Numbers are not everything
v1 *Woe to people who are appealing to Egypt for help! They are putting their trust in Egypt’s horses. They are putting their trust in Egypt’s *chariots because Egypt possesses vast numbers of them. And they are putting their trust in Egypt’s horsemen because they are so strong. But my people do not trust the Holy God of Israel. They will not ask him to help them. v2You people think that you are very clever. And that what you are doing is right. But the *Lord is wiser than you are. He knows what it is best to do. If his people refuse to listen to him, the *Lord will bring great trouble. He will carry out his promise to punish evil people. And he will punish those who may help evil people. v3 *Egyptians are only people. They are not gods. Their horses have ordinary physical bodies. They have not come from another world. The *Lord’s action will *destroy both the human helper and the person who receives help.
Isaiah intends his list (‘horses, *chariots, horsemen’) to emphasise Egypt’s great military strength.
- The ‘horsemen’ are the skilled soldiers who drive the *chariots.
‘Those who may help’ refers to the *Egyptians. ‘Evil people’ here describes the people of God, because they are refusing to obey the *Lord.
God will defend *Jerusalem
v4 (The *Lord gave Isaiah this message.) People could call for a whole crowd of shepherds to shout very loudly. But a hungry lion will not leave a sheep that it has killed to eat. Their cries will never force the lion to leave that meat behind. In the same manner, nothing can stop what the *Lord (commander of heaven’s armies) intends to do. He will come down to fight on behalf of *Mount Zion. He will protect *Jerusalem from the *Assyrian army’s attack. v5 Just as a bird flies above its nest to protect its young birds, so the *Lord (commander of heaven’s armies) will defend *Jerusalem. He will be over it. He will rescue it from the enemy.
v6 People in Israel, return to the *Lord. You have seriously offended him by your wicked practices. v7 The time is coming when you will throw away all your evil images of silver and gold. You made them with your own hands. That was a wicked thing to do.
v8 The *Assyrian soldiers will die by the sword. But it will not be by a sword that any man holds. The enemy will try to escape from this danger. But it will be in vain. The soldiers will become prisoners. And they will become slaves. v9 Their king will run away in terror. His officers will be so afraid that they will abandon (leave behind) their army’s flags. The *Lord has declared this. The *Lord himself will act like a fierce fire in *Zion and in *Jerusalem.
The ‘sword’ here does not refer to a soldier’s metal weapon (tool of war). Instead, the word ‘sword’ here means any agent that God will use to kill.
For the sudden death of thousands of *Assyrian soldiers, see Isaiah 37:36. No human hand was responsible.
The *Lord is like a fierce fire. He is protecting *Jerusalem. Any who dare to attack *Jerusalem will suffer terrible burns. That is, they will suffer greatly.
- Fire frequently shows that God is present (see Exodus 3:2).
A new king
v1 Some day there will be a new king. He will govern rightly. And his officials will deal fairly with people. v2 The king and his officials will be like a shelter from a strong wind. And like a safe place in a sudden storm. They will be like streams of water in a dry area. And like the cool shade of a great rock in a region that has no water. v3 Then those who have a clear mind will continue to think clearly. Those who want to listen will be able to do so. And those who want to learn will be able to do so. v4 Some people tend to act too quickly, before they are sure about the right decision. Now they will think carefully first. And some people always hesitate to say anything. Now they will speak boldly and clearly.
v5 A fool who does not respect God does not deserve attention. Nor will people consider someone who cheats to be honest. v6-7 A fool is one who speaks foolishly. He thinks of evil things to do. He offends the *Lord by his behaviour. He speaks against what God wants people to do. The fool’s actions and his words offend the *Lord. And the fool never feeds those who are hungry. When people need water, he never gives them anything to drink. v8 But a noble person arranges to do noble deeds. And he always carries out his intentions. People can trust him.
The rule of this king is more wonderful than the best human government could achieve. So this ‘new king’ means God’s *Messiah.
- The ‘new king’ will be a true leader. His actions will affect the attitude of all his officials.
In the Bible a ‘fool’ is not merely someone who acts stupidly (as in 1 Samuel 26:21). A fool is more often someone who leaves God out of his life (see Psalm 14:1 and Luke 12:20).
The fool only thinks about himself and about his own affairs. He does not even notice other people’s problems.
Judgement is coming
v9 Listen to me, you women in Judah. You live in comfort. You feel that you have security. You have no worries. You are so self-confident. But note my words carefully. v10 In less than a year from now, you comfortable women will be trembling with fear. The *grape harvest will fail. And you will have no other fruit to collect. v11 Tremble, you women who have been living so comfortably. Shake with fear, you who have been so confident. Strip and make yourselves bare. Then put on *sackcloth. v12 Weep for the fields that once produced rich crops. And for the *vine that no longer gives fruit. v13 Because the soil that my people cultivate will soon be growing only *thorn-bushes. The homes in the city will no longer be happy places. v14 Even the royal palace will be empty. The crowds will have left the city. The castle and the *look-out will become the home of wild animals. They will wander there in order to find things to eat.
The loss of clothing showed that the person was a slave or a prisoner of an enemy (see Isaiah 20:2-3).
- The women’s self-confident attitude is terribly wrong. In less than one year, all will change. Then many people will be prisoners in the country called Assyria.
‘*Thorn-bushes’ actually translates a pair of words that also appear in Isaiah 5:6 and 27:4. In all three places the words are describing the weakness of the people’s relationship with God. That relationship is as poor as the dry land where only a few *thorn-bushes grow. The people’s *worship of God has little or no life in it.
God’s spirit changes things
v15 But then God’s power will come upon us from heaven. The desert will again become a garden. And the garden will be like a rich forest. v16 Then everywhere in the country people will deal fairly with each other. And they will live rightly. v17 And because everybody will be behaving well, there will always be quiet and security. v18 My people will live in a peaceful country. Their homes will be safe places of harmony (calm and rest). v19 Even if a great storm were to knock down the trees of the forest. And even if the storm completely destroyed the city. v20How happy is the person who can plant crops by a stream! And he who does not need to worry about his animals. He can safely let them out to find grass to eat.
