WHEN SENNACHERIB THE KING OF ASSYRIA came against Jerusalem he boasted that the Lord God of Israel could not deliver the city from his army. He listed many cities he had already conquered and said that their gods had not been able to deliver them so what chance would Jerusalem have?
Sennacherib’s boasting was strange because he also claimed that the Lord had sent him to punish Israel. He said,
“Am I now come up without the LORD against this land to destroy it? the LORD said unto me, Go up against this land, and destroy it” (Isa.36:10).
At the same time Sennacherib claimed that the Lord God of Israel had no more power than all the gods of the heathen. He said:
“Let not Hezekiah deceive you: … Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, the LORD will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? (Isa.36:14-18).
Apparently Sennacherib had good intelligence about the kingdom of Judah before he invaded the southern cities. No doubt he had many reports on the situation in Jerusalem and would have been aware of Isaiah’s prophecies for they were widely known. He knew Israel had offended the Lord and that Isaiah had prophesied the King of Assyria would come into the land to punish them (Isa.7:17). He knew that Hezekiah the King of Judah had removed all the altars so that the people could only sacrifice in Jerusalem (Isa.36:7). He didn’t understand
that Hezekiah’s action was pleasing to the Lord; he thought the removal of these altars would offend the Lord.
The Assyrians were idolators and worshipped heathen gods but they also knew about the Lord God of Israel. The city of Nineveh had a Godly beginning after the Flood. When Nimrod built Babylon and established it as the centre of idolatry in the world, Asshur, from the Godly line of Shem went hundreds of miles north along the Tigris River to build Nineveh and its surrounding cities.
Then about 800BC after Nineveh had become a wicked city, God sent the prophet Jonah to Nineveh to warn them they 40 days to repent or God would destroy the city. Fortunately the King and all the people repented and Nineveh was spared. That experience must have been indelibly etched in the history of the great city.
The prophet Isaiah had foretold that the Assyrians would come and invade Judah. He wrote:
“they shall come, and shall rest all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the holes of the rocks, and upon all thorns, and upon all bushes. In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet: and it shall also consume the beard” (Isa.7:19-20).
And not only Isaiah but another prophet, Micah, had prophesied that Assyria would come into the land. He wrote of a day when
“the Assyrian shall come into our land: and when he shall tread in our palaces…” (Mic.5:5).
When the northern kingdom of Israel had joined forces with Syria to invade Judah in the days of King Ahaz, Ahaz had paid the Assyrian king, Tiglathpileser, to destroy Damascus and kill Rezen its king. Ahaz had taken the payment to Damascus and met with Tiglathpileser to thank him.
Even before this time the Scripture indicates that Pul and Tiglathpileser had entered the northern kingdom of Israel when the “Lord stirred them up” to do so (1Chron.5:26).
Then Sennacherib would no doubt have heard of the prophecy of Isaiah that “O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few” (Isa.10:5-7).
Perhaps it was this prophecy that Sennacherib was referring to when he said, “the LORD said unto me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.”
During the reign of Sargon II, the father of Sennacherib, Isaiah had prophesied over a three-year period, walking bare footed during that time, saying that Assyria
would invade Egypt and take the Egyptians captives (Isa.20:1-6). The Ethiopians had controlled Egypt at that time and their army would not be able to deliver the Egyptians out of the hands of the King of Assyria.
Since Isaiah was preaching this prophecy publically for 3 years there is no doubt Sennacherib would have had full knowledge of it.
Finally, Isaiah had prophesied that his wife would have a son who would be named Mahershalalhashbaz meaning, “hasting to the prey”. This child was to be a sign “For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria” (Isa.8:4).
Within 2 years this prophecy was fulfilled in 721BC when Sargon II, the father of Sennacherib, captured Samaria.
“Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks: And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel” (Isa.8:7-8).
The imminent capture of Samaria by the King of Assyria was clearly foretold and also that Judah would be invaded and occupied right up to the neck. In other words all the cities of Judah except the head city of Jerusalem. There was a limit to Sennacherib’s campaign and he failed to recognize this. He thought that if he could conquer all the cities of Judah he could also capture Jerusalem and this was a fatal mistake.
Thus Hezekiah had many prophecies by Isaiah indicating that God was going to preserve Jerusalem but he had to believe them.
At first Hezekiah was tempted to form a confederacy with the Egyptians but Isaiah warned him not to form such a confederacy because it would fail. Isaiah said: “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots … Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD shall stretch out his hand, both he that helpeth shall fall, and he that is holpen shall fall down, and they all shall fail together” (Isa.31:1-3).
Then Hezekiah attempted to buy his way out of trouble and sent messengers to Sennacherib offering to pay any price he should ask for the freedom of Jerusalem. Sennacherib asked for 300 talents of silver and 30 talents of gold and Hezekiah stripped the gold from the Temple to pay. However Sennacherib took the money and sent messengers back to Hezekiah saying they must all be taken captive to Assyria.
It was only when there was no alternative that Hezekiah cast himself upon the Lord and sent messengers to Isaiah asking him to pray for the deliverance of Jerusalem.
He already had promises of deliverance but it was only when he was desperate that he trusted the Lord to deliver him. Isaiah even had indicated how God would deliver Jerusalem. God would deliver Jerusalem suddenly:
“And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame: and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day” (Isa.10:17).
Israel’s enemies would be there one evening and not there the next morning! Isaiah said:
“The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind. And behold at eveningtide trouble; and before the morning he is not. This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us” (Isa.17:13-14).
Jerusalem would be delivered without the sword of mighty men in battle. The deliverance would be by an angel flying through the host of the Assyrians and the remnant would flee.
“Like as the lion and the young lion roaring on his prey…so shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof. As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it.
Then shall the Assyrian fall with the sword, not of a mighty man; and the sword, not of a mean man, shall devour him: but he shall flee from the sword, and his young men shall be discomfited. And he shall pass over to his strong hold for fear, and his princes shall be afraid of the ensign, saith the LORD, whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem” (Isa.31:4-9).
Actually when Hezekiah asked Isaiah to pray for deliverance Isaiah replied that God would do three things (Isa.37:7).
- i) Sennacherib would receive a blast. That blast killed 185,000 of the mighty men in his army in one night.
- ii) Sennacherib would hear a rumour that caused him to fear. He heard a rumour that Tirhakah the Ethiopian king of Egypt was coming with his army. iii) God would cause Sennacherib to return to Nineveh and dwell there before being murdered. He fled to Nineveh and years later he was murdered by two of his sons who then fled to Armenia.
“Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land” (Isa.37:7).
Lessons to Learn
- Walk with the Lord and He will defend us.
- Even when we fail, the Lord will hear our prayer if we trust Him. 3. Learn to believe the promises of God’s Word and not to seek our own solutions.