Isaiah 36:1 Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah
Not much of the book of Isaiah is historical in nature. We are told from the outset that Isaiah was prophet during the reign of four kings, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. His prophetic mission started near the end of Uzziah’s reign (Isa. 6:1) and spanned approximately 40 years from that time. So by the time we get to the 14th year of Hezekiah, Isaiah is nearing the end of his prophetic ministry. His reputation is well established; and his opinion is respected.
We wish we knew more about his personal life and ministry.
Isaiah 36:1 Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them
In the 4th to the 6th years of Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib laid siege on Samaria—the kingdom of Israel. Eventually, the siege worked and the Assyrians sacked the northern kingdom and transplanted the survivors in Assyrian territories (2 Kgs. 18:9-12). Thus began the scattering of Israel and the departure of the ten tribes. Hezekiah knew the kingdom of Judah was next. The record lauds his resilience, “he clave to the Lord… and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not” (2 Kgs. 19:6-7), which means he wouldn’t pay him off. This was dangerous because Hezekiah’s army was no match for Assyria’s. Instead, Hezekiah trusted in the Lord to deliver him.
Hezekiah was expected to pay tribute to Sennacherib but refused until Sennacherib sent his armies against the walled cities of Judah. Then, Hezekiah changed his mind and paid him 300 talents of silver and 30 talents of gold—all the silver in the temple and the royal stash. Hezekiah even cut the gold plating off the doors of the temple to placate Sennacherib (2 Kgs. 18:14-16). Sennacherib was wreaking havoc in the entire region. No one could stop him and Hezekiah’s offer was too little, too late. So he sent ambassadors to give Hezekiah an ultimatum.
Isaiah 36:2 Rabshakeh… stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field
The waterways of Jerusalem were key to the survival of the city. The Assyrians had already choked out the northern kingdom with a siege. The upper pool is really the main water supply of Jerusalem. That may be why Rabshakeh stood by the upper pool outside the wall, as if to say, “We can divert this pool and cut off your water. Just how long do you think you can last if we do that?”
This spot is also where Isaiah met king Ahaz (Isa. 7:3) to counsel him and prophecy that a virgin would conceive and bear a son (Isa. 7:14). Interestingly, at this same location, Isaiah foretold Ahaz of the Assyrian attack, the exact location where Rabshakeh would challenge Jerusalem, “The Lord shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people… the king of Assyria… and they shall come, and shall rest all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the holes of the rocks, and upon all thorns, and upon all bushes (Isa 7:17, 19).” A huge army would be outside the walls of Jerusalem in every nook, cranny, and hiding place just awaiting the command to destroy the city of Jerusalem. The conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field was a place for bad news, except that part about a virgin conceiving and the birth of the Messiah!
Isaiah 36:3 Then came forth unto him, Eliakim… Shebna… and Joah
These are Hezekiah’s top advisors who come to talk about a diplomatic resolution. They have no bargaining power, and they know it.
Isaiah 36:6 trustest in the staff of this broken reed, on Egypt: whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand and pierce it.
This is the author’s favorite Bible imagery describing Egypt. If you trust in Egypt, it is like leaning on the sharp end of an arrow or a reed from the Nile. You get no support, and all you get is blood and pain. Egypt is in decline but still tries to be a dominant player in the region. Hezekiah is too wise to trust in them. He knows an alliance with them is worthless.
Isaiah 36:7 We trust in the Lord our God
Hezekiah has great faith! He is ready to lay it all on the line, to put the fate of his entire kingdom in the hands of God. Is this just another biblical cliché? If the fate of the entire kingdom rested in your hands, could you trust in the Lord like Hezekiah? The situation looks impossible. You have no way out—no one to turn to who can match the Assyrian army. You have snubbed your nose at Sennacherib for some 8 years and now he has come to even the score. He has taken every powerful city in the kingdom but Jerusalem itself (Isa. 8:8). There is little reason to think Jerusalem will be spared.
Isaiah 36:7 Is it not he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away?
