God Vindicates His Honor Over an Arrogant Foe (Isaiah Sermon 40 of 80)
February 10, 2013 | Andy Davis
Glory of God, Prophecy, Justice of God
Pastor Andy Davis preaches a verse-by-verse expository sermon on Isaiah 37:1-37. The main subject of the sermon is how God pours out His wrath on arrogant sinners.
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
So we come to one of the most spectacular, one of the most awesome displays of the power of God ever in all of history, as we come to Isaiah chapter 37. I picture in my mind's eye—I don't know if it happened this way—but I picture in my mind's eye some terrified Judean going up to the wall, climbing up maybe the ladder or the stairs up to the wall and looking over parapets or whatever there was, to this vast Assyrian army that was ready to begin, perhaps, the siege works, ready to bash down the walls and the gates and to come in and kill us all, and see that something's different, something's unusual, there's no activity in the camp. There's no early morning smoke rising from campfires. There's nothing. There's no movement at all. And wondering, what in the world has caused this change? And not knowing at that point that 185,000 Assyrian troops lay dead on the ground, and that the threat had ended and that God had displayed his power and that their enemies were dead and would not harm them at all. Conversely, I wonder what it was like to be Sennacherib and to look out and see the same thing, or to have reports coming back, confused at first, but then consistent. “Your army is dead. They're all dead.” And to try to marvel and to wonder at what had happened.
As I said, this is one of the greatest displays of the power of God that there has been. The greatest of course, of all the spectacles of the Old Testament is right in the very first words of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Nothing is more spectacular than that. And dear friends, if God can do that by the word of his power, he can do anything, anything at all. This is small, what he does in this chapter is small compared to that. But think of the other great moments, the displays, the spectacular displays of the power of God. Think of the worldwide flood in the time of the days of Noah and what God did there. Think of the raining down of fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah, and the erasing of two very powerful and popular cities in one night. Think about the display of God at the time of the Exodus, the 10 plagues on Egypt, and the curses that he brought on the gods and on the people of Egypt. And the Red Sea crossing, very spectacular with water walling up to the right and to the left and the crossing over, and then it crashing back down on Pharaoh's army and destroying them forever. Think about the descent in fire and cloud on Mount Sinai for sheer spectacle, the sense of the power and the presence and the majesty of God. Or the crossing of the Jordan River when the water walled up in a heap and they crossed as on dry ground. Or the fall of Jericho, when the walls fell down and the people of Israel went straight in. Or perhaps the descent, the igniting of the sacrifice in the time of Elijah as fire came down from heaven and burned it up. It's amazing isn't it? As you think about all of these spectacular displays of God, and so many of them really are displays of God's wrath, of God's judgment on sinners. Friends, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And if we get anything out of reading the scripture, out of an account like this, we should get that, that our God is holy and powerful, and he is not to be trifled with.
As we come to Isaiah 37, we come to a pinnacle moment in redemptive history, a display of the power of God. It's meant to engender faith in us. We are to read this and to take in this account, and to believe in the Lord, ultimately to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of our souls. How are we gonna do this? David only read half the chapter. How are we going to get through this? So this is what I propose to do. I'm going to just go through the entire chapter today this week, just the narrative, and go through every phrase, and every word, and just describe briefly what's going on, and we're gonna just upload the chapter in our minds, and next week we're gonna talk about the theological themes that flow from these words. It's the only way that I could think to do it. But I'm gonna do a little bit of theological theme work this time too—I can't resist. And we're gonna see from these truths just how great our God is. So without any further ado, we need to dig right in.
I. Hezekiah’s Humility: Disgraced, In Sackcloth, Seeking Answers (vs. 1-4)
First, let's look at verses 1-4, as we see Hezekiah humbled, laid low, disgraced, in sackcloth, and seeking answers. Verses 1-4, Hezekiah, just by way of background, had joined in a rebellion against the power of the king of kings, so to speak, Assyria, who had dominated all these smaller kingdoms and had subjected them, and was receiving tribute from them. Then when his father Sargon died, Sennacherib took over and some of these lesser kings decided to challenge the son and see if he was as determined to hold on to his empire as his father had been. Well, he was. And Sennacherib went after first Babylon went down and went after Merodach-Baladan, and put him to flight, and then comes back up and starts to work his way down the western coastline of the Mediterranean, just crushing and destroying one small kingdom after the other. And it seems that Hezekiah has been somewhat of a ring leader in this rebellion against Assyria's power, and so it seems almost like Sennacherib saved him for last. And last week, we looked in chapter 36, as Sennacherib has sent the Rabshakeh, the field commander, with the detachment of the Assyrian army to intimidate Hezekiah, while Sennacherib is besieging Lachish, and we'll have it soon. He sends this detachment in this field commander in Isaiah 36, is that chapter and filled with blasphemous, arrogant statements in which the field commander represents his king, the great king, the king of Assyria, as he tries to intimidate the Jews, intimidate Hezekiah into opening the city walls and coming out and surrendering. It would save him, Sennacherib I mean, the cost of a lengthy siege, and he'll be able to kill all of his enemies much more easily that way. But it's a terrible time.
