Hezekiah, son of Ahaz

Hezekiah's rule over Judah began during the third year of Hoshea, Israel's last king. While Hoshea's machinations sealed his people's fate and brought on the Assyrian Captivity, Hezekiah led his people in a time of national revival. Hezekiah removed the high places, tore down the images, cut down the asherim, and even destroyed the nechosheth nachash (brazen serpent) of Moses that had been idolized for over 900 years. Hezekiah worked to re-establish the true worship and levitical order. He reinstituted the Passover, provided for the sacrifices and invited all including the remnant of the northern kingdom to attend.

Scripture tells us that Hezekiah was a very good king, even surpassing David: "He trusted in the LORD, the God of Yisra'el; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Yehudah, nor [among them] that were before him. For he joined with the LORD; he didn't depart from following him, but kept his mitzvot, which the LORD commanded Moshe." (2Ki 18:5-6)

The Assyrian yoke his wicked father Ahaz willingly stuck his neck into (2Ki 16:7-20) was broken when Hezekiah refused to pay further tribute. By his fourteenth year of rule, Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom was complete and Sennacherib directed his forces against Judah's fortified cities and took many of them (2Ki 18:13).

Hezekiah's faith wavered, and word was sent south to the Assyrians encamped against Lachish. Hezekiah apologized to the Assyrian king for his "offence" and paid a tribute of 300 talents of silver, 30 talents of gold, treasures, and even more gold cut off from the doors and pillars of the temple. Apparently, this tribute was insufficient to stave off a final encounter with Assyria.

Hezekiah prepared Jerusalem for war, strengthened her walls, manufactured weapons, encouraged the people, and had his engineers cut the famous 777 foot long tunnel (2Ki 20:20; 2Ch 32:3, 30) through the solid rock of Mt. Ophel in order to bring the life sustaining waters of the Gihon spring inside the city and deny the Assyrians knowledge of its existence or use.

Sennacherib sent a delegation to Jerusalem boasting of his superior Assyrian gods and to belittle Hezekiah before the people. Rabshakeh the Assyrian spokesman, launched into a psychological attack on Hezekiah's officers asking "will the broken reed of Egypt save you?" or "if you say the LORD our God... is it not he whose altars Hezekiah has removed?" Rabshakeh cried out to the Jews in their own tongue warning them how futile it was to resist Sennacherib, "Don't let Hezekiah deceive you into trusting the LORD - what gods of the other nations have withstood us? - Samaria was not delivered!" But the people held their peace and did not answer Rabshakeh as Hezekiah had commanded them (2Ki18:17-37; 2Ch 32:9-19).

In response to this satanic threat, Hezekiah rent his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth and launched his own preemptive strike heavenward. Isaiah the prophet, the scribes, the elders of the priests and Hezekiah the king joined forces in prayer to the LORD (2Ki 19:1-2Ch 32:20). The Word of the LORD twice came to Isaiah (2Ki 19:6, 20) reassuring Hezekiah that Jerusalem was secure, the Assyrian blasphemy would not stand, a hook would be put in Sennacherib's own nose and he would be led back to his own land where he would die by the sword.

"And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and eighty five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they [were] all dead corpses. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Armenia. And Esar-haddon his son reigned in his stead." (2Ki 19:35-37).

After this divine deliverance from the Assyrians, many brought gifts unto the LORD at Jerusalem and Hezekiah was magnified before the nations. The downside is that his heart was lifted up (2Ch 32:23-25). Hezekiah became sick unto death and was instructed by Isaiah the prophet to set his house in order. Immediately Hezekiah turned to the wall in tearful prayer, and reminded the LORD how he had walked with a perfect heart. Isaiah, on his way out of the courtyard, was commanded by the LORD to return and tell the king his prayer was heard. God would heal him on the third day, fifteen years would be added to his life, and Jerusalem would be saved from Assyrian destruction. Hezekiah requested a sign and the LORD granted it - the sun's shadow moved ten degrees backward as proof of His Word (2Ki 20:1-11).

Merodach, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon used this as an opportunity to send spies to Jerusalem with gifts and letters of congratulations upon Hezekiah's recovery. Hezekiah's folly was to show them all of his house and treasure. Unfortunately, this prideful act planted the seed of captivity and the LORD allowed it to fully try Hezekiah's heart. Isaiah prophesied that the days were coming when Judah would be carried away, and that of Hezekiah's own sons would be eunuchs made to serve in the palace of the King of Babylon (2Ki 20:12-19; 2Ch 32:31; Isa 39).

ARCHEOLOGICAL NOTE: A series of bas-relief panels discovered on the walls of Assyrian palace of Koyunjik illustrate Sennechrib's conquest of Israel in gory detail. The account of the siege of Lachish reads in part "Sennacherib, the mighty king, king of the country of Assyria, sitting on the throne of judgment before the city of Lachish: I gave permission for its slaughter."

The "Prism of Sennacherib," a clay cylinder inscribed with 500 lines of cuneiform writing records the siege against Jerusalem. Sennacherib's own account include these words "Because Hezekiah, king of Judah, would not submit to my yoke, I came up against him..." and "...and Hezekiah himself I shut up in Jerusalem, his capital city, like a bird in a cage..."

After this, Assyrian records are awkwardly silent about why Sennacherib's boast of Jerusalem's destruction was not realized. Scripture tells us why (2Ki 19:35) and it is interesting to note the following: this supernatural event is referred to by Herodotus, the father of ancient Greek history and by the Jewish historian Josephus who both provide a naturalistic explanation for the unusual circumstances of Sennacherib's military failure.