Who was Sennacherib in the Bible?

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By BibleAsk Team


Who was Sennacherib in the Bible?

Sennacherib, in relation to Israel, is best known for his role as the king of Assyria during the 7th century BCE. His mention in the Bible is primarily associated with the Assyrian invasion of Judah, particularly during the reign of King Hezekiah. The biblical accounts, found mainly in the books of 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Isaiah, provide insight into the interactions between the Assyrian Empire, and the kingdom of Judah.

Historical Background

Sennacherib ascended to the throne of Assyria in 705 BCE after the death of his father, Sargon II. The Assyrian Empire, at its zenith during this period, exerted significant influence over the ancient Near East. Sennacherib inherited a powerful and expansive empire that stretched from Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean. His reign was marked by military campaigns, administrative reforms, and the construction of grandiose architectural projects, including the renowned “Palace Without Rival” in Nineveh.

Military Campaigns

Sennacherib’s military campaigns are extensively documented in the annals and reliefs found in his palace in Nineveh, offering a rich source of historical information and artistic representation of his conquests. One of the most notable campaigns was directed towards the Levant, where Sennacherib sought to assert Assyrian dominance and suppress rebellions among various vassal states that had dared to defy his rule. This campaign included significant engagements such as the siege of Lachish and the infamous confrontation with Jerusalem.

The detailed records in Sennacherib’s annals boast of his military victories and the subjugation of rebellious cities, reflecting his power and the might of the Assyrian empire. Meanwhile, the Bible, particularly in the books of 2 Kings and Isaiah, provides a different perspective on these events, focusing specifically on the invasion of Judah. These biblical accounts emphasize the moral and theological dimensions of Sennacherib’s campaign, highlighting the tension between the Assyrian king and the God of Israel. They recount the desperation of King Hezekiah of Judah, his prayers for divine intervention, and the subsequent miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem.

The Siege of Lachish

One of the key events during Sennacherib’s military campaigns was the siege of Lachish, a significant moment in his invasion of Judah. The biblical account in 2 Kings 18:13-17 details this event, describing how the Assyrian king besieged and conquered the fortified city of Lachish as part of his broader campaign against Judah. The narrative emphasizes the overwhelming military might of the Assyrian army, highlighting the dire situation faced by the people of Judah. The successful capture of Lachish not only demonstrated Sennacherib’s strategic and military prowess but also served as a warning to other cities in the region of the formidable power of Assyria.

This event is further immortalized in the reliefs on the walls of Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh, which provide a vivid visual representation of the siege. These detailed reliefs depict the brutality and efficiency of the Assyrian forces, showcasing scenes of the battle, the aftermath of the city’s capture, and the deportation of its inhabitants. The combination of the biblical narrative and archaeological evidence from the reliefs offers a comprehensive view of the historical and cultural impact of Sennacherib’s campaign, illustrating both the historical significance of the siege and the propagandistic use of art to glorify Assyrian military achievements.

The Invasion of Judah

The most detailed biblical account of Sennacherib’s interaction with Judah is found in 2 Kings 18-19, 2 Chronicles 32, and Isaiah 36-37. These passages recount the Assyrian invasion led by Sennacherib during the reign of King Hezekiah. Sennacherib’s representatives, known as Rabshakeh, delivered a message to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, challenging their trust in God and boasting of the Assyrian military might. Hezekiah, in response, sought the guidance of the prophet Isaiah and prayed for divine intervention.

According to the biblical narrative, God intervened miraculously on behalf of Judah. Isaiah prophesied that Sennacherib would not succeed in his conquest of Jerusalem, and the angel of the Lord decimated the Assyrian army overnight. The vivid account in 2 Kings 19:35 states, “That night 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.” This miraculous event is a central theme in the biblical depiction of Sennacherib and is echoed in the poetic language of Isaiah 37:36.

The miraculous destruction of the Assyrian army outside the walls of Jerusalem is a central theological theme. It highlights the belief in a powerful and interventionist God who protects His people. The sudden and overwhelming defeat of the mighty Assyrian force is portrayed as a divine response to Hezekiah’s prayer and trust in God’s deliverance. This theological perspective contributes to the overarching biblical theme of God’s sovereignty and His covenant relationship with the people of Israel.

The biblical accounts of Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah offer more than a historical record; they carry theological significance within the context of Judeo-Christian traditions. The narrative underscores the importance of faith, trust, and reliance on God even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. Hezekiah’s prayer and Isaiah’s prophecies emphasize the role of divine intervention in the affairs of humanity.

His Assassination

The biblical narrative also provides an account of Sennacherib’s demise, adding a dramatic conclusion to his story. After his unsuccessful campaign in Judah, where he faced a miraculous defeat ascribed to divine intervention, Sennacherib returned to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. According to 2 Kings 19:37 and Isaiah 37:38, while Sennacherib was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, he was assassinated by two of his sons, Adrammelech and Sharezer.

This assassination is depicted as a fitting end and a form of divine judgement for his arrogance and blasphemy against the God of Israel. The biblical authors present this event not merely as a historical occurrence but as a theological statement on the fate of those who oppose God. Sennacherib’s death marked the end of his reign and underscored the ultimate sovereignty and justice of God, who vindicated Judah and punished its oppressor. This dramatic turn of events also served to reinforce the biblical theme that human power is subordinate to divine will, and those who challenge it will inevitably face consequences.

Conclusion

Sennacherib’s presence in the Bible provides a fascinating intersection of history, politics, and theology. His military campaigns, particularly the siege of Jerusalem in 701 BCE, and the subsequent events in Judah are recorded in the biblical books of 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Isaiah. These accounts not only serve as historical records of Assyrian aggression and the political turmoil of the time but also convey profound theological messages. They highlight the themes of faith and divine intervention, depicting how King Hezekiah of Judah prayed for deliverance and how, according to the Bible, God miraculously intervened by sending an angel to destroy the Assyrian army.

The narratives reflect on God’s judgement against the arrogance of Sennacherib, who defied the God of Israel, and ultimately underscore the sovereignty of God over the affairs of humanity. Through these stories, the biblical texts intertwine historical events with spiritual lessons, offering reflections on the power of faith and the belief in divine justice and protection.

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