Friday, May 31, 2013

CLIII - II Kings 18,19 - Hezekiah, King of Judah

The Northern Kingdom of Israel, which included ten of the twelve tribes of the nation Israel, was totaly wiped out of existence by Assyria.  After ignoring centuries of repeated warnings from God and His spokesmen, this entire nation was allowed to be overtaken by a foreign power.  To add to its humiliation, all of the Israelite citizens were taken captive and brought to Assyria to be used as slaves.  The cities and towns in the nation Israel were re-populated by foreigners selected by the Assyrians.  This is a sad state of affairs for God's chosen people.  Of the entire Promised Land given to the twelve tribes of Israel (named for the twelve sons of Jacob), only Judah and Benjamin remained as portioned out by Joshua.  Now Judah stood alone as a relatively small nation sitting in the middle of hostile nations, all of which were large and aggressive in their quest for expansion of their respective kingdoms.  Judah must have been looked upon as "easy pickings".  But, as I've mentioned before:  Leaders Matter.  And we'll see in today's post that the great king Hezekiah was just the Godly and wise leader Judah needed for these frightening times.

Hezekiah is heralded as one of the most Godly kings to have ever served in Judah or Israel.  To have one's name placed in the company of kings such as David and Solomon is no small deal.  As we look at chapter 18, we see that Hezekiah began his twenty-nine year reign with the removal of the "high places", which his predecessors failed to do.  Also he destroyed all images of othe gods and he had the groves cut down.  This was a gutsy way for him to begin his reign.  By his actions he "shouted" that he would not reign as his father Ahaz did.  {Remember, Ahaz was considered the most ungodly king in Judah's History, leading the citizens in idol worship.}  Among all the kings in Judah, Hezekiah was second to none in his devotion to the Lord.  As a reward for his faith and obedience, the Lord prospered him, especially militarily, early in his reign.

Hezekiah was painfully aware of what Assyria had done to his sister nation Israel, but Hezekiah refused to submit to any of the nations, and actually defeated the Philistines to the southwest.  Verses 9-12 gives a brief recounting of Assyrian king Shameneser conquering Samaria and taking Israel's citizens as slaves.  This took place in the 4th through 7th year of Hezekiah's reign.  So he was aware of Assyria's aggression and military might.  The Scripture goes on to describe Hezekiah as a wise king who trusted in God wholeheartedly.  Hezekiah was a military genious and a shrewd politician.  He knew when to fight, when to negotiate, and when to stall.  In verses 13-16 we see that when Assyria marched on Jerusalem, Hezekiah avoided an all-out confrontation by paying tribue to Assyria.  He was not surrendering.  He was buying time.  Judah did not have the resources to pay the Assyrians what they demanded and Hezekiah ended up using gold that was used in building the Temple.

Verses 17-35 - Assyria Threatens Again

Shalmeneser was no longer king of Assyria at this time.  Sennacherib was their king, and he was as aggressive in expansion as his predecessor.  He marched his army against Judah a second time.  This time Hezekiah refused to surrender to his demands.  But before Sennacherib attacked, he sent a delegation to the walls of Jerusalem to persuade the Israelites to ignore Hezekiah and join the Assyrians.  These Assyrians promised prosperity and peace to these soldiers if they defected.  But the Israelite soldiers did not fall for this deception.  When this matter was reported to Hezekiah, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sack cloth, and went to the Temple to seek God.  {As mentioned earlier, to tear ones clothes and wear sack cloth was a sign of mourning and/or desparation.  Sack cloth was an extremely uncomfortable material, much like thick burlap.  Very scratchy and unforgiving, not suitable for having against skin.}  He pleaded with God to help him, as the odds against him were overwhelming, and Hezekiah knew that if Jerusalem fell, all of its citizens would be taken into slavery just like their cousins in the Northern Kingdom.
18:36-19:7  Hezekiah not only prayed to God in the Temple, but also sent for Isaiah, the famous prophet of God.  Isaiah assured Hezekiah that God would give them victory over the Assyrian army.  God indeed protected Judah from Assyria two ways.  Firstly, He used the military might of the nation of Cush to attack the Assyrians.  {Cush was in the southern region, just north of Egypt.  I don't know much about them, but they were strong enough to make Sennacherib pull his forces away from Jerusalem to make sure he could defend against them.}  So Sennacherib's attention was drawn away from Judah, at least temporarily.  But before the Assyrian troops were relocated, their commander decided to make one last effort to bully Hezekiah into surrendering, knowing that Hezekiah was probably unaware of the war with Cush.  As you can see in this passage, the commander so disrespected God in his efforts to persuade Hezekiah to surrender.

Verses 8-17  -  Hezekiah's first  move was to go to the Temple and lie prostrate on the Temple floor before God.  Hezekiah was not only frightened of the Assyrians, but he was offended for God's sake that the commander used such disrespectful words about the Lord God.  The Scripture provides us with much detail about Hezekiah's prayer.  Note in verse 16 how Hezekiah employed strong, yet respectful language when he was praying to God.  He said, "Give ear Lord, and hear.  Open Your eyes."  In common language he was saying "Pay attention.  This is extremely important."  {Ever pray like that?  I have.}  After that, Hezekiah asked God, "Did You hear what they said about you?".

Verses 18-34  -  God's response is given through the prophet Isaiah in these verses.  Much like Isaiah's words, he describes in detail what God is going to do.  At first reading it may sound redundant.  But there is little doubt that God is going to deliver Jerusalem, and will not even allow the Assyrians to shoot a single arrow in the direction of Jerusalem.

Verses 35-37  -  Isaiah's Prophesy Fulfilled

This short passage wraps up this crisis with the Assyrians.  It says "that night" an angel of the Lord went into the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 soldiers.  Some texts suggest a plague.  I submit it was the angel of death, like the one God sent to Egypt during the first Passover.  When this happened, Sennacherib immediately broke camp and returned to Ninevah, not to bother Judah again.  In the final verse, Sennacherib's sons conspired against their father and killed him.  They then escaped to Ararat (Turkey) until they could return safely to Ninevah.

Next post:  Hezekiah's Foolish Act

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