THE BOOK OF 2 KINGS
Lesson 7: Chapters 18-20
Part II: The Kingdom Judah
The Events After the Fall of Israel

Almighty Lord,
Suffering can either destroy us or make us stronger.  As King David wrote so eloquently in his psalms, suffering strengthens us when we put our faith and trust in Your divine plan for our lives.  Give us the resolve, Lord, to trust in You and not to listen to the whispers of doubt that come from the great Deceiver.  Whatever happens in our lives, when we submit ourselves to Your divine authority, we must have faith that You will turn all events to the good, even if our suffering becomes a witness to others of the power of faith.  Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us as we study the events that followed the destruction of the Northern Kingdom and the disbursal of the ten northern tribes of Israel into the Gentile world.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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I besieged and conquered Samaria, led away as booty 27,290 inhabitants of it.  I formed from among them a contingent of 50 chariots and made the remaining inhabitants assume their social positions.  I installed over them an officer of mine and imposed upon them the tribute of the former king.
Annals of Sargon II, King of Assyria

Shalmaneser V was the Assyrian king who brought the Assyrian army into Israel, but victory was claimed by his successor, Sargon II, who may have been the commander in charge of the invasion or he continued the war and achieved the victory after Shalmaneser died.  He became the ruler of the Assyrian Empire in 722 BC, but he apparently was not an heir of the former king since in his inscriptions he styles himself as a "new man" and rarely refers to his predecessors.

The Historical Background

Timeline (all dates are approximate)
930 BC: -Solomon's dies and the kingdom is divided into two states: the Northern Kingdom of Israel (10 tribes) and the Southern Kingdom of Judah (2 tribes).
732 BC: -Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser III conquers the Galilee and exiles the people into Assyrian lands to the east.
722 BC: -Assyrian King Shalmaneser V dies while besieging Israel's capital city, Samaria.  His successor, Sargon II, conquers the Northern Kingdom of Israel and deports the population into Assyrian lands north of the Euphrates.  Five groups of foreign peoples are brought in to populate the Assyrian province of Samaria.  They are the ancestors of the Samaritans.
705 BC: -King Sargon II dies and Sennacherib ascends the throne of Assyria.  There is widespread revolt among the Assyrian provinces.  King Hezekiah of Judah revolts and prepares for an Assyrian attack by building a water system for Jerusalem, extending the city walls, and fortifying other Judean cities.
701 BC: -Sennacherib attacks Judah.  46 cities including Lachish are conquered and the people exiled.  Jerusalem is spared by divine intervention and the Assyrians retreat.
687 BC: -Death of King Hezekiah.
681 BC: -Assassination of King Sennacherib.

In 722 BC the Northern Kingdom of Israel ceased to exist.  This drama began a decade earlier in 732 BC when the Assyrians conquered the Galilee and exiled the population of the Israelites tribes of Dan, Asher, Naphtali and Zebulun into Assyrian lands to the north and east of the Tigris River and as far away as the Caspian Sea.  This was the first of two deportations.  The second deportation occurred ten years later when Hoshea's repeated disloyalty resulted in the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom, the deportation of the entire population (2 Kng 17:5-6; 18:11), and the reorganization of the region into the Assyrian province of Samaria.  It was the Assyrian policy that people who had proved troublesome in other conquered lands were brought into the new provinces, and so 5 different groups of peoples were brought into the new Assyrian province of Samaria and were called "Samaritans" (2 Kng 17:24).

These events were the fulfillment of the prophecy of God's prophet Ahijah when he foretold that the Northern Kingdom of Israel would be exiled beyond the Euphrates in divine judgment for the sin of idol worship committed by the king and the people: Yahweh will make Israel shake, till it quivers like a reed in the water; he will uproot Israel from this prosperous land which he gave to their ancestors and scatter them beyond the River for provoking Yahweh to anger by making their sacred poles.  He will abandon Israel for the sins which Jeroboam has committed and made Israel commit (1 Kng 14:15-16

When the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel after besieging Samaria for three months in 722 BC, the entire remaining population of Israel was then deported into Assyrian lands to the east and five groups of pagan Gentile peoples were brought in by the Assyrians to live in what had been Israel but what was now called the Assyrian province of Samaria.  These five Gentile peoples are the ancestors of the Samaritans.  The ten displaced tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel never returned and are referred to as the "ten lost tribes of Israel."

The two tribes that formed the Southern Kingdom of Judah were now the only remnant left of the twelve tribes of the covenant people living in the Promised Land.  King Ahaz of Judah, who had become a vassal of the Assyrians prior to the fall of Samaria, continued to rule for another six years.  Because of his loyalty to Assyria, he was allowed to exert some control over Philistia.  This is supported by the fact that when he died the Philistines expressed their joy, but the prophet Isaiah cautioned them that their rejoicing was premature (Is 14:28-31).

Chapter 19-20: The Reign of Good King Hezekiah

Chapter 19: The Reign of King Hezekiah of Judah (c. 716-687 BC) and the Assyrian Threat

For Hezekiah did what is pleasing to the Lord and was steadfast in the ways of David his father, enjoined on him by the prophet Isaiah, a great man trustworthy in his vision.  In his days the sun moved back; he prolonged the life of the king.  In the power of the spirit he saw the last things, he comforted the mourners of Zion, he revealed the future to the end of time, and hidden things long before they happened.
Sirach [Ecclesiasticus] 48:22-25/25-28

2 Kings 18:1-8 ~ The reign of Hezekiah of Judah prior to the fall of Samaria
1 In the third year of Hosea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz became king of Judah.  2 He was twenty-five years old when he came to the throne, and he reigned for twenty-nine years in Jerusalem.  His mother's name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah.  3 He did what Yahweh regards as right, just as his ancestor David had done.  He abolished the high places, broke the pillars, cut down the sacred poles and smashed the bronze serpent which Moses had made; for up to that time the Israelites had offered sacrifices to it; it was called Nehushtan.  5 He put his trust in Yahweh, God of Israel.  No king of Judah after him could be compared with him, nor any of those before him.  6 He was devoted to Yahweh, never turning from him, but keeping the commandments which Yahweh had laid down for Moses.  7 And so Yahweh was with him, and he was successful in all that he undertook.  He rebelled against the king of Assyria and refused to serve him.  8 He beat the Philistines back to Gaza, laying their territory waste from watchtower to fortified town.

