2 Kings 19:20-34
Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, Thus said the LORD God of Israel…
God is the Hearer of prayer. As in the case of Daniel (Daniel 9:20), while Hezekiah was still speaking, an answer was sent to him through Isaiah the prophet (cf. 2 Kings 20:4). Thus also answers to prayer were sent in the cases of Paul (Acts 9:10-18) and Cornelius (Acts 10:1-8). Isaiah was the one person whose faith had remained unshaken through all this crisis. But it is not merely Isaiah's confidence which speaks in this composition. He brought to the king a direct "word of God." His oracle is one of surpassing beauty, grand and sustained in style, and expressing the greatest truths.
I. ZION'S DERISION OF THE INVADER. The introductory picture is very striking. The city Jerusalem is represented as a maiden, standing on a height, derision imprinted on every feature, shaking her head, and sending out bursts of mocking laughter after the retreating Sennacherib. Is she insane? So to the world it might have seemed. Insane at least it might appear to draw such a picture at a time when the condition of the city seemed past salvation. But faith's manifestations often seem like madness to the worldly (Acts 26:24; 2 Corinthians 5:13). Faith triumphs beforehand over all the power of the enemy (Luke 10:19, 20). It does not need to wait to see their overthrow; it is assured of it as if it had already happened. The strength of faith is seen in the degree in which it enables its possessor to rise above adverse circumstances. In its higher reaches it cannot only hope and wait, but exults and treats the threats of the enemy with ridicule and scorn (cf. Psalm 2:4).
II. SENNACHERIB AS GLASSED IN HIS OWN EYES. Jehovah next asserts himself as "the Holy One of Israel," and takes Sennacherib to task for his blasphemies against him. He puts language into Sennacherib's lips poetically expressive of that monarch's lofty ideas of his own power. Alluding both to what he has done and to what he intends to do, Sennacherib boasts, "With the multitude of my chariots I am come up to the height of the mountains I have digged and drunk strange waters; and with the sole of my feet will I dry up all the rivers of Egypt." The meaning is that no obstacles of nature can prevent the accomplishment of his designs. Mountains like Lebanon cannot stop his march; he will find water even in the desert; Egypt's rivers will be trodden disdainfully underfoot. His chariots pass over all heights; cedar trees and fir trees fall before him; he penetrates to the farthest lodging-place and most fruitful region of the country. It is "I," Sennacherib says, "who do all this." Such boasting is:
1. Extravagant. In his inflated self-consciousness, Sennacherib sets no bounds to what he can accomplish. His language is exaggerated and hyperbolical. It is a man puffing himself up to the dimensions of a god (cf. Isaiah 10:13, 14; Isaiah 14:13, 14; Daniel 4:30). Napoleon was accustomed to use similar language to impress the minds of his ignorant enemies (Bahr's 'Commentary on 2 Kings,' p. 226). Only in part is this extravagant self-assertion delusion. Those who give vent to it know very well that much of it is theatrical and unreal - mere froth and foam. But it gratifies their pride to indulge in it.
2. Irrational This on two grounds:
(1) Even granting that these boastings rested on real exploits, such self-exaltation is unbecoming in any mortal. The mightiest conqueror has only to reflect how soon he will become weak as other men (Isaiah 14:10-17), to see how foolish is his self-glorying.
(2) The past is an unsafe ground for boasting as to the future. Because his arms had hitherto been so uniformly successful, Sennacherib imagined that it was impossible any reverse could now befall him. He had got into his head the idea of Ms own invincibility. Napoleon had the same confidence in the invincibility of his arms. Experience shows the baselessness of such confidence. A long run of victories, intoxicating the conqueror with his own success, is generally followed by a disastrous calamity. The castle gets built up too high, and in the end topples over. Napoleon learnt this at Moscow and Waterloo. Excess of pride usually ends in an overthrow.
3. Impious. Boastings, finally, were impious. It was the creature arrogating to himself the power of God. Any reference to Asshur Sennacherib may have made in his inscriptions was but a thin veil to cover his self-glorying. His particular blasphemies against the God of Israel arose from ignorance of Jehovah's true character. He thought he was contending against the petty god of a small tribe, whereas he had to deal with "the Holy One" who made heaven and earth. Men's mistakes as to God do not alter the realities of their relation to him. Because God is "the Holy One," he cannot overlook men's impieties. Holiness is the principle which guards the Divine honor. It "guards the eternal distinction between Creator and creature, between God and man, in the union effected between them; it preserves the Divine dignity and majesty from being infringed upon" (Martensen).
