The Impeccable Timing of God

16 Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides the sin that he made Judah to sin so that they did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.

17 Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh and all that he did, and the sin that he committed, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 18 And Manasseh slept with his fathers and was buried in the garden of his house, in the garden of Uzza, and Amon his son reigned in his place.

19 Amon was twenty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Meshullemeth the daughter of Haruz of Jotbah. 20 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as Manasseh his father had done. 21 He walked in all the way in which his father walked and served the idols that his father served and worshiped them. 22 He abandoned the Lord, the God of his fathers, and did not walk in the way of the Lord. 23 And the servants of Amon conspired against him and put the king to death in his house. 24 But the people of the land struck down all those who had conspired against King Amon, and the people of the land made Josiah his son king in his place. 25 Now the rest of the acts of Amon that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 26 And he was buried in his tomb in the garden of Uzza, and Josiah his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 21:16-26 ESV

Manasseh seems to have been obsessed with overturning every one of the religious reforms his father had instituted in Judah. He systematically dismantled his father’s legacy of godly leadership, supplanting with his own reign of moral decay and domestic terror. As the heir to his father’s throne, Manasseh did nothing to keep alive his father’s policies or programs. Instead, he led the nation of Judah down a dark and dangerous path that ultimately led to the judgment of God. And his condemnation by God was well-deserved.

Manasseh also murdered many innocent people until Jerusalem was filled from one end to the other with innocent blood. This was in addition to the sin that he caused the people of Judah to commit, leading them to do evil in the Lord’s sight. – 2 Kings 21:16 NLT

But God continued to send His prophets, calling the wayward king to repent and lead the people back to Him. But their words of warning fell on deaf ears.

The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they ignored all his warnings. – 2 Chronicles 33:10 NLT

Their arrogant refusal to listen to God’s prophets led the Almighty to send another kind of messenger.

So the Lord sent the commanders of the Assyrian armies, and they took Manasseh prisoner. They put a ring through his nose, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. But while in deep distress, Manasseh sought the Lord his God and sincerely humbled himself before the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed, the Lord listened to him and was moved by his request. So the Lord brought Manasseh back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh finally realized that the Lord alone is God! – 2 Chronicles 33:11-13 NLT

Manasseh’s imprisonment and debasement by the Assyrians got his attention. In his miserable and hopeless condition the formerly prideful king called out to God. And Yahweh graciously listened to his prayer and ended his exile in Babylon.

And Manasseh was a changed man. Upon his return to Jerusalem, he began an aggressive campaign to reverse the downward spiritual decline he had helped to cause.

After this Manasseh rebuilt the outer wall of the City of David, from west of the Gihon Spring in the Kidron Valley to the Fish Gate, and continuing around the hill of Ophel. He built the wall very high. And he stationed his military officers in all of the fortified towns of Judah. Manasseh also removed the foreign gods and the idol from the Lord’s Temple. He tore down all the altars he had built on the hill where the Temple stood and all the altars that were in Jerusalem, and he dumped them outside the city. Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings and thanksgiving offerings on it. He also encouraged the people of Judah to worship the Lord, the God of Israel. – 2 Chronicles 33:14-16 NLT

But, while his efforts were well-intended, they were only partially successful.

However, the people still sacrificed at the pagan shrines, though only to the Lord their God. – 2 Chronicles 33:17 NLT

He had helped to restore the worship of Yahweh, but the people remained strangely attached to the pagan shrines where they once worshiped the false gods of their enemies. They continued to frequent these unholy sites and desecrated the name of Yahweh by worshiping him in these unconsecrated locations. Manasseh’s reforms, while significant, couldn’t completely eradicate the years of damage he had done through his godless leadership. Prior to his humble return to God, Manasseh had “built pagan shrines and set up Asherah poles and idols” all over Judah (2 Chronicles 33:19 NLT). And because he failed to remove these physical sites where the people had regularly dishonored God, he allowed the roots of idolatry and apostasy to remain the land of Judah.

And Manasseh would leave this partially restored but highly unstable environment to his son. At the young age of 22, Amon ascended to the throne of his father and took over the reins of responsibility for a nation that wavered in the dangerous state between semi-faithfulness and outright rebellion. While Manasseh had ended his reign in repentance and had made a concerted effort to restore the nation’s commitment to Yahweh, it proved to be too little, too late. His years of ungodly leadership and idolatrous behavior had negatively influenced his young son. So, when Amon became king, rather than continuing the reforms of his father, he returned the nation to the days of darkness that had marked the early years of Manasseh’s reign.

He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his father, Manasseh, had done. He worshiped and sacrificed to all the idols his father had made. But unlike his father, he did not humble himself before the Lord. Instead, Amon sinned even more. – 2 Chronicles 33:22-23 NLT

In less than two years, Amon managed to plunge Judah back into the dark ages of sin, idolatry, and moral instability. And his chaotic and destructive reign abruptly ended with his assassination. His own disgruntled servants tried to take over Amon’s throne by taking his life. But their attempt at insurrection failed and they were summarily executed.

With Amon’s abbreviated but sin-laced reign over, his eight-year-old son Josiah took his place. And everything about this succession plan has disaster written all over it. Josiah was just a child when he ascended to the throne, and he was inheriting a kingdom that was reeling from the effects of a failed coup attempt and a two-year campaign of state-enforced moral decline. Conditions in Judah could not have been worse and would have proven problematic for any newly crowned king. But Josiah was young and poorly prepared to step into such a unstable political and spiritual situation. Or was he?

A brief glimpse into 2 Chronicles 34 reveals that this innocent young boy was far better prepared than we might assume. At the age of 16, Josiah would begin a passionate pursuit of God that would result in a revival within the land of Judah.

For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images. – 2 Chronicles 34:3 NLT

God was at work behind the scenes, orchestrating events in such a way that Josiah would come to the throne at just the right time and equipped with a heart for the things of God. Despite the legacy left by his father, Josiah would prove to be a God-fearing king who began one of the most aggressive reform efforts ever seen in the nation of Judah. He was God’s man for the occasion.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Reversal of Fortunes

1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem will I put my name.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. And the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which the Lord said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever. And I will not cause the feet of Israel to wander anymore out of the land that I gave to their fathers, if only they will be careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them.” But they did not listen, and Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.

10 And the Lord said by his servants the prophets, 11 “Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, 12 therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13 And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14 And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, 15 because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.” 2 Kings 21:1-15 ESV

When reading the opening lines of 2 Kings 21, an old proverb comes to mind that states: “All good things must come to an end.” With the end of Hezekiah’s life, the fortunes of Israel took a decidedly dark turn for the worse. While Hezekiah was far from a perfect king, he had proved to be faithful to Yahweh, doing “what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 18:3 ESV). As a result, “the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered” (2 Kings 18:7 ESV). Hezekiah had been an ambitious reformer, who had attempted to restore and reinvigorate the worship of Yahweh in Judah. But the last 15 years of his reign, which were marked by peace and great prosperity, became fertile ground for Hezekiah’s pride to take root and grow. In time, he developed an unhealthy preoccupation with his own success and self-importance. 

Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored. He built special treasury buildings for his silver, gold, precious stones, and spices, and for his shields and other valuable items. He also constructed many storehouses for his grain, new wine, and olive oil; and he made many stalls for his cattle and pens for his flocks of sheep and goats. He built many towns and acquired vast flocks and herds, for God had given him great wealth. He blocked up the upper spring of Gihon and brought the water down through a tunnel to the west side of the City of David. And so he succeeded in everything he did. – 2 Chronicles 32:27-30 NLT

And it must be recalled that those 15 years had been a gracious gift from God, in answer to Hezekiah’s humble prayer as he lay near death. God heard and restored his health, then granted him another 15 years of life. During the last 11 years, up until the day of his death in 686 BC, Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh had served as his co-regent. But upon Hezekiah’s death, Manasseh assumed the burden and responsibilities of leadership as the king of Judah – at the age of 23.

Manasseh had begun his co-regency at the young age of 12. So, for 11 years this young man had been able to serve alongside his father, learning valuable life lessons on everything from leadership and diplomacy to fiduciary responsibility and spiritual fidelity. But unfortunately, Manasseh was exposed to some of Hezekiah’s less flattering years in office. He served alongside his father at a time when Judah was prospering and Hezekiah was more interested in building his kingdom and reputation than in promoting the worship of Yahweh.

