The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Isaiah 37

Isa 37:2

HE SENT ELIAKIM THE PALACE ADMINISTRATOR, SHEBNA THE SECRETARY, AND THE LEADING PRIESTS, ALL WEARING SACKCLOTH, TO THE PROPHET ISAIAH SON OF AMOZ: Then the king sent some of his highest officials and some of the leading priests, who were also in mourning, to visit Isaiah. Notice that Hezekiah did not summon Isaiah into his presence. This reflects the respect that the king felt for the prophet (cp 2Ki 6:12).

Isa 37:3

Vv 3,4: The leaders of Judah, speaking for their king, acknowledged that he had come to the end of his rope. The Assyrian invasion of Judah had been like labor pains for the king, but now the crisis had peaked and there was no human strength left to expel the enemy. Hezekiah confessed that he deserved the adversity that had overtaken him, which had signaled an end of hope and resulted in great embarrassment. Yet he did not appeal for divine help on the basis of his own needs but because of the Lord's honor and the needs of His people (cp 1Sa 17:26,36). The king appealed for Isaiah's prayers on behalf of the remnant, the remaining Jews who had not already been devoured by the Assyrians.

"This kind of admission of helplessness is frequently a necessity before divine help can be received. So long as we believe that we only need some assistance, we are still treating ourselves as lords of the situation, and that latent pride cuts us off from all that God would give us" (Oswalt).

AS WHEN CHILDREN COME TO THE POINT OF BIRTH AND THERE IS NO STRENGTH TO DELIVER THEM: This lament is answered by God in Isa 66:9: "Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?"

Isa 37:12

GOZAN: A region along the Habor River near the Euphrates where the Israelites deported from Samaria were settled (2Ki 17:6; 18:11).

HARAN: An ancient city in Mesopotamia, west of Ur.

REZEPH: A city in eastern Syria, an oasis c 80 mi north of Palmyra. Sennacherib's commander, in a message to Hezekiah (2Ki 19:12; Isa 37:12), mentioned it as an example of cities captured by the Assyrians. The city at the time of this message had been in Assyrian hands for at least a century. It was probably incorporated as a part of Assyria by Shalmaneser III after his campaign in that region in 838 BC.

TEL ASSAR: One of the cities in northern Mesopotamia inhabited by the people of Eden (Heb "bene Eden", abbreviation of "bene-Beth-Eden"; cf Amos 1:5; Eze 27:23) -- mentioned in the letter of Sennacherib to Hezekiah as conquered by the previous Assyrian kings (cp 2Ki 19:12). In the area of Akkadian Bit-Adini (Beth-eden) along the middle Euphrates was situated Til Ashuri, "mound of Ashur," mentioned in inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser III.

Isa 37:13


HENA: A city conquered by Assyria, its exact location unknown. Since the name means "low" and the city is mentioned with two other cities on the Orontes River, Hamath and Arpad, Hena probably was in the same general area (2Ki 18:34; 19:13).

IVAH: A city conquered by the Assyrians, according to the boast of Rabshakeh, a representative of Sennacherib (2Ki 18:34; 19:13). Although its exact location has not been determined, it apparently was in Babylonia and perhaps is to be identified with Ava (2Ki 17:24) from which the Assyrians took people to occupy Samaria after its fall.

Isa 37:14

HEZEKIAH RECEIVED THE LETTER FROM THE MESSENGERS AND READ IT. THEN HE WENT UP TO THE TEMPLE OF THE LORD AND SPREAD IT OUT BEFORE THE LORD: Here is an example of a person who made a special effort to bring his problem to God. He didn't just stop and pray where he was. He went up to the House of the Lord, and he took the letter with him and presented it before God. He made a special effort to arrange circumstances that he felt God would accept. God is there for those who arrange their hearts in humility, and make the effort to present themselves a living sacrifice before Him. Our 'House of the Lord' is embodied in Jesus. This is where we must meet with God.

