The God Who Works in the Background on Behalf of His People, ישעיהו לו:א-ו / Isaiah 36:1-6

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Isaiah 36:1-6

Reading through Isaiah, chapters 36-39 are the last chapters related to Assyria and the God who works in the background on behalf of His people. Throughout Isaiah thus far we have been learning how Isaiah is emphasizing trusting in the Lord and not in the nations. These chapters that are coming illustrate why it is so important for us to depend upon God and trust in him alone. When we look at these chapters 36-39 they can be split into three sections.

Breaking down Isaiah 36-37 into Three segments

  1. Assyria at Jerusalem, Hezekiah turns to God (Isaiah 36-37)
  2. Hezekiah is helpless due to illness, Hezekiah turns to God (Isaiah 38)
  3. Hezekiah fails t o give glory to God giving Babylon his own glory (Isaiah 39)

So In Isaiah 36-37 we read how the Assyrian army came to Jerusalem and demanded their surrender. This humbles both the people and Hezekiah. Hezekiah then turns to the Lord God for relief and the Lord God delivers Hezekiah and the people from the assyrian army, killing them in their sleep. According to Isaiah 38, Hezekaih falls ill and on his bed he turns to the wall and prays and the Lord gives him 15 more years of life healing him. In Isaiah 39 Hezekiah and Jerusalem are visited by the Babylonians Hezekiah and instead of giving glory to God he decides to show them all that he has in his treasuries and give glory to himself. This then led to the Babylonians desiring what he had and then taking what he had years later. (Babylonian captivity) These things illustrate the trustworthiness of God and the weakness of man. When we look in the rabbinic literature, we find the following references to Hezekiah and messiah.

Talmud (7)
  Sanhedrin 94a, 98b, 99a
Midrash (4)
  Bereishit Rabbah 35:2
  Ruth Rabbah 7:2
  Ein Yaakov Sanhedrin 11:24
Legends of the Jews (1)
  Jewish Thought (2)
  Sefer HaIkkarim Maamar 4 42:3
  Kol Dodi Dofek (1)
Reference (1)
  The Jewish Spiritual Heroes (1)
Tanakh Commentary (3)
  Rashi on Isaiah 9:6 Part 7
  Ibn Ezra on Isaiah 11:10 Part 1, Isaiah 32:17 Part 1

Whenever a discussion comes up concerning the prophecies in the book of Isaiah and Yeshua, the antimissionaries will state that these do not refer to Yeshua, they apply to king Hezekiah. When we perform a search on www.sefaria.org we find that there are a number of references to Hezekiah and the messiah, a few examples are shown above and below.

When we consider these sections here in Isaiah 36-39, we see the general theme of the trustworthiness of God and His ability to deliver even in the most difficult circumstances. What we note about the human condition is that in man’s fallibility we always have the tendency to lean upon ourselves as opposed to God. A human ruler no matter how many times he has trusted in God is still prone to self-reliance, especially when times become easy. What we learn from Isaiah 36-37 is the truth behind what Isaiah has been telling us to trust in the Lord. What we note about Hezekiah is that he was not wholly devoted to the Lord, this is illustrated according to Isaiah 39, and so even though Hezekiah under whom there was a wonderful deliverance provided by God, he was not the one who was promised of God according to Devarim / Deuteronomy 18. The point is how Isaiah had to continually remind Hezekiah of the importance of trusting in the God of Israel as opposed to self or military might. Hezekiah demonstrates what we were being told in Isaiah 13-35 in regards to the great might and power of God who is king and ruler over all. So, these chapters function as a sort of conclusion to these truths about what Isaiah was calling out for the people and the leadership to believe about the God of Israel. We note that Hezekiah is the son of Ahaz, and back in Isaiah 7-8 we are told how Ahaz refused to trust in God but chose to trust in another nation. Ahaz chose to trust in his worst enemy, Assyria, rather than placing his trust in God. In Hezekiah’s time however the Lord God demonstrated how He is truly Lord and king over all! Reading through these chapters we have Rabshakeh’s challenge to the people (Isaiah 36:1-37:7) and then Sennacherib’s letter in Isaiah 37:8-38. This text demonstrates how Hezekiah turned to the Lord for help and committed all that he had, the city, and the people to God. Because of this the Lord God responded through the prophet Isaiah, providing the king and the people with hope, deliverance, and the wonderful character of God in His mercy to do these things! 

The narrative begins according to Isaiah 36:1 saying the following. 

