II Kings – Chapter 19

Isaiah's Prophecy

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

The officers repeated the Assyrians’ message to Chizkiyahu, who likewise tore his clothes. He sent the officers to consult Yeshayahu, the prophet Isaiah. They said in Chizkiyahu’s name “We are like a fetus in distress whose mother has no strength to push it out. If only G-d would punish Ravshakeh for his blasphemy against Him! Please pray for the remaining Tribes that have not already been exiled!”

Isaiah told them, “Reply to Chizkiyahu, thus says G-d: don’t be worried about these servants of the king of Assyria who blasphemed Me. Sancheriv will be sent back to his own land and will be defeated there.”

Ravshakeh returned to Sancheriv. Sancheriv received a message that the king of Cush had gone out to battle him, so he headed back to Assyria. Before he left, Sancheriv sent some threatening letters to Chizkiyahu, to remind him who was boss. Chizkiyahu took the letters to the Temple. He spread them out and prayed to G-d:

“Please see how Sancheriv insults You by comparing You to the idols of the nations he has defeated! Please save us from his hand so the whole world will see that You alone are G-d!”

Isaiah sent word to Chizkiyahu regarding his prayer. (The prophecy speaks “to” Assyria, even though it was delivered to Chizkiyahu.) “Israel mocks you, Assyria,” the prophecy went. “You know Whom you’ve insulted? G-d. Because you provoked Me, I will place a ring through your nose and a bridle in your mouth, and lead you like an animal back where you came from. Now, Chizkiyahu, here’s your sign that this prophecy is true: even though the Assyrians have destroyed your crops and famine is on the way, there will be enough growing wild to feed everyone until the third year. The king of Assyria will not enter this city – he’ll go back the way he came. I protect this city (Jerusalem) because of My servant David.”

That night, an angel struck the Assyrian camp and killed all 185,000 soldiers. Only five survived to tell the tale: Sancheriv, his two sons, Nebuchadnezzar and Nebuzaradan (Sanhedrin 95b). More about Nebudchadnezzar in chapter 24 and Nebuzaradan in chapter 25. Suffice it to say that, between them, they destroyed the Temple. Like Pharaoh in the time of Moses, witnessing miracles did not sway them from the path of evil.

After this crushing defeat, Sancheriv retired to Ninveh, unable to show his face in shame. While he was worshipping his idol Nisroch (which the Talmud – Sanhedrin 96a – says was made from the wood of Noah’s ark), his two sons killed him and ran away, leaving another son to reign in his place. (In a strange example of kri/ksiv, when a word in Tanach is spelled and pronounced in two different ways, the word “banav,” his sons, is read aloud but does not appear at all in the text! One explanation for this rare oddity is that they were illegitimate sons.)

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