by Timothy L. Cooley, Sr.

Eliakim stood peering into the distance from a tower high on the wall of the city of Jerusalem. For days he had been staring incredibly at the horizon. All his intelligence reporters kept telling him how the Assyrians were marching in from the north. They had marched from far to the east, from Nineveh along the Tigris River in what is now Iraq.They attacked many cities on the way and decimated the countryside. Eliakim reflected with fear on the Assyrians’ cruelty to the people they conquered. How could this be happening? What would they do to Jerusalem? How could King Hezekiah protect the people? Would the Lord deliver them? They certainly needed a mighty miracle right now!

Eliakim was steward over King Hezekiah’s household, a very honorable position, but in times like these he just felt like running. He was scared! Yet he could NOT run. He had to stand with Hezekiah regardless of the cost to him personally. They had to protect the people of the Lord or die in the attempt.

Suddenly Eliakim’s blood turned icy in his veins as he glimpsed the shining of armor. Quickly he dispatched a messenger to King Hezekiah. “The enemy has been spotted.”
They had been doing everything they could think of to prepare for the attack. They had also been praying desperately that the Lord would spare their beloved city.

Eliakim watched in terror, all the while pleading with God. The enemy marched irreversibly closer. The city gates were already shut and locked. They had been guarding the city carefully, but now no one was permitted to enter or to exit the gates. Every precaution had to be enforced!

Messengers raced back and forth from Eliakim to the King. The enemy hordes poured into the fields just around Jerusalem. Shouting, cursing, coarse joking raked the air.

The soldiers set up their tents, just beyond the reach of bow and arrow. They cursed because all the water sources had been stopped up. Hezekiah had had his army plug them up to make life more difficult for the enemy during the siege.

Inside the city, terror reigned. The King’s messengers tried to calm the people and urged everyone to pray. But not all the people could be convinced. Even those who believed had their faces drawn taut with fear. While they mouthed words of prayer, their eyes looked upward in worry and fear. Lord Byron described the attack in poetry:

“The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.”

The next day, the Assyrian field marshal, Rabshakeh, located the tower where Eliakim stood surveying the situation and began to shout at him in Hebrew—the language every one in the city could understand!

Rabshakeh blasphemed the God of Israel, cursed King Hezekiah, and tried to raise a rebellion among the fearful people of Jerusalem, “No other God has been able to turn away the Assyrian army. Neither will Jehovah. In fact, Jehovah sent us here. So just surrender and things will go easier for you.”

Hezekiah and his men quieted the people, telling them to trust in the Lord. He sent quickly to Isaiah the prophet describing their desperate need. He laid out the letter from Rabshakeh before the Lord in the temple. Hezekiah knew very well that the insults were not primarily against him as king, nor even against his armies, but against the LORD. Now was the time to let the LORD defend His own Name!

They prayed constantly. They agonized and waited. What would the Lord do? Then Isaiah pronounced what God would do!

“The virgin daughter of Zion will laugh at the Assyrians. God will defend this city! King Sennacherib will NOT enter Jerusalem. Instead he will go home and there fall by the sword in his own land!”

Hezekiah’s messengers spread the word throughout the city. People stared unbelievingly. Some raised their hands in thankfulness. Others turned their palms upward in unbelief. They all knew the stories from Moses’ and Joshua’s days. They had heard of Gideon’s victory and of David’s triumph. But would God do this now? He’d better hurry up and do something because they needed a miracle NOW!

The taunting and blaspheming went on. The field marshal called King Hezekiah a liar, who deceived his own people. He declared the Lord Himself could not stop King Sennacherib from slaughtering the city.

King Hezekiah had given command for no one to answer the taunts. They would trust the Lord!

Then came that night! The night of the Lord’s deliverance! The Angel of the Lord came down and in perfect silence suffocated 185,000 Assyrian soldiers! He just took their breath away! All the mighty men of valor! All the leaders!

No thumping! No screaming! No one actually heard anything. The night passed by seemingly just like all the others, but there was not a sound from the enemy! The watchmen on the walls strained their eyes and ears. Slowly the campfires died down to simmering embers. It seemed even the guards were silent.

Just after the crack of dawn, the watchmen on the wall of Jerusalem began to hear wailing. Tiny groups of Assyrian survivors discovered that nearly everyone around them was mysteriously dead. No evidence of struggle! Just dead! Life-less corpses haunted the camp, eyes staring blankly at nothing mouths gaping in death.

These Assyrian soldiers had heard the old stories of how Israel’s God could powerfully defend His people, but they had laughed and mocked, not believing these were any thing more than just old made-up fairy tales. They had mocked the God of Israel along with their general and convinced themselves that no God could stop their army. Now the horror of truth gripped the few survivors with panic!