The terrible changes that verses 13-14 describe are not final. An even greater change will follow. That also will be the work of God’s spirit.
- There will be a new earth (verse 15). There will be new standards in a new society (verses 16-17). And there will be a new security for all to enjoy (verse 18).
A regular supply of water is essential in a dry and hot country.
A prayer for help
v1 *Woe to our enemies! They ruined and cheated other people. Although nobody had ruined or cheated them. But the time will come when they themselves will suffer. Other people will ruin them and cheat them.
v2 *Lord, please be kind to us! We wait for you to help us. Be like a strong arm that protects us each day. Rescue us when we are in trouble. v3 When people hear the roar of your loud voice, they will run. Nations will scatter when you rise in your royal power. v4 When an enemy scatters, the winners *seize the enemy’s goods. They take everything. They are like a cloud (mass) of locusts (insects) that destroys every plant.
v5 How very great is the *Lord! In fact, he is over all. He will establish true judgements and right behaviour everywhere in *Jerusalem. v6 And in your times the *Lord will give the nation a firm base. He will make your real wealth secure. That real wealth means the plentiful gifts that he gives to you. Those plentiful gifts consist of wisdom and knowledge. And those gifts include great honour for the *Lord.
v7 But look! Brave soldiers are crying in the street. *Messengers are weeping bitterly, because they have failed to obtain peace from the enemy. v8 Main roads become empty. It is too dangerous to travel on them, because the enemy is about. People do not keep agreements. Judges cannot trust witnesses to tell the truth. Nobody cares about anybody else. v9 Fields are dry and they are empty of crops. The great forests in Lebanon are dry. The beautiful plain called Sharon has become like a desert. The trees in Bashan and Carmel have no water. So the trees lose their leaves.
This verse does not identify the enemy. But it is probably the *Babylonians, because there is a relationship between this chapter and Isaiah chapter 21. The original language uses some words that appear together only in 21:2 and here, in 33:1.
- The nation that is attacking God’s people is very strong. And it has never suffered defeat.
Society has broken down.
Nature itself suffers when human society breaks down (see Genesis 3:17-18).
God warns his enemies
v10 (The *Lord speaks to the nations.) Now I am going to act. Now I shall show how powerful I am. v11 Your plans are like dry grass that is ready to burn. Your own breath will be like the fire. You will ruin yourselves. v12 Fire will reduce the people’s bones to chalk. They will be like dry *thorn-bushes that someone throws in the fire. v13 You may be living in this land or in a distant country. You may be near or far away. But recognise what I have done. Realise that my actions are very powerful. v14 People in *Jerusalem who practise evil deeds are rightly afraid. People who are not holy tremble greatly. Nobody can live with a holy God, because he is like a fierce fire. Nobody can even remain alive near his *altar, because it is always burning fiercely.
To do ‘evil deeds’ probably refers to God’s people who have turned to *worship *Assyrian gods. And those who are ‘not holy’ no longer *worship the *Lord. All such people have good reason to be afraid of God, because he is so holy. So they do not dare to go to the place where he is present. They compare him to a fire that is fierce and terrible.
v15 But there are other people who behave rightly. They speak honestly. They will not accept unfair profit. They will not take bribes (secret gifts). They will not listen to cruel plots. They refuse to do evil deeds. v16 Such people safely live with the *Lord, as if they were in a very strong castle. They will always have bread to eat and water to drink.
Those who truly *worship the *Lord will follow God’s principles (moral rules) in their lives.
For people who live rightly, ‘bread and water’ will always be available. That is, God will provide their necessary food for each day.
A happy future for *Jerusalem
v17 You will see God the King in all his great *glory. You will see a lovely land that reaches far and wide. v18 You will remember past terrors. Now you will wonder what happened to those foreign officials. They were once so powerful. They weighed everything. They counted everything. v19 You will no longer see those proud foreigners. They spoke some peculiar language that you could not understand. v20 Now look at *Zion, the city where we gather for our special sacred ceremonies. It is a peaceful place in which to live. It will be like a tent that a strong wind cannot blow down. Nobody can pull the pegs (sticks) of the tent out of the ground. Nor can anyone break the ropes (strings) of the tent. v21 In fact, the *Lord himself will be present in all his great *glory and power. And we shall benefit. We shall live by broad rivers and by peaceful streams. No enemy ships of war with oars or with sails will be on those waters. v22 The *Lord is our judge. The *Lord is our ruler. The *Lord is our king. The *Lord will rescue us from any enemy. v23 The sails of the enemy’s ships will hang loose on broken masts (poles). And God’s people will *seize the enemy’s goods. Even weak people will have a share. v24 No inhabitants in *Jerusalem will feel miserable. The *Lord has lifted the weight of punishment from those who live there. (In other words, the *Lord has forgiven the evil deeds of the inhabitants.)
Perhaps Isaiah is not describing any particular occasion. These verses are to encourage God’s people in any times of trouble. Whatever happens, God does not change. Live rightly. And he will provide all that you need (see Philippians 4:19).
God will punish his enemies
v1 Come, all you nations! Gather here and listen. Let all the inhabitants of the world come here. Listen carefully to the *Lord’s special message to you. v2 The *Lord is very angry with all the nations. His fierce anger is against all their armies. He has decided that they must die. He will hand them over to those who will kill them. v3 Nobody will remain to bury the dead people. The bad smell of the dead bodies will fill the air. Their blood will stain the mountains. v4 Everything in the sky (sun, moon, stars) will reduce into nothing. The heavens will disappear. As if someone folded a blanket and put it away out of sight. The stars will fall like dry leaves that drop from trees. Or, like unripe figs (fruit) that fall from the tree.
These verses are a general description of God’s judgement. Now Isaiah gives the particular example of the people in Edom.
God’s judgement affects all that he has created (see my note on Isaiah 33:9).
- People commonly considered objects in the sky to be gods. So the fate of the sun and moon and stars probably refers to God’s action against people who *worshipped them.
