ONE KINGDOM SURVIVES 2 Kings 18–20
“The Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook” (2 Kings 18:7).Hezekiah is praised as a king who trusted God and held fast to Him. One person who is fully committed to the Lord truly can make a difference in the fate of a nation!
The material on Hezekiah is organized by theme rather than chronology. His healing (2 Kings 20) took place before the Assyrian invasion (2 Kings 18–19). Hezekiah’s first years of independent rule, from about 715 to 705 B.C, were spent in religious reforms. He then boldly rebelled against Assyria, which was weakened by internal strife. He attacked and defeated Assyria’s vassal, Philistia, and set about strengthening Judah’s defenses. In 701B.C a new ruler, Sennacherib, turned to the west to deal with the rebel coalition headed by Judah and supported by Egypt. The Assyrians swept along the seacoast and attacked Judah from the west, destroying the key fortified city of Lachish (see illustration). Sennacherib then prepared to attack Jerusalem. The dramatic story of how he was turned back is told in 2 Kings 19–20, and again in 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 36–39. Sennacherib never returned to Judah. Twenty years later he was assassinated by two of his sons.
Hezekiah’s godly character is praised (18:1–8). He rebelled against Assyria, leading to an invasion by Shalmaneser and destruction of many fortified cities (vv. 9–16). But when Hezekiah appealed to the Lord, Assyria was turned away from Jerusalem (v. 17–19:37), and the Southern Kingdom was preserved. The account of Hezekiah concludes with the story of an earlier healing and an unwise welcome of envoys from Babylon (20:1–21).
Understanding the Text
“Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel” 2 Kings 18:1–8. Hezekiah’s commitment to God is seen here in his vigorous purification of the land of idolatrous practices. Second Chronicles 29–31 goes into detail on the positive steps he took. He purified the temple, called Judah—and even invited the men of Israel—to a Passover celebration, and organized worship at the Jerusalem temple. These religious reforms were given priority in the early years of Hezekiah’s independent reign. Only when Hezekiah knew Judah was right with God did he set out to strengthen his nation politically. Hezekiah’s successes against Philistia and Assyria rested on the firm foundation of relationship with God, for he realized that God alone could make him successful. We too need to put God first. Our success in any endeavor must have as its foundation a right relationship with the living God. “Has any god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?” 2 Kings 18:17–37 The ancients often measured gods by the military might of the land in which they were worshiped. By this criteria the gods of Assyria seemed supreme. The “field commander” (the title rab shekka probably indicates an administrative rather than military rank) spoke fluent Hebrew, and his shouted message was psychological warfare directed to the people of Judah rather than the king. The Assyrian call for surrender emphasized Judah’s weakness, promised to resettle Judah’s population in an even more fertile land, and ridiculed God’s ability to save His people. It was true that Judah and Jerusalem were now weakened and vulnerable. But the Assyrian erred in equating the God of Judah with the idols worshiped by other peoples. Pictorial reliefs of the siege of Lachish decorate Sennacherib’s palace in Assyria. Assyrian records detail the spoil taken from Judah (cf. 2 Kings 18:14) and claim to have “shut Hezekiah up like a caged bird in Jerusalem.” But the great king failed to take Judah’s capital before rushing home. “So that all kingdoms on earth may know that You alone, O Lord, are God” 2 Kings 19:1–19. Hezekiah laid the Assyrian challenge before the Lord, and asked Him to act for His name’s sake. This is the firmest foundation for prayer. When our desire is to glorify God, and what we pray for will bring God glory, we can pray with utmost confidence. “I have heard your prayer” 2 Kings 19:20–37. Isaiah the prophet was given God’s answer to deliver to Hezekiah. Isaiah’s response is in the form of a dirge poem, following a distinctive 3:2 pattern in Hebrew. Sennacherib had mocked God (18:21–24). Therefore God would “put My hook in your nose and My bit in your mouth” and drag the Assyrian back “the way you came” (19:25–28). Hezekiah was reminded that this was the year of Jubilee—the year to proclaim freedom (v. 29)-and so Sennacherib “will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here” for the Lord Himself would defend it (vv. 32–34). That very night an angel of the Lord decimated the Assyrian army. In the morning the camp was filled with dead bodies! Sennacherib broke camp and returned home, never to return. You and I can never predict the means God will use to deliver us when we put our trust in Him. We can, however, be sure that God can and will act. “Hezekiah turned his face to the wall” 2 Kings 20:1–8. In turning his face to the wall Hezekiah dismissed Isaiah. He also focused entirely on the Lord, and put his hope in prayer. The incident reported here happened some years before the Assyrian invasion, but after Hezekiah’s religious reformation of Judah. Hezekiah’s prayer reflects the feelings of many who find themselves suffering despite walking before God “faithfully and with wholehearted devotion.” Doesn’t the godly person deserve better at the hand of God? God did hear Hezekiah’s prayer, and considered his faithfulness. The king was promised healing and was also promised that God would defend Jerusalem from the king of Assyria. “Hezekiah received the messengers” 2 Kings 20:12–21. Hezekiah’s display of his treasures was unwise at best. The amount listed in Scripture included at least a ton of gold and, according to Assyrian records, nearly 30 tons of silver, which Assyria later carried away! Ultimately this treasure itself would be torn from fallen Assyria by Babylon, and Hezekiah’s offspring would go into slavery. Hezekiah’s thankfulness for “peace and security in my lifetime” is sometimes criticized. Yet this lifetime is all we have, and God’s challenge to us is to live it well. Future generations must meet the challenge of their own time. Hezekiah recognized this reality, and was rightly thankful that God would give his people peace as long as he lived.
Thank You, Lord (2 Kings 20)
There is more to the story of Hezekiah’s answered prayer than meets the eye. God added 15 years to Hezekiah’s life. But note that 21:1 says that “Manasseh was 12 years old when he became king.” Manasseh, then, was born during the added years that God gave Hezekiah in answer to his prayer. Who was Manasseh? Hezekiah’s child grew up to become Judah’s most wicked king, whose 55-year rule set the Southern Kingdom on the route to certain destruction. Yes, God answered Hezekiah’s prayer, but it might have been better for Judah if He had not! The unstated lesson of Hezekiah’s prayer is a surprising one. At times, rather than plead for healing, we should simply say, “Thank You, Lord,” and rest in the firm conviction that whatever we receive from the hand of God is for the best.
Let every request we make be guarded by the phrase, “If it is for the best.”