And so as we begin in chapter 37, we have Hezekiah receiving the message of what had happened from this field commander, and he's reacting to it, that's the beginning of this chapter. Now, Hezekiah was a godly man filled with zeal for the religion, the pure religion of Judah, that he would purify it. He was a religious reformer as a king, but he had a weak spot, he had a blind spot. And that had to do with politics, it had to do with trusting in his own ability to his own machinations to make arrangements with Egypt or with other kingdoms to fight against Assyria. This was a weakness, but now all of that has been stripped away. The envoys sent with gold and silver down to Egypt to hire for himself a cavalry and chariots will amount to nothing. They're going to come and fight, the Egyptians are, but they're gonna get swept away by the Assyrians. And so he's stripped away the money that was sent, in which he stripped off the gold from the doors of the temple and Senate to the king of Assyria, that has been received now by the king, and he says in effect, “I'm coming anyway. Thanks for the gold and silver, but I'm coming.”
And so it's a terrifying time, a terrible time, and he's got nowhere left to turn, and here he sends some messengers to Isaiah the prophet. Now, I don't know what the nature of his relationship was with, Hezekiah, I mean with Isaiah, I don't know that they were buddies. Isaiah kept telling the truth, and that meant that not all of Hezekiah's policies were well-received. Isaiah 30-31 are really just like missiles going right after Hezekiah's policies towards Egypt. So I don't know that they really had any kind of warm, close relationship, but all of that is swept aside now. There's nowhere else to turn. So in verse 1, we have Hezekiah as he receives the message of what had happened in chapter 36, “He tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord.” He tore his royal robes, he's humbled. He puts on sackcloth, that's a display of humiliation. And he goes into the temple of the Lord, you see his humiliation here and his faith. He's very God-centered at this time. And he sends messengers Eliakim, the palace administrator, and Shebna the secretary, and leading priests, they're all wearing sackcloth too, and they go to Isaiah son of Amoz, the prophet. And this is the first time Isaiah is called a prophet in the book of Isaiah. He was a mouthpiece of Almighty God, and Hezekiah wanted to speak to God, and even more, to hear from God. And he sends these folks to come and to ask for prayer from Isaiah. Look at verses 3-4, the messengers came to Isaiah and said, “This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them.” This whole invasion, the whole thing, was a rebuke to the kingdom of Judah. This whole thing was a discipline from Almighty God for their sins, for their worship of idols, for their violation of the law of God, the laws of Moses. They were being struck as with a rod by the ling of Assyria. The king of Assyria was a rod in the hand of God, and he was giving his people a beating.
It's a day of distress and rebuke, and disgrace, he says. And that is right. In effect, Hezekiah humbly says, “We deserve this. We deserve what's happened. We are being punished justly for our sins.” Sennacherib has destroyed, has conquered 46 cities or towns in Judah, lots and lots of dead people by now. He says right here in this section, “Pray for the remnant that still survives.” There's not many left. It's a time of total humiliation. He likens it to a time in which a woman has reached the end of her time, the end of her pregnancy, but she just doesn't have the strength to give birth to the baby, and with that being the situation, there's every likelihood that both mother and child are going to die, and that's a time, he says, of distress and rebuke and disgrace.