Chapter 18:1-8 returns to 716 BC, six years prior to the fall of Samaria and the third year of the reign of Hoshea, king of Israel.  Davadic heir Hezekiah succeeds his father Ahaz as king of Judah.  As with all the Davidic kings is mother is named (with the exception of Jotham whose mother is not named probably because she died in childbirth or before he ascended the throne and therefore never served as Judah's Gebirah).  Hezekiah's mother, Ahijah, must have been a devout follower of Yahweh because her son did not follow the path of his father, Ahaz.  She may have been a descendant of the righteous chief priest Zechariah (2 Chr 24:20-22).  See the parallel passages concerning Hezekiah's reign in 2 Chronicles 29-32.

Question: What is unique about Hezekiah in the list of Davidic kings?
Answer: He was more devoted to Yahweh than any other king since David.

Question: List his acts of reforming religion in Judah?
Answer:

  1. He abolished the high places where illicit worship had been taking place.
  2. He broke the pillars and sacred poles associated with pagan worship.
  3. He destroyed an artifact from the time of Moses that they people had come to misuse as an object of worship.

The object referred to as the Nehushtan was the bronze serpent Yahweh told Moses to make as a remedy to cure the people of snake bites during the wilderness journey in Numbers 21:4-9.  The name alludes to its material and shape: in Hebrew nehoshet means "bronze" and nahash means "serpent."  When the bronze serpent was held above the people on a wooden pole, if the people had faith and believed God could cure them, they were cured of the poisonous snake bite.  As the inspired writer of the Book of Wisdom wrote: ... they were perishing from the bites of writhing snakes, your retribution did not continue to the end.  Affliction struck them briefly, by way of warning, and they had a saving token to remind them of the commandment of your Law, for whoever turned to it was saved, not by what he looked at, but by you, the Savior of all (Wis 16:5b-7, emphasis added).  There was no harm in keeping the artifact so long as it was viewed as a part of Israel's historical narrative, but it became a violation of the covenant when the people began to worship it. 

Question: What comparison did Jesus make between Himself and the bronze serpent in John 3:14?  How was Jesus' crucifixion different from the salvation that came to the people looking up to the bronze image of the serpent?  See Wis 16:5-7; Jn 1:4, 12; 4:14; 5:24, 56; 6:35; 11:25; 14:6; 20:31.
Answer: He compared it's lifting up and the people believing in God's power to save them to His crucifixion, saying " ... as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.  However, unlike the snake that was only an object and had no real power (Wis 16:5b-7), God the Son is Himself life (Jn 11:25; 14:6); He has life in Himself and He gives life (Jn 5:56) to those who believe in Him (Jn 1:4, 12; 4:14; 5:24; 6:35; 20:31).

Question: What did Hezekiah's devotion to Yahweh mean for the Kingdom of Judah?
Answer: Judah was once again under God's divine protection and the king was successful in everything he undertook, including regaining lost territory.

Hezekiah's father, King Ahaz, was the only Davidic king to completely abandoned the worship of Yahweh, he put out the lamps and stopped burning incense and making burnt offerings in the Sanctuary of the God of Israel (2 Chr 29:7).  He also ...broke up the equipment of the Temple of God, sealed the doors of the Temple of Yahweh and put his own altars in every corner of Jerusalem; he set up high places in every town of Judah to burn incense to other gods, thus provoking the anger of Yahweh, God of his ancestors (2 Chr 28:24-25).  In the first month when Hezekiah became king he ordered the purification of the Jerusalem Temple.  He ordered that the doors of the Temple were to be opened and then he brought in the priests and the Levites and ordered them to sanctify themselves, to restore worship of Yahweh in His Temple, and to restore Judah's covenant with God (2 Chr 29:3-16).  It took 8 days to sanctify the Temple (2 Chr 29:17), and then Hezekiah and his people celebrated the rededication of the Temple in liturgical worship (2 Chr 29:18-34).  And so the liturgy of Yahweh's Temple was restored, and Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced over what God had provided the people, since everything had happened so suddenly (2 Chr 29:35).  Hezekiah then ordered that preparations be made for the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread and even sent invitations to the northern tribes inviting all the people to attend...from Dan to Beersheba (2 Chr 30:5).  Many Israelites in the Northern Kingdom refused, but there were others who agreed to come, especially those of the northern tribes who had escaped the deportation of the Galilee (2 Chr 30:10-12).  They celebrated in the second month instead of the first because not enough priest had been purified, but in the second month, they celebrate for seven days and then the whole congregation decided to celebrate for another seven days (2 Chr 30:23). 

At the end of the celebration: ... all Israel present went out to the towns of Judah, broke the pillars, cut down the sacred poles, wrecked the high places and the altars, and did away with them entirely throughout Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh.  Then all the Israelites returned to their towns, everyone to his property (2 Chr 31:1).  Judah escaped the judgment that was to fall upon the Northern Kingdom because: Hezekiah did this throughout all Judah.  He did what Yahweh his God regards as good and right and loyal.  Everything that he undertook whether in the service of the Temple of God or in connection with the law or the commandments, he did in absolute devotion to his God, and so succeeded (2 Chr 31:20-21).

7b He rebelled against the king of Assyria and refused to serve him.  8 He beat the Philistines back to Gaza, laying their territory waste from watchtower to fortified town.
Hezekiah's father, King Ahaz, had become a vassal of the Assyrian Empire when he was threatened by King Razon of Aram and King Pekah of Israel.  Hezekiah began his reign under the shadow the Assyrian domination.  After the death of Sargon II there was widespread rebellion against the Assyrians in the northern parts of the empire.  Assyrian documents record that Pharaoh Shabako of Egypt was encouraging the western Assyrian vassal states to revolt as early as 712 or 11 BC, and when Sargon II died in 705 BC, the western part of the Assyrian Empire decided to take advantage of the change in leadership to throw off the yoke of the Assyrians.  Hezekiah joined in and broke off the treaty with the Assyrians.  This act of defiance will have consequences for the Southern Kingdom.  Only three kings remained loyal to Assyria and one was King Padi of Ekron in Philistia.  Hezekiah used the occasion to expand into Philistia where he captured Padi and took control of Gaza.(1)

The prophet Isaiah encouraged Judah not to trust Egypt for salvation (Is 20:2-4).  He gave a consistent message that they were not to trust in people or nations for their strength and were only to trust in God, the Holy One of Israel for help.  Isaiah not only preached pacifism, but he also warned against collaboration with those who did not honor Yahweh.

