Salvation in Isaiah 37
In this narrative portion of Isaiah’s prophecy we have come to the Assyrians last attempt to conquer and possess the city of Jerusalem and subject her King, Hezekiah, and subjects to humiliation and defeat.
The King of Assyria, Sennacherib, is in Lachish having romped through Judah taking 41 cities. Much of this Biblical Data is corroborated in the British Museum. If ever you get the opportunity to go, then visit the Lachish Room where there are sculptures and inscriptions and a famous wall picture depicting Sennacherib laying the siege against the city of Lachish – and then the inscription that “he sent his servants to Jerusalem but himself stayed at Lachish.” The inscription goes on “Sennacherib, King of Hosts, King of Assyria, sat upon his throne of state, and the spoil of the city of Lachish passed before him.”
In another part of the museum called the Room of Writing, (although I hear that recently there has been a change round at the Museum) there is a small stone prism with Assyrian script engraved upon its faces. This is Sennacherib’s version of events which confirm the Biblical record at virtually every point. Interestingly there is no mention on the Prism of Sennacherib’s disastrous defeat when God caused him ignominiously to return to Nineveh without even attempting to capture Jerusalem – how could he when the Lord had wiped out his army of 185,000 men. What he does say is this “ I shut up Hezekiah like a bird in a cage.” But no more!
Before we think about a few things in the text of Chapter 37 of Isaiah’s prophecy this evening it is worth noting what kind of aggressors the Assyrians were. They were ruthless and cruel. Prof. Unger states from discoveries of archaeology made and records available that “Sennacherib was a fiendishly cruel and inhuman ruler, guilty of impaling and flaying his foes alive and other incredible atrocities. He equalled his predecessor Ashurbanipal who marked the path of the conqueror with pyramids of human heads; boys and girls were burned alive; men were impaled, blinded or deprived of their feet, ears or noses; women and children were carried into slavery, captured cities were reduced to ashes and all the trees in the neighbourhood cut down.”
It is no wonder then, as the scene is set, that Hezekiah and the ministers of state were so fearful and threatened by Sennacherib’s three envoys who came to speak on their King’s behalf – Tartan, Rabshakeh and Rabsaris.
At the end of Isaiah 36 King Hezekiah’s men Shebna, Joah and Eliakim had returned to the King with the words of Rabshakeh, threatening words, intimidating words, untruthful words and humiliating words. The fear engendered by these words carried with it the knowledge that Hezekiah and his people had about the Assyrians. Their ways in warfare and siege we have mentioned. They were in deep, deep trouble! No wonder sackcloth was the order of the day.
So as we come to Chapter 37 we have the opportunity to observe King Hezekiah again. Last week we noted this King as a man full of faith who inspired his people with confidence in the Lord. He continues to do that in Chapter 37.
Verse 1 And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD.
The first 7 verses describe
1. A desperate situation and an Appeal to the Prophet.
What do we do in a crisis? When something dreadful has happened or is about to happen and we have all the signs of something just around the corner, what is the FIRST THING THAT we do? Do we summon up strength to try to cope alone? Do we get on the phone to our friends? Do we go into a state of shock and withdraw into a safe place? Do we struggle to avoid the disaster by any means possible? What do we do?
What did Hezekiah do?
1. He humbled himself. In other words he stopped trying to make excuses or justify himself. He had been a King who reigned over a people steeped in idolatry. He was responsible for a people who had disobeyed God and were under God’s severe threatened judgement. So he humbled himself.
2. He mourned. Sackcloth was the traditional undergarments word when mourning was appropriate. It was uncomfortable – itchy and scratchy next to the skin – an irritant that constantly reminded the wearer of something wrong! In Hezekiah’s case he mourned over the sins of his people and his own too.
3. He became conscious of the need for Divine help. To that end he went to the Temple – the House of the Lord. He went to the place of prayer, reflection and meditation. He went to the place where people met with their God. In the Jews’ case Hezekiah went to the place where the Ark of the Covenant was – with the Cherubim spreading out their wings over the box – the place where they believed God sometimes appeared – called the mercy seat.
Hezekiah the King had opened his mouth earlier – and now his words would be tested. Let us read about it – 2 Chronicles 32 v 1 – 8. Let me read his actual words again.
7 Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: 8 With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.
Are we prepared to face a difficult situation like this my friends?
1. To humble ourselves when trouble comes, and ask God to change us in order to hear what He will say? Pride shuts the ears tight. But humility makes us ready to see what’s needed.
2. To mourn – over our sins and failures – and recognise the foolishness of our ways? Sometimes God waits until we are in desperate trouble to speak to us – because up until then we were not ready to hear Him!
3. To become conscious of Divine help. That is to be ready to turn to God’s ways – to find out what God wants of us – to realise that God’s laws have been broken – and to realise that only He can help us! We need to go to the Temple my friends. Not to come here to this building – but to go alone to God – in a place of quiet – to listen to His word and to hear Him speak.
We go to God through the Lord Jesus Christ our saviour.