He has in this dark time only one hope, and it is a sure and certain hope, although he doesn't know what God is going to do, and that is that our God is zealous for his own glory. It is, I think, the strongest force there is in the universe. There is none stronger. God's commitment to his own glory is the strongest force there is in the universe. Look what he says in verse 4, “It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the Lord your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives.” Remember the field commander went too far. He said two things about God. He said, “First of all, God sent me, so your God will not deliver you from us,” but then he goes even further in the second phase, he says, “Not only that, haven't you heard of what we've done to all these other gods and their kingdoms and their countries? Not only is it true that your God will not deliver you, it is even more significantly true that he cannot deliver you. Your God cannot defeat us. No god ever has.” Dear friends, that's blasphemy. Hezekiah knew it, he knew it. Every human being on earth underestimates God. I'll say that again. Every human being on earth underestimates God. It's impossible to overestimate him. But Hezekiah knew this: their God is the God of the universe, and if he wants to destroy Assyria, he is fully capable of doing it.
"He has in this dark time only one hope, and it is a sure and certain hope, although he doesn't know what God is going to do, and that is that our God is zealous for his own glory. It is, I think, the strongest force there is in the universe."
But notice the broken-heartedness and the humility of Hezekiah, look what he says in verse 4, “It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words…and that he will rebuke him” for the words that the field commander has said. It may be, not, it must be. There is no must when it comes to God and us. God doesn't owe you a thing, he doesn't owe me a thing, he doesn't owe us anything. He will never be our debtor ever. And he does not owe to anyone an explanation or a certain pattern of action, because of anything he's done in the past. He doesn't ever owe us an apology, and so it's merely, “It may be that God will act because of what he heard.”
Ironically, it's very similar to what the king of Nineveh himself, the Assyrian king of Nineveh said when Jonah came, a number of decades before this. You remember that. How God sent Jonah to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria? And, he says, “40 more days and Ninevah will be destroyed.” You remember what the king in Nineveh did? He took off his royal robs and put on sackcloth, and he had sackcloth put on all his royal officials and on all the cows, and it was world class repentance, friends. And he humbled himself, and he issued a proclamation. The king of Nineveh said, “Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence,” and then he says, Jonah 3:9, “Who knows? [Who knows?] God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” Isn't it amazing how similar, the king of Nineveh and Hezekiah, king of Judah, were at this point? And they're both dead right, absolutely right. Who knows what God will do? God's not bound in this at all, he has the freedom to act as God, as the sovereign king.
And so he asks for prayer, “Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives.” He asks Isaiah simply for prayer. He's not even asking for a word from the Lord at this point, he's just asking for prayer. And notice he says, “Pray for the remnant.” That tells you just how much slaughter there's already been of the people of Judah. Lots and lots of them have been killed by the Assyrians, a lot of dead people. And it's the very thing that we've seen again and again in Isaiah, this remnant language. It says in Isaiah 1:9, “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.” We're no different morally than them, but God left us some survivors, that's Isaiah 1:9. Or in his call in Isaiah 6. Remember, “Here am I. Send me”? You remember that? “Alright, what's my mission? Lord, I'm ready. Here am I, send me.” Well, “Go and tell this people: ‘“Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.” Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears and turn with their hearts, and I might turn and forgive them and heal them.’” And then Isaiah says in Isaiah 6, “For how long [do I have to do that], Lord?” He says, “[You're gonna keep doing it] until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though…” Listen to this, “A tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.” That's all remnant language. Do you hear it? A tenth are left and they're gonna be a seed for the future.
Or, again in Isaiah 10, “A remnant will return.” Isaiah 10:21-23, “A remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God. Though your people, O Israel, be like the sand by the sea, only a remnant will return. Destruction has been decreed, overwhelming and righteous. The Lord, the Lord Almighty, will carry out the destruction decreed upon the whole land.” A remnant, just a remnant is going to survive. And the apostle Paul picks up on this remnant language and says, “That's exactly what's going on spiritually with the Jews of his time. There is a remnant,” he says, chosen by grace, by the sovereign grace of God to believe in Jesus and the rest are not.” It's remnant language. And so he says, “Please pray for the remnant that still survives.”
II. God’s First Answer: Fear…the Blasphemer Will Die (vs. 5-7)
And so in verses 5-7, God gives his first answer. His first answer, “Fear not, the blasphemer will die.” Now, I just wanna give you an observation I just had a moment ago, right before I preached, and it occurs to me the majority, the overwhelming majority of Isaiah 37, is words happen, words spoken before the event happens. The overwhelming majority is God's promise of what he's about to do, and then just a simple two verses on what he did. You see what I'm saying? You know what the significance of that? That's where we live, dear friends. We live in promised land. We live in the land before God has acted to cut off all of our enemies, and so most of our lives is the bulk of Isaiah 37, waiting for God to fulfill his promises. That's why the majority of this chapter is all about promise, God saying, “This is what I am going to do.” And so the first answer comes in verses 5-7, in effect, this, “Fear not the blasphemer is going to die. I'm gonna kill him.” Look at verses 5-7, “When King Hezekiah's officials came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, ‘Tell your master, “This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Listen! I'm gonna put a spirit in him so that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.”’” This is an immediate answer that God gives. Sometimes God makes you wait. Sometimes you have to be like the persistent widow. That's not the case at this point. He gives him an immediate answer, “Go, tell your master. This is what I'm saying.” The word of the Lord had already come to Isaiah concerning this matter.