Rabshakeh is quite shrewd, but he doesn’t have his facts straight. Prior to Hezekiah’s reign, the people were worshipping idols in their high places and offering incense upon their idolatrous altars. When Hezekiah gets in power, he cleans up shop and destroys the high places and idolatry (2 Chron. 31:1). Rabshakeh doesn’t know to distinguish between the true God of Abraham, and the false gods that the Jews were worshipping prior to Hezekiah. He thought the high places and altars were for worshipping Jehovah.
Isaiah 36:8 therefore give pledges… to my master the king
Hezekiah does not have the riches of Solomon. He has no way of giving more to Assyrian without exacting a heavy tax on the people. He has already emptied the royal coffers and cut the gold plating off the temple doors. He can’t give anymore and his ambassadors know it.
Isaiah 36:10 the Lord said unto me, Go up against this land, and destroy it
Now Rabshakeh claims he is a prophet with a divine directive to destroy Jerusalem! We will see how this works out for him.
Isaiah 36:14-15 Let not Hezekiah deceive you… Nether let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord
Rabshakeh is starting to offend the God of Israel. “Don’t trust in Hezekiah; don’t trust in God; don’t trust in Egypt! None of them can save you!”
What about trusting in God? What had the Jews been promised already?
· Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding (Prov. 3:5)
· Whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe (Prov. 29:25, Does that include protection from a huge Assyrian army?)
· Blessed are all they that put their trust in him (Ps 2:12)
· Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God (Ps. 20:7)
· Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them (Ps 22:4)
· Thou hast saved us from our enemies, and hast put them to shame that hated us (Ps. 44:7)
· The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels (Ps 68:17)
· In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me (Ps 86:7)
The list could be much longer, but you get the idea. We are used to trusting in the Lord on spiritual matters, but how about temporal matters; how about life and death? What about when the odds are overwhelmingly against us?
This people have to learn that the Lord is God, that He rules among the armies of heaven, and does His pleasure among the inhabitants of the earth. They have to be brought to the test, as much so as were the children of Israel when the Egyptians were in their rear, when mountains were on either side, and the Red Sea was before them, with no human prospect for avoiding destruction, yet the Lord brought them salvation. This people have got to trust in Him, and learn that He will be with His people, and provide for His Saints, and defend them against their enemies, and watch over them as a mother watches over her tender infant. We have got to learn the ways of the Lord. (Journal of Discourses, 2:280)
Isaiah 36:18-19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arphad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim?
This is the pride of Assyria, “We are stronger than gods. The gods of Hamath and Arphad were no match for us. The gods of Sepharvaim couldn’t stop us.” These are the lands which Assyria has already conquered. Now the Jews knew that their gods were only idols with no strength to save. But what about the last one—Samaria? The God of Samaria is the God of Israel. The Northern Kingdom of the 10 tribes had been taken in a 3 year siege by the Assyrian army. The God of Israel had allowed this destruction to come upon them because of their wickedness and the wickedness of their kings. Assyria, unwittingly, had become a tool in the hands of the Lord. Now they have the pride and hubris to claim that the God of Samaria had no strength to save them and therefore, He will have no power to save Jerusalem. They have laid down the gauntlet, so to speak.
The Lord would prove them wrong.
Isaiah 36:2 they held their peace, and answered him not a word
How difficult is it to be silent in moments of great conflict? How much self-control does it take? Jesus was accused before the high priest, “But he held his peace, and answered nothing” (Mark 14:61) Such was his self control. Jesus followed the command of his Father, and the king’s men followed the command of Hezekiah.
Paul confronted the high priest with a little less self control:
The high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth
Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commendest me to be smitten contrary to the Law?
It was a good comeback, to be sure, but silence would have made a more powerful statement.
And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest?
Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people. (Acts 23:2-5)
The wisdom of Solomon advised, “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding” (Prov. 17:28).
David O. McKay
There may not be any great act we may do to eradicate hate, war, and suffering; but there are many little but very important duties within our power and province to accomplish. Men should curb their tempers, and when prompted to condemn others, hold their tongues… hate and enmity should be kept out of any controversy. (Pathways to Happiness [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1957], 125)