- Such events in the heavens will happen on the Day of the *Lord (see Isaiah 13:6 and 24:4-6 and my notes; see also Matthew 24:29-30 and Revelation 6:13-14).
God’s judgement against Edom
v5 My sword of judgement has completed its work in the heavens. Now see, my sword will fall upon the people in Edom. I have decided that they shall all die. v6 Blood and fat cover the *Lord’s sword. It is like the blood and fat of young sheep and goats that people *sacrifice as a gift to God. The *Lord is acting in the city called Bozrah like one who offers a great *sacrifice. A huge number of people die in Edom. v7 Wild animals and farm animals alike will die. Their blood will cover the land. The fat of all these animals will be so much that it will make all the ground oily.
v8 The *Lord has fixed the day for his action. He will give the inhabitants of Edom what they rightly deserve. This is because of their evil deeds against the *Lord’s special people. v9 The rivers in Edom will become like rivers of dirty oil. The soil of the land will be so dry that it will be unsuitable for anything. In fact the land will be full of burning oil. v10 The land will continue to burn all day and all night. Smoke will always be rising from it. The land will lie waste (empty) age after age. Nobody will ever travel through Edom again. v11 Only birds and wild animals that eat meat will live in the country called Edom. The *Lord will make it an empty desert. Like the earth was in the beginning, before God created anything. No people will be able to live in Edom. Nor would they want to live in such a place.
The *Lord does not attack with an actual sword. This is a picture in words to describe the *Lord’s act of judgement.
- Relations between the nations called Israel and Edom were always uneasy. This was because of the strain between Jacob (later called Israel) and his brother Esau, the *ancestor of the *Edomites (see Genesis 25:30 and 32:11).
Bozrah was the *Edomite capital (see Genesis 36:32, 33). It had strong defences. Its situation was in the mountains, south-east of the Dead Sea. But God would destroy Bozrah completely (see Jeremiah 49:13).
When the *Babylonians destroyed *Jerusalem, the *Edomites joined them against God’s special people. (See Psalm 137:7 and Jeremiah 49:13. See also the Book of Obadiah, verse 11; all this short book is about the wicked action of the *Edomites.)
The region was mostly desert. And it was unsuitable for agriculture. It had become like Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 19:24).
The terrible situation of the land called Edom was again like that of the world in Genesis 1:2.
The end of Edom
v12 No *Edomite leaders remain to choose a king. All Edom’s officials have disappeared. v13 *Thorn-bushes and weeds cover Edom’s empty palaces and castles. Only wild animals will make a home in those buildings. v14 Wild animals wander there at night. They make strange noises. There will be mysterious screams in the darkness. Demons (bad spirits) will look for a place there in which to rest. v15 Owls (birds of the night) will build their nests. They will lay their eggs there. And they will bring up their young families there. Vultures (birds that eat meat) will gather there. Each vulture will have its companion. v16 Find the Book of the *Lord. Read what it says: Not one of them will be missing. Each one has its companion, because God has ordered it. Not one is absent. They are all present at the *Lord’s command. And his spirit has brought them together. v17 It is the *Lord who has made the decision for these birds and wild animals. It is his action that has divided Edom for them. They will take possession of Edom for all time. They will live there from one age to the next age.
Isaiah names many animals and birds in the original language of these verses (and also in verse 11). But to identify animals and birds in the Bible with modern names is a very uncertain task!
- The animals and birds in these verses do have some things in common. They like to live among buildings that armies have ruined. And they appear in the list of foods that God’s people must not eat (see Leviticus 11:13-19).
This is the only reference in the Bible to the ‘Book of the *Lord’. And it is unknown elsewhere.
The general purpose of Isaiah’s words is to convince his readers that the *Lord will carry out his judgements completely.
All through Chapters 28 to 33, there was one main point:
It was foolish to trust other nations for safety from enemies. Only God himself could really provide peace and security.
- Chapter 34 had spoken about the fate of nations that God punished. As an example, Edom had become a desert.
- Chapter 35 describes the result of God’s action when he changes the desert into a beautiful garden.
The desert will flower like a garden
v1 Some day the desert will become a place to be glad. The dry ground will be a place of happiness. Flowers will cover the whole land. v2 Yes, the desert itself will seem to sing and to shout for joy. It will become as beautiful as the mountains in Lebanon. It will be as lovely as the fields in Carmel and Sharon. And the people will see the greatness of God’s *glory.
Unlike the fate of the country called Edom, *Zion’s land will become beautiful. This will happen at a time that God chooses.
- The work of Jesus Christ on the Cross affects the whole of Nature (see Colossians 1:20).
The *Lord will rescue his people
v3 Make your hands strong! Make your knees firm! You who are weak, stand firm. v4 Tell people who tremble with fear to be strong. Do not be afraid! Our God is coming to punish our enemies. And he is coming to provide you richly with all that you need. He will save you from all your troubles. v5 Then God will make blind people able to see. He will make deaf people able to hear. v6 He will make people who cannot walk properly able to jump and to run. And people who cannot speak will be able to sing. Water will suddenly appear in dry places. And rivers will begin to flow in the deserts. v7 The hot sand will become a lake of cool water. Once only foxes of the desert lived in these places. But now plants that grow in the water will be there.
Fear can cause hands and knees to be weak (see Ezekiel 7:17 and Hebrews 12:12).
- Hands and knees refer to a person’s arms and legs. Together the words represent an order to God’s people to be strong and brave themselves. That is, in what they do (by their arms). And in where they go (by their legs).
- Then God’s strong people will be able to encourage other people.
- God’s action to save shows the double purpose of his arrival. His purpose is to rescue his people from all that is evil. And to bring about good changes for both people and their land.
People see the action of God to cure people by the public ministry (work) of Jesus (see Mark 1:34). And in the public ministry of the *apostles (see Acts 3:8).
- Good news about new health for blind people and deaf people has appeared in Isaiah 29:18 and 32:3. The subject will appear again in Isaiah 42:16-19 and 43:8 and 44:18.
