Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord
1 Corinthians 1:31
Do you enjoy watching movies about the battles fought during Bible times? I do, but I have to admit that I don’t enjoy watching spears slicing through the air and striking the heart of a soldier, or swords decapitating heads, or the sharp spikes on the wheels of chariots chopping up men as they crisscross the battlefield. No, that aspect of any ancient battle disturbs me, perhaps because it was how war was actually fought–facing the enemy, literally. For me, I prefer the behind the scene stuff, namely plot, character, and suspense. My favorite Bible battles are those that pit the character of the protagonist against the character of the antagonist, and watch how God determined their fates as the plot unfold. Take for example, two kings: Hezekiah and Sennacherib. Their way of ruling their kingdoms were as different as their personalities. But only one personality would ultimately triumph.
The Tale of Two Temperaments
In 2 Kings 18 is the story of Hezekiah’s and Sennacherib’s battle of wills. King Hezekiah of Judah and King Sennacherib of Assyria each ruled their kingdoms differently. Hezekiah was a godly and humble king. He sought the Lord about matters regarding his kingdom. The priority of his heart was obedience to God and he “held fast to the LORD; he did not depart from following him but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. The LORD was with him; wherever he went, he prospered” (2 Kings 18:6-7). On the other hand, King Sennacherib of Assyria was a calloused ruler (I can see trouble ahead already!). His armies were ruthless and enjoyed torturing his captives. By the time Hezekiah became king of Judah, Sennacherib had already conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. He was convinced that his kingdom couldn’t be defeated. Sennacherib was a prideful man. He trusted in his own skills and means. Sennacherib was in his fourth year as king of Assyria when he threatened to conquer Judah, Hezekiah’s kingdom. The year was 701 B.C.
To make matters worse, Hezekiah defaulted on paying his tribute money, money paid to Sennacherib with the agreement that Assyria wouldn’t attack Judah. Hezekiah hoped Sennacherib hadn’t noticed, but he did. Hezekiah sent Sennacherib an apology letter, along with the tribute money he owed, but Sennacherib’s pride got the best of him and decided to invade anyway. Assyria was known throughout as a mighty nation and Sennacherib was designated as a great king, an association reserved in those days for a king who dominated a vast region. Prior to Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah, he sent a delegation of men to Jerusalem to intimidate and persuade Hezekiah to surrender.
In their negotiations, the Rabshakeh, Sennacherib’s chief officer, met Hezekiah’s officials and said to them, “On what do you base this confidence of yours? Do you think mere words are strategy and power for war? On whom do you now rely, that you have rebelled against me? See, you are relying now on Egypt, that broken reed of a staff (a staff signifies a ruler, and in this case the reign of the Pharaoh of Egypt was considered by Sennacherib to be broken), which will pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him” (2 Kings 18:19-21). Sennacherib’s men performed a cleaver trick by mocking God and at the same time hoping to learn who or what was king Hezekiah placing his trust in, calling any efforts to align himself with Egypt foolish. Can you perceive Sennacherib’s pride oozing through his own official’s words?
Sennacherib’s officials appealed to Hezekiah’s officials to surrender. “The king of Assyria says: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of my hand. Do not let Hezekiah make you rely on the Lord by saying, the Lord will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’” By trying to convince them that no country would come to their aid as Assyria had defeated them all, the goal was to promote fear and doubt in the people of Judah. None of their gods protected them from Sennacherib, so how could the Lord protect Jerusalem? Furthermore, by using the words, “Do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, ‘the Lord will deliver us’” (2 Kings 18:32) this was Sennacherib’s final attempt to convince the Israelites to forsake King Hezekiah and create antagonism and disagreement in his kingdom. But what Sennacherib didn’t understand or appreciate about God is that He can take a godly nation with only a flicker of faith and strength and turn it into a strong nation.
When Hezekiah’s officials returned with Sennacherib’s threatening letter, he did two things:
He humbly approached God for His help. With the pending attack of the Assyrian army, he had a decision to make. Would he give into Sennacherib’s fierce intimidation and warnings to surrender, or a take a stand, with God going before him? After reading the letter, he “spread it before the Lord . And Hezekiah prayed: “Oh Lord the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, you are God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, and have hurled their gods into the fire, though they were no gods but the work of human hands–wood and stone–and so they were destroyed. So now, O Lord our God, save us, I pray you, from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone” ( vv. 14-19).
Can you detect Hezekiah’s desperate plea in which he incorporated God’s sovereignty and Judah’s full dependence on Him?
King Hezekiah trusted. After his bold petition for God’s help, all this godly king could do was trust–place his hope and expectation in God for the outcome. But true to God’s own nature, “…the eyes of the Lord range throughout the entire earth, to strengthen those whose heart is true to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). God also keeps His promises. He will honor those who honor Him. He perceived the condition of Sennacherib’s heart and didn’t like what He saw–a healthy dose of pride. Sennacherib took all the credit for the growth and the military strength of his kingdom. He accredited his past success and future victories to himself. In reality, Sennacherib missed an important truth. His success came from God. But God only allowed it in order to fulfill His purpose. Sennacherib’s greatest mistake was that he never acknowledged that another ruler, the God of the Israelites who made heaven and earth reigned with ultimate power and authority. Pride is a serious offense to God (see Proverbs 6:16-19). And He dealt a deadly blow to this evil and prideful Assyrian king using the hands of his own children, a final humiliation of the worst kind.
That very night the angel of the Lord set out and struck down one hundred eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; when morning dawned, they were all dead bodies. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria left, went home, and lived in Nineveh [defeated and humiliated]. As he was worshipping in the house of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped into the land of Ararat. His son Esar-haddon succeeded him (2 Kings 19:35-37).
Pride was the ruin of King Sennacherib of Assyria. His arrogance and belief that his kingdom had become powerful was because of his own efforts and strength led to his demise. Today, the word pride has been stripped from its sinful nature and been given an elevated position, making it less offending.1 But God’s Word doesn’t view pride in the same manner as the world views it.2 There’s a difference between being proud of certain things or people–and being prideful.3 The sin of being prideful overestimates our own value and importance, ignoring God’s role in our lives and endeavors, including our successes and achievements.4 God calls this type of pride sin.5 “For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves” (Galations 6:3).
The difference between these two kings is that King Hezekiah knew the Source of his accomplishments as king and Who gave him his victories. He attributed full credit to God. Our heavenly Father doesn’t object to self-confidence, a healthy self-esteem, or feeling good about an accomplishment, but what He does object to is our taking full credit for what He does in and through our lives and for subscribing to the belief that we are superior to others.
1 Lisa Nixon Phillips, Faith Steps for Military Families -Spiritual Readiness Through the Psalms of Ascent, (New York, NY:, Morgan James Publishing, 2014) 129.