God does not threaten, a threat is vulnerable to dissolution, God’s words are not: Mercy does not threaten, He warns.
Cf. 2 Kings 20:12-19; 2 Chronicles 32:24-31
Isa 39:1 At that time Merodach-bal-adan (Merodak, Marduk: “your rebellion”, a chief deity of Babylon. Bal, Bel, “lord”, a chief deity of Babylon. Adan, adon, “lord”), the son of Bal-adan (Bal, Bel, “lord”, a chief deity of Babylon. Adan, adon, “lord”), king of Bavel (Confusion, Babylon), sent letters and minchah an offering to Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy): for he had heard that he had been sick, ve’chezak and was strengthened, had become strong.
“Rebellion the lord of confusion, son of self-deification, king of confusion, sent letters and an offering to My strength is Mercy, for rebellion had heard that My strength is Mercy had been sick and had now become strong, powerful, self-assured.”
“At that time”: The chronology of these events falls sometime between 710 and 703 BCE. Isaiah 38:1 tells us that the events recorded there occurred in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign (715-686 BCE), however, as was the case with several Judean kings, the length of their reign is sometimes confused by the fact that they spent time as co-regents to their fathers: as is the case with Hezekiah.
Merodach-Baladan ruled the Aramean tribe Bit Yakim whose territory included the mouth of the Euphrates river. In 721 BCE he captured Babylon (Bavel) and reigned as king until 710 BCE, when he was defeated and driven out by Sargon II. Following Sargon’s death Merodach-Baladan returned to Babylon and reigned there for an additional nine months (704-703 BCE).
There is some debate concerning which of Merodach-Baladan’s two reigns these events refer to, however, it seems most likely that with reference to Hezekiah’s reign the best correlation can be made with Merodach-Baladan’s first reign (721-710 BCE). It is probable that Merodach-Baladan was seeking an alliance with Hezekiah in order to gain allies in an attempt to topple the Assyrians.
We note that spiritually speaking Merodach-Baladan represents the seat of satanic power in the east. Both names convey rebellion and the presumption of deity, specifically Merodack (Marduk [2 Kings account] and Bel, two of the chief deities of Babylon. Additionally, he is king of Confusion (Bavel: Babylon), born of the land which had been the sight of the tower of Bavel (Babel), a symbol of humanity’s rebellion against God.
“He sent letters and an offering to Hezekiah”: Many English translations render the Hebrew “minchah” as “gifts”, which, while technically correct in the sense that an offering can sometimes be considered a gift of free will, is not specific enough in this context. The literal meaning is “offering”, a specific type of gift or substitutionary sacrifice, one offered to God or gods. In this case Merodach-Baladan is attempting to gain Hezekiah’s support and therefore, sends an offering to the God of Hezekiah, HaShem.
Based on the context we can deduce that the letters are probably acknowledging Hezekiah’s famed healing and the Divine deliverance of Israel from her enemies (Assyria). All this in an attempt to flatter the Judean king and garner his favour in support of Merodach-Baladan’s political plans.
“he had been sick, and was strengthened, had become strong.”: We note that the Hebrew text does not say “he had been sick and had recovered” as some English versions mistranslate, but “he had been sick and was strengthened, mad strong.” This is more than a testament to Hezekiah’s healing, it is an affirmation of the strengthening of his position and power, and subsequently that of Judah. It also infers pride, which is affirmed by the 2 Chronicles account.
Isa 39:2 Vaiyismach And joyful toward them was Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy), and showed them the house of treasure, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and ha-shemen the oil ha-tov which is good, precious, and all the house of kelav his utensils, arms, and all that was found in his storehouse: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) did not show them.
It is important to understand verses 2-8 in correlation with the 2 Chronicles account of this portion of Hezekiah’s reign.
Cf. 2 Chronicles 20:24-31
24 “In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. He prayed to HaShem, Who answered him and gave him a miraculous sign. 25 But Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore HaShem’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem. 26 Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore Hashem’s wrath did not come on them during the days of Hezekiah. 27 Hezekiah had very great wealth and honour, and he made treasuries for his silver and gold and for his precious stones, spices, shields and all kinds of valuables.28 He also made buildings to store the harvest of grain, new wine and olive oil; and he made stalls for various kinds of cattle, and pens for the flocks. 29 He built villages and acquired great numbers of flocks and herds, for God had given him very great riches. 30 It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channelled the water down to the west side of the City of David. He succeeded in everything he undertook. 31 But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God proved him, that he might know all that was in his heart.”
From both a political and spiritual perspective Hezekiah’s actions seem strange at best, and at worst prideful. He did not merely show, but rather showed off all that was under his rule, including, as Yarchi suggests, “The book of the Torah”, and “the oil that was good” which probably alludes to the sacred oil of anointing reserved for the priesthood (Ex. 30:30-32). This is illuminated further by the 2 Chronicles account, which clearly indicates that Hezekiah had become prideful following his healing and the deliverance of Judah from the Assyrians. Thus, when we read that Hezekiah joyfully received the envoys of Babylon and showed them all the armaments, utensils and riches of Judah (A foolish act that made the nation vulnerable to a greater governmental power of the region), he was in fact acting out of pride rather than in the humility he had formerly acquired through illness.
Added to this is the possibility that the Hebrew “kelav” refers to utensils used in Temple worship rather than to weapons. Therefore, in showing these utensils to the envoys of Babylon he would have been guilty of defiling the sanctity of their use in accordance with the priestly service. All this was done in a contrary fashion to his former actions of devotion and repentance. Many of us find ourselves in a similar position when having been delivered from sickness and adversity by the hand of God, we become confident in our health and well-being and find ourselves indulging a form of self-idolatry, strengthened by our temporary circumstance. This being in opposition to our former reliance on God and the strength that comes from right relationship in Him.
It is important to understand the last clause of 2 Chronicles 20:31 properly: “God proved him, that he might know all that was in his heart.” The “him” does not refer to God but to Hezekiah, “God proved him”, thus, the subsequent masculine terms refer to the direct precedent, Hezekiah. In order to understand this text correctly we should read “God proved Hezekiah, that Hezekiah might know all that was in his (Hezekiah’s) heart”.
Isa 39:3 Then came Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah) the prophet unto king Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy), and said to him, “What did these men say? and from where have they come to you?” And Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) said, “They are come from a far country to me, from Bavel (Confusion, Babylon).
Isaiah’s prompt attention to these events and the questions he asks are proof at very least of his suspicions. In fact, it is likely that Isaiah knew exactly what had taken place, either by prophetic insight or via news from the upper city. Therefore, Isaiah’s questions are intended to cause Hezekiah to reflect on what he had done, rather than being queries for information.
In this context the fact that Isaiah had to come to Hezekiah after the fact indicates that Hezekiah had not sought the prophet’s counsel beforehand regarding the Babylonian envoys: something that he would have done had he been focused on the will of Hashem rather than on his own strength and prosperity. In the past Isaiah had always warned against relying on the strength of human allies rather than relying on the God of Israel. Hezekiah’s actions serve to expose his failure to continue in righteousness following his recovery from illness and the deliverance of Jerusalem and Judah.
Hezekiah’s reluctant answer to Isaiah’s questions reveals a great deal. Hezekiah completely avoids answering the first question regarding what was said by the envoys of Babylon. Why? What was it that they had said? Most likely they had come to Hezekiah with a proposal of alliance from king Merodach-Baladan. Thus, Hezekiah was afraid to tell Isaiah what they had said because he knew that Isaiah, speaking the word of God, had warned against relying on human strength rather than on the God of Israel. The answer that Hezekiah did give was at best reluctant. He doesn’t name the country of the envoys origin outright, rather her buffers the name with the phrase “from a far country”, why? Because he knew that Babylon was both politically (historically) and spiritually (perpetually) opposed to the God of Israel and His chosen people.
Were Hezekiah to have carefully considered the nature of his meeting with the envoys of Babylon he would have realised that he was literally entertaining the envoys of Confusion. This in direct opposition to the God of Israel Who is a God of Order.
Isa 39:4 Then said he (Isaiah), “What have they seen in your house?” And Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) answered, “They have seen all that is in my house: there is not a thing within my storehouse that I have not showed them.
Once again Isaiah asks a question in order to encourage Hezekiah to acknowledge the foolishness of what he has done. “My house” while specifically representative of the palace and lineage of Hezekiah, is also a figurative way of referring to all that Hezekiah has been given dominion over. Thus, he has shown the envoys of Babylon all the riches, arms and resources of Israel including her Temple utensils, sacred oil and ritual practises.
One hears the self-effacing incredulity in Hezekiah’s voice in the words “there is nothing within my storehouses that I have not shown them.” In other words “What have I done?”
Isa 39:5 Then said Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah) to Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy), “Shema, Hear, listen, receive, comprehend, understand devar-HaShem a word of the LORD (YHVH: Mercy) Tzevaot Who goes warring (of hosts):
Isaiah instructs Hezekiah not only to hear but to listen, receive, comprehend and act accordingly, from a position of understanding. The Hebrew “Shema” embodies all these things.
This challenge is imparted to Hezekiah in the Name of Mercy, Who goes warring. Hezekiah had called on these attributes of God during his time of sickness and vulnerability: now God is coming to Hezekiah in the manifestation of these same attributes. Hezekiah must decide whether he will stand before Mercy, Who goes to war, or in humility, repent and follow behind HaShem Elohiym, the Merciful Judge.
Isa 39:6 Hineih Behold, now, pay attention, the days are coming, that all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have laid up in store until this day, will be carried to Bavel (Confusion, Babylon): nothing will be left,” says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD).
“Listen up, pay attention, the days are approaching when all that you have dominion over, including that which you received from your forebears, will be given over to confusion so that nothing remains: It is I, Mercy Himself, your God, Who says this to you.”
Some foolishly perceive these words as a threat. God does not threaten, a threat is vulnerable to dissolution, God’s words are not: Mercy does not threaten, He warns. A lion named Mercy, HaShem is fierce and ever ready to act graciously: we must chose between being mauled by Mercy or protected by Him? It’s up to us to decide between pride and humility. Pride is the lie that deceives and destroys, humility is the truth that reveals the strength in weakness.
This warning concerns the beit (household and lineage, past and future) of Hezekiah. Thus, it is the line of David and the tribe of Judah that is singled out for this particular exile.
This prophecy is exceptional: Babylon was then struggling for independence against the might of the Assyrian Empire, and yet Isaiah, prophesying by God’s Spirit (The testimony of Yeshua is the Spirit of Prophecy [Rev. 19:10]) reveals that Babylon will be the heiress to the Assyrian Empire, and that it was not from Assyria, that Judah’s destruction would come, but from Babylon, who was yet to rise to a position of power over the known world.
It is thought by some that based on the inferences made in Isaiah 38:19 and 39:7, and the fulfilment of them alluded to in Daniel 1:3, that Hezekiah had not yet produced children at the time of this prophecy. This is a reasonable conclusion given that 2 Kings 21:1 notes that Manasseh was 12 years old when he came to power as son and heir to Hezekiah.
“the days are coming”: In fact, the days referred to came only a few reigns later during Jehoiakim's time.
“all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have laid up in store until this day, will be carried to Bavel”: During Jehoiakim’s reign as king of Judah, his mother, servants, princes, and officials, were carried away captive by the king of Babylon, along with all the treasures of the king's house, and also all the treasures of the house of the Lord [The Temple] (2 Kings 24:12).
“Nothing will be left”: The Jewish commentator Yarchi notes that this was a just punishment, measure for measure. All was shown to the Babylonian envoys through the sin of Hezekiah, thus, all would be taken away. By this we can determine the accuracy of Yarchi’s former allusion to the Torah being shown to the Babylonian envoys (See note on 39:6). This also supports the reading of “utensils” (kelav) in place of “armaments” (39:2): Those utensils being the sacred utensils of the Temple service.
Isa 39:7 “Umibaneicha And of your sons, progeny that will issue from you, which you will bring forth, they will take away; and they will be sariysiym princes in the palace of the king of Bavel (Confusion, Babylon).”
Manasseh, Hezekiah’s immediate son (ben) was taken to Babylon, but was subsequently released. The greater fulfilment of this prophetic word is found in Jeconiah and his children, and in others that were of the royal seed (b’naiyim: children, ancestors, progeny etc.). The Jewish sages and commentators apply this prophecy to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
The Hebrew sariysiym, a plural form of the root sar (prince), while it might be applied to a eunuch (as many translate), is better translated here as princes. There is no Scriptural evidence to suggest that Manasseh, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael or Azariah were made eunuchs, and given the more common meaning of the Hebrew root, “princes” is the most logical choice. This is supported by both Ben Melekh and Kimchi, who understand sariysiym to mean princes.
Isa 39:8 Then Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) said to Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah), “Good is the devar-HaShem word of the (YHVH: Mercy) LORD which you have spoken.” He also said, “For there will be peace and truth in my days.”
“Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore the Lord’s wrath did not come on them during the days of Hezekiah.” -2 Chronicles 32:26
The 2 Chronicles account seems to indicate that Hezekiah repented from his prideful actions and puts the statement “Good is the word of HaShem” in a context of repentance and humble reflection. Thus, Hezekiah acknowledges his sin and understands the delay in the fulfilment of the prophetic word as an impartation of God’s mercy toward him and his generation. To assume arrogance in the response of Hezekiah, is to deny the clear evidence to the contrary within the text of the 2 Chronicles account.
© 2018 Yaakov Brown
The purpose of God’s healing is to invoke salvation and wholeness. Thus, Yeshua says “Go, your faith has made you whole.” And not “Go, your faith has healed you” as some intellectually dishonest English versions suggest (Luke 19:17; Mark 5:34; 10:52 etc.)
Cf. 2 Kings 20:1-11
The events described in chapters 38 - 39 preceded the events of chapters 36 and 37 by a period of approximately 10 years. We’re able to deduce this because chapter 39 ends with a prediction of the Babylonian exile. However, the scribes who transmitted the scroll of Isaiah placed these events after chapters 36 and 37 in order to form a bridge, giving the meta-narrative a greater sense of continuity. Thus, the prediction of the Babylonian exile (Chap. 39) precedes chapter 40, the subject of which is Israel’s return from the Babylonian exile.
The events of chapter 38 are recorded in a parallel passage in 2 Kings 20:1-11 with only slight variations, and of course the omission of Hezekiah’s psalm/meditation (Isaiah 38:9-20). It seems fitting that the scribes include the mikhtav of Hezekiah in the present chapter of Isaiah’s poetic, prophetic scroll and exclude it in the more historically styled record of the Kings.
What follows conveys the ancient rhythm of God inspired relationship: a relationship strengthened rather than weakened by illness and despair.
Isa 38:1 In those days Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) became chalah sick, weak, grieved, sorry, diseased lamot to the point of death. And Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah) the prophet the son of Amotz (Strength, courage) came to him, and said to him, Thus says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), “tzav order, command lebeitecha your house: for met die you shall, and not tichyeh live.”
Cf. 2 Kings 20:1
“In those days” as discussed above, refers to that time approximately 10 years prior to the events of chapters 36-37. Hezekiah assumed the throne of Judah at the age of 25 and reigned for 29 years (2 Kings 18:2), living to the age of 54: given that 15 years are added to his life in the present text, he was therefore, 39 years of age at the time of the events recorded in Isaiah chapter 38. However, Yarchi and a number of other Jewish commentators suggest that these events took place three days before the ruin of Sennacherib's army (placing them at the end of the aforementioned ten year period); and that it was on the third day that Hezekiah recovered, and went up to the temple, that the destruction of the Assyrian army occurred, that evening being the first day of Pesach the Passover (Seder Olam Rabba, c. 23. p. 65).
It is noteworthy that Isaiah came to Hezekiah during his time of personal illness, whereas on occasions when Hezekiah was in health he had sent messengers to Isaiah. This shows compassion on the part of Isaiah. Although he had been tasked with giving bad news to Hezekiah, he performed that duty in person as a friend to the King rather than sending a messenger to deliver the news.
Some have suggested that the Hezekiah’s illness was brought on by the stress that he experienced in response to the speed and force of the invading Assyrian army, and his inability to gain adequate protection from Egypt. We find out later in this chapter that the sickness is somehow connected to a boil that had grown on Hezekiah’s body which may have become infected, thus, causing blood poisoning; a life threatening condition.
“order, command your house” is a way of saying “Make your last will and testament, leave instructions for your household regarding what is to be done after your passing.”
“for die you shall, and not live.” Makes death certain but is not specific enough to infer immediate death. None the less, Hezekiah’s illness was terminal.
Isa 38:2 Then Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) turned his face toward ha-kiyr the wall, and prayed to HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD),
Cf. 2 Kings 20:2
“The wall” could be understood in a plain sense to simply refer to the wall of the room in which Hezekiah was bedridden. Turning in toward the wall would have been his only means of finding some privacy and solace with the palace representatives and staff constantly present to care for the king.
As a remez I see the act of Hezekiah’s turning as being a turning toward God in his distress. Further to this although the Hebrew kiyr is a generic term for a flat surface, wall etc. it can also be used to describe the wall surrounding the Temple complex of Solomon. I can’t help but see a comparrison to ha-kotel, the western wall of the Temple of Herod, yet future at the time of Hezekiah, and certainly present in its Solomonic form during Hezekiah’s time . To turn toward it is to turn toward the Temple and the Holy of holies. As I’m writing this we are in that time of repentance and preparation in the month of Elul, when, davening selichot (prayers of contrition), thousands of Jews are turned toward ha-kotel and the Temple mount as a symbolic physical act representing our desire to turn toward God in our distress.
