2 Kings 18: Hezekiah in Danger
The strong army of the Assyrians came to Jerusalem when Hezekiah was king. The Assyrians were the people who lived far away to the north, who had taken the people of Israel captive and led them away to live in a strange country. The Assyrians came now into the land of Judah and took some of the smaller towns, and they would have taken Jerusalem if the Lord had not saved the city. Hezekiah was a good king, and Isaiah was the prophet in Jerusalem in those days, who gave Hezekiah answers and encouragement from the Lord. Hezekiah “trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.”
The Lord also made Hezekiah successful in his wars. He stopped paying tribute to the great king of Assyria, so when the Assyrians had captured Samaria after a siege of three years and had taken the people of Israel captive, they came against Judah and Jerusalem. The Assyrian army was in the Philistine country making war on the strong city of Lachish. Hoping to keep them from Jerusalem, Hezekiah sent to them there all the gold and treasure which he found in the temple and the king’s house, this time even cutting off the gold from the doors and pillars of the temple.
But the Assyrians did not keep away. The king of Assyria wanted more, and he sent officers and a large army up to Jerusalem. They came near to the city wall, and their speaker spoke in a loud voice and in the Jewish language so that the people gathered on the walls could understand. He boasted that the Assyrians were very strong, that they had destroyed other nations and their gods and that the Lord could not save Jerusalem. He laughed at the people for listening to Hezekiah and for trusting in the Lord. “But the people held their peace, and answered him not a word: for the kings commandment was, saying, ‘Answer him not.’”' King Hezekiah must take his trouble to the Lord and hear the Lord's word by the prophet Isaiah.
Ahaz, mentioned in verse 1, was not a good king. You can read in 2 Kings 16:10-20 of one thing that he did, displacing the Lord's altar before the temple by an altar made after the pattern of a heathen altar which he saw in Damascus. Now Hezekiah was king. Read verses 1-6 and learn whether Hezekiah was a good king. We shall also learn that he was guided by the Lord through Isaiah the prophet.
Do you remember the brazen serpent (verse 9), how it was made by Moses at the Lord’s command on the wilderness journey and brought them help from the Lord? (Num. 21:4-9) This serpent of brass by which the Lord had performed so great a miracle, and which was very holy, had been kept for more than seven hundred years: but because the people made an idol of it, worshiping it and burning incense before it, it was no longer holy, and Hezekiah broke it in pieces as he broke other idols. He called it Nehushtan, which is usually understood to mean a piece of brass. “From the tower of the watchman to the fenced city” in verse 18 means in the open country and in the towns. This good king Hezekiah was successful in all that he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and conquered the Philistine country.
We know what the Assyrians had done to the kingdom of Israel, taking the people captive and bringing strange people to live in their country. We read the story in chapter 17. Judah also had rebelled against Assyria, refusing to pay tribute, and the Assyrians came down upon their country. Read in verses 13-16 of Hezekiah's attempt to buy off the king of Assyria and save Jerusalem. Find Lachish, a strongly fortified city in the Philistine country.
Sennacherib was not satisfied, and so a great army was sent from Lachish to Jerusalem. The chief men of the Assyrian army stood outside Jerusalem by an aqueduct that brought water to a reservoir in the city, and some of the chief men of the Jews came out to meet them. Rab-shakeh, the “chief cup-bearer” of the king of Assyria, then addressed them, trying to show how foolish Hezekiah was to fight against the king of Assyria; that he was not strong enough himself, nor could he rely on the king of Egypt, nor even on Jehovah. For Rab-shakeh seemed to think that all the high places and altars that Hezekiah had destroyed had been for the worship of Jehovah. While this talk was going on between the Assyrian and the Jewish nobles, the Jewish soldiers gathered on the city walls and listened. Rab-shakeh tried to influence them also, by talking in the Jewish language, but not one of them made any reply, for so Hezekiah had commanded them. Do you think that the Lord will let the Assyrians take the city?
