Part 8, King Ahaz (Part 7, Feb 17)
Back in Isaiah 7:3, God gave Isaiah specific instructions as to where he was to meet with King Ahaz: “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field.”
Imagine being Ahaz and here comes Isaiah with his son, whose name means ‘A Remnant Will Return’ – which in itself had to be a hint, because why bring the boy along in the first place? And a lad with such a strange name too. So did God have Isaiah give this name to his son – or inspire the thought, perhaps – in preparation for this moment?
Because names really come into this story – which seems odd, though, because Ahaz didn’t pick up on any of them. But God went ahead and had all the details recorded anyway. As a trail of clues, perhaps, for us to follow?….
If so, the second clue was the name of the location. Did Ahaz even wonder for a moment, however, why he had to meet Isaiah “at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool”? The name “Upper Pool” meant “the blessing of the Most High,” so here was Ahaz standing at the end of a channel down which, in its name, God’s blessing flowed. Significant? Not to Ahaz, unfortunately. And there was more to come too.
The channel, for instance, verse 3, was “on the road to the Washerman’s Field,” or as other translations have it, the “Fuller’s Field.” It must have been a well-known landmark, because this was where the fullers gathered with their woven woollen cloth to scour it clean from oils, dirt, and other impurities, using the agitating water from the aqueduct. They would also shrink the cloth by pounding it, and they’d bleach it too (to ‘full’ means to ‘whiten’), the end result being a thicker, tighter, smoother, stronger and more water repellent duffel coat like fabric.
And Ahaz would have known that. Putting two and two together, then, he could have figured out why he was meeting Isaiah at this very spot. In the boy’s name was a promise that his nation would not be destroyed, and in the location a promise that God would pour out a blessing on him – like the water flowing down from the Upper Pool. And it would have the same cleansing, whitening and strengthening effect on Ahaz as the fullers were able to create in their cloth.
Three clues, all designed to give Ahaz confidence, but also to grow him up, because a fuller’s cloth went though quite a process to turn it into functional, lasting clothing for the wearer. God was offering Ahaz the chance, therefore, to become a great king and leader of his people….(part 9, March 3)
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There’s an interesting little tidbit about the “fuller’s field” concerning the account in 2 Kings 18:17:
“And the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great host against Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they were come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller’s field.”
This is the same field as recorded in Isaiah 7:3. The Assyrian army had besieged Jerusalem with the intent of attacking it, and had set up camp in the vicinity of the “fuller’s field.” In the meantime, it is reasonable to assume that they dug a well for their water source—“I have dug wells and drunk foreign waters…” (2Ki 19:24).
“And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand [185,000]: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses” (verse 35).
How could this happen? How could “the angel of the Lord” smite the entire camp? There is one possible explanation to this puzzle.
In ancient times fullers would have used a substance such as “lye” (sodium hydroxide), “natron” (sodium carbonate decahydrate) or some other “alkaline salt,” or “fuller’s soap” as a cleansing agent. The fuller is the O.T. version of today’s “dry cleaner.” “Fullers soap” is mentioned in Malachi 3:2, “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like FULLERS’ SOAP.”
Regardless of what cleansing agents are used, these substances are very alkaline, and depending their structure, can be either highly corrosive or highly toxic. Lye can be used to digest tissues of animal carcasses. Natron is used as a drying agent, such as in an embalming process. Any highly alkaline substance can cause severe to fatal reactions to the body when ingested.
Thus it is highly probable that “the angel of the Lord” caused the “fulling” runoff to pollute the drinking water of the Assyrian host. Upon drinking this contaminated water, the entire army could have easily been poisoned overnight and expired as a result.