I’m not alone in my supposition, regarding Hezekiah potentially turning toward the wall surrounding the Temple complex of his time: the second century Targum writers understood ha-kiyr to refer to the outer wall of the Temple complex of Hezekiah’s day:
“Then Hezekiah turned his face towards the wall of the house of the sanctuary, and prayed before the Lord,” -Targum Yonatan
Turning toward the Temple to pray is advocated for by king Solomon (1 Kings 8:29-61) and is elsewhere commonplace within traditional Jewish prayer practice throughout the world.
Hezekiah’s first instinct as a human being and as a Jew upon whom God had placed His Name, was to turn to God in an intimate gesture of vulnerability and cry out in prayer: his prayer being a response to the conversation God had already begun. One could say that the general nature of Isaiah’s warning (which doesn’t say when Hezekiah will die, just that his death is certain) was God’s way of allowing Hezekiah the opportunity for repentance and healing.
Isa 38:3 And said, “Anah I beseech you, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), zechor-na remember, recall, call to mind now, how I have walked before You be-emet in truth uveleiv and with a heart (core being) of shaleim wholeness, safety, completeness, peacefulness, and have done that which is ha-tov good in Your sight.” And Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) bechiy bewailed gadol greatly.
Cf. 2 Kings 20:3
Hezekiah does not presume to be perfect in his walk before God, he is simply asking that God acknowledge the sincerity with which he has sought to follow the commandments and restore the centrality of the Temple cult to Judah and Israel. After all, Hezekiah was responsible for removing the high places and tearing down the heathen altars, and for bringing the focus of Israel’s worship back to the God appointed Temple mount and the altar of sacrifice therein (2 Kings 18:4).
Hezekiah does not think that God has forgotten him, rather he is in a sense, reminding himself that God is aware of every intimate part of Hezekiah’s life. Thus, feeling abandoned within time and space, he calls out to God, Who is outside of Time and space and in control of all things.
Hezekiah’s “bewailing greatly” denotes not only his concern for himself and his potential loss of life but also for the state of the nation and the added vulnerability that would ensue were he to die with the invading Assyrian army at the doorstep of Jerusalem.
Isa 38:4 Then came a devar-YHVH word of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) to Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah), saying,
“And it came to pass, before Isaiah was gone out (chatzeir) of the city centre, that a word of the Lord came to him, saying,” -2 Kings 20:4
The account of 2 Kings 20 illuminates further the immediacy of God’s response to Hezekiah. Isaiah was still in the centre of the upper city of Jerusalem and probably had gone no further than the middle court of the king’s residence, and or had progressed via the Temple pausing at the middle court (court of Israel) to pray.
Isa 38:5 “Go, and say to Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy), ‘Thus says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), Eloheiy the God of David aviycha your father, I have shamatiy heard, listened to your prayer, I have raiytiy seen, considered your tears: Hineni Now, behold, pay attention, I will yosif add to your days fifteen years.’”
Cf. 2 Kings 20:5-6
“Thus says HaShem the God of David your father”. This is said to affirm the covenant God had made with the house of David (2 Sam. 7:4-17). It is for the sake of the King Messiah Who will come out of the line of David and for the subsequent redemption of those who receive Him that God calls Himself “Eloheiy Daveed”.
Neither a prayer said in vain nor the superficial tears of the unrepentant invoke the mercy of God. Hezekiah’s request is acknowledged as genuine and moving (Yaakov [James] 5:16). God now demands that Hezekiah pay attention, that is, “act righteously in response to the extension of life that I am giving you”.
15 years is representative of two terms of completion (2 x 7) plus a year of new beginning (+1). 2 sevens are an allusion to eternity (completion perfected) and the added single year an allusion to the beginning of that eternity. Thus, the added years promise far more than earthly life, something that Isaiah already understands but Hezekiah has yet to fully grasp.
Isa 38:6 And I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Ashur (A step, Assyria): ve’ganotiy and I will defend, cover, surround this city.
Cf. 2 Kings 20:6
This verse suggests that while these events occurred as many as 10 years prior to Sennacherib’s move against Jerusalem, it is also possible that they occurred closer to the end of that 10 year period and therefore, align with the Jewish Sages’ tradition more closely than some scholars suspect.
The wording of God’s comforting response to Hezekiah seeks to calm his concerns both for himself and for Jerusalem and its inhabitants: “I will defend, cover, surround this city.”
The 2 Kings 20 account places the entire conversation concerning the sign and the healing of Hezekiah by means of a pressed fig rub at this point in the narrative, giving the dialogue a more natural continuity. Thus, 2 Kings 20:7-8 correspond to the seemingly ill-placed verses of Isaiah 38:21-22, which bare no connection to the following chapter but rather refer back to a point in the narrative prior to the giving of the sign and the healing of Hezekiah.
“And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered. And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up into the house of the Lord the third day?” -2 Kings 20:7-8
Isa 38:7 And this to you ha-ot the miraculous sign from HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), that HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) will ya’aseh fashion, do ha-devar this thing, word, essence that He has dibeir spoken;
“And Isaiah said, This sign you will have of the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that He has spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps? And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten steps: no, but let the shadow return backward ten steps.” 2 Kings 20:9-10
The sign is to be a miraculous one. While some seek to provide a practical reason for the adjustment of the shadow, the plain meaning of the text denotes a supernatural event that directly affects the sun itself. In the 2 Kings 20 account the recorded request of Hezekiah shows either his true belief in the miraculous power of God or his desperate need to witness that power made manifest as a promise of even greater deliverance to come. Thus, his request relates to both his own healing and the protection of Jerusalem and her inhabitants.
“Do this thing which He has spoken” refers to the healing and longevity of Hezekiah, for which the sign is offered.
It is of note that Hezekiah acted in contradiction to his wicked father Ahaz, who hypocritically refused to ask for a sign from God (Isaiah 7:12).
Isa 38:8 Hineni Now, behold, pay attention, I will bring again the shadow of ha-ma’alot the steps, which yaredah descends bema’alot on the steps of Achaz (grasped), ten ma’alot steps backward. Ve’tashav And returned ha-shemesh the sun, the ten ma’alot steps, bama’alot on the steps it yaradah had descended.
“And Isaiah the prophet cried to the Lord: and He brought the shadow ten steps backward, by which it had gone down in the steps of Ahaz.” -2 Kings 20:11
Although some suggest a momentary refraction of light as the mechanism behind the sign, we notice that it is the sun itself that is the subject of the returning in the latter clause of verse 38, and not it’s light, the steps or the shadow it casts. In laymen’s terms, the sun itself went backward; a stumbling block for both the modern scientist and the desperately rational theologian. This is one of the many reasons we must become like children in order to enter the Kingdom of God (Matt. 18:3).
Isa 38:9 The writing of Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) king of Yehudah (Praise, Judah), bachaloto in his sickness, vaychi and in restored life from out of his sickness:
This psalm-like piece of writing (mikhtav) while present here, is not included in the 2 Kings 20 account. As I said in my introduction to the chapter, it seems fitting that the scribes include the mikhtav of Hezekiah in the present chapter of Isaiah’s poetic, prophetic scroll and exclude it in the more historically styled record of the Kings.
This psalm/meditation was written both during (in) Hezekiah’s illness and following (in) his restoration to health. Thus, it probably covers Hezekiah’s progression of feelings throughout the entire experience. Therefore, we should look for a progression of Hezekiah’s understanding of God and his relationship in Him as we journey through the thoughts, emotions, desperate cries and ecstatic relief of Hezekiah’s psalm/meditation.
Hezekiah’s mikhtav is typical of psalms of supplication and thanksgiving. Similar elements appear in psalm 118 and in the psalm of Jonah 2. In fact, Hezekiah’s mikhtav follows the basic structure of this type of psalm:
Isa 38:10 “I said bidmi in the cessation, silence, quiet, pause of my days, I will walk to the gates of Sheol (Holding place of departed humans, divided into Gan-Eden and Gehinnom): I am deprived of the yeter remainder, residue, excellence of my years.
Ibn Ezra explains that “bidmi” means “cut off” according to its comparable use in Hosea 10:15. This makes sense as an allusion to the weavers analogy of Isaiah 38:12. Others interpret it to convey a quiet part of the day, that being the middle of the eastern day and a time for rest from the heat. Both readings have relevance here: the theme being that Hezekiah is to be cut off (die) in the prime of his life, the middle of his days.
Hezekiah’s reference to Sheol does not denote a cessation of consciousness but a cessation of earthly life. As I have stated in previous articles, Sheol is not the grave (kever), and the ancient (Biblical) Hebrew grave was above ground, a tomb, cave, and or stones piled over the remains.
Isa 38:11 I said, I will not see HaShem (Yah: Mercy, the LORD), HaShem (Yah: Mercy, the LORD), be’eretz in the land of ha-chayim the living: I will behold humanity no more with the inhabitants chadel at rest.
The repetition of “Yah”, the shortened form of YHVH, denotes the permanence of Mercy. We note that while Hezekiah says “I will not see Yah, Yah” the qualifying phrase is “in the land of the living”, the living being the temporal living of humanity within the sin affected creation. Thus, the final clause in this verse alludes to the cessation of Hezekiah’s days spent with humanity (humanity within the context of the sin affected creation and not in regard to consciousness of the spirit).
Ibn Ezra suggests that “I will not see” means, “I shall not see any longer the works of the Almighty:” in the land of the living. He explains further that this is the reason for the latter clause “I will behold humanity no more”, because part of the witness of God’s works is manifest in human beings.
Many translate the Hebrew “chadel” as “World, life” following the comparative use in Psalm 39:5-6. However, the plain meaning of this word is “rest, cessation” and as such conveys a much different meaning from that of the traditional English translations. In short, the latter part of this verse “I will behold humanity no more with the inhabitants chadel at rest.” Is conveying the idea that Hezekiah is mourning the beholding of humanity in this (temporary) life alone, while at the same time showing that his understanding of Sheol includes the idea that he will share this inability to behold humanity in the land of the living, with those others who are departed and present with him in Sheol “with the inhabitants chadel at rest.”
The Jewish sage Ben Melekh, in keeping with the writers of the 2nd Century Targum, observes, that seeing or appearing before the Creator signifies confession and praise. Thus the Targum of Yonatan’s allusion to the Temple cult and the manifest feminine presence of the Shekhinah, which is a manifestation of the Kevod HaShem (Glory of God).
“I shall no more appear before the face of the Lord in the land of the house of his Shekhinah, in which is length of life; and I shall no more serve him in the house of the sanctuary.'” -Targum Yonatan (2nd Century CE)
Isa 38:12 Doriy My generation, time, age is nesa pulled up, departed, veniglah and is removed, uncovered from me like keohel roiy my shepherd's tent: kipadtiy I am gathered together, rolled up by a weaver is chayay my life: midalah from threads he will cut me off: from day until night ta-shlim-eini You will make a covenant of peace with me.
Contrary to common interpretation I do not believe “Doriy” (from dor: generation) should be understood as describing the so called “Tent of the body”, which is in fact a Gnostic idea drenched in heresy. Rather, as is suggested by the plain meaning of the Hebrew “Dor”, it is the temporal nature of existence in general within the sin affected creation, that is intended. Thus, “Generation” and not “Tent, dwelling”.
That which is being lifted up and put away like a tent is the temporal existence (generation of a life) within the sin affected creation. The body on the other hand is yet to be restored and renewed as a metaphysical entity at the resurrection of the dead, and not done away with completely as many theologians suggest. To the contrary, we believe in the physical resurrection, or did Messiah rise a ghost? A curse on that idea! Thomas touched His physical body post resurrection. It is high time we did away with these Gnostic lies.
“veniglah and is removed, uncovered from me like keohel roiy my shepherd's tent”. So much is to be uncovered ahead of the dying man: the veil of temporal existence gives way to eternal rest for those, who like Hezekiah have placed their hope in HaShem. A shepherds tent is pulled up to make way for a journey, an adventure into the new grazing lands of the future. Thus, following death the believer receives a fuller understanding of the eternal present.
The Hebrew “Roiy” can be understood as “My shepherd” or, “The Shepherd to Whom I belong”. Both denote God and His King Messiah Yeshua. Think carefully on this: “uncovered from me like my shepherd's tent (generational existence)”. God, Who is Hezekiah’s Shepherd, is attributed a temporal tent, even though He is unmistakably eternal. Therefore, Whoever Hezekiah is referring to must be that manifestation of God as Shepherd Whom Isaiah has been prophesying as the King Messiah Imanu (with us) El (God). Messiah is yet to come in the context of Hezekiah’s historical prayer, and yet is alluded to as being one Who will experience death, the cessation of His time (dor) on earth (albeit temporarily).
“I am gathered together, rolled up by a weaver is my life: from threads He will cut me off: from day until night You will make a covenant of peace with me.”
The weaving analogy infers God as the weaver (Job 6:9). It also reveals the threads of life woven together to bring Hezekiah to this point. The phrase “from day to night” is a Hebrew idiom expressing the outworking of something within a short period of time. Thus, prior to God’s response and promise of additional years Hezekiah believed his death was imminent.
“You will make a covenant of peace with me.” Notice that in spite of his distress and the realization that he is soon to die Hezekiah none the less acknowledges his belief that beyond death the covenant of peace God will make with Hezekiah will sustain him.
Isa 38:13 It is made plain to me until morning, as a lion, so will He break all my bones: from day until night ta-shlim-eini You will make a covenant of peace with me.
Simply put, Hezekiah has come to terms with his imminent death. He has concluded that regardless of the distress caused by his anticipation of death and the pain of the illness along with its fast approaching end, that he is certain (repeating the phrase for the second time) that God “will make a covenant of peace” with him. That covenant, whether Hezekiah fully understood it or not, would be made in the shed blood of the coming Messiah (historically speaking), a covenant that had already been made outside of time and space (Rev. 13:8).
Notice that Hezekiah acknowledges God’s control over both the illness and the covenant of peace.
Isa 38:14 Like a swallow or a crane, so I did chirp: ehgeh moaning, muttering, meditating as a dove: my low eyes fail to look up: Adonaiy Lord I am oppressed; areveini make an exchange, become surety, mortgage (death pledge), become a ransom for me.
Hezekiah explains the din of his expressions of pain. The cacophony of cries that issue from his suffering body and soul. He likens his suffering to oppression, an allusion to the oppression of Israel, particularly with regard to her time in Egypt. The sickness is the Tyrant that is oppressing Hezekiah and is a figure for sin, which oppresses his soul.
“my low eyes fail to look up”. The plain meaning is that Hezekiah is so weak and sick that he lacks the physical and emotional energy to look up, either for food or in a spiritual sense to make proper supplication before God. The Targum Yonatan conveys this in the spiritual sense by alluding to the manifest glory of the Shekhinah:
“I lifted up mine eyes, that refreshing might come to me from (before) Him whose Shekhinah is in the highest heavens: Lord, hear my prayer; grant my petition.” -Targum Yonatan
“Lord I am oppressed make an exchange for me.” This shows, at least in part Hezekiah’s understanding that his suffering can only be overcome through a redemptive ransom. The title Adonaiy is used rather than the Holy Name YHVH: while Adonaiy can refer to any lord, YHVH refers only to Hashem. Thus, in petitioning Hashem Hezekiah has chosen a title that might also be used of Messiah, a man Who is God with us. “Make an exchange for me” equates to “take my place”, or “Bail me out”. Thus, whether Hezekiah fully understand what he is asking for or not, he is essentially requesting that God take his place and bear the suffering for him. This is of course, the very nature and mechanism of the Gospel: Messiah (Imanu-El, with us-God) becomes the ransom that atones for our sin and makes us whole.
Isaiah will later prophecy the greater answer to Hezekiah’s request:
“Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to His own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” -Isaiah 53:4-6
Isa 38:15 What will I say? Now speaking to me Himself He has fashioned, made, done it: I will go softly all my years upon the bitterness of nafshiy my soul.
Hezekiah acknowledges that in when faced with God’s authority, mercy and redemption there is nothing more a man can say.
Ibn Ezra suggests that this verse refers to the answer of God and the promise of an additional 15 years. This view would mean that the final clause refers to the way Hezekiah intends to address bitterness in the years ahead, be it through illness or political intrigue. However, it is equally possible that this verse is referring to the first words of the Lord spoken through Isaiah concerning Hezekiah’s certain death. If this is the correct understanding then the present verse shows that Hezekiah has concluded that he should exhibit a contrite state of heart before God in the face of his imminent death.
Isa 38:16 Adonaiy Lord, according to this life are all these things, and in the life of ruchiy my spirit ve-ta-chalimein-iy so You will recover me (chalam as from a dream), ve-ha-chayeiniy and cause me to live.
“according to this life are all these things”. What things? All those things aforementioned in Hezekiah’s mikhtav: pain, sorrow, despair, distress, oppression are all part of a man’s life on earth in a sin affected world.
“These things” might also refer to the things fashioned by God for the sake of Hezekiah, however, this is less likely. What is certain is that all things exist according to God’s word and that “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3 Matt. 4:4). Therefore, we can understand this verse to convey the idea that relying on the things of God is the foundation for the recovery the human spirit.
