Chapter 18 introduces King Hezekiah of Judah, one of the godliest rulers of Judah since Solomon. As is the case with many kings of the time, he reigned with both his father and son in addition to reigning by himself. He reigned as coregent with his father Ahaz for 14 years (729–715 BC). He reigned alone for 18 years (715–697) and then as coregent with his son Manasseh for 11 years (697–686).
What is remarkable about Hezekiah is that, in direct contrast to King Hoshea of Israel, “he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done.” Only three other kings of Judah are given the same commendation: Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Josiah. We know that Hezekiah destroyed pagan worship centers, removed idols, and even broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses had fashioned back during the exodus, for it had become an object of worship.
From the book of 2 Chronicles, we also learn that Hezekiah cleansed and re-consecrated the temple, and then reintroduced the sacred feasts and festivals that Judah had failed to observe. Hezekiah was so confident in the Lord that he rebelled against the Assyrians and successfully mounted attacks against the Philistines. As the idolatrous nation of Israel was being ransacked by the Assyrians, Judah was experiencing a revival under Hezekiah’s leadership.
Peace with Assyria would only last 14 years for Hezekiah, however. In 701 BC, the Assyrian King Sennacherib sweeps into Judah and overruns all of the fortified cities of Judah except for Jerusalem itself. (Note that the following section of 2 Kings 18:13-19:37 is also recorded in the Book of Isaiah [chaps. 36–37] with only minor changes.) What caused Sennacherib to launch this invasion?
Thomas L. Constable writes, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Old Testament), that
Sennacherib was a less capable ruler than his father. During Sennacherib’s first four years on the throne he was occupied with controlling Babylon. During this time an alliance had formed in which cities of Phoenicia and Philistia as well as Egypt (under Shaboka) and Judah (under Hezekiah) joined together to resist Assyria. Certain that Sennacherib would try to put down this uprising, as Sargon had done, Hezekiah prepared for an Assyrian invasion by fortifying Jerusalem (cf. 2 Chron. 32:1–8).
Sure enough, once Sennacherib had dealt with the Babylonians, he turned his attention to the rebellion in the south. After rolling through most of Judah’s territory, he sets up a temporary headquarters in the Judean city of Lachish.
Hezekiah panics and pays off Sennacherib by emptying his royal treasury and even removing the gold plating on the doors of the temple. However, this ransom does not succeed. Sennacherib sends an army along with three of his highest ranking officers to send a message to Hezekiah. The message to Hezekiah is received by three of his ministers and is summarized as:
- Hezekiah was foolish to align with Egypt against Assyria, since Egypt is weak.
- The God of Judah was obviously upset with Hezekiah because Hezekiah had removed the high places in Judah against God’s wishes. God had thus commanded Assyria to conquer Judah. Paul R. House, in 8, 1, 2 Kings, The New American Commentary, adds, “This sort of propaganda about other countries’ deities abandoning their adherents was a standard Assyrian ploy when they invaded and conquered another nation. Cogan notes that the Assyrians routinely told their enemies that their gods were angry with them, that the gods had abandoned them, and that these gods counseled them to surrender to the Assyrians. It is not unusual, then, for the spokesman to try such tactics on Judahites. What the speaker has not grasped, however, is that he addresses monotheists committed to separatist Yahwism, not the typical polytheists he is used to manipulating.”
- The people of Jerusalem will suffer greatly from the siege and Hezekiah cannot protect them.
- If they will surrender, they will be moved peacefully to a distant land where they will be able to live their lives and prosper. (This is an interesting way to sell deportation.)
- None of the other gods of the nations Assyria has conquered have been able to withstand the king of Assyria (who serves the Assyrian god Assur). Why would they think Judah will be the first?
In chapter 19, verses 1-7, Hezekiah sends his ministers to the prophet Isaiah to get his counsel. Isaiah assures the ministers that God will send Sennacherib away and that he will eventually be killed by the sword in his own land.
In verses 8-13, Sennacherib sends a letter to Hezekiah warning him not to be deceived by his god into believing that Jerusalem will be protected from the Assyrian army. He then lists 9 other nations that have fallen to the Assyrians and repeats that none of those gods protected those nations.
Hezekiah receives the letter, goes to the temple, and prays to God. Hezekiah appeals to God’s honor and the fact that Sennacherib has mocked Him. Hezekiah understands that Yahweh is the only real God in existence, but Hezekiah asks God to prove this fact to the rest of world by saving Jerusalem.
The prophet Isaiah announces to Hezekiah that God has heard his prayer and that He will indeed save Jerusalem. In verses 21-28, God speaks to Sennacherib and the nation of Assyria directly. God reprimands Sennacherib for thinking that he can conquer Jerusalem and for dishonoring the Holy One of Israel. Even though Sennacherib believes that all of his military successes are due to his own power and prowess, God corrects him and states that He is the One who has orchestrated everything that has occurred from the beginning. Because of Sennacherib’s arrogance, God will ensure that Assyria is treated just like she has treated her enemies.
God then speaks to the people of Jerusalem and tells them that they will survive the devastation brought by Assyria. Thomas Constable explains the meaning of verses 29-31:
For two years the people of Jerusalem would be able to eat the produce of their land. It would not be stolen by the Assyrians who would have lived off the land if they had returned to besiege the capital. The Judeans had not been able to plant crops outside the city walls because of the Assyrians’ presence. But God promised that He would feed them for two years by causing the seed that had been sown naturally to grow up into an adequate crop. The third year people could return to their normal cycle of sowing and reaping.
This provision of multiplied food was further designed to illustrate God’s plan to multiply miraculously the people of Judah who had been reduced to small numbers. Sennacherib claimed to have taken 200,150 prisoners from Judah. However, though Judah seemingly might cease to be a nation through attrition, God promised to revive it. Like the crops, a remnant of people would take root … and bear fruit, that is, be established and prosperous. God’s zeal on behalf of His people would perform this (cf. Isa. 9:7).
Finally, in verses 32-34, God reveals the immediate fate of Jerusalem:
Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.
That night, the angel of the Lord strikes down the entire Assyrian army camped outside Jerusalem. Sennacherib returns to his capital, Nineveh, without defeating Hezekiah and Jerusalem. Some 20 years later, Sennacherib is murdered by his two oldest sons in the temple of the Assyrian god, Nisroch. They were attempting a coup because Sennacherib had chosen their younger brother to succeed him as king of Assyria. Everything God said would occur did occur.