Hezekiah and the Assyrians (2 Kings 18.7-19.37; 2 Chr 32.1-23; Is 36,37)
Although Hezekiah felt no immediate repercussions for throwing off the Assyrian yoke, largely due to "the Assyrian army [being] pre-occupied in the eastern part of the empire for several years",1 suddenly and unexpectedly, Assyria invaded Judah, city after city falling to the most powerful military force on the planet (2 Kings 18.13; 2 Chr 32.1; Is 36.1). And at the same time Assyrian ambassadors were sent, probably more than twice, to Jerusalem, waging an escalating campaign of intimidation stretching over several months. They were met by Eliakim "the captain of the castle", Shebna, "secretary of state", and Joah, "the chancellor" (2 Kings 18.18),2 "by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fullers [launderers] field" (2 Kings 18.17). This is where Isaiah originally predicted the Assyrian invasion, and at the same time their failure to utterly vanquish Judah (Is 7.3; 8.5-8). Isaiah even predicted that God would punish the proud-hearted king of Assyria (Is 10.12-19), that Assyria would be broken in the land of Israel (Is 14.24,25), falling by a sword which is not from man, suggesting divine intervention (Is 31.8).
The proud Assyrian ambassadors employed tactics similar to those of Satan in their attempt to terrify Jerusalem into submission. First, they probed Hezekiahs ability to stand against their might, seeking to shake his faith in God (2 Kings 18.19-20; 19.10; 2 Chr 32.10; Is 36.4-5). The hiss of the serpent is unmistakeable in their words: "Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee" (2 Kings 19.10). Although they were right to compare trusting Egypt to leaning on a feeble reed that breaks and pierces the hand (2 Kings 18.21; Is 36.6), they thoroughly misunderstood Hezekiahs revival. They wrongly assumed that by removing altars and high places, and confining Judahs worship to the altar at Jerusalem, Hezekiah had somehow displeased the very God in whom he trusted (2 Kings 18.22; 2 Chr 32.12; Is 36.7). Second, the Assyrians undermined Hezekiahs leadership, slandering Gods servant, and suggesting that he deceived his people with the promise, "the Lord will surely deliver us" (2 Kings 18.29-32; 2 Chr 32.11,15,16; Is 36.18). Third, by speaking in the Hebrew language to the common people, the Assyrians attempted to destroy their morale (2 Kings 18.26-27), threatening them with the extreme hunger and thirst of a siege (2 Kings 18.27; 2 Chr 32.11), while cunningly presenting surrender as an attractive alternative (2 Kings 18.31-32). Fourth, they bragged about previous conquests (2 Kings 18.33-35; 2 Chr 32.13-17), derided Hezekiahs claim, "There is counsel and strength for war", as but "a word of the lips" (2 Kings 18.20, JND), and scornfully offered 2,000 horses if Hezekiah could seat skilled riders on them (2 Kings 18.23). But their pride was their downfall (Prov 16.18). They not only boasted that God ordered the invasion but also placed Jehovah on a par with Gentile idols. These works of mens hands were powerless to deliver their cities; how then could Jehovah deliver Jerusalem (2 Kings 18.33-35; 19.10-13; 2 Chr 32.13-17,19)? In this final boast the Assyrians provoked the mighty God of the universe to act.
Stunned by the sheer size and severity of the Assyrian attack, Hezekiah at first attempted to placate them with a gift so large that he spoiled the temple treasures, even defacing some of its ornate craftsmanship (2 Kings 18.13-16; cp Prov 29.25; Lk 14.31-32). But Sennacherib did not withdraw; rather, he was spurred on by Hezekiahs show of weakness. Remember this – applying worldly wisdom in adversity will only impoverish us spiritually; "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4.7).
