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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 37:30-37

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, May 1, 2008

30 “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.
31 Once more a remnant of the house of Judah
     will take root below and bear fruit above.
32 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.

This passage is a gospel promise for King Hezekiah and his people. But what does it mean?

The grain that “grows by itself,” in Hebrew saphiah, was grain that grew by itself because of something spilled or dropped the year before. It is accidental grain, and the people were going to have to rely on it “this year.” Then, “the second year,” they would have shahis, the grain that “springs up” from the saphiah. The conditions would not be such that they could plant anything either year. But then the third year, God does not promise a condition. He commands: Sow and reap, plant and eat. You are going to peace, and you will be able to plant and reap again.

Why would conditions be poor for so long? The answer to that is probably that it’s the wrong question. This is a promise of good things. The scene was something like this: Judah had been under siege for a long time, and the people had not been able to do anything productive with the land for at least a year. What was out in the fields was growing only because people obeyed the gleaning laws and left some grain standing in the fields (Leviticus 19:9; Ruth 2:2), which in turn had gone to seed and begun a new crop. If, as it seems, this prophecy was given toward the end of a year, then conditions would be like this for “this year” (the next few weeks until the new year began) and “next year” when the shahis crop would spring up and while farmers were repairing buildings, walls, and tending to scattered, stolen or sick flocks. Then, the following year, they would be able to plant.

The vineyards, too, would take some time to recover. But soon the farmers would go to see “if the vines had budded or the pomegranates were in bloom” (Song of Solomon 6:11), even though, as Nahum said, “destroyers have laid them waste and have ruined their vines” (Nahum 2:2).

But what about the soldiers?

33 “Therefore this is what the LORD says concerning the king of Assyria:
“He will not enter this city
     or shoot an arrow here.
He will not come before it with shield
     or build a siege ramp against it.
34 By the way that he came he will return;
     he will not enter this city,”
        declares the LORD.
35 “I will defend this city and save it,
     for my sake and for the sake of David my servant!”

After a prophecy like this, what would there be for King Hezekiah to do? Should he send word to his neighbors? Should he gather together whatever troops he had left and sally out against the Assyrians calling out God’s name? Should he pick a single brave hero to go out and challenge Sennacherib like David against Goliath?

God said, “I will defend this city.” And God said, “I will save it.” There was nothing more that needed to be said. All Hezekiah had to do was get a good night’s sleep.

36 Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!  37 So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. (NIV)

Example of an Assyrian tablet dating about from Isaiah's time
Example of an Assyrian tablet dating about from Isaiah’s time

Assyrian records do not mention any of their defeats. But in the year that Sennacherib marched out against Judah, there are many bold statements like “We defeated the city of Azekah. We laid siege to Lachish and plundered the city.” But in the only mention of Jerusalem, all Sennacherib says in his own record is this: “We laid siege to Jerusalem.” There is no mention of defeating or plundering Jerusalem. No mention of 85,000 men dying outside the city walls, no mention of going home with his tail between his legs. But that’s exactly what happened.

Maybe he expected to come back. But he never did. Sennacherib never returned to Judah. And God kept every single one of his promises.

Your sins are forgiven—that’s a promise God has made, too. We believe his promises, and we sing his praise (Psalm 106:12). Jesus has saved us completely (Hebrews 7:25). God keeps every single one of his promises.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.