II Kings 18–20. Hezekiah II.
the Waffling of an Extraordinary Saint.
Key Notes: Fruitless potitical moves. Assyria's fatal error: God can't save you. A miraculous victory. God answered Hezekiah' prayer for added years. Hezekiah was not able to make good.
Hezekiah’s life is the story of an outstanding Old Testament believer, the greatest king since David and Solomon. He generated a revival in Judah, with widespread destruction of idols and worship centers. He had the ordinary kinds of spiritual ups and downs that we all have, but since he was king at a crucial time, the spiritual failures assumed large proportions. We can be grateful that we do not have to bear his responsibilities, but we can learn from his mistakes with their national consequences.
IIK.18:1–8 His first acts were to attack idolatry, and attend to the commandments of Moses. He also rebelled against Assyria and attacked Philistia, which the Assyrians had recently occupied. He also made overtures to Egypt as the Assyrians will point out. These political moves were unwise.
18:9–13 In the 4th year of Hezekiah's rule, Shalmaneser of Assyria besieged Samaria and conquered it three years later. Ten years later, Sennacharib, his successor, came against Judah.
18:14–18 Hezekiah made a deal to buy off the Assyrians with an abject apology, a ton of gold and ten tons of silver. The Assyrians took the money and came on to the attack. Three Assyrians met three Judah officials at the site of one of Jerusalem’s water sources. (The exact place is disputed.) They asked to see Hezekiah, but he sent his officers instead.
18:19–37 The Rabshekeh, a high Assyrian official, talked to them in Hebrew with people sitting on the wall listening in. He was very well prepared, a student of Judean society. He may have been attracted to the God of Israel. When the officials asked him to speak in Aramaic to avoid upsetting the eaves-droppers, he beamed his message to them. His speech was a master-piece of persuasion, half-truths and bombast. He could simply have gone to the attack, but he wanted the city to give in without a fight. It was a formidable fortress.
1. You are relying on Egypt, a country that can only hurt you. [Isaiah had said the same: Isa.20:5-; 30:2-; 31:1-]
2.If you say you are relying on God, why are you desecrating his altars? That sounds as if Israel’s commitment to God were less sure than her commitment to Egypt. The Rabshekeh also did not understand the difference between worship at the temple in Jerusalem and worship at the high places.
3. You have a pitiful army. [Also true.]
4. God told me to come and destroy this place. [That is almost correct. (Isa.10:5–11). Did he have access to Isaiah’s writing?]
5. Do not let Hezekiah deceive you when he says you can rely on the Lord.
6. You people on the wall are doomed to die of starvation. Give up. Make peace with me. I will take you to a beautiful place where you can live. [It sounds like the Garden of Eden, which it once was.] Unfortunately, Assyria’s word has so far been worthless.
7. Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you saying the Lord will deliver you. No gods have been effective against the Assyrian war-machine.
’:1–7 There was no response to this from the officials or the people on the wall. Eliakim, Shebna and the senior priests went to Isaiah in mourning with Hezekiah’s message: Judah was disgraced and in distress, like a pregnant woman with arrested labor. Perhaps God would rebuke the mockery of the Assyrians. Would he please pray for the Remnant?
Isaiah’s reply was comforting. Do not fear. Sennacharib will return to Assyria and be killed there.
19:8–13 Meantime, Lachish was over-run and the Assyrian army had moved to Libnah. Fighting now broke out between Assyria and Tirhakeh of Egypt. So Sennacharib, apparently thinking that Judah might take comfort at this distraction, sent a letter to Hezekiah:
1. Do not let your God deceive you into thinking that Jerusalem will not be taken.
2. The Assyrians are invincible. No gods of other nations have protected them.
19:14–19 This time Hezekiah took the message and laid it out before the Lord in the temple.
Lord God of Israel enthroned above the cherubim,
Maker of heaven and earth, you are God alone.
Hear and see the mockery of Sennacharib.
It is true that the gods of wood and stone
are not gods and were destroyed.
Save us so that all the kingdoms may know
that you are God alone.
19:20–34 Isaiah replied that God had heard his prayer. He made a poem of rebuke to Assyria.
Behind the walls, Judah despises Assyria
which has lifted itself against the Holy One of Israel.
Assyria has mocked God,
bragging of its exploits against foreign lands.
God had planned Assyria’s war-machine long before.
But in her arrogance Assyria is raging against God.
God will turn Sennacharib back where he came.
The prophet also advised Judah that it would take a couple of years before crops could again be sown. But Sennacharib would not do harm to Jerusalem. God wil defend it for His own sake, and for the sake of David his servant.
