2 Kings 18 – Hezekiah’s Reign; Assyria’s Threat
A. The righteous reign of Hezekiah.
1. (1-2) Hezekiah reigns over Judah for 29 years.
Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea the son of Elah, king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah.
a. In the third year of Hoshea: Hezekiah came to the throne of Judah at the very end of the kingdom of Israel. Three years after the start of his reign, the Assyrian armies laid siege to Samaria, and three years after that the Northern Kingdom was conquered.
i. The sad fate of the Northern Kingdom was a valuable lesson to Hezekiah. He saw first hand what happened when the people of God rejected their God and His word, and worshipped other gods.
ii. “Perhaps the knottiest of all scriptural chronological problems occurs in this chapter… Despite the many ingenious attempts to resolve these difficulties, the harmonization of these data remains a thorny problem.” (Patterson and Austel)
iii. In the third year of Hoshea: “…729/8 b.c. in which year Hezekiah became co-regent with Ahaz. His sole reign began in 716/5 b.c. Compare this with verse 13 where his fourteenth year as sole ruler (716/5-687/6 b.c.) is a date (701 b.c.) verifiable from Sennacherib’s annals.” (Wiseman)
b. He reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem: Hezekiah was one of the better kings of Judah, and thus had a long and mostly blessed reign.
2. (3-6) Hezekiah’s righteousness.
And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the LORD had commanded Moses.
a. He did what was right in the sight of the LORD… He removed the high places: Hezekiah was one of Judah’s most zealous reformers, even prohibiting worship on the high places. These were popular altars for sacrifice set up as the worshipper desired, not according to God’s direction.
i. “God was never happy about this practice, but none of the other good kings ever found the courage to forbid it. Hezekiah did.” (Dilday)
b. And broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made: Numbers 21:1-9 describes how during a time of a plague of fiery serpents upon the whole nation, Moses made a bronze serpent for the nation to look upon and be spared death from the snake bites. This statement in 2 Kings tells us that this particular bronze serpent had been preserved for more than 800 years and had come to be worshipped as Nehushtan. Hezekiah, in his zeal, broke in pieces this bronze artifact and put an end to the idolatrous worship of this object.
i. This bronze serpent was a wonderful thing – when the afflicted people of Israel looked upon it, they were saved. It was even a representation of Jesus Christ, as Jesus Himself said in John 3:14-15. At the same time, man could take something so good and so used by God and make a destructive idol out of it.
ii. In the same way, sometimes good things become idols and therefore must be destroyed. For example, if the true cross of Jesus or His actual burial cloth were to be discovered, and these objects became idolatrous distractions, then it would be better for those objects to be destroyed. “Although it was an interesting memorial, it must be utterly destroyed, because it presented a temptation to idolatry. Here if ever in this world was a relic of high antiquity, of undoubted authenticity, a relic which had seen its hundreds of years, about which there was no question as to its being indisputably the very serpent which Moses made; and it was moreover a relic which had formerly possessed miraculous power – for in the wilderness the looking at it had saved the dying. Yet it must be broken in pieces, because Israel burned incense to it.” (Spurgeon)
iii. God’s people must likewise be on guard against idolatry today. There are many dangers of idolatry in the modern church:
· Making leaders idols.
· Making education an idol.
· Making human eloquence an idol.
· Making customs and habits of ministry an idol.
· Making forms of worship an idol.
iv. The name Nehushtan means “piece of brass” and is a way to make less of this object that was made an idol. “So Hezekiah had it turned from an object of false worship into scrap-metal.” (Wiseman)
v. “Such was the venom of the Israelitish idolatry, that the brazen serpent stung worse than the fiery.” (Trapp)
c. He trusted in the LORD God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah: Hezekiah was unique in his passion and energy of his personal trust in God and for promoting the true worship of God. This is even more remarkable when we consider that his father Ahaz was one of the worst kings Judah had (2 Kings 16:10-20).
i. “It is remarkable that such a man as Hezekiah could be the son of Ahaz. Yet we must remember that all his life he was under the influence of Isaiah.” (Morgan)
3. (7-8) Hezekiah’s political achievements.
