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2 Kings 18:13-18 meaning

On the heels of several military victories, Sennacherib the King of Assyria sends his trusted advisor “The Rabshakeh” (the chief cup-bearer) to Jerusalem with the intention of convincing its king, Hezekiah, and its inhabitants to surrender out of fear.

2 Kings 18:13 begins, Now in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and seized them (vs. 13). 

This follows Assyria's assault and conquering of Samaria seven years earlier. Samaria was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. Israel and Judah had split during the reign of Solomon's son Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:16-17).

In the fourth year of Hezekiah's kingship in Judah, Assyria came to besiege Samaria. At this point in history Assyria was a powerful empire. The siege and exile of Israel by Assyria transpired in 725-722 BC. Assyria trounced Samaria, ending a three-year siege (2 Kings 17:5-7). The northern kingdom's "ten lost tribes" of Israel, as they are now called, never returned (except perhaps since 1948 AD in our modern era).

After Assyria had defeated the northern kingdom, its forces came with the intent to defeat Judah. But unlike with Israel, God intervenes to save the southern kingdom of Judah. Assyria had already taken all the fortified cities of Judah but one: Jerusalem (vs. 13). Seven years after Hezekiah had watched Samaria fall to Assyria, the Assyrian army was now at his doorstep. This invasion by Assyria was, in part, because Hezekiah had rebelled against the king of Assyria by not paying tribute or taxes (2 Kings 18:7).

The land of Israel is, geographically speaking, the connector between Egypt, which was the breadbasket of the ancient world, and the East which supplied spices and silks. The "spice route" connected the two, and both major routes came right through Israel. It was, therefore, the best place for a "toll booth." If you were an ancient king, you greatly desired a "toll booth" to collect tariffs, and for protection from anyone coming through your land.

The town of Megiddo, on the plains of Jezreel in Israel, was particularly coveted as a place for a "toll booth." From the fortress of Megiddo, on the hill of Megiddo, you could enforce tolls on both the Via Maris (the Way of the Sea) and the King's Highway, the two major "silk routes." Taxing the silk and spices from the East and the grain from Egypt was a major source of income, extracting from the labor of others.

The plains of Meggido were constantly contested—one of the most fought-over pieces of ground in the ancient world. A more familiar name for the place in modern times is Har-Meggido, Har (Hebrew for "hill") and Meggido, together transliterated to English as "Armageddon." It is here where an end-time apocalyptic battle will occur,

"And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon." (Revelation 16:16)

This gathering of the nations' armies predicted in Revelation 16:16is in support of a planned assault on Jerusalem, which is likely a fulfillment of the prophetic application of this episode of the Assyrian assault on Jerusalem chronicled in Isaiah 36-37 as well as here in 2 Kings 18-19. The episode that is about to unfold is probably a picture of this event that is yet to come (as of this writing in 2024).Next, in vv 14-16, we encounter a moment of political capitulation by King Hezekiah of Judah. Hezekiah had rebelled against Assyria, ceasing his payments of tribute (2 Kings 18:7). Now he is bearing an adverse consequence to the Assyrian empire, which at the time was the dominant power in the Near East:

Then Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, "I have done wrong. Withdraw from me; whatever you impose on me I will bear" (vs 14a).

This verse marks a stark turn from the earlier narrative of Hezekiah's rebellion against Assyrian tyranny and Judah's God-given prosperity. Hezekiah now submits to Assyrian authority, saying I have done wrong (v 14). He also agrees to pay whatever is demanded of him, saying whatever you impose on me I will bear (v 14). Monetary payments are what is in view. At this point Assyria has conquered all of Judah save Jerusalem, so Hezekiah recognizes that he has no bargaining power (2 Kings 18:13). Hezekiah's message is desperate. 

Hezekiah sent his message of repentance to the king of Assyria whose forces were stationed at Lachish. Lachish was a significant city in Judah. It was a strategic military and administrative center. Its mention signifies the Assyrians' threatening proximity to Jerusalem during their campaign.

Hezekiah's admission of wrongdoing (I have done wrong) was not a moral or religious confession but a political acknowledgment of his failed revolt against Assyria's hegemony. In response, the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold (vs 14b). This enormous tribute reflects the heavy price of defiance in the ancient Near Eastern vassalage system. 

God's covenant/treaty with Israel was set forth in a form common in the ancient Near East, a format known as a Suzerain-Vassal Treaty. In these treaties, the "suzerain," or superior ruler, promised blessings for loyalty and obedience from the vassal, and curses for rebellion. We can find archaeological evidence for these treaties in modern-day Turkey, which was once the home to the Hittite Empire. 

God speaks to humanity in terms we can understand. If He were to speak in heavenly terms we most likely would not understand. So He speaks to us in earthly terms (John 3:12). God uses this same treaty structure when He makes a covenant with Israel. This heavy tribute would be typical of a "cursings" provision of such a treaty for defiance of the vassal (subordinate) to the Suzerain (superior). 

To meet the demand of this tribute of three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold, Hezekiah stripped the Temple and his own palace of their wealth. Hezekiah gave him all the silver which was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasuries of the king's house (vs 15). 

