“We shall also have to raise up against him seven shepherds, yes, eight dukes of mankind.”—MIC. 5:5.
1. Why was the plot of the Syro-Israelite league bound to fail?
SOMETIME between 762 B.C.E. and 759 B.C.E., the king of Israel and the king of Syria declared war on the kingdom of Judah. Their goal? To invade Jerusalem, remove King Ahaz from the throne, and replace him with another man, perhaps one who was not of the line of King David. (Isa. 7:5, 6) The king of Israel should have known better. Jehovah had decreed that one of David’s descendants would occupy His throne permanently, and God’s word never goes unfulfilled.—Josh. 23:14; 2 Sam. 7:16.
2 At first, the Syro-Israelite alliance seemed to have the upper hand. In one battle alone, Ahaz lost 120,000 valiant fighting men! Maaseiah, “the son of the king,” was killed. (2 Chron. 28:6, 7) But Jehovah was watching. He remembered his promise to David; thus, he sent the prophet Isaiah with a most encouraging message.
3 Isaiah said: “Look! The maiden herself will actually become pregnant, and she is giving birth to a son, and she will certainly call his name Immanuel. . . . Before the boy will know how to reject the bad and choose the good, the ground of whose two kings you are feeling a sickening dread [Syria and Israel] will be left entirely.” (Isa. 7:14, 16) The first part of that prophecy is often applied to the birth of the Messiah, and rightly so. (Matt. 1:23) However, since the “two kings,” the king of Syria and the king of Israel, were no longer a threat to Judah in the first century C.E., the prophecy about Immanuel must have had an initial fulfillment in Isaiah’s day.
4 Soon after Isaiah made that remarkable announcement, his wife became pregnant and bore him a son named Maher-shalal-hash-baz. One possibility is that this child was the “Immanuel” referred to by Isaiah.* In Bible times, an infant might be given one name at birth, perhaps to commemorate a special event, but be known by his parents and relatives by another name. (2 Sam. 12:24, 25) There is no evidence that Jesus was ever addressed by the name Immanuel.—Read Isaiah 7:14; 8:3, 4.
5. What foolish decision did King Ahaz make?
5 While Israel and Syria were focusing on Judah, another nation, a militaristic one, had ambitions toward the region. It was the rising world power of Assyria. According to Isaiah 8:3, 4, Assyria would carry off “the resources of Damascus” and “the spoil of Samaria” before attacking the southern kingdom of Judah. Instead of trusting in God’s word through Isaiah, faithless Ahaz entered into a disastrous pact with the Assyrians, which ultimately led to Judah’s being oppressed by them. (2 Ki. 16:7-10) What a disappointment Ahaz was as a shepherd of Judah! We might ask ourselves, ‘When I have important decisions to make, do I put my trust in God or in men?’—Prov. 3:5, 6.
A NEW SHEPHERD TAKES A DIFFERENT APPROACH
6. Compare the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah.
6 Ahaz died in 746 B.C.E., and his son Hezekiah inherited the materially impoverished and spiritually bankrupt kingdom of Judah. As the young king ascended the throne, what would his priority be? To shore up Judah’s ailing economy? No. Hezekiah was a spiritual man, a worthy shepherd of his national flock. His first act was to reestablish pure worship and to reinforce the wayward nation’s frayed relationship with Jehovah. When he understood God’s will for him, Hezekiah acted decisively. What a fine example for us!—2 Chron. 29:1-19.
7. Why was it important for the Levites to be assured of the new king’s support?
7 The Levites would play a vital role in the important task of restoring pure worship. Therefore, Hezekiah met with them to assure them of his support. Picture the faithful Levites who were present at that meeting, tears of joy streaming down their faces as they heard their king declare: “You are the ones whom Jehovah has chosen to stand before him to minister to him.” (2 Chron. 29:11) Yes, the Levites had a clear mandate to promote pure worship!