2 Kings 18:9-12 ~ The fall of Samaria
9 In the fourth year of Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Shalmaneser king of Assyria marched on Samaria and laid siege to it.  10 He captured it after three years.  Samaria fell in the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel.  11 The king of Assyria deported the Israelites to Assyria and settled them in Halah on the Habor, a river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.  12 This happened because they had not obeyed the voice of Yahweh their God and had broken his covenant, everything that Moses servant of Yahweh had laid down.  They neither listened to it nor put it into practice. 

This passage is a repeat of 17:5-18; also see the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 32.  King Hoshea of Israel ruled for nine years and the siege of Samaria lasted through his seventh, eighth and ninth years, or three years as the ancients counted.  The divine judgment leveled on the Northern Kingdom was not only a fulfillment of the prophecy of the Prophet Abijah (1 Kng 14:15-16) but also a fulfillment of the warning given to Israel by Moses in his last homily to the nation concerning the consequences of violating God's covenant that would result in Israel's exile from the land (Dt 28:63-64; 29:24/25-28/29).

King Sennacherib of Assyria Invades Judah

As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to forty-six of his strong cities, walled forts, and the countless small villages in their vicinity and conquered them by means of well-stamped earth ramps and battering rams brought near to the walls, combined with the stack by foot soldiers, using mines, breeches, as well as sapper work.  I drove out of them 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered them booty.  Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.
Annals of Sennacherib

2 Kings 18:13-16 ~ The Invasion of the Assyrian Army
13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria advanced on all the fortified towns of Judah and captured them.  14 Then Hezekiah king of Judah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish, "I have been at fault.  Call off the attack, and I will submit to whatever you impose on me."  The king of Assyria exacted three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold from Hezekiah king of Judah, 15 and Hezekiah gave him all the silver in the Temple of Yahweh and in the palace treasury.  16 At which time, Hezekiah stripped the facing from the leaves and jambs of the doors of the Temple of Yahweh, which an earlier king of Judah had put on, and gave it to the king of Assyria.

Ten years later the Assyrians threatened the Kingdom of Judah.  Sargon II died in 705 BC and was succeeded by Sennacherib who immediately set about putting down the revolts, but first he addressed the revolt in Babylonia which gave Hezekiah some time to prepare of an inevitable Assyrian invasion.  Hezekiah appears to have consolidated Judah into four administrative districts and stored food supplies for his army in specially marked containers.  He also prepared Jerusalem for a possible siege by repairing and strengthening the city walls, adding a new line of walls and building watchtowers.  The springs outside the city walls were stopped up and the city's main water source, the Gihon Spring, was redirected into a tunnel to fill a new reservoir made at the southwestern end of the hill of Zion in Jerusalem (2 Kng 20:20; 2 Chr 32:1-8, 30).  "Hezekiah's Tunnel" was an engineering marvel for its time and today still runs 1,748 feet from the Gihon Spring south to the pool of Siloam through the limestone bedrock of Jerusalem.  Two teams dug the tunnel from opposite ends and met at the mid-point.

In St. John's Gospel he calls the later rebuilding of the reservoir the Siloam Pool.  Siloam is a later Greek form of the Hebrew word "Shiloah/Shiloh" (see Is 8:6).
Question: In John 9:1-7 what miracle did Jesus perform at the Siloam Pool and what does St. John testify was the meaning of the name "Siloam"?
Answer: It was the site where Jesus healed a man who had been born blind.  John wrote that Siloam means "one who has been sent."

Question: Who is the "one who has been sent"?
Answer: Jesus the Messiah.

The assault on Judah came after the Assyrians discovered Hezekiah was attempting to form an alliance with Egypt.   It was an alliance that was condemned by the prophet Isaiah when Hezekiah's embassy was leaving for Egypt to ask the Pharaoh for Egyptian support against the Assyrians in c. 703-02 BC (see Is 30:1-7; 31:1-3).  Sennacherib's campaign in Phoenicia, Philistia, and Judea in 701 BC is documented in Assyrian Annals and bas-reliefs.  According the Assyrian records, the imperial Assyrian forces captured forty-six Judean towns.  The most important fortified Judahite town was Lachish.  Sennacherib took the city in 701 BC and set up his headquarters there.  When Sennacherib took Lachish, about 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem, Hezekiah capitulated and sent a letter repenting is rebellion and large amount of tribute to the Assyrian king in Lachish, hoping to appease the Sennacherib and to save the nation of Judah.(2)

The Assyrian Siege of Jerusalem

2 Kings 18:17-25 ~ The embassy of King Sennacherib's chief ministers
17 From Lachish the king of Assyria sent the cupbearer-in-chief [the Tartan, the Rab-saris, and the Rab-shakeh] from Lachish to King Hezekiah in Jerusalem ... with a large force to King Hezekiah in Jerusalem.  He [They] marched on Jerusalem and, on his arrival, took up position near the conduit of the upper pool which is on the road to the Fuller's Field.  18 He [They] summoned the king.  The master of the palace, Eliakim son of Hilkiah, Shebnah the secretary and the herald Joah son of Asaph went out to him.  19 The cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh] said to them, "Say to Hezekiah, 'The great king, the king of Assyria, says this: What makes you so confident?  20 Do you think empty words are as good as strategy and military strength?  Who are you relying on, to dare to rebel against me?  21 There you are, relying on that broken reed Egypt, which pricks and pierces the hand of whoever leans on it.  That is what Pharaoh king of Egypt is like to all who rely on him.  22 You may say to me: We rely on Yahweh our God.  But have his high places and altars not been suppressed by Hezekiah who told Judah and Jerusalem: Here, in Jerusalem, is the altar before which you must worship?  23 Very well, then, make a wager with my lord the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses if you can find horsemen to ride them.  24 How could you repel a single one of the least of my master's soldiers?  And yet you have relied on Egypt for chariots and horsemen.  25 And lastly, have I marched on this place to lay it waste without warrant from Yahweh?  Yahweh himself said to me: March on this country and lay it waste.'" [..] = IBHE, vol. II, page 1029; Cogan and Tadmor, II Kings, page 223.

All of 2 Kings 18:13-19:37 is repeated with minor differences in Isaiah chapters 36-37 (the Book of Isaiah follows 2 Kings in the canon of the Hebrew Old Testament Bible).  Instead of accepting Hezekiah's renewed avowed of loyalty and his tribute, the Assyrian king sent his chief ministers with a large force to confront Hezekiah at Jerusalem. 

