King of: Assyria
Reign: 705 – 681 BC
Found in the Bible: 2 Kings 18-19, 2 Chronicles 32, Isaiah 36-37
The Assyrians had already destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC by the time Sennacherib rose to the throne. The empire was still strong at the time of Sennacherib’s reign and threatened the region, including Babylon, Judah, and Egypt.
Egypt and Babylon supported a rebellion by Judah and in 701 BC Sennacherib led his army into Judah and destroyed numerous towns. After the defeat of Lachish, a heavily fortified city, King Hezekiah attempts to buy off Sennacherib by paying a tribute. This money does not appear to stop the advance of the Assyrian army however and they surround Jerusalem.
Sennacherib’s mistake appears to be mocking the Lord. As he threaten Hezekiah and the kingdom in 2 Kings 18, he stated that God could not protect the kingdom as he had destroyed many gods with his army.
Hezekiah seeks the Lord in prayer and the Lord responds through the prophet Isaiah by saying that Sennacherib’s army would not only be destroyed but that he would be cut down by the sword.
Overnight, the angel of the Lord visits the Assyrian army and strikes all 185,000 soldiers dead. Sennacherib had no choice but to return home defeated.
Some time after returning home, while worshipping his god, two of his sons killed him with a sword and then fled the region. A third son, Esarhaddon, succeeded him as king.
Texts have been discovered from ancient Assyria that backs up much of what the Bible records regarding Sennacherib and Judah. It mentions the destruction of numerous cities including Lachish. It also mentions the amount of tribute that Hezekiah sent to him and likewise records the siege of Jerusalem. Missing from the account, not surprisingly, is the loss of the Assyrian army and the deaths of 185,000 men. This in no way should be construed that the Bible is inaccurate. If anything, all of the other facts that it corroborates verify the truthfulness of the biblical account. Instead, we should take it that a king is unlikely to mention much about his greatest defeat as it is not a thing that he would want remembered throughout history.