“In the life of my spirit, so You will recover me and cause me to live.” Hezekiah has just prior to this named those things that are common to life on earth in a sin affected body: now he makes a distinction between the sin affected body and the everlasting nature of the spirit ruach, that part of the person that continues to exist in Sheol after death awaiting the resurrection and restoration of the physical in the perfect world to come. Therefore, contrary to the protestation of many modern scholars, Hezekiah is clearly showing an understanding of the afterlife that includes the conscious state of the spirit within Sheol, be it in Gan-Eden or Gehinnom. After all, the Hebrew chalam is used as a descriptor that invokes the idea of waking from a dream. What is this life if not the dream that acts as a prelude to the reality of eternity. Thus, “In the life of my spirit, so You will recover me and cause me to live” takes on an ambiguous meaning that illuminates both the physical healing of Hezekiah and the post death reality of his spirit when the 15 years are concluded.
The Targum also interprets this verse as referring to the resurrection:
“O Lord, You have said concerning all the dead, that You will quicken them, and You have quickened my spirit before any of them: You have quickened, You have made me to live.” -Targum Yonatan
Isa 38:17 Hineih Behold, now, le-shalom for peace I had great bitterness: but You have chashakta in longing for nafshiy my soul delivered it mishachat from the pit of wearing out: for You have cast behind Your back all my sins.
One cannot dispute the fact that Hezekiah understands his deliverance to be both physical and spiritual. It is deliverance from sin that he is alluding to here, something that can only be purchased by a substitutionary sacrifice of shed blood. Therefore, he understands at least in part the redemptive process of God through Messiah, even though at that time in history Messiah was yet to enter time and space. Thus, we understand that the transcendent nature of the resurrected Messiah is inferred by Hezekiah’s words.
“now, for peace I had great bitterness”. Is understood by Ibn Ezra to refer to Hezekiah’s life being at the middle point of his days and the bitterness refers to his illness. Thus, at 39 years old he was considered to be in the relatively peaceful middle time of life rather than at one end or the other. It was therefore, in the peaceful time of his life that he received the dreadful news of his imminent death and was thus embittered. However, Yosef Kimchi interprets this phrase to mean that peace had replaced the bitterness: “Now my life is for peace, though I had great bitterness”. This I believe is the correct interpretation.
“but You have in longing for my soul delivered it from the pit of wearing out: for You have cast behind Your back all my sins.” Hezekiah recognizes that God has longed for him in love and mercy and will both deliver him from the physical wearing out of his body in the immediate sense, and from the just punishment for his sins in the eternal sense.
Isa 38:18 For Sheol (Holding place of departed humans, divided into Gan-Eden and Gehinnom) cannot praise You, nor can death yahaleka celebrate (shine light on) You: there is no hope for those who descend into bor a pit, well, cistern, to come into amitecha Your truth.
It is true that the holding place Sheol cannot praise God, nor can death, which is not a person but a state resulting from sin. This of course does not negate the ability of the departed to engage with God (Rev. 6:9-11), Who is not bound by time and space, nor is He deaf to the conscious departed (Though it is true that they have no means of communicating with those who remain living in the sin affected world of the present reality).
The latter clause “there is no hope for those who descend into a pit, to come into Your truth” is best summed up by the Scripture “It is appointed unto human beings to die once and then the judgement” (Hebrews 9:27). In other words, there is no dispensation for salvation following death: a person must accept God’s redemptive offer during life and or in the moments of transition between life and death.
Isa 38:19 Chay Life, chay life, he yodecha shall throw praise to You, kamoni as I do ha-yom this day: Av Father levaniym to the children You make known amitecha Your truth.
“Chay, chay” The living, both those corporeally and spiritually alive will always praise God.
“As I do this day” refers first to the day that Hezekiah receives his healing and in general to every day on which Hezekiah’s voice gives praise to Hashem.
The Father mentioned is of course Hashem and the children (plural) are Israel, ethnic, religious and subsequently all those who through Israel’s Messiah receive the truth that the Father makes known. “Your truth made known” is the redemption of human beings and of all sin affected creation through the shed blood of the Son and King Messiah Yeshua.
Isa 38:20 HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) is for saving me: u-neginotay therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life at beiyt the house of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD).”
The singular grammar of the first clause is beautiful: “Mercy is for saving me”. Take time to pause and consider this, HaShem is for saving you, are you for accepting that salvation?
Notice that following the singular phrasing of the first clause that the Hebrew uses the plural to describe the songs of praise. Why? Because Hezekiah is referring to something more than physical healing and salvation from certain death in his personal immediate context. He is also referring to the deliverance of Judah from the Assyrians: further still and most importantly he is alluding to that salvation which places our sin behind the back of God (as it were). Thus, in the likeness of the psalmist we (all Israel and those from other nations who find redemption through her Messiah) sing praises “all the days of our life at the house of HaShem”, both physical atop the Temple mount and eternal, being in God and the Lamb, Who reside in place of the Temple in the New Jerusalem, a city which has no need of a Temple (Rev. 21:22).
Isa 38:21 For Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah) had said, “Let them take a cake of pressed figs, and use it as a medicinal rub upon the boil, and he will recover.”
These verses are retrospective in that they refer back to the process of healing that occurred over the period of time that Hezekiah was recording his mikhtav.
The mechanism for the healing reminds us that God heals in many and varied ways and not always instantaneously. The goal of the miraculous is to point people to salvation. Healing is of little value if it only extends life unto eternal death. The purpose of God’s healing is to invoke salvation and wholeness. Thus, Yeshua says “Go, your faith has made you whole.” And not “Go, your faith has healed you” as some intellectually dishonest English versions suggest (Luke 19:17; Mark 5:34; 10:52 etc.)
Isa 38:22 Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) also had said, What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD)?
Once again this verse should be understood retrospectively and refers to the sign of the shadow reversing up the stars of Ahaz, which has occurred chronologically speaking prior to this point in the narrative. As explained earlier, these verses are included directly prior to the healing of Hezekiah in the 2 Kings 20 account.
© 2018 Yaakov Brown
How often we miss out on the comfort that might be afforded us in simply calling on the various attributes and character traits of God. We rush into our petitions with desperate cries for help when much of that help begins in the knowledge of Who we’re petitioning.
Isa 37:1 And it came to pass, when king Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) heard, he tore his clothes, vayitkas and covered, concealed, hid himself with sackcloth, vayavo and went to the beit house of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD).
Hezekiah tore his cloths in union with his court and the people of Judah. He tore them in mourning at their predicament and in sorrow over both his personal sin and disbelief, and over that of his people. This is the first step in his symbolic repentance. Second, he put on or “covered” himself with sackcloth. The Hebrew root “kasah” translated “covered” also means to conceal, hide and in a figurative sense to overwhelm. Thus, Hezekiah is overwhelmed by the consequences of both his own sin and that of Judah. While tearing garments is an instantaneous response to the revelation of sin and turmoil, it is none the less over in moments. Putting on sackcloth adds an intentional and ongoing component to repentance by constantly reminding the wearer of the discomfort and distress that sin and its consequences have brought upon him.
These acts of repentance do nothing to convince God of a man’s true state of heart, He knows all that is in a man’s heart. Rather, these symbolic actions are a means by which a man might remind himself of his true state before God and his need for the redemption that only God can provide him. Prayerful supplication and practiced repentance are for our benefit, yet another affirmation of God’s grace and mercy toward us. He is all knowing and yet in love He has selflessly engaged us in eternal conversation.
Hezekiah went “to” not “into” the house of HaShem. Only priests were allowed to enter the Temple (Court of priests, holy place) and only the High priest, the Holy of holies. The Hebrew reads “vayavo beit YHVH” literally “and he went house YHVH”. If the text were meant to be understood as “and he went into the house of HaShem” it would need to read “vayavo babeit YHVH”.
Were we to read the text as most English translations render it “he went into the house of the Lord”, we would also need to presume sin upon Hezekiah for breaking the Temple cult protocol (a sin committed by king Uzziah, who was struck with leprosy as a result [2 Chron. 26:16-22]): this is clearly not what the context conveys. Hezekiah is in no way punished for his genuine pleas to HaShem and is therefore not guilty of breaching Temple protocol or presuming upon himself the role of priest. To the contrary, Hezekiah is shown here as a respecter of protocol and one who honours the God given roles of others. This is one of his noblest traits as king.
Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord (v.14) and certainly entered the court of Israel (men’s courtyard) approaching the court of priests (For priests only) but went no further than the opening to the court of priests.
There is much for us to learn from Hezekiah’s actions. At this point in his story he did not presume to take things into his own hands as he had done. Instead he chose to rely on God and the systems set in place for orderly worship and petition. Hezekiah honoured the roles of the priest Eliyakiym, the Torah scribe Shevna and the priests who were fulfilling their allocated period of service in the Temple proper at the time of these events. His patient attention to detail in these matters shows both humility and trust on his part. A trusting man may act promptly but he need not act presumptuously as a result of panic and apprehension.
Isa 37:2 And he sent Eleyakiym (God raises, arises), who was over ha-beit the house (Temple), and Shevna (vigour, tender youth) ha-sofeir the scribe, and the ziknei elders (older ones) of ha-cohanim the priests, mitkasiym covered, concealed (overwhelmed) with sackcloth, to Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah) the prophet the son of Amotz (Strong, alert, courageous).
We note that Yoach the recorder/historian is missing from the religious retinue sent to Isaiah. The petitioning of God through the prophet is pursued devoid of concern for contemporary secular record. This group of the king’s representatives are those responsible for the spiritual care of Judah and Israel. Thus, it is the elders among the priesthood who go in addition to Eliyakiym and Shevna, as representatives of the entire priesthood and of Judah’s Temple cult practitioners.
Isa 37:3 And they said to him, “Thus says Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy), ‘This day is a day of tzarah distress, and of tochechah correction, and of ne’atzah blasphemy (contempt): for the baniym children are come to the birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth.
Hezekiah calls this day a day of “tzarah” distress, and of “tochechah” correction, and of “ne’atzah” blasphemy (contempt)”:
By using these three specific terms Hezekiah is soberly acknowledging the truth of Judah’s situation. She is being oppressed as God’s people, she is guilty of sinning against God and is deserving of His rebuke and correction, and she is appalled at the blasphemy being levelled against the God of Israel as a result of both Israel’s sin and the arrogance of her enemies, who are ultimately the enemies of God.
The idiom “for the children are come to the birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth” (ref. Isa. 66:9) conveys a great deal. In its colloquial form it was probably used in the singular, however, here it is plural “children”. Thus, as Yarchi rightly interprets it refers to Israel (God’s chosen children) and the matriarchs of Israel, her human mothers. In the process of birthing there is sometimes a point at which neither the mother’s contractions nor the child’s movements are able to bring about the final coming forth from the womb. In such cases both mother and child are helpless to deliver themselves, they’re utterly reliant on help received from another, such as a midwife or physician. Thus Hezekiah is making an admission on Judah’s (Israel’s) behalf, confessing her helplessness and complete reliance on deliverance at God’s hand.
Isa 37:4 It may be that HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) Eloheiycha your God (Judge) will yishma hear, listen to the words of Rav-shakeih (The great cupbearer), whom the king of Ashur (a step: Assyria) his adonav master has sent to taunt the Elohiym Chai living God, and will decide against the words which HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) Eloheiycha your God (Judge) has heard: wherefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.”
Hezekiah is not necessarily showing his lack of relational understanding of God with the phrase “Your God”. This phrase is often used by Hebrew speakers to challenge the hearer to take ownership of their common bond. Yeshua (Jesus) uses it in this way when he says “Your Torah” (John 8:17; 10:34; 18:31): He does not mean to say that it is not His Torah, rather He means to stir in them a sense of right identity and ownership with regard to the Spirit of the Torah and the bond shared in it by every Jew. Therefore, we may understand the phrase “Your God” in one of two ways: either Hezekiah is yet to enter into personal relationship with God or, he is reminding himself that his God is also the God of Isaiah, and reminding Isaiah that the prophet shares his God with his people Israel.
By saying “Maybe Hashem will hear” means, maybe the sin of Assyria will make a louder din in the ears of God than that of our own sin. Hezekiah knows that God has witnessed the blasphemy of Assyria, his question is one of action: Will God act for His own Name’s sake and subsequently for the sake of His people Judah?
The phrase “lechareif Elohiym chai” to taunt the living God, seems to be an allusion to the mocking display of Goliath (1 Sam. 17:26; 17:36). Thus, the mocking display of Rav-Shakeih is seen as being an affront to God of similar nature.
With regard to the phrase “Your prayer” as it applies to Isaiah. It is true to say that “The prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective”, not because of a man’s righteousness but because the Righteous One lives in him. Thus, with regard to salvation God has no favourites but with regard to right action God favours the obedient.
Isa 37:5 So the servants of king Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) came to Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah). Isa 37:6 And Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah) said to them, “Thus will you say to adoneichem your master, Thus says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), ‘Al-tiyra Be not afraid mipenei of the face (appearance) of ha-devariym the words that you have heard, with which the na’arei young boys of the king of Ashur (a step: Assyria) have blasphemed Me.
Isaiah turns Hezekiah’s phrasing toward the servants of the king for much the same reason for which Hezekiah had addressed Isaiah. “Thus will you say to your master/lord…” As priests and keeper of Torah responsible for the mechanisms of worship practice they are being tasked by the prophet to honour the Lord’s chosen king over Judah and to act in a messianic role as communicators to the king. They are both receiving and giving the Word of the Lord.
To Hezekiah the message of HaShem begins as it often does with the comforting words “Al-tiyra” no fear! Specifically “Don’t be afraid of the appearance of the words that you’ve heard”. So often we are afraid of how things appear to be because we have lost sight of the unseen and the present work of God in our midst. God calls Hezekiah to return to Him and receive insight so that he might be delivered from appearances and understand the reality of God’s work.
There is a beautiful irony in the name Ashur (a step). It’s as if the step had hurled curses at those who will step on it as they ascend to the mountain of the Lord.
The prophet uses the Hebrew “na’arei” boys, young men, as a subtle insult toward the messengers of Sennacherib. They are not even wise enough in years to qualify as seasoned servants and are instead called novice children by the prophet Isaiah.
Isa 37:7 Hinni Behold, pay attention, I will send a ruach spirit (wind) upon him, and he will hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.’”
It is a spirit from HaShem that is to come upon Sennacherib. This can be understood as both an angelic messenger that will disquiet him and or a spirit of dread, fear etc. An ill wind as it were.
“He will hear a rumour” most likely refers to the rumour of verse 9 concerning the king of Ethiopia. It may also be alluding to the news of the destruction of the Assyrian army which will soon (Within a year’s time) reach Sennacherib, though this is less likely given the seeming immediacy of the qualifying events pursuant to this verse.
Isa 37:8 So Rav-shakeih (The great cupbearer) returned, and found the king of Ashur (Assyria: a step) warring against Livnah (white): for he had heard that he was departed from Lachiysh (invincible: south of Jerusalem in the territory of Judah).
Rav-Shakeih had heard of Sennacherib’s movements and had journeyed from Lachiysh to Livnah (possibly the Egyptian city but more likely the city of the same name in the territory of Judah [Joshua 10:29]).
Isa 37:9 And he heard it said concerning Tirhakah (searched out the pious) king of Ethiopia, “He is come forth to make war with you.” And when he heard it, he sent messengers to Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy), saying,
The nearest precedent subject is Sennacherib, thus, it is Sennacherib who receives the news concerning Tirhakah and in desperation sends messengers back to Hezekiah to repeat and expand on the threats and intimidations of the previous chapter.
Tirhakah was king of both Ethiopia and Egypt at this time.
Isa 37:10 “Thus will you speak to Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) king of Yehudah (Judah: praise), saying, ‘Don’t let Eloheicha your God, in Whom you trust, deceive you, saying, “Yerushalayim (Flood of peace: Jerusalem) will not be given into the hand of the king of Ashur (Assyria: a step).”
These are the words Sennacherib instructed his messengers to say to Hezekiah. The prophet Isaiah juxtaposes the arrogant actions of the king of Assyria and his messengers against the righteous actions of God and His prophet, messenger to the children of Israel.
Sennacherib’s accusation exceeds the blasphemous words previously spoken by Rav-Shakeih. To claim that HaShem (Who cannot lie) has deceived Hezekiah and Israel amounts to likening HaShem’s character to that of the father of lies the Satan.
Isa 37:11 Hinei Behold, pay attention, you have heard what the kings of Ashur (Assyria: a step) have done to all lands by destroying them utterly; and will you be delivered? Isa 37:12 Have the elohoheiy gods of the nations delivered those who my fathers have destroyed, Gozan (cutting off), and Charan (Mountaineer), and Rezeph (Hot stone), and the children of Eden (Pleasure, delight) which were in Tel-assar (Hill of Ashur)? Isa 37:13 Where is the king of Chamat (fortress), and the king of Arphad (I will be spread out), and the king of the city of Sepharvaim (two sipparas), Hena (troubling), and Ivah (ruin)?’”
It is interesting to note that here Sennacherib attributes to his fathers’ (Sargon and the previous kings of the Derketade dynasty which he had overthrown) that which Rav-shakeih had given Sennacherib himself credit for. This serves to strengthen the indictment against Sennacherib’s generational pride and the pride seeded in the very soil of Assyria and her precedent empires.
