The story of Hezekiah can be found in 2 Kings 18-20 and 2 Chronicles 29-32.
Hezekiah was a good man who lived during a bad time. Nonetheless, he stood for God and made sweeping religious reforms in Israel’s worship. He went after the high places (often neglected by other “good” kings), sacred stones, and Asherah poles. He even destroyed the bronze snake Moses had made after the people began offering incense to it.
As with all other good men, he wasn’t without his weaknesses. After breaking the alliance his wicked father Ahaz had made with the Assyrians, Hezekiah apparently made an alliance with anti-Assyrian forces. When that didn’t work out, he apologized to the Assyrians and asked to be taken back. He made these alliances despite the fact that Isaiah had promised him that God would deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrian threat. In his better moments, he trusted God fully. In his weaker times, he was less sure and felt the need to take things into his own hands.
To come up with the funds to pay Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, Hezekiah had to strip the gold off the temple doors and posts. Sennacherib accepted the tribute but then turned around and decided to attack Jerusalem anyway. (There was a certain justice to him playing fast and loose with Hezekiah after he had played fast and loose with God, don’t you think?) He sent a “large army” to Jerusalem and they surrounded the city. Rather than attack, the field commander entered the city and spoke to the people. His speech was a masterful piece of propaganda (2 Kings 18:19-35), that must have tested the people’s faith, but they remained strong and refused to surrender.
It looked like things were going to work out all right for the people when the forces surrounding Jerusalem had to suddenly leave to provide support for Sennacherib. Sennacherib figured that this would only embolden the resistance so he sent a letter to Hezekiah filled with more of the same type of speech they heard from the field commander. Here is the text of the letter from 2 Kings 19:10-13. The arrogance of Sennacherib accords with what is written on the Taylor Prism:
Don’t let that god that you think so much of keep stringing you along with the line, ‘Jerusalem will never fall to the king of Assyria.’ That’s a barefaced lie. You know the track record of the kings of Assyria—country after country laid waste, devastated. And what makes you think you’ll be an exception? Take a good look at these wasted nations, destroyed by my ancestors; did their gods do them any good? Look at Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, the people of Eden at Tel Assar. Ruins. And what’s left of the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of Sepharvaim, of Hena, of Ivvah? Bones.
Hezekiah took the letter and went to the temple to “spread it out before the Lord.” It’s quite a scene—the calculating king who had run out of options and alliances. If Jerusalem was to be saved, it was in God’s hands, not his or anyone else’s. It’s a great picture of prayer—spreading out our concerns before God (1 Peter 5:7). There is no bargaining or maneuvering, just throwing himself completely on His goodness and mercy. The good man prays and great things happen. That night 185,000 of the Assyrian army die. Sennacherib heads back to Nineveh never to bother Jerusalem again.