In Isaiah’s day, God conceived an Immanuel for a reason. With virulent harlotry infecting both limbs of Israel’s descendant tree, wholesale pruning was the only way to prevent it destroying the tree of life. The Lord would deal with this heady mix of idolatry, arrogance and bloodshed in the same manner as with Benjamin at Gibeah, so the only hope for the survival of the Sons of Jacob lay in bringing their Immanuel to birth. Thus, as the Lord’s agents took the axe to the twin trunks and reduced the land to wilderness, divine grace ensured a stump survived, ready for a voice to call for the way of the Lord (Isa 40:3) and spur it into growth.
The spiritual dynamics of the first century C.E. were similar to those of the eighth century B.C.E. and Matthew, by referring to Jesus as Immanuel and John as a voice in the wilderness, inferred that a similar process was at work. Hence, understand Isaiah’s day is essential to understanding Jesus’ Messianic mission.
As Isaiah provides a poetic chronicle1 of the pruning (Isa 1:1-37:38), his prophecies looked to Gideon and Babel as they envisaged the day of judgement that scattered Ephraim, then to Jehoshaphat to warn of a day of judgement for Judah. Amidst these, came words that drew upon the symbology of the Noahic flood and anticipating the birth of a righteous remnant. He develops both themes, right up until, amidst the cataclysmic events of Sennacherib’s invasion, a day of judgement saw the swirling waters of Assyria completed their relentless work.
A day, a child and a flood
Isaiah’s opening chapters (Isa 1:1-5:30) form a nested poetic unit (a chiasm2) that introduces the purpose of God’s work and the day of judgement as central to achieving it. Working inward through the levels, Isaiah first declares that the people are rebellious and God has had enough, they are like Sodom and Gomorrah so God will cut them off. Parallel to this is a lament that God has planted a vineyard but is tired of waiting for good fruit, therefore judgement and fire will cleanse it (Isa 1:9-10, 5:1-30). In the next level, Isaiah explains that, although they wore their sins like precious scarlet cloth, they would become like the white-as-snow leprous (see Appendix K), for God’s house would be refined and given a glorious future. Parallel to this comes God replacing the finery of their women with the baldness of leprosy, leaving those who held fast to Jerusalem a cleansed remnant (Isa 1:18-2:5, 3:16-4:6). The next tier reflects upon the failure of leadership. On its foremost limb, God abandons the descendants of Jacob, who have turned to eastern ideas, soothsayers and idols for advice, who strike bargains with the children of aliens and leave men humbled. On its trailing, God withdraws the security of Jerusalem, whose mighty men, judges and prophets are omen readers, whose captains, respected citizens and advisers are skilled in the occult, and over whom God sets inexperienced children, such that the wisdom of the elders is ignored and men turn against one another (Isa 2:6-9, 3:1-12). Both limbs then advocate fleeing to the rocks and hiding in the dust (Isa 2:10, 19-21), bracketing, at the chiasm’s core, a day of judgement that finds Judah wanting (Isa 2:11-18).
In the year of Uzziah’s death, God commissioned Isaiah to proclaim truths that the twelve tribes would ignore (Isa 6:1-13), at least until Assyria completed the pruning. The book then skips to the reign of Ahaz and the moment when Syria and Ephraim joined forces to annex Judah into their anti-Assyrian alliance. Intercepting the king on the highway to the fuller’s field and finding him unresponsive, Isaiah predicted the ‘flood’ from Assyria that would deal with the conspirators who harassed him (Isa 7:1-8:18). When Tiglath-Pilneser responded to Ahaz request and moved against the conspirators, he was possibly aware of Isaiah’s words3, for the Assyrian reported leaving over five hundred cities in the districts of Damascus ‘like mounds of ruins after the Deluge’4.
Within sixty-five years Ephraim would cease to exist (Isa 7:8), so alongside the warning of Immanuel, Isaiah declared himself the nucleus of a faithful remnant. Thereafter, until every diseased bough of Israel lay amidst the dust, the safe delivery of that precious offspring would remain his focus.
