Speaking in Hebrew, the arrogant representatives of the Assyrian king threatened Jerusalem's defenders: "Do not listen to your king, Hezekiah, for he deceives you. He will tell you there is only one God who can and will save you from the great king of Assyria. That's foolishness. Tell us who were the gods who saved other nations from the mighty kings of Assyria? You know the nations by name. You know of their demise. You know not one of them was saved by their gods.
"So don't allow Hezekiah to fool you into thinking your one God can save you. The record is clear and telling. Lay down your weapons, open up the gates, and surrender. Why should you resist and suffer certain death?" (2 Kings 18:28-35, paraphrased).
Spoken by Rabshakeh, a commander in the great Assyrian army, these words were cleverly crafted psychological warfare against a fearful and embattled citizenry. Rabshakeh's sayings struck dread in the hearts of the city's defenders. Theirs was a time of terror. Death or exile seemed their only choices. They could choose to fight and face certain annihilation, or they could lay down their arms and be deported hundreds of miles to other lands.
The God of Judah, declared Rabshakeh, was powerless to resist the Assyrians' might. The Assyrians would destroy the kingdom of Judah just as the they had crushed so many other nations before them.
Judah's soldiers, manning Jerusalem's walls, did not reply. Rather, they did just as their king had instructed them. They well knew that the mighty Assyrian Empire had conquered and exiled their cousins to the north, the 10 tribes of Israel, a few years earlier (721-718 B.C.).
Could King Hezekiah withstand the Assyrians? Would God intervene and come to his aid? Hezekiah had given himself to God, cleared the land of idols and even conquered the Philistines, then a vassal state of Assyria. Would the army of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, overrun Jerusalem and raze it?
The answer to these questions can teach us important spiritual lessons.
A King Reforms his Kingdom
Hezekiah lived at a time during which the very existence of Judah was threatened. But Jerusalem was blessed with a righteous king and an outstanding Hebrew prophet, Isaiah, at this critical point in its history.
Hezekiah was one of the best of Judah's kings, a man who passionately pursued pleasing God. Ironically, righteous Hezekiah was born the son of a wicked man. As a youth, Hezekiah turned to God when almost everyone else busied himself satisfying selfish cravings and pursuing evil desires.
Hezekiah ascended the throne when he was only 25. The young monarch smashed the pagan altars and images that dotted Judah's rolling hills. "And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden images and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it ..." (2 Kings 18:3-4).
"He trusted in the Lord God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any who were before him. For he held fast to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses. The Lord was with him; he prospered wherever he went" (2 Kings 18:5-7).
A Kingdom Returned to God
Hezekiah's reign was one of national religious reform and spiritual rejuvenation. He restored temple worship (2 Chronicles 29). One of his first acts was to initiate repairs on the magnificent "house of the Lord" built earlier by Solomon (2 Chronicles 29:3). He commanded the priests and Levites to sanctify themselves and the temple, to "carry out the rubbish from the holy place" (2 Chronicles 29:4-5).
The king warned that God was angry with His chosen nation; they had turned their backs on their Creator (2 Chronicles 29:6). "... Because of this our fathers have fallen by the sword; and our sons, our daughters, and our wives are in captivity. Now it is within my heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that His fierce wrath may turn away from us" (2 Chronicles 29:9-10). So they gathered together, sanctified themselves and cleansed the house of God.
Some three centuries had elapsed since the reign of King David, a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). No king since David had set his mind to follow God like Hezekiah, who "did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done" (2 Kings 18:3).
Hezekiah's Memorable Passover
Hezekiah's godly attitude and concern for his people is shown in his approach to the first Passover observance of his reign. By the time the priests and Levites had sanctified themselves and the temple, it was past the 14th of Nisan, the first month of the Hebrew year, the time God instructed that His people celebrate the Passover. Hezekiah established an alternate time—a second Passover—in the second month according to God's instructions (Numbers 9:9-14).
"And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, to keep the Passover to the Lord God of Israel. For the king and his leaders and all the assembly in Jerusalem had agreed to keep the Passover in the second month. For they could not keep it at the regular time, because a sufficient number of priests had not consecrated themselves, nor had the people gathered together at Jerusalem. And the matter pleased the king and all the assembly" (2 Chronicles 30:1-4).
The king invited the remnant of the 10 tribes in the former northern kingdom of Israel to join Judah, the southern kingdom, in commemorating the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. "So the runners passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun; but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them. Nevertheless some from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came up to Jerusalem ... Now many people, a very great congregation, gathered at Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the second month" (2 Chronicles 30:10-13).
The time was an exciting one for Judah and the remnant of Israel. Some who came from the remnants of the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not as yet prepared themselves, "yet they ate the Passover contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, 'May the good Lord provide atonement for everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he is not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.' And the Lord listened to Hezekiah and healed the people. So the children of Israel who were present at Jerusalem kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with great gladness" (2 Chronicles 30:18-21).
Those who kept this feast of God were so moved by the experience that "the whole assembly agreed to keep the feast another seven days, and they kept it another seven days with gladness" (2 Chronicles 30:23).
God was making His name known to Judah and the surrounding gentile nations, symbolic of what Christ will do at His return (Malachi 1:11). Thanks to King Hezekiah's reforms, Judah once again worshiped God.
In turn God blessed Hezekiah. "The Lord was with him; he prospered wherever he went." Hezekiah was also emboldened to resist the Assyrians. "And he rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. He subdued the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city" (2 Kings 18:7-8). This angered the already busy Sennacherib, king of Assyria.
