by Peter Ditzel
In 2 Kings 18, we read that the forces of Sennacherib (which means “Sin [the name of Assyria’s moon god] sends many brothers”), the king of Assyria, came up against Judah. The Assyrian king demanded tribute, which Hezekiah (meaning, “Jehovah is my strength”), king of Judah, gave him, but the scoundrel wanted more. He sent a delegation, headed by Rabshakeh (not really a name but a position meaning “chief cupbearer”).
Then Rabshakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews’ language, and spoke, saying, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria. Thus says the king, ‘Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you; for he will not be able to deliver you out of his hand: neither let Hezekiah make you trust in Yahweh, saying, “Yahweh will surely deliver us, and this city shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria”‘”
2 Kings 18:28-30
Rabshakeh then said that if the people of Judah refused to listen to Hezekiah and if they made peace with Sennacherib, everything would be just dandy. He next went on to essentially say that since none of the gods of the other nations had delivered their people from the king of Assyria, why should you expect your God to deliver you? (verses 33-35).
We can draw a parallel between Rabshakeh’s taunt and the modern world’s mocking of Christianity. In fact, we can even take what happened in Hezekiah’s time as an Old Testament type of what Christianity faces today. What are the taunts Christians hear? “Why do you believe that ancient superstition?” “How can a man who died two thousand years ago save you?” “There’s no scientific evidence for God.” “History doesn’t prove Jesus.” “Scientific answers are consistently replacing supernatural explanations.” “Differences in beliefs about God show there is no God.” These are the remarks of those who don’t know God. Sennacherib, speaking through Rabshakeh, lumped the true God in with the pagan gods and dismissed them all as impotent (verses 32-33). Isaiah 36:7 also shows Sennacherib’s ignorance. He didn’t realize that the altars and high places Hezekiah had taken away were those of the false gods.
This is similar to modern scientists who try to argue theology, a subject they really know little or nothing about. God, whether Elohim, Allah, or Vishnu, is an idea they dismiss as outdated superstition. Because they have rejected the true God right along with the shams, they’ve become vain in their reasoning, their senseless heart has become darkened, and, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:21-22).
As was the king of Assyria, today’s scientists and the rest of the unbelieving world are ignorant of the gift of faith and the way it opens the spiritual eyes of repentant sinners. God gives to these sinners, who are His elect, the ability to trust in His Son as Savior. Without that gift, it is impossible to believe or to even understand why those who believe do so. “Without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to [God], for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). To the unbeliever, it is all nonsense worthy only of ridicule.
The Seals of Hezekiah
Hezekiah, as we know, was a believer. The Bible specifically commends him, saying, “He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel” (2 Kings 18:5). He stood firm when outnumbered by scoffers, even when Rabshakeh quoted Sennacherib as counterfeiting the biblical prophetic language of God’s kingdom: “Make your peace with me, and come out to me; and everyone of you eat from his own vine, and everyone from his own fig tree, and everyone drink water from his own cistern; until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and of honey, that you may live, and not die” (verses 31-32). Hezekiah was not tempted to yield or compromise. He didn’t listen.
Hezekiah countered the faithless world around him even in the symbolism he used. Archaeologists tell us that they’ve found several clay seals or bullae (singular, bulla) of Hezekiah. These seals secured the strings that tied rolled-up documents. Some of them contain the symbol of a winged scarab or dung beetle. It’s possible, as one paper I’ve read asserts, that Hezekiah used a dung beetle symbol to emphasize his humility or because dung beetles cleaned things up (see 2 Kings 18:4). On the other hand, the meaning of the scarab beetle from ancient Egypt was one of creation and/or resurrection, and I believe that it is quite likely that this is what Hezekiah had in mind.
The seals of Hezekiah that I want to emphasize, however, are those that contain a two-winged sun, with wings angled slightly downward (possibly to indicate the upward movement of the sun), flanked by two ankh symbols. In ancient Egypt, the ankh, which looks like a cross with a looped handle on top, symbolized life. The words on the seal say, “Belonging to Hezekiah, (son of) Ahaz, king of Judah.”
Why do I point this out? Because the Bible explains the symbolism of Hezekiah’s winged-sun seals and, therefore, enlightens us about the message Hezekiah was publishing by using them. Writing long after Hezekiah, Malachi prophesies these words of God: “‘But to you who fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings. You will go out, and leap like calves of the stall. You shall tread down the wicked; for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I make,’ says the LORD of Armies” (Malachi 4:2-3).
The sun of righteousness arising with healing in its wings is an obvious allusion to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, pictured as the sun because He shines forth in pure righteousness (“His face was like the sun shining at its brightest” [Revelation 1:16b]). Hezekiah was picturing the rising of the Messiah, whom Isaiah calls “a light to the nations” (Isaiah 49:6). In Isaiah 42:6, God says through Isaiah, “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand, and will keep you, and make you a covenant for the people, as a light for the nations.” Hezekiah was personally acquainted with Isaiah, who, in Isaiah 60:1-3 says, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the Lord’s glory has risen on you. For, behold, darkness will cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise on you, and his glory shall be seen on you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
Matthew 4:13-16 points out that Jesus “came and lived in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sat in darkness saw a great light, to those who sat in the region and shadow of death, to them light has dawned.'”
