Bible Commentary: 2 Kings 18:13-37 and Related

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2 Kings 18:13-37 and Related

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Invasion of Sennacherib and Micah’s Warning

In 701 Sennacherib marched west to crush the brewing revolt. He came down the Mediterranean coast, “and after the surrender of Ashkelon and Ekron turned toward Judah. He made his headquarters at Lachish [28 miles southwest of Jerusalem]; reliefs found at Nineveh [now displayed in the British Museum] show the breaching of the double walls and the fortifications of the gate [of Lachish] by siege rams. Traces of the intense destruction have been found in the excavations on the site (stratum III) and also at Tell Beit Mirsim (Ashan) and Beer-sheba” (Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah, Macmillan Bible Atlas, 1977, p. 99).

In conjunction with the Assyrian invasion, Hezekiah took further precautions to protect Jerusalem. Rather than just having the water of Gihon brought inside the city by his tunnel, it was necessary to keep enemies from polluting the spring or preventing its waters from reaching Jerusalem—or from using it and other springs. So he concealed the springs outside the city (compare 2 Chronicles 32:3-4 2 Chronicles 32:3-4 [3] He took counsel with his princes and his mighty men to stop the waters of the fountains which were without the city: and they did help him. [4] So there was gathered much people together, who stopped all the fountains, and the brook that ran through the middle of the land, saying, Why should the kings of Assyria come, and find much water?
American King James Version×
). But this alone would not protect Hezekiah’s people.

Sadly, besides Hezekiah’s own lapse in attitude and failure to completely rely on God, Judah had declined quite a bit spiritually during the reign of Ahaz so that even Hezekiah’s reforms were not sufficient to entirely reverse the downward trend. Perhaps if Hezekiah had fully trusted in God, he could have successfully continued to withstand the Assyrians, but God permitted Sennacherib to invade the land and capture many of its cities. It is, of course, possible that God would have brought destruction against Judah anyway because of their injustice and wrongdoing, as brought out in Micah and Isaiah’s prophecies.

As for the scale of what happened, notice these words of Sennacherib himself from the famous clay prism on which this campaign is recorded: “But as for Hezekiah, the Jew, who did not bow in submission to my yoke, forty-six of his strong walled towns and innumerable smaller villages in their neighbourhood I besieged and conquered by stamping down earth-ramps and then by bringing up battering rams, by the assault of foot-soldiers, by breaches, tunneling and sapper operations. I made to come out from them 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, innumerable horses, mules, donkeys, camels, large and small cattle, and counted them as spoils of war” (quoted in Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible, 1983, sidebar on 2 Kings 18). It is interesting to consider, then, that by this deportation many people of Judah, Benjamin and Levi joined the Assyrian captivity of the northern tribes—20 years after Samaria’s fall.

At these dire events, Hezekiah panics while Sennacherib is still at Lachish (2 Kings 18:14 2 Kings 18:14And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended; return from me: that which you put on me will I bear. And the king of Assyria appointed to Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.
American King James Version×
). Hezekiah takes much of the gold and all the silver from the temple to pay the tribute imposed on him (2 Kings 18:15-16 2 Kings 18:15-16 [15] And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasures of the king's house. [16] At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.
American King James Version×
). Yet Sennacherib is not fully appeased.

It was perhaps right around this time that the prophet Micah delivered his powerful warning of chapter 3 to the leaders of Jerusalem, including Hezekiah. Interestingly, years later this episode will be used by some as a defense of Jeremiah, when others want him put to death for pronouncing judgment on Jerusalem. At this point, you should read Jeremiah 26:17-19 Jeremiah 26:17-19 [17] Then rose up certain of the elders of the land, and spoke to all the assembly of the people, saying, [18] Micah the Morasthite prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and spoke to all the people of Judah, saying, Thus said the LORD of hosts; Zion shall be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest. [19] Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he not fear the LORD, and sought the LORD, and the LORD repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them? Thus might we procure great evil against our souls.
American King James Version×
.
As you can see from the later testimony given in these verses, it does appear that Micah’s warning corresponded to events at the time of Sennacherib’s invasion. Micah’s preaching—probably along with Isaiah’s and the terrible events—brought about Hezekiah’s humbling himself in repentance. Jerusalem would not fall.

Sennacherib sends a delegation to taunt the city (2 Kings 18:17 2 Kings 18:17And 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.
American King James Version×
). Whether coincidentally or not, they conduct their business at the very place Isaiah had confronted Ahaz about 30 years earlier to warn him of the Assyrian threat (compare Isaiah 7:3 Isaiah 7:3Then said the LORD to Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, you, and Shearjashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field;
American King James Version×
).

Tartan, Rabsaris and Rabshakeh of 2 Kings 18:17 2 Kings 18:17And 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.
American King James Version×
are probably titles, as in the New King James Version, rather than names as in the earlier KJV. The NIV translates these as “supreme commander,” “chief officer” and “field commander.” The field commander addresses Hezekiah’s representatives, speaking Hebrew in the hearing of all the people, to maximize intimidation (2 Kings 18:26 2 Kings 18:26Then said Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebna, and Joah, to Rabshakeh, Speak, I pray you, to your servants in the Syrian language; for we understand it: and talk not with us in the Jews' language in the ears of the people that are on the wall.
American King James Version×
). He first questions their reliance on Egypt for help (2 Kings 18:21 2 Kings 18:21Now, behold, you trust on the staff of this bruised reed, even on Egypt, on which if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all that trust on him.
American King James Version×
). This was something God Himself had rebuked them for (compare Isaiah 30:1-5 Isaiah 30:1-5 [1] Woe to the rebellious children, said the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin: [2] That walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt! [3] Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion. [4] For his princes were at Zoan, and his ambassadors came to Hanes. [5] They were all ashamed of a people that could not profit them, nor be an help nor profit, but a shame, and also a reproach.
American King James Version×
).

Then he questions why they claim to rely on God, when Hezekiah has taken away all of the high places and insisted that they worship only at the altar in Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:22 2 Kings 18:22But if you say to me, We trust in the LORD our God: is not that he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and Jerusalem, You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?
American King James Version×
). This of course reflects a total misunderstanding on his part on how God was to be worshiped, though it may have planted some doubts and worries into the minds of the besieged Jews.

The field commander then claims that God had told the Assyrians to destroy the land (2 Kings 18:25 2 Kings 18:25Am I now come up without the LORD against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.
American King James Version×
). God probably did not speak to the king of Assyria, although He apparently did move the Assyrians to war against the northern kingdom of Israel and take its people captive—and now He may have been similarly moving Assyria against Judah. Yet in his particular claim the Assyrian official was, no doubt, being rather presumptuous. But he really gets into trouble when he challenges God Himself, saying that God is no different than the gods of the other nations he has destroyed, and is incapable of delivering Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:30-35 2 Kings 18:30-35 [30] Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria. [31] Listen not to Hezekiah: for thus said the king of Assyria, Make an agreement with me by a present, and come out to me, and then eat you every man of his own vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink you every one the waters of his cistern: [32] Until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil olive and of honey, that you may live, and not die: and listen not to Hezekiah, when he persuades you, saying, The LORD will deliver us. [33] Has any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? [34] Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? [35] Who are they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?
American King James Version×
).

As we will see in the rest of the account, God is not like the false gods of pagan nations.

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