Our poor decisions often have lasting and harmful consequences for us. If we hold positions of authority, the ramifications of our choices can extend even further. We see this exemplified in the decision of King Ahaz of Judah to appeal to the Assyrian Empire for help against Syria and Israel. Ahaz’s choice entangled Judah in false worship, and it placed a heavy financial burden on his nation, which had to remain loyal to Assyria and send the empire tribute annually from Judah’s treasury (2 Kings 16:5–9).
Judah endured the yoke of Assyria even after Ahaz died. But Ahaz’s son and successor to the throne of Judah, King Hezekiah, determined to come out from under the heel of Assyria. “He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him” (18:7). Hezekiah’s choice here was surely motivated by financial concerns, but it also was likely part of his broader campaign to purge idolatry from Judah (vv. 3–6; 2 Chron. 29). After all, it would be much harder to cast the foreign gods out of Judah if Judah remained influenced by foreign powers.
Geopolitically, Hezekiah chose an opportune time to rebel against Assyria. He revolted during the reign of Sennacherib, the Assyrian king who ruled from about 705 to 681 BC. At the start of his reign, Sennacherib was occupied in the east, seeking to put down the rebellion of Babylon. But once Sennacherib had defeated the Babylonians, he headed west and invaded Judah in 701 BC. As today’s passage indicates, Sennacherib conquered the city of Lachish, located about twenty-five miles southeast of Jerusalem. He then sent a large army to lay siege to Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:13–17). This fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that due to Ahaz’s sin, Assyria would invade Judah up to its neck (Isa. 8:5–8), Jerusalem being the metaphorical head of the nation.
This was Judah’s most desperate hour since the institution of the monarchy. The Rabshakeh, an Assyrian official representing Sennacherib, called for Jerusalem to surrender, promising to spare their lives and take the people into exile. He told Hezekiah not to trust in the help of Egypt, one of Judah’s allies, which was actually good advice since Egypt would not be able to assist Judah. He even claimed to be at the gates of Jerusalem at the command of Yahweh, the God of Israel (2 Kings 18:18–37). Given the prophecy of Isaiah, this was not entirely false, though Assyria was not motivated by a concern for God’s holiness. At this dark hour, it seemed all was lost, but those who believed God’s Word had reason to hope (see Isa. 8:9–10).