The Assyrian Gideon
The axe would fall first upon Ephraim and, as Isaiah considered that kingdom’s fate (Isa 9:1-5), so he alluded to the events of Gideon’s day. The juxtaposed accounts of Barak and Gideon provide a stark contrast, for although God called both to tackle enemies that occupied the vale of Jezreel, they responded quite differently. Because Barak relied on force of numbers (Judg 4:6-10, 5:12-15), God denied him and the tribes he led, Zebulun and Naphtali, the glory of defeating Sisera. Gideon however, fought with the Lord’s selected army, so the sudden appearance of his brilliant light declared that God had given the occupants of Jezreel into his hand.
Isaiah alludes to the shame of Zebulun and Naphtali before predicting a restoration of glory by the Way of the Sea, the land beyond the Jordan and Galilee (Isa 9:1), three regions roughly corresponded to the provinces established under Tiglath-Pileser’s Assyrian rule (Du’ru, Magiddu and Gal’aza5). In Isaiah’s day, Ephraim rebelled against the Lord, so they walked in darkness and over their valley, Jezreel, hung the shadow of death (Psalm 107:10-14). Thus, the coming of Assyria represented the great light (cf. Isa 10:5-6) that broke the yoke of arrogant Ephraim, bringing joy at harvest time (cf. Judg 6:116) and spoil to divide. On that day, God would shake the warriors footing7 and every cloak that concealed the shame of internecine strife would become fuel for the fire (cf. Gen 9:23, Gen 37:312, 2 Sam 19:13, 20:12). All this became necessary to birth the Immanuel that would preserve God’s promise to David’s line (Isa 9:6-7).
Pekah’s activities against Judah were a bad omen, but as divided Israel would not turn back, God would remove their elders and false prophets in a single day of judgement (Isa 9:13-15), for their leaders were confused, Israel was fuel for the flames and the Sons of Jacob were consuming one another (Isa 9:19-20).
Isaiah cast the Assyrians as the Gideon of his age. However, he went on to warn that, once this unexpected agent of God finished reducing Israel to a stump, they too would succumb to pride and fall victim to a day of judgement (Isa 10:1-27). In this, his words began to anticipate the invasion of Sennacherib (Isa 36:1, 20, 37:6-7, 29), the catastrophic final contraction of Immanuel’s birth and the last gasp of a moribund Israel. His subsequent image ties into this theme by envisaging that, as following Gibeah, the Lord’s army would destroy the cities of Benjamin (Isa 10:27-32, cf. Judg 20:48). The tall and lofty boughs of Israel would fall with a crash (Isa 10:33-34), leaving the stump of Jesse, in whose sprouting lay the promise of Eden restored and sanctuary for the banished (Isa 11:1-12:6).
A Samaritan Babel
It is tempting to see Isaiah’s prophecy concerning ‘Babylon’ as the start of a coherent block of oracles against the nations (Isa 13:1-23:18). However, significant chronological markers, the death of Ahaz (Isa 14:28), around 715 B.C.E.8, and the Assyrian expedition against Ashdod (Isa 20:1), around 712 B.C.E.9, testify that subsets relate to different periods of Isaiah’s ministry. Having said that, Isaiah’s sudden shift of focus, from Assyria to Babylon and then back again to the punishment of Assyria (Isa 13:1-14:27), has left many critical scholars quizzical concerning its authenticity as a product of such an early period. Yet, their conclusion, that this Babylon was Mesopotamian, is open to question. The Hebrew for Babylon is Babel10, the name of that primordial epitome of judgemental scattering. In Isaiah’s context of scattering the Sons of Jacob, and with the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C.E. in view, the figurative use of Babel, seems entirely appropriate11. The text provides its heftiest hint that Samaria lay behind this Babel mask amongst the questions of those who observe its kings fate. They ask if he was he really the one who prevented the return of captives (Isa 14:17) 12, because, during Ahaz reign, king Pekah of Ephraim sought to do just that (2 Chr 28:6-10). Like the city builders of Shinar (Gen 11:4), this aspirant morning star (Isa 14:2, cf. Num 24:17) sought to enter the heavenly court and reign over the stars of God (Isa 14:13-14, cf. Deut 10:22), in Pekah’s case by conquering Jerusalem and setting his kingdom above the Law. His downfall would bring relief to the forests of Lebanon (at that time controlled by the anti-Assyrian Syro-Ephraimite / Phoenician block) as his building projects ceased to consume their timber (cf. Ezra 3:7).
