Sennacherib: a Pagan King vs. יהוה

March 5, 2021

The record of the pagan Assyrian king Sennacherib, who challenged יהוה, the LORD God of Israel, is found in three biblical texts: 2 Kings 18-19, 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 37. The year was 701 BC. Israel to the north had already fallen to the Assyrians (722 BC). Now (at the time referenced in the above texts) only tiny Judah remained, with its King Hezekiah. At this point Sennacherib had taken forty-six fortified cities of Judah, lastly Lachish, and then came to Jerusalem “with a great army” (Isa. 36:2).

Sennacherib sent the Rabshakeh with the message to Jerusalem, who shouted out in Hebrew, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria. Thus says the king, Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you from my hand; nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” Then it got worse: “But do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you, saying, The LORD will deliver us. Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” (2 Kings 18:28-30; 32-35).

Hezekiah went to the house of God. He sent for the prophet Isaiah with the request, “Lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left” (2 Kings 19:4). The Lord’s answer: “Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? And against whom have you raised your voice And haughtily lifted up your eyes? Against the Holy One of Israel!” (Isa. 37:23). Further: “Therefore, thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, He will not come to this city or shoot an arrow there; and he will not come before it with a shield, or throw up a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came, by the same he will return, and he will not come to this city, declares the LORD. For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake. Then the angel of the LORD went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, all of these were dead. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh” (vv. 33-37).

One of the fascinating artifacts housed in the British Museum is Sennacherib’s Prism, otherwise known as Taylor’s Prism, named after the one who discovered it. This is King Sennacherib’s account of his victories. He specifically mentions Hezekiah, and the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem.

Sennacherib’s Prism, British Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The text is in Akkadian Cuneiform, the international language of the time. The reference to Hezekiah reads, “

As for Hezekiah, the Judean, I besieged forty-six of his fortified walled cities and surrounding smaller towns, which were without number. Using packed-down ramps and applying battering rams, infantry attacks by mines, breeches, and siege machines, I conquered (them). I took out 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, cattle, and sheep, without number, and counted them as spoil. He himself, I locked up within Jerusalem, his royal city, like a bird in a cage.

(Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2000). Context of Scripture: Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World (p. 303). Leiden; Boston: Brill).

Sennacherib fails to mention why he did not take Jerusalem. He fails to mentions that 185,000 of his Assyrian soldiers died in one night. Why would he say only that he had Hezekiah locked up “like a bird in a cage,” but then fail to go on to record Jerusalem’s capture and that of its king? There can be only one explanation; he failed to do so, just as the Bible says. It is a case when the silence of the Assyrian record speaks volumes. This is after all, the same king who at his palace in Nineveh memorialized his conquest of Lachish with numerous carved stone wall panels which include graphic portrayals of the ramp and siege machines, also housed in the British Museum. But the pagan king did not fare so well when he challenged the LORD, the God of Israel.


Hezekiah’s Broad Wall

February 27, 2021

Isaiah prophesied during the reign of good King Hezekiah of Judah (r. 715-686 BC). Isaiah states, “Then you counted the houses of Jerusalem, And you tore down houses to fortify the wall” (22:10). This was done in response to the very real threat of Sennacherib of Assyria (r. 705-681 BC). , as he advanced toward Jerusalem. More details are given in 2 Chronicles:

Now when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and that he intended to make war on Jerusalem, he decided with his officers and his warriors to cut off the supply of water from the springs which were outside the city, and they helped him. So many people assembled and stopped up all the springs and the stream which flowed through the region, saying, “Why should the kings of Assyria come and find abundant water?” And he took courage and rebuilt all the wall that had been broken down and erected towers on it, and built another outside wall and strengthened the Millo in the city of David, and made weapons and shields in great number. (2 Chron. 32:2-5, NASB).

A section of Hezekiah’s Wall in Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This wall was excavated by Nahman Avigad in 1969. Biblical Archaeological Review has the following info:

This massive wall, which once probably stood 27 feet high, provides the key to dating Jerusalem’s spread from the eastern to the western hill.

Before unearthing a 130-foot section of the wall, Avigad had already discovered remains of houses in the same area containing pottery and other artifacts datable to the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E. The wall itself stood partly on bedrock and partly on recently built houses. Avigad reasoned that only a king could have ordered the building of so major a structure, and the fact that new housing had to be destroyed in the process indicates that the wall was erected during a crisis. Two passages in the Bible helped Avigad pinpoint the date and purpose of the wall: King Hezekiah, in 701 B.C.E., “saw that [the Assyrian ruler] Sennacherib had come, intent on making war against Jerusalem.… He [Hezekiah] acted with vigor, rebuilding the whole breached wall, raising towers on it and building another wall outside it” recounts 2 Chronicles 32:2–5 and Isaiah 22:10 states that Hezekiah “pulled houses down to fortify the wall.” Hezekiah, thanks in part to this wall, successfully repulsed Sennacherib’s attack.

From the angle in the wall and from data revealed by other excavations, Avigad argued that the wall enclosed more of the western hill of Jerusalem than previously believed; archaeologist Magen Broshi estimated that 25,000 people had lived within the wall’s boundaries in the eighth century B.C.E.

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The Holman Bible Atlas has this interesting information:

Recent archaeological excavations have confirmed a western expansion of Jerusalem dating from the reign of Hezekiah (715–687 B.C). Archaeologists speculate that a population influx, in part of Israelite refugees fleeing the Assyrian invasions, made the expansion necessary. Clear evidence indicates the southwestern hill was now incorporated into Jerusalem’s defenses. A segment of a “broad wall” sixty-five meters long and seven meters wide, south of the Transversal Valley, has been unearthed by Nahman Avigad. Avigad attributed the wall to Hezekiah, who “counted the houses of Jerusalem, and … broke down the houses to fortify the wall” (Isa. 22:10). Indeed, Hezekiah’s wall was built on top of the foundations of houses visible under the outer edge of Avigad’s wall. This massive wall, made to withstand Assyrian siege tactics, enclosed the western hill; its line apparently turned south above the Hinnom Valley and continued eastward, joining the City of David’s fortifications near the juncture of the Hinnom and Kidron Valleys.