The Holy Road
v8 A main road will be there. It will be called the ‘Holy Road’. No wicked person will ever travel along it. The road will be for God’s people. Even foolish people that travel along the Holy Road will not lose their way. v9 No lion will be there. Nor will any other dangerous animal be on it. But only people whom the *Lord has rescued from the enemy will walk along the Holy Road. v10These people whom the *Lord has rescued will return home to *Zion. They will sing as they enter the city. Their joy will never end. They will be truly happy. They will never again be miserable or sad. Such feelings will have gone for always.
There will be a special way there, but only for God’s special people. It will be called the ‘Holy Road’ because it is only for God’s special people.
- The Holy Road will lead God’s own happy people to their permanent home – in *Zion.
- In Chapters 1 to 35, the main enemy of Israel and Judah has been Assyria.
- In Chapters 40 to 66, the main enemy will be Babylon.
- Between these two major sections in the Book of Isaiah, Chapters 36 to 39 deal with certain events in the history of Judah. (The text of these four chapters is also in 2 Kings 18:13 to 20:19.)
- In Chapters 36 to 37, Isaiah speaks of God’s help as Hezekiah, king of Judah, worries about the powerful *Assyrians.
- Chapter 38 describes Hezekiah’s illness. The king recovers after Isaiah gives a message from God.
- Chapter 39 describes Hezekiah’s pride. Isaiah warns the king that the *Babylonians will take away the people from Judah as prisoners.
Chapters 36 to 39
The *Assyrians attack Judah
v1 Hezekiah had been king of Judah for nearly 14 years. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked Judah. He *seized all the cities in northern Judah, although they had strong walls.
The ancient country called Assyria was in the north of modern Iraq. The powerful *Assyrian *empire lasted for 300 years. It finally ended when the *Babylonians (from the south of modern Iraq) *seized Nineveh, the *Assyrian capital, in 612 *BC.
- King Sennacherib ruled the *Assyrian *empire from 704 to 681 *BC.
- Sennacherib attacked the country called Judah in 701 *BC.
- Ancient records show that the *Assyrian army first *seized the port called Tyre. Then the army advanced down the coast. The records name 46 cities that Sennacherib *seized. He took away the inhabitants that remained alive. They became prisoners and slaves in the country called Assyria.
*Jerusalem will be next
v2 Then the king of Assyria ordered his personal official, called the *Rabshakeh, to go to *Jerusalem. So the *Rabshakeh went from the city called Lachish to Hezekiah in *Jerusalem. The *Rabshakeh took a large military force with him. He stopped at the *aqueduct that brings water from the Upper Pool. It was on the road that led to the Laundry Field. People washed their clothes there.
Sennacherib was still with his army that was attacking the strong city called Lachish (see 2 Chronicles 11:9).
- Lachish was in the hills, south-west of *Jerusalem. To *seize Lachish would free Sennacherib’s forces to attack other cities in the mountains. Those cities included Hezekiah’s capital called *Jerusalem.
- Sennacherib’s *messengers, the *Rabshakeh and those with him, stopped at the *aqueduct outside *Jerusalem (see 2 Kings 18:17). This was the same place where Isaiah had given king Ahaz a message from God (see Isaiah 7:3).
- On the earlier occasion (Isaiah 7:3) Isaiah had told Ahaz to trust the *Lord. But Ahaz refused to follow the advice. Now the *Assyrian *Rabshakeh was telling Hezekiah not to trust the *Lord. But Hezekiah will refuse to follow the *Assyrian’s advice.
v3 King Hezekiah sent three of his officials to meet the *Rabshakeh. One was Hilkiah’s son called Eliakim. He managed Hezekiah’s palace. Shebna was Chief Minister in the government. Joah son of Asaph looked after the official records.
Sennacherib acts as if Hezekiah is unimportant. So Sennacherib does not even come himself to speak to Hezekiah. Instead, Sennacherib just sends some of his officials to speak to Hezekiah. So king Hezekiah only sends some of his officials to listen to the *Assyrian’s message.
Egypt will not help
v4 The *Rabshakeh asked the three officials to give Hezekiah this message from the King of Assyria: ‘You are so confident that you can oppose the Great King of Assyria. But you have no reason to be confident. v5 Mere promises of help will not give you the military advice that you need. Nor will words make you strong enough to join in a revolution against me. v6 You are expecting Egypt to help you. But the king of Egypt is like a dry stick that will easily break. If someone leans on a stick like that, it will hurt his hand.’
The *Rabshakeh never calls Hezekiah a king. He does this on purpose. He wants to make Hezekiah feel weak. The *Rabshakeh does not want Hezekiah to feel like a real king.
The *Rabshakeh hurries from one subject to another subject on purpose. Hezekiah does not have time to think how to answer.
Wrong ideas about the *Lord
v7 Then the *Rabshakeh added: ‘It is hopeless to say that the *Lord your God will help you. You cannot put your trust in him. Hezekiah has destroyed all the local holy places and *altars of the *Lord. Hezekiah has told the people in Judah that they must only give honour to the *Lord in one particular place. That is, at the *Temple in *Jerusalem. v8 Listen! Make an agreement with my master, the Great King of Assyria. We will give you 2000 horses – if you can find enough horsemen to ride on them! v9 You could not defeat even one of the least important officers who serves my master. It is certainly hopeless to put your trust in Egypt for *chariots and horsemen. v10 Anyway, it was the *Lord himself who told me to attack this country and to destroy it.’
But the *Rabshakeh does not understand the God whom Hezekiah trusts. People from other nations would make an *idol out of wood, silver or gold. They would consider that *idol to be their god. But the *Lord is not like some *idol that people have made.
The *Rabshakeh argues that the *Lord is not willing to help the people in Judah. And the *Rabshakeh claims that Hezekiah has not been loyal to the *Lord. The *Rabshakeh even suggests evidence to prove this point. Hezekiah has destroyed many local places for *worship. And Hezekiah told the people they must *worship the *Lord only in *Jerusalem. (In fact, Hezekiah did this because the people were also *worshipping *idols at these local holy places – see 2 Kings 18:4.)
The *Rabshakeh continues to try to make the people’s trust in God weaker. Now he pretends that the *Lord himself has ordered the *Assyrian attack.
