*Scripture verses covered in this section's commentary are noted in italics
Verses covered in this passage:
The Book of Isaiah is the first and longest book of prophecy in the Bible. Its sixty-seven chapters make it the Bible’s second longest book after the Psalms. Isaiah’s message is one of the LORD’s justice and grace. Written 700 years before Christ, its prophecies concern the geopolitical events during the reign of King Hezekiah who was a contemporary of Isaiah, the Babylonian exile, Judah’s return, and the end times. The book of Isaiah also contains numerous prophecies about the Messiah’s birth, mission, character, suffering, and triumph.
Isaiah Chapters 36-39 provide us with a historical narrative about King Hezekiah that is sandwiched between two prophetic poetry sections. It seems there is a pattern that when the book of Isaiah breaks into a historical narrative, we should look for something prophetic that tells of major events in Israel’s future.
Chapter 7 told of the advent of the Messiah, born of a virgin. After this prose, Isaiah returns to verses of poetry. Then he breaks into another section of prose in chapter 14. This time Isaiah tells of the fall of Babylon. Babylon will defeat Assyria then they will defeat and exile Judah. But Babylon will also fall. And in the prophecy of the fall of Babylon we get an embedded prophecy about Satan (Isaiah 14:12-13). God says that even though Judah will be exiled, He will return them to their land.
The book of Isaiah then returns to being primarily poetic prophecy until chapter 36. Then we get an extended story from chapters 36-39.
This is likely a prophetic signal. The story that unfolds tells us of an Assyrian king who has invaded the land and comes against Jerusalem. Micah 5 speaks of a Messiah who will rid Israel of a future Assyrian (Micah 5:5).
In the story told in Isaiah 36-39, the Assyrian king’s spokesman, Rabshakeh, might be a forerunner of the false prophet spoken of in Revelation. This false prophet is the spokesman of the king of Assyria, who could be a prototype of the antichrist—the beast of Daniel and Revelation.
In the last days, the beast will rule the earth on behalf of Satan. It seems he will either be Assyrian, or have the same great power as the king of Assyria in the time of Isaiah.
This story of the siege of Jerusalem in Isaiah 36-37 is also recorded in 2 Kings 18-19 and 2 Chronicles 32. This repetition also gives us a signal of its prophetic application.
The Assyrian empire had dominated the international political scene since the reign of Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria (745–727 BC)— also called “Pul” in the Bible. To consolidate his power, Pul besieged the city of Samaria and asked King Menahem of Israel to pay tribute to him.
According to 2 Kings, “Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver so that his hand might be with him to strengthen the kingdom under his rule” (2 Kings 15:19). Once Pul received the tribute payment, he withdrew his troops from the land of Israel (2 Kings 15:20).
In 733 BC, Israel allied with Syria to seek independence from Assyria. Israel and Syria requested help from King Ahaz of Judah, but Ahaz refused to join because he had allied with Assyria. Consequently, Israel and Syria decided to wage war against Judah, “but they could not conquer it” (Isaiah 7:1). One year later, the Assyrians invaded Damascus (the capital of Syria), and ten years later (722 BC), they captured Israel when King Hoshea made an alliance with Egypt and stopped paying tribute to the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser V (2 Kings 17:6).
Meanwhile, the Assyrians continued to receive tribute payments from Judah. But in 701 BC, King Hezekiah of Judah rebelled against King Sennacherib of Assyria. This could be because Hezekiah also made an alliance with Egypt (Isaiah 36:6). In frustration, the Assyrians attacked Judah, but the death angel of the Lord “went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians,” causing Sennacherib to depart from Israel (2 Kings 19:35–36; Isaiah 36–37).
Eventually, under King Ashurbanipal (668–627 BC), the Assyrians returned to Judah, captured Hezekiah’s son, King Manasseh, and “led him to Babylon, making Judah one of their subjects (2 Chronicles 33:11).
Upon Manasseh’s return to Judah, he reigned for a short time and then died. His son (Amon) ruled in Judah for only two years, from 642 to 640 BC (2 Kings 21:19–26). Following Amon’s death, his son Josiah ruled from 640 to 609 BC. In 627 BC, the last strong Assyrian leader (Ashurbanipal) died, causing the Assyrian empire to decline rapidly. Assyria’s capital Nineveh fell to an alliance led by Babylon in 612 BC, and Babylon became the dominant world empire for a time. King Josiah of Judah seized the opportunity and began a religious reform in which he purged all the altars of Baal along with the molten images (2 Chronicles 34:3–7).