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