ספר ישעיה פרק לו
א   וַיְהִי בְּאַרְבַּע עֶשְֹרֵה שָׁנָה לַמֶּלֶךְ חִזְקִיָּהוּ עָלָה סַנְחֵרִיב מֶלֶךְ-אַשּׁוּר עַל כָּל-עָרֵי יְהוּדָה הַבְּצֻרוֹת וַיִּתְפְּשֵֹם:

Isaiah 36:1 states, “Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them. (וַיְהִי בְּאַרְבַּע עֶשְֹרֵה שָׁנָה לַמֶּלֶךְ חִזְקִיָּהוּ עָלָה סַנְחֵרִיב מֶלֶךְ-אַשּׁוּר עַל כָּל-עָרֵי יְהוּדָה הַבְּצֻרוֹת וַיִּתְפְּשֵֹם)” Isaiah 36 is mostly narrative concerning Sennacherib’s attack on Jerusalem which dates back to sometime around 701 BC which is Hezekiah’s 20th year as king over Judah. (2 Kings 18:9-10) So here we are told that Sennacherib King of Assyria came against all of the defensed cities of Judah and took them. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, had been on his throne about four years by 701 B.C. Those four years had been largely taken up with attempts to put down revolts spurred by the death of his father, Sargon II, on the battlefield. When the east and south had been dealt with in an at least temporary fashion (Babylon was not subdued until 689), the Assyrian emperor was ready to turn to the West. There Hezekiah, apparently prompted by promises of Egyptian aid, and perhaps also with Babylonian encouragement (this is a possible scenario if Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery in chapter 38 were prior to 701), was spearheading the revolt of the small states west and south of Samaria, extending from Tyre in the north to Ashkelon in the south. According to Sennacherib’s annals, the Assyrian army struck the coast at Sidon and from that point worked its way southward, devouring opponent after opponent until the Egyptian army finally made a stand at Eltekeh about twenty miles west of Jerusalem at the edge of the hill country. There is where we find Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the foolishness of dependence upon Egypt (see Isaiah 20:1-6, 30:1-5, 31:1-3) was proven true as the Egyptians were routed and the Assyrians continued on to Lachish, Judah’s last hope for stemming the tide. 

Why Sennacherib did not move directly from Eltekeh to an attack upon Jerusalem, the answer is probably that he hoped to avoid a prolonged siege in the highlands of Judah that would tie down his army and leave them open to an attack on their rear if Egypt should recover. At Lachish, Egypt would still be before them, and they could move quickly from the siege to battle positions if a new Egyptian threat appeared. This is in fact what they did according to Isaiah 37:8. Once Lachish’s fate was sure, Jerusalem would have no choice but to surrender. As we know the narrative, the Lord God of Israel killed thousands of men in Sennacherib’s army causing him to withdraw and then he was murdered by his two sons. This is written explicitly in the bible, and his sons were called out. We also have archeological records that are extra-biblical shown below that describe the event of Sennacherib’s death.

Ultimately, we see the mercy of God here who is at work in the background on behalf of His people. We notice how the Lord God comes to the foreground to work a powerful miracle destroying the Sennacherib’s army, and then in the background leading to his sons killing their father. This is recorded in 2 Kings 19:37 ”One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king.” (NIV) The sons who killed their father escaped to the land of Ararat and Esarhaddon became king in his place. These things illustrate the outcome for those who come against God’s people and blaspheme the God of Israel! 

Isaiah goes on saying the following according to Isaiah 36:2.

ספר ישעיה פרק לו
ב   וַיִּשְׁלַח מֶלֶךְ-אַשּׁוּר | אֶת-רַבשָׁקֵה מִלָּכִישׁ יְרוּשָׁלַ ְמָה אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ חִזְקִיָּהוּ בְּחֵיל כָּבֵד וַיַּעֲמֹד בִּתְעָלַת הַבְּרֵכָה הָעֶלְיוֹנָה בִּמְסִלַּת שְֹדֵה כוֹבֵס: 

Isaiah 36:2 states, “And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto king Hezekiah with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field. (וַיִּשְׁלַח מֶלֶךְ-אַשּׁוּר | אֶת-רַבשָׁקֵה מִלָּכִישׁ יְרוּשָׁלַ ְמָה אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ חִזְקִיָּהוּ בְּחֵיל כָּבֵד וַיַּעֲמֹד בִּתְעָלַת הַבְּרֵכָה הָעֶלְיוֹנָה בִּמְסִלַּת שְֹדֵה כוֹבֵס)” We are told here that king Sennacherib sent a speaker to go and talk to the people and the king of Jerusalem. So he was sent from Lachish to Jerusalem. Notice that this suggests the war at Lachish was likely determined to be successful and so Sennacherib decided to go talk to the leaders of Jerusalem. When Rabshkeh arrives he demands King Hezekiah to surrender. (2 Kings 18:17) John Oswalt’s commentary states the following concerning Rabshakeh and the officers of Sennacherib.