Once again, the day of the Lord would see the overthrow of a beautiful city produced by Chaldean-like pride (Isa 13:19), It would be left like the salt wastes of Sodom or archetypical Babel’s riverside tell. Uninhabited for generations, it becomes the abode of desert creatures, owls, ostriches, jackals and howling creatures, a swept-clean swamp as left by a receding flood (Isa 13:20-23). It is noteworthy that, when their turn comes, Isaiah (34:9-15) foresees a similar punishment for Judah and Edom (see Appendix L), as, to some extent, does Zephaniah for the Assyrian empire (Zeph 2:13-15), then finally Jeremiah picks up Isaiah’s theme and fittingly applies it to the Mesopotamian city that provided its inspiration (Jer 50:18,20,39-40).
From Ahaz death to Ashdod’s rebellion
In 715 B.C.E. king Ahaz died and Isaiah warned Philistia not to rejoice at Israel’s suffering (Isa 14:29-32). This was the first of a series of oracles that concern a natural anti-Assyrian block, the other members being Moab, Aram, Ephraim, Ethiopia and Egypt (Isa 15:1-19:25). The change of sovereignty within Israel represented a significant time in the region, for an inexperienced king taking charge of Assyria’s natural ally represented a window of opportunity for shaking off Assyrian rule. Isaiah therefore prophesied to dissuade support for the Philistines proposed rebellion.
Concerning Moab (Isa 15:1-16:14) he anticipated a day of judgement (Isa 15:1-2) within three years that would leave them a remnant of their former self and David’s throne exalted. Concerning the territories of the former allies, Aram and Ephraim (17:1-14), he predicted the destruction of Damascus and the reaping of Ephraim’s residue in Rephaim (cf. Josh 17:1513). If these folk support the rebellion, the glory of the Sons of Jacob will fade and they will become like the handful of gleanings from an olive tree. Though the surrounding nations might rumble, God would rebuke them in a day of judgement and scatter them like whirling dust (Isa 17:13-14). Concerning Ethiopia (Isa 18:1-7), he predicted a harvest-time pruning of their branches that would leave them scattered the mountains for beasts and birds to consume. Concerning Egypt (Isa 19:1-25), he predicted the Lord would come and they would fight against one another, their wisdom would dry up and they would serve a foreign king. Isaiah then appears to envisage an alternative, in which Judah becoming the lynchpin of reconciliation between these superpowers, uniting them into a God fearing block. This involves Egypt fearing Judah, i.e. accepting their authority, establishing six cities14 of refuge (Isa 19:18, cf. Num 35:13), erecting an altar to Israel’s God and posting the Law on its borders.
In 712 B.C.E.15, three years after the death of Ahaz, the Philistine king of Ashdod wrote to his neighbours and incited them to support him in rebellion against Sargon. For the intervening three years Isaiah had gone naked as a sign against Egypt and Cush (Isa 20:2-3, cf. Mic 1:8), however the arrival of the Assyrian ‘Tartan’ (an official rank) at Ashdod, left Isaiah to reflect on Egypt’s suffering and lament what might have been.
A change of regime and a chance to rebel
The next opportunity for Assyria’s Palestinian tributaries to rebel came in 705 B.C.E., when Sargon died and his son Sennacherib took the throne. Judah now had the established ruler and Assyria the novice. Furthermore, Marduk-apla-iddina, the biblical Merodach-Baladan, had taken advantage of the transition to re-establish Babylon’s independence from Assyrian control and Sennacherib would be distracted in dealing with that16. To Hezekiah this must have seemed a God sent opportunity to establish Israel’s freedom. Having reformed the temple and benefited from the demise of Samaria, he probably assumed that any nations that assembled in the valley before Jerusalem would flee in alarm (Ps 48:4-6). Moreover, a strong anti-Assyrian alliance in Palestine could anticipate a lucrative approach from the Babylonians (cf. 2 Kgs 20:12), in the form of a bribe to threaten their enemy’s rear. Around this time, Isaiah brought his five oracles, concerning the Wilderness of the Sea, Edom, Arabia, Jerusalem and Tyre (Isa 21:1-22:14), whilst usually treated as discrete17, all concern the same envisaged day of judgement for Jerusalem. Its two basic sections each start with an envisioned adverse outcome to a day of judgement, move to consider the failure of plans to achieve wealth and status and end with the predicted fall of nations, noteworthy for their connections with Jehoshophat. Isaiah’s complex imagery is worth exploring, for it sets the scene for Hezekiah’s engagement with Sennacherib (Isa 36:1-37:38).
