Sennacherib

Sennacherib king of Assyria was referred to as “the great king” (2 Kings 18:19), a title often used by the imperial rulers of Assyria, in order to intimidate and break the resistance of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. This title was associated with the LORD in Psalms 47 and 95 where it says, “For the LORD most High is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth” (Psalm 47:2), and “For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:3). It is likely the Assyrian rulers intentionally used the title “great king” to mock God and to elevate themselves above his authority.

Sennacherib sent a message to king Hezekiah in the Hebrew language and made sure it was read publicly so that everyone in Jerusalem would be aware of his contempt toward their God. It said, “Hear the word 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 out of his hand: neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria…Who are they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand?” (2 Kings 18:28-30,35).

Sennacherib implied that the LORD was unable to deliver Jerusalem out of his hand. In essence, saying that he was more powerful than God. Sennacherib’s claim revealed his arrogance, and his willingness to say anything in order to intimidate his adversary king Hezekiah. When Hezekiah turned to the LORD for a response, Isaiah told him, “Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him and he shall hear a rumor, and shall return to his own land: and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land” (2 Kings 19:6-7).

God wanted to demonstrate not only his ability to deliver his people from Sennacherib’s army, but also his sovereign control over all the kingdoms of the earth. Sennacherib’s position as king of Assyria was subject to God’s will. If he decided to remove Sennacherib from power, God could do it in an instant. It says in 2 Kings 19:36-37, “So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went and returned, and dwelt in Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sherezer his sons smote him with the sword.”

Phase Two

The LORD identified Cyrus king of Persia as the shepherd that would lead his people out of captivity (Isaiah 44:28). God referred to Cyrus as his anointed (Isaiah 45:1), a term associated with Israel’s Messiah. In Cyrus’ case, this title meant that he was consecrated by God for a special office or function. Cyrus was a pagan king that did not know God. The LORD declared about him, “For my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me” (Isaiah 45:4).

God intended to use Cyrus for his own purposes in order to demonstrate his sovereign control over all his creation. In explaining this strategy the LORD said, “That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (Isaiah 45:6-7). Cyrus’ connection to Israel’s Messiah made it possible for God’s people to see that Jesus was to be the savior of the world, not just Israel.

The idea that God would save the world was a new concept for the Israelites because up to that point the Gentiles were excluded from having a relationship with God. If Israel had kept God’s commandments, they might have been able to retain their exclusive rights to his inheritance (Isaiah 48:18), but as it were, they chose to rebel and forfeited that right (Isaiah 48:19). Therefore, the LORD said, “Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have shewed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them” (Isaiah 48:6).

The Israelites’ captivity would prepare them for a new assignment. Phase two of God’s redemption plan required his people to become messengers, spreading God’s word throughout the earth. The scattering of God’s people was not just to punish them. God had always intended for the world to hear of his fame. What the Israelites didn’t know, and were being told for the first time, was they would be sharing their story with the Gentiles in order to get them to repent.

Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The LORD hath redeemed his servant Jacob. And they thirsted not when he led them through deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out. There is no peace, saith the LORD, unto the wicked. (Isaiah 48:20-22)

 

Invincible

God’s deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib king of Assyria left a remnant of Jews in the Promised Land to continue God’s work (Isaiah 37:31). Psalm 76 was written as a testament to God’s miraculous defeat of an army that most, if not all, people at that time thought was invincible. This psalm begins with the statement, “In Judah is God known: his name is great in Israel” (Psalm 76:1).

God’s demonstration of his power was a result of Hezekiah’s prayer (Isaiah 37:16-20) which concluded with the petition, “Now therefore, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the LORD, even thou only” (Isaiah 37:20). Hezekiah wanted God to show Sennacherib and the rest of the world that there was a God in heaven because Sennacherib had implied there wasn’t (Isaiah 36:18).