“All three officers bear Akkadian titles. As is shown from a number of royal inscriptions from this period, the Tartan (Akk. turtanu) was second to the king in command of the army (Isaiah 20:1). The precise function of the other two officers is less clear. The tide Rabsaris is unattested in any Akkadian documents thus far. On the basis of Hebrew, its meaning would be chief eunuch, but the term “eunuch” seems to represent “officer” in the OT (as Potiphar, Gen. 39:1; so also 2 K. 25:19; for this title see Jer. 39:3, 13). Rabshakeh, if from Akk. šaqû, “to drink,” means “chief cupbearer.” This person may have been the king’s personal advisor (cf. Nehemiah’s position, Neh. 1:11). If so, this would explain why it is this person who makes the representation and not the Tartan.” (John Oswalt Commentary)

Note how Isaiah writes, וַיַּעֲמֹד בִּתְעָלַת הַבְּרֵכָה הָעֶלְיוֹנָה בִּמְסִלַּת שְֹדֵה כוֹבֵס “And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field” this is the watercourse of the upper pool and is the place where Isaiah met Ahaz surveying his defenses. Isaiah foretold that there would be a massive Assyrian army attacking Jerusalem and there is one place a massive army could assemble and that is in the northwest corner. 

The one place where a large military force could assemble would be at the northwest corner of the city. The upper pool was apparently associated with the Gihon system at the south edge of the city. We note that generally speaking when an army attacked a city they would take the water supply first which is at the south of the city, however here the army is located at the northwest corner of Jerusalem. 

Isaiah goes on saying the following according to Isaiah 36:3-5.

ספר ישעיה פרק לו
ג   וַיֵּצֵא אֵלָיו אֶלְיָקִים בֶּן-חִלְקִיָּהוּ אֲשֶׁר עַל-הַבָּיִת וְשֶׁבְנָא הַסֹּפֵר וְיוֹאָח בֶּן-אָסָף הַמַּזְכִּיר: ד   וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם רַבשָׁקֵה אִמְרוּ-נָא אֶל-חִזְקִיָּהוּ כֹּה-אָמַר הַמֶּלֶךְ הַגָּדוֹל מֶלֶךְ אַשּׁוּר מָה הַבִּטָּחוֹן הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר בָּטָחְתָּ: ה   אָמַרְתִּי אַךְ-דְּבַר שְֹפָתַיִם עֵצָה וּגְבוּרָה לַמִּלְחָמָה עַתָּה עַל-מִי בָטַחְתָּ כִּי מָרַדְתָּ בִּי: 

Isaiah 36:3 states, “Then came forth unto him Eliakim, Hilkiah’s son, which was over the house, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, Asaph’s son, the recorder. (וַיֵּצֵא אֵלָיו אֶלְיָקִים בֶּן-חִלְקִיָּהוּ אֲשֶׁר עַל-הַבָּיִת וְשֶׁבְנָא הַסֹּפֵר וְיוֹאָח בֶּן-אָסָף הַמַּזְכִּיר)” Isaiah s6:4 “And Rabshakeh said unto them, Say ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest? (וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם רַבשָׁקֵה אִמְרוּ-נָא אֶל-חִזְקִיָּהוּ כֹּה-אָמַר הַמֶּלֶךְ הַגָּדוֹל מֶלֶךְ אַשּׁוּר מָה הַבִּטָּחוֹן הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר בָּטָחְתָּ)” Isaiah 36:5 “I say, sayest thou, (but they are but vain words) I have counsel and strength for war: now on whom dost thou trust, that thou rebellest against me? (אָמַרְתִּי אַךְ-דְּבַר שְֹפָתַיִם עֵצָה וּגְבוּרָה לַמִּלְחָמָה עַתָּה עַל-מִי בָטַחְתָּ כִּי מָרַדְתָּ בִּי)” Note how there are three Assyrian officers that were sent to Jerusalem, all three were not military men, they were part of Sennacherib’s advisory team most likely. Note that Isaiah 36:3 fulfills one of Isaiah’s prophecies according to Isaiah 22:20-23 concerning Shebna and Eliakim. Joah is believed to be an intermediary between the king and the people. Remember how previously Hezekiah had tried to buy off the army with gold from his treasury and the temple in Jerusalem, which did not succeed. We note that here Rabshakeh specifically makes the point that what confidence is there in the people and the king trusting in Egypt? (Isaiah 36:6) This statement is made following the Egyptian defeat at Eltekeh. Rabshakeh then goes on to claim that the Lord God of Israel will not help them either because Judah has destroyed the altars and the high places (Isaiah 36:7, 36:10) which is the perspective of those who are idolaters and polytheists. Rabshakeh goes on to claim that the God of Israel will not help, and how they have conquered peoples bringing to shame their gods, and so too they will do the same here at Jerusalem. The arrogance of Rabshakeh and the Assyrians is a significant challenge to both the people, the king, the prophet Isaiah, and to God. We can see why the God of Israel responded in the way that He did, killing off the army. Rabshakeh’s words are pointedly arrogant, and he proceeds to argue why his army and gods are superior. Ultimately the Lord God Almighty who is sovereign over all demonstrates that Rabshakeh’s words are merely words backed by false gods! 