Men like dust
The ‘Wilderness of the Sea’ (Isa 21:1) evokes a clean place resulting from a cataclysmic judgement, with cities reduced to wilderness and armies buried beneath a flood. Yet, it also brings to mind the description of Israel, passing through the wilderness by the Way of the Red Sea, arrayed for battle and ready to deal with the sinful occupants of Canaan (Exod 13:18). These images combine to convey the idea of God executing judgement by bringing an army into Canaan.
When Isaiah sees something sweeping on like the whirling dust of a Negev windstorm and coming from a terrifying place, he had already used this image of dust carried by the wind for those scattered by a day of judgement (Isa 17:17). However, even before that the metaphor was well established, for when the psalmist Asaph identified the descendants of Abraham and Lot18 conspiring against Israel with the assistance of Assyria (Ps 83:6-7), he called on God to deal with them as with Gideon’s enemies and to leave them like whirling dust (Ps 83:13-16)19.
This was a harshness vision, because it revealed that the treacherous were still treacherous and the destroyer still destroyed, that lurking amongst the Elamites and Medes (Isa 21:2), neither of whom had a particular history of conflict with Israel, was the dust of the day of judgement that dealt with Ahaz’ troublesome neighbours. Assyria had dispatched both Ephraim and the Arameans into the terrifying place of exile (2 Kgs 13:7, Isa 17:13). However, the people of Ephraim ended up in, amongst other places, the cities of the Medes (2 Kgs 6:24, 18:9-11) and the Arameans in Kir (2 Kgs 16:7-9). Thus, when they uncovered the shield and took up of the quiver20, the besieging Medes would have included the men of Ephraim and the attacking Elamites Aramean contingents from Kir (cf. Isaiah 22:6)21.
A prophet’s pain
In this oracle, Isaiah experiences various feelings on behalf of the besieged populace (Isa 21:3-4), sensations that are prophetic in their own right. The phrase ‘Horror has overwhelmed me’ (NKJV) comes from David’s description of the stormy wind and tempest resulting from a treacherous betrayal by someone very close to him (Ps 55:5-8, 12-14). David’s response to this betrayal was to ask God to bring confusion upon this friend-turned-enemy (Ps 55:9, 16-17), i.e. to give him his own personal ‘valley’ ruling. Yet, ominously, here Isaiah experiences the confusion.
Isaiah’s labour pains, anguish and fear evoke the psalms stylised depiction of a day of judgement (Ps 48:4-5), where the nations, found wanting, flee in alarm as trembling seizes them along with anguish, like that of a women in childbirth. The psalmists encouraged the Daughters of Judah to rejoice because of the judgements of God (Ps 48:11), however Isaiah was not rejoicing. His experience was the antithesis of that anticipated in the Psalm, the nations have assembled in the valley of judgement but Jerusalem has been judged wanting.
Because of Elisha’s experience at the siege of Samaria (2 Kgs 6:24-7:7), a besieged prophet faced with hostility from both Arameans and Ephraim could expect the day of Lord to bring salvation at twilight22. However, for Isaiah’s twilight brought only the fear that assured him that God’s judgement had gone against Jerusalem.
Chapter 22:1-14 portrays the aftermath of Chapter 21:1-4’s envisioned events. At the core of this section is a time of panic in a place called the Valley of Vision (Isa 22:5), in other words a day of judgement. Like Pharaoh’s chariots rushing into the Red Sea ‘valley’, the Assyrian chariots swarmed into chosen valleys of judgement (Isa 22:7-8). However, this ‘day’ saw Judah’s people fleeing (Isa 22:1-4, 8). As in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, so in the Valley of Vision, panic and confusion revealed the Lord’s ruling (Isa 22:5) and, as for Gideon, the Assyrians had only to capture the leaders as they fled (Isa 22:3, cf. Judg 7:25). Isaiah wept bitterly at the outcome, for the breaching of a city’s wall was synonymous with its subjugation, and this was a devastating blow to Judah.