The LORD was with him; he prospered wherever he went. And he rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. He subdued the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.
a. The LORD was with him; he prospered wherever he went: Because of Hezekiah’s faithful trust in the LORD, God blessed him thoroughly. It fulfilled a long-standing promise to David and his descendants: if they obeyed God, their reign would always be secure (1 Kings 2:1-4).
b. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him: At this time Assyria was mighty enough to completely conquer the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Yet the kingdom of Judah stood strong, because God blessed the trusting and obedient king.
i. “He shook off that yoke of subjugation and tribute to which his father had wickedly submitted, and reassumed that full independent sovereignty which God had settled in the house of David.” (Poole)
ii. Later, Zedekiah was rebuked for his rebellion against the king of Babylon. But that was a different case, and shows that sometimes rebellion is justified and sometimes it is not.
c. He subdued the Philistines: Hezekiah also found success in subjugating Judah’s aggressive neighbors. He worked for a strong, free, and independent Judah.
4. (9-12) Israel falls into exile during his reign.
Now it came to pass in the fourth year of King Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea the son of Elah, king of Israel, that Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria and besieged it. And at the end of three years they took it. In the sixth year of Hezekiah, that is, the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken. Then the king of Assyria carried Israel away captive to Assyria, and put them in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD their God, but transgressed His covenant and all that Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded; and they would neither hear nor do them.
a. Samaria was taken: This was – and should have been – a sobering experience for the Southern Kingdom of Judah to see. The cruel devastation brought by the Assyrians showed what calamities could come upon the disobedient people of God.
i. “From this time on, the Southern Kingdom would be known not only by the name ‘Judah’ but also by the ancient name ‘Israel.’” (Dilday)
b. They would neither hear nor do them: The people of the Northern Kingdom were not any less Israelites and descendants of Abraham by blood than were the people of the Southern Kingdom. Therefore, this clearly showed Judah that when they also stopped hearing and doing the commandments of God, they would also face judgment.
B. The Assyrian threat during the reign of Hezekiah.
1. (13-16) Hezekiah tries to buy peace from the Assyrians.
And in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. Then Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; turn away from me; whatever you impose on me I will pay.” And the king of Assyria assessed Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasuries of the king’s house. At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.
a. In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them: This was approximately five years after the fall of Samaria. Now the king of Assyria brought his force against Judah, who had successfully resisted him before (2 Kings 18:7). He captured all of the fortified cities of Judah and needed to only take Jerusalem itself to completely conquer Judah.
i. The mention of Lachish is important to historians and archaeologists. The British Museum displays the Assyrian carvings depicting the siege of the city of Lachish, which was an important fortress city of Judah. Lachish was thirty miles southwest of Jerusalem.
ii. “An interesting wall relief taken from the excavation of Sennacherib’s royal palace in Nineveh is persevered in the British Museum. It portrays the Assyrian king on a portable throne in his military camp outside Lachish. Prisoners of war are marching by on foot, and all the booty from the city is being displayed on ox-wagons.” (Dilday)
iii. Archaeologists also discovered a pit at Lachish with the remains of about 1,500 casualties that probably came from the later attack of Nebuchadnezzar more than 100 years after this attack of the Assyrians.
b. I have done wrong; turn away from me; whatever you impose on me I will pay: This was a clear – though understandable – lack of faith on the part of Hezekiah. He felt it was wiser to pay off the Assyrian king and become his subject than it was to trust God to defend Judah against this mighty king.
i. We can suppose that Hezekiah thought that since the Northern Kingdom had been recently conquered and that all the fortified cities of Judah had been captured, God had demonstrated that He would not intervene on behalf of Judah. Therefore Hezekiah felt he had to do something himself.
ii. Perhaps this idea was strengthened in Hezekiah when he remembered the wickedness of his own father Ahaz, and when he considered that because of their prior sin, Judah deserved such judgment.
c. So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasuries of the king’s house: Hezekiah hoped that this policy of appeasement would make Judah safe. He was wrong, and his policy only impoverished Judah and the temple and made the king of Assyria more bold than ever against Judah.
2. (17-20) The Rabshakeh tries to convince Judah to surrender.