This act would have been both financially and symbolically significant, indicating both the severity of the crisis and the lengths to which Hezekiah was willing to go to protect his kingdom. It seems likely that Hezekiah's reasoning was that the Temple and palace decorations would be taken anyway if the Assyrians took the city. So, at this point he is gathering up all the wealth in the city in an attempt to avoid annihilation. 

Furthermore, Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD, and from the doorposts which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid (vs 16), showing the desperation of the situation. The Temple, constructed under Solomon, was the center of the worship of the LORD, and its adornment signified both divine favor and national pride. Dismantling parts of it for tribute would have been a profound humiliation and a sign of subservience. In addition, everything in the Temple was sanctified and holy to the Lord. 

In Daniel 5, which occurs during the Babylonian exile less than 200 years later, we see how precious the Temple artifacts were, not only to the people of Judah, but to God himself. The account begins with the Babylonian king Belshazzar at a feast, where he is drinking wine in the presence of a thousand nobles (Daniel 5:1-4). This drinking is public and highlighted by the author, probably to show its excess. 

Belshazzar's excess results in him giving orders to bring the gold and silver vessels from the Temple which was in Jerusalem to drink in praise to their pagan gods. These vessels were taken from the temple in Jerusalem when his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Jerusalem. In Daniel 1, the vessels are specifically mentioned: "The Lord gave" Nebuchadnezzar "some of the vessels of the house of God" which he carried back with him to Babylon, and put "the vessels into the treasury of his god" (Daniel 1:2). It is shortly after the desecration of these vessels by Belshazzar that God pronounces doom upon Babylon, and so Babylon fell to the Persians that very night (Daniel 5:25-31). 

To advance the conquest of Judah, the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rab-saris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem to King Hezekiah with a large army (v 2). Rabshakeh means "chief cup-bearer" or "vizier"; a top and trusted aid to the king. Tartan and Rab-saris are also Assyrian titles, with the latter meaning "chief eunuch." 

The Assyrian king Sennacherib stayed behind to finalize the takeover of Lachish, a principal city of Judah, while Rabshakeh would attempt to force Hezekiah's surrender of Jerusalem.

Jewish tradition holds that Sennacherib chose Rabshakeh for this purpose because he was a Jew who had defected to the Assyrian side. In addition to knowing the local language of Hebrew, he would also be well versed in the politics and religion of the kingdom of Judah

If Rabshakeh could not get Jerusalem to surrender, then he would use fear tactics to dishearten the people, making it easier for Assyria to conquer Judah's capital city.

Upon arriving to Jerusalem, Rabshakeh stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway of the fuller's field (vs. 17). fuller is a launderer. The fuller's field could have been a field where lye was refined into soap. It could have also been equipped with facilities like a conduit that supplied a pool of water to launder fabrics. An ancient laundromat of sorts. 

Evidently, this was a popular meeting place outside of Jerusalem. It was also the place where Isaiah met King Ahaz, Hezekiah's father, years earlier (Isaiah 7:2).

Well before Rabshakeh arrived, Hezekiah had created a tunnel to route the spring just outside the city walls under the city, to allow Jerusalem to survive a siege from the Assyrian troops (2 Kings 20:20). This forethought and planning on the part of Hezekiah was praised as one of his most important accomplishments (2 Chronicles 32:30). The conduit of the upper pool however was referenced in King Ahaz's reign, so it is different than the one Hezekiah built.

Modern archaeology discovered the tunnel constructed by Hezekiah. In the aqueduct/tunnel that Hezekiah built, an inscription was discovered halfway through the tunnel that says that the tunnel was dug from both ends. It says that when they got close to the middle, they could hear one another's voices shouting, so they dug each end to meet in the middle. The tunnel comes out at the Pool of Siloam.

With Rabshakeh standing by the conduit of the upper pool, Hezekiah's top advisors Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came out to him (v 18). In a move of diplomacy, Hezekiah sent his top advisors to receive the king of Assyria's top advisor.

It is interesting that in an oracle called "The Valley of Vision" in Isaiah 22, Hezekiah's advisors Shebna and Eliakim are mentioned by name. The Lord speaks positively to Eliakim and negatively to Shebna who seems to have exalted himself to lofty positions and is therefore chastised (Isaiah 22:17-18). This is consistent with the teaching of Jesus who states in Matthew 23:12, "whoever exalts himself shall be humbled." 

Rabshakeh might be a forerunner of the false prophet spoken of in Revelation as he is the spokesman of the king of Assyria, who could be a prototype of the antichrist. This is the beast of Daniel and Revelation. In the last days, the beast will rule the earth on behalf of Satan. It seems he will either be Assyrian, or have the same great power as the king of Assyria, as stated in Micah:

"This One [Jesus] will be our peace.
When the Assyrian invades our land,
When he tramples on our citadels,
Then we will raise against him
Seven shepherds and eight leaders of men."
(Micah 5:5)

This story from 2 Kings 18-19, Micah's prophecy of Israel's deliverance from invasion might be prophecies of the end of the age, when the nations will descend upon Jerusalem as described in Zechariah 14:2, Revelation 16:16.

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