The Life and Times of Hezekiah
We are studying the life and times of one of the greatest kings of the Jewish people: Hezekiah. His name meant "strengthened by God" and we see this featured throughout his reign. He became king of Judah (Southern Kingdom) as a co-regent in 729 BC with his father, Ahaz. When his father died, he became sole king.
At that time, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was isolated between the two great world powers of Egypt to the south and Assyria to the north, both vying for this land as a buffer zone and jumping off place to attack the other.
Hezekiah's father, Ahaz, had been an evil king and led the nation to idolatry and foolish political alliances against God's will and the warnings He gave through the prophets. When Hezekiah took over, he began an immediate national reform which included several important initiatives:
- He tore down the altars and images where the people had been worshiping.
- He restored the temple, the work of the priests and Levites, and encouraged the people to return to a faithful worship of the Lord. He even attempted to unite the remnant in the former kingdom of the northern tribes who had been separated from the Southern Kingdom for decades.
- With this national renewal came a renewal of the economy which enabled him to mount up an army and defeat their traditional enemies: the Philistines (a regional power and nuisance).
- He also stopped paying tribute to the Assyrians who guaranteed peace in exchange for huge amounts of the national wealth. Hezekiah felt confident enough to throw off the yoke of slavery and break free from Assyrian threats and domination. This action brought about the most serious crisis in his reign and the Bible describes how Hezekiah responded to the resulting Assyrian threat.
The Assyrian Threat
The story of this response is found in three places: II Kings 18-19, II Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 36-37. It is interesting to note that the details are similar in II Kings and II Chronicles, however, the account given in Isaiah 36-37 is identical to the one recorded in II Kings. Since Isaiah was an eyewitness of the events, his record is the original one (even if his book appears after in the Old Testament). I and II Kings were compiled at a later date (after Isaiah) by a number of writers who were writing about Jewish history. Some believe that Jeremiah is the author and that it was written during the exile in order to pursue the history of the Jewish Kingdom.
We will use the accounts of this event in Kings and Chronicles because they include more information than the original in Isaiah which was the eye witness account but does not have certain speeches and details compiled by the later authors of Kings and Chronicles.
1. Response to Hezekiah's Rebellion — II Kings 18:13-16 and II Chronicles 32:1-8
13 Now in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and seized them. 14 Then Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, "I have done wrong. Withdraw from me; whatever you impose on me I will bear." So the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15 Hezekiah gave him all the silver which was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasuries of the king's house. 16 At that time Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the doorposts which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.
Hezekiah refuses to pay anymore tribute money, so in response, the Assyrians come into Judah and take over the fortified cities. These were cities that were strategically located in order to protect main roads, supplies and troops in case of attack. They were not very large by today's standards; perhaps five to ten acres and were surrounded by thick walls with towers and a gate wide enough to let in a chariot. The point of taking these cities first was to demonstrate Assyria's total military dominance over the Jews and the helplessness of the main city: Jerusalem. God was originally displeased with the building of these cities because they symbolized the nation's trust in their own strength and not in the power of God to save them. Their taking was also an act of judgment by God on the Jews for their faithfulness.
Hezekiah realizes the danger and hopelessness of the situation and seeks to humble himself and work out a peace treaty with the Assyrians. In return for a promise of peace the Assyrians demand an enormous payment (millions in today's currency). In order to comply, Hezekiah is forced to remove the gold from the temple.
2. Sennacherib's Treachery — II Kings 18:17-25
After receiving this money, the Assyrians change their minds and decide to attack Jerusalem anyways. In II Chronicles 32:1-8, the writer describes the preparations Hezekiah made to protect his city from Sennacherib's army:
- Strengthened the walls and doors of the city
- Encouraged the people to trust and live in the Lord
- Severed the city's water supply
The problem with the city was that its water supply was outside the walls. When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib was going to lay siege, he devised a plan to stop up the spring that provided the water and divert it through a tunnel into the city (no water for Assyria, but plenty for the Jews). Two crews dug the tunnel, one beginning at the springs and one from inside the city and they met in the middle.
In 1880, this tunnel was accidentally re-discovered by a young boy swimming in the area. The boy found an inscription on a rock which read, "The tunnel was completed while the workers wielded the ax, each man toward his fellow. There was heard a man's voice calling his fellow. The workers hacked toward each other, ax against ax, and the water flowed spring against pool, a difference of 1200 cubits." This inscription that describes the successful building of the tunnel is now in the Istanbul Museum (in Turkey, formerly known as Constantinople).
