The prophet Jonah’s ministry to the city of Nineveh made it clear that God’s mercy was not limited to the Israelites (Jonah 3:10). Even though the book of Jonah seems to end without an answer to the question, was the Ninevites repentance sincere? Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s eventual destruction of the Assyrian empire indicates its capital, Nineveh only received a temporary reprieve and would one day experience God’s judgment for their wicked behavior along with the rest of the world.
Describing God’s overthrow of Assyria, Isaiah declared, “The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand: that I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot: then shall his yoke depart off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders” (Isaiah 14:24-25). As Sennacherib king of Assyria approached Jerusalem and threatened its destruction, it must have seemed to king Hezekiah that God had changed his mind and would allow Assyria to continue its conquest of the world.
After hearing of Sennacherib’s threat, Hezekiah sent Eliakim, Shebna, “and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blashphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring them forth” (Isaiah 37:2-3). King Hezekiah knew that Sennacherib was right about his ability to defeat Jerusalem. It was only a matter of time before he would break down the city walls and take the people into captivity.
Isaiah assured Hezekiah that God would not allow Sennacherib to carry out his threat, but Hezekiah’s confidence was shaken when he received a second message from Sennacherib’s servant Rabshakeh.
Let not thy God, in whom thou trustiest, deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria…And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up unto the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD. (Isaiah 37:10,14)
Hezekiah’s action of spreading or displaying the letter before the LORD was similar to presenting evidence. Hezekiah was making a case that Sennacherib had accused God of lying. In Hezekiah’s opinion, Sennacherib had gone too far and God needed to do something about it. As a result of Hezekiah’s prayer, God did more than just stop the Assyrians from attacking Jerusalem. It says in Isaiah 37:36, “Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses”.