Please Speak to Your Servants in Aramaic

36: 2-12

   DIG: What arguments does the field commander offer for why Jerusalem should surrender? What tone of voice do you hear? How do Assyria and Isaiah compare in their view of Judah’s alliance with Egypt (see 19:14-15; 30:3-5)? As a Judean leader, how would you feel, hearing the field commander repeat the same things Isaiah had been saying for years? What was Assyria’s undoing (36:7)? What is the meaning of the sarcastic offer in 36:8? What is he implying by his final statement in 36:10 (see 10:6-7 and 12)?

   REFLECT: Can you remember a time in your life that you lacked spiritual discernment? Where does one get spiritual discernment? How does one get it? What must happen first? Why does the world lack such spiritual discernment?

    While Lachish was still being besieged, Sennacherib sent his field commander to demand that Hezekiah surrender Jerusalem. Then the king of Assyria sent his field commander with a large army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. A great army accompanied him for the purposes of intimidation. Hezekiah was then isolated. In Second Kings 18:17 the field commander was accompanied by two other men, his supreme commander, the second to the king in command of the army (20:1), and his chief officer, the king’s personal advisor. But the one in charge was the field commander. He stood at the very same place where the confrontation between Ahaz, the king and Isaiah, the prophet took place back in 7:3. It was at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field (36:2). There, Isaiah gave Ahaz the option of trusting in God, or trusting in Assyria. Ahaz chose to trust Assyria and put Judah under her yoke. And now over twenty years later Hezekiah stood where his father stood, at the perilous crossroads where the way of faith and the way of works, trusting in God and self-reliance, meet. And like his father Ahaz, Hezekiah had the same choice.

    If we don’t get it right the first time, God will bring us right back to the same lesson. How many times has this happened in your life or mine? How many times have you thought to yourself, “Why do I keep going through the same thing?” I think you will agree with me that with the LORD, it is better to get it right the first time!

    The Jewish delegation was composed of three men. The first man was Eliakim son of Hilkiah who had become the palace administrator in fulfillment of 22:2-024. Secondly, there was Shebna the secretary which is a partial fulfillment of 52:15-19 and 25. He had been demoted in the first stage shown here, but his exile will come later. The third man, Joah, son of Asaph the recorder, also went out with them (36:3).

    Without any diplomatic niceties the field commander moved directly to the attack. Speaking on behalf of the king of Assyria he points out the futility of Judah’s confidence. The field commander was the spokesman. He said that Judah’s rebellion will prove to be completely fruitless. Judah has no defense. He bluntly bypasses the Judean emissaries and addresses himself to Hezekiah, whom he refuses to call king. The field commander said: Tell Hezekiah that this is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing your confidence on? You say you have strategy and military strength – but you speak only empty words (36:4-5). But at the same time he tried to demonstrate the supremacy of the king of Assyria by calling him the great king. Basically he said that Hezekiah was just a man of empty words, not actions. The field commanded contended that Hezekiah's words of war never got past the talking stage. Clearly, this was not a request, but an ultimatum.

    His first attack was against Egypt and the trust the Judeans had put in them. Using words which were not so different than Isaiah’s (19:14-16, 30:7 and 31:3), he said that Egypt had proven to be no help because the Egyptian army had been defeated. The very thing that Isaiah had predicted had then been fulfilled. Look now, you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces a man’s hand and wounds him if he leans on it! Such is Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to all who depend on him (36:6). Egypt was nothing but a bruised, or splintered reed. Whoever leans on a splintered reed will fall. Sometimes we give our opponents ammunition to use against us because we have betrayed our trust in God by trusting in the world instead. God had prohibited trusting in Egypt, and now the field commander was able to mock them for doing such a foolish thing.

    Therefore, we need to examine closely our beliefs and actions to see if, in fact, they are a denial of our professed faith in God. If there are any practices or relationships in our lives that will give others a chance to say that we talk a good game, but are really no different from the world (First John 2:15-17), we need to get rid of them now before it kills our testimony.

    And if you say to me, “We are depending on ADONAI our God,” isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, “You must worship before this altar” (36:7)? Many people today have no spiritual discernment. They are like Sennacherib’s field commander. Had he stopped with Assyria defeating Judah, just as Isaiah had said, he would have been on safe ground. But he went on to say that ADONAI was of no help to the Jews. He was saying, “Don’t you know that Hezekiah had all those high places destroyed?” He thought Hezekiah had destroyed the worship of the nation so that it had no God to turn to. He thought that the worship of heathen alters on the high hills was the same as worshipping the living God in Jerusalem.

