Our focus now turns to the southern kingdom of Judah. The Assyrians under king Nebuchadnezzar have routed the northern kingdom of Israel and taken all their influential citizens into exile. In the third year of the reign of Hoshea, last king of the northern kingdom, Hezekiah became the king of Judah. He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just like king David. Not only did he follow the laws and statutes, but he broke down the high places and cut down the Asherah poles. Scripture tells us that he trusted in the Lord God of Israel like no one else had before him or after him. The Lord was with him and prospered him wherever he went. There were other kings in Judah who followed the Lord's laws and statutes but none of them broke down the high places and cut down the sacred poles. Because Israel had already been destroyed and Judah had been significantly weakened, Hezekiah went to work to strengthen what was left of Judah. He began a series of religious and military reforms.
Jerusalem’s fortifications were repaired, arms were manufactured, and the Siloam tunnel was dug to ensure the city had an adequate water supply. Hezekiah was by no means perfect. We will read in Isaiah 39 about his alliance with the Babylonian, Merodach-Baladan. He had to deal with an Assyrian invasion under the King Sennacherib. This king came to threaten Hezekiah and the residents of Judah. Sennacherib hurled insults at Hezekiah and at the Lord. He was quite sure no one could defeat him, least of all a God the people couldn't even see. He also had nothing good to say about the latest ruler in Egypt, calling him a splintered reed that would pierce a man's hand if he leaned on it. Sennacherib went so far as to tell the people not to listen to Hezekiah because his talk about the Lord was useless and the Lord could not save them. When Hezekiah received the king's letter, he tore his clothes as though in mourning and he went to the temple of the Lord. He dispatched his top administrators to visit Isaiah the prophet to see what the Lord would say. And Hezekiah prayed. He gave God thanks and praise and recognized how mighty the Lord is. And he asked the Lord to listen and see how Sennacherib had insulted Him. Like others before him, Hezekiah also asked the Lord to act so that people would see His power and might and know that the Lord is God.
As you read you will see that Isaiah had much to say. His prophecy is one of comfort. Not only would Sennacherib fail to conquer Jerusalem, but he would face a violent death upon his return home. Both points would come true although Sennacherib would not be assassinated until 20 years later. In his records, Sennacherib records 5 more major campaigns but he makes no mention of any other invasions of Judah. Chapter 19:20 and following are actually Isaiah 37:1-25. Isaiah gave Hezekiah a direct answer from the Lord. This is one of the ways the Lord spoke to the kings. And the Lord said ’Because you have prayed’ the Lord rewarded His king with a promise of deliverance based on Hezekiah’s faith in God. When we read what the Lord gives Isaiah to say we see that the language He uses to describe His people is favorable. Zion does not have a daughter. She is the daughter of the Lord. We have seen that the Lord can be very direct in His speech. He is also confrontational and sometimes scathing when He is speaking to His people, but He speaks favorably about them to others.
We see here and later we will see in the Book of Isaiah the phrase ”The Holy One of Israel”. This is one of Isaiah’s favorite ways of referring to the Lord. When we get to verses 27-28, we see that the Assyrians had a huge gap in their understanding of reality. They have left the knowledge of the One True Living God out of the equation when planning their attack on Hezekiah and Jerusalem. The Lord’s threat to put His hook in their nose was a real threat, one the Assyrians would know well. This was how Assyrian kings often treated their prisoners of war. Now the Lord is turning the table on the Assyrians. God graciously gave Hezekiah a sign of His plans for the people. Even though the Assyrian invasion had adversely affected the crops for that year and the next, by the third year there would be a plentiful harvest. And then came the promise of the Lord. By verse 32 we see what the Lord has in store for Jerusalem. Sennacherib will not enter the city. He will not shoot any arrows and he will not build a siege mound. This is incredible news for Hezekiah and Jerusalem. But notice the Lord is doing this for His own sake and because of the promise He made to King David.
God would do this work of salvation. He would not delegate it to a lesser power. And His power is on full display. That night, presumably the night after Isaiah’s prophecy, the angel of the Lord went out and put to death 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. The people of Jerusalem went to bed surrounded by Assyrian soldiers and woke the next morning to an astounding sight. Sennacherib broke camp and fled home. There were most likely tons of supplies that the residents of Jerusalem took plus animals and weapons. It was miraculous and wonderful. But what on earth do you do with 185,000 dead bodies...in the desert? Much later Sennacherib was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, one of the traditional gods of Mesopotamia. Two of his sons entered the temple and assassinated him and a third son succeeded him. His son Esarhaddon followed in his footsteps.
We also see the Lord power in Hezekiah’s illness. Hezekiah was a great man of prayer. He knew and recognized that all life is in God's hands, but he also knew God is a rewarder of those who serve him faithfully. Hezekiah’s habit of prayer would once again serve him well. And we see the prophet Isaiah in the picture again. He brought the news that Hezekiah would not recover from his illness. And Hezekiah prayed. Isaiah had not yet left the palace when God turned him around and sent him back to Hezekiah with a different message. The Lord had heard his prayer and would add 15 years to his life. Using figs as an application to an ulcerated sore was common practice in the ancient Middle East. Hezekiah's sickness put the throne of David in jeopardy, but he was a faithful man. God answered his prayer with two promises. First, he would recover in three days, enough so that he could go to the temple. Second, if the Assyrians did return to attack Jerusalem, the Lord would defend and deliver the city. To assure the king of His promises the Lord gave Hezekiah a miraculous sign. As the sun went down the shadow on the steps of Ahab became shorter, not longer. The steps of Ahab was a large sundial.
Hezekiah's big mistake was showing the Babylonian envoy, Merodach-Baladan everything he had. They had no right to see what was in the palace or the temple. It was not the proudest moment of Hezekiah's life. In his pride he failed to consult Isaiah the prophet. He did not fully grasp the purpose of the Babylonians visit. Why was it such a big deal? Even though at the time Assyria was the strongest empire in the world, Babylon was on the rise and would soon be the greatest power in the world. And from 680-586 Babylon would invade Judah, destroy Jerusalem and the temple and take the nation into captivity. Babylon came first as the serpent and then returned as the lion.
One of the most mystifying things in the Old Testament is how such a good and devout king can have such a wicked son. After Hezekiah died his son Manasseh took the throne. He was the exact opposite of his father. He worshiped Baal and put back the Asherah poles in the temple of the Lord and provoked the Lord to anger. This young man was seven when his father was miraculously healed from his illness and when the miracle of the shadow occurred. And he was eight when the 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were slain. Evidently these miracles made little impression on his heart. Manasseh served as co regent with his father for close to ten years but having a godly father didn't rub off on him either. He became the most wicked king in Judah's history, so much so he is blamed for the fall of the southern kingdom. We end the reading with more killing of kings. The thirst for power seemed to be insatiable. The good news is, Josiah would be the next king, taking the throne when he was just eight years old. We will read his story tomorrow.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W