Hezekiah has a huge Assyrian army which has surrounded Jerusalem. They have taken all the smaller, walled cities in the land of Judah. Rabshakeh has made public threats to the king and the people.If ever there was a time when the king needed help from God, this was it.
While not recorded in Isaiah, Hezekiah had done all he could to prepare for the siege of the Assyrian army (2 Chron. 32). There was a spring outside the walls of Jerusalem which was a major supply of water for the walled city. Jeremiah had a culvert dug through solid rock from outside the walls. This allowed him to hide the source of water from the Assyrians and still supply water for the people should the siege last a long time. The culvert is called “Hezekiah’s Tunnel” and is a popular tourist attraction.
“A 1750-foot (530m) tunnel carved during the reign of Hezekiah to bring water from one side of the city to the other, Hezekiah’s Tunnel together with the 6th c. tunnel of Euphalios in Greece are considered the greatest works of water engineering technology in the pre-Classical period. Had it followed a straight line, the length would have been 1070 ft (335m) or 40% shorter.” (www.bibleplaces.com/heztunnel/)
“According to the Siloam inscription, the tunnel was excavated by two teams, one starting at each end of the tunnel and then meeting in the middle….How the Israelite engineers dealt with the difficult feat of making two teams digging from opposite ends meet far underground is still not fully understood, but some suggest that the two teams were directed from above by sound signals generated by hammering on the solid rock through which the tunnelers were digging.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siloam_tunnel)
Hezekiah also hid other sources of water from the Assyrians, repaired the broken walls of the city, reinforced the army with spears and shields, and organized a citizen’s militia saying, “Be strong and courageous, be not afraid for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and fight our battles” (2 Chronicles 32:1-8)
Isaiah 37:1 Hezekiah… covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord
Sackcloth is an uncomfortable, burlap-like material—hardly appropriate for going to the temple! While we go to the temple in our Sunday best, Hezekiah has rent his royal robes and shows up in sackcloth. What is the point? He is making a public show of his destitute state, exercising humility before God, demonstrating his extreme emotional and spiritual distress.
Other than his choice of clothing, don’t we do the same thing? When in crisis, when we need God’s help the most; when we are at the melting point in God’s fiery furnace, we go to the temple and petition for help.
Isaiah 37:3-35 And they said unto him
For a moment, let’s look at authorship of Isaiah 37. This is Isaiah’s record but it is not written in the first person. The same material is found in 2 Kings 19, almost word for word. Again, the story is recounted in 2 Chronicles 32. This is being recorded by some scribe. Was it a personal scribe of the prophet or the scribe of the king named Shebna (v. 2)? We don’t know. Along with Isaiah 36, it appears to be a historical narrative the scribes inserted into the prophetic writings of Isaiah.
So if it is not written by Isaiah, how trustworthy is the source? The answer is excellent! The scribe has given us direct quotes:
- Hezekiah’s petition to Isaiah (v. 3-4)
- Isaiah’s initial answer (v. 6-7)
- Sennacherib’s reiteration of Rabshakeh’s taunting warning (v. 10-13)
- Hezekiah’s prayer in the temple (v. 16-20)
- Isaiah’s final answer (v. 22-35)
Clues about the personalities of Hezekiah, Sennacherib, and Isaiah can be found in examining the different voices in these 5 quotes. I believe these quotes have been preserved about as accurately as anything we get from the Book of Mormon, which doesn’t happen that often in our studies of the Old Testament.
Isaiah 37:6-7 Be not afraid… he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land
“That Sennacherib did return and dwell at Nineveh is confirmed in Assyrian annals, and that his sons later murdered him (twenty years later, in 681 B.C.) is also confirmed in Assyrian documents. Thus were the prophecies of Isaiah fulfilled.” (David B. Galbraith, D. Kelly Ogden, and Andrew C. Skinner, Jerusalem: The Eternal City [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 99)
If every one of the Latter day Saints lived up to their privileges, they would not fear the world, and all that they can no, any more than they fear that the cranes, that fly croaking three quarters of a mile above them, will drop their eggs upon them to dash their brains out. You might as well fear that event, as to fear all the forces of hell, if the people were sanctified before the Lord, and would do His will every day.
Are these ideas strange to you? Read and learn how the Lord protected the children of Israel in former days, even during their wickedness, and rebellion against Him.
Whenever a good man would say, "Cease your wickedness, turn from your idols, and seek to the Lord," and they hearkened to his counsel, then the Lord would fight their battles, and kill their enemies by scores and hundreds of thousands. And on one occasion the angel of the Lord slew one hundred and eighty-five thousand of those who came against His people to destroy them, "and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses." So reads the Bible. The Lord fought their battles.