He is the Christ of every crisis …
King Hezekiah points us in this direction.
After a period of time, humbling himself, mourning and recognising and admitting his need, Hezekiah did something. Verse 2 –
2 And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz.
Hezekiah sent his ministers of state to Isaiah the prophet – this humble prophet who had for more than 50 years been Judah’s prophet. Isaiah had announced God’s word to the people during the reigns of Hezekiah’s father, grandfather and great grandfather - Uzziah, Jotham, and Ahaz. Time after time Isaiah had called the people to return to God – to worship – to obey his laws and remain separate from the nations around. But they had rarely listened to him. He was a kindly snugly religious insurance policy who had a comforting reference to the God who they once depended on – but Isaiah’s God had become old fashioned. But now Hezekiah realises his need – and goes to the Lord God Jehovah through His servant Isaiah.
Today we do not go to any man who is a prophet – we go to the Word of God – through the power of the Holy Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is where the answer lies to our problems and crises.
The statesmen went humbly – in sackcloth to Isaiah.
Did Isaiah rejoice with an “I told you so attitude”? With an “AH so you have come – I have been expecting you,” demeanour?
No – Isaiah was God’s man who had not doubted God for one moment. He listened patiently to their words -
3 And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth. 4 It may be the LORD thy God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God, and will reprove the words which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left. 5 So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah.
We can see from Hezekiah’s words in the message that the Lord God had worked in his soul.
He admits his failure of his dealings with the Assyrians and looking to the Egyptians for help.
No doubt he also was conscious of his sin of not looking to God. He now felt responsible that because of Him and His people’s behaviour he had caused the arrogant Heathen Assyrians to blaspheme God’s name. So Hezekiah likens the nation’s condition to that of a woman at the end of a difficult pregnancy who has not enough strength to go into labour and produce the child.
Hezekiah now believes that God will take note of Rabshakeh’s blasphemous words and act upon that offence. The Assyrian had defied and challenged the sovereignty, absolute deity and omnipotence of the Lord God, Jehovah. So Hezekiah asks that Rabshakeh might be rebuked and that Jerusalem might be saved with the remnant of the people of Judah.
After listening to Hezekiah’s servants Isaiah indicates the sort of man that he was – he had already been praying about the situation!
6 And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. 7 Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.
The servants were ready now to listen to God’s word! Before they had ignored the old prophet – now they were all ears.
But notice that it was not until the worst possible situation had been reached that they were prepared to listen!
During the last world war King George 6th called the nation to prayer when Britain was in its most desperate situation. That was the last time that Britain went to prayer in time of trouble.
In 1982 a suggestion was made to Mrs Thatcher that the nation should pray in the time of the Falklands dispute. She is reported to have said, “I do not believe that the situation warrants that.”
This past week the Rev Ian Paisley called Parliament to call the nation to prayer because of the terrible moral situation that we are in. He was virtually laughed out of the chamber.
We are doing the same thing as Judah did.
No trust in God. Going our own way. Refusing to hear God’s word spoken through the written prophets and through God appointed prophets who preach His written word to the people. What is the difference between us and the people of Jerusalem?
We do not have the King of Assyria ready to pounce upon us – or do we?
Are there not those who already in our society are here undermining the law, infiltrating social structures, institutions, schools and yes even the churches – with their godless ways and ideas? Is not the enemy at the door of the city?
What should we do?
Let us bring this to an individual level. You and I are like a city with walls. We are under siege. Sin has ruined us and we are desperate. We have no hope in ourselves. Our defences are weak and there is a host of Satan’s soldiers waiting to come and destroy us and to consign us to everlasting slavery in hell.
What is to be done? How shall we escape the terrors of hell?
Hezekiah teaches us.
1. To humble ourselves. We have to climb down from our own self-confidence and self-assertion. We have to realise that there is nothing good enough within us to overcome the enemy. We are lifeless, powerless and unable to go it alone. Realising this takes great humility.
2. To mourn over our sin – repentance towards God. We need to sorrow over our rebellion and law breaking. We know God’s rules – his standards – but we seem to break them so easily. We need to turn and repent of these things – and leave them behind once and for all. No sneaking back to indulge in them again – a complete break with sin – nothing less is required.
3. To become conscious of our need. God is so gracious. He comes by His spirit to speak in our hearts and reveals Himself to us. He powerfully comes to show us how we are nothing without Him. And discovering our need then drives us
4. To go to the only one who can help and destroy our enemies. His name is Jehovah – whose other Name is the Lord Jesus Christ! He is the One who went to a cross of wood on a green hill outside of this very same city – Jerusalem 2000 years ago.
He is the one who promises that those who humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways can be healed of their sin sickness and be converted – born again – saved by the grace of God.
My friend you need to do what this King did – he prayed.
Take your soul to the Lord in prayer tonight. Tell Him what you are like, that you are sorry and that you need Him more than anything else in life. Seek His forgiveness and pardon – and the enemies of your soul will be gone. They will have no power over you any more! Will you go to Jesus tonight my friend?