Whilst the Northern Kingdom of Israel was taken into captivity, 2 Kings 17:5, Hezekiah now becomes king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah at the age of twenty-five. He reigned for twenty-nine years, from 716 B.C. to 687 B.C.
When we read Isaiah 36-37, we soon discover that we have a parallel account of what we have recorded here in 2 Kings 18 and 2 Kings 19, it’s almost word for word.
Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of God, he trusted God and restored Judah back to God. He also made reforms in the cities, but also in the rural areas as he removed the high places of the false gods by destroying them, 2 Chronicles 31:20-21.
The bronze snake Moses made, was now called ‘Nehushtan’ which means ‘the bronze thing,’ this tells us that what the snake actually signified from Israel’s past had long been forgotten, Numbers 21:8-9 and was being worshipped.
Whitcomb, in his commentary, gives us a detailed account of exactly what Hezekiah did.
1. He opened the temple doors which Ahaz had closed, 2 Chronicles 28:24 / 2 Chronicles 29:3.
2. He ordered the cleansing of the temple, 2 Chronicles 29:4-19.
3. He offered appropriate sacrifices, 2 Chronicles 29:20-36.
4. He invited Israelites of every tribe to come to Jerusalem, 2 Chronicles 30:5-12.
5. He also celebrated a Passover that had to be delayed a month to allow the worshippers to become clean, 2 Chronicles 30:1-12.
In doing all these things, he did what the kings before him failed to achieve. No wonder the Lord was with Hezekiah, he was committed to serving God and restoring the people of Judah back to God and God was committed to being with him.
Hezekiah rebelled against the king Assyria and refused to serve him. At first, he was probably against Sennacherib, but after the death of Sennacherib, his revolt was against Sargon.
In these verses, we read again about the downfall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. God’s people refused to be faithful to God, they disobeyed His commandments, and created their own laws, they committed idolatry and worshipped idols instead of worshipping the God of Israel, 2 Kings 17:3-7
Some commentators suggest that ‘since Shalmaneser had died before the battle against Samaria was completed, the ‘king of Assyria’ that is mentioned in verse 11 would be Sargon II. By the time of Assyria’s attack on the Southern Kingdom of Judah in verse 13, Sargon had died and Sennacherib was king of Assyria.’
Sennacherib in 701 B.C., attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. History tells us when Sargon was killed in battle in the land of Tabal, a rebellion started throughout many Mediterranean regions where Assyria had formerly conquered several small nations. Hezekiah was one who joined in with this rebellion against the Assyrians, 2 Kings 18:7-8.
At the same time, the Bible tells us that Marduk-Baladan was leading the rise of the Babylonian Empire and encouraged other nations to join in with the rebellion, 2 Kings 20:12-19 / Isaiah 39:1-8. It was during this time of rebellion that Sennacherib attacked all the cities of Judah.
When Sennacherib initially defeated Tyre, then the capital cities, except Ashkelon, Ekron and Jerusalem, Hezekiah submitted to pay tribute to Assyria. However, Sennacherib eventually defeated Ashkelon and wanted to do the same to Ekron.
The Philistines made an alliance with Shabaka of Egypt, who in turn called for reinforcements from Ethiopia. But Sennacherib defeated this coalition of nations at Eltekah, north of Ekron. After his conquest of Eltekah,
Timnah and Ekron, Sennacherib headed for Jerusalem. Before arriving in Jerusalem, he engaged Lachish, a well-fortified city that was at the time larger than Jerusalem.
Notice that Hezekiah paid a large tribute to Sennacherib, this is because he knew he couldn’t stop him, he was way too powerful for Judah. Hezekiah took all the treasures out of the temple and even strips the gold overlay from the doorposts.
This was the first invasion of Sennacherib to the land of Judah, but another is soon to follow.
The K.J.V. uses the words, ‘Tartan’ meaning general, commander of the Assyrian army, Isaiah 20:1. ‘Rabsaris’, meaning chief eunuch, or bodyguard, Jeremiah 39:3 / Jeremiah 39:13. ‘Rabshakeh’, meaning the chief cup-bearer, a court official often in charge of administrative duties.
He was apparently the spokesman in charge of negotiations and here his assignment was to order the surrender of Jerusalem. It appears that Sennacherib had forgotten his earlier promise to spare the city for that vast tribute.
It’s important for us to think about the chronology of these verses, otherwise, we may get a little confused.
Dickson, in his commentary, says the following.
‘Some have affirmed that there was a period of about twelve years between verses 16 and 17, and thus the narrative that follows is the description of a second invasion into Palestine by the Assyrian army. The reason for this assumption is that in the first invasion, Hezekiah submitted to Sennacherib and paid tribute, 2 Kings 18:13-16. In the context of the communications from 2 Kings 18:17 to 2 Kings 19:37, mention is made of Hezekiah paying tribute. During this second confrontation with Sennacherib beginning with verse 17, Isaiah is with Hezekiah, and thus Hezekiah is defiant to the proposals made by Sennacherib.’
