And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD.
2 Kings 19:14
Hezekiah's letter would be very different in form from our letters. The Assyrians did not use paper or even skins, but did their writing on clay. It is very likely that the letter was a tablet of terra cotta.
I. "Went up into the house of the Lord." Where was he so likely to find God as in His house? Notice the prayer of the king, how he speaks of God as dwelling between the cherubim. Perhaps he had heard how Sennacherib sat on his throne between winged bulls and lions; but he had heard Isaiah tell of seeing the Lord surrounded by winged intelligences. God has only to speak to His winged messenger, and the angel has gone to crush the foes of Jehovah and His people. This was a model prayer, not going all round the world, but fastening on the thing wanted and asking for that. If our prayers were more like telegrams, we should have speedier answers.
II. Was the letter ever answered? Yes, for Jehovah answered it Himself. We know what the result was, and how suddenly the bolt of vengeance struck down the proud blasphemer.
III. There is a postscript to God's answer. "It came to pass that night...they were all dead corpses." Suppose we read in the newspaper to-morrow, "Sudden death of 185,000 soldiers!" What a stir it would make! What a sight the camp must have been next morning! There has been considerable discussion as to the cause of the destruction of so large an army, and it is generally understood now to have been the simoom. Cambyses, king of the Medes, lost fifty thousand men by one of these dreadful winds. But whether the wind was the messenger or an angel, it matters not. God willed it, and nature hasted to do His bidding.
T. Champness, New Coins from Old Gold, p. 179.
Hezekiah received the letter himself at the hand of the messengers, which was courteous; and he read it, which was calm and accurate; and he went up into the house of God, which was reverential; and he spread it before the Lord, which was filial and confiding.
I. Belief in the efficacy of prayer has latterly become very small. And at the root of this want of faith is this thought, that since God governs the world by general fixed laws, and since answers to particular prayers must be specialities, therefore oftentimes exceptions to these general laws, it is not to be expected that God will interrupt His universal system to meet any particular case. To this we answer two things: (1) In all other general laws, such as the laws of nations or even natural laws, provision is expressly made for exceptional occasions, and it is an axiom that under certain conditions the law shall not take any, or at least the same, effect. Why should not the same rule apply to the laws by which God regulates His providential dealings? (2) Why should not the particular answer to the particular prayer be itself a part of the grand universal law? Why should not God have ordained in His sovereignty that all true prayer shall bring certain results, as that any other cause in the world shall produce its own natural and proper effect?
II. Assuming then, as we well may, the fact that God does have respect to prayer, we ask, "What is it to spread a matter before God?" (1) You cannot spread anything before God till you have first spread yourself—your whole heart and life—before Him. (2) The whole trouble must be spread before Him; God loves minuteness; there is no spreading without minuteness. To speak out loud a sorrow or a care even to a thing inanimate is a help to definiteness, to clearness of thought, to manfulness, to duty; how much more so when we confide in God.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 9th series, p. 139.
References: 2 Kings 19:14.—Old Testament Outlines, p. 81; S. Baring-Gould, One Hundred Sermon Sketches, p. 182; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 389. 2 Kings 19:14-16.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 183. 2 Kings 19:15.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ix., p. 89.
2 Kings 19:15-19I. We are too apt to think that peace and prosperity are the only signs of God's favour; that if a nation be religious, it is certain to thrive and be happy. But it is not so. We find from history that the times in which nations have shown most nobleness, most courage, most righteousness, have been times of trouble, and danger, and terror. When nations have been invaded, persecuted, trampled under foot by tyrants, then, to the astonishment of the world, they have become greater than themselves, and done deeds which win them glory for ever.
II. What is true of nations is often true also of each single person. To almost every man, at least once in his life, comes a time of trial or crisis, a time when God purges the man, and tries him in the fire, and burns up the dross in him, that the pure, sterling gold only may be left. To some it comes in the shape of some terrible loss or affliction. To others it comes in the shape of some great temptation. Nay, if we will consider, it comes to us all, perhaps often, in that shape. A man is brought to a point where he must choose between right and wrong. God puts him where the two roads part. One way turns off to the broad road which leads to destruction; the other way turns off to the narrow road which leads to life. If he believes in the living God and in the living Christ, then when temptation comes he will be able to stand. If he believes that Christ is dwelling in him, that whatever wish to do right he has comes from Christ, whatever sense of honour and honesty he has comes from Christ, then it will seem to him a dreadful thing to lie, to play the hypocrite or the coward, to sin against his own better feelings. It will be sinning against Christ Himself.
