Sennacherib threatened the Jewish people with slavery and slaughter.
[II Kings 18-19]
From a Jerusalem rampart, King Hezekiah studied thousands of Assyrian campfires lighting the horizon. The Assyrians had conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and soon they would position siege towers against the walls of Jerusalem.
When Sennacherib conquered a fortified city, his soldiers piled decapitated heads outside the city’s gate, to soften the resolve of his next conquest. Even the most well-fortified city often surrendered, rather than provoke Assyrian brutality—the wages of resistance.
Hezekiah wrestled with a fateful decision: Should he throw open the gates of Jerusalem and invite Sennacherib inside? Should he present the City of David as a gift—to survive? If his army challenged the Assyrians and lost the city—which his generals predicted—he and his cabinet ministers would likely be pierced through their jaws with iron hooks—and marched to a foreign land.
Fear leached through the walls of Jerusalem like a pestilence, and Hezekiah left his staff debating defense and capitulation. He entered the temple, clutching an Assyrian scroll specifying the terms of his unconditional surrender…
The king of Judah lay for a time upon cool temple tiles, face buried in his arms. He pondered what the prophet Isaiah had told him: “O king, God himself will defend Jerusalem!”
He wanted to believe it, but couldn’t hide his misgivings from his counselor.
“Today,” Hezekiah said, “…is like when a child is ready to be born, but the mother has no strength to deliver the baby.”
In the holy place, Hezekiah poured out his heart to God, concluding his intercession with: “…rescue us from Sennacherib’s power, then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone…are God.”
With a sense of heaviness, the king of Judah left the temple and ascended to the battlement again.
Isaiah stepped from the shadows. “I have another message from God for you,” he told the king, more decisively than before.
“Sennacherib will not enter Jerusalem–or shoot a single arrow here.”
Evidently Isaiah could not see the thousands of Assyrian campfires shimmering like fireflies within a mile of Jerusalem. What was a king supposed to do with this new “intelligence?”
Hezekiah wrestled with a force more crippling than 100 Sennacheribs. He wrestled with unbelief. With his faith backed against the wall, the king had no other choice but to trust God, and somehow—to rest.
The sound of ravens awoke Hezekiah at dawn. Upon the wall, he had dozed fitfully all night with his soldiers, who stood watch. A morning mist obscured the Assyrian hoard in the valley below, and Hezekiah strained to hear the construction of siege works.
A strange odor mingled with the smell of smoldering campfires, and revulsion plucked like a bowstring at Hezekiah’s nerves. He recognized a smell familiar to soldiers on the battlefield: the stench of rotting flesh.
Isaiah came. He stood at his king’s side, and together they watched the curtain of morning mist rise.
As far as their eyes could see, corpses littered the landscape, except for a formation of soldiers marching helter-skelter north, like ants in a rainstorm.
Hezekiah’s chief of staff approached the king. His voice quavered.
“We count 185 thousand, sire—all Assyrians. All DEAD, sire!”
The clear morning revealed swarms of ravens feasting on the bodies of Assyrian soldiers lying with weapons in hand, next to unassembled siege works. Hezekiah summoned his cabinet ministers and generals for the most consoling, yet strangest briefing any had ever attended.
“Jehovah God has saved you from the hand of Sennacherib,” Isaiah simply said, “like he promised he would.”
Overcome with emotion, one general ventured, “To have witnessed God’s great army slicing through thousands of brutish Assyrians! What a sight!”
But the prophet smiled. “No army, sir. No battle either. God sent just one angel to deliver us.”
“One?” Hezekiah queried.
“A single angel swept the Assyrians’ souls from your fields and homes like a scythe cutting stalks of wheat. Just ONE,” Isaiah said.
Hezekiah gazed after the decamping Assyrians, stricken in his heart for doubting God’s word—and amazed by his prevailing mercy…
As you stand on your wall, fearing some kind of “inevitable slaughter,” listen to God say through his word, “I will defend you…” and wait for the mist to rise…
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” [Hebrews 11:1-3]
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I [Jesus] have overcome the world.” [John 16:33]