Drying up the Land
The prophet’s symptoms (Isa 21:3-4) provide a scriptural key to understanding the cause of Jerusalem’s suffering, for Isaiah was ‘blind’, ‘deaf’ and his ‘mind reeled’ (literally his ‘heart wandered’). He was like the Israel who entered into covenant with God at Moab, Jerusalem’s occupants lacked eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to know (Deut 29:4). Like them, they needed reminding that God would never forgive anyone who, having heard the covenant’s curses, claimed to be at peace despite replacing the watered land with the dry (Deut 29:19), i.e. bringing the curse of drought upon the land.
The wilderness vision described confident men, feasting and drinking when they should have been anticipating war (Isa 21:5). Isaiah rebuked them for adopting gaiety and feasting (Isa 22:12-13) rather than the weeping and sackcloth advocated by Joel (Joel 1:13). They had the attitude that tomorrow they might die, but it was not going to happen today (Isa 22:13)23. They were breaking the covenant then claiming peace in an unclean land. Thus, Isaiah closes by reminding them of Moses’ words, that God would never forgive this iniquity until they died (Isa 22:14, Deut 29:19)24. The visions message was clear, if Jerusalem’s leaders neglected God’s counsel, calamity would come upon them like a whirlwind, it would be too late for them to repent and they would sink into anguish (Prov 1:24-31, esp. 27-28).
Another set of watchmen
Isaiah 21-22’s ‘day of judgement’ context helps to clarify why the passage makes so much of watchmen (Isa 21:6-12). God told Isaiah to station a watchman and tell him to look for horsemen in pairs, a train of donkeys and a train of camels. Such caravans of camels and donkeys transported the gifts by which nations solicited aid (Isa 30:6), whilst the horsemen in pairs suggest the sort of military escort that typically accompanied such valuable goods (cf. Ezra 8:22). Isaiah’s image, of horsemen arriving alone and with the news that Babylon had fallen, dashed any expectation of benefit from a new ally. Furthermore, it anticipated a time when Babylon would no longer distract Assyria from dealing with a rebellious Judah.
Just as the desire to benefit from Babylonian finance would come to nothing, so Isaiah criticises Shebna’s attitude to wealth and splendour before announcing that God will deprive him of it (Isa 22:15-25).
Babylon was the first of several potential allies whose demise Isaiah prophesied. Edom and Kedar served to remind Hezekiah of the Valley of Jehoshaphat (2 Chr 20:1-30), presupposing as they did an alliance between Edom and two sons of Abraham (cf. 2 Kgs 3:5-23), Kedar (Gen 25:13) and Judah. Whilst the fate of Tyre, with its ships of Tarshish, served to recall the ill fated cooperation between the divided kingdoms in Jehohaphat’s day (2 Chr 20:37) and his second valley experience (2 Kgs 3:5-23).
In the Burden of Silence (Isa 21:11-12)25, Isaiah portrayed Sier, the stronghold of Edom waiting anxiously for news to break, like Sisera’s mother awaiting a word from Jezreel (Judg 5:28). As morning dawned, they enquired of their watchman but as would have been the case in Jehoshaphat’s first valley experience26, these Watchman announce that morning forebode darkness (bad news), as there was no news, they would have to come back later.
The second potential ally was Arabia (Isa 21:13-17). Arab nations were in the habit of rebelling against Assyria and Kedar contributed to Jehoshaphat’s wealth by giving the king large numbers of sheep, presumably not without strings attached (2 Chr 17:11). However, Isaiah sees these potential allies routed and Kedar’s mighty men brought low.
With a nod to the failure of Jehoshaphat’s ships of Tarshish (2 Chr 20:35-36), Isaiah also warns of the destruction to Judah’s lucrative trading partner and fellow anti-Assyrian city, Tyre (Isa 23:1-18), whose ships of Tarshish’ operated on Judah’s behalf from Joppa (Jonah 1:3, 2 Chr 9:21)27.
