Tuesdays are for the Old Testament
Luther, Martin, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, translated by Herbert J.A. Bowman) Luther’s Works, Vol. 16, Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 1-39. St. Louis: Concordia, 1969. Logos Electronic Edition.
“Isaiah Chapter 37” pp. 314-331.
In his opening comments on Isaiah 37, Luther notes that some arguments simply provoke more argument. The Assyrian assaults on Israel have been destructive. The king is in despair. Yet, as a wise king, he turns to the prophet Isaiah and asks for prayer (LW 16, 314). It is by God’s grace that the nation can be delivered. Their arguments will not bring a resolution.
In verse 6 the message from God is that the words of the enemy are poisonous. Healing and grace come through the words of God (LW 16, 315). God’s promise is to make the king of Assyria fearful. He will not fear the army, but he will fear a rumor which he will hear. This shows God’s great power. “Therefore the one task of the godly is to trust in God and His Word, in all trials and hopeless situations to rely on God, who can very easily save us. Let us put away our eason, hope, counsel, and power. Since these cannot save us, let us take refuge with God; He will deliver us. (LW 16, 316). The situation involving Hezekiah is therefore able to encourage Christians to turn to God in hope. Between verses 6 and 12 the strength and courage of Hezekiah seem to be reborn. He is able to speak against the Assyrians again (LW 16, 316). Although Satan may have strengthened the Assyrians to fight against God’s people, God is the one who is able to defeat every enemy. This is the confidence which Hezekiah finds. The very specific God of Israel is the one above all (LW 16, 317). Furthermore, Luther reminds his readers that the true God has given specific ways to worship him. We do not have permission to create a new means of worship. He has already let us know where and how he is to be found. Luther says that attempts to deviate are a great heresy (LW 16, 318). This idea is continued through verse 19. The God who has revealed himself to his people has given them a means of approaching him. This is the ordinance of God. Worship according to God’s direction is his mighty work (LW 16, 319).
Finally, the prophet asks God to rescue Israel from the Assyrians. God is quic to answer in verse 21 because Isaiah has prayed according to God’s will (LW 16, 320). God’s response to Assyria is very powerful. According to God, Israel can scorn Assyria. Their own observation would suggest otherwise, but God’s promise is that he has in fact defeated Assyria (LW 16, 321). The boasts of the Assyrians are in vain. God has decreed their defeat long ago (v. 26) (LW 16, 322). Luther notes that those leaders who have planned their own glory have typically failed but that those who plan to recognize God’s care succeed in their desires (LW 16, 323).
Luther observes that it is normal for God to give some sort of sign of his deliverance. In this situation God says that the people will find enough grain left behind by the Assyrians that they will not starve, despite the siege (LW 16, 325). God in his mercy provides his people with what they need. This sign of life will continue, as in verse 31 the remnant of Israel will be able to take root and grow (LW 16, 327). This root of the people, Luther says, comes from the power of God’s Law and Gospel. Though the visible signs of the Church have often been destroyed, yet the root of Law and Gospel remain and the Church can grow again (LW 16, 328). This salvation is accomplished by God’s zeal. He is enthusiastic about saving his people. He accomplishes salvation by his word of promise. This is the message of verse 35. He does it by his promise and for his own sake (LW 16, 329). God routs the Assyrians, destroying 185,000. Luther notes how in the Bible even great slaughters are dealt with in few words. This is in contrast to the long exhortations of the prophets. It would seem that God is willing for his people to hear his word. When nobody will hear his word, his judgment is swift (LW 16, 330). Sennacherib’s idolatry is ended. He has been put to flight. He is eventually killed in his own court by his sons. God brought his downfall (LW 16, 331).