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March 29, 2009

 

Background Passage: Isaiah 36:1-39:8

Lesson Passage: Isaiah 38:1-6; 39:1-2, 5-8

 

Introduction: Stylistically and thematically, this week’s lesson differs from the sections that precede it.  Chapters Thirty-Two through Thirty-Five continue the themes of the previous lessons, and Chapter Thirty-Six through Thirty-Nine provide a brief historical interlude that will introduce the second half of the prophecy (Chapters Forty through Sixty-six).

 

For several chapters (beginning as early as Chapter Thirteen), Isaiah recorded God’s complaint against the nations of the Middle East.  He included indictments against Babylon, Philistia, Moab, Syria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Edom, and Assyria; then, the prophet turned his attention to Israel and Judah.  As discussed in an earlier lesson, Isaiah interspersed wonderful promises of salvation and grace among the bitter predictions of judgment upon the Jews.  Chapters Thirty-Two through Thirty-Five, in last week’s lesson, belong to this section on the judgment of the nations. 

 

Chapters Thirty-Six through Thirty-Nine recount important historical information concerning the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judah.  Sennacherib, ruler of Assyria, threatened Judah by sending an enormous army to Hezekiah’s borders.  Ominous pronouncements by the Assyrian general Rabshakeh troubled the good king of Judah, but the monarch sought the wise counsel of Isaiah, and, as a result of the prophet’s direction, the king trusted God for deliverance from his enemies. Please recall that Judah had struggled with forming unwise alliances with pagan nations, and certainly Hezekiah must have experienced some of this temptation.  Thankfully, he resisted the allurement of ungodly alliances, and he placed his trust in Jehovah. Despite the grave threat of the Assyrian conquest of Judah, God miraculously delivered his people from their enemies.

 

After the defeat of Assyria, Hezekiah grew ill, and appeared to stand at the threshold of death.  He asked God to spare his life, and the Lord granted the monarch’s request.  Unfortunately, during the next fifteen years, Hezekiah made some serious mistakes.  Among the grave errors of these last years, Hezekiah allowed pagan Babylonian emissaries to tour the city of Jerusalem to survey the wondrous riches and glories of the city.  Certainly, Hezekiah must have revealed some of the treasures of the Temple; thus, he contributed to the future defilement of the sacred place by permitting the presence of the Babylonians.  Furthermore, Hezekiah exhibited an unseemly spirit of pride in displaying the Lord’s city to these emissaries.  This behavior, of course, displeased the Lord, and Isaiah predicted grave consequences for the king’s indiscretion. Eventually, the Babylonians would, according to Isaiah, defeat Judah and carry off all of the treasures Hezekiah had accumulated.  Furthermore, the king’s descendants would be held in captivity and serve as eunuchs in the palace of the Babylonians. This prediction of captivity acts as a prelude to the second half of the Book of Isaiah.

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   The Assyrian Conquest of Judah (36:1-37:38)

A.    The occasion of the conquest (36:1): The “fourteenth year” probably refers to the period in which Hezekiah ruled as sole monarch of Judah (c. 715 B.C.).  Recall that he had served as regent with his father for several years.

B.     Sennacherib’s aggression toward Judah (36:2): This evil monarch had recently ascended the Assyrian throne (ruled c. 704-681 B.C.), and he clearly wanted to assert his power over the entire region.  Rabshakeh, emissary of Sennacherib, brought a great army to assail the fortified cities of Judah (The Annals of Sennacherib identify forty-six of these cities).  Hezekiah sent three officials to negotiate with the Assyrians. 

C.     Rabshakeh’s threatening speech (36:3-22): This pagan military official mocked Judah, thus trying to shame her into submission to his threats. He knew, of course, that Egypt could not help Judah, and he predicted that Jehovah had no power to defend Judah in these dire circumstances (vv. 6-7).  Hezekiah’s negotiators pleaded with Rabshakeh to speak Aramaic (the accepted language of international diplomacy) so the common people could not easily understand his blasphemous and disheartening words.  Of course, the cruel leader, realizing that his speech would unnerve the people of Judah, spoke loudly, in the Hebrew tongue.  After hearing the profane and cruel oration, Hezekiah’s representatives returned to give the dismal news to Judah’s king. 

D.    Hezekiah’s prayer for deliverance from the Assyrians (37:1-38): As soon as Hezekiah received the bad report from his emissaries, the king sent word to the Prophet Isaiah to come to intercede for the Lord’s people.  Isaiah prayed for Judah, and he assured Hezekiah that Rabshakeh would die, in his own land, by the sword. 

1.      Rabshakeh’s continued mockery of Judah (vv. 8-13): Sennacherib’s negotiator returned to Assyria and found his country at war with Libnah; nevertheless, he remained confident that Assyria would easily rout Judah. 

2.      Hezekiah’s prayer (vv. 14-20): Unlike his predecessors, Hezekiah found security and consolation in the Lord.  Rather than seek unwise alliances, the king laid his concerns before the Lord.  Above all, Hezekiah wanted the Lord’s name to be exalted (v. 20). 

3.      the defeat of the Assyrians (vv. 21-38): God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and sent a message, through Isaiah, concerning the impending defeat of the Assyrians. The prophet predicted the future security and prosperity of Judah, blessing that would be accomplished by the zeal of the Lord.  Jehovah sent an angel to supernaturally defeat Sennacherib.  The Bible does not reveal the exact nature of this judgment.  Perhaps the angel brought a plague to the Assyrians, and 185,000 men died.  Assassins (the king’s own sons) murdered the Assyrian monarch, in Nineveh, as worshipped in the temple of the pagan god Nisroch.

 

II.                Hezekiah’s Illness and Recovery (38:1-22)

A.    The king’s terminal illness (vv. 1-3): We do not know the exact nature of Hezekiah’s illness, but he stood at the threshold of death.  Isaiah came to the ailing king and told him that he would not recover from this malady.  Stricken by the bad news, Hezekiah prayed for the Lord’s help.

B.     Isaiah’s promise of recovery (vv. 4-8): God heard the king’s prayer, and Isaiah assured the ailing monarch of recovery from this grave illness.  Furthermore, God promised a sign of the king’s healing. The sun would turn back to assure recovery.  The chapter concludes with a hymn of praise for the miraculous intervention of the Lord.

C.     Hezekiah’s hymn of praise (vv. 9-22)

 

III.             Hezekiah’s Foolish Confidence in the Babylonians (39:1-8)

A.    Hezekiah’s poor judgment (vv. 1-4): Merodach-baladan, king of Babylon, sent emissaries to Jerusalem, and Hezekiah greeted them enthusiastically.  Indeed, he gave them a royal tour of the riches of the city, including the temple and the royal storehouse.

B.     Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Hezekiah’s unwise choice (vv. 5-8): The prophet predicted that Hezekiah’s trust in the Babylonians would contribute to Judah’s eventual ruin.  The king’s descendants would, according to Isaiah, be taken into captivity and serve as eunuchs in the Babylonian royal court.  Hezekiah was not wrong to show appropriate hospitality to the Babylonians, but he made a serious mistake in entrusting his heart to them.  God’s people often have very open hearts, but it is, perhaps, unwise to reveal the secret, holy things to ungodly men.