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Isaiah Chapter 37 Notes

Posted by lehunt on October 2, 2014

Isaiah Ch 37 Commentary // larryhuntbiblecommentary.wordpress.com

Notes on Isaiah Thirty-seven:

v. 2:  I wonder why Joah (36:22) was not sent as part of this delegation to Isaiah.  Perhaps Shebna and Eliakim were higher ranking officials. I do not know the difference between a secretary/scribe (Shebna) and a recorder (Joah), but maybe a scribe was more honored.  In that case, perhaps Joah had accompanied the delegation to the Rabshakeh as a kind of embedded reporter more than as an official ambassador.  At any rate, Hezekiah seems to have selected the most impressive people for this delegation to Isaiah;  note that he sends the senior priests to accompany Eliakim and Shebna.  Also, Luther translates “servants of King Hezekiah” in verse five as Grossen[1] of King Hezekiah, which suggests that they are the highest officials of the court.  Barnes believes that the word “servants” indicates that these people were not high ranking: “The word…is used here probably by way of disparagement in contradistinction from an embassy that would be truly respectable, made up of aged men” (13).  But in the context of the story, this seems like a bad interpretation to me.  Why would Hezekiah not want to honor Isaiah as best he could, given that he wanted help from the prophet?

That being said, however, why does Hezekiah himself not go to Isaiah?  Maybe he had other business to attend to.  Whatever the reason, I am sure he meant to do nothing less than honor the prophet by sending this particular embassy, and there is no indication that Isaiah was offended by the fact that Hezekiah himself did not come to him.

Another curious thing about this episode is why Hezekiah even had to send for Isaiah at all.  Why was the prophet not by the king’s side at this time of crisis?  Perhaps, as God’s mouthpiece, Isaiah was acting as God sometimes acts: waiting for us to ask for his help.  Or perhaps the prophet was absorbed in meditation somewhere in (or out of) the city and was genuinely unaware of these developments; this is a little hard to believe, however, especially given that he was a prophet.  I suppose God could have kept the matter concealed from him.

v. 3:  In this analogy, the fear and pain of childbirth corresponds to the fear and pain of the threat of Assyria; I wonder if it would be taking the analogy too far to suggest that Hezekiah also was thinking of the joy of holding a newborn and the corresponding joy of being delivered from the Assyrians.

v. 12:  It is strange to see Eden mentioned as an identifiable place on the earth.  Since it is listed among the conquests of Assyria, it must have been within the Assyria Empire, probably near or in Mesopotamia.  Of course, the garden of Eden was a specific place in the east of Eden (Genesis 2:8), and I suppose the Cherubim hid (and hide) it from the sight of those that lived (and live) in the country of Eden.

v. 30:  This is a difficult sign to interpret.  The main problem is that it extends three years into the future, so how can it be a sign of the deliverance of Jerusalem from Assyria at the present moment?

It makes sense to believe that the lack of crops in the first two years of the sign refers to the fact that the Jews were unable to plant crops because the Assyrian invasion  lasted two years (Rosenmuller qtd. in Barnes 23), or at least messed up the possibility of planting for the second year, as Barnes himself suggests (23).  Why else would they not plant during those years?  If this is the proper meaning of the prophet’s words, then the heart of the sign is in the third year, which (at the time of its fulfillment) would be more of a reminder or a seal of Jerusalem’s recent deliverance rather than a sign of future deliverance.

However, the OKJ and the NRSV read “in this year,”[2] referring to the first year.  That would rule out Barnes’ and Rosenmuller’s option of placing the first and second years in the past.  If the translation is correct in interpreting “this year” as literally the year in which Isaiah is speaking, I am not sure why the Jews would not plant their crops for the next two years.  Below are three possible explanations.

1)  The Assyrian invasion lasted (roughly) two years after Isaiah tells Hezekiah about this sign.  In that scenario, the sign would prove that God was the one who eventually delivered the city because Isaiah was able to predict the exact time of the city’s deliverance: three years from the present moment.  I do not really believe this explanation because the narrative seems to imply that Jerusalem was delivered fairly soon after Isaiah tells Hezekiah about the sign.[3]

2)  Perhaps the Jews did not plant for the next two years because God (through Isaiah’s sign) commanded them not to plant so that he could sustain them himself through the next two years.  I do not really believe this explanation either because it seems odd that God would manufacture another crisis for the Jews (potential famine) when he has a perfectly good one that he could use already (the Assyrian invasion) to demonstrate his ability to deliver his people.  They would be two separate deliverances; I just do not see how deliverance from famine, three years later, would be a sign of his present ability to deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrians.  The two just do not seem connected.

3) Perhaps the next two years were the Sabbatic year and the year of Jubilee; if that was the case, then the religious laws already in place would prevent the Jews from planting in those years (Leviticus 25:1-24). Observing the rule not to plant for these two years might prove particularly difficult for them if the crops from the previous year had been ruined by the Assyrian invasion.  If this is the proper interpretation of Isaiah’s words, perhaps God is telling the Jews to observe the law as usual and he will deliver them from famine in spite of the crops lost during the Assyrian invasion.  In that way the planting in the third year would be a seal of Jerusalem’s recent deliverancefrom invasion rather than a sign of future deliverance.  If “this” year means the very year Isaiah is speaking in, then this third explanation seems the most likely to me.  Barnes does not accept it for two reasons, but both of those reasons may be answered.  One reason is that we cannot prove that the years in question were the Sabbatic year and the year of Jubilee.  That may be so, but neither can we prove that they were not, which means the option of holding to this explanation is still open.  I will give the second reason in Barnes’ own words:  “It is difficult to see…how that which was to occur two or three years after the event could be a sign to Hezekiah of the truth of what Isaiah had predicted” (23).  To answer this, I would point out that Barnes’ own explanation places the fulfillment of Isaiah’s sign after the Assyrian invasion (not two or three years after, but after nevertheless).


[1] “Great ones”

[2] Luther’s translation agrees with theirs:  “…in diessem Jahr.”

[3] In v. 35, the LORD says, “I will defend this city;” v. 36 says, “then the angel of the LORD set out and struck down 185,000 Assyrians….”  Besides, 2nd Kings 19:35 says, “That very night the angel of the LORD set out and struck down 185,000 [Assyrians]….”

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