And it becomes quite obvious that Manasseh’s 11-year apprenticeship under his father’s tutelage had failed to prepare him to be a godly king. His ascension to the throne ushered in one of the darkest periods in Judah’s long and tumultuous history. And his reign would reverse most, if not all, of the religious reforms his father had implemented. Virtually overnight, he would radically transform the kingdom of Judah into a spiritual wasteland by systematically rescinding all of his father’s earlier reforms.

He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, following the detestable practices of the pagan nations that the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He rebuilt the pagan shrines his father, Hezekiah, had destroyed. He constructed altars for Baal and set up an Asherah pole, just as King Ahab of Israel had done. He also bowed before all the powers of the heavens and worshiped them. – 2 Kings 21:2-3 NLT

This ambitious young man seemed determined to eradicate all vestiges of Yahweh from the hearts and minds of the people. He erected altars to false gods inside the temple, rendering it unholy and unfit for Yahweh’s presence. He encouraged the practice of sorcery and divination. He even promoted the use of human sacrifices as an acceptable form of worship by offering up his own sons.

Everything he did was in direct violation of God’s commands and seemed to be a well-calculated plan to disrupt all that his father had accomplished. He was purposefully dismantling the spiritual legacy his father had left. We are not given any indication as to what prompted Manasseh’s actions. His mother is mentioned but we know nothing about her or what role she may have played in his spiritual formation. But it is painfully clear that while Manasseh inherited his father’s throne, he did not inherit his father’s love for Yahweh. In fact, he led the nation of Judah to “do even more evil than the pagan nations that the Lord had destroyed when the people of Israel entered the land” (2 King 21:9 NLT). All that his father had spent years building, Manasseh painstakingly and systematically destroyed.

But while Manasseh was busy dismantling the spiritual legacy his father had bequeathed to him, God was far from silent. The author of 2 Chronicles states that “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they ignored all his warnings” (2 Chronicles 33:10 NLT). God didn’t sit idly by, watching in silence as the young king led an insurrection against His sovereign will and authority. He sent His prophets to warn the king and his compliant subjects that they insubordination would have dire consequences. Jeremiah would deliver a particularly stinging indictment against the people of Judah for their willing participation in Manasseh’s apostasy.

“I will send four kinds of destroyers against them,” says the Lord. “I will send the sword to kill, the dogs to drag away, the vultures to devour, and the wild animals to finish up what is left. Because of the wicked things Manasseh son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem, I will make my people an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” – Jeremiah 15:3-4 NLT

Jeremiah would go on to record God’s words concerning the capital city of Jerusalem, where Manasseh instigated his wicked and rebellious anti-reform measures.

“Who will feel sorry for you, Jerusalem?
    Who will weep for you?
    Who will even bother to ask how you are?
You have abandoned me
    and turned your back on me,”
    says the Lord.
“Therefore, I will raise my fist to destroy you.
    I am tired of always giving you another chance.” – Jeremiah 15:5-6 NLT

God declared Manasseh to be more wicked than the pagan nations who had previously occupied the land of Canaan before the arrival of the Israelites. This leader of God’s chosen people had managed to out-sin the godless Amorites. Rather than follow in the steps of his father, Manasseh had decided to emulate the behavior of Ahab, the infamous king of Israel who, with the help of his wife, Jezebel, had led the northern kingdom into such depths of moral and spiritual decay that God eventually destroyed them. And now, under Manasseh’s leadership, Judah was headed down the very same path and facing a very similar outcome.

I will judge Jerusalem by the same standard I used for Samaria and the same measure I used for the family of Ahab. I will wipe away the people of Jerusalem as one wipes a dish and turns it upside down.” – 2 Kings 21:13 NLT

Manasseh may have been the sovereign ruler over the kingdom of Judah but he would soon discover that he was no match for the King of the universe. His ongoing disregard and disrespect for God would not be tolerated.  God would not be mocked and those who refused to honor their covenant commitments would not be unpunished. And His blunt assessment of Judah leaves no doubt concerning their guilt and well-deserved condemnation.

“…they have done great evil in my sight and have angered me ever since their ancestors came out of Egypt.” – 2 Kings 21:15 NLT

Manasseh believed that he had the freedom and authority to replace Yahweh. After all, he was king. But he was about to learn the same painful lesson that God had taught to Ahab, Sennacherib, and so many other human kings. There is but one King over all the earth and He alone decides who rules and reigns over the kingdoms of the earth. Manasseh served at God’s discretion and he would soon discover that his ego was no match for God’s divine will. Years later, another pride-filled king would learn the same timeless lesson from the lips of another prophet of God, as Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, “the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world. He gives them to anyone he chooses—even to the lowliest of people” (Daniel 4:17 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Robbing God of Glory

12 At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that Hezekiah had been sick. 13 And Hezekiah welcomed them, and he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. 14 Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come from a far country, from Babylon.” 15 He said, “What have they seen in your house?” And Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: 17 Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. 18 And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” 19 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?”

20 The rest of the deeds of Hezekiah and all his might and how he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 21 And Hezekiah slept with his fathers, and Manasseh his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 20:12-21 ESV

Hezekiah shows the Babylonian messengers his treasures (2 Kings 20, 13). Wood engraving, published in 1886.

For whatever reason, the author of 2 Kings provides no details concerning Hezekiah’s reaction to his miraculous healing or to God’s gracious gift of 15 more years of life. This man had been near death and had been told by the prophet of God that his days were numbered. He was deathly sick and helpless to do anything about his situation, so he cried out to God. And Yahweh responded by restoring his health and promising to extend his reign by 15 years. Yet, the author simply skips to the next story without providing any insight into Hezekiah’s response to this wonderful gift from God. But if we turn to 2 Chronicles 32, we discover that the newly healed king did not respond with humble gratitude, but with pride.

Hezekiah did not respond appropriately to the kindness shown him, and he became proud. So the Lord’s anger came against him and against Judah and Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 32:25 NLT

Perhaps Hezekiah’s new lease on life had gone to his head. He had narrowly escaped the clutches of death and was back to full health. On top of that, the Assyrian menace had all but disappeared. His kingdom was secure and he was enjoying an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity. But he failed to remember the one who had made it all possible. He neglected to offer any form of sacrifice to express his thanks to Yahweh. And this arrogant display of ingratitude brought God’s anger against the king, his capital, and the nation of Judah.

Once again, we’re given little in the way of details. The author does not tell us what form God’s judgment took. But it had its intended effect.

Hezekiah humbled himself and repented of his pride, as did the people of Jerusalem. So the Lord’s anger did not fall on them during Hezekiah’s lifetime. – 2 Chronicles 32:26 NLT

God’s wrath was abated but it seems that Hezekiah’s pride was not. It seems that Merodach-baladan, the king of Babylon, had heard of Hezekiah’s illness and sent emissaries to visit him. By the time these men had made the long trek from Babylon to Jerusalem, Hezekiah had been healed. So, when they arrived, the newly revived king decided to impress his guests by giving them the grand tour of the royal capital. And he showed them everything.

Hezekiah received the Babylonian envoys and showed them everything in his treasure-houses—the silver, the gold, the spices, and the aromatic oils. He also took them to see his armory and showed them everything in his royal treasuries! There was nothing in his palace or kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them. – 2 Kings 20:13 NLT

But to better understand what is going on here, we need to turn back to 2 Chronicles 32 for context. It would appear that King Hezekiah not only enjoying renewed health but a revitalized kingdom with a reinvigorated economy. Things were booming in Judah.

Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored. He built special treasury buildings for his silver, gold, precious stones, and spices, and for his shields and other valuable items. He also constructed many storehouses for his grain, new wine, and olive oil; and he made many stalls for his cattle and pens for his flocks of sheep and goats. He built many towns and acquired vast flocks and herds, for God had given him great wealth. He blocked up the upper spring of Gihon and brought the water down through a tunnel to the west side of the City of David. And so he succeeded in everything he did. – 2 Chronicles 32:27-30 NLT

Hezekiah had it all: Health, wealth, and prosperity. And he was more than happy to display the full extent of his power and possessions to his foreign guests. But the author 2 Chronicles reveals an important detail that must not be overlooked. The visiting Babylonian emissaries wanted to know “about the sign that had been done in the land” (2 Chronicles 32:31 ESV). Evidently, upon their arrival, they had been told how the king had been healed by God. Someone had shared with them about the miracle of the shadow reversing itself on the steps of Ahaz. And they were intrigued and eager to hear more. In other words, Hezekiah was being given a chance to brag about his God. But the passage tells us that “God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart” (2 Chronicles 32:31 ESV).

God stood back and watched to see how Hezekiah would respond to this opportunity. But rather than declare the glory and the goodness of Yahweh to his pagan guests, Hezekiah bragged about himself. He said nothing about his miraculous healing or of God’s promise to extend his reign an additional 15 years. And he fails to even mention the miraculous sign. His entire exchange with these men was centered upon himself. Look closely at how the author describes Hezekiah’s actions:

…he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. – 2 Kings 20:13 ESV

It was all about him. And when Hezekiah is confronted by the prophet Isaiah, he further confirms the self-centered nature of his interaction with the envoys.

“They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.” – 2 Kings 20:15 ESV

Not once does Hezekiah mention Yahweh. He doesn’t even acknowledge God as the source behind all his possession, including his very life. And with this incredible display of self-adulation, Hezekiah failed the test and revealed exactly what was in his heart. So, Isaiah delivered what should have been a devastating bit of bad news:

“Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord.” – 2 Kings 20:17 ESV

And, as if that was not bad enough, Isaiah adds another element to God’s divine judgment against Hezekiah and Judah.

“…some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” – 2 Kings 20:18 ESV

And to our shock and surprise, Hezekiah responds favorably to the prophet’s words. He isn’t even fazed by the news that his sons will be taken as captives and forced to become eunuchs to the king of Babylon. He hears all of this as good news. Why? Because all Hezekiah really cared about was himself. Look closely at his response to Isaiah.

“At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime.” – 2 Kings 20:19 NLT

According to 2 Chronicles 32:27, “Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored.” He enjoyed great prestige, power, and a time of unprecedented peace. And as long as he was able to keep what he had, he was willing to sacrifice the future, even if it meant that his sons would suffer so that he could prosper.

What makes this story even more disheartening is the fact that, at one time, Hezekiah had penned a poem to Yahweh, expressing his gratitude for his healing. Immediately after receiving the news that God would graciously deliver him from death, Hezekiah had taken the time to put his thoughts in writing. Look closely at what he said:

Lord, your discipline is good,
    for it leads to life and health.
You restore my health
    and allow me to live!
Yes, this anguish was good for me,
    for you have rescued me from death
    and forgiven all my sins.
For the dead cannot praise you;
    they cannot raise their voices in praise.
Those who go down to the grave
    can no longer hope in your faithfulness.
Only the living can praise you as I do today.
    Each generation tells of your faithfulness to the next.
Think of it—the Lord is ready to heal me!
    I will sing his praises with instruments
every day of my life
    in the Temple of the Lord. – Isaiah 38:16-20 NLT

They say time heals all wounds. But in Hezekiah’s case, time became his enemy. The further he got away from his near-death experience and his miraculous healing by God, the more forgetful and ungrateful he became. His focus shifted from the goodness and greatness of God to his own power and possessions. He became self-obsessed and myopic in his outlook and, as a result, he lost sight of the glory and grandeur of God. And it would be the prophet Isaiah who would write his own poem concerning Yahweh, that should have served as a wake-up call to the pride-filled and self-possessed king of Judah.

The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:28-31 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Sickness, Shadows, and Signs

1 In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, “Now, O Lord, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord, and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” And Isaiah said, “Bring a cake of figs. And let them take and lay it on the boil, that he may recover.”

And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of the Lord on the third day?” And Isaiah said, “This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he has promised: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps?” 10 And Hezekiah answered, “It is an easy thing for the shadow to lengthen ten steps. Rather let the shadow go back ten steps.” 11 And Isaiah the prophet called to the Lord, and he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which it had gone down on the steps of Ahaz. 2 Kings 20:1-11 ESV

Hezekiah was a good man who remained faithful to Yahweh throughout his tenure as king of Judah. This made him a rather rare commodity among the other kings Judah and Israel. Most of these men displayed a passion for idols and a propensity for godless behavior that brought upon them God’s judgment. So many of Hezekiah’s peers and predecessors had been nothing more than apostate idol worshipers. Yet, the author of 2 Kings saved his most glowing assessment for King Hezekiah.

He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. – 2 Kings 18:5 ESV

Hezekiah had instituted a series of religious reforms in Judah that were meant to restore the peoples’ devotion to and confidence in Yahweh. He cleansed the temple of God that had been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. He reinstituted temple worship by recommissioning the priests and Levites. He also called for the reinstatement of the feast of unleavened bread and the celebration of Passover,  which both had long been neglected. These annual celebrations had been commissioned by God and were intended to be reminders of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. But when Hezekiah issued a royal decree that the nation of Judah gather in Jerusalem to re-commemorate these two God-ordained festivals, some of the people responded with derision and refused to attend. Many of those who did come to Jerusalem had failed to follow God’s requirements concerning purification.

Most of those who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun had not purified themselves. But King Hezekiah prayed for them, and they were allowed to eat the Passover meal anyway, even though this was contrary to the requirements of the Law. For Hezekiah said, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon those who decide to follow the Lord, the God of their ancestors, even though they are not properly cleansed for the ceremony.” And the Lord listened to Hezekiah’s prayer and healed the people. – 2 Chronicles 30:18-20 NLT

Yet all of Hezekiah’s reforms and his determination to restore the nation’s dedication to Yahweh did not prevent him from encountering difficulties during his reign. His faithfulness to God did not innoculate his reign from potential trials or keep his kingdom trouble-free. In fact, even this godly and faithful king found himself having to deal with the threat of destruction at the hands of the Assyrians. But when the enemy showed up outside the gates of Jerusalem, Hezekiah didn’t rail against God, accusing the Almighty of having abandoned His people. The king didn’t waste time listing all of his reforms or recounting all his efforts to restore the worship of Yahweh to Judah. No, he simply prayed that God would intervene on their behalf – and He did. God had not prevented the enemy from showing up, but He did miraculously cause them to go away. In the midst of their greatest trial, when all looked hopeless and they found themselves helpless, Hezekiah and the people of Judah had their faith reinvigorated by the power and presence of God.

And while God miraculously delivered His people from the threat of annihilation by the Assyrians, that was not the only difficulty that Hezekiah faced. The author states that “in those days” or around the same time that the Assyrian threat was taking place, the king of Judah became deathly ill. Just when the kingdom was facing its most difficult trial, Hezekiah was given a devasting bit of bad news from the prophet of God: “Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness” (2 Kings 20:1 NLT).

But once again, Hezekiah didn’t respond in anger or resentment. He didn’t lash out at God in disappointment or hurl accusations of divine dereliction of duty. He simply prayed. He turned his face to the wall and called out to his God: “Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you” (2 Kings 20:3 NLT). Then he simply wept. 

Hezekiah wasn’t bragging or boasting. He wasn’t insinuating that God was somehow obligated to heal him. He was simply asking that God not forget his efforts to remain faithful. Hezekiah did not ask to be restored. He begged to be remembered. And he probably had his eternal state in mind at the time. He was hoping that he had done enough to earn God’s favor and to secure entrance into His Kingdom. And God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and provided him with an immediate response.

“I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and three days from now you will get out of bed and go to the Temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my own honor and for the sake of my servant David.” – 2 Kings 20:5-6 NLT

God gave Hezekiah an additional 15 years to lead the people of Judah. And, on top of that, God assured Hezekiah that He would protect the city of Jerusalem from the Assyrian threat. God was going to eliminate the enemy outside the gates of the city and the illness inside the body of Hezekiah. And when the king asked Isaiah if he could provide any proof that these things would actually take place, God graciously obliged by providing a miracle.

he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which it had gone down on the steps of Ahaz. – 2 Kings 20:11 ESV

Evidently, right before the eyes of the king and all those in his royal bedroom, the sun appeared to reverse itself. The shadow that had advanced ten steps suddenly went in the opposite direction, in direct violation of natural order. God’s particular choice of a sign was intended to prove to Hezekiah that He could do the impossible. If He could cause the shadow to reverse its course, He could also reverse the effects of Hezekiah’s illness and the outcome of the Assyrian siege.

