Isaiah 36 and the three chapters that follow provide the reader with an informative historical interlude from the reign of Hezekiah. Hezekiah was a good king in Judah in the days when both Israel and Judah were threatened by the power of the Assyrian empire. Israel fell to this foe from the east, and much of Judah also suffered from Assyrian domination, but Hezekiah and Jerusalem were spared the final indignity of the destruction of the city where David and his descendants once reigned. Jerusalem would instead fall by the hand of the Babylonians more than a century later.
Sennacherib was the king of Assyria in Hezekiah’s day, and he sent a high official to bring a message from the head of the empire to Hezekiah and to the people of Jerusalem. His visit took place after the other fortified cities of Judah had already been captured. The high official, called here the Rabshakeh, came to Jerusalem with a large army. He came to a public place where the officials of Judah and the populace as a whole could hear his message, and he spoke in the language of the common man.
What message did the Rabshakeh bring? Those who seek to deceive the people of the Lord in any age do not speak pure lies, or they would be more easily dismissed. They try to catch people in the net of despair with the bait of half-truths.
First, the true part: Sennacherib was indeed a powerful man as the king of Assyria, and mere words would not save people from the kind of military danger they faced at that time. Also, the people of Judah did have a tendency to place their trust in foreign alliances. God Himself had told them earlier in Isaiah that Egypt would not be able to save them from the Assyrians. Further, Hezekiah had in fact removed some places of worship where the people had turned for help in the past. Judah was vastly outnumbered by the Assyrians. The Lord God was certainly involved in directing foreign powers to come up against His own people. As the Rabshakeh insisted, it was not just the leaders who were in danger from the Assyrians, but a fight against Sennacherib and a siege against Jerusalem would very likely mean starvation and disease for the people who would try to survive that assault from within the city. Finally, the other nations, including Israel and Samaria, had found resistance to the Assyrians futile, and their local gods that they worshiped had not been able to deliver them from the Assyrians, who had plans to eventually resettle the remaining people of Judah in other places. All of this was true.
What then was untrue? The Rabshakeh suggested that to trust in the Lord would not work for the people of Judah. This was a wicked falsehood. He tried to suggest that the Lord was in the same category as the idols of the nations, again a horrible deception. Not all approaches to supposed gods need to be seen as equal. The gods of the nations were idols and demons. The Lord Jehovah made and governed the heavens and the earth. Hezekiah had removed certain places of worship, but these were places of false devotion, not sacred spaces that God had authorized. While God had used the Assyrians and others to discipline His people, it was not God’s will to see Jerusalem destroyed at that time. Humility before God and an earnest plea to Him in faith would not be wasted breath. God would actually hear the plea of His servants.
God would deliver His people from this powerful foe in a very amazing way. We can appreciate that fact today. It was much harder for the ranking men who had to bring such a provocative message of the Assyrian official to the king of Judah in their own era. Chapter 36 closes with their evil report coming to the ears of the king in Jerusalem.
When we think of the King over the church today, we know that He also faced the challenge of half-truths and lies as Satan attempted to move Jesus in the direction of fear and sin. That serpent of old even used the words of the Bible to try to confuse God’s faithful servant. How did Jesus respond? He recognized the dishonest use of the Scriptures as a subtle attack that needed to be resisted. He fought back with the true proclamation of the Word of God. He would not yield Himself to His unclean adversary for even a moment. Instead He was utterly committed to the One against whom devils had rebelled so long ago when they first fell from their lofty heights.
Our Lord reigns as the King Supreme over the heavenly Jerusalem. He has accomplished His victory over sin and death for us by taking upon Himself the penalty for all that is unrighteous in us. We must not shrink in fear as followers of Jesus today. We need not answer the proud boasts of the devil. The Lord will rebuke him. The Almighty will give Satan His final answer one day by casting this fallen angel into a lake of fire. Our delight is that we are on the side of a righteous and powerful Ruler. He has satisfied divine justice with His own body and blood on the cross. Jesus has accomplished all that was necessary for us to experience the fullness of divine love.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Lord God, Your adversary comes against us making accusations. He would entice us away from the path of faith with deceptive words. He would sift us as wheat for our destruction. Father, You are so different from him. You bring trials to Your people for a good purpose. Your discipline of us is a part of Your merciful plan of grace. Our enemy seeks only evil. He works for our destruction. You are the Lord, and You will deliver Your Jerusalem out of his hand.