17 From Lachish the king of Assyria sent the cupbearer-in-chief [the Tartan, the Rab-saris, and the Rab-shakeh] with a large force to King Hezekiah in Jerusalem.  He [They] marched on Jerusalem and, on his arrival, took up position near the conduit of the upper pool which is on the road to the Fuller's Field. 
The literal Hebrew translation is The king of Assyria dispatched the Tartan, the Rab-saris, and the Rab-shakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah in Jerusalem ... While the Assyrian king remained at Lachish, he sent three of his chief ministers to Jerusalem.  There they spoke with Hezekiah's three ministers who were his royal steward, his chief scribe and his herald. 

The man who led the Assyrian delegation was the "Tartan."  Tartan was the title of the man who served as the Assyrian king's royal steward or vizier.  He was was the highest official after the king and occasionally replaced him when the latter did not campaign (see the same term in Is 20:1).  Rab-saris refers to the "high chamberlain (literally, "chief eunuch").  This minister was often dispatched on military duties at the head of Assyrian forces.  The third minister was the Rab-shakeh who was the "chief butler" or "chief cup-bearer."  His duties were usually restricted to the royal court and to the king's person but he could also serve as the king's representative to foreign delegations.  In this case, it is the Rabshakeh who addressed Hezekiah's royal officials and the people of Jerusalem, perhaps because he is the only one of the three ministers who spoke Hebrew.  The upper pool on Fuller's Field road is also mentioned in Isaiah 7:3 but the site remains unidentified.

The master of the palace, Eliakim son of Hilkiah, Shebnah the secretary and the herald Joah son of Asaph went out to him. 
Hezekiah's three most important ministers went out to meet the Assyrian emissary.  In the Book of Isaiah we are told that Eliakim son of Hilkiah replaced a man named Shebna/Shebnah as the chief steward and "master of the palace" of King Hezekiah; it is unknown if it was the same Shebnah in this passage but it is possible Shebnah was demoted from vizier to secretary (see Is 22:15-25).  This is the same position St. Peter and each of his successors hold in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ that is the Church.
Question: Read Isaiah 22:21-25 and Jesus' statement to Peter after his profession of faith in Matthew 16:16-20.  Peter became the first of Jesus' chief stewards or vicars of the Kingdom of the Church.  How do the two positions compare?
Answer:

Question: Through his emissaries, Sennacherib challenged Hezekiah who has dared to revolt against him with what three examples of Hezekiah's foolishness?
Answer:  The three examples of Hezekiah's foolishness:

  1. It is folly to rely on the weak Egyptian Pharaoh.
  2. It is foolish to rely on Yahweh who has given Assyrian permission to lay waste Judea.
  3. It is misplaced confidence to rely on the Judahite military force.

He tells the king he is foolish to rely on the Egyptian Pharaoh and compares the Pharaoh to a reed, a plant that is common along the Nile River in Egypt.  It is a descriptive comparison since a reed appears strong, but when any force is placed on it the reed will shatter and the pieces are strong enough to cut one's hand.  Then he asked how the king could rely on Yahweh after Hezekiah had destroyed the many altars devoted to Him and insisted the people worship at only one altar in Jerusalem.   Hezekiah's religious reforms that pleased Yahweh probably did not please many of the common people who found the multiple altar sites more convenient and allowed them what they considered their "free expression" of worship.  The emissary even claimed that the Assyrians have Yahweh's blessing to destroy Jerusalem.  It was a lie but it was meant to undermine the people's confidence in Hezekiah and to drive a wedge between the king and his people.  Then he insulted the Judeans by saying, even if the Assyrians were to give Hezekiah the horses and chariots he needs, he would not have the men who had the training to use them.  In other words: resistance to the Assyrian army is fruitless.

2 Kings 18:26-37 ~ The exchange between Hezekiah's ministers and the Assyrian Rab-shakeh
26 Eliakim, Shebnah and Joah said to the cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh], "Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it; do not speak to us in the Judean language within earshot of the people on the ramparts."  27 But the cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh] said, "Do you think my lord sent me here to say these things to your master or to you?  On the contrary, it was to the people sitting on the ramparts who, like you, are doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine."  28 The cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh] then drew himself up and shouted loudly in the Judaean language, "Listen to the word of the great king, the king of Assyria.  29 The king says this, 'Do not let Hezekiah delude you.  He will be powerless to save you from my clutches.  30 Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to rely on Yahweh by saying: Yahweh is sure to save us; this city will not all into the king of Assyria's clutches.  31 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for the king of Assyria says this: Make peace with me, surrender to me, and every one of you will be free to eat the fruit of his own vine and of his own fig tree and to drink the water of his own storage-well 32 until I come and take you away to a country like your own, a land of corn*[grain] and good wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil and honey: and so you will survive and not die.  Do not listen to Hezekiah; he is deluding you when he says: Yahweh will save us.  33 Has any god of any nations been able to save this country from the king of Assyria's clutches?  34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad?  Where are the gods of Sepharvaim and Hena and Ivvah?  Where are the local gods of Samaria?  Did they save Samaria from my clutches?  35 Of all the local gods, which ones have saved their countries from my clutches, for Yahweh to be able to save Jerusalem from my clutches?'"  36 The people, however, kept quiet and said nothing in reply, since the king had given the order, "You are not to answer him."  37 The master of the palace, Eliakim son of Hilkiah, Shebnah the secretary and the herald Joah son of Asaph, with their clothes torn, went to Hezekiah and reported what the cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh] had said. * "corn" does not refer to maize that was unique to the New World but it is used in the sense of a multi-grained plant like wheat, barley, rye or oats.

See the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 32:9-23.  Aramaic had become the dominant language, and therefore, the diplomatic language of the region, but the Assyrian chief minister was speaking in Hebrew.
Question: Why did Eliakim want the Assyrian minister to speak in Aramaic instead of Hebrew and why did he refuse?
Answer: While the diplomats understood Aramaic, the common people did not, and Eliakim did not want the people standing inside the top of the city walls to hear the terrible things the Assyrian minister was saying to intimidate them and to cause a riff between the king and his people.  The Assyrian minister refused the request because it was his intent to speak directly to the people.

The Rab-shakeh continued: 29 The king says this, 'Do not let Hezekiah delude you.  He will be powerless to save you from my clutches.  The literal word is "hands."  It is repeated six times in this passage and is the key word that identifies the theme of the passage which is the threat of falling into the hands of the Assyrians.

Question: What arguments did the Assyrian minister make to the people of Jerusalem in his attempt to persuade them to surrender?
Answer:

The expression "vine and fig tree" in verse 31 is found frequently in Scripture and expresses a peaceful and prosperous life (i.e., 1 Kng 4:25/5:5).  Eating from the fruitful vine or fig tree and drinking clear well-water are a vivid antithesis to the squalid conditions the besieged people of Jerusalem will experiencing as the siege drags on: drinking their own urine and eating their own excrement (verse 27).

