Last week we looked at Isaiah Chapters 32 through 35 which spoke of the promises of God to those who trust in him.
Today we look at what is termed 'The Historical Interlude' - Isaiah Chapters 36 through 39. This section deals with the Assyrian King Sennacherib's invasion of Judah, and records the correspondence between him and King Hezekiah of Judah and they duplicate what is recorded in 2 Kings 18:13 - 20:19 and 2 Chronicles 32:1-23. For this reason then, I feel it necessary today to preface this examination of the Prophet Isaiah with an historical note.
Having studied Mr. BenDedek's thesis on Biblical Chronology, and as a result of correspondence with him, he invited me to contribute to both Magic City Morning Star News and Kingscalendar, and in doing so I have on occasions made reference to some of his articles. I do not wish that anyone should think that I seek to promote his 'Thesis' about Bible Chronology but as students of Biblical History are aware, these chapters do present some problems of which the casual reader of Scripture would be unaware and I do not wish to provide an overview that pretends that no such problems exist.
I do feel it is helpful for casual readers of the Scriptures to be aware that without in-depth study of the chronology of this period of history, one can completely fail to notice the inconsistencies in the Biblical Narrative at this point.
The Biblical Record as it stands - and as it appears in these chapters from the book of Isaiah, within the order of historical events as are known to us, appears to be a fusion of different events (Mr. BenDedek suggests Sargon's Ashdod Campaign 714BCE - 712 BCE and Sennacherib's invasion of Jerusalem 701 BCE). I make no statement on the accuracy or otherwise of Mr. BenDedek's chronological thesis, but do think that his work at this point in history is noteworthy, and I have his permission to quote from some of it.
Historical problems to note are that Isaiah Chapter 36 verse 1 relates that King Sennacherib of Assyria came up against Judah in the 14th year of King Hezekiah of Judah. This is problematical because this Assyrian campaign is supposed to have occurred in 701 BC, while King Hezekiah's 6th year of reign is supposed to be in 722 BC. (2 Kings 18:9-10). Furthermore, within the narrative, it appears that King Hezekiah fell ill unto death and was miraculously healed around the same time, but this is an historical impossibility, because the Babylonian King mentioned in relation to this event had ceased to reign by 710 BCE.
From Mr. BenDedek's Book (also see BenDedek's Article on Law and Evidence)
Hezekiah's 1st and 14th Years
According to the Biblical Record, in his 14th year, (701 BCE) Hezekiah was shut up in Jerusalem, 'like a bird in a cage' (Bright, 1981, p.286), until 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were sovereignly struck dead in one night forcing Sennacherib's abandonment of the siege. (Mitchell Cambridge Ancient History 1991, p.367 suggests only 185 handpicked men.) According to the Assyrian records Hezekiah subsequent to the siege sent tribute to Sennacherib.
Most scholars accept that the biblical narrative is confusing and that it appears to be a composite of two sieges. Bright (1981, p 286) believes that events listed between 2 Kings 18:17 and 19:37 are indicative of a second rebellion subsequent to 701 BCE. The 'King's Calendar' proposes that while the narratives are composites of two events, Sennacherib's siege is the second of the two, with the first being the Ashdod Campaign of 714/713 BCE.
By the standard of the 'King's Calendar' Hezekiah commenced his reign in 714 BCE and is thus the Judean king involved in the conspiracy that lead to Sargon's Ashdod campaign, concerning which Sargon, whilst citing Judah, Edom and Moab for their part, did not take any action against them. (Herrmann 1981, p.256 citing Pritchard 1950, p.287). The text of Second Kings Chapters Eighteen and Nineteen within the chronological perspective of the 'King's Calendar', suggests that the incident involving the Rabshakeh takes place from the perspective of a 'prospective siege'. The data therefore appears to be somewhat contradictory.
Overview Chapters 36 - 39
Isaiah Chapter 36
Verses 1-4 of this chapter record that in the 14th year of King Hezekiah, while Sennacherib king of Assyria was campaigning against the cities of Judah, that he sent Rabshakeh (and a great army) from Lachish to Jerusalem to deliver a message to King Hezekiah.
Sennacherib accuses Hezekiah of having rebelled against him, and of having put his trust in the King of Egypt (V. 5,6), and Rabshakeh rails against Hezekiah and even blasphemes by saying:
:10 And am I now come up without the LORD against this land to destroy it? the LORD said unto me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.