While many of the cities mentioned are identifiable a number of them can’t be placed geographically with certainty do to insufficient historical and archaeological information. The Targum understands the last two nouns as a description of Sennacherib’s actions:
"has he not removed them, and carried them captive?'' -Targum Yonatan
The Jewish commentator Yarchi agrees with this interpretation:
"the king of Assyria has moved and overthrown them, and destroyed them, and removed them out of their place;''
What is certain is that Sennacherib was boasting of his prowess and wilfully impugning the character of the God of Israel.
Isa 37:14 And Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH) received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) went up to ha-beit the house of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), and spread it before HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD).
Like the tearing of his cloths and the wearing of sackcloth, the spreading out of the letter before the Lord was a symbolic act done before the people to show that the king was petitioning the God of Israel alone for deliverance. This act is in itself a prayer practice.
Hezekiah went up to the Temple and as far as the court of Israel in order to lay out the letter at the opening to the entry to the court of the priests.
Isa 37:15 And Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) prayed to the HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), saying, Isa 37:16 “HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) Tzevaot (Who goes warring, of hosts), Eloheiy God of Yisrael (Israel: overcomes in God), that sits between the ha-kerubim (Angelic beings), You are ha-Elohiym the God, You alone, to all the kingdoms of the earth: You have made ha-shamayim the heavens and ve’et ha-aretz the earth.
Having presented his unspoken prayer to God in the form of the letter, Hezekiah now calls on God using a very specific and significant title “YHVH Tzevaot, Eloheiy Yisrael” Mercy Who goes Warring, God/Judge of Israel (Overcome in God). There are many other names for God that Hezekiah could have used, however, the situation called for the God Who arises to battle, the King over all Who rules the host of the heavens. One does not call on the Prince of Peace when war is needed. Of course, it is one of the mysterious ironies of God’s character, that it is Mercy (YHVH) Who goes warring.
Hezekiah adds to the first title by acknowledging God’s intrinsic link to His people Israel “Eloheiy Yisrael” those who overcome in God’s judgement. Ethnic, religious, spiritual: HaShem has placed His Name on the people of Israel.
Hezekiah is not done with his identifying of the attributes and person of his God: “Who sits between the Cherubim” is a reference to the Mercy Seat atop the Ark of the Covenant which resides between the fierce Cherubim (Anthropomorphic Angelic beings) and dwells in the Holy of holies (Psa. 18:10; 80:1). This is a description of both the attribute of God’s mercy and the literal manifest (feminine) presence of God known to the rabbis of the Talmud as the Shekhinah.
Still Hezekiah continues, the entire prayer thus far being a calling out of some of the many titles and attributes of God. He concludes with two fundamentally important descriptors: Elohiym (Intense God) over all the kingdoms of the earth (A direct affront to the foolish claims of Sennacherib), and Creator of both the heavens (All that exists above and beyond) and the earth (the location of the present crisis).
How often we miss out on the comfort that might be afforded us in simply calling on the various attributes and character traits of God. We rush into our petitions with desperate cries for help when much of that help begins in the knowledge of Who we’re petitioning. Hezekiah reminds himself and his people that all prayer is a response to the Greatest of Persons. He calls out to:
It is in the comfort of reminding himself of Who God is that Hezekiah gains the spiritual strength to continue his petition in hope.
Isa 37:17 Incline Your ear, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), and hear; open Your eyes, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib (Sin [moon deity] sends many brothers), which he has sent to taunt the Elohiym Chaiy living God.
God is invisible, immutable, unseen, He has no ears. The poetic language is used to bridge the gap between the seen and the unseen. God has heard, He is all knowing, thus, Hezekiah is asking God to listen and act. God has seen, He is all seeing, thus, Hezekiah is asking God to look with mercy and act.
Hezekiah identifies the blasphemous words of Sennacherib not for God’s sake, God has heard them and decided Sennacherib’s fate from before the foundation of the world. Hezekiah is reminding himself of the insult to God and acknowledging to himself and all Israel, that unlike the gods that Sennacherib has alluded to in their defeat, the God of Israel is living, in fact He is the very reason that life exists “Elohiym Chaiy”.
Isa 37:18 Amenam Surely, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), the kings of Ashur (Assyria) have laid waste all the nations, and their countries, Isa 37:19 And have naton given their elohiym gods (judges) ba-eish into the fire: for they were not gods, but the work of human hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them.
Hezekiah acknowledges before God the truth of what Sennacherib has said while at the same time discerning the key difference between the defeated non-gods and the God of Creation.
Isa 37:20 Now therefore, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) Eloheiynu our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), You only.”
Hezekiah ends his prayer by acknowledging the ultimate reason for God’s acting in these circumstances. It is God’s Name and reputation that must be honoured and maintained before all the kingdoms. Why? Because the salvation of humanity is reliant on Him. God is not a narcissist, He lifts Himself up before humanity in order to raise us up from eternal death. His exaltation is our redemption.
Hezekiah ends his prayer by acknowledging that Gods Mercy YHVH is firmly established (He uses the Holy Name twice), that YHVH is Eloheiynu is “Our God” (Israel’s God), and that God alone holds the title of Merciful Judge over all things.
Isa 37:21 Then Yeshayahu (YHVH, Mercy, He is salvation: Isaiah) the son of Amotz (Strength) sent to Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy), saying, “Thus says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) Eloheiy God of Yisrael (Israel: overcomes in God), ‘Whereas You have prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Ashur (Assyria):
It is “Mercy He is Salvation” the son of “Strength” who is tasked with sending God’s answer to “My strength is Mercy”. What beauty there is in the names of God’s servants, what majesty there is in the narrative of God’s Word, and what unparalleled mystery is held in the fact that it is the sum of history and eternity woven together.
Notice that Isaiah identifies (his God) as YHVH Eloheiy Yisrael. He does this in truth and in solidarity with his Israeli brother Hezekiah. As if to say, “We have called on Him together my brother, and it is He Whom we have called on, the very person Who imparts our identity, Who responds to us”.
Isa 37:22 This is ha-d’var the word which HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) has spoken concerning him; The virgin, the daughter of Tziyon (Parched land), has despised you, and laughed you to scorn; the daughter of Yerushalayim (Flood of peace) has shaken her head at you.
“This is ha-d’var the word” is both literal and literary. It is also transcendent in that this word (essence) is not simply true in the moment or even according to the circumstance but rather it is perpetually true because the Devar Word is Yeshua Himself.
We could read “This is the Yeshua Whom Mercy has sent out in response to the taunts of His enemies.”
Note that what follows is a future prophetic statement at the time that Hezekiah receives it. After all, Judah the virgin daughter had not yet laughed Sennacherib to scorn, nor had the residents of Jerusalem mocked him with shaking heads. To the contrary, Judah was terrified of him. Thus, HaShem speaks into time and space that which is already complete, though yet future.
Isa 37:23 Whom have you taunted and blasphemed? and against Whom have you raised your voice, and lifted up your eyes on high (gazed at with haughty eyes)? Against the kedosh Holy One (holiness) of Yisrael (Israel).
The true nature of the subject of Sennacherib’s taunt is revealed “Kedosh Yisrael” Holy One of Israel. “The tribal God of Israel is God over all, tremble you piss-ant!”
Isa 37:24 Via your servants you have taunted adonaiy a lord (Hezekiah), and have said, ‘By the multitude of my chariots I have come up to the highest mountains, to the sides of Levanon (witnesses); and I will cut down the tall cedars there, and the choice fir trees there: and I will enter into the height of his border, and the forest of his Carmel (orchard, plantation). Isa 37:25 I have dug, and drunk water; and with the sole of my feet I have dried up all the rivers of the besieged places.’
The English reader should be careful not to read “adonaiy” master/lord in this context as referring to God, it does not. It is used here to refer to the king of Judah adonaiy melekh Yehudah, the earthly king Hezekiah.
The message from God to Sennacherib is a fundamental challenge to the world view of the heathen king. The indictment cites Sennacherib’s taunting of Hezekiah (God’s chosen king over Judah at this point in history). The boasts of Sennacherib are acknowledged and the truth of at least some of them is affirmed. God does not deny that Sennacherib has had power to do these things, what He does is challenge him by revealing the true source of that power.
Isa 37:26 Haven’t you heard long ago, I have asah fashioned it; and of ancient times, that I have yatzar framed it? Now I have brought it to pass, that you should be allowed to lay waste defenced cities turning them into ruinous heaps.
God being outside of time and space, knowing the end from the beginning, has seen these events complete and has been in control of the outcome from before the birth of Sennacherib.
“Haven’t you heard?” Sennacherib had all the resources of the known world available to him regarding ancient histories and the words of the prophets of many nations. He had heard of the God of Israel and what had been done for the ancient Israelites. The Targum Yonatan adds,
"what I did to Pharaoh king of Egypt;''
Thus king Sennacherib is without excuse. He cannot say “I didn’t realise that the God of Israel was not to be trifled with…”
Isa 37:27 Therefore their inhabitants were of short yad hand (strength), they were shattered and put to shame: they were as the plants of the field, and as the green herb, as the leeks on the housetops, and as crop blasted before it was grown up.
God allowed the inhabitants of the cities defeated by Sennacherib to be caught by surprise and made weak in military terms so that the greater purpose of God, the redemption of His people and subsequently of the nations, might come to fruition.
Isa 37:28 But I know your abode, your going out, and your coming in, and your rage against Me.
This is an interesting turn of phrase. To the Hebrew reader it is a phrase all too familiar, prayed over the mezuzah as we leave and enter our homes “Blessed are you HaShem our God Who guards our going out and our coming in… Who guards our coming in and our going out.” It is a phrase connected to Shaddai (The Shin on the mezuzah) the All Sufficient Protector of Israel. It is a phrase that comforts Israel while at the same time terrifying her enemies.
“You say you are King of kings Sennacherib, and that your god is above all others. Wake from your delusion you fool, I know the intimate details of every aspect of your existence and hold your fate in My hands.”
Isa 37:29 Because you rage against Me, and your storming, has come up into My ears, therefore I will put my hook in your nose, and my bridle in your lips, and I will turn you back by the way in which you came.
The idea that Sennacherib’s rage and boasting has come up into God’s ears is a slight against Sennacherib and his gods. Their taunts and boasts concern a small dominion, one allowed them by God, Who is high above them.
The Assyrians were known to lead their captives away with hooks in their noses and pull them along from piercings in their lips. Thus, they are punished according to their own actions.
Isa 37:30 And this will be a sign to you, You will eat this year that which grows of itself; and the second year that which springs up on its own: and in the third year you will sow, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.
Verse 30 begins an inserted word of hope spoken to Judah (Israel). Here the children of Judah are addressed, the sign being one that reveals Judah’s coming deliverance. Notice that the sign will unfold over the course of Judah’s deliverance from Assyria. It will not happen all at once but it will happen.
Isa 37:31 And the remnant that has escaped of the house of Yehudah (Praise: Judah) shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward:
“as a tree which sends forth its roots below, and lifts up its branches above.” -Targum Yonatan (2nd Century CE)
This remnant is not a “type” as some foolishly suggest, so as to deny ethnic Israel’s identity. To the contrary, the remnant is literal ethnic Judah (Israel): it is literally qualified as such by the words “of the house of Judah”, an ethnic distinction. These are those in Jerusalem joined with those that had escaped out of the cities of Judah, during Sennacherib's invasion of the land, and besieging and taking of the fortified cities. By God’s grace they will again thrive like a tree that takes root downward feeding on the deep mayim chayim living waters of God and bears fruit upward providing healing for the nations.
Isa 37:32 For out of Yerushalayim (Flood of peace: Jerusalem) will go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Tziyon (Parched land): the kinat zeal, jealousy of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) Tzevaot (Who goes warring, of hosts) will do this.’
“For the remnant of the righteous shall go forth from Jerusalem, and the escaped of them that establish the law from mount Zion: by the Word of the Lord of hosts shall this be done.” -Targum Yonatan
It is the “kinat” fervour, zeal, jealousy of the Lord of Mercy Who goes warring, that will do this. It is God in action, arisen, fierce, Who comes to deliver His loved ones.
They will go out from Jerusalem to return to their allotted towns and villages within the territory of Judah. They will escape captivity in the mount and be free to go out and come in.
The added clause of the Targum rightly concludes that this remnant will (for a time at least historically speaking) be devote in their faith practice and love for HaShem.
Nothing either Hezekiah or Judah has done will bring these things about. This will happened based entirely on the “Zeal of The Lord Who goes Warring”!
Isa 37:33 Therefore thus says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) concerning the king of Ashur (Assyria), “He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a siege ramp against it.
“Therefore” means, “because I am zealous for My people and My own great Name, and have already established Judah’s deliverance”.
God has determined that Sennacherib will not even get the opportunity to approach the city of Jerusalem or plan even the minutest detail of a campaign to proceed against her.
Isa 37:34 By the way that he came, by the same he will return, and will not come into this city,’ says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD). Isa 37:35 ‘For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake, and for my servant David's sake.’”
Nothing is so soul destroying to the man of great conquest as a defeat that forces him to return in the way that he came. All ground gained is lost with each step back, every boast is swallowed, and like the poison of pride it sits festering in the belly. To die in battle is the glory of a warrior, and to return in defeat is his greatest shame. This would be god Sennacherib will suffer the greatest humiliation because he failed to humble himself.
“Will not come in to this city” says YHVH. There is a day coming when Hashem will speak these same words to the enemies of Israel and to the great adversary of humanity the Satan “You will not come into this city!”
Why does God defend and save the city of Jerusalem (Flood of Peace)? Is it for Judah’s sake? Is it for Israel’s sake? Is it because He wants to build a castle on the hill? Hashem defends and saves Jerusalem “for My own sake, and for my servant David's sake.” “For My Own sake” because without the knowledge of the Glory of the Lord no one can be saved, and “For My servant David’s sake” because the greater son of David the King Messiah brings redemption to Israel and to all humanity.
Isa 37:36 Then malakh an angel of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) went forth, and struck in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and eighty five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all pegariym corpses meitiym dead on mass.
These events are also recorded in 2 Chronicles 32:21-23 and 2 Kings 19:35-37.
“Then” seems to infer that these events happened on the same night that Hezekiah had received the correspondence from Isaiah (2 Kings 19:35). However, this is probably not the case, given that the prophecy of 37:30 requires at least a year gap between it and the events of Assyria’s defeat. What took place during that year? Sennacherib was engaged in a conflict with Ethiopia/Egypt. We know this because Isaiah 37:8-9 explains that when he made his second attempt to bring Jerusalem under his power, he had received intelligence of the advance of Tirhakah, and therefore had withdrawn the centre of his army from Lakhiysh, and encamped before Livnah.
The seemingly redundant language “they were all corpses dead” is a Hebrew poetic formula that denotes utter defeat.
This work of an angel (messenger) of Hashem draws a correlation with Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. It is miraculous, instantaneous, performed at night and beyond the mechanisms of humanity.
“And the Lord sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he was come into the house of his god, they that came forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword. Thus the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all other, and guided them on every side. And many brought gifts unto the Lord to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah: so that he was magnified in the sight of all nations from thenceforth.” -2 Chronicles 32:21-23
The first of Isaiah’s histories concerning Assyria closes here with a short account of the result of the Assyrian drama, in which Isaiah's prophecies were fulfilled: not only the prophecies immediately preceding, but all the prophecies of the Assyrian era since the time of Ahaz, which pointed to the destruction of the Assyrian forces (e.g. Isa. 10:33-34), and to the flight and death of the king of Assyria (Isa. 31:9; 30:33).
If we look further forward to chapters 38-39, we see from Isa. 38:6 that it is only by anticipation that the account of these closing events is finished here.
Isa 37:37 So Sennacherib king of Ashur (Assyria) departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh (Abode of Ninus [possibly Nimrod]).
Nineveh was built by the ancient man Ashur of Genesis 10:11. It became synonymous with those who served the sensual gods of created things in opposition to the One true God of Israel. The same spirit is in that land and its people till this very day.
Isa 37:38 And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch (the great eagle) his god, that Adrammelekh (Majestic king) and Sharetzer (Prince of treasure) his sons struck him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat (Armenia: curse reversed): and Eisar-chaddon (Ashur has given a brother) his son reigned in his stead.
A period of approximately 20 years passed between Sennacherib’s return to Nineveh from Judea and his death (701 – 681 BCE).
“Nisroch” is a deity whose exact identity is debated. The Jewish sage Yarchi says, that the name Nisroch is related to "netser", a Hebrew noun referring to a branch or shoot and in Talmudic terms a plank, which may have been from the ark of Noah. This however, is pure conjecture.
“Adrammelekh” was also the name of an idol (2 Kings 17:31) to whom children were sacrificed in fire.
It is not known for certain what moved Sennacherib’s sons to commit this patricide. Yarchi says that Sennacherib prayed to his god, and vowed, if he would deliver him, that he might not be slain, he would offer up his two sons to him. Apparently his sons had been within hearing of him, therefore they killed him to prevent their own deaths. Again, this is conjecture.
© 2018 Yaakov Brown
A Priest, a Torah scribe and an historian go out to parley with the leader of a vast army carrying nothing more than some styli and parchment…
Compare 2 Kings 18:13-37; 2 Chronicles 32:1-16
Chapters 36 -39 are an historical supplement to the prophecies of 1 – 35. Beginning at the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign, these chapters record the literal fulfillment of many of the prophecies of the first 35 chapters and act as a link between the first and second prophetic themes.
The events of chapter 36 are also recorded in 2 Kings 18:13-37 with some minor additions and textual variations. This period of history is also discussed in 2 Chronicles 32:1-16. Each of these records illuminates the other.
