King Hezekiah Does it Right
Posted by Ben Erlichman on March 17, 2011
When I was growing up in the suburbs, I attended a church in Milwaukee. It’s because of that church, my loving Christian parents, and the people at that church that I became the person I am today. I was blessed to have had a pretty extensive biblical training as a youth, but in 20 years of growing up in a pentecostal denomination, I never once heard the Bible story I’m about to tell you.
How much do you know about Hezekiah? Probably not much. He was King over the Nation of Judah (which had split from the nation of Israel several years back) and the Bible says that he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. Perhaps you’re familiar with this part of the story: Isaiah the prophet told him that he was going to die soon, so Hezekiah humbled himself before the Lord. Then the Lord told him that He would add 15 years to Hezekiah’s life from that point forward. As a sign to Hezekiah, the sun moved backward ten steps leading up to the temple (meaning He made the sun go backwards).
Before that happened, though, God did something that I found even more amazing than making the sun go backwards. By the time Hezekiah became king, the aforementioned nation of Israel had already been captured and put into captivity by the Assyrians, the dominant world power of the time. But Hezekiah resisted the Assyrian kings and Judah remained its own autonomous nation for more than 100 years after Israel fell into captivity.
Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, did not like that. So he sent his gigantic army (probably 200,000 people or more) to take over Judah. Hezekiah sends three officials out to meet the Rabshakeh (the Assyrian Field Commander) to talk things out. The Rabshakeh outright slanders God by equating Him to the Gods of all the other countries Assyria has fought against and vanquished. He’s speaking for the king of Assyria, and he basically says “You guys are dead if you try to fight us, and your God can’t save you. No one can.”
Given the size of the Assyrian army, Hezekiah and his people were understandably scared and worried. But instead of giving in or trying to rely on outside help (like Egypt) to save them, Hezekiah does this: “When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD.” (2 Kings 19:1) He humbled himself before the Lord. He contacted Isaiah the prophet, who told him: “Tell your master, ‘This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. 7 Listen! When he hears a certain report, I will make him want to return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.’”
Well, that didn’t even phase Sennacherib, the Assyrian king. Via the Rabshakeh, the king sent Hezekiah a letter that basically recapped what he’d said the other day–stuff like, “Your God can’t save you” and “we’re going to kill you so bad that you won’t even believe it.”
So what does Hezekiah do? He takes the letter into the temple and spreads it out on the altar before God, then he prays.
15 “LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Give ear, LORD, and hear; open your eyes, LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.
17 “It is true, LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 19 Now, LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, LORD, are God.” (2 Kings 19:15-19)
Then Isaiah has a few words to say. I highly recommend you read 2 Kings 19:20-34. Most notably, Isaiah, prophesying, says, “‘By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the LORD. I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.’”(verses 33-34)
Then God more than handles the situation–He sends “the angel of the LORD” out to the Assyrian camp, and the angel puts to death 185,000 soldiers, which inspires Sennacherib to go home. There, his two sons murder him in the temple of his false god.
Remember how I said the army was probably around 200,000 people? For me, that’s a blind guess. I have no idea, except to use the number that the angel killed as a base. If you’re thinking percentages, losing 185k men must have been a pretty big blow to the Assyrian army, because they gave up and went home afterward. Now, if they had a million men in the army, they’d probably stick around. Heck, even if they had over 400,000 they might stay. I think it was less than that, though. I have a feeling that a blow that size crippled their army. Within the next 100 years, the Babylonian empire rose to power and replaced the Assyrian empire, and I’m betting this incident had something to do with it.
So what can we take away from this? I think the message is simple this week: when you’re in trouble, God can help you. Sure, there’s a difference between an army coming against you and trying to figure out how you’re going to pay your next mortgage bill, but sometimes they don’t seem too different. While I have to advocate responsibility and common sense along with faith, for me, faith is foundational. Note that if you somehow got yourself into a bad situation through bad decisions, God can still redeem you if you’re willing to repent (literally turn away) from your old ways, but He may not always save you from the consequences of your actions, or from the consequences I might incur from bad decisions I might make.
But God loves you, and He wants you to live free and in a relationship with Him. Happy Saint Patty’s Day.
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