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Lowell Brueckner

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A Mighty Move of God


34. An expository study of Isaiah, chapter 37

Judah humbles itself before God

Judah alone remains unconquered in the Assyrian Empire...
"She despises you, she scorns you - the
virgin daughter of Zion."
The attitude of the people that we will see in this chapter is sweet in God’s mouth and precious in His eyes. It was partly because there were mani-festations of humility like this in the temple of the Old Testament that Christ was incited against the practices that took place there in His day. It came to a point, when with divine authority and anger, He twisted reeds together and stormed into the temple, declaring that His Father’s house was to be known as a house of prayer (Jn.2:14-16; Mk.11:17).

The situation demanded drastic action. I certainly understand the leaders, who are giving examples of dramatic conversions and motivating us to focus on the present need and put our time and exert our efforts in bringing individuals in from the paths of sin. However, I cannot concur with them, if they emphasize that point to the exclusion of interest in classical revival. They tend to classify the people who are looking and praying for revival as impractical and unrealistic dreamers. Would they, please, reassess that position? I assure you that right now individual results are not enough and that revival is the only cure for the Western world, especially America.  

Just so, the situation that we observed in the last chapter has no remedy outside of a powerful and massive move of God. When the Hebrew tore his clothes, it signified that he was profoundly grieved, desperately helpless and repentant. When King Hezekiah tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth, it meant that the highest power in the land was unworthy to lead his nation against the impending attack and he was “naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb.4:13). He went into the house of the Lord… the house of prayer (v.1). That is so significant!

Jerusalem honors God above all

Eliakim was Hezekiah’s chief of staff and his principal representative in all important assignments and Shebna was also a lofty emissary of the king. They were sent out to face the Rabshakeh of Assyria, and now they lead a deputation of senior priests, the leaders of an important department in Judah’s government. These noblemen are also clothed with sackcloth (v.2). This committee of dignitaries was sent to confer with the man, whom Hezekiah esteemed above all others in the land. He was the prophet of God, Isaiah. At this time, we will also note that his respect for the man is based on his proximity to the Lord in prayer (see the end of v.4).What an example of proper priorities is Judah to hold before nations today!

“Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth” (v.3). It may be a primary sign of the spiritual decay of our times and one that takes away almost all hope for recovery; it is the fact that we are unwilling to confess and confront our true condition, because of its negative connotations. We are more concerned about having a positive attitude, than we are concerned with facing truth. Church, whether we like it or not, whether we will admit it or not, this is a day of distress, of rebuke and of disgrace!  

We call the room, where mothers give birth, the delivery room. The care and assistance that is necessary in the event certainly speaks of the crisis of birth and points to a certain liberation. Before the use of C-sections, partial or complete anesthesia, the strength of the mother was essential. We have already pointed to the confession and manifestation of helplessness on the part of Hezekiah and his staff. They are facing deliverance or death and they desperately need God’s help. 

To mock Judah was to mock its God. In those days nations pitted the strength of their god or gods against the gods of their opponents. The Rabshakeh’s speech, in chapter 36, showed his country’s defiance and disdain for Jehovah, the true and living God. It is that challenge upon which Hezekiah places his hope for a divine intervention (v.4). God does not move only on behalf of His people, but primarily and essentially for the sake of His name. This is truth that God’s men and women have taught us throughout the Bible.

Moses was not using a form of trickery to motivate the Lord to action, when he begged Him not to destroy Israel: “If you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them” (Num.14:15,16). The Psalmist was not flattering God, when he cried, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness! Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’” (Ps.115;1,2). They saw the preeminence of God’s glory as foundational truth and they were jealous for His name.   

The reply that Isaiah returned to Hezekiah carried these elements, of which we are assured, are not the words of man, but of the Lord. The first of them was the same, as that, which we studied first in chapter 7. They were commanded not to fear the words of the enemy. God’s people are never to base any action or reaction on the threats of the enemy. His chief weapons are lying darts and he has no authority to carry them out, as long as the people are looking in trust to the Lord.

In the eyes of natural man, a weak military is confronted with the powerful army of a world empire, but in the eyes of faith, the Assyrians are reduced to insignificance before the Almighty. In chapter 7, God called the combined forces of Syria and northern Israel “two smoldering stumps of firebrands”, and here, the renowned Assyrian spokesmen are termed “young men” (Hebrew: infants or adolescents) in contrast to the wisdom of Judah’s Ancient of Days (v.5-6).

A compelling spirit inexplicably turned King Sennacherib’s attention away from Jerusalem to a small town south of Lachish, called Libnah (v.7,8). To add to his puzzling behavior, the king received news that Tirhakah of Cush was approaching for battle and he was forced to reckon with the challenge (v.9). Prompted by this diversion and looking back over his shoulder, so to speak, he gave a similar message as the first, this time in writing, to Hezekiah. He warned him that he was not yet finished with Jerusalem (v.10-13). It is a recognized practice of the enemy to try to reinforce his deception with repetition and he has often enjoyed success in his attempts. When certain claims become familiar to people, because they read or hear them again and again, they begin to accept them as fact, though there may be little proof of their certainty.

