Bible History Old Testament Vol. 7


Chapter 11: Hezekiah (Thirteenth) King of Judah

Outward Events of the Reign of Hezekiah—Victory over the Philistines—League against Sargon—Assyrian Advance and Submission of Judah—Sennacherib—The Assyrian Inscriptions Their Account of the Assyrian Invasion of Judah—Victories of Sennacherib—Assyrian Misrepresentation of Events—The Biblical Record—Works in Defense of Jerusalem—The Various Scriptural Narratives of these Events—The Assyrian Host before Jerusalem—Its Leaders and the Representatives of Hezekiah—The Conference between them

(2 Kings 18:7-19; 2 Chronicles 32:1-26; Isaiah 36:, 37)

ALTHOUGH the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign was mainly devoted to the first and most important task of religious reform, other matters of pressing necessity were not overlooked. The same wisdom which marked his restoration of the Temple services also guided his other administration, and the same happy results attended both. In fact, Hezekiah made use of the years of quiet to prepare against the troublous period which he must have felt to be at hand. And in the Book of Kings we have this general notice: BHOTV7 124.1

“And Jehovah was with him; in all to which he proceeded he prospered; 1 and he rebelled against the king of Assyria and served him not” (2 Kings 18:7). 2 BHOTV7 124.2

In truth, the relations between Hezekiah and the mighty world-empire of Assyria furnish the explanation of all the outward events of his reign. Of the first of these, the victory over the Philistines “unto Gaza,” and the complete subjugation of their country, “from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city” (2 Kings 18:8), it is impossible to fix the date. To judge from its position in the text, it seems to have taken place during the reign of Shalmaneser, before the accession of Sargon, by whom Samaria was taken. The apparent ill-success of Shalmaneser before Tyre may have rendered possible and encouraged such an undertaking on the part of Hezekiah. In any case, we have to bear in mind that Philistia, so important to Assyria as being the road to and from Egypt, always formed an objective point in the western expeditions of the “great kings,” and that its cities seem to have been divided, some being disposed to make cause against Assyria, while others—notably Ashdod and Gaza,—together with Moab, Ammon, and Edom, were on the side of the eastern empire. 3 BHOTV7 124.3

Thus the period of Shalmaneser’s weakness was being utilized by Hezekiah, not only for his religious reformation, but for securing his flank in any future contest with Assyria, as well as for works of internal defense, to which reference will be made in the sequel. BHOTV7 125.1

The aspect of matters changed with the accession of Sargon. That monarch did not indeed feel himself strong enough immediately, after the taking of Samaria, to advance south against Egypt. Besides troubles nearer home, especially the subdual of Merodach Baladan, engaged his attention. But in the second year after his accession we find him engaged in a western expedition. In this campaign the rebellion of Hamath was crushed, and the great battle of Karkar won. But what most concerns our history is the expedition of Sargon against the hostile league formed by Seve of Egypt and Hanno, king of Gaza—as we conjecture a dependent of Hezekiah, who sympathized with, though he does not seem actually to have taken part in the anti-Assyrian combination. Sargon was completely successful. In the battle of Raphia the allies were defeated; Seve fled, and was allowed to make his peace by paying tribute, while Hanno was taken prisoner. On this occasion Hezekiah appears to have been called to account, and to have been obliged to make submission. An Assyrian inscription speaks of Sargon as “the subduer of Judah,” though without any added mention of battle or triumph. From its date we conclude that it refers to something that had taken place during the expedition of Sargon against Seve and Hanno. 4 BHOTV7 125.2

Sargon reigned altogether seventeen years. 5 In the defective condition of the inscriptions, it is impossible to know for certain whether or not he was killed by an assassin. He was succeeded by his son Sennacherib, who, after a reign of twenty-four years, perished at the hands of his own sons (2 Kings 19:37). 6 BHOTV7 126.1

The long period of rest between the second year of Sargon and the accession of Sennacherib had, no doubt, been employed by Hezekiah in further improving the condition of the country, possibly in strengthening the defenses of Jerusalem, and preparing for future eventualities (comp. 2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:5-30, and other passages). This is not the place to give a detailed account of the events of the reign of Sennacherib, as we learn them from the Assyrian inscriptions, except in so far as they bear on the narrative of Scripture. And even here we have to bear in mind that admittedly the inscriptions designedly give a false impression of what had really occurred in that war, in which Judaea was overrun and Jerusalem first besieged, and then a second time summoned to surrender. It will be more convenient to give the story of this expedition, in the first place, as told in the Assyrian records, before referring to the Biblical account. BHOTV7 126.2