It is impossible to know whether the Isaiah account predates the 2 Kings account. However, the prophet’s habit of inserting historical information into his proclamations (e.g. 7:1-6; 8:1-4; 20:1; 22:15) along with the style of Hebrew used and the references in Chronicles 26:22 and 32:32 to Isaiah’s historical and geographical activities, suggest that the present record (perhaps written by Asaph the recorder [v3]) is the original and or was recorded at the same time as the slightly more detailed 2 Kings account. Regardless, the multiple accounts only serve to affirm the historical accuracy of these events which are also attested to by ancient Assyrian records of the invasion of Judea in 701 BCE. Some will say that because the 2 Kings account is slightly more detailed that it must be the original, however, In the example of the repetitious accounts of Jeremiah 52 and 2 Kings 24:18-25:30, we have a proof that the text of a passage may be more faithfully preserved in a second location than it is in its original form. Therefore, as I stated previously, it is impossible to know without doubt which of the texts is the original.
One of the strongest themes of this chapter is the arrogance and ignorance of the Assyrian king. This is faced in stark contrast by the vulnerable and frightened religious leaders and the historian sent to parley with the Rav-Shakeih (Great Cupbearer). Verse 3 almost sounds like the beginning of a bad joke “A Priest, a Torah scribe and an historian go out to parley with the leader of a vast army carrying nothing more than some styli and parchment…”
Isa 36:1 And it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH), that Sancheiriyv (Sennacherib: Sin (Moon god) send many brothers) king of Ashur (Assyria: a step) came up against all the fortified cities of Yehudah (Judah: praise), and took them.
2 Kings 18:13 Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fortified cities of Judah, and took them.
2 Kings 18:14 And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended you; turn away from me: that which you have put on me will I bear. And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.
2 Kings 18:15 And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king's house.
2 Kings 18:16 At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.
As mentioned in the introduction, Assyrian records detail the invasion of Judea in 701 BCE and the conquest of forty six cities but not Jerusalem.
It is no coincidence that these things began to happen in Hezekiah’s 14th year. 14 is 2 x 7 which is a number for completion. Thus, twice complete, the prophecies of the former chapters, being firmly established begin to manifest themselves literally before the eyes of all Israel.
Prior to the threats of Sennacherib via his messenger the Rav-Shakeih, we are blessed with the promise revealed in the meaning of Hezekiah’s name. “Chizki My strength Yahu He is YHVH Mercy”. Judah has sinned and is worthy of discipline, king Hezekiah, as we will soon see, is no perfect chassid (saint): however, Judah’s deliverance is not reliant on her righteousness but on the righteous strength of Hashem.
Against this Jewish king’s wonderful name we have Sancheiriyv, meaning “The moon god sends many brothers”. The Islamic world would do well to heed the warning inferred in this ancient narrative. Allah (feminine moon deity symbolized by the crescent moon) will send many brothers against Jerusalem (The Temple mount, Israel, the Jewish people) but the fate of those who despise the God of Israel and his people will be like that of the Assyrian Empire, they will cease to exist.
It is important to note that the additional events given in the 2 Kings account occurred prior to the events of verse 2. It is Hezekiah’s faithlessness toward God that precedes the encounter that follows. Hezekiah had clearly lacked trust in God and or disbelieved the prophecies of Isaiah to some degree until it was almost too late. By giving Sennacherib the silver from the Temple of God Hezekiah would have been seen to be symbolically submitting the God of Israel to the moon deity (and or other gods) of Assyria. By giving the treasures of his own house to Sennacherib he would have been seen to be symbolically submitting the kingship of Judah (and Israel) to Sennacherib, who boasted that he was the “Great King”. Hezekiah even went as far as removing the gold plating from the Temple doors and the pillars, gold that he himself had installed in an act of worship to God.
We have much to learn from Hezekiah’s actions. In many ways he was a devoted follower of Hashem but in many other ways he showed that he was prone to focus on temporal things and take his eyes off God’s eternal purposes. We are fools to take back those things that have previously been given over to God in worship and give them to the enemy of our faith. This happens when we take our eyes off eternal Mercy (HaShem) and instead submit our gaze to temporal fear. This is why Yochanan writes:
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has to do with torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love.” -1 John 4:18
Isa 36:2 And the king of Ashur (Assyria: a step) sent Rav-shakeih (Rav Great shakah drink giver: Chief Cupbearer) from Lachiysh (invincible: south of Jerusalem in the territory of Judah) to Yerushalayim (Flood of peace: Jerusalem) unto king Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH) with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper ha-bereichah pool (from barak: bless, kneel) by the highway near the field of choveis those who clean clothes by treading them down in water (a fuller).
2 Kings 18:17 And the king of Assyria sent the Tartan (General) and the Rab-saris (Great Eunich) and the Rab-shakeh (Great Cupbearer) from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great host against Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they were come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller's field.
The 2 Kings account adds two officials to the Rab-shakeh’s visit. This creates a balance between parties and sets the scene more thoroughly in order to give a greater sense of the pride of Assyria and the vulnerability of Judah. The plurality of the Assyrian party is presupposed by Isaiah 37:6, 24.
We notice that among the representatives of Judah there is no general or men of arms of any kind. As is often the case throughout Jewish history we Jews turn up to war with our Torah and history in hand. It is no wonder then that we are called people of the Book by some. While we don’t necessarily prove the adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, it is true to say that in the end we trust in the Word that the pen engraves and that along with David the righteous among us proclaim “My heart is stirred with a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a skilful writer.”
“Rav-shakeih” is a title rather than a proper noun. It translates literally as great drink giver or great irrigator, which is an idiomatic way of saying that this man is Sennacherib’s wine taster, his cup bearer, a man trusted to ensure that the king is not poisoned by a usurper or an enemy of the state. Thus Sennacherib puts his own words in the mouth of his most trusted subordinate. It is possible, due to his familiarity with the Hebrew language, that Rav-shakeih was an apostate Jew who was now in the service of Sennacherib.
“Lachish” is a city within the territory of Judah (Joshua 15:39) 12 hours walk south-west of Jerusalem. It’s known today by the tel (mound/hill) that adorns the landscape, thus Tel Lachish. It was the gateway city to the main trade route south toward Egypt and was thus an extremely important strategic location. Sennacherib was in the midst of besieging Lachish when he sent the Rav-shakeih to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 32:9).
The pool mentioned is obviously close to the city walls given the fact that those on the walls could hear Rav-sakeih’s message spoken in Hebrew. Ben Melekh describes the pool, conduit, and highway:
“the pool is a ditch, built with stone and lime, where rainwater was collected, or where they drew water from the fountain, and the waters were gathered into this pool; and there was in this pool a hole, which they stopped, until the time they pleased to fetch water, out of the pool: and the conduit was a ditch near to the pool, and they brought water out of the pool into the conduit, when they chose to drink, or wash garments: the highway was a way paved with stones, so that they could walk upon it in rainy days; and here they stood and washed their garments in the waters of the conduit, and in the field they spread them to the sun.”
Isa 36:3 Then came out toward him Eleyakiym (God raises, arises), son of Chilkiyahu (My portion, territory, is YHVH), which was over ha-bayt the house, and Shevna (vigour, tender youth) ha-sofeir the scribe, and Yoach (YHVH a brother), son of Asaph (gatherer), ha-mazekiyr the recorder (from zakar: remember).
2 Kings 18:18 And when they had called to the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder.
“Came out to him” means that they were sent out by Hezekiah. The Rav-Shakeih’s insolent words tell us that he would not have been above breaking protocol and calling the king of Judah out had he not been met promptly by Hezekiah’s officials.
It is interesting to note that the corresponding account in 2 Kings has a Deuteronomic tone, while the account in 2 Chronicles has a more historical sound. It is possible that Shevna was responsible for the 2 Kings account, being a scribe (Theological), while Yoach recorded the 2 Chronicle account in the historical style commonly employed by a recorder, chronicler, historian.
“Ha-Bayt” The House, is a title for the Temple. Thus, Eleyakiym was Priest of Hashem.
“Ha-Sofeir” The Scribe, is a title given to the chief scribe responsible for maintaining the accurate transmission of the Torah. Thus, Shevna was the keeper of the Torah.
“Ha-mazekiyr” The recorder, is a title given to the chronicler of historical events. Thus, Yoach was responsible for the accurate transmission of Israel’s history at the time of Hezekiah.
With the titles and roles of these three men in mind we’re able to see a certain prophetic continuity in their names:
· Eleyakiym, God raises up Mount Zion (The House, Har Bayt) above all other mountains (Micah 4:1).
· Shevna, vigorous and tender the Torah of the Lord goes out from Mount Zion (Micah 4:2).
· Yoach, Adonai a brother through Yeshua the King Messiah Immanuel [with us God](Hebrews 2:11; Luke 8:21), the living Word Who goes out from Jerusalem (Micah 4:2).
Therefore, it isn’t against men that Rav-Shevna (On behalf of Sennacherib) of Assyria has come to speak but against The House of God, The Torah of HaShem, and the promised King Messiah of Israel.
Note also the names of the fathers of these men:
· Chilkiyahu, HaShem is my portion and territory, He secures His territory.
· Asaph, gatherer of Israel.
During this season (See the following chapters) Hezekiah chooses to humble himself and place his trust in God as his portion, hoping that God will secure the territory of Judah. In addition, those of the tribe of Judah who have fled their ransacked cities and towns are gathered together in Jerusalem so that Hashem might deliver them from Sennacherib.
Isa 36:4 And Rav-shakeih (Rav Great shakah drink giver: Chief Cupbearer) said to them, “Say you now to Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH), Thus says ha-gadol melek the great king, the king of Ashur (Assyria: a step), ‘What is ha-bitachon the trust ha-zeh the thing you’re batachta trusting?
2 Kings 18:19 And Rabshakeh said unto them, “Speak ye now to Hezekiah, Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this you trust in?”
A portion of the Rav-Sakeih’s address on behalf of Sennacherib is also recorded in 2 Chronicles 32:10-12.
In a very real sense king Sennacherib is speaking directly to the three emissaries of Hezekiah as a sort of antithesis to God’s speaking to Israel through His prophet Isaiah.
“Ha-gadol Melek” The great king, is another way of saying “King of kings”, a title for God (Psalm 95:3) and thus, blasphemous. “The great king” is the standing royal title attributed to the names of Sargon and Sennacherib upon the Assyrian monuments.
“The thing” Rav-shakeih is referring to is Egypt, who he later calls a “broken reed” (v.6).
The form of trust referred to is batach, meaning a continued choice.
Isa 36:5 I say, ach surely, with devar-sefatayim a word of binding language I have counselled ugevurah and strengthened for war: now on whom do you batachta trust, that you rebel against me?
2 Kings 18:20 “You say, (but they are vain words,) ‘I have counsel and strength for the war.’ Now on whom do You trust, that you rebel against me?”
Kimchi suggests that the first section is intended to be understood as the mocked words of Hezekiah and the latter part Rav-shakeih’s commentary on them. In other words, Hezekiah says “But I’ve been strengthened by wise counsel and have prepared for war” and Rav-Shakeih mocks saying “Now on whom do you place your trust?”
2 Chronicles 32:3 tells us that Hezekiah had taken counsel from his princes and mighty men and had stopped up the water supplies that surrounded the city in preparation for the coming invasion.
Isa 36:6 Hinei Now, behold, pay attention, you batachta trust in the staff of this broken reed, on Mitzrayim Egypt (Double distress); which if a man lean on it, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: this is what Pharaoh (great house) king of Mitzrayim Egypt (Double distress) does to all that trust in him.
2 Kings 18:21 “Now, behold, you trust upon the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt, on which if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all that trust on him.”
It is worth reminding ourselves at this point that Lachish, from where Sennacherib’s emissary had come, was the key city in securing access to the main trading route between Judah and Egypt.
The reed is an appropriate figure for Egypt given the rich Nile delta and the prolific number of reeds and other water born vegetation. The Hebrew ratztutz does not mean bruised or fragile but broken. Egypt’s royal family had been literally broken by both the Ethiopians (Isaiah 18:1-7) and by Sargon (Isaiah 20:1-6).
Isa 36:7 But if you say to me, “We trust in Hashem (YHVH: Mercy) Eloheiynu our God”: is it not He, whose high places and whose altars Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH) has turned aside, and said to Yehudah (Judah: praise) and to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem: Flood of peace), “lifnei before the face of ha-mizbeiach the altar, ha-zeh this one You will worship”?
2 Kings 18:22 “But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the Lord our God’: is it not he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?’”
The wording of the 2 Kings account clarifies the fact that the altar that Judah is using is the altar of the Temple mount in Jerusalem by adding the simple phrase “in Jerusalem”.
“Ha-mizbeiach” The Altar, is a reference to the altar of HaShem on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Hezekiah had restricted the worship of HaShem to Jerusalem by removing the syncretistic and idolatrous altars elsewhere.
“He (Hezekiah) removed the high places, and broke the images, and cut down the occult groves, and broke in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for in those days the children of Israel burned incense to it: and he called it Nechushtan (literally bronze thing from nachash: to practice divination).” -2 Kings 18:4
The Rav-shakeih’s words show his ignorance concerning HaShem and the true worship practices of Israel’s righteous ones. He mistakenly links the high places to the worship of HaShem as if HaShem were a local cult deity limited by His attachment to the land. In fact, Hezekiah had done well to tear down the high places and their heathen altars.
Hezekiah had even gone so far as to break into pieces the sacred relic of the staff and bronze snake which Moses had used as a call sign in the healing of the nation. Hezekiah did this in order to make a clear distinction between the worship of God (Israel’s healer) and the idolatry of worshipping a symbol used in His healing work. We too are deluded if we think idolatry is confined to the statues and beliefs of foreign religions. To place anyone or anything above God is idolatry.
Ironically, by reminding Hezekiah and his officials of their righteous action he was in fact directing them back into the arms of the only One who could truly save them from Sennacherib and his armies.
Isa 36:8 Now therefore come and make an exchange with adoniy my lord ha-melek the king of Ashur (Assyria: a step), and I will give you two thousand horses, if you’re able for your part to set riders on them.
2 Kings 18:23 “Now therefore, I plead with you, give a pledge to my lord the king of Assyria, and I will deliver you two thousand horses, if you be able on your part to set riders upon them.”
This is no more than a taunt. Rav-shakeih knows that Judah doesn’t have the numbers of riders needed to man two thousand horses.
The “exchange” was the sending of Judeans to live among the Assyrians and become part of their empire, often meaning that they would become indentured servants, soldiers etc. This was common practice for both the Assyrians and the Babylonians.
Isa 36:9 How then will you turn away the face of even one commander of the least of adoniy my lord's servants, va-tivtach lecha and put your trust on Mitzrayim Egypt (double distress) for chariots and horsemen?
2 Kings 18:24 “How then will you turn away the face of one captain of the least of my master's servants, and put you trust on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen?”
This verse is self-explanatory. Neither Egypt nor Judah had the numbers to man their respective horses and chariots. Therefore, trusting in chariots and horsemen was at best laughable and at worst futile. Both Hezekiah and Judah will do well to place their trust in Hashem instead:
“Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” -Psalm 20:7
Isa 36:10 And am I now come up without Hashem (YHVH: Mercy) against ha-aretz the land to destroy it? Hashem (YHVH: Mercy) said to me, “Go up against ha-aretz the land, and destroy it.”
2 Kings 18:25 “Am I now come up without the Lord against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, ‘Go up against this land, and destroy it.’”
While it is true that in a more general sense God did send Assyria against Israel and Judah in order to discipline His chosen people, it is not true that either Rav-shakeih or Sennacherib had any relationship with the God of Israel that might afford them a direct commandment from the mouth of HaShem. This is a blasphemous lie spoken without fear in the name of a God Who will make Himself fearfully known to the Assyrians in due course.
Isa 36:11 Then said Eleyakiym (God raises, arises) and Shevna (vigour, tender youth) and Yoach (YHVH a brother) to Rav-shakeih (Rav Great shakah drink giver: Chief Cupbearer), “Daber Speak, I plead with you, to your servants in Aramiyt Aramaic (the Assyrian language); for we understand it: and don’t speak to us Yehudiyt (in the Jews' language), in the ears (in the hearing) of the people that are on the wall.”
2 Kings 18:26 Then said Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebna, and Joah, unto Rabshakeh, “Speak, I beg you, to your servants in Aramaic; for we understand it: and talk not with us in the Jews' language in the ears of the people that are on the wall.”
It is likely that Eleyakim spoke on behalf of the others seeing that he was the priest and was responding to what was effectively a blasphemous tirade.
The Lingua franca (trading language) of the day was Aramiyt. However, in order to cause panic among the people of Jerusalem Rav-shakeih was intentionally speaking Yehudiyt, another way of saying Ivriyt (Hebrew), the language of the Jews. This was what passed for psychological warfare at the turn of the sixth century BCE.
Isa 36:12 But Rav-shakeih (Rav Great shakah drink giver: Chief Cupbearer) said, “Has adoniy my lord sent me to Adoneycha your Lord and to you to speak these words? Has he not sent me to the men that sit upon the wall, that they may eat their own excrement, and drink their own piss with you?”
2 Kings 18:27 But the Rab-shakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me to your master, and to you, to speak these words? has he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?”