Less than a decade earlier, the Assyrian kings Shalmaneser and Sargon had defeated and taken captive the northern kingdom, the 10 tribes of Israel. The northerners had repeatedly disobeyed God and rejected Him; their defeat and captivity were a consequence of their disobedience (2 Kings 18:11-12).
The Assyrians were the dominant regional power in that day. When Hezekiah refused to submit, Assyria's King Sennacherib invaded Judah and stormed its fortified cities, setting the stage for a showdown at Jerusalem.
With the Assyrian monarch's forces on his doorstep, Hezekiah tried to buy his way out of danger. Hezekiah's message to the mighty Assyrian was brief: "I have done wrong; turn away from me; whatever you impose on me I will pay" (2 Kings 18:14).
Sennacherib demanded nearly $40 million by today's rate of exchange. Hezekiah gave him more than he demanded. He presented him with all the silver from the temple and national treasuries. He even stripped the gold from the doors and pillars of the temple (2 Kings 18:15-16).
Thinking that additional treasure was just waiting to be plundered behind the walls of Jerusalem, Sennacherib broke his agreement with King Hezekiah and surrounded Judah's capital city. Sennacherib's envoys threatened the Jews in their own language, trying to persuade them to lay down their arms and accept exile to a foreign land over certain death. After all, the Assyrians boasted, history showed that resistance would be futile.
Trust in God
King Hezekiah turned to God: "... When King Hezekiah heard it ... [the enemy's arrogant boasts], he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord" (2 Kings 19:1).
He sent this message to the prophet Isaiah: "This day is a day of trouble, and rebuke, and blasphemy; for the children have come to birth, but there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God will hear all the words of Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to reproach the living God, and will rebuke the words which the Lord your God has heard. Therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left" (2 Kings 19:3-4).
Isaiah responded to Hezekiah: "Thus says the Lord: 'Do not be afraid of the words which you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me. Surely I will send a spirit upon him, and he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land' " (2 Kings 19:6-7).
Hezekiah turned to God in faith. He would need no force of arms to bring about Sennacherib's demise.
God heard Hezekiah's humble prayer and reassured him: "Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: 'He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor build a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same way shall he return; And he shall not come into this city,' says the Lord. 'For I will defend this city, to save it for My own sake and for My servant David's sake' " (2 Kings 19:32-34).
Even though Jerusalem's situation seemed hopeless—the city surrounded by hundreds of thousands of battle-hardened Assyrians—God was true to His word. He dramatically intervened to spare Hezekiah and the trapped Jews.
"And it came to pass on a certain night that the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses—all dead" (2 Kings 19:35).
The stunned Assyrians retreated before this demonstration of God's power. The mighty Sennacherib stole away in humiliation and defeat. "So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went away, returned home, and remained at Nineveh. Now it came to pass, as he was worshiping in the temple of Nisroch his god, that his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer struck him down with the sword ... Then Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place" (2 Kings 19:36-37).
Sennacherib came to a sad end, assassinated by two of his sons while worshiping a false god. God had spared His people and the kingdom of Judah in the face of apparently overwhelming odds.
Hezekiah's Death Averted
God again dramatically intervened in Hezekiah's life. Not long after Sennacherib's demise, the king of Judah grew deathly ill. The prophet Isaiah came to him and advised, "Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live" (2 Kings 20:1). Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and wept bitterly. He pleaded with God to save him: "Remember now, O Lord, I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what was good in Your sight" (2 Kings 20:3).
But, before Isaiah had even left the palace, God answered the king's prayer. He instructed Isaiah to tell him: "I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you ... And I will add to your days fifteen years" (2 Kings 20:5-6).
Although taking heart, Hezekiah asked Isaiah for a sign. The prophet offered him a choice of miracles: "Shall the shadow go forward ten degrees or go backward ten degrees?" Hezekiah, noting that it would be natural for shadows to go forward 10 degrees as the sun passed through the sky, asked that the shadow go backward. On a nearby sundial, the sun's shadow moved backward 10 degrees (2 Kings 20:8-11).
God had performed another mighty miracle. He healed Hezekiah, extended his life and caused the sun's shadow to reverse its course.
Hezekiah Shows his Weakness
Word soon spread of the dramatic events in Judah. The king of Babylon, beginning to rise in the East, sent envoys bearing a gift (2 Kings 20:12).
But a problem arose. Hezekiah's "heart was lifted up" (2 Chronicles 32:25). He began to drift from God. So God withdrew from Hezekiah "in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart" (2 Chronicls 32:31).
Hezekiah had assumed too much. He momentarily forgot God and showed the Babylonian envoys objects of his wealth.
Hezekiah's pride brought more problems on his kingdom. God warned him that the same Babylonian nation that had sent its friendly emissaries would ultimately threaten and destroy Judah (2 Kings 20:14-18).
However, "Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah" (2 Chronicles 32:25-26). God spared Hezekiah's kingdom for the balance of his lifetime and for another century. In later years, in the reign of kings who rejected Hezekiah's righteous acts and example, destruction overcame Judah.
Passing of a Faithful King
Hezekiah's distinction was that he "trusted in the Lord God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah ... He held fast to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses" (2 Kings 18:5-6). When he died his countrymen "buried him in the upper tombs of the sons of David; and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem honored him at his death" (2 Chronicles 32:33).
God's mercy is always available to people in a repentant attitude, who acknowledge their inadequacies and strive to honor and serve Him. Hezekiah's life proves this is true. The key to an honorable life now, and ultimately eternal life, is to humble ourselves before God and obey Him and His laws.
After all, those laws are given for our benefit so we may acquire a godly relationship with God and man.