2 Kings 19:20–37 (NIV)✞: Isaiah Prophesies Sennacherib’s Fall
Up to now, in the story of Hezekiah and the Assyrians we’ve seen the following:
- 18:1–16: We are introduced to Hezekiah and told that he was the most faithful king Judah ever had
- We’re also told of a mistake he made in dealing with the Assyrians in deciding to stop being a vassal state – though we’ll eventually see that this all works out in the end
- 18:17-37: The Assyrians begin the process of conquering Judah and send a message to the people of the capital, Jerusalem, that they’re about to be conquered and their god won’t be able to save them
- 19:1–19: Hezekiah responds to these threats from the Assyrians by going to God in prayer
In the last passage (19:1–19) the LORD had given Hezekiah what I would call a preliminary prophecy via Isaiah that the Assyrians would leave and that the king of Assyria would be assassinated. In this passage we get a more fulsome prophecy that I’m going through in detail.
20 Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I have heard your prayer concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria. 21 This is the word that the LORD has spoken against him:
“‘Virgin Daughter Zion
despises you and mocks you.
tosses her head as you flee.
22 Who is it you have ridiculed and blasphemed?
Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes in pride?
Against the Holy One of Israel!
So the first thing we see is that no, the LORD hasn’t been ignoring all of the words of the Assyrians; they thought they could treat Him like any other “god” but He is proving otherwise to them.
Interestingly, however, that’s not how God phrases things in this part of the poem/prophecy. He doesn’t say, “I mock you for these words,” He says, “the Virgin Daughter of Zion mocks you.” Zion is a name God often uses in the Old Testament for the city of Jerusalem; as the ESV Study Bible puts it (keeping in mind that the NIV and ESV have slightly different wording):
2 Kings 19:21 Daughter of Zion (or daughter of Jerusalem) is frequently used in the OT as a personification of the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants. Jerusalem is as defenseless as a virgin daughter, but because of the Lord’s protection she will not be violated by mighty Sennacherib; in fact, she wags her head at him, scoffing at his pride.
ESV Study Bible
So it’s not just a matter of God saying He doesn’t take the Assyrians seriously, it’s God saying that His people don’t take the Assyrians seriously. After all of the hand-wringing of the last couple of passages that might seem like poetic license—they have been taking the Assyrian threat seriously; they haven’t been mocking them!—and in part maybe it is poetic license, but I feel this is also God taking the long view: by the time this whole thing is done the people of Judah will be saying, “Assyrians? What Assyrians?”
23 By your messengers
you have ridiculed the Lord.
And you have said,
“With my many chariots
I have ascended the heights of the mountains,
the utmost heights of Lebanon.
I have cut down its tallest cedars,
the choicest of its junipers.
I have reached its remotest parts,
the finest of its forests.
24 I have dug wells in foreign lands
and drunk the water there.
With the soles of my feet
I have dried up all the streams of Egypt.”
The first thing to note, because I’m pedantic like this, is that it wasn’t a typo above when it says “Lord” (with normal capitalization) instead of “LORD” (in all capital letters); both the NIV and the ESV have it written that way. What that means is that a different word is being used in the Hebrew text; when we see it written out as “LORD” in all capital letters it means that what was written in the Hebrew is the personal name of God, used by His people, and numerous English translations of the Bible render that as “LORD” in all capital letters. (See this article from Britannica for a longer explanation of it.) In this case, however, since verse 23 just says “Lord,” it means that the Hebrew text just used the word “Lord,” not God’s personal name. So… why?
I don’t see this as a consistent pattern of God always refusing to use His personal name when addressing other nations—in fact, back in 18:19–25✞ the field commander of the Assyrians used the name “LORD” when addressing the people of Judah, which shows that the Assyrians were aware of this name for God.
So I’m assuming that verse 23 uses the word “Lord” instead of the name of the LORD as a way of reemphasizing the fact that the Assyrians—wrongly—had been treating Him like any other “god” of the nations they’d previously conquered.
Other than that point—which probably wasn’t even that important?—the main thrust of this section is God pointing out the arrogance of the Assyrians. They’ve accomplished some major victories but it’s made them feel like they’re invincible – the problem being that they’re now up against the one and only God of the universe.
Also, I’m not one who reads a lot of poetry but sometimes a particular phrase will grab me, and “with the soles of my feet I have dried up all the streams of Egypt” is one such phrase. It feels very evocative of the way the Assyrians feel at this moment in history.
25 “‘Have you not heard?
Long ago I ordained it.
In days of old I planned it;
now I have brought it to pass,
that you have turned fortified cities
into piles of stone.
26 Their people, drained of power,
are dismayed and put to shame.
They are like plants in the field,
like tender green shoots,
like grass sprouting on the roof,
scorched before it grows up.
Yes, the Assyrians have accomplished a lot and had some great victories, but they’ve done so because God planned it. It was His plan and His purpose for the Assyrians to conquer other nations – including, I would point out, His people in Israel.
27 “‘But I know where you are
and when you come and go
and how you rage against me.
28 Because you rage against me
and because your insolence has reached my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
and my bit in your mouth,
and I will make you return
by the way you came.’
Just because it was God’s plan for the Assyrians to have accomplished what they accomplished, it doesn’t mean He’s not also going to call them to account!
And let’s not forget (as I myself sometimes do) that this attack on Judah isn’t coming out of nowhere; the Assyrians have recently conquered God’s northern kingdom of Israel. So when the Assyrians feel that God is just another “god,” like the “gods” of any other nation they’ve conquered… they sort of have a reason to think that, since they’ve already conquered one of His nations! From their perspective, He wasn’t able to save his people from them before, and probably won’t be able to this time either.
God, however, is not letting them off the hook: He is holding them accountable for their actions, including their underestimation of who He is. If we pay close attention, He isn’t calling them to account for their violence—at least, not here—but for their insolence.
After this prophecy aimed at the Assyrians, Isaiah delivers a prophecy to Hezekiah himself:
29 “This will be the sign for you, Hezekiah:
“This year you will eat what grows by itself,
and the second year what springs from that.
But in the third year sow and reap,
plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
30 Once more a remnant of the kingdom of Judah
will take root below and bear fruit above.
31 For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant,
and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors.
“The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Interestingly, this prophecy will require faith from Hezekiah; in the previous passage there had been a prophecy that the Assyrians would withdraw and it happened immediately but in this case Hezekiah is going to have to wait years to see the prophecy fulfilled. But then Isaiah delivers a more imminent prophecy:
32 “Therefore this is what the LORD says concerning the king of Assyria:
“‘He will not enter this city
or shoot an arrow here.
He will not come before it with shield
or build a siege ramp against it.
33 By the way that he came he will return;
he will not enter this city,
declares the LORD.
34 I will defend this city and save it,
for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.’”
Given this, I think Hezekiah would find it much easier to have faith in the LORD for a couple of years while waiting for the crops to come back, knowing that the Assyrians are no longer a threat!
And this prophecy is also fulfilled pretty quickly: that night “the angel of the LORD” (v 35✞) puts to death eighty-five thousand of the Assyrian soldiers, so the Assyrians withdraw and return to Ninevah. Then we’re told in verse 37✞ that the king of Assyria assassinated by two of his sons, while he’s worshipping his god, fulfilling an earlier prophecy that was given in the last passage.