In Part 1 of our study, Hezekiah changed his mind about rebelling against the Assyrian king. Although he had done many good things and had turned the people back to the Lord, Hezekiah knew when he was whipped. He sent an apology to Sennacherib and gave him the required tribute from gold and silver in his and the temple’s treasuries.
But when we come to verse 18, we quickly see that something happened. The King was not appeased and sent a large army to Jerusalem. Wait a minute. Didn’t Hezekiah apologize to Sennacherib and send gold and silver as tribute? Nonetheless, “Hezekiah’s generosity served only to whet Sennacherib’s appetite. Doubtless he reasoned that these could only be a token payment; surely immense stores of wealth must lie hidden within the fortified walls of Jerusalem.”3 So he sent his huge army to Jerusalem to overpower this formerly rebellious king.
- What do we know about Sennacherib?
“During Sennacherib’s first four years on the throne he was occupied with controlling Babylon. During this time an alliance had formed in which cities of Phoenicia and Philistia as well as Egypt (under Shaboka) and Judah (under Hezekiah) joined together to resist Assyria. … Sennacherib led his armies into Judah as expected. … On their way to Judah the Assyrians defeated the rebels in Phenicia, which caused several other members of the alliance to withdraw. Then Sennacherib marched his armies down the coast into Philistia where he brought the Philistine cities into line. Next he attacked all the fortified cities of Judah except Jerusalem and captured the people. … The Assyrian king then set up his headquarters at Lachish, a well-fortified city near the Philistine border in central Judah.”1
He sent a huge army against Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:17).
The first thing we see in verse 17 is that Sennacherib sent a huge army from Lachish to Jerusalem. This was a picture of strength meant to frighten Hezekiah and the people in Jerusalem. The army he sent was commanded by the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshakeh. What each name means, we are not told, but I have been told that “the term Rabshakeh means ‘the chief of the princes’ and refers to a field commander.”4 In other words, this was the general of Sennacherib’s army. When they arrived, these three officials stood by the aqueduct from the upper pool near the highway.
He sent his officials to make a bargain (2 Kings 18:17-25).
Sennacherib’s officials wanted to talk with Hezekiah but he only sent out three of his own officials—Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah. The Rabshakeh gave them a message from Sennacherib to take back to Hezekiah. It is divided into three questions. (1) Why do you think you can rebel against Sennacherib? Are you trusting in Egypt? That would be like leaning against a reed and it piercing your hand instead of upholding your weight. Are you trusting in the Lord? If so, didn’t Hezekiah remove all of God’s high places? “They did not understand that Hezekiah’s actions had been carried out in obedience to God’s commands, not out of disrespect for Him.”2 (2) Why don’t you make a treaty with Sennacherib? If you do, I will give you 2,000 horses (if you have enough men to ride them). His opinion of Hezekiah’s army was not very high. (3) Do you think I am attacking you without the Lord’s help? He told me to destroy this land. “Although this is improbable it is not impossible (cf. Isa. 45:1-6)”2 as God has used other ungodly kings to accomplish his purposes.
He sent his officials to scare the inhabitants (2 Kings 18:26-37)
Hilkiah, Shebna, and Joah asked the Rabshakeh to speak in Aramaic so that the people on the wall wouldn’t understand what he was saying. But the Rabshakeh kept talking in Hebrew and even spoke louder. He wanted them to know what he was saying before they suffered from thirst and hunger during the siege. He told them: (1) Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you into thinking he or the Lord will deliver you from Sennacherib. (2) Make peace with Sennacherib and you can stay here for a while before being brought to another land. (3) Don’t think that the Lord will deliver you. Did the gods of any of the other lands protect them?
The people on the wall heard what the Rabshakeh said but they didn’t respond because Hezekiah and told them not to answer. After the conversation was over, Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah came back to Hezekiah were so upset that they tore their clothes and told Hezekiah what the Rabshakeh had said.
- What does his life teach us?
Sometimes the enemy will be too strong for us.
Hezekiah’s enemy was the Assyrian king. The enemies we face as Christians are the world, the flesh, and the devil. Each of these is difficult but when combined they are even more formidable. There are times when we will realize that we don’t have the strength to resist our enemy. The attack will be more than we can handle. It is then that we need to turn to the Lord for help.
1 Peter 5:8-10 – “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.“
While we need to do our part in resisting, we also must depend on the strength that only the Lord can provide.
Sometimes the enemy will be convincing.
The Rabshakeh was very good at psychological warfare … and so is our enemy, the devil. If you look back to the serpent’s conversation with Eve in the garden, you will see how he mixed truth and error to get her to doubt what God had said. Paul also warned the early Christians to guard their minds from the beguiling false teaching that opposes what God teaches.
2 Cor. 11:3 – “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
Sometimes the enemy will go too far.
When I was still living in Columbus, there was a very good football player at Ohio State. We all enjoyed seeing him play, but there came a day when he overstepped his bounds and started speaking with pride about his accomplishments. As you might suppose, God chose to take away his success seemingly because of his price.
I think of that event when I hear the Rabshakeh speaking out against God. His arrogance against God and his proud words were something that went too far. It is times like this that I stop and smile because I know that God likes to defend His honor. When someone stands up and speaks out against God, be ready for God to show Himself mighty and put that person in His place.
Tonight is prayer meeting for us. As we consider the insolence of the Assyrian king and his representatives, consider what we have learned. Some of these lessons are things that we should pray about for ourselves. But the last lesson is something we can pray for others. There are some who are full of pride and who will face God’s mighty response. Why don’t we pray for such people (even if they are enemies) and ask God to get ahold of them like He did Nebuchadnezzar?
1 Constable 573-74.
2 Constable 574.
3 Patterson 257.
Constable, Thomas L., “2 Kings” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, USA: SP Publication, 1989.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol. II Joshua through Psalms, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
Patterson, Richard D. and Hermann J. Austel, “1,2 Kings” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988.
“Who was Rabshakeh in the Bible?” as viewed at https://www.gotquestions.org/Rabshakeh-in-the-Bible.html on 12/20/2023.