Sennacherib Invades Judah
The fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign would have been 700 B.C. King Hezekiah was a godly king and ruled Judah. The events of this chapter are also recorded in 2 Kings 18:13-27 and 2 Chronicles 32:1-19. Beginning with this chapter and through chapter 39 speaks of the threats against Judah from the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Chapters 36 and 37 describes the work of the Lord against the Assyrians threat. Chapters 36 and 37 describe the response to the Babylonian threat. “This is history at its best, not a dull recital of statistics and dates but an account which enables us to sense the haughty arrogance of the Assyrian and the chilling clutch of despair at the hearts of the Israelites.” (Cundall, cited in Grogan)
The invasion of the Assyrians had been the broad topic of Isaiah in chapters 1 through 35. In this chapter, Isaiah begins to record an historical account during the time that he had prophesied about. The Assyrians came down from the north and conquered Syria and Israel as we read in Isaiah 8:3-4 and several other passages. The Assyrians then came against the fortified cities of Judah and took them, which Isaiah prophesied in chapter 7:16-17 and several other passages.
Rabshakeh was sent from the King of Assyria along with a great army to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. Rabshakeh is the title of the chief of the princes, the name given to the chief cup-bearer or the vizier of the Assyrian court; one of Sennacherib’s messengers to Hezekiah. At this time the Assyrian army had already conquered Syria and Israel and the fortified cities of Judah. Jerusalem was the last stronghold in Judah and if it fell then Judah would be destroyed as a nation. This was a most desperate time for King Hezekiah.
Lachish was thirty miles to the south west of Jerusalem when the Assyrian army had laid siege, as it was an important fortress in Judah. Rabshakeh seems to be in complete control as he was able to walk right into Jerusalem and stand at their crucial water supply. The upper pool would be important to Jerusalem if Rabshakeh laid siege to the city. While Rabshakeh stands there three government officers from King Hezekiah come out to meet him.
Rabshakeh asks where Hezekiah was to place his trust. The temptation was to seek an alliance with Egypt, which seemed to be the only nation strong enough to aid Judah. Isaiah had done everything he could to discourage Hezekiah from trusting in Egypt. (Isaiah 19:11-17; 20:1-6; 31:1-7) The Lord wanted Judah to trust in Him and not Egypt.
Rabshakeh was trying to break the confidence of Judah and drive them in to complete demoralization and despair. This is the way that Satan attacks even when he is telling the truth. Satan never attacks us to force us into trust with the Lord. Satan’s strategy is to demoralize us and bring us into despair. The truth is Jesus died for the sinners and if we are rotten sinners then He died that we can be forgiven.
Rabshakeh could see the weakness of Egypt better than the leaders of Judah. “Egypt had made its one attempt to redeem its promises (28:14) and its army had been beaten at El Tekeh. Rabshakeh had himself seen this, but his words are more far-reaching and damaging, exposing the criminal stupidity of Judah’s leaders: surely, he said, they knew that anyone who ever trusted Egypt suffered for it.” (Motyer)
After Rabshakeh questioned their trust in Egypt he anticipated their response to that they had trust in the Lord God. Then Rabshakeh asked if it was not Hezekiah that had taken away the altars of the Lord and said that the people would have to worship and make their sacrifices at the Temple. It is true that Hezekiah had the altars of the Lord removed. (2 Kings 18:3-4) The high places were places for individual worship which were prohibited by the Law of God. (Leviticus 17:1-4) Israel was commanded to bring their sacrifices to the official place for sacrifice the tabernacle and later the Temple. Building individual altars in high places may have been fine in the old times of the patriarchs but now that there was a Temple God regarded it as an offense. King Hezekiah had done right to take down the altars in the high places and require the people to worship and make sacrifices at the Temple.
In the thinking of Rabshakeh’s mind, the reforms of Hezekiah have displeased the Lord God. For this reason, the people of Judah should not expect help for their God. The adversary has many ways of discouraging our obedience. King Hezekiah had to be careful that the argument of Rabshakeh would not start to make sense to the people in spite of its demonic thought.
