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Lowell Brueckner

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Eight Tactics of the Enemy


33. An expository study of Isaiah, chapter 36

The Assyrian Empire

The prism of Sennacherib
I have been looking forward to this chapter and the three that follow, in which Isaiah relates some current events of his time. He has been prophesying of the Assyrian invasion into various countries in the Middle East and has shown that cities in Judah itself would not be spared, He has said that the citizens of Jerusalem would be greatly shaken and ambassadors would fail in their negotiations with the Assyrian authorities.

Assyrian inscriptions, which are found in museums around the world, tell of Sennacherib and his conquests, stating that he lived some 20 years after this invasion. Many inscriptions have been translated and published in various books during the latter part of the 20th Century. Assyria is an ancient nation, but the Assyrian Empire, so entwined with Israel’s history, rose and expanded somewhere near 900 B.C. and fell near 600 B.C. The siege of Jerusalem, of which we now read, occurred very close to 700 B.C.

Under the reign of good King Hezekiah there are signs of repentance and spiritual revival in Jerusalem. In 33:2 we see the people looking to their God and waiting upon Him for deliverance. As we approach the end of Old Testament history and observe the national decay, first of Israel and then of Judah, we have before us a reprieve, a time for encouragement. However, it is also a time of crisis and great trouble, through which the people turn to the Lord. This has been the case in church history and proves that the people of God have been at their best when under attack.

The fierce army of Assyria has turned its country into a world empire, the most powerful in its day and renowned in world history. It sweeps into one land after another and governments have fallen before it. Now, it storms into Judah and defeats fortified cities (v.1). From one of those cities, Lachish, south of Jerusalem and on the border of Judah, three important officials are sent by the king, because his eyes are concentrated on the capital city of Jerusalem. He has every reason to expect to defeat them and then to see the whole land of Israel become an Assyrian province. We will see his confidence and pride as this chapter unfolds.

Rabshakeh is a title, meaning chief cup-bearer, and with him are two others, Tartan and Rab-saris (2 Kgs.18:17). They position themselves on the place, where Isaiah met with King Ahaz a good number of years earlier (v.2). Eliakim, Shebna and Joah come out from Jerusalem to meet them (v.3). The Rabshakeh delivers a message from his king to theirs.

The message from Sennacherib

Hezekiah had provoked Sennacherib by refusing to pay the tribute, which his father Ahaz had initiated in a compromise with a former king, Tilgath-pileser (2 Kgs.18:7). Ahaz was impressed by the success and riches of Assyria and attributed its power to its religion. He commanded the priest in Jerusalem to make an altar similar to the one he observed in Damascus (2 Kgs.16:8-15).

This, of course, was an idolatrous insult to Jehovah of Israel, but I wonder if the church has done better, when it has borrowed from the world’s blueprints in an attempt to market itself. Is that not a tribute to the god of this world’s system? Hezekiah also relented once from his resistance, when the Assyrians began to invade Judah (2 Kgs.18:13). However, this was not an act of idolatry, but of fear, a breach from his full confidence in God. Consequently, his effort was totally ineffective. It was not commendable, but, at least, it lacked the brazen rebellion that was in the heart of his father.

The Rabshakeh opened the meeting: “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours?’” (v.4). It is a pertinent question from a heathen dignitary.  Words of negotiation are not enough, he continues… What do you have to back them up? (v.5). He presents the two options, which God has already laid before his people - Egypt or God.

We have studied the options in earlier chapters, as well as the people’s ungodly plans to resort to Egypt. Egypt had refused to help them, so Sennacherib’s opinion of Egypt was not too different from the words of Isaiah. Always expect some truth to cushion the devil’s lies: “That broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him” (v.6). Let it be clear to all His people that God is not depriving us of anything, when He commands us not to lean on the arm of flesh. He is only protecting us from certain ruin.

“But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the Lord our God’, is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar?’” (v.7) No, Sennacherib, it is not and you will find out Who is the true God before long. He is certainly referring to Hezekiah’s removal of the altar that Ahaz had copied from Damascus and his restoration of the altar that Solomon had made and consecrated to the God of Israel.

The enemy's tactics

As in chapter 7, Isaiah will teach us the devil’s tactics by relating this story. Believe me, it is a valuable lesson for every reader and for the writer of these lines, showing us not to negotiate with the forces of darkness. For that reason, we will mark and number each one of his devices. 1) He will appeal to the superstition of your flesh (your former religious convictions) and chide you for every idol that you lay down (Learn the lesson!), and then… 2) he will mock you for your weakness. The Rabshakeh taunts Jerusalem’s representatives in the form of a wager, a bet. He is saying, “I’ll bet, if we give you 2,000 horses, you won’t have enough jockeys to ride them, even if you borrow them, along with chariots, from Egypt! So you can’t expect to turn back a single captain of Assyria with his cavalry” (v.8,9). The enemy will assure you that you will be defeated. Learn the lesson!

3) He will plant doubts in your mind, as to whether it is the true God, after all, who is against you and wants to destroy you (v.10). He’ll lay down plenty of evidence to prove his point. This is a tactic that he often sets in motion through a religious heretic, who claims that it is God, who has spoken to him and revealed a particular plan. It is a fear tactic, intended to make you submit to him and, if you do not, he will tell you that you are guilty of resisting God. Learn the lesson!