Here and there Eliakim could glimpse a single soldier running in terror toward the north. Eliakim could not quite figure what must have happened! As morning brightened the watchmen could see horses still tethered but no owners showed up. The sun rose higher into the sky, but still no action from the enemy camp. No mocking taunts about the useless prayers to Israel’s God. No coarse jokes about what the Assyrians would do when they entered the city! All was mysterious silence!

Let’s go back to Lord Byron’s famous poem.

“The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!”

Isaiah 36-37, 2 Kings 18-19, and 2 Chronicles 32 all record this narrative. And remains from Sennacherib’s own monuments, discovered in modern times tell the confirming story. Sennacherib did NOT conquer; he did not even enter the city!

Cautiously, Eliakim sent out messengers to examine the camp. Those brave men sneaked carefully into the edges of the enemy camp. There lay the enemy, motionless, unresisting. Soldiers of silence keeping watch over nothing. Yesterday they were blasphemers, mockers, striking terror and fear to Jerusalem. This morning their blank eyes struck awe to these Israeli scouts. The enemy had been defeated.

The scouts clapped their hands over the mouths, jubilating in disbelief. Th
ey had to check things out thoroughly. They sneaked on through tent after tent. Nothing but dead corpses laying straight on the ground. Only a few animals even survived. Beautiful war horses stamped uneasily pulling on their tethers. Not one human soul stirred to resist the scouts.

As the brave scouts absorbed the reality of what the Lord had done, they began shouting. Perhaps they shouted out the words of our Psalm 46. That’s what Hezekiah had been telling them. That’s what Isaiah believed.

“God is our Refuge and Strength!
The best of helps in trouble
Therefore will not we fear.
God is our Refuge and Strength!”

The watchmen on the wall sent messengers to the King to tell him the wonderful news. The King’s messengers began running through the streets, shouting the marvelous news! Uproarious rejoicing erupted throughout the city.

Tambourines jingled merrily. Women danced in the streets, not the lewd dances of the pagans, but the Miriam Song-of-Moses kind of dance.

Swirling, modestly dressed daughters of Jerusalem celebrated the marvelous works of the Lord. Children squealed with excitement and chanted their version of the celebration.

Big strong men, warriors, wept unashamed in the market place. They had seen the Assyrian armies circle the city. They had tasted the terror. They knew the Assyrians were devilishly cruel to their victims. Desperately they had prayed. Now the Lord had answered! They and their city were saved!

“Therefore will NOT we fear
Tho’ the earth be removed,
Tho’ the mountains be carried, to the midst of the sea.
God is our Refuge and Strength!

Tho’ the waters roar and be troubled,
Tho’ the mountains shake with the swelling
God is our Refuge and Strength!
God is our Refuge and Strength!”

The crowds waved their hands in the air before the Lord and their voices chant their relief.

“Be still and know that I am God.
The Lord of Hosts is with us.
The God of Jacob is our Refuge!
God is our Refuge and Strength!”

Fathers took their children up on the city wall to show them the visible remains and the evidence of the wonderful answer to prayer. They jubilate how the Lord delivered them from the awful ravages that war would have brought. “See the enemy camp! See those dead soldiers. They blasphemed the Lord. They threatened His city. They blasphemed His Name. He cut them down!”

The women chanted in the street: He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.
Their song moved from the big picture to the details and then back to the big scene as the Israeli soldiers begin to heap up the garbage and start enormous fires to get rid of the waste.

“Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Be still! Know! Stop the worrying! Stop all fear and anxiety. The Lord God is present with us.

I’d like to rattle the funeral notions most of us have of this psalm. I like to use Psalm 46 at funerals, but I must admit that after considerable study I think the psalm was more likely composed for riotous celebration, for hilarious, jubilant dancing to the jingle of tambourines. Observe the flow of thought, (Is it chiasm?).

V. 1 – God is Our Refuge.
Vv.2-3 – The enemies move like a devastating earthquake.
Vv.4-5 – The River within provides peace (sustenance and joy).
Vv.6-7 – The Raging heathen without cannot overpower the Ruling LORD within.
God … is Our Refuge.
Vv.8-9-10 – The LORD wreaks “desolations” across the land, completely routing the enemy.
V.11 – God … is our Refuge. (The same phrase is found in v.7.)

Psalm 46 was a great encouragement to Martin Luther, especially through the times when it seemed the whole church was against him, the mighty power of Rome, the mighty power of several other nations. His famous hymn comes right from this psalm.

“A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us: The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.”

No matter what you are facing, God can help you. Trust in Him!

Resources

Lord Byron (George Gordon). “The Destruction of Sennacherib.” Poetry Foundation.
Luther, Martin. “A Mighty Fortress.” Hymnary.org.

About the Author

Dr. Timothy L. Cooley, Sr. ​is the Academic Dean of Penn View Bible Institute. He serves as an Advisory Member for the General Board. Formerly, he pastored the Newport and Pillow God’s Missionary churches.

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