A Ransom for Jerusalem

Harness the steeds to the chariots, inhabitants of Lachish;
it was the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion,
for in you were found the transgressions of Israel.

Micah 1:13

Aha! Here Micah gives us the beginning point. The anatomy of sin. Micah says that the downfall of the nation of Judah began in the town of Lachish.

What happened in Lachish?

Micah wrote at the time that the “northern kingdom,” called variously Israel and Samaria, was about to be swallowed up by the bloodthirsty Assyrian king Sennacherib. Soon that whole population would be dragged away to exile, hundreds of miles to the north, many dying along the way due to the Assyrians’ unspeakable cruelty.

But Micah in fact had no business with the northerners. His prophetic ministry was to the southern kingdom, which would not only survive the ascendancy of the Assyrians, but in fact soon deal them a stupendous, debilitating blow. Only a few years later, having swallowed up every kingdom in the region, Sennacherib’s mighty army surrounded lonely Judah, the last holdout, clinging to the rugged hill country around Jerusalem and began a siege. Good king Hezekiah beseeched YHWH for help. And the answer, recorded by Micah’s contemporary Isaiah, was truly miraculous:

Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh.

Isaiah 37:33-37

This story is a wonderful example of prayer being answered despite impossible odds. Hezekiah is justly lauded by the chronicler: “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord… There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.” (1 Kings 18:5)

Sadly, as good Bible students know, this miracle was but a reprieve. YHWH’s judgment on the southern kingdom (Judah) would come eventually, several generations later, at the hands of the Babylonians. At that point Jerusalem was destroyed. The people of God no longer had a national presence.

This was the result of their own rebellion, of course. But what started Judah down the road to losing their place on earth? What was the root of their sin? What happened at Lachish?

Shortly before the miraculous massacre of the Assyrian troops at Jerusalem there was another incident between Sennacherib and Hezekiah. This one does not reflect nearly so well on the good king of Judah. He acted out of desperation rather than faith:

In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; withdraw from me. Whatever you impose on me I will bear.” And the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the king’s house. At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord and from the doorposts that Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria.

2 Kings 18:13-16

Hezekiah came to Lachish and was horrified at what he saw — the destruction, the mounds of dead and near-dead bodies, men, women and children. He saw the trails of blood from his own people having been dragged off (with hooks!) to Nineveh. He was the cruel Assyrian soldiers gloating. Hezekiah was frightened for Jerusalem. This menace was coming too close to home. He asked for a price. Sennacherib gave it. Hezekiah’s men then set to work dismantling the beautifully-adorned Temple, and hauling out of the royal palace all the silver and gold that had lain there since Solomon’s time, two hundred years earlier. A parade of heavy ox-carts came trundling down the hill from Jerusalem and arrived in Lachish, a ransom for Hezekiah’s capital city.

Yet Hezekiah found, to his regret, that paying off the evil Sennacherib did not satisfy his thirst for blood. Within a very short (unrecorded) span of time, he was laying siege to Jerusalem. One can imagine Hezekiah and all his officials saying “What is with this guy? We paid him all that silver and gold to make him withdraw, and yet he continues to press in against us! What a rat! What a waste of money!”

What can we learn from this incident? The sin of Hezekiah was his attempt to buy off evil. Hezekiah trusted (in this instance) in the wealth of his nation, rather than the God of his people. As it was with Hezekiah and Sennacherib, so it is with us and our adversary the devil. We try to compromise, to appease, to buy his favor — but he remains bloodthirsty, attacking again and again. Making concessions to him doesn’t satisfy him. It emboldens him. He comes back hungrier, expecting us to be even weaker than before. This is how Lachish became the “beginning of sin” for the nation of Judah. They gave away what was sacred. The judgments that fell upon them 140 years later had their origins in that devil’s bargain at Lachish.

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