2 Kings 19:1-19.

The Consequence of Relying On God

        American Journal of Biblical Theology               August 8, 2004            Copyright © 2004, J.W. Carter
www.biblicaltheology.com          Scripture quotes from KJV

Any study of the history of Israel during the 400-year period of the Kings reveals the fulfillment of the prophesies of Samuel who stated that the appointment of kings as authority in Israel rather than accepting the LORD as their king would be their ultimate downfall.  The fourth king, Rehoboam son of Solomon, attempted to increase the bondage his government had placed upon their own people, causing the other tribes to rebel, splitting the kingdom in two with Jeroboam I reigning over the new northern kingdom.  The tribe of Judah remained alone under Rehoboam while the other tribes retained the name of Israel.  

There was one characteristic of the kings of Israel that was common to the entire line:  none of them revered the LORD or sought to lead the nation in obedience to Him.  Jeroboam instituted idol worship in the Samarian temple, opening the door to pagan worship throughout the kingdom.  The nation turned its back on God while it chased after the sensual and lust fulfilling ways of the local pagan culture.

Though most of the kings of Judah followed a pattern similar to those in Israel, there were a few who sought obedience to God.  This study focuses on the reign of Hezekiah, one of Judah's few obedient kings.  We are introduced to him in 2 Kings 18.

Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. 2Twenty and five years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also was Abi, the daughter of Zachariah. 3And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did. 4He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan. 5He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him. 6For he clave to the LORD, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses. 7And the LORD was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth: and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not. 8He smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city (2 Kings 18:1-7.)

It was in the fourth year of Hezekiah's reign, and in the seventh year of the reign of Hoshea, king of Israel, that the Assyrian king Shalmaneser besieged, defeated, and imprisoned the leadership of the nation of Israel.  By assimilating its people into its own nation and by populating Israel with people from foreign lands, Shalmaneser ended the very existence of Israel as a nation.  Hezekiah was a witness to what was taking place in Israel, an event that scripture describes as a judgment of God against the nation for its apostasy.  God had promised the land to the seed of Abraham, but that promise was conditional upon their obedience to Him.  

The scripture describes Hezekiah in a manner more laudatory than any other of Judah's kings, including David.  Previous kings had permitted and participated in the pagan worship activities of the culture in which they were immersed.  Hezekiah ended the nation's dependence upon idolatry by removing all of it, including the brazen serpent built by Moses since the people had even come to worship it as an idol.   As a result, the LORD protected Judah from the threat of Assyria even as it besieged the nation of Israel.  Furthermore, Hezekiah was empowered to remove from Judah the influence of other foreign nations, including the Philistines.

However, the threat from Assyria remained.  Shalmaneser's reign was followed by that of Sennacherub who turned his attention from the defeated Philistia, Phoenicia and Israel south to this one still remaining rebellious kingdom of Judah.   With all of the other neighboring nations defeated, Sennacherub placed his entire focus on Judah and advanced his army on its capital, seizing the fortified cities on Judah's borders.  The Assyrian king knew of his overwhelming power over Judah and did not understand the reason behind Hezekiah's confidence against him.  Furthermore, Judah's testimony had been compromised by their years of idol worship, leading the Assyrians to think that Israel worshipped the idols that Hezekiah had destroyed, leaving them without the resource of their gods.  (Note the message here how a Christian's testimony is destroyed by inappropriate behavior.)  As Rab Shakeh, the commander of the army of Assyria approached the king's palace in Jerusalem, he was met at the gates by three of Hezekiah's palace administrators. (Note that "Rab Shekeh" is literally, "Field Commander", and not a proper name.)

Then Rabshakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in the Jews’ language, and spake, saying, Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria: 29Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand: 30Neither 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 (2 Kings 18:28-30)

Rabshakeh told Hezekiah's representatives, in quite firm and graphic terms that Hezekiah's resistance was pointless and would only lead to the death of all of Judah.  Assyria's threat was real and overwhelming.  Hezekiah's representatives tore their clothes in the traditional fashion of mourning and returned to the palace to report to their king the words of Rabshakeh.