But after initially faltering, Hezekiahs faith in the infallible prophetic word rallied, and he began to prepare Jerusalem for an imminent siege (2 Chr 32.1-8). Since "Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellers they are established" (Pr 15.22; 20.18; 24.6), Hezekiah "took counsel with his princes and his mighty men…and they did help him" (2 Chr 32.3). Hezekiah ensured an adequate water supply for his people, probably by channelling water through a subterranean tunnel into the city (2 Kings 20.20; 2 Chr 32.30) – possibly what is now referred to as Hezekiahs tunnel, carbon-dating from its walls having placed it at the time of Hezekiah.3 Furthermore, "there was gathered much people together, who stopped all the fountains, and the brook that ran through the midst of the land" (2 Chr 32.4), thus preventing the Assyrians from having a water supply. Hezekiah strengthened Jerusalems walls, "and repaired Millo in the city of David" (2 Chr 32.5). Although his army was small, Hezekiah ensured that it was well organised, led and equipped (2 Chr 32.5-6). He wisely warned his people not to respond to the taunts of the Assyrians (2 Kings 18.36; see Prov 26.4). At this time of national catastrophe he spoke to the hearts of his people, exhorting them, "Be strong and courageous, be not afraid, nor be cast down from the face of the king of Asshur, and from the face of all the multitude that is with him, for with us are more than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, and with us is Jehovah our God, to help us, and to fight our battles" (2 Chr 32.6-8, YLT). "And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah" (2 Chr 32.8). Here is a model for every spiritual leader. Hezekiah took good counsel; he stimulated cohesion amongst his people, and he supplied sufficient refreshment for them, at the same time depriving the enemy of every possible advantage. Jerusalems defences were strengthened, weapons furnished, and even in the face of massive opposition Hezekiah instilled within his people a trust in Jehovah. Coupled to his extensive preparations, Hezekiah prayed (2 Kings 19.1,14). Throughout his prayers Hezekiah maintained reverence for God (2 Kings 19.15); and although he besought the Lord to take heed to Sennacheribs threats (2 Kings 19.16) and to save Judah, his over-riding desire was for Gods honour (2 Kings 19.19). It is no wonder that Isaiah the prophet joined this godly man in praying for Judah (2 Chr 32.20), and even less surprising that God answered his prayers. May we, in crises, pray like godly Hezekiah.
God knew the impious blasphemy of the Assyrians and their rage against Him (2 Kings 19.6,22,23,27,28). In their arrogance the Assyrians boasted in past achievements (2 Kings 19.11-13), believing that nothing could prevent their progress from "the mountainous tree-covered terrain of Lebanon…[to] the waterless lands of southern Palestine and Sinai (v.25)…[even] the streams of the Nile Delta…[being] powerless to stop him"4 (2 Kings 19.23,24; see Is 37.24,25). Little were they aware that their military successes were actually fulfilling the pre-ordained purpose of the sovereign God they now blasphemed (2 Kings 19.25,26). The Assyrians viewed Judah and Jerusalem as easy prey. But God saw this city as an unviolated and inviolable virgin daughter mocking the Assyrians haughty advances (2 Kings 19.21). And why should she not resist? God promised deliverance for the city and a complete overthrow of her enemy – "I will defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant Davids sake" (2 Kings 19.34). Just as the Assyrians frequently led their captives chained together by hooks in their noses, God would do the same to King Sennacherib (2 Kings 19.28,33). God would "send a blast upon him, and he [would] hear a rumour, and [would] return to his own land, and [Jehovah would] cause him to fall by the sword in his own land" (2 Kings 19.7). "He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it" (2 Kings 19.32). These were standard Assyrian besieging techniques as depicted on unearthed Assyrian sculptured slabs celebrating their attack on the Judean city of Lachish. And God assured Hezekiah that within three years the normal agricultural cycle that had been disrupted by the Assyrian invasion would once more be established, the fruitfulness of the field being replicated in the people of Judah, who would "yet again take root downward, and bear fruit upward" (2 Kings 19.29-31).
Gods Word cannot be thwarted – "the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this" (2 Kings 19.31). That very night "the angel of the Lord [pre-incarnate Christ] went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred fourscore and five thousand" (2 Kings 19.35). Even if Gods promise seems to delay, "wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry" (Hab 2.3). It was not till twenty years later (681 BC), having returned to his own land, that Sennacherib was murdered by two of his sons "as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god" (2 Kings 19.37). Thus God saved and guided Judah, His servant Hezekiah being greatly honoured (2 Chr 32.22-23).
To be continued.
1 Davis J J, Whitcomb J C. ISRAEL, From Conquest to Exile.
2 Keil & Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament.
3 Frumkin A, Shimron A, Rosenbaum J. Radiometric dating of the Siloam Tunnel, Jerusalem. Nature, 2003.
4 G W Grogan. The Expositors Bible Commentary: Isaiah.