Isaiah 1-39 - Lesson 12

By Harold Shank

Isaiah 36-37

My King Can Beat Your King


  1. The student can show how Isa 1-39 ends with a climax that involves the supremacy of God and how He values faith.
  2. The student will reflect on what it means to rely on or trust in God.
  3. The student can explain how God views human pride.


  1. A Bible for each student.
  2. Review the parallel passages in 2 Kings 18-19 and 2 Chron 32.

Theme: The biblical God is the supreme God.

Setting the stage

  1. Consult the previous review sections as preparation for summarizing the past classes.
  2. Review Isaiah's encounter with Ahaz in Isa 7-8 as preparation for Isa 36-39.
  3. Historical settings for the book of Isaiah.
    1. Isaiah 1-12 takes place during Syro-Ephraimite War. Events during the war are summarized in Isaiah 7-8.
    2. Isaiah 13-23 is a bridge between Isaiah 1-12 and 24-39 and represents a wide range of historical settings.
    3. Isaiah 24-39 takes place during the Assyrian siege of 701 B.C.
  4. Isa 36-37 narrates scenes from the Assyrian invasion in 701 B.C.
    1. Sennacherib (704-701 B.C.), the Assyrian ruler, invaded Judah in 701 B.C.
    2. He attacked and subdued 46 cities in the Judean countryside (according to the Sennacherib or Taylor Prism on which the king recorded his exploits).
    3. As the Assyrian army grew closer to Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, Sennacherib sent emissaries calling for the surrender of Jerusalem (Isaiah 36-37).
    4. During this time Isaiah called for trust in God.
    5. The final four chapters take up 3 crucial events, unfolding like a three act play:
      1. Act I-Siege of Jerusalem-36-37.
      2. Act II-Hezekiah's illness-38.
      3. Act III-Babylonian visit to Jerusalem-39.