2 Kings 19:1. 

And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD.

Many of the kings before Hezekiah were characterized by their tendency to take matters into their own hands, and without acknowledging God's plan, suffered tremendous defeats.  Faced with the most significant threat in Judah's history Hezekiah's response was to approach the LORD in the only fashion he knew by rending his clothes in an act of sorrow and putting on sackcloth, an act of humility.  He then went into the temple to approach the LORD in prayer.

As we are presented with challenges in our own lives, what is the source of our confidence and strength?  Many of life's challenges are just as dramatic as that which Hezekiah faced.  Often we must make decisions that will dramatically impact our future and the future of those around us.  We face people who would steal and destroy our way of life, and we face health challenges that threaten to do the same.  Where do we turn at times like this?  It is evident that it was common practice for Hezekiah to turn to the LORD, and when faced with this seemingly hopeless scenario, he did not hesitate to seek God.  Often we will try every method in our power to overcome that which threatens us and avoid turning to God until all other hope is gone.  We will analyze our situation and come up with all manner of solutions.  However, we always forget that the best of our wisdom cannot approach that of God's.  Likewise the best of our plans will fall far short of God's.  When we finally turn to God, we are defeated, demoralized, and depressed, approaching God in the last effort of our desperation.  We do not see this error in Hezekiah.  He did not go through a litany of plans or actions to try to overcome the threat of Sennacherub.  His first response was to go to the LORD, and he did so in a manner that was sincere and humble.

2 Kings 19:2-4. 

And he sent Eliakim, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. 3And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth. 4It may be the LORD thy God will hear all the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God; and will reprove the words which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that are left.

Though Hezekiah was the king over Judah, he knew that he was not alone.  In his time of distress, not only did he turn to God, he also turned to the godly men whom he trusted, particularly Isaiah the prophet of God.  Hezekiah recognized the error of Judah's previous kings and the judgment that Judah deserved.  Hezekiah's destruction of the idols and the restoration of the worship of the Lord was an act of repentance following which Judah could only ask for forgiveness from God.  However, when we sin, there are always consequences of that sin and for Hezekiah, he knew full well that the consequence could be the destruction of Judah by this blaspheming king of Assyria.  The problem is that Rabshakeh's condemnation of Judah was true:  they did worship the pagan gods, and the truth of their sin empowered Rabshakeh's words.  Hezekiah had just witnessed the destruction of Israel by this same nation for this same reason, and like a child lost in childbirth by a mother with no more strength to deliver, Israel was left powerless.  Hezekiah sought to inform Isaiah of the impending doom and asked him to pray for the people in Judah who were left, those who had repented and still sought after God.

2 Kings 19:5-7. 

So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah. 6And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say to your master, Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. 7Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumor, and shall return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.

Often, when we approach God in a time of need, we may forget about those godly people who God has placed in our circle of fellowship.  God speaks through the heart of all Christians, and often we can turn to them in times of need.  Those who are not facing our crisis can often see it from a different perspective and because they are not caught up in the emotions of the crisis, can more effectively hear the still-small voice of the Holy Spirit.  The stress of the crisis can form in us an irrationality that is not experienced by those who do not face it, and their more rational approach can be a resource for us.  When the word of the crisis came to Isaiah, we did not see him rend his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes.  Isaiah already knew the sincerity of the King and God's determination to preserve this nation that now turned back to Him, for as part of His promise, God had never brought the crisis of judgment upon those who were obedient, but on those who had gone astray in their sin.  Isaiah described the manner in which God would deliver Judah:  Assyria would be attacked by another nation, Assyria would withdraw from Judah to face this threat, and the blaspheming king of Assyria (who had stated that his attack on Judah followed a command of God) would die a violent death in his own land.

2 Kings 19:8. 

So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish.

