Isaiah: Glimpses of God
Division One, Section Three: HISTORICAL INTERLUDE
I’m glad we can look forward to a glorious future when God, the righteous judge, makes all things right! But what about us? What about now? Is God active in our world today? Does He care about the things we care about? What kind of answers can we expect to our prayers? What kind of help does He have for us? Is it only spiritual help? Does He involve Himself in our daily lives and struggles? When we have crises, how should we respond?
The first 35 chapters of Isaiah taught us that it matters where we place our trust; that God alone is worthy of that trust. Hezekiah now provides a personal example for us as he faces a variety of tests of his own faith, several of which are recorded in these chapters. Hezekiah models prayer in faith. He also demonstrates the subtle dangers of pride. Hezekiah was a king commended by God, yet he, like we, had “feet of clay.”
I. DAY ONE: A National Crisis (Isaiah 36)
A. Historical context
- Hezekiah ruled as co-regent with his father, Ahaz, from about 729 to 715 BC, and as sole monarch from 715 to 687 BC. Ahaz had become a vassal of Assyria, and with it, led in allowing pagan practices of Assyria to flourish in Jerusalem (II Kings 16:10-18). In contrast, Hezekiah brought religious reform to Judah. (II Kings 18:3-6 and II Chronicles 29-31 describe the depth and breadth of his reforms.)
- Assyria conquered Israel and deported its citizens in 722 BC (the 7th year of Hezekiah’s co-regency—II Kings 18:9-12). Hezekiah considered joining a revolt by Ashdod and Egypt against Sargon of Assyria in about 712 BC, but pulled back, possibly because of Isaiah’s warning in chapter 20. It was around 705 BC, the year Sennacherib ascended to the throne in Assyria that Hezekiah rebelled against Assyria (II Kings 18:7), exacerbating his political and military problems and provoking the attacks of 701 BC.
- It was now the 14th year of Hezekiah’s sole regency. Assyria had captured all the walled cities of Judah with the exceptions of Jerusalem and Lachish, an important city about 35 miles to the southwest which guarded access to Jerusalem. Lachish was under siege. Sennacherib sent his third highest ranking officer along with the army to Jerusalem, indicating the seriousness of this threat.
B. Challenge to Hezekiah’s faith (Isaiah 36:1-12)
- Sometimes we forget that having spiritual victories does not protect us from spiritual attacks, which may come in a variety of forms. Although Hezekiah had pleased the Lord with his reforms, serious challenges to his faith were at hand.
- Compare Isaiah 36:2 with Isaiah 7:3. Both Ahaz and Hezekiah faced a test of faith at the same location. One passed, one failed. Why do you think that was?
- Underline as many words as you can find which denote trust in verses 4-10.
- Was Egypt trustworthy? (v. 6) What had Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 30:1-5?
- The field commander’s disparagement of God’s ability to help showed he didn’t understand the uniqueness of God, and equated Judah’s God with the tribal gods of other nations.
- It was true that Hezekiah couldn’t trust his military to be effective against Assyria (vv. 8-9).
- God had previously told Assyria to come against Judah, so to fight Assyria at that time would have been to fight God. Was that true in this case? How could Hezekiah (or you and I) know whether words spoken in the name of the Lord actually were from the Lord? (Compare Isaiah 36:10 with 37:6.)
C. Challenge to God’s power (Isaiah 36:13-22)
- The Assyrian commander tried to reduce Hezekiah’s strength by undermining the morale of the people of Jerusalem: “You can’t trust your king”; “You can’t trust your God”; “No other nation’s god was stronger than Assyria”; and “Your God didn’t (or wasn’t able to) protect Israel from Assyria!”(vv.14-20).
- If Jerusalem were to surrender to Assyria, would the peace they achieved be temporary or permanent? (vv.16-17) Is compromise with the forces of evil ever worth it?
- The bold, blasphemous, insolent speech of the commander was psychological warfare designed to discourage Judah however God also heard it and would not let it pass. What had Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 31?
- The proper response to mockery by someone coming from a position of unbelief is silence (v. 21).
II. DAYS TWO and THREE: A Spiritual Crisis (Isaiah 37)
A. Hezekiah’s humility (Isaiah 37:1-4)
- We don’t express our distress the way Hezekiah did in verse 1. What evidences of humility do you see in these four verses which we might emulate?
- In the face of this crisis, Judah was helpless. Her only hope was in God.
- Rather than consulting his advisors, from whom did Hezekiah seek counsel?
B. God’s response (Isaiah 37:5-8)
- Although Hezekiah was frightened by Assyria’s challenge, was God?