And notice immediately the first thing he says is, “Do not be afraid. Fear not.” Do you realize how often God says that to us in Scripture? I mean, frankly, in the end, fear and faith are diametrically opposed. Fear drives out faith, or faith drives out fear, that's how it works. And so he's saying, “Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid of the words you heard. Don't be afraid of the Assyrians.” Fear and faith are opposites. And so, fear not. He's giving him in effect the same message he had given to his ungodly father, Ahaz, concerning the same kind of thing, “Don't be afraid. Be strong in your faith. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”
And notice he talks about the underlings of the King of Assyria. So he puts the Rabshakeh, or the field commander in his place. It's like, “I'm not even talking to you, I'm gonna talk to your master, you underling.” So he humbles him here. He says, “Don't be afraid. These words of blasphemy with which they have blasphemed me.” Do you realize what blasphemy is? It's speaking words of disrespect, of dishonor concerning Almighty God. It's exact opposite what we're supposed to do. We were created in the image of God with a verbal faculty, the ability to speak, to understand words, and we are to use our words to praise and exalt and glorify and magnify God, but this underling has blasphemed him.
Jesus addressed the issue of blasphemy in Matthew 12, you remember how his enemies had ascribed his miracles to Beelzebub, “It is by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that he casts out demons.” It is an understatement to say that Jesus didn't take it kindly. And in Matthew 12, he talks about speaking, he talks about words. He said, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.” So in other words, “I heard what he said, I heard what the underling said, and he's going to have to give me an account on the day of judgment for his blasphemy, just like Jesus' enemies.”
And so God gives at this point through Isaiah an early verdict, on this whole case and a verdict on the king of Assyria. Look at verse 7, “Behold! [He says, or listen,] I'm going to put a spirit in him so that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.” “Behold or listen, just watch what I'm gonna do with the king of Assyria.” There's an awesome display here, of the sovereignty of God over all nations and over the smallest movements, the smallest inclinations of the heart. God says he's gonna put a certain spirit in Sennacherib. It's gonna make him think a certain way, so that when he hears a certain report, he's going to act in a certain direction. He's going to return to his own country. This is the key to God's sovereign power over the unfolding of human history, the ability that God has effectively to influence the human heart in one direction or the other. So it says in Proverbs 21:1, “The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” And that's exactly what's going on here. He's gonna hear a report and God's gonna put a spirit in him, so he's gonna act a certain way, and so there he says, “After he leaves, there in his home country, I will…” Look at what it says, “I will have him cut down with the sword.” What does that say about God's power over the inner workings of the nation of Assyria?
It reminds me of the enemies of Israel who said, “You know their gods, Israel's gods, are gods of the mountains, not of the plains. If we can just get them out of the mountains and fight down in the plains, we will win,” and God in effect says, “Look, I can do mountains, I can do plains, I can do rivers, I can do oceans, I'm really good at all of it. I'm really very versatile. So I can do Judah, I can do Israel, I can do Assyria, I can do any country. It's not an effort for me to have you cut down in your home country, even in your own temple. I can do that any time.” And so God's sovereign over all of these things. He rules over the temple of his god, his false god Nisroch. God's sovereign over the temple of Nisroch. And so while he's worshipping in his temple, he's going to move so Sennacherib's own sons to assassinate him. He's sovereign over the inner workings of the politics of the throne of Assyria, it's incredible, but he doesn't get into all that at this point. He'll talk about it more later.