    That would be his undoing. He did not understand the difference between Jewish monotheism and the worship of idols. He reasons that the God of Israel would prove useless because Hezekiah had not been faithful to his God. Speaking for his king, Sennacherib, he felt that the LORD would not help Judah because Hezekiah had removed all of the high places and altars. So why would any God want to help him? He did not realize that those very high places themselves were contrary to what ADONAI had instructed. Thus Sennacherib and his field commander reveal a total lack of knowledge of the LORD.

    The Bible teaches us that only the Holy Spirit enables us to have spiritual discernment. It is possible to read, study and memorize large parts of the Bible and still not understand it. The scribes and Pharisees of Yeshua’s day were highly trained in the Torah and the TANAKH, yet they missed its central message. They completely failed to recognize the Messiah when He came, even though He lived right among them (John 5:37-39). People without the Holy Spirit do not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to them, and they cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned (First Corinthians 2:14). Because Sennacherib and his field commander did not belong to the LORD, they could not understand Him. God’s Word is spiritually discerned and understood. But people in their fallen state, before salvation, are spiritually dead.

    To the field commander, Jerusalem’s only reasonable action was to surrender. In contrast to the weakness of Judah, he brags about the superiority of Assyria. “Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses – if you can put riders on them" (36:8)! Mockingly he even offered to give the Jews 2,000 horses if they could provide 2,000 riders to fight against him. The point of this taunt was that Judah did not have enough men to withstand the assault of the Assyrians. He obviously believed that Judah was not strong enough and pointed to the superiority of Egypt. He asked sarcastically: How can you repulse an officer of the least of my master’s officials, even though you are depending on Egypt for chariots and horsemen (36:9)? However, the help of Egypt could not turn the smallest and the weakest Assyrian officer back. The point here is that Egypt was not strong enough to help them either.

    His speech was so convincing precisely because it contained so much that was true. But its basic premise was false; namely, that ADONAI had forsaken Judah, and therefore, that trust in Him was futile. It is always Satan’s way to make us think that God has abandoned us, and to use logic woven from half-truths to convince us of it. This speech was so subtly devilish in character that it might have been written by Satan himself. The truth is that the LORD brought Judah to the end of her own resources so that she might learn again what it meant to trust Him completely. He had not abandoned and would not abandon her. He has not and will not abandon us (John 6:37-40 and 47, 10:27-30; Jude 24).

    Finalizing his argument, the field commander arrogantly boasted that ADONAI, the God of Israel, had ordered him to destroy Judah. Furthermore, have I have come to attack and destroy this land without the LORD? He Himself told me to march against this country and destroy it (36:10). It is Judah’s own God, he said, that had brought Assyria to conquer her. Chapter 10:5-11 makes it clear that Assyria was commissioned by the LORD to invade Judah. But Assyria went far beyond her commission in 10:12-19. That proved to be a serious error. What the field commander was essentially saying to the Judean's was this: Your God cannot help you. To believe that is the purest form of defiance possible; it is ousting ADONAI from the throne of our lives and putting ourselves first. It is the sin of Adam and Eve, and before them, of Satan himself. It is the primal sin from which all others grow. And it was especially, in this case, the sin of the king of Assyria, the great king (36:13, 37:23).131

    What the field commander did in his speech was to reveal the essential nature of the issue that is always before us. Shall we commit ourselves to God or to human might and glory? But more importantly, he threw down the gauntlet to the LORD Himself. If God wants to be known as God, He would need to reveal Himself. ADONAI was waiting for the right opportunity.

    Up to this point the field commander had been speaking in Hebrew. But realizing the seriousness of their situation, the three Jewish negotiators on the wall request that the negotiations be carried on in Aramaic rather than Hebrew. Aramaic was the major diplomatic language in that day. It was similar to Hebrew, but different enough that the common people could not understand it. Then Eliakim, Shebna and Joah said to the field commander, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it. Don’t speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall” (36:11). The reason for this request is to prevent the inhabitants of Jerusalem, many of whom were standing on top of the wall and listening to the proceedings, from hearing the Assyrian threats.

    Of course, the Jewish delegation’s protest only caused the field commander to talk all the louder in Hebrew. Sennacherib had sent him to speak to all of the people. As a result, He arrogantly declared: Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the men sitting on the wall – who, like you, will have to eat their own filth and drink their own urine (36:12)? Confident of victory, he said that the Jews would be forced to eat and drink their own body waste to survive in the siege. The Assyrians used psychological warfare to their greatest advantage. And so does the devil, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).

 

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