The graphic language concerning excrement and piss is both mocking and tactical. This idiom infers that the city will run out of food and water and become so desperate that the residents will eat their own excrement and drink their own urine.
Isa 36:13 Then Rav-shakeih (Rav Great shakah drink giver: Chief Cupbearer) stood, and cried with a loud voice in Yehudiyt (the Jews' language), and said, “Hear you the words of ha-gadol melek the great king, the king of Ashur (Assyria: a step).
2 Kings 18:28 Then the Rab-shakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in the Jews' language, and spoke, saying, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria:”
Rav-shakeih intends this as a blatant slight against the request of Eleyakim and the Jews. However, unbeknownst to him he has sealed the fate of Assyria with a blasphemous challenge to the Authority and Kingship of the One true King of the universe Hashem YHVH. Sennacherib is not simply claiming dominion over Israel, he is claiming all dominion. This has been the great mistake of all who throughout history have sought to destroy the Jewish people. They have neglected to pay attention to the fact that God has placed his Name on Israel (Yisra Overcome El in God). Over 360 times in the Tanakh God is referred to either directly or indirectly as El-Elohaiy-YisraEl, “God the God of Israel”.
Isa 36:14 Thus says the king, ‘Let not Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH) deceive you: for he will not be able to deliver you.
2 Kings 18:29 “Thus says the king, ‘Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand:’”
It is of course true that the man Hezekiah will not be able to save Judah. However, HaShem will deliver her.
Isa 36:15 Neither let Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH) yabetach make you trust in Hashem (YHVH: Mercy), saying, ‘Hashem (YHVH: Mercy) will surely deliver us: this city will not be delivered into the hand of the king of Ashur (Assyria: a step).’
2 Kings 18:30 “Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria.’”
Hezekiah may well have been encouraging the people of Jerusalem with the words already spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
“As birds afoot hovering (lighting upon), so will HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Tzevaot (Goes warring) of hosts be upon Yerushalayim to defend and deliver her, pasakh He will pass over and affect her escape.” -Isaiah 31:5
Isa 36:16 Don’t listen to Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH): for thus says the king of Ashur (Assyria), ‘Make an agreement with me by berachah a blessing, and come out to me: and eat you every one of his vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink you every one the waters of his own cistern;
2 Kings 18:31 “Hearken not to Hezekiah: for thus says the king of Assyria, ‘Make an agreement with me by a present, and come out to me, and then eat you every man of his own vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his cistern:’”
While the p’shat plain meaning denotes a peace accord based on Judah’s surrender, there is a rather obvious remez (hint) in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew “berachah” is literally “blessing”. This means that the text can be understood to mean both agreement in a secular sense and blessing in the sense of spiritual approval. Thus Sennacherib is asking the Jews to make an agreement that denies both their ethnic and spiritual identities. The sad reality is that if Judah had accepted this proposal they would soon have discovered that many of them would not benefit in the ways promised.
The final clause may also infer an offer of protection from sexual defilement at the hands of the invading army. This due to the fact that drinking from one’s own cistern is a Hebrew euphemism for a man having sexual relations with his wife.
“Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.” -Proverbs 5:15
Isa 36:17 Until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread (food) and vineyards.
2 Kings 18:32 “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, a land of oil olive and of honey, that you may live, and not die: and hearken not unto Hezekiah, when he persuades you, saying, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’”
Rav-shakeih employs language similar to that of Deuteronomy 8:8, affirming the adage that “the Devil puts a little truth in every lie”.
Isa 36:18 lest Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH) persuade you, saying, “Hashem (YHVH: Mercy) will deliver us.” Have any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Ashur (Assyria)?
2 Kings 18:33 “Has any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?”
Once again Rav-shakeih and by proxy Sennacherib make the mistake of impugning the character of God, likening Him to the gods of other lands. The Assyrians might just have well cut their own throats.
“Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” -Exodus 15:11
“Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.” -Exodus 18:11
“For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised: he also is to be feared above all gods.” –1 Chronicles 16:35
“And the house which I build is great: for great is our God above all gods.” -2 Chronicles 2:5
Isa 36:19 Where are the gods of Chamat (Fortress) and Arphad (I will be supported)? where are the gods of Sepharvayim (Two booktowns)? and have they delivered Shomron (Samaria: watch mountain) out of my hand?
2 Kings 18:34 “Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? have they delivered Samaria out of mine hand?”
The 2 Kings account adds two cities to the list of places whose gods have failed to defeat the king of Assyria: Hena, meaning troubling, a city once located in what is now modern day Iraq; and Ivah, meaning ruin, another city conquered by the Assyrians which was located on the Euphrates river between Sepharvaim and Hena.
Isa 36:20 Who are there among all the gods of these lands, that have delivered their land out of my hand, that Hashem (YHVH: Mercy) could deliver Yerushalayim (Jerusalem: Flood of peace) out of my hand?”
2 Kings 18:35 “Who are they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand?”
Rav-shakeih hammers the final nail into the Assyrian coffin, claiming in Sennacherib’s name that YHVH cannot deliver Judah out of the Assyrian’s hand.
Isa 36:21 vayachariyshu But they were ploughed, silent, speechless, and they didn’t answer a word: for the king's had commanded them, saying, “Don’t answer him.”
2 Kings 18:36 But the people held their peace, and answered him not a word: for the king's commandment was, saying, “Answer him not.”
The officials’ obedience to Hezekiah’s instruction shows their righteous character. They have clearly been unsettled by the words of Rav-shakeih, however, they remain committed to the king of Judah and to their God. After all, not all in Judah had been guilty of idolatry, and during Hezekiah’s reign it follows that righteous men were given position in the priesthood and in the court of Hezekiah.
By keeping silent in the face of the blasphemous challenge of Sennacherib, the leaders of Judah left room for God’s answer to pervade.
“Vengeance is Mine, and recompense;
Their foot shall slip in due time;
For the day of their calamity is at hand,
And the things to come hasten upon them.” -Deuteronomy 32:35
“Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” -Romans 12:19
Isa 36:22 Then Eleyakiym (God raises, arises), son of Chilkiyahu (My portion, territory, is YHVH), which was over ha-bayt the house, and Shevna (vigour, tender youth) ha-sofeir the scribe, and Yoach (YHVH a brother), son of Asaph (gatherer), ha-mazekiyr the recorder (from zakar: remember), went to Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH) with their clothes torn, and told him the words of Rav-shakeih (Rav Great shakah drink giver: Chief Cupbearer).
2 Kings 18:37 Then came Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rabshakeh.
The tearing of garments was done only at times of great grief. It is also done as a sign of repentance along with the donning of sackcloth and throwing dust on ones’ self. The officials were obviously terrified by what they had heard and returned to Hezekiah looking like men who had just looked death in the face. This is the catalyst for Hezekiah’s response in the following chapter.
© 2018 Yaakov Brown
“For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your lives—for it is the blood that makes atonement because of the life.” –Leviticus 17:11
It is impossible to properly understand the book of Isaiah the prophet outside of the historical context of Isaiah’s life. The events occurring in the land of Israel and throughout the known world at the time of his ministry were tumultuous. Empires battled one another for possession of the Fertile Crescent and Isaiah spoke to God’s chosen people in the midst of the chaos. Therefore, we must ascertain to the best of our ability the approximate period of history in which the prophet lived and ministered. We also need to understand the art of Hebrew prophecy itself and the words used to convey the rich complexity of meaning combined within the Hebrew “Navi” (Prophet).
In addition there is a need for the Spirit filled believer to resist the delusional approach of modern critical scholarship, which often sees no room for the miraculous or the impartation of divine knowledge concerning future events. To study Isaiah as we would any other historical work via historical analysis and literary device alone would be to miss the equally important revelation that is revealed by the Spirit of God and is beyond the reasoning of humanity. We must conclude that the book of Isaiah, like any other divinely inspired prophetic work within the canon of Scripture, can only truly be comprehended spiritually.
The age Isaiah lived in seems to be best summed up by the words Isaiah attributes to the generation he’s addressing, “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we will die” (Isaiah 22:13). In many ways these words also reflect the present generation and remind us that the words of Isaiah are timeless, speaking to every subsequent generation that rejects God in favour of its own appetites.
Isaiah lived at a pivotal time in Israel’s history, the two feuding kingdoms of Judah and Samaria were caught between the rival empires of Assyria and Egypt; each bent on consuming the known world and consolidating its territories into a single empire. The relatively small populations of Israel and Judah were in the path of both these kingdoms and represented the only monotheistic culture in the region at the time. In addition to the designs of military conquest, the two main powers of the Fertile Crescent also loosed a spiritual war between their gods and the God of Israel.
While the God of Israel was calling His people to a life of love, justice and righteousness, the gods of Assyria and Egypt who personified the forces of nature, were constantly tempting Israel to forsake her God and pursue her own carnal desires. In the face of such mighty nations, the Israelites looked at their weak position and often concluded that the gods of their enemies must be more powerful than HaShem. Based on this false assumption many Israelites had turned to pagan worship, though rather than embrace it entirely they had simply syncretized their beliefs; offering sacrifices to both Hashem and their new pagan deities. This is seen in the actions of king Ahaz the king of Judah:
“And in the time of his distress he trespassed even more against HaShem (YHVH: Mercy): this is that king Ahaz. For he sacrificed unto the gods of Damascus, which smote him: and he said, because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore I will sacrifice to them, that they may help me. But they were the ruin of him, and of all Israel.” –2 Chronicles 28:22-23
Biblical Hebrew prophecy is primarily cyclical in nature. While it has a point of conception in time and space and within the chronology of history, it also sits outside of those boundaries and is often fulfilled multiple times throughout history, past, present and future. Ultimately, this is because Biblical Hebrew prophecy is seeded by the Spirit of God, Who transcends time and space and in Whom time and space exist.
The book of Hebrews uses the Greek Prophetes to describe the prophets of the Tanakh (OT). This Greek word is a composite verb pro-phemi, which means “In advance, before” (pro) and “Speak, say, declare” (phemi). Thus it can be understood to mean either “To speak in advance” or “To speak for another”. This Greek word is a good representation of what the Hebrew Navi came to mean following the days when the term “Seer” was no longer used to describe Israel’s prophets.
During Israel’s early history there were three words used to describe her prophets: Navi, Ro’eh and Chozeh. The word Navi, meaning “Prophet” comes from the root naba, meaning “To well up” or “Speak forth”. Both Roeh and Chozeh are translated “Seer”. There was at one time a distinction between the two types of seeing that a seer practiced, however, the true understanding of that distinction has been lost. Ro’eh comes from the root ra’ah, which means “To see”, and is generally applied to physical sight. Thus it can be understood to refer to a type of visual discernment of present events. On the other hand Chozeh comes from the root chaza, which also means “sight” but seems to infer inward vision, and the ability to see what the physical eye is unable to comprehend (Isaiah 22:1). Each of the three Hebrew terms for prophet are used in the following passage:
“Now the acts of King David, the first and the last, behold, are written in the chronicles of Sh’muel (Hears God) the seer (Ro’eh), in the chronicles of Natan (Giver) the prophet (Navi) and in the chronicles of Gad (Troop) the seer (Chozeh)”
-2 Chronicles 29:29
To some degree the lives of the prophets Samuel, Nathan and Gad reflect the meaning of each of the Hebrew words used to describe their roles. Samuel heard from God and was able to direct Israel according to divine discernment. Nathan’s ministry combined both divine foresight and contemporary discernment, and a harsh declaration in the form of a mashal (parable) directed at Israel’s king David. Thus he is named by the Hebrew word navi which combines ro’eh and chozeh, and adds proclamation. Finally, Gad is given a ministry that foretells or tells beforehand.
The prophets of Israel were also frequently called “Man of God (The Judge)” Ish Elohim. Inferring “Man of Judgement” (1 Sam. 2:27a). They were less frequently called “Holy man of God” (2 Kings 4:9). Which adds holiness, a sense of being “set apart”. There are also times when HaShem calls them “My servants the prophets” (2 Kings 17:13).
1 Samuel 9:9 explains:
“Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he said, “Come, let’s go to the seer”—for today’s prophet was formerly called a seer.” (TLV)
In the end all three terms, ro’eh, hozeh and navi became interchangeable and eventually the term navi became the common designation of a Biblical Hebrew prophet of God. Therefore, the Hebrew navi, like its Greek equivalent prohetes, combines all the aforementioned attributes and functions of a prophet of God.
For the Jew, Moses is the ultimate prophet. He is called Moishe Rabbeinu (Moses our great one). His humble, anguished, relational, holy and self-sacrificial character sets the bar high for Israel’s subsequent prophetic voices. Each prophet of Israel must exhibit the essential characteristics of her prophetic prototype Moses.
Beginning with Moses and continuing throughout Israel’s prophetic journey there are key elements present in the lives of God’s prophets that distinguish them from the false prophets that God warned against (Isaiah 8:19-20).
A prophet of God can be best understood when compared with his counterpart the false prophet:
The Prophet of God is both a Preacher and a Messenger of Future Events
The prophet of God has a twofold message:
How does the Prophet of God Receive the Word of The Lord?
The Word (D’var) of The Lord (HaShem)
What the prophet spoke was D’var Elohim “The Word (D’var) of HaShem”, which was made manifest through the prophet’s:
By far the most common method of delivery of God’s message was orally in the hearing of the people (Isaiah 1; Jeremiah 7:1-2; Ezekiel 17:1-2). Often the message was also written down, as is the case with the book Isaiah (Jeremiah 30:2; Isaiah 30:8; Habakkuk 2:2).
The Life and Work of Isaiah
Yishaiyahu (Isaiah: Salvation of YHVH [Mercy]) could almost be called the halfway prophet. That is, halfway between Moshe (Drawn out) and Yeshua (Salvation). Yishaiyahu (Isaiah) the son of Amotz (Strong) was a contemporary of Amos (Burden [Not the same as Amotz]), Hoshea (Salvation) and Micah (Who is like God?). God had placed each of these men throughout Israel during the 8th to 7th Centuries BCE as a warning and a hope for all the people.
Few details are known about Isaiah’s life. There is a Jewish tradition claiming that Amotz his father was brother to Amaziah, However there is no way to verify this. From the text we can glean that Isaiah was probably a resident of Jerusalem and a member of a prominent family. We also know that Isaiah was married and referred to his wife as “The Prophetess” (Isaiah 8:3).
Isaiah had two sons: Shear Yashub “Remnant shall return” and Maher Shelal hash baz “Hurry spoil, quickly loot” (Mentioned by name in Isaiah 7:3 & 8:1-3). It seems clear that Isaiah’s entire family were united in their devotion to HaShem and that their lives were in submission to the prophetic vocation of the head of their home. As a family they became a living testimony to the truth and faithfulness of God.
“Now! Here I am, I and the children that HaShem (YHVH Mercy) has given me are signs and tokens of future events in Israel, from Hashem-Tzva’ot (YHVH over heavens armies) who dwells on Mount Tziyon (Parched place).” –Yishaiyahu (Isaiah) 8:18
Isaiah’s name unifies the message of all his prophecies. He brings the redemptive message that “YHVH [Mercy] Saves” (Yishaiyahu). Both his name and his message he shares in common with the future Messiah Whom he frequently alludes to in terms of a suffering servant and a victorious King, that is Yeshua (YHVH [Mercy] Saves).
Like Eliyahu (Elijah) and Yochanan (John), Isaiah often wore a garment of hair cloth and sackcloth around his loins and sandals on his feet (Isaiah 20:2-6).
Isaiah’s Birth and Death
We can only approximate the dates of Isaiah’s birth and death. From Isaiah 1:1 we can deduce that the prophet’s ministry covered at least part of the reign of Uzziah during the period of his leprosy when his son Jotham was co-regent (2 Kings 15:5; 2 Chronicles 26:21), and all of the reign of Ahaz and that of Hezekiah. Tradition (Both Jewish and Christian) holds that Isaiah was murdered by the ungodly king Manasseh during his reign of terror. In all, Isaiah’s ministry spanned from approximately 750 – 680 BCE.
The prophets of the Tanakh (OT) were usually called to ministry in their youth. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Isaiah was approximately 25-30 years of age at the time of Uzziah’s death (Isaiah 6:1 [740 BCE]). 2 Chronicles 32:32 indicates that Isaiah outlived Hezekiah (687 BCE) and recorded his deeds. Thus the latter years of Isaiah’s life are lived during the beginning of wicked Manasseh’s reign (687-642 BCE). The tradition concerning Isaiah’s martyrdom is based on 2 Kings 21:16a and some of the early Church fathers saw the means of Isaiah’s execution in Hebrews 11:37 “They were sawn in two”. If the ancient tradition is reliable, we can estimate that Isaiah lived to be approximately 92 years of age, 7 years of which were under the reign of Manasseh, making the date of his death approximately 680 BCE. By combining the internal Scriptural evidence and Jewish tradition we can make an educated guess that Isaiah lived approximately 90 plus years from 770 to 680 BCE.
Isaiah the Historian
In addition to the role of prophet it seems that Isaiah also acted as a historian. 2 Chronicles 26:22 reads, “Now the rest of Uzziah’s acts from beginning to end were recorded by Isaiah son of Amoz.” 2 Chronicles 32:32 reads, “Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and his goodness, behold, they are written in the vision of Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, and in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel.” The identification of Isaiah as a scribe within these two texts gives weight to the orthodox view that the prophet himself recorded the entire written form of the book that came to be called by his name.
Who Wrote the Book of Isaiah?
