The thirty-fifth chapter of Isaiah concludes the first section of prophecy. Chapters 36-39 contain the account of what occurred concerning the Assyrian invasion. Up to this point we have been reading about the coming of Assyria and the attack of the fortified cities in Judah. Now Assyria is turning its sights on Jerusalem, ready to bring the demise of the nation. Now is the moment of truth. Isaiah has been calling for the nation and its king to put its trust in God for deliverance. Assyria has taken all the fortified cities of Judah. Notice verse 1 declares that the king of Assyria has taken them all. All that remains is Jerusalem. Will you have faith against all odds that the Lord will deliver? The first verse of Isaiah 35 tells us that it is 701 BC, for it is the 14th year of Hezekiah’s reign.
The Challenge of Faith (36:2-10)
Rabshakeh leads a great Assyrian army up against Jerusalem. He cries out to Hezekiah’s royal administrators: “On what do you rest this trust of yours?” If you think you can trust in Egypt, they are nothing more than a broken reed that pierces your hand when you lean on it (36:6). If you are trusting the Lord, we have destroyed his altars throughout the land (36:7). If you are trusting in yourselves, you do not have enough soldiers to field an army, even if I gave you 2000 horses (36:8). Finally, he declares that God told him to take this land (36:10), which seems like based on Isaiah 10:5-6. What Rabshakeh is saying looks absolutely true. Egypt was unsuccessful in helping. They sent some armies but were repelled by the Assyrian army. If you think you are trust in the Lord, it does not look like the Lord is going to help you at all because we have taken conquered the whole nation. You certainly do not have power to defend yourselves. You do not even have 2000 soldiers to fight us. Why do you trust in the Lord?
This historical event stands an illustration for what happens in our lives. What voice is tempting you to second guess God’s commitment? There is daily pressure to not take God at his word. There is a voice that whispers to us that God is not our help or resource, but is our problem. Yesterday’s faith is yesterday’s. What do you trust in today? Every day your faith is tested and challenged. The commander of the army wants to know why they would still have faith today. His assertion is that there is no basis for such faith. There is a voice calling out to the people that their faith in the Lord is irrational and unfounded.
The Difficulty of Faith (36:11-21)
Further, acting in faith is a difficult decision. Making the faith-filled decision is never the easy path. The commander of the Assyrian army refuses to make it easy for the people. The government officials ask him to speak in Aramaic, which was the language of the diplomats so that the rest of the people would not comprehend the negotiations (though Aramaic became the language of the Jews 600 years later). But Rabshakeh refuses to speak in Aramaic because he wants to strike fear in the hearts of all in Jerusalem. In verse 12 he declares that the people are doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine. Listen to the three “do not’s” in verses 14-16. Do not let Hezekiah deceive you for he will not deliver you (36:14). Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord (36:15). Do not listen to Hezekiah to stay in the city (36:16). Listen to the offer Rabshakeh makes. “Each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards” (36:16-17). We have you surrounded is the declaration. We are going to cause you to eat your own dung and drink your own urine. If you surrender, we will feed you richly and give you prosperity (notice the language mirrors the language in the days of Solomon’s reign in 1 Kings 4:25). They are tempted to give in to the offer of comfort and prosperity. Satisfy your own desires. Do not rely on the Lord. Rely on the king of Assyria. Let him be your god to give you prosperity. False deliverance is offered. The way of faith is not an easy option. Trusting in the Lord to deliver is not the easy path. We must hear the call for faith in the midst of trials. The chapter ends with Rabshakeh mocking their current circumstances and God’s inability to deliver them. What will Hezekiah do? Have faith in God or surrender to the Assyrians?
True Faith Turns To God (37:1-13)
Listen to what Hezekiah does in verse 1: “He tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord.” With a sign of humility and mourning, Hezekiah goes to the temple of the Lord. Hezekiah appears to be following the prescription given by Solomon at the dedication of the temple.
“When your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you, and if they turn again to you and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them again to the land that you gave to their fathers.” (1 Kings 8:33–34 ESV)
Verses 3-4 contain Hezekiah’s admission of total failure. His policies have brought Judah into this moment. Notice that Hezekiah does not merely proclaim this as a day of distress. It is a day of rebuke and disgrace. There is a confession of failure being made by the king. The human attempts for deliverance have been foolish. In verse 4 the king admits that these decisions have led to the mocking of the living God. Hezekiah’s only hope is that the Lord will rebuke the mocking words these Assyrians are declaring. Therefore Hezekiah calls upon Isaiah to pray on behalf of the people, the remnant. It seems that the problem finally sinks into Hezekiah. True faith must turn to God. Relying upon yourself ends in disaster and causes the name of the Lord to be mocked. Our lives truly mirror the words of verse 3. We have brought our lives to this point, thinking we have done well, only to realize that our strength is insufficient.
