Sennacherib (as crown prince) on a relief from the Khorsabad, now in the Louvre.
Hezekiah had a problem. And not just any old problem either, He had a king sized problem. Literally. In particular, he had a problem with the king of Assyria, Sennacherib by name.
Hezekiah was a direct descendent of David and reigned as the thirteenth king of Judah from 715 B.C – 686 B.C. The scriptures paint him in a very positive light, saying of him,
Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea the son of Elah, king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done (I Kings 18:1-3).
Due to a foreign policy blunder by this father Ahaz, Hezekiah found himself on the receiving end of a blitzkrieg from the Assyrian empire at the zenith of its power. How he dealt with the attack is a model of faith and courage from which Christians today can draw important lessons.
Hezekiah’s Trusts in the Power Egypt
One of the big takeaways from the Old Testament is this: If the Lord doesn’t fight your battles, you’re going to lose. From the time of the fall until the present, man has believed that he knows best. “Forget what God says; I’m going to do it my way,” is the language of the world. In the history of God’s covenant people, there are several instances where military defeat was the direct result of this sort of thinking. The loss suffered by Israel at the hands of the men of Ai (Joshua 7), the Philistines’ victory over Israel recorded in I Samuel 4, and the beat down the Syrians gave the allied armies of Ahab and Jehoshaphat (I Kings 22 and II Chronicles 18) all stand as testament to this principle.
Even a godly man such as Hezekiah was not immune from the temptation of conducting the affairs of state the world’s way. As the Assyrian threat loomed on the horizon, some in his administration had gone to Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to join in alliance with Judah against the invading Assyrians. This worldly mindset, the sort of thinking that causes men to look everywhere for help except the one place it can be found, is rebuked by the prophet Isaiah. He wrote,
“Woe to the rebellious children,” says the LORD, “who take counsel, but not of Me, and who devise plans, but not of My Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who walk to go down to Egypt, and have not asked My advice, to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt! Therefore the strength of Pharaoh shall be your shame, and trust in the shadow of Egypt shall be your humiliation (Isaiah 30:1-3).
Commenting on this passage, Edward J. Young remarked,
To avoid the bondage of this enemy [Assyria], the people now look to another source of human deliverance, namely Egypt. Indeed, there may have been a pro-Egyptian party in Hezekiah’s court. The present prophecy, however, relates not so much to one particular act as to an attitude of the mind, which in the face of danger turns to man rather than to God; it is this attitude wherever manifested that the prophet condemns (The Book of Isaiah, A Commentary, Vol.2, 335).
In 701 B.C., Hezekiah was faced with the unfortunate fact that the mighty Assyrian army was on Jerusalem’s doorstep. From a human standpoint, Judah was a beaten nation. The Assyrians had overrun Israel 21 years earlier and deported the people. No help could be expected from the northern tribes. Further, Sennacherib’s forces had just crushed the Egyptian army sent by Pharaoh to defend Judah at the behest of Hezekiah.
It was at this dark hour for God’s people that Sennacherib sent one of his commanders to threaten Hezekiah at Jerusalem. The Assyrian commander stood outside the wall of Jerusalem and began what today we might talking trash. He boasted about the conquests of Assyria, blasphemed the Lord by speaking of him, “as against the gods of the people of the earth – the work of men’s hands” (2 Chronicles 32:19), and even mocked the Egyptians, saying of them, “Now look! You are trusting in the staff of this broken reed, Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him” (2 Kings 18:21). Tiny Judah was all alone and without hope in the world. Where would its help come from?
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