In the previous chapters the faithfulness of Hezekiah is shown. There we see his religious reforms. In this chapter we see his political performance. Here also come the tests. There are three of them:
1. the invasion of Sennacherib;
2. his disease to the verge of death;
3. the embassy of Babel.
In the first and second tests he remains standing, but in the third test he fails.
The history described in this chapter also occurs in 2 Kings 18-20 and in Isaiah 36-39. There the events are described in much more detail, while here we have a summary.
1 - 8 Measures of Hezekiah Against Sennacherib
1 After these acts of faithfulness Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah and besieged the fortified cities, and thought to break into them for himself. 2 Now when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and that he intended to make war on Jerusalem, 3 he decided with his officers and his warriors to cut off the [supply of] water from the springs which [were] outside the city, and they helped him. 4 So many people assembled and stopped up all the springs and the stream which flowed through the region, saying, “Why should the kings of Assyria come and find abundant water?” 5 And he took courage and rebuilt all the wall that had been broken down and erected towers on it, and [built] another outside wall and strengthened the Millo [in] the city of David, and made weapons and shields in great number. 6 He appointed military officers over the people and gathered them to him in the square at the city gate, and spoke encouragingly to them, saying, 7 “Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. 8 With him is [only] an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people relied on the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.
The previous chapters have described events that bring joy to both the LORD and His people. In those chapters Hezekiah’s faithfulness to its domestic policy has been demonstrated. He has cleansed the temple, city, and land of idolatry and provided facilities to ensure that God’s service is maintained in His house and land.
After all these events, the stage changes. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, appears far on the stage, that is, in the land of God (verse 1). He invades Judah. Sennacherib is the king of a rapidly growing empire. The Assyrian army occupied Samaria and the northern part of Israel from the fourth to the sixth year of Hezekiah reign (2Kgs 18:9-12). Now he enters Judah. After the proofs of Hezekiah’s faithfulness, we see that in Sennacherib he is confronted with the powers of darkness.
This does not happen because God must discipline His people, because the people are dedicated to Him. God has another purpose with this invasion and that is to test the faith of Hezekiah. It is always beautiful when dedication to the Lord and His house comes, as evidenced by the removal from our lives of things that prevent it. But the life of faith also has other aspects than our service in the house of God. One of those aspects is that we live in a hostile world. We are being put to the test by the world. Then it becomes clear how we react to attacks from the enemy that come at us from outside.
Sennacherib sets his sights on the cities of Judah and he also sets his sights on Jerusalem (verse 2). If Hezekiah notices this, he consults with his officers and his warriors to cut off the supply of water from the springs which are outside the city (verse 3). The first measure he takes against Sennacherib’s attack concerns the water supply. His first concern is that of drinking water. They work with all their might to cut off the springs and the stream, i.e. to hide them (verse 4). The water should not come into the hands of the Assyrians, but should remain at the disposal of the inhabitants of the city (verse 30). Water speaks of the Word of God in its cleansing and invigorating power. This is the first thing you need to have at your disposal in times of testing.
If the water supply is secured, it will give Hezekiah courage to take the next step. This concerns the restoration of the walls, the strengthening of the Millo and the making of weapons and shields (verse 5). All these elements have to do with defense. The walls are a static, immobile defensive belt; the weapons and shields speak of a dynamic, mobile defense.
We can apply this as follows. There are rock-solid certainties in our faith, such as salvation through faith in Christ and the eternal salvation that comes with it. When the enemy attacks, we must always draw back behind the ‘wall’. However, the enemy also attacks when we seek the will of the Lord. Then we must use ‘the shield of faith’. This means that we say that we entrust ourselves to Him Who is never mistaken, even though sometimes we do not know what to do or why we have ended up in a certain situation. The abundance of weapons and shields speaks of the abundance of defenses against enemy attacks.
After Hezekiah himself has taken courage, he also speaks to the hearts of the military officers he has appointed over the people (verse 6). Speaking to the heart means speaking to comfort (cf. Rth 2:13). He calls them together in the square at the city gate. He speaks to them insistently: “Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed” (verse 7; cf. Deu 31:23; Jos 1:9). They do not need to be impressed by the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him.