 32 until I come and take you away to a country like your own, a land of corn [grain] and good wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil and honey: and so you will survive and not die.
Question: How does the Assyrian minister describe the land of their exile?  Of what does his description remind you from Israel's history?  See Dt 8:7-10.
Answer:  The land into which he promised to exile them is described as being very much like the Promised Land God gave the covenant people where they are now living.

36 The people, however, kept quiet and said nothing in reply, since the king had given the order, "You are not to answer him."  37 The master of the palace, Eliakim son of Hilkiah, Shebnah the secretary and the herald Joah son of Asaph, with their clothes torn, went to Hezekiah and reported what the cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh] had said.
The people of Jerusalem kept quiet as the king had ordered.  The three Judahite ministers tore their clothing in despair and went to the king.

Chapter 19: Hezekiah Consults the Prophet Isaiah

Hezekiah fortified his city and laid on a water-supply inside it; with iron he tunneled through the rock and constructed storage-tanks.  In his days Sennacherib invaded and sent Rabshakeh; he lifted his hand against Zion and boasted loudly in his arrogance.  Then their hearts and hands trembled, they felt the pangs of a woman in labor, but they called on the merciful Lord, stretching out their hands towards him.  Swiftly the Holy One heard them from heaven and delivered them by the agency of Isaiah; he struck the camp of the Assyrians and his Angel annihilated them.  Sirach 48:17-21/19-24

2 Kings 19:1-7 ~ Hezekiah sends his ministers to the prophet Isaiah
1 On hearing this, King Hezekiah tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and went to the Temple of Yahweh.  2 He sent Eliakim master of the palace, Shebnah the secretary and the elders of the priests, wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz.  3 They said to him, "This is what Hezekiah says, 'Today is a day of suffering, of punishment, of disgrace.  Children come to birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth.  4 May Yahweh your God hear the words of the cupbearer-in-chief [Rab-shakeh] whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to insult the living God, and may Yahweh your God punish the words he has heard.  Offer your prayer for the remnant still remaining.'" 5 King Hezekiah's ministers went to Isaiah, 6 and Isaiah said to them, "Say to your master, 'Yahweh says this: Do not be afraid of the words which you have heard or the blasphemies which the king of Assyria's minions have uttered against me.  7 Look, I am going to put a spirit in him and, on the strength of a rumor, he will go back to his own country, and in that country I shall make him fall by the sword.'"

Tearing one's clothing and wearing sackcloth was a sign of grief and mourning.  The king went to the Temple to pray while his ministers and the most senior chief priests were sent to consult Isaiah.  The ministry of the prophet Isaiah began in c. 740 at the end of the reign of King Uzziah, Hezekiah's great-grandfather.  His name meant "the Lord is salvation."  He is considered the first of the four Major Prophets and the Book of Isaiah is attributed to him.  His ministry lasted over a 40 year period during the reigns of kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah (Is 1:1).  He must have belonged to a leading family in Jerusalem and he might have been related to the aristocracy since he held the position of royal advisor to the kings of Judah (see Is 3:1-17, 24; 4:1; 8:2; 31:16). He was married to a "prophetess" and had two sons (Is 8:3-4).  Isaiah was a contemporary of the Prophet Micah.  His mission was to proclaim the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and to preach repentance to Judah.

Question: Why did Hezekiah describe the people of Jerusalem as a "remnant"?
Answer: They are only a portion of the original twelve tribes, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and even the tribes of Judah and Benjamin have been diminished by the Assyrian invasion and the destruction of so many Judean towns.

3 They said to him, "This is what Hezekiah says, 'Today is a day of suffering, of punishment, of disgrace.  Children come to birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. 
Unlike Elijah and Elisha who were men of action, the prophet Isaiah is a literary prophet who prophesizes in a poetic style.  Perhaps the ministers are approaching the prophet in the same stylistic form with this poetically descriptive saying concerning Judah's condition.  The meaning is that children about to be born cannot emerge from the womb when the mothers come to the birthing stool and haven't the strength to push the babies out.  This is a descriptive image of Judah's desperate impotence and may have been a common saying of the times.   As with the previous chapter, this entire passage is recorded in the Book of Isaiah chapter 37.

6 and Isaiah said to them, "Say to your master, 'Yahweh says this: Do not be afraid of the words which you have heard or the blasphemies which the king of Assyria's minions have uttered against me.  7 Look, I am going to put a spirit in him and, on the strength of a rumor, he will go back to his own country, and in that country I shall make him fall by the sword.'"
Isaiah told the ministers and senior priests to assure the king that Yahweh will intervene.  He also told them not to fear the words of the Assyrian king's flunkeys (the Hebrew ne'arim means "youths" or "people of a subservient status" and has a pejorative connotation).  The "spirit" must be an ill spirit because it will cause the Assyrians to withdraw from Judah back to their own country.

Question: What prophecy does Isaiah make concerning King Sennacherib?
Answer: He predicts the death of the Assyrian king.

2 Kings 19:8-13 ~ Sennacherib's message to Hezekiah
8 The cupbearer [Rab-shakeh] turned about and rejoined the king of Assyria, who was attacking Libnah, as the cupbearer [Rab-shakeh] had learnt that the king had already left Lachish 9 on hearing that Tirhakah king of Cush was on his way to attack him.  10 Sennacherib again sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, "Tell Hezekiah of Judah this, 'Do not let your God on whom you are relying deceive you with the promise: Jerusalem will not fall into the king of Assyria's clutches [hands].  11 You have learnt by now what the kings of Assyria have done to all the other countries devoting them to destruction.  Are you likely to be saved?  12 Did the gods of the nations whom my ancestors devastated save them: Gozan, Haran, Rezeph and the Edenites who were in Tel Basar?  13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of Lair, of Sepharvaim, of Hena, of Ivvah?'" 

Sennacherib had moved from Lachish to attack Libnah, a Levitical city in Judah.  The citizens of the town of Libnah were devout and had revolted against King Jehoram of Judah when he had apostatized from the covenant (2 Kng 8:16-18, 22).(3)  Sennacherib and his army left Libnah when he heard that Tirhakah king of Cush was on the way to attack him.  Tirhakah later became the Pharaoh of the XXVth Egyptian dynasty.  After receiving his ministers' report on Hezekiah's reply to their demands, Sennacherib sent another series of threats in a letter to Hezekiah similar to the first threats delivered by his ministers.

