We left off yesterday with the Assyrian envoy trying to convince Judah that king Hezekiah could not save them, and more importantly, YHWH could not save them. That is where we pick up today. All that the Assyrians said is told to Hezekiah, who tears his clothes and wears sackcloth, a sing of mourning or repentance (19:1). He also goes to the Temple to pray. A contrast is being drawn between Hezekiah, the righteous king (see 18:5), and his father Ahaz (see 16:5-9) or even king Hoshea of Israel (see 17:1-4). Whereas they turned to foreign nations for help against invaders, Hezekiah turned only to YHWH for salvation (see Hos 7:11).
Part of turning to YHWH is Hezekiah sending for the prophet Isaiah (19:3-4). Isaiah assures the officials of Judah that God will not only turn Assyria away, but He will bring Sennacherib’s life to an end (vv. 6-7). God is going to judge Assyria for what she did to the Northern Kingdom, even though God used her to judge Israel (see Isa 10:5-19). When the officials return from Isaiah (the “Rabshakeh” is the Hebrew word for “officials”), they find Assyria has completed their assault of Lachish (see 18:13-14) and has begun their assault in Libnah. We see in verse 9 that Egypt (Cush is part of Egypt at this point) is also at war with Assyria (see v. 24). Sennacherib again sends messengers to Jerusalem, this time to give a letter to Hezekiah saying that YHWH cannot save Judah (vv. 10-13).
So Hezekiah prays again (vv. 14-19). He tells YHWH he knows that He is not like other gods. And he prays for deliverance. And God answers through His prophet Isaiah (v. 20). Sennacherib has mocked God in his pride (vv. 22-24). YHWH is not like other gods. He has from eternity ordained all that comes to be (vv. 25-26), and nothing is hidden from Him (v. 27). God will punish Sennacherib by forcing him to turn around and return to Assyria (v. 28). And God will leave Judah in her land long enough to recover from Assyria’s attack (v. 29).
In verse 30, Isaiah speaks of the remnant of Judah that will “again” take root and bear fruit. The “again” indicates that there will be a time that they would, in fact, be removed from the land. That a remnant would then go out of Jerusalem, and a band of survivors out of Mount Zion speaks to the fact that this is not about the remnant that returns to Jerusalem after Judah’s coming captivity. Isaiah says the zeal of the Lord will do this, a phrase he uses again in Isaiah 9:7 where he speaks of the coming Messiah. The remnant that goes out of Jerusalem is the church in the end times (see Acts 1:8). God’s protection against Assyria, and the preservation of the remnant of Judah from the captivity, is to preserve the line of the Messiah. Isaiah then prophesies about Sennacherib: he will not siege Jerusalem, but will return to Assyria (vv. 32-33). God will do this to preserve the covenant He made with David (v. 34), which is fulfilled in Christ.
In verse 35 we see that the angel of the Lord (pre-incarnate Son of God!), kills 185,000 Assyrians. Sennacherib is forced to end his campaign against Judah (v. 36). He is eventually killed while worshiping his god (v. 37). None of the gods of the other nations saved them, but YHWH saved His people.
Chapter 20 records the illness and recovery of Hezekiah. He was sick in his deathbed, and Isaiah comes to tell him he is about to die (20:1). But as we have seen, Hezekiah was a man of prayer. He knows that God acts on the prayers of His people. So he prays (vv. 2-3). And God promises to heal him (vv. 5-7). But Hezekiah asks for a sign that God will heal him (v. 8). And God literally turns back time to prove His words to Hezekiah (vv. 9-11). This passage is rife with theological significance. We see that all man’s days, including his health, are in God’s hands. We see that God does, in fact, answer prayer and act on the prayers of His people. We see that God does have “middle knowledge”, that is, He knows what might have happened if circumstances were otherwise (Hezekiah would have died had he not turned to God). And we see that He is sovereign even over time. He created it, and He actively sustains it.
In verses 12-18, we see that the balance of power in Mesopotamia, and the known world, will tip from Assyria to Babylon, and Babylon will take Judah into captivity (see Hos 5:14, 6:11, and 12:2). The king of Babylon sends an envoy to Hezekiah as a “get well” wish. And Hezekiah decides to show them all the riches of Judah. He was pridefully showing off. So God through Isaiah tells of the coming Babylonian captivity. Like with previous Godly kings, God will not do this in Hezekiah’s lifetime. The “pool and the conduit” mentioned in verse 20 is believed by archeologists to include the Pool of Siloam (see John 9:7).
Psalm 88 is a Psalm of lament. It records the bitter weeping of one close to death (see 2 Kings 20:3). The Psalmist prays for God to hear him (88:2). He knows death is near (vv. 3-6), and knows that God is sovereign over his condition (v. 7). He believes that God must be punishing him. God has not heard his prayers up until now (v. 9). He tells God that he cannot praise Him if he dies (v. 10). And he will no longer experience God’s love and faithfulness if he dies (v. 11). He will know nothing in death (v. 12). Yet he will continue to pray (v. 13). He begins to ask: “why God” (v. 14)? Why is God punishing him (v. 16), and relentlessly at that (v. 17)? God is taking everything from him (v. 18)!
This Psalm is different from most of the other lament Psalms we have considered. The Psalmist doesn’t come to his senses at the end and remember all of God’s goodness. There is no “yet I will praise You” verse to end this Psalm. All it is, is the raw feeling of helplessness one feels when they believe God is not hearing them, and is actually against them. This Psalm shows that the Bible is indeed as much a human book as it is a divine book.