1. King Sennacherib was a powerful Assyrian monarch. His name literally means “Sin has increased the brothers.” “Sin” was the moon-god of Assyrian mythology. The capitol of Assyria was the wicked Nineveh. The Assyrian Empire was famous for its barbaric society; its ruthless treatment of others. It was a vicious, evil culture. Sennacherib’s war on Judah is recorded in Scripture.
a. Is 36:1; 2 Ki 18:9-13 – The Assyrian army attacked and conquered 46 cities and strongholds of Judah. More that 200,000 prisoners were taken into captivity. Hezekiah offered tribute to Sennacherib so the Assyrian army would cease its attack (2 Ki 18:14-16).
b. Is 36:2 – The tribute did not satisfy the greedy Assyrian. Sennacherib immediately broke his promises and prepared to lay siege to Jerusalem. This was almost instantly after he accepted the tribute. From Sennacherib’s annuals he described the situation as thus: “I shut him up like a caged bird within his royal capital, Jerusalem. I put watch-posts closely around the city.”
c. The Assyrian’s demands for the full surrender of Jerusalem was made by a group of three Assyrian officials (2Ki 18:17). The duty of these three was to intimidate Hezekiah into full surrender or to provoke such unrest within the citizens of Jerusalem that they would revolt and overthrow Hezekiah. These three envoys were named:
1) TARTAN – Most likely a commander-in-chief or the field marshal of the Assyrian troops (cf Is 20:1).
2) RABSARIS – Probably the chief eunuch. His duty would have been to act as Sennacherib’s official scribe.
3) RABSHAKEH – Probably the second in command of the army. This was the one selected to speak for Sennacherib, probably because he was fluent in Hebrew. Some have suggested that this was Sennacherib’s Prime Minister.
d. NOTE: This page of Israeli history is one of the most inspiring. In this account we see Hezekiah’s faith rise and lead Judah to an absolute trust in Jehovah’s protection. Such faith resulted in the complete humbling of the mighty Assyrian army.
2. The opposition of Sennacherib presents the pattern of all who oppose God’s rule for their lives. The root of opposition to God – SELFISHNESS which engenders pride and arrogance. This selfishness prodded Sennacherib to mock and insult the Lord God Almighty. Notice how selfishness appeared in Sennacherib’s behavior. Selfishness appears as . . .
a. His character was without integrity (Is 36:2). He had told Hezekiah that if tribute was paid then the Assyrian army would leave Judah. As soon as Hezekiah paid the tribute, Sennacherib launched a siege on Jerusalem (2 Ki 18:17). He had no concern, sensitivity for anyone except himself.
b. He ridiculed those who trusted God and followed the Lord’s commands (Is 36:7). Sennacherib’s envoys sneered at Hezekiah’s faith and insinuated that the King’s actions of restoration would provoke God’s punishment.
1) Sennacherib’s taunts are similar to those heard today when brethren remain steadfast in their loyalty to God but are mocked by those seeking to “move the lines of doctrine.” Such modern-day Sennacheribs arrogantly claim, “Why are you so picky? Certainly the God of ‘love’ is not as rigid as you claim!” The cries of the modern opponents are just as strong in ridicule as those heard by King Hezekiah!
2) Sennacherib’s taunts basically said that Hezekiah’s reforms and efforts to follow God’s Law in a strict observance were impractical and would anger God. Such is also commonly heard today – “You are too rigid; too strict; to rule oriented. God certainly cannot be pleased if you maintain such rigid beliefs!” Such fail to see that they are exactly like Sennacherib – motivated by pride, prodded by arrogance. They are striving to follow SELF instead of God!
c. He was ignorant about Jehovah God! Sennacherib thought he knew what Jehovah God desired in worship (this is a hallmark of selfishness!). Selfishly Sennacherib decided what God wanted and then proceeded to offer that kind of worship totally unconcerned about what God truly wanted.
