The Known Isaiah: Isaiah 36-39

Isaiah 36‑39  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 13
The historical episode of chapters 36.-39. is the fourth part of the book, and bears in an important way on what precedes and follows. For the Assyrian, who threatened Jerusalem after the extinction of the kingdom of Israel, though in no way the fulfillment of the many prophecies in all the foregoing portions of Isaiah's vision, was included in the divine perspective. Thus what was then accomplished became the earnest of all that remains to be fulfilled, much of it by express marks reserved for that day when, of all we seek out of the book of Jehovah and read, no one of them shall be missing, none shall want its mate; for His mouth, it hath commanded, and His spirit, it hath gathered, the doleful witnesses of His final judgments. One of the commonest forms of unbelief where skepticism is not extreme is to abuse the part accomplished in the past to set aside the incomparably more momentous times to come. The effect is to the last degree mischievous. The authority and truth of the divine word must be thereby undermined; because the language through such a misinterpretation seems to go far beyond the event, and has therefore to be explained away by supposed oriental-isms and the like devices, even when positive failure is not imputed. Again, on this scheme Israel loses the special hope of Messiah and His kingdom, and all the Gentiles their world-wide blessing, and creation too; not to say that the still higher purpose of glory in Christ over all things, which the church is to share with Him, is all brought to naught for souls so ensnared. For this unbelieving snare shrouds the Second man in darkness and reduces all at best to the first man, his emptiness and his doubts, his boasts and his sins. It is the enemy's work.
Hence the historical parenthesis serves the admirable purpose of enabling us now, and the godly Jewish remnant in the latter day, to discriminate between the past and the future of “the Assyrian” in the prophecy. For no instructed believer would contend that the prophet himself could then draw the line any more than the pious of his generation. He expressed the mind of the Holy Spirit Who saw to the end from the beginning and never loses hold of the real unraveling of all complications in the triumphant establishment of God's kingdom. Then Messiah appears in His power and glory, and evil in every form is judged by His hand at once mild and strong, and righteousness reigns in peace and blessing. Nor is there a weightier evidence conceivable of God inspiring the prophetic word than the fact that, while affording adequate accomplishment in the comparatively near, it commonly stops not short of what can only be fulfilled in the end of the age. All the parts of Isaiah's vision bear this witness, as do the prophets generally. But these chapters, their counterpart in 2 Kings 18-20, and more briefly 2 Chron. 32, contribute invaluable aid to spiritual intelligence, and forbid the error of assuming that all was exhausted in the overthrow of Sennacherib.
Thus reading, faith holds without question to every word in Isa. 8-9, and sees a final Assyrian at the head of peoples and far countries associated at the close to thwart Jehovah's purpose—to blot out Israel and appropriate Immanuel's land. But Immanuel! God is with us: such is the remnant's watch-word in that day, though He be for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel—the unbelieving mass. But the despised light, Jesus of Nazareth, reappears, no longer in weakness to be the holy sacrifice, but in glory to break the oppressor's rod, and the arms of their foes shall even be for burning, for fuel of fire. And the government shall be upon His shoulder Who shall be called Wonderful, and no more “ideal King.” Nor is there need to squeeze the words of Isa. 10:28-32, any more than from ver. 12 onward, to suit Sargon or Sennacherib, as well-meaning men do; still less to subscribe the skeptical alternative, that the prophet “intends” merely to draw an effective imaginative picture of the danger threatening Jerusalem. This imagination may seem proper to Dr. D. after Ewald, Schrader, and other free-thinkers; but believers reject and resent such profanity. God does not inspire false prophecy or baseless fancies. We have also seen a similar guard in the subsequence of the Assyrian overthrow on Jehovah's mountains, to Babylon's fall in ch. 14. This is only true or even fairly explicable as future. Still plainer are chaps. 24.-26. of the second part. And the third part as a whole demands the future day for any full answer. “For a consumption, and that determined upon the whole earth,” though heard from Jehovah, awaits fulfillment; and it will be fulfilled, as surely as His mouth uttered it to and by the prophet. Jerusalem is not only to be invested but taken in part by the Assyrian of the last days (cf. Zech. 14 also); but, on his second attack after an interval to complete the capture, he not only falls but is punished condignly by divine interference, as in ch. 30. &c.
