In 2 Kings 18-19, Hezekiah (who did right before the Lord, 2 Kings 18:3) is confronted by the forces of Assyrian king Sennacherib. With Jerusalem under siege, Hezekiah looks in a hopeless position – especially since we know Sennacherib has already wiped out the northern kingdom of Israel.
There’s a power imbalance, but 2 Kings has already told us God’s perspective: Hezekiah is the good guy.
Therefore, when Sennacherib tries to persuade Hezekiah to give up his defence, we know that the subtle arguments are all lies. These lies sound similar to ones people argue in churches today. They include:
- Worldly assessments
- False accusations of ungodliness
- Claimed divine insight
- The offer of religion
The message from Sennacherib accuses Hezekiah of relying on Egypt (2 Kings 18:21). He even taunts Hezekiah by offering powerful weapons – horses 2 Kings 18:23). And it was true: Hezekiah looked weak and completely compromised. By human assessment there was no hope or future for Hezekiah and Jerusalem.
Likewise today churches hear of how we must act, because people these days just won’t accept … You can fill in the gap! They won’t accept a message of human sin, the news that Jesus is the only way, that the Bible is the authoritative truth from God, etc.
In other words, ‘This is humanly inconceivable, so give it up.’
False accusations of ungodliness
The accusation is that Hezekiah, who claims to trust the Lord, is really against the Lord. After all, he removed all the high places. And then he insisted that the Jerusalem altar was the only place to worship (2 Kings 18:22). To Sennacherib, Hezekiah looks as if he’s acting against worship of the Lord.
And today one of the most cutting comments is, ‘How un-Christian!’ How unlike true Christianity (goes the accusation) to insist Christian leaders believe in Jesus who died and rose again. Or: how unlike God to teach sexual purity for church members – doesn’t God accept everyone?
Claimed divine insight
The public message to Hezekiah includes a remarkable claim from Sennacherib, “The Lord said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.'” The claim: you can ignore me in the name of the Lord, but doing so will disobey the Lord. (Remember, this is a false claim!)
Today people still offer God-reasons to do things. We’re induced to change the message of Jesus because ‘we know that’s what God wants.’ Once in a while we still hear the blatant claim, ‘God told me to.’ Yet generally it’s more subtle hints that some new way is really what God wants.
The power of religion
The final inducement from Sennacherib is, possibly, the most honest. Sennacherib’s envoy finally admits there’s a religious competition going on. And that Assyria’s gods are the best. Assyria admits it does have different beliefs – but look at how successful this belief system is. It must have something going for it, right? ‘Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand?’ (2 Kings 18:35)
Today, we’re told to learn from these faiths. Eastern systems of karma and reincarnation, or Asian Islam, or Melanesian animism … they all work. They help people live, give a framework to understand the world, and form cultural identity. How could Christians be so arrogant as to disagree?
But these are all false arguments. They aren’t demolished, in this case, by debate and argumentation. They are demolished by the story – and by its conclusion.
The last paragraph of chapter 19 is very matter-of-fact. And devastating to all the wrong arguments:
And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. And as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.