1. Who was king of Judah when the kingdom of Israel came to an end? What kind of king was he?
2. What did Hezekiah do to the brazen serpent? Why?
3. Did the Assyrians who took Samaria take Jerusalem also?
4. What at first kept them from doing so?
In very ancient times, people worshiped on mountains and high places, and also had in their places of worship objects and forms representing heavenly and divine things, and these were helpful to them in coming into holy states of worship. But later when the true spirit of worship was lost, people worshiped the objects and images as idols. The objects became symbols of false and evil states, and the high places became symbols of self-love. They were then forbidden and must be destroyed. (S. 22, 23; A. 2722, 3727, 10643)
As the serpent is one of the lowest animals, and brass represents natural goodness, the brazen serpent represented the lowest plane or degree of the Lord's Divine love.
The Lord's words to Nicodemus (John 3: 14-15) show that the brazen serpent of the wilderness was a symbol of Himself and His saving power. Serpents represent affections of the senses, and poisonous serpents represent the senses overcoming people and deadening their spiritual life. The Lord lifted up and glorified this plane of life in Himself, made it Divine, and He extends His saving power to us in such temptations. The power of healing for the Israelites and the saving power for us is the Lord’s. To Him we must look, and to Him we must give thanks. There was no power in the brazen serpent itself, and therefore when it became an idol it was destroyed. (E. 581; A. 4911, 8624) We must be careful not to idolize people and things through whom and by which the Lord brings us great wisdom, love, power, help, and salvation: we must look upon them merely as the means through which we may come nearer to the Lord.
It may seem strange that the upright king Hezekiah should have had to submit to Assyria. But we must remember that the nation was full of wickedness. Had Hezekiah not been upright, the end of the Jewish church would have come very quickly. For his sake the time was extended.
We have found Assyria the special enemy of Israel, and shall presently find Babylon the special enemy of Judah. This contains a spiritual truth, for as the two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, represent the understanding and the will of a heavenly life, Assyria in a perverse sense represents a conceited self-intelligence which is destructive of spiritual intelligence, and Babylon represents a selfish love of ruling over others which is destructive of heavenly love. The preservation of Judah from the attack of Assyria suggests that the Lord may preserve some goodness of heart even though the understanding is far wrong.
When we reason from error or falsity about the Divine teachings of the Church which are meant to protect and defend our love for the Lord like a walled city, and when by such reasoning we change the doctrine, then the king of Assyria takes the fenced cities of Judah, and with the loss of these teachings we lose the truth and good that are represented by the silver and the gold which Hezekiah gave to the Assyrian king. (P. P.)
We learn presently in the story of Hezekiah’s healing (2 Kings 20:1-11) that Hezekiah represents a goodness of a simple natural kind. (E. 811, 1029)
The rivers of Eden in Genesis and the river of the holy city in Revelation represent abundant truths from the Lord, guiding and refreshing the heavenly life. The springs and streams of Canaan have this same meaning, and even the pools of Jerusalem, with their collection of water for the use of the citizens, represent the great reservoirs of Divine truth from which people of the Church drink the water of life. We have seen this meaning in the pool of Bethesda (John 5) and in the pool of Siloam. (John 9) The reference to the “upper pool” reminds us that even an upper and a lower pool in Jerusalem gave basis to the prophet Isaiah for a spiritual lesson. He said in rebuke, “Ye gathered together the waters of the lower pool (Is. 22:9); of which we read in E. 453: “The pools in Jerusalem signify truths such as are in the exterior and interior senses of the Word; the waters of the higher pool signify truths such as are in the interior sense, and the waters of the lower pool, truths such as are in the exterior sense which is the letter of the Word”; and in A. 4926: “The waters of the lower pool stand for the traditions by which they made infractions into the truths that are in the Word.” We reserve for our next lesson more that is interesting about the pools of Jerusalem, and Hezekiah’s work for the water supply of the city.
The arguments of Rab-shakeh are like the cunning arguments suggested by evil spirits, when people are in trouble, and in danger of losing their spiritual life, which consists in loving things heavenly. They accuse people of what is not true, and try to shake their confidence and faith in the Lord's presence and protection.Rab-shakeh spoke of the king of Assyria as the great king, just as people speak of reason as being greater than religion. The Lord is in reality “the great king,” and all spiritual and heavenly truth from Him should rule supremely, the reason being subordinate. (T. 200; E. 45)