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Getting Isaiah, Part 2: Twelve Events Standing Behind Every Prophecy in Isaiah

lachishIn my last post, I introduced the background to the book of Isaiah in vague pictures designed to capture the essence of the political, social & religious dynamic at work in his world. This portrait is an essential part of understanding the many prophetic sermons recorded in the book of the same name.

Assyria has arisen to re-assert its horrible dominion over the ANE (Ancient Near East), smaller nations are panicking and trying to either pressure each other into a unified effort against Assyria, or to remain free from such pressures, or to plot a easy of an “enslavement” as a vassal state under Assyria as possible… it seems inevitable after all. Two great nations keep promising support and defense to these smaller nations in exchange for covenant, risk, and aid. The Hebrews, however, have been commanded NEVER to covenant with a pagan, but to trust in YHWH to protect them, if they keep his covenant.

When the heat is on and the threat looms large, every citizen, and every ruler in Judah is forced to ask one simple question, “Will I trust my life into YHWH’s hands, or will I betray my covenant with YHWH in hopes of saving my own skin right now?”

We summarized it thus:

  1. A Faith, who commands and theology is standardized in sacred literature.
  2. A Threat, which makes maintaining that faith seem risky.
  3. Scared People clamoring for compromise… also threatening.
  4. A Corrupt Path promising immediate relief
  5. An important choice… 1. remain faithful, trusting God, however it turns out or 2. yield to the temptations and pressures of compromise and corruption in order to reason out one’s own deliverance.

Some details might help however. The dates I provide are all ISH dates, 744ish, 742ish, because there is a lot of shifting around of calculations in the commentaries. Dating events in the ancient world is anything but simple, but these dates should suffice. Remember these dates are before Christ… they progress backwards.

744ish, after a long period of weakness, as a result of political, economic, and cosmological upheaval, Tiglath-pileser III ascends to the throne and begins to assert Assyrian dominion again. (This event helps provoke a series of conspiracies in the Monarchy of Israel [i.e. The Northern Kingdom]) (Jeroboam II the Great champion on behalf of Israel against Assyria is two years dead.) Remember, Israel is both the Northern Kingdom (Sometimes called Ephraim) and at times, all the People of YHWH. Judah is the Southern Kingdom. Israel splits into two nations after the death of Solomon.

742ish, Uzziah King of Judah dies after a long illness with “Leprosy.” (A skin disease that is not to be identified with what we call leprosy today.) Isaiah sees the vision of the YHWH in His Temple (Isaiah 6) and learns of God’s plan for both himself and Judah. Jotham, Uzziah’s son, having been co-regent during his father’s illness, becomes sole monarch of Judah.

734ish, having failed to force Ahaz new king of Judah, the recent successor of Jotham, into an anti-Assyrian coalition, Syria and Israel invade Judah. The Syro-Ephraimite war is on. They intend to kill Ahaz and set up a puppet king who will rape Judah’s resources for their own fight against Assyria.  Isaiah meets panicked Ahaz and offers both a promise and a personal opportunity. (Isaiah 7)

732ish, Ahaz, having blown his opportunity to stand in faith, and having sought the assistance of Assyria against Syria and Israel, becomes a stage 1 vassal of Assyria.  Assyria, in response, wipes out Syria (stage #3 vassal state) and installs a puppet king in Israel, Hoshea (Stage #2 vassal state). Stage #1 vassal state: Tribute paying. Stage #2: Puppet King & Tribute Paying. Stage #3: Nation crushed, populace dragged into exile, new populace imported, puppet king, paying tribute.

722, Tiglath-pileser having died earlier, Israel’s puppet king, Hoshea, staged a rebellion against Tiglath’s successor, Shalmaneser V. In this year, however, Assyria finishes off Israel (i.e. Samaria falls). They deport the bulk of the Israelites and import new residents. At some point in this process, Shalmaneser is overthrown by Sargon II who becomes the new King of Assyria.

712ish, after a long period of inner turmoil, and outward attack, Egypt is completely dominated by Cush (modern day Ethiopia). Cushite ties with Assyria are friendly at this time.

712ish, an anti-Assyrian coalition headed by the Philistine city of Ashdod and supported by Egypt is destroyed by Assyrian forces under Sargon II.  The rebel leaders flee to Egypt for safety, and encounter the new Cushite rulers who give the rebels back to Assyria. Everyone is, thus, betrayed by their own political hopes in Egypt.

710ish, on the other side of secular hopes, Merodach-baladan II (on again off again King of Babylon), having maintained an independent Babylon for ten years, finally succumbs to Assyrian pressure. Merodach-baladan II escapes, but Assyrian dominion is established in Babylon, dashing the hopes of those who looked to Babylon for deliverance from Assyria.

705ish, Sargon II dies and his son Sennarcherib takes the throne. As was customary, mass rebellion breaks out among Assyrian vassal states, including both Judah, under Hezekiah, and Babylon, headed by Merodach-baladan II.

703ish, having heard of Hezekiah’s recovery from near death, Merodach-baladan II sends envoys to wish him well and to encourage an anti-Assyrian coalition between them. Hezekiah welcomes them and listens to them (i.e. He covenants with pagans and sets his hopes on a political solution to his trouble with Assyria). Hezekiah is rebuked with a prophetic warning from Isaiah for his trouble. God never would have allowed Assyria to have them, but now, everything that Hezekiah feared from Assyria will be done to Judah by Babylon in whom he foolishly trusted instead of trusting in YHWH.

703ish, Merodach-baladan II makes a valiant attempt to free Babylon from the grip of Assyria, but ultimately fails, dashing the hopes of all who trusted in Babylon to save them from Assyria.

701, (absolutely no ISH) Sennacherib, having dealt with other more pressing rebellions, turns his attention to the rebel state of Judah. Hezekiah fortifies Jerusalem. Sennacherib destroys the vast portion of Judean fortified cities, refuses to be bought off, and sends representatives to Jerusalem. Assyria mocks YHWH.  Hezekiah repents for his faithlessness.  God destroys a portion of Assyria’s army with a seeming plague, and they go home in defeat.

The 701 invasion of Sennacherib begins an exile in Judah, that his father already began in Israel, by exiling, according to his own records, over 200 thousand people from Judah. Cities destroyed, (Isaiah 1:1ff), people exiled, temple raped by Hezekiah in an attempt to buy off Sennacherib, the prophet Isaiah looks forward to the period of restoration after exile (Chapters 40-66) when YHWH comes into the world, establishing His kingdom on earth through is Messiah, the Son of David, who will also fulfill Israel’s mission to the Gentiles. Exile is not done yet, several other sweeps of exile will come before Jerusalem falls and the temple with it, but when the process is done, YHWH will end their war, forgive their sin, and compensate them double for all their trouble.

As you read Isaiah, think on these events and look for clues as to which one’s form the immediate background. Never lose track of the theological dynamic at work, however. They are in crisis and have important religious decisions to make.

Soon, we’ll give some important hints for reading Isaiah based on the structure of the book.

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