Sennacherib’s armies had all but conquered Judah. The brutal sacking of Lachish, the capture and enslavement of Judah’s citizens, and now the siege of Jerusalem brought Hezekiah and all the people to their knees in frightened desperation.
Hezekiah was distraught with grief and fear and sent word to Isaiah to pray.
God’s response to prayer was immediate and specific
Isaiah 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.
I myself will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.”God to Hezekiah, Isaiah 37:6-7 (NRSV)
Sennacherib did get a report that Egypt was on the march, so he increased the pressure on Hezekiah, hoping to capture Jerusalem as quickly as possible by sending a poisonous letter to the Judahite king.
“Thus 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.
“‘See, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, destroying them utterly.
“‘Shall you be delivered!?
“‘Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my predecessors destroyed,
- and the people of Eden who were in Telassar?
“‘Where is the king of Hamath,
the king of Arpad,
the king of Laar,
or Ivvah?’”Sennacherib to Hezekiah, Isaiah 36:10-13 (NRSV)
It must have been with trembling hands that King Hezekiah took the letter the messengers delivered, with all its venom, and brought it straight into the presence of God. That is essentially what prayer is. Prayer is talking with God.
The Power of Prayer
We speak to the Lord in prayer.
The Lord speaks to us through God’s Spirit in our inward being, through circumstances, through those who have been given a word by God to speak, and through the scriptures, just as God spoke to Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah, the mouthpiece of the Lord.
Praise and Worship
Hezekiah went alone to God and spread his troubles out before the Lord. He began in worship
Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, saying: “O Lord of hosts, 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.”Hezekiah’s praise of God, Isaiah 37:16 NRSV)
The throne Hezekiah prayed about was the atonement cover, the mercy seat of the ark, searching out God’s grace to Judah, that God would see and hear what was happening to them.
Prayer involves each person of the Trinity. As you and I pray to God, we are seeking the Father, Almighty God of the universe.
We are also praying through the Lord Jesus Christ, on the basis on Jesus’s atonement. People will often end their prayer with “for Jesus’s sake,” remembering together with the Lord Jesus’s love for us, the reason for His sacrifice. It is because of Jesus’s resurrection that we have been purified, made holy, and also made able by the indwelling Holy Spirit to enter into God’s Holy of Holies, the throne room of heaven.
And it is by this very filling with God’s Holy Spirit that you and I can commune with the Lord.
Then, Hezekiah poured out his troubles, confident God would listen.
Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see:
Hezekiah presenting his crisis to the Lord, Isaiah 36:17-19 (NRSV)
- hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God.
- Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands
- and have hurled their gods into the fire, though they were no gods but the work of human hands—wood and stone—and so they were destroyed.
But Hezekiah did not present his preferred solution.
He only asked that God would deliver them and glorify God’s own Person.
So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.”Hezekiah’s plea to the Lord, Isaiah 37:20 (NRSV)
No sooner had Hezekiah prayed, than Isaiah came with God’s answer.
Powerful Divine Response
Not only would the Assyrian army retreat, but Sennacherib would be assassinated and the Assyrians would not come back. Judah would be able to go back to all their cities and rebuild. By the third year everything would be restored.
Did it happen?
Then the angel of the Lord set out and struck down one hundred eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; when morning dawned, they were all dead bodies.
Then King Sennacherib of Assyria left, went home, and lived at Nineveh. As he was worshiping 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.Isaiah 37:36-38 (NRSV)
Think of the irony, after mocking God Almighty, after burning the idols of every other nation around him, after claiming that even the Creator of Heaven and Earth could not defeat him, Sennacherib’s own idol could not even provide protection against his own family, in his own country, while worshiping in his own temple.
Ancient Egyptian historians recorded a plague of field mice that had eaten through the Assyrians bow strings and arrow feathers. With that in mind, look at Isaiah’s description of the Assyrian army’s demise:
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.Isaiah 37:33 (NRSV)
Look at how specifically God kept God’s promise, and how every detail was literally fulfilled.
It has been surmised that God struck the Assyrian army down with the bubonic plague (delivered by infected mice) which takes about 8 to 24 hours to run its course. Whatever the method, though, God delivered in a mighty way.
The Lord intervenes for God’s people in response to prayer
This battle marked the beginning of Assyria’s decline as a world power
If there is a spiritual message here, then it might be about what is intimidating you and me right now, perhaps tempting us to distrust God. When you and I face threats or attacks, that is an invitation for us to put our trust in God. Certainly it is easy enough to trust in what we can see, to trust conventional methods, to trust in the ways we have used before to cope with something, or handle a situation.
It is much harder to trust in God.
If it is difficult to navigate a conflict, to come up with strong, smart retorts, it can be so much harder to keep silent when facing persecution, taunts, and challenges.
It is much harder to go to God in prayer first before acting.
But situations are never as terrible as the evidence suggests when God is on our side.
God does not promise to deliver you and me from experiencing sorrow and pain, but God does promise to be with us, to empower us to endure, to give us wisdom to do right, to comfort and affirm us, and ultimately to bring us through.