- How did God view the challenge by the Assyrian? (v. 6)
C. Hezekiah’s prayer (Isaiah 37:9-20)
- The Word of God, plus prayer, produces strengthened faith, whether for Hezekiah or for you and me. We wish we knew more about the events of verses 7-8 and those of verses 9-13. Nevertheless, it appears that Hezekiah moved to total trust in God after Isaiah’s message in verses 6-7. This time when challenged by Sennacherib himself (vv. 9-13), rather than going to God’s prophet, Hezekiah went directly to God.
- Have you ever spread out a problem before the Lord like Hezekiah did with the letter? What attitude does that suggest toward God?
- Read Hezekiah’s prayer in verses 14-20.
- What does Hezekiah know about his God?
- Does Hezekiah deny or minimize or spiritualize the reality he is facing?
- What part of Sennacherib’s boast was true? Which part was false?
- What is Hezekiah’s specific request?
- Hezekiah is not trying to manipulate God. Why is He confident God will answer, and what overriding goal does he pray will be achieved?
- How many of the above points are part of your prayers?
D. God’s answer regarding Assyria (Isaiah 37:21-38)
- If Hezekiah had not prayed to God as he did, would God have answered the way He did? (v. 21)
- God begins by speaking against Sennacherib who saw nothing to prevent him from raping virgin Jerusalem. Because of who is defending her, Jerusalem need have no fear. Sennacherib, in mocking Jerusalem, had in fact ridiculed and blasphemed God Himself. Sennacherib didn’t understand that to mock God’s people is to mock God (v. 23).
- Does God identify Himself as closely with His people today? (Matthew 25:34-44; John 17:20-23; Romans 8:14-17)
- God had planned Assyria’s successes years ago (vv. 26-27). But God also knew Assyria’s arrogance, and Assyria’s judgment was coming. Notice how many times Sennacherib boasts of his own power in verses 24-25.
- In interesting irony, as Assyria often led its captives by ropes tied to rings in their noses or their lips,1 it would be as if they were similarly led by God (vv. 28-29).
- What do you remember about God’s sovereignty over kings and kingdoms from Isaiah 14:24, 27? This is not a contest between God and Assyria. Assyria is in fact under the sovereign control of Almighty God.
E. God’s answer to Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:30-38)
- Assyria had ravaged the land, including cutting down orchards. What very practical promise does God make regarding crops and food? (v. 30)
- What promise does God make regarding a remnant of the people? (vv. 31-32)
- Why will Assyria be unable to conquer Jerusalem? (vv. 33-35)
- Perhaps because there is no contest when someone comes against God, the dramatic end to the Assyrian threat reads like a matter-of-fact newspaper account, as does the account of the death of Sennacherib, which occurred 20 years later in 681 BC. Sennacherib, who ridiculed God, could not be saved by his own god. He was murdered by his sons in the temple of his god!
- God, who showed Himself powerful to Hezekiah, is the same God you and I worship. Is He not worthy of our trust? Will you therefore choose to surrender to Him and serve Him even in times of crisis?
III. DAY FOUR: A Personal Crisis (Isaiah 38)
A. Hezekiah’s crisis (Isaiah 38:1-3)
- Scholars believe that the crises of chapters 38 and 39 occurred before chapters 36-37, and were probably placed here to provide a bridge between Judah’s then current problems with Assyria and her future problems with Babylon.
- It is also possible that these chapters are also placed here to clarify a question which might have been raised from Isaiah’s earlier prophecies. Unlike Ahaz, who refused to trust God and suffered the consequences (chapters 7-12), Hezekiah had led the nation in returning to God. He was highly commended by God. (See II Kings 18:5-7.) Could it be that Hezekiah was the Messiah promised in Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; 16:5; 32:1-5; et al., or was there yet someone else to come from the line of David who would be that Messiah?
- Although he was a righteous king, Hezekiah was a mere man, and he was dying. II Kings 20:1-11 gives a parallel account. Having received Isaiah’s message in 38:1, he turned his face to the wall—not to pout, but for privacy as he talked to God. Although his prayer in verse 3 does not sound as “spiritual” as we might expect, it is a model of coming before God in honesty and humility, telling Him what is on our heart. What surprises you about Hezekiah’s prayer? What did Hezekiah not ask for? Why do you think that is?
- It is possible that in addition to not wanting to die, Hezekiah was also concerned about the fact that as of yet he had not produced a male heir to the throne. If he were to die before doing so, what would happen to the Davidic Covenant?
B. God’s grace (Isaiah 38:4-8)
- The answer came quickly. What was the method used for physical healing? (v. 21)
- Did Hezekiah deserve to be sick? Did Hezekiah deserve to be healed? Why do you think God was so quick to answer Hezekiah’s prayer?
- How many additional years did God promise to Hezekiah? During these years, his son Manasseh was born. (See II Kings 21:1.) In spite of the example of his father, Hezekiah, who was one of the best kings of Judah, Manasseh was one of the most evil (II Kings 21:2-9). However, before his death, Manasseh repented. Read II Chronicles 33:10-17 for the account. Although Manasseh was forgiven, the consequences of his earlier evil actions continued to impact the people of Judah. Nevertheless, the Davidic line remained unbroken.