The *Rabshakeh continues to *threaten
v11 Then Eleakim and Shebna and Joah said to the *Rabshakeh, ‘Please speak to us in the Aramaic language. We understand it. Do not use the Hebrew language. Because all the people on the wall will understand what you are saying.’
v12 The *Rabshakeh replied, ‘My master’s message is not only for Hezekiah. It is also a message for the people on the wall. Because the Great King of Assyria’s army will surround their city. And the army will cut off every bit of food and all the water supplies. Then the people will have to eat and to drink things that disgust them.’
Aramaic was the international language that governments used. The ordinary people would not understand that language. But the *Rabshakeh wanted all the people to hear his message. He was trying to frighten the inhabitants of *Jerusalem.
The *Rabshakeh now *threatens to cause terrible hunger. This is another effort to make people’s trust in God even weaker.
‘Do not trust Hezekiah!’
v13 Then the *Rabshakeh stood up. He shouted loudly in the Hebrew language to the people on the wall. ‘Listen to what the Great King of Assyria is telling you! v14 Do not listen to Hezekiah. He cannot save you. v15 And do not let Hezekiah persuade you to put your trust in the *Lord. He too cannot save you from the army of the Great King of Assyria.
v16 Do not listen to Hezekiah! The Great King of Assyria invites you to come out of your city. Make peace with him. Then the Great King will allow you to eat *grapes from your own *vines. And to eat other lovely fruits from your own trees. And you will be able to drink water from your own wells. v17 Soon the Great King of Assyria will come personally and he will take you to another country. That country will be much like your own. *Vineyards are there to give you *wine. And the fields grow grain to make bread.
v18 Do not listen to Hezekiah! He will say that the *Lord will save you. But the King of Assyria’s army has attacked many other nations. Their gods did not save them. v19 The gods of Hamath and the gods of Arpad failed. So did the gods of Sepharvaim. And no god saved Samaria from my army. v20 None of the gods from all these countries was able to save their lands from our Great King. Nor will the *Lord be able to save *Jerusalem.’
The *Assyrians pretend to offer plenty of good food and a comfortable life. But of course it would be far away in a foreign country.
It was true that none of the national gods could protect their countries from the *Assyrians. But those gods were merely dumb *idols.
But the *Assyrians were completely wrong to think the same about the *Lord. He was not a ‘dumb *idol’!
Hezekiah hears the news
v21 But Hezekiah’s three officials made no reply. King Hezekiah had told them not to say anything to the *Rabshakeh. v22 Then the three officials, Eliakim and Shebna and Joah, returned to king Hezekiah. (Eliakim, who managed Hezekiah’s palace, was Hilkiah’s son. Shebna was Chief Minister in the government. Joah son of Asaph looked after the official records.) Because they were so *upset, they had torn their clothes. They told the king everything that the *Rabshakeh had said.
To tear one’s clothes was a sign of great despair.
Hezekiah asks Isaiah for advice
v1 When king Hezekiah heard the report from his three officials, he was extremely *upset. Because of his despair, he tore his clothes and he put on *sackcloth. Then he went into the *Temple of the *Lord.
v2 The king sent Eliakim (who managed the palace) and Shebna (the Chief Minister in the government) to the *prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. Several of the older priests were with the officials. They were all wearing *sackcloth.
v3 They gave the king’s message to Isaiah. The message was, ‘This is a terrible time that upsets us all. And the enemy’s words have insulted the *Lord. Our nation is too weak to oppose the *Assyrian army. In fact, the situation is as people say, “Children are ready to be born. But the mother has no strength to bring them to birth.”
v4 Isaiah, will the *Lord your God take note of the *Rabshakeh’s words? And will God answer his insults? The *Rabshakeh has received orders from his master the king of Assyria to laugh at the *Lord God. Please pray for the people who are still here in *Jerusalem.’
Hezekiah goes to the *Temple. Probably his prayer is like the one in verses 15-20 of this chapter.
Hezekiah sends officials to Isaiah with a message. But the king does not order Isaiah to come to him. Kings respected God’s *prophets (see 1 Kings 22:7; 2 Kings 22:12-14 and Jeremiah 37:3).
Hezekiah’s officials emphasise how very weak they feel.
Many of God’s people had been living to the north of the land called Judah. But they are now prisoners in Assyria.
Isaiah gives the *Lord’s reply to Hezekiah
v5 Isaiah received king Hezekiah’s message. v6 Isaiah sent back this answer: ‘The *Lord tells you not to let the servants of the king of Assyria frighten you by their words. The *Lord has heard their insults. v7 The *Lord will cause the king of Assyria to hear certain news. It will make him return to his own country. I shall arrange that he dies there.’
This verse may give the impression that Sennacherib’s death happened very soon afterwards. In fact, Sennacherib ruled the *Assyrian *empire for another 20 years. But he never again entered the country called Judah.
- What made Sennacherib return to his own country was probably the news about Tirhakah (see verse 9). Sennacherib had just lost huge numbers of his own soldiers (see verse 36).
- Sennacherib died in 681 *BC. Two of his sons murdered him (see Isaiah 37:37, 38).
Sennacherib again warns Hezekiah
v8 Then the *Rabshakeh heard that the king of Assyria had left Lachish. He had gone to Libnah where his army was now fighting. So the *Rabshakeh went to Libnah and he found the king there. v9 Then Sennacherib, king of Assyria, heard that a large army was coming from Egypt. The leader of this army was Tirhakah, king of *Cush. And the army was coming to attack the *Assyrian army. When Sennacherib heard this news, he sent *messengers with a letter to Hezekiah in *Jerusalem. v10 ‘This is what you must say to Hezekiah: Your god has told you that the Great King of Assyria will never *seize *Jerusalem. Do not trust what your god says! It is not true! v11 Listen! You know what the kings of Assyria have done to every nation. They have destroyed them all. None of their gods could save them. v12 Kings of Assyria before me destroyed the cities called Gozan and Haran and Rezeph. And they killed the people from Eden in Telassar. The gods of these nations could not rescue them. v13 You know what happened to the kings of Hamath, Arpad, Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah. The *Assyrian army defeated them all.’