We must be ready and willing to confess our insufficiency and weaknesses to God. God has not called for us to pretend that we are strong. He has called for us to admit our weakness and rely upon his strength. He has called us to confess our weakness and let God be the one to accomplish great things. Why do you think God commands us to confess our sins to him? It is certainly not because he does not know our sins. What is God looking for in our hearts to confess our sins? God wants us to admit our insufficiency and our need for God’s power and strength. What other purpose is there but to humble ourselves before our God? True faith confesses sins, weaknesses, faults, errors, and difficulties.
But notice that our confession of sins and weakness does not mean that the threat to trust in others or ourselves will disappear. Hezekiah makes his confession but Rabshakeh is still threatening Hezekiah. Look at verse 10, “Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” The temptation still comes to Hezekiah and to each of us: your trust is misplaced. Your trust is unfounded. This is the temptation that Satan throws at us: Your dependence on God will only end in failure. So how should we handle this temptation? Look at what Hezekiah does.
True Faith Prays (37:14-20)
Hezekiah prays to the Lord. Notice what he prays. No idol can help and no idol can save. There is no other deliverer but the Lord. Also notice the basis of Hezekiah’s call to the Lord for deliverance in verse 20. “So now, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the LORD.” (Isaiah 37:20 ESV) True faith not only prays, but prays for the glory of God so that the world may know that he is the only God. The only thing that matters is the glory of God and that the world proclaim that glory. Don’t let these enemies blaspheme your name because you are the awesome, gracious, and powerful Lord of Hosts! Even when it appears that all hope is lost by physical metrics, Hezekiah places his trust in the Lord, praying for his intervention.
When Peter and John are thrown in prison and then are released and return to the brethren, what do the group of Christians do? They pray for boldness to continue to speak about Jesus. Prayer is the response for difficulties. What does James say to do when you are suffering? Pray (James 5:13). Friends, we must engage in regular discussions to our Lord. We must desire prayer. I believe our desire for prayer will increase the more we recognize our weaknesses and utter dependence on God. The other reason I believe we would increase our prayer life more is if we saw the success of prayer. Prayer is difficult when we do not necessarily see the immediate results of our prayers. This is why the end of Isaiah 37 should powerful build our faith and time in prayer.
The Power of Prayerful Faith (37:21-38)
The key is found in verse 21 as we listen to what God says. “Because you have prayed to me…” We must consider the stunning impact prayer can make. We must consider how true this can be in our lives. How many times have we prayed and God has acted because we prayed to him! I have no doubt that we hardly know how often God has acted on our behalf because we prayed to him.
Listen to all that God is going to do, an overwhelming response to Hezekiah’s prayer. Jerusalem is going to mock Sennacherib (37:22). God had determined Assyria’s conquests long ago (37:26), thus they should have been in submission to the Lord. God will send Assyria into captivity (37:29). Verse 33 gives an amazing summary of what will occur. The king of Assyria will not come into the city of Jerusalem. He will not shoot an arrow into Jerusalem. He will not build up a siege ramp against it or lift a shield. He will return the way that he came. What a staggering declaration! What a powerful response to prayer by the Lord? Do you think this is what Hezekiah expected for a response? What a powerful expression of the truth of God’s word which declares: “Now to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think!” (Ephesians 3:20). The Assyrians will not even fire a shot on to Jerusalem. Jerusalem would not only survive the Assyrian invasion, the Assyrians would not attack the city at all. God will save for his own sake and for the covenant that he made with David. Verse 36 records exactly what God did. The angel of the Lord strikes down the army of the Assyrians, sending the king back home. Can you imagine that scene? The people of Jerusalem wake up the next day and saw 185,000 dead bodies, according to the text (37:36). What did the people do to win the battle? Nothing but confession and prayer which led God to act for his own name and glory. Pray for God to act in your life for his own glory. Pray for his glorification not our glorification.
Our faith in God will be challenged. It will be difficult to maintain our deep faith in the Lord through difficulties. When your faith struggles, confess it to God. Confess your difficulties. Cry out to the Lord, “Help my unbelief!” and “Increase my faith.” Then pray to God to act in your life for his purposes, his plan, and his glory. May we be faithful instruments in the hand of our gracious God. God will save you. Will you trust him?