Again, Elisha's servant saw that there was more for them than all who were against them; he saw that the sides of the mountains were covered with "chariots of fire."
When the Lord commands those invisible beings… they can fight your battles.
Now, since one angel could fight their battles in former times, and overcome the enemies of the people of God, whom shall we fear? Shall we fear those who can kill the body, and then have no more that they can do? No, but we will fear Him who is able not only to destroy the body, but has power to cast both soul and body into hell fire. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 2: 255 - 256)
Isaiah 37:9 when he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying
This must be a reiteration of Rabshakeh’s taunting (Isaiah 36). Isaiah’s prophecy that Sennacherib would hear a rumor and then return to his own land didn’t solve Hezekiah’s immediate problem. Sennacherib had turned back, but his army was still surrounding Jerusalem. While he personally returned, Sennacherib sent another message so that Hezekiah knew that Jerusalem was still on the chopping block. The message would repeat what Rabshakeh had said earlier (Isa 36:14-20)
“In 701 B.C. Sennacherib was poised to strike Jerusalem with full military might to reduce the rebels to humiliating submission. The following account of his view of the campaign is excerpted from the Sennacherib Prism:
As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke. I laid siege to forty-six of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered [them] by means of well-stamped [earth-]ramps, and battering-rams brought [thus] near [to the walls] [combined with] the attack by foot soldiers, [using] mines, breeches as well as sapper work. I drove out [of them] 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered [them] booty. Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage. I surrounded him with earthwork in order to molest those who were leaving his city's gate.
“Sennacherib's final statement is a boast that is historically untrue, as we learn from the biblical account. Isaiah had prophesied that the king would ‘not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow [here], nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank [a siege ramp] against it’ (2 Kgs. 19:32).” (David B. Galbraith, D. Kelly Ogden, and Andrew C. Skinner, Jerusalem: The Eternal City [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 99)
Isaiah 37:14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and… went up unto the house of the Lord
In crisis, Hezekiah had sent messengers to Isaiah. Isaiah had prophesied that Sennacherib would return to his own land and eventually be killed. That was welcome and great news. However, it didn’t appear that his troops were given any new orders—they were still poised to lay siege to Jerusalem and sack the city. Again, Hezekiah goes to the temple and pleads with the Lord for help. His plea is a smart one, reminding the Lord how the Assyrians had insulted Him directly—that the name of Israel’s God had been publicly blasphemed and demeaned before his people. Would God let that stand?
Isaiah 37:24 By thy servants hast thou reproached the Lord
So often, the Lord is reproached by man and there seems to be no immediate consequence. While we trust in the justice of God, sometimes the punishment for blasphemy is delayed. That Moses displayed God’s power before Pharaoh seems to be more the exception than the rule. Elijah demonstrated God’s power before the priests of Baal (1 Kgs. 18), but how often does that happen?
Fortunately, Hezekiah, Jerusalem, and Isaiah get the answer they were looking for.
Isaiah 37:26-28 Hast thou not heard long ago, how I have done it
In these verses, the Lord takes credit for all of Sennacherib’s success, divinely disgusted that the king has assumed it was all his mortal prowess. God reminds him in unusual candor that the Lord God is the one who gave him his power, the Lord God is the one who laid waste the defenced cities, the Lord God is the one who confused the enemy. The same message is repeated in Isaiah 10 (2 Ne. 20), “Shall the ax boast itself against him that heweth therewith?” (2 Ne. 20:15), for Sennacherib was the ax in the hand of the Lord. “For he saith: by the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I am prudent” (Isa. 10:13), instead of giving God the credit.
Isaiah 37:29 I will put my hook in thy nose, and …I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest
Why don’t we stop imagining Isaiah’s poetic imagery and actually look at some images that express the same concept? God is going to hook Sennacherib in the nose and pull him back home. Perhaps it might look like this.
Too much? Is this too graphic? Well, the author is an ENT doc so he thinks it is cool!
Who has sustained us here? God, and who will continue to sustain us? The Almighty. These fools who think they can trample under foot the servants of God, and overthrow the kingdom of God are reckoning without their host, they are pushing against the buckler of the Great Jehovah, and they will find that he will put a hook into their nose and lead them in a path they know not of. Israel will rise and shine, and the power of God will rest upon his people, and the work that he has commenced will roll forth “until the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God, and his Christ; and he shall rule for ever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15) (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 17:211)
Isaiah 37:31-32 the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah
Remnant is the magic word for “a portion of the House of Israel preserved by the hand of God to be gathered again.” We know that the kingdom of Israel has already been destroyed and the 10 tribes have been taken north. However, this remnant is of the house of Judah. What does that mean? Hezekiah used the same term in verse 4 in his “prayer for the remnant that is left.” What are we missing?
