SOURCE FOR QUESTIONS
Isaiah 36:1 through 39:8
KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: thou hast made heaven and earth.” (Isaiah 37:16)
Hezekiah, King of Judah, is given much attention in Scripture. A total of eleven chapters are devoted to his story: 2 Kings 18-20, 2 Chronicles 29-32, and Isaiah 36-39. They are similar in content, but a study of these texts will give a richer texture and broader understanding of the reign of King Hezekiah and the lessons we can learn from his story.
Although he was quite human, 2 Kings 18:5 states, “He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.” At the age of twenty-five, about 715 B.C. and possibly as early as 729 B.C., he began to rule as co-regent with his father. One of his first acts was the cleansing and reopening of the Temple in Jerusalem, which his father had left closed and desecrated. He was instrumental in restoring worship at the Temple, while destroying hills and groves that encouraged false worship. His reign continued for 29 years.
In Isaiah 36-39, we read of the developing political crisis in the area, which finally came to a climax. After the military fall of the Northern Kingdom (Israel), Judah struggled with Assyria. Hezekiah first tried to bribe Assyrian King Sennacherib. Sennacherib accepted of the treasures but then soon invaded Judah. There is also indication that Hezekiah had previously attempted to secure Judah by an alliance with Egypt, the other major military power of the day. When the mighty Assyrian army stood outside the gates of Jerusalem demanding surrender, Hezekiah’s confidence in God was greatly tested by blasphemous accusations made by envoys of Sennacherib.
Bible scholars generally agree that the account of Hezekiah’s sickness (Isaiah 38) and reception of envoys from Babylon (Isaiah 39) actually took place before the Assyrian invasion (Isaiah 36-37). It appears that this change of chronology was intended by the prophet as a bridge between the two parts of Isaiah. Chapters 36-37 end the first part with emphasis on Assyria, while chapters 38-39 introduce the second part with emphasis on Babylon.
SUGGESTED RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS
- In our text, King Hezekiah faced three major crises. What were they? Isaiah 36:1; 38:1; 39:1
Hezekiah’s first crisis was the impending invasion of the Assyrian army. This was an open attack on the kingdom of Judah and a direct attempt to undermine his leadership at a time when Hezekiah had led a great reformation in worship and the people’s trust in Jehovah had been renewed.
The second crisis was his illness and impending death as prophesied by Isaiah. This crisis was personal in nature and drove the king to prayer. The third crisis was the reception of Babylonian political envoys. This crisis was more subtle than the first two, and Hezekiah gave intimate knowledge of the kingdom to foreigners, and apparently took credit for the treasures of the kingdom.
Discuss the three different ways Hezekiah responded to each crisis. What can we learn from his responses?
- In Isaiah 36:4, Rabshakeh, the Assyrian field commander or representative, began a blasphemous discourse with King Hezekiah’s representatives concerning confidence and trust. How did he try to tear down the trust and confidence of the people of Judah? How is this similar to Satan’s attacks upon our confidence in God?
First, there was an assault on the leadership of King Hezekiah, decrying his ability to prepare for such a crisis. This was specifically noted in reference to his previous alliance with Egypt. (Isaiah also rebuked this alliance in chapters 30:1-7 and 31:1-3)
Second, Rabshakeh asserted that if the people claimed trust in the Lord, Hezekiah had made worship more difficult for them (traveling to Jerusalem).
Third, he claimed that the Assyrian army was operating at God’s instruction so the people of Judah should surrender.
Finally, he shouted to those who could hear on the surrounding walls to disregard Hezekiah’s charge to trust in God’s deliverance from the Assyrian army. He claimed that the Hebrew God Jehovah would be no different than the gods of the surrounding countries in His inability to deliver them.
In times of crisis, Satan may attempt to get us to question the authority and trustworthiness of our leaders. He points out their human frailties and shortcomings without mentioning the way God has used them profitably for His kingdom. The devil also tries to devalue true worship and fellowship, offering something more appealing to our human desire for ease and pleasure. Often the enemy of our souls tries to claim that he is operating as an emissary of God. (See 2 Corinthians 11:13-15.) Finally, Satan shouts into the ears and hearts of believers that God cannot be trusted to deliver.
- What was Hezekiah’s response to the blasphemous accusations which were made to his representatives and then again directly to him in a letter from the Assyrian King Sennacherib? (Isaiah 37:1) How did God honor this response?
After hearing the accusations, Hezekiah humbled himself (tore his clothes and put on sackcloth) and went immediately to the house of the Lord. He also sent word to the prophet Isaiah that a crisis was upon them. Isaiah quickly offered a three-part encouragement from the Lord: 1) Don’t be afraid of hollow words, 2) The King of Assyria will depart for his own land, and, 3) He will die violently in his own land.
When the accusations were repeated in a letter, Hezekiah again went to the house of the Lord and then he spread the letter before God and prayed. Again, God promised deliverance for Jerusalem (Isaiah 37:22, 31-35), departure of the Assyrians (Isaiah 37:23-29), and that God would provide food for His people (Isaiah 37:30) following the crisis.
Ultimately God showed the Assyrians that He was different than the gods of the surrounding countries when He slew 185,000 soldiers in one night, defending Jerusalem and the people of Judah as He promised.
- What did Hezekiah’s prayer in chapter 37:15-20 encompass? How can we apply this in our own prayers?