The house of prayer

“Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD” (v.14). I have always  enjoyed reading this verse. Why? Because I see in the king’s actions a simple heart. I also notice that he holds the presence of God as a reality and demonstrates an intimacy in his relationship with Him. He unfolds the scroll and lays it open in the Lord’s house, as if to say, “Here’s the entire message, God, You read it for Yourself!”

Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord to pray (v.15). That was the purpose of this house from the very beginning. Solomon himself knelt there in prayer, when he dedicated it, and said, “That your eyes may be open day and night to this house… and listen to the pleas of your servant and of your people… (if) they turn again and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house… whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by a man or by all your people… likewise, when a foreigner… comes and prays toward this house… then hear from heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their pleas, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you” (2 Chr.6:20,21,24,29,32,33,39). In the night, the Lord came to Solomon and assured him with these oft-quoted words: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked way, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chr.7:14).

Prayer was, is, and always will be the chief duty of the children of God. Hezekiah knows good theology; no one can pray correctly, who doesn’t believe correctly: “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth” (v.16).  Because of his theology, he is able to see and sense the great blasphemy pronounced by Sennacherib (v.17). He is able to meet head-on, and without losing heart, his claim concerning the conquest of all the nations roundabout (v.18-19). Hezekiah knows in his heart the uniqueness of the God of Israel and wants all nations to know and recognize His absolute lordship (v.20).

Prayer is a power plant that unleashes divine energy. Because of prayer, Isaiah receives the word of the Lord and relays it to Hezekiah. In His answer, He demonstrates total disdain for the greatest of earth’s kings: “She despises you, she scorns you – the virgin daughter of Zion; she wags her head behind you – the daughter of Jerusalem” (v.21,22). This would be mighty dangerous language in the mouth of anyone, but a true prophet of God, but Isaiah is only reflecting the attitude of Israel’s God. “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Ps.2:4).

The answer from God through Isaiah

Isaiah fearlessly rebukes the utter arrogance and the blasphemy of Sennacherib and his servants in the name of the Holy One of Israel (v.23-25). The Lord wants this pagan, idolatrous monarch to know that there is a sovereign God, who rules in the heavens. Not because of Assyria’s king, but in spite of him, even without his conscious knowledge, God has brought to pass His eternal purposes upon the earth (v.26-28).

Let us serve notice, here and now, that no mere man can take credit for any good that may have been done through his person. It is foolish for anyone to think that success proves his legitimacy and rightness. Political powers rise and fall before Him, as Christ showed clearly to evil Pilate, when he claimed, “‘Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above’” (Jn.19:10,11).

He turns the hearts of kings in whatever direction he would have them take. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases,” the Psalmist said (Ps.115:3). Heaven’s sovereign God controls Sennacherib’s future and declares it to him: “I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will turn you back on the way by which you came” (v.29). From this point on, he will go backwards and not forward. His days of advance and conquest have come to an end. The God, who permitted his success, will now bring him defeat.

Now, the Lord speaks to Hezekiah through Isaiah, giving him a sign that all that he has heard from Him is true. For two years, the Assyrians have ravaged the land, but now God is working His supernatural deliverance and assuring that the Assyrian threat will not reoccur. Judah will plant and eat the produce and will prosper (v.30-31). The Lord is working zealously on behalf of His people and for His glory and purpose (v.32).

A mighty move of God

Judah had humbled itself and turned back to God in repentance. Their king, Hezekiah, had prayed in simplicity and humiliation. The Lord God had given His word to Isaiah and now, the arm of the Lord is bared in mighty deliverance. Of all the nations roundabout, Judah never surrendered to the power of the Assyrian Empire. No Assyrian entered Jerusalem, not an arrow was shot, they would not come to the wall, holding up shields in defense, and no siege ramp was built against the wall. “For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David (v.33-35).

How did He actually cause this to happen? Just this one time, Isaiah uses a title, which is common throughout the Old Testament. The Angel of the Lord, the Messenger of the Lord, is the Word that was with God and was God. God said that He would defend the city to save it and that is exactly what He did. He did so in the divine person of His eternal Son. In one night only, He strikes the enemy camp and by daylight 185,000 Assyrian soldiers lie dead in their camp (v.36). This is one of the most amazing acts of God among His people in the whole of the Old Testament. It was a disastrous defeat for Assyria. Secular historians have recorded this event without giving it its supernatural element. We become accustomed to this treatment from the unregenerate world. 

As to King Sennacherib personally, the judgment of God fell upon him in an ironic manner. He had returned to his capital city of Nineveh (v.37). This man, who blasphemed the God of Israel and exalted his own deities “was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god” (v.38). It was there and in that state that Almighty God struck him down in shame and disgraced his god. To his further dishonor, his own sons were his murderers. And that, my friend, was the end of a world leader, who dared to defy the Holy One of Israel.


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