October 18, 2020 Adult Bible Study
This week’s lesson: GOD LISTENS—God hears the prayers of His people and acts to fulfill His purposes for them.
First Thoughts: Isaiah 34 speaks of the wrath of God that would be poured out on all nations. This righteous anger reveals God’s concern with bringing about justice on the earth. Since the nations surrounding God’s chosen people often threatened and opposed them, God’s plan for the peace of His people required the defeat of their enemies. Chapter 34 focuses on one nation in particular—Edom. These descendants of Esau had a rocky relationship with Israel and Judah, and in this context stood as representative of all of the nations. Because the Edomites were related to the people of Israel and Judah, their betrayal and bad behavior toward their relatives carried an extra burden of punishment. Isaiah’s primary audience was the people of Judah. The promised judgment on Edom served to show Judah that God was in control.
In chapter 35, the hope of redemption is proclaimed. God encouraged His people. He promised that the land would be restored in one day; it would blossom and produce again. Chapters 36-29 describe a period of transition in which the Assyrian Empire would ultimately fall and the next great empire—Babylon—would rise to power. It’s interesting that the events of chapters 38-39 actually occurred before the events described in chapters 36-37. Why are the chapters ordered this way? The most likely answer is that the book finished addressing Assyria before transitioning to deal with Babylon.
When Sennacherib became king of Assyria (705-681 BC), Hezekiah rebelled against the Assyrian Empire. In response, the Assyrian king launched an invasion of Judah. Hezekiah had tried to appease the Assyrians by offering to pay whatever tribute they demanded, but Sennacherib was not satisfied with this offer. Throughout chapter 36 the Assyrian commander publicly threatened Hezekiah’s officials and the people of Jerusalem. In Chapter 37 we see just how different Hezekiah was from his father, Ahaz. Hezekiah sought the Lord instead of a foreign alliance for help. While he may have been hoping for military help from Egypt, Hezekiah turned to God first. He also sought out Isaiah as the messenger of God. As a result, Hezekiah got reassurance. Isaiah told him that God was in control and told him to trust in the Lord. Ultimately Hezekiah served as a sign of hope as he represented those who seek the Lord and want to stay true to Him. When God’s people throw themselves on His grace, He listens and answers.
Lesson Part 1: THE REQUEST [read Isaiah 37:14-20]
14 Hezekiah took the letter from the messengers’ hands, read it, then went up to the Lord’s temple and spread it out before the Lord. 15 Then Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 16 Lord of Armies, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you are God—you alone—of all the kingdoms of the earth. You made the heavens and the earth. 17 Listen closely, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see. Hear all the words that Sennacherib has sent to mock the living God. 18 Lord, it is true that the kings of Assyria have devastated all these countries and their lands. 19 They have thrown their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but made from wood and stone by human hands. So they have destroyed them. 20 Now, Lord our God, save us from his power so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are God—you alone. God’s Answer through Isaiah
Hezekiah took the note sent by the Assyrian king. After he read it, he went up to the LORD’s temple and spread it out before the LORD. The gesture of spreading out the letter was part of the posture of petition. Hezekiah likely bowed in some way or was on his knees with the letter in his outspread hands. He brought the letter that contained the arrogant words of the Assyrian monarch before God while assuming a position of humility himself.
In verse 15, Hezekiah addressed God as LORD of Armies. There is both great reverence for God and irony in making these his first words. On the one hand, Hezekiah readily acknowledged that the Lord was in charge. The irony is that the mighty army of the Assyrians sat on Jerusalem’s doorstep. Thus, in this very first phrase, Hezekiah acknowledged that God was indeed in control of the situation. Hezekiah could not stand against the army of Assyria, but God could. Hezekiah went on to state that this same Lord was the God of Israel. There was a special relationship between God and the people oppressed by Assyria. This relationship was because of God’s choice, not because of any inherent virtue in the people of Judah themselves. This same God was enthroned between the cherubim. Within the temple’s most holy place sat the ark of the covenant. Depicted in gold on top of the ark were two cherubim. It was in this space withing the temple, just above the cherubim, that God was especially present for His people. Hezekiah was proclaiming that he believed God is present and would hear him.
