2 Kings 19: Hezekiah Delivered
Hezekiah was king in Jerusalem. He was a good king, who tried to obey the Lord, and Isaiah was the prophet who gave him instruction and encouragement from the Lord. And at this time he needed instruction and encouragement, for the insulting words of the Assyrians outside the walls of Jerusalem were brought to him. He rent his clothes as a sign of grief, and put on coarse rough sackcloth, and went into the temple and prayed to the Lord. What else could he do? He sent officers and priests wearing sackcloth to Isaiah the prophet. Read Isaiah’s answer in verses 6 and 7.
But soon the Assyrians were again at the walls of Jerusalem, demanding more urgently that the city should give itself up to them. This time they brought a letter from the king of Assyria, boasting of his strength, that he had overcome other peoples and other gods and that not even the Lord could save them from him. When Hezekiah received the letter, he took it into the temple and “spread it before the Lord” and prayed. Again the Lord’s answer came by the prophet Isaiah. Again it was a promise that the Lord would protect Jerusalem and that the king of Assyria should not take the city. “By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the Lord, for I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake and for my servant David's sake.”
That night the deliverance came. In one night, a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the camp of the Assyrians died. So the king of Assyria left Jerusalem unhurt and went back to his home in Nineveh in the land of Assyria, and there when the king was worshiping in the temple of his idol he was killed by two of his sons. This deliverance was remembered by the people of Judith in story and song.
We remember how Rab-shakeh, the Assyrian officer, spoke against Jehovah, the God of Israel, comparing Him to the idols worshiped by other nations whom the Assyrians had conquered. This unholy or blasphemous way of speaking about Jehovah grieved the officers whom Hezekiah had sent to meet Rab-shakeh so deeply that they returned to Hezekiah with their clothes torn; and when they had told Hezekiah, he likewise rent his clothes, and covered himself with the heavy, black, coarse and rough sackcloth, and sent messengers, covered in the same way, to Isaiah, to pray for the remnant who were left in Canaan.
Isaiah was a great prophet, and the first and largest prophetical book which we have in the Sacred Scripture was written by him. You will find this same story in his book, in chapter 37. Isaiah told the king's messengers not to be afraid of the blasphemy of the king of Assyria, for the Lord would punish him.
Do you remember where Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, was with his army, when he sent Rab-shakeh to Jerusalem? While Rab-shakeh was before Jerusalem, Sennacherib went from Lachish to Libnah, which was nearer to Jerusalem. There Rab-shakeh returned to his king. Sennacherib was afraid of the king of Ethiopia, who was also king of Egypt, of which Rab-shakeh had spoken contemptuously as a “bruised reed.” He was anxious to take Jerusalem before help should come from Egypt, and he again sent messengers to Hezekiah, this time with a letter in which he repeated his blasphemy against Jehovah, enumerating a number of places whose kings had not been saved from him by their gods or idols. (2 Kings 18:33-35) Some of these places were those to which the Israelites had been carried captive, and others were those from which settlers had been brought to Samaria. (2 Kings 17:6, 24) This suggested that the fate of Israel might also be the fate of Judah.
The letter caused Hezekiah great distress. You know that the Lord says that if we call on Him in trouble He will answer. (Ps. 50: 15) So Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, and the Lord heard him and sent an answer through the prophet Isaiah. As you read the chapter, do you notice a change in the language or style when you come to Isaiah’s prophecy? This is called the prophetical style, and is quite different front the historical style. Part of Isaiah’s prophecy is against the king of Assyria, and part of it is addressed to the king of Judah.
The words of Isaiah between verses 20 and 32 are spoken as if to the Assyrians. They have been very boastful; the Lord has allowed them to have this power, and to destroy some cities (verse 25), but now the time for their own judgment is at hand. The sign in verse 29 means that the presence of the enemy in the country would prevent sowing of the fields two years, in which they would reap only what sprung up of itself. The third year they could plant and reap.
Read of the deliverance and of the return of Sennacherib to Assyria and of his death, in verses 35-37. It is said that the angel of the Lord smote the camp of the Assyrians. In those days, they attributed every influence from the spiritual world to the Lord. This was an evil influence which was allowed by the Lord to break out upon them because of the wickedness which they were in. “When seventy thousand men perished by the pestilence, on account of the numbering of the people by David (2 Sam. 24) and when a hundred and eighty-five thousand were slain in one night in the camp of the Assyrians (2 Kings 19:35) these effects were wrought by the hells which were then opened. Similar effects would be produced at this day if they were opened. Therefore they are kept closely shut by the Lord.” (A. 7879) What fate met Sennacherib in his own country? Can you find on the map Assyria and Nineveh and Armenia? Psalms 46, 47, 48, and 78 are believed to celebrate the great deliverance from the Assyrians. Read these Psalms through with this deliverance in mind. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
