Pride and Prejudice vs Prophecy and Providence

I. The Problem and the Prophet (Isaiah 37:1-13)

A. the King says:

  1. He came to the situation in a spirit of complete humiliation, repentance, and dependence. He saw that this was not a battle for the honor and safety of Judah and Jerusalem but for the honor and promised covenantal faithfulness of the Lord God, Israel’s God.
  • Verses 1, 2 – He removed all external pomp and put on sackcloth. He entered the house of the Lord with a sincere sense of utter dependence. His messengers wore sackcloth and were sent to the prophet of God, not to a military ally. Worship and word dominated the mind and spirit of Hezekiah in this revealing situation of sinful creatureliness.
  • He and the nation were weak, without strength or means to carry forth an imminent reality—pains of birth with no strength to deliver.
  • We will be saved only if God Himself defends his personal honor before the boast of Rabshekah.
  • Hezekiah understood the principle of the remnant and asked for intercession on their behalf. Perhaps these were refugees from other towns of Judah that had been destroyed by Sennacherib. An opportunity for them to prosper would be a great temporal mercy and was indeed a part of God’s promise through the prophet (verse 31). Always the concept of remnant suggests a larger picture of the whole of mankind doomed to condemnation from which a remnant will be preserved by sovereign grace to eternal life (Romans 9:27-29).

B. The Prophet Says: His answer was immediate, he knew both the submissive demeanor of Hezekiah and the fatal pride and blasphemous words of Assyrian leadership.

  1. “Do not fear.” God heard and took to heart all the haughty, self-congratulatory words of the enemy. The creature had blasphemed the Creator; the idolater had boasted over the reality of the one true God; The axe had ignored the hand that wielded it; the destroyer had acted superior to the Redeemer.
  2. “I will take care of this.” He will leave Jerusalem without the initiation of one element of aggression toward the city. A deep spirit of fear will invade his soul and he will leave; he will die, not in battle as a warrior, but by a sword in his own land.

C. The Pagan says:

  1. Do not listen to your weak, deluded king or trust in your weak and ineffectual god (37:10, 11). The dangerous presumptiveness of Rabshekah is in his accusing the God of truth, righteousness, holiness, and faithfulness of deceit. “Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you.” God is in pursuit of an eternal covenant made before the foundation of the world and will not fail in any of his promises or decrees: “in the hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2).
  2. Observe what Assyria has done to all the nations that opposed it and how their gods were helpless to deter the intent of Sennacherib (36:18; 37:12, 13). How foolish to compare the God of Scripture and the truth of Scripture with the failed, ineffectual, irrelevant, unredeeming principles of any other “religion.” Nothing can compare with the beauty and fullness of the revealed truth of the God who created the heavens and the earth and will establish a new heaven and earth.


II. The Prayer (37:14-21)

A. Hezekiah went immediately to the matter at hand. Having read the letter, he went again to the house of the Lord and opened the letter and “spread it out before the Lord.” There was no subterfuge, vain repetitions, or lack of focus in his prayer. There it was, written in a letter. Its content formed the clear subject matter of Hezekiah’s prayer.

