Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Isaiah 36: Clouds of war

Chapter 36 of Isaiah begins an account of the king Hezekiah and a famous encounter with an overwhelming Assyrian army.    This account is also recorded in 2 Kings with some additional detail.

To set the stage, I’d like to reference 2 Kings 18 to talk about what kind of man Hezekiah was:


1 Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign.

  3 And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did.


  5 He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.

  6 For he clave to the LORD, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses.

  7 And the LORD was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth: and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not.

  8 He smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city.

It is important to understand that Hezekiah was a righteous king in order to fully understand the narrative in Isaiah 36.  (Another useful tool for understanding this chapter is to listen to it read by a narrator.  I didn’t grasp a lot of the subtleties of the narrative until I could hear it this way.  There is a good narration available on the LDS Scripture website- Just click on “LISTEN” in the upper left corner.)

So here is the story: the king of Assyria sends a general, Rabshakeh (this is apparently a title), to Jerusalem with a very large army.   The goal is to get Judah to surrender and come to Assyria or to sack the city.  Rabshakeh meets an embassy of Jewish officers outside the walls of the city and uses sophistry as he talks to them about their situation.  He says essentially, “What makes you think you can stand against Assyria like this?    If it’s because you trust the Egyptians, that’s foolish because they don’t help anybody.  If it’s because of the Lord, that doesn’t make any sense because Hezekiah took down all your Shrines to your God except for the one here.   So why don’t you give us your money and we’ll call it good, because God told me to come up here and destroy you guys.”

The part about Hezekiah tearing down the altars was confusing until I read the account in 2 Kings which says that  Hezekiah destroyed all of the idolatrous sites in Judah in order to bring them back to worship of the true God.  Hezekiah was son intent on this that he even destroyed the brazen serpent Moses had made because people had started worshipping it!  That struck me as a remarkably brave thing to do.   It shows the kind of attitude we can have about material things.

One point that can be pulled out of this passage already is that the world just does not understand the workings of the Lord.  All of it is foolishness to them.   If we are not careful, the world’s mocking can make us feel ashamed of our own religion.  Lehi saw this in his dream when people who had partaken of the tree of life felt ashamed when they realized they were being mocked and they ended up leaving the tree in search of the great and spacious building.

Returning to the narrative  As they listen to Rabshakeh’s words, the embassy, lacking confidence, tries to get him to talk to them in Assyrian so that the people on the walls can’t understand what is being said.  This really sets Rabshakeh off and he addresses the people on the wall directly, declaring that the Gods of all the people he has conquered have done them no good, and Judah would be no different.   He says, “Don’t listen to Hezekiah, but trust in me instead.   If you agree with me, we’ll not attack you so that you can come out from under this siege and later we’ll take you to your own land in Assyria where you can have gardens, trees, clean water, and plenty to eat.”   In response, the people on the wall held their peace, following the counsel of Hezekiah.   

What a great lesson for us.   Satan lies to us with the same arguments.  He promises comfort and security, saying not to listen to inspired leaders because in the end God won’t help us.   Our course of action is to patiently wait on the Lord, and give no answer to our spiritual oppressors.  If we are patient and obedient, the Lord will deliver (which he does in a spectacular way for Hezekiah in Chapter 37).