His message is given in the language of the Jews and he proclaims that Hezekiah will not be able to save his people (V. 13,14) and nor shall the LORD (v.20)
Isaiah Chapter 37
We are informed that when King Hezekiah heard the message, he rent his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD (V.1) and sent messengers to Isaiah (V.2) In his message to Isaiah, Hezekiah expresses some hope that God will rise up to reprove the blasphemy of the enemy. Isaiah replied:
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. (V.6) 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.(V.7)
In Verse 8 Rabshakeh returned to the king of Assyria (then at Libnah after he had departed from Lachish) and was informed that Tirhakah king of Ethiopia was preparing for war with the Assyrians (V.9), and so a new round of messages was sent to King Hezekiah in Jerusalem warning him not to trust in God or the Egyptians. When Hezekiah received the letter (V.14) he went up unto the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD.
And Hezekiah prayed unto the LORD, saying, O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God ... Incline thine ear, O LORD, and ... hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God. Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations... Now therefore, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the LORD, even thou only. (Verses 15-20)
Verses 21-23 tells us that the Lord sent a message to say that it was against the Holy One of Israel that the Assyrian King was railing and in Verse 29 it says:
Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into mine ears, therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest.
Verses 30 - 35 refer to a prophecy also recorded in 2 Kings 19:29-34 and which from an historical perspective seem more to relate to the Ashdod campaign (714-712BC) than to Sennacherib's campaign in 701 BC.
And this shall be a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat this year such as groweth of itself; and the second year that which springeth of the same: and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof. And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward: For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this. Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the LORD. For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.
Verse 36 however does indeed apply to the 701 BC invasion:
Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Armenia: and Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead. (V 36-38)
The next two chapters refer to King Hezekiah's illness, which also poses historical problems.
The primary text reading of the Biblical Narratives in relation to Hezekiah suggest that in his 14th year he was besieged by Sennacherib, and that in the same year he fell seriously ill, was divinely healed, and received a fifteen year extension of life. The difficulty is that the narrative also alleges that subsequent to his healing he received envoys from Merodach Baladan of Babylon. This fact makes it impossible for his illness and healing to have occurred in 701 BCE, since apart from a few months in 703 BCE, Merodach Baladan was out of Power circa 710 BCE. (The Kingscalendar Chapter 11)
Isaiah Chapter 38
Verse 1 In those days (following the story of Sennacherib's invasion) was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.
Verses 2 and 3 inform us that Hezekiah sought the Lord's mercy.
In verse 5 God announces through the prophet that Hezekiah will live and that God will add fifteen years to his life.
Verse 6 makes it plain that this announcement is made within the context of Assyrian aggression: "And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city".
Verses 7 and 8 speak of the sign that God gives to Hezekiah - "I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down" and verse 21 tells us that Isaiah ordered a poultice of figs to be placed on Hezekiah's 'boil' - the apparent cause of his illness.
Verse 9 indicates that what follows is "The writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness". It is a beautiful sentiment that records in verse 17, "thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back" and in verse 20 "The LORD was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the LORD".
Isaiah Chapter 39
Verse 1 of Chapter 39 creates a chronological problem for it records that "At that time Merodachbaladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah: for he had heard that he had been sick, and was recovered". As already indicated however, Merodach Baladan lost his throne in 710 BCE although he did make a very brief return to power in 703BC.
Hezekiah showed to this foreign king of Babylon, all the wealth of his treasury, for which the Prophet chastised him (V.3) and prophesied:
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. (V6,7)
Mr. BenDedek, in his book - Chapter 11:15 d) The Sequence of Hezekiah's life - suggests that Hezekiah was healed within the first few years of his reign; that he reigned well (2 Chronicles 29:3, 32:1) and gained 'riches and honour' (2 Chronicles 32:27), but by not appreciating all that God had done for him and because of his pride, he received wrath, most likely at the time of Sennacherib's invasion:
Given that Manasseh was only 12 years of age at succession, it is possible, in view of Isaiah's prophecy (39:5-7) that Layard's (1882, p44) suggestion that Hezekiah's children went into captivity is correct. - [Layard (1882) Ninevah and Babylon: a narrative of a Second Expedition to Assyria during the years 1849, 1850, and 1851. London. J.Murray Publishing company.]
Whatever may be the actual chronological series of events, we learn from these passages that our trust must always be in the Lord. Whether we are under attack from the enemy, or gravely ill, our hope is in the Lord and prayers are to Him. We cannot trust in what our eyes see or ears hear when the vain and powerful of this world seek to dominate us, but rather trusting in the power of the Lord, submit to his will whether it be for life or death, slavery or freedom.
M. Wallace Johnson
Historical Reading on this time period via a new approach to understanding Bible Chronology - See Mr. BenDedek's
Articles by M. Wallace Johnson
Introducing M. Wallace Johnson
Holy, Wholly or Holey SERIES
Idols in Ministry SERIES
No 1: The Prophet Amos
Full list of M Wallace Johnson articles in his Column at the Writers Journal