Sermon preached on 2 Kings 19:20-37 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/18/2020 in Novato, CA.
This is now the third and final week dealing with the Assyrian threat against Jerusalem. It began last chapter when we saw the godly King Hezekiah begin to reign and he reversed the policy of his father Ahaz to submit to Assyria. In response, Assyria came down and wiped out most of Judah and its various fortified cities. At that point, Hezekiah tried to make peace with Assyria and gave them the tribute they demanded. But they wanted more, ultimately to take Jerusalem and exile its inhabitants. The Assyrian King Sennacherib, while engaging in other battles nearby, sent his messengers to Jerusalem to try to negotiate its surrender. They tried to get King Hezekiah and the people to lose hope. They end up repeatedly mocking the LORD God, saying that none of the other gods of the nations could save them from Assyria, and neither could Judah’s God. This caused Hezekiah to go to prayer, both directly to the LORD and through the prophet Isaiah. We saw how Hezekiah found comfort in his doctrine of God. Hezekiah knew Assyria miscalculated when they compared the LORD God who was the one true God with all those false gods of the nations that didn’t really exist. So, he prayed that God would vindicate his name before these presumptuous pagans. Last week we saw God initially replied that he would save them by making King Sennacherib hear a rumor and return to his own land and there be killed. But our passage ended with Hezekiah still waiting on the LORD for this salvation, while Sennacherib continued to taunt them and revile the LORD. That drove Hezekiah back to pray in the temple. That is where we pick up today because Isaiah then returns with another word from God, after which we see how God fulfilled his promise to bring judgment on Sennacherib and deliver Jerusalem from Assyria.
So then, we pick up the story in verse 20 with Isaiah returning to give Hezekiah this word from God. The long story short is that Isaiah says God has heard the blasphemy of King Sennacherib and will judge him because of it. However, you will notice that much of Isaiah’s prophecy here comes in the form a poetic oracle spoken against King Sennacherib specifically. So then, the plan for today is to first work through this poetic utterance in verses 21-29. Then our last point will be to work through the remaining verses to see how God saves Jerusalem from Assyria and promises to raise up a remnant through all of this.
Beginning with the poetic oracle, we note that it was not uncommon for a prophet of Israel to prophesy in poetry, nor was it uncommon for such to be oracles of judgment as we see here. Notice how this poetic oracle is directed against Sennacherib. Verse 21 tells us this, and then as we read through it we see that it is put in the second person singular. It’s the divine counter to Assyria’s mocking. Sennacherib mocked God in the third-person, speaking ill of him to others. Yet here, God responds directly to him and returns his mocking back upon himself.
Working through the poetic utterance, we see the first section deals with Jerusalem’s safety. This is verse 21. At the heart of Assyria’s reviling of the LORD was that they claimed they were going to destroy Jerusalem if they resisted capture. God quickly deals with that right away and basically says that is not going to happen. God pictures Jerusalem as a pure virgin who will not be defiled by Assyria but who instead mocks Assyria on her way out. Assyria had mocked Jerusalem, but Jerusalem will mock Assyria when God makes Assyria go back home without its prize.
The next section is verses 22-24 where God confronts Assyria for its mocking of him. We see the transition in verse 22 when God refers to himself as the Holy One of Israel. In other words, he transitions from speaking about how Assyria had threatened Israel by noting that they he is the God of Israel. And it’s here where God directly confronts their mocking. God even notes that while Sennacherib used messengers to mock him, God is holding Sennacherib personally accountable for every careless word he’s uttered. So then, God calls him to account for such mocking and basically tells him that had picked the wrong being to mock. God will explain why in a moment.
But first God recounts some of the arrogant boasting that Sennacherib had done. This is what we see starting halfway through verse 23. This goes into a level of detail that we hadn’t seen before, which shows that we had only been given a summary. Here we read about how the Assyrian king not only reveled in his victories, but also boasted of all the challenges he had to overcome to do so. Archeology confirms that such boasting was common by them. So then, in verse 23 it describes Sennacherib’s boasting of how they overcame the heights of the mountains in attacking Lebanon and winning their national treasure – the forests of Lebanon. In verse 24 he boasted about how he overcame thirst on the battlefield by digging wells. There he also gloats of how he overcame all the streams in Egypt, able to somehow walk across them on dry land. There are interesting echoes there of themes from Israel’s history in the exodus from Egypt – with God’s parting of the Red Sea and miraculously giving his people water in the dry and weary wilderness. Sennacherib’s boasting seems to put himself on par with God.
The next section in verses 25-27 then addresses this boasting. Notice that God doesn’t deny their successes. God doesn’t deny that they had hard obstacles to overcome and did. God doesn’t deny that they’ve had many victories over various nations. In these verses, God even goes on to add to the description of how they demolished fortified cities and made their inhabitants in comparison look like powerless grass before them. But when someone boasts of such things it typically means they are giving themselves the credit. That is what God confronts them on. This is how this section begins in verse 25. God asks Sennacherib, “Have you not heard?” “Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass.” God answers Sennacherib’s presumptuous boasting with the righteous boasting of the LORD God. God answers Sennacherib’s arrogance with the doctrine of God’s eternal decree.
