Isaiah 36-37 The Enemy’s Tactics and Our Response
The story of Hezekiah’s miraculous victory over Sennacherib, King of Assyria is one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament (it’s also related in 2 Kings 18-19). I love the way God silences the boasting of the Rabshakeh, the Assyrian general who had mocked, scorned and blasphemed the God of Israel. Some of the most arrogant boastings and threats in the whole Bible are recorded as coming from this man’s mouth. But you remember the end of the story… Overnight, 185,000 Assyrian soldiers are put to death by the angel of the Lord. Sennacherib and his general return to Assyria defeated and humiliated and Jerusalem is spared.
This story is a microcosm of the victory that God will give his people over their enemy, Satan. There are similarities in the way the Rabshakeh spoke to Israel and the way Satan sometimes speaks to us, and we can learn from Hezekiah and his servants how we should respond to Satan when he comes against us with his lies and threats. We can also be assured that the victory, the slaying of the 185,000, has already been won, and Jesus at the cross has already humiliated our enemy, Satan.
Let’s look at the story in more detail to see these parallels:
We begin our resistance to the enemy with a declaration of trust in God.
Although the author doesn’t relate for us what the Jewish leaders had said to the Rabshakeh, we know that they must have already received some kind of ultimatum and they had responded to it with a refusal to surrender. You can see this in the first words that the Rabshakeh speaks in Isaiah 36:4-5
4 And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 5 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me?
Notice that he says, “…this trust of yours” and he refers to “mere words”. This shows us that Eliakim, Shebna and Joah (Hezekiah’s servants) must have declared to the Rabshakeh that they would not surrender but that they were trusting in Jehovah to deliver them.
In the same way, when Satan comes against us with any kind of attack or temptation, our first response should be to declare our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as Hezekiah “rebelled” against the King of Assyria, we must “rebel against” the Prince of this World. I use the term “rebel” because that’s really our position in this fallen world. Satan is called in 2 Cor. 4:4, “the god of this world.”
Part of spiritual warfare is realizing that we live in enemy territory. This world as it presently exists is not neutral territory, nor has it been completely reclaimed by the Lord Jesus—that belongs to the future redemption of creation that Christ will accomplish at his return (Romans 8:20-25). So when Satan as the god of this world comes at us the way the Rabshakeh came against Hezekiah, we must not just open the gates and let him in, but we must rebel.
So much spiritual warfare in the lives of Christians is lost because they never see the need for this initial rebellion against the false promises of the god of this world. Just as the Rabshakeh, Satan comes to us with false promises of fulfillment, pleasure and abundance…
16 Do not listen to Hezekiah. For thus says the king of Assyria: Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 17 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards.
Don’t make peace with the enemy! Don’t float through this world and live your life the way everyone else does! Rebel! Declare your trust in Jesus and live the counter-cultural life that he calls us to.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of tactics that Satan uses against us, but consider the similarities between the tactics of the Rabshakeh and the way Satan often comes against us. Using the following lies, Satan tries to intimidate us into following him and not “rebelling.”
“You are no match for me. Just give in” (verses 6-9).
6 Behold, you are trusting in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 7 But if you say to me, “We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar”? 8 Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 9 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen?
I love this one because it is so obviously self-defeating on Satan’s part. Notice the truth in what the Assyrian general is saying to Hezekiah. “Don’t think that Egypt can save you!” Isn’t that exactly what God himself was constantly saying to his people through the prophets? “Don’t trust in Egypt to save you. Trust in me.”
“Trusting in Egypt” is relying on our own human resources to combat the temptations and lies that Satan throws at us. When temptation comes and Satan tries to convince us that we can’t resist and that we should just “go with the flow,” we should see in that lie the very pathway to deliverance. It’s true, we are no match for him. We need to look away from ourselves and our ability to “perform” for God. Our confidence is not in ourselves but in the Lord Jesus.
So the best way to combat this lie is just to decide that no matter what, we are not going to give in to the lie that resistance is futile. It is not futile because Jesus has won the victory over sin for us. It’s not a question of how strong we are, but of his already-won victory over sin.
