There are many stories in the Bible that show how God can do the impossible, but perhaps one of the most dramatic is when He intervened and saved Jerusalem from impending attack by the infamous Assyrians in approximately 701 BC and saved His people from doom and annihilation.
The story is found in 2 Kings 18 and 19 when King Hezekiah of Judah refused to give into the Assyrian King Sennacherib’s intimidation and instead trusted in God to protect Jerusalem. About 21 years earlier in 722BC the nation of Israel to the north came to an epic and violent end when Hoshea, King of Israel, rebelled against the Assyrian King Shalmaneser. Israel aligned with Egypt, but it didn’t save the nation, and after a three year siege of Samaria, the Assyrians triumphed and the people were dispersed through the Assyrian empire (see 2 Kings 17:1-6).
The Assyrian Empire was a brutal and terrorising regime as detailed in brothers Chris Stewart and Ted Stewart’s book 7 Tipping Points that Saved the World.
Quoting the American historian and writer Will Durant, the book records that when Assyria captured a city, it was burnt to the ground, prisoners’ heads were beaten or cut off with cutlasses, soldiers were apportioned rewards according to the number of prisoners captured and killed. The captured nobles’ ears, noses, hands and feet were sliced off or they were thrown from high towers or the children were beheaded or flayed alive or roasted over a slow fire. A sculpture, known as a relief, in the Assyrian capital of Nineveh show men being impaled, flayed or having their tongues torn out.
The Assyrians strategy of conquest was fairly simple: in order to weaken a nation’s major cities or capitals, smaller towns and lesser cities were assaulted first. After victory, an emissary would be sent to the capital with the Assyrian King’s demand for surrender. In the lead up to King Sennacherib demand for Jerusalem, the Bible says in 2 Kings 18:13 that the King of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. The Stewart brothers state that Assyrian records show the empire conquered 46 surrounding cities, including Lachish where King Sennacherib’s boasts they captured more than 200,000 slaves.
The situation was more than dire – Jerusalem was on its own. The surrounding cities had fallen to the powerful Assyrian Empire and it seemed inevitable that Jerusalem would follow suit. It would seem a hopeless situation and yet God gave the people a promise in 2 Kings 19:32 “He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here” and in verse 34 “I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.”
The Lord did save the city and that night sent an angel to destroy 185,000 soldiers. On awakening the next morning King Sennacherib broke camp and withdrew. The battle was over.
What a powerful reminder to Christians and the church at large that God is the God of the impossible. There are some powerful lessons to learn in the story that are applicable to the individuals and the church today.
The Bible describes how King Sennacherib sent his field commander to Jerusalem, intimidated the people by mocking at their military strength, derided their dependence on God, then offered them help, claimed to be doing the will of God by marching against Judah, criticized their leader King Hezekiah, offered them a compromise, and then boasted that God would not be able to deliver them from Assyria (see 2 Kings 18:19-35). And yet King Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem remained silent to the claims and instead prayed to God for help. Even though at first King Hezekiah tried to appease King Sennacherib (see 18:14-16) by paying him off with gold and silver, he would learn that he needed to rely on God for deliverance.
What a relevant and timeless message for today. Just like King Sennacherib, the enemy will come to intimidate, mock, criticize, offer a compromise, claim to be God, and then deride God’s power. And our response should be like that of King Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem: by not being drawn into the enemy’s strategies and instead remaining silent and turning our trust to God and praying.
When faced with overwhelming and inevitable situations there is hope – is there anything too hard for the Lord? The word of God should drown out the incessant cry of the enemy to abort, give up and compromise on the working out of our salvation with fear and trembling. Faith and hope should give the church a reason to stand against supposed inevitable societal changes that tread on the oppressed, poor and orphan. Who knows the what, when, where and how the Lord will answer the prayers of the church but our confidence is that nothing is impossible for Him. CW