III. The King of Assyria’s Blasphemy: “Your ‘God’ Is No Different!” (vs. 8-13)
The next section, verses 8-13, we have phase two of the king of Assyria's blasphemy. First time was just through the underling, through the field commander. Now, we get it from Sennacherib himself. Same thing though. There's no difference. The circumstances are given in verses 8-9, “When the field commander heard that the king of Assyria had left Lachish, he withdrew and found the king fighting against Libnah. Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the Cushite of Egypt, was marching out to fight against him.” So at last, Egypt moves out and Egypt comes under Tirhakah and they're there to fight Assyria. That's gonna be a very short battle. Assyria is going to win easily. The field commander has failed in his mission, Hezekiah has not surrendered, he's not been intimidated, he didn't come out, so he failed. He goes back to join his master, and so the immediate threat to Jerusalem is removed.
And so we have the movements here of the Assyrians, but Sennacherib sends a letter to Hezekiah. Four possible reasons. First, having heard from the field commander that Hezekiah did not surrender, he wanted to give Hezekiah one final opportunity to surrender, so he sends this letter. Secondly, Sennacherib especially wanted to strip Hezekiah of any confidence that he may have in the news he had just received that the king of Egypt was coming out to fight against him. “Don't be confident about that, I'll take care of Egypt,” which he will. Thirdly, the letter would come with the personal stamp of the great king, the king of Assyria, not merely an underling now, but “This is what I myself am saying to you, not merely the words of a messenger.” And fourth, Sennacherib wants to zero in, especially on the central remaining, the only pillar left in Hezekiah's hope, and that is his religion, his faith in God. And he wants to try to knock that out from under Hezekiah, and so he sends this letter.
Look at verses 10-13, this blasphemous letter, “Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.’ As surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my forefathers deliver them—the gods of Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar? Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of the Sepharvaim, or Hena or Ivvah?”
This is a dark look into the incredible blasphemy and pride of the human heart. Look at the first thing he says, “Do not let the god you are depending on,” what does he say? “Deceive you.” “Don't let him trick you. Don't let him lie to you. Is your God saying to you that Jerusalem will not be handed over to the king of Assyria?” This is a bit creepy in a way, I wonder if Sennacherib had spies in Hezekiah's inner circle giving back information concerning maybe even what Isaiah the prophet had said at the beginning of this chapter, “O great king Sennacherib.” He's being told by the prophet Isaiah that God's gonna deliver him. “[Oh, have you heard that? Well, let's deal with that right here in this letter.] Don't let the God you are depending on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.’”
And then he makes his central argument, a powerful argument based on past history. “We live, we Assyrians live for war, we're very good at it, and we have an incredible track record. Every time we take the field, we win. And that goes right up to recent history, that includes me. I've been toppling one kingdom after another, and why would you be any different? And those kings, they all relied on their gods, why would your God be any different than theirs?”
Now, when he receives this letter, Hezekiah has to make a life or death decision. He has to look in his own heart, he has to look concerning his character, he has to look concerning his faith ultimately, and say, “Is my God able? Does he even exist? Is it all just words? Can he do this? Will he do this?” It's a time of the searching of hearts. “Is our God really no different than all the gods of the nations?” Well, Sennacherib had the right facts, but he had the wrong conclusion. That history was true, but he had drawn the wrong conclusions. We'll see. The drama has now reached its peak and the time has come for a decision from Almighty God.
IV. Hezekiah’s Prayer: “Defend Your Glorious Name, O Lord!” (vs. 14-20)
But first, Hezekiah prays. Verses 14-20, he receives the letter from the messengers and read it, then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord, and Hezekiah prayed to the Lord. He spreads the letter before God, he takes it up to God in prayer, Hezekiah goes back to the temple, he's got the letter and he spreads it out. He had nowhere else to turn. There was nothing else he could rely on. Egypt is now defeated. There's no money left. There's nothing left, only God. God, however, would be sufficient. Prayer would be sufficient. And so he spreads out this letter before the Lord. Now, it's not because God didn't know what was in the letter. Not at all, and Hezekiah knew that. It was rather to underscore and intensify the issues in that letter in his own mind and heart. The symbol of spreading out a matter, spreading out a letter before God is helpful for us. God doesn't need it. The Puritan pastor Thomas Manton said, “One way to get comfort is to plead the promises of God in prayer.” Thomas Manton said, “Show him his handwriting; God is tender of his word.” So say now, “God, you said right here, this…” And show it to him. Lift it up to him. Alright, well, God knows what he wrote. He knows it better than you do, but I think in this way, it's about the same thing. He shows him now, the handwriting of the king of Assyria, he says, “God, did you see this? Look at this,” and he prays to the Lord. This is a great, great moment here.
