Hezekiah came between the two most appalling kings of Judah, Ahaz and Manasseh. The Scriptural accounts of king Hezekiah’s reign are given in 2 Kings 18:1-20.19; 2 Chronicles 29:1-32:33; and Isaiah 36-39. You can also find mention in Sirach 48:17-25. Sirach ranks Hezekiah with David and Josiah among the noteworthy pious rulers – Sirach 49:4 (The Book of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, is part of the Wisdom Literature of the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate Bible).
The Single kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 18:1- 25:30)
During his twenty-five years, the age when he became king, Hezekiah had observed the gradual decline, disintegration and capitulation of the northern kingdom as the Assyrians moved towards the south. In his observations, he saw Israel taken into captivity because of its disobedience to God’s laws. Today we can observe the whole world moving away from the Creator God, blinded by the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4).
During his life and reign, Ahaz had committed the kingdom of Judah as a vassal to the Assyrian Empire. Although he undoubtedly enjoyed periods of relative freedom, Hezekiah inherited the problems with Assyria caused by his father. The threat of Assyrian interference and occupation became acute on a number of occasions.
The story of Hezekiah reveals his loyalty to God, and his responsiveness to prophecy and the prophets, though there is a slight wobble here and there. Also highlighted, and as we have already seen, is that his heart was one of healing for the nation. We have visited his efforts to heal the rift between the Israelites of the north and the southern kingdom of Judah, to make one nation under God. In an act of reconciliation, Hezekiah invited the northern tribes to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover together with the southern kingdom, reminding one of Matthew 5:24. This was the first religious occasion in more than two hundred years in which the nation celebrated in the Temple as one. The delight of a nation united was reflected in the display of “great joy” (2 Chronicles 20:36). This in turn made Hezekiah one of the greatest Judahite kings. Under his father, King Ahaz, the Temple had become a pagan shrine, and Judah was an Assyrian vassal, worshipping Assyrian gods. It is a warning of how a leader can cause a people, to not only stray from the true God and to go into apostacy, but also to turn to and worship foreign gods, gods that are not gods at all.
Hezekiah might upset some of the “purists” of today; those that know the times, the dates, as well as when and how everything should be done. The people were impure, yet they celebrated Passover! (2 Chronicles 30:18-20), and they celebrated on the “wrong” date! One reason for the late date might have been because the northern tribes followed the observance date instituted by Jeroboam 1 (1 Kings 12:32). Other reasons, as we discussed before, were that it took time to organise and to persuade the northern tribes to join Judah in celebrating Passover. In other respects, the law of Moses was carefully observed by Hezekiah.
Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kings 18:3-7). Here we see in these verses of Scripture, Hezekiah’s unwavering devotion to God. He is even compared to “his father David”, he “does not depart” from the laws of Moses, he “trusts” in God and “holds fast” to Him. This also applied to Asa (1 Kings 15:11) and Josiah (2 Kings 22:2). Jesus also said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Paul says, “Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching you have heard from me, with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13), and in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word…”
Hezekiah’s battle against idolatry began immediately he ascended the throne. It was as though he couldn’t wait to get rid of all the stuff that came between the people and the Living God. The high places were the focal point of disintegration, decline and disobedience. Purifying the spiritual atmosphere, Hezekiah removed the altars throughout the capital, and had them taken to the Kidron Valley for destruction. It took some sixteen days to clear the temple of rubbish and paraphernalia, and for the opening of the doors of the temple – the doors had been permanently closed. This should be a challenge to us to clean out the things that come between us and our God; and a challenge to both know His word, and to hold fast to the teaching. Isaiah speaks: “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have built barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters injustice.…” (Isaiah 59:1-3). We saw in our studies on the Psalms – Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Those with clean hands…and a pure heart…and who does not lift up his soul to idolatry… (Psalm 24:3-4). It was in Hezekiah’s heart to revolt against Assyrian control, but he waited for the right time and opportunity. We can imagine that there was much resentment against Hezekiah’s new policy of taking away the high places. They were popularly viewed as legitimate and convenient locations for the worship of YHWH. In Rabshakeh’s provocative speech and psychological warfare, he plays to this resentment by describing the removal of the high places as an offence against YHWH. Though he was supposed to be addressing the leaders of Judah, he made sure the common people could hear all that he said, so that they would bring pressure to bear upon the king (18:18ff). As we saw in the previous studies, Hezekiah pulverised the bronze serpent that Moses had made to counter the plague of serpents (Numbers 21). If the people were bitten and they looked up at the serpent, they recovered. A revealing aspect of the COVID-19 plague is that very few look to or call upon Jesus for healing, or for anything else. People look at and venerate the NHS and its workers (in Britain), and to a lesser extent, shop workers, delivery drivers, and refuse collectors, but no reference is made to Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, the billionaires, in their perverseness, furlough their staff so that the state has to pay them. Someone is going to have to pay eventually, and I wonder if the elderly will be included in that payback, “You showed them no mercy; even upon the elderly you laid a most heavy yoke” (Isaiah 47:6b). God continues to be excluded from the equation; He is ignored, side-lined, inconsequential, while Godlessness is all around. In their perversion, the Israelites had burned incense to the bronze serpent and it was called Nehushtan. The name is transparently derived from neḥoshet, “bronze,” with a possible pun on naḥash, “serpent.” Today we have heads of bronze that refuse to bow to God and His ways. We prefer to be “nice” people to being a holy people. Out theology is clean and precise, our ways are accommodating and pleasant; we have a veneer of religion while denying its power 2 Timothy 3:5).
