It’s Their Fate That’s at Stake

36 1-3 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria made war on all the fortress cities of Judah and took them. Then the king of Assyria sent his general, the “Rabshekah,” accompanied by a huge army, from Lachish to Jerusalem to King Hezekiah. The general stopped at the aqueduct where it empties into the upper pool on the road to the public laundry. Three men went out to meet him: Eliakim son of Hilkiah, in charge of the palace; Shebna the secretary; and Joah son of Asaph, the official historian.

4-7 The Rabshekah said to them, “Tell Hezekiah that the Great King, the king of Assyria, says this: ‘What kind of backing do you think you have against me? You’re bluffing and I’m calling your bluff. Your words are no match for my weapons. What kind of backup do you have now that you’ve rebelled against me? Egypt? Don’t make me laugh. Egypt is a rubber crutch. Lean on Egypt and you’ll end up flat on your face. That’s all Pharaoh king of Egypt is to anyone who leans on him. And if you try to tell me, “We’re leaning on our God,” isn’t it a bit late? Hasn’t Hezekiah just gotten rid of all the places of worship, telling you, “You’ve got to worship at this altar”?

8-9 “‘Be reasonable. Face the facts: My master the king of Assyria will give you two thousand horses if you can put riders on them. You can’t do it, can you? So how do you think, depending on flimsy Egypt’s chariots and riders, you can stand up against even the lowest-ranking captain in my master’s army?

10 “‘And besides, do you think I came all this way to destroy this land without first getting God’s blessing? It was your God who told me, Make war on this land. Destroy it.’”

11 Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah answered the Rabshekah, “Please talk to us in Aramaic. We understand Aramaic. Don’t talk to us in Hebrew within earshot of all the people gathered around.”

12 But the Rabshekah replied, “Do you think my master has sent me to give this message to your master and you but not also to the people clustered here? It’s their fate that’s at stake. They’re the ones who are going to end up eating their own excrement and drinking their own urine.”

13-15 Then the Rabshekah stood up and called out loudly in Hebrew, the common language, “Listen to the message of the Great King, the king of Assyria! Don’t listen to Hezekiah’s lies. He can’t save you. And don’t pay any attention to Hezekiah’s pious sermons telling you to lean on God, telling you ‘God will save us, depend on it. God won’t let this city fall to the king of Assyria.’

16-20 “Don’t listen to Hezekiah. Listen to the king of Assyria’s offer: ‘Make peace with me. Come and join me. Everyone will end up with a good life, with plenty of land and water, and eventually something far better. I’ll turn you loose in wide open spaces, with more than enough fertile and productive land for everyone.’ Don’t let Hezekiah mislead you with his lies, ‘God will save us.’ Has that ever happened? Has any god in history ever gotten the best of the king of Assyria? Look around you. Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? The gods of Sepharvaim? Did the gods do anything for Samaria? Name one god that has ever saved its countries from me. So what makes you think that God could save Jerusalem from me?’”

21 The three men were silent. They said nothing, for the king had already commanded, “Don’t answer him.”

22 Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah, the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph, the court historian, tearing their clothes in defeat and despair, went back and reported what the Rabshekah had said to Hezekiah.

The Only God There Is

37 1-2 When King Hezekiah heard the report, he also tore his clothes and dressed in rough, penitential burlap gunnysacks, and went into the sanctuary of God. He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, all of them also dressed in penitential burlap, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz.

3-4 They said to him, “Hezekiah says, ‘This is a black day. We’re in crisis. We’re like pregnant women without even the strength to have a baby! Do you think your God heard what the Rabshekah said, sent by his master the king of Assyria to mock the living God? And do you think your God will do anything about it? Pray for us, Isaiah. Pray for those of us left here holding the fort!’”

5-7 Then King Hezekiah’s servants came to Isaiah. Isaiah said, “Tell your master this, ‘God’s Message: Don’t be upset by what you’ve heard, all those words the servants of the Assyrian king have used to mock me. I personally will take care of him. I’ll arrange it so that he’ll get a rumor of bad news back home and rush home to take care of it. And he’ll die there. Killed—a violent death.’”

* * *

The Rabshekah left and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah. (He had gotten word that the king had left Lachish.)

9-13 Just then the Assyrian king received an intelligence report on King Tirhakah of Ethiopia: “He is on his way to make war on you.”

On hearing that, he sent messengers to Hezekiah with instructions to deliver this message: “Don’t let your God, on whom you so naively lean, deceive you, promising that Jerusalem won’t fall to the king of Assyria. Use your head! Look around at what the kings of Assyria have done all over the world—one country after another devastated! And do you think you’re going to get off? Have any of the gods of any of these countries ever stepped in and saved them, even one of these nations my predecessors destroyed—Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who lived in Telassar? Look around. Do you see anything left of the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, the king of Ivvah?”

14 Hezekiah took the letter from the hands of the messengers and read it. Then he went into the sanctuary of God and spread the letter out before God.

15-20 Then Hezekiah prayed to God: “God-of-the-Angel-Armies, enthroned over the cherubim-angels, you are God, the only God there is, God of all kingdoms on earth. You made heaven and earth. Listen, O God, and hear. Look, O God, and see. Mark all these words of Sennacherib that he sent to mock the living God. It’s quite true, O God, that the kings of Assyria have devastated all the nations and their lands. They’ve thrown their gods into the trash and burned them—no great achievement since they were no-gods anyway, gods made in workshops, carved from wood and chiseled from rock. An end to the no-gods! But now step in, O God, our God. Save us from him. Let all the kingdoms of earth know that you and you alone are God.”

* * *

21-25 Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent this word to Hezekiah: “God’s Message, the God of Israel: Because you brought King Sennacherib of Assyria to me in prayer, here is my answer, God’s answer:

“‘She has no use for you, Sennacherib, nothing but contempt,
    this virgin daughter Zion.
She spits at you and turns on her heel,
    this daughter Jerusalem.

“‘Who do you think you’ve been mocking and reviling
    all these years?
Who do you think you’ve been jeering
    and treating with such utter contempt
All these years?
    The Holy of Israel!
You’ve used your servants to mock the Master.
    You’ve bragged, “With my fleet of chariots
I’ve gone to the highest mountain ranges,
    penetrated the far reaches of Lebanon,
Chopped down its giant cedars,
    its finest cypresses.
I conquered its highest peak,
    explored its deepest forest.
I dug wells
    and drank my fill.
I emptied the famous rivers of Egypt
    with one kick of my foot.”

26-27 “‘Haven’t you gotten the news
    that I’ve been behind this all along?
This is a longstanding plan of mine
    and I’m just now making it happen,
using you to devastate strong cities,
    turning them into piles of rubble
and leaving their citizens helpless,
    bewildered, and confused,
drooping like unwatered plants,
    stunted like withered seedlings.

28-29 “‘I know all about your pretentious poses,
    your self-important comings and goings,
    and, yes, the tantrums you throw against me.
Because of all your wild raging against me,
    your unbridled arrogance that I keep hearing of,
I’ll put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth.
I’ll show you who’s boss. I’ll turn you around
    and take you back to where you came from.

30-32 “‘And this, Hezekiah, will be your confirming sign: This year’s crops will be slim pickings, and next year it won’t be much better. But in three years, farming will be back to normal, with regular sowing and reaping, planting and harvesting. What’s left of the people of Judah will put down roots and make a new start. The people left in Jerusalem will get moving again. Mount Zion survivors will take hold again. The zeal of God-of-the-Angel-Armies will do all this.’

* * *

33-35 “Finally, this is God’s verdict on the king of Assyria:

“‘Don’t worry, he won’t enter this city,
    won’t let loose a single arrow,
Won’t brandish so much as one shield,
    let alone build a siege ramp against it.
He’ll go back the same way he came.
    He won’t set a foot in this city.
        God’s Decree.
I’ve got my hand on this city
    to save it,
Save it for my very own sake,
    but also for the sake of my David dynasty.’”

36-38 Then the Angel of God arrived and struck the Assyrian camp—185,000 Assyrians died. By the time the sun came up, they were all dead—an army of corpses! Sennacherib, king of Assyria, got out of there fast, back home to Nineveh. As he was worshiping in the sanctuary of his god Nisroch, he was murdered by his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer. They escaped to the land of Ararat. His son Esar-haddon became the next king.