Hezekiah’s prayer was amazingly similar to the prayer of the Early Church in Acts 4:24-31. He acknowledged first that God is the “Lord of hosts,” which means Lord of the armies. He is the personal God of Israel who dwelt with them “between the cherubim” in the Holy of Holies within the Temple. He acknowledged that God is not one of many but the only God and the Creator of the universe. Then the King went on to ask for God’s direct intervention: “hear,” “open thine eyes,” etc. He reminded God that the reproach was not so much of Israel but rather of God. He affirmed the reality of the crisis, telling God that Sennacherib had destroyed other nations and their gods, but he was mindful that their “gods” were only human constructions and not divine. Finally, he asked for God to save Judah from the crisis. His intent was not only for deliverance, but also that the nations might know the sovereignty of God and that God’s name would be glorified.
Our prayers in times of crises (other times also) should begin with an acknowledgement of the deity, authority, and personal nature of God to us. Our hearts must be focused on Him alone and not on any other options for deliverance, understanding that He is the Creator and Sustainer of all. We should then follow with our requests, laying before God the crisis as we understand it. Of course, God already knows but He directs us to “ask.” Finally we must guard our own motives from selfishness. We can and should ask for deliverance from the crisis, but ultimately we want God’s perfect will for our lives and the direction that will give God the greatest glory.
- What was King Hezekiah’s response to the news from the prophet Isaiah of his impending death? (Isaiah 38:2-3) What followed Hezekiah’s response?
Hezekiah turned away from those tending to him and began to pray. Although some might say his prayer was selfish, it seems a natural response to such a crisis. He did not seem to be sulking like Ahab in 1 Kings 21:4. His prayer reminded God of Hezekiah’s faithfulness, obedience, and motives. It seems that his motives were not only for his own life but also for the future of his throne and nation.
God immediately answered Hezekiah’s prayer and made several promises to him. The first granted an additional fifteen years to his life. This was an unusual privilege for a human to know the time of his departure. (It can be argued that Hezekiah did not use this knowledge wisely.) The second promise was deliverance from the Assyrian siege. The third promise was evidence to prove the surety of the first two promises — God promised to move the sun backwards ten degrees (twenty minutes) as a sign of His faithfulness to fulfill the other promises.
- Isaiah 38:10-22 records Hezekiah’s reflections after recovery from his near fatal sickness. How does the king describe life and the purpose for living?
In verses 10-14, the king used colorful metaphors to describe the temporary nature of earthly life. It is like a nomadic shepherd’s tent, which is never in one place for long but always moving on to “greener pastures.” It is like a piece of hand-woven cloth, which is cut from the loom by the weaver, rolled up, and taken away. It is like the prey of a lion whose end is sooner than planned or expected. It is like a crane, swallow, or dove that is helplessly awaiting his own destruction.
The king remembered God’s deliverance from sin and bitterness and noted that the purpose of living is twofold. First, we are alive to praise and give glory to God. Every part of our short and temporary lives here on earth should be lived to that end. He also remembered the responsibility of every generation to the next generation. Beyond giving glory to God directly, we have no greater responsibility in this life than to pass truth on to our children and others on whom we have influence.
- Following his recovery, Hezekiah entertained diplomatic guests from Babylon (Isaiah 39:1-2). Was there anything wrong with doing this? Why or why not?
A seemingly innocent act of receiving diplomats who congratulated Hezekiah on his recovery turned to disaster. In his gladness over being given additional years of life, the king apparently became lax in his protection of the security of his kingdom. A diplomat who reveals the financial and military assets along with the geographical advantages and disadvantages of a country certainly makes that country, government, and its inhabitants vulnerable.
While there was nothing technically wrong with fulfilling his diplomatic responsibilities, Hezekiah apparently took more credit for the blessing of God than was warranted. The combination of lax attitude and pride was unpleasing to God and brought judgment to the entire nation in the forthcoming Babylonian captivity.
As Christians we must be always on our guard. The enemy of our souls does not always come with an obvious attack like that of the Assyrian army or even with a personal attack like that of Hezekiah’s sickness. Sometimes Satan’s attacks are subtler, yet they can have a long-term impact on us and those whom we influence. They may come in areas that are not specifically sinful but simply distract us or expose us to the influence of ungodly people and ideas.
- Why did Hezekiah say it was good that the judgment for his misdeeds would fall on the next generation? Was this arrogance on his part? Why or why not?
It does not seem that Hezekiah was arrogant in his answer but simply resigned to God’s pronouncement of judgment and its terms. None of us want judgment to fall on us or on those who follow us. Poor decisions always have consequences, and although repentance delivers us from the eternal power and penalty of sin, it does not always bring deliverance from the consequences of sin in our lives here on earth. We must resolve to patiently and continually follow the will of God even in the face of consequences for past actions.
- What types of crises are we likely to face as Christians today? How can we respond in ways that will be pleasing to God and profitable for our eternal destiny?
Students will likely respond with issues much like those in Hezekiah’s life story: attacks by enemies, problems at school or in employment, family problems, sickness, or subtle attacks of pride for our prosperity, influence, or accomplishments. Our response should be like that of Hezekiah when he refused to listen to ungodly discouragement and prayerfully submitted all of the crises to God and His perfect will. We must proceed with great care so as not to allow the enemy of our souls to stage a “sneak attack” while our spiritual guard has been let down. God has promised deliverance for His glory, so we must keep focused on His perfect will and purpose for our lives.
Two great lessons can be learned from Hezekiah and his life story. The first is that our confidence must be in God alone. He is bigger than any circumstances or crisis that may confront us along life’s way. The second is that mankind is quick to forget the blessings and deliverances that God provides and tend to put confidence in ourselves. We must be vigilant to keep our confidence in God alone if we are to make our calling and election sure.