Hezekiah’s biblical biography can be read in 2 Kings 18-20, 2 Chronicles 29-32 and Isaiah 36-39. There is much supporting archaeological evidence from the Assyrian world. Dates and the order of events are in dispute, but every event recorded in Scripture certainly happened.
Hezekiah reigned at a time when a foreign empire was consolidating its control over Palestine and Syria. His father had placed Judah under Assyrian domination in 735 BC (2 Ki. 16:7-8). At the accession of Sennacherib 705–681 BC, rebellions broke out all round the Assyrian empire. Hezekiah seems to have been the movement’s leader in Palestine and gained support from Egypt.
Preparing for the inevitable Assyrian campaign to retake lost territory, Hezekiah strengthened the defenses of his capital, Jerusalem. Today’s visitors can still explore “the tunnel by which [Hezekiah] brought water into the city” (2 Ki. 20:20 NIV). He “blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channeled the water down to the west side of the City of David” (2 Chr. 32:30). This Siloam tunnel brings a good supply of running water inside the city walls, a precautionary defense against a long siege.
Trusting The Lord At 25
Ahaz was Hezekiah’s biological father and David his ancestor 13 generations (1 Chr. 3:5,10-13) earlier, but Hezekiah was his own man! Importantly, he made a choice not to follow his father’s evil ways (2 Ki. 16:2-4, 18:1-3). In five attributes Hezekiah is a great example for young Christian people:
He accepted the role God had given to him (18:2).
He achieved the blessing of the all-seeing God (18:3).
He axed the wrong religious perspectives and practices of his people (18:4).
He adhered closely to God and God’s ways (18:5-7).
His attitude was one of obeying the Lord (18:6).
Scripture commends young Hezekiah’s efforts. We read: “And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook” (2 Ki. 18:7). “This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God. In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. So he prospered” (2 Chr. 31:20-21). Following God is difficult and often involves very hard work, but those who make the effort will be forever rewarded.
Taking A God-given Lead
Realizing that the “anger of the LORD” (2 Chr. 29:8) was an outburst of wrath from God in judgment against his people, Hezekiah cleansed the Lord’s temple and urged backslidden temple workers to return to their duties (29:3-17). An amazing service of sacrifices and offerings, singing and worship followed for several days (29:18-36). We find an insightful note in verse 36: “Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for His people.” A good leader knows he or she is second-in-command – God must always be number one. He uses His followers as leaders.
People Before Procedure
Not satisfied with reforming the temple worship, Hezekiah sent representatives “throughout Israel and Judah” urging all the people to return to the LORD (four times in 30:6-9). “The hand of God was on the people” (v.12) – without this even the godliest leader will fail. Dependence on the Spirit’s working in hearts is a huge part of leadership.
Partway through the Passover celebration some priests and people realized that they were not ceremonially clean. Hezekiah’s prayer is an example for practical church life today: “May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God – the LORD, the God of their ancestors – even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” God answered his prayer (30:18-20). Perhaps some “legalists” were surprised that He did. We must always let God be God and never be taken aback by the grace He shows. The LORD looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).
Provision Made For Appropriate Worship
Leading by example, Hezekiah started a generous movement of giving among God’s people (2 Chr. 31:3-8). There are seven sorts of giving mentioned in this chapter: “the firstfruits … a great amount, a tithe” (v.5), “contributions” (v.10), “dedicated gifts” (v.12), “freewill offerings … consecrated gifts” (v.14). The straightforward application is to lead by example in giving whatever we can to the Lord’s work. Only keep back what we need to live on. Supporting local and global ministry is every Christian’s responsibility (2 Cor. 8:7,20).
Hezekiah Made Mistakes
When Hezekiah was 39 years old Sennacherib overran much of Judah, taking all of its walled cities and placing much conquered Judean territory under the control of Assyria (2 Ki. 18:13). While Sennacherib was besieging the city of Lachish, Hezekiah wrongly tried to buy his way out of trouble. He took valuables from the temple of the LORD and gave them to the Assyrian king (2 Ki. 18:15-16). It bought a little time but at a heavy price. The easiest options are often the worst. Sennacherib still demanded unconditional surrender.
This mistake, however, did not stop God from using Hezekiah. The chronology is uncertain, but the Bible is clear – God kept using him. His words were inspirational to his followers and threatening to his enemies (18:29-32; 2 Chr. 30:22).
How To Handle A Crisis
Hezekiah’s prayer is found in 2 Kings 19:1-2,14-19, 2 Chronicles 32:20, and Isaiah 37:1-2,14-20. In these portions we see Isaiah the prophet’s service in relation to Hezekiah – Isaiah 37-38 giving the fullest account of events. The king of Assyria confronted Hezekiah once again, who found he had no human resources left. In this situation Hezekiah wisely and humbly went to the temple of the LORD (Isa. 37:1). He sought advice from God’s prophet, a man sent of God (6:1-8). Isaiah’s reply directed Hezekiah to commit everything to the Sovereign God (37:6-7).
Still at prayer and war, Hezekiah received from the enemy a direct challenge to his God (37:9-13). But the focus of his heart remained on the LORD Almighty (vv.15-20). Specifically, Hezekiah wanted the LORD to enhance His own fame and reputation – not Hezekiah’s (v.20).