During Hezekiah’s fourth year, Assyria attacked Samaria and defeated them in the sixth year of Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18:9-12). Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of Britain, didn’t even have a year before COVID-19 struck, almost taking his own life. Although Assyria was the dominant regional force, Hezekiah refused to serve the king of Assyria and rebelled against him (2 Kings 18:7). Assyria set about attacking the southern kingdom because of Hezekiah’s insurgency. All forty-six walled cities “the fortified cities of Judah” were attacked and defeated. Then the Assyrian army marched against Jerusalem and besieged the City. Isaiah spoke out likening Jerusalem to a “hut in a vineyard” – not the most encouraging words for its inhabitants to hear! (Isaiah 1:7-8).
In 2 Kings Chapter 18, Rabshakeh called in a loud voice, “Let not Hezekiah have you trust in the Lord…” First of all, he claimed that it was YHWH Who sent the Assyrians against Judah (v25) giving the idea that their destruction was divinely ordained, then changes tack to say that no national god had ever prevailed against the great king of Assyria.
There was much civil unrest in the whole region at that time. In 705 BC, there was the death of the emperor, Sargon II (722-705 BC) a cruel and determined ruler. He was killed in battle, and his fall destabilised the area. His death was regarded as a bad omen for Assyria. Rebellion broke out all around the vast empire, in the East, and in the West. Sennacherib fought back crushing the Babylonian revolt. He defeated the Egyptian and Ethiopian armies, and then set about besieging Jerusalem. As we saw previously, Hezekiah tried to buy his way out of a fight with Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:14-16). He misused the treasures that belonged to the Lord. Haven’t we all done that? We say that everything we have and own belongs to the Lord, but how much of it does He really see? If He asked you for all your money today, would you find a way of not giving it to Him? The problem is, a church might not help a true believer because the church isn’t faithful to God; so, God might call on the faithful elsewhere to support someone that lives miles away. Another problem is that churches in some areas [of the world] are too poor, and no-one in the congregation has anything. Sometimes our theology can blind us to what the Spirit is doing. Adam “Ish” had self-ish theology and did his own thing. The result was that what he had was taken away from him, and from isha too. Both ish and isha were self-ish, and disobedient. To hold fast to God’s word is to be obedient to God. In such circumstances it’s no good saying, oh well, the people in that church should help so-and-so, not us; the people that live there should do it! What is happening is that God is revealing the true condition of our own hearts. When I was a young man, I had an elderly friend, who, speaking in the chapel one evening, tried to illustrate a point to the congregation. To do so, he pulled out a pocketful of change (an illustration that will be meaningless in a cash-less society); he threw the change into the air and said, what stays up belongs to God, and what comes down is mine! I had some strange friends, and I miss them all dearly.