2 Kings 19:14-19 ~ Hezekiah's prayer to Yahweh
14 Hezekiah took the letter from the messengers' hands and read it; he then went up to the Temple of Yahweh and spread it out before Yahweh.  15 Hezekiah said this prayer in the presence of Yahweh, "Yahweh Sabaoth, God of Israel, enthroned on the winged creatures [cherubim], you alone are God of all the kingdoms of the world, you made heaven and earth.  16 Give ear, Yahweh, listen; open your eyes, Yahweh and see!  Hear the words of Sennacherib, who has sent to insult the living God.  It is true, Yahweh, that the kings of Assyria have destroyed the nations, 18 they have thrown their gods on the fire, for these were not gods but human artifacts: wood and stone, and hence they have destroyed them.  19 But now, Yahweh our God, save us from his clutches [hands], I beg you, and let the kingdoms of the world know that you alone are God, Yahweh."

15 Hezekiah said this prayer in the presence of Yahweh, "Yahweh Sabaoth, God of Israel, enthroned on the winged creatures [cherubim], you alone are God of all the kingdoms of the world, you made heaven and earth. 
According to God's word to Moses, He resides among His covenant people above the cherubim on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 25:18-22; and see the same form of address in 1 Sam 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2; Ps 80:1:99:1).  Hezekiah's prayer is a testimony to his complete faith and trust in Yahweh.  His statement in verse 15 is a direct rebuttal of the arrogant words in Sennacherib message in verse 12. 

Question: What is significant about Hezekiah's prayer in verses 17-18?  See Ex 20:3-4; Dt 5:7-8; 6:4; the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed.
Answer:  In verse 17-18 Hezekiah confess his belief in the most basic tenant of Yahweh's covenant with Israel and the New Covenant in Christ Jesus.  Monotheism is the belief that there is only one God. Yahweh is the One True God and all other so-called gods are only images made by men.

2 Kings 19:20-34 ~ Yahweh's response to Hezekiah's prayer through Isaiah
20 Isaiah son of Amoz then sent the following message to Hezekiah, "Yahweh, God of Israel, says this, 'I have heard the prayer which you have addressed to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria.'  21 Here is the pronouncement which Yahweh has made about him:  "She despises you, she scorns you. The virgin daughter of Zion; she tosses her head at you, the daughter of Jerusalem!  22 Whom have you insulted, whom have you blasphemed?  Against whom raised your voice and lifted your haughty eyes?  Against the Holy One of Israel!  23 Through your envoys you have insulted the Lord, thinking: With my many chariots I have climbed the mountain-tops, the utmost peaks of Lebanon.  I have felled its mighty cedars, its finest cypresses, have reached its furthest recesses, its forest garden.  24 Yes, I have dug and drunk of foreign waters; under the soles of my feet I have dried up all Egypt's rivers.  25 Do you hear?  Long ago I prepared this, from days of old I actually planned it, now I carry it out.  You were to lay walled cities in heaps of ruins; 26 that was why their inhabitants, feeble offhand, were dismayed and discomfited, were weak as grass, were frail as plants, were like grass of housetop and meadow under the east wind.  27 But whether you stand up or you sit down, whether you go out or you come in, I know it.  28 Because you have raved against me, and your arrogance has reached my ears, I shall put a hook through your nostrils and a muzzle on your lips, and make you return by the road by which you came.  29 And this will be a sign for you: this year will be eaten the self-sown grain, next year what sprouts in the fallow; but in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  30 The surviving remnant of the House of Judah will bring forth new roots below and the fruits above; 31 for a remnant will issue from Jerusalem, and survivors from Mount Zion.  Yahweh Sabaoth's jealous love will accomplish this.  32 This, then, is what Yahweh says about the king of Assyria:  'He will not enter this city, will shoot no arrow at it, confront it with no shield, throw up no earthwork against it.   33 By the road by which he came, by that he will return; he will not enter this city, declares Yahweh.  34 I shall protect this city and save it for my sake and my servant David's sake.'" 

Also see Isaiah 37:21-35.
Question: What are three prophecies are in the poem?
Answer:

  1. God will send the Assyrian king back to his own lands (verse 28, 33b).
  2. The remnant of Judah will survive and in the third year life will return to normal (verses 29-31).
  3. Jerusalem will not be attacked because of God's covenant with David (verses 32-34)

The Judahites were the surviving remnant of the twelve tribes of Israel, but their numbers had also been diminished by the 200,150 Judahites that had been captured by the Assyrians and deported.  The population of Jerusalem is now the hope of the nation.

21 Here is the pronouncement which Yahweh has made about him:  "She despises you, she scorns you. The virgin daughter of Zion; she tosses her head at you, the daughter of Jerusalem! 
Question: Who is the "she" and who is the "you"?
Answer: The "she" is the "virgin daughter of Zion" who is "the daughter of Jerusalem" and the Church of the Sinai Covenant.  The "you" is Sennacherib. 

In verse 22 Sennacherib's insults and his boasts that he will destroy Jerusalem is seen by God as an assault on the God of heaven and earth.  In the Assyrian king's boasts, he thinks of himself as godlike in his accomplishments (verses 23-24)

25 Do you hear?  Long ago I prepared this, from days of old I actually planned it, now I carry it out.  You were to lay walled cities in heaps of ruins; 26 that was why their inhabitants, feeble offhand, were dismayed and discomfited, were weak as grass, were frail as plants, were like grass of housetop and meadow under the east wind.  27 But whether you stand up or you sit down, whether you go out or you come in, I know it.
Yahweh's message to Sennacherib is that he could have accomplished nothing without the divine plan of God that foresaw and allowed it.

28 Because you have raved against me, and your arrogance has reached my ears, I shall put a hook through your nostrils and a muzzle on your lips, and make you return by the road by which you came."'
But because of his personal attack on Yahweh, God will rein him in like a domestic ox with a nose ring or a donkey or horse with a bridle to make the king go back the way he came.