8. What further steps did Hezekiah take to shore up the spirituality of the nation, and with what result?
8 Hezekiah invited all of Judah and Israel to a great Passover celebration, followed by the seven-day Festival of Unfermented Cakes. The people enjoyed the festival so much that it was extended for seven days more. The Bible reports: “There came to be great rejoicing in Jerusalem, for from the days of Solomon the son of David the king of Israel there was none like this in Jerusalem.” (2 Chron. 30:25, 26) What an inspiration that spiritual feast proved to be for all the people! From 2 Chronicles 31:1, we learn: “As soon as they finished all this, . . . they proceeded to break up the sacred pillars and cut down the sacred poles and pull down the high places and the altars.” In a mighty way, Judah thus began to turn back to Jehovah. This spiritual cleansing would be of the utmost importance in view of what was to come.
THE KING PREPARES FOR TROUBLE
9. (a) How were the plans of Israel frustrated? (b) Sennacherib had what initial success in Judah?
9 True to Isaiah’s word, the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and deported its inhabitants, thus frustrating Israel’s plans to place a usurper on David’s throne. But what of Assyria’s plans? The Assyrians now set their sights on Judah. “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib the king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and proceeded to seize them.” Reportedly, Sennacherib conquered 46 Judean cities in all. Imagine how you would have felt if you had lived in Jerusalem at that time. One after another, Judah’s cities fell before the advancing Assyrian armies!—2 Ki. 18:13.
10. Why might Micah 5:5, 6 have encouraged Hezekiah?
10 Of course, Hezekiah was aware of the approaching danger, but rather than desperately enlist the help of a pagan nation, as his apostate father, Ahaz, had done, Hezekiah placed his trust in Jehovah. (2 Chron. 28:20, 21) He may have been aware of the words of the prophet Micah, a contemporary who foretold concerning Assyria: “As for the Assyrian, . . . we shall also have to raise up against him seven shepherds, yes, eight dukes of mankind. And they will actually shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword.” (Mic. 5:5, 6) These inspired words would surely have encouraged Hezekiah, for they show that a most unusual army would be raised up against the Assyrians and that the hostile aggressors would ultimately be defeated.
11. When would the prophecy concerning seven shepherds and eight dukes have its primary fulfillment?
11 The prophecy concerning seven shepherds and eight dukes (“princes,” The New English Bible) was to find its primary, or most important, fulfillment long after the birth of Jesus, the “ruler in Israel, whose origin is from early times.” (Read Micah 5:1, 2.) This would be at a time when the very existence of Jehovah’s servants would be threatened by a modern-day “Assyrian.” What forces will Jehovah, through his now-reigning Son, marshal to confront the fear-inspiring foe? We shall see. But first, let us consider what we can learn from the action Hezekiah took in the face of the Assyrian menace.
HEZEKIAH TAKES PRACTICAL STEPS
12. What steps did Hezekiah and those with him take to protect God’s people?
12 Jehovah is always willing to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, but he does expect us to do what we can. Hezekiah consulted “his princes and his mighty men,” and together they decided “to stop up the waters of the springs that were outside the city . . . Furthermore, [Hezekiah] took courage and built up all the broken-down wall and raised towers upon it, and on the outside another wall, . . . and made missiles in abundance and shields.” (2 Chron. 32:3-5) In order to protect and shepherd His people at that time, Jehovah used a number of valiant men—Hezekiah, his princes, and the spiritually strong prophets.
13. What was the most important step that Hezekiah took to prepare the people for the coming attack? Explain.
13 What Hezekiah did next was of even greater value than stopping up the waters or fortifying the city walls. Concerned shepherd that he was, Hezekiah gathered the people and encouraged them spiritually with the words: “Do not be afraid nor be terrified because of the king of Assyria . . . , for with us there are more than there are with him. With him there is an arm of flesh, but with us there is Jehovah our God to help us and to fight our battles.” What a faith-strengthening reminder—Jehovah would fight for his people! Upon hearing this, the Jews “began to brace themselves upon the words of Hezekiah the king of Judah.” Notice that it was “the words of Hezekiah” that caused the people to take heart. He and his princes and mighty men, as well as the prophets Micah and Isaiah, proved to be effective shepherds, just as Jehovah had foretold through his prophet.—2 Chron. 32:7, 8; read Micah 5:5, 6.
