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August 22, 2010

The Greatness of Hezekiah

Hezekiah “Yahweh has strengthened”

Hezekiah is one of the greatest of the kings of Judah, reigning from circa 715 to circa 686 BC. Inspired accounts are found in 2Kings 18–20 and 2Chronicles 29–32 and Isaiah 36–39. There is found also history of Hezekiah from the non-inspired source of Jesus Sirach. In Sirach 48:17-25, there is a summary of the good and wise deeds of Hezekiah.

From his father Ahaz (2Chronicles 28:16-25), Hezekiah inherited not only a disorganized realm but the burden of Assyrian dominance and the constant peril of greater encroachments (Isaiah 7:20; 8:7ff). Spiritually, the nation was in serious trouble — closed-eyed, dull-eared, fat-hearted (Isaiah 6:10). The realm was at the spiritual nadir from which prophets like Isaiah and Micah were working to bring about the resurgence of a true Hebrew conscience and faith. Their task was a hard one, but these prophets of God, along with the king, trusted in God.

Hezekiah was a great religious reformer. Chronicles gives the fullest account of these reforms (2Chronicles 29-31). Hezekiah began with the most pressing constructive need, the opening and cleansing of the Temple, which his father Ahaz had left closed and desecrated (2Chronicles 28:24), and went on to the reorganization of the worship. In connection with this work he appointed a Passover observance (2Chronicles 30:26); he designed a religious reunion of the devout-minded in all Israel, open not only to Jerusalem and Judah, but to all who would accept his invitation from Samaria, Galilee, and beyond the Jordan (2Chronicles 30:5-12,18). The immediate result was a vigorous popular movement against the idolatrous high places of the land.

Just as Hezekiah was great in spiritual reforms, he was great as a political leader. He began a quiet preparation for national emergencies. The early years of his reign were notable, not only for mild and just administration throughout his realm, but for measures looking to the fortifying and defense of the capital. His work included repairing and extending the walls and of strengthening the Millo (citadel). He also built another broad outer wall and covered the springs of water outside the city of Jerusalem and redirected them under the walls into the city so as to keep enemies from using the water while keeping Jerusalem supplied (2Chronicles 32:4-5). The people listened and acted when he spoke: “‘Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.’ And the people relied on the words of Hezekiah king of Judah” (2Chronicles 32:7-8).

Hezekiah was great in holding against enemies. He took opportunity to stand against Assyrian domination. He used the actions of leaders from other nations, like Tirhakah of Egypt (Cush) and Merodach-baladan of Babylon to his advantage. Later Sennacherib, king of Assyria, who the year before had reconquered Babylon and expelled Merodach-baladan, was free to invade his rebellious provinces in the West. It was a vigorous and sweeping campaign, which, beginning with Sidon and advancing down through the coast lands, he subdued the Philistine cities and according to his inscription, took 46 walled towns belonging to Judah with their spoil and deported over 200,000 of their inhabitants. This left Jerusalem a blockaded city — in fact he says of Hezekiah, “Himself I shut up like a bird in a cage in Jerusalem his royal city” — (Isaiah 1:7-9; Isaiah 6:11ff). Hezekiah besought the counsel of God through Isaiah, who said to refuse the demand, and told that Sennacherib would return to his own land and be killed. Truly, the Lord killed 185,000 of the Assyrians and the king returned to his land where he was killed by two of his own sons.

Hezekiah was great in literature and psalmody. In Hezekiah’s age, Israel reached its literary prime. He was responsible for the compilation of the Solomonic Proverbs (Proverbs 25:1). This certainly indicates the value attached to the accumulations of the Wisdom literature. He was also zealous for the organization and enrichment of the temple-worship (Isaiah 38:20) and to its body of sacred song. He was, in all the nation’s history, the greatest single agency in compiling and adapting the older Psalms, and in the composition of new ones (2Chronicles 29:30). To Hezekiah himself is attributed one “writing” which is a psalm found in Isaiah 38. An interesting note is that the fifteen Songs of the Ascent (Psalms 120-134) are compiled as a memorial of Hezekiah’s fifteen added years, when as a sign the shadow went backward on the stairway of Ahaz (2Kings 20:8-11).

Hezekiah was great even in his death. Hezekiah, after having been granted fifteen extra years of life by God, finished his course upon this earth. He was buried in the “chiefest of the sepulchres of the sons of David” (2Chronicles 32:27-33). He had “after him none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him” (2Kings 18:5).

What makes men great?

Before looking at what made Hezekiah great, we need to understand that the principles for greatness would surely apply to us as well. Likewise, we should understand that there are things which run counter to greatness — for Hezekiah and ourselves. We certainly know what didn’t make Hezekiah great. What didn’t contribute to his greatness?

His parents surely were of no help. His father, Ahaz, was noted for his exceeding unrighteousness: “and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David had done. But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and even made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had driven out from before the sons of Israel” (2Kings 16:2-3).

He is not known to be great because of his son, Mannaseh, who followed him on the throne. Mannaseh reverted to the ways of his grandfather, Ahaz: “He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD dispossessed before the sons of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed” (2Kings 21:2-3).

Hezekiah’s age wasn’t a factor in his developing greatness. When he began as co-regent with his father, he was only 11 years old. When he took the throne on his own he was only 25 years of age (2Kings 18:2).

So, what led to his greatness? What leads to ours?

Hezekiah was great because he did right in the sight of the Lord (2Kings 18:3). He was loyal and uncompromising while serving God and directing and influencing others (2King 18:4; 2Chronicles 29:311). He was a man of action (2Chronicles 29:3,36) who trusted the Lord (2Kings 18:5; Proverbs 3:5). He was a man of prayer (2Kings 19:14,15; 20:1-3) who understood that God controls everything; (Isaiah 37:26). He clung to the Lord and fully kept His commandments (2Kings 18:6; Ecclesiastes 12:13; Matthew 19:17; John 14:15).

How great are we?

— S. Scott Richardson Sr.

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