We have many inscriptions of the time of Sennacherib, in Assyrian: Sin-ahi-irib, or Sin-ahi-ir-ba (‘Sin,the lunar god, ‘gives many brethren’)—famed also for strengthening and fortifying his capital, Nineveh (‘Ninua’), and building there two magnificent palaces, one on each side of the river. Among the various memorials of his reign four inscriptions are of special importance. 7 BHOTV7 126.3

Summarizing their contents, which vary only in details, we infer that, in the fourth year of Sennacherib’s reign, another league had been formed of the principal Philistine and Phoenician cities of Judahand of the Egypto-Ethiopian empire, for the purpose of shaking off the domination of Assyria. So far as the first-named cities are concerned it comprised Sidon, Ascalon, and Ekron, the inhabitants of which city, probably at the beginning of the war, if not before it, sent Padi, their king, who was faithful to Assyria, in chains to Hezekiah, who cast him into prison. On the other side, Ammon’, Moab’, and Edom’, together with a number of the coast-cities in “the west country”—notably, Ashdod and Gaza—remained faithful to Assyria. Tidings seem to have reached Sennacherib before the confederates had time to carry their plans into execution. The Assyrian army rapidly advanced. Elulaeus, king of Sidon, fled to Cyprus, and Ethobal was appointed in his place, while the cities along the route of the Assyrian conqueror either submitted to him or were taken. Sennacherib next advanced against Ascalon, and took it. Zidka, its king, and the royal family, were transported into Assyria; Sarludari, the son of the previous king, was appointed in his place; the whole country overrun and, like Sidon, made tributary. It was probably on his march from Acco to Ascalon—perhaps from Jaffa—that Sennacherib detached a corps into Judah, which took all the “fenced cities” thereof (comp. 2 Kings 18:13). The Assyrian inscriptions speak of the capture of forty-six fortified towns and of “innumerable castles and small places,” of the transportation of 200, 150 of their captive inhabitants, men and women; of the taking of immense booty, and BHOTV7 127.1

the annexation—probably only nominal, and, in any case, temporary—of the conquered districts to the domains of the small potentates on the seaboard, friendly to Assyria. It is to this expedition that Isaiah 10:28-34 refers, as indeed the whole prophecy in the tenth chapter of Isaiah applies to the war of Sennacherib against Judah. 8 BHOTV7 127.2

Beyond Ascalon it was scarcely safe for Sennacherib to advance much further. The Egypto-Ethiopian army was expected in front; behind him, yet unconquered, was Ekron, and on his flank the strong fortress of Jerusalem, with the whole flower of the Judaean army and the hired auxiliaries to whom the Assyrian monuments refer. It was therefore a wise strategic movement on the part of Sennacherib to turn aside and lay siege to Lachish, the modern Umm Lakis. 9 BHOTV7 128.1

It was still a continuation of his advance in the direction of Egypt, although a departure from the straight road to it, and it would oblige the Egyptian army to make a disadvantageous digression inland, thus removing it from the main basis of its operations. But in Lachish, Sennacherib also held a strong position both against Ekron and Jerusalem, the latter being at the apex of an isosceles triangle, of which Ekron and Lachish form the extremities of the base. Thus he would be able to turn upon either one or the other line converging upon Lachish, or else to move rapidly upon Gaza. On the other hand, Hezekiah, seeing the success of the Assyrian advance, and perhaps despairing of a timely approach of the Egyptian army, sought to make his peace with Sennacherib, and sent to Lachish the embassy and tribute of which we read in 2 Kings 18:14-16. It was, no doubt, on this occasion also that Hezekiah set at liberty the captive king of Ekron, according to the Assyrian records, and sent him to Sennacherib. BHOTV7 128.2

After this point the Assyrian inscriptions purposely become confused, and mix up a series of different events, with the evident intention of conveying a false impression and concealing the virtual, if not the actual, defeat of Sennacherib. As we infer from a comparison of the Assyrian account with the Biblical record, Sennacherib, who by that time must have been aware of the advance of an Egyptian army, detached a large division (“a great host”) against Jerusalem, which, however, held out alike against the power and the threats of the Assyrian leaders (2 Kings 18:17-197). BHOTV7 128.3

