Isaiah 36 sneaks up on you in a way few Bible stories do.  The reason for this is that Isaiah’s arrangement lull’s you for a long period of text leading up to it.  Most of the material leading up to it, from Isaiah 9 on really, is prophetic oracle after prophetic oracle describing the coming problems for Jerusalem, judgment on the surround nations and Egypt.  Don’t forget Egypt.  And the Assyrians.  Don’t forget them either.  They will all get their due, says the Lord.  Isaiah 35 is a majestic piece that literally sparkles with poetic greatness.

Then comes 36.  Gone are the oracles.  Gone are the woes and judgments.  Now we get straight prose, narrative kicks in and the key actor is this guy the Bible calls the Rabshakeh.  Never mind that Rabshakeh is one of the most enjoyable words in the whole world to say.  It reminds me of “Mufasa” in The Lion King.  Just saying Rabshakeh makes me tremble.  I can only imagine what he looked like with a long curly Assyrian beard and pointed helmets and probably battle armor and spears and, for reasons beyond the biblical text that seep out of my imagination, I see him with blood smeared on his face and tunic and perhaps a necklace of thumbs, the thumbs of conquered kings hanging around his neck.

needs a thumb necklace, and spikes coming out of his head

The Rabshakeh was the highest ranking military officer under the Assyrian king Sennacherib.  He was the one commanding the army that besieged Jerusalem, King Hezekiah, and Isaiah. The gist of his message is, “No one can save you from me.  It is not even a fair fight.  Yahweh himself told me to come up against you and now he will not save you.  Do not trust Hezekiah.  Surrender.”

You really should read Isaiah 36:4-20 to get the breadth of his amazing speech, but one sample verse will do for us here.  Consider Isaiah 36:10:

Is it without the Lord (Yahweh) that I have come up against this land to destroy it?  The Lord (Yahweh) said to me, Go up against this land and destroy it.

That is a breathtaking statement that should lead us to make at least three observations about our lives.

1.  Not everyone who says they speak for the Lord really does.  People who claim to speak for the Lord usually have an (evil) agenda all their own.

2.  Sometimes people will twist the spiritual facts.  The Rabshakeh pointed to Hezekiah’s positive work of destroying the altars and high places as a negative testimony against him.  Hezekiah’s good dead was used against him by his enemies.

3.  The Rabshakeh reminds us that those who seek to divide us are really trying to conqueror us.  He tried to turn the people against Hezekiah and against orthodoxy.  We should be suspicious of all who use such tactics.

Spend some time today and read all of Isaiah 36 and then ask the Lord to show you who might be playing the Rabshakeh in your life.

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8 responses to “THE RABSHAKEH”

  1. It’s an especially nice touch that the Rabshakeh insists on delivering his monologue in Hebrew. And that the three envoys he meets don’t bother to reply. As a storyteller yourself, I’m sure you note details like that that make the tale more compelling and underscore the very meaning you note here in your essay.

    • absolutely. this little bit here drips with so much wonderful detail, and so closely compacted, that it is a testament to the beauty of hebrew narrative as well as the veracity of the events. what surprises me is that the bit out speaking in hebrew verses aramaic wasn’t redacted out somewhere along the way. that alone should give us greater confidence in the entire biblical text.

      • And the Annals of Sennacherib provide contemporaneous confirmation of the events, the Taylor Prism now in the British Museum, for instance, affirming the forty-six fortified cities described at the beginning of Isaiah 46.

      • absolutely. if we keep digging long enough, we’ll eventually find more and more evidence which, if not proving the validity of the scriptures outright, will certainly lend further credence to the world described between genesis and maps.

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