Tuesday of Week 12 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 2 Kings 19:9-11, 14-21, 31-36

Having overcome the Northern Kingdom, the Assyrians now turn their attention to the Southern Kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem. What happens is almost the exact reverse of the passage read on Monday of week 12 of Ordinary Time.

The famous Sennacherib, the one who “came down like a wolf on the fold”, is now the Assyrian king. He sends a letter to Hezekiah, king of the Southern Kingdom, demanding surrender. There is no use, says Sennacherib, their appealing to their God. All other countries have fallen before the Assyrian juggernaut; why should Judah be the exception?

Hezekiah has only one option – to pray to his God for help. He calls on his God who alone is God over all the kingdoms of the earth and has made them all. True, says the king, the Assyrians have carried all before them. They laid nations to waste and tossed their gods into the fire. They could do this for these gods who were just human artifacts of wood and stone.

But Hezekiah’s and Judah’s God is different. The king prayed:

So now, O Lord our God, save us, I pray you, from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.

At this point Isaiah, the prophet, intervenes with a long (vv 21-31) oracular message from God (and, except for its final verse, not included in today‘s reading). Part of it is addressed to Sennacherib and the second part to Judah. It is a mocking statement directed against the Assyrians and guaranteeing that, no matter what happens:

…from Jerusalem a remnant shall go out and from Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Isaiah interprets this as saying that Sennacherib will not reach Jerusalem; he will not attack it nor be able to institute a siege against its walls:

By the way that he came, by the same he shall return; he shall not come into this city, says the Lord.

And the city will remain safe from attack:

For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.

And that very night 185,000 men of the Assyrian army were mysteriously struck down and Sennacherib had no option but to return to his capital at Niniveh. What seems to have happened is that the Assyrian army was struck down by some virulent infection or plague which swept through it like a forest fire. Soon after his return, we are told in the following verse that, while worshipping in the temple of his god Nisroch, Sennacherib was assassinated by two of his sons who then fled into Ararat. Another son took over the throne. A further example of what happens to those who attack God’s people.

Here, as in the previous passage from 2 Kings, we see that things do not happen by accident. The destruction of the Assyrian army may be attributed to purely natural causes, but the eyes of faith see there God’s protecting hand for his people and especially for the city of David to which he had made so many promises. Nevertheless, Jerusalem will not remain unscathed. It will be, as Isaiah foretells today, not utterly destroyed, but reduced to a remnant. From that remnant will come a descendant of David,

Let us, too, see the hand of God operating in all the details of our lives – both the joyful and painful – and discern what he is trying to tell us.

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