Meantime the Egyptian host was approaching, and the Assyrian leaders returned, and found Sennacherib in Libnah, somewhere east of Lachish and north of Eleutheropolis. This probably before the battle which Sennacherib fought with the Egyptians at Altaku, on a parallel line between Jerusalem and Ekron. This indicates a further retreat of Sennacherib with his army. In much vainglorious language the Assyrian monarch claims a victory; but from the wording of the account, it is evident that the victory, if such it was, could only have been nominal, and was a real defeat. Instead, therefore, of turning upon Jerusalem, the Assyrians advanced against Ekron and took it, having already previously failed in their attempt to obtain the surrender of Jerusalem by a second message full of boastful and blasphemous threats (comp. 2 Kings 19:9-34). Then followed the destruction of the Assyrian host (ver. 35), and Sennacherib’s return to Nineveh (ver. 36). On the Assyrian monuments nothing is said of these disastrous events, while Sennacherib boasts that he had shut up Hezekiah in his capital “as a bird in a cage,” and the deputation and the tribute sent to Lachishare represented as if Hezekiah had dispatched them to Nineveh’, implying a triumph of Assyrian arms and the final submission of Judah. The real course of events is, however, perfectly clear, and the accuracy of the Biblical account of Sennacherib’s ignominious failure before Jerusalem and of his final retreat has been universally admitted. BHOTV7 129.1

With these facts before us, we turn to the “prophetic” narrative of them, in their spiritual import on the theocracy. As regards the history which we have been hitherto reading from the Assyrian monuments, 10 the account in 2 Kings 18:13-19 keeps so parallel with what is written in Isaiah 36, 37, as similarly that in 2 Kings 20, with Isaiah 38 and 39 (with the exception of Hezekiah’s hymn of praise, Isaiah 38:9-20), that a connection between the two is apparent. Whether either of them, and which, was derived from the other, 11 are questions which have been differently answered by critics. Probably—for we are dealing in great measure with conjectures—both look back upon a common original, which, in the Book of Kings and in the prophecies of Isaiah, is presented respectively in a manner accordant with the spirit and object of each of those works. 12 BHOTV7 129.2

It is another question whether this original account “in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel” was not written by the prophet Isaiah himself, as seems indicated in 2 Chronicles 32:32. 13 In any case, the narrative in the Book of Chronicles, which, in accordance with its general spirit, so largely dwells on the Temple reformation of Hezekiah, seems an abbreviated summary of the two other accounts, although containing some notable peculiarities of its own. 14 BHOTV7 130.1

The Biblical narrative opens with a brief reference to the first part of the campaign, when Sennacherib detached a corps which laid waste Judah and took the principal towns along the route 15 (2 Kings 18:13; Isaiah 36:1). In 2 Chronicles 32:1-8, the various preparations are also noticed 16 which Hezekiah had made, with advice of “his princes and mighty men,” when he felt certain of the danger threatening Jerusalem. BHOTV7 130.2

First among them was the cutting off of the water-supply for a besieging army. To the west of Jerusalem runs from north to south the valley of Gihon. The rain-water and that coming from the hills around was stored in two pools, the upper (Isaiah 22:11—the modern Birket Mamilla), and the lower (Isaiah 22:9—the modern Pool of the Patriarch 17), which were connected by an open conduit. BHOTV7 130.3

As the upper pool lay outside the city walls)and would supply the wants of a besieging army, Hezekiah covered it in, and by an aqueduct brought its waters into a large reservoir or “lake,” “between the two walls” of the upper and the lower city (Isaiah 22:11; comp. 2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:30). But some writers conjecture 18 that in ancient times (although not at present) there may have been a spring or brook near the upper port, which Hezekiah also covered in, diverting its waters into the city 19 (2 Chronicles 32:30). Further, he repaired all the walls that were broken down, “and raised (heightened) upon it (the) towers,” 20 and repaired (built?) “the other wall without”—probably that which inclosed the lower city—as well as “Millo, in the city of David,” probably a strong tower with fortified buildings at the western side of the Tyropoeon, or Valley of Cheesemongers. BHOTV7 131.1

Similarly, arms of defense were prepared and officers appointed. Best of all, he gathered his men and captains, and encouraged them with the chief of all comforts, the assurance that Another, greater and stronger than all the might of Assyria, was with them, not “an arm of flesh,” but Jehovah their God, to help them and to fight their battles. BHOTV7 131.2

When from this account we turn to the prophetic narrative in Isaiah 22, we feel that it had not been always so (ver. 11), but that through the admonitions of the prophet, what had been at first confidence in the strength of their defenses, became transformed into trust in the living God. Indeed, the prophet could not have sympathized with the whole previous policy of Hezekiah, which led up to the humiliating embassy to Lachish. But now he could bring them the assurance of Divine deliverance in that mood of spiritual repentance which was the outcome of his ministrations, and which appeared most fully during the siege of Jerusalem, and at the later summons for its surrender. We shall have to revert to this when telling of Hezekiah’s bearing towards the ambassadors of Merodach-Baladan, who visited the Jewish capital before these events, probably some time before the commencement of this campaign. BHOTV7 131.3