Isaiah continues writing the following according to Isaiah 36:6.

ספר ישעיה פרק לו
 ו   הִנֵּה בָטַחְתָּ עַל-מִשְׁעֶנֶת הַקָּנֶה הָרָצוּץ הַזֶּה עַל-מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יִסָּמֵךְ אִישׁ עָלָיו וּבָא בְכַפּוֹ וּנְקָבָהּ כֵּן פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ-מִצְרַיִם לְכָל-הַבֹּטְחִים עָלָיו: 

Isaiah 36:6 states, “Lo, thou trustest in the staff of this broken reed, on Egypt; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all that trust in him. (הִנֵּה בָטַחְתָּ עַל-מִשְׁעֶנֶת הַקָּנֶה הָרָצוּץ הַזֶּה עַל-מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יִסָּמֵךְ אִישׁ עָלָיו וּבָא בְכַפּוֹ וּנְקָבָהּ כֵּן פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ-מִצְרַיִם לְכָל-הַבֹּטְחִים עָלָיו)” It is interesting to compare how Rabshakeh describes Egypt here in Isaiah 36:6 compared to Isaiah’s description of Egypt according to Isaiah 19:14-16, 30:7, and 31:3.

Isaiah 19:14–16 
19:14 The LORD hath mingled a perverse spirit in the midst thereof: And they have caused Egypt to err in every work thereof, As a drunken man staggereth in his vomit. 19:15 Neither shall there be any work for Egypt, Which the head or tail, branch or rush, may do. 19:16 In that day shall Egypt be like unto women: And it shall be afraid and fear Because of the shaking of the hand of the LORD of hosts, Which he shaketh over it. (KJV, יְהוָ֛ה מָסַ֥ךְ בְּקִרְבָּ֖הּ ר֣וּחַ עִוְעִ֑ים וְהִתְע֤וּ אֶת־מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ בְּכָֽל־מַעֲשֵׂ֔הוּ כְּהִתָּע֥וֹת שִׁכּ֖וֹר בְּקִיאֽוֹ׃ וְלֹֽא־יִהְיֶ֥ה לְמִצְרַ֖יִם מַֽעֲשֶׂ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֧ר יַעֲשֶׂ֛ה רֹ֥אשׁ וְזָנָ֖ב כִּפָּ֥ה וְאַגְמֽוֹן׃ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא יִֽהְיֶ֥ה מִצְרַ֖יִם כַּנָּשִׁ֑ים וְחָרַ֣ד׀ וּפָחַ֗ד מִפְּנֵי֙ תְּנוּפַת֙ יַד־יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֔וֹת אֲשֶׁר־ה֖וּא מֵנִ֥יף עָלָֽיו׃)

Isaiah 30:7  
30:7 For the Egyptians shall help in vain, and to no purpose: Therefore have I cried concerning this, Their strength is to sit still. (KJV, וּמִצְרַ֕יִם הֶ֥בֶל וָרִ֖יק יַעְזֹ֑רוּ לָכֵן֙ קָרָ֣אתִי לָזֹ֔את רַ֥הַב הֵ֖ם שָֽׁבֶת׃)

Isaiah 31:3  
31:3 Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; And their horses flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD shall stretch out his hand, Both he that helpeth shall fall, and he that is holpen shall fall down, And they all shall fail together. (KJV, וּמִצְרַ֤יִם אָדָם֙ וְֽלֹא־אֵ֔ל וְסוּסֵיהֶ֥ם בָּשָׂ֖ר וְלֹא־ר֑וּחַ וַֽיהוָ֞ה יַטֶּ֣ה יָד֗וֹ וְכָשַׁ֤ל עוֹזֵר֙ וְנָפַ֣ל עָזֻ֔ר וְיַחְדָּ֖ו כֻּלָּ֥ם יִכְלָיֽוּן׃)