The psalmist referred to Sennacherib and his army as being stouthearted when he said, “The stouthearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep” (Psalm 76:5). The term stouthearted essentially means that a person has exalted himself above God (47/3820). Sennacherib claimed that no one could deliver a city from his army, not even the God of the Israelites (Isaiah 36:20). The Hebrew word translated spoiled in this verse is shalal, which means to drop or strip, and by implication, to plunder (7997) as one would an enemy that has been overtaken.

Sennacherib’s arrogant attitude was formulated through his empire’s success. For several decades, the Assyrians had been left unchecked. Even the northern kingdom of Israel fell into their hands because no one was willing to ask God for help. The Assyrian kings were known to be tyrants that terrorized their enemies into submission (Assyrian Campaigns against Israel and Judah), and yet, they were still only men who were no match for God. The psalmist declared, “Surely the wrath of men shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (Psalm 76:10).

What is often forgotten or ignored about God is his sovereign control of all circumstances. Men may think they are in control, when in actuality, God is working things out according to his will. God allowed the Assyrian empire to expand and to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel, but when Sennacherib approached Jerusalem, God said no and sent him back to Nineveh (Isaiah 37:37). Psalm 76:12 said of the LORD, “He shall cut off the spirit of princes: he is terrible to the kings of the earth.”

Time of death

Around the time when Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked Judah, king Hezekiah contracted a life-threatening disease. Hezekiah’s sickness may have been the result of spiritual circumstances connected with his removal of the high places and images used in idolatry (2 Kings 18:4). Isaiah the prophet came to Hezekiah, “and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live” (Isaiah 32:1).

Hezekiah’s response to Isaiah’s declaration indicated that Hezekiah was a man of faith. He believed that prayer could change the outcome of his situation. It says in Isaiah 38:2-3, “Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, and said, Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.”

Hezekiah poured out his heart to the LORD in a very real and personal way. He didn’t ask the LORD for anything, Hezekiah merely wanted the LORD to know how he felt about the news he had just received. At the time Hezekiah was told he was going to die, he was about 37 or 38 years old, the prime of life for a man living in that time period.

Hezekiah’s prayer received a response, but the LORD didn’t speak to him directly. “Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying, Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years” (Isaiah 38;4-5). The specification of Hezekiah’s time of death meant that he was receiving a divinely appointed extension to his life span, an unusual blessing from the LORD.

It is likely that by changing the time of Hezekiah’s death, God allowed Hezekiah’s life to change the course of history. A connection was made between the extension of Hezekiah’s life and the deliverance of Jerusalem out of the hand of the king of Assyria (Isaiah 38:5-6). After Hezekiah recovered, he received a visit from the king of Babylon (Isaiah 39:1) to whom he revealed all his kingdom’s treasures (Isaiah 39:4). As a result of this mistake, It says in Isaiah 39:5-6:

Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: Behold, the days will come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD.

The power of the grave

In the book of Hosea, God used the analogy of a marriage to depict his relationship with the nation of Israel so that his people would understand he wanted a personal relationship with them. The prophet Hosea was chosen to model that relationship and was told to marry an adultress because Israel had been unfaithful to God and did not deserve his mercy. The only way Hosea could model God’s love effectively was to forgive his wife and redeem her from a life of prostitution.

The story of Hosea’s wife was meant to portray God’s redemption of his people, but it also showed his people that God’s love was not dependent on their behavior. In spite of their wickedness, God intended to fulfill his promise to king David that he would establish David’s throne for ever (1 Chronicles 17:12). In order to do that, God had to not only forgive his people, but provide a way for them to live eternally. Through Hosea, the LORD declared, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave: I will redeem them from death” (Hosea 13:14).

As when Hosea bought his wife Gomer for fifteen pieces of silver and a homer and a half of barley (Hosea 3:3), God planned to ransom his people. The Hebrew word translated ransom, padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition…When God is the subject of padah, the word emphasizes His complete, sovereign freedom to liberate human beings” (6299). Rather than taking away his children’s freedom to choose sin, God intended to take away Satan’s ability to punish them for it.

