As I was preparing for this study, I was reminded of a place in Jerusalem, in the old city – for some reason, I was very strangely and deeply moved the first time I went there. There are few sights in Israel of which I can say they’ve made a special impact on me. It is a very personal thing. After leading educational tours there for many years, I can say that every site touches someone differently. One place that has always been impressive to me, is very crude in appearance—it is just a large stone wall, called Hezekiah’s wall. It was excavated by a friend of mine, Amihai Mazar. It is a very wide wall (wide enough to drive a chariot down during the biblical period) upon which an incident occurred recorded in 2 Kings 18 & 19. This text is the beginning point for a study that I need to hear and explore further; it is something that has been on my heart very strongly recently and I want to share it with you.
Hezekiah became king at 25 years old during the time period 729 BCE, and he ruled 29 years in Jerusalem. He assumed the sole kingship of Judah in 715 and ruled until the 680’s; he was quite a remarkable, extraordinary man. 2 Kings 18:4 speaks of places of idolatry. These are the high places where idol worship would be engaged in, as well as a lot of sexual promiscuity in the name of religion. Hezekiah was a reformer; even more than a reformer, almost a revolutionary. He came against these aberrations, even abominations unto the Lord that were quite common throughout the land of Judea and Israel. Vs. 5-7 – at this point Assyria has Judea under its thumb. Assyria conquered the northern part of the land, called Israel (the 10 tribes), the southern two tribes (Benjamin and Judah) remained in Judea – yet they still paid enormous tribute. This rebellion occurred against Assyria around 705 BCE, when Sennacherib assumed the throne from his father Sargon. Because Hezekiah refuses to pay tribute, Sennacherib captures all the fortified cities of Judah, except Jerusalem (vs. 13). Hezekiah sent this message to the king of Assyria saying, ‘let’s come to peace here, I will pay an enormous tribute.’ But Sennacherib refused to accept that deal, he wanted more—he wanted to capture and destroy Jerusalem. Now Lachish is in the southern part of Israel, and this is fascinating archaeologically, because when Sennacherib returns to Nineveh he has 4 huge panels designed, depicting his conquest in the land of Israel. It describes, in great detail, his conquest of this magnificent city of Lachish in the south of Judea, the remains of which stand there today and are still being excavated by archaeologists. So we have extra-biblical confirmation that this occurred just as the biblical text tells us.
Sennacherib sent his army and chief officers up to Jerusalem and they stop right outside and call for the king (vs. 18). The wall I referenced earlier is the very one they went out to meet them on—they stood and listened to the emissaries of Sennacherib give this ultimatum. They engage with a brilliant piece of intrigue, of psychological warfare. Vs. 19 says, “on what are you basing this confidence of yours?” In other words, ‘why are you refusing to capitulate to me?’ Vs. 22 goes on as he tries to create dissension amongst the Jerusalemites. He says, ‘you guys are having a great time out here worshipping – this guy Hezekiah came down and destroyed all your places of sexual religious orgy, and we are delivering him a message.’ These servants of the king say, ‘stop your speech in Hebrew, talk to us in Aramaic.’ Why? Because the people could understand Hebrew and they didn’t want this dissension to be placed in their minds – they said, ‘let’s carry on this diplomatic exchange in Aramaic, so only the officials could understand.’ In vs. 28, the commander calls out in Hebrew (he refuses to speak Aramaic because they are out to create dissension). ‘Choose life and not death.’ Where do they get this from? They are using Scripture to try to undermine the psychological integrity of the Jerusalemites.
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.