Ancient records show that the *Assyrians defeated Tirhakah in a battle at Eltekeh in 701 *BC. Eltekeh was a city west of *Jerusalem.
Sennacherib knows that he must return home. But he makes a final effort to force Hezekiah to give in to the *Assyrians.
- The cities that Sennacherib mentions are all in the area between the rivers called Tigris and Euphrates. These rivers are in the modern country called Iraq.
Hezekiah prays for God’s help
v14 King Hezekiah received the letter from the *messengers. He read it. Then he went to the *Temple where he placed the letter in front of the *Lord. v15 Then Hezekiah prayed. v16 ‘*Lord (commander of heaven’s armies), you are the God whom the people in Israel serve. You sit upon a throne (royal seat) above the *cherubim. You alone are God. You rule all the nations of the world. You are the God who created the heavens and the earth.
v17 *Lord, listen to my prayer. See what is happening to us your people. Hear all the words that Sennacherib has spoken. He has sent this letter to laugh at you, the living God. v18 It is true, *Lord, that the kings of Assyria have destroyed every nation. They have made each country into waste (empty) land. v19 They have thrown the gods of those countries into the fire to destroy them. But those gods were not real gods. They had no life in them. Human hands had made them from pieces of wood or stone. v20 And now, *Lord our God, save us from the *Assyrian army. Then all nations will know that you alone are the *Lord God.’
The king’s actions describe the character of true prayer. Before Hezekiah asks God for his urgent help, the king gives his complete attention to God himself.
- God is powerful. He is the commander of heaven’s armies. He is the *Lord. He is Israel’s God. He is the only real God. He rules all the nations, although they do not give honour to him.
- He controls everything. He has created all that is in heaven. And he has created all that is in the world.
The king’s prayer is one of calm trust in the *Lord (see my note on Isaiah 28:16). Hezekiah has had experience of the wonderful things that God can do.
The meaning is not every nation across the entire world. But the *Assyrians defeated every country that they chose to attack.
The *Assyrian army was the most powerful army that the nations had ever known. But huge armies do not impress God.
Verses 21-38 form a section that is parallel (similar) to Isaiah’s reply earlier in this chapter (see verses 5-7).
God answers Hezekiah’s prayer
v21 Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a *messenger to Hezekiah. ‘This is what the *Lord, the God of Israel, has replied to your prayer. v22 These are the words that the *Lord has spoken about Sennacherib, king of Assyria. “*Zion laughs at you, like a young unmarried girl laughs. The people of God in *Jerusalem shake their heads at you. v23 Sennacherib, you have been insulting me, the Holy God of Israel. You have been speaking wickedly about me, the Holy God of Israel. You have been blaspheming (insulting) me, the Holy God of Israel. v24 Sennacherib, you have used your servants to deride (laugh at) the *Lord God. You have proudly declared that you have driven your *chariots to the very top of the most distant mountains in Lebanon. You have cut down the best and tallest trees in Lebanon’s rich forests. v25 You declared that you were proud to have dug wells and to have drunk their water in foreign countries. You were proud that your huge armies had marched across the rivers of Egypt. So many feet had made the rivers dry.
v26 Sennacherib, you have surely heard who decided all this long ago. It was I who arranged it long ago. Now I am bringing it about. It is I who made you reduce strong cities into piles of stones. v27 The people who lived in those cities lost all strength to oppose the attackers. The people were confused. They were unable to do anything. They became like weeds in a field. Or like grass that begins to grow on the roofs of houses. The hot east wind burns the weeds and the grass. v28 Sennacherib, I know all that you do. I know when you get up. I know when you sit down. I know where you go. I know all about your proud words against me. v29 I have had to listen to your proud words and to your insults. Now I am going to force you to move, like an animal that people drag by the nose. I shall make you return by the way that you came.” ’
True prayer is the only practical way to deal with painful problems in this world. What military arms (see Isaiah 36:9) and agreements between governments (see Isaiah 30:1-2) and money (see 2 Kings 18:13-14) all fail to do, prayer achieves.
‘Unmarried’ here refers to a young woman that foreign attackers have not been able to ‘touch’. That is, to force her to have sex with them.
- To ‘shake the head’ was another way to say to ‘laugh at someone secretly’.
People in that region were familiar with the use of impressive language. But Sennacherib so very greatly *exaggerates his actions that his proud words sound stupid.
- For example, not even Sennacherib could drive *chariots to the top of mountains. There would be no roads. The feet of a million of his soldiers could never make a river to be dry. More water would continue to flow.
The purpose of these verses is to make Hezekiah’s trust in God even stronger.
- The *Lord seems to be speaking to Sennacherib. But the words are in fact for Hezekiah to hear. The *Lord is in total control of events.
The *Assyrian king’s deeds were all part of God’s plan. Sennacherib is merely like a tool that God is using. So Sennacherib has no reason to be proud.
It was the custom to lead a camel and a bull (male partner of cow) by a hook (piece of metal) in the nose.
- Sennacherib’s past and present actions are all under God’s control. So also is Sennacherib’s future fate.
Isaiah again encourages Hezekiah
v30 Then Isaiah said to king Hezekiah: ‘Here is a sign for you. This year and the next year, you and the people will eat what grows naturally. In the third year you can plant seed and harvest a crop. And you can plant *vineyards again, so that later you can enjoy their fruit.
v31 The few people that remain alive in Judah will again be like a plant. A plant sends down deep roots and it produces fruit. v32 Truly, there will be some people in *Jerusalem who remain alive. The *Lord (commander of heaven’s armies) will make sure that this happens.’
v33 And this is what the *Lord says about Sennacherib king of Assyria: ‘He will never enter this city called *Jerusalem. Nor will he shoot any arrows into it. Nor will his army ever surround it to prepare an attack. v34 Sennacherib will return by the same road on which he came. He will not come into this city. I, the *Lord, have spoken. v35 I shall protect this city *Jerusalem to save it. I shall do this because of my holy name. And because of my promises to my servant, king David.’