1) Sennacherib ignorance might be excused because of his paganism (but this does not excuse his sin and accountability to God – the mighty Assyrian Monarch was wrong and nothing could excuse him). From the pagan perspective Sennacherib thought that Hezekiah’s destruction of the high places and insistence on worship only in the Temple (2 Ki 18:22; 2 Chron 29:21-35; 30:15-24; 31:3) would anger God. Such a concentration of worship to one location was unknown in the heathen world. However Sennacherib’s ignorance was fatal!
2) If the Assyrian Monarch might be excused for his ignorance, there is no excuse for being ignorant of God’s will today. God’s directions for worship and commands for obedience are clear. Tragically many today do not respect these directions and they choose a “self-ignorance” that is more damning than that of Sennacherib! Many today do not worship/obey God not because they come from a pagan background but because they allow SELF to control their lives. They thus choose ways of worship/obedience that are contrary to God’s revealed will but suitable to selfish desires. In this they are not guilty of being pagan idolaters as Sennacherib but have ignorantly become “Christian idolaters”! This is truly amazing ignorance!
d. He sought to negotiate Hezekiah’s compromises (Is 36:8). How dare Sennacherib think that he could lessen the rules of God! But the Assyrian Monarch really thought that he and Hezekiah could get together and find “common ground” for mutual agreement. Where could there be “common ground” for the surrender of God’s people to the pagan Emperor?
e. He thought he could intimidate Judah into surrendering (Is 36:9). The pagan ignorantly looked at “numbers” as the deciding factor of who was “right.” The Assyrians had more troops, greater military success, unparallel domination of the world – according to Sennacherib’s thinking they HAD to be right! He could not understand how Hezekiah dared refuse the invitation. A fact to recall as this is considered – Hezekiah did show weakness in giving tribute to Sennacherib. This should not have been done. Once the pagan saw this weakness he was ready to expect more compromises! Hezekiah’s position was weakened because he had not remained firm. However Hezekiah now stands steadfast – the King of Judah would not be intimidated by “the number game.”
f. He arrogantly fashioned God’s words to suit himself 2 Ki 18:25). He said HE was doing what God commanded! An amazing claim. The Assyrians were in total violation of God’s will. Everything Sennacherib did was an insult to God. Yet the Assyrian thought he was doing God’s will! This same tragic ignorance is evident in the lives of many today who fashion God’s commands according to their own understanding – they selfishly interpret the Scriptures to support their errors! Misrepresentation, lies, and a twisting of the Truth have always been a mark of the selfish false teacher (cf 2 Pt 3:16). Those guided by SELF always have a “different understanding” of what God says.
g. He attacked the leader who was steadfastly following God (Is 36:29-32). When Sennacherib could not move Hezekiah to bargain toward compromise, he decided that perhaps a direct appeal to the people would be best. He viciously attacked Hezekiah accusing the King of every possible wrong that could turn the people against Hezekiah’s urging to follow God’s Law. There was no concern for truth. The only concern was to present Sennacherib in a more positive light than Hezekiah. Such a maneuver is typical when those who oppose God’s strict laws are governed by SELF. They have no regard for Truth. They are concerned only with presenting God’s leaders in the worst possible light.
h. He appealed for the people to by-pass their leader (Is 36:31). When the king would not negotiate for “common ground” Sennacherib appealed to the people to negotiate with him. The only way the Assyrian Monarch could compromise the people’s steadfastness was to urge them, “Do not listen to Hezekiah!” This tragic maneuver is being repeated by modern Sennacheribs who have invited compromise. The leaders refuse to meet on “common ground” so the Selfish invaders turn to the members of the congregations inviting them to reject the leadership and “make peace” with Sennacherib! Literally Sennacherib’s words are, “Enter into a connection of mutual good wishes with me.” SELF prods such to undermine, slander, and ridicule the leadership so that they will be put in a bad opinion and others will choose to “make peace” when the leadership has determined that such peace is wrong. The Assyrian’s scorn sounds similar, “How long do you think you can remain in your position? Sooner or later you will be forced to admit you have to compromise!” (Cf Is 36:9).
NOTE: The false words of Sennacherib offered a false security! If Judah had accepted the Assyrian’s invitation to meet him on “common ground,” the nation would have been destroyed!
