For the Love of God, Volume 2/June 5
From Gospel Translations
Deuteronomy 9; Psalms 92—93; Isaiah 37; Revelation 7
HEZEKIAH IS BESIDE HIMSELF (Isa. 37). He has disobeyed the Lord and defied Assyria. Mercifully, at this juncture he does the right thing: in desperation he turns to the Lord in importunate and passionate prayer, and to the Lord’s prophet Isaiah for intercession and guidance (37:1-4). Isaiah promptly reports a visionary word from the Lord (37:5-7). God sees the stance of Sennacherib as profoundly blasphemous: he has treated the living God as if he were some local pagan deity. God promises that Sennacherib will hear a report that will make him withdraw, and in due course he will be cut down in his own country.
The sequence of events is at this point unclear: we do not have enough information. The next verses suggest that Lachish has proved more difficult to conquer than Sennacherib had anticipated (though he ultimately seizes it), and that he has moved to Libnah. While he is there he hears a report that Egypt (the Cushites, 37:9) is moving against him, and he warns Hezekiah not to think that this will be more than a temporary reprieve. Since Sennacherib shortly resumes his siege of Jerusalem (37:33ff.), perhaps Egypt sent no more than harrying contingents.
In any case, the bleak prospects for Jerusalem drive Hezekiah to prayer (37:14-20), the high water mark of this king’s life. Hezekiah does not address God as if he were just a tribal deity. God is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sovereign Creator who alone is “God over all the kingdoms of the earth,” and the Almighty God of Israel who is “enthroned between the cherubim” in the Most Holy Place, the God of the covenant (37:16). At the end of his resources, Hezekiah casts himself upon God’s mercy, not only so that the tiny nation might be spared, but “so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God” (37:20).
God answers Hezekiah’s prayer. Through the prophet Isaiah, God pronounces an oracle of judgment against Sennacherib (37:22-29), provides a reassuring sign for Hezekiah (37:30-32), and stipulates that Sennacherib will not be permitted to take Jerusalem (37:33-35). God will defend Jerusalem, not for Hezekiah’s sake, but for his own sake and for the sake of his servant David. Hezekiah prays, and God answers, but he is saved, not for his own sake, but for the sake of another.
The result is briefly told (37:36-38). The slaughter of the soldiers may have been the result of God-ordained bubonic plague; other similar catastrophes are known from ancient sources. And twenty years later, Sennacherib’s sons did cut him down in his own temple, while the temple of the Lord remained inviolate.