Learning Experiences

  1. Introduction
    1. Isa 36-37 returns to narrative.
      1. Isa 6-9, 20, 36-39 are the major narrative portions of the book.
      2. Those who teach narrative should focus on these items.
        1. Read or retell the story. People remember story easier than most other material which may be why the Bible is largely story. No class is complete unless all hear the story.
        2. Note specific theological language used in the story. For example, in this story there is competition between the gods of the ancient Near East and the God of Israel, along with the question of "trust" or "rely."
        3. Note the repetitions. Hebrew narrative often uses repetition as a means of drawing attention to the critical elements.
    2. Isa 36-37 divides easily into 9 parts:
      1. Taunt I by Rabshakeh-36:1-10.
      2. Response I by Eliakim-36:11-12.
      3. Taunt II by Rabshakeh-36:13-22.
      4. Response II by Hezekiah and Isaiah-37:1-7.
      5. Taunt III by Rabshakeh-37:8-13.
      6. Response III by Hezekiah's prayer-37:14-20.
      7. Response IV by Isaiah's oracle-37:21-29.
      8. Sign and Praise by Isaiah-37:30-35.
      9. Conclusion-37:36-38.
  2. Taunt I by Rabshakeh-36:1-10.
    1. Read or tell the story.
    2. Note the parallels (repetition) between Isa 7 and Isa 36.
      1. Ahaz and Hezekiah both face military opposition.
      2. The prophet Isaiah is involved in both situations.
      3. Both stories are told in narrative style.
      4. Ahaz and Hezekiah both consider military solutions (Ahaz rejects joining the Syro-Ephraimite coalition but seeks help from Assyria, while Hezekiah sends to Egypt for help according to Isa 30:1f; 31:1f).
      5. Significant meetings take place at the same spot in Jerusalem (by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller's field in 7:3; 36:2).
    3. What do these parallels suggest? (Ahaz is held up as a model of a bad king or a king who lacks in faith while Hezekiah is a model of a good king [see 38:3] who has faith).
  3. Response I by Eliakim-36:11-12.
    1. Read or tell the story.
    2. Identify concerns about propaganda and fear in this section.
  4. Taunt II by Rabshakeh-36:13-22.
    1. Read or tell the story
    2. How is this taunt different from the first one? (The first one attacked the nation while this one tends to focus more on Hezekiah).
    3. Note the reoccurrence of the word "deliver." This is the same word used of God delivering Israel out of Egypt. Where else does this word occur in Scripture?
  5. Response II by Hezekiah and Isaiah-37:1-7.
    1. Read or tell the story.
    2. Hezekiah identifies three problems:
      1. "This is a day of distress." See the use of the word "distress" in Isa. 8:22; 30:6; 33:2; 37:3; 46:7; 63:9; 65:16.
      2. "This is a day of…rebuke." See the use of the word "rebuke" in Hos 5:9.
      3. "This is a day of …disgrace." See the use of the word "disgrace" in 2 Kings 19:3; Neh 9:18, 26; Isa 37:3; Ezek 35:12.
    3. The repeated word in Isa 37 is "hear." It occurs ten times ("hear a rumor" is "hear a hearing" in Hebrew, using the word "hear" twice). What is the significance of the word? Compare Isa 6:8f. (Isaiah hopes that Jerusalem will hear what God wants the people to do).
  6. Taunt III by Rabshakeh-37:8-13.
    1. Read or tell the story.
    2. Note how this taunt repeats the words "rely" and "deliver" used previously. What is the significance of this repetition?
  7. Response III by Hezekiah prayer-37:14-20.
    1. Read or tell the story.
    2. Hezekiah's prayer has three parts. Identify them:
      1. Doxology-16.
      2. Complaint-17-20.
      3. Petition-21 (note the 5 imperatives).
        1. Hezekiah's prayer and oracle contain 10 descriptions of God. Locate them. Which have been used before in the book? Note the strong statement about monotheism. Why is this important? Isa 40-55 will take up this theme in the longest treatment of God's nature in the entire Bible. On cherubim, see Ex 25:18-22; Psa 99:1.
        2. What is the point of this poem? (God is greater than Sennacherib; Sennacherib is arrogant and boasts about more than he can do [some of his claims result not from his own work but the fear of his opponents, and all that he does was planned by God]).
  8. Response IV by Isaiah's oracle-37:21-29.
    1. Read or tell the story.
    2. Identify the referents to the pronouns.
      1. 21-you is Hezekiah.
      2. 22-she is Jerusalem, you is Sennacherib.
      3. 23-24a-you is Sennacherib.
      4. 24b-25-I is Sennacherib.
      5. 26-29-I is God, you is Sennacherib.
  9. Sign and Praise by Isaiah-37:30-35.
    1. Read or tell the story.
    2. Explore the nature of the sign here. Not all signs are miracles. This sign suggests that God's reliability will be expressed through the quick return of normal agricultural life. The presence of the Assyrian army in the Judean countryside prevented farming and the available resources were used to support the army. However in as little as 18 months (the end of the first year, all of the second year and the beginning of the third year) farming would recover.
    3. How would the announcement in 37:33-35 be received by the people and rulers in besieged Jerusalem?
  10. Conclusion-37:36-38.
    1. Read or tell the story.
    2. Note the parallels (repetition) between the two kings.
      1. Hezekiah goes to the temple of his God-37:1, 14.
      2. Sennacherib goes to the temple of his god-38:38.
      3. What message is there in the fates of the two kings? In the game of "my king is better than your king," how does it end?
      4. God saves Hezekiah from a siege by thousands of troops, but Nisroch cannot save Sennacherib from his own sons.


  1. Reflect on how the book of Isaiah depicts Ahaz versus Hezekiah. How are the two the same? How are they different? What role does faith play in their lives? On what did they each rely? Describe a time when you responded like Ahaz. Describe a time when you responded like Hezekiah?
  2. What does this story say about God? Are those descriptions of God still accurate? Compare the God Isaiah describes and the God you serve.
  3. Does faith have a role in public policy? Should government officials be people of faith? How does faith make a difference in local, state, national or world events? Does faith have a role in the practice of the church? How should church leaders express their faith? When has your congregation acted like Ahaz? When have they acted like Hezekiah?