14. What role did Rabshakeh play, and how did the people react?
14 The king of Assyria set up camp at Lachish, southwest of Jerusalem. From there, through three envoys, he ordered the city to surrender. His spokesman, whose official title was Rabshakeh, used a variety of tactics. Speaking in Hebrew, he urged the people to betray the king and to submit to the Assyrians, falsely promising to relocate them to a land where they could enjoy a comfortable life. (Read 2 Kings 18:31, 32.) Then Rabshakeh asserted that just as the gods of the nations had been unable to protect their worshippers, so Jehovah would be unable to deliver the Jews out of the Assyrians’ clutches. Wisely, the people did not try to respond to the slanderous propaganda, a course often followed by Jehovah’s servants in our day.—Read 2 Kings 18:35, 36.
15. What was required of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and how did Jehovah bring salvation to the city?
15 Hezekiah was understandably upset, but instead of turning to a foreign power for help, he sent for Isaiah the prophet. Isaiah told Hezekiah: “He [Sennacherib] will not come into this city nor will he shoot an arrow there.” (2 Ki. 19:32) All that was required of the inhabitants of Jerusalem was that they stand their ground. Jehovah would fight for Judah. And fight he did! “It came about on that night that the angel of Jehovah proceeded to go out and strike down a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians.” (2 Ki. 19:35) Judah’s salvation came, not by Hezekiah’s stopping up the fountains of waters of the city nor by his building up its walls, but by divine intervention.
LESSONS FOR TODAY
16. Who today are represented by (a) Jerusalem’s citizens (b) “the Assyrian” (c) the seven shepherds and eight dukes?
16 The prophecy about seven shepherds and eight dukes has its major fulfillment in our day. The citizens of ancient Jerusalem were attacked by the Assyrians. In the near future, Jehovah’s apparently vulnerable people will come under attack from the modern-day “Assyrian,” whose intent will be to wipe them out. The Scriptures refer to that attack as well as the attack of ‘Gog of Magog,’ the attack of “the king of the north,” and the attack of “the kings of the earth.” (Ezek. 38:2, 10-13; Dan. 11:40, 44, 45; Rev. 17:14; 19:19) Do these represent separate attacks? Not necessarily. The Bible could be referring to the same attack under different names. What ‘secret weapon’ does Micah’s prophecy indicate Jehovah would raise up against that implacable foe—“the Assyrian”? A very unlikely one—“seven shepherds, yes, eight dukes”! (Mic. 5:5) The shepherds and dukes (or, “princes,” NEB) in this implausible army are the congregation elders. (1 Pet. 5:2) Today, Jehovah certainly has provided an abundance of spiritual men to shepherd his precious sheep, to strengthen his people for the future attack of the modern-day “Assyrian.”* Micah’s prophecy states that they will “shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword.” (Mic. 5:6) Yes, among ‘the weapons of their warfare,’ you will find “the sword of the spirit,” God’s Word.—2 Cor. 10:4; Eph. 6:17.
17. What four conclusions can the elders draw from the account we have considered?
17 Elders who are reading this article can draw some useful conclusions from the account we have just considered: (1) The most practical step that we can take to prepare for the coming attack of “the Assyrian” is that of strengthening our faith in God and helping our brothers to do the same. (2) When “the Assyrian” attacks, the elders must be absolutely convinced that Jehovah will deliver us. (3) At that time, the life-saving direction that we receive from Jehovah’s organization may not appear practical from a human standpoint. All of us must be ready to obey any instructions we may receive, whether these appear sound from a strategic or human standpoint or not. (4) Now is the time for any who may be putting their trust in secular education, material things, or human institutions to adjust their thinking. The elders must stand ready to help any who may now be wavering in their faith.
18. How might reflecting on this account benefit us in the future?
18 The time will come when God’s modern-day servants will appear to be just as vulnerable as the Jews trapped inside Jerusalem in Hezekiah’s day. At that time, may all of us draw strength from Hezekiah’s words. Let us remember that with our enemies “there is an arm of flesh, but with us there is Jehovah our God to help us and to fight our battles”!—2 Chron. 32:8.
The Hebrew word translated “maiden” at Isaiah 7:14 can mean either a married woman or a virgin. Thus, the same word could be applied both to Isaiah’s wife and to the Jewish virgin Mary.
The number seven is used frequently in the Scriptures to signify completion. The number eight (one more than seven) sometimes represents an abundance.