The Ultimatum (Isaiah 36)

Isaiah 36-39 forms the last section in ch. 7-39 called "Lessons in Trust": Shall we put our trust in God or in the nations?
  • Isaiah 7-12: Ahaz gave the wrong answer to Isaiah.
  • Isaiah 13-35: Isaiah explains why trust in the nations is so foolish.
    • Isaiah 13-23: All people/nations are under God's judgment by the Holy One of Israel.
    • Isaiah 24-27: God's judgment of all nations of the earth will bring history to a close with the redemption of the faithful of all nations, as well as his own people.
    • Isaiah 28-35: Isaiah speaks forcefully against the folly of trusting Egypt instead of God in the specific circumstances leading up to the attack by the Assyrian Sennacherib in 701 BC.
  • Isaiah 36-39: After the above lessons in trust, the test as to whether to trust God or the nations is administered once again, this time to the son of Ahaz, Hezekiah. These chapters are the climax of the whole argument of Isaiah to this point. Isaiah asserts over and over again that God can be trusted. But is that all just rhetoric? No, everything Isaiah said is true in his specific historical context and significance. The main question is whether anyone is listening or not? In brief, it is a short-term "yes" but a long-term "no."
Because Hezekiah says "yes," God's sovereign power and unique trustworthiness are demonstrated by his miraculous deliverance. Isaiah makes the point that God's absolute rule over the world and his ability to care for those who trust him is clearly seen by an overnight destruction of Sennacherib's 185,000 troops (Isa 37:36-37, 38).

Yet Hezekiah's failure to witness to these same truths to the Babylonian envoys is also important to what follows. At this point it might seem that this devout and trusting Hezekiah is the promised Immanuel (Isa 7:14) with the kingdom promised in Isaiah 9, 11 and 32-33. But by Isaiah placing this failure at the end of the section (ch. 39), he is not merely pointing ahead to the coming defeat by Babylon. Much more importantly, Isaiah is saying that Hezekiah is not Immanuel and that we must look to someone else yet to come for the fulfillment of the messianic promises. In the view of some commentators and commentaries, this is the only satisfactory explanation for reversing the chronological order of Isaiah 36-37 and 38-39. [The promise of Isa 38:6 that God will deliver the city from the Assyrian king means that Hezekiah's illness and the visit of the Babylonian envoys occurred prior to the destruction of the Assyrian army described in Isa 37:36-38.]
  1. The Speech of the Field Commander (36:1-22).
  2. Hezekiah's Response (37:1-7).