The Assyrian invasion of Syria-Palestine in 701 B.C.E., known from Sennacherib's own annals (though at some odds with the presentation in Kings), is depicted in a series of three verbal confrontations between Hezekiah and Sennacherib, the Assyrian king:
• The first confrontation finds Sennacherib attacking and capturing the fortified cities of Judah; from this position of strength, he demands heavy tribute from Hezekiah in exchange for the freedom of the capital, which Hezekiah paid, even stripping the temple of its gold (18:13-16).
• The second confrontation finds Sennacherib sending messengers and a "great army" who are met by Hezekiah's representatives, Eliakim, Shebnah, and Joah. Not content with the first payment, Assyrian officials again threaten to take the city and attempt to undermine the morale of the people by questioning their trust in God to deliver them. This time, however, rather than paying the tribute, Hezekiah consults with Isaiah, the prophet, who responds with an oracle of salvation (18:17-19:7).
• In the final confrontation Sennacherib sends a threatening letter to Hezekiah urging him to surrender, because the Lord would be as powerless to save Jerusalem as the gods of other nations had been to deliver their people; he claims that it is God rather than Hezekiah who seeks to deceive the people (19:8-13; especially v. 10). This time Hezekiah places his trust firmly in God's hands in a beautiful prayer (19:15-19).
There is progression on both sides:
• Sennacherib's demands become increasingly less direct, moving from military threats to verbal ultimatums presented by high ranking officials, to correspondence.
• Hezekiah's responses become increasingly based upon trust as he moves from acquiescing to the threats and paying the tribute, to refusal and seeking the counsel of Isaiah, to a complete trust in God's saving ability as expressed in his magnificent prayer.
• "Trust" (batakh) is the keyword here, appearing no less than ten times in chapters 18 and 19 (18:5, 19 [twice], 20, 21 [twice], 22, 24, 30; 19:10-though with various English translations). Since Sennacherib's emissaries speak all but the first instance, it is clear that the text is using this confrontation to illustrate Hezekiah's gradual growth of trust in God and to justify its earlier evaluation, "He trusted in the LORD the God of Israel; so that there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him" (18:5).
God's response through Isaiah echoes the three confrontations with three oracles:
• Isaiah's elegy against Sennacherib (19:20-28). God's answer to Hezekiah's prayer states that Sennacherib is not in charge here, God is; and all of Assyria's former successes were due to God's direction of history (vv. 25-26). In a cruelly ironic image God announces that Sennacherib will be led out of Judah with hooks in his nose just as Sennacherib had used hooks to lead conquered peoples into exile (v. 28; compare Ezekiel 38:4; Amos 4:2).
• Isaiah's sign (vv. 29-31). It will take the land two years to recover from the devastation of the land and the stolen crops that resulted from the Assyrian invasion. During this time the people will need to forage for food. But in the third year planting and harvesting will return.
• Isaiah's promise to Jerusalem (vv. 32-34). God will defend the city to safeguard the divine reputation and out of loyalty to David (v. 34). Verses 35-37 depict the marvelous fulfillment of Isaiah's promise, as the Assyrian army is supernaturally defeated at night, forcing Sennacherib to return to Assyria where he is murdered by his own sons while worshiping, thus fulfilling God's threat in 19:7.
13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, King Sennacherib of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. 14King Hezekiah of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, I have done wrong; withdraw from me; whatever you impose on me I will bear. The king of Assyria demanded of King Hezekiah of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the kings house. 16At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the doorposts that King Hezekiah of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria. 17The king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. They went up and came to Jerusalem. When they arrived, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the Fullers Field. 18When they called for the king, there came out to them Eliakim son of Hilkiah, who was in charge of the palace, and Shebnah the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph, the recorder.
19 The Rabshakeh said to them, Say to Hezekiah: Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you base this confidence of yours? 20Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? On whom do you now rely, that you have rebelled against me? 21See, you are relying now on Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him. 22But if you say to me, We rely on the Lord our God, is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem? 23Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 24How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my masters servants, when you rely on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 25Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.
26 Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah, and Joah said to the Rabshakeh, Please speak to your servants in the Aramaic language, for we understand it; do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall. 27But the Rabshakeh said to them, Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the people sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and to drink their own urine?
28 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah, Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29Thus says the king: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of my hand. 30Do not let Hezekiah make you rely on the Lord by saying, The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 31Do not listen to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria: Make your peace with me and come out to me; then every one of you will eat from your own vine and your own fig tree, and drink water from your own cistern, 32until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive oil and honey, that you may live and not die. Do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, The Lord will deliver us. 33Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered its land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 34Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 35Who among all the gods of the countries have delivered their countries out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?
36 But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the kings command was, Do not answer him. 37Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah, who was in charge of the palace, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of the Rabshakeh.
19When King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord. 2And he sent Eliakim, who was in charge of the palace, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. 3They said to him, Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. 4It may be that the Lord your God heard all the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left. 5When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, 6Isaiah said to them, Say to your master, Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. 7I myself will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumour and return to his own land; I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.
8 The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah; for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. 9When the king* heard concerning King Tirhakah of Ethiopia,* See, he has set out to fight against you, he sent messengers again to Hezekiah, saying, 10Thus shall you speak to King Hezekiah of Judah: Do not let your God on whom you rely deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11See, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, destroying them utterly. Shall you be delivered? 12Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my predecessors destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?
14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; then Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord and spread it before the Lord. 15And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said: O Lord the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, you are God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, 18and have hurled their gods into the fire, though they were no gods but the work of human handswood and stoneand so they were destroyed. 19So now, O Lord our God, save us, I pray you, from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.
20 Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I have heard your prayer to me about King Sennacherib of Assyria.
21This is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:
She despises you, she scorns you
virgin daughter Zion;
she tosses her headbehind your back,
22 Whom have you mocked and reviled?
Against whom have you raised your voice
and haughtily lifted your eyes?
Against the Holy One of Israel!
23 By your messengers you have mocked the Lord,
and you have said, With my many chariots
I have gone up the heights of the mountains,
to the far recesses of Lebanon;
I felled its tallest cedars,
its choicest cypresses;
I entered its farthest retreat,
its densest forest.
24 I dug wells
and drank foreign waters,
I dried up with the sole of my foot
all the streams of Egypt.
25 Have you not heard
that I determined it long ago?
I planned from days of old
what now I bring to pass,
that you should make fortified cities
crash into heaps of ruins,
26 while their inhabitants, shorn of strength,
are dismayed and confounded;
they have become like plants of the field
and like tender grass,
like grass on the housetops,
blighted before it is grown.
27 But I know your rising* and your sitting,
your going out and coming in,
and your raging against me.
28 Because you have raged against me
and your arrogance has come to my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
and my bit in your mouth;
I will turn you back on the way
by which you came.
29 And this shall be the sign for you: This year you shall eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs from that; then in the third year sow, reap, plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. 30The surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downwards, and bear fruit upwards; 31for from Jerusalem a remnant shall go out, and from Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
32 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city, shoot an arrow there, come before it with a shield, or cast up a siege-ramp against it. 33By the way that he came, by the same he shall return; he shall not come into this city, says the Lord. 34For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.
35 That very night the angel of the Lord set out and struck down one hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; when morning dawned, they were all dead bodies. 36Then King Sennacherib of Assyria left, went home, and lived at Nineveh. 37As he was worshipping in the house of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped into the land of Ararat. His son Esar-haddon succeeded him.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011