Still, many individual Israelites responded. Hezekiah prayed for those who came up to the temple, “saying, the good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God. . . and the Lord hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people” (30:18-19).
Essential to the sanctification of the people was the payment of tithing. “They also brought in the tithe of oxen and sheep, and the tithe of holy things which were consecrated unto the Lord their God” ( 31:6).
At last, out of all Israel, “a great congregation assembled” in the city.
“They arose and took away the altars that were in Jerusalem, and all the altars for incense took they away, and cast them into the brook Kidron.
“There were many in the congregation that were not sanctified: therefore the Levites had the charge of the killing of the passovers for every one that was not clean, to sanctify them unto the Lord” (30:17). In this we learn of the essential function of the priesthood, to bring the ordinances of salvation to them “that are not sanctified,” to do the work of salvation for those who cannot do it for themselves.
“So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem” (30:26).
Be Strong and Courageous
Intriguingly—and perhaps predictably—this great celebration was followed by a great challenge. The faithfulness of the people of Judah was about to be severely tested.
Would they keep the covenant Hezekiah had made? Or would they revert to the practices of Ahaz?
In 701 BCE, the Assyrian emperor Sennacherib felt that the tribute he was receiving from Judah was insufficient and decided to attack the little kingdom.
Few tyrants in history have been more fearsome than this one. He was the mightiest king of the mightiest empire in the history of the world to that time. Historians say that “Sennacherib was the apogee of Assyrian kingship, and the most prominent ruler of the neo-Assyrian empire. . . . The stone portraits of Sennacherib present a cold and austere image of a once living man.” (Clive Anderson, Sennacherib, Day One Publications, 1984, 7, 8.) Sennacherib had destroyed or enslaved every petty kingdom within reach, and now the monster laid siege to Jerusalem with a vast army numbering nearly 200,000 men.
Of course, Hezekiah did all that could be done to provide for the temporal salvation of his people. “When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib was come, and that he was purposed to fight against Jerusalem, . . . he strengthened himself, and built up all the wall that was broken, and raised it to the towers, and another wall without. . . . and made darts and shields in abundance” (32:2, 5). Famously, Hezekiah re-routed the water supply of Jerusalem through a tunnel in bedrock to protect it from the invaders. What his father Ahaz had neglected Hezekiah made strong again, living up to his name hezeq-yah—in Hebrew “the strength of Jehovah.”
Hezekiah was wise enough to do all he could on his own while relying fully on the Lord. His faith enabled him to say to his people, “Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles” (32:7-8).
In response, and in the best satanic tradition, Sennacherib began a campaign of psychological warfare against Jerusalem. He sent his top official to give a speech.
“Hearken not unto Hezekiah, when he persuadeth you, saying, the Lord will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? Have they delivered Samaria out of mine hand? 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 18:32-35).
So Sennacherib declared war not alone on Hezekiah, but on the God of Israel, in keeping with the satanic master he served. He had beaten the gods of all other nations; now it was the turn of Jehovah. The Assyrians “cried with a loud voice in the Jews’ speech unto the people of Jerusalem that were on the wall, to affright them, and to trouble them. . . and they spake against the God of Jerusalem” (2 Chron. 32:18). Sennacherib could not allow Jehovah to win the battle and still maintain his standing as “the great king, the mighty king, king of the world.”
For his part, Hezekiah turned to the Lord in a mighty prayer: “O Lord God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims. . . . hear the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God. Of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have destroyed the nations and their lands. . . Now therefore, O Lord our God, I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand” (2 Kings 19:15-19).
“For this cause Hezekiah the king, and the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz, prayed and cried to the heaven. And the Lord sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land.” (2 Chron. 32:20-21). The angel of death quietly executed the besieging army—according to Jewish legend, it was Passover night.
In the year 1830, archaeologists discovered in the ruins of Nineveh a six-sided monument that recorded the triumphs of Sennacherib. On this monument, the great king had inscribed in the usual propagandistic voice of such men how he had conquered the various peoples of his empire. Of Hezekiah he said, “Like a caged bird, I shut him up in Jerusalem.
” Not a word is said about the mysterious loss of his army, and historians have wondered about the difference between the Bible account and the record of Sennacherib. But history also shows that after the siege of Jerusalem, Sennacherib never again went to war against Judah.
In the opinion of prominent historians, “The Assyrian annals try to gloss over the sudden retreat from Jerusalem. . . . Sennacherib’s retreat did much to enhance Judah’s prestige” (Chaim Herzog and Mordechai Gichon, Battles of the Bible, GreenHill Books, 1997, 254). Indeed, rival kings sent gifts and congratulations to Hezekiah.
Do All That Is Written
Unfortunately, after the death of Hezekiah, the people of Judah reverted to their old ways under the rule of two wicked kings, Manasseh and Amon. Manasseh introduced star worship, probably in deference to a well-established Assyrian religious practice. During this time, the power of Assyria ebbed and the power of the rival kingdom of Babylon increased, but Judah’s situation grew more precarious, situated as it was in the middle of three great powers—Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria.
Nearly 60 years after Hezekiah, a boy named Josiah came to the throne of Judah. Again, possibly through the influence of a righteous mother, Jedidah, the new king “did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.