Hezekiah next mentioned Sennacherib’s false claim that the God of Israel was no different than the gods of the other nations that Assyrians had conquered. He cried out: you are God—you along—of all the kingdoms of the earth. The difference was that the other gods were not really gods. Only the Lord, Yahweh, is the rue God. He was the only true God of all kingdoms, including the arrogant Sennacherib who mocked the living God. Hezekiah was appealing to God’s character and person. He did not argue that somehow the people of Judah deserved to be saved based on their character. He argued that if Sennacherib won, God’s own reputation would be damaged. In Hezekiah’s prayer, Judah’s need took a back seat to God’s glory and honor. Whether Judah survived or fell, Hezekiah wanted god to show the world that He does not fail.
Make no mistake—Hezekiah did ask god to save His people from the Assyrians. But he placed this desire in the context of what was most important. Heh wanted god to save them so that all of the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, LORD, are God—you alone. Hezekiah placed God’s glory and reputation above his own needs. Because God is the one who made the heavens and the earth, He is the one who controls everything in them. In the context of Isaiah 37, Sennacherib may not have realized it yet, but he was about to get a lesson on what the only living God could do. He did not control God; God controlled him.
Take a moment to consider: When you pray, do you truly belie God will hear your request? Do you ask God for your own needs first? Do you stop and think about how your own needs and desires fit with a life that should be characterized by a love for God over self?
Lesson Part 2: THE SIGN [read Isaiah 37:30-32]
30 “‘This will be the sign for you: This year you will eat what grows on its own, and in the second year what grows from that. But in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 31 The surviving remnant of the house of Judah will again take root downward and bear fruit upward. 32 For a remnant will go out from Jerusalem, and survivors from Mount Zion. The zeal of the Lord of Armies will accomplish this.’
In verses 21-29, God responded to Sennacherib’s challenge with a poetic rebuke and a promise that the Assyrians would be defeated. Following this rebuke, the Lord gave Hezekiah hope for the future. In verse 30, He stated that He would give Hezekiah a sign that the defeat of the Assyrians was coming soon. Within three years’ time, the agricultural cycle of the land would be back to normal. For the people of Judah, the disruption of the planting and harvesting cycle could result in death by starvation. It is important to note just how destructive the invasion by a large army could be to a land. The invaders would often destroy the cops to create hardship for their victims. The Assyrians here ravaged the land and conquered some Judean cities before thy set their eyes on the prize of Jerusalem. What crops they didn’t destroy, they seized and used as food for the army. The people of Judah could only helplessly watch the destruction. The sign that God promised was that from a few seeds enough food would come to sustain the people during the first harvest period after the Assyrians left. The next year, the roots of the plants that survived would grow and provide for the survivors, and by the third growing season the people would be planting and reaping again. All of this translates to the idea that within two and a half years, all evidence of the presence of the Assyrians would be gone.
The attitude of King Hezekiah in chapter 37 stands in stark contrast to the attitude of King Ahaz in chapter 7. Ahaz had refuse to trust the Lord and sought the help of the Assyrians there by hinting in a dangerous lion to chase away a mouse. He did not believe God could really save him and his country. Hezekiah, on the other hand, knew that without God’s intervention, all hope was lost. He threw himself on the mercy of the Lord. In both situations, the Lord was fully in control. According to Isaiah, the sign promised to Hezekiah would be accomplished by the zeal of the LORD of Armies. This too was a nod to the time of Ahaz. In Isaiah 9:7, God promised that the messianic age would come one day and that its coming would be accomplished by “the zeal of the LORD of Armies.” It seems likely that Isaiah, in speaking of the restoration of Judah after the removal of the Assyrian invaders, was also hinting at the greater restoration that would come at a future point in time. Judah had hope for deliverance in the immediate future and for a miraculous deliverance during the reign of the Messiah.