Sennacherib's desire for conquest went beyond Phoenicia, Israel and Judah, and the "bruised reed" (2 Kings 18:21) of Egypt was more of a threat than the king of Assyria had stated.  The Egyptian army, combined with forces from Ethiopia under the command of Tirkahah, had advanced into Philistia and was gathering to itself the remnants of the Philistine army.  The engagement of the Egyptian army at El Tekeh and Ekron in Philistia was little more than a mop-up operation for Sennacherib, but it kept him engaged while he was playing mind games with the king of Judah.  His threats on Judah and the siege he put on the nation would protect his rear while engaged in operations against Egypt.   However, because of his blasphemy of God and his threat on the obedient Hezekiah, Sennacherib had also gathered for himself an enemy who was undefeatable:  The LORD himself. 

2 Kings 19:9-13. 

And when he heard say of Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, Behold, he is come out to fight against thee: he sent messengers again unto Hezekiah, saying, 10Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly: and shalt thou be delivered? 12Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed; as Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden which were in Thelasar? 13Where is the king of Hamath, and the king of Arpad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, of Hena, and Ivah? 

Sennacherib's mop-up campaign against Philistia became more than a skirmish when he heard that the Egyptian army was reinforced by and under the command of the armies of Ethiopia.  This threat would require Sennacherib to marshal all of his forces, recalling his field commander from Jerusalem.  Therefore, he stepped up his verbal threats against Jerusalem in order to better protect his rear and northern flank.  The Assyrian king reminded Hezekiah of all of the kings and their gods who had fallen to the power of the Assyrians.  However, this time the threats were received by Hezekiah in a different manner.  Rather than tearing his clothes, putting on sackcloth, and retreating to the temple, Hezekiah trusted the words of his Prophet, Isaiah who told him to ignore these powerless threats.  Hezekiah was under the protection of God, and had no need to fear.

Had Hezekiah understood the nature of his relationship with God, he would not have needed to fear in the first place.  Likewise, when we are faced with crisis, if ours is a sincere and repentant heart, there is no need for fear.  God has promised that all of the events that transpire in the life of the faithful are used by Him for a purpose (Romans 8:28), and Christians can face crisis with an understanding that, though that purpose may not be evident at the time, God is there.  Hezekiah had little idea of how God would deliver them from the threat of the Assyrians, but he now had confidence that He would.  Upon receiving this second threat from Sennacherib, he took the letter he had received from the Assyrian king, turned directly to God, and prayed.

2 Kings 19:14-19. 

And Hezekiah received the letter of the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up into the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD. 15And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD, and said, O LORD God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth. 16LORD, bow down thine ear, and hear: open, LORD, thine eyes, and see: and hear the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent him to reproach the living God. 17Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have destroyed the nations and their lands, 18And have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them. 19Now therefore, O LORD our God, I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the LORD God, even thou only. 

Hezekiah's sincerity is revealed in his prayer.  His was just a simple prayer for deliverance.  He recognized that the threat from Sennacherub was real, that Assyria had indeed destroyed the kings and idol gods whom they opposed.  However, Hezekiah knew that the LORD is the living Creator, the One True God, the One who could deliver them.  Of this, Hezekiah had no doubt.  It is this type of faith that God deserves and rewards.  Following this prayer, Isaiah assured Hezekiah that his prayer was heard (2 Kings 19:20-34).  The threat from Assyria did not last out the day ...

And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. 36So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. 37And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Armenia. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead (2 Kings 19:35-37).

As the Assyrian army was encamped against the army of Ethiopia and Egypt, the Angel of the LORD came to visit during the night, killing 185,000 soldiers.  When Sennacherib and others awoke, they found their encampment to be a sea of dead bodies.   His army had been destroyed and he was left without the ability to bring war upon the Egyptians, or upon Judah, so he returned to Assyria.  Though Assyria would still engage in several successful military campaigns following this incident, they would never return to Judah.  Furthermore, the intrigue of his own household would end in Sennacherib's death by the hands of his sons who would bring to an end this phase of Assyrian emperialism.

All too frequently, Christians forget the power of God to protect and sustain them.  Instead of relying on Him, Christians will rely on themselves and upon the resources of this pagan world.  When Christians rely on the things of this world for the resources that God provides, those things literally become idols and gods.  God would have Christians throw down those gods and turn to Him alone.  When this is done, there is no limit to what God can do in their lives.