Eliakim, Shebna and Joah plead for the innocent bystander, who has little or no experience with this kind of confrontation (v.11). Time and experience will show him that not everything is simple in his walk with God, but that there are indeed complications that can cause confusion and shake his soul. 4) The enemy has no respect or concern for the innocent or the novice in faith. His argument is that, in event of a siege, they will suffer the same fate as the mature leadership (v.12). He neglects to tell them that he is the source of the problem, the captain of the siege, and the cause of their suffering. He tries to shift the blame on them and their leadership for not submitting to his lordship. Learn the lesson!

Then to confirm his blatant disregard for their welfare, he shouts directly to them in their own language. 5) The enemy speaks your mother tongue, knows your tendencies, and your entire cultural characteristics. He knows your fears and your weaknesses. He knows how to get under your skin, make your blood run cold, and make your hairs stand on end. He shouts his intentions at you, so that it is impossible to miss them. And what are his intentions? He wants to divert your attention and keep you from trusting the Lord. He will turn you away from the teaching that will point you towards your salvation. “Your situation is too difficult and your problems are too great. There is no deliverance for you!” That was the tactic of the demon-influenced Rabshakeh and that will be how Satan will attack you, by men or by evil spirits (v.13-15). Remember, this man is his king’s cup-bearer, his top representative, and is fully dedicated to him. Learn the lesson!

6) He is the master of manipulation, the patron saint of psychology. He knows how to lower his voice, soften his tone and approach you as a counsellor, who only has your best interests in mind. He makes appealing offers. "Only shut out Christ and His gospel, make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern” (v.16). It sounds good, doesn’t it? It has to sound good, if the world’s billions have succumbed to his offers and turned their back on God. Learn the lesson!

He points his arrows straight at the ego; the ego is his best friend and ally. Study the verse carefully… his own vine, his own fig tree… he who rejects the Water of Life will drink from his own cistern. But you know how this story ends, don’t you? He continues, “You will not follow me very long, 7) “until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards” (v.17). The devil has nothing genuine to offer; the land is like your own land, but it is not your land. It is false, a cheap substitute.

The prodigal listened to his siren song, rejected his home and country, and went to work with the swine. Adam and Eve took the serpent’s advice and were cast out of the Garden of Eden. They became enslaved to the ground from which they were taken and the world has been in chaos ever since. The devil talks about bread and wine, but he doesn’t mention that all his products end in addiction and slavery. Sodom knew “fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness” (Ez.16:49); they also knew homosexuality and “were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Ge.13:13). Take what the enemy offers and you will end up being his slave. Learn the lesson!

Little Judah alone remains independent of Assyria.
(click to enlarge)
8) The enemy reminds you of his multiple victories over many of your neighbors. “Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?” (v.18).The great problem with this deception is that it is all too true! Look at an atlas that depicts the Assyrian Empire and you will see Judah, as a tiny area on the map, surrounded by defeated neighbors. The worst example for the Judean mind was its brother nation, Israel, and the Rabshakeh is careful to mention its capital, Samaria, last. He wanted this final fact to remain in the people’s thoughts, to spoil their sleep and wound their will (v.19-20).

The northern division, called Israel, had seen the great plagues upon Egypt that delivered them from the hand of Pharaoh. They had been companions through the desert and miraculously entered the land of Canaan with them. Israel had fought faithfully by their side, as they conquered the land together. And their brother Israel had been carried away captive by the same army that surrounded Jerusalem. Now that was a mighty weight on Judah’s shoulders! If you follow him, the enemy will take you on a tour of the battlefield of fallen brothers. You will go to the house of Brother Jake in disrepair, because he fell back into addiction and died in that condition. Sister Sally divorced her husband and left her children for another man. Cousin Willy was a preacher, who embezzled money, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. (You may not have to invent your examples, as I did here.) Learn the lesson!

Let me try to lift the heavy weight of this tough argument by sharing a little secret that I have found helpful. Don’t bring up Judas, when warning the other disciples of the dangers that lie in their way. Judas was an exception; he was the only one that Jesus was not obligated to keep safely, because the Scriptures condemned him prophetically (Jn.17:12). Jesus called him a thief, long before he betrayed Him (Jn.6:70; Jn.12:6). Don’t compare the house of Saul with the house of David (2 S.7:14-16), and remember that the faithful remnant that Isaiah is teaching, do not share the fate of the idolatrous majority (Jer., ch.31).

The correct way to deal with these lies

What is the wise answer on how to deal with these eight deceptions? We find it in verse 21 and it is as good for the sincere and honest Christian today, as it was for the citizens of Jerusalem under the Assyrian attack. “They were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, ‘Do not answer him’” (Is.36:21). Please understand for your own good that you are no match in a contest with the enemy. In chapter 14, we joined Isaiah’s account with Ezekiel’s, who told us of Lucifer’s creation and his superior intellect (Ez.28:11). He is a prosecuting attorney, “the accuser of our brothers… who accuses them day and night before our God” (Rev.12:10). Towards this end, God has sent us a Paraclete, the Greek term for a defense attorney, and that is precisely what He will be for us in a court that is too high for human standards. Christ taught us that when we are brought before authorities we are not to worry ourselves beforehand in finding an adequate testimony, “but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mk.13:11).

Obviously, as we end this chapter, we have not come to the end of this story. Jerusalem’s three representatives “came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn, and told Him the words of the Rabshakeh” (v.22). We will have to go on to the next chapter to see how the king joined with the prophet and together they went before the God of Judah to find His answer for the Rabshakeh and the king of Assyria. Because the Judeans trusted in their God to deal with this overwhelming dilemma, He worked on their behalf. 


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