Isaiah’s reference to crops gives a signal to God’s people. For two years they will have to find food that grows naturally. But in the third year they will be able to sow and to harvest crops again. By then, the fields will have recovered from the effects of the *Assyrian soldiers. During the troubles, the people in *Jerusalem had neglected to look after the fields.
- New *vines take several years to produce their first *grapes.
God promised king David that there would always be some member of his family to lead God’s people (see 2 Samuel 7:16).
- One of the titles (names) of Jesus the *Messiah was ‘Son of David’ (see Isaiah 9:6-7). This name appears often in the *New Testament (see Matthew 12:23).
God punishes Sennacherib
v36 Then an agent of the *Lord went to the camp of the *Assyrian army and killed 185 000 soldiers. Next morning the camp was full of dead bodies. v37 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria left Judah. He returned to his own country. He lived at Nineveh the capital of Assyria. v38 One day Sennacherib was in the *temple of his god called Nisroch. Two of Sennacherib’s sons, Adrammelech and Sharezer, killed their father with their swords. Then they escaped to the country called Ararat. Another of Sennacherib’s sons, Esarhaddon, became king of Assyria in place of his dead father.
The *Lord’s agent was probably a terrible disease that spread from person to person in a very few hours (see 2 Samuel 24:15).
Neither the *Old Testament nor any *Assyrian record mentions any further visit by Sennacherib to the country called Judah (see 2 Kings 19:36-37).
Sennacherib had laughed at the *Lord as too weak to oppose the *Assyrians. Now Sennacherib dies while he is *worshipping his own god called Nisroch. So Sennacherib’s god was too weak to protect him, even in the god’s own *temple.
- No other ancient record mentions an *Assyrian god called Nisroch.
Chapters 38 and 39
These two chapters have much in common with 2 Kings chapter 20.
Hezekiah is seriously ill
v1 About that time, Hezekiah became very ill. He believed that he would soon die. The *prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him with a message from the *Lord. Isaiah told the king to put his affairs in order. ‘You are going to die. You will not live.’
v2 Hezekiah turned his face towards the wall. And he prayed to the *Lord. v3 Hezekiah wept bitterly as he prayed. ‘*Lord, please remember how I have lived my life truly and honestly. I have always acted in a manner that pleased you.’
v4 Then the *Lord gave Isaiah another message for king Hezekiah. v5 ‘Go back. Tell Hezekiah that I, the *Lord, have heard his prayer. And I have seen his tears. Say to him, “I am the God of David your *ancestor (early relative) who served me. I, the *Lord, declare that I shall let you live another 15 years. v6 The king of Assyria will not be able to *seize either you or this city. And I shall continue to defend the city.” ’
v7 Isaiah said to Hezekiah: ‘Here is the *Lord’s sign that he will carry out his promise. v8 You can see the outside staircase that Ahaz built. And you can see the shadow there as the sun sets. Watch! I shall make the shadow return by ten steps.’ And that is what happened.
The sick king is lying in bed as he turns his face towards the wall. This action could mean that Hezekiah had lost hope in any human help to recover.
Hezekiah probably died in 687 *BC. The 15 years that God gave him shows the date of the king’s illness to be about 702 *BC.
- Later that same year (702 *BC), Merodach-Baladan’s second period as king of the country called Babylon (see Isaiah 39:1) came to an end. Sennacherib defeated him.
This extraordinary event shows Hezekiah that God even controls time. So God is able to let Hezekiah live for another 15 years.
Hezekiah recovers and he thanks God
v9 (This is the prayer of Hezekiah king of Judah when he was ill. He recovered from his illness.) v10 ‘I thought that I should have to leave this life much too soon. And that I should have to spend the rest of my days in *Sheol. v11 I thought that I should never again see the *Lord. That is, that I should never again be able to go to his *Temple. Nor should I ever again see people who are living in this world. v12 My life was like a tent that someone had taken away. My life was like a little piece of cloth that somebody had cut off from a much larger piece. Day by day God was taking away my life. v13 I thought about this all night. It was as if God was breaking all my bones. Just as a lion would break bones. That is, God was making me suffer terribly. v14My cries for help were as weak as the sound of some bird. I looked upwards so much that I was wearing out my eyes. Master, at this time of my great trouble, come to my aid! v15 I did not know what to say. God himself had done this to me. I was so *upset. I would have to drag myself along. I could not sleep.
v16 But *Lord, experiences like these come into everybody’s life. I know this from my own experience. You brought me back to health. So you have allowed me to live. v17 Truly, to suffer greatly is a bitter experience. But you let me suffer, because it was for my own benefit. Because of your love, you saved me from death. You turned your eyes away from all my guilty deeds. And you have forgiven me. v18 God, dead people in *Sheol cannot praise you. Dead people cannot trust you to help them. v19 Only people who are alive are able to praise you. And that is what I am doing today. Parents will teach their children how right it is to trust you completely all the time. v20 *Lord, you are near me to save me. Therefore other people will join me in the *Temple to praise the *Lord. And we shall praise him all the days of our lives.’
Hezekiah’s illness made him feel very depressed. (In other words, his inner feelings were deeply sad.) And this affected all of his life.
Verses 10 and 18
Like many people at that time, Hezekiah thought that *Sheol was some sort of miserable place. And he thought that all dead people went there. In *Sheol, they were without hope or communication with God (see Isaiah 14:9-11).
- *Sheol was called Hades by people who spoke the Greek language.
- However, the Bible teaches that these ideas are not correct. At the time of death, God separates the people who trust him from everyone else (Isaiah 26:14-19; Luke 16:19-31). God has prepared a wonderful home for his people in heaven (Isaiah 11:6-9; John 14:1-3). And in the end, God will even defeat death (Isaiah 25:7-8; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57).
What led to Hezekiah’s return to health
v21 Isaiah had told the king’s servants to squeeze *figs over Hezekiah’s boil (open sore place). Then the king would recover. v22 Hezekiah had asked Isaiah for a sign that the *Lord would cure him.
A ‘boil’ would not itself cause death. But in those days a ‘boil’ would suggest the terrible disease called leprosy. And that would be a very serious matter (see Leviticus chapter 13).
