18:1-20:21 This section focuses on the reign of Hezekiah of Judah. He was a godly king, but he and his nation paid a terrible price for his godliness when Sennacherib invaded Judah. From man’s short-range perspective, rebellion against the Assyrian Empire was a tragedy. The Bible and Assyrian annals agree that Assyrian reprisals devastated Judah so that the immediate gains were minimal. Even in terms of Deuteronomic theology, this revival just delayed the exile until after Hezekiah’s death. Likewise for his great-grandson Josiah, judgment was just delayed. In this context, the long-range benefit and blessing of Hezekiah’s revival might seem hard to discern. After all, the land was devastated. Then and now, persecuted believers pay a high price for little earthly gain. But earthly gain is never the proper motive of fidelity to God.
However, one identifiable benefit of these revivals and support for covenant teaching during the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah was the laying of the essential foundation for religious life after the exile. Speaking in human terms, the Torah and other OT Scriptures, which the Hebrews took with them into exile, may have existed and/or been available for later teaching only because of the work of people like Hezekiah and Josiah. With the support of faithful Levites and priests, they preserved the Scriptures and other parts of covenant life for the future benefit of the community. The Chronicler could make the same point but with his own interpretation of the facts. The Chronicler could assert that the Scriptures, ritual, and ritual personnel were available to rebuild the life of the Hebrews after the exile only because of the work of the priests and Levites—supported by a few good kings. Thus the discernible benefits of the present fidelity may have come only later to the postexilic community. In this sense faithful believers in any era benefit from the faithfulness of previous believers and in turn pass down benefits to future believers.
18:1-2 The record of King Hezekiah of Judah opens with the usual formal statements. However, his dates, like Ahaz’s dates, present an unusual circumstance. Some point out that the length of Hezekiah’s rule is compatible with the twenty-nine years of his sole regency (715-686 BC), while the date of the beginning of his rule refers to the beginning of his co-regency with his father, Ahaz. This began in the third year of Hoshea of Israel (729 BC).
18:3 The statement that King Hezekiah did what was right . . . just as his ancestor David had done is the standard formula for the good kings of Judah.
18:4-7 Hezekiah had one of the longest lists of good qualities of all the good kings. He acted appropriately (v. 4), had the right attitude of faith (v. 5), and persisted in doing good (v. 6). Because of his obedience, God prospered him in everything (v. 7). This prosperity included minor political victories (v. 8) and sufficient economic prosperity to finance the building operations and expensive military preparations for war with Assyria (2Ch 32:1-5). The name Nehushtan comes from the words for “snake” (nahash) and “piece of bronze” (nechosheth).
18:8 In 716 BC, Sargon II advanced victoriously to the border of Egypt but did not threaten Judah, perhaps because Ahaz, the faithful Assyrian vassal, was still alive. After Sargon left, Hezekiah had some local military success in subduing the Philistines. All of this coincided with military preparations for rebellion and Hezekiah’s refusal to send tribute to Sargon of Assyria. Furthermore, these seem to have been years of local economic prosperity for Hezekiah.
18:9-12 There may be a literary reason for this duplicate record of the fall of Israel, the northern kingdom (cp. 17:3-6). It sets an ominous tone for the following account of the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib of Assyria.
18:13-16 These verses do not describe the depth of the devastation of the invasion by Assyria. Assyrian records report that forty-six walled cities were taken, probably in the typically brutal Assyrian fashion. They further claim that 200,150 captives and much plunder were also taken. Scholars have debated whether one or two Assyrian invasions of Judah are described in chap. 18. If there were two, these present verses may describe the first, and the second may be described in the following verses. If there was only one invasion, these verses could give a preliminary summary or preview of the overall campaign, and then some of its details are further described below. Or perhaps there was only one campaign in which Hezekiah surrendered, made peace, and presented a huge tribute to Assyria; but the Assyrians then reneged on that agreement and tried to destroy Hezekiah and Jerusalem anyway. Some interpreters suggest the following scenario: Hezekiah promised this huge payment; Sennacherib had to leave without receiving it; Hezekiah sent the payment anyway.
18:17-18 Whatever had happened previously, the Assyrians were now threatening Jerusalem, the last outpost of orthodox worship of the Lord. The field marshal was a high official, next to the king. If the Assyrians followed the Mesopotamian and Persian practice of using foreign eunuchs in high governmental positions, the meaning of the Hebrew word saris indicates that the chief of staff was associated with those Assyrian officials. The title royal spokesman is likely an honorific title that may have had little to do with the man’s actual duties (cp. the chief cupbearer of Pharaoh, Gn 41:9). Here, he was the diplomatic spokesman for Sennacherib. Some have located the Launderer’s Field near En-rogel on the southern approaches to Jerusalem. It may have been frequently visited by the royal family and dignitaries (1Kg 1:9). Though this Assyrian deputation had asked for King Hezekiah, they received instead three high palace officials. On this invasion see Is 36:1-22.
18:19-22 In human terms the Assyrian official spoke the truth: Egypt was weak; Hezekiah had torn down the shrines of the Lord (though from the perspective of many who worshiped the Lord, they were illegal) so that the Lord had no reason to protect the king. In fact, the Assyrian claimed that the Lord was the deity who had sent the Assyrians to punish Hezekiah (v. 25).
18:23-24 The royal spokesman mocked the military weakness of the Israelites.
18:25 The royal spokesman claimed that the Lord had commissioned Assyria to attack and destroy Judah.
18:26 Aramaic was the standard language for international dealings, but the Assyrian diplomatic corps included Hebrew speakers.
18:27 The royal spokesman’s goal was to demoralize the population.
18:28-30 Both the Assyrian propagandist and the author of 2 Kings continue to describe the depressing state of the Israelites and their faith in the Lord. The royal spokesman insisted on shouting, in Hebrew rather than Aramaic, his discouraging message to the soldiers on the wall.
18:31-32a The royal spokesman offered temporary peace and then exile, which he described in rosy terms.
18:32b-35 The pessimistic appraisal continued with the accurate description of the helplessness of the gods of the other conquered nations. Even Samaria was mentioned. (On the nations mentioned here, see 19:12-13 and note at 19:10-13.)
18:36-37 The torn clothes were a formal declaration of grief.