Isaiah and the Assyrian Menace
I am here Jesus:
In my last sermon I showed that Isaiah was a prophet of Peace, a man who championed the cause of the people as against the ruling class in Jerusalem. Now I am going to write you about the prophecies which Isaiah made and is supposed to have made, and tell you what therein is true and what is false.
These predictions were made as a result of Judah's participation in the worldwide events that were taking place at this time. The two great nations of the area, Assyria and Egypt, were vying for dominant power, and the small states between them, Israel, Judah and Syria were caught, so to speak, in the middle. You know, of course, that Isaiah preached neutrality and a policy of qiuescence with faith in God as the guiding principle. His words in Hebrew are hard to carry over into English because of a play on words, but he said something like, "IN THE LORD ABIDE, AND HE WILL PROVIDE." But owing to the fear generated by Assyria in the small states, their rulers, like Rezin of Syria and Rekah of Judea, thought it preferable to join with Egypt as the lesser of the two evils.
In fact these principalities were so vexed at Judea's passivity at this time (about 738 B.C.) that they determined to attack Jerusalem. As I mentioned in my first sermon on Isaiah, Ahaz son of Jotham, was on the throne of Judea. The prophet was now rather removed from close sanguinity with the royal house, yet he had as an elder statesman continued to be heard at times in defense of his policy of faith and neutrality as against the young nobles surrounding Ahaz. When the ruler came to inspect the water supply system of Jerusalem to prepare for a siege, Isaiah met him with his small son, Shear-Jesheb (a remnant shall remain), and told him not to be dismayed, for two attackers were weak and should give the King no concern. Isaiah spoke from his knowledge of Syria and Israel as a statesman, but he also spoke from his insight and the inner convictions of the situation which God had given him as His prophet.
Isaiah's prophecy thus dealt with a local event, but the passage has become one of the most famous in the Old Testament:
"Behold, the young woman is with child and will bear
a son and will call his name 'Immanuel'.
For before the lad knows how to reject the bad and choose the good,
the land whose two Kings are causing you terror will be deserted."
(Isaiah, Chapter 7, verses 14-16).
These sentences were taken out of context and the Hebrew word alma, (a young woman) was given the meaning 'virgin' by the Greek and Latin translators, so that the thought expressed was that of a virgin birth, so popular in ancient religions, And here I may cite the birth of Horus, among the Egyptians, or Buddha, in India. The early Christian editors, of course, were seeking for something in the Old Testament to support their theories of a virgin birth for the Christ to bring back to, and convert, their pagan compatriots. They succeeded, to be sure, but impartial scholars and many members of different churches are now agreed that this prophecy of Isaiah did not refer to me but to a child born during Isaiah's time.
As a matter of fact, the prophecy refers to Hezekiah, the King's son, the fact that on the child's shoulders should rest the administration of the government is confirmation that the prophecy referred to the ruler to be. The latter started out well and made religious reforms in an effort to stamp out idol worship, destroying the old brazen serpent that had been venerated for centuries, and forbade grove and high place worship. In this respect he earned the respect and approval of those interested in preserving the Hebrew faith; and this is true. But he had no conception of social justice or the rights of the poor man or anything that might improve the condition of the people. Never could those words have applied to me, for I did not come to be the King or ruler of a material Kingdom, but as the Messiah of God, the Way-shower to the Father and Salvation through prayer to Him for His Divine Love. I shall discuss this in more detail in another sermon.
The prophecy of the young woman and her child was followed by the defeat of Israel and Syria, as Isaiah had predicted, yet brought about through Ahaz' secret plea to Assyria for help. Of course this help cost Judah vast sums in gold and silver taken from the Temple and it also reduced the nation's strength and independence. Assyria's armies came marching into Palestine and in 734 B.C. invaded Israel, taking possession of my own country, Galilee, and lands east of the Jordan river. Syria, with its capital at Damascus, was crushed two years later. In 724 B.C. the Assyrians came again to Israel because of rebellion there and took Samaria, the capital, after a three year siege. The people, upwards of thirty thousand, were enslaved in different parts of the Assyrian land and the Ten Tribes of Israel were lost as a Hebrew entity
Isaiah lived through these years, keenly aware of the great threat to Judea from the same armies, and he felt that the disaster which had overtaken Syria and Israel had been due to their refusal to obey the laws of God as given in the Ten Commandments. He also felt that Judea was in just as poor an ethical state as the conquered nations had been. Furthermore, he was heartbroken, since Ahaz' alliance with Assyria had entailed recognition of the Assyrian gods. Ahaz went so far as to order the erection in the Temple of a new altar dedicated to Tilgath-Pileser, the Assyrian King, and this pagan shrine displaced the old altar to Jehovah. Like Elijah before him in denouncing the Baal of the Phoenicians, so Isaiah now would not countenance such an abomination. To Isaiah, this situation could mean only one thing -- that Jehovah would cause the destruction of Judea. Before the disaster that struck Israel, he prophecied that the Judeans would be overwhelmed by the Assyrians like flood waters:
"Inasmuch as this people has rejected the waters of
Shiloah that run smoothly; therefore, behold, the Lord
will bring up upon them the waters of the River that
are mighty and many, and it will rise over all its
channels; and run over all its banks; and it will sweep
on into Judah, an overflowing flood, and will reach
up to the neck." Isaiah, Chapter 8, verses 6-6.
On different occasions Isaiah made known God's Will that Judah would eventually be destroyed and the people taken captive. When his second son was born about 732 B.C. he called him "Lemaher shalal hash baz" (Swift is spoil, speedy is prey), and when Egypt and her petty alliances rose up against Sargon in the years 713 - 711 B.C., including Philestia, Moab, Edom and Judah, Isaiah, then in his forties, went about the streets unclad, as a vivid reminder of the way captives were treated by the Assyrians. The coalition was a failure and suffered defeat in battle. Though Judah was not directly attacked, yet the King had to pay considerable sums to buy off assault upon Jerusalem. Sargon, the Assyrian Monarch, desisted partly because Judah had remained neutral in the past -- so that Isaiah, through his policy of peace and non-intervention, had been instrumental in saving the holy city he knew must in time come to grief.
Still another great crisis faced Judah from Assyria in the years that followed. When Sargon died in 705 B.C. the petty states subject to him determined upon rebellion. The new monarch, Senacherib, squashed every attempt at rebellion, first in the lands neighboring his own and then, in 702 B.C., turning his attention to the west, putting down Sidon, Ashod, Ammon, Moab and Edom, as well as other principalities, and defeating decisively the Egyptians in battle at Altaku. Assyria was now ready to assail the fortress of Jerusalem and, indeed, would have taken it, had not Hezekiah, now the Judean King, sent word that he was ready to surrender or negotiate terms. Sennacherib agreed, and Jerusalem was saved in exchange for vast sums of gold and silver taken from his treasury and that of the Temple.
Jesus of the Bible
Master of the Celestial Heavens
Go to Table of Contents
Return to Home Page