Jesus defeats Sennacherib

I. Hezekiah’s Accomplishments are summarized in 18:1-12.

A. During the reign of Hoshea in Israel, six years before they were carried into captivity, Hezekiah began his reign in Judah. Religious reform was the first order of the day under Hezekiah (3-6 ; 2 Chronicles 29-31). Hezekiah abolished all the high places and destroyed Asherah poles. The bronze serpent set up under the command of God during the wilderness wanderings of the sons of Israel had become an idol. Hezekiah destroyed it. He reinstituted the prescribed sacrifices and the Passover. He cleansed the priesthood. Hezekiah encouraged Israel to join in worship at Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 30:1). This would have been a great opportunity for the restoration of Israel, but the messengers sent with this message were “laughed to scorn and mocked.” A few from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun responded to Hezekiah’s godly munificence and came to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 30:10, 18).

B. Hezekiah led in a military recovery and defeated the Philistines (8). Also, he refused to serve the king of Assyria even at the time that Assyria posed a severe threat to the northern kingdom, eventually taking them away into captivity.

C. Hezekiah’s faithfulness and godly courage led to expansive blessings on his reign and prosperity for Judah (7 a).

D. From the fourth year to the sixth year of Hezekiah, Israel was under siege to Assyria. They were defeated after three years and scattered away from Israel among several cities under the control of Assyria. There were probably a few who were left in the land who eventually intermingled with those sent to the cities of Israel. Judah yet remained, however, due to the faithfulness of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 31:20 – “He did what was good, right, and true before the Lord.”

II. Hezekiah’s break with Assyria

A. Hezekiah refused to continue Judah’s vassalage to Assyria (7; 2 Chronicles 29-31) whereas Israel not only capitulated but embraced with zeal the religious symbols of Assyria (2 Kings 16:10-20).

B. Hezekiah had a temporary capitulation to the threats of Assyria (18:13-16) but soon recovered his courage and his faith in the protection of Yahweh.

C. While Sennacherib was attacking other cities, he sent a force and a message designed to intimidate Hezekiah and the city of Jerusalem (18:17-35). He ridiculed Hezekiah’s stance upon trust in the Lord and spoke with condescension and blasphemous language about the Lord. The question of verse 35 is ironically pertinent, “Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” The very reason for the existence of the nation has to do with the Lord’s power over all the gods of all the nations. He had rescued his people from the mighty power of Egypt (See 17:34-41).

D. The audacious boldness of Rabshakeh, his threats to Jerusalem, his proposal of immediate surrender, and his taunting of the Lord led to a deep manifestation of repentant supplication on the part of Hezekiah and his officials. He sent them to consult with Isaiah (18:36 – 19:7).

    1. Hezekiah did this in deep humility and with a sincere seeking of the intervention of the Lord and a knowledge of what God intended in this moment of crisis. His emissaries—the chief steward of his house, a scribe who was in constant contact with the word of the Lord in its written form, and the elders among the priests—represented every aspect of the life of Judah, prophet, priest, and king. Nothing was to be reserved as a private area of protected knowledge. They went in sackcloth, meaning that every responsible entity of Judah was aware of the need for redemptive intervention, susceptibility to judgment for their history of sinfulness, and the need for understanding what the Lord’s will would be.
    2. Sennacherib’s haughtiness was more than met by Hezekiah’s humble submission to God and his desire to hear from the Lord so as not to be hemmed in to the arrogant idolatrous belchings of Sennacherib through Rabshakeh. He wanted to hear from Yahweh through his prophet, Isaiah.
    3. Isaiah has a “Thus says the Lord,” which in unvarnished form the representatives were to deliver to Hezekiah. God spoke through Isaiah, Isaiah then to the emissaries, and the emissaries were to carry the message to Hezekiah. There must be no breakdown in truth and accuracy along the way. So it should be with those who handle the word of God now. Scripture–revealed, inspired, infallible, inerrant, sufficient, and final—is the living and active word of the living God to us. Nothing that we need for Christian discipleship and maturity, assurance and leadership, truth and knowledge, conviction and repentance is absent. Through it we are led to a worship and knowledge of the True God and his True Son, through the Spirit who proceeds in love and knowledge from both.
    4. God is not unaware of the speeches we make in public or in the privacy of our own thoughts. Every idle word is heard, recorded, and will have its own day of perfect reckoning. Judah was not to fear the puffabelly rhetoric of arrogant falsehood generated from the vain imagination of the Assyrian king and his boastful spokesman. God did not yet intend to judge Judah, so they were not to fear. God’s own name and exclusive power were called into question and the blasphemy was to be judged with very little hesitation in this life.
    5. As Sennacherib had trusted in falsehood and confidence in those that are no gods, so his forces would die immediately from the power of the hosts of Jehovah himself. He would hear of it, return to Assyria, and die in Nineveh in the very house of his god at the hands of his sons (2 Chronicles 32:21).

III. Hezekiah, having consulted with Isaiah, trusted in a Covenantal God and also laid before the Lord the entire case before him and entreated God’s intervention.