Notice how in Isaiah 19:14 he says that the Lord God has mingled a perverse spirit in the midst of her so that she would error in every work. This is a very powerful statement and interesting conclusion which again demonstrates what is going on in the background leading Pharaoh and Egypt to do what they do. (Consider this statement in relation to what is happening today with the woke liberal ideologies, gender confusion, LGBTQ, etc.) Here Rabshakeh describes Egypt as a cracked reed that cannot help the one who leans on it, and in fact that reed will pierce the hand of the one who leans on it meaning that Pharaoh is deceitful, which draws us back to the spiritual forces at work which are subtle and deceitful. We note this is what happened to the king of Ashdod whom the Egyptians handed over to the Assyrian according to Isaiah 20. This means that the Egyptians do not have the best interests of Judah because they are a foe in disguise. We recognize the truth in this matter and how this is the outcome of trusting in the world. The ways of the world do not have our best interests, the ways of God however do. Note how the woke liberals want people to believe they have the best interest for people through spreading racism (hatred against white people) and promoting LGBTQ, gender confusion, trans-story time, etc. These things destroy the lives of people and innocent children! The ways of the world illustrated here are destruction, confusion, deceit, depression, hatred, discontentment, etc. We can easily see how if we are honest these things are true! God has designed His holy and righteous ways for us specifically, for our benefit, for our sanctification, and for our health, for healing, for peace, to build us up and establish us on solid ground, to create in us life and not death! We can see the drastic contrast between the way of the world vs the way of God and His Messiah Yeshua! What we note about these verses from Isaiah 36:1-6 is that the people did not receive the instruction of Isaiah to turn from their sinful ways and turn to God. Consequently, they are forced now to listen to the same instructions from the arrogant lips of the Assyrian enemy concerning Egypt. Similarly, for us today, are we willing to listen to the instructions of God according to the Scriptures (Bible) or are we more willing to listen to the shameful instructions of lost liberal ideologies from the boastful lips of our enemies? The point is that these things are written down in the scriptures for our benefit, for our instruction, so that we know how not to walk in the folly of the ways of this world and how to walk in the righteous and holy ways of God, and to seek the God of Israel and His Messiah Yeshua! Only when we do these things, seeking God and his Messiah will we be given strength to overcome, and to become a people who are called by the Name of the One true God!

Rabbinic Commentary

The Targum Jonathan is an Aramaic and Rabbinic translation of the book of Isaiah and therefore is a valuable resource for continuing to study the book of Isaiah!

תרגום יונתן בן עוזיאל אל ישעיה פרק לו:א-ו
א  וַהְוָה בְאַרבַע עַסרֵי שְנִין לְמַלכָא חִזקִיָה סְלֵיק סַנחֵרִיב מַלכָא דְאַתוּר עָל כָל קִרוַיָא דְבֵית יְהוּדָה כְרִיכָתָא וַאְחַדִינוּן׃ ב   וּשלַח מַלכָא דְאַתוּר יָת רַב שָקֵי מִלָכִיש לִירוּשלַם לְוָת מַלכָא חִזקִיָה בְמַשרְיָן סַגִיאָן וְקָם בִמזִקַת בְרֵיכְתָא עִלִיתָא דִבכֵיבַש חְקַל מַשטַח קָצְרַיָא׃ ג   וּנפַק לְוָתֵיה אַליָקִים בַר חִלקִיָה דִממֻנַא עַל בֵיתָא וְשַבנָא סָפְרָא וְיֹואָח בַר אָסָף דִממֻנָא עַל דוּכרָנַיָא׃ ד   וַאְמַר לְהֹון רַב שָקֵי אֵימַרוּ כְעַן לְחִזקִיָה כִדנָן אְמַר מַלכָא רְרַבתָנָא מַלכָא דְאַתוּר מָא רוּחצָנָא הָדֵין דְאִתרְחֵיצתָא׃ ה   אְמַרִית בְרַם בְמַמלַל סִפוָן בְמֵילַך וּבִגבוּרָא אַעְבֵיד קְרָבָא כְעַן עַל מַן אִתרְחֵיצתָא אְרֵי מְרֵידתָא בִי׃ ו   הָא אִתרְחֵיצתָא עַל סְמָך קַניָא רְעִיעָא הָדֵין עַל פַרעֹה מַלכָא דְמִצרַיִם דְאִם יִסתְמֵיך גֻברָא עְלֹוהִי וְיֵיעֹול בִידֵיה וְיִבזְעִינַה כֵין פַרעֹה מַלכָא דְמִצרַיִם לְכָל דְמִתרַחצִין עְלֹוהִי׃ 

