II Kings 19:35: And it came to pass on a certain night that the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses—all dead.
Here we have God actually involved in the slaughter of 185,000 men, presumably while they are sleeping! Why would he commit such an atrocity? What is behind this act of violence?
First, let’s recognize that we live in a world of violence that is caused not by God, but by violent humans. Every newspaper and online news source around the globe today is full of headlines and stories of greed, distrust, robberies, conflicts, killings, war, destruction, and death. And Jesus explains it is not outside circumstances that cause such evil violence in the world; rather, “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:19). Violence in this world isn’t a sociological, economic, or even pathological problem; it is a spiritual or heart problem. Sin and humans’ propensity to be self-centered is at the heart of selfish violent acts.
Yet God, who is the antithesis of sin and self-centeredness, at times engages in violence because he is the ultimate protector of the innocent and judge of the unrighteous. When God killed 185,000 Assyrians he was killing soldiers who were attempting to capture Jerusalem and destroy Judah, his people. The Assyrian army under King Sennacherib had already destroyed Israel and was ready to annihilate the people of God.
Assyria was an aggressive nation that brutally tortured and killed innocent men, women, and children. The supreme commander of the evil Assyrian King Sennacherib mocked God in his reply to Judah. “What god of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? So what makes you think that the Lord can rescue Jerusalem from me?...Don’t let your God, in whom you trust, deceive you with promises that Jerusalem will not be captured by the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 18:35; 19:10).
A heathen empire that murdered the innocent and mocked the true God deserved punishment. The Righteous Judge of the universe came to the defense of his people. Yes, God uses violence to defend, protect, and bring deserved judgment on evildoers. He said of the king of Assyria, “For my own honor and for the sake of my servant David, I will defend this city and protect it” (2 Kings 19:34).