- Jesus healed those who had leprosy (see Luke 7:22). His action was evidence that he was the *Messiah.
This chapter uses almost the same words as 2 Kings 20:12-19.
Visitors from Babylon
v1 About that time, the king of Babylon, Merodach-Baladan, son of Baladan, heard that Hezekiah had recovered from a serious illness. So he sent letters and a gift to Hezekiah. v2 Hezekiah gladly accepted the visitors that the king of Babylon had sent to him. Hezekiah showed them all his stores of valuable things. He showed them the silver and the gold. And his stock of *spices and best oil. And he also showed them his weapons (military arms). There was nothing in his palace or anywhere in his country that he did not let them see.
v3 Isaiah the *prophet went to king Hezekiah. Isaiah asked him about the visitors. ‘What did those men speak to you about? Where did they come from?’ Hezekiah replied that they had come from a distant land. They came from a country called Babylon. v4 Then Isaiah asked Hezekiah what the visitors had seen in the palace. The king replied that they had seen everything in his palace. And there was nothing in the royal stores that he did not show them.
v5 Then Isaiah said to king Hezekiah: ‘The *Lord (commander of heaven’s armies) has given me this special message for you: v6 A time is coming when the *Babylonians will take away everything in your palace. They will *seize all that earlier kings of Judah had collected. Nothing will remain. This is what the *Lord says. v7 Some of your own royal sons will go to Babylon as prisoners. They will be ashamed because they will become mere servants in the palace of the king of Babylon.’
v8 Hezekiah said, ‘Whatever the *Lord says must be good.’ The king was thinking to himself, ‘This means that there will be peace in my country for the rest of my life.’
Hezekiah tried to impress the *Babylonian visitors with his wealth.
- But probably there was also a political reason. He wanted to show that he was well able to help in any war against the *Assyrian *empire.
- The *Assyrians were the international power at this time. But the countries that they had *seized were always looking for an opportunity to escape from the *Assyrians’ cruel rule.
At first, Hezekiah answers only Isaiah’s second question – about the visitors’ own country.
Isaiah repeats the other question. Isaiah is familiar with all the palace staff. So he would already know from them what the king had been doing.
God’s message shows that Hezekiah has made a serious mistake. The king is still thinking of safety in human agreements. He is not trusting the *Lord alone.
Hezekiah’s thoughts show the less pleasant part of his character. He has been foolish. And his family will suffer greatly because of his actions. But Hezekiah does not seem to care. He prayed about his own troubles. But he is not praying that God will save his family from these terrible troubles. Instead, he just says, ‘Whatever the *Lord says must be good.’ So Hezekiah is only thinking about himself.
altar ~ special stone where priests burned animals as gifts to God.
ancestor ~ original father of later families.
angels ~ God’s servants in heaven.
apostle ~ one of the 12 men that Jesus sent to continue his work.
aqueduct ~ channel that men make to allow water to flow from one place to another place.
Assyrian ~ a person from the country called Assyria; or anything that has a relationship with the country called Assyria.
Babylonian ~ a person from the country called Babylon; or anything that has a relationship with the country called Babylon.
BC ~ years before Jesus Christ was born.
chariot ~ box (on wheels) that horses pull to carry soldiers into battle.
cherubim ~ a special rank of *angels; they have wings: God created them as his special servants.
Cush ~ a country that today forms part of southern Egypt and northern Sudan.
destroy ~ to kill or to punish completely.
Edomites ~ a person from the country called Edom; or anything that has a relationship with the country called Edom.
Egyptian ~ a person from the country called Egypt; or anything that has a relationship with the country called Egypt.
empire ~ a group of many countries that a powerful king has *seized.
exaggerate ~ to say that something is far greater or much more important than in reality.
figs ~ healthy sweet fruit which comes from a tree, also called the fig. Figs (the fruit) are a valuable food to eat fresh or dried.
glory ~ the splendid beauty and wonderful light of God’s most holy character.
grape ~ small sweet fruit of the *vine; its juice makes *wine.
idol ~ home-made image of a god.
Jerusalem ~ at the time of David and Solomon, capital of the country called Israel. During the time of Isaiah, Jerusalem was the capital of the country called Judah.
Jews ~ people who belong to the countries called Judah and Israel; people who belong to the 12 tribes (large families) of Israel.
locust ~ large insect that eats all plants.
look-out ~ a person whose job is to watch for anything that may cause trouble; or a special building for use by that person.
Lord ~ God’s name in the Bible. In the original language, God’s name ‘Lord’ means ‘head over all’ and ‘God always’.
Messiah ~ *Old Testament title for Christ.
messenger ~ someone who delivers a message.
Mount Zion ~ the mountain in *Jerusalem where God’s holy *Temple was.
New Testament ~ the second part of the Bible. It contains 27 books, all from the time when Jesus was born.
Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible. It contains 39 books, all from the time before Jesus was born.
prophet ~ a person who speaks on behalf of God.
Rabshakeh ~ official name of an important member of the *Assyrian government of a region.
sackcloth ~ dress of rough material that people put on to show that they are very sad.
sacrifice ~ a gift of value to God.
seize ~ to take a person’s possessions away from that person, either by law, or in a war. Or, to overcome a city or nation in order to rule it. Or, to take a person as a prisoner or a slave.
Sheol ~ the place where many *Jews thought that dead people went.
spice ~ part of a plant with sweet or strong smells; it is useful to give flavour to food.
Temple ~ special building in *Jerusalem where *Jews praised God and offered him prayers and gifts.
thorn-bush ~ a bush with sharp points.
threaten ~ to warn someone of pain if they do not obey.
upset ~ sad and confused because of bad news.
vine ~ plant whose fruit makes *wine.
vineyard ~ field where *vines grow.
wine ~ a drink that people make from *grapes.
woe ~ a very sad cry because there is much pain to come.
worship ~ to praise God and to pray to him; or, to praise and to pray to a false god.
Zion ~ the mountain in *Jerusalem where God’s holy *Temple was.
© 2007, Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).
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