Nothing was too difficult for God. The one who gave the sun its light could control its shadow. The one who gave Hezekiah his life could prolong it. And the one who gave men the ability to conceive and implement plans could easily redirect or reverse those plans to suit His sovereign will. The shadow reversed. The king was healed. The Assyrians gave up their siege of Jerusalem. God graciously displayed His power over sickness, nature, and the nations of the world. And Hezekiah was given 15 more years to prove his faithfulness to Yahweh. But as we will see, his new lease on life will not produce the most glowing results. The glory of his former faithfulness will see its shadow reversed as the king struggles with pride and the seductive influence of success.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Holy One of Israel

20 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Your prayer to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard. 21 This is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:

“She despises you, she scorns you—
    the virgin daughter of Zion;
she wags her head behind you—
    the daughter of Jerusalem.

22 “Whom have you mocked and reviled?
    Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes to the heights?
    Against the Holy One of Israel!
23 By your messengers you have mocked the Lord,
    and you have said, ‘With my many chariots
I have gone up the heights of the mountains,
    to the far recesses of Lebanon;
I felled its tallest cedars,
    its choicest cypresses;
I entered its farthest lodging place,
    its most fruitful forest.
24 I dug wells
    and drank foreign waters,
and I dried up with the sole of my foot
    all the streams of Egypt.’

25 “Have you not heard
    that I determined it long ago?
I planned from days of old
    what now I bring to pass,
that you should turn fortified cities
    into heaps of ruins,
26 while their inhabitants, shorn of strength,
    are dismayed and confounded,
and have become like plants of the field
    and like tender grass,
like grass on the housetops,
    blighted before it is grown.

27 “But I know your sitting down
    and your going out and coming in,
    and your raging against me.
28 Because you have raged against me
    and your complacency has come into my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth,
and I will turn you back on the way
    by which you came.

29 “And this shall be the sign for you: this year eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs of the same. Then in the third year sow and reap and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. 30 And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. 31 For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord will do this.

32 “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 33 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 34 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

35 And that night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 36 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. 37 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 19:20-37 ESV

This is essentially the story of three kings. First, there is King Sennacherib, the sovereign ruler over the rapidly expanding Assyrian empire. He is the commander-in-chief of one of the most powerful armies on earth, and his ambitious plans of global conquest have met with little to no resistance. Kingdom after kingdom has fallen before his army and now he has his sights set on the nation of Judah, where Hezekiah, the second king in our story, rules from his throne in Jerusalem. But King Hezekiah finds himself in the unenviable position of ruling over a city under siege. His capital city is surrounded by the Assyrian army and he has been given an ultimatum to surrender or face annihilation.

Two kings. One is dressed in his royal robes and reveling in the indisputable reality of his own success. The other has discarded his regal attire for sackcloth and ashes, the garments of mourning. Sennacherib is a confident and self-assured king who sees no end to his plans for global conquest and domination. He is unstoppable. And it would appear that Hezekiah agrees with that assessment because he has turned to Yahweh for help. With his city completely surrounded and his allies nowhere to be seen, Hezekiah has called on the God of Judah to come to their aid.

“O Lord, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see! Listen to Sennacherib’s words of defiance against the living God.” – 2 Kings 19:15-16 NLT

This penitent petition engages the attention of the third king in our story.  From His royal throne room in heaven, God heard the humble and contrite prayer of the king of Judah and immediately responded with an answer. The sovereign King of kings, who rules over all the kingdoms of the earth, sent a message to Hezekiah through His prophet Isaiah.

But this message, while delivered to King Hezekiah, was really directed at Sennacherib. God, the King of all kings, had a few choice words for the pompous and prideful potentate of Assyria. He warns the over-confident king that his plans for Judah’s conquest will fail.

“The virgin daughter of Zion
    despises you and laughs at you.
The daughter of Jerusalem
    shakes her head in derision as you flee. – 2 Kings 19:21 NLT

Despite Sennacherib’s boastful claims, Jerusalem will remain pure and undefiled, her walls unbreached and her population spared the indignities of conquest or capture. The day is coming when the citizens of Jerusalem will rejoice and celebrate as the Assyrians abandon their siege and disappear over the horizon.

Sennacherib had made the fateful mistake of mocking the wrong deity, and Yahweh let him know that his derisive and disrespectful words were going to cost him. He had offended the Holy One of Israel and would soon suffer the consequences for his error. But first, God points out Sennacherib’s primary problem: His pride.

“By your messengers you have defied the Lord.
    You have said, ‘With my many chariots
I have conquered the highest mountains—
    yes, the remotest peaks of Lebanon.
I have cut down its tallest cedars
    and its finest cypress trees.
I have reached its farthest corners
    and explored its deepest forests.
I have dug wells in many foreign lands
    and refreshed myself with their water.
With the sole of my foot
    I stopped up all the rivers of Egypt!’” – 2 Kings 19:23-24 NLT

Sennacherib suffered from a terminal “I” condition. His unbridled success had gone to his head and he had begun to believe that he was invincible and, in a sense, divine. By his own boastful admission, Sennacherib had claimed that the kings of Assyria had defeated the gods of all their enemies.

“Have the gods of other nations rescued them—such nations as Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Tel-assar? My predecessors destroyed them all! What happened to the king of Hamath and the king of Arpad? What happened to the kings of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah?” – 2 Kings 19:12-13 NLT

And he was convinced that Yahweh, the God of Judah, would fair no better than any of the other gods. But what Sennacherib failed to understand was that Yahweh was the sovereign ruler over all the nations of the world. The Assyrian’s rise to global dominance had been a part of God’s preordained plan. They were nothing more than instruments in His hands and actors in His divine drama that will culminate in the redemption and restoration of all creation.

God let Sennacherib know that he had no right to boast or brag. He could take no credit for any of his success. It had all been according to the sovereign will of the King of the universe.

“I decided this long ago.
Long ago I planned it,
    and now I am making it happen.
I planned for you to crush fortified cities
    into heaps of rubble.
That is why their people have so little power
    and are so frightened and confused.
They are as weak as grass,
    as easily trampled as tender green shoots.
They are like grass sprouting on a housetop,
    scorched before it can grow lush and tall.” – 2 Kings 19:25-26 NLT

This message, while directed at Sennacherib, was meant to encourage Hezekiah. It was intended as a well-timed reminder to the king of Judah that his God was sovereign over all things. Regardless of the circumstances of life, the people of God can and should rest in the fact that their God reigns.

“…the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world. He gives them to anyone he chooses— even to the lowliest of people.” – Daniel 4:17 NLT

The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
 – Psalm 103:19 ESV

For the LORD Most High is awesome. He is the great King of all the earth. – Psalm 47:2 NLT

God reigns above the nations, sitting on his holy throne. – Psalm 47:8 NLT

For all the kings of the earth belong to God. – Psalm 47:9 NLT

God wanted both of these men to understand that they had nothing to do with their positions or power. Their very existence was God-ordained and God-caused. Their kingdoms and their crowns were fully attributable to God and He had the divine right to remove them from power should He so choose. Which is exactly what He warned Sennacherib was going to happen.

“I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth.
I will make you return
    by the same road on which you came.” – 2 Kings 19:28 NLT

Man’s plans must always give way to God’s sovereign will.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. – Proverbs 19:21 ESV

Sennacherib had ambitious plans for global dominance, but he would soon find that God’s plans superseded his own. And the King of the universe assured Hezekiah that He would protect Jerusalem and continue to provide for all their needs. Sennacherib and his forces would remain a threat for three more years, but God made it clear that “His armies will not enter Jerusalem. They will not even shoot an arrow at it” (2 Kings 19:32 NLT).

And as a sign to prove that He was in full control of the situation, God sent an angel who slaughtered 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in a single night. The next morning, the citizens of Jerusalem woke up to find the land outside the walls covered in corpses, but the rest of the Assyrian army was nowhere to be seen. The King of kings had displayed His sovereign power by sending a single angel to wreak havoc among the Assyrians.

