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Love in the Time of Cholera
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Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Wendy Wippel

Of all the moments in human history in which the continued existence of God’s chosen people has been in peril (admittedly, there are lots of them, and still more to come) the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrian potentate Sennacherib certainly ranks right up there. Yep. Near the top of the list in the magnitude of Jerusalem’s danger. And in the method of its deliverance.

Sennacherib, you see, was a man with something to prove. His father (Sargon) had dutifully given his son a top administrative post in his kingdom, but he also made it clear to those within the Assyrian kingdom (and their enemies abroad) that he had little regard for his son’s abilities to rule or conquer.

Then Daddy died. And Sennacherib set about changing world opinion. Through world domination.

Sennacherib’s own records (inscribed on the stone cylinder known as the Taylor Prism) lists his many victories:

Merodach-baladan, king of Babylonia, together with the army of Elam, on the plain of Kish…  I seized .his palace, …I entered jubilantly. opened his treasure-house: gold, silver, vessels of god and silver, precious stones of every name, goods and property without limit, …—all his artisans, as many as there were, his palace servants I brought out, and I counted as spoil. …, seventy-five of his strong walled cities of Chaldea, and 420 small cities of their area I surrounded, I conquered, I carried off their spoil. The Arabs, Arameans, and Chaldeans who were in Erech, Nippur, Kish, Harsagkalamma, Kutha and Sippar, together with the citizens, the rebels I brought out and counted as booty.  The  Tu'muna, Rihihu, Yadakku, Ubudu, Kibrê, Malahu, Gurumu, Ubulu, Damunu, Gambulu, Hindaru, Ru'ûa, Bukudu, Hamrânu, Hagarânu, Nabatu, Li'tâu,  I conquered all of them. 208,000 people, great and small,,I carried off to Assyria.   The warriors of Hirimme, wicked enemies, I cut down with the sword…Their corpses I hung on stakes, surrounding the city. . The cities of Bît-Kilamzah, Hardishpi, and Bît-Kubatti, their strong, walled cities I besieged, I captured. People, horses, mules, asses, cattle, and sheep I brought out from their midst and counted as booty .and their small cities, which were beyond numbering, destroyed, I devastated, and I turned into ruins. The houses of the steppe I set on fire and turned them into flames”.

And that was just his first campaign.

The inscription goes on for seven more campaigns, but you get the idea.  When Sennacherib came after you, you were pretty much toast. The entire account of his victories lists literally hundreds of towns and peoples that Sennacherib came against, and that Sennacherib destroyed.

Without an ounce of pity. 

Somewhere in the middle of that the Taylor Prism inscription? It describes Sennacherib’s campaign against Jerusalem.  

But let’s hear the Bible’s version first:

“Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea the son of Elah, king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done.”

He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan.He trusted in the Lord God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor who were before him. For he held fast to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses. The Lord was with him; he prospered wherever he went. And he rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. He subdued the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.

Now it came to pass in the fourth year of King Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea the son of Elah, king of Israel, that Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria and besieged it. And at the end of three years they took it. In the sixth year of Hezekiah, that is, the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken. Then the king of Assyria carried Israel away captive to Assyria, and put them in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, but transgressed His covenant and all that Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded; and they would neither hear nor do them. And in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. II Kings 18:1-13 NKJV

Hezekiah was the best king Israel had had in a while, but he knew the destruction Sennacherib had already wrought on their neighbors, and when Samaria fell, he started getting nervous. So instead of trusting God, he tries to ward off the threat.  In fact, as the next verses tell us, Hezekiah tries to buy Sennacherib off:

Then Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; turn away from me; whatever you impose on me I will pay.” And the king of Assyria assessed Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. So 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 pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.’ II Kings 18:14-16

Sennacherib, predictably, happily took the gold but continued to ready for the attack. And worse, tried to exploit Hezekiah’s lack of faith:

‘So he again sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus you shall speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you, saying, “Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” Look! You have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by utterly destroying them; and shall you be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered those whom my fathers have destroyed, Gozan and Haran and Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah?” II Kings 19:9-13

Sennacherib made his point.  Nobody else had survived his Assyrian forces. And it seemed  like Jerusalem was about to suffer the same fate as the hundreds of cities that had fallen before Sennacherib’s armies.  

The scriptures tell us what happened next:

“Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said: “O Lord God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are 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 reproach the living God. Truly, 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 destroyed them. Now therefore, O Lord our God, I pray, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you are the Lord God, You alone.” II Kings 19:15-19

The passage then tells us how God’s response to Hezekiah’s prayer:

And it came to pass on a certain night that the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses—all dead. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went away, returned home. II Kings 19:35-36

Sennacherib took his ball and went home.

The really interesting thing here, however, is that God had promised His people, not all that long before this, "that The LORD your God, He will go over before you, and he will destroy these nations from before you." (Deuteronomy 31:3)

Earlier texts, also, tell us that,

"Sennacherib king of Assyria came and entered Judah; he encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them over to himself. And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come, and that his purpose was to make war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his leaders and commanders to stop the water from the springs which were outside the city; and they helped him. Thus many people gathered together who stopped all the springs and the brook that ran through the land, saying, “Why should the kings of Assyria come and find much water?" II Chronicles 32:1-4

The same chapter also tells us that,

"This same Hezekiah also stopped the water outlet of Upper Gihon, and brought the water by tunnel to the west side of the City of David.” II Chronicles 32:30

So let’s recap the situation. Thousands of hostile troops camped right outside Jerusalem’s walls (eating, sleeping, urinating and defecting. (Gross but true.) Fresh water was in the city, but only stagnant water available outside.

And in one night, those thousands of hostile troops are all dead. 

Interestingly, there’s a very natural—but nonetheless God ordained, explanation for the mysterious death of all the hopeful Assyrian invaders. One specific disease that- out of the blue, seemingly-- can cause that kind of rapid death.


A disease which has caused millions of deaths in all parts of the world, caused by sewage mingling with stagnant water. A disease that can kill hundreds of thousands in a manner of hours.  

So there is no more perfect scenario for a cholera epidemic than exactly what the Bible describes; thousands of people camped in a confined area relying on only stagnant water to stay alive.

While fresh water remained available right across the wall.

God went before. And, as always, He has their back.

“O Israel, hope in the Lord; For with the Lord there is mercy, And with Him is abundant redemption." Psalm 130:7

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: One Thorny Question

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