King Hezekiah - Biography

Chart of the Kings King Hezekiah - Biography God's Judgment Regarding King Hezekiah
Previous King: Ahaz   Next King: Manasseh


Contents

Summary
The Revival and the Passover
The Fall of Israel
The Failed Bid for Independence
The Successful Fight for Independence
Hezekiah's Illness
Hezekiah's Decline

Summary

Hezekiah's great grandfather King Uzziah and grandfather King Jotham were godly and wise men who had increased Judah's prosperity and influence to levels unknown since the days of David and Solomon. Then Hezekiah's father, King Ahaz, through evil practices and poor leadership, lost all the two previous generations had gained, and lost national sovereignty as well, leaving Judah a vassal of Assyria.

King Hezekiah came to the throne in the wake of his father's disasters, and with the memory the glory days of his grandfather King Jotham, who still reigned when Hezekiah was a child. Rightly concluding that these hardships had come upon Judah because they had abandoned the LORD, Hezekiah instituted the most sweeping religious reforms of all the kings before or after him. As a result, during his 29-year reign he was successful in everything he did — no small accomplishment, given the very difficult times during which he reigned.

Hezekiah's lifelong ambition was to regain national sovereignty, willingly surrendered by his father Ahaz as a convenient solution to a relatively minor invasion. He ultimately achieved this, facing extreme crisis with the help of the LORD.

While this crisis was still fresh and his newly won independence still fragile, Hezekiah became deathly ill. No doubt worried how the nation would fare after his death, he prayed for healing, and God granted him another 15 years of life. Unfortunately, during these years Hezekiah's pride overpowered and drowned his love for the LORD. During this time he also fathered his heir King Manasseh, a man of extreme evil.

Where to read Hezekiah's story: 2 Kings 18 - 20; 2 Chronicles 29 - 32; Isaiah 36 - 39

The Revival and the Passover

The memory of the success of his grandfather, godly King Jotham, and the unmitigated failures of his evil father, King Ahaz, drove King Hezekiah to dedicate his career to instituting sweeping revival, more complete1 than any of the other kings who made similar reforms.

King Ahaz, bent on pagan worship, had also closed the temple of the LORD. Hezekiah's first act as king was to reopen the temple. This was no small task. Repairs to the deteriorated structure were needed. Pagan artifacts were in storage there, and had to be removed and destroyed. The priests, once fired and now having changed careers, had to be recruited and retrained. But everyone took on the work with enthusiasm, under Hezekiah's skillful management, and the temple was ready to be used for worship in only 16 days. The temple was opened with a great celebration, sacrifices and music, the king presiding.

When the LORD rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt centuries earlier, he had instructed the population to commemorate the rescue annually by celebrating the Passover in a national meeting at Jerusalem. However, Passover was only celebrated occasionally and half-heartedly. Hezekiah was determined to follow the LORD's instructions completely.

He had come to office just two weeks before Passover, and since it took more than two weeks to prepare the temple, it was not possible to observe Passover on schedule. But Hezekiah didn't want to lose the momentum of the revival by waiting till next year. There was an ancient law2 that someone who was unable to celebrate Passover at the usual time should celebrate it a month late. Hezekiah and his staff decided to invoke this law on behalf of the entire nation.

Since Passover was to be celebrated by all Israelites, Hezekiah sent invitations to every town in his own kingdom of Judah, and also in neighboring Israel. This forage into Israel was a crucial last-minute attempt by the LORD to secure their repentance, for Israel, long committed to evil, was destroyed just three years later. Only a few people of Israel came.

However, the people of Judah flocked to Jerusalem en masse, under the command of the charismatic Hezekiah. In preparation, the population cleared the entire city of its places of idol worship. The Passover lamb was sacrificed, the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread observed, and the public celebrated so intensely that they refused to quit, extending the festival for an extra week. The LORD showed his support by forgiving, at Hezekiah's request, some protocol violations committed by people who were whole-hearted but uninformed, having never celebrated a Passover before.

After the Passover, King Hezekiah sent the population home with instructions to comb the land, destroying all the pagan shrines, and also the local shrines built for the LORD, for the LORD had long ago forbidden worship in local shrines, requiring pilgrimages to Jerusalem instead.3 This shows Hezekiah's extreme commitment, for of many kings it is recorded that they eliminated pagan shrines but not the local shrines of the LORD. The shrines were eliminated, and the people returned home.

Hezekiah even destroyed the bronze serpent. Centuries ago, there had been an infestation of poisonous serpents. In response, God had instructed Moses to build the bronze serpent. Anyone bitten could go to the center of the camp, look at the bronze serpent, and in response to their faith, God would heal their fatal bite. But now, people were using the bronze serpent as an idol, and so Hezekiah destroyed it.

Source: 2 Kings 18:1-8; 2 Chronicles 29 - 31

Notes:
  1 according to 2 Kings 18:5
  2 Numbers 9:10-11
  3 The principle was spelled out in Deuteronomy 12. Jerusalem as the actual site was chosen later.

The Fall of Israel

Three years later an Assyrian general laid siege against neighboring Israel's capital, Samaria. 18 of Israel's 19 kings were judged by God as evil, and the wages of that evil came with Assyria. The siege lasted three summers. At the end, Samaria fell, its population was taken captive and resettled in other Assyrian lands, never to return.

Other people conquered by Assyria were brought to Samaria and resettled there. This was an Assyrian strategy to break people's loyalty to their homelands by moving them to other conquered lands.

The fall of Israel must have had deep meaning for the people of Judah, for though there were many wars between Israel and Judah, there was also a common heritage and much good feeling between them.

Source: 2 Kings 18:9-12

The Failed Bid for Independence

It grated upon Hezekiah that his father had given away Judah's national sovereignty, and he passionately wanted to restore it. After 14 years of reforms and preparations, he thought his moment had come — he refused to pay the annual tribute due to Assyria.

In response, the Assyrian King Sennacherib sent an army to give Hezekiah a strong warning about his rebellion. Assyria attacked Hezekiah's fortified border cities and easily conquered them all. At that point, his logical move would be an attack on Jerusalem.

Seeing how easily his defenses were overcome, Hezekiah sued for peace, humbly admitting his foolish action and offering to pay whatever tribute Sennacherib demanded in return for his withdrawal. The demand was large, and it was with difficulty that Hezekiah paid it. It must have especially grieved him to use some of the temple furnishings in this payment.

Source: 2 Kings 18:13-16

The Successful Fight for Independence

Recognizing that to gain independence, they would eventually have to suffer an Assyrian siege of Jerusalem, Hezekiah had spent years making preparations. He had a long aqueduct dug through solid rock to provide water to the city, and he plugged historic wells in the countryside to deprive the attacking armies of water. His armies were well trained and obedient.

The siege came. Even though Hezekiah had met King Sennacherib's extreme demands, Assyria didn't withdraw as promised. Sennacherib's army surrounded Jerusalem, with Sennacherib himself on site for occasional supervisory visits. He sent the officer in charge to ridicule Judah's rebellion. He boasted that Hezekiah's faith in the LORD was as futile as other nations' faith in their idols, and the LORD could not protect them. He challenged them to avoid a years-long siege, and come out and fight instead, arrogantly offering to supply more weapons than Judah could man. Appealing to Judah's army to rebel against Hezekiah in order to prevent their destruction, he made offers of payments to anyone who would overthrow Hezekiah and surrender to Assyria. Reflecting great faith in the LORD and their king, no one responded.

At this taunt, Hezekiah was crushed, recognizing his hopeless position. In great grief, he went to the temple to pray, comparing his bid for independence to a child about to be born, but lacking strength for the delivery. Hearing Hezekiah's prayer, the LORD sent the prophet Isaiah to tell Hezekiah not to be afraid — the LORD would arrange for Sennacherib to withdraw to handle another crisis, and he would be killed before he could return to Jerusalem.