And when Sennacherib returned home, he would find his days of glory and conquest come to an abrupt and ignominious end. He would be assassinated by two of his own sons. And this less-than-glorious conclusion to his life would take place in the temple of his god. The circumstances of Sennacherib’s demise should not go unnoticed. It was as the vainglorious king of Assyria was safely ensconced in his capital and worshiping in the temple of his false god that the King of kings chose to demonstrate His sovereign power over all the kingdoms of the earth. The Holy One of Israel proved yet again that He is the one and only King.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

You, O Lord, Are God Alone

1 As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God heard all the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.” When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”

The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he heard that the king had left Lachish. Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “Behold, he has set out to fight against you.” So he sent messengers again to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’”

14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord and spread it before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” 2 Kings 19:1-19 ESV

When King Hezekiah’s three emissaries returned with a report of all that the Rabshakeh had said, he was overwhelmed with grief. This self-absorbed and overly confident commander of Sennacherib’s army had ridiculed Hezekiah for placing any hope of rescue in Egypt. Pharaoh would prove to be an unreliable source of help against the much larger and better equipped Assyrian army. And Sennacherib’s cocky commander scoffed at any notion that the God of Judah would come to their aid. Speaking on behalf of his equally arrogant king, the Rabshakeh had boldly declared, “What god of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? So what makes you think that the Lord can rescue Jerusalem from me?” (2 Kings 18:35 NLT).

Demoralized by this devastating news, King Hezekiah immediately entered into a state of mourning and sought refuge and solace in the house of God. From there, he sent a  message to the prophet Isaiah.

“Today is a day of trouble, insults, and disgrace. It is like when a child is ready to be born, but the mother has no strength to deliver the baby. But perhaps the Lord your God has heard the Assyrian chief of staff, sent by the king to defy the living God, and will punish him for his words. Oh, pray for those of us who are left!” – 2 Kings 19:3-4 NLT

These were dark days for the nation of Judah, but Hezekiah held out hope that Yahweh would still come to their aid. From his vantage point within the walls of God’s house, Hezekiah must have recalled the prayer that Solomon had offered up to God when he had dedicated the newly constructed temple.

“If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave their ancestors.” – 1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT

While Judah had not yet been defeated by the Assyrians, things were not looking good. Their massive army was camped outside the eastern walls and Hezekiah knew it was just a matter of time before the siege brought Jerusalem to its knees. But he still held out hope, turning to the prophet of God and begging him to seek Yahweh’s divine assistance. And the message he received from Isaiah must have sounded far-fetched and too good to be true.

“This is what the Lord says: Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me from the Assyrian king’s messengers. Listen! I myself will move against him, and the king will receive a message that he is needed at home. So he will return to his land, where I will have him killed with a sword.’” – 2 Kings 19:6-7 NLT

God had heard every boastful and blasphemous word the Rabshakeh had said. And Isaiah assured Hezekiah that he had nothing to fear because God had something in store for Sennacherib that would throw a major wrench into his global conquest plans. The great king of Assyria would suddenly find himself facing unexpected attacks on a number of fronts that would eventually force him to abandon his siege of Jerusalem. But even though Sennacherib had reallocated his forces to other battlefronts, he was not going to give up on his plan to conquer Jerusalem. So, he sent another message to King Hezekiah, demanding that he give up his Don Quixote-like quest for divine rescue. Sennacherib treated the God of Judah with contempt, declaring that He would prove just as powerless as all the other gods of all the other nations that had fallen to the Assyrians.

But Hezekiah took Sennacherib’s letter into the temple and spread it out before the Lord. Then he prayed, “O Lord, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see! Listen to Sennacherib’s words of defiance against the living God” (2 Kings 19:15-16 NLT).

Hezekiah reminded Yahweh that all the other gods had failed because they were nothing more than the figments of man’s fertile imagination.

“They were not gods at all—only idols of wood and stone shaped by human hands. – 2 Kings 19:18 NLT

But Yahweh was the living God. He was the all-powerful creator God who had made the heavens and the earth. He was seated on His throne in heaven and fully capable of dealing with King Sennacherib and his seemingly unstoppable army. And Hezekiah called on Yahweh to intervene and demonstrate His sovereign power by rescuing His chosen people. And when the one true God does what no other god could do, delivering Judah from the hands of Sennacherib, all the nations of the earth will recognize “that you alone, O Lord, are God” (2 Kings 19:19 NLT). 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Where Are the Gods?

26 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah, and Joah, said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 27 But the Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and to drink their own urine?”

28 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of my hand. 30 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ 31 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die. And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” 33 Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 35 Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”

36 But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him.” 37 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of the Rabshakeh. 2 Kings 18:26-37 ESV

This entire scene is filled with a sense of nervous anticipation. The people of Judah are lining the eastern walls of the city, overlooking the Kidron Valley, where the Assyrian army lies spread out before them in numbers too great to count. But their eyes are locked on the three emissaries whom King Hezekiah commissioned to discuss terms of peace with the Assyrians. Eliakim, Shebnah, and Joah hold the fate of the nation in their hands. The people know that the negotiating skills of these three men will determine whether Judah stands or falls. So, all eyes are fixed on the momentous scene taking place at the base of the walls of the city.

But the Rabshakeh, or supreme commander of the Assyrian army, is not interested in peace negotiations. He has come to demand the unconditional surrender of the city and its inhabitants. He and his troops have repeatedly proven their superior power and he is confident that the city of Jerusalem will be one more domino to fall as they continue their conquest of Palestine. Speaking on behalf of his commander-in-chief, the Rabshakeh declares Hezekiah’s rebellion to be ill-conceived and ill-fated.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? – 2 Kings 18:19-20 NLT

With the citizens of Jerusalem looking on and listening in, this arrogant military commander summarily dismisses any likelihood that the Egyptians will come to the aid of the city. The last-minute military alliance that King Hezekiah made with Pharaoh will prove disappointingly insufficient. The Rabshakeh sarcastically compares Pharaoh to a cane or walking stick made from a reed. It may appear to give support, but it will shatter as soon as any weight is placed upon it.

And the overly confident Assyrian commander informs the Jewish emissaries that if they are holding out hope that Yahweh will come to their rescue, they will find themselves sorely disappointed. Their deity will join a long list of other gods who proved unsuccessful in stopping the Assyrian juggernaut. And, hoping to further undermine their faith in divine rescue, the Rabshakeh announces to the people of Judah that Yahweh had ordered their destruction.

“What’s more, do you think we have invaded your land without the Lord’s direction? The Lord himself told us, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’”  2 Kings 18:25 NLT

Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah could sense that all this boastful rhetoric was having its intended effect. The Rabshakeh had purposefully delivered his message in Hebrew so that all the people on the wall could hear what he had to say. And they were growing increasingly more concerned. When the king’s three emissaries asked that the conversation be switched to Aramaic, the Rabshakeh refused and called out in a loud voice, “Do you think my master sent this message only to you and your master? He wants all the people to hear it, for when we put this city under siege, they will suffer along with you. They will be so hungry and thirsty that they will eat their own dung and drink their own urine” (2 Kings 18:27 NLT).

At this point, the Rabshakeh turns his attention to the people on the walls of the city. He begins to sow seeds of doubt and suspicion by raising questions concerning King Hezekiah’s intentions and trustworthiness. By addressing the people directly, the Rabshakeh hopes to foment an uprising within the walls of the city, inciting the citizens to turn on their king and demand that he spare their lives by surrendering to the Assyrians. And to help sweeten the pot, the Rabshakeh offers them tempting promises of peace and prosperity.

“Don’t listen to Hezekiah! These are the terms the king of Assyria is offering: Make peace with me—open the gates and come out. Then each of you can continue eating from your own grapevine and fig tree and drinking from your own well. Then I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards, olive groves and honey. Choose life instead of death! – 2 Kings 18:31-32 NLT

Look closely at what the Assyrian king is offering the people of Judah. Essentially, this pagan king is putting himself in the place of God, promising to meet all their needs. He will supply them with ample food and drink. He will provide them with fresh water. And he will take them to “a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards, olive groves and honey.” That should sound familiar. When God had called Moses to rescue the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, He had promised to lead them to a “fertile and spacious land…a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8 NLT). And after God had successfully freed them from their captivity and led them to the land of Canaan, He had reminded them again of His promise to give them “a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9 NLT).