Time Spent in Death’s Waiting Room

38 At that time, Hezekiah got sick. He was about to die. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz visited him and said, “God says, ‘Prepare your affairs and your family. This is it: You’re going to die. You’re not going to get well.’”

2-3 Hezekiah turned away from Isaiah and, facing the wall, prayed to God: “God, please, I beg you: Remember how I’ve lived my life. I’ve lived faithfully in your presence, lived out of a heart that was totally yours. You’ve seen how I’ve lived, the good that I have done.” And Hezekiah wept as he prayed—painful tears.

4-6 Then God told Isaiah, “Go and speak with Hezekiah. Give him this Message from me, God, the God of your ancestor David: ‘I’ve heard your prayer. I have seen your tears. Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll add fifteen years to your life. And I’ll save both you and this city from the king of Assyria. I have my hand on this city.

7-8 “‘And this is your confirming sign, confirming that I, God, will do exactly what I have promised. Watch for this: As the sun goes down and the shadow lengthens on the sundial of Ahaz, I’m going to reverse the shadow ten notches on the dial.’” And that’s what happened: The declining sun’s shadow reversed ten notches on the dial.

* * *

9-15 This is what Hezekiah king of Judah wrote after he’d been sick and then recovered from his sickness:

In the very prime of life
    I have to leave.
Whatever time I have left
    is spent in death’s waiting room.
No more glimpses of God
    in the land of the living,
No more meetings with my neighbors,
    no more rubbing shoulders with friends.
This body I inhabit is taken down
    and packed away like a camper’s tent.
Like a weaver, I’ve rolled up the carpet of my life
    as God cuts me free of the loom
And at day’s end sweeps up the scraps and pieces.
    I cry for help until morning.
Like a lion, God pummels and pounds me,
    relentlessly finishing me off.
I squawk like a doomed hen,
    moan like a dove.
My eyes ache from looking up for help:
    “Master, I’m in trouble! Get me out of this!”
But what’s the use? God himself gave me the word.
    He’s done it to me.
I can’t sleep—
    I’m that upset, that troubled.

16-19 O Master, these are the conditions in which people live,
    and yes, in these very conditions my spirit is still alive—
    fully recovered with a fresh infusion of life!
It seems it was good for me
    to go through all those troubles.
Throughout them all you held tight to my lifeline.
    You never let me tumble over the edge into nothing.
But my sins you let go of,
    threw them over your shoulder—good riddance!
The dead don’t thank you,
    and choirs don’t sing praises from the morgue.
Those buried six feet under
    don’t witness to your faithful ways.
It’s the living—live men, live women—who thank you,
    just as I’m doing right now.
Parents give their children
    full reports on your faithful ways.

* * *

20 God saves and will save me.
    As fiddles and mandolins strike up the tunes,
We’ll sing, oh we’ll sing, sing,
    for the rest of our lives in the Sanctuary of God.

21-22 Isaiah had said, “Prepare a poultice of figs and put it on the boil so he may recover.”

Hezekiah had said, “What is my cue that it’s all right to enter again the Sanctuary of God?”

There Will Be Nothing Left

39 Sometime later, King Merodach-baladan son of Baladan of Babylon sent messengers with greetings and a gift to Hezekiah. He had heard that Hezekiah had been sick and was now well.

Hezekiah received the messengers warmly. He took them on a tour of his royal precincts, proudly showing them all his treasures: silver, gold, spices, expensive oils, all his weapons—everything out on display. There was nothing in his house or kingdom that Hezekiah didn’t show them.

Later the prophet Isaiah showed up. He asked Hezekiah, “What were these men up to? What did they say? And where did they come from?”

Hezekiah said, “They came from a long way off, from Babylon.”

“And what did they see in your palace?”

“Everything,” said Hezekiah. “I showed them the works, opened all the doors and impressed them with it all.”

5-7 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Now listen to this Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies: I have to warn you, the time is coming when everything in this palace, along with everything your ancestors accumulated before you, will be hauled off to Babylon. God says that there will be nothing left. Nothing. And not only your things but your sons. Some of your sons will be taken into exile, ending up as eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

Hezekiah replied to Isaiah, “Good. If God says so, it’s good.” Within himself he was thinking, “But surely nothing bad will happen in my lifetime. I’ll enjoy peace and stability as long as I live.”

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