1. Why did Hezekiah rend his clothes? Why did he cover himself with sackcloth?
2. To whom did Hezekiah send messengers in his trouble? Who was Isaiah? What did he reply?
3. What help for Jerusalem did Sennacherib fear?
4. What did Hezekiah do when he received the letter? How did he receive an answer to his prayer?
5. What happened that night? What became of Sennacherib?
The protection and deliverance of the little kingdom of Judah from the great armies of Assyria, which had been sweeping all before them, pictures the protection of the spiritual life which trusts in the Lord and His Word from the power of proud self-intelligence; for Judah and Jerusalem represent the spiritual life, and the Assyrians the power of reasoning. The power represented by Assyria in its right use is a splendid power, called in the Scriptures a cedar of Lebanon; but when proud and self-confident, presuming to make natural reasoning supreme, it threatens the spiritual life. We may have no answer to make to the proud taunts of the Assyrians, in the world or in ourselves, as Hezekiah's men on the wall of Jerusalem made no reply to the taunts of Rab-shakeh. We must find strength in humbly praying to the Lord and receiving answers from His Word. How very expressive is Hezekiah's action in taking the letter to the temple and spreading it before the Lord. The comfort, the guidance, the encouragement that we need comes to us in the Lord's Word, perhaps in the pages of Isaiah. We are not told to contend with the Assyrians with their own weapons. Their weakness is in their pride and association with evil. The strength of the spiritual life is in its trust in the Lord and its association with heaven. In this thought, read the Psalms which have been suggested to the junior classes, and spiritual interpretations of them. Read Isa. 10:12-13. “I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria and the glory of his high looks, for he hath said, By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am prudent.” Compare this with the spirit of Rab-shakeh's speech and of Sennacherib's letter. (A. 1186, 5044, 10227; E. 654)
Can you explain rending the garments and wearing sackcloth as signs of grief? They were associated in old times especially with grief because of violence done to truth, grief for the denial of truth, for blasphemy against the Lord and His Word. You see the reason for this when you remember that garments represent not the interior affections, but truth clothing and giving expression to affection. Angels' clothing is in keeping with their intelligence. (A. 4763; R. 492; H. 177-182)
What is blasphemy? Blasphemy consists in deriding, laughing at, or sneering at the Word and what the Word teaches, and dragging it in the mire. Those who praise and teach the Word as Divine truth and yet deny it at heart also blaspheme. Those blaspheme who transgress the second commandment, and if you will read the explanation of this commandment, as given in T. 297-299, in A. 8882, or in E. 959-964, you will understand better what is meant in the internal sense by Rab-shakeh's speech and by Sennacherib's letter.
The Lord's saying that the king of Assyria would fall by the sword in his own land, means that blasphemous arguments against the Divinity of Jesus and of the Word are destroyed by their own falsity.
As you read the Lord's message through Isaiah (verses 21 and on), notice the twofold expressions, “the virgin daughter of Zion . . . the daughter of Jerusalem,” “reproached and blasphemed,” “dismayed and confounded,” “the grass of the field and the green herb of the grass,” “rage . . . tumult,” etc. Throughout the prophets, but especially in Isaiah, there are such twofold expressions, in order that the heavenly marriage of good and truth, which pervades the Word may be represented—one expression relating to good or the celestial, and the other to truth or the spiritual. (A. 2173) In other words, our Heavenly Father desires us to be true and good, intelligent and affectionate, wise and loving. It is not enough for us to know the truth—we must also live according to it; it is not enough even for us to be good—we must be good in the particular way that His truth teaches us. Good and truth must be married in us.
Hezekiah's spreading the letter before the Lord is very suggestive. It is what we should learn to do with every trouble. The words indicate the attitude of effective prayer. (A. 2535)
Notice the phrase “For my servant David's sake,” in verse 34. Compare I Kings 11:12-13 and 15:4. In such references to David we recognize a reference to the Lord, and when David is called servant, to the Lord in His Humanity. “For mine own self” by the Divine power; “for my servant David's sake,” by the Divine brought near for our help in the Divine Humanity. (E. 205; A. 2159, 3441)
The “city” represents the Church; and it is the Lord's special care to keep alive a church in which He shall be known and loved, both as to His Divine Itself (“for Mine own Self”) and as to His Divine Human (“for My servant David's sake”).
Otherwise, there would happen to the whole human race what happened to the camp of the Assyrians, for we are taught that the death of the Assyrians was caused “by the hells that were then opened. It would be so at the present day if they were opened; wherefore the Lord keeps them tightly closed.” (A. 7879)
The destruction of the Assyrians and other instances of destruction and of plagues in the Old Testament give a vivid sense of the power of hell which would break in upon us but for the protection of the Lord. We should realize our dependence upon this protection for the freedom in which we live. We should be continually grateful to the Lord for the protection, and should not ourselves carelessly invite influences of evil which, like a trickling of water through a dike, may admit the flood which is ready to destroy us. (A. 7879)