II Kings – Chapter 18

Greatest of All Kings

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah) succeeded Achaz as king of Judah. He was the greatest of all Jewish kings, excluding David and Solomon. (There are opinions that he was the greatest of all kings including David and Solomon!) Even the righteous kings of Judah did not abolish the private altars that the people used; Chizkiyahu did. And that’s not all. Back in Numbers chapter 21, G-d commanded Moses to make a copper snake. When a person was bit by a snake, they would stare at this effigy, pray and be healed. But 800 years had passed and in the interim, people started worshipping the snake as an idol. Chizkiyahu destroyed it, even though it was made by Moses at G-d’s command. The rabbis applaud this action as appropriate (Pesachim 56a). Chizkiyahu successfully rebelled against Assyrian rule, at least initially.

The siege of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (the “Ten Tribes”) began in the fourth year of Chizkiyahu’s reign in Judah. By the sixth year of his reign, the Ten Tribes had been exiled. In the fourteenth year of Chizkiyahu’s reign, Assyria turned their attention to Judah and captured many cities. Chizkiyahu sent word to Sancheriv (Sennacherib), king of Assyria, offering to pay whatever he asked if they would just leave. Sancheriv imposed a heavy tribute; Chizkiyahu was forced to strip the gold from the Temple doors to meet the payment. The Assyrians took the money, but waited for a pretext to resume their conquest.

Sancheriv sent messengers to King Chizkiyahu. They impudently stood outside and called for him. Several of the king’s senior officers went out to meet with the Assyrian delegation.

The Assyrians said:

“Give Chizkiyahu this message. What are you going to do, rely on Egypt like the Kingdom of Israel did? They’ll do you more harm than good! You trust in your G-d? The One Whose altars Chizkiyahu removed? Tell you what, you give us a security deposit to ensure your faithfulness and we’ll give you 2,000 horses – as if you have 2,000 horsemen left to use them! Is it against your G-d that we’re acting? We’re fulfilling the orders of your G-d!”

Since all this was going on outside, in public, the Jewish delegation asked the Assyrians to speak in Aramaic so the average person walking by wouldn’t over hear, but the Assyrians refused. “Did my king send this message only to your king? It’s for all these people! When we conquer you, they’ll eat their own waste along with you! Don’t let Chizkiyahu fool you! He can’t save you. If you give in, the king of Assyria will relocate you all to other lands just as nice as this one, where you can live in peace. Your G-d won’t save you – none of the gods of the other nations we conquered saved them!”

Chizkiyahu had instructed his men not to reply to the Assyrians, so they just took the message and left. They tore their clothes in mourning. (The Talmud in Sanhedrin, page 60a, says that Ravshakeh, the Assyrian officer who did most of the talking, was actually an apostate Jew and they tore their garments because he blasphemed against G-d.)

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