Summary: The story of Hezekiah’s victory over Sennacherib, the king of the Assyrians, through the hand of the angel of the Lord, carries a significance for the battles that each of us face in life.
THE CONQUERER IS CONQUERED
In 705 B.C. a new king named Sennacherib, (his name meant “bramble of destruction”) son of Sargon, began to occupy the throne of Assyria. This new king was immediately faced with major problems. The kingdom that he had inherited from his father was already beginning to fall apart at the seams so Sennacherib’s first duty was to build a powerful army of over 200,000 troops that could be used to put down any rebellion or civil unrest.
His kingdom stretched across what is now most of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, northern Israel, and parts of Saudi Arabia. This area included the land of the Philistines, Phoenicians, Babylonians and the Palestinians. Every one of these nations was a hot spot of rebellion in his kingdom and Sennacherib was not about to allow them to go free without a fight.
His army was victorious first at Babylon as he destroyed and sacked the city, bringing that nation back under the control of his government. Then he turned westward and attacked the nations of Philistia, Phoenicia and others who were supported in their fight against Sennacherib by the Egyptians. When the smoke cleared from these great battles, Sennacherib’s army stood as victors and these nations were firmly under the powerful grip of Sennacherib once again.
Because of his great victories, Sennacherib felt invincible. He had consulted his god, Assur, and had been assured that he would be victorious.
(According to ancient historical records, Assur was the Assyrian god. Assyria had been so named because that area had come under the influence of Asshur, the second son of Shem who was the son of Noah.)
Assyria had established its national capitol at the city that bore the name of Asshur but the capitol was later moved to Nineveh, a city that had been built by Shem many generations before.
Shem had long since passed into the pages of history. He had died when he was 600 years old and had lived around the same time as Abraham. Over the centuries, nearly all of this land where Abraham had walked and where God had established his chosen nation had fallen back into idolatry.
God had put up with Israel’s idolatry until he could no longer allow them to go on and had allowed the northern kingdom of Israel to be taken captive. The 10 tribes of Israel that occupied this northern kingdom had ceased to exist and only their capitol city, Samaria, was left intact. God’s mercy had run out and His judgment was final. The Israelites who remained were forcibly mixed with other religious and ethnic groups and became the hated Samaritans of the New Testament.
Now only the Southern Kingdom of Judah remained as the last stronghold of Israel and the last hope of God’s chosen nation for survival.
As Sennacherib had defeated city after city of those nations who opposed him, he would slaughter and torture multitudes of their inhabitants. In many stone carvings that show his victories, he is depicted with mounds of heads of his victims surrounding him. He would impale many of those he conquered upon sharp poles and allow them to hang in the streets as examples to any who would rise against him. He would lead endless streams of captives into lifelong slavery under his harsh treatment.
After defeating all of his other enemies and then defeating the Egyptian army in the battle of Eltekeh in 701 B.C., Sennacherib then turned his attention toward Judea and prepared to take Jerusalem.
The prophet Isaiah had gone to King Hezekiah and given him God’s instructions to not get involved in the uprising against Sennacherib but Hezekiah would not listen. He made a treaty with Egypt against Assyria and when Egypt was defeated that left only Hezekiah and his small army to stop the onslaught of Sennacherib’s mighty army.
City after city fell into the hands of the Assyrians until finally they had only Jerusalem left to conquer. That’s when Hezekiah decided it was time to surrender, at least temporarily, to the rule of the Assyrian king.
Here, in the words of Sennacherib, according to the written records of Assyrian history, is the description of what happened next:
"Because Hezekiah, king of Judah, would not submit to my yoke, I came up against him, and by force of arms and by the might of my power I took forty-six of his strong fenced cities; and of the smaller towns which were scattered about, I took and plundered a countless number. From these places I took and carried off 200,156 persons, old and young, male and female, together with horses and mules, asses and camels, oxen and sheep, a countless multitude; and Hezekiah himself I shut up in Jerusalem, his capital city, like a bird in a cage, building towers round the city to hem him in, and raising banks of earth against the gates, so as to prevent escape...Then upon Hezekiah there fell the fear of the power of my arms, and he sent out to me the chiefs and the elders of Jerusalem with 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver, and divers treasures, a rich and immense booty...All these things were brought to me at Nineveh, the seat of my government."