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Hezekiah by Joe Price

King Hezekiah ruled the southern kingdom of Judah towards the end of the eighth century BCE. Biblical writers judged him very favorably. They viewed Hezekiah as an exceptionally righteous king and likened him to David (2Kgs 18:3; 2Chr 29:2). They even gave Hezekiah a distinguished position among the kings of Judah (2Kgs 18:5-6; cf. 2Kgs 23:25). Especially important was Hezekiah’s rebellion against Assyria after Sennacherib became its new king in 705 BCE. Sennacherib’s retaliatory invasion of Judah in ca. 701 BCE resulted in a military standoff between Hezekiah and the Assyrian regime, and this event formed a major basis for Hezekiah’s positive biblical evaluation. In contrast, many modern critical histories of Judah have a less favorable assessment of Hezekiah’s reign, for historians regularly conclude that Judah’s borders ultimately shrank under Hezekiah’s rule due to this very same rebellion!

Why did biblical writers view Hezekiah’s standoff with the Assyrian military threat positively?

Hezekiah’s rebellion left him in an extremely dangerous position. Assyrian kings bragged about their extreme cruelty in inscriptions and depicted tortuous acts in their palace reliefs. Their program of terror included atrocities such as beheadings, flaying, and the gruesome display of corpses. From conquered territories they demanded heavy tribute. Hezekiah must have been aware of what he and his people could face if the Assyrians conquered Jerusalem.

Biblical writers viewed Hezekiah’s response to his precarious position through a theological lens. Put differently, they were not necessarily primarily concerned with the political fallout of Hezekiah’s rebellion. Instead, they were interested in Hezekiah’s religious response to the Assyrian threat. On what would Hezekiah rely? In whom would he trust?

The answer to these questions, according the biblical writers, is that Hezekiah chose to trust and rely on God (2Chr 32:7-8). Despite Assyrian threats and mockery designed to coax Jerusalem into submission, Hezekiah resisted, turned to God in prayer for deliverance, and sought out the prophet Isaiah (2Kgs 19:1-19; 2Chr 32:20; Isa 37:1-20). These decisions demonstrated that Hezekiah “trusted” God (2Kgs 18:5).

Biblical writers report that Hezekiah’s prayer was miraculously answered, for a certain “angel of the Lord” slaughtered 185,000 troops in the Assyrian army (2Kgs 19:20-37; Isa 37:21-38). Then, after the massacre, Sennacherib returned home where he was assassinated, as foretold by God through Isaiah to Hezekiah (2Kgs 19:7; Isa 37:7). Jerusalem’s deliverance from the Assyrian threat, then, was tied to Hezekiah’s trust in God.

Were Hezekiah’s biblical evaluators uncritical?

Biblical writers had other reasons to evaluate Hezekiah favorably. Especially important in the eyes of biblical writers was Hezekiah’s restoration of proper worship. In the book of Kings, Hezekiah is commended for purging illicit worship from Judah (2Kgs 18:4). He did so by removing “high places” (illegitimate religious sites), shattering “sacred pillars” (standing stones often connected to deities), cutting down “the asherah” (a cultic object representing the goddess Asherah), and crushing the bronze serpent made by Moses (Num 21:8-9) after it had become an object of veneration (named “Nehushtan”). In Chronicles, Hezekiah’s religious endeavors are treated at greater length, where Hezekiah is especially esteemed for reviving proper worship at the Jerusalem temple, carrying out the Passover, and supporting the priests and Levites (2Chr 29:3-31:21).

Biblical writers certainly saw in Hezekiah an exemplary model of trust and conduct, but it would be a mistake to consider these writers as “uncritical” of Hezekiah. In fact, it is in light of Hezekiah’s exemplary righteousness that other, less positive, episodes from his career should be viewed. The episode recounting Hezekiah’s interactions with Babylonian envoys from the Chaldean insurgent Merodach-baladan has a negative tone, for it ends with a prophetic word announcing coming doom and an unflattering response from Hezekiah (2Kgs 20:12-19; Isa 39:1-8). Moreover, Hezekiah’s prideful response to an answered prayer for healing from a terminal illness resulted in divine wrath. Though this wrath was deferred because of penance (“humbling”), the episode remains an overt criticism (2Chr 32:25-26). Hezekiah’s initial reliance on Egypt (2Kgs 18:21-24; Isa 36:6-9) appears to be critiqued in Isa 30:1-7 and Isa 31:1-3. Not even Hezekiah, highly esteemed among the kings of Judah, was immune from criticism. Such criticisms should be considered when viewing Hezekiah in the larger theological arc of the Bible.

Joe Price , "Hezekiah", n.p. [cited 3 Dec 2020]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.org/en/people/main-articles/hezekiah

Contributors

Price-Joe

Joe Price
teacher, Worthington Christian School

Joe Price received his PhD from the Ohio State University where he studied the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East. His research and writing interests include the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, as well as ancient near eastern kingship. He is a teacher at Worthington Christian School where he teaches courses on the Bible and Hebrew language.

Hezekiah, mentioned in the books of Kings, was considered a righteous king of Judah.

Did you know…?