Isa 37:16

Vv 16-20: Hezekiah began his prayer -- did Isaiah witness it? -- by acknowledging Yahweh's uniqueness; He was not like the gods of the nations but the only true God, who dwelt among His people, the creator who rules and determines everything. He asked the living God to pay attention to the reproachful blasphemies of the Assyrian king. He acknowledged the Assyrians' superiority over the nations they had overrun, but he ascribed this to the fact that those nations had only gods of wood and stone to defend them. Finally, he asked God to deliver Jerusalem so the nations would know that Yahweh alone was God. In short, he prayed for the glory of God.

ENTHRONED BETWEEN THE CHERUBIM: God's presence above and with the Ark of the Covenant: Num 7:89; Psa 68:33; 18:10. Here, God dwelt with Judah as their real king, who fought their battles -- as Hezekiah here acknowledges.

YOU ALONE ARE GOD OVER ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE EARTH: Here is the crux of the matter: is Yahweh God of Israel the ONLY true God, or not?

Isa 37:22

THE DAUGHTER OF JERUSALEM: A phrase used almost exclusively in the context of deliverance from the enemy (2Ki 19:21; Isa 37:22; Lam 2:13,15; Mic 4:8; Zep 3:14; Zec 9:9).

Isa 37:24

I HAVE CUT DOWN ITS TALLEST CEDARS: An allusion to Solomon's "house of the forest of Lebanon" (1Ki 7:2), which became the armory of Jerusalem. Cp also Jer 22:6,7,23; Isa 2:13; 10:34; Eze 17:3.

Isa 37:25

WITH THE SOLES OF MY FEET I HAVE DRIED UP ALL THE STREAMS OF EGYPT: In other words, even great rivers proved no hindrance to the advancing Assyrian armies -- for they had means of diverting the waters or damming them, or otherwise crossing them.

Isa 37:27

THEY ARE LIKE... GRASS SPROUTING ON THE ROOF, SCORCHED BEFORE IT GROWS UP: Cp Hezekiah's psalm: "May they be like grass on the roof, which withers before it can grow" (Psa 129:6).

Isa 37:29

I WILL PUT MY HOOK IN YOUR NOSE AND MY BIT IN YOUR MOUTH...: On some monuments Assyrian conquerors pictured themselves as leading their captives with a line that passed through rings that they had placed in the victims' noses (cp Isa 30:28; Eze 38:4; Job 41:1,2). God promised to do to them as they had done to others (cp Gal 6:7).

Isa 37:30

THIS WILL BE THE SIGN FOR YOU, O HEZEKIAH: "THIS YEAR YOU WILL EAT WHAT GROWS BY ITSELF, AND THE SECOND YEAR WHAT SPRINGS FROM THAT. BUT IN THE THIRD YEAR SOW AND REAP, PLANT VINEYARDS AND EAT THEIR FRUIT": An immediate sign helped Hezekiah believe in the long range deliverance God promised (v 29). Signs were either predictions of natural events, which came to pass and thus confirmed the prediction (cp Exo 3:12; 1Sa 2:34; Jer 44:29), or outright miracles that proved God's work in history (cp Isa 7:14; 38:7) (KD). The Israelites had not been able to plant crops around Jerusalem because of the besieging Assyrians. God promised to feed His people for two years with what came up naturally. This was a blessing of fertility for trust and obedience (cp Deu 28:33). In the third year they would again return to their regular cycle of sowing and reaping.

This is reminiscent of the language of the year of release or Jubilee. Thus an indication that this year was a seventh year, and that Israel's experience of God's provisions for that year would indicate that they could trust in His promise to deliver them from the Assyrian.

Isa 37:31

ONCE MORE A REMNANT OF THE HOUSE OF JUDAH WILL TAKE ROOT BELOW AND BEAR FRUIT ABOVE: Like the crops, the remnant of the people left after the invasions of Israel and Judah would also multiply under God's blessing.

Isa 37:32

FOR OUT OF JERUSALEM WILL COME A REMNANT, AND OUT OF MOUNT ZION A BAND OF SURVIVORS. THE ZEAL OF THE LORD ALMIGHTY WILL ACCOMPLISH THIS: Yahweh would preserve a people for Himself from among the people of Jerusalem. This would include the Davidic line of kings, as He had promised (2Sa 7:16; cp Isa 9:6). His own zeal to remain true to His word and to bless His people would perform this (cp Isa 9:7; 59:17). It would not depend on the faithfulness of His people (cp 2Ti 2:13).

