The King of Ashur Threatens Yerushalayim ~ Part 1 ~ Yesha’hayu 36:1-10

In my last post, we learn of The Joy of the Redeemed in Yesha’hayu 35:1-10. In this post, we learn The King of Ashur Threatens Yerushalayim ~ Part 1 in Yesha’yahu 361-10.

The Ashurim had been swallowing up the territory between Nineveh, the capital city of Ashur, and Yerushalayim, the capital city of Y’hudah. They had already defeated Isra’el’s ten northern tribes. With the Ashurim forces only ten miles from Yerushalayim, it looked as though Yerushalayim, a relatively small and weak city, would be defeated, as well. But Adonai had promised that He would bring about deliverance. And this is the story of that deliverance.

1 It was in the fourteenth year of King Hizkiyahu that Sancheriv king of Ashur advanced against all the fortified cities of Y’hudah and captured them.

The Ashurim had defeated the northern kingdom of Isra’el in 722 BCE and put Y’hudah in a position where they had to pay an annual tribute to keep the Ashurim from attacking them. In 703 BCE Sancheriv succeeded his father Sargon on the throne of Ashur. Many nations, including Y’hudah, seized upon this succession in leadership as an opportunity to rebel against Ashur. After taking care of rebellions in other parts of his empire, Sancheriv turned his attention to Y’hudah in 701 BCE. He quickly took many of the smaller fortified cities on the way to Yerushalayim. For accounts of this confrontation, see 2 Kings 18-19 and 2 Chronicles 32.

Hizkiyahu, king of Y’hudah, was a very godly man. Being a man, he had the vulnerability and weakness common to all men. Earlier, he had tried to appease the Ashurim by stripping the gold and silver from the doors of the temple and giving it to Sancheriv. But he found the same thing that you and I see. That is, appeasing the devil never works because he always wants more.

2 From Lakhish the king of Ashur sent Rav-Shakeh to Hizkiyahu in Yerushalayim with a large army. He positioned himself by the aqueduct from the Upper Pool, which is by the road to the Launderers’ Field.

Lakhish was a critical garrison city about 30 miles west of Yerushalayim. It guarded the road that led to Yerushalayim. The king of Ashur, along with his armies, was still at Lakhish when he sent one of his chief officials, the Rav-Shakeh to present an ultimatum to Yerushalayim. Rav-Shakeh stood at the same place where Yesha’yahu had confronted Achaz at an earlier time (see Isaiah 7:3).

3 Elyakim, the son of Hilkiyahu, who was in charge of the household, Shevnah the general secretary and Yo’ach, the son of Asaf, the foreign minister, went out to meet him.

All three of these gentlemen were high ranking officials in Hizkiyahu’s government.

4 Rav-Shakeh addressed them: “Tell Hizkiyahu: ‘Here is what the great king, the king of Ashur, says: “What makes you so confident? 5 I say: do mere words constitute strategy and strength for battle? In whom, then, are you trusting when you rebel against me like this?

The purpose of Rav-Shakeh’s speech was to try to get Hizkiyahu to surrender. He questioned the basis of Hizkiyahu’s refusal in attempting to undermine the foundations of his confidence. He first asked whether the people of Y’hudah were militarily prepared to counter the Ashurim threat.

6 Look! Relying on Egypt is like using a broken stick as a staff – when you lean on it, it punctures your hand. That’s what Pharaoh king of Egypt is like for anyone who puts his trust in him.

Rav-Shakeh then undermined any confidence the nation of Y’hudah might have in Egypt as an ally. He used the metaphor of a splintered reed of a staff. A staff was something a person leaned on for support. However, this staff was made out of a reed that could not support a person’s weight. Indeed, Adonai through Yeshayahu had been making the same point. Egypt was not an ally that could be trusted.

7 But if you tell me, ‘We trust in Adonai our God,’ then isn’t He the one whose high places and altars Hizkiyahu has removed, telling Y’hudah and Yerushalayim, ‘You must worship before this altar’?

Finally, Rav-Shakeh questioned whether Adonai would protect Hizkiyahu. Indeed, the removal of all altars except the one on Mount Tziyon conformed with the law of centralization in Deuteronomy 12. The alters Hizkiyahu removed were altars of false gods. Rav-Shakeh’s argument shows that he did not understand the religion of Y’hudah. Therefore Rav-Shakeh was speaking ignorantly.

8 All right, then, make a wager with my lord, the king of Ashur: I will give you two thousand horses if you can find enough riders for them.

Rav-Shakeh then taunted Y’hudah by offering them 2,000 horses, suggesting that they could not find riders for them.

9 How then can you repulse even one of my master’s lowest-ranked army officers? Yet you are relying on Egypt for chariots and riders! 10 Do you think I have come up to this land to destroy it without Adonai’s approval? Adonai said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it!’” ~ Isaiah 36:1-10 (CJB)

Rav-Shakeh continues, saying, “The Egyptians won’t help you. The Lord won’t help you. You can’t even ride horses. And besides that, He sent us to destroy you.”  His statement reflects ancient Near Eastern pagan theology. The Ashurim believed that the God of Isra’el was a real deity, though perhaps not a strong one. Rav-Shakeh claimed that Y’hudah’sGod had ordered the nation’s destruction. Adonai did use foreign nations on occasion to punish His people, but in this case, Rav-Shakeh was wrong, as further developments of the confrontation between Ashur and Isra’el would indicate.

In my next post, we continue to learn that The King of Ashur Threatens Yerushalayim ~ Part 2 in Yesha’yahu 36:11-22.

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