The power of the grave was the power of Satan to separate someone from the love of God. Sin was the key that enabled Satan to lock a person in the prison called hell, or the grave. Satan was given the key to hell when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:5-6), but God told them he would one day take that power away (Genesis 3:15). The message God communicated through Hosea was that the day of their redemption was about to arrive.

Although Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection was still hundreds of years away when Hosea spoke to Israel, the events were relatively close compared to the thousands of years that had transpired since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden. As if Hosea had a clear picture of the process of salvation, he stated, “O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously” (Hosea 14:1-2).

Out of control

The story of Jonah reveals to us that God’s purpose in choosing the Israelites to be his people was not to exclude the rest of the world from having a relationship with him, but to demonstrate his sovereignty and control over his creation. Jonah’s view of the world was that boundaries existed around God’s kingdom. There were certain areas outside of God’s control. God showed Jonah that he controlled everything and could accomplish his will in spite of Israel’s disobedience.

When Jonah received instructions to go to Nineveh, he chose to go to Tarshish instead because he thought it was outside the boundary of God’s control. It says in Jonah 1:3, “Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.” One way to think of fleeing from the presence of the LORD is that you are hiding from him. He can’t see you and is therefore, unaware of what you are doing. Jonah thought if he got far enough away from Israel, he would be outside the boundary of God’s awareness and control.

Jonah’s trip to Tarshish was interrupted by a hurricane (Jonah 1:4). As the ship was beginning to be broken into pieces, the men on board searched for a cause for their misfortune. “And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah” (Jonah 1:7). Jonah’s attempt to conceal his identity was another way he thought he could escape God’s control. When he was exposed through the casting of lots, Jonah realized God was with him on the ship.

The men on the ship did not know the LORD, and yet, they believed he was in control of the storm that had overtaken them. “Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee” (Jonah 1:14). The phrase “hast done as it pleased thee” conveys the idea of, you know what is best, we will leave this in your hands. The men had placed their  trust in God.

Jonah expected to die when the men threw him off the ship. Rather than submit himself to God’s will, Jonah preferred death. But, even when Jonah tried to escape God through death, he was not successful. “Now the LORD prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17).

 

 

Respect

The Israelites were promised blessings in exchange for their obedience to God’s commands. The first condition God stipulated was, “Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down to it, for I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 26:1). King Ahab violated this condition when “he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria” (1 Kings 16:32).

After Jehu killed all the Baal worshippers, and destroyed Baal out of Israel (2 Kings 10:28), his son Jehoahaz returned to worshipping two golden calves made by king Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:28). Because of this, “the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he delivered them into the hand of Hazael king of Syria, and into the hand of Ben-hadad the son of Hazael, all their days (2 Kings 13:3).

By the time Hazael was finished with them, the army of Isreal had been reduced to “fifty horsemen, and ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen” (2 Kings 13:7). Near the end of the reign of Jehoash king of Judah, Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz began to reign in Samaria. Jehu’s grandson continued the practice of worshipping the two golden calves, but when Elisha became sick and was at the point of death, Jehoash the king of Israel visited him and asked for Elisha’s help (2 Kings 13:14).

Elisha gave Jehoash an opportunity to exercise his faith. “And he said, Take the arrows. And he took them. And he said unto the king of Israel, Smite upon the ground. And he smote thrice and stayed” (2 Kings 13:18). The smiting of the arrows on the ground symbolized Jehoash’s victory over Syria. In spite of the desolation Hazael had caused Israel, Jehoash was less than enthusiastic about overcoming his enemy. Elisha rebuked Jehoash, “and said, Thou should have smitten five or six times, then had thou smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it: whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice” (2 Kings 13:19).

Even though Jehoash’s faith was small, his willingness to ask for God’s help delayed the Israelites from going into captivity. “And the LORD was gracious unto them, and had compassion on them, and had respect unto them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, neither cast he them from his presence as yet” (2 Kings 13:23).