When Rabshakeh Opens His Vile Mouth
Written by Pastor Jim Law
The Old Testament is given to the people of God as vital revelation for the strengthening of our faith, the instruction of our doctrine, the foundation of the Gospel, and the encouragement of our soul.
The historical narratives of the Old Testament are filled with many priceless gems. In this short post, I want to take you to an episode from the life of King Hezekiah. Hezekiah was one of only eight kings of Judah who were said to be godly. While not perfect, they did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.
In several sections of the Old Testament, we read the account of Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah (2 Chronicles 32; 2 Kings 18,19; and Isaiah 36, 37). Sennacherib of course was the king of Assyria who had in recent days sacked the northern tribes of Israel leaving a tremendous body count in his wake. He was a clear and present danger to Hezekiah and the southern kingdom of Judah. His presence was beyond intimidating.
In Isaiah 36, Sennacherib was focusing his military might on the fortified cities of Judah. He sent the Rabshakeh to deliver one of the most daunting messages recorded in the Bible. The Rabshakeh was a title for an important official in the Assyrian military, and according to Assyrian records came to be the designation for an elevated military position.
This account is a demonstration of how the people of God should respond when fear and intimidation come. The Rabshakeh’s menacing message was especially effective because he spoke impeccable Hebrew, so all the people on the wall could hear the bullying first hand.
Listen to some of the threats of the Rabshakeh unleashed upon Hezekiah and the people of Judah:
*He mocked their faith, “On what do you rest this trust of yours?”(Isaiah 36:4)
*He scoffed at their weakness by saying that even if we gave you two thousand horses, if you were able to set riders on them…a single captain among the least of my master’s servants could defeat you.(Isaiah 36:8-10)
*The Rabshakeh introduced confusion by claiming that the Lord had told him to come up against the land to destroy it. (Isaiah 36:10)
*Speaking in Hebrew, and in the hearing of many, the Rabshakeh says, “you are doomed to eat your own dung and drink your own urine.” Yes, that’s in the Bible! (Isaiah 36:12)
*The Rabshakeh attacked the leadership of Hezekiah by saying, “Do not let Hezekiah deceive you…Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord…Make your peace with me and come out to me.”(Is. 36:14,16)
Needless to say, this was a full-frontal attack on the minds and hearts of God’s people. This scene reminds me of the one in the Lord of the Rings trilogy where Gothmog has assembled the horde of orcs before Minas Tirith in a siege. Gothmog says as they stand before the fortress city, “Fear, the city is rank with it.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e_NeF3d5Ew
This is a fitting commentary for Jerusalem on the day of the Rabshakeh’s message. It was indeed rank with fear.
Following this historical narrative, I find great encouragement by the example of Hezekiah and his leadership. When faced with fearful and intimidating circumstances, what are we to do? What are we to do when the Rabshakeh opens his vile mouth tempting us to jettison our confidence in the Lord God Almighty?
Several observations emerge. First, they were silent. They were not driven by their emotions or by fear, neither did they default to unbelief. Isaiah 36:21 reads, “They were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, ‘Do not answer him.’”
When bad news comes, when we are assaulted by threats and intimidation, to whom do we listen? This event in the Old Testament is another reminder from Scripture to be still and remember who is on the throne.
A second observation was that Hezekiah and his leaders sought the Lord. Their silence was not a mere stoicism. They refused to answer the Rabshakeh in kind. Rather, they sought with desperation and determination the God of heaven. Hezekiah “tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the LORD.”(Isaiah 37:1)
Thirdly, Hezekiah stood strong on the promises of God. Isaiah spoke an assuring word, “Do not be afraid because of the words that you heard,…Behold, I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.” (Isaiah 37:6,7)
A final observation from this text is that the battle is the Lord’s. Hezekiah had sought the Lord in prayer and was told by Isaiah, “Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib…I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”(37:21,35)
What would follow is one of the greatest demonstrations of God’s power in the Old Testament, the siege of Jerusalem was broken when the angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrians in a single night (2 Kings 19: 35).Sennacherib withdrew and returned to Nineveh in Assyria, where his own sons killed him.
When the Rabshekahs of this world launch their vile threats, remember that God delights to show His power and glory, so let us stand resolved with the psalmist who said, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.”(Psalm 56:3)