Formations 09.14.2014: Reeling from a “Lifequake”

2 Kings 18:13-16, 19-29; 19:1

The road heading to Wenyuan, the epicenter of 2008 Sichuan Earthquake

The road heading to Wenyuan, the epicenter of 2008 Sichuan Earthquake

Americans remember September 11, 2001 as a horrific day in which the world was shattered by the destructive acts of ruthless fanatics. According to Dr. Howard Samuels, all of us have also faced smaller, more personal “ground-zero” experiences that have left us reeling, struggling to get back on our feet, and wondering how we could ever survive.

These “lifequakes,” as he calls them, might involve the sudden death of a parent, a house fire that stripped us of everything we owned, incidents of domestic violence, or other life-changing events.

Samuels says, “All of these things and more can leave us stranded at a place where we are left with no resources save our own desperate will to survive and, barring that, the sudden need to curl up into the fetal position and abandon all hope.”

How can we recover from such an experience? Samuels suggests five vital points to remember:

1. “This too shall pass.” We must assess our lives and look at what we have already survived. This can remind us that even the terrible parts of life are transitory.

2. “You are only as strong as you will let yourself be.” Even in our darkest hours, we can affirm that we were meant for greater things. It is therefore within us to take action in whatever situation we are in. We are human beings; not human piñatas.

3. “Never let other people dictate your reality.” We grieve in a thousand different ways, and we cannot allow other people to tell us we’re doing it wrong—so long as we don’t become so consumed by grief that we stop living.

4. “Turn it over.” In other words, ask for help—both from other people and, if one is spiritually inclined, from God.

5. “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” The adage “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” applies to many who are facing a devastating loss. These principles will work, but only if we take action and put them to use.

Hezekiah’s rebellion against Assyria resulted in a “lifequake” that shook the entire nation of Judah. The Assyrians plundered the temple and the palace treasuries. To add insult the injury, the Assyrian general mocked the Judahites’ trust in Egypt as an ally—and in their God! In fact, he claimed that Yahweh is actually on the side of the Assyrians. These words troubled Hezekiah’s officers and led Hezekiah himself to perform ritual acts of mourning.

The conclusion to this episode doesn’t come until next week’s lesson. For now, however, we can join Hezekiah and his nation in their moment of tragedy. Perhaps in the process we can learn something that will give us insight into how we approach our own “lifequakes.”

Howard Samuels, “5 Steps for Surviving a ‘Lifequake,’” The Huffington Post, 2 September 2014


• Could it be true that God favored the Assyrians over the people of Judah? How would entertaining such a notion challenge our theology about how God works in the world?
• How should believers respond when their faith in God is mocked?
• Why did the Judahite officials request the Assyrian general not speak in Hebrew? What did they fear if the people heard and understood his words?

Reference Shelf


The right time came after the death of Sargon II in 705 when Assyria was in turmoil with revolts in Babylonia and Anatolia as well as in Aram-Palestine. Sennacherib replaced Sargon in 705 and suppressed the rebellion of Merodach-Baladan in Babylon. In 701 he marched to Aram-Palestine down the Phoenician coast into Philistia. According to the Prism of Sennacherib, he states that he conquered forty-six walled cities under Hezekiah’s control. While on his campaign he sent a diplomat to Jerusalem to get Hezekiah to surrender (2 Kgs 18:13-36). The diplomat used the most persuasive political propaganda he could to get Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem to surrender. Undoubtedly, Sennacherib did not want to besiege the city of Jerusalem for three years as Assyrian forces had done to Samaria twenty years earlier. Sennacherib claims to have shut up Hezekiah as “a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.” Yet Hezekiah, with the support of Isaiah, would not surrender. Miraculously the angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian troops and Sennacherib withdrew. Though the size of the Assyrian army seems to be exaggerated, a dramatic deliverance of Jerusalem is likely on the basis of later history. By Jeremiah’s day the inhabitants of Jerusalem considered their city and its temple to be invincible (Jer 7, 26). The dramatic deliverance from Sennacherib is a likely origin for this attitude. Nevertheless, a dramatic deliverance was not enough to give Hezekiah independence. Both he and his son Manasseh continued to be vassals of Assyria since it was nearing the peak of its power after 700.

Theron D. Price, “Church,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 152.

The Siege of Jerusalem

In these verses, the political, diplomatic power of the government of Hezekiah must come face-to-face with the arrogant military threat of Assyria voiced by haughty diplomats, a haughtiness befitting the power and capacity of “the only surviving superpower.” The context for the encounter is Hezekiah’s defiance in v. 7 (18:13-18). The Assyrian diplomat issues an ultimatum to Jerusalem (18:19-25), which is followed by an anemic, fearful response from Jerusalem (18:26-27). While the narrative is framed as a historical happening, we should not miss that the reported exchange is a highly stylized piece of reflection and instruction. Indeed, we may say that it is a theological discourse on the meaning of faith in Yahweh.

An encounter with the imperial superpower has become inescapable after Hezekiah’s rebellion against imperial authority (18:7). The empire expects to have local regimes that are completely compliant. When they are not compliant, the empire must perforce act as enforcer. The enforcement in our narrative takes place in the person of Sennacherib, who has now succeeded to the Assyrian throne. [Sargon and Sennacherib] The Assyrian ruler and his army have already penetrated Judean defenses, so that they are encamped at Lachish, Judah’s strongest military installation. [Lachish] The Jerusalem king must send emissaries to Sennacherib at Lachish in a posture of subservience:

I have done wrong; withdraw from me; whatever you impose on me I will bear. (18:14)

The speech of the Jerusalem king is a complete submission to Assyria, an abrupt reversal of the policy and action of v. 7. The assertion of independence symbolized by withholding tribute did not work. Assyria is too strong and too vigilant of its interests and too ruthless, so that for the moment, the simple formula of obedience-prosperity does not function for the king.

There is irony in the phrase, “I have done wrong” (literally, “I have sinned”), because it contradicts the statement, “He did what was right,” in v. 3. What is right to Yahweh (independence) is at the same time sin to Assyria.2 Just now Hezekiah faces Assyria and must “repent” of his defiance of the empire. For the moment, the requirements of Yahweh recede in the face of imperial demands. Hezekiah, good king that he is, wants the occupying troops of the empire removed, and offers tribute money to purchase their withdrawal, the very tribute money he had withheld in v. 7. Sennacherib is as ruthless and demanding toward Hezekiah as Tiglath-pileser III was toward Ahaz (see 16:17-18). In humiliating fashion, like his father before him, Hezekiah must take all the treasures of the temple, silver and gold, and give them to Assyria. Verses 14-16 are exact and tedious in detail, for the narrator wants us to experience the humiliation in the detail of the telling. Everything is “for the king of Assyria!” (18:16), having been removed from the “palace” of King Yahweh and dispatched to the palace of King Sennacherib.

Walter Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 492–94.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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  1. Why are the verse references different in the Coracle from the Formations Literature?

    • Katie Brookins says

      Next week’s references were used accidentally, but the post’s content is correct. Thank you for pointing it out, Craig. I have updated the page.