Now, centuries later, here was the pagan king of Assyria offering to replicate what God had done for His chosen people. If they would only turn their backs on Yahweh and trust in King Sennacherib, he would provide for all their needs and take them to a new “promised land.”

Sennacherib was placing himself in the role of God, declaring himself to be the source of life and death. By placing their trust in him, they would be assured of peace, prosperity, and life. But centuries earlier, Moses had delivered a much different message to the people of Israel. As they stood on the banks of the Jordan River, preparing to enter the land of promise for the very first time, he had warned them:

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the LORD, you will live long in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NLT

Sennacherib was playing God. This over-confident king with an overactive ego was daring to place himself on equal standing with God Almighty. And he was attempting to persuade the people of Judah to abandon their hope and trust in Yahweh by offering them a “better” promised land.

But while the people on the wall were disturbed by what they heard, they obeyed King Hezekiah’s command and remained silent. And the three emissaries, their clothes torn in an act of mourning, returned to the king and reported all that they had heard. It was a dark day in Judah. The enemy was at the gate. The allies of Judah were nowhere to be found. But despite the boasts of the Rabshakeh, the God of Judah was still on His throne and in complete control of all that was happening. He alone held the power of life and death in His hands. And King Sennacherib and his overconfident military commander were about to discover the painful lesson that they were no match for the all-powerful God of Judah.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When the Odds Are Against You

13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 14 And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; withdraw from me. Whatever you impose on me I will bear.” And the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15 And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the king’s house. 16 At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord and from the doorposts that Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria. 17 And the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rab-saris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they arrived, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the Washer’s Field. 18 And when they called for the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.

19 And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 20 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 21 Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 22 But if you say to me, “We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem”? 23 Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 24 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 25 Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, “Go up against this land and destroy it.”’”  2 Kings 18:13-25 ESV

King Hezekiah instituted a variety of reforms in Judah, including the restoration of the temple of God and the reinstitution of the sacrificial system. He also reconsecrated the priestly order, challenging these men to recommit themselves to their God-ordained role as the spiritual leaders of Judah.

Not long after becoming king, Hezekiah had to deal with yet another long-neglected aspect of Judah’s worship: The annual celebration of Passover. He was informed that “the people had not been celebrating it in great numbers as required in the Law” (Deuteronomy 30:5 NLT). So, Hezekiah sent couriers throughout the kingdom of Judah with letters calling the people to gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.

“O people of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, so that he will return to the few of us who have survived the conquest of the Assyrian kings. Do not be like your ancestors and relatives who abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and became an object of derision, as you yourselves can see. Do not be stubborn, as they were, but submit yourselves to the Lord. Come to his Temple, which he has set apart as holy forever. Worship the Lord your God so that his fierce anger will turn away from you.

“For if you return to the Lord, your relatives and your children will be treated mercifully by their captors, and they will be able to return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful. If you return to him, he will not continue to turn his face from you.” – Deuteronomy 30:6-9 NLT

Some of the people responded in derision, refusing to gather for this sacred celebration. But the majority of the people heeded Hezekiah’s call and “a huge crowd assembled at Jerusalem in midspring to celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread” (Deuteronomy 30:13 NLT). As a result, the Passover was reinstituted and the nation experienced a much-needed spiritual renewal.

The entire assembly of Judah rejoiced, including the priests, the Levites, all who came from the land of Israel, the foreigners who came to the festival, and all those who lived in Judah. There was great joy in the city, for Jerusalem had not seen a celebration like this one since the days of Solomon, King David’s son. Then the priests and Levites stood and blessed the people, and God heard their prayer from his holy dwelling in heaven. – Deuteronomy 30:25-27 NLT

Things were looking up in Judah. The nation’s spiritual condition was on an upward trajectory. But there was trouble on the horizon. It had been 21 years since the Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. And while Judah had been graciously spared, the Assyrians remained a constant threat in the region. This powerful enemy had a new king, Sennacherib, who reinvigorated his predecessor’s grand ambitions to conquer all of Palestine. Sennacherib had established a military base in Lachish, just 28 miles from the capital city of Jerusalem. This obvious threat to Judah’s sovereignty forced Hezekiah to join an alliance with Phoenicia, Philistia, and Egypt. But to demonstrate the futility of any armed resistance, the Assyrians launched a series of raids within Judah that resulted in the easy capture of a number of well-fortified cities. This devastating turn of events forced Hezekiah to rethink his strategy and appeal to the mercy of Sennacherib

King Hezekiah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: “I have done wrong. I will pay whatever tribute money you demand if you will only withdraw.” – 2 Kings 18:14 NLT

The year was 701 BC, and Hezekiah was in the 14th year of his reign. He had been a good and godly king, choosing to walk in the ways of David. Unlike many of his predecessors, Hezekiah had “remained faithful to the Lord in everything, and he carefully obeyed all the commands the Lord had given Moses” (2 Kings 18:6 NLT). As a result, “the Lord was with him, and Hezekiah was successful in everything he did” (2 Kings 18:7 NLT). And yet, here he was facing the very same threat that had brought about the fall of Israel. The Assyrians were just 28 miles away and King Hezekiah found himself having to open up the coffers of the royal treasury in order to raise a hefty ransom to protect the capital city of Jerusalem.

The king of Assyria then demanded a settlement of more than eleven tons of silver and one ton of gold. To gather this amount, King Hezekiah used all the silver stored in the Temple of the Lord and in the palace treasury. Hezekiah even stripped the gold from the doors of the Lord’s Temple and from the doorposts he had overlaid with gold, and he gave it all to the Assyrian king. – 2 Kings 18:14-16 NLT

To come up with this exorbitant ransom, Hezekiah was forced to desecrate the very temple he had painstakingly restored. To pay off this pagan king, Hezekiah ordered that the house of God be stripped of its gold and silver. This decision must have pained Hezekiah greatly. But it appeared that he had no other choice. And to make matters worse, his costly and compromising decision proved ineffective. Though Hezekiah had faithfully met the full terms of Sennacherib’s demands, the Assyrians still ended up besieging Jerusalem. A massive army marched from Lachish and “took up a position beside the aqueduct that feeds water into the upper pool, near the road leading to the field where cloth is washed” (2 Kings 18:17 NLT).

The army of Assyria gathered just outside the eastern walls of Jerusalem, where they set up camp in the Kidron Valley. Their intentions were clear. And when Hezekiah was summoned by the representatives of King Sennacherib, he chose to send three emissaries to negotiate with the Assyrians. Evidently, the 11 tons of silver and one ton of gold were not going to be enough. The Assyrians wanted more. King Sennacherib would not be satisfied until Jerusalem and all Judah were under his control and part of his ever-expanding global empire.

In spite of all his reforms and ongoing efforts to renew the spiritual state of Judah, Hezekiah still found himself facing the same fate as the apostate kings of Israel. The very same Assyrians who had destroyed Samaria 14 years earlier were now camped outside the walls of his own capital city. But unlike his contemporaries in Israel, King Hezekiah had been faithful to Yahweh. He had done all the right things.

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after his time. He remained faithful to the Lord in everything, and he carefully obeyed all the commands the Lord had given Moses. – 2 Kings 18:5-6 NLT

And yet, his kingdom was under siege. His royal city was being threatened by a pagan king with grand aspirations of global dominance. But this time, the Assyrians were going to find that they had overstepped their bounds and were facing a foe far more powerful than any they had ever encountered. Judah had a far greater ally than the Egyptians, Phoenicians, or Philistines. They had God Almighty on their side.

But Sennacherib’s spokesman would downplay all of these potential allies, even ridiculing any hope that the God of Judah would come to their aid.