The “broad wall” enclosed an additional ninety acres of land, making the total fortified area of Jerusalem approximately one hundred and fifty acres. The area taken in included the mishneh—“Second Quarter,” where the prophet Huldah lived (2 Kgs. 22:14)—and the maktesh (the Mortar), probably a reference to the depression between the western and eastern slope (Zech. 1:11). Population estimates for the city at this time range from fifteen to twenty-five thousand.

Brisco, T. V. (1998). Holman Bible atlas (p. 145).

This photo gives a more detailed look:

Hezekiah’s Wall, detailed view. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Later in the days of Nehemiah, who returned from the captivity to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, it is stated, “. . . and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall” (Neh. 3:8; cf. 12:38). There is general consensus that the “broad wall” here is that built by Hezekiah.

It is fascinating to read of YHWH’s deliverance of Jerusalem against all odds (2 Kings 18-19; 2 Chron. 32; Isa. 37).

Click images for larger view.


The Siloam Inscription

April 2, 2010

Another treasure in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum is the Siloam Inscription. Here is its history:

The Old Testament records the Assyrian threat to Judah in the days of good King Hezekiah (715-686 B.C.).  The Assyrians had already taken much of Judah’s territory (the Sennacherib Prism states Assyrian had taken forty-six fortified cities) and were advancing upon Jerusalem (701 B.C).  But Hezekiah had made wise preparation in anticipation of this fearsome foe. Hezekiah had two teams of tunnelers working from opposite directions; one starting from outside the city wall at the Gihon Spring, the other starting from inside the city, chiseling through 1750 feet of solid rock.  As a result, the “gently flowing waters of Shiloah” (Isa. 8:6) were channeled inside the city (2 Kings 20:20-21; 2 Chron. 32:30).

Thus Jerusalem had water inside the city walls, whereas Hezekiah “blocked the outlet of the water of the Upper Gihon” (2 Chron. 32:20, CSB). I.e., they would have water inside the city, but the enemy would not have ready access to water outside the city.

We hope the following photos will help illustrate the text for you:

Siloam Inscription. Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The inscription tells the story of when the two groups of workers met. The inscription reads:

“This is the story of the boring through. While [the tunnelers lifted] the pick-axe each toward his fellow and while 3 cubits [remained yet] to be bored [through, there was heard] the voice of a man calling his fellow—for there was a split [or overlap] in the rock on the right hand and on [the left hand]. When the tunnel was driven through, the tunnelers hewed the rock, each man toward his fellow, pick-axe against pick-axe. And the water flowed from the spring toward the reservoir for 1200 cubits. The height of the rock above the head of the tunnelers was a hundred cubits.”

Of course, more was involved than Hezekiah’s engineering feat of constructing the tunnel.  There was divine intervention as God delivered Jerusalem from the Assyrians: 2 Kings 19:35 records, “And it came to pass on a certain night that the angel of the LORD went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses — all dead.”

This photo shows the Gihon Spring, the source of the water supply.

Gihon Spring. Jerusalem. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

The water still flows inside the tunnel.

Inside Hezekiah's Tunnel. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

It’s a tight squeeze in places:

Leon Mauldin inside Hezekiah's tunnel. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Finally, here is a photo of the location where the Siloam Inscription was chiselled out:

Siloam Inscription Location Inside Tunnel. Photo by Leon Mauldin.


The Shadow on the Sundial

March 26, 2010

King Hezekiah was one of Judah’s best kings. He faithfully led the nation in very difficult times.  Then he became sick and was near death. God sent the prophet Isaiah to Hezekiah with the message, “Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live” (Isa. 38:1).  Hezekiah fervently prayed to the Lord, his prayer was heard, and the Lord promised to add 15 years to his life. As a sign to confirm this promise, God said, “Behold, I will bring the shadow on the sundial, which has gone down with the sun on the sundial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward” (Isa. 38:7,8, NKJV).

Some translations render the Hebrew term maalah as “stairway” (see NAS, CSB).  The NET Bible notes, “These steps probably functioned as a type of sundial.”

Whether the term means “steps” or “sundial,” certainly what is under consideration is a means of telling time by the moving shadow cast by the sun.  The miraculous sign was that the shadow would return, it would go backward by 10 “steps” or “degrees.”

Today’s photos feature a couple of ancient sundials.

Sundial. Archaeological Museum, Istanbul. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

This sundial is housed in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul, and is dated as 1st century B.C. The accompanying sign has this info: The concave inner side of the half dome shaped dial is divided into twelve parts by eleven radial lines.  The rod, perpendicular to the center, is the pointer. The shadow of the pointer falls on the radial lines as the sun moves. Although the system of dividing the time passing between sunrise and sunset into twelve equal units was used in Mesopotamia as early as the Sumerian times this type of dial is known as the Babylonian dial.

The rod referenced above is missing from this sundial.  But you can see the rod in the sundial below, casting its shadow.  This artifact is located in the Ephesus Museum.

Sundial. Ephesus Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.

Whether what is intended in Isa. 38 is this type of sundial, or another system (steps, stairway) is meant, the principle is the same.  God miraculously returned the shadow to confirm to Hezekiah that He would extend his life as He had promised.


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