One can read the account of Hezekiah’s misplaced generosity in 2 Kings 18:13-19:37. Misusing the treasure wasn’t really any help to Hezekiah, and it didn’t do much for Sennacherib, as he himself was eventually assassinated. Adrammelech and Sarezer struck him down with the sword. These two guys are named as Sennacherib’s sons – there is nothing like family loyalty! He was murdered by this gruesome twosome twenty years after the military campaign in 701 BC. The biblical narrative seems to give the impression that Sennacharib was assassinated immediately after the emperor’s return to Nineveh; but the writer, presenting it as a killing in the temple of a pagan god, writes the episode as an immediate fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy (19:7), and a prompt retribution against the boasting conqueror depicted in Isaiah’s poem. Earthly kings and rulers come and go, but Jesus is forever! Antichrist will come and go. He will rule for a short time and then will never be seen or heard of again. Jesus will be worshipped throughout eternity. To Him there is no beginning and no end.
I mentioned Hezekiah’s tunnel in the last article. The tunnel connected the pool of Siloam and the spring of Gihon. The fresh water travelled through 533 metres of what had been solid rock. The tunnel was rediscovered in 1880, and Hezekiah’s inscription was read out at the time. The Siloam Tunnel inscription (8th-7th cents BC recounts the completion of the tunnel. It was dug by two teams of men who started at different ends and finally met – something similar to the Channel Tunnel construction of the 20th Century AD. Hezekiah’s tunnel inscription can be seen in the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums.
It seems that it was during this period of Assyrian pressure on Judah (701 BC) that Hezekiah became severely ill (Isaiah 38:1-21). Isaiah warned Hezekiah to prepare for death, but God intervened, a two-fold intervention in fact. God gave Hezekiah a fifteen-year extension of his life, and deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrian threat (Isaiah 38:4-6).
Going on into 2 Kings 19, and after Hezekiah had been told about Rabshaken’s words (18:37), in verse 6, Isaiah said to them, “Thus said the Lord: Do not fear the words that you have heard, with which the flunkies of the king of Assyria reviled Me. I am about to send an ill spirit into him, and he shall hear a rumour and go back to his land, and I shall make him fall by the sword in his land.” Then later in Ch.19, we find Hezekiah deep in prayer, calling on the name of the Lord. Isaiah gives God’s answer in the rest of the chapter, from verse 21 onwards. An “ill spirit” … the Hebrew only has “a spirit,” but from the text, it does appear to have been a troubling spirit. “…he shall hear a rumour” – If this remains consistent with what is reported 19:35-37, it would be the news that the Assyrian army had been stricken by the Lord’s messenger, perhaps with a plague. It was devastation all around, and Sennacherib pulled up stakes and returned to Nineveh.
Hezekiah falls mortally ill
If God says it will happen then it will happen. Will it? In 2 Kings 20:1, Hezekiah fell mortally ill. Just to encourage him, Isaiah turns up at his bedside and says, “Thus said the Lord: ‘Charge your household, for you are about to die and you will not live.’” At that point, Hezekiah might have curled up and breathed his last breath; but he didn’t. Instead, he turned his face to the wall, as if he were turning to God, and he prayed. Just moments after the prayer, and when Isaiah had already gone as far as the central court, the Lord told him to “Go back, and say to Hezekiah prince of My people, ‘Thus said the Lord God of David your forefather: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears. I am about to heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord. And I will add to your days fifteen years, and from the hand of the king of Assyria I will save you and this city, and I will defend this city for My sake and for the sake of David My Servant.’” Hezekiah doesn’t appear to have become over-excited about this word from the Lord. He asked Isaiah, “What is the sign that the Lord will heal me and I will go up on the third day to the house of the Lord?” (20:8). Isaiah wasn’t offended, as many among the ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’ of today would be, but responded with, “…should the shadow go down ten steps or should it go back ten steps?” (20:9-11). Why would Hezekiah ask God for a sign? He wanted to be sure the word was from God – don’t just accept out-of-hand what is said, particularly in today’s spiritual climate of deception. As if to make it harder for God, Hezekiah asked that the shadow go backward ten steps, as though the day were reversing. So that is what the Lord did. The sundial would not have been a circular disc like you often see in our day. According to Josephus, it was a series of steps into a wall, ten on the left side to show the shadow of the ascending sun, and ten on the right for the descending sun. Such a device has been discovered in Egypt. This particular sundial appears to have been well-known in Jerusalem, and was commissioned by king Ahab. The King James Version and modern Hebrew understand ma‘alot as “degrees,” but these were probably actual steps, which is what ma‘alot usually means. The reversal of the shadow also signifies the reversal of Hezekiah’s seemingly imminent death.
Blessings and shalom