Hezekiah's sign: 29 "And this will be a sign for you: this year will be eaten the self-sown grain, next year what sprouts in the fallow; but in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  30 The surviving remnant of the House of Judah will bring forth new roots below and the fruits above; 31 for a remnant will issue from Jerusalem, and survivors from Mount Zion.  Yahweh Sabaoth's jealous love will accomplish this.
A "sign" is a work of God that points forward in time to a more significant event; in this case the sign will be two years of having enough to eat from what is naturally produced by the earth without sowing seed.  It will point to life returning to normal in the third year.  The only time the land laid fallow for two years in a row was when a Sabbath year (every 7th year) was followed by a Jubilee year that was observed after every 7th Sabbath year that came every 50th year (Lev 25:1-12).  In the third year after a Sabbath and Jubilee years, the land could be sown again.  The "rest" for the land in a Sabbath and Jubilee year was a test of faith for the covenant people to trust God to provide for them from the land.  Later when the prophet Jeremiah called a covenant lawsuit against Judah in the 6th century BC, he included in the rit against Judah the claim that Judah failed to observe the Sabbath years.  The point here may be that like the Sabbath year followed by a Jubilee year in which the land will not be worked until the third year, it will be the same for Judah because it will take two years for life to return to normal for the remnant of the Kingdom of Judah and they will have to trust God to provide for them.

2 Kings 19:32-37 ~ Yahweh's judgment on Sennacherib and his army
35 That same night the angel of Yahweh went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp.  In the early morning when it was time to get up, there they lay, so many corpses.  36 Sennacherib struck camp and left; he returned home and stayed in Nineveh.  37 One day when he was worshipping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer struck him down with the sword and escaped into the territory of Ararat.  His son Esarhaddon succeeded him.

Hezekiah now had Yahweh's promise that the city will not be taken nor even attacked.  That night the army of the Assyrians was silently struck by the Angel of Yahweh.  When the king and the surviving members of his army discovered the dead in the morning, they immediately abandoned the siege of the city of Jerusalem and returned to Assyria, just as Yahweh had promised.

Question: What other prophesy by Isaiah was fulfilled?  See 19:7.
Answer: Sennacherib died by the sword as Yahweh predicted.

Assyrian annals record that the king and his army gave up the siege of Jerusalem, but no reason is given for the sudden retreat in the Assyrian documents.  Sennacherib was indeed assassinated in the year c. 681 BC, and he was succeeded by his son Esarhaddon.

Chapter 20: The End of King Hezekiah's Reign

2 Kings 20:1-11 ~ The illness and cure of King Hezekiah
1 About then [In those days] Hezekiah fell ill and was at the point of death.  The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, "Yahweh says this, 'Put your affairs in order, for you are going to die, you will not live.'"  2 Hezekiah turned to his face to the wall and addressed this prayer to Yahweh.  3 "Ah, Yahweh, remember, I bet you, that I have behaved faithfully and with sincerity of heart in your presence and done what you regard as right."  And Hezekiah shed many tears.  4 Isaiah had not left the middle court, before the word of Yahweh came to him, 5 "Go back and say to Hezekiah, prince of my people, 'Yahweh, the God of your ancestor David, says this: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears.  I shall cure you: in three days' time you will go up to the Temple of Yahweh.  6 I shall add fifteen years to your life.  I shall save you and this city from the king of Assyria's clutches and defend this city for my sake and my servant David's sake.'" 7 "Bring a fig poultice," Isaiah said; they brought one, applied it to the ulcer, and the king recovered.  8 Hezekiah said to Isaiah, "What is the sign to tell me that Yahweh will cure me and that I shall be going up to the Temple of Yahweh in three days' time?"  9 "Here," Isaiah replied, "is the sign from Yahweh that he will do what he has said; would you like the shadow to go forward ten steps, or to go back ten steps?"  10 "It is easy for the shadow to go lengthen ten steps."  11 The prophet Isaiah then called on Yahweh, who made the shadow cast by the declining sun on the steps, the steps to Ahaz's roof room, go back ten steps.  [..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. II, page 1036.

See the parallel passages in 2 Chronicles 32:24 and Isaiah 38-39.  Bible scholar do not agree as to when this episode might have taken place; was it before or after Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem in 701 BC?  If the date proposed for Hezekiah's death in 687 BC is accurate, the episode should be c. 702 BC as the ancient's counted.  Verse 6 seems to suggest that the siege had not taken place and there is an additional problem with the event referred to in 20:12-15 where Merodach-Baladan of Babylon sent emissaries to Hezekiah in Judah.(5)

Hezekiah was ill and Isaiah brought him Yahweh's message that he was not going to recover and was going to die.
Question: Instead of begging that his life be spared, what did Hezekiah do?  What was the result and why?
Answer: He prayed that God would remember his faithfulness and then submitted himself to God's will.  God sent word to Hezekiah that his life will be spared for 15 years for the sake of God's covenant with David and in three days he will be well enough to attend the Temple liturgy.

Isaiah was either returning to the Temple and had only reached the middle Court of the Women or the middle court of the palace when God sent him back to the king.  After giving the king the news of his recovery, Isaiah asked for the materials to make a poultice for the king.  It appears that Isaiah was applying a folk remedy to the king's ulcer and not performing a miracle.

8 Hezekiah said to Isaiah, "What is the sign to tell me that Yahweh will cure me and that I shall be going up to the Temple of Yahweh in three days' time?" 
Hezekiah wanted confirmation of his healing and asked for a "sign."  He asked that the sun reverse in its path by "ten "steps." What is being referred to is apparently some kind of a sundial from the time of King Ahaz that displays the passing of time in a series of steps set into a wall: ten on the left side to show the shadow of the ascending sun and ten on the right side for the descending sun.  A similar device has been discovered in Egypt. 

Question: Why did he ask for this sign and what did the miracle represent?
Answer: It is easy for a shadow to incline down then steps since it would be the natural course of the shadow in the progression of the sun in its path across the sky; therefore, Hezekiah chooses the miraculous reversal of the progress of the shadow that becomes a symbol for the reversal of his imminent death.

The miracle is a reminder that God is the Master of Creation and all of Creation is subject to Him.
Question: When was a similar miracle employed for a leader of the covenant people?  See Josh 10:12-15.
Answer: Joshua needed more time to defeat Israel's Amorite enemies; therefore he prayed for God to stop the sun and moon from moving their orbits to delay the end of the day: And the sun stood still, and the moon halted, until the people had taken vengeance on their enemies (Josh 10:13).