C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, p. 370.
References: 2 Kings 19:15-19.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 521. 2 Kings 19:34.—C. Kingsley, Sermons for the Times, p. 183.
2 Kings 19:35I. In the first thirty-seven chapters of Isaiah's prophecies we have a full account of the ways of the Jews at that time, and the reasons why God allowed so fearful a danger to come upon them. The first thirty-five chapters are a spiritual history of the Jews and the Assyrians and all the nations round them for many years. The kings of Assyria thought themselves the greatest and strongest beings in the world; they thought that their might was right, and that they might conquer, and ravage, and plunder, and oppress every country round them without being punished. They thought that they could overcome the true God of Judaea, as they had conquered the empty idols of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Iva. But Isaiah saw that they were wrong; he prophesied that a great eruption or breaking out of burning mountains would destroy the king of Assyria's army and would even shake Jerusalem itself.
II. How the Assyrians were killed we cannot exactly tell, most likely by a stream of poisonous vapour, such as often comes forth out of the ground during earthquakes and eruptions of burning mountains and kills all the men and animals who breathe it. God intended all along to teach the Jews that the earth and heaven belonged to Him and obeyed Him. He taught them and the proud king of Assyria once and for all that He was indeed the Lord, Lord of all nations and King of kings, and also Lord of the earth and all that therein is. Those who really trust in Him shall never be confounded. Those who trust in themselves are trying their paltry strength against the God who made heaven and earth, and will surely find out their own weakness, just when they fancy themselves most successful. If man dare not fight on the Lord's side against sin and evil, the Lord's earth will fight for Him. Earthquakes and burning mountains will do His work.
C. Kingsley, Sermons on National Subjects, p. 247.
References: 2 Kings 19:37.—E. H. Plumptre, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 450. 2 Kings 20:1.—H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 99; A. Raleigh, Thoughts for the Weary, p. 90; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 126. 2 Kings 20:2.—J. Van Oosterzee, Year of Salvation, vol. ii., p. 482. 2 Kings 20:9-11.—Hunter, Sunday Magazine, 1872, p. 644. 2 Kings 20:11.—J. H. Wilson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 24. 2Ki 20—Parker, vol. viii., p. 285. 2 Kings 21:17, 2 Kings 21:18.—J. R. Macduff, Sunsets on the Hebrew Mountains, p. 184. 2Ki 21—Parker, vol. viii., p. 298. 2 Kings 22:2.—E. Monro, Practical Sermons on the Old Testament, vol. ii., p. 219. 2 Kings 22:3-12.—D. G. Watt, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 180.
And he sent Eliakim, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz.
And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth.
It may be the LORD thy God will hear all the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God; and will reprove the words which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that are left.
So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah.
And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say to your master, Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me.
Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and shall return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.
So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish.
And when he heard say of Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, Behold, he is come out to fight against thee: he sent messengers again unto Hezekiah, saying,
Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria.
Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly: and shalt thou be delivered?
Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed; as Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden which were in Thelasar?
Where is the king of Hamath, and the king of Arpad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, of Hena, and Ivah?
And Hezekiah received the letter of the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up into the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD.
And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD, and said, O LORD God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth.
LORD, bow down thine ear, and hear: open, LORD, thine eyes, and see: and hear the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent him to reproach the living God.
Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have destroyed the nations and their lands,
And have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them.
Now therefore, O LORD our God, I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the LORD God, even thou only.
Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard.
This is the word that the LORD hath spoken concerning him; The virgin the daughter of Zion hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee.
Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel.
By thy messengers thou hast reproached the Lord, and hast said, With the multitude of my chariots I am come up to the height of the mountains, to the sides of Lebanon, and will cut down the tall cedar trees thereof, and the choice fir trees thereof: and I will enter into the lodgings of his borders, and into the forest of his Carmel.
I have digged and drunk strange waters, and with the sole of my feet have I dried up all the rivers of besieged places.
Hast thou not heard long ago how I have done it, and of ancient times that I have formed it? now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest be to lay waste fenced cities into ruinous heaps.
Therefore their inhabitants were of small power, they were dismayed and confounded; they were as the grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the housetops, and as corn blasted before it be grown up.
But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me.
Because thy rage against me and thy tumult is come up into mine ears, therefore I will put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest.
And this shall be a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat this year such things as grow of themselves, and in the second year that which springeth of the same; and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruits thereof.
And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall yet again take root downward, and bear fruit upward.
For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this.
Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it.
By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the LORD.
For I will defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.
And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.
So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.
And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Armenia. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.