The latter day flood
As Isaiah predicted, in 703/702 B.C.E., Babylon fell to Sennacherib28, leaving Assyria free to unleash another flood from the Euphrates, this time deal with Hezekiah’s rebellion. The world around Hezekiah was in turmoil and, according to Isaiah, a curse devoured the earth, the windows of heaven had opened and the foundations of the earth broke up (Isa 24:5,18), all of which echoed the time of Noah29. Moreover, all was far from well within Judah. The spectacular revival that marked the outset of Hezekiah’s reign failed to bear the fruit it seemed to promise and the prophet looks back from an envisioned future to describe how bad things were (Isa 26:11-18). The dead could not rise because of judgement, i.e. the nation was still struggling under sentence of death. Although their splendour and their boundaries depend upon God, they still insisted on serving other masters. They whispered incantations and received chastisement, i.e. there was still hidden idolatry within the land. Judah had tried to bring something good to birth, but, thus far, their efforts had born only wind.
God’s way of dealing with hidden idolatry was the birthing of a remnant through the re-creative agency of a cataclysm. Thus, before delivering his gloomy synopsis, Isaiah again alluded to Noah as he portrayed a brighter future. The Lord would once again prepare a banquet for all peoples on a mountain (Isa 25:6, cf. Gen 8:4, 9:3), remove the covering from the peoples (Isa 25:7, cf. Gen 8:13) and welcomed them into a death-free, i.e. clean, land. The dead would indeed rise (Isa 26:19), for God was about to punish the people for their bloodshed (cf. Gen 6:13). Therefore, the faithful were to follow Noah’s example30, to go into their room and shut the door until the indignation passes (Isa 26:20-22, cf. Gen 7:16). Just as the Red Sea ‘flood’ had crushed Leviathan’s head (Psalm 74:13-14), so this ‘flood’ would kill Leviathan, the evil serpent that inhabited the sea (Isa 27:1). The outcome would be worthwhile, for just as Genesis tells us that Noah secured God’s protection and then planted a vineyard within his new Eden (Gen 9:11, 20), so Isaiah promises those who prevailed through the coming cataclysm a vineyard, protected by God and worthy of song (Isa 27:2-3).
The vision that none can see
After predicting the demise of the final stragglers of Ephraim (Isa 28:1-13), Isaiah warns that a cornerstone has been set in Zion, measured out with justice and levelled with righteousness, all who do not believe in it will be swept away by the coming cataclysm. That cornerstone was the righteous seed within the land, a gestating child and a place of safety from the Assyrian flood. However, before there could be a birth or a new Eden, the old idolatry corrupted body of death had to die. The tree of good and evil had to fall, so that in its place a tree of life could grow. Thus, Isaiah prophesied that God would besiege Israel and humble her (Isa 29:1-4), and that those who accomplished this would be like fine dust or chaff on the wind (Isa 29:5). She would succumb to the divine agencies of thunder, earthquake, tempest, whirlwind and consuming fire. The outcome anticipated for those who gathered against her (by Ps 48:4-6) would prove like a dream or night vision, its promise dashed by the morning light (Isa 29:6-8). Judah would be blind and Isaiah’s vision would be like a sealed scroll (Isa 29:11-14), i.e. like his prediction of the flood that brought Ephraim to her knees. Nevertheless, the result would be a restored land in which the deaf would hear and the blind see, as God brought forth faithful children of whom Jacob would be proud (Isa 29:17-24).
God pleaded with his people not to rely on Pharaoh, yet knew they would refuse to hear the word and called for Isaiah to record them, as with the earlier flood (Isa 8:16, 30:1-8). Because they prefer oppression and guile, their demise would come as suddenly as the collapse of a wall (Isa 30:9-14). Panic and flight would mark a day that left Jerusalem as solitary as a flag on a mountaintop (Isa 30:16-17). Nevertheless, they would eventually come to recognise their teacher, then prosperity and healing would return (Isa 30:18-26). Thus, at the cry of the inhabitants of Jerusalem God promised to act against Assyria (Isa 30:27-33). The people of God were not to rely on Egypt and mere flesh, but upon their Lord, for in the day they returned to Him the Assyrian would fall by the divine sword (Isa 31:1-9).
An end to Assyria’s work
The re-creative processes of Noah’s flood featured again in Isaiah 32:1-35:10, however I shall defer discussion of that important section for a few pages, for it is with Sennacherib’s invasion (Isa 36:1) that Assyria’s work reaches its conclusion and Isaiah’s predicted day of judgement came.