God often pictures Himself as having wings, symbolizing His protection, as in Exodus 19:4; Psalm 36:7; and Matthew 23:37. There is, of course, a direct connection between the healing in his wings that Malachi speaks of and the ankh as a symbol of life, sometimes spoken of as the key of life. Revelation 22:2, for example, connects the tree of life with the healing of the nations. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6, emphasis mine).
Prophesying shortly before Jesus’ birth, Zacharias says, “the dawn from on high will visit us, to shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death; to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79). There can be no doubt that the “dawn” or “dayspring” or “sunrise” he spoke of was Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Hezekiah used the symbols he did on his seals to openly show his faith in the coming Messiah and His power of deliverance, His protection, His healing, and His life.* His seals were a picture of the Gospel, a reality that for Hezekiah was still future but in which he trusted.
Hezekiah’s Faithful Response
Hezekiah’s faith produced outward results. Like all of us, Hezekiah had his foibles, but when things were at their darkest, this king of Judah stood firm. He did not surrender to Assyria’s demands, and he was not persuaded by Rabshakeh’s faithless words. He didn’t care if he looked foolish to the world. If he had looked at his physical resources, he would have surrendered because anyone could have told him that Judah was no match for Assyria. Hezekiah didn’t even fall into the trap that so many Christians fall into and try to argue or debate with Rabshakeh. Instead, he ordered, “Don’t answer him” (2 Kings 18:36). Today’s scientists, philosophers, politicians, and even many Christians would have harshly berated Hezekiah for being an intolerant “fundamentalist” who refused to engage the world in meaningful dialogue.
Instead, Hezekiah sent his servants to the prophet Isaiah who, speaking for God, told him not to be afraid because he would cause the king of Assyria “to fall by the sword in his own land” (2 Kings 19:7). Then, after receiving a letter containing a nearly identical tirade to the one earlier spoken by Sennacherib’s messengers (2 Kings 19:10-13), Hezekiah spread the letter before God and asked for His intervention, not for selfish reasons, but so God would be glorified before the kingdoms of the earth (verses 14-19). Through Isaiah, God gave Hezekiah a message for Sennacherib telling him that God would defend Jerusalem and that God would cause him to return the way he came (verses 20-34). That night, God killed 185,000 Assyrians encamped around Jerusalem so that Sennacherib had to return to Nineveh. There, he was assassinated while worshipping in the house of his false god (verses 35-37). I’m certain that it is not a coincidence that Sennacherib, who pointed out to Hezekiah that none of the gods could defend their people against him and that Hezekiah should not trust in Yahweh, was murdered in the temple of his own, impotent, false god. God had openly vindicated Hezekiah’s faith.
Hezekiah later acted foolishly in the matter of the Babylonian king’s envoys (Isaiah 39:1-8). He wasn’t perfect. But he is considered a righteous king. Why? “He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel; so that after him was no one like him amongst all the kings of Judah, nor amongst them that were before him” (2 Kings 18:5). All who trust in, or have faith in, the Lord as their Savior are counted as righteous (Romans 3:22; 4:5).
In his day, Hezekiah was a type of the Messiah. He was the light of his times, bringing at least physical restoration and healing to his nation. Even Hezekiah’s illness and healing can be seen to be a type of the death and resurrection of Christ: “Turn back, and tell Hezekiah the prince of my people, ‘the LORD, the God of David your father, says, “I have heard your prayer. I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day, you will go up to the LORD’s house'” (2 Kings 20:5). Jesus Christ came as the true Messiah and light of the world. He died for our sins and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25).
Now that Jesus has been raised and has “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3), He has left us in the world to be the lights of the world (Matthew 5:14-16). Like Hezekiah, we must not waste our time and resources listening to or engaging with the gainsayers of the world on their terms. He gave us a commission that is really straight forward and matter of fact. We are to, “Go into all the world, and preach [kērussō—”herald”] the Good News to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; but he who disbelieves will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). In fact, he who does not believe is condemned already (John 3:18). Yes, we can tailor our message to help those from various backgrounds understand it (1 Corinthians 9:20-23). But we are not called to legitimize our message to be in line with the whims of the world’s standards, debate it according to scientific theories that are continually in flux, nor answer back the muddle-headed accusations of wags with PhDs. With even more finality than the type that occurred in Hezekiah’s reign, when our Lord returns, the believers will rise to eternal life and the unbelievers will rise to find that they are all dead corpses (2 Kings 19:35).
Therefore don’t be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner; but endure hardship for the Good News according to the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before times eternal, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Good News.
2 Timothy 1:8-10
* Hezekiah’s use of these pagan, Egyptian symbols for this purpose should give anyone critical of the appropriation and adapting of pagan or other nonbiblical symbols for Christian use pause for thought. I know it has caused me to rethink the issue. God never criticized Hezekiah for doing this. Return
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