Kneeling before God keeps you in good standing – Tuesday, 12th week in ordinary time – 2 Kings 19:9b-11, 14-21,31-35a and 36
King Hezekiah came to the throne of Judah (southern kingdom) 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. Hezekiah was one of the better kings of Judah, and thus had a long and mostly blessed reign.
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. Hezekiah was one of Judah’s most zealous reformer Kings who promoted 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).
We are told that Hezekiah rebelled against the king of Assyria. 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. Hezekiah subdued the Philistines and successfully put down Judah’s aggressive neighbours.
In the sixth year of Hezekiah’s reign the northern Kingdom, or Israel as it was called, fell to the Assyrians. 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. From this time on, the Southern Kingdom would be known not only by the name ‘Judah’ but also by the ancient name ‘Israel.
Five years after the fall of Samaria, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked the fortified cities of Judah. He captured all of them and needed to only take Jerusalem itself to completely conquer Judah. At this, King Hezekiah felt it was wiser to pay off the Assyrian king and become his subject rather than to trust God to defend Judah against this mighty king.
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 bolder than ever against Judah.
Hezekiah now puts his trust in Egypt as an ally. The prophet Isaiah does 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). Hezekiah’s trust in his Egypt policy would indeed be trouble for Judah. City after city fell to Sennacherib and long lines of deportees were snaking their bitter way into exile – and it is all Hezekiah’s fault! He was bewitched by Egyptian promises.
Hezekiah is now threatened by the Rabshakeh, the commander of the Assyrians. He knew how dedicated this enemy was to completely conquering Jerusalem. He tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth as an expression of deep mourning. He knew now that he must seek the LORD. He went to the courts of the house of the LORD and sought the prophet of the LORD, Isaiah. He was desperate and in his desperation, he admits that “the children have come to birth, but there is no strength to bring them forth”. This was a proverbial expression for a disaster – a woman so exhausted by labor that she could not complete the birth, so it was likely that both mother and child would die.
God through the prophet Isaiah gives a word of assurance to Hezekiah. “Do not be afraid of the words which you have heard.” Isaiah, speaking for the LORD, made a bold prediction. Significantly, in this initial word from the prophet Isaiah, there was no mention of Jerusalem’s deliverance or the defeat of the Assyrian army.
We are told that the Rabshakeh continued to build fear, discouragement, and despair in Hezekiah. He sent a letter to the king of Judah to attack him from a distance. The Rabshakeh listed many cities that the Assyrian army conquered, utterly destroying them. Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it. This time he did not go to Isaiah but went up to the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD and prayed.
In his prayer, King Hezekiah drew the contrast between the living God and the false gods of the nations the Assyrians had already conquered. Those false gods were not gods, but the work of men’s hands – wood and stone, so they were not able to save them from the Assyrians. But Hezekiah prayed confidently that the living God would save them.