In the rubble that filled the Jerusalem streets following the 1967 Six-Day War, archaeologists scrambled to see what the bombs had unearthed before the bulldozers came through and smoothed over the past once again. One group of archaeologists found a wall, a very, very old wall, buried so deep below the present day city that it can hardly be called a wall anymore.
The wall they found is far older than either the Ottoman Old City wall or the Wailing Wall. This ancient wall dates back almost 2700 years to the reign of King Hezekiah. The discovery of Hezekiah’s broad wall represents one of those rare and extremely satisfying occasions when archaeology uncovers something that everyone but the most hardened skeptics can agree appears in the Biblical story.
Once it had been an enormous wall; the foundations that remain today are 20 feet wide and 10 feet tall in some places. Today the wall is partially exposed in a small courtyard below apartment buildings and shops in the Jewish Quarter. Tourists can view it from above, but it is a rather insignificant site in a city full of significance, and most tourists probably hurry by without bothering to glance at one more pile of rocks.
Tiny Jerusalem vs. Mighty Assyria (or David and Goliath, part 2)
Hezekiah found himself on the wrong side of Sennacherib, King of Assyria, when he stopped paying to the Assyrians the tribute that was keeping them at bay. At the time, Jerusalem’s urban population had grown far outside the old walls of the city. As Hezekiah began to prepare for what he knew would be a terrible siege by a merciless Assyrian war machine, he had to figure out how to protect his people. This meant building new defenses.
The Bible records the story of Hezekiah vs. the Assyrians three times (2 Kings 18:13-19:37; 2 Chronicles 32:1-23; Isaiah 36:1-37:38), and each account notices different details. The account in Chronicles is the only one to mention the construction of a wall, a project that was critical for Jerusalem to survive:
“He (Hezekiah) set to work resolutely and built up all the wall that was broken down and raised towers upon it, and outside it he built another wall, and he strengthened the Millo in the city of David. He also made weapons and shields in abundance.” (2 Chronicles 32:5)
As the Assyrian army slowly approached Jerusalem, destroying most of the other Judean cities along the way, Jerusalem’s citizens sacrificed their houses to build the wall so they could survive. Isaiah describes this in Is. 22:9-11, “You counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall.” Even today, tourists can see foundations from houses which were torn down and used in the wall when the new wall ran through their living rooms.
When the Assyrians finally arrived outside Jerusalem, Sennacherib’s representative tried to scare the defenders on the wall into surrendering, reminding them that no city had ever survived an Assyrian siege. “On what are you trusting, that you endure the siege in Jerusalem?” the messenger asked. “Is not Hezekiah misleading you, that he may give you over to die by famine and by thirst, when he tells you, ‘The LORD our God will deliver us from the hand of the King of Assyria?’”
On what were Hezekiah and the citizens basing their trust? This question asked by the Assyrian messenger is the central question of our story. 1 Kings 18:21 shows that the Assyrians thought that Hezekiah was placing his faith in Egypt, a common mistake made by kings of Judah and Israel. The Assyrian messenger calls Egypt “that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it” for a reason. This time, however, Judah would not be turning to Egypt for help.
If not Egypt, then perhaps the Jews were trusting in Hezekiah’s new wall. According to the prophet Isaiah, some of them were doing just that. In Isaiah 22:8-11 he writes, “In that day you looked to the weapons of the House of the Forest, and you saw that the breaches of the city of David were many…you counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall…But you did not look to him who did it, or see him who planned it long ago.” It appears that some in Jerusalem were so impressed by their own handiwork that they forgot about the God who was their true defense and protection. However, not all of them forgot.
Our story tells us that Hezekiah and many of his people simply trusted God. On receiving Sennacherib’s message, Hezekiah goes into the temple and prays to the LORD, “O LORD our God, save us, I pray you, from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you are God alone” (2 Kings 19:14). Hezekiah places no trust in his wall; he places his hope and trust firmly on the LORD, who responds through Isaiah that he will save Jerusalem, a promise he makes good on that very night.
Why Build a Wall?
One question remains: if Hezekiah was placing his trust in God, then why did he build the wall? Perhaps Hezekiah’s wall is indicative of a partnership with God and his anticipation of God’s faithfulness. It is likely that he never would have rebelled in the first place if he had not believed that God would protect the city. His anticipation of God’s faithfulness meant building a wall to keep the Assyrians out, even while acknowledging God as the true protector.
If Hezekiah did not prepare and move the city behind the walls, the Assyrians would waltz right in and have their way with the city. The wall is an outward expression of Hezekiah’s faith. It is not a reach for salvation in his own power; rather, it demonstrates his confidence in God’s ability to save. God is on the move, and so Hezekiah moves with God.
God moves to set people free. Do we anticipate God’s salvation and victory in our own lives to the extent that we prepare accordingly? If we believe that the Spirit of God can and will free us from our bondage to sin, have the walls begun to go up that will protect our souls? These walls are neither legalistic nor works-based; rather, they are founded on a deep devotional life, and they are built through a timeworn determination to say “Yes” to Christ. These walls don’t keep us out of the world; they do protect our hearts as we face an enemy who wants to destroy us and as we encounter a world that hurts and doubts.