2 Kings 18-19
February 6, 2000
GOD VERSUS SENNACHERIB
Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
2 Kings 18-19
Imagine being in a city like, say, Chechnya. The city is surrounded by enemies intent on killing people and destroying the city. Their force is overwhelming. And they drop leaflets asking the city to surrender. That's bad enough. But let's say that it is a city like Wheaton, Illinois, or Grantham, where there are lots of Christians. And the attacking force is Muslim under shiara law; and, in their power, they ask you to surrender because your God is not real and he can't deliver you. And you can hear the rumble of tanks and can see the rocket stations and gun emplacements. What can you do? What help is there?
That sense of oppression is like the situation in 2 Kings 18 and 19. Assyria, with its capital Nineveh, is the most powerful nation in the middle east in 701 BC. They easily defeat the Egyptian army at Eltekeh. What can Hezekiah be thinking in verse7 when he rebels against the king of Assyria? Here is a man who has just been described in the words, "the Lord is with him," and, "he was successful in whatever he undertook." He obeys God and holds fast to him. But Assyria's Sennacherib is cleaning up cities in the middle east. Why would you rebel against this power?
Let's ask what this rebellion means? Verse 8. Hezekiah expands his little kingdom by fighting the Philistines, the ancient enemies of Israel. He deposes Padi, king of Ekron, holding him captive in Jerusalem. He makes an alliance with Sidqa of Ashkelon. Can you imagine how Assyria viewed these acts? Of course, they were seen as anti-Assyrian moves. So in 701 BC, the Assyrians launch a campaign into Judah. Sennacherib captured some 200,000 Jews and 46 walled towns and Jerusalem itself is besieged. So, in verse 14, Hezekiah pleads guilty and releases Padi and pays a tribute to the Assyrians, but this did not deliver the Jews from the Assyrian army.
Now this situation is about as bad as it gets in the world, and we've observed many situations like this today, where wars and rumors of wars go on at a biblical pace. How can a person possibly overcome this kind of danger? Hezekiah is the son of Ahaz, a king who did evil in the eyes of the Lord, (16:2-4) and it is an act of grace that Hezekiah, according to 18:3, does what is right in the eyes of the Lord, though he is only 25 when he comes to the throne. Evidently, the example of his father does not compel him.
I think the expression, "in the eyes of the Lord," is telling. Lots of people think they are doing right in their own eyes; but by some more objective standard, it turns out to be not right at all. If you do right in the eyes of the Lord, what do you do? Notice Hezekiah.
Verse 5, Hezekiah trusts God.
Verse 6, Hezekiah held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him.
Verse 6, Hezekiah kept the commands of the Lord.
To trust means to believe or to have faith in God. To hold
fast to God is an expression used only two times in the Old Testament,
here, of Hezekiah and in Deuteronomy 4:4, of those few people
of Israel who held fast to the Lord in the wilderness of Sinai
and so, in 40 years, come into the Promised Land with Joshua and
Caleb. So when people around you are compromising with the culture
or weakening their commitment to God, God longs for people who
How do you know when you hold fast to God in your life? There is one measurable action in verse 6, Hezekiah kept the commands of the Lord. Let's look at this. About some issues, God's command is clear; but there are some issues which, as the culture changes, we find that the Bible doesn't speak directly enough that we can see how a command applies in our situation. So there doesn't seem to be a clear command for us. But specific commands of God, even in a different culture, we need to keep. Even when we don't completely understand the implications. What do we do with this so we hear and obey God?
Let me give an example. I am a member of the editorial council of the Believer's Church bible commentary series. We were discussing the manuscript of Ephesians in our most recent meeting. In Ephesians 5, we have what is called the household code, commands about the relation of husbands and wives, parents and children, the Lord and the church. When the writer of the commentary discussed that household code, he was clearly uncomfortable, given our culture, saying a husband ought have authority over his wife. The ground on which he dealt with the tension was to say that Paul was speaking from within only his culture and he doesn't have authority to speak to ours. One of the others on the editorial council remarked that this would help women who read the passage. My response was, but Paul is an apostle. He's not just another person in the discussion of what is right. However, we deal with the issue of husbands and wives and there are restrictions on the husband as well we can't unmake Paul. Paul speaks with God's authority, not with a viewpoint confined to his culture only. When Hezekiah heard God's command, he obeyed it. And what God asked Hezekiah to do was certainly as alien to his cultural normals as interpersonal authority is in ours.
In 701 BC, the commander of the Assyrian army, confident in his victories and the power of his army, stands before the walls of Jerusalem, like the armies of Mordor before Minas Tirith, or the armies of the Turk before Constantinople in the 15th century. I choose those two examples because in one case the attackers win and in the other they do not. How will this go for Hezekiah and Jerusalem?
