Thursday, 30 June 2011

Hezekiah's silence

Why did King Hezekiah remain silent when Rabshakeh, the Assyrian field commander, taunted Hezekiah and insulted the LORD?

Isaiah 36 and 2 Kings 18 record how Sennacherib, king of Assyria, attacked Judah and conquered all the way to Jerusalem. Sennacherib memorialised his conquest of Lachish, Judah's second most important city, in sculpted reliefs in his palace at Ninevah. Those reliefs, and a rock prism boasting of his Judean campaign, can now be seen in the British Museum. I saw them myself last week, when I visited the museum during my UK holiday.

Having conquered Lachish, the Assyrian army besieged Jerusalem. Isaiah and 2 Kings both record the Assyrian field commander taunting Hezekiah and the LORD. "Don't let Hezekiah deceive you," he says to the people of Jerusalem, "the LORD can't save you. None of the gods of the other nations were able to resist us. Come over to us Assyrians - we'll look after you."

In the face of these taunts, Hezekiah's response was: silence. Isaiah 36:21:
But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, “Do not answer him.”
Why did Hezekiah command silence?

Fear or cowardice?
He could have responded with Godly confidence. That’s what his ancestor David did in a similar situation: he responded to Goliath's taunts with Godly defiance - see 1 Samuel 17:41-47. If Hezekiah had that option, then his silence was fear, or even cowardice.

Pearls before swine / do not answer a fool?
Or it could have been Hezekiah's wisdom in not responding to foolish arguments. Proverbs instructs us not to answer a fool according to his folly; Jesus told us not to cast our peals before pigs; and Paul tells us not to be involved in foolish and stupid arguments. If this is the case, then Hezekiah's response was wisdom. Matthew Henry takes this line, as do a couple of current online commentators (David Guzik and Donald F. Ritsman).

Or his silence could be a Godly humility. Like the suffering servant of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Hezekiah could have been resolved to patiently bear the taunts and mockery of unbelievers. In this case, Hezekiah would be a prototype of Jesus, and an example to us.

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I don't know which of the three options to go for. They're all plausible. Might there be a way to combine them into something more wholistic?

Thoughts, please.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Not having read much at all: Is it significant at all that he doesn't remain silent, so in 37:14ff he prayers to God about the people who have insulted the living God. So, the silence in 36:21 would seem to be more strategic than an act of cowardice???