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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 36:11-22

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Before Moses died, he gave a series of sermons, explaining the law God gave on Mount Sinai to the new generation of Israelites before they entered the promised land. This set of sermons, which we call the Book of Deuteronomy, includes this warning:

“Because you did not serve the LORD your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the LORD sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you. The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young.” (Deuteronomy 28:47-50)

In a perfect display of irony the leaders of the Jews now asked the Assyrian commander to essentially fulfill this prophecy outside the walls of Jerusalem:

11 Then Eliakim, Shebna and Joah said to the field commander, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it. Don’t speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall.”

Aramaic is a language that is similar to Hebrew. English has different varieties—American, Canadian, British, Australian, and sub-families of these and more. But with a little practice, an American can understand an Australian. Hebrew and Aramaic are farther apart, more like the difference between Spanish and Portuguese. Hezekiah’s representatives didn’t want the ordinary people to hear and understand whatever terms or demands were being made—or the threats, either.

12 But the commander replied, “Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the men sitting on the wall—who, like you, will have to eat their own filth and drink their own urine?”

Although Hezekiah’s men tried to control the situation, the Assyrian commander made it clear that he was the one who held all the cards here. He wasn’t here to speak to Hezekiah’s staff, and he wasn’t even here to speak to Hezekiah himself. He was talking to the guys on the walls, the people in the city and the soldiers defending the city who were going to be eating their own dung and drinking their own urine.

Hezekiah’s men didn’t have a chance to answer this question, though, because the Assyrian general positioned himself so as to be heard and shouted out before they could say anything more:

13 Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew, “Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria!  14 This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you!  15 Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the LORD when he says, ‘The LORD will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’

There may have been an underlying threat here against the leaders of Jerusalem, since the Assyrian was talking to “the men sitting on the wall,” most of whom would be ordinary soldiers. It was common practice for the Assyrians to try to scare enemies into submitting to them. They developed a reputation for horrible atrocities, taking the leaders of conquered enemies and flaying them alive (which Israel learned, Micah 3:1), making piles of bodies and/or heads (which Israel learned to do, too, 2 Kings 10:8), and even impaling people alive (not just soldiers—Israel learned a form of this, too, Ezra 6:11) all around a city’s walls.

16 “Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then every one of you will eat from his own vine and fig tree and drink water from his own cistern, 17 until I come and take you to a land like your own—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards.

Now the commander offers the Jews a carrot: I’m going to carry you off into exile, but why not make the best of a bad situation? I’ll treat you nicely. In fact, he makes Assyria seem like the promised land itself. If they give up, there won’t be any “eating your filth” or “drinking your urine.” Instead you’ll be eating from your own vine and drinking from your own cistern.

18 “Do not let Hezekiah mislead you when he says, ‘The LORD will deliver us.’ Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?  19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? 20 Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the LORD deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”
21 But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, “Do not answer him.”
22 Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went to Hezekiah, with their clothes torn, and told him what the field commander had said. (NIV)

Here is where the Assyrians took one step too many. Now they fell into blasphemy. Sure, they had enjoyed victories up north in Hamath (one of the boundaries of Canaan, Numbers 34:8, and an ancient settlement, Numbers 13:21). And they had conquered the very seat of the northern kingdom, Samaria (1 Kings 20:1). And they had conquered many other impressive fortresses (we don’t really know much about Arpad or Sepharvaim, so the destruction must have been pretty complete). But now this Assyrian hero challenged the power of God himself. And nothing is beyond God. Nothing at all. Later, the prophet Zechariah would delight in saying that “Assyria’s pride will be brought down,” (Zechariah 10:11), and here was a time for God to show his power and his saving hand.

The believing men from Hezekiah’s court knew there was nothing they could do. They were out of their league and they were hopeless. They were completely helpless. But that’s exactly the place we all were in when God sent his son to rescue us from our sins. There was nothing at all we could do, so God sent his Son into the world to save us. He “became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8), and he rescued us.

Stay tuned. There’s more to come here at the walls of Jerusalem. But don’t forget that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

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.