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Isaiah 37 - Praying for G-d's Honor

Commentary by Meam Loez

"Chizkiyahu took the scrolls from the messengers and read them. Chizkiyahu then went up the House of G-d and spread them out before G-d." - Isaiah 37:14

Chizkiyahu read the scrolls sent by Sancheiriv which were full of blasphemies. This only served to strengthen his faith, seeing how Isaiah's prophecies were unfolding, so he went into the Temple to pray. He also "spread out" the scrolls for all to see so that the people would also pray.

"Chizkiyahu then prayed to G-d, saying, "Lord of Hosts, G-d of Israel, Dweller upon the Cherubim! You alone are G-d to all the kingdoms on earth, You created the heavens and the earth!" - Isaiah 37:15-16

You are the Lord of the heavens' hosts, said Chizkiyahu. Even if the forces of heaven decree Sancheiriv's victory, You can overturn his power. You are the G-d of Israel - it is only fitting that You should save them. You are the Dweller upon the Cherubim in the Temple's inner sanctuary - how can You let infidels enter Your House and destroy it? You alone are G-d of all the nations - not the idols, as Sancheiriv said. You are the Creator of the heavens and the earth and that is why the nations which did not serve You were erased from the earth and from under the heavens.

After preceding his prayer with the praise of G-d, Chizkiyahu says that his only concern is for the glory of the Living G-d - may He save them so that all the nations will know Him. And even though G-d "hears and sees" everything, Chizkiyahu beseeches G-d to take action.

"Isaiah ben Amotz sent to Chizkiyahu, saying, Thus says the Lord, G-d of Israel, for your having prayed to Me regarding Sancheiriv, king of Assyria, This is what G-d says about (Sancheiriv): "The Virgin Congregation of Zion mocks you and scorns you; the Congregation of Jerusalem shakes her head at you." - Isaiah 37:21-22

After telling Chizkiyahu that G-d has heard his prayers because they were "to Me" - for G-d's honor, Isaiah then conveys G-d's message: Sancheiriv had sought to terrorize the Jerusalemites into surrender; instead, they just mocked him. They, who lived in a "virgin" city never captured by foreign forces, who were betrothed to G-d like a virgin to her betrother, shook their heads to his threats in amusement, knowing that his end was near.

"Who did you blaspheme, Who did you revile and against Whom did you raise your voice, even raising your eyes above, to the Holy One of Israel! You blasphemed G-d through your servants, saying, 'I have risen with my many chariots to the peak of the mountains, to the far reaches of the Lebanon. I have axed its tall cedars and choice cypresses, I have reached the heights of its peaks, its prime forests." - Isaiah 37:23-24

Sancheriv's arrogance reached its peak when he blasphemed the Living G-d. He "blasphemed" in action, with his gestures, he "raised his voice" with audacity and he "reviled" with his thoughts. But even more arrogant was his doing so through his messenger, Ravshakeh, feeling that to do so himself was below him.

"Have you not heard what I have done long ago, what I planned in ancient times? Now I have brought it and you laid waste to fortressed cities, making them mounds of weeds. Their inhabitants are helpless, afraid and ashamed - like the grass of the field, like green foliage, like grass on the roofs, like young shoots before becoming standing grain." - Isaiah 37:26-27

But how can you, Sancheiriv, boast in your power, when it is I, G-d, Who decreed it? You yourself heard of My decrees expressed by Isaiah (36:10), so it was My strength, not yours, which laid waste to fortressed cities, making their inhabitants weak like grass.

"I was aware of your sitting, of your going and coming, and of your raging against Me. But because you raged against Me and your storming has come to My ears, I have placed My hook in your nose and My bit in your lips and shall return you the way you came!" - Isaiah 37:28-29

I was aware as you "sat" in counsel with your generals, as you went out with your armies and as you "came" to Jerusalem - they were all predecreed by Me. But because of your blasphemies, I shall send you back to your land, leading you like a beast - you shall not take Jerusalem as you boasted.

"And this shall be a sign: You shall eat this year the uncultivated vegetables and in the second year, the uncultivated fruit. But in the third year you shall sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit." - Isaiah 37:30

And to Chizkiyahu, Isaiah says that Sancheiriv's fall will augur another promise: Although the Assyrian armies had denuded Jerusalem's surrounding fields, the Jerusalemites would find sustenance from wild growth outside the city for the next two years. This was necessary because those following two years were the Sabbatical Shmitah and Yovel (Jubilee) years, when all sowing is forbidden.

"Therefore, thus says G-d regarding the king of Assyria: "He shall not enter this city nor shoot there an arrow; he shall not set shields against it nor lay a rampart against it. He shall return the way he came and into this city he shall not enter," thus says G-d. "I shall defend this city and save it; for My sake and for the sake of My servant, David." - Isaiah 37:33-35

G-d firmly promises that Sancheiriv will not come close enough to the city to be able to shoot an arrow upon it. Neither will his soldiers need shields for protection because they will never get that close. They would not even raise a rampart against it to bombard it from afar. He shall return to his country as he came - without capturing Jerusalem. But ultimately, G-d will save Jerusalem for His own sake and blasphemed Name, and for the sake of His servant David.

"The angel of G-d went and smote one hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. They woke in the morning and, lo, they were all corpses." - Isaiah 37:36

After a swift victory over King Tirhakah, Sancheiriv returned to the siege. Now he was laden with hordes of their booty and with hordes of enslaved prisoners, too. G-d arranged this so that the booty would fall into Chizkiyahu's hands, and the prisoners - spared the ravage of the plague - would witness Jerusalem's salvation. Chizkiyahu would then emancipate them and they would return to spread G-d's Name in their own countries (see 19:16). That very night, the first night of Passover - the night that Hallel is recited at the Seder - the armies of Assyria were vanquished. One hundred and eighty-five thousand battalions met their death at the sudden plague. The few who were left awoke in the morning to the ghastly sight of a camp full of corpses. Who were among those left? Sancheiriv himself, was one - so that he would be able to go and spread word of the miracle. Two of his sons were also saved - Nevuchadnetzar and Nevuzaradan. Nevuchadnetzar to eventually destroy the Temple and Nevuzaradan to eventually convert to Judaism.

"King Sancheiriv of Assyria got up and went, returned to Ninveh and remained there. As he was prostrating himself at the temple of Nisroch, his god, Adramelech and Saretzer, his sons, smote him with a sword and then fled to the land of Arrarat. Esar-Hadon, his son, then ruled after him." - Isaiah 37:37-38

To offer thanksgiving for being saved from the plague and fearing the rage of those who had lost their sons in that plague, Sancheiriv entered his temple to pray. He offered in prayer to slaughter his own sons as tribute, if he be saved from his people's wrath. Unfortunately for him, his sons overheard him. Thus came to an end the story of Sancheiriv, whose descendants learned Torah in the Land of Israel.

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