Isa 37:35

I WILL DEFEND THIS CITY AND SAVE IT: The deliverance of God's city and His people there probably occurred at the time of Passover (cp Isa 26:20,21; 30:29; 31:5,8).

Hezekiah's defenses (2Ch 32:3-5) were unimportant after all!

Isa 37:36

Vv 36-38: Isaiah had predicted that God would break Assyria's power in the Promised Land (Isa 14:24-27). This short section records how He miraculously fulfilled that promise. This divine act of massive proportions settled the issue of Assyria's fate and provided the crowning demonstration that Yahweh controls world history.

See Lesson, Sennacherib, destruction.

THEN THE ANGEL OF THE LORD WENT OUT AND PUT TO DEATH A HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-FIVE THOUSAND MEN IN THE ASSYRIAN CAMP: The Lord Himself slew 185,000 of the Assyrian soldiers in one night. Evidently this was an act of the angel of the Lord similar to the slaying of the Egyptian firstborn before the Exodus (Exo 12:12,1323; cp 2Sa 24:1,15,16; Luke 12:20).

And how would such an immense number of corpses be disposed of? By burning with lime (Isa 33:11,12).

PUT TO DEATH: The verb "put to death" implies smiting with a disease.

Things and circumstances can change, as it were, in a moment, or as in this case, over night. What may be deemed most important and precious one day can become trivial the next day.

In these closing days of Gentile times we should be keeping our eyes, thoughts and actions on "the joy set before us" Or as Heb 10:25 tells us: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."

Three accounts have been left by the Assyrian monarch himself of his campaign against Israel and Judah. The most famous is the six-sided prism known as the Taylor Prism. Sennacherib described in detail how he came against the cities of Israel and then Judah, and 'Hezekiah himself I shut up in Jerusalem his capital city like a bird in a cage.' Many smaller towns and villages fell. The might of all Assyria was marshaled against Hezekiah. But the Taylor Prism does not record the defeat of Hezekiah or the fall of Jerusalem as one would expect. Sennacherib returned to Nineveh his capital city. The boastful account ends not in triumph but with an anticlimax. What had happened? What made Sennacherib withdraw at the last moment? This v explains. In addition to the evidence of Sennacherib's own account, in 1938 the archaeologist Starkey found a mass grave outside the city of Lachish, which Sennacherib had conquered and which was the base for the Assyrian move to Jerusalem. In the Lachish grave were two thousand human skeletons evidently thrown in with great haste. Here was the reason for Sennacherib's sudden withdrawal.

Isa 37:37

SO SENNACHERIB KING OF ASSYRIA BROKE CAMP AND WITHDREW. HE RETURNED TO NINEVEH AND STAYED THERE: Sennacherib, the great "king of Assyria" (cp Isa 36:4,13), then returned to Assyria having lost a large part of his army and having heard a rumor about the advancing Ethiopian king (vv 7-9). He lived in Nineveh for 20 years before his death, and he conducted other military campaigns, but none in Palestine.

Isa 37:38

ONE DAY, WHILE HE WAS WORSHIPING IN THE TEMPLE OF HIS GOD NISROCH, HIS SONS ADRAMMELECH AND SHAREZER CUT HIM DOWN WITH THE SWORD, AND THEY ESCAPED TO THE LAND OF ARARAT. AND ESARHADDON HIS SON SUCCEEDED HIM AS KING: Ironically, it was while worshipping in the temple of his idol in Nineveh that God affected Sennacherib's assassination. "And so he died ignominiously in the very shadow of a useless deity" (WIsa 62). By contrast, it was while worshipping the true God in His temple in Jerusalem that God moved to spare Hezekiah's life. The Babylonian royal chronicles recorded the assassination of Sennacherib and the accession of Esarhaddon in 681 BC (Pritchard). It was not the Assyrian way to record their national disasters, so it is understandable that archaeologists have discovered no Assyrian accounts of Sennacherib's humiliations.

The same event was recorded for the library at Nineveh and the clay tablet of the record is now in the British Museum: 'On the twentieth day of the month Tebet Sennacherib king of Assyria his son slew him in rebellion... Esarhaddon his son sat on the throne of Assyria.'

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