As alluded to earlier, I reject outright the assumption ridden theories of the so called “critical” theologians. Much of their conjecture has been disproved by archaeological evidence discovered subsequent to the publishing of their theories. Like the theory of evolution, the theory of multiple authors for Isaiah becomes more and more untenable with every passing year.
One of the most compelling reasons for rejecting the multiple author theory is the fact that both Yeshua (Jesus) and His apostles understood Isaiah to be the author of the entire prophetic work named after him. They did not once attribute Isaiah’s words to an unknown author or authors, nor did they cite an unknown prophet or a disciple of Isaiah as being the author of the prophet’s words. The New Testament as a whole understands Isaiah to be the recorded words of the prophet Isaiah alone, quoting the book of Isaiah in 21 places and calling the prophet by name. The Jewish sages and the early Church fathers also affirm the singular authorship of the book. For an extensive and well-argued refutation of the critical multiple author theory please read the excellent work titled “The Prophet Isaiah” by the Messianic Jewish commentator Victor Buksbazen, Th.D.
We must conclude that (in spite of the assumptions and circular logic of the critical school of theologians) the book of Isaiah in its entirety, contains the words of Isaiah the prophet alone and was either written down by Isaiah himself and or one of his disciples during Isaiah’s lifetime or completed within several years of his passing.
The Literary style of the Book of Isaiah
Isaiah’s book is the work of the one man (notwithstanding the contrary opinions of many theologians). The literary style of Isaiah’s work is characterized by a fondness for word play, alliteration and Hebrew poetic couplings. He also uses allegory and (parables) to emphasize particular points. His writing is not confined to Israel alone but speaks to all humanity, offering God’s mercy universally (Isaiah 19:24, 25).
It’s probable that Micah the younger contemporary of Isaiah, who lived approximately 53 km south of Jerusalem in a town called Moreshet, was a personal friend and one with whom he cooperated. This would explain the almost identical texts of Isaiah 2:2-4 and Micah 4:1-3. It is also likely that both Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who lived after Isaiah, were familiar with the prophecies of Isaiah.
Josephus the Roman Jewish historian says that Cyrus the Great, the conqueror of Babylon was so impressed by the accuracy of Isaiah’s prophecies, which mentioned him by name (Isaiah 45:1), that in 538 BCE, some 140 years after the prophet’s death, he permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem.
More than any other Hebrew prophet, Isaiah illuminated the transcendent figure of Israel’s Messiah in His dual role as God Anointed Reigning King and Suffering Servant, pouring out His life for the redemption of many. This 8th to 7th century BCE Seer from the small mountain kingdom of Judah spoke repentance, wrath and life into the ears of his own generation, and in his writings, his voice lives on to challenge us today, almost three thousand years later (Isaiah 34:1-2; 11:1-9).
The Hebrew Text of Isaiah
The manuscripts of Isaiah found in the Qumran caves in 1947, which are over 1000 years older than any previously known text of Isaiah (1st Century BCE), are essentially the same as the Masoretic text (916 CE/AD).
Isaiah came of age during the reign of Uzziah (Also known as Azariah) in the years between 792 and 740 BCE. Uzziah was a “good king” who was overcome by his pride (2 Kings 15:1-7; 2 Chronicles 26:1-23).
Uzziah was responsible for restoring the Red Sea port of Eilat to Judah, subduing the Ammorites and Philistines, and developed the agriculture and domestic product of Judah, increasing her ability to trade with other nations. However, during his reign the spiritual climate declined and genuine daily faith was replaced with the appearance of piety and tradition for tradition’s sake. The nation’s labourers and poor were exploited by the rich and Judah became much like her idolatrous neighbour Samaria (As recorded in Amos, Hosea, and Micah). The pagan influences of other stronger nations crept in to Judah’s culture and were soon attached to the worship practices of Judah. There was however a God fearing remnant within Judah. A remnant that inspired Isaiah’s hope in the ultimate regeneration and revival of Israel (Isaiah 6:13; 1 Kings 19:18; Romans 11:5).
It seems that the military and economic success experienced by Uzziah went to his head. Unsatisfied with his role as king of Judah he sought to usurp the authority of Israel’s priesthood.
“But when he (Uzziah/Azariah) was strong, his core being was lifted up to destruction: for he transgressed against HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) his Elohim (God: Judge), and went into the temple of HaShem to burn incense upon the altar of incense.” –2 Chronicles 26:16
Due to this sacrilegious action Uzziah contracted leprosy at the hand of God. He lived the final years of his life in isolation while his son Jotham ruled over Judah as co-regent. Upon Uzziah’s death in 740 BCE Jotham became king of Judah. It was at some point near the end of Uzziah’s life during the period of his leprosy that Isaiah began his public ministry (aged approx. 30 years) [Isaiah 6:1].
Prior to Uzziah’s death Assyria had been preoccupied with military campaigns to the north and south of the land of Israel, giving Judah a reprieve from the occupation of the Assyrian armies. However, when Tiglathpileser 3rd became the ruler of Assyria (745-727 BCE) things changed dramatically. The Bible uses Tiglathpileser’s native name Pul (2 Kings 15:19; 1 chronicles 5:26). In order to fulfil his dream to create a world empire Pul needed to consolidate the small kingdoms of the region which included Hamat, Arpad, Damascus, Sidon, Tyre, Samaria, Judah, the cities of the Philistines, Moab. This campaign would end with his seeking to take the land of Egypt.
Pul defeated Hamat and Arpad and subdued Rezin of Damascus (750-732 BCE), and his ally Menachim of Samaria (752-742 BCE) [2 Kings 15:19]. During the reign of Pekah (740-732) of Samaria Pul annexed the Galilee and Gilead and deported the tribes beyond the Jordan to Assyria (2 Kings 15:27-31). By the time Ahaz succeeded to the throne of Judah (735-715 BCE) Rezin of Damascus and Pekah of Samaria (Both now vassal kings of Assyria) invaded Judah (2 Kings 16:5-6; Isaiah 7-8). Possibly in the hope of forcing Ahaz into an alliance against their Assyrian overlords. Ahaz made the fatal mistake of asking Pul for help. In order to seal the deal Ahaz made Pul a gift of silver and gold from the Temple of HaShem. However, "He (Pu“) helped him not” (2 Chronicles 28:21). Latter Shalmaneser (727-722 BCE) laid siege to Samaria. The city was eventual captured by his successor Sargon 2nd (722 BCE) and its inhabitants deported. At this time the independent kingdom of Assyria came to an end (2 Kings 17:4-6). The prominent families of Samaria were deported to Assyria and Sargon replaced them with colonists who brought their own native gods into Samaria and eventually syncretized their worship practices with the worship of HaShem, accepting an understanding of the Law of Moses that delegitimized Jerusalem and the temple mount replacing it with Mount Gerizim. They eventually became a mixed ethnic group of part pagan part Israelite people practicing a defiled form of Biblical Judaism (2 Kings 17:41; Jeremiah 40:7; 41:5). The new Samaritan nation with their rival centre of worship (Mt Gerizim) was a thorn in the side of the Jews from the very beginning. This historical knowledge helps us better understand the depth of hatred expressed between Jews and Samaritans at the time of Messiah (John 4:9, 8:48; Luke 9:51-53) [First Century CE].
With the fall of Samaria it was only a question of time before Judah would be overthrown. However the residents of Judah continued to behave as they had been for generations, as if the day of God’s judgement would never come (Isaiah 22:13). When we look back on the history of the divided kingdom during the lifetime of Isaiah we see that the leaders of Judah and Israel seem to have lacked political wisdom and were unable to properly discern the very obvious warnings of their impending doom. Only spiritual men like the prophets Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah were afforded insight and a clear understanding of the events that were unfolding. These prophets warned the people of God’s coming judgement, calling all Israel to teshuva (Turn around in repentance). Regarding national politics both Isaiah and later Jeremiah counselled against becoming entangled with other nations. Isaiah warned his people that Israel’s salvation could only come from God. Early in his ministry Isaiah rebuked Ahaz for calling on the Assyrian Pul for help (Isaiah 8:5-8). Later Isaiah was equally outspoken concerning a proposed alliance with Egypt against Sennacherib (Isaiah 31:1-6). Isaiah’s message was consistent and clear, “For through the voice of HaShem shall the Assyrian who beat with the rod be beaten down” (Isaiah 30:31). However, the rulers of Israel and Judah ignored Isaiah’s warnings preferring their own human understanding to his godly perspective. They practiced a ritual form of syncretized Judaism that was really just a strange mix of paganism and atheism. In spite of Judah’s failure to repent the prophet’s earnest plea on her behalf stayed the hand of God for another century. Thus Jerusalem was spared the wrath of Sennacherib in 701 BCE.
The reign of wicked Ahaz guided Judah toward her destruction but was followed by the God fearing (imprudent) Hezekiah. Under his reign Sennacherib invaded Judah and captured most of her cities with the exception of Jerusalem. The Assyrian history records these events from Sennacherib’s perspective:
“As for Hezekiah the Jew, who did not submit to my yoke, 46 of his strong walled cities, as well as the smaller cities in their vicinity… I besieged and took… As for Hezekiah, the terrifying splendour of my majesty overcame him… his mercenary troops deserted him.”
-[Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia Volume 2, Section 240 (Chicargo 1926)]
God answered the prayers of Isaiah and in response to Hezekiah’s humbling of himself HaShem delivered Jerusalem and destroyed the Assyrian army with a plague (701 BCE). However, Hezekiah’s pride, like that of his grandfather Uzziah, was eventually his undoing (2 Chronicles 32:25-26).
Judah survived precariously for another century finally coming to the end of her independence when Babylon (Once a province of Assyria) became master of the Mesopotamian Empire stretching from the gulf of Persia and just shy of the banks of the Nile.
For over half a century Isaiah witnessed all these events seeing by the revelation of God that which the physical eye could not see. By the Word of HaShem he was able to make detailed and specific prophecies concerning future events, including events that occurred many years after his death (each confirmed by history and or archaeology), the greatest of those being the accuracy with which he prophesied the events concerning Israel’s Messiah, a man who walked the earth approximately 640 years after Isaiah’s death.
The Themes of Isaiah:
Isaiah Chapter 1
The first chapter acts as an introduction to the entire book and forms a prologue to the collection of messages that Isaiah brings to Judah, Israel and the nations.
Verses 2-9 bring the charges of ingratitude, apostasy and corruption against the nation.
Verses 10-31 Describe Israel’s worship practices as hypocritical and an attempt to sweep her moral ineptitude under the rug of vain religious ritual. This is followed by a call to repentance before God’s wrath is unleashed upon the whole nation. A repentant remnant will escape judgement but the remainder of the nation will be destroyed.
As a man who is indigenous to the land of Judah and a citizen of Jerusalem, Isaiah directs his prophecies primarily toward the people of his native land Judah and her spiritual capital Jerusalem. However, within the greater narrative of God’s redemptive purpose, Isaiah’s vision centred on Israel’s ultimate destiny, her restoration and redemption and the subsequent redemption of the nations.
Text of Isaiah 1:
1:1 The chazon vision (perception, seeing) of Yishaiyahu (Salvation of YHVH [Mercy]) son of Amotz (Strength), which he chaza saw (perceived, beheld) concerning Yehudah (Praise) and Yeru-shalaiym (Downpour of Peace), in the days of Uzziyahu (My Strength is YHVH [Mercy]), (YHVH [Mercy] is Perfect, complete, innocent), Achaz (He has grasped), and Y’chezkiyahu (YHVH [Mercy] is my strength), kings of Yehudah (Praise):
The words chaza (to see) and chazon (vision, revelation) are both from a root that describes spiritual perception revealed by God to His chosen servants the prophets of Israel.
We could read, “The revelation given by God to Yishaiyahu (Salvation of YHVH)…”
The opening line of the book of Revelation comes to mind: “The Revelation of Yeshua (Salvation of YHVH) the Mashiyach which God gave to him (John)…” (Revelation 1:1).
The phrase “In the days of” means that Isaiah began his ministry in the (later) days of Uzziah (Approx. 750 BCE) and ministered for approximately 65 years, passing away (Possibly murdered by Manasseh) in 685 BCE.
A reading using the meanings of the Hebrew names is illuminating:
“The vision of Salvation from Mercy, son of Strength, which he saw concerning praise and a downpour of peace, in the days of my strength is Mercy, Mercy is innocent, he has grasped and Mercy is my strength, the kings of praise.”
The fact that the book opens with the phrase “which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem” does not as Rashi suggests, mean that this was not the beginning of his ministry. Rashi and others cite 6:1 as evidence for their position along with the fact that Isaiah prophesied concerning other nations as well as Judah. However, we know from 1:1 that he began his ministry while Uzziah lived, whereas 6:1 tells us about a reconfirmation of Isaiah following the death of Uzziah. Why? Because a new king (Jotham) had come to power and the prophet’s authority was being re-established before the new monarch. With regard to the fact that Isaiah prophesied concerning other nations, there is no problem, for “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22).
2 Shemu Hear, listen, receive, perceive and obey! Shamayim Heavens, v’ha’azini and use your ears, broaden your perspective, eretz earth,
for Hashem (YHVH [Mercy]) d’var speaks:
The alliteration employed here gives a strength of rhythm to the language that draws the attention of the Hebrew audience. The impact of Israel’s sin is so far reaching that HaShem calls out the heavens and the earth as witnesses (Deut. 17:6).
These opening lines reflect the song of Moses:
“Ha’azinu Give ear ha-shamayim you heavens v’a’dabeirah and I will speak, v’tishma and hear ha-etretz O earth, the words of my mouth.” –Deuteronomy 32:1
Moses begins by addressing the ears (ha’azinu) of the heavens and continues by addressing the hearing (v’tishma) of the earth. Whereas Isaiah reverses this order beginning by addressing the hearing (Shemu) of the heavens and continuing by addressing the ears (v’ha’azini ) of the earth.
“The term ha-azinah, give ear, is reserved for the physically more distant listeners, whereas the term shemi-ah, hearing, is reserved for listeners close at hand. For this reason Moses uses the former term when calling on the Heavens and the latter when addressing the earth. When in contrast to Isaiah 1, 2, Moses refers to the origin of the message being himself not G-d, he emphasises the importance of what he is about to say rather than who is saying it. Moreover, “giving ear,” refers to listening done with the mind, whereas “hearing” refers to listening done with one’s senses, one’s physical ears.” –Akeidat Yitzchak 103:33
It seems that at least in a figurative sense Isaiah is alluding to the ability of the heavens (The host of Hashem) to perceive the spiritual message whereas the earth (symbolic of humanity and specifically Israel), is presently unable to hear in the spiritual sense and must therefore listen with the physical ear.
Isaiah makes it abundantly clear that these are HaShem’s words.
“Baniym Sons & daughters I have raised and brought up,
but they have rebelled against Me.
The Hebrew terms gidalti ve-romamti have a dual meaning. While they refer to the raising of children to maturity they can also be understood to mean, “I make great and of high stature”. In other words, “I’ve prospered you and given you a position of honour in the earth”.
The Hebrew poshu meaning to “rebel, revolt, transgress, break away”, is from the root pasha which means to “stride or rush”. Thus the sense here is that the sons and daughters of Hashem (Israel/Judah) have not merely sinned, they have intentionally broken away from relationship to Hashem and have done so in haste in spite of His devotion toward them. This is the heart broken cry of the Father. A charge concerning broken relationship and its consequences.
3 The bull knows koneihu the one who purchased it,
and the donkey its eibus feeding trough,
B’alayn but his husband Yisrael (Overcome in God) does not know,
Ami My people do not hit’bonan discern .”
The couplets of knowledge and discernment are first pictured in the knowledge of the purchased bull and the discernment of the donkey. These dumb animals act more righteously than Israel, who has chosen to reject the authority and bride-price of her Husband Hashem and now lacks the ability to discern where her nourishment comes from. At this time Israel lacked the basic intelligence to acknowledge that she had been redeemed by HaShem and the discernment needed in order to show gratitude toward her Husband. None the less, in His Mercy Hashem calls her Ami (My people).
We note that while the bull knows the price paid for him and the donkey knows where his food comes from, Israel, those who have overcome in God, not only fail to know their Husband (HaShem), they are also lack understanding. They have knowledge of the things of this world but because they are devoid of the knowledge of HaShem they lack the discernment needed to avoid destruction.
4 Hoy, a goy nation who chotei misses the way,
a people weighed down with avon perversity, bent, evil, iniquity, guilt
zera (seed) offspring m’reiym (gone bad) of evildoers,
baniym sons and daughters mash’chiytiym decaying (dealing corruptly)!
The alliteration again emphasizes the weighty charge against Israel. HaShem had called Israel to be a Goy kadosh, a holy nation, but she had become a Goy chotei, a nation who has lost the way. As a people (Am), Israel’s collective actions were beyond generic sin, they were perverse, heavy with guilt. More than that they had become generationally wicked, the progeny of those who have turned a once God fearing culture into a syncretized pagan abomination. Thus they were decaying both physically and spiritually.
They have forsaken Hashem (YHVH [Mercy])
They have shown contempt for k’dosh the Holy One of Yisrael (Overcome in God)
Nazru achor Estranged at the rear (They have turned backwards).
