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The Day Sennacherib Challenged God

Sennacherib, meaning Sin sends many brothers (ironically, Sin was the name of the pagan Assyrian moon "god"), was an Assyrian king who reigned about 705-681 BC (see Ancient Empires - Assyria). The son and successor of Sargon, Sennacherib is known to Bible History from when his massive army of about 200,000 men came against King Hezekiah of Judah (see Kings of Israel and Judah and Hezekiah's Tunnel), and made the incredibly foolish mistake of arrogantly challenging and blaspheming God.

Assyrian Sennacherib's own record of his invasion of Judah, which matches the Biblical account, has been found by archaeologists. The clay prism is now in the Oriental Institute Museum in Chicago. A translated excerpt from it:

"Because Hezekiah, king of Judah, would not submit to my yoke, I came up against him, and by force of arms and by the might of my power I took forty-six of his strong fenced cities; and of the smaller towns which were scattered about, I took and plundered a countless number. From these places I took and carried off 200,156 persons, old and young, male and female, together with horses and mules, asses and camels, oxen and sheep, a countless multitude; and Hezekiah himself I shut up in Jerusalem, his capital city, like a bird in a cage, building towers round the city to hem him in, and raising banks of earth against the gates, so as to prevent escape ... Then upon Hezekiah there fell the fear of the power of my arms, and he sent out to me the chiefs and the elders of Jerusalem with 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver, and divers treasures, a rich and immense booty ... All these things were brought to me at Nineveh, the seat of my government."

The Assyrian prism stops short of recording the outcome of the invasion (as usual, ancient kings recorded their apparent victories, not their later defeats), however the Bible record completes the account - the Assyrian army was annihilated, not by Hezekiah's army, but by God:

"In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army." (Isaiah 36:1-2 RSV)

"for thus says the king of Assyria ... Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of these countries have delivered their countries out of my hand, that The Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?'" (Isaiah 36:16,18-20 RSV)

"And Hezekiah prayed to The Lord: "O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, Who art enthroned above the cherubim, Thou art the God, Thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; Thou hast made heaven and earth [see The Seven Days Of Creation]. Incline Thy ear, O Lord, and hear; open Thy eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God." (Isaiah 37:15-17 (RSV)

"Therefore thus says The Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city, or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield, or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, says The Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for My own sake and for the sake of My servant David." And the angel of The Lord went forth, and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went home and dwelt at Nineveh." (Isaiah 37:33-37 (RSV)

Fact Finder: What happened to Sennacherib himself after his army was devastated?
Isaiah 37:37-38


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