A. Sennacherib sent another threatening and arrogant letter (8-13). Rabshakeh evidently had reported Isaiah’s message to Sennacherib. The Assyrian king again indicated that none of the cities in dependence on their supposed local deities have been able to withstand his onslaught. How then could debilitated Jerusalem believe that they would be different? “Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by saying, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’” (10). He has questioned not only the Lord’s power, his love for his people, but has accused the “unlying God” (Titus 1:2) of deceiving them in the message of deliverance issued through Isaiah.

B. Hezekiah’s prayer

    1. God of covenant is approached through recognition that he himself has made propitiation for our sins and removes those moral and legal barriers that would exclude us from his presence—“enthroned above the cherubim” (15).
    2. The God of the covenant is the Creator of all things. Nothing exists that he did not make, and nothing continues to exist that he does not sustain by that same power and purpose. There are no gods of other nations, for the Lord is the God of all nations using them according to his eternal determination in exact conformity to his infinite wisdom (15b).
    3. Sennacherib mocks the one True God (16-18).
      • Hezekiah entreats the Lord to take special note of the blasphemies of Sennacherib. He calls upon God, in terms of the channels of knowledge used by humans, to examine thoroughly the confrontive posture and language of the pagan king.
      • The claim of Sennacherib is true, that all the gods of the other cities and “nations” that he has attacked have been unable to defend them. This has given Sennacherib a false confidence in his ability to subdue and capture Jerusalem. He has cast them into the fire.
      • This is because they are not gods. Sennacherib has demonstrated that by his destruction of them. His power over these other so-called gods has filled him with false confidence.
    1. Hezekiah asks for God’s intervention in order to manifest to all people everywhere his sole prerogative of worship and his exclusive power over all things. “Intervene for your own glory.” (19)

C. God answers through a message of Isaiah the prophet. Having heard Hezekiah’s prayer, God sends a more extended message to Hezekiah giving more detailed insight into how divine determination and providential arrangement operates over the entire globe. Nothing happens apart from divine purpose. He “works all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11).

    1. Sennacherib has mocked God in his taunting of Jerusalem (21, 22).
    2. Sennacherib boasts in his own power, He described his exploits as if he had power to move the very forces of nature to serve his purposes (23, 24).
    3. Sennacherib’s power itself has come from God and cannot be used against Him. “From ancient times I planned it” (25). These events were settled in eternity and the insect of a day boasts in ignorance of his weakness and dependence and his culpability in claiming such independent power. “Now I have brought it to pass.” The ancient plans have been executed perfectly in time according to God’s glory and wisdom.
    4. God’s own chastening of those cities was the task of Sennacherib (26). He thought he performed his own intention for his own glory, but actually was a tool in the hands of God for executing justice in accord with his holy purposes. In this we see a reflection of the Lord’s crucifixion as described in Acts 2:23, 24.
    5. Sennacherib will be humbled (27, 28). Nothing about Sennacherib has escaped the perfect knowledge of God. God knows his normal movements from day to day and also knows the evil rebellion that is pent up in his heart (“your raging against me”). The time for temporal judgment has come. Sennacherib will be ushered into eternal judgment through a remarkable temporal judgment. A hook in the nose and a bridle in the lips will arrest his aggression, send him fearfully away, and end in his assassination.

D. God will restore Jerusalem to prosperity according to his eternal purpose.

    1. Judah will survive and live prosperously. Their daily sustenance for food will not be lacking. God will give fertility and productivity to the soil so that Jerusalem may live.
    2. Any fear of and tendency toward the extinction of Judah will be reversed. They will “take root downward and bear fruit upward.” The fulfilling of many promises concerning Judah yet remained to be fulfilled. God’s faithfulness is embedded within the thriving of Judah (Genesis 49:8-12). This is to preserve the remnant for God’s purposes.
    3. Sennacherib will never reach the city but will return to Assyria. No arrow will be shot, nor any attack be executed. God himself will defend the city “for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” In eternity the only worthy one who can show his redemptive purpose and his victory over all his foes is the “Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David” (Revelation 5:5).

E. The Angel of the Lord killed 185,000 of the Assyrians, and Sennacherib, hearing of the immense destruction without even a battle, returned to Assyria. The God who was too weak to withstand the power of Sennacherib, sent “the Angel of the Lord.” This particular Angel, messenger, probably was the eternal Son of God giving a foretaste of his ability to deliver his people. He eventually would defeat Satan himself and render all the hosts of evil helpless and under his feet. He completed the victory of redemption and the saving of the remnant, even the Israel of God (Ephesians 1:19-23; Galatians 6:16).

IV. How Much More . . . !

A. We have no approach to God apart from his required propitiation (Christ alone: Romans 3:24, 25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).

B. God’s sovereign providence extends even to the use of the evil and arrogant to bring about his purpose of judgment.

C. The Son of God destroyed Sennacherib; he destroys all his and our enemies (Hebrews 2:5-16).

D. Christ as King will cleanse his people of all that defiles not merely externally, but in the heart. Often he will put them to great distress to drive them from self-confidence and self-righteousness to see that he alone is their hope, strength, and righteousness.

E. Prayer in submission to God’s purpose and power is an effectual means of seeing his grace displayed.

F. God always maintains his remnant for his covenant purposes.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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