While Israel was exiled during the reign of Hoshea, Hezekiah became king in Judah. During his 29 years in power, “He did what was right in the LORD’s sight just as his ancestor David had done” (2 Kgs 18:3). Hezekiah was so outstanding to the author because Hezekiah trusted in the Lord during the threat of Sennacherib, the Assyrian king who followed in the quest for domination that had characterized both Tiglath-pileser (2 Kgs 15:29-16:18) and Shalmaneser (2 Kgs 17:1-6) before him.
The drama of Hezekiah’s reign recorded in 2 Kings 18-19 began when “Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them” (2 Kgs 18:13). Hezekiah’s initial reaction resembled his weak-kneed contemporary Ahaz in the north (2 Kgs 16:7-18) and he gave the Assyrian king the plunder of the Lord’s temple (2 Kgs 18:14-17).
Sennacherib, having whetted his appetite with the gold from the Lord’s temple, sent a massive envoy to besiege Jerusalem (2 Kgs 18:17-18). Among the troops was the Rabshakeh, a high-ranking official who sought to intimidate Hezekiah and Jerusalem into an easy surrender. He questioned Hezekiah’s resources to endure the siege. By speaking in Hebrew, the Rabshakeh hoped his words would persuade all the besieged inhabitants to surrender the city and enjoy the abundant life of Assyrian subjects (2 Kgs 18:19-32). Hezekiah was desperate. He “tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth and went into the LORD’s temple” (2 Kgs 19:1). The king sent for the prophet Isaiah in hopes that the prophet’s prayer would incite God’s wrath against those so brazenly opposed to Israel’s God.
When Hezekiah heard the word of the Lord through Isaiah the prophet, Hezekiah prayed, “Listen closely, LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, LORD, and see; hear the words that Sennacherib has sent to mock the living God (2 Kgs 19:16). Isaiah prophesied the word of the Lord to the Assyrian king saying, “I will put My hook in your nose and My bit in your mouth; I will make you go back the way you came” (2 Kgs 19:28). And it happened: “That night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians” (2 Kgs 19:35). Sennacherib was eventually assassinated by his own sons in an idol’s temple (2 Kgs 19:37).
The Lord’s covenant with David, coupled with Hezekiah’s faithfulness, prolonged the place of Judah in the Promised Land. Israel was overtaken by the Assyrians because of their idolatry. Although Judah “did not keep the commandments of the LORD their God but lived according to the customs Israel had introduced” (2 Kgs 17:19), Judah remained in the land longer than Israel. This was at least in part because of Hezekiah. When Hezekiah was threatened by the Assyrians, he turned to the Lord for aid. The prophet Isaiah spoke the Lord’s answer to the prayer of Hezekiah. Isaiah emphasized the Lord’s zeal for the preservation of Jerusalem, Mount Zion, the city of David, saying, “‘He [Sennacherib] will go back on the road that he came and he will not enter this city,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will defend this city and rescue it for My sake and for the sake of My servant David’” (2 Kgs 19:33-34). Nonetheless, because of the unfaithfulness of Judah after the reign of Hezekiah, even Jerusalem was destroyed (2 Kings 25).
To properly understand the Lord’s answer to Hezekiah’s prayer, it is imperative to view it as part of the the Lord’s progressive revelation in the Old and New Testaments. The Lord’s concern for Jerusalem and the legacy of His servant David was ultimately fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, not Hezekiah or any king of Judah before him. In the flow of redemptive history, the great threat to God’s people was not a foreign king but the Devil. He was the spiritual force enticing Israel’s inclinations to idolatry and selfishness. Thus, when Jesus came to reconcile humanity to God, it was necessary for Jesus to defeat the Devil. Jesus was victorious over the Devil’s temptations, even when the Devil quipped Ps 91:11-12 at Jesus, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will give His angels orders concerning you,’ and ‘they will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’” (Matt 4:6//Luke 4:10-11). Jesus replied, “Do not test the Lord your God” (Matt 4:7//Luke 4:12; Deut 6:16).