“But perhaps you will say to me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God!’ But isn’t he the one who was insulted by Hezekiah? Didn’t Hezekiah tear down his shrines and altars and make everyone in Judah and Jerusalem worship only at the altar here in Jerusalem? – 2 Kings 18:22 NLT

This pagan representative of King Sennacherib had no understanding of who Yahweh was or the kind of power He wielded. To the Assyrians, Yahweh was just one more god among many, and He would prove no less able to stand against their superior forces as any of the other gods of their conquered foes. In fact, this Assyrian emissary had wrongly assumed that Hezekiah must have offended the God of Judah when he had ordered the destruction of all the altars and shrines throughout the land. From his pagan perspective, Hezekiah was in a no-win situation. Judah’s military allies would prove hopeless and helpless, and their God had turned against them. He even insinuated that the Assyrians had been sent by the God of Judah to punish them.

But while the situation looked bleak, Hezekiah was about to discover that his God had not abandoned them. The odds were not in Judah’s favor, but because of the faithfulness of Hezekiah, Judah would find that their God was going to respond favorably toward them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Spirit of Spiritual Syncretism

29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived. 30 The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, 31 and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They also feared the Lord and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. 33 So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.

34 To this day they do according to the former manner. They do not fear the Lord, and they do not follow the statutes or the rules or the law or the commandment that the Lord commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel. 35 The Lord made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, 36 but you shall fear the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm. You shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice. 37 And the statutes and the rules and the law and the commandment that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to do. You shall not fear other gods, 38 and you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not fear other gods, 39 but you shall fear the Lord your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.” 40 However, they would not listen, but they did according to their former manner.

41 So these nations feared the Lord and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day. 2 Kings 17:29-41 ESV

So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods.”

That phrase appears twice in the closing verses of chapter 17, and it aptly summarizes the spiritual state of the nation of Israel after its fall to the Assyrians. Many of its citizens had been captured and exiled to various locations in Assyria. Their vacancies were filled by people from other conquered nations who were forced to relocate to Israel and start new lives. This sudden influx of refugees from foreign countries turned Israel into a veritable melting pot and, ultimately, resulted in intermarriage between the Jews and their new neighbors.

These newly transplanted inhabitants found themselves living in a foreign land where they didn’t understand the language or customs. They were strangers living in a strange land, but they found some comfort in the fact that many of their gods already had shrines dedicated to them in Israel. The ten northern tribes had been assimilating the gods of other nations for years. Under Jeroboam’s leadership, they had created their own gods, complete with temples and priesthood. Under Ahab and Jezebel, they had adopted and promoted the worship of Baal and Asherah. And along the way, other kings of Israel had been embracing the false gods of their foreign allies. So, the new arrivals to Israel found an atmosphere of religious tolerance and ecumenism.

If you recall, immediately after these foreign refugees had arrived in Israel and taken up residence in the abandoned cities of Samaria, they began worshiping their false gods. The land on which they lived belonged to Yahwah, and He took offense at their actions. They were living on land that He had set apart as holy and given to the descendants of Abraham as their inheritance. It was to have been a place where they lived in obedience to His will and where they worshiped Him alone. Their failure to do so had resulted in their defeat and deportation. But their departure had not changed the sanctity of the land or voided the covenant commitment God had made with His people. There was still a remnant of Jews living in the land of Israel and He expected them to keep their end of the agreement they had made with Him.

So, when these foreigners began to worship their false gods on land that belonged to the one true God, they found themselves experiencing divine judgment.

But since these foreign settlers did not worship the Lord when they first arrived, the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. – 2 Kings 17:25 NLT

As a result, the king of Assyria ordered that one of the exiled Israelite priests be sent back so that he might instruct the immigrants in the proper worship of Yahweh.

So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria returned to Bethel and taught the new residents how to worship the Lord. – 2 Kings 17:28 NLT

This highly pragmatic plan implemented by the king of Assyria was evidently successful. But while many of the new arrivals eagerly adopted Yahweh as their God, they simply added Him to their growing list of deities. He became just one more god to whom they offered their sacrifices in order to win favor and good fortune.

These new residents worshiped the Lord, but they also appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests to offer sacrifices at their places of worship. And though they worshiped the Lord, they continued to follow their own gods according to the religious customs of the nations from which they came. – 2 Kings 17:32-33 NLT

With the sudden arrival of these various people groups, the religious landscape of Israel became ever more crowded and confused. Almost overnight, the idolatrous state of Israel exploded with new options and opportunities as the number of false gods continued to increase. The already tolerant and easily tempted Israelites found themselves surrounded by a virtual sea of new gods from which to chose.

Those from Babylon worshiped idols of their god Succoth-benoth. Those from Cuthah worshiped their god Nergal. And those from Hamath worshiped Ashima. The Avvites worshiped their gods Nibhaz and Tartak. And the people from Sepharvaim even burned their own children as sacrifices to their gods Adrammelech and Anammelech. – 2 Kings 17:30-31 ESV

The worship of Yahweh became increasingly more diluted and defused as a spirit of syncretism and religious pluralism spread over the land. The fall of Israel did not result in a spirit of repentance and religious reform among God’s people. His judgment of them was met by indifference and continued apostasy.

They continue to follow their former practices instead of truly worshiping the Lord and obeying the decrees, regulations, instructions, and commands he gave the descendants of Jacob, whose name he changed to Israel. – 2 Kings 17:34 NLT

There appears to be no remorse or repentance on the part of God’s people. Their neighbors had been taken captive and exiled to Assyria, but they remain just as committed to living in disobedience to God’s laws. And it seems that those who found themselves living as captives in Assyria were no less stubborn and unwilling to return to Yahweh. And yet, when King Solomon had dedicated the newly constructed temple, he had asked God to show mercy on His disobedient people, should they find themselves in exile and call out for help.

“If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave their ancestors.” – 1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT

But they hadn’t turned and acknowledged God’s name. They had not prayed and asked for God’s forgiveness. Both those in exile and those living in the land of Israel had continued to disobey God’s commands and violate His covenant agreement. And the author makes it clear that God was serious about His commands and His covenant.

For the Lord had made a covenant with the descendants of Jacob and commanded them: “Do not worship any other gods or bow before them or serve them or offer sacrifices to them. But worship only the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt with great strength and a powerful arm. Bow down to him alone, and offer sacrifices only to him. Be careful at all times to obey the decrees, regulations, instructions, and commands that he wrote for you. You must not worship other gods. Do not forget the covenant I made with you, and do not worship other gods. You must worship only the Lord your God. He is the one who will rescue you from all your enemies.” – 2 Kings 17:35-39 NLT

They had no excuse. The remnant of Israelites still living in the land knew exactly what God expected of them, but they continued to reject His word and refused to repent. And while the new residents were given instruction in the proper worship of Yahweh, they simply added Him to their long and growing list of god options.

So while these new residents worshiped the Lord, they also worshiped their idols. And to this day their descendants do the same. – 2 Kings 17:41 NLT

This last verse is meant to convey a sense of inevitability and determinism. Nothing was going to change. They were fully committed to doing things their way, regardless of the circumstances or consequences. And we know that by the time Jesus appeared on the scene, the long-term implications of this syncretistic and overly tolerant religious mindset had resulted in the division between the Jews and the Samaritans. The foreigners who were transplanted into Israel by the king of Assyria, ended up intermarrying with the remaining Jewish population. These mixed marriages brought about an assimilation of cultures and religions that produced a population that became known as the Samaritans. The Samaritans were considered to be half-breeds by the Jews of Jesus’ day and were treated as second-class citizens. They practiced a religion that combined the worship of Yahweh with aspects of paganism and idolatry. As the Samaritan confessed to Jesus, they even had their own place of worship, outside the confines of Jerusalem (John 4:20).

Chapter 17 of 2 Kings brings the story of the northern kingdom to a dramatic and somber close. Part of the nation is living in exile in Assyria. The rest remain in the land but are marked by a spirit of spiritual syncretism and moral compromise. There will be no more kings to rule over the ten tribes. They will remain under God’s judgment and experience the curses He had warned would come should they choose to disobey. But now, the author turns his attention back to the southern kingdom Judah. As of now, they remain free to follow the commands of God. But will they? The author provides a not-so-subtle hint as to what lies in store of the people of Judah.

Because the Lord was very angry with Israel, he swept them away from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah remained in the land. But even the people of Judah refused to obey the commands of the Lord their God, for they followed the evil practices that Israel had introduced. – 2 Kings 17:18-19 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

The God of the Land

19 Judah also did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. 20 And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight.