God’s eternal decree of all things is an important doctrine to be reminded of today. The catechisms of our church helpfully summarize this teaching of Scripture by saying that, “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass” (WSC 7). To further quote the catechisms, God’s ongoing execution of those decrees is in his providential governing of this world, “according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will” (WLC 14). In other words, God is sovereign, and God is in control. God has ordained all of human history. He has made a plan and is executing it. Nothing surprises God or thwarts his most holy will. Everything unfolds in history as he decreed it.
So yes, Assyria had many victories over the nations amidst various challenges. Yes, the false gods of those nations couldn’t save them. But this was not ultimately because of Assyria’s great strength but because of God’s eternal decree. It was God’s plan to so use Assyria like this, and it’s quite possible that part of why God used Assyria like this was to bring judgment on these nations for their idolatry and false religion. This is similar, then, to last week where we talked about how Assyria had miscalculated their odds of defeating Jerusalem because of their failure to recognize that Israel’s God was actually a real, living God, and the only real, living God. So then, Assyria here had also concluded incorrectly on how they were able to defeat all these nations. King Sennacherib should have recognized the sovereignty of the LORD God over all things. This is similar to how later King Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonians would be humbled by God when he pridefully attributed the glory of his kingdom to his own power, Daniel 4. Yet, in that case, Nebuchadnezzar had merely been giving himself the credit. Sennacherib here did even worse by not only giving himself the credit but then reviling the LORD God by claiming himself to be more powerful than the LORD.
The LORD shows his ongoing providential governing of all things in verse 27 when he addresses the present situation. The LORD says he knows even now what Sennacherib is doing: his sitting down, and his comings and goings. That means he also knows Sennacherib’s raging against the LORD. As we’ll see in a moment, Sennacherib will have to answer to God for such raging.
This makes use of another related doctrinal truth that we shouldn’t miss about the doctrine of God’s eternal decree. While God has sovereignly predestined whatsoever comes to pass, he does so in such a way that mankind is still accountable for their sin. We see that here. God affirms that he’s planned everything out, including the Assyrians’ many victories. Yet we see here that King Sennacherib is still guilty for his sin of arrogantly blaspheming the LORD God. Theologians typically speak of this by asserting that God is not the author of sin, even in how he foreordains whatsoever comes to pass.
We can note that how God accomplishes such has an element of mystery. It involves the fact that God’s foreordination includes that he didn’t make mankind as robots. God has endowed mankind with a will and given us a freedom of choice. God’s bringing all things to pass can include first and secondary causes, and so when humans commit sin, they are neither tempted by God to do so nor does God do violence to their wills to force them to sin. But God’s eternal decree includes his ordaining his plans coming to pass even through making use at times the secondary causes of human sin. While we might struggle to fully understand how God does all this, we can find comfort in the counsel of Proverbs 3:5. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”
So then, the final section of this poetic utterance against Sennacherib is in verse 28. There God affirms that he will judge Sennacherib for his raging against him. You’ll note that it also speaks against his complacency, and that refers to the ease or sense of security that Sennacherib had due to his arrogant presumptions. God uses the poetic imagery to describe the judgment that will happen to Sennacherib. He’ll put a hook in his nose and a bit in his mouth and drag him back home. It’s the imagery of a master subduing an animal. It is fitting imagery, because the ruthless Assyrians are on record as treating their captives literally along these lines. But here this verse coincides perfectly with what Isaiah had previously prophesied back in verse 7 about how God would get him to return to his own land where he would then be assassinated.
Having walked through this poetic utterance against Sennacherib, let us now turn in our last point to consider the final section of our passage. We see how God further assures Hezekiah of victory and how he will cause the remnant of God’s people in Jerusalem to flourish.
In terms of the victory over Assyria, the summary of that can be seen in verse 34. There God says, “I will defend this city”. How encouraging to hear, because if God says he will defend a city then that city will not fall! This is further explained in verses 32-33. God promises that the Assyrians won’t even be allowed to enter in the city or even able to shoot an arrow into the city. Nor will they be able to come before it with a shield or a siege mound. In other words, despite their threats, Assyria won’t even really be able to begin any assault on Jerusalem. They may have conquered the surrounding regions of Judah and in some sense have Jerusalem surrounded right now, but they aren’t really even going to be able to attack them. They won’t even be able to start to put their muscle where their mouth is in terms of attacking Jerusalem. They’ll be going home before then.