2 Kings 20:12-19 ~ The Babylonian Embassy
12  At that time the king of Babylon, Merodach-Baladan son of Baladan, sent letters and a gift to Hezekiah, for he had heard of his illness and his recovery.  13 Hezekiah was delighted at this and showed the ambassadors his entire treasury, the silver, gold, spices, precious oil, his armory too, and everything to be seen in his storehouses.  There was nothing in his palace or in his whole domain that Hezekiah did not show them.  14 The prophet Isaiah then came to King Hezekiah and asked him, "What have these men said, and where have they come from?"  Hezekiah answered, "They have come from a distant country, from Babylon."  15 Isaiah said, "What have they seen in your palace?"  "They have seen everything in my palace," Hezekiah answered.  There is nothing in my storehouses that I have not shown them."  16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, "Listen to the word of Yahweh, 17 'The days are coming when everything in your palace, everything that your ancestors have amassed until now, will be carried off to Babylon.  Not a thing will be left,' Yahweh says.  18 'Sons sprung from you, sons fathered by you, will be abducted to be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.'"  19 Hezekiah said to Isaiah, "This word of Yahweh that you announce is reassuring," for he was thinking, "And why not?  So long as there is peace and security during my lifetime."

See the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 32:23-29.  Hezekiah is flattered by the attention of the Babylonians and foolishly shows them his accumulation of wealth.  This also suggests the event took place before Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem since after the capture of Lachish, and prior to the siege of Jerusalem, Hezekiah stripped all the wealth from the palace and the Temple in an attempt to appease the Assyrian king (2 Kng 18:13-16).

Question: Why was Hezekiah's display of wealth to the Babylonians foolish?  What prophecy did Isaiah give concerning the Babylonians and what was Hezekiah's response?
Answer: Such a display of his great wealth was more likely to inspire envy than admiration in a foreign delegation.  Isaiah foretold an attack on Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the deportation of the nobility.  Hezekiah's response can be seen either as a selfish expression of relief that all of the prophecy will take place after his lifetime or as resignation and submission to God's divine will.

Isaiah's prophecy will come true in 609 BC with the first deportation of exiles out of Judah (see 2 Kng 24:10-16).  It will be in this deportation that the prophet Daniel will be taken into exile to Babylon where he will become a minister to the Babylonian king.

2 Kings 20:20-21 ~ The end of the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah
20 The rest of the history of Hezekiah, all his prowess, how he constructed the pool and the conduit to bring water into the city, is this not recorded in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah?  21 Then Hezekiah fell asleep with his ancestors; his son Manasseh succeeded him.

The history of Hezekiah ends with the typical formula statement and mention of his great accomplishment in bringing water into the city of Jerusalem from the Gihon Spring (also see Sir 48:17).

Question for reflection or group discussion:
The image of the bronze serpent God told Moses to make to save the people from poisonous snakes during the wilderness journey became a problem when, centuries later, certain of the people began to worship the image, a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments.  Is it a violation of the first commandment for Catholics to have statues of the saints or of Jesus in their Sanctuaries or in their homes?  See Ex 20:3-4; Dt 5:7-8; CCC 1159-62, 1192, 2130-32, 2705.
Answer: The prohibition of the first commandment concerns making an image for the purpose of worshipping that image.  There was no problem with the image of the bronze serpent since God commanded its creation in the same way He commanded the creation of the statues of the cherubim above the lid of the Mercy Seat that covered the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 25:17-22; Num 21:8-9).  In the same way, there is no violation of the first commandment in having images of saints or of Christ or angels.  These are reminders of the living persons whose lives are an example of faith for us and of Christ in His humanity, and the reality of God's spiritual servants.  It is the same as having photographs of friends and family that we cherish.  But it is prohibited that such images are worshipped or the image of Christ is worshipped instead of Christ Himself.

Endnotes:
1. Only three kings remained loyal to the Assyrians and one of them was King Padi of Ekron in Philistia.  His own subjects, however, deposed him and carried him to Jerusalem where Hezekiah imprisoned him despite Isaiah's warning to avoid such entanglements.  Hezekiah's imprisonment of Padi is recorded in the annals of Sennacherib and is given as one of the reasons the Assyrians besieged Jerusalem (The Ancient Near East 1:199; Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 287).
2. Elaborate reliefs of the fall of Lachish decorated the walls of the palace of Sennacherib and now reside in the British Museum in London.  The reliefs that were discovered lined about two-thirds of one room in a ceremonial suite.  Originally, the entire room was probably decorated with reliefs.


3. In 1880  an inscription was discovered cut in the tunnel wall of Hezekiah's Tunnel about twenty feet inside the end of the tunnel that commemorated the completion of the tunnel and explained how two tunnels at opposite ends were carved from the rock: "And this was the way in which it was cut through: While ... were still ... axes, each man toward his fellow, and while there were still three cubits to be cut through, there was heard the voice of a man calling to his fellow, for there was an overlap in the rock on the right and on the left.   And when the tunnel was driven through, the quarrymen hewed the rock, each man toward his fellow, ax against ax; and the water flowed from the spring toward the reservoir for twelve hundred cubits, and the height of the rock above the heads of the quarrymen was one hundred cubits" (Archeology and the Old Testament, page 346).
4. Hamutal of Libnah was the mother of two Davidic kings: Jehoahaz (c. 609 BC) and Judah's last king, Zechariah (c. 598-587 BC; see 2 Kng 23:31 and a href ="http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/2kings/2kings24.htm#v18">24:18)
5. In 714-13 BC an anti-Assyrian rebellion in Ashdod was the beginning of a widespread revolt against Assyrian domination that increased as soon as Sargon II died and Sennacherib ascended the throne in 705 BC.  Merodach-Baladan was an anti-Assyrian ruler who usurped the throne of Babylon twice from the Assyrians.  He drove out the Assyrians and ruled in Babylon from 721-710 until he was in turn driven out by the Assyrians.  He revolted a second time after the death of Sargon II and the accession of Sennacherib in 705 BC.  Merodach-Baladan drove out the Assyrians and ruled Babylon for nine months in 703.  It was probably sometime between 705-703 BC that he tried to make Hezekiah his ally.  Merodach-Baladan may have sent an embassy to Hezekiah to form some sort of an alliance with the Judahites against the Assyrians in c. 705 when Hezekiah was also making his own preparations for revolt, the year when Sennacherib ascended the Assyrian throne.  In 703 Sennacherib took his army to Babylon and successfully quelled the rebellion.   But other scholars think, since Merodach-Baladan was back again declaring himself king of Babylon and trying to ferment rebellion in c. 700 BC, that it is possible this event is after the Assyrian siege and withdrawal from Jerusalem.  They suggest he had learned that Sennacherib had failed to conquer Jerusalem and saw Hezekiah as a potential ally.  Before the year 700 BC was over, Sennacherib's army advanced into Babylonia, and Merodach-Baladan fled into Elam for the last time. 

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