By doing this Hezekiah denied water to the enemy but provided it to the city during the siege. The tunnel is still in existence today and can be visited. It is 300 yards long, big enough that a person could walk through and all underground.
17 Then the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rab-saris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah with a large army to Jerusalem. So they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they went up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway of the fuller's field. 18 When they called to the king, Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the scribe and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder, came out to them. 19 Then Rabshakeh said to them, "Say now to Hezekiah, 'Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria, "What is this confidence that you have? 20 You say (but they are only empty words), 'I have counsel and strength for the war.' Now on whom do you rely, that you have rebelled against me? 21 Now behold, you rely on the staff of this crushed reed, even on Egypt; on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him. 22 But if you say to me, 'We trust in the Lord our God,' is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, 'You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem'? 23 Now therefore, come, make a bargain with my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 24 How then can you repulse one official of the least of my master's servants, and rely on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 25 Have I now come up without the Lord's approval against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, 'Go up against this land and destroy it.'"'"
The king sends his official to negotiate a surrender in order to avoid a long drawn out siege. The speech by the Assyrian is a model of the tactics of humiliation and bullying. He tells them they are foolish to trust in Egypt with whom they had an alliance. He also says they are foolish to trust in God. Assyria mistakenly thought that God was angry with the Jews for removing the altars and idols revealing their ignorance of the true God.
They also suggested that it was God who had sent them on this mission. How little they realized how close they were to the truth (they were trying to laugh at and confuse the Jews, but the joke was on them).
At this point in time, the Assyrian king was securing one of the fortified cities and had sent his envoys ahead to prepare Jerusalem for surrender at his arrival.
3. The Envoy's Insult — II Kings 18:26-37 and II Chronicles 32:19
26 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah and Joah, said to Rabshakeh, "Speak now to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it; and do not speak with us in Judean in the hearing of the people who are on the wall." 27 But Rabshakeh said to them, "Has my master sent me only to your master and to you to speak these words, and not to the men who sit on the wall, doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine with you?" 28 Then Rabshakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in Judean, saying, "Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria. 29 Thus says the king, 'Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you from my hand; 30 nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, "The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria." 31 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria, "Make your peace with me and come out to me, and eat each of his vine and each of his fig tree and drink each of the waters of his own cistern, 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live and not die." But do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you, saying, "The Lord will deliver us." 33 Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria from my hand? 35 Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?'" 36 But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king's commandment was, "Do not answer him." 37 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of Rabshakeh.
Here we see the envoy really indulging in provocation and crossing the line in provoking the Lord. He speaks to the people in their own language in order to intimidate and spread propaganda among them. He tells the people that Hezekiah is a liar and that if they surrender, they will be taken care of. The envoy goes even further by telling the people not to trust in the Lord saying that if He didn't protect their other victims He won't be able to protect them either. Of course, he didn't really understand who God was and who these people were.
19 They spoke of the God of Jerusalem as of the gods of the peoples of the earth, the work of men's hands.
Hezekiah's officials are, at first, insulted, then they mourn the impending attack while the people remain silent.
4. Hezekiah's Response — II Kings 19:1-19 and II Chronicles 32:23
When Hezekiah hears the news he goes immediately to the temple to humbly seek God's help. He then finds Isaiah in order to receive instruction from the Lord (same as going back to the Bible today). Isaiah receives a word from the Lord which tells Hezekiah three things:
1. Do not be afraid.
2. Assyria has not simply attacked the Jews, it has attacked God Himself with its arrogance.
3. Isaiah even describes how God will deal with them.
- They will withdraw from the city to fight on another front.
- The king will return to his city and be killed then.
In response to this Hezekiah is encouraged to hold fast and he tells the people to trust in the Lord.
We read in chapter 19 that the Assyrian army is called back to fight on another front (the Egyptian army reacts to the proximity of the Assyrian army by launching forth its troops), but the envoy continues to threaten the Jews by telling them not to think that this is a sign from God and that they'll be back to destroy them just like they destroyed the others. When Hezekiah receives this message, he once again goes to the Lord in prayer. In his prayer, we see that Hezekiah realizes the main difference between the Jewish nation and the other nations destroyed by the Assyrians. These other nations are lost because their god was not the Lord. Hezekiah knew this and it gave him confidence. His answer in verse 19 shows that he put his full confidence in God for deliverance despite the very real physical threat before him.