The enemy can seem powerful when they compare it to themselves. But they should not do that. They have to look at who are with them. Those who are with them cannot be seen with the natural eye. The heavenly hosts under the command of the LORD of the hosts are perceivable only through the eye of faith. Hezekiah sees them, just like Elisha sees them, while his servant only sees the powerful enemy. Elisha then says: “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2Kgs 6:16), words spoken here by Hezekiah to the military officers.
Hezekiah also points out that Sennacherib relies on nothing but “an arm of flesh” (verse 8; cf. Jer 17:5). With this he indicates that the power (the arm) of Sennacherib is no more than ‘flesh’, that is to say weak and transient. Then he points out that on the side of Israel stands the LORD as the mighty Helper and Warrior. What can an insignificant man do against the Almighty God? Compared to Him, the power of Sennacherib disappears into nothingness.
How powerful words are is shown by the fact that the people “relied on the words of Hezekiah king of Judah”. Words are not value-free or neutral. Exchanges of words did result in violent confrontations. We can do both good and evil with words, promoting as well as ruining a work of the Lord. It is important that we as believers speak words that do good, words which benefits the other, something that encourages (Zec 1:13). That is how Hezekiah speaks.
9 - 19 Sennacherib Insults the LORD
9 After this Sennacherib king of Assyria sent his servants to Jerusalem while he [was] besieging Lachish with all his forces with him, against Hezekiah king of Judah and against all Judah who [were] at Jerusalem, saying, 10 “Thus says Sennacherib king of Assyria, ‘On what are you trusting that you are remaining in Jerusalem under siege? 11 Is not Hezekiah misleading you to give yourselves over to die by hunger and by thirst, saying, “The LORD our God will deliver us from the hand of the king of Assyria”? 12 Has not the same Hezekiah taken away His high places and His altars, and said to Judah and Jerusalem, “You shall worship before one altar, and on it you shall burn incense”? 13 Do you not know what I and my fathers have done to all the peoples of the lands? Were the gods of the nations of the lands able at all to deliver their land from my hand? 14 Who [was there] among all the gods of those nations which my fathers utterly destroyed who could deliver his people out of my hand, that your God should be able to deliver you from my hand? 15 Now therefore, do not let Hezekiah deceive you or mislead you like this, and do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people from my hand or from the hand of my fathers. How much less will your God deliver you from my hand?’” 16 His servants spoke further against the LORD God and against His servant Hezekiah. 17 He also wrote letters to insult the LORD God of Israel, and to speak against Him, saying, “As the gods of the nations of the lands have not delivered their people from my hand, so the God of Hezekiah will not deliver His people from my hand.” 18 They called this out with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten and terrify them, so that they might take the city. 19 They spoke of the God of Jerusalem as of the gods of the peoples of the earth, the work of men’s hands.
Hezekiah has just finished his preparations or there the servants from Sennacherib come to Jerusalem (verse 9). They speak the words of Sennacherib (verse 10a). These are very different words from the ones Hezekiah has spoken. Hezekiah supported the people of God with his words (verse 8), but Sennacherib wants to undermine and take away the trust of the people in Hezekiah and the LORD by his words (verse 10b). If he can erode their confidence, they will lose courage and become an easy prey for him.
Sennacherib reminds the people through his servants that Hezekiah surrenders them by his policy to die by hunger and by thirst (verse 11). Hezekiah deceives them by making them believe that the LORD their God will save them from his hand. What a folly of Hezekiah! They see with their own eyes what Hezekiah did with “His high places and His altars” (verse 12), don’t they? Hezekiah has taken them all away and the LORD has not put a stop to it. Then it must be clear to them what a worthless God that is, Who cannot even stand up for Himself? Here we see that for the foolish unbelief of Sennacherib the LORD is no more than one of the many idols that the people have served.
Sennacherib wants to incite the people by pointing out to them what Hezekiah has taken from them and that he has limited their religion to one altar. But Sennacherib knows nothing of the hidden sources that the faith knows. Even today, people of the world and even in Christianity will say that it makes no sense being faithful to God and His Word. According to Sennacherib, serving the one God is meaningless. By the way, to him God is nothing more than an idol, from whom his altars have been taken away. But even though God’s power is not openly present at this time, Judah must know from his own history how God has always stood up for his people against powerful enemies.