"He had nowhere else to turn. There was nothing else he could rely on. Egypt is now defeated. There's no money left. There's nothing left, only God. God, however, would be sufficient. Prayer would be sufficient. "
And he begins where we should always begin, he begins with worship, he begins with a sense of the honor and the greatness of God. Verse 16, “O Lord, Almighty God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You made heaven and earth.” There are five statements here, one after the other, directed toward God, directed to the issue of God's position in reference to the human race, in reference to human history. All of them go in the same direction. First, Lord Almighty, he calls him Yahweh, Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, the God who rules the armies of heaven. Second, God of Israel. “You are the covenant-keeping God who made a covenant with our forefathers, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you're the God of Israel, so that we would be your treasured possession out of all the nations of the Earth.” Thirdly, “You are enthroned between the cherubim.” Cherubim are angels, and a throne is where a king sits. God is enthroned between the cherubim. That's a picture of the ark of the covenant, where God said that the blood of the sacrifice, which prefigures the blood of Christ, the blood of the atonement, will be poured out on the mercy seat between the cherubim, and that's where the shekinah glory of God descended and was, and Moses heard the voice of God speaking from between the cherubim. It's a symbol of God dwelling in the midst of his people by his glory. “You are enthroned between the cherubim.” Fourth, “You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the Earth.” It's the repeated lessons again and again of Isaiah 13-35. God rules, God rules, God rules. The nations are like grasshoppers before him, the nations are like a drop from the bucket. They're like dust from the scales, the nations are as nothing before God. God is the ruler of all the earth. And then fifth, “You have made heaven and earth.” This mighty God is the God of the universe, the Creator of everything that exists. These words at this moment are not merely some theological recitation of a catechism. These words had become for Hezekiah his very life, his very life. If God would not live up to these words in his case, he would die, and so would all the remnant in Jerusalem.
And so he makes his first request in verse 17. Five imperative verbs, “Give ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib sent to insult the living God.” Again, we should not be misled by this, God is more attentive to everything than we are. With the Lord, a day is like 1,000 years, like everything moves in super, super, super slow motion for God. He is able to judge every little glance of the eye, every inclination of the heart. God doesn't need to be told to open his eyes and open his ears, but again, this is a focusing here saying, “God concentrate on this issue.” And it's amazing, Hezekiah's tone here, his whole approach in this prayer is not, “O God, we are such an incredible awesome people, and I know you love us, and we really could keep on serving you very well if you would just deliver us.” It's nothing like that at all. The whole focus here is “God, be zealous for your own name. Be zealous for your own glory.” It's just like Moses's prayer for Israel when God wanted to wipe the Israelites out, remember, and make of Moses a great nation. Remember that? Moses said to God, “O God, if you do that, what about your reputation among the nations? They're gonna think you took the people out of Egypt and you were not able to bring them in the promised land. What about your reputation?”
Daniel prays the same thing in Daniel 9. He prays that God would restore the Jews back to the promised land so that they can rebuild the temple and all that. He prays all that in Daniel 9, but the same thing. “God,” he says, “Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name.” This is Daniel speaking, “We do not make a request of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” That's a good way to pray. Friends, if I could just get one thing across to you in reference to this whole chapter is that you would grow that have the same zeal for the name and the honor of God that he does, that you would come to realize the most important thing in your life is the glory and the honor of God, that all of your good works are for one purpose, that they may see your good works, and praise and honor and glorify your Father in heaven.That he must increase and you must decrease, that's a good way to pray. And so Hezekiah prays that way.
And he goes over these recent facts, verse 18-19, “It is true, O Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste to all these peoples and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods, but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands.” So he's got it right. Same history, different conclusions. Now request number 2, verse 20, “Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God.” So the request has been made.
V. The Verdict Comes Down from the King of the Universe (vs. 21-38)
Now the verdict comes down from the King of the universe in verses 21-38, and it comes down in two phases: words, then action, as I already told you. The words are verses 21-35, the action, verses 36-38. First, the words. “Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word the Lord has spoken against him.’” Notice that God specifically mentions Hezekiah's prayer. “Because you have prayed to me.” The relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility is incredibly complex. No one fully understands it. God had planned all of this before the foundation of the world, but yet he uses the prayers of Hezekiah to bring about his end. God ordains not only the ends, but the means to the end, and the prayer was a means to the end. “Because you prayed, now I'm going to do this.” The way I understand this is that God already has a plan, and we're supposed to get with the program, dear friends, and we get with the program when we study the word and when we pray and the Spirit moves. Then we suddenly start to see what God is doing. And like Jesus said, “The Father is at his work, and I too am working.” The Father and the Son perfectly working together, then we together join the Father and the Son in the work that they're doing by this prayer.