5. Isaiah's Prophecy — II Kings 19:20-28
Once Hezekiah prays and puts his confidence in God for salvation, he receives a word of confirmation from Isaiah the prophet. Note that Hezekiah first took a step of faith before God responded to him in reassurance. Isaiah's message is threefold:
20 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah saying, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'Because you have prayed to Me about Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard you.' 21 This is the word that the Lord has spoken against him:
'She has despised you and mocked you,
The virgin daughter of Zion;
She has shaken her head behind you,
The daughter of Jerusalem!
22 'Whom have you reproached and blasphemed?
And against whom have you raised your voice,
And haughtily lifted up your eyes?
Against the Holy One of Israel!
23 'Through your messengers you have reproached the Lord,
And you have said,
"With my many chariots I came up to the heights of the mountains,
To the remotest parts of Lebanon;
And I cut down its tall cedars and its choice cypresses.
And I entered its farthest lodging place, its thickest forest.
24 "I dug wells and drank foreign waters,
And with the sole of my feet I dried up
All the rivers of Egypt."
He cites Assyria's sin which was insulting the Lord.
- Calling Him weak
- Comparing Him to other gods
- Not respecting His people and His power
25 'Have you not heard?
Long ago I did it;
From ancient times I planned it.
Now I have brought it to pass,
That you should turn fortified cities into ruinous heaps.
26 'Therefore their inhabitants were short of strength,
They were dismayed and put to shame;
They were as the vegetation of the field and as the green herb,
As grass on the housetops is scorched before it is grown up.
27 'But I know your sitting down,
And your going out and your coming in,
And your raging against Me.
28 'Because of your raging against Me,
And because your arrogance has come up to My ears,
Therefore I will put My hook in your nose,
And My bridle in your lips,
And I will turn you back by the way which you came.
He tells Hezekiah what He will do with the Assyrians. The same treatment they have given to their conquered nations will now be meted out to them.
29 'Then this shall be the sign for you: you will eat this year what grows of itself, in the second year what springs from the same, and in the third year sow, reap, plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. 30 The surviving remnant of the house of Judah will again take root downward and bear fruit upward. 31 For out of Jerusalem will go forth a remnant, and out of Mount Zion survivors. The zeal of the Lord will perform this. 32 'Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria, "He will not come to this city or shoot an arrow there; and he will not come before it with a shield or throw up a siege ramp against it. 33 By the way that he came, by the same he will return, and he shall not come to this city,"' declares the Lord. 34 'For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David's sake.'"
He reassures Hezekiah that no one in Jerusalem will be harmed and they will not suffer because of the Assyrian threat. As a matter of fact, the city will prosper and continue to be blessed by God. Hezekiah acted by faith on what he knew to be true about God. Isaiah comes to confirm that his prayer and faith were heard and answered.
6. God Destroys the Assyrians — II Kings 19:35-37 and II Chronicles 32:21-23
35 Then it happened that night that the angel of the Lord went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men rose early in the morning, behold, all of them were dead. 36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home, and lived at Nineveh. 37 It came about as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son became king in his place.
Some commentators think it was a plague of some kind that killed them, but archaeological records show that after their initial siege, the Assyrians did not complete their attack. Normally, they would have described it in detail. This marked the beginning of the end for the Assyrian empire because approximately 70 years later it fell to the Babylonians never to recover.
II Chronicles 32:21-23 describes the destruction in detail and Hezekiah's subsequent blessings. Their destruction began with Hezekiah's prayer to the God who had the power to overthrow them or any nation He chooses to lower and humble.
Many wonderful and helpful lessons can be drawn from Hezekiah's experience with the Assyrians. Here are two:
1. If it's not protected by God, it's not protected
I think God allowed the Jews to be stripped of every outward protection before He saved them in order to show that if you're not protected by Him, it doesn't matter who is protecting you. I'm not saying we should eliminate armies and defense (God used these to accomplish His will). I'm saying that if you have not put your life in God's hands, your army, your wealth, your strength, your ability or your company will not be enough to protect you.
2. God watches out for His own
We think that God caring for His people is only an Old Testament concept. If God took this kind of care for the people who served to prepare for the coming of the kingdom, imagine the kind of care and interest He takes in the people of the kingdom!
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.
- Psalm 116:15
God cares about us in a way that He doesn't for unbelievers. He is not partial. He will lavish His care and grace on all who believe and obey Him.