Invasion of Sennacherib and Micah's Warning (2 Chronicles 32:1-5, 30; 2 Kings 18:13-16; Micah 3; 2 Chronicles 32:26, 6-19; 2 Kings 18:17-37; Isaiah 36) May 3
In 701 Sennacherib marched west to crush the brewing revolt. He came down the Mediterranean coast, "and after the surrender of Ashkelon and Ekron turned toward Judah. He made his headquarters at Lachish [28 miles southwest of Jerusalem]; reliefs found at Nineveh [now displayed in the British Museum] show the breaching of the double walls and the fortifications of the gate [of Lachish] by siege rams. Traces of the intense destruction have been found in the excavations on the site (stratum III) and also at Tell Beit Mirsim (Ashan) and Beer-sheba" (Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah, Macmillan Bible Atlas, 1977, p. 99).
In conjunction with the Assyrian invasion, Hezekiah took further precautions to protect Jerusalem. Rather than just having the water of Gihon brought inside the city by his tunnel, it was necessary to keep enemies from polluting the spring or preventing its waters from reaching Jerusalem—or from using it and other springs. So he concealed the springs outside the city (compare 2 Chronicles 32:3-4). But this alone would not protect Hezekiah's people.
Sadly, besides Hezekiah's own lapse in attitude and failure to completely rely on God, Judah had declined quite a bit spiritually during the reign of Ahaz so that even Hezekiah's reforms were not sufficient to entirely reverse the downward trend. Perhaps if Hezekiah had fully trusted in God, he could have successfully continued to withstand the Assyrians, but God permitted Sennacherib to invade the land and capture many of its cities. It is, of course, possible that God would have brought destruction against Judah anyway because of their injustice and wrongdoing, as brought out in Micah and Isaiah's prophecies.
As for the scale of what happened, notice these words of Sennacherib himself from the famous clay prism on which this campaign is recorded: "But as for Hezekiah, the Jew, who did not bow in submission to my yoke, forty-six of his strong walled towns and innumerable smaller villages in their neighbourhood I besieged and conquered by stamping down earth-ramps and then by bringing up battering rams, by the assault of foot-soldiers, by breaches, tunneling and sapper operations. I made to come out from them 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, innumerable horses, mules, donkeys, camels, large and small cattle, and counted them as spoils of war" (quoted in Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible, 1983, sidebar on 2 Kings 18). It is interesting to consider, then, that by this deportation many people of Judah, Benjamin and Levi joined the Assyrian captivity of the northern tribes—20 years after Samaria's fall.
At these dire events, Hezekiah panics while Sennacherib is still at Lachish (2 Kings 18:14). Hezekiah takes much of the gold and all the silver from the temple to pay the tribute imposed on him (verses 15-16). Yet Sennacherib is not fully appeased.
It was perhaps right around this time that the prophet Micah delivered his powerful warning of chapter 3 to the leaders of Jerusalem, including Hezekiah. Interestingly, years later this episode will be used by some as a defense of Jeremiah, when others want him put to death for pronouncing judgment on Jerusalem. At this point, you should read Jeremiah 26:17-19. As you can see from the later testimony given in these verses, it does appear that Micah's warning corresponded to events at the time of Sennacherib's invasion. Micah's preaching—probably along with Isaiah's and the terrible events—brought about Hezekiah's humbling himself in repentance. Jerusalem would not fall.
Sennacherib sends a delegation to taunt the city (2 Kings 18:17). Whether coincidentally or not, they conduct their business at the very place Isaiah had confronted Ahaz about 30 years earlier to warn him of the Assyrian threat (compare Isaiah 7:3).
Tartan, Rabsaris and Rabshakeh of 2 Kings 18:17 are probably titles, as in the New King James Version, rather than names as in the earlier KJV. The NIV translates these as "supreme commander," "chief officer" and "field commander." The field commander addresses Hezekiah's representatives, speaking Hebrew in the hearing of all the people, to maximize intimidation (verse 26). He first questions their reliance on Egypt for help (verse 21). This was something God Himself had rebuked them for (compare Isaiah 30:1-5).
Then he questions why they claim to rely on God, when Hezekiah has taken away all of the high places and insisted that they worship only at the altar in Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:22). This of course reflects a total misunderstanding on his part on how God was to be worshiped, though it may have planted some doubts and worries into the minds of the besieged Jews.
The field commander then claims that God had told the Assyrians to destroy the land (verse 25). God probably did not speak to the king of Assyria, although He apparently did move the Assyrians to war against the northern kingdom of Israel and take its people captive—and now He may have been similarly moving Assyria against Judah. Yet in his particular claim the Assyrian official was, no doubt, being rather presumptuous. But he really gets into trouble when he challenges God Himself, saying that God is no different than the gods of the other nations he has destroyed, and is incapable of delivering Jerusalem (verses 30-35).
As we will see in the rest of the account, God is not like the false gods of pagan nations.