No matter how many times we’ve failed in the past, those failings do not diminish the strength of our captain. Our hope is not in Egypt (our own resources), but in Jesus. No matter how many times we must come to the Lord Jesus asking for forgiveness, we are going to hold on to him.
“You’ve come to the Lord too many times for forgiveness” (verse 7).
When we do hold on to Jesus, Satan can then come at us with this next lie. “But you’ve sinned so many times, what makes you think that Jesus will keep forgiving you?” Notice how similar this lie is to what the Rabshakeh said in verse seven.
7 But if you say to me, “We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar”?
Removing the high places and altars is exactly what Hezekiah should have done, but the general tries to twist this around into a reason that God is not going to help Israel.
In the same way, coming to Jesus for cleansing whenever we sin is exactly what we are commanded to do (1 John 1:9), and yet Satan would have us believe that doing this is going to put us on God’s black list. He is not happy with us for having asked for his forgiveness so many times.
“You are being punished by God” (verse 10).
10 Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this land to destroy it? The Lord said to me, Go up against this land and destroy it.’ ”
This was a powerful lie. The Rabshakeh is saying, “How can you depend on the Lord to save you. It is the Lord’s doing that I am here to defeat you, so calling on him for help isn’t going to work.” In the same way, Satan would have us believe that the reason we are struggling with some sin is because we have brought it on ourselves. Because of our own foolishness we have put ourselves in a no-win situation because God himself is against us. We have so messed up our lives that God is now no longer willing to save us. “In fact,” Satan convinces us, “God has determined that you must pay the consequences for this sin.” This lie then ties in with the first and we are convinced that it really is no use seeking to live in victory over sin because we are under God’s judgment.
But what does the gospel say? Our sins were placed on Christ (Isaiah 53:4,11-12, Hebrews 9:28)
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. (1 Peter 2.24)
The key to not succumbing to this lie is to look to Jesus, who bore our sins for us. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8.1).
Our response to Satan’s tactics
In addition to what I’ve already pointed out about how we can respond to these lies, there are a couple of observations here in the story itself that can help us in dealing with our enemy. Verses 21 and 22 record for us how Hezekiah’s servants responded to the Assyrian general:
21 But they were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him.” 22 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn, and told him the words of the Rabshakeh.
Don’t answer the enemy
Of course there is a sense in which it is necessary to answer the lies of Satan. As I’ve pointed out above, we need to quote the Scripture at him the same way Jesus did when he faced him in the desert. We need to counteract the lies and deceptions of Satan with biblical truth.
But there is also a sense in which we should not answer the enemy. We cannot allow ourselves to start reasoning with temptation or we will very quickly talk ourselves into (actually, be talked into) doing exactly what we are resisting. We can so easily convince ourselves that we are “resisting” the enemy when we are actually slowly giving in to his lies and rationalizing ourselves into sin.
You Lord of the Rings fans will recall the voice of Saruman. “Don’t listen to his voice,” Gandalf warned, “lest you come under his spell.” Saruman had an ability to talk in such a way that made his arguments sound like one’s own. Beware the voice of Saruman/Satan!
The best, practical way to avoid this is to listen to the voice of God in his Word. We cannot do better than our Savior who three times defeated Satan by “not answering him a word”, but by listening to what the Father had said in his Word.
Tell it to Jesus
Hezekiah’s servants didn’t respond to the Rabshakeh, but verse 22 says they went and told his words to the King. We likewise should take the lies of Satan to our King. Don’t talk to the enemy and certainly don’t talk to yourself about his lies, but go to Jesus and say, “This is what I’m hearing. These are the temptations I’m facing. What am I to do? You are the king; this is your problem and I need you to deal with this because I’m powerless before this powerful enemy.”
Let’s rebel against the god of this world! And when the enemy comes with his boasting and posturing and threatening, we will stand in the name of Jesus and see him demonstrate his victory over his enemies!