King Hezekiah (Sir 48:17-48:22)

“King Hezekiah fortified his city.

He brought water into its midst.

He tunneled the sheer rock

With iron tools.

He built cisterns for the water.

In his days,

Sennacherib invaded the country.

He sent his commander from Lachish.

He departed.

He shook his fist against Zion.

He made great boasts in his arrogance.

Then their hearts were shaken.

Their hands trembled.

They were in anguish,

Like women in labor.

But they called upon the Lord

Who is merciful.

They spread out their hands

Toward him.

The Holy One quickly heard them

From heaven.

He delivered them

Through Isaiah.

The Lord struck down

The camp of the Assyrians.

His angel wiped them out.

King Hezekiah did

What was pleasing to the Lord.

He kept firmly to the ways

Of his ancestor King David.”

Of all the kings from King Solomon to the captivity, Sirach singled out King Hezekiah (716-687 BCE) of Judah, based on the stories in 2 Kings, chapters 18-20, and 2 Chronicles, chapters 29-32. He was the king who followed Yahweh’s commandments, during the time of the prophet Isaiah. Just before his reign, the northern kingdom of Israel at Samaria fell to the Assyrians. During his reign the population grew from 5,000 at the time of King Solomon to about 25,000 people because of the many migrant Israelites from the north. Thus King Hezekiah fortified Jerusalem by building walls around it with tunnels to get water that has been verified by archeological discoveries. Ten years later, King Sennacherib decided to invade Judah. He sent his general Rabshakeh from Lachish to negotiate a deal, but King Hezekiah went to the prophet Isaiah for advice. Despite the fears of the folks in Jerusalem, Isaiah said not to yield. King Hezekiah prayed to Yahweh. King Sennacherib of Assyria decided not to invade the city, but 185,000 of his troops were wiped out by an angel of the Lord. Thus King Hezekiah was pleasing to the Lord like King David.

The victory of the God of Jacob (Ps 76:4-76:6)

“Glorious are you!

You are more majestic

Than the everlasting mountains!

The stouthearted were stripped

Of their spoil.

They sank into sleep.

None of the troops

Were able to life a hand.

At your rebuke!

O God of Jacob!

Both rider and horse lay stunned.”

This great victory is probably a reference to the defeat of the Assyrians under King Sennacherib when he tried to attack Jerusalem under King Hezekiah in 2 Kings, chapter 19. This was the time that the angel of Yahweh struck down 185,000 Assyrians in one night. Obviously this made a big impression upon the Israelites. God was glorious and more majestic than the so-called everlasting mountains. The enemy was stripped of their spoils as they sank into a sleep that they never recovered from. Both riders and horses were unable to do battle. Perhaps, the extremely high number of causalities made it difficult to repeat. Clearly the God of Jacob had brought them victory.

The prayer of Judas Maccabeus (2 Macc 15:22-15:24)

“He called upon God in these words.

‘O Lord,

You sent your angel at the time of Hezekiah king of Judea.

He killed fully a hundred and eighty-five thousand

In the camp of Sennacherib.

So now,

O Sovereign of the heavens,

Send a good angel to spread terror and trembling before us.

By the might of your arm

May these blasphemers

Who come against your holy people

Be struck down.’

With these words he ended his prayer.”

This prayer is a reminder to God of what the angel of God did to King Sennacherib and Assyrians in 2 Kings, chapter 19, when he killed 185,000 men in one night during the time of King Hezekiah of Judah. Judas Maccabeus wanted a similar good angel to spread terror and trembling to these blasphemers who were coming to attack these holy people.

The acts of charity of Tobit (Tob 1:15-1:18)

“When King Shalmaneser died, his son King Sennacherib reigned in his place. The highways into Media became unsafe, so that I could no longer go into Media. In the days of King Shalmaneser, I performed many acts of charity to my kindred. I would give my food to the hungry. I would give my clothing to the naked. If I saw the dead body of any of my people thrown out behind the wall of Nineveh, I would bury it. I also buried anyone that King Sennacherib put to death, in those days of judgment, when they came fleeing from Judea because of his blasphemies. In his anger, King Sennacherib put to death many Israelites, but I would secretly remove the bodies and bury them. So when King Sennacherib looked for them, he could not find them.”

Apparently, things were pretty good when King Shalmaneser (727-722 BCE) was in charge. When he died, things deteriorated so that the roads were not safe. When King Shalmaneser was alive, Tobit was active in charitable works of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. He also began burying the dead outside the walls of Nineveh. However, things changed under King Sennacherib (689-681 BCE). He was killing Israelites when he was angry. Tobit began burying the dead Israelites.  