Targum Jonathan son of Uziel Isaiah 36:1-6
36:1 Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fenced cities of the house of Judah, and took them. 36:2 And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto king Hezekiah with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the field of the fullers. 36:3 Then came forth unto him Eliakim, Hilkiah’s son, who was appointed over the household, and Shebna, the scribe, and Joah, Asaph’s son, who was appointed over the records. 36:4 And Rabshakeh said unto them, say ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith our great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest? 36:5 I say (you speak but empty words) I make war with counsel and might: now, in whom dost thou trust, that thou hast rebelled against me? 36:6 Behold, thou trustest in the support of this broken reed, in Pharaoh, the king of Egypt; on which if a man lean, it will enter his hand and wound him: so is Pharaoh the king of Egypt to all that trust in him.(TgJ)

Looking at the Targum translation and the Septuagint (LXX), since this is purely narrative and a historical recording of the events that took place, there is very little commentary from the rabbinic literature on these verses and there is very little variation between what we find in the MSS and these texts. Here we read the following in Isaiah 36:1 according to the TgJ, א  וַהְוָה בְאַרבַע עַסרֵי שְנִין לְמַלכָא חִזקִיָה סְלֵיק סַנחֵרִיב מַלכָא דְאַתוּר עָל כָל קִרוַיָא דְבֵית יְהוּדָה כְרִיכָתָא וַאְחַדִינוּן׃ 36:1 Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fenced cities of the house of Judah, and took them. (TgJ) We note previously in Isaiah that God had told Isaiah in Isaiah 7:3 (before Hezekiah’s time) to meet King Ahaz, “at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field.” The “conduit” here is the ancient channel that runs southward from the spring and the meeting place is at the northern “end” of it.

Isaiah 7:1–4 
7:1 And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it. 7:2 And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind. 7:3 Then said the Lord unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shear-jashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field; 7:4 And say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; Fear not, neither be fainthearted For the two tails of these smoking firebrands, For the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah. (KJV וַיְהִ֡י בִּימֵ֣י אָ֠חָז בֶּן־יֹותָ֨ם בֶּן־עֻזִּיָּ֜הוּ מֶ֣לֶךְ יְהוּדָ֗ה עָלָ֣ה רְצִ֣ין מֶֽלֶךְ־אֲ֠רָם וּפֶ֨קַח בֶּן־רְמַלְיָ֤הוּ מֶֽלֶךְ־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ יְר֣וּשָׁלִַ֔ם לַמִּלְחָמָ֖ה עָלֶ֑יהָ וְלֹ֥א יָכֹ֖ל לְהִלָּחֵ֥ם עָלֶֽיהָ׃ וַיֻּגַּ֗ד לְבֵ֤ית דָּוִד֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר נָ֥חָֽה אֲרָ֖ם עַל־אֶפְרָ֑יִם וַיָּ֤נַע לְבָבֹו֙ וּלְבַ֣ב עַמֹּ֔ו כְּנֹ֥ועַ עֲצֵי־יַ֖עַר מִפְּנֵי־רֽוּחַ׃ וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָה֮ אֶֽל־יְשַׁעְיָהוּ֒ צֵא־נָא֙ לִקְרַ֣את אָחָ֔ז אַתָּ֕ה וּשְׁאָ֖ר יָשׁ֣וּב בְּנֶ֑ךָ אֶל־קְצֵ֗ה תְּעָלַת֙ הַבְּרֵכָ֣ה הָעֶלְיֹונָ֔ה אֶל־מְסִלַּ֖ת שְׂדֵ֥ה כֹובֵֽס׃ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֵ֠לָיו הִשָּׁמֵ֨ר וְהַשְׁקֵ֜ט אַל־תִּירָ֗א וּלְבָבְךָ֙ אַל־יֵרַ֔ךְ מִשְּׁנֵ֨י זַנְבֹ֧ות הָאוּדִ֛ים הָעֲשֵׁנִ֖ים הָאֵ֑לֶּה בָּחֳרִי־אַ֛ף רְצִ֥ין וַאֲרָ֖ם וּבֶן־רְמַלְיָֽהוּ׃)

Here the Lord God is showing mercy to Ahaz and telling him not to fear. This mercy is meant to lead Ahaz to repentance. The Tanakh describes God’s mercy in the following way:

  • God is love. Devarim / Deuteronomy 7:7 says, “The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.” This passage shows the great extent of God’s love, and that He cares for the weak and the vulnerable.
  • God is gracious. Shemot / Exodus 34:6 says, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” This passage shows that God is gracious, and that He is willing to forgive those who repent.
  • God is forgiving. Nehemiah 9:17 says, “You are a God of compassion, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” This passage shows that God is forgiving, and that He is willing to forget our sins when we repent, turn from them and believe in Him.
  • God is patient. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” This passage shows that God is patient, and that He is always willing to give us another chance.
  • God is faithful. Tehillim / Psalm 86:15 says, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” This passage shows that God is faithful, and that He will always keep His promises.

