INTRODUCTION: This post is about a pompous Assyrian king who blasphemes and reproaches the LORD, and who then encounters the angel of the LORD. Those who blaspheme and reproach the LORD will, sooner or later, have to deal with the angel of the LORD.
In Isaiah 36-37, we find Isaiah’s account of the failed Assyrian invasion of Judah by Sennacherib, the Assyrian king. Or rather, “the great king,” as he calls himself. (This incident is recorded three times in the Old Testament: here in Isaiah, and also in the two history books of 2 Kings 18-19 and in 2 Chronicles 32.) The biblical narrative has a stunning conclusion as what seemed to be certain victory is switched into a crushing defeat.
When Sennacherib king of Assyria sends his spokesman, Rabshakeh, to meet King Hezekiah’s officials, the Assyrians are overflowing with confidence and contempt. Their army has rolled down from Nineveh in conquest and has reached as far as Jerusalem with little resistance. Kingdoms with their pagan gods have fallen like dominoes, and Sennacherib sees no reason Judah and Jerusalem will be any different. Yes, it is true that the Assyrians have heard of the God of Israel, the LORD, but the king of Assyria views YHWH as no different than the gods of wood and stone. Why would anyone have confidence or put their trust in a God you cannot see? And so, Sennacherib sends Rabshakeh to terrify Judah and to blaspheme the LORD and to urge Hezekiah to surrender. Clearly, Sennacherib is the great king.
THE TAUNTS AND THE BLASPHEMIES
As Rabshakeh meets Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah by the upper pool (Isaiah 36:2), his intimidation guns are blazing. The Assyrian spokesman is skilled at taunt and blasphemy.
“What is this confidence?” (36:4). You are outnumbered and you will be overwhelmed. Face it, you are doomed. You have no reason for any confidence.
“On whom do you rely?” (36:5). Look around you. There is no one who can rescue you from the great king of Assyria. Do not rely on your army or on the cleverness of your king. And surely you are not relying on the LORD to protect you!
“We trust in the LORD our God” (36:7). You have got to be kidding! Where do you see the LORD? And besides, the LORD is the one who told us to come up against Judah in the first place, and now you are trusting Him to protect you from the great king? No way!
“Do not let Hezekiah deceive you” (36:14). He thinks that his God is going to help you, but he is dreaming, and he is trying to deceive you. You don’t have a chance.
“Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD” (36:15). You would be foolish to trust in the LORD. If you let Hezekiah trick you and deceive you, the great king of Assyria will come into Jerusalem and kill you. The LORD is not to be trusted.
“Beware that Hezekiah does not mislead you saying, ‘The LORD will deliver us (36:18).’” None of the other gods have been able to deliver their people, so why would you think that YHWH will help you. The LORD is just like the other gods. He is powerless and useless, but Sennacherib is the great king. Give up, for the LORD cannot help you.
Rabshakeh has already crossed the line and his doom is already sealed. Certainly, the LORD has heard enough from this blasphemer about his pipsqueak king, But Rabshakeh has more reproach and contempt to pour out.
“Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you, saying, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria (37:10).’ Did the gods of those (pagan) nations deliver them?” (37:12). Now not only is Rabshakeh saying that the LORD cannot defend Jerusalem against the king of Assyria, but he is also accusing the LORD of deceiving His people. He blasphemes God by accusing the God who cannot lie of deception. Rabshakeh declares trust in the LORD to be foolish and compares the LORD to the powerless pagan gods of the nations.
Up to this point, the LORD has been patient and has allowed the Assyrians to rant and to blaspheme against Him, but when Hezekiah prays to the LORD and asks Him to “deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, LORD, are God” (37:20), the LORD moves in power to destroy the upstart king.
“For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake” (Isaiah 37:35).
THE ANGEL OF THE LORD WENT OUT
The LORD will not long tolerate blasphemies against His name or open contempt from evil people. He will bring a just recompense and He will bring it swiftly. Sennacherib’s arrogant blasphemy against the LORD has sealed his destiny. Like the proud questioning of Pharaoh before him (Exodus 5:2) and like the blasphemous rants of the beast at the end of the age (Daniel 7:8, 11, 25; 11:36; Revelation 13:5, 6), so Sennacherib has reproached and blasphemed the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 37:23). Therefore, as the LORD destroyed Pharaoh for his arrogance, and as He will destroy the beast for his blasphemies (2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 19:20), so the LORD recompenses Sennacherib for his arrogance and his raging against the LORD (Isaiah 37:28-29).
“Then it happened that night that the angel of the LORD went out” (2 Kings 19:35). We have met the angel of the LORD before in the Old Testament. He spoke to Hagar and to Abraham. He met Joshua as he was preparing to conquer Jericho. He spoke to Gideon and to Manoah. He fed Elijah when the prophet was discouraged. And now, “the angel of the LORD went out.” He is the mysterious figure who seems to be God, although He also appears to be somehow separate from God. He speaks as the LORD, with all the authority of the LORD, yet He somehow is not the LORD. And here we see “that the angel of the LORD went out.” With all the authority and power of the LORD, He rises up to take vengeance (Psalm 94:1-2) on the Assyrians. It is one against the entire Assyrian army, and the Assyrians are vastly outmatched. The angel of the LORD brings divine judgment on Sennacherib for his arrogance and his blasphemies against the living God. “The angel of the LORD went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians” (Isaiah 37:36). With his armies decimated and himself humiliated, Sennacherib returns to Nineveh where he is killed by his own sons in a pagan temple. So much for the great king of Assyria.
CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
In our walk through this world, the believer can feel attacked by the world and overwhelmed by the perceived forces arrayed against us. There are times when, like Hezekiah, the voices of evil people and the whispers of doubts in our head can threaten to undo us, and our faith can waver. In those times, remember God’s power. Remember that you are the Lord’s delight and that He has promised to be your shield and defender. Remember that He is with you like a dread champion (Jeremiah 20:11). Remember that, like Hezekiah, you can call upon the Lord, and He will hear you. Remember that “He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11). We are given this story to remind us that the LORD, He is God (1 Kings 18:39), and He is always with us. When the Rabshakehs in your life begin to taunt and blaspheme the living God, turn to the LORD and cry out to Him.
SDG rmb 12/9/2021 #467