Well, there are four parts of God's answer in words. First, God promises to judge the blasphemer, verses 22-29. Second, God promises to save his remnant, verses 30-32. Thirdly, God promises to deliver Jerusalem, verses 33-35, and then finally God makes it clear, he does all of this for his own glory, verse 35. First, he promises to judge the blasphemer, verses 22-29. The people of Judah are pictured as the Virgin Daughter of Zion, who tosses her head as Assyria flees, laughing and singing. Virgin daughter, because it's a picture of purity and a picture of frailty and a need for protection. Sennacherib basically would like to come and rape Jerusalem and her father or husband, you could put it either way, says, “I'm going to protect this city.” Furthermore, women frequently in the Old Testament were the ones that would go out and celebrate after the victory was won. So like Miriam, after the Pharaoh's army has been destroyed, she gets her tambourine, and she goes out there and they celebrate and they're not holding back. It's full celebration. It's, “Ha, ha, ha! You wanted to kill us. Now, look at you, look at you now.” And that's about what's going on in this chapter. It's the very thing David didn't want the daughters of the Philistines to do when Jonathan and Saul died. Tell it not in Gath, don't let the daughters of the Philistines go out and celebrate. So here, “The Virgin Daughter of Zion tosses her head as you flee.”
In effect, the king of Assyria has said to Hezekiah, “Don't you know who I am? Don't you know what I have done? Why aren't you afraid of me?” God totally turns that thing around. In effect, he says to the king of Assyria, “Don't you know who I am? Don't you know what I have done? Why aren't you afraid of me?” God discusses the centerpiece of Sennacherib's argument, the recent history of success. He captures the soaring blasphemy of their heart attitude. “I have with my chariots gone up on the mountain heights.” That's ridiculous. Anybody knows you don't take chariots up a mountain. I mean, why would you do that? They're for speed and agility and all that, you don't take a chariot up a mountain. So how is it with your chariots, you've ascended the utmost heights? You know what's going on there? It's that demonic satanic pride. Just like Isaiah 14, the king of Babylon says in his heart, “I will ascend to the most high; I will make my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned above the mount of the assembly; I will make myself like God.” It's the same language. But not only that, the king of Assyria says, “I've dug wells, and I've drunk their water.” So in effect, he says, “I have ascended to the heights, I've gone down to the depths. I am God. I can dry up the rivers with the soles of my feet.” “No, you can't. You're just a man. You're nothing. I'm Almighty God. And let's get this straight,” verses 26-27, “Apart from me, you have done nothing. Don't you know?” “Haven't you heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I've brought it to pass, that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone. Their people, drained of power, are dismayed and put to shame. They're like plants in the field, like tender green shoots, like grass sprouting up on the roof, scorched before it grows up.” “I planned it, I ordained it, and now I have brought it to pass. You are nothing, nothing but my puppet.”
And the terror of God's omniscience and omnipresence now comes right down on Sennacherib personally. Let's look at verse 28. I get chills every time I read these words, 28-29, “But I know where you stay.” Do you hear that? That's a threat. “I know where you live, and how you come and go, and how you blaspheme against me. I know these things. Is there anywhere you can go and be away from me?” “Because,” verse 29, “you rage against me and because your insolence has reached my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came.” Archaeologists have found drawings, Assyrian drawings of them doing something very much like that to a defeated king. They bored a hole in his jaw right through and put a rope in it and dragged him away. The Assyrians were vicious, cruel people. God says, “Okay, that's what you do, I'll do it to you. I'm gonna put a rope through your nose like the beast you are, and I'm gonna drag you back to your country and there you will stay.”
God promises then to save his remnant, verses 30-32. “This will be the sign for you, O Hezekiah: ‘This year you will eat what grows by itself, and the second year what springs from that. But in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit. Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.’” So in other words, “When Assyria leaves, you're gonna have a hard time finding food. It's gonna be hard, the whole land has been destroyed, so you just have to eat what you can find. In the second year you'll eat whatever grows up from that, but in the third year, it's back to life is normal.” And he says, “That will be a sign for you.” It's just like the sign that he gave to Moses, “This is the sign that I'll give you. When you all come out of that country, you'll worship me on this mountain. It's a sign after the fact. So when it all happens, you'll stand and look back and when that third year you're eating that harvest that you planted, you'll know I did this. You'll know I did this.” So God promises to deliver Jerusalem.
Verses 33-35, he says, “Therefore this is what the Lord says concerning the king of Assyria: ‘He will not enter the city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter the city,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will defend the city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant!’” This is the final verdict. Five times in the Hebrew, there's the negation. Five times. “No, you will not enter this city. No, you will not shoot an arrow here. No, you will not come against the city with a shield. No, you will not build a siege ramp against it. No, you will not even enter this city. I tell you, no.” Who wins? But we know who wins, God wins. “By the way that you came, you'll return.” God said, “I'm gonna fight for this city and I'm going to defend it.”
Now, frequently in situations like this, God would raise up another army that would come, or they would turn on themselves and fight each other, that happens sometimes, it's like insanity would come, like the days of Gideon, that would happen. Sometimes God would just raise up mighty leaders and the Jews themselves would go out empowered and they would go fight. God said, “No, no, I'm doing this one alone. I'm gonna do this one all by myself.” He already said he's gonna do this in Isaiah 31:8, he said, “Assyria will fall by a sword that is not of man; a sword, not of mortals, will devour them.” “I'll do it myself. I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant!” Now, next week, we're gonna get more into, for the sake of David my servant, and how this relates to Christ.
But God's ultimate purposes is to establish with his zeal the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and he said already the same thing, “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” He's already said it once in Isaiah 9, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his kingdom and peace, there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” Same phrase, “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” “I am intending to raise up from the Jews a Savior, and his name is Jesus. So no, you're not going to extinguish the Jewish flame here today.”
Well, that's his prediction. That's what God said he would do. What did he do? Well, verses 36-37 say what he did. Verse 36, “Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!” It's just absolutely staggering, overwhelming. I did a little research this morning, Battle of Gettysburg, one of those bloodiest in history. In that battle, 7,800 soldiers combined died, 7,800. God killed 185,000 in one night. That's more than the combined forces of North and South at the Battle of Gettysburg. It's more, it's about 15,000 more. So you can imagine if Robert E. Lee and General Meade got up on the morning of July 1, 1863, and they found that all of their soldiers were dead, that would still be less than the ones that died outside the walls of Jerusalem. It's awesome.
Who killed them? Well, it says the angel of the Lord. How does this chapter preach Christ? Some say it's just an angel of the Lord. I think when God says, I got this one, I think he sent his Son to do it. And it's just a foretaste of what he's going to do at the second coming of Christ, when he defeats his enemies with a sword coming out of his mouth. This is just a small dress rehearsal. Jesus went out, I think, pre-incarnate Christ, the angel of the Lord, the same one that spoke out of the flames of the burning bush to Moses, the same one that stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, the angel of the Lord went out and killed these troops himself for the zeal and the glory and the honor of his own name.
Next week we'll talk about lessons, we'll talk about the question that remains concerning this. I just wanna finish with a simple gospel presentation, ‘cause I can't get up here and preach without talking about the cross and the empty tomb. Alright, how does this point to Christ? Well, some day you're gonna be surrounded by an enemy that's going to seek to take your very life, it's called death, and at that point, it will be very easy for Satan to bring up to your mind all of your many, many sins, and your sins will mount up 185,000 strong and they'll accuse you and say, “You don't deserve to go to heaven.” And they'll be right, they'll be right, except for one thing: God sent Jesus to defeat your enemies, to destroy your sin, to destroy death, and to bring you to heaven. The blood of Christ is sufficient to cover all of our sins, and by the blood of Christ, Satan, our enemy, that ancient serpent will someday lie crushed and dead under our feet. So for you, if you came in here unregenerate, not knowing Christ as Savior, do you not see how terrifying it would be to have God as your enemy? The converse is how delightful to have him as your deliverer. Trust in Christ, simply trust in him. No works needed, simply faith. Say, “Jesus died for sinners like me, I'm a sinner, he shed his blood, I trust in you for forgiveness.” Close with me in prayer.
Father, we thank you for the things that we have learned in Isaiah 37. There's never enough time. I thank you for the patience of these people, and I pray that you would please now cause these words to live and to glow and to shine in their hearts, and next week, God willing, if we're able to meet again, that we'd be able to celebrate some of the vast, awesome themes that flow from this chapter, in Jesus' name, amen.