At this point Jerusalem was saved by God’s miraculous intervention. “The angel of the LORD” decimated the Assyrian war machine (2 Ki. 19:35-36; 2 Chr. 32:21; Isa. 37:36). The awful carnage of that single day must be seen against the awesome holiness of God. Our sovereign God uses heathen rulers to achieve His purposes even while He holds them accountable for these same atrocities. He judges them for what they do even though He is able to use what they do for His own purposes (consider Sennacherib’s “I” compared to God’s “I” in 2 Kings 19:23-28 and Psalm 33:10-11. Look also at Jesus’ words about Judas in Mark 14:21). “The LORD saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem … He took care of them on every side” (2 Chr. 32:22). It was the LORD alone.
The Sin Of Pride
To understand the final events of Hezekiah’s life we need to read 2 Chronicles 32:24-25: “In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. He prayed to the LORD, who answered him and gave him a miraculous sign. But Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him.” Any successful Christian may easily fall into the trap of pride in “his” or “her” achievements. This may be by having the opinion of being better than other people, feeling more special than others or simply by thinking, “I have done some great things.” It is sobering to note God’s response to pride: “therefore the LORD’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem.”
Foolishly, Hezekiah entertained envoys from Babylon some time after he had been diagnosed terminally ill (2 Ki. 20; Isa. 39). “There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them” (Isa. 39:2). In boasting about his blessings he forgot about the One who had blessed him! Where would he have been without his God (2 Chr. 32:29)? God deserves all praises. Sometimes the very things God gives to us can become stumbling blocks in our walk with Him. Some of the greatest believers I have met in my African ministry are those who have nothing in this world. They taught me so much.
At the visit by the envoys, “God left [Hezekiah] to test him and to know everything that was in his heart” (2 Chr. 32:31). Obviously God knew all that was in Hezekiah’s heart, but He wanted Hezekiah to come to realize it too. We must often pray, “Create in me a pure heart, O God”, “Give me an undivided heart”, “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Ps. 51:10, 86:11, 139:23).
Facing Death At 54
Facing death should not be a problem for any believer because we know where and to whom we are going. Living with cancer for eight years has helped me to have my heart and eyes in heaven, while my hands and feet are still here on earth. Hezekiah’s reaction to being healed by God, even though he had been told he would die, is recorded three times (2 Ki. 20:1-11; 2 Chr. 32:24; Isa. 38:1-8).
Two additions found only in 2 Kings may indicate why God did this to and for Hezekiah. God calls Hezekiah “the leader of My people” and He says “I will defend this city for My sake and for the sake of My servant David” (2 Ki. 20:5-6). God is showing this older man that his 29-year long kingship is still only delegated leadership. God is the real leader of His people. He is reminding Hezekiah it is God’s own glory that is being worked out, a glory that He rightly will never share with anyone else. Later Isaiah prophesied this message to Israel (Isa. 47-48). Yes, Babylon will be destroyed and you, my people, will be delivered. Why? “For My own sake, for My own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield My glory to another” (Isa. 48:11).
Asking God For Signs
Having “wept bitterly” (Isa. 38:3) in apparent repentance over his pride (2 Chr. 32:26) and linked with shock at his ominously dark diagnosis, Hezekiah asks a sign from God to confirm he will live for an “extra” 15 years. The negotiation, seen best in 2 Kings 20:8-11, is also mentioned in 2 Chronicles 32:24 and Isaiah 38:2-8.
Hezekiah’s account of his own good works (2 Ki. 20:2-3) is not boasting but bringing before God King Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple (2 Chr. 6:16-17; 1 Ki. 9:1-9). Hezekiah knew that God would always remain true to His promise and reward those who were faithful to Himself.
Asking that the clock [sundial] would go backwards for a while was asking a lot. But God could alter His creation and He did (2 Ki. 20:8-11). Scripture records it in such a matter-of-fact way that we marvel. The sovereign Master of creation will do what He chooses (Isa. 46:9-10). We must submit our wills into His will, as our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to pray in His example, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). God gives doubting believers specific signs on some occasions (Gideon had three in Judges 6:17-22,36-40). At other times God’s grace is given to help quietly confident believers cope with adverse situations (Paul twice in Acts 23:11 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Does God change His mind between verse 1 and verses 4-6 of 2 Kings 20? I don’t think so. God simply shows us Hezekiah’s fallen humanity. The selfishness of 2 Kings 20:19 and Isaiah 39:8 left the people waiting for the real inaugurator [initiator] of God’s true kingdom, Jesus Christ. The first words He preached were “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Mt. 4:17).
Unique to Isaiah 38:9-20 is Hezekiah’s autobiographical account of his illness. He expresses his disappointment at imminent death (vv.10-14) and is glad to be able to live in praise of God (vv.15-20).
Take special notice of verse 19: “The living, the living – they praise You, as I am doing today; parents tell their children about Your faithfulness.” A father has a responsibility to lead his family into a personal experience with the living God. In modern times, in addition to speaking face to face with children while we live, we can leave written or recorded testimony for them. Then, even after we die, we can witness to future generations how great our God is.
By Colin Salter