- In addition, God confirmed His seemingly impossible promise of deliverance from Assyria with a miraculous sign. And as the sunlight went back up the steps, so Hezekiah would again go up the steps to the temple to worship God, for Assyria would not be allowed to conquer Jerusalem (vv. 8 and 22).
C. Hezekiah’s testimony (Isaiah 38:9-22)
- Read Hezekiah’s lament in verses 9-14. He was 39 years-old at the time—in the prime of his life. Regardless of one’s age, one is rarely ready for death. From your own experience in facing death, either your own or that of a loved one, what wisdom or comfort might you offer?
- What does Psalm 90 say which Hezekiah, or you and I, needs to hear?
- Hezekiah has had an attitude check, and in verses 15-20 gives testimony to God’s goodness in his time of trial. From verses 15 and 17, what were some of the benefits Hezekiah gained from going through this health crisis?
- Think about a crisis you have gone through. Could you add your testimony to Hezekiah’s in these verses? How does Romans 8:28-29 apply? Hezekiah saw God’s love in action. As you look back, can you say the same thing?
- Hezekiah chose to respond to God’s grace by committing to a lifetime of publicly praising God. It is a joy to praise God when He has brought healing. Sometimes, however, God says “no” to our prayers. Are you also committed to praise God if He should choose not to heal? Is a testimony such as Habakkuk 3:16-19 also true for you?
IV. DAY FIVE: An Emotional Crisis (Isaiah 39)
A. Hezekiah’s mistake (Isaiah 39:1-2)
- Merodach-Baladan (Marduk-apla-idinna II) was king of Babylon during two different time periods. This visit to Hezekiah probably occurred around 702 BC. At this time Babylon was not yet a strong nation, in fact it, too, was under the control of Assyria. While Merodach was ostensibly paying a friendly visit to a recovering king, undoubtedly he had other motives. He may have hoped to persuade Hezekiah to join an alliance with him to fight against Assyria. And it may be that he was checking out the financial resources of Judah with that possibility in mind.
- Receiving Merodach may have indicated Hezekiah’s interest in such an alliance. Whether at this time or earlier, Hezekiah was also strengthening his defenses. He had built a massive new wall to fortify the western suburbs of the city, and had secured the city’s water supply by diverting the waters of the Gihon Spring through a 1700 foot tunnel that led to a pool within the city fortifications, and which can still be seen today (II Kings 20:20; II Chronicles 32:24-31).
- The chronology seems to be: first, Hezekiah’s illness; second, Merodach’s visit; third, Sennacherib’s attack in 701 BC.
- Merodach had his motives for the visit, but so did God. This was a test of Hezekiah’s heart. Hezekiah had vowed to walk humbly for the rest of his life (Isaiah 38:15). God knew his heart, and revealed it to Hezekiah through this visit. As you read verse 2, what do you think was Hezekiah’s underlying, perhaps subconscious, motive? Could it be that he violated the principle of Isaiah 42:8?
B. Hezekiah reproved (Isaiah 39:3-8)
- God loved Hezekiah enough to send Isaiah to confront him. This test revealed his pride. Hezekiah had been in a better spiritual state when he was sick than after he was healed! Notice the word “my” which is repeated in verse 4. In reality however, Hezekiah was not the owner of all the wealth but was merely the steward of it all.
- No human would have anticipated the prophecy of verses 6-7. This Babylonian captivity would not occur for over 100 more years. How much of what Hezekiah showed Merodach would be taken to Babylon? (v. 6)
- Who would the deportees to Babylon include? (v. 7)
- If you have time, read the fuller account of the deportation to Babylon in II Kings 24-25.
- Matthew 1:11-12 records the name of the king who was deported to Babylon under God’s protection, ensuring that the Davidic Covenant would be fulfilled in the Messiah who would later be born from that kingly line. Jeconiah/Jehoiachin continued the legal, kingly line, although because he was cursed by God (Jeremiah 22:25-39), he did not have the privilege of being a biological ancestor of Jesus. That privilege belonged to the branch of David which descended from David’s son, Nathan (Luke 3:31).
- Why do you think Hezekiah responded as he did to Isaiah’s prophecy? Was he relieved and self-centered, or humble and accepting? How would you have responded?
- The New Testament tells us that all these things in the Old Testament were recorded for our benefit. What do you learn about trust in God from Hezekiah which you could apply to your own life in very practical ways?
- Having spent some time studying Hezekiah, how might your prayer life now change?
- What stands out to you about God’s character? Although the word “holy” is not used in these chapters, how do you see God’s holiness displayed? Add that to your page on God’s holiness in your journal.
1. John H. Walton, Victor Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000), 406.
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