Notice that Hezekiah is also given a sign about this in verse 29. Isaiah speaks of a sign using agricultural phenomenon. He speaks of how for the first two years they’ll won’t sow the land. Rather they will simply glean and eat of what naturally springs from the land. Then in the third year, they’ll get back to the normal work of sowing and reaping. To clarify, when Isaiah calls this a “sign” he doesn’t appear to mean in the confirmatory sense. He doesn’t mean the kind of sign that you give in the sense of something unlikely happening that when it happens it confirms the prophesied event will really happen. Rather, the kind of sign he apparently has in mind is the kind where something happens that becomes figurative of something else that will happen. It’s the sign that serves like a parable to talk about something else that will come to pass. So, this sign-as-a-parable is the two years of no sowing followed by the third year of sowing and reaping.
What is that sign then figurative of? Verse 30 gives the interpretation. It is figurative of how God will reestablish the surviving remnant among Jerusalem. They will be like those first two years where they look like meager crops that just came as volunteer shoots while the land otherwise rests. But then they will take root downward and bear fruit upward. Then, like in that third year, they will be like the land that gets properly worked and produces a bountiful harvest. So then, as verse 31 further explains, out of Jerusalem will come a small remnant of survivors, but it will ultimately grow and flourish into something fruitful again.
It should be noted that the sign of the land resting for two years like this is highly suggestive that Judah was approaching a year of Jubilee. You might recall that the law demanded Israel to let the land rest every seven years. In other words, every seven years they were supposed to not do the normal sowing. They could store up food from previous harvests and they were free to glean and eat from the fields whatever comes up on its own during that year. But at the end of seven of those seven-year cycles there was supposed to be a special year of Jubilee where they let the land rest a second year in a row from any sowing. That was also a year when all the debts in the land were forgiven and every family was to be restored to their historical inheritance of land in the Promised Land. If in fact that’s what this sign was recognizing, that Judah’s calendar had come into this unique timeframe of two years of rest and the year of Jubilee, it’s wonderful to think of God’s timing here. That would mean that God’s salvation for this remnant of Jerusalem is coming about in the context of the redemption of the year of Jubilee. The year of Jubilee is all about God giving the people a fresh start and a new hope in life, which is very much what God would be giving Judah in the aftermath of being saved from the Assyrians.
So then, while Hezekiah had to wait before for Isaiah’s prophesied salvation to come to pass, verse 35 states that the waiting had ended – at least to a degree. After Isaiah gave this second prophecy with its poetic utterance, we find God immediately taking action. That very night the angel of the LORD struck down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. It resulted in Sennacherib packing up and going back home to Assyria. Eventually, some twenty years later, Sennacherib is assassinated by his own son. But during that whole time in between, he never came back to fight again or perturb Judah. Thus, God’s prophecy through Isaiah was perfectly fulfilled. And in fact, the LORD did even more that what he had told Hezekiah, when he had this sort of reprise of the Passover when the angel of the LORD goes through as destroyer of the Assyrians.
We should ask at this point why did God defend Jerusalem like this, defeating the Assyrians and raising up and renewing a Jerusalem remnant of his people? Well, we are told two reasons in verse 34: for God’s own sake and for the sake of his servant David. Regarding God’s own sake, we remember how the Assyrians reviled God’s name, and so here he vindicates his glory and shows himself to be the only true God who is all-powerful and all-sovereign over the kingdoms of men.
And regarding David’s sake, we remember how closely God connected his love for David and with Jerusalem. As we read back in 1 Kings 15, God described there that his love for David is why he had preserved a light for Judah in Jerusalem. We can’t help but think of the Davidic Covenant when we read such language and think of how “for David’s sake” ultimately looks to “for Christ Jesus’ sake”. Jesus, Son of David, is the ultimately expression of God’s love toward David and even the ultimate basis for God’s love for David. In relationship to this, you will note that in verse 31 another reason is given why God saved a remnant among Judah. It says “for the zeal of the LORD will do this.” Well the prophet Isaiah said the same thing when in Isaiah 9:7 he prophesied the future coming the Davidic messiah. Isaiah said of Christ Jesus, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”
This then is where we end up today. Why did God save Jerusalem? For the sake of his own glory and for the sake of Christ! For God’s glory and for the sake of Jesus, God saves a remnant elect and will ultimately place them in a new Jerusalem come down out of heaven. There they will flourish and bear much fruit unto eternity.
My friends, have you not heard this? This was determined by God long ago! God chose whom he would redeem before the foundation of the world. This Sennacherib here had this wrong complacency. In his presumption and folly, he had a security and an ease that he really should not have had. But a Christian can have a right security and ease due to the humility that knows that the sovereign Lord has planned to save him from long ago.
Likewise, those who profess Christ who deny the biblical doctrine of predestination express a similar sort of unbiblical complacency when they think they’ve been saved in some part due to their own works. But this passage is a “sign” that pictures our salvation. None of the reasons given here for why God saved a remnant of Jerusalem had to do with them or their works. Likewise, God has saved us for the sake of his own glory and for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Let us humbly find our ease and security in the eternal plans of God that have seen fit to plant us as part of the remnant of Judah to be firmly rooted and abundantly fruitful. Soli Deo Gloria. All glory be to God! Amen.
Copyright © 2020 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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