21 When he had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. And Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord and made them commit great sin. 22 The people of Israel walked in all the sins that Jeroboam did. They did not depart from them, 23 until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.

24 And the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel. And they took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities. 25 And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the Lord. Therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 26 So the king of Assyria was told, “The nations that you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the law of the god of the land. Therefore he has sent lions among them, and behold, they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.” 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there, and let him go and dwell there and teach them the law of the god of the land.” 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the Lord. 2 Kings 17:19-28 ESV

The northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC, and as verse 18 indicates, the defeat of the ten northern tribes left only the southern kingdom of Judah. Yet none of this should have come as a surprise. God had repeatedly sent His prophets to warn of the coming fall of Israel. Even the prophets like Micah, who ministered to the southern kingdom of Judah, were ordered to declare God’s words of judgment against Israel’s capital city of Samaria.

“So I, the Lord, will make the city of Samaria
    a heap of ruins.
Her streets will be plowed up
    for planting vineyards.
I will roll the stones of her walls into the valley below,
    exposing her foundations.
All her carved images will be smashed.
    All her sacred treasures will be burned.
These things were bought with the money
    earned by her prostitution,
and they will now be carried away
    to pay prostitutes elsewhere.” – Micah 1:6-7 NLT

And Isaiah, another prophet to the southern kingdom, had also predicted the fall of Samaria.

What sorrow awaits the proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel.
It sits at the head of a fertile valley,
    but its glorious beauty will fade like a flower.
It is the pride of a people
    brought down by wine.
For the Lord will send a mighty army against it.
    Like a mighty hailstorm and a torrential rain,
they will burst upon it like a surging flood
    and smash it to the ground.
The proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel—
    will be trampled beneath its enemies’ feet. – Isaiah 28:1-3 NLT

But God had also sent His prophets directly to the people of Israel. Despite their apostasy and unfaithfulness, He continued to raise up men like Amos, to deliver His message of pending judgment for their sins.

Announce this to the leaders of Philistia
    and to the great ones of Egypt:
“Take your seats now on the hills around Samaria,
    and witness the chaos and oppression in Israel.”

“My people have forgotten how to do right,”
    says the Lord.
“Their fortresses are filled with wealth
    taken by theft and violence.
Therefore,” says the Sovereign Lord,
    “an enemy is coming!
He will surround them and shatter their defenses.
    Then he will plunder all their fortresses.” – Amos 3:9-11 NLT

Hosea was another prophet to the northern kingdom who had also clearly communicated God’s displeasure and His intention to punish them for their rebellion.

…they have deserted the Lord
    to worship other gods.

“Wine has robbed my people
    of their understanding.
They ask a piece of wood for advice!
    They think a stick can tell them the future!
Longing after idols
    has made them foolish.
They have played the prostitute,
    serving other gods and deserting their God.” – Hosea 10-12 NLT

Decade after decade, the kings of Israel had led the nation down a path of destruction. They had been warned but had refused to listen. And the author of 2 Kings reminds his readers that the Israelites had no one to blame but themselves.

Jeroboam drew Israel away from following the Lord and made them commit a great sin. And the people of Israel persisted in all the evil ways of Jeroboam. They did not turn from these sins until the Lord finally swept them away from his presence, just as all his prophets had warned. – 2 Kings 17:212-23 NLT

The fall of Israel should have been a wake-up call to the people living in Judah. As they witnessed the fall of their northern neighbor, they should have recognized it as the hand of God Almighty. “But even the people of Judah refused to obey the commands of the Lord their God, for they followed the evil practices that Israel had introduced” (2 Kings 17:19 NLT). It was God’s desire that Judah would take notice of Israel’s fall and refuse to follow their example of idolatry and apostasy. The prophet Hosea shared God’s heart when he wrote, “Though you, Israel, are a prostitute, may Judah not be guilty of such things” (Hosea 4:15 NLT).

But the handwriting was on the wall. The fate of Judah was sealed. God knew exactly what was going to happen. The people of Judah would fail to learn from Israel’s mistake.

“The arrogance of Israel testifies against her;
    Israel and Ephraim will stumble under their load of guilt.
    Judah, too, will fall with them.
When they come with their flocks and herds
    to offer sacrifices to the Lord,
they will not find him,
    because he has withdrawn from them.
They have betrayed the honor of the Lord,
    bearing children that are not his.
Now their false religion will devour them
    along with their wealth.” – Hosea 5:5-7 NLT

It would be just a matter of time before Judah experienced a similar fate. While they had enjoyed a limited degree of spiritual success due to the efforts of a few of their kings, they were still guilty of emulating the sins of Israel. A love affair with false gods would continue to plague the nation, leading them to turn their backs on Yahweh. Though they continued to offer their sacrifices at the temple, the day was coming when God would no longer tolerate their hypocritical displays of faithfulness. That is why Hosea wrote, “When they come with their flocks and herds to offer sacrifices to the Lord, they will not find him” (Hosea 5:6 NLT).

It was the prophet Isaiah who declared God’s displeasure and disgust with Judah because their worship of Him was and meaningless. They were just going through the motions.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

The people of Judah had ring-side seats to the divine destruction of Israel. After witnessing the fall of their northern neighbor, they must have realized that the king of Assyria would not limit his conquest to the capture of Samaria. He would continue south and they would likely be his next victim.

After having conquered Israel, the Assyrians took many of its citizens as captives. Then they began a repopulation campaign, importing people from other conquered territories like Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim. These non-Jews were forcibly relocated into the towns of Samaria, filling the vacancies left by the exiled Israelites. The Assyrians expected these migrant workers to tend the land in order to maintain its production capacities. But God had other plans.

Because these foreigners knew nothing about Yahweh, they continued to worship their own gods. But they were now living on land that belonged to the God of Israel. Just because the people of Israel were gone did not mean that God had vacated the premises. It had been His land all along, and the Israelites had been nothing more than His stewards. In their absence, God was going to protect the integrity of His name and the sacredness of the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was holy land because He had consecrated it and set it apart. And God was not about to let it revert to its former state. When God had given the land to Joshua and the people of Israel, He had tasked them with the removal of all the pagan nations that currently occupied its borders. And He was not about to let the land revert to its former state of pagan idolatry. So, when the new arrivals began to worship their false gods, Yahweh sent lions to attack them. The news of this divinely ordained act of judgment reached the king of Assyria.

“The people you have sent to live in the towns of Samaria do not know the religious customs of the God of the land. He has sent lions among them to destroy them because they have not worshiped him correctly.” – 2 Kings 17:26 NLT

Amazingly, the pagan Assyrians recognized the hand of God in all of this. They were more attentive to the actions of Yahweh than the people of Israel had ever been. And the king of Assyria took immediate action.

“Send one of the exiled priests back to Samaria. Let him live there and teach the new residents the religious customs of the God of the land.” – 2 Kings 17:27 NLT

It’s interesting to note that this lone priest was sent to Bethel, one of the two cities where King Jeroboam had placed his golden idols (1 Kings 12:25-30). Perhaps the king of Assyria knew that this town had become a key focal point of pagan worship. It would have made sense for these idol-worshipers to seek out those places within Israel where they could offer sacrifices to their false gods. And because Jeroboam had erected shrines in Bethel and Dan, these would have been attractive destinations for these newly arrived occupants who were looking for something that would remind them of home. So, the priest was sent to Bethel which, in Hebrew, means “house of God.”

This priest was tasked with instructing the new residents in the proper worship of God. Don’t miss the irony in all of this. The people of Israel, who had been chosen by God, had refused to worship Him. So, He had removed them from the land. The king of Assyria sent foreigners to replace the exiled Israelites and then ordered that they be instructed in the proper worship of Yahweh. This pagan king did what none of the kings of Israel had ever done, and it was all the work of God.

But as will become clear, these new converts to Judaism would prove to be no different than the Israelites. Unwilling to give up their idols, they would simply add Yahweh as another option in their arsenal of deities. And the pattern of syncretism and unfaithfulness would continue. The land had new occupants, but it was the same old story. Their worship of God would be nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. Like the Israelites before them, they would just be going through the motions.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson