For the Love of God, Volume 2/June 4
From Gospel Translations
Deuteronomy 8; Psalm 91; Isaiah 36; Revelation 6
ISAIAH 36—39 IS LESS A HISTORICAL excursus than the hinge on which the book turns. To change the metaphor, these chapters constitute the bond that holds together the two large parts on either side. Not only do they provide the historical setting of much of the book (especially of many of the first thirty-five chapters), they put in historical form the fundamental question the book addresses: whom shall we trust? Or, in the pagan outlook of Sennacherib’s field commander, “On whom are you depending?” (36:5). Isaiah 36 begins the drama.
King Hezekiah had led the nation in anti-Assyrian rebellion and then looked to Egypt for help. Sennacherib of Assyria was not in a forgiving mood. Proud of his unbroken string of successes (36:18-20), Sennacherib determined to crush Jerusalem and teach an unforgettable lesson. He captured town after town in Judah, until only two were left, Lachish and Jerusalem. Here we find Sennacherib’s field commander trying to undermine the remaining forces, speaking in the Hebrew the people of Jerusalem would understand instead of in his own Aramaic (36:11-12).
Perhaps what we should observe most closely from this chapter is the example of Satanic half-truths, the methods of sowing doubt, the arguments calculated to diminish faith in the living God. Know your enemy, not least his lies, and he is diminished and less credible. So here are his weapons:
Much of the speech is raw taunt. By this point, Judah was so desperately short of warriors that even if Sennacherib had provided the horses, Hezekiah could not have provided the men (36:8). The field commander insists he is here at the Lord’s command (36:10)—which was of course partially true and even resonated with Isaiah’s own teaching (10:5). Yet it was totally false in any sense that presupposed Assyria was the Lord’s obedient servant as opposed to an instrument used in the mystery of providence. A conscious attempt to undermine the confidence of the people in Hezekiah (36:13-15) is finally met only by silence (36:21), but the psychological damage must have been considerable. Even the threat of deportation to a strange land is made to sound like a jolly good move to a better location (36:16-17)—a bit like making sin delightful and hiding the shame, loneliness, and death. Of course, if Yahweh can be reduced to the status of pagan deities, it will be easier to dismiss him (36:18-19). And if the field commander misunderstands the significance of Hezekiah’s destruction of pagan shrines (36:7), nevertheless he is probably right in sensing the disaffection of many of the people.
What similar lies and half-truths do powerful voices in our society endlessly repeat so as to demoralize the people of God?