In prideful, haughty language Sennacherib asks if they don’t know what he and his fathers have done with other peoples (verse 13). In brag he asks a next question and that is whether the gods of those peoples were able to prevent him from conquering those countries. In his third question, he argues that none of the gods of the countries that his fathers banned managed to save his people from his hand. Therefore, as he brags, their God will not succeed in saving His people from his hand (verse 14). Here Sennacherib not only reduces God to an idol, but he speaks in contempt of Him as one of the slightest idols.
After this list of facts, the conclusion may be clear (verse 15). The people should not be deceived by Hezekiah and not be inspired by what he says. Hezekiah is a liar. They should not believe him. The facts are clear, aren’t they? He points out once again – he doesn’t tire of repeating it – that no one god has managed to protect his people and kingdom against the attacks of the Assyrians. All these peoples have been conquered by them. If those gods did not succeed, then certainly not their God.
The chronicler leaves it at this as far as the words that Sennacherib addressed to the people are concerned. His servants have spoken still other words “against the LORD God and against His servant Hezekiah” (verse 16; 2Kgs 18:19-35). Again and again Sennacherib in his arrogance slanders the God of heaven and earth by comparing Him to his handmade gods of wood and stone. He also slanders His servant. He calls Hezekiah a deceiver. This is also said of the Lord Jesus (Jn 7:12; Mt 27:63). It is an honor for Hezekiah to share as a companion of God in the reproach that the enemy inflicts upon Him (cf. Psa 69:10; Lk 10:16).
If the desired effect of his words is not achieved, Sennacherib tries to get the people down by means of letters (verse 17). These letters contain the same story. He repeats it again and again. Always saying the same thing does well in politics. The people will be brainwashed by it and will finally accept the lie as truth.
Sennacherib insults “the LORD God of Israel” by continuing to repeat that “the God of Hezekiah” will not be able to save them from his hand, nor will the gods of other nations. His servants support the message of the letter by loudly calling out their threats to the people of Judah (verse 18). They want to break the resistance of the people through intimidation and then take the city.
Verse 19 summarizes how Sennacherib spoke about God. His conception of God will be fatal to him. The effect is the opposite of the goal Sennacherib has with his mocking language. The insult of the opponents makes God turn against these enemies, just as the prayer of His people makes Him work for His people.
20 - 23 The LORD Delivers Hezekiah and Jerusalem
20 But King Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, prayed about this and cried out to heaven. 21 And the LORD sent an angel who destroyed every mighty warrior, commander and officer in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned in shame to his own land. And when he had entered the temple of his god, some of his own children killed him there with the sword. 22 So the LORD saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria and from the hand of all [others], and guided them on every side. 23 And many were bringing gifts to the LORD at Jerusalem and choice presents to Hezekiah king of Judah, so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations thereafter.
In verse 20 we see two people praying (cf. Mt 18:19). They cry out to heaven, while the threat of the enemy on earth is great. By doing so they look beyond the threatening to Him Who stands above every threat. On one side two people praying, on the other side an enormous army. The two gain the victory, because on the side of those two is the LORD.
Prayer is heard immediately (verse 21). In a nutshell, the chronicler tells us what the LORD does. He sends “an angel who destroyed every mighty warrior, commander and officer in the camp of the king of Assyria”. Can it be simpler? Can it be more radical? The simplicity makes it great. The radicality makes that the problem is solved. What a great encouragement this is for the prayer meeting and the prayer.
Sennacherib drips off like a beaten dog. He is openly disgraced. When he comes home, the fool enters his god’s house to bow down before him. There he undergoes, over which he has insulted the LORD. His god cannot save him from the sword that kills him there while he is lying before that god. To complete his embarrassment it is mentioned that the sword is being handled by “some of his own children”. God uses what he has produced to judge him. Thus will God deal with all braggers.
“So the LORD saved” (verse 22). “So” means through judgment. Salvation is pure and only God’s work. There was no human hand involved. Also the consequence, “guided … on every side”, is His work. The LORD is honored for this, as is his representative Hezekiah (verse 23). Hezekiah is a type of the Lord Jesus in His office in the kingdom of peace (cf. Rev 21:24). So it is always with kings when they reign well. Then they will be overloaded with honor and wealth by the kings of the nations.
24 - 26 Hezekiah’s Illness
24 In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill; and he prayed to the LORD, and the LORD spoke to him and gave him a sign. 25 But Hezekiah gave no return for the benefit he received, because his heart was proud; therefore wrath came on him and on Judah and Jerusalem. 26 However, Hezekiah humbled the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the LORD did not come on them in the days of Hezekiah.
Hezekiah gets ill (verse 24). He fell ill “in those days,” that is, in the days when the king of Assyria challenged him. His illness is a new test, but a test that drives him out in prayer to the LORD. The LORD speaks to him and promises healing, as we know from the description in 2 Kings, where we are also told about the miracle sign (2Kgs 20:1-11).
In this one verse the chronicler summarizes the illness and healing of Hezekiah. He emphasizes the interest the LORD has in him and his circumstances. While Hezekiah is powerless in the face of the enemy and is close to death in his illness, he knows he is supported by God’s care.
After his healing he fails (verse 25). He does not remain dependent. He forgets that he owes everything to the LORD, both his healing and his prosperity. He exalts himself because of his treasures and becomes proud. Pride is the primal sin. Even a God-fearing man like Hezekiah can become entangled in this sin. He has disposed of the idolatry from the land, but now he becomes his own idol. By this the LORD is put on a side track.
His pride causes wrath on him and on Judah and Jerusalem. Then Hezekiah sees his sin and humbles “the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (verse 26). Thus God for the days of Hezekiah refrains from bringing His wrath upon them.
27 - 33 Prosperity and Death of Hezekiah
27 Now Hezekiah had immense riches and honor; and he made for himself treasuries for silver, gold, precious stones, spices, shields and all kinds of valuable articles, 28 storehouses also for the produce of grain, wine and oil, pens for all kinds of cattle and sheepfolds for the flocks. 29 He made cities for himself and acquired flocks and herds in abundance, for God had given him very great wealth. 30 It was Hezekiah who stopped the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them to the west side of the city of David. And Hezekiah prospered in all that he did. 31 Even [in the matter of] the envoys of the rulers of Babylon, who sent to him to inquire of the wonder that had happened in the land, God left him [alone only] to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart. 32 Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah and his deeds of devotion, behold, they are written in the vision of Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel. 33 So Hezekiah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the upper section of the tombs of the sons of David; and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem honored him at his death. And his son Manasseh became king in his place.
The treasures and possessions of Hezekiah are measured broadly (verses 27-29). He owes all this to God. They are a reflection of the splendor of the great Son of David. Hezekiah takes care of safe places for all the treasures, so that the precious does not get into the hands of the enemy.
Spiritually, it means that he is careful not to give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw pearls before swine (Mt 7:6; 15:26). All the treasures of God’s Word, the whole counsel of God, are for the whole church (Acts 20:27) and for no one else. The same goes for the water supply that Hezekiah secures when Jerusalem is threatened by Sennacherib (verse 30; verses 2-4). He has prosperity in all his work.
Then comes the test of God leaving him (verse 31). The reason is the visit from Babylon. God leaves Hezekiah to see how he deals with this visit. Will he give Him the honor of the wonder they come to ask him about? God can sometimes leave a believer to himself, to withdraw from him. He knows what is in the heart of the believer, as He knows it of the people (Deu 8:2). But it has to come to light and Hezekiah has to see for himself. Hezekiah must know that pride lurks in his heart. He has seen this and humbled himself therefore (verse 26).
God sometimes has to teach us a lesson. With this in mind, we may pray: “Do not lead us into temptation” (Mt 6:13a). If we fail, it is our fault; if we remain standing, it is God’s grace. It is the same as being lost and being saved.
The chronicler has reached the end of what he wants to tell his readers about Hezekiah. What else Hezekiah has done, especially his “deeds of devotion” (2Chr 35:26), is described in the vision of Isaiah and in the books of the kings of Judah and Israel (verse 32; Isaiah 36-39). The vision of Isaiah refers to the book of Isaiah (Isa 1:1).
Although Hezekiah failed in the test at the end of his life, his life as a whole was characterized by piety, fear of God. This is also reflected in his burial. That he is buried “in the upper section” is more than just a description of the location. It indicates that his way was a way up, a way up to the LORD.
At his death, “all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem honored him”. They will remember his favors. How good it is to remember at the funerals of leaders what the Lord has given to His people in them.
The son who succeeds Hezekiah, Manasseh, is a very different ‘leader’.