We see here the point of Rabshakeh’s strategy to make Judah give up. This is the reason that Rabshakeh is standing at the upper pool speaking to the leaders of Hezekiah’s government. The Assyrian army was superior to the army of Judah and he could have attacked without this simple speech. But Rabshakeh wanted Judah to just give up out of fear, discouragement, and despair.
Our adversary uses the same approach as he used on the leaders of Hezekiah’s government. We often see Satan as itching for a fight with us but this is not what he wants. First, there is the chance that you could win the fight. The other is that win or lose the battle could draw you closer to the Lord. Thirdly what the Lord does for you during the battle could become a great blessing for other people. Satan would rather not fight you as he would better want you to give up.
Rabshakeh also resorts to mockery when he says that even if he gave them horses the weak army of Judah would not be able to put them to use.
Rabshakeh now tells the government leaders that God is on his side and that God told him to come and conquer Judah. This lie would have been easy for King Hezekiah and the people to believe. The Assyrians had been successful in their invasions of Syria and Israel. They had been successful in the taking of Judah’s fortified cities. Surely, it would seem, that God is on their side. Rabshakeh finished with a brilliant statement. “The LORD said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.” Rabshakeh is saying that he was doing the will of the Lord and there was nothing that the King of Judah could do about it. With this statement, and if true, there would be nothing to do but surrender.
It can be said that Rabshakeh was speaking the truth, as God was with him in attacking Judah. Rabshakeh was fulfilling the prophesied plan of God by conquering Syria, Israel, and now holding Judah on the brink of disaster. (Isaiah 8:3-4; 16-17) God allowed it to happen to fulfill His plan and purpose. God does not tempt an innocent man with a plan of evil. Rabshakeh was telling a lie when he said: “The Lord said to me.” God did not command the Assyrians to attack they did this on their own and God allowed it to happen. The Assyrians could never find an excuse by saying that they were doing the will of the Lord. Even as Judas could not find an excuse by his betrayal of Jesus.
Rabshakeh was speaking to the government leaders in the Hebrew language and this caused them to fear. The people of Jerusalem were listening from the wall and could hear what Rabshakeh was saying. They were afraid that the people would become discouraged and cause cries for surrender.
It is of no concern that the people of Jerusalem would hear the words he was speaking. His purpose was to cause fear, discouragement, and despair. The more he could cause the better. Rabshakeh points to the conditions that there would be in Jerusalem after an extended siege of the city. He wanted this to strike fear into the hearts of the people.
Telling Rabshakeh to not speak in the language of Hebrew was like saying it to a naughty child. Rabshakeh wanted the people of Jerusalem to hear the words that he spoke. Rabshakeh wanted to glorify his king over the God of the Judeans. He was placing a wedge between Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem so that they would doubt their leaders. He also challenged their faith in God to build fear and unbelief in the people. Then Rabshakeh delivered the words of the King of Assyria. “Make your peace with me and come out to me, and eat each of his vine and each of his fig tree and drink each of the waters of his own cistern, until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards.” Rabshakeh was making surrender look attractive to the people
Rabshakeh then resorts to the policy of ethnic cleansing and forced resettlement this was the Assyrian practice that when they conquered then they would forcefully resettle them in faraway places. Though these practices were done by force Rabshakeh tries to make them seem attractive.
Rabshakeh was also trying to destroy the people’s trust in God. The message of Rabshakeh was simple to cover up the cunning logic of Satan. As the other gods of a nation have not defeated the Assyrians neither could the god of Judah. For those in Jerusalem and Judah who had a spiritual understanding, they could have started to plan the victory celebration right then. It was one thing to speak against Judah and its leaders but quite another to speak against their God and to mock Him.
Rabshakeh was displaying the typical work of Satan by overstepping his bounds. There is no way that God would let him off the hook for his mockery of God. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)
The government leaders of Hezekiah did not offer an argument to Rabshakeh, as it would have been useless and dangerous. How much better it is to keep silent and trust God instead of trying to win an unwinnable argument. “Silence is our best reply to the allegations and taunts of our foes. Be still, O persecuted soul! Hand over thy cause to God. It is useless to argue, even in many cases to give explanations. Be still, and commit thy cause to God.” (Meyer)
Their silence did not lessen the effect of the attack. It did not just roll off their backs as if it was meaningless to them. The Apostle Paul describes the same experience. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)