Once more the charge of relational abandonment is levelled against Israel. She has forsaken the Husband of her youth. What’s more she has squeezed lemon juice into the wound by showing contempt for the holy and faithful character of God. In doing so she also shows contempt for her own role as the nation set apart (made holy) for His redemptive purpose. As a result she has become disconnected from the rich spiritual sustenance HaShem offers and has chosen instead to walk in the opposite direction toward the rear, an idiom that conveys the sense of being behind cattle, walking in their excrement.
5 Upon what will you be struck continually,
increasing your turning away more and more?
This text is often mistranslated, taking the Hebrew phrase al mei “On what?” to mean lamah “Why?”
In fact the author is not asking “Why are you being struck?” but “For what reason do you continue to allow yourself to be struck?” This is an incredulous statement which emphasizes again the stupidity and lack of discernment alluded to in verse 2. A dumb animal will respond to being struck by turning in the right direction, whereas Israel has responded to God’s discipline by continuing to turn away in spite of repeated blows.
The whole head is sick,
the whole l’vav core being (heart) faint.
The whole head refers to both the kings and priests of Israel. The political and spiritual leaders of God’s people have become corrupt and are leading the people toward physical and spiritual destruction. Thus the core morale of the people has dropped to an all-time low and their national identity has been made vulnerable to assimilation. The “Heart of the nation” as it were, has become sick due to the wickedness of her leaders and her own acceptance of that same wickedness. Which is at its core, rebellion against God, the sin of idolatry.
6 From the base of the foot to the head
there is no soundness.
Israel is covered entirely in wounds that are the consequences of her sin. From the base of her sinful human nature to the heights of her spiritual pride there is no good in her (With the exception of the remnant).
Blows, bruises and open sores:
no pressure applied, not bandaged,
nor softened with oil.
This description of the lack of care for Israel’s wounds is the counterpoint to the method of care employed in Israel at this time in history. Wounds were often pressed out to clear them of infectious material and then oil was used as a salve prior to the bandaging of the wound to protect from further infection. Isaiah is using this figurative language to express the idea that Israel’s spiritual condition mirrors that of a person whose entire body is affected by infectious open sores that have not been treated in any way. Israel had not acted to cleanse her spiritual wounds when they were first made manifest, nor has she sought to soften her wounds with oil (the Ruach Ha-Kodesh) and as a result her wounds (which represent the consequences of sin) have not been covered (bandaged) and therefore remain as a testimony against her.
7 Your land is desolate;
your cities are burned with fire;
your ground in front of you,
overthrown by strangers.
Having described the decaying state of the nation of Israel, the prophet now describes the desolation of the land. He makes a connection between moral decay and physical decay.
This verse seems to describe the state of the land of Judah during the reign of Hezekiah prior to the birth of Isaiah (701 BCE) soon after Nebuchadnezzar withdrew from Jerusalem having decimated the cities of Judah.
8 So the Daughter of Tziyon (Parched land) is left
as a sukkah temporary dwelling in a vineyard,
like a hammock in a garden of cucumbers,
like a besieged city.
Judah (Jerusalem) had lost the security of her surrounding cities (Ransacked by Nebuchadnezzar) and had been made vulnerable to future invasion. Therefore the prophet explains Israel’s precarious situation in terms of a watchman’s temporary shack positioned in a vineyard to keep an eye on the crop, and a hammock in a cucumber patch that can only be used when the weather is fine. Jerusalem and Mount Zion have become like a besieged city.
9 Unless HaShem (YHVH [Mercy]) Tzva’ot (Host, goes forth)
had left us a small sarid (group of survivors),
we would have been as S’dom (burning),
we would have resembled Amorah (Submersion).
In these lines Isaiah identifies with his people saying, “Unless Hashem of Hosts had left us a small group of survivors”.
The comparison to Sodom and Gomorrah recognizes that these towns were completely wiped out whereas Israel is being left a small holy remnant. In the midst of the charges levelled against her Israel is offered the seed of redemption in the small group of survivors (fugitives).
While some translate sarid as remnant, Isaiah uses a different Hebrew word for remnant, shear (Isaiah 10:21-22; 11:11, 16), even naming one of his sons “Shear–Yashub” A remnant shall return (Isaiah 7:3).
10 Shemu Hear, listen, receive, perceive and obey the d’var Word of HaShem (YHVH [Mercy]), you rulers of S’dom (burning)!
Give ear to the Torah (Instruction) of our Elohiym (God, Judge),
you people of Amorah (Submersion)!
Here the call to Shemu hear is made again, this time rather than calling the heavens and the earth as witnesses, Isaiah calls on the people to pay attention to the two witnesses of HaShem: His living Word (D’var emet) and His written (ketvi) Instruction (Torah). The prophet uses the poetic coupling technique in order to equate the Word (D’var) and the Instruction (Torah).
The rulers are challenged to hear (Shemu) the Word of Mercy that they might be delivered from their burning and the people are challenged to give ear (ha’azinu) to the written Instruction (Torah) of Hashem so that they might be delivered from submersion. In other words, the leaders, both political and spiritual, are to listen to the spiritual instruction of HaShem and encourage the people to hear and practice the written moral code of HaShem. The former is Aggadah (Telling) and the latter is Halakhah (the way we walk) born of Ha-d’var emet (The Word of Truth) and ha-k’tuvim (the writings).
God is described as the Merciful YHVH and as the Judge Elohiym.
Israel are being called to return to a washing in the Word and actions that are weighed righteous before the Judge. Thus the call to repentance comes first and the rebuke follows.
11 “For what is it to Me— many sacrifices?”
Says Hashem (YHVH [Mercy]).
“I’ve received an excessive amount of burnt offerings of rams
and fat of well-fed animals.
And in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs or he-goats, I do not delight.
Isaiah has just called for a return to the Torah, the same Torah that commands the sacrificial offerings. Therefore when HaShem says, “What is it to Me” and “I’ve received an excessive amount”, He is saying that the offerings being brought, though technically correct, are not being offered with pure hands or with a right heart. HaShem is not saying that He despises offerings and sacrifices but rather He despises vain tradition practiced by wicked men.
“Woe to you, scribes and P’rushim, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint, anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the Torah: judgment, mercy, and trust: you should have done the former without leaving the latter undone.” –Matthew 23:23
12 When you enter to l’raot to perceive panay My face,
who has required this at your hand--
trampling My courts?
“When you come to appear before me” refers to the Aliyot regalim (The going up festivals) Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot (Exodus 23:17). All the men who were of age and their households were to go up to Jerusalem three times a year to celebrate these holy convocations with reverence and awe. Instead Israel had made a foolish spectacle out of their practices at the Aliyot festivals.
“Who has required this?” is a way of saying, “Why do you bring extra sacrifices and offerings instead of appearing before me with contrite hearts in repentance and awe?”
The trampling of the courts of Hashem brings to mind the incredulity expressed by Yeshua when He saw traders profiteering in the outer courts of the temple during His earthly ministry (Matthew 21:12).
13 Don’t bring an increase of offerings of emptiness!
Incense that is an abomination to Me.
The text is very clear. It is empty piety that God rejects, and incense that bears the stench of sin that He abhors.
Chodesh New Moon and Shabbat, the calling of holy gatherings,
—I won’t stand for it (accomplish it)--
avein wickedness, idolatry and iniquity with solemn assembly.
Why does Hashem refuse to stand for the holy convocations He has previously commanded? It is because they have been defiled by other gods and the festering sin of Israel’s priests, rulers and the common man. Israel had mixed idolatry and sin with her solemn assemblies, thus making them an aberration.
14 Chad’sheichem Your New Moons and your Festivals
My nefesh soul (All that I am) hates!
They have become upon me a burden.
I am weary of bearing them.
We note that the text says that it is “Your New Moons and Festivals” which Hashem hates. He does not hate the festivals but the idolatrous syncretized practice that Israel has made of them.
15 When you spread out your hands palm up,
I will conceal My eyes from you.
Also though your prayers are many,
I will hear nothing.
Your hands with bloods will be filled!”
Standing with arms outstretched and palms facing upward was a traditional prayer practice of ancient Judaism. In and of itself there was nothing wrong with the symbolic nature of this position of prayer. However, as the text says, “Your hands with bloods (plural) are filled”. Meaning that those approaching Hashem have shed innocent blood and have come before Him without remorse, nor did they have any intention of changing their behaviour. Thus their religious practices were nothing more than a performance meant for the eyes of men.
16 “Rachatsu Wash and be hizaku pure.
Turn away from your evil practices
those made conspicuous before My eyes.
Cease doing evil.
The Hebrew rachatsu refers to physical cleanliness, used here as a metaphor regarding the need for the people to cleanse themselves from their filthy actions. Whereas hizaku refers to inward cleanliness. The need to examine one’s self with sober moral judgement.
The phrase “made conspicuous” is a way of saying, “You’re flaunting your sin practices in front of Me. Stop it!”
17 Study how to do what is good,
seek mishpat judgement, advance the cause of the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.”
The Scriptures often use the threefold figures the oppressed, orphan and widow to represent all those who in some unique way need the protection and special care of the community.
“You must not mistreat any widow or orphan. If you mistreat them in any way, and they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will burn hot, and I will kill you with the sword. So your wives will become widows and your children will become orphans. If you lend money to any of My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act like a debt collector with him, and you are not to charge him interest.” –Shemot (Exodus) 22:21-24
However, in the present case Israel has clearly neglected to pay attention to the weightier matters of the Torah. Failing to protect and care for the destitute has meant that those in need have been crying out to God and He will answer the greed of their oppressors with discipline.
The Hebrew lim’du means to study. The opening phrase, “Study how to do what is good” is both an instruction and a rebuke. Anyone who does not know how to do what is good is not walking in right relationship with Hashem.
“Seek judgement” can also be read, “Seek justice”. Both are needed: sober self-judgement and justice for the oppressed.
18 “Come now, let us reason/decide together,”
says Hashem (YHVH [Mercy]).
L’cho-na “Come now” is a familiar formula for approaching a reasoned conversation regarding volatile issues.
Notice that it is Hashem the Merciful One Who offers this opportunity to parlay.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they will be as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson,
they will become like wool.
The use of the colours scarlet, crimson and red is meant to convey both the death (blood loss) that results from sin and the life (blood infusion) that produces life (a reprieve from death) through the sacrificial shedding of the blood offered on the altar.
“For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your lives—for it is the blood that makes atonement because of the life.” –Leviticus 17:11
“In fact, the Torah requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” –Hebrews 9:22
We know that the blood of animals was never enough to cleanse us entirely (Hebrews 10:4) and that therefore Hashem sent His Son Yeshua to be the innocent lamb Who would sacrifice Himself in order to impart the gift of eternal life through His own life giving blood.
The white snow refers specifically to newly fallen snow and is a metaphor symbolizing purity. Likewise the wool is that of an innocent lamb.
19 If you accept and hear, understand and obey,
you will eat the good of the land.
20 But if you refuse and rebel,
you will be eaten with the sword.”
For the mouth of Hashem (YHVH [Mercy]) has spoken.
Moses said something similar to the children of Israel when he challenged them to live according to the Instruction of God. He had placed before them the two outcomes of blessing and curse. The former would be experienced by the repentant and obedient, whereas the latter would be the fate of the wilfully sinful and disobedient.
“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live…” –Devarim (Deuteronomy) NIV
The blessing is offered first “You will eat the good of the land”. This is a twofold blessing, a promise that if Israel is obedient she will remain in the land and eat of its good crops.
The counter to the blessing gleaned through obedience is the curse that comes as a consequence of disobedience: “You will be eaten by the sword”. This is also a twofold certainty for the disobedient: they will be taken from their land by the sword of their enemies and their very way of life will be consumed, including the crops they had grown for their own consumption.
Thus in obedience to God we eat and are secure but in disobedience to God we are devoid of security and are eaten up.
21 Eiychah How has it come to pass that the Faithful City has become a whore!
She once was full of justice,
righteousness dwelt in her--
but now merachetzim professional murderers!
Eiychah has a sighing quality. It is the opening word of Jeremiah’s Lamentations and here conveys the great mourning in Isaiah’s heart as he begins his lament over Jerusalem.
Jerusalem has been wept over by many of God’s prophets, not the least being Yeshua our King Messiah:
“Yerushalayim (Flood of Peace), Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” –Matthew 23:37
By definition a Harlot is not faithful. The words of the prophet seek to break through the delusion created by the people of Israel with their syncretised worship practices and their pretentious false piety.
A nation is in the depths of darkness when it has gone beyond murdering out of blind rage and has sanitized the mechanisms for the murderous elite by allowing for the hire of professional murderers. This may be considered by the rich and powerful to be a sanitary practice, but it is not a pure one. A sanitary sin is the ultimate sin of regression.
22 Your silver has become dross,
your wine diluted by water.
It is literally true that Jerusalem’s riches had been diminished at this point in her history. It is also spiritually true that those symbols of purity and abundance had been replaced with waste and dilution.
23 Your princes are rebellious
and friends with ganavim professional thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
They don’t defend the orphan,
nor is a widow’s case brought before them.
Rav Victor Buksbazen renders this text well when he translates, “Your leaders are misleaders”.
Israel’s rulers had become rebellious toward God and as a result had made friends of those who do evil. Her disgraceful and unjust behaviour toward the poor is now spelled out, “You love taking bribes and pursue unjust rewards. Not only do you intentionally refuse to defend the orphan in his distress, you also refuse to hear the widow’s pleas for justice.”
24 Therefore says ha-Adon the Lord Hashem (YHVH [Mercy]) Tzva’ot (Host, going to war) the Avir Mighty One of Yisrael (Overcome in God):
“Hoy! I will get relief from My foes
and avenge Myself on My enemies.
The title Ha-Adon is used in order to name Hashem as the Lord over all the lords of Israel, which included wicked men, priests, false gods etc.
We can read the Hebrew text as, “Therefore says The Lord over all lords, Mercy Himself, bringing heavens armies to wage war. The Mighty One of those who overcome in Him. Hoy, listen up, I will take out my foes and avenge My enemies Myself!”
25 Then I will turn My hand on you,
purge away your dross,
and remove all your alloy.
Dross/alloys are removed from metals through smelting in a furnace. Therefore, Israel will go through a period of severe disciplining and great suffering in order to have her dross (sin) removed.
26 I will return your judges to the head,
your counsellors as at the beginning.
Thus you will be called
City of Righteousness, Faithful City.
Following the removal of the sin and moral corruption of the Jewish nation Hashem will return righteous judges to the head of Israel’s justice system. Those who give good counsel in the manner of the former days when Israel had once honoured Hashem, will be with her again just as they were with Moses and the righteous kings of Israel.
Once a harlot and a rebel, now cleansed, Jerusalem will again be known as righteous and faithful.
27 Tziyon (Parched land) will be delivered with justice,
her returning with righteousness.”
Tziyon is a proper noun that is used in many different ways to describe numerous aspects of Israel’s identity and her connection to God. Mount Tziyon is the Temple mount, but Tziyon is also the land and the people, even the people themselves. Therefore, the returning of Tziyon is of great significance. The Mount will be returned into the hands of the Jewish people. Likewise the land. And in order for both these things to happen the Jewish people themselves will have to be returned from any exile resulting from her sin.
28 But there will be a breaking of rebels and sinners together.
Forsaking Hashem (YHVH [Mercy]), they will be consumed.
The former promise of return is for the repentant remnant alone. The wilfully wicked are now warned of what awaits them if they continue in their rebellion against Hashem. They will be broken as a result of their own sin. Forsaking Hashem is an act of the will. It is the intentional and continued walking away from relationship with God. Those who continually reject God will be consumed by their own sin and will suffer the just judgement of Hashem. In a very real sense no one is sent to eternal punishment, to the contrary, the one who enters eternal punishment has chosen it for himself.
29 For they will be ashamed of the eilim sacred oaks
that you’ve desired,
and ashamed because of the gardens
that you have chosen.
The Hebrew Eilim means both oaks or terebinths and idols.
The Hebrew text interchanges plural and singular forms in order to show that these sins are both corporate and individual. The oaks are sacred oaks/idols worshipped by the surrounding nations, a practice that Israel had adopted and syncretized with the worship of Hashem. The gardens are likewise places that are designed to honour false gods.
30 For you will become like an oak with languishing leaves,
like a garden that has no water.
Isaiah makes couplets of the oaks and the gardens. In the former verses the oaks and gardens are objects of worship but in the present verse the Israelite himself is called a languishing oak and a waterless garden. In other words the Israelites have not only worshipped false gods they have also taken on the identities of those gods. In the modern vernacular of the new age movement, they had realised the god within them. This is of course the root of all sin, Idolatry, the desire to usurp HaShem. However, in realizing their own deity they had also been met with the weakness of that same realisation. They may be gods (elohiym), but they were languishing feeble gods without the ability to sustain themselves.
31 And it will come to pass that the strong one will become like a dry strand of flax,
and his work will kindle fire--
both will burn together,
and nothing will put it out.
The “Strong one” chozen, is a reference to one who makes an idol and his “work” is a reference to the idol itself.
This is an illuminating verse. It is the work (idol) of the strong one (the maker of the idols [eilim] who finds his strength in temporary idolatrous things) that will ignite his own destruction. Both the wicked (idol makers) and their works (idols) will burn together.
In conclusion we have a description of a fire that will never cease to burn because “nothing will put it out”. This is not possible in the physical realm, for eventually the fire will burn itself out. Therefore, this is a description, not of the temporary consequence of wicked physical deeds but of the eternal consequences of uncovered wicked spiritual deeds.
© Yaakov Brown 2017
Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,