Chapter 16 “The beginning of the End”
For 209 years, the northern kingdom of Israel had endured one evil king after another. Their failure to keep God’s covenant meant they would be expelled from the covenant. They had been chosen to be a blessing to all other nations, but now they would be delivered over to those very nations.
Shalmaneser, King of Assyria, set up a puppet government for the northern tribes of Israel and
appointed Hoshea as king. Hoshea was as defiant of Shalmaneser as he was of God, the true King of Israel. He stopped paying tribute and as a result, the Assyrian army destroyed the capital city of Samaria and captured Hoshea. The king, along with many of his fellow Israelites, was deported by Shalmeneser’s successor, Sargon II. By resettling them throughout Assyria, God was settling His own accounts. Idolatry, disobedience, and stubbornness provoked God’s anger and led Him to expel the northern kingdom from His land.
Meanwhile, just to the south in the kingdom of Judah, godly King Hezekiah was nervously watching these world-shaking events on his northern border. Hezekiah stands out from all of the other kings of Judah for his efforts to remove every vestige of idolatry in the land. He rebelled against the new Assyrian king Sennacherib. The Assyrians sent envoys, claiming that they wanted to negotiate a peaceful surrender with Hezekiah in Jerusalem. Their reasoning was faultless: What other nation had been able to stand against the Assyrian might? Had not God Himself commissioned them for this task? Sennacherib’s commander appealed directly to the populace of Jerusalem, speaking to them in Hebrew.
King Hezekiah trusted in the LORD and prayed for deliverance. The prophet Isaiah promised that God would deliver them. What faith it must have taken to trust the prophet’s prediction! The angel of the LORD swept through the Assyrians army as they slept. The next morning Sennacherib’s camp was littered with 185,000 dead Assyrian soldiers. The army retreated and Judah was saved.
Isaiah had been called to be a prophet during the last year of King Uzziah’s life. In a majestic vision of the LORD, he was commissioned to speak for God to turn the people of Judah away from sin and toward their God. He warned that Judah was walking in her sister Israel’s footsteps and therefore would reap similar judgment. Unfortunately, he seldom found a listening audience.
The threat of foreign exile failed to curb the widespread social injustice, moral decay, and religious apostasy. Judah’s pride would be her downfall; God loved His people too much to allow their sin to go unchecked. And although He warned of judgment, He also promised a future restoration. When Israel perceived herself as forsaken and forgotten, her compassionate God would fully restore her. The whole world would know that the LORD is their Savior and Redeemer.
What a comfort Isaiah’s prophecies must have been to the faithful remnant of Judah: God’s Upper Story of redemption would triumph over the sin of His people. Even the godliest of kings could not overcome the sin nature of mankind. In his most memorable passage, Isaiah described a Suffering Servant, who was “pierced for our transgressions.” Looking down from the Upper Story, we can see that this was a description of the true King, who would suffer for all mankind.