Judah Delivered from Sennacherib (2 Kings 19; Isaiah 37; 2 Chronicles 32:20-23) May 4
Hezekiah takes the field commander's blasphemy to God. Through Isaiah, God assures him He has heard it and will deal with the Assyrians. Then the Rabshakeh returned to his king but "did not find Sennacherib at Lachish. Sennacherib had gone to besiege Libnah [about five miles north of Lachish], and from there set out for the Valley of Eltekeh to meet the Egyptian Army which had come to the aid of Judah" (Aharoni and Avi-Yonah, Macmillan Bible Atlas, p. 99).
Eugene Merrill gives details regarding the participation of Egypt, now ruled by Pharaoh Shebitku: "In the spirit of general rebellion following Sargon's death in 705, Shebitku with his armed forces moved north in 701 to join the Palestinian states, including Judah, in an effort to withstand the new king of Assyria, Sennacherib. By the time Shebitku arrived, Hezekiah may already have promised his tribute to Sennacherib. Whatever the case, the Assyrian broke off further hostilities against Jerusalem when he learned that Shebitku was on the way. Sennacherib then confronted the forces of Egypt and Judah at Eltekeh. Victorious, he divided his army, leaving part to provide defense against the Egyptians and sending the others to Jerusalem, apparently to punish Hezekiah for his collaboration with the rebels.
"By then a second large contingent of troops from Egypt, led by the crown prince Tirhakah, was on its way. Sennacherib was soon apprised of this, but communicated to Hezekiah that he should take no comfort from it since the Assyrians had completely destroyed all their previous enemies (2 Kings 19:9-13)" (Kingdom of Priests, p. 416). This is a reference to the letter that Hezekiah received (verse 14). "Egypt did indeed prove to be a 'splintered reed' [as the Assyrian official had warned] (2 Kings 18:21): Shebitku and Tirhakah retreated without doing the Assyrians further harm" (p. 416).
But far greater forces were pitted against Assyria. Hezekiah went back to the temple, this time taking Sennacherib's blasphemous letter and laying it out before God (verse 14).
Have you followed Hezekiah's example when facing "an impossible" trial? That is, have you taken a letter, a bill, a legal paper or some other document that threatened your well being and read it aloud to God, kneeling before His throne in prayer, imploring His help? It is a moving and inspiring way to pray in a time of truly serious need.
Following Hezekiah's appeal, Isaiah is once again used to confirm God's anger at the Assyrians' blasphemy and presumptuousness, and to bring God's reassuring message about how God would defend Jerusalem, provide for Judah and renew its population growth.
Sennacherib's prism records: "He [Hezekiah] himself I shut up like a caged bird within Jerusalem, his royal city. I put watch-posts strictly around it and turned back to his disaster any who went out of its city gate. His towns which I had despoiled I cut off from his lands…."
Regarding the remainder of this account, Werner Keller writes in his book, The Bible as History: "Surely now must come the announcement of the fall of Jerusalem and the seizing of the capital. But the text [of the prism] continues: 'As for Hezekiah, the splendour of my majesty overwhelmed him…30 gold talents…valuable treasures as well as his daughters, the women of his harem, singers both men and women, he caused to be brought after me to Nineveh. To pay his tribute and to do me homage he sent his envoys.'
"It is simply a bragging account of the payment of tribute—nothing more…. The Assyrian texts pass on immediately from the description of the battle of Jerusalem to the payment of Hezekiah's tribute [which had been paid earlier!]. Just at the moment when the whole country had been subjugated and the siege of Jerusalem, the last point of resistance, was in full swing, the unexpected happened: Sennacherib broke off the attack at five minutes to twelve. Only something quite extraordinary could have induced him to stop the fighting…." (1980, p. 260).
Sennacherib doesn't tell us what happened, but the Bible does. God miraculously intervened and slew 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night (verse 35). Sennacherib returned in disgrace to Nineveh, where he of course did not report his ignominious defeat. Rather, he did what he could to make it look like a victory. T.C. Mitchell of the British Museum writes, "The Assyrian annals tacitly agree with the Biblical version by making no claim that Jerusalem was taken, only describing tribute from Hezekiah of gold, silver, precious stones, valuable woods, furniture decorated with ivory…iron daggers, raw iron and musicians" (The Bible in the British Museum, 2000, p. 59).
The Bible then states that Sennacherib, while worshiping in the temple of Nisroch, was murdered by two of his own sons. "The name Nisroch has been identified as the god Nushku or a corrupted form of Marduk, the traditional god of Mesopotamia. The events depicted here [i.e., surrounding Sennacherib's murder] took place 20 years after God's deliverance of Jerusalem. When his father was assassinated, Esarhaddon took the throne and ruled from 681 to 668 B.C." (Nelson Study Bible, note on 2 Kings 19:37). This means that Sennacherib did not actually die until five years after Hezekiah's death. Still, Sennacherib had to live the rest of his life with the memory of his terrible defeat. It was so crushing that never again would he mount a military campaign against Judah.