The success of the prayer of King Hezekiah (2 Chr 32:20-32:23)

“Then King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz prayed because of this. They cried to heaven. Yahweh sent an angel. He cut off all the mighty warriors, the commanders, and the officers in the camp of the king of Assyria. So the king returned in disgrace to his own land. When he came into the house of his god, some of his own sons struck him down there with the sword. So Yahweh saved King Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of King Sennacherib of Assyria and from the hand of all his enemies. He gave them rest on every side. Many brought gifts to Yahweh in Jerusalem. Many brought precious things to King Hezekiah of Judah, so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations from that time onward.”

Once again, this is a summary of what happened in 2 Kings, chapter 19. Isaiah the prophet will interpret the word of Yahweh. He sent word to King Hezekiah that Yahweh had heard his prayer about King Sennacherib. This is good news for King Hezekiah. However, here there is no indication of that beautiful prayer of King Hezekiah. In 2 Kings, it said that 185,000 Assyrians were wiped out in 1 night. Here there are no numbers. However, the angel of Yahweh killed the warriors of Assyria. Herodotus, the 5th century BCE Greek historian, noted that the Assyrians were defeated at the Egyptian borders when mice ate their bowstrings. Mice could have brought the plague, but to kill everyone in one night seems a bit much. King Sennacherib died in 681 BCE so that it might not have been contemporaneous with his sojourn in Judah. He was killed by 2 of his sons and a 3rd took over.

The insult to Yahweh (2 Chr 32:16-32:19)

“King Sennacherib’s servants said still more against Yahweh God and against his servant King Hezekiah. He also wrote letters to throw contempt on Yahweh the God of Israel and to speak against him, saying. ‘Just as the gods of the nations in other lands did not rescue their people from my hands, so the God of King Hezekiah will not rescue his people from my hand.’ They shouted it with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were upon the wall, to frighten and terrify them, in order that they might take the city. They spoke of the God of Jerusalem as if he were like the gods of the peoples of the earth, which are the work of human hands.”

Once again, this is a reference to 2 Kings, chapter 18. The representatives of King Sennacherib spoke in the language of Judah, which refers to Hebrew, the ancient literary language of Judah. Here they do not mind speaking to the rabble sitting on the wall, because they want to terrify them. There is no vulgarity her about eating dung as there was in 2 Kings. They wanted the people to listen to the king of Assyria and not to their King Hezekiah. They said that that the king of Judah was deceiving them by saying that he was going to rely on Yahweh. No god has helped anyone against the king of Assyria. There is no individual mention of the other gods as in 2 Kings. There is no mention here of the orchestrated non-response of Judah. Certainly the emphasis here was that there was no other God like the Yahweh, the God of Israel. He was no human god.

The response of Yahweh (2 Kings 19:25-19:28)

“Have you not heard,

That I determined it long ago?

I planned from days of old,

What now I bring to pass,

That you should make fortified cities

Crash into heaps of ruins,

While their inhabitants,

Shorn of strength,

Are dismayed and confounded,

They have become like plants of the field.

They have become like tender grass,

Like grass on the housetops,

Blighted before it is grown,

But I know your rising and sitting,

Your going out and coming in,

I know your raging against me.

Because you have raged against me

Your arrogance has come into my ears,

I will put my hook in your nose.

I will put my bit in your mouth.

I will turn you back on the way,

By which you came.”

Yahweh reminds King Sennacherib that it is he who allowed him to capture fortified cities, create ruins, to confuse people like plants in the field or blighted grass. Yahweh knew about his coming and going, his rising and falling. He also heard about his rage against him. He was going to put a hook on his nose and a bit in his mouth like a horse. He was going to go back the way that he came.

The word of Yahweh through the prophet Isaiah (2 Kings 19:21-19:24)

“This is the word that Yahweh has spoken concerning King Sennacherib.

‘She despises you,

She scorns you,

Virgin daughter of Zion,

She tosses her head behind your back,

Daughter of Jerusalem,

Whom have you mocked and reviled?

Against who have you raised your voice?

Whom have you haughtily lifted your eyes?

Against the Holy One of Israel!

By your messengers you have mocked Yahweh,

You have said,

With my many chariots,

I have gone up the heights of the mountains,

To the far recesses of Lebanon,

I felled its tallest cedars,

Its choicest cypresses,

I entered its farthest retreat,

Its densest forest,

I dug wells.

I drank foreign waters.

I dried up with the sole of my foot

All the streams of Egypt’”

In very poetic words, Isaiah speaks for Yahweh. Judah you are the daughter of Zion, the daughter of Jerusalem. Clearly Jerusalem is the favorite spot. King Sennacherib has mocked, reviled, raised his voice, and lifted up his eyes against the Holy One of Israel. He sent messengers mocking Yahweh. He has bragged about his mighty exploits with chariots in mountains, trees, wells, and streams.