The Tanakh is full of Scripture providing reasons for the mercy of God, and this is due to His love, patience, and faithfulness to us. His mercy is a powerful reminder of His love, grace, forgiveness, patience, and faithfulness. Because of God’s mercy, we should all likewise strive to be merciful to others as well. Isaiah goes on saying the following according to the Targum, ב   וּשלַח מַלכָא דְאַתוּר יָת רַב שָקֵי מִלָכִיש לִירוּשלַם לְוָת מַלכָא חִזקִיָה בְמַשרְיָן סַגִיאָן וְקָם בִמזִקַת בְרֵיכְתָא עִלִיתָא דִבכֵיבַש חְקַל מַשטַח קָצְרַיָא׃ 36:2 And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto king Hezekiah with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the field of the fullers. ג   וּנפַק לְוָתֵיה אַליָקִים בַר חִלקִיָה דִממֻנַא עַל בֵיתָא וְשַבנָא סָפְרָא וְיֹואָח בַר אָסָף דִממֻנָא עַל דוּכרָנַיָא׃ 36:3 Then came forth unto him Eliakim, Hilkiah’s son, who was appointed over the household, and Shebna, the scribe, and Joah, Asaph’s son, who was appointed over the records. ד   וַאְמַר לְהֹון רַב שָקֵי אֵימַרוּ כְעַן לְחִזקִיָה כִדנָן אְמַר מַלכָא רְרַבתָנָא מַלכָא דְאַתוּר מָא רוּחצָנָא הָדֵין דְאִתרְחֵיצתָא׃ 36:4 And Rabshakeh said unto them, say ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith our great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest? ה   אְמַרִית בְרַם בְמַמלַל סִפוָן בְמֵילַך וּבִגבוּרָא אַעְבֵיד קְרָבָא כְעַן עַל מַן אִתרְחֵיצתָא אְרֵי מְרֵידתָא בִי׃ 36:5 I say (you speak but empty words) I make war with counsel and might: now, in whom dost thou trust, that thou hast rebelled against me? ו   הָא אִתרְחֵיצתָא עַל סְמָך קַניָא רְעִיעָא הָדֵין עַל פַרעֹה מַלכָא דְמִצרַיִם דְאִם יִסתְמֵיך גֻברָא עְלֹוהִי וְיֵיעֹול בִידֵיה וְיִבזְעִינַה כֵין פַרעֹה מַלכָא דְמִצרַיִם לְכָל דְמִתרַחצִין עְלֹוהִי׃ 36:6 Behold, thou trustest in the support of this broken reed, in Pharaoh, the king of Egypt; on which if a man lean, it will enter his hand and wound him: so is Pharaoh the king of Egypt to all that trust in him. (TgJ)  The Assyrian army that besieged Jerusalem in 701 BCE was a vast and powerful force. According to the Bible, it numbered 185,000 men. The army was made up of infantry, cavalry, chariots, and siege engines. The infantry was armed with spears, swords, and shields. The cavalry was armed with bows and arrows. The chariots were drawn by horses and were used to charge into battle. The siege engines were used to batter down the walls of Jerusalem. The Assyrian army was led by Sennacherib, the king of Assyria. Sennacherib was a ruthless and ambitious ruler. He had conquered many lands and was determined to add Jerusalem to his empire. The Assyrian army besieged Jerusalem for 3 months, but they were unable to take the city. God intervened and sent a plague that killed many of the Assyrian soldiers. Sennacherib was forced to retreat and Jerusalem was saved. The Assyrian army that besieged Jerusalem was a powerful force, but it was no match for the Lord God Almighty. 