The Philistines rebelled again and this time an emboldened Hezekiah threw his lot in with the conspirators, by holding the deposed pro-Assyrian king of Ekron. In response, the mighty river of Mesopotamia once again burst its banks and, in (701 B.C.E.), a flood of Assyrians marched south to deal first with Tyre and Ashdod31. Hezekiah, seeing they would soon move on to Jerusalem, took advice from his military men. He built the tunnel that redirects the Gihon’s waters to the pool of Siloam, thereby securing Jerusalem’s water supply (Isa 22:9-11). He then stopped the Gihon spring and others in the region to denying water to the Assyrians. He diverted additional resources to prepare for the fight and rallied the people to trust in God with all the right words (2 Chr 32:2-8). However, with this optimistic climate of assured success, he was in no mood to dust off Isaiah’s earlier Valley of Vision prophecy. Sennacherib reported that forty-six cities fell on that ‘day of judgement’, leaving Assyria free to surround Jerusalem with earthworks and cage Hezekiah like a bird32.
Hezekiah sought terms for clemency (2 Kgs 18:14-16), but the Assyrian demands were huge. As this reduced Hezekiah to offering the silver from both his own house and the Lord’s, and then to stripping gold from the temple doors, it seems he was unable to meet them and so offered what he could. Apparently, this was not enough, as the Assyrians began to prepare for an all-out siege, by which they hoped to replace Hezekiah with the man of their choosing, as Hoshea replaced Pekah. As a prelude to this, Assyria deployed some psychological tactics. First, their Rabshakeh (‘chief cupbearer’) stood in the very spot where Isaiah predicted the Assyrian flood that punished Ephraim’s rebellion and to announce the process that was reaching its climax (Isa 36:2, cf. 7:3). Then, the Rabshakeh reasserted Assyria’s claim to be God’s agent, even exceeding his divine mandate by declaring that not even the Lord could deliver Jerusalem from their hand. The Assyrian’s overwhelming might left Hezekiah acknowledged his weakness, to come before the Lord, recognising that this was again a time for a birth, but that his nation, like its sister the Northern Kingdom, lacked the strength (Isa 37:3).
With Hezekiah’s confession, Assyria’s work was finished and, just as Isaiah predicted, they too succumbed to pride. His message delivered, the Rabshakeh returned to Sennacherib, who then heard rumour that the king of Cush was advancing (Isa 37:9-19). That prompted Sennacherib to provide the second witness to his arrogance, which, when held before the Lord, would seal his fate. Thus, Hezekiah received the assurance that this was a time of new creation, like the year of Jubilee (2 Kgs 19:29) a time for double Sabbath years (Lev 25:1-11)33 and for restoring property rights. The house of David need not fear the loss of Jerusalem, come the next day of judgement the city would remain with her rightful owner. Hence, the next time the angel of the Lord struck, it was the Assyrian camp, leaving retreat their only option.
The day of judgement for Judah
The first thirty-seven chapters of Isaiah revolve around the birthing of the remnant predicted in the book of Immanuel. Throughout God acted against the self-centred ‘idolatry’ of men who, like Adam, chose to exalt themselves into heaven and define their gods according to their own determination of good and evil. However, the process began with a prophet preparing the way, Isaiah calling a righteous faction to nucleate around him and his children. Then, before they were able to ‘tell right from wrong’, the Lord, using the prevailing superpower as a vinedresser and day of judgement as a pruning hook, reduced the corrupted vine of Israel, cut upon cut, to a stump. Only with that final cut would the remnant cry to God ‘my mother’ and ‘my father’ and a righteous branch sprout from the stump of Jesse.
In the first century, something similar was happening. God had once again lifted the axe to Israel and, despite Herod’s temple building and Judaism’s zeal, the Roman Empire was inflicting cut upon cut. Once again, hope for the Sons of Jacob lay in Immanuel. The process had begun with a brilliant light over Bethlehem and a day of judgement for the line of David. However, the collapse of Judah as a sovereign nation had continued the process. The Romans, by sweeping aside Herod’s dynasty bring us back to Isaiah’s flood motif, for they were making way for a new creation, a process in which John the Baptist would play a significant part to play.
Return to outline
of The Emmaus View book
1 As the narrative interludes are in order, it is reasonable to assume the prophecies were immediately relevant to events that interleaved with that sequence, even if some also had much wider implications.
