18 Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 20 Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”(Isaiah 36:18-20)
Here in Alabama, we take our sports rivalries seriously, and trash talking is something of an art form. We’ve all been on the receiving end of taunts from fans of the other team. But if that “other team” has a long tradition of dominance of their sport (and you know who you are); then their taunts are more than just trash talk. You’ve seen that team crush every other team in the conference, and now they are coming for you. And deep down inside, you dread game day. You might talk big at the tailgate, but you tremble at the ticket booth!
This was the reality facing Judah’s King Hezekiah. The Assyrian empire was the dominant and ruthless power of the known world at that time. Hezekiah had been king for four years when Assyria laid siege to Samaria, capital of Israel. And now a decade later, King Sennacherib was coming for Judah (see 2 Kings 18:9-13).
Sennacherib mocked Hezekiah’s reliance on God. His emissaries warned the people of Judah not to let Hezekiah convince them to trust in the Lord (2 Kings 18:30). And from Sennacherib’s perspective, his confidence was borne out of experience: every other nation that had called upon their God for deliverance had fallen to Assyria. Furthermore, Sennacherib believed that the high places Hezekiah removed (18:22) were altars to the one True God, instead of the pagan altars they actually were. So Sennacherib mistakenly believed Hezekiah had insulted his God, when actually he was honoring and obeying him. That was his first mistake.
Sennacherib’s second mistake was that he had not figured Hezekiah’s repentance into his game day play book. Unlike Israel; which did not repent and therefore fell easily to Assyria (see 2 Kings 17:7-19), Hezekiah put on sackcloth and sought the Lord from the moment he heard the threat from Sennacherib (19:1). He sought the advice of God’s prophet Isaiah, who assured Hezekiah that God had heard his prayer and would give him victory (19:6-7). And then he drew up the most powerful play anyone can ever run: he went to the temple, spread out the threat from Sennacherib’s messengers before the Lord, and begged God for deliverance.
15 And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” (2 Kings 19:15-19)
This is such a good lesson for us in the church today! Your pastor might give you encouragement as you face a problem. You might have your entire Sunday school class praying for a crisis your family is dealing with. But none of that can take the place of you making your own heart’s cry to the Lord. God hears the prayers of all His people; not just His priests and prophets.
God delivered His answer to Hezekiah through His prophet Isaiah. His promise to the King was that not only would Sennacherib not defeat Judah, he wouldn’t even shoot an arrow in Jerusalem! There were horror stories of Assyria’s prolonged sieges against other cities, but Isaiah promised there wouldn’t even be a siege ramp built against Jerusalem (19:32). True to His word, God struck down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers that very night, causing Sennacherib to beat a hasty retreat back to Nineveh the next morning (19:35-36).
It’s worth asking the question, why? Hezekiah was a good king, and he humbly repented before God. But as 2 Kings 18:19 reminds us, Judah’s track record of obedience to God was only marginally better than Israel’s. So why was Judah spared from the same defeat Israel experienced? Verse 34 gives the answer. God preserved Jerusalem for the sake of His own name and because of the promise He had made to His servant David.
God is still zealous to defend His name today! How have you seen God defend His name and His people?