The history therefore by inspired wisdom supplies precisely what is needed,—evidence of the highest kind which enables us to discriminate what has been already accomplished from the still more momentous things to come, which can be fulfilled only by-and-by in the final downfall of the Assyrian as of every other foe, and in the triumphant establishment of God's kingdom over the earth, when converted Israel shall be delivered by the Messiah returning in judgment of their Gentile adversaries as well as of their own apostates. It is clear as light in the three scriptural accounts, each true to the divine design of the books wherein they respectively occur, that the great king never besieged Jerusalem, contenting himself with sending his servants and a considerable portion of his force from Lachish, whither Hezekiah had sent his confession and also the heavy fine imposed on him; that the Assyrian general in command (Tartan), the chief chamberlain (Rab-saris) and chief cup-bearer (Rab-shakeh) did come to Jerusalem, where the latter reviled Hezekiah, threatened the worst of siege-horrors in the ears of those sitting on the wall, and blasphemed Jehovah as if powerless like other gods; that thereon king Hezekiah and his servants rent their clothes, and, while the king humbled himself, his servants were sent to Isaiah, who gave a re-assuring answer from Jehovah to the king's petition. It is no less clear that Rabshakeh returned to his master, who had departed from Lachish to Libnah, and sent a message again to Hezekiah shorter and yet more blasphemous, and that Hezekiah spread the letter before Jehovah with prayer in the house of Jehovah, when the prophet sent to him a far fuller answer (which, as even skeptics confess, bears unmistakable marks of Isaiah's hand), that the Assyrian king should not approach the city, and should not shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a mount against it, but Jehovah should turn him back by the way he came. That very night the angel of Jehovah smote 185,000 in the Assyrian camp, “all the mighty men of valor, and the leaders and captains.” So Sennacherib returned with shame, and (when, we are not told) was slain by two of his own sons in the house of his god.
But all this, however striking as an earnest, fails in every respect both as to Israel and as to the Assyrian, if we see not two sieges of Jerusalem in the last days. For in the first the city will be taken, so far at least as that half the city shall go forth into captivity, while the residue shall not be cut off from it. But in the second Jehovah shall go forth against those nations, the Assyrian being their chief; how utter the confusion and ruin, many scriptures bear witness, and notably of the Assyrian consigned to the doom prepared of old, executed then, as the N. T. shows also for the Beast and the False Prophet at the end of the age.
It may be added for consideration, that the sickness which befell Hezekiah, the record of which follows in ch. 38., yields its own divine lesson. For as the two chapters before give the type of the outward deliverance (partially executed then, fully when the Lord Jesus appears in His glory), so here is the type of the inner ground of all complete deliverance in the sickness unto death of David's son, prefiguring His sufferings Who really died and as really rose from the dead, whereby Jehovah will make an everlasting covenant with Israel, even the sure mercies of David. Compare Acts 13:34, and 2 Tim. 2:8.
Hezekiah however was not the Son of promise; so that even 2 Chronicles does not pass by the sad result of a heart lifted up with pride before the princely ambassadors from Babylon. And the prophet comes to the king (ch. 39.), convicts him of the sin, and pronounces the word of Jehovah, “Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Here then is exactly the point of departure for the last comparatively continuous division of the book, the most distinct prediction of the Babylonish captivity. Unbelief therefore must bow silently and abashed, or strangely contend that ch. 39 is not Isaiah's any more than those to the end of the book. This men who profess to be God's servants are no more afraid to do, than the wicked king of Judah to cut and burn the roll of Jeremiah.