28 September 2011

"The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria." (v. 30)


This is a highly dramatic passage. A titanic struggle is described, between King Hezekiah of Judah and the people of Jerusalem, on the one hand; and the mighty Assyrian army just outside Jerusalem, laying siege to the city, on the other. This is no combat between equals. It is heavily weighted, in military terms, in favour of the Assyrians. It is a 'David and Goliath' situation.

The year of the siege was 701BC. The Assyrian king, Sennacherib, made his own record of these events, giving his point of view, on a clay prism. It may be seen today in the British Museum.

The writer of 2 Kings sets out his interpretation of the struggle from the perspective of Israel's faith. On the one side were the Assyrians:

  • They had overwhelming military strength.
  • The weight of history was on their side. (The cities listed in verse 34 had already been conquered. Samaria had been laid waste 20 years earlier and its people deported.) No gods had been able to protect their people or sacred places from the Assyrians. So why should the people of Jerusalem expect anything but defeat for the Lord and his city?
  • The Rabshekah (a high-ranking Assyrian official) had great political skill. He made alluring promises to Jerusalem's inhabitants, cleverly speaking to them in their native Hebrew dialect about how to end their suffering. They had only to end their resistance and they would be able once again to eat and drink. Then they would be taken away to enjoy a marvellously fertile area.

On the other side was Hezekiah urging the people of Jerusalem to trust in the Lord to deliver his people and his city. Faith alone would keep them safe. And discipline: at Hezekiah's command, the people met the Rabshekah's seduction with stony silence.

What would be the outcome of this unequal tussle?


To Ponder

Through the centuries Christians have debated whether or not it is right for them to use force to defeat a military threat. Does this passage illuminate that debate for you? How?

Sometimes people who trust God are overwhelmed by violence and evil. Why might it always be good to trust God, whatever the outcome?

Bible notes author: The Revd David Deeks

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