And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said: “O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.
Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore, they were destroyed. So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.”
2 Kings 19:15-19 ESV
This brief prayer is one of the great ones in the Bible. It was prayed in the middle of a great crisis. Sennacherib is at the gates. He is the Assyrian emperor, the successor to nearly 200 years of Assyrian conquest. Virtually the whole ancient Near Eastern world is at his feet. Only one rich region remains: Egypt. And he is on the verge of taking that. But one small irritation remains: Judah. He has conquered the whole country except for its capital Jerusalem, but he must have that before he is free to take on Egypt.
Sennacherib had sent one of his officers to demand that the people force Hezekiah to surrender, and when that was not effective, he followed up with a letter in which he showed how foolish it was for Hezekiah to think that Yahweh could deliver Jerusalem from Assyrian devastation. Think of all the gods the Assyrian kings had proven helpless. Why would Hezekiah think that Yahweh was one degree different?
Well, the simple answer, as Hezekiah knows, and Sennacherib does not, is that Yahweh is in every degree different from the gods. They are part of the world, but he made the world. He is the living God, and they are not gods at all, but simply the creations of human minds and hands. Of course the Assyrians had destroyed those gods. Why wouldn’t they?
So why should Yahweh deliver Jerusalem from Sennacherib’s hands? Here, apart from the true understanding of Yahweh that the prayer portrays is what makes the prayer great. What Could Hezekiah have said? Well, he could have said that he and his people deserved it because they had been faithful to Yahweh. Or he could have said that, frankly, Yahweh needed these people to declare his name. But he didn’t say either. Rather, he asked for deliverance so that the world might know who Yahweh really is. The scholars fall all over themselves to find some naturalistic explanation for why Sennacherib did not attack Jerusalem and precipitately left that part of the world never to return. It was because Yahweh heard Hezekiah’s prayer! Why should God deliver you and me?