Then the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshakeh from Lachish, with a great army against Jerusalem, to King Hezekiah. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they had come up, they went and stood by the aqueduct from the upper pool, which was on the highway to the Fuller’s Field. And when they had called to the king, Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came out to them. Then the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say now to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: “What confidence is this in which you trust? You speak of having plans and power for war; but they are mere words. And in whom do you trust, that you rebel against me?”’”
a. The Rabshakeh: This actually is not a name, but a title. It describes the “field commander” for the Assyrian army, who represented the Assyrian King Sennacherib. “Rab-shakeh, an Assyrian title, possibly originally ‘chief cup-bearer’ but by this time some high officer of state.” (Motyer, cited in his commentary on Isaiah)
b. Stood by the aqueduct from the upper pool… Eliakim… Shebna… Joah… came out to them: The Rabshakeh seemed to be in complete command of the situation. He could walk right into the city of Jerusalem, and stand at the crucial water supply – which was Jerusalem’s life-line in a siege attack. As he stood there, three officials from Hezekiah’s government came to meet him.
c. What confidence is this in which you trust: We might wish that Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, and that this is what the Rabshakeh mocked. Instead, Hezekiah put his hope in an alliance with Egypt, and the Rabshakeh wanted him to lose confidence in that alliance.
i. It was a great temptation for Hezekiah during this time to make a defensive alliance with Egypt, which seemed to be the only nation strong enough to protect Judah against the mighty Assyrians. As a prophet, Isaiah did everything he could to discourage Hezekiah and the leaders of Judah from putting their trust in Egypt (Isaiah 19:11-17, 20:1-6, 30:1-7). The LORD wanted Judah to trust Him instead of Egypt.
ii. In this sense, the Rabshakeh spoke the truth. God wanted Judah to have no confidence in Egypt at all. But the Rabshakeh did not do it to bring Judah to a firm trust in the LORD God, who can and will deliver them from the Assyrians. He did it to completely demoralize Judah and drive them to despair.
iii. Satan often attacks us the same way. Often, even when he tells the truth (“You are such a rotten sinner!”), he never does it to lead us to a firm trust in the LORD our God (“Jesus died for sinners, so if I am a rotten sinner, Jesus died to forgive and free me!”). Instead, Satan’s strategy – even if he tells us the truth – is always to demoralize us and drive us to despair.
iv. From the perspective of the unbeliever, Sennacherib asked a valid question: And in whom do you trust, that you rebel against me? “Our life must to a large extent be a mystery, our peace pass understanding, and our motives be hidden. The sources of our supply, the ground of our confidence, the reasons for our actions, must evade the most searching scrutiny of those who stand outside the charmed circle of the face of God… We must be prepared to be criticized, because our behavior is determined by facts which the princes of this world know not.” (Meyer)
3. (21-25) The demoralizing arguments of the Rabshakeh.
“Now look! You are trusting in the staff of this broken reed, Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God,’ is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and said to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’? Now therefore, I urge you, give a pledge to my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses— if you are able on your part to put riders on them! How then will you repel one captain of the least of my master’s servants, and put your trust in Egypt for chariots and horsemen? Have I now come up without the LORD against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, ‘Go up against this land, and destroy it.’”
a. You are trusting in the staff of this broken reed, Egypt: Strangely, the Rabshakeh could see the truth of Egypt’s weakness better than many of the leaders of Judah could. Hezekiah’s trust-in-Egypt policy would indeed be trouble for Judah.
i. “Egypt had made its one attempt to redeem its promises (Isaiah 28:14) and its army had been beaten at El Tekeh. The Rab-shakeh had himself seen this, but his words are more far-reaching and damaging, exposing the criminal stupidity of Judah’s leaders: surely, he said, they knew that anyone who ever trusted Egypt suffered for it.” (Motyer, Isaiah Commentary)
ii. “Since this is the same terminology Isaiah used to symbolize Egypt (Isaiah 42:3), some have suggested that Sennacherib was familiar with Isaiah’s prophecies and quoted here to imply he was carrying out Yahweh’s will. Further support for this idea is found in verse 25 where Sennacherib seemed to be aware of Isaiah’s statement that Assyria was a rod which Yahweh would use to punish Judah (Isaiah 10:5).” (Dilday)
b. If you say to me, “We trust in the LORD our God”: The Rabshakeh anticipated the response of the leaders of Judah. “Rabshakeh, you say that we can’t trust in Egypt. All right, we won’t. But we can trust in the LORD our God.”