19:35–37 The end came with breath-taking speed. Overnight 185,000 officers and soldiers died in the Assyrian camp. It may have been a highly contagious disease. The meningococcus can kill rapidly, and epidemics are more likely in crowded conditions like military camps. Such an event would be demoralizing. What would the Rabshekeh be thinking now? The God of Israel was more powerful than the Assyrian war-machine. Sennacharib quit and went back to Ninevah. He was assassinated 20 years later in the house of his god, by two of his sons. The gods of the Assyrians could not save the king of Assyria in their own temple.
It is said that the defeat of Sennacharib is read in Russia each year on the anniversary of the defeat of Napoleon’s armies.
20:1–11 About this time, Hezekiah fell deathly ill. Isaiah came to him and advised him that the end was near. He must set his kingdom in order. Hezekiah wept bitterly. He had been faithful to the Lord and done what was good in the sight of God. Plainly he saw this sickness as a punishment which he did not deserve. Actually, God was doing this for his good and the good of the kingdom, because in his remaining years, Hezekiah would not do well.
Nevertheless, God sent Isaiah back with a reprieve of 15 years, and advice to put a poultice of figs (rich in sugars) on the boil. God also promised to defend Jerusalem from the Assyrians. Hezekiah was healed. But he wanted additional proof beside the fact that he would be worshiping in the temple in three days. Isaiah offered him an advance or a reversal of the sundial shadow. Hezekiah chose a reverse, and the sundial precessed ten degrees. The miracle has no explanation. It seems an unnecessary accommodation to Hezekiah’s weak faith.
20:12–19 Healthy again, Hezekiah greeted messengers from Babylon bringing letters and a present. IIChronicles 32:27–31 adds that treasure was poured in upon Hezekiah from all around—gold, silver, previous stones, spices, grain, wine and oil, cattle, herds and cities. Hezekiah showed it all to the visitors from Babylon. When they were gone, Isaiah asked him what he was doing. Hezekiah happily told him all that he had done. But Isaiah was not amused. All this was going to end up in Babylon along with the king’s sons. Nothing would be left. Hezekiah was relieved that it would not happen during his life.
Hezekiah was the best king since Solomon.
He revived temple worship, the sacrifices and the law of Moses.
He trusted God to deal with the Assyrian army, and God rewarded him with a great victory against overwhelming odds. Judah was saved for another hundred years.
God answers prayer. The prayer of Hezekiah for healing is wonderful because we know for sure that God reversed His edict at Hezekiah’s request. Hezekiah’s prayer over-rode God’s directive will in favor of His permissive will. Hezekiah prayed directly against God’s declared intention for his life. He prayed for fifteen more years of life. God answered Hezekiah’s prayer contrary to His own plan. God’s eternal purpose, His purposive will, did not change. But in His permissive will He gave Hezekiah his request.
We also see God’s permissive will which acts generally to allow the existence of sin.
Why did God reverse His planned action? I think He did so that we may see His mercy and His direct interaction. He was merciful to his servant. When faced with God’s decision to end his life, Hezekiah fought God for time and got it. But the time did not profit his kingdom. He is to be commended on one hand for going to God with his complaint. On the other hand, He did not trust the wisdom of God but was driven by his own emotional need. Would we have had the faith to allow God’s will to prevail to our own disadvantage?
If we insist on going wrongly, God’s will may bypass or over-ride our action. The classic case is Joseph. His brothers meant to ruin him but God over-ruled them.
Some prayers are not granted. Christ prayed in Gethsemane; Paul had his thorn in the flesh; David prayed for the life of his child by Bathsheba. In all three of these cases God did not change the conditions. God does not always answer prayer in the way we want.
The consequences were significant.
In the fifteen years he was given, Hezekiah sired a son, Manasseh, who was wicked.
In these years, he also played into the hands of the Babylonians by showing off his kingdom. He let his pride get in the way and jeopardized Judah’s future.
He began his reign full of altruism and enthusiasm. He ended blasé and disillusioned, shrugging off Judah’s future judgment, glad that he did not have to see it.
God knew what He was doing. Sometimes we are surprised to see an able young servant of God die prematurely. Perhaps this young leader was going to do something that would have seriously hurt the Kingdom. We must trust God’s wisdom.
Like all of us, Hezekiah had a spiritual life that waxed and waned. Sometimes he was well-tuned. Sometimes God was not central to his thinking. We are also likely not to have God on our radar-screen at all times. It is important to keep Him in our vision. It is the habit of contemplating the face of Jesus.