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This month's "Bible Characters" section focuses on two good kings -- Hezekiah and Josiah.

The stories of Hezekiah are told in three books of the Bible: II Kings, II Chronicles, and Isaiah. Bible lecturer Joan K. Snipes shares her insights on his reign. In the next article, Bible scholar Mary Jane Chapin Chaignot discusses the life of eight-year-old king Josiah.

Hezekiah

Bible Characters...

  • Hezekiah was the son of King Ahaz and Abijah, who was the daughter of the prophet Zechariah.
  • He was 25 years old when he inherited the throne and reigned in Jerusalem for 29 years, from about 715 to 687 BCE.
  • Hezekiah was one of four godly kings of Judah, the Southern Kingdom. The other good kings were Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Josiah.
  • King Hezekiah of Judah was a friend of the prophet, Isaiah.
  • In his first month in office, Hezekiah opened the temple gates (his father had closed them, thereby stopping all temple activities), meaning that, once again, the people would have access to God.
  • He called the priests and Levites and ordered them to purify the defiled temple, to begin repairs on the temple, and to remove all the idols from the sanctuary.
  • It took them 16 days just to clean up the temple.
  • When the idols were removed, Hezekiah restored proper sacrifice and worship, according to the rule prescribed by David. (II Chron. sees Hezekiah as the reformer par excellence - a character like David and Solomon.)
  • Hezekiah is credited with reinstituting proper worship (including reinstatement of the Levitical musicians) and rededicating the temple, overturning many years of abuse by kings "who did evil in the eyes of the Lord" (including his own father, Ahaz).
  • He not only renewed the covenant with the Lord, but also called upon the Levites to recommit themselves to the Lord and carefully spelled out their duties and responsibilities.
  • So many people responded with free-will offerings for sacrifice that the priests were swamped and the Levites had to help.
  • With activities at the temple back on track, Hezekiah turned to reunification and invited Ephraim and Manasseh to Jerusalem to participate in Passover. (It is likely that this was after the north had been conquered by Assyria in 722BCE. The call to return to the Lord surely resonated with many who believed their apostasy had led to their defeat.)
  • He sent a letter to all of Ephraim and Judah, inviting participants to return and repent (to the temple and its liturgy). They postponed Passover for a month so all could come and enough priests would be ready to prepare the sacrifices.
  • Many people in the north laughed him to scorn, but some responded. All in all, there was a "very large assembly."
  • Some scholars think this was the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. (Here it was conjoined with Passover.)
  • Many of the north were ritually impure, but Hezekiah prayed that the "Lord would pardon all those who set their hearts to seek him."
  • The Lord's favorable response and the resultant healing of the community struck a blow against inflexible legalism.
  • When the seven days of the festival were up, the people opted for another seven days! And the Chronicler wrote, "Since the time of Solomon son of King David of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem."
  • When it was over, the participants were so filled with zeal that they began to cleanse the land (north and south) of all the high places, sacred poles, and altars.
  • Hezekiah himself had broken into pieces the "brasen serpent" (bronze snake) Moses had made, recognizing that the people attached superstitious meaning to the relic wilderness story. (See 2 Kings 18:3, 4; Numbers 21:5-9)
  • Hezekiah implored the people to give generously the portion due the priests and Levites. Though other sources indicate people resented this, here, they responded with such generosity that new storehouses had to be built.
  • Hezekiah's hope for reunification might have been the reason he named his son Manasseh. (The fact that Assyria was busy elsewhere and pretty much was ignoring the north at this time might also have bolstered his plans.)
  • In the fourteenth year of his reign, Hezekiah's faith was tested by an invasion of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, who determined to do to Judah what he had done in the north. He began by capturing all the fortified cities.
