Prophecy Fulfilled Against Assyria in Isaiah 37

There were a number of prophecies against Assyria and their fall and in Isaiah 37 we see those prophecies fulfilled. In chapter 31 we read:

And the Assyrian shall fall by a sword, not of man;
and a sword, not of man, shall devour him…

In chapter 37, after Sennacherib, the leader of the Assyrians, mocks the God of Israel in his dealings with Hezekiah he leaves to attend to an uprising in the south by the king of Egypt.

Sennacherib from palace in Nineveh
Sennacherib from palace in Nineveh

Sennacherib has been very successful in his rule, as he notes to Hezekiah. Assyria has been used by God to bring his judgment on the land and Sennacherib says, “Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed…?”

Hezekiah must be in great fear, for himself, his people, and Jerusalem. But he knows that those other gods were no gods at all. He goes to the temple and prays for God’s deliverance, and does so with the purpose that the kingdoms of earth may know that Israel’s God is truly God.

As I said, the prophecy is fulfilled and Hezekiah’s prayers are answered. In going to fight off the Egyptians, Sennacherib is dealt a grew blow, loses thousands of men, and retreats back to the capital of Ninevah.

There is an interesting comparison between these two leaders. Hezekiah goes to the temple and is heard by God and is spared. Later, after backing down following the loss of so many of his men at the hand of God’s angels, Sennacherib goes to his temple. There he is not delivered, rather he finds his end as his own sons kill him in order to seize power for themselves.

Also-in reading about this passage I found two accounts of how the 185,000 of Sennacherib’s camp were put to death. One is an account of some pesky mice that came out in the night to gnaw away at the bows and the straps of Assyrian shields, leaving that army weakened. The other is not as exciting, and records disease as the tool used to bring about their destruction.

A Whale of a Tale

Jonah is a peculiar book among our readings this past week. These prophets we’ve had for a few weeks in Year in the Bible typically are part of the people they minister to. But Jonah is sent away to speak God’s message to another nation in the city of Ninevah. Also, the prophets typically want their recipients to stop their wicked ways and turn to God. As you read the short four chapters of Jonah, you see he’s not that concerned with Ninevah’s fate. He wants God to judge them. And when God relents, Jonah is upset.

1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah 4:1-3

Jonah complains saying to God, almost in his defense, “This is why I ran. I ran off to Tarshish because you’re gracious. I know you’d do this!” He is displeased exceedingly because God is gracious. You want to shove the Bible in his face and tell Jonah that God’s grace is exactly why he still has a people of his own. Israel has been a sinner just like the others, but they have been forgiven more times than we can keep count.

But Jonah has a selfish pride and a pompous assumption that Israel has a monopoly on God’s mercy. He doesn’t want a rival nation to be spared because he wants his own nation, and only his nation, to prosper. Jonah would rather see thousands die than witness their repentance because he hates the people of Ninevah.

Jonah tried to go as far away from Ninevah as he could.

Along with Jonah being a story of Assyrian sin and God’s grace and forgiveness, it is a book displaying an ugly nationalism that would prevent Jonah from obedience and love, choosing instead sin. Jonah sins by fleeing, ends up in the belly of a whale, then cries out for God to take his life, all because of his displeasure at seeing God work wonders in another people.

We should never follow Jonah’s lead in this regard. We are called to love our enemies, to pray for them, and to work to spread the gospel to all peoples. We cannot lay claim to God’s grace as though it is ours to possess. We don’t deserve it and we can’t earn it. Thanks be to God that he is in fact slow to anger and merciful.

*Tim Keller has an excellent chapter on Jonah’s idolatry in his book, Counterfeit Gods.