B. Hezekiah’s prayer was focused exclusively on the glory and singularity of the Lord (16-20).

  1. He confessed the omnipotence of God removing any hesitation that God was able to do all that he asked and more: “Lord of hosts.” All powers are at the disposal of God.
  2. He recalled the covenantal status of Israel. Yahweh peculiarly is the God of Israel for his eternal redemptive purposes. As enthroned above the cherubim, He looks on the mercy seat and finds reason to be propitious toward the prayers of sinners. He has made provision for hearing them because of his mercy in the atoning sacrifice. For this reason, we always offer our prayers in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. No matter how much others may boast in their supposed gods, their supposed way of knowing God, there is only one God and he is known only by his merciful provision. He is Creator and he has made all nations from one man. Nothing lies outside his sovereignty, his purpose, and his faithful execution of his wise and sovereign plans.
  4. Hezekiah calls on the Lord to take to heart what has been written by Sennacherib, or Rabsheka on behalf of the king. Hezekiah is a child of God, deeply hurt by the false and scurrilous imputations made against his Father. “Incline your ear, . . . open your eyes, . . . listen.” Sennacherib has sent these words as a reproach to the living God. No longer is Hezekiah’s focus on fear for his own safety, but for reverence for the God of Israel, even of the whole earth. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
  5. The boast of the Assyrians against other lands and their so-called gods is true. They have devastated supposedly well-defended cities and “have cast their gods into the fire.” But their boasting over deities is vain and ignorant, for those gods were not gods but “the work of men’s hands” using material, wood and stone, created by the one true God. Those things that God has placed under the power of men to subdue and rule (Genesis 1:26) may be formed and then deformed by him. The Creator Himself, however, does not come under the power of man. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
  6. In order to correct the vain confidence of Sennacherib and to establish the honor of his name, and to show that he alone is God, Hezekiah asked for the Lord’s deliverance. “Deliver us from evil; for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.”


III. The Providence (37:21-29)

A. God’s zeal for his people and for his name (21-23)

  1. Prayer is a decreed part of the manner in which God accomplishes his will: “Because you have prayed to me.” Look at four instances in the life of Paul in which he looked upon the prayers of God’s people as the means of God’s effecting his will: Phil 1:19, 20 (“through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ”); Romans 15:30-33 (“strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf”); 2 Corinthians 1:10, 11 (“You also must help us by prayer”); Colossians 4:2-4 (“Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word”).
  2. Sennacherib has not fully considered the reality of God’s grace toward Jerusalem and that he is pledged to protect her for the sake of his Son to whom she is betrothed. She is confident, therefore, that she will be protected even as a father protects the integrity of his virgin daughter, betrothed to a prince, even the Son of God himself.
  3. By extension the words of Sennacherib are against God Himself. One cannot come to the Holy One of Israel with reproachful language, with mocking words, with haughty eyes. Our only approach to God is, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you,” (Luke 15:21), and “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” (Luke 18:13).

B. A boastful, prideful, but mistaken perception (24, 25). His reproach of God was not only in the blasphemies of placing God at the level of false deities, but of attributing to himself the military might and the victorious campaigns he had had against other armies. Even Egypt, from whom Jerusalem (31:1) had sought intervention, had been overwhelmed by Assyria, but only according to divine arrangement (31:3).

C. God’s operations through Sennacherib (26, 27).

  1. God challenges the irrational pride of Sennacherib. Could he not discern that he a mere mortal could not do what he had done apart from a larger plan and a greater power? Had he not thought seriously about his own finiteness and the limited duration of his life and of those all around him? God’s question, therefore, presses all creatures to see that their brief span is one of dependence and of responsibility measured on all sides by divine arrangement. “Have you not heard? Long ago I did it, from ancient times I planned it.”
  2. Assyria’s victories under Sennacherib and some who preceded him were a matter of divine purpose. God put weakness and loss of nerve and purpose in the hearts of those up against whom they marched. They were short of strength, dismayed, and put to shame. They were like the grass on a rooftop, without root and easily burned, or as field crops ready for harvest. Assyrian was an instrument of God’s eternal decree and present providence, and they had made an idol of that which God alone had given them.

D. God’s providence against Sennacherib (28, 29).

  1. Nothing about Sennacherib, his army, and his nation was hidden from the all-seeing invincibly powerful God. God knew all about his conquests, his daily routine, and his anger and hostility toward God (“your raging against me”). Sennacherib’s insults did not arise from innocent ignorance but from willful refusal to know the one true God: “What can be known of God is plain to them . . . so they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him . . . and their foolish hearts ere darkened” (Romans 1:19-21).
  2. For these aggressive and arrogant sins in putting aside the knowledge and worship of God, Sennacherib would be forced into an action for which he made no plans. His intent would be thoroughly thwarted and he would be painfully forced (a hook in his nose and a bridle in his lips) to return to his personal residence. None of his boastful pretensions against Jerusalem and their God would have even the appearance of a threat to the safety of God’s covenant people.


