The efficacy of God’s word is pitted against the mocking taunts of SennacheribSennacherib was the Assyrian king who besieged Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah More, with Hezekiah’s trust emerging as the decisive factor.
The Assyrian invasion of Syria-Palestine in 701 B.C.E., known from Sennacherib’s own annals (though at some odds with the presentation in Kings), is depicted in a series of three verbal confrontations between HezekiahJudean king noted for his reforms in time of Isaiah More and Sennacherib, the Assyrian king:
• The first confrontation finds Sennacherib attacking and capturing the fortified cities of JudahJudah was the name of Jacob's fourth son and one of the 12 tribes. More; from this position of strength, he demands heavy tribute from Hezekiah in exchange for the freedom of the capital, which Hezekiah paid, even stripping the templeThe Jerusalem temple, unlike the tabernacle, was a permanent structure, although (like the tabernacle) it was a place of worship and religious activity. On one occasion Jesus felt such activity was unacceptable and, as reported in all four Gospels, drove from the temple those engaged... More of its gold (18:13-16).
• The second confrontation finds Sennacherib sending messengers and a “great army” who are met by Hezekiah’s representatives, Eliakim, Shebnah, and Joah. Not content with the first payment, Assyrian officials again threaten to take the city and attempt to undermine the morale of the people by questioning their trust in God to deliver them. This time, however, rather than paying the tribute, Hezekiah consults with IsaiahIsaiah, son of Amoz, who prophesied in Jerusalem, is included among the prophets of the eighth century B.C.E. (along with Amos, Hosea, and Micah)--preachers who boldly proclaimed God's word of judgment against the economic, social, and religious disorders of their time. More, the prophet, who responds with an oracleAn oracle is a divine utterance of guidance, promise, or judgment delivered to humans through an intermediary (who is often also called an oracle). In the Bible oracles are given by Balaam (in the book of Numbers) and by David (in 2 Samuel). A number... More of salvationSalvation can mean saved from something (deliverance) or for something (redemption). Paul preached that salvation comes through the death of Christ on the cross which redeemed sinners from death and for a grace-filled life. More (18:17-19:7).
• In the final confrontation Sennacherib sends a threatening letter to Hezekiah urging him to surrender, because the Lord would be as powerless to save Jerusalem as the gods of other nations had been to deliver their people; he claims that it is God rather than Hezekiah who seeks to deceive the people (19:8-13; especially v. 10). This time Hezekiah places his trust firmly in God’s hands in a beautiful prayer (19:15-19).
There is progression on both sides:
• Sennacherib’s demands become increasingly less direct, moving from military threats to verbal ultimatums presented by high ranking officials, to correspondence.
• Hezekiah’s responses become increasingly based upon trust as he moves from acquiescing to the threats and paying the tribute, to refusal and seeking the counsel of Isaiah, to a complete trust in God’s saving ability as expressed in his magnificent prayer.
• “Trust” (batakh) is the keyword here, appearing no less than ten times in chapters 18 and 19 (18:5, 19 [twice], 20, 21 [twice], 22, 24, 30; 19:10-though with various English translations). Since Sennacherib’s emissaries speak all but the first instance, it is clear that the text is using this confrontation to illustrate Hezekiah’s gradual growth of trust in God and to justify its earlier evaluation, “He trusted in the LORD the God of Israel; so that there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him” (18:5).
God’s response through Isaiah echoes the three confrontations with three oracles:
• Isaiah’s elegy against Sennacherib (19:20-28). God’s answer to Hezekiah’s prayer states that Sennacherib is not in charge here, God is; and all of Assyria’s former successes were due to God’s direction of history (vv. 25-26). In a cruelly ironic image God announces that Sennacherib will be led out of Judah with hooks in his nose just as Sennacherib had used hooks to lead conquered peoples into exile (v. 28; compare EzekielA prophet during the Babylonian exile who saw visions of God's throne-chariot, new life to dry bones, and a new Temple. More 38:4; AmosProphet to the northern kingdom who condemned Israel's oppression of the poor, calling for justice to "roll down like waters." More 4:2).
• Isaiah’s sign (vv. 29-31). It will take the land two years to recover from the devastation of the land and the stolen crops that resulted from the Assyrian invasion. During this time the people will need to forage for food. But in the third year planting and harvesting will return.
• Isaiah’s promise to Jerusalem (vv. 32-34). God will defend the city to safeguard the divine reputation and out of loyalty to DavidSecond king of Israel, David united the northern and southern kingdoms. More (v. 34). Verses 35-37 depict the marvelous fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise, as the Assyrian army is supernaturally defeated at night, forcing Sennacherib to return to Assyria where he is murdered by his own sons while worshiping, thus fulfilling God’s threat in 19:7.