  • Pinpointing the exact dates of Hezekiah’s rule is challenging, but scholars typically date his rule to either ca. 727-698 BCE or ca. 715-686 BCE. Some explain these differing dates by postulating a coregency.
  • In his royal inscriptions, King Sennacherib claims that he surrounded Jerusalem and trapped Hezekiah “like a caged bird.”
  • Sennacherib’s campaign appears in the works of Herodotus and Josephus, with the latter writing about Hezekiah in particular.
  • Among Hezekiah’s construction projects (2Chr 32:5, 2Chr 32:27-30; 2Kgs 20:20) was an underground water-supply tunnel. This tunnel is widely recognized as the Siloam Tunnel and can be visited today. Its accompanying inscription is well-known.
  • Archaeologists have discovered numerous jar handles engraved with the phrase lmlk (“to the king”). These have been understood to reflect measures undertaken by Hezekiah.
  • Hezekiah’s name appears in a recently discovered seal impression (as well as in several other unprovenanced seal impressions).
  • Hezekiah won military victories over the Philistines (2Kgs 18:8).
  • Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz and Abi/Abijah (“Abi” a short form of Abijah), and he began his twenty-nine-year reign at age 25 (2Kgs 18:2; 2Chr 29:1).
  • Hezekiah belonged to the tribe of Judah and was a descendant of King David, hence his inclusion in the list of the descendants of David (1Chr 3:13) and in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1:9-10).
  • Though Hezekiah was evaluated as righteous, his father (King Ahaz) and son (King Manasseh) were evaluated as wicked.
  • The Hezekiah episodes in 2 Kings form important pillars in some compositional theories of the Deuteronomistic History.

A region in northern Mesopotamia whose kings ruled most of the ancient Near East in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C.E.

Evaluating its subject carefully, rigorously, and with minimal preconceptions. "Critical" religious scholarship contrasts with popular and sectarian studies.

The kingdom of Judah, according to the Hebrew Bible ruled by a king in the line of David from the 10th century B.C.E. until its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.

2Kgs 18:3

3 He did what was right in the sight of the Lord just as his ancestor David had done.

2Chr 29:2

2 He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, just as his ancestor David had done.

2Kgs 18:5-6

5 He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel; so that there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him. 6 For ... View more

2Kgs 23:25

25 Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Mose ... View more

People from the region of northern Mesopotamia that includes modern-day Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Short written texts, generally inscribed on stone or clay and frequently recording an event or dedicating an object.

Short written texts, generally inscribed on stone or clay and frequently recording an event or dedicating an object.

placing oneself under the authority or control of another

Relating to thought about the nature and behavior of God.

2Chr 32:7-8

7 “Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him; for there is one greater with us t ... View more

2Kgs 19:1-19

19 When King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord. 2 And he sent Eliakim, who was in char ... View more

2Chr 32:20

Sennacherib's Defeat and Death
20Then King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz prayed because of this and cried to heaven.

Isa 37:1-20

Hezekiah Consults Isaiah
37 When King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord. 2 And he sent ... View more

2Kgs 18:5

5 He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel; so that there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him.

2Kgs 19:20-37

20 Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I have heard your prayer to me about King Sennacherib of Assyria. 2 ... View more

Isa 37:21-38

21 Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Because you have prayed to me concerning King Sennacherib of Assyri ... View more

2Kgs 19:7

7 I myself will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.’”

Isa 37:7

7 I myself will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor, and return to his own land; I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.’”

Canaanite mother goddess

Of or relating to ancient lower Mesopotamia and its empire centered in Babylon.

The application of critical models of scholarship to a text.

related to a system of religious worship

Gods or goddesses; powerful supernatural figures worshipped by humans.

Characteristic of a deity (a god or goddess).

The expression of remorse for wrongdoing; the sacrament of reconciliation.

2Kgs 18:4

4He removed the high places, broke down the pillars, and cut down the sacred pole. He broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those da ... View more

Num 21:8-9

8And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”9So Moses made a serpent of ... View more

2Chr 29:3-31:21

Chapter 30Chapter 31

2Kgs 20:12-19

Envoys from Babylon
12At that time King Merodach-baladan son of Baladan of Babylon sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he had heard that Hez ... View more

Isa 39:1-8

Envoys from Babylon Welcomed
1At that time King Merodach-baladan son of Baladan of Babylon sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that ... View more

2Chr 32:25-26

25 But Hezekiah did not respond according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. Therefore wrath came upon him and upon Judah and Jerusalem. 26 Th ... View more

2Kgs 18:21-24

21 See, you are relying now on Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all wh ... View more

Isa 36:6-9

6 See, you are relying on Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rel ... View more

Isa 30:1-7

The Futility of Reliance on Egypt

30 Oh, rebellious children, says the Lord,
who carry out a plan, but not mine;
who make an alliance, but against my will,
    ... View more

Isa 31:1-3

31 Alas for those who go down to Egypt for help
    and who rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
    and in horsemen because they are ver ... View more

administration by more than one ruler at the same time

Related to the religious beliefs connected to Deuteronomy, which emphasized monotheism, the Jerusalem temple, observance of the Law, and the destruction of idolatry.

A Jewish historian from the first century C.E. His works document the Jewish rebellions against Rome, giving background for early Jewish and Christian practices.

lacking a clear source

2Chr 32:5

5Hezekiah set to work resolutely and built up the entire wall that was broken down, and raised towers on it, and outside it he built another wall; he also stren ... View more

2Chr 32:27-30

27 Hezekiah had very great riches and honor; and he made for himself treasuries for silver, for gold, for precious stones, for spices, for shields, and for all ... View more

2Kgs 20:20

Death of Hezekiah
20The rest of the deeds of Hezekiah, all his power, how he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written ... View more

2Kgs 18:8

8He attacked the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.

2Kgs 18:2

2 He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign; he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi daughter of Zechariah.

2Chr 29:1

29 Hezekiah began to reign when he was twenty-five years old; he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah.

1Chr 3:13

13 Ahaz his son, Hezekiah his son, Manasseh his son,

Matt 1:9-10

9and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,10and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father ... View more

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