IV. The Promise (37:30-35)

A. Mercy to the Remnant (30-32; cf verse 4)

  1. Though the remnant of people had been scattered from their homes and had not even had time to cultivate their fields, God would cause sufficient food to grow “of itself,” and that would then produce a crop for the next year (perhaps a sabbatic year) and in the third year their rhythm of seedtime and harvest would resume. Jesus fed them then even as he fed the 5,000 and the 4,000 (Mark 6:30 ff and 8:1 ff.).
  2. Also, the people themselves would again flourish, and in spite of the devastation in the cities thy would become stable and would increase their population for the prosperity and survival of the messianic community.
  3. Beyond that, the remnant of those who truly believe would keep alive the anticipation of the coming of Immanuel (7:14), the Prince of Peace on the throne of David (9:6, 7) and the righteous Branch (11:1-5) This remnant will be preserved for the purpose of salvation (11:16-12:2). “The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this” (9:7; 37:32). God’s zeal for his glory and the consequent execution of his plan of redemption through the seed of David will not be thwarted (2 Samuel 7:12, 16; Isaiah 9:7; 11:1; 37:35)

B. Immediate failure of the boasting certainty of the arrogant blasphemer (33-35)

  1. This message was delivered by metaphors in verse 29 and is now reiterated in graphic literal terms. God mentions that the king of Assyria will not come to the city of Jerusalem, he would not shoot an arrow, would not appear even with a shield and certainly would not build a siege ramp. Nothing related to the conquering of a city would come close to happening in this case. Sennacherib would be so overwhelmed with divine intervention that he simply, and desperately, would return to his own city and never come to Jerusalem.
  2. God would perform this for his own glory. He had been blasphemed by the king of
    Assyria and his chief advisers and emissaries. God would defend his own name as he will when history comes to its close. “Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” He accomplishes redemption through the Son of God who in his incarnation also is the Son of David. He does this deed, therefore, also for “my servant David’s sake.”


V. The Promulgation (37:36-38) – God used his messengers to accomplish his decree. The first were heavenly and the second were earthly.

A. Destroying the army by an angel: An angel of the Lord killed 185,000 soldiers, leaving a few as awestruck witnesses of the event. Sennacherib simply left, unable to mount any resistance to this visit from heaven, completely without explanation as to how the God of Jerusalem had overwhelmed him.

B. Destroying the king by his sons

  1. He was killed in the presence of his god, Nisroch. He had boasted that the God of Israel would be unable to protect them (37:10). Now his god does not lift a clay finger, or a wooden hand, or utter a term of protest from his stone throat when the king’s life is taken. Whose god has failed indeed; and whose God has shown himself as the ruler of all things?
  2. He was killed by two of his sons. Unprotected, unloved, and utterly dispensable, Sennacherib is ingloriously terminated.


VI. The Doctrinal Component

A. God is a prayer-hearing God and involves his people in his purposes through inciting their sense of dependence on him, love for his character, and holy zeal for the honor of his name.

B. God will allow nothing to alter his redemptive purpose. It was planned in eternity past with all of its glorious results intended to magnify the name of his beloved Son. The promise appeared first in Eden, symbolically sustained through the flood, given clearly to Abraham, forwarded through Moses, promised to David and his seed in extension of his throne forever.

C. God justly holds all his creatures, irrespective of any advantages of mercy, as responsible to discern his eternal power and godhead, discern and love his holiness and righteousness, and worship him as the one living and true God.

D. God not only is omnipotent, but is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnisapient and manifests all of these attributes through the unalterable counsels executed through his absolute sovereignty.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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