What we are missing we get from Sennacherib’s own record, “I drove out [of them] 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered [them] booty.” (Jerusalem: The Eternal City [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 99) Sennacherib had already conquered 46 strong cities and many smaller villages that belonged to the house of Judah. He took 200,000 prisoners and their belongings back to Assyria. Jerusalem is referred to as a remnant because it is the only city left in the “house of Judah” that hasn’t fallen. The Jewish history doesn’t tell us how bad things really were. The text speaks of Hezekiah’s great faith and the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy but the whole story about how the entire kingdom but Jerusalem is wiped out is conveniently left out. It is just too embarrassing.
This remnant must survive. Jerusalem must be saved or there will be nothing left—no Jeremiah, no Ezekiel, no Lehi, no Nephi, no Daniel, nor Malachi. Over the next century, the remnant from Jerusalem will repopulate the kingdom of Judah. The lands will be settled again, and the cities rebuilt. They are those who “shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward.” And then when they are ripe in their pride and idolatry, God will send Nebuchadnezzar to take them captive, circa 587 B.C. Since Jerusalem had never been taken, they didn’t think it was possible (1 Ne. 2:13). So Jerusalem is sacked by the Babylonians and more remnants are created. Some are taken early to Babylon (i.e. Ezekiel), Lehi and his family become their own remnant that merges later with the remnant of Mulek; and there is a remnant which returns from Babylon after 70 years of captivity. The number of that remnant is only around 42,000 men (Ezra 2:64). Each of these remnants can be viewed as a branch, whether mentioned specifically or not, in the allegory of Zenos (Jacob 5). Truly, “great are the words of Isaiah. For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel” (3 Ne. 23:1-2).
Isaiah 37:35-36 the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand
In the Battle of Gettysburg, there were perhaps 50,000 casualties. That is nothing compared to 185,000 dead in one day! What an incredible slaughter by the hand of God! Somehow this act of amazing power has slipped through the cracks of common knowledge. How many Mormons know about this miracle? Other than the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, what compares with this miracle? Not even the fall of Jericho (Josh. 6)!
“[The] Following is what actually did happen to Sennacherib and his hosts:
It came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning [those who were still alive], behold, they were all dead corpses.
So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.
And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that . . . his sons smote him with the sword. (2 Kgs. 19:35-37)
“The Greek historian Herodotus, in the fifth century before Christ, suggested in his writings that mice caused the Assyrians to withdraw as some kind of plague swept through their camp…
“The confrontation between Hezekiah and Sennacherib and the miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem made an indelible impression on the citizens of Judah. The episode has received further fame in a more modern day through the splendid poetry of Lord Byron in The Destruction of Sennacherib (1815).
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold,
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he pass'd
And the eyes of the sleepers wax'd deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and forever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there roll'd not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
(David B. Galbraith, D. Kelly Ogden, and Andrew C. Skinner, Jerusalem: The Eternal City [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 99-100)
Who has been injured by the late crusade of the United States against us (speaking of the Utah War of 1857-1858)? With one of the best equipped armies that was ever organized in the United States, they came to crush this people and to wipe us out of existence, defiant, menacing, threatening, proud and haughty, with all the parade, the pomp, and circumstance of war: but the Lord put a hook in their nostrils, stripped them of their glory, left them shivering in the cold, and fed them on mule's legs. Who has been hurt?
We are still here, and God is controlling matters for our good. President Young says, “It will continue to be so, if we live our religion as we understand it, and leave the wicked alone; for those who are opposing the Church of Christ cannot hurt us, and all such characters will have their portion in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.” (Rev. 21:8) Then let us gird up our loins and maintain the principles of truth—do all we can to root out iniquity from our midst, but let the wicked wallow in the filthiness of their own debaucheries. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 8:99)
“The Lord, at one time, sent forth his angel in the time of battle and slew a hundred, fourscore-and-five thousand souls in one night. At another time, when the people of God went forth to battle, and they were afraid, the servant of the Lord stood before them and encouraged them, (Josh. 5:13-15) exhorting them with words of consolation, saying, “The Lord is at the head of his armies.”
Brethren, trust not altogether in the weapons which are in your hands; but when you fight, pray, and let your meditations be unto your God; and the Lord will regard you, and answer your prayer, and fight your battles, as he did in the days of the Philistines, when they defied the armies of Israel. (1 Sam. 17:45) The Lord gives victory to his people; but we should all the time be willing to come up to the help of the Lord against the mighty, whenever it is necessary. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 6:226