Assyria's commander challenges the people of Jerusalem, speaking in Hebrew so that not only the politicians can hear they are used to bandying words but also the people. He makes an offer, surrender and you will be able to plant your own vineyards. Of course, when the Assyrians defeated Samaria, according to 18:11, they deported most of the people. Next, the Assyrian commander says, "don't listen to Hezekiah." Verses 31, 32. And then comes the clincher, verse 33, "Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?"
Verse 36, the people remained silent, not only because the king had commanded them to be silent, but because it was true.
In the face of such a threat, it is hard to do what is right. It is easy to temporize. A lot of men and women, in the face of political realities, compromise. That seems like the practical thing to do.
The commander delivers a letter to Hezekiah with these statements
in it, according to 19:14, and Hezekiah spreads it out before
the Lord. I love that phrase. Hezekiah is assuming that God can
read. He is acknowledging that God knows both Jerusalem's straits
and how Assyria has insulted God by assuming He is on a par with
the gods of other nations, the gods Assyria had defeated. In this
8th century world, when a nation defeated another nation, the
assumption was that you had demonstrated that their gods were
not all that powerful.
What will Hezekiah do? If he followed the example of his father in 2 Kings 16:7, he would ask Assyria for help saying, "I am your servant and vassal." And Ahaz bribed the king of Assyria, giving him the silver and gold from the temple. What will Hezekiah do?
Hezekiah resists Assyria on three grounds:
1. 18:5, he trusts God.
2. 19:6, 7, he listens to Isaiah's prophecy.
3. 19:14ff, he lays the need before the Lord and prays.
It is at this point where we need to see events in the world in two lights. One, the political and practical reality. You can be one of the good guys and weigh in on this side. McPhee, one of the residents of St. Anne's, the center of the good side in C. S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength, is a rationalist, a character patterned after C. S. Lewis' own tutor, Kirkpatrick. He is logical and insists on having views not clouded by emotion or anything but logic. He's a political realist.
The other way to see the events of the world is in light of the spiritual and Godward reality where things are not always what they seem. That is the ground on which Hezekiah prays. "O Lord, enthroned between the cherubim," that is, You are the God we meet when we worship, for the cherubim were on the ark of the covenant. "You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth" including the Assyrians. "Creator of the heavens and the earth," so Hezekiah is saying the canvas is much larger than Jerusalem; and the principles by which the true world works are these eternal principles built into the world at creation. And what Hezekiah then pleads is, God, the Assyrians have insulted you. They have minimized you. Defend your honor.
And God answers. He speaks first to Sennacherib in verses 22-28. And he says, "You mock me? I mock you! You blaspheme me," verse 25, "Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass." This is the larger scale again and it reminds me of God's response to Job and all the questions God asked Job. Verse 27, "I know where you stay and when you come and go" this is God's tracking satellite, "I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth and I will make you return by the way you came."
And then God speaks to Hezekiah in verses 29-31, for Hezekiah needs encouragement from God. "There will be a remnant of the house of Judah and Sennacherib will not enter this city."
What happens? Verse 35, "that night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty five thousand men in the Assyrian camp." What a fighting machine.
I remember hearing a joke some years ago about the English army pursuing some Irishmen and there comes a point where a single Irishman comes around from behind a boulder and challenges the English, "Come on, I'll take on a dozen of you, I'll take on two dozen of you." And so two dozen English soldiers move toward the rock and you hear this awful sound of hitting and battling, and one Englishman staggers out from behind the boulder and shouts to his fellow army mates, "It's a trick, there are two of them."
The Assyrians might have shouted, "It's a trick, there really is one God here, and it's not like with Hamath and Arpad and Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah," the nations which the Assyrian armies have defeated.
Well, what else could Sennacherib do but leave and go back to Nineveh and then verse 37, "One day", but it's 20 years later, Sennacherib is killed. The year is 681 BC. For 20 years, Sennacherib smarts under his defeat before Jerusalem; and thus weakened, his own sons assassinate him.
Is God trustworthy? Yes. Can you hold fast to Him? Yes. Last week I mentioned the devotional guide that has been helpful to me recently, Daily Texts. Yesterday's Old Testament text was Isaiah 26:4, "Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock." And the prayer went, "O Lord, sometimes I feel like a soft clod of dirt. Imagine! Remind me that you are the rock of my salvation, and that I can cling to you for safety and solitude."
I thought of those shrubs and small trees that cling to rocky faces of mountains, having grown from a small amount of soil deposited on an outgrowth of rock. That is like Hezekiah and it is like us. We are clinging to a rock and that rock is God Himself.
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