyrian troops which includes all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the camp of the king of Assyria (2 Chron. 32:21). Needless to say, such a great loss meant the premature end of the Assyrian military campaign, and the disgrace of Sennacherib who retreated to the capital Nineveh in shame (Is. 37:37). Back in Nineveh, God's judgment fell against Sennacherib as Isaiah had prophesied, with Sennacherib being struck down by the sword by his two sons (Adrammelech and Sharezer) while he was worshipping the Assyrian god Nisroch, and his son Esarhaddon succeeded him as ruler. Such a blow to Assyria naturally impeded her further imperalistic designs and gave Judah peace, for some time at least.

[to be continued]

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