‘The second reason why this was probably a second invasion is in the fact that Tirhakah, 2 Kings 19:9, was an Ethiopian. In archaeological discoveries, he was a coregent ruler of Egypt with his brother Shebitko in 690/89. Therefore, he could not have been in power to lead Egyptian forces into Palestine as early as 701 B.C. The Egyptian army that Sennacherib engaged at Eltekah was not the same army that was led by Tirhakah.’
‘A third reason why this narrative would be considered a second invasion is in the nature of the messages of Isaiah. Messages that Isaiah pronounced from around 705 B.C. to 701 B.C. indicate that Isaiah was against Hezekiah’s rebellion against Assyria, Isaiah 28:14-22 / Isaiah 30:1-17 / Isaiah 31:1-3. However, other messages indicate that God would break the yoke of Assyria, which messages were directed to Judah concerning Assyria’s second invasion, Isaiah 10:24-27 / Isaiah 14:24-27 / Isaiah 29:5-8. This was Hezekiah’s message to Sennacherib on this occasion, 2 Kings 19:20-34.’
‘Add to this the fact that the threat of Sennacherib against Jerusalem was suddenly terminated on this occasion with the death of 185,000 of his men. Since after the first invasion, Hezekiah sent tribute to Nineveh, no such tribute would have been sent after the sudden death of the army of Sennacherib that is explained in this account. The date for this encounter was around 688 B.C.’
Here we read of the arrogance of Rabshakeh, the field commander, towards Hezekiah’s alliance with Egypt, which he calls ‘that splintered reed of a staff’. In other words, he’s saying that Hezekiah shouldn’t put all their trust in Egypt for security. Tirhakah was Pharaoh at this time who was reigning with his brother, 2 Kings 19:9.
Notice that Rabshakeh tried to discourage Hezekiah from making this alliance by telling him that he was on a mission from God, and in a sense he was, but not in the sense he thought, Isaiah 10:5-11.
However, it wasn’t God’s mission for the Assyrians to take Jerusalem, that mission belonged to the Babylonians. Although Rabshakeh was arrogant, Hezekiah, with the help and guidance of Isaiah, Judah stood firm in her revolt against the Assyrian Empire.
Here we learn that the main two languages during these days were Aramaic and Hebrew. Here we read of a mixture of truths and some huge lies, in Rabshakeh’s rant, and the representatives of Hezekiah tried to arrange for the mission from Sennacherib to speak in a language the defenders on the walls of the city wouldn’t understand.
However, this plan was rejected out of hand by Rabshakeh, who then finished his insulting speech, addressing it directly to the men on the wall.
Rabshakeh appears to be giving the people a choice, they can choose to live in Assyria in captivity or they can pay the consequences for rebelling against Sennacherib. Because Sennacherib had conquered many cities including Samaria, this would certainly discourage the Israelites from rebelling.
However, Hezekiah didn’t give in to Sennacherib, he trusted what God had told Isaiah, that Sennacherib wouldn’t enter the city, 2 Chronicles 32:9-19.
Coffman, in his commentary, says the following concerning Sennacherib’s arguments.
1. It is foolish to rely on Egypt for help.
The prophets of God had frequently warned God’s people of such a foolish course, and so this must be understood simply as a fact.
2. This argument was a theological one.
Hezekiah had indeed taken away the high places and the altars mentioned, and Rabshakeh’s false argument was that such must have displeased Jehovah. This, of course, was an outright lie. God was pleased with Hezekiah’s actions.
3. The third argument, 2 Kings 18:23-24, called attention to the overwhelmingly large army of the Assyrians.
This was true, but the joker in that argument was that it would take an army of a million just as long to besiege a city as it would take an army of one-tenth that size, and the last thing on earth that Sennacherib wanted at that stage of his operations was a long siege.
4. The most astounding argument of all is the fourth.
Rabshakeh claimed that Jehovah had ordered him to come up and destroy Judah and Jerusalem. This was exactly the manoeuvre of Adolph Hitler who employed the Big Lie as one of his weapons.
5. The fifth argument was such a monumental falsehood that one may well wonder at the stupidity of the man who told it.
‘If you will just surrender, we will provide you free transportation to a beautiful land far away, just like the Garden of Eden!’ How stupid was Rabshakeh that he supposed the Jews could have forgotten ‘that free transportation’ provided the Northern tribes, who were driven on foot, linked together with long cables fastened in the lips, ears, cheeks or noses of their victims into northern Mesopotamia, or how all of them were put to work in fields, factories, or brickyards, where they were only slaves, starved, worked, or beaten to death.’
‘Those gracious, kind and gentle Assyrians, which Rabshakeh pretended they were, had earned the title of ‘The Breakers’ all over the world of that era, and their cruelties and brutalities were the worst mankind ever saw. They flayed their victims alive. They impaled them. They starved and beat them unmercifully.’
6. Number six was another religious argument.
None of the gods of all the cities and countries that had fallen into the hand of Sennacherib had ever been able to deliver them. Therefore, Jehovah the God of Judah would not be able to deliver them. Rabshakeh himself was due to learning something with regard to this argument, as shall be dramatically revealed in 2 Kings 19.
Notice that Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah went to Hezekiah, with their clothes torn went back to Hezekiah to tell him what Rabshakeh said. Although they were deeply discouraged by what Rabshakeh had said, Hezekiah continued to trust in God to deliver Judah from the threat of the Assyrians.