The Historical Interlude Concerning the Crisis

of the Fourteenth Year of King Hezekiah

36:1 to 39:8

    These chapters are, in effect, the pivot on which the books turns, and appear to have been designed to act as a bridge between the two halves. Likewise, the issue of these chapters is central to the entire book. It is the issue of trust, and where that trust can ultimately be placed. Ironically, it was the Assyrian field commander who put the issue most succinctly: On whom are you depending (36:5)? It is a question that Isaiah forces us to ponder again and again, and with good reason, for our response to it will determine the whole shape of our lives.127

    Shortly after the fall of the northern kingdom of Isra'el, the Assyrian king Sennacherib descended on Judah. His assault came in 701 BC, during the reign of Ahaz’s son Hezekiah. In Chapters 28 to 35 we saw the prophecies that precipitated this crisis. Now in Chapters 36 to 39 we will see the events of the crisis itself. Up until now, the book of Isaiah has been written in Hebrew poetry; however Chapters 36 to 39 are written in Hebrew prose. The poetry will continue in Chapter 40. The entire book is a poetic book, as well as a prophetic book. Of the 66 chapters, 62 are written in poetry and only these 4 chapters are written in prose. Two parallel passages described in this section are Second Kings 18:3 to 20:21, and Second Chronicles 32:1-31.

    These four chapters are important for two reasons. First, we will see the fulfillment of many prophecies in the first 35 chapters of the book. What was promised in the first 35 chapters will now become history. The second reason that these four chapters are important is that they are a transitional period from Assyrian domination to Babylonian domination. The second part of Isaiah, Chapters 40 to 66, focuses on the Babylon. Chapters 38-39 represent a flashback, since the events of 701 BC had not yet occurred (38:6) and the envoys of the Babylonian king Merodach-Baladan (who ruled 721-710 BC and again in 703 BC) arrived after Hezekiah’s recovery from illness (39:1). Just as Chapters 36-37 fittingly conclude Chapters 1 to 35, which have a strong Assyrian orientation, so also Chapters 38-39 form a suitable introduction to Chapters 40 to 66, which largely describe Judah’s future relationship with the Babylonians.128 In these two chapters Isaiah seeks to answer the questions, “Can God rescue Judah from Assyria?” and, “Can God be trusted?”

 

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