2 Its structure is as follows A1 1:9-17, B1 1:18-2:5, C1 2:6-9, D1 2:10, E 2:11-18, D2 2:19-21, C2 3:1-12, B2 3:16-4:6, A2 5:1-30.
3 Especially given Rabshakeh’s later use of them for optimal effect (Isa 7:3, 2 Kgs 18:17).
4 In the Calah Annals (Hallo and Younger, Monumental Inscriptions, 286).
5 Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, Isa 9:1.
6 Gideon was called from threshing wheat, a harvest time activity.
7 Literally, every warrior’s boot will shake (“8323 רַעַשׁ (rǎ∙ʿǎš),” DBL, n.p.).
8 Kaiser, History of Israel, 371.
9 Kaiser, History of Israel, 377.
10 Louis Goldberg, “197 בָּבֶל (bābel) Babel, Babylon.,” TWOT, 89
11 I see no particular conflict with the mention of Medes, the later nemesis of Mesopotamian Babylon, as this city’s assailants (Isa 13:17-18). Median cities were under Assyrian control by the time of Ephraim’s deportation (2 Kgs 18:11) and Isaiah would later prophesy Medes coming against Jerusalem in the context of the Hezekiah’s rebellion (Isa 21:2), both of which argue for Assyrian control of groups of Medians, be they vassals, mercenaries or captives. Tiglath-pileser, who was active against Media when Pekah usurped the throne (see Kaiser, History of Israel, 370), gained control of Median territory and claimed capture of sixty-five thousand Medians (A. R. Millard, “Medes,” ISBE, 3:297-299).
12 In Isaiah’s day, enslaving captives was so commonplace that even the Mosaic Law allowed it for captured foreigners (Deut 20:10-14). However, it was absolutely taboo for one of the two Israeli kingdoms to prevent the return of captives taken from the other (Lev 25:39-46).
13 Judah still though of the remnant of the Northern Kingdom as the sons of Joseph (2 Chr 30:1, 10).
14 The City of the Sun (NET) / City of Destruction (NKJV) is the sixth.
15 Kaiser, History of Israel, 377.
16 D. J. Wiseman, “Babylon,” ISBE, 1:384-391.
17 E.g. see G. L. Robinson and R. K. Harrison, “Isaiah,” ISBE, 2:885-904.
18 Edom, the Ishmaelites, Moab, the Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon and Amalek, all claimed such descent.
19 Similarly, in a particularly severe defeat at the hands of Aram left Jehoahaz army ‘like the dust at threshing’ (2 Kgs 13:7, NKJV).
20 Such military equipment traditionally bore markings that reveal a combatant’s affinity.
21 I feel it is reasonable to assume the Assyrians shrewd enough to deployed troops who both knew Palestine and had a score to settle with Judah.
22 The Aramean king Ben-Hadad besieged the prophet in Samaria and, as conditions worsened, the king of Israel sought to placate Ben-Hadad with the prophet’s head. Twilight saw the start of a day of judgement and the Lord caused the Aramean army to flee, thus saving Elisha from both Aram and Ephraim.
23 My interpretation of this verse derives from the link between Isaiah 21:4-5 and Isaiah 22:13-14, and the relationship between both and the Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy 29:19-20.
24 Paul’s comments on the Day of the Lord (1 Thess 5:1-9) suggest that he may have shared this understanding of the causes of the outcome described in Isaiah 22.
25 The Hebrew is Dumah (see footnote in NET for Isa 21:11)
26 In Jehoshaphat’s day, God’s judgment against Sier took place overnight (2 Chr 20:20).
27 Tyre was the stronghold of the Ships of Tarshish (Isa 23:14, Ezek 27:25). The association continued even after the exile and return of Judah (cf. Neh 13:16)
28 Jona Lendring, “From Nabû-Nasir to Šamaš-šuma-ukin (ABC 1),” n.p. [cited 26 Mar 2008]. Online:http://www.livius.org/cg-cm/chronicles/abc1/abc1_col_ii.html.
29 Jack P. Lewis, “Flood,”ABD, 2:798-803
30 Lewis, “Flood,”ABD, 2:798-803
31 Kaiser, History of Israel, 380-81.
32 Kaiser, History of Israel, 380-81.
33 Fields were left fallow in both the forty-ninth and fiftieth years.