The next few chapters, chapters 36-39, are referred to as an historical interlude. It's very specific to the reign of Judah's King Hezekiah.
This cross-references with II Kings 18 and II Chronicles 32. These four chapters are almost verbatim of the II Kings account.
Verse 1 sets the timeframe for us, the fourteenth year of Hezekiah's reign. Ryrie footnote places this at 701 B.C.
It's a rough start.
...Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and seized them.Isaiah 36:1b
This is a mass tragedy. The Assyrians were cruel and brutal people. For them to seize all of the walled cities of Judah means that a very large proportion of the population was subject to terror and murder. I point this out because sometimes when I think about this story I have it in my head that God saved Judah; but that's not precise. God saved Jerusalem (spoiler alert)--which means Judah was saved--but not the way Jerusalem was saved. Jerusalem is Zion. It's God's city. That really matters. It matted back then and it matters now.
In verses 2-3, Sennacherib sends his official, Rabshakeh, with a large army to stand outside walls of Jerusalem. Three envoys from Judah came out to meet Rabshakeh.
In verses 4-6 Rabshakeh wants to send a message to Hezekiah- where does your confidence come from? You have only empty words to defend yourself. Now that your in rebellion against Assyria, on whom will you rely? Egypt? They're a flimsy reed...can't rely on them...
But then Rabshakeh makes a miscalculation. In verse 7. He extends his rhetorical questions about where Hezekiah finds his confidence to the Lord. But Rabshakeh is misinformed. He basically asks, how can you trust in your Lord after Hezekiah has taken down the altars in the high places, confusing this false idol worship with something that would please Hezekiah's king. One reason Hezekiah CAN count on the Lord is that Hezekiah WAS faithful to remove the false worship.
Assyria was right to mock Egypt as a savior...but didn't know the Lord they dared to try and use against the king of Judah.
Next, in verse 8, Rabshakeh makes an peace offer, but it's dripping with sarcasm, so it's unlikely it was sincere. Assyria had just seized the rest of Judah's walled city; I doubt they saw a need to negotiate. He offered 2000 horses, but then doubted whether Hezekiah had enough horsemen to cover the mounts.
And then in verse 10, brazenly, Rabshakeh claims that he sought approval from the Lord to come up against "this land" and destroy it.
Hezekiah's envoys then request in verse 11 that Rabshakeh speak in Aramaic so the people of Jerusalem, listening in from the wall, wouldn't be able to understand. The Ryrie footnote said that Aramaic was becoming the standard language, but wasn't yet.
In verse 12 Rabshakeh refuses to change languages because he claimed his message wasn't just for Hezekiah and the envoys but for all the people inside who would end up eating and drinking dung and urine due to the siege.
Then he yelled to the people of Jerusalem. He inferred that Hezekiah would deceive them and claim he could deliver them. And then he blatantly denied that the Lord could save them from the king of Assyria. He actually said, "...nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord..."
That takes me breath away a little bit. I can clearly picture the serpent wrapped around a tree branch explaining to Eve that she doesn't need to believe God. She can trust her own expertise of which fruit she should eat. And I can picture an infinite number of times that the devil whispered in my ear not to trust the Lord. My heart should fear because things are hopeless and I am alone with my problem. Under siege and desperate. Lies, lies, lies. God has more than proven to Hezekiah and the people of Judah, as well as Eve and I WHO HE IS.
I've been in a season for awhile that's uncomfortable and unsettled. I don't know if I a day left of dealing with it or if it's a thorn in my side for a long time to come. And I hear this taunt from the enemy regularly...it's robbed me of sleep and peace and it's made me grumpy and distracted. But it is a lie. The Lord is faithful and good. His goodness and mercy, surely, will follow me all of the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. I will walk by faith, not by sight (II Cor 5:7).
It's essential to call out the lie and stand on who God is.
Back to the text.
In verse 16, Rabshakeh goes on to tell them not to listen to Hezekiah, but that the king of Assyria has a deal to make with them. If they make peace with him and come out from behind the wall of Jerusalem:
- they get to go back to their own vineyards and fig trees and their own water
- this arrangement lasts until the king of Assyria arrives to take them away to land similar to theirs, one with grain, and wine, and bread, and vineyards...
He warns them to beware of Hezekiah misleading them. He points out that the god of all the previous nations failed when the king of Assyria laid siege. And Hezekiah's assurance that, ..." the Lord will deliver us." will end like all of the others. He goes on to start listing vanquished people whose gods let them down. He ends by asking that if none of these other gods could help their people, should they really expect the Lord to deliver Jerusalem from the king of Assyria.
But they were silent and answered him not a word; for the king's commandment was, "Do not answer him."Isaiah 36:21
I love that.
For ALL of them to hold their tongues; for NONE of them to crack to fear or pride...amazing. Was it confidence in Hezekiah? Confidence in the Lord? Both? Holy Spirit-assisted silence? It doesn't tell us. But sometimes, the best thing we can say to the enemy is ...nothing.
A few years ago there was a catch phrase going around, "not today, Satan." I saw it on t-shirts worn by Christians and I heard it from a lot of people. Here's the thing, don't talk to Satan. And don't taunt the enemy of your heart. Talk to Jesus. He's the one who is holy enough and strong enough to talk to demons. They've had centuries to practice their craft and our few decades of life doesn't offer us as much experiences as we think. When the devil put a thorn in Paul's side, he talked to God about it. I strongly recommend that you do the same. Stay silent to the enemy and follow the advice of your King. (And, as an aside, that catch phrase didn't come from a godly source at all; it came from a very worldly TV show that shouldn't be inspiring Christians at all.)
Verse 22, the final verse in the chapter, describes the three envoys coming to Hezekiah with their clothes torn to tell him the words of Rabshakeh.
Pretty low point for everyone. The people are probably scared. The envoys are disheartened to the point of tearing their clothes. And now the king has some hard choices to make.
Great cliffhanger material if this were a TV show.