Hezekiah and the "Siege of Jerusalem"
Few events in the Bible are enlightened by archaeology quite like the clash between two great kings: Hezekiah and Sennacherib.
It was the year 701 BC when the great Assyrian King Sennacherib advanced on the land of Judah, where Hezekiah was king in Jerusalem. Sennacherib commanded the most powerful army in the Ancient Near East at that time. It was an army feared by the nations for its power and its cruelty.
The Personal Seal of King Hezekiah
Hezekiah had every reason to be afraid. Just 20 years earlier, when Hezekiah was in his teens, Sennacherib’s father Sargon had conquered Samaria, the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians had besieged the city for a gruelling three years, starving its inhabitants and finally
Carved relief of Sennacherib
breaking through its walls. The people of Samaria, and throughout the northern kingdom, were then taken into captivity. And now Sargon’s son, Sennacherib had his sights set on Jerusalem.
In the year 701 BC, Sennacherib marched his armies south to the land of Judah. The Bible records in 2 Kings 18 that:
“In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them.”
Hezekiah heard reports of these conquests as city after city fell to Sennacherib on his march toward Jerusalem. Sennacherib too records these conquests. On a clay document known as the Taylor prism, he had it recorded that:
“As for Hezekiah the Judahite, who did not submit to my yoke: forty-six of his strong, walled cities, as well as the small towns in their area, which were without number, by levelling with battering-rams and by bringing up siege-engines, and by attacking and storming on foot, by mines, tunnels, and breeches, I besieged and took them."
Replica of the Taylor Prism at Bibleworld
One of the last of these walled cities to be conquered was Jerusalem’s ‘signal city’ called Lachish. Lachish lay about 50km southwest of Jerusalem and was a strongly fortified city. It appears from excavations to have been an important part of Hezekiah’s administrative and defence system for his kingdom. Sennacherib was rather proud of his conquest of Lachish. Later, when the Judean campaign was over, he would commission a series of stone reliefs depicting the siege to be installed in a room of his palace. These reliefs were immense, being over 30 metres in length and about 2.5 metres high. In 1845, archaeologist Henry Layard rediscovered these reliefs during his excavation of Sennacherib’s palace. They are now on display in the British Museum in London. (click here for more images)
The Lachish Reliefs Room at the British Museum
Image left: The reliefs depict the siege as battering rams, spearmen, archers and slingers attack the city.
Image right: The only inscription on the reliefs reads:
“Sennacherib, king of the world, king of Assyria sat on a throne, and the booty of Lachish passed before him.”
… and appears right beside a defaced depiction of Sennacherib sitting on his throne
Image left: The reliefs also show the city’s inhabitants being led off into captivity, while others are being tortured as a warning to the rest.
An excavated siege ramp at Lachish
The archaeological remains of Lachish also still bear witness to this siege that happened over 2700 years ago. There have been numerous sling stones and arrow heads found in the rubble, and one of the siege ramps depicted in the reliefs is still clearly visible to visitors to the site today.
2 Chronicles 32:9 tells us that:
“When Sennacherib king of Assyria and all his forces were laying siege to Lachish, he sent his officers to Jerusalem with this message for Hezekiah king of Judah and for all the people of Judah who were there …”
Arrowheads and sling stones from Sennacherib’s attack on Lachish
Hezekiah’s “Broad Wall”
It was pretty clear by this stage that Sennacherib’s intention was to lay siege to Jerusalem itself. Hezekiah had been expecting this and so he set out to make sure the city was well prepared for an attack. One of his tasks was to strengthen the walls of the city at the most vulnerable places. In the old city of Jerusalem today, visitors can still see the remains of one of those walls. It is referred to as Hezekiah’s “Broad Wall”. (click here for more images)
In addition, Hezekiah also ensured the people had a safe and ongoing water supply. The Bible tells us that “he made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city”. (2 Kings 20:20). This tunnel and pool system created by Hezekiah can also still be seen today, and visitors to Jerusalem can even take a walking tour of the entire 533 metre length of the tunnel.
In 1880, an inscription was discovered on the wall of the tunnel. The inscription, known as the ‘Siloam Inscription’, describes the incredible feat of constructing the tunnel, and is on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum in Turkey.
The Siloam Inscription
- not for reproduction -
Throughout this time, Sennacherib attempted to break Hezekiah’s resolve. He taunted him by sending both envoys and a letter boasting of his greatness and threatening to destroy Jerusalem and its people if they did not surrender. Hezekiah responded by humbling himself before God and pouring out his anguish to him in prayer.
‘“Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.
It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”’ (2 Kings 19:15-19)
He also sent word to the prophet Isaiah. Through the prophet, God assured Hezekiah that Jerusalem would not fall to Sennacherib and his forces. Although Sennacherib boasts on the Taylor prism that ‘Hezekiah himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage’, God promises Hezekiah that he would deliver Jerusalem from the hand of the king of Assyria. He says:
‘He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the Lord. I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.’ (2 Kings 19:32-34)
That very night God fulfilled his promise and miraculously delivered Hezekiah and the city of Jerusalem from Sennacherib’s advance. It states in 2 kings 19:35ff that:
The Nabonidus Stele
Image courtesy of Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) [CC BY-SA 4.0] Wikimedia Commons
- reproduction with above credits -
‘That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.
One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king.’
Sennacherib never tells us about the outcome of his attack on Jerusalem, nor his defeat. In fact, he doesn’t record any other attacks on Judea throughout the remainder of his lifetime. About 20 years after his Judean campaign, in 681 BC, Sennacherib’s life comes to a brutal end when his sons murder him. References to the murder by his sons is mentioned in several ancient documents including the Nabonidus stele which can be seen in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum in Turkey. Upon his death, Sennacherib’s son Esarhaddon succeeded him as king.
And so ended the clash between Hezekiah and Sennacherib. You can read the account of the conflict between these two kings in 2 Kings 18 – 19, 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 36-37.
Hezekiah’s Seal - https://whatthenwhynow.org/hezekiahs-seal/
Inside Hezekiah’s tunnel - Bibleplaces.com
Nabonidus Stele - Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) [CC BY-SA 4.0] Wikimedia Commons
All other Photos provided by Ross & Sarah Nightingale: Sennacherib Relief, Sennacherib's Prism, Lachish Relief Room, Lachish Reliefs x 3, Lachish Siege Ramp, Arrowheads, Sling Stones, Hezekiah's Broad Wall