The second event recorded in Scripture is the embassy of Hezekiah to Lachish, and the tribute there imposed upon him of “three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold” (2 Kings 18:14-16). The impost, although not greatly differing from that which Menahem had to pay to Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:19), was heavy, amounting in gold to 200,000 pounds, and in silver to 110,000 pounds 21 and it necessitated the surrender of all the treasures in the Temple and the palace. It is remarkable that neither in the prophecy of Isaiah nor in the Book of Chronicles 22 do we find any reference to the embassy of Hezekiah nor to the tribute which he sent. Probably both were viewed as the sequence of a course disapproved, which, however, had no real bearing on the events that followed, and which only because of their spiritual import, came within range of the object of the narrative. BHOTV7 132.1

The third event recorded in Holy Scripture is the detachment of the “great host” against Jerusalem, with all the events connected with it. Of this we have an account alike in the Book of Kings, in that of Chronicles, and in the prophecies of Isaiah. 23 BHOTV7 132.2

The lead of the Assyrian expedition and the conduct of negotiations were entrusted to the “Tartan,” which was the official title of the Assyrian commander-in-chief (comp. Isaiah 20:1), “the Rabh-Saris”—probably the translation of an Assyrian official title, which in Hebrew means “chief of the eunuchs”—and “the Rebh-Shakeh,” apparently a Hebrew adaptation of Rab-sak, the Assyrian title of “chief captain,” which repeatedly occurs on the monuments, and probably represents the second in command, or chief of the staff. 24 We mark that appropriately the spokesman in summoning the city to surrender was not the general-in-chief, nor the chief eunuch (possibly the political officer), but the Rabh-Shakeh, or second in command. BHOTV7 132.3

The wisdom of Hezekiah’s preparations, especially in depriving the Assyrians of the water supply, was soon apparent. For it was at that very place—the north-western angle of the city—that the strength of the Assyrian attack was delivered, and it was here, “by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller’s field,” that the three Assyrian leaders met the representatives of King Hezekiah, whom they had summoned to conference. Even had their spiritual preparation been less decisive, all must have felt there was something specially significant in the fact that a speech, such as that which the Rabh-Shakeh made, should have been delivered on the very spot where Isaiah had uttered God’s message to Ahaz (Isaiah 7:3). It is impossible to determine at what period of the siege the conference between the two parties took place. But it was probably not long after the arrival of the besieging army. For, although the Rabh-Shakeh refers to the horrors of a protracted siege (2 Kings 18:27), his coarse language sounds rather like a threat of future than an indication of present straits. Besides, Jerusalem may have been shut up for some time before the actual siege, while in any case that free communication with the country must have been interrupted which was necessary for the supply of provisions to the capital. On the other hand, it was of the utmost importance to the Assyrians to gain possession of Jerusalemwithout delay, and so to set the besieging army free to operate against Egypt. Of two among the three representatives of Hezekiah—no doubt mentioned in the order of their rank (2 Kings 18:18)—we have some characteristic notices in Isaiah 22:15-22. From these we are led to conjecture that Shebna, “the scribe,” or secretary—probably the chief private adviser of the king, 25 and who may possibly have been of Syrian descent 26—was a man actuated by ambition and selfish motives, to whom the mistaken policy of Hezekiah’s anti-Assyrian alliance may have been due. BHOTV7 133.1

On the other hand, we derive a correspondingly high impression concerning the first and chief representative of the king, Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah. He seems to have succeeded Shebna (comp. Isaiah 22:20, 21) in the office of major-domo, which may be compared to that of the modern chef du cabinet, and as such probably stood nearest to the king. Possibly this transference of office may have been consequent on a change of political and religious views. Of Joab, the son of Asaph, the recorder or analyst, we know not anything farther, nor does he appear afterwards among them whom Hezekiah sent to the prophet Isaiah (2 Kings 19:1; Isaiah 37:2). His attendance on the present occasion was probably in his capacity of secretary of state. BHOTV7 134.1

Such were the representatives on the one side and the other, who on that eventful day met to set it clearly before Israel and before all men with whom was the might: whether with the arm of flesh, or with Jehovah; and whether or not the people had been right in resting themselves upon the words of Hezekiah, king of Judah (2 Chronicles 32:8). BHOTV7 134.2