Additional Study.

Use this section if the class spends more than one week on Isaiah 35-36.

  1. Read the relevant passages on the Taylor Prism about the Assyrian attack on Jerusalem in 701 B.C.
    1. See pictures and explanation at
    2. See a translation at
  2. There are ample references to the events of Isa 36-37 that have been found by archaeologists. For a summary of these see:
  3. Read Josephus' description of these events in Antiquities of the Jews, 10.2.5. See
  4. Consider the poem by Lord Byron, The Destruction of Sennacherib. The poem is found at
  5. There is considerable discussion in the commentaries about the events described in Isa 36-39 that revolve around two issues.
    1. Which came first? Since Isa 36-39 is also found in 2 Kings 18-19 (almost word for word), debate rages over which one is original and which one is the copy. Gary Smith [Isaiah 1-39, The New American Commentary, Nashville: B&H, 2007, pp. 591- 92] presents the arguments for each side. The final conclusion has little effect on the current study.
    2. What is the order? Most students of Isaiah agree that Isa 36-39 is not in chronological order. Merodach-Baladan, the Babylonian king, is mentioned in Isaiah 39 which appears after the Assyrian siege of Isaiah 36-37 which took place in 701 B.C. However, Merodach-Baladan ruled Babylon twice: 722-710 and 704-03. Additionally, Isa 38:6 spoken during the illness of Hezekiah refers to God's deliverance of Jerusalem (found in Isa 36-37) as being a future event. Many believe that Isaiah rearranged the passage so that the Babylonian materials could come at the end, preparing the reader for the Babylonian section in Isaiah 40-55. See a discussion of the issue in Smith's commentary (pp. 584-87). The final conclusion has little effect on the current study. The likely correct order of events is as follows:
      1. Hezekiah and Isaiah dialogue about Hezekiah's health-38:1-8.
      2. Hezekiah's prayer and Isaiah's response-38:9-20.
      3. Babylon's envoys visit Hezekiah-39:1-4.
      4. Isaiah and Hezekiah dialogue about the Babylonian visit-39:5-8.
      5. Taunt I by Rabshakeh-36:1-10.
      6. Response I by Eliakim-36:11-12.
      7. Taunt II by Rabshakeh-36:13-22.
      8. Response II by Hezekiah and Isaiah-37:1-7.
      9. Taunt III by Rabshakeh-37:8-13.
      10. Response III by Hezekiah prayer-37:14-20.
      11. Response IV by Isaiah's oracle-37:21-29.
      12. Sign and Praise by Isaiah-37:30-35.
      13. Conclusion-37:36-38.
  6. Taunt I by Rabshakeh-Isa 36:1-10.
    1. Note that the Jerusalem delegation includes people mentioned earlier in Isaiah. See 22:15, 20. Is there any significance to the fact that the Jerusalem delegation does not include Isaiah or Hezekiah or that it is a political group not a military one?
    2. Summarize the main points of Rabshakeh.
      1. Rabshakeh does not mention that Hezekiah is king while he identifies Sennacherib as "the great king, the king of Assyria," thus playing the game "my king is better than your king."
      2. He knows of Hezekiah's attempt to form an alliance with Egypt.
      3. He knows of Hezekiah's religious reforms (2 Kings 18; 2 Chron 30-31). iv. He knows of Judah's military weakness (evident from the fact that the Assyrians have already taken many of the outlying fortresses according to 36:1) and taunts Jerusalem with an offer of horses.
      4. He claims that the Israelite God has authorized the attack.
    3. Discuss how Isaiah the prophet might agree with Rabshakeh on several of these points.
      1. Compare Isa 19:1-15; 30:1-7, 31:1-3.
