(2 Kings 18.13-27; 2 Chronicles 32.1-19)
1Hezekiah had been king of Judah for 14 years when King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded the country and captured every walled city 2except Jerusalem. The Assyrian king ordered his army commander to leave the city of Lachish and to take a large army to Jerusalem.
The commander went there and stood on the road near the cloth makers' shops along the canal from the upper pool. 3Three of the king's highest officials came out of Jerusalem to meet him. One of them was Hilkiah's son Eliakim, who was the prime minister. The other two were Shebna, assistant to the prime minister, and Joah son of Asaph, keeper of the government records.
4The Assyrian commander told them:
I have a message for Hezekiah from the great king of Assyria. Ask Hezekiah why he feels so sure of himself. 5Does he think he can plan and win a war with nothing but words? Who is going to help him, now that he has turned against the king of Assyria? 6 Is he depending on Egypt and its king? That's the same as leaning on a broken stick, and it will go right through his hand.
7Is Hezekiah now depending on the Lord, your God? Didn't Hezekiah tear down all except one of the Lord's altars and places of worship? Didn't he tell the people of Jerusalem and Judah to worship at that one place?
8The king of Assyria wants to make a bet with you people! He will give you 2,000 horses, if you have enough troops to ride them. 9How could you even defeat our lowest ranking officer, when you have to depend on Egypt for chariots and cavalry? 10Don't forget that it was the Lord who sent me here with orders to destroy your nation!
11Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah said, “Sir, we don't want the people listening from the city wall to understand what you are saying. So please speak to us in Aramaic instead of Hebrew.”
12The Assyrian army commander answered, “My king sent me to speak to everyone, not just to you leaders. These people will soon have to eat their own body waste and drink their own urine! And so will the three of you!”
13Then, in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, he shouted out in Hebrew:
Listen to what the great king of Assyria says! 14Don't be fooled by Hezekiah. He can't save you. 15Don't trust him when he tells you that the Lord will protect you from the king of Assyria. 16Stop listening to Hezekiah. Pay attention to my king. Surrender to him. He will let you keep your own vineyards, fig trees, and cisterns 17for a while. Then he will come and take you away to a country just like yours, where you can plant vineyards and raise your own grain.
18Hezekiah claims the Lord will save you. But don't be fooled by him. Were any other gods able to defend their land against the king of Assyria? 19What happened to the gods of Hamath, Arpad, and Sepharvaim? Were the gods of Samaria able to protect their land against the Assyrian forces? 20None of those gods kept their people safe from the king of Assyria. Do you think the Lord, your God, can do any better?
21-22Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah had been warned by King Hezekiah not to answer the Assyrian commander. So they tore their clothes in sorrow and reported to Hezekiah everything the commander had said.
The commander of the Assyrian army stands just outside Jerusalem and addresses anyone who will listen. “I have a message for Hezekiah from the great king of Assyria,” he shouts. “Ask Hezekiah why he feels so sure of himself. Does he think he can plan and win a war with nothing but words?” (verses 4-5).
The king’s officials had asked him to speak in Aramaic, which they understood, but which was not well understood by the ordinary people. Instead, he chooses the local dialect that can be understood by all. His warning is for the entire nation of Judah: “Hezekiah claims the Lord will save you. But don’t be fooled by him” (verse 18). The military leader is trying to stir up confusion among the people. Earlier, he said that depending on Egypt and its king was like “leaning on a broken stick,” which will go right through a person’s hand (verse 5).
It’s not uncommon for leaders to claim they represent God. Hezekiah had promised his people victory in the name of the Lord, yet at this very moment the enemy is just outside the city gates, unleashing a verbal assault. The Assyrians are effectively poking holes in Hezekiah’s claims. So what now? Who call the people trust?
It’s difficult sometimes to know how to discern the truth. That’s when we should go to the source. If we honestly come before the Lord and seek direction, he will open our eyes to the truth. When we properly place our trust in God, we will not be fooled by those seeking personal gain.
Lord God, You have always wanted the best for us. You have consistently shown us the way and offered us redemption. Please help me to place my trust in you, of and you alone. Open my eyes so I can see the difference between your truth and merely human words. In Jesus’ name, Amen.