Unprovoked aggressor. King Hezekiah, good King Hezekiah of Judah, is facing an unprovoked aggressor, King Sennacherib of Assyria.
Backstory: If you know the history of Israel, you know that in 930 B. C. the nation of Israel split in two; the Northern Kingdom retained the name of Israel and ten of the twelve tribes, but the Southern Kingdom, called Judah, retained the capitol city of Jerusalem and the Temple of the LORD. Now, some 200 years later, Assyria is an expanding empire, invading and conquering all their neighbors and destroying their capitols, their leaders, their people, and lands. Once they win, they empty the land of all the citizens, and replace them with foreigners from all over. Why? To prevent a revolt of the locals. Their most recent victory was over Israel, the Northern Kingdom of the people of the LORD. Next logical step? Get a matched set, conquer the Southern Kingdom of Judah and destroy it as well. Sennacherib and his father before him have never lost a war, annexing country after country successfully. Arrogant and abusive, they come against Judah. King Hezekiah tries to buy off the Assyrian king off with money, sending him all the money in the royal treasury and the treasury of the house of the LORD. He even stripped the gold off the doors of the Temple, but that doesn’t work.
Two episodes to this story. Sennacherib’s army comes against Jerusalem, surrounding it, and his commanders jeer at Judah in their own language, in Hebrew, challenging them to fight: ‘Why not surrender now? You can’t win! Hezekiah can’t save you. We’ll let you enjoy your own homes until we move you to new homes that are just as good. Why endure war? Why die? The LORD can’t save you! None of the other gods of other nations could save them!’ All the people of Judah sitting on the wall of Jerusalem can hear and understand the challenge because they are speaking their own language. The enemy rubs it in saying: “Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?” With robes torn, Hezekiah’s envoy returns to him, in fear and mourning because of this great enemy. What does Hezekiah do? He also tears his clothes and puts on sackcloth. He goes to the Temple, the house of the LORD to worship and pray. And he sends for Isaiah, the great prophet, their local man of God.
Episode one ends well. Isaiah’s words: “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. Behold, I will put a spirit in him so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.” Remember that. Two things are gonna happen: Sennacherib will withdraw from Jerusalem, and he will die by the sword. Remember those two things. Sure enough, the Assyrian king hears that the nation of Cush is coming to fight, and he withdraws from Jerusalem. “‘xcuse, me Hezzie. I gotta go deal with this Cushite situation for a hot second, but I’ll be back.” Sennacherib doesn’t quit. He sends Hezekiah a threatening letter articulating all the things he’s gonna do when he returns.
What does Hezekiah do? He takes the letter to the Temple and spreads it out before the LORD. And He prays, “O LORD the God of Israel, Who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; You have made heaven and earth. 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. Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 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. So now, O LORD our God, save us please, from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You, O LORD are God alone.”
What a great prayer! Hezekiah knows that it is not just Judah that is at stake, not just Israel, but the honor and glory of God Who is the one and only true God. So he asks God to fight for them and win so that every nation will know that the LORD, the God of the Hebrew people, is God alone. Hezekiah asks for victory so that God will get international glory. His zeal, his passion, is all for God. Wow.
Once again Isaiah responds with a prophecy, this time telling Hezekiah that his prayers have been heard, and he won’t even have to fight. Scripture says that Sennacherib’s victories thus far were encompassed by God’s sovereign hand, and now his victories will end. To God, it’s personal. The LORD’s word to Sennacherib: “Because you have raged against Me and your complacency has come to My ears, I will put My hook in your nose and My bit in your mouth, and I will turn you back on the way by which you came.” Sure enough, the king of Assyria does not shoot a single arrow over Jerusalem. Why? Because the angel of the LORD goes out and strikes down 185,000 soldiers in one night. So episode two also ends well. Trusting in the LORD, going to prayer, calling on the prophet to advise and encourage him and his people, Hezekiah has done right. God hears and answers. Judah is saved, Hezekiah is saved.
And what about the king of Assyria? Sennacherib returns home to Nineveh to lick his wounds, and, according to Isaiah’s first prophecy, he is struck down in the house of his god, assassinated by two of his own sons by the sword. Apparently his god, his idol of wood and stone, could not save him either.
Today we are watching – in real time – the invasion of an innocent country by another unprovoked aggressor. As images of war pass across our screens, and statistics of the deaths not just in battle but among civilians rise, we feel powerless. Yet we also see the overconfidence and weakness of arrogance; leaders who believe they can not only attack their neighbors, but imprison their own people who protest. And as pressures increase, what do we do? Exactly what Hezekiah did. We go to prayer. We pray, take it before the LORD, and look to our prophets, men and women of God for direction and advice. In New Covenant times we can pray anywhere, so we pray in our homes and we pray in our churches. Believers everywhere praying in concert to God in this time of need has great power in its effects. And what do we pray? We pray for peace, we pray that the innocent will be protected from unprovoked aggressors, we pray that hard hearts and closed minds will be opened to the grace and love and forgiveness of Christ, and we pray that God will get all the honor and glory. When the people of God go to our knees, laying the threats of evil dictators before the throne of God, uniting across the world regardless of denomination or nationality, we may be sure: we have been heard. But what will happen?
In the long history of Israel and Judah, sometimes there was victory, and sometimes defeat. Israel was delivered from slavery in Egypt and became a nation because of God’s love and favor, having many victories. Eventually the Northern Kingdom was defeated first because of their idolatry, worshipping false gods and engaging in their heinous practices. Hezekiah had victory, but in a very few years Judah too, will go into exile in Babylon. Yet through Judah’s exile, and return, and rebuilding, God was preparing the world to receive a Savior. Because of God’s love of Israel and His protection, when Jesus came on the scene Jerusalem existed, and the Temple of the LORD was there to receive the Incarnate God, Christ the LORD. We don’t know what God will do in this situation, but we know the LORD is sovereign, He is in control, and He has a purpose even in this evil war. Yet our job doesn’t change, we are called to pray, and pray continually. Pray today.