      2. Compare Isa 10:8-9; 19:1-15. Did God authorize this attack?
    4. How did Rabshakeh's intelligence about Jerusalem mislead him?
    5. Find the seven occurrences of the word "rely" or "confidence" (RSV) or "depend" or "trust" (NIV) [batach in Hebrew].
      1. What is the core theological issue at stake? (Will Jerusalem depend on God or on something else? While Isaiah agrees that Egypt is unreliable, he disagrees with Rabshakeh and perhaps Hezekiah at some point about the reliability of God).
      2. See occurrences of the same word in Isa. 12:2; 26:3f; 30:12; 31:1; 32:9ff; 36:4ff, 9, 15; 37:10; 42:17; 47:10; 50:10; 59:4.
  7. Response I by Eliakim-36:11-12.
    1. Contrast the future menu items in vv 12 and 16.
    2. Discuss how Rabshakeh's short term promise appealed to siege deprived Jerusalem? Discuss the deceit involved in the long term promise. Compare Is 33:1.
    3. Rabshakeh quotes Hezekiah twice. Compare these claims with Isa 14:24-27; 26:21- 27:1; 29:5-8; 30:27-31; 31:4-9. Is it possible that Hezekiah is actually quoting Isaiah?
    4. Compare the conquered cities of 36:19 with 10:9. Is Rabshakeh telling the truth here? (yes)
    5. Evaluate the "reliability" of Rabshakeh, Assyria, Hezekiah, Isaiah and God.
    6. Discuss the response in vv 21-22.
  8. Taunt II by Rabshakeh-36:13-22
    1. Isaiah referred to the childbirth image in a sermon earlier in Isa 26:18 and will return to it in 66:7-9. What is the meaning of the image in Isa 37?
    2. What parallels are there between Isaiah's response to Hezekiah here and Isaiah's response to Ahaz in Isa 7?
      1. Both kings are told not to be afraid.
      2. Both kings are told God will take care of the enemy.
      3. Both kings are told that what they have heard is not true.
    3. What is the point of the repetition of items between Isaiah's encounter with Ahaz and Hezekiah?
  9. Response II by Hezekiah and Isaiah-37:1-7.
    1. Note that Hezekiah prays not for himself but for the remnant.
    2. Review the remnant theology in Isaiah: Isa. 1:9; 4:3; 10:20ff; 11:11, 16; 14:22, 30; 15:9; 16:14; 17:3, 6; 37:4; 31f; 46:3.
  10. Taunt III by Rabshakeh-37:8-13
    1. Compare this taunt with the earlier ones (this one is a letter while the earlier ones were verbal, this one is from Sennacherib but delivered by Rabshakeh, this one cites the record of past Assyrian kings).
  11. Response III by Hezekiah prayer-37:14-20.
  12. Response IV by Isaiah's oracle-37:21-29 Compare the claims of Sennacherib for himself with the claims Hezekiah made about God in 14-20.
    1. Most commentators caution against applying the claims of 28-29 beyond Sennacherib. God is not making a universal claim in this passage.
  13. Sign and Praise by Isaiah-37:30-35.
    1. Note the parallels between this passage and Isa 7. (The encounters between Isaiah and Ahaz both involve a sign, both signs involve agriculture and both signs promise God's work in delivering Jerusalem).
    2. Explain the farming metaphor as it is applied to Jerusalem.
  14. Conclusion-37:36-38.
    1. How does this passage reflect the predictions of Isa 29:5-8; 30:31-33; 31:8-9?
    2. What other biblical battles are fought by God for his people? (For example, Josh 6:2- 5; 8:1-3; 10:8-11).
    3. What significance lies in the fact that Sennacherib is not killed by the angel?
    4. Note the parallels between the messengers.
      1. Sennacherib sends Rabshakeh.
      2. God sends the angel.
      3. What is the point in terms of "reliability" and "deliverance"?

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