Have you ever
- faced a personal attack for your belief?
- been told by your employer that you are too naive and needed to get some common sense?
- faced a grave and devastating physical injury or illness?
- been taken in by the smooth flattery of someone who was courting your favor?
How did you handle it?
I am sure all of us can identify with at least one of these situations. We will at some point in our lives face health crises, faith crises, and moral crises in some form or another by way of flattery or enticement, and all sorts of other temptations, trials, and tests. Since we go through these kinds of crises ourselves, we can learn from Hezekiah’s example who experienced all of the above. And when he found himself in the pinch-hairs of crisis, he turned to God.
One of the Rare Good Kings
Hezekiah was a young man when he became king and he reigned for a long time. He was a good ruler—in fact the writer of 2 Kings said there was no one like him before or since. Even though Hezekiah made some poor decisions, the Bible’s endorsement of him is that he did what was right in God’s eyes.
In fact, the Bible says he was successful in whatever he did. Hezekiah kept all of God’s commands, and the Lord was with him. Probably his biggest achievement was in removing all the high places and smashing all the idols, including Moses’s bronze snake, which the people had turned into a graven image to worship.
Hezekiah held fast to the Lord and never stopped following God. He led the nation in trusting in God.
Crises in Reformation
The events Isaiah recorded here are not in chronological order, but did all happen around the same time. Isaiah put these events in this sequence because Chapter 37 acts as a division between the decline of Assyria’s domination as the world power and the introduction of Babylon in Chapter 39, which would overthrow Assyria in the next hundred years.
Crises often come when things are going well.
Hezekiah was leading the nation in a great reformation. The people were uniting in fear of the Lord, putting away their idols, restoring the temple services, getting back into the scriptures, looking to God for the Lord’s blessing. Nevertheless, they soon found themselves facing Assyria.
Defection, 705 BCE
About ten years into Hezekiah’s reign, in 705 BCE, Sennacherib replaced Sargon as king. Sargon’s death signaled to all of Assyria’s subjugated satellite holdings a possible opportunity to free themselves from Assyria’s grip. The entire ancient near east including Hezekiah mounted movements of revolt to liberate themselves. Sennacherib, in grim and brutal determination, responded without mercy. Soon enough, the Assyrian tyrant focused his fury on Judah’s fortified cities, capturing them one by one. Sennacherib’s strategy was terror to retain his hold on the entire region. (You can read about Hezekiah’s revolt in 2 Kings 18.)
The young king had probably been planning this for a while, because in preparation he had ordered the construction of an underground tunnel to redirect the hidden Gihon Spring into Jerusalem. This would be a vital source of water in case of a siege. Hezekiah’s tunnel emptied into the same Pool of Siloam that Jesus went to centuries later.
Sennacherib marched against Judah and captured forty-six of Judah’s fortified cities plus outlying towns, and led away over 200,000 people into captivity. As soon as he had become king, Hezekiah had felt compelled to ally with Egypt to help him in resisting possible future Assyrian invasions, even though at the time Isaiah had strongly urged him to trust in God. Sennacherib had proven ferocious in his attacks, and Egypt fled the awful battle of Lachish.
So he stripped the beautiful temple doors of their gold as lavish tribute to mollify the Assyrian potentate.
Sennacherib withdrew his attacks, but he left his officers in each of the Judean towns he had taken. It looked like deliverance but it was not. This was only delaying the inevitable.
Compromise never works when you and I try to compromise God’s values with the world. Once we begin to compromise by giving a little, we have to be be prepared for pressure to give it all. Hezekiah had compromised himself morally and spiritually by paying tribute to Assyria instead of trusting in God, and it would come back to haunt him.
It was in this same year that Hezekiah faced his second crisis—he became so gravely ill that Isaiah came to tell him he was going to die.
Delegation from Babylon, 703 BCE
During this time, a king named Merodach Baladan reestablished his throne in Babylon, and as was the custom, sent emissaries to all the nearby nations to renew diplomatic ties. It seems Merodach Baladan included Jerusalem in his political campaign to secure military aid in overthrowing Assyria. Ironically, almost as soon as Merodach Baladan returned to Babylon, Sennacherib forced the hapless king into exile.
After Hezekiah recovered from his grave illness, and had already sent the Babylonian delegation home, he faced his third crisis, which brings us to today’s passage.
Disaster, 701 BCE
Hezekiah’s final and greatest crisis began when Sennacherib sent his top officials from Lachish, which had remained under Assyrian domination, to Jerusalem based on a false report that the Egyptian army was marching up to take Jerusalem for itself.
Sennacherib thought he was running out of time, which is why he reverted to psychological tactics. His commander spoke in Hebrew instead of the diplomatic language of Aramaic. He wanted to get into the fears and resentments of the people and had done his background homework well.
- First he sought to undermine the people’s confidence in their ability to fight back—they had no military strength, and Egypt would not help them.
- Then he dug into any resentment there might have been over Hezekiah’s reforms, saying God would not help them now, even if God could, because Hezekiah had torn down all the altars.
- Finally, the commander announced that God had actually sent Assyria on purpose as God’s judgment against Judah. That last one had the sting of truth in it. Isaiah had been saying this for years, and Assyria had already led Israel, God’s people in the northern kingdom, into captivity,
The commander used coarse language to drive home how awful the siege would be, the people would have to eat their body’s own waste material just to survive. Did they want that? Or were they ready to come over to the Assyrian side, to live in a beautiful land with their own vine and fig tree, and drink from their own well?
The commander asked,
On what do you base this reliance of yours? Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war?Isaiah 36:4 (NRSV)
But, of course, that is exactly what his strategy was, a clear example of spiritual and mental warfare.
This is Satan’s ancient ploy: God is not trustworthy to do right by you and me.
… Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you. Do not let Hezekiah make you rely on the Lord.
… Do 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, until 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.Assyrian Commander Rabshakeh in his psychological warfare, Isaiah 36:14-15, 16, 17 (NRSV)
Hezekiah must have prepared his troops for this kind of attack. Isaiah had been prophesying this for years, Assyria would come, but God would prevail. They were instructed not to say a word, and sure enough, they remained silent.
Think how unnerving that must have been for the Assyrian commander to look up at those silent sentries lined alone the top of Jerusalem’s fortified wall, all staring at him, in total silence. Sometimes that is the best response to an attack. Trust God and do not retaliate.
As a fascinating aside, there were only eight good kings who ruled over Judah, and their stories are gathered in “Good Kings of Judah” by the Francis Asbury Society
The passage reads:
… the tunnel … and this is the story of the tunnel while …the axes were against each other and while three cubits were left to (cut?) … the voice of a man …called to his counterpart, (for) there was ZADA in the rock, on the right … and on the day of the tunnel (being finished) the stonecutters struck each man towards his counterpart, ax against ax and flowed water from the source to the pool for 1,200 cubits. and (100?)cubits was the height over the head of the stonecutters …Siloam Inscription, c705 BCE