From the roof of my hotel on the west side of Old Jerusalem, I look down into “Hezekiah’s Pool,” an ancient reservoir that still echoes taunts an enemy made there almost three thousand years ago. At that time Assyria, after wiping out the Northern Kingdom of Israel and deporting its citizens (2 Kings 17), threatened Jerusalem. The Assyrians were brutal: ancient reliefs show them beheading prisoners of war or skinning them alive.
So Jerusalem had reason to be terrified when King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded the Southern Kingdom of Judah in 701 BC, conquering all major cities except Jerusalem. But Isaiah warned God’s people not to seek superior weapons or make compromising alliances: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 31).
King Hezekiah of Jerusalem tried to appease the Assyrians, even sending to King Sennacherib gold and silver stripped from the Temple. But Assyria still dispatched envoys to Jerusalem who spouted propaganda by the “Upper Pool.” If today’s empty pool by my hotel existed in Hezekiah’s time, it was just outside Jerusalem. Inhabitants of Jerusalem stood on the city wall nearby to hear the Assyrians (2 Kings 18, Isaiah 36).
While archeologists dispute which ancient site actually is the Upper Pool, the message of the Assyrians is not in doubt: Egypt is a “a broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it,” the Assyrians sneered. You people are so ignorant of horses that Assyria will give you two thousand if you can provide soldiers able to ride them! Yahweh himself told us to come destroy you!
Leaders of Jerusalem were humiliated, and asked the Assyrians to please speak in Aramaic, the language of diplomacy, rather than in the Hebrew everyone could understand. No, answered the Assyrians, we want to communicate with common folk who, like you, soon will be eating their own dung and drinking their own urine.
King Hezekiah prayed, “O Lord, deliver us . . . so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone are God.” Speaking on behalf of Yahweh, Isaiah told Assyria, “I will put my hook in your nose” and “turn you back on the way by which you came” (2 Kings 19).
Sure enough, one night during the siege an angel of the Lord struck down 185,000 Assyrians, perhaps by plague. The Assyrian army returned home, Jerusalem was spared, and King Sennacherib was assassinated by his own sons.
I cannot rejoice at such loss of life. But the story of taunts at the Upper Pool, and the account of unexpected reversal in warfare, remind me that God is sovereign in history. Nations may rage and rulers taunt, but people of faith need not be immobilized by fear. We will not always be saved from harm, but a just God controls our destiny.
From my rooftop I look into what may be the Upper Pool. I also see both Dome of the Rock where the Temple surely stood and Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus died and rose. Fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of beating swords into plowshares (Isaiah 2), Jesus calls followers to lay down weapons and love our enemies even in crisis when it could cost us our lives.
© 2017 J. Nelson Kraybill ******************************************
Come with Ellen and me on a Peace Pilgrim walking tour in Galilee and Jerusalem! Dates are May 14-25, 2018, and the pace will be moderate. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum, and hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took his disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls, trace the triumphal entry route on foot, and also travel by vehicle to see much more. The Gospels will be in our hands, and prayer in our hearts. Interested? See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/holy-land-peace-pilgrim-walk-jesus/