Sennacherib king of Assyria sent his servant Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto king Hezekiah with a great army in order to intimidate the people of Jerusalem into surrendering (Isaiah 36:2,4). A master at psychological warfare, Sennacherib instructed his servant to speak to the Jews in their native language so that they would understand every word he said and would believe he sympathized with their situation.
Rabshakeh intended to instill doubt and fear in the people when he said, “Am I now come up without the LORD against this land to destroy it? the LORD said unto me, Go up against the land, and destroy it” (Isaiah 36:10). Hearing these words spoken in Hebrew made the message much more convincing. Essentially, Rabshakeh implied that the LORD had switched sides. He was no longer protecting the Israelites; God was helping the Assyrians to destroy them.
Rabshakeh’s message was true in the context of the northern kingdom of Israel, but an outright lie in regards to Jerusalem. Whether or not God had spoken to Sennacherib was not what really mattered. The question at hand was did God intend to destroy the kingdom of Judah as he had the northern kingdom of Israel? Apparently, king Hezekiah had already warned his people of an Assyrian invasion. Rabshakeh wanted the people to think Hezekiah was the one who was lying to them.
Then Rabshakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews’ language, and said, Hear ye the words of the great king, the king of Assyria. Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you. Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us: the city shall not be delivered into the had of the king of Assyria. (Isaiah 36:13-15)
Rabshakeh had a strategic advantage in convincing the people that their king was lying to them. It would make sense for Hezekiah to do so. Rabshakeh argued that Hezekiah was like every other king and was powerless to keep his promise. Rabshakeh declared, “Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, The LORD will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?” (Isaiah 36:18).
Three of king Hezekiah’s cabinet members were listening in as Rabshakeh struck fear into the hearts of the people of Jerusalem. Rather than trying to defend their leader, these men walked away without acknowledging Rabshakeh’s threat. It says in Isaiah 36:21-21, “But they held their peace, and answered him not a word: for the king’s commandment was saying, answer him not. Then came Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, that was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, the son of Asaph, the recorder, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rabshakeh.”