While reading Isaiah, we have known many references to Assyria. It is a nation that seeks to conquer other nations. Assyria’s kings, administrators and citizens do not take the power of the Almighty God seriously. However, we also know that Assyria is a nation that will experience the wrath of God and will ultimately be defeated. The next few chapters in Isaiah recount specific history instead of making the broad mention of these themes that we have typically read in Isaiah. Those of us that enjoy history will enjoy these next few chapters.
The two main themes of this chapter are:
1. Faith in worldly power over the power of God
2. Lack of faith in God’s ability to save
Sennacherib sends his Rabshakeh (a title akin to governor) to Jerusalem and King Hezekiah to mock them for trusting in things that will not save them. The Rabshakeh delivers this message with a great army to Eliakim, Shebna and Joah.
Sennacherib sought to defeat other nations and he and the nation of Assyria truly believed that theirs was the greatest power and that no gods could save other nations if Assyria wanted to take them over: “Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Indeed, have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their countries from my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” Isaiah 36:19-20
In addition to the disbelief that God can save Judah (God’s people), Sennacherib, like God, recognizes the foolishness in trusting in Egypt. God had told them how foolish it was to trust in Egypt and now the godless King of Assyria is telling them as well. It must have been obvious to everyone except God’s people. The lesson in this detail is to retain faith despite strong inclinations we might have to believe otherwise. We need to have faith that God can save us despite our doubts: “For I will surely deliver you, and you shall not fall by the sword; but your life shall be as a prize to you, because you have put your trust in Me,” says the LORD.’ ”” Jeremiah 39:18
An interesting thing to consider about this passage is the way an ancient king (Sennacherib) exhibits spiritual awareness by mentioning Hezekiah’s God. Sennacherib knows where Hezekiah’s trust should lay and is deriding and mocking him for it. It is difficult to imagine leaders on today’s world stage thinking of and making reference to spiritual powers as aid in world conquest.
Through the Rabshakeh, Sennacherib asks for God’s people to pledge to him instead of God and even offers them two thousand horses. This passage in verses 9-10 make it obvious that Sennacherib thinks it will be all too easy to defeat them. Sennacherib is convinced of the power of his own armies over the weakness of any spiritual powers against him.
Now, while the Rabshakeh is delivering this message to Eliakim, Shebna and Joah, they become concerned that the citizens of Jerusalem will hear these provocations and fear Sennacherib. So they ask the Rabshakeh to speak in a different language (Aramaic, the language of diplomacy at that time). But the Rabshakeh wants to disturb and unsettle. See verses 11-17 for this exchange.
Eliakim, Shebna and Joah show their lack of faith by being embarrassed by the Rabshakeh’s words. Instead of being embarrassed, their faith should have been strong and their stance stalwart. If my faith is challenged, do I become embarrassed and want to hide, or do I stand up for God? These three men should have had more faith in God’s ability to save the city and they ought to have vocalized it.
The final verses of this chapter have Eliakim, Shebna and Joah reporting to King Hezekiah the things that the Rabshakeh had shouted to them. Because they were delivering bad news, they came with their clothes torn. This last detail further confirms their lack of faith that God could and would save them from Sennacherib. We will see in the next chapters how this drama unfolds.
Our faith must be strong for two primary reasons. The first reason is that the One in whom we have faith is almighty and powerful. God is surely able to deliver us from threats and evil and so much more. He is God. There is nothing that He cannot do. The second reason our faith must be strong is because it will be tested. Our faith must bear the weight of fear, impending threats of loss and all the associated challenges. How strong is my faith? How strong is yours?
One evident observation is that the faith of Eliakim, Shebna and Joah was very weak if it existed at all. Let us take them as an example of what not to do.