Today’s reading: 2 Kings 18-19
To begin with, Hezekiah was a good king. The writer of 2 Kings says there was no king like him in all the history of Judah.
- He trusted fully in the LORD.
- He removed all the pagan worship shrines in the high places.
- He restored obedience to Jehovah according to the commands of the Mosaic Law.
- He eliminated idolatry in Judah, including the worship of Moses’ bronze serpent.
As a result of his faithfulness, God blessed him and gave him success in whatever he did. And yet, in spite of his devotion, Hezekiah soon found himself and his nation in a life and death struggle with the Assyrians. Seven years after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, the Assyrians captured all the strong cities of Judah and surrounded Jerusalem. Hezekiah and Jerusalem were an island in a sea of invaders.
Why did good King Hezekiah find himself in so much trouble? Why do any believers suffer? As the Book of Job says, “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards.” We live in a fallen world full of sinful people, including ourselves. Such people do things that hurt themselves and others. Hezekiah lived next to an entire nation that had abandoned God. They should have been standing with him in strength against the enemy; instead God had to abandon Israel to the Assyrians because they rejected him. Also, God was using Hezekiah’s struggles to strengthen his faith. It’s one thing to say we trust God, but when trouble squeezes us the truth comes out. Finally, the Assyrians needed to learn the truth about the LORD.
The Assyrians stood outside the walls of Jerusalem and taunted Hezekiah’s officials. Their words were full of arrogance, but also ignorance. They had no understanding of the LORD they were berating.
- They thought he was the same god worshipped at the pagan shrines that Hezekiah tore down.
- They thought he was no better than the gods of the many nations they had already defeated.
- They claimed he was the god telling them to attack Jerusalem.
- They swore he had no power to deliver Jerusalem.
Hezekiah prayed in faith that God would defend himself against the ridicule of his name and rebuke the Assyrians. Isaiah, the prophet, confirmed that God would judge the invaders for their insults. He called God “the Holy One of Israel,” and declared that the prideful Assyrians would learn that he is the one who determines their victory or defeat. The next day 185,000 attackers lay dead on the fields outside Jerusalem.
The Destruction of Sennacharib
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.
– Lord Byron
Image by Eddy Van 3000 on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0