  • Hezekiah offered the king a bargain. He admitted wrongdoing and agreed to pay a tribute if only Sennacherib would withdraw. Sennacherib demanded "three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold." At least part of this gold came from the temple, where it was removed from the doors and pillars. (See 2 Kings 18:14-16)
  • Despite the tribute of silver and gold, the Assyrians laid siege to
    Jerusalem and the surrounding cities. The Assyrian commander taunted Hezekiah for the mounting desertions in his army and mocked the people for depending on God whom he accused of being impotent.
  • Upon hearing the commander's words, Hezekiah turned to the prophet, Isaiah. Isaiah told him God would deliver them.
  • The commander repeated his taunts through letters. Hezekiah took these to the temple and laid them out before Yahweh and prayed directly (See 2 Kings 15-19). Isaiah sent word to him that God had heard his prayers. Isaiah's prophecy included a lengthy response to Sennacherib and Hezekiah, including the prophecy of a remnant. (See 2 Kings 20-34).
  • Thanks to the prayers of Hezekiah, Isaiah, and the Hebrew people, Jerusalem was delivered. "Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand...." (NIV says "a hundred and eighty-five thousand men." (2 Kings 19:35)
  • After the sudden plague, Sennacherib's remaining troops withdrew and returned to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria.
  • Under the rocky ground of Jerusalem, there is a 1749-foot tunnel known as "Hezekiah's tunnel." Tourists in Jerusalem enjoy walking single file through the dark tunnel built to conduct water from the Gihon spring to the pool of Siloam. The tunnel was cleared in 1910.
  • Hebrew writing was found inside Hezekiah's tunnel. Known as the Siloam inscription, the rock with this writing on it is now in the Museum of the Ancient Orient at Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Sometime after Jerusalem's deliverance from Sennacherib's army, Hezekiah became very ill. The prophet Isaiah had the task of informing Hezekiah that he should set his "house in order" for he would die.
  • Once again, Hezekiah prayed to God for help. God responded immediately and Isaiah was sent to relay the good news. Hezekiah asked for a sign that would modify the order of creation by shortening the shadow on the sundial - essentially turning back time.
  • The sign was granted and Hezekiah knew he'd recover. Not only was Hezekiah "recovered of his sickness," but also he lived for another 15 years.
  • Upon his recovery, Hezekiah recited a psalm of thanksgiving, according to Isaiah 38:9-20. According to the Anchor Bible, "this is one of the rare instances outside the Psalter where a personality other than David is the author of a psalm."
  • After Hezekiah was recovered from his sickness, he was "flattered by Babylon's suggestion of an alliance against Assyria." Hezekiah welcomed the Babylonian ambassadors and "proudly exhibited his treasures." (The Interpreter's Bible in Twelve Volumes, Vol. III, p. 308)
  • The prophet, Isaiah, correctly prophesied that everything in Hezekiah's palace would be carried off to Babylon. (Isaiah 39:1- 6) This sad event occurred during King Zedekiah's reign. (II Kings 24:13)
  • Hezekiah is mentioned on an archaeological find known as Sennacherib's prism. The prism, dated 691 BCE, was found at Nineveh. Today it is at The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. Sennacherib gives his own version of the event at Jerusalem and writes: "Hezekiah...I made a prisoner in Jerusalem...like a bird in a cage."
  • King Manasseh, Hezekiah's son, "was as evil as his father was
    good." (Leishman and Lewis, p. 47)
  • The Bible stories about Hezekiah show that he had both strengths and weaknesses. His weakness was succumbing to flattery. His strengths were reliance on God, a willingness to pray, courage, wisdom, and foresight.
 

Bibliography

Alter, Robert and Frank Kermode. The Literary Guide to the Bible. Cambridge, MA:      Belknap Press. 1987.

McConville, J.G. "I & II Chronicles." The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia, PA:      Westminster Press, 1984.

Payne, J. Barton. "1, 2 Chronicles." The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Gaebelein,      Frank, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishers, 1988.

Tuell, Steven. "First and Second Chronicles." Interpretation. Atlanta: John Knox      Press. 1996.

Brueggeman, Walter. "1 & 2 Kings." Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary. Macon,      Georgia: Smyth & Helwys. 2000.

   
 
   
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