3. The defeat of Sennacherib portrays the destiny awaiting all who oppose God’s will and are guided by selfishness.
a. The arrogant boasting found absolute destruction! (2 Ki 18:33) “The Goliaths and Sennacheribs of the world are rarely content with silent endeavors to accomplish the ends they set before them” (1 Sa 17:44; 2 Ki 19:28). In all ages such boasters have been exposed as empty and vain. The absolute victory in which Sennacherib boasted was not found on the Assyrian side but on the side of those he had ridiculed!
b. Those targeted by Sennacherib’s invitations to compromise, refused to accept! (2 Ki 18:36) Security and safety were gained by Jerusalem’s citizens because they were not lured into Assyria’s compromise. The citizens respected and followed the leadership example! Today the invitations to compromise will be exposed as sinful error and their refusal will convict the modern-day Sennacheribs as opposing God’s laws!
c. The prayers of the righteous were triumphant! (2 Ki 19:20) Assyria’s confidence in her manufactured gods was betrayed. Assyria’s concept of Jehovah God was not as she imagined. All the religious profession and practices of Assyria miserably failed. The gross ignorance of Assyria’s religious knowledge led to defeat (2 Ki 19:22-23).
d. The pride of the arrogant opposition will be humbled! (2 Ki 19:32-37) Opposition to God accomplished nothing! Sennacherib’s army did not even shoot one arrow toward Jerusalem. The city was unmolested. The arrogant words were empty and today are a laughingstock! Those opposed to God’s laws today may make great boasts and hurl bitter sarcasm, slander, and ridicule, but they will not accomplish anything. In the end they will face a humbling from the Almighty God.
4. The security of King Hezekiah, Isaiah, and citizens of Judah promise the following blessings to all who face self-centered opponents of God in our modern-day (cf 2 Chron 32:6-8).
a. Complete victory! The steadfast Christian will face ridicule, slander, and opposition because s/he strives to follow God’s “strait” way. The Believer will face invitations to “make peace” with those who are in opposition to God. Refusal to fellowship the erring and to support the compromises result in personal attacks. Some are discouraged by this and seek to find “common ground” so the bitterness will stop. Assyria invited Judah to find this “common ground” but it would have led only to the full destruction of the city! By remaining steadfast and true, Hezekiah found complete victory over the powerful Sennacherib! The exhortation is to “be strong and very courageous!”
b. Absolute protection! Sennacherib offered Judah “protection” and “peace.” It was a lie. The Assyrians would never be happy until their rule dominated. When they did not get their way, they waged war and destroyed all opponents. The mighty nation tried to destroy Jehovah God and was itself destroyed. Those who remained in Jerusalem, who refused the invitations to bargain away their steadfast convictions, found absolute protection by the Almighty God. God’s protection is better than any ever found on earth! When faced with those opposed to God’s clear will we are exhorted “do not fear”!
c. Full vindication! Sennacherib’s slander may have impressed some. Some may have believed the arrogant boasting and the claims that “God” had told them to attack Jerusalem. Such verbal attacks would have discouraged some. God’s message to such is simple, “Do not be dismayed!”
d. Almighty power! Confronted with the Assyrian military, the Assyrian Empire, the Assyrian reputation for brutality, some would have chosen surrender. They would see the Assyrian power as invincible. When confronted by those opposed to God’s laws today we find vast numbers opposing us, criticizing us, against our every effort. What shall we do? When this question is asked, listen to Hezekiah’s exhortation, “The one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles”!
5. What are the eternal lessons that arise from a study of Sennacherib’s opposition to the Almighty God?
a. GOD PROTECTS those who trust in Him!
b. GOD OVERTHROWS those who resist Him!
c. GOD HONORS those who worship Him in Truth!
d. GOD HUMBLES the boastful/arrogant!
e. GOD JUDGES the words that are spoken to hurt God’s disciples!
f. GOD CONSOLES those who are attacked!
Copyright 1999 by John L. Kachelman, Jr. may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.