c. Is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away: The Rabshakeh knew that King Hezekiah had implemented broad reforms in Judah, including the removal of the high places (2 Kings 18:3-4). Yet in the Rabshakeh’s thinking, Hezekiah’s reforms had really displeased God, so he should not expect help from the LORD God of Israel. The Rabshakeh would say, “Look at all the places there used to be where people would worship the LORD God of Israel. Now, since Hezekiah came in, there is only one place. More is always better, so the LORD God of Israel must be pretty sore at Hezekiah!”
i. The enemy of our souls has a skillful way of discouraging our obedience. If Hezekiah were not careful, this argument of the Rabshakeh would start to make sense, when really it was demonic logic through and through.
ii. “The theological misunderstanding shown by the field commander at this point argues for the authenticity of the speech, which many critics have dubbed a free creation by the author of the narrative.” (Grogan, Isaiah Commentary)
d. Give a pledge to my master the king of Assyria: This reminds us of the Rabshakeh’s whole strategy, which was to make Judah give up. This was the entire reason the Rabshakeh was at the aqueduct, speaking to these leaders of Hezekiah’s government. He had the vastly superior armies; he could have just attacked Jerusalem without this little speech. But the Rabshekah would prefer it if Judah would simply give up, out of fear, discouragement, or despair.
i. The enemy of our soul uses the exact same approach. Many of us picture Satan as “itching for a fight” with us. Really, Satan doesn’t want to do battle with you. First of all, there is the strong chance you will win. Second of all, win or lose, the battle can draw you closer to the LORD. Thirdly, what the LORD does in your life through the battle can be a great blessing for other people. No, Satan would much rather not fight you at all! He would much rather try to talk you into giving up!
ii. We see this exact strategy used against Jesus during His temptation in the wilderness. When Satan promised Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for Jesus’ worship, Satan was trying to avoid the fight, and trying to talk Jesus into giving up (Luke 4:5-8). It didn’t work with Jesus, and it shouldn’t work with us.
e. I will give you two thousand horses – if you are able on your part to put riders on them: Here, the Rabshakeh mocked Judah’s weak army. He said, “Even if we helped you with 2,000 horses, it wouldn’t do you any good.” His basic message is, “We could beat you with one hand tied behind our backs!” (How then will you repel one captain of the least of my master’s servants?).
f. Have I now come up without the LORD against this land to destroy it: The Rabshakeh saved his best thrust for last: “Admit it, Hezekiah. You know that your God is on my side.”
i. Like all good deception, it would have been easy for Hezekiah and his men to believe this one. After all, hadn’t the Assyrians been wildly successful? Surely, God must be on their side. Didn’t they have the most powerful army? Surely, God must be on their side.
g. The LORD said to me, “Go up against this land, and destroy it”: This was the finishing blow of a brilliant attack. “Hezekiah, God told me to destroy you. I’m just doing His will, and there is nothing you can do to stop it, so you may as well surrender.”
i. Significantly, we can say that the Rabshekah was partially correct! God was with him, and his attack on Judah fulfilled God’s prophesied plan. In conquering Syria, in conquering Israel, and in bringing Judah to the brink, the Assyrians did the will of God. God prophesied that all this would happen (Isaiah 8:3-4, 7:16-17 and many other passages in Isaiah). He allowed it to happen so His prophesied plan would be fulfilled.
ii. However, we should never think that God tempted an innocent man with an evil plan. In fact, even though God predicted and planned this invasion of the Assyrians, the Rabshakeh may have been lying indeed when he said, “The LORD said to me…” God did not have to do anything special to direct the bloodthirsty, conquest-hungry Assyrians to attack Syria, Israel, and Judah. He simply allowed the Assyrians to carry out the corrupt desires of their evil hearts. Therefore, the Assyrians could never excuse themselves by saying, “We were doing the LORD’s will,” even as Judas could never legitimately make that excuse regarding his wicked betrayal of Jesus.
4. (26-27) Hezekiah’s men ask Rabshakeh to speak only to them.
Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, Shebna, and Joah said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it; and do not speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” But the Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me to your master and to you to speak these words, and not to the men who sit on the wall, who will eat and drink their own waste with you?”
a. Please speak to your servants in the Aramaic language, for we understand it: We can just imagine how difficult this was for these leaders in Hezekiah’s government. They must have thought, “It’s bad enough we have to hear this. But since he is speaking in Hebrew, everyone will hear, and soon the people will become so discouraged they will rise up against us and make us surrender!”
i. “Aramaic became the diplomatic lingua franca of the Near East in the neo-Assyrian period. That a well-educated member of Sennacherib’s staff could speak both Hebrew and Aramaic as well as Akkadian need no longer be doubted.” (Patterson and Austel)
b. Has my master sent me to your master and to you to speak these words, and not to the men who sit on the wall: The Rabshakeh didn’t care if the common citizens of Jerusalem could hear him. That was one of his goals. The more fear, discouragement, and despair he could spread, the better he liked it.
c. Who will eat and drink their own waste with you: The Rabshakeh pointed forward to what conditions would be like in Jerusalem after an extended siege. He wanted this to offend and frighten everyone who heard it, and magnify their sense of fear, discouragement, and despair.
5. (28-35) The Rabshakeh appeals to the people directly.
Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out with a loud voice in Hebrew, and spoke, saying, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he shall not be able to deliver you from his hand; nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, “The LORD will surely deliver us; this city shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.”’ Do not listen to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make peace with me by a present and come out to me; and every one of you eat from his own vine and every one from his own fig tree, and every one of you drink the waters of his own cistern; until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive groves and honey, that you may live and not die. But do not listen to Hezekiah, lest he persuade you, saying, “The LORD will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations at all delivered its land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim and Hena and Ivah? Indeed, have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their countries from my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?’”
a. Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out with a loud voice in Hebrew: Saying “don’t do that” to the Rabshakeh was like saying it to a naughty child. He couldn’t wait to speak to the people of Jerusalem.
b. Hear the words of the great king: The Rabshakeh’s speech was intended to glorify the enemy facing God’s people.
c. Do not let Hezekiah deceive you: The Rabshakeh’s speech was intended to make God’s people doubt their leaders.
d. Nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD: The Rabshakeh’s speech was intended to build fear and unbelief in God’s people.
e. For thus says the king of Assyria: “Make peace with me by a present and come out to me, and every one of you will eat from his own vine”: The Rabshakeh’s speech was intended to make surrender an attractive option.
f. Until I come and take you away to a land like your own land: Here, the Rabshakeh referred to the policies of ethnic cleansing and forced resettlement practiced by the Assyrians. When they conquered a people, they forcibly resettled them in faraway places, to keep their spirits broken and their power weak. The Rabshakeh’s speech was intended to make this terrible fate seem attractive.
g. Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered its land from the hand of the king of Assyria: The Rabshakeh’s speech was intended to destroy their trust in God. His message was simple, and brilliant in its Satanic logic: “The gods of other nations have not been able to protect them against us. Your God is just like one of them, and can’t protect you either.”
i. For anyone who had the spiritual understanding to see it, Judah could have started planning the victory party right then. It is one thing to speak against Judah, its people and leaders. It was another thing altogether to mock the LORD God of Israel this way, and count Him as “just another god.”
ii. Typical of the work of the enemy of our souls, the Rabshakeh was going well until he simply overstepped his bounds. There was no way God would let him off the hook for this one. He had offended the LORD God in a way he would soon regret.
6. (36-37) The response from the officials and the people.
But the people held their peace and answered him not a word; for the king’s commandment was, “Do not answer him.” Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn, and told him the words of the Rabshakeh.
a. But they held their peace and answered him not a word: They didn’t try to argue with the Rabshakeh. Often, it is useless – if not dangerous – to try and match wits with this demonic logic. It is almost always better to keep silent and trust God, instead of trying to win an argument with Satan or his servants.
i. “Silence is our best reply to the allegations and taunts of our foes. Be still, O persecuted soul! Hand over thy cause to God. It is useless to argue, even in many cases to give explanations. Be still, and commit thy cause to God.” (Meyer, on Isaiah)
b. For the king’s commandment was, “Do not answer him”: King Hezekiah was wise enough to make this command, and his officials and the people were wise enough to obey him.
c. Came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn: Though they were silent, they were still deeply affected by this attack. They had the same experience Paul described in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9: We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. Things were hard, but the battle was not yet lost.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission