Part Two: They Plump When You Cook 'Em
Do we have to give in to intimidation? Can we really see it as having no power? What if we're afraid? The story of King Hezekiah offers some practical illustrations for us!
Emerging from the vast Assyrian army and drawing near to Jerusalem, three ambassadors approach. Tartan, Rabsaris, and Rab-shakeh call for King Hezekiah. But rather than talking to them himself, Hezekiah sends three of his officials, Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah to meet the Assyrian emissaries.
Then Rab-shakeh begins his campaign to intimidate. His speech goes something like this:
“Our great king, the king of Assyria wants to know just who you think you’re trusting, that you’re confident enough to rebel against him. You say you’re strong enough to handle war with us, but — come on — look at our army. Your words are obviously empty! Are you relying on your alliance with Egypt? Their king isn’t reliable. Trusting him will end up costing you and anyone else who does. Or do you think you’re relying on God? Didn’t Hezekiah just destroy all the altars you made to Him, and told you that you have to worship in his temple at Jerusalem? How exactly will you call down God’s power without your altars? . . . Yikes . . . Well, if you act now — make your pledge to the king of Assyria — I’ll send you two thousand horses. Of course . . . do you even have enough men willing to ride? Aren’t you relying solely on Egypt for chariots and horsemen? How could you hope to turn away even one of my king’s weakest captains if your only hope of strength in battle is Egypt? You’re relying on Egypt. We’re not. Look how strong we are. I mean, could I really come to you in all this strength . . . without God’s help? That’s right. God is on our side, not yours. God spoke to me. He said to me, ‘Go up against them, and destroy them.’”
Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah then ask Rab-shakeh to stop speaking in Hebrew, for all the people to hear, but to speak just to them, and in Syrian, which was the language of diplomacy at the time. His response is rather more colorful than I care even to paraphrase, but essentially, he admits that his whole purpose in being there, why Sennacherib sent him, is to intimidate not just them, but also all the people of Judah. After all, he can speak Hebrew. Speaking much more loudly now, and addressing all the people, Rab-shakeh’s speech continues along these lines:
“Listen to the words of the great king — the king of Assyria! Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you. He can’t deliver you from me. And don’t let Hezekiah make you trust God, thinking God will save the city from being taken. Don’t listen to Hezekiah — because here’s what the king of Assyria is offering: If you’ll just sign a treaty with me, and present it to me, I’ll let you continue enjoying the fruits of your land — your own wine and your own figs and water . . . Then I’ll come along and take you to an even better place — a land like your land — with corn and wine, bread and vineyards, olive oil and honey — and you’ll live there, instead of dying in battle here. So don’t listen to Hezekiah when he says God will deliver you. Have any gods ever succeeded in delivering other lands from the king of Assyria? Just look at Samaria! No, no one has been able to, so on what basis could God accomplish it?”
Hezekiah’s men don’t respond; Hezekiah had instructed them not to. So they return to the king in distress and tell him what Rab-shakeh has said. And then Hezekiah is distressed! So he dresses for mourning and goes to the temple. From there, he sends Eliakim and Shebna — also in mourning garb — to the prophet Isaiah.
So, what can we learn here?
Well, before we get into the action, let’s take a minute to talk about the names of our key players here. Names always carry significance in the Old Testament. I’ve used the Brown-Driver-Briggs definitions.
Hezekiah = “Jehovah is my strength”
Eliakim = “God raises” or “God sets up”
Shebna = “Vigor”
Joah = “Jehovah is brother” or “Jehovah-brothered”
The jobs of each are important, too. (Again using BDB . . . )
Eliakim over the household = home, family, family of descendants, household, household affairs; inward; within
Shebna the scribe = enumerator, muster-officer, secretary; learned man, scribe; to recount, rehearse, declare
Joah the recorder = to cause to remember, remind; to keep in remembrance, make a memorial; to record
I saved the Assyrians for this part because their names are simply their job descriptions:
Tartan – literally just a military title in the Assyrian army: field marshal, general, or commander
Rabsaris – literally means “chief eunuch,” in other words, a chief official
Rab-shakeh – the only one of the three whose name is Hebrew, his name literally means “chief cup-bearer,” i.e., chief butler
What did I get from that? Three things:
Introducing themselves by their (high) ranks was likely part of their tactic to intimidate Hezekiah’s men.
The roles of the three Assyrians roughly align with the three men Hezekiah sends to meet them: Eliakim/Rab-shakeh; Shebna/Tartan; Joah/Rabsaris. This represents countering erroneous suggestions with specific spiritual counter-facts.
There is one exception to this: the roles of the three Assyrians lack a spiritual dimension. However, it is definitely present among the men Hezekiah sends to meet them: Joah is there to remind them of God and His laws. Shebna is there to declare them. Eliakim is there help keep them internalized—informing the way the people think and act.
Hezekiah was so wise to do this! He sends as his first line of defense someone concerned with the inner, mental well-being of the kingdom (Eliakim), someone concerned with its outer, physical well-being (Shebna), and someone concerned with its spiritual well-being (Joah). Truly all the bases are covered!
In scientific prayer to demonstrate over an imposition, we use specific truths to counter specific lies about God and man. And we keep our thought stayed on God — not the problem. Reasoning out from what we know of God, we work to see that the problem is not a reality in God's creation. Hezekiah's choice not to speak directly to the Assyrians represents this process of not talking back to error as if it were true, not giving it any supposed reality in our consciousness.
So, despite the scary names, the Assyrians are actually on weak footing. The only thing that would give them any sway is if Judah were to accept that the Assyrians are superior — to accept that suggestion mentally. The Assyrians are well-established mental malpractitioners in this way. However, at the point we find ourselves in the story, Hezekiah has realized the error of his way (when he tried to pay off the Assyrians to leave Judah alone, i.e., ceded power and authority to them). When we are aware that someone is trying to manipulate our thoughts or feelings, we prove for ourselves that "Error found out is two-thirds destroyed,” as Mary Baker Eddy says (Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p. 355). In other words, it’s easier to demonstrate our freedom from the false influence once we realize that’s what it is. We may have a bit of a struggle left, but our victory is assured.
So, the encounter with the Assyrians essentially consisted of Rab-shakeh grandstanding, Hezekiah’s men rebuking him, and then Rab-shakeh grandstanding even more wildly.
In the first bit of grandstanding, Rab-shakeh systematically attempts to undermine all aspects of Judah’s resistance to Assyrian rule by making them afraid. He reminds them of the king of Assyria’s success rate in conquering people. Says Judah’s army isn’t strong enough to go against Assyria. Says their human ally, Egypt, is unreliable. Says they can’t rely on God because Hezekiah tore down all the altars. Then he shifts. He says Assyria will give Judah a gift if they surrender — a gift that would actually be useless if they surrender. But once he has their attention focused in the direction of surrender, he goes right back to saying Egypt isn’t reliable. Then he suggests that Assyria never would have had any sort of victory over them if God Himself hadn’t wanted it. He says God spoke to him. Says God told him to come destroy Judah.
Now, our three guys were obviously intimidated. But I think the last claim was so grandiose that it woke them up somewhat to what was going on. At that point, they ask him to stop speaking Hebrew, their native language, and instead speak Syrian. It’s very similar to when we become alerted to some aggressive mental suggestions attempting to influence us. It comes in the guise of our own thought, our own language, but it's foreign — not our thought at all. And just like Rab-shakeh, it seeks to instill fear and turn us away from God — either by drawing our attention to the testimony of the physical senses or to a sense of the history of a problem, by trying to discredit the method we’re relying on, or by playing upon our insecurities. When Hezekiah’s men ask Rab-shakeh to speak Assyrian to them, they’re essentially saying they’re ready to deal with him in his true nature: a foreign intrusion, an imposition. And once he’s exposed — he admits everything! His outrageous claims puff him up bigger and bigger. But in his case — as in the case of all errors, the bigger they are, the more obvious they are. And when they’re obvious, they’re “ripe for destruction.” Mary Baker Eddy explains this phenomenon very well in her exegesis of the red dragon in Revelation. (See Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 564.)
Of course, Hezekiah’s men are still afraid. So here’s where Rab-shakeh — after a few more attempts to shake their faith in Hezekiah and in God — offers a temptation. If Judah will sign a treaty with Assyria, they can go back to life as usual for a while…and then be exiled from their homeland. But at least they’ll be alive! Then he points, once again, to the evidence of Assyria’s success in battle and claims that Judah, like Samaria, will fall. All of this is, of course, a distraction. Rab-shakeh knows that the only way to get Judah to surrender is to shake their faith in God. I find all this similar to when we’re tempted to compromise what we know of God for a material or human expedient, that is, not to act up to our highest sense of what’s right because we’re afraid of the consequences, whether social or physical. We’re tempted to just give up control to the suggestion because it seems like it would be so much easier. But once again, error gives itself away, this time by being illogical. None of the conquered people were relying on God, but rather on their pagan gods. Rab-shakeh tries to put them on the same plane, but Hezekiah’s men know better! God is omnipotent. God is All.
Interestingly, Hezekiah’s men do not respond. Hezekiah knew before sending his men to talk with the Assyrians that the answer to any sort of compromise or surrender to the Assyrians would have to be a firm “NO.” However, it is not always necessary to refute evil aloud to realize its nothingness, powerlessness. By continuing his course quietly and relying on God, but by not causing any ripples humanly, Hezekiah protects his demonstration. He has time to mourn and pray in the temple — to repent of his material mindedness and fear and to seek the counsel of the prophet Isaiah, who was patently attuned to God and reliant on only His power.
Stay tuned! The story continues . . .