Bible verses: Isaiah 36-37
Have you ever been trapped in a corner with two choices?
Isaiah 36 tells of Judah’s King Hezekiah in a tight situation. King Sennacherib of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah. During this time, Assyria has already crushed neighbouring countries. Judah was a poorly defended country relying on Egypt’s horsemen and military defense and still, its fortified cities were all destroyed. Only a remnant remains – including his three men and Hezekiah. Sennacherib’s field commander meets three of King Hezekiah’s officials in the field and does the following:
- Addresses King Hezekiah as simply Hezekiah, without a title (36:4)
- Taunts Judah’s weakness for depending on Egypt for political alliance (36:6,9)
- Taunts Judah depending on the Lord (36:7)
- Offers them a political alliance/dependence (36:8)
- Insults the name of the Lord by saying “The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.” (36:10)
- Convinces the people not to trust Hezekiah’s promise that God will deliver them since the gods of other nations were not able to save their people. God is no different from these gods (36:13-20)
- Spoke these in Hebrew so that the common people could understand their conversation and be disheartened and afraid. Aramaic was supposed to be used during diplomatic discussions and yet the commander wanted everyone to hear the insults (36:11)
Compare the pride and disrespect of the Assyrians with the people of Judah who:
- Considered themselves as servants of the Assyrians (36:11)
- Did not retaliate a single word because they were commanded by Hezekiah not to answer (36:21)
- Tore their clothes and reported these to Hezekiah (36:22)
Principle 1. Don’t stoop down to your enemy’s level. It is important to note here that the three men and all the people of Judah did not retaliate or answer back to the commander of Assyria. Even if God’s and Hezekiah’s names were being attacked, they remained quiet and respectful because they were commanded by Hezekiah not to answer. I feel like it takes great humility and patience to purse your lips when you are being insulted. I am reminded how people insulted Jesus on the way to the cross. 1 Peter 2:23 says,
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
And this is really my struggle. I have a sharp tongue. Combine that with my huge pride, I just have to be right – all the time. And yet Jesus himself demonstrated perfect humility when He did not retaliate when insulted. He could have sent a lightning to kill the people instantly, but instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. Of course, God’s holy name has to be defended as well, but that will be discussed below.
The story goes on to Isaiah 37 with the message reaching Hezekiah. He tore his clothes and put on a sackcloth and sent for his men to Isaiah asking for the prophet to pray for the remnant that remains – that is, the remaining cities of Judah – not yet destroyed by the enemy. He says that the Assyrians have ridiculed the name of the Living God. God then says:
Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Listen! When he hears a certain report, I will make him want to return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword (37:4)
The taunting of the Assyrians did not stop there. When they were about to fight with the Cushites, Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, sent out another word to King Hezekiah. He says:
Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria. (37:9)
He goes on to mention the gods of the countries his empire has crushed and how they were not able to save them. So how can the God of Hezekiah save Judah when He is no different from the other gods?
Principle 2. God takes his name seriously. Let’s not mess up with God’s name. Let us not use His name for our shallow expressions like OMG, Oh my God, Oh God!, Jesus Christ! His name is a Holy and whoever insults him will be dealt with accordingly.
I am reminded of the verse in Exodus 20:7, which is also the third commandment:
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
God takes His many names seriously.
I used to always say oh my God! as an expression until Exodus 20:7 was discussed one Sunday. I became more conscious of using God’s name in vain. Another way of using God’s name is claiming to be God’s child, thus taking his name (as a child takes his parents’ surnames) but shaming His reputation by our deeds. We also blaspheme God when we belittle Him or compare him to gods. The field commander did not exactly curse God but he said that God cannot rescue Judah and that was enough to stir God’s righteous anger.
In total humility and dependence, Hezekiah did something extraordinary. Instead of gathering his troops, sharpening their swords, readying fortresses, and inspiring his people that God will deliver, he runs to God in the temple, lays out the letter from Sennacherib and prays:
16 “Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.17 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.
18 “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. 19 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands.20 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.
Principle 3. God’s name/reputation should be more important than our lives. Yes, Hezekiah was concerned for his people. He was not just about to lose his life, but the entire nation as well to the Assyrians. If God doesn’t do something, Judah will be wiped out. But more than worrying about his life, he ran to God. And I love how after reading the threat, he went to the temple and prayed. I love how he rolled out the message and told God, “Look, this is what the Assyrians have said to ridicule you.” I love his child-like faith and dependence. He was first and foremost concerned about God’s name. First, he worships God. Then he affirms that the Assyrian kings are powerful. Finally, he pleads God to deliver them not so that he would still be a king or to save his people, but so that the earth may know that He is the only God. Do I also run to God first or do I go and fight battles on my own? Is God’s reputation my priority? Do I make Him known to the entire earth or am I asking for his help only for my own benefit?
In the following verses, God answers Hezekiah through Isaiah and blesses him abundantly (37:30-31) and promises him that the king of Assyria will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here (37:33) because he “prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria” (37:21). I believe that it was the same faith Abraham demonstrated as Paul said in Romans 4:20-21
[…] yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.
In Isaiah 37:38, an angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! An angel. Just one angel. It was not even God. It was just an angel. As for Sennacherib, his sons killed him while he was worshipping his gods – with a small g.
It’s scary to think about how often we misuse God’s name and how we fail to see how holy He is. We often forget how powerful he is, how he can command an angel to to kill 185,000 people in one night. Or how we forget his promise that He will do as he says He will do. There are times when we would trust in small g’s instead of the big G, or depend on alliances with people instead of trusting God. The story in Isaiah 36-37 is an example of how God literally fights our battles when we depend completely in Him, and how important it is to revere His Holy Name.