An Ethiopian king launched an attack on Assyria, and Sennacherib was obliged to leave Jerusalem to defend his empire, leaving a small army to maintain the siege. He sent Hezekiah an arrogant letter about his soon return to Jerusalem.

Hezekiah took Sennacherib's letter to the temple, spread it out for the LORD to see, and prayed over it. The LORD responded by inspiring the prophet Isaiah to write a long poem about Sennacherib's defeat. He promised Sennacherib would be unable to attack the city.

That night, a plague struck the Assyrian army surrounding Jerusalem, and 185,000 soldiers died. Sennacherib, spooked by this, withdrew. Not long after, he was assassinated. The Assyrian threat was over. Judah was independent.

Source: 2 Kings 18:17 - 19:37; 2 Chronicles 32:1-23; Isaiah 36 - 37
Source for aqueduct info: Unger's Bible Dictionary, topic “Hezekiah”

Hezekiah's Illness

Just after independence was won, and before Sennacherib was assassinated, King Hezekiah became sick. As he lay on his death bed, no doubt worrying what would happen to his newly won independence without him to defend it, the LORD sent the prophet Isaiah with the message that Hezekiah must put his affairs in order, because he would die of this illness.

Hezekiah was struck with grief at being removed at this point of crisis. Assyria might renew their recent hostilities any time, and the death of the king might even prompt an attack. Adding to his stress was the realization that he had no heir, and so his death would rock the stability of the nation at this critical hour. And so rather than blindly obey the LORD and make his preparations, Hezekiah prayed for healing, reminding the LORD of all Hezekiah had done in faithfulness to him.

The LORD answered his prayer immediately. Before Isaiah had even left the palace grounds, the LORD sent him back to Hezekiah with the message that he would recover and would live another 15 years. Furthermore, God would continue to protect Jerusalem from any further threats from Assyria.

This news put Hezekiah in a stressed position. He was probably making irreversible arrangements to hand the scepter to someone not of his line. If he lived, this arrangement would haunt him for the rest of his life — even more so if he eventually produced an heir. But if he failed to make the arrangements, and then died, the kingdom would be thrown into disarray. How could he be sure the prophet was right?

When prophets gave people instructions, they typically proved that their words were from the LORD by giving a verifying sign. To this end, Isaiah told Hezekiah that the shadow on King Ahaz' sundial would move backwards ten notches. When this happened, Hezekiah was assured, and took appropriate action. He did in fact recover and resume his throne.

Source: 2 Kings 20:1-11; 2 Chronicles 32:24; Isaiah 38

Hezekiah's Decline

This healing marked a sad turning point in Hezekiah's life. Up to this time, his faithfulness to the LORD was total. After this, he became proud and selfish.

Diplomats from Babylon brought from their king a message of congratulations on Hezekiah's recovery from sickness. Their intention was apparently to find out how Hezekiah's God had defeated Assyria, for they too wanted to defeat Assyria. Passing up this God-given opportunity to publish to the up-and-coming world power his reforms and revivals, his prayers and the LORD's answers, Hezekiah instead showed them his armories and treasuries. By doing this, he demonstrated that his trust in the LORD had deteriorated, and he now trusted his military and economic strength.

The prophet Isaiah, foreseeing Babylon's rise, reprimanded Hezekiah's lack of faith, telling him that in generations to come, Babylon would abuse Hezekiah's descendents — and that Hezekiah, by his faithless influence on the diplomats, helped spur their evil cause. But Hezekiah, having grown selfish, took this as a good sign that during his own lifetime, peace and prosperity would continue — and he didn't care about future generations.

Also during the years following his recovery, Hezekiah fathered his heir, King Manasseh, who was recorded as the most wicked king ever to be enthroned in Jerusalem.

Source: 2 Kings 20:12-21; 2 Chronicles 32:25-33; Isaiah 39
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