In Isaiah 36:6 we read how Rabshakeh describes Egypt as a broken reed. Egypt is described as a broken reed in the Bible because it was a weak and unreliable ally. The prophet Isaiah warns the people of Judah not to trust in Egypt for help, saying about Egypt upon which “if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it” (Isaiah 36:6). This is because Egypt was a powerful nation at the time, but it was also very unstable. It was ruled by a series of weak and corrupt pharaohs, and it was often at war with its neighbors. As a result, Egypt was not a reliable ally, and it could not be counted on to help Judah in times of need. We note that the phrase “broken reed” is used in the Bible in a few different ways:

  • Isaiah 36:6, the prophet Isaiah uses the phrase to warn the people of Judah not to trust in Egypt for help because Pharaoh is deceitful, and the nation is weak and unstable. “Lo, thou trustest in the staff of this broken reed, on Egypt; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all that trust in him. (הִנֵּה בָטַחְתָּ עַל-מִשְׁעֶנֶת הַקָּנֶה הָרָצוּץ הַזֶּה עַל-מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יִסָּמֵךְ אִישׁ עָלָיו וּבָא בְכַפּוֹ וּנְקָבָהּ כֵּן פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ-מִצְרַיִם לְכָל-הַבֹּטְחִים עָלָיו)”
  • Ezekiel 29:6-7, the prophet Ezekiel uses the phrase to describe Egypt’s relationship with the Israelites. He says that Egypt has been a “staff of reed” to the Israelites. This means that Egypt has been a weak and unreliable support for the Israelites. Egypt has often betrayed the Israelites and has not been there for them in times of need. As a result, the Israelites should not trust in Egypt for help. Ezekiel 29:6–7, 29:6 And all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the LORD, because they have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel. 29:7 When they took hold of thee by thy hand, thou didst break, and rend all their shoulder: and when they leaned upon thee, thou brakest, and madest all their loins to be at a stand. (KJV וְיָֽדְעוּ֙ כָּל־יֹשְׁבֵ֣י מִצְרַ֔יִם כִּ֖י אֲנִ֣י יְהוָ֑ה יַ֧עַן הֱיֹותָ֛ם מִשְׁעֶ֥נֶת קָנֶ֖ה לְבֵ֥ית יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ בְּתָפְשָׂ֨ם בְּךָ֤ בַכַּפ֙ך תֵּרֹ֔וץ וּבָקַעְתָּ֥ לָהֶ֖ם כָּל־כָּתֵ֑ף וּבְהִֽשָּׁעֲנָ֤ם עָלֶ֨יךָ֙ תִּשָּׁבֵ֔ר וְהַעֲמַדְתָּ֥ לָהֶ֖ם כָּל־מָתְנָֽיִם׃ ס)
  • Matthew 12:20, Yeshua uses the phrase to describe Himself. He says that He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. This means that He will not harm those who are weak or vulnerable. He will be gentle with them and will help them to grow. Matthew 12:20, 12:20 A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. (KJV κάλαμον συντετριμμένον οὐ κατεάξει καὶ λίνον τυφόμενον οὐ σβέσει, ἕως ἂν ἐκβάλῃ εἰς νῖκος τὴν κρίσιν.)
  • James 4:6, the author of James uses the phrase to warn people not to trust in their own strength. He says that “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” This means that we should not rely on our own strength, but should instead rely on God. He is the only one who can truly help us. James 4:6, 4:6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. (KJV μείζονα δὲ δίδωσιν χάριν; διὸ λέγει· ὁ θεὸς ὑπερηφάνοις ἀντιτάσσεται, ταπεινοῖς δὲ δίδωσιν χάριν.)

The phrase “broken reed” is a powerful reminder that we should not put our trust in human beings. Only God is reliable and trustworthy. Here the metaphor of a broken reed is used in the Book of Ezekiel to describe Egypt’s relationship with the Israelites. Yeshua uses the analogy of himself to state how he will not harm those who are weak and that he will be a strength for them. James uses the phrase to warn not to trust in self like Israel did back in Hezekiah’s day concerning Egypt. The parallels are interesting, Egypt being a source of sin, idolatry, bondage, and the one who trusts in self trusts in sin and places himself as an idol over above the Lord God Almighty. The point of these things is to reveal to us how the Lord God loves us, and wants only the best for us. These things remind us how we should not put our trust in human things, but in the power of God to overcome anything in our lives. This was the reason the Lord God sent His Son Yeshua to die for our sins, so that believing in Him we would bear the testimony that Isaiah is saying to his people, to trust in the power of God to deliver us because of what the Messiah has done on our behalf! This is a very powerful truth that we are being taught. Wisely, we should put these things into action in our lives, and walk in the footsteps of the Messiah, just as Yeshua had instructed us to do! (Matthew 16:24, Ephesians 4:1-6, 1 Peter 2:21, 1 John 2:6)