Take a moment to consider: Was there ever a hopeless moment in your life when you knew only God could deliver you? How did your hope in God help you get through it? How do you see God’s hand at work when you look back at that event now?
Lesson Part 3: THE ANSWER [read Isaiah 37:33-35]
33 “Therefore, this is what the Lord says about the king of Assyria: He will not enter this city, shoot an arrow here,
come before it with a shield, or build up a siege ramp against it. 34 He will go back the way he came, and he will not enter this city. This is the Lord’s declaration. 35 I will defend this city and rescue it for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.”
Verses 33-35 sum up the entire response of God to Hezekiah that started in verse 21. Sennacherib had arrogantly boasted that he would defeat the God of Judah just like he had defeated the gods of the other nations he had conquered. In verse 21-29, we see God’s response. God would not let Jerusalem fall. In fact, God stated that not only would the king of Assyria fail to enter the city of Jerusalem, he would not shoot an arrow there. Sennacherib would not be close enough to the city to be in range to fire an arrow at the defenders. Her would not be close enough to need a shield to defend against the arrows of the soldiers on the walls of the city.
When armies attacked a city, they had to overcome the height of the defensive walls. Cities were usually built on a hill for added defense. The invading solders would build a ramp of earth and stone bit by bit until they could bring their troops close enough and high enough to batter the walls or scale the walls with ladders. Sennacherib’s soldiers would not get the chance to build up a siege ramp against it. We know from 2 Kings 19:35 that the angel of the Lord struck down most of the Assyrian army. Sennacherib was forced to retreat back to Assyria. Isaiah records that he would go back the way he came. This phrase points back to verse 29, in which God stated that He would lead Sennacherib back the way he came by a hook in his nose and a bit in his mouth. God treated him like a beast of burden to teach him he was a creature before his Creator. The Holy One of Israel would make Himself known to Assyria and the other nations, just as Hezekiah had requested.
God stated He would deal this blow to Sennacherib and the Assyrians for my sake. Since the Assyrian monarch had directly threatened God, he would be forced to recognize the power of God. If Jerusalem fell to the Assyrians, it might be seen as a lack of ability on God’s part to defend His people in light of such a direct mocking by the Assyrian ruler. Instead, Sennacherib was a tool in God’s hands and would learn that the hard way. God was not obligate d to act either because of Hezekiah’s humble and repentant plea or because of the Assyrians’ mockery. But God’s character is such that He turned toward His people when they repented and brought judgment on the arrogance of the Assyrians.
Finally, God added that He would bring deliverance for the sake of my servant David. The Lord had promised David He would provide a descendant on his throne for him (2 Samuel 7:16). Note that this did not keep God from bringing judgment on the unrighteous kings in David’s line. As was the case with Ahaz, god would punish unfaithfulness and, for a time, even suspend the monarchy. [The kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonians in 587/6 BC, and the line of kings, while preserved, ceased to rule over a functioning kingdom.] There is another element at work here: the promised messianic ruler would sit on David’s throne. God would not let the line be wiped out. Hezekiah’s repentance, Sennacherib’s arrogance, God’s plans for the future, and His concern for His own reputation among the nations all meant that God would act. Assyria would be punished. Judah would be saved. God would be known.
Take a moment to consider: When you pray about the burdens and concerns in your life, do you ever stop and think about how God’s answer to your prayers might glorify Him and make Him known to others? What elements in your walk of faith testify to others that God is the only living God and that He is fully trustworthy?
It is important to recognize who God is when we approach Him in prayer. The chorus to the song “Only You” by Young Oceans reminds us about God’s majesty:
Only You have set the earth on its foundation
Only You give orders to the dawn
Only You can know the depths of every ocean
Only You deserve our song