Next to Jerusalem, Lachish was at the time the most important city of Judah, guarding the south western parts of the Nation. In the later part of Judah's history, Lachish was sieged and destroyed on two occasions: in 701 B.C., by the Assyrians during the reign of Sennacherib, and in 588-87 B.C. by Babylon during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar.
In 704 B. C., Sennacherib became King. Shortly thereafter he lead a military campaign against the Babylonians. In 701 B.C., he lead his troops into Syria and then into Judah. In that year he laid siege against Lachish, one of several cities of Judah that were in revolt during the reign of King Hezekiah.
The siege of Lachish by the Assyrians is archaeologically very well documented. Excavations at the now Tel Lachish have produced abundant evidence of the siege. More importantly, in his palace at Nineveh, Sennacherib commissioned a set of stone reliefs to be made commemorating the siege to decorate the walls of a room dedicated to the battle. Many of the reliefs are currently owned by the British Museum.
Seige of Lachish Assyrian attacking the city of Lachish, archers. Detail of a wall relief dating to the reign of Sennacherib, 700-692 BCE. From Nineveh, Iraq, currently at the British Museum.
Here is a short summary of 2Kings 18 and 19 about the battle between Hezekiah and the Assyrian King Sennacherib :
In the seventh year of the reign of Hezekiah the King of Judah, war in the land broke out as the king of Assyria laid siege on Samaria, capturing Hoshea and all the people of Israel. Seven years afterwards, the king of Assyria attacked Judah. Hezekiah wrote a letter to the king of Assyria at Lachish saying that he has done wrong.
He offered to pay whatever the king of Assyria wanted in exchange for freedom. The king of Judah gave the king of Assyria hundreds of gold and silver pieces. The temple of God was stripped of all its gold, including that which covered the doors and frames. Nevertheless, Sennacherib marched on Jerusalem with a large army.
Sennacherib threatened Jerusalem. This was when the king of Assyria sent his commanders to speak to Hezekiah at Jerusalem. Hezekiah however was saying that they should worship the Lord.
When the Assyrian force arrived, its field commander Rabshakeh brought a message from Sennacherib. In an attempt to demoralize the army of Judah, the field commander announced to the people on the city walls that Hezekiah was deceiving them, and that Yahweh could not deliver Jerusalem from the king of Assyria. He listed the gods of other peoples defeated by Sennacherib and asked, "Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me?" However, the people remained silent and did not answer him. Those who heard the words of the commander reported this to Hezekiah with their clothes torn.
The Assyrian field commander then learns that his king, Sennacherib, was fighting and goes to find him. At the same time, the king of Egypt, who was allied with Judah, was coming out to fight against the Assyrians. The commander then sent a message to Hezekiah to warn him not to count on his God when God tells him that the Assyrians will not conquer Jerusalem, because the Assyrians will destroy every city they conquer.
Hezekiah got this message and went to the temple and called out to God and begged Him to deliver his country from the Assyrians.
During the siege, Hezekiah dressed in sackcloths, the Prophet Isaiah then sent Hezekiah a message reassuring him that God had heard his prayer and that Sennacherib, who had been arrogant and blasphemous, would be defeated and humiliated. God then told Hezekiah that the Assyrian King would not come near Jerusalem.
That very night an angel slays 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. The sight of so many corpses terrified the king, and he fled to Nineveh where he stayed. Jerusalem was not captured. Later, he was assassinated by his own sons, and another son succeeded him as the Assyrian king.
There are several key points that affirms the accuracy of the Old Testament:
1. Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem, but apparently failed to capture it — it is the only city mentioned as being besieged, but a capture is not mentioned.
20 years later, in 721 BCE, the Assyrian army captured the Israelite capital at Samaria and carried away the citizens of the northern Kingdom of Israel into captivity. The virtual destruction of Israel left the southern kingdom, Judah, to fend for itself among warring Near-Eastern kingdoms. After the fall of the northern kingdom, the kings of Judah tried to extend their influence and protection to those inhabitants who had not been exiled. The latter part of the reigns of King Ahaz and King Hezekiah were periods of stability during which Judah was able to consolidate both politically and economically.
The story of the siege is also told in the Book of Isaiah and the Chronicles, and mentioned in Micah. As the Assyrians began their invasion, King Hezekiah began preparations to protect Jerusalem.
In an effort to deprive the Assyrians of water, springs outside the city were blocked. Workers then dug a 533-meter tunnel to the Spring of Gihon, providing the city with fresh water. Additional siege preparations included fortification of the existing walls, construction of towers, and the erection of a new reinforcing wall. Hezekiah gathered the citizens in the square and encouraged them by reminding them that the Assyrians possessed only "an arm of flesh", but the Judeans had the protection of Yahweh.
There is no evidence that Sennacherib laid siege to Jerusalem in 701 BC, but the siege ramp at Lachish is still visible. Now a common tourist point.
2. The Bible also predicts that Lachish will be destroyed but calamity will stop at the gate of Jerusalem.
Micah 1: 12,13 predicts that the siege will stop at the gate, as it happened:
“For the inhabitant of Maroth becomes weak waiting for good, because a calamity has come down from the LORD to the gate of Jerusalem. Harness the chariot to the team of horses, O inhabitant of Lachish-- She was the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion-- Because in you were found The rebellious acts of Israel”.
Isaiah 36:2 :
“And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem to King Hezekiah with a large army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway of the fuller's field”.
Isaiah 36, 37:
“Then the angel of the LORD went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, all of these were dead. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh”.
3. In Isaiah 37:6-7, the Prophet also predicted that Sennacherib would not die in Judah but would return to his own land. And he will still die by the sword. Indeed he was assassinated by his sons when he was back in Nineveh at about 681 BC, 20 years later. These harmony of the Biblical narrations, prophetic declarations and historical recorded facts are truly amazing!
The Prophet Micah also stated in Micah 1:13 Lachish will be found the rebellious acts of Israel. Sure enough, the reliefs shows idols being carried away from Lachish.
4. If Sennacherib is able to so destroy Lachish and so many other cities (some are depicted in the Nineveh relief murals, also in Isaiah 36:1, 19-20), why did he not destroy Jerusalem, although clearly predicted in Isaiah 36 and 37? Except for His protection and response to fervent prayers, there must be no other good explanation. The Old Testament author has indeed given a faithful account of what had happened!
The authenticity of King Hezekiah of Judah from outside-of-the-Bible evidence, presented above from Sennacherib’s account on the siege of Lachish, and the Hezekiah water tunnel that is accessible today (has also become a growing tourist spot) cannot be disputed. There is apparently no other Old Testament figure whose existence and work that archaeology has so well substantiated. Scholars have often questioned the Scripture concerning characters in its narrations because of their lack of archeological evidence and depictions outside of the Bible. One must understand that Biblical archaeology in the Holy Land is difficult on account of political and historical reasons and maneuvers. Since Jerusalem has been destroyed and then subsequently rebuilt many times since the time of David and Solomon, much evidence of 10th century (Iron age) habitation, valuables or utensils could easily have been destroyed or buried. The status of Jerusalem around the 10th to 5th century BCE is indeed a major subject of scholarly debates. The oldest part of Jerusalem and its original urban core is the City of David, which up to now is an area where excavations are wrought with difficulty and resistance, except for some uniquely large structures such as steps and pools. Some important archaeological artifacts are indeed expected to be under residential and commercial buildings and carparks!
In any case, the Lachish narrations indeed have shown us the importance of trusting in the Word of God on Biblical accounts as history of His people. The Bible tells of Jerusalem not being captured and there are the Hezekiah tunnel, Lachish remains and the Prism inscriptions left to us in the present day to find substantiation. These are good Bible affirming truths. If Hezekiah is not fictious, so David and Solomon could not have been, that’s the point the author also wants to make. What we need to understand He will reveal. May the Lord lead the way.
A list of Bible Inscriptions excavated
A list of Bible Excavations in Israel
A list of Bible Excavations in Jerusalem
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