III. SENNACHERIB AS BEHELD BY GOD. Vastly different from Sennacherib's view of himself was the view taken of him by God his Maker.
1. Sennacherib a mere instrument in God's hands for the execution of his purposes. "Hast thou not heard how I have done it long ago, and formed it of ancient times? Now have I brought it to pass that thou shouldest be to lay waste," etc. Sennacherib was defying Jehovah, but it was this God who from everlasting had decreed the events that were taking place, and had assigned to Sennacherib the part he was to bear in them. Here was a strange reversal of Sennacherib's ideas! It was the axe boasting itself against him that heweth herewith, and the saw magnifying itself against him that shaketh it, and the rod shaking itself against them that lift it up (Isaiah 10:16). This is the truth which ungodly men constantly ignore. They exalt themselves against God, forgetful that, without God, they could not think a thought or move a finger; that it is he who gave them their being, and continually sustains them; that his providence girds them round, and uses them as executors of its purposes; and that they have only as much power as he chooses to give them.
2. His successes due to God. "Therefore their inhabitants were of small power," etc. Sennacherib ascribed all his victories to his own prowess, and founded on them an argument for despising Jehovah, whereas it was because Jehovah had prospered him that he had gained these victories. It is God who brings low, and lifts up (1 Samuel 2:7). When he is against a people, their strength is small, they are dismayed and confounded, they are like grass that withers, and blasted grain. Sennacherib did not understand this, and took all the glory to himself.
3. God prescribes the limits of his power. As the Assyrian was thus an instrument in God's hand, it was for God to say how far he would be permitted to go. The limit was reached when he began to rage and blaspheme against the power which controlled him. God had heard his words and seen his doings. "I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me." He had done enough. The curb was now to be applied. Drawing a metaphor from Sennacherib's own treatment of his captives, the oracle declared, "I will 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. The prediction was soon to be fulfilled. No comfort can be greater, in times of "trouble, and rebuke, and blasphemy," than to know that the hostile powers are under absolute Divine control, and that they cannot take one step beyond what God allows. "Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain" (Psalm 76:10). When men turn against God in open blasphemy, their power is nearly at an end.
IV. A SIGN TO THE PEOPLE.
1. A pledge of God's favor. The immediate sign of the truth of this oracle would be the destruction of the invading army, which was to take place that very night. But as a further pledge of complete deliverance from the Assyrian - a token that he would not return - it was foretold that within three years the whole land would be again under cultivation. In the interval the people would be provided for by that which grew of itself. Material blessings are withdrawn when God frowns; restored when he smiles.
2. The remnant would take root and increase. The land had been deplorably thinned by invasion and captivity. Had the process gone on much longer, Judah would have disappeared, as Israel had done. A remnant, however, would be saved, and this, taking root downward, and bearing fruit upward, would by God's blessing so multiply and strengthen as speedily to renew the population.
3. God's zeal engaged for the fulfillment of his promises. They were great things which God had promised, but the "zeal" of the Lord of hosts - his jealousy for his own honor, and for his people and his land - would perform it. When God's "zeal" is engaged in any undertaking, can we doubt that it will prosper? "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:39). God's zeal is engaged in giving effect to all efforts for the extension of his gospel, the salvation of men, and the triumph of righteousness in the world.
V. THE SAFETY OF THE CITY. Finally, a definite assurance is given that, let Sennacherib rage as he may, the city would not be harmed. He should neither come into it, nor shoot an arrow into it, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it, as once before he had done. Instead, he would return by the way he came. This God would do
(1) for his own sake, i.e. for the vindication of his own honor from the reproaches of Sennacherib; and
(2) for his servant David's sake. Succeeding generations little know how much they owe to God's regard for his holy servants in days past. As was Jerusalem, so is the Church safe under God's protection (Matthew 16:18). For the higher David's sake, he will not let it perish. But for God's care and shielding power, it would long ere this have been destroyed. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard.