God's Word through Multiple Voices: Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah
- Wednesday, April 21, 2010
"The Bible has been the world's bestseller not only because it discloses God and gives meaning to our lives, but also because it is good reading. One of the greatest personal discoveries for readers of the Bible is to step beyond favorite verses and stories and start comparing Scripture with Scripture. To gain God's panoramic perspective on any biblical event or issue, we must search the Scriptures to assemble the various historical snapshots. In doing so, we appreciate the complexity of biblical events and begin to understand God's role in them—an intricacy that matches our experience in the 21st-century."
How can we identify God's activity in our lives? If things go in our favor, do they indicate God's favor? If life brings us hardships, do they indicate His judgment or discipline? Or, should we trace these circumstances to human choices? God's revelation does not give us pat answers. Instead, this canonical anthology reflects a complexity of perspectives on divine intervention, which allows us to appreciate God's panoramic perspective.
The invasion of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, into Hezekiah's Judah in 701 BC serves as a wonderful illustration of this web of perspectives. The story of King Hezekiah, the prophet Isaiah, and the Assyrian King Sennacherib, should be put on Hollywood's big-screen, because it is full of drama, intrigue, big battle scenes, and surprising twists of plot.
This crisis is one of the best-documented and most controversial events in the Bible and in archaeology.
A Narrator's Voice from the Bible: 2 Kings 18-19
Between 735 and 733 BC, a coalition from Damascus and northern Israel threatened to invade Judah (2 Kgs 16:5-18). Judah's King Ahaz responded by appealing for help from the king of Assyria, Tiglath-pileser iii. In doing so, he made Judah a vassal to Assyria. Shortly thereafter when the kingdom of northern Israel attempted rebellion against the Assyrian Empire, "the king of Assyria invaded all the land and … captured Samaria and carried the Israelites away to Assyria" (2 Kgs 17:5-6; 722 BC). The rebellion had failed, but when the Assyrian king Sargon II died in battle in 705 BC, a widespread revolt again erupted in the empire. Among the insurgents was Hezekiah, king of Judah: "He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him" (2 Kgs 18:7).
Hezekiah "saw that there were many breaches in the city of David and … counted the houses of Jerusalem, and … broke down the houses to fortify the wall" (Isa 22:10). The archaeology of Jerusalem confirms this biblical claim. "When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib [the Assyrian successor to Sargon II] had come and intended to fight against Jerusalem … Hezekiah set to work resolutely and built up the entire wall that was broken down, and raised towers on it, and outside it he built another wall" (2 Chr 32:2, 5). Hezekiah also "closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the city of David," so that the people fortified in Jerusalem could have enough water to get them through the battle (2 Chr 32:3-4; compare 2 Kgs 20:20). This is a reference to "Hezekiah's Tunnel"—a remarkable piece of engineering that channeled water from the Gihon Spring to within the city walls.
Excursus—A Vassal to a Foreign Nation: A vassal is subordinate to another power in any way the power sees fit. When Judah became a vassal to the Assyrian empire, Judah's king, people, and land became subsidiary to a foreign king (something that was abhorred by God and even viewed as idolatry). In return for Assyria bailing Judah out of the impending invasion of Egypt, the Assyrian king expected that Judah accept his and his offspring's governance and demands. Many of these demands were demeaning and self-serving. Judah had accepted physical, spiritual, and metaphorical slavery over trust in God's deliverance.
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