THE GOOD KING HEZEKIAH
2 Kings 18:1 to 20:21
also 2 Chronicles 29:1 to 32:33 and Isaiah 36:1 to 38:22
Hezekiah, was the best of the kings. He listened to the words of the prophet Isaiah, and obeyed the commands of the Lord. In the first month of his reign, when he was a young man, he called together the priests and the Levites, who had the charge of the house of the Lord, and he said to them:
"My sons, give yourselves once more to the service of the Lord, and be holy, as God commands you. Now open the doors of the house of the Lord, which have been shut for these many years; and take out of the house all the idols that have been placed in it; and make the place clean, and pure from all evil things. Because the people have turned away from the Lord, he has been angry with us, and has left us to our enemies; now let us go back to the Lord, and promise again to serve him. God has chosen you, my sons, to lead in his worship; do not neglect the work that the Lord has given you to do."
Then the Temple was opened as of old; the idols were taken away; the altar was made holy to the Lord, and the daily offering was laid upon it; the lamps were lighted in the holy place; the priest stood before the golden altar offering incense; the Levites in their robes sang the psalms of David, while the silver trumpets made music; and the people came up to worship in the Temple as they had not come in many years.
You remember that the great Feast of the Passover kept in mind how the children of Israel had come out of Egypt. For a long time the people had ceased to keep this feast, both in Judah and in Israel. King Hezekiah sent commands through all Judah for the people to come up to Jerusalem, and to worship the Lord in this feast. He also sent men through the land of Israel, the Ten Tribes, to ask the men of Israel also to come up with their brothers of Judah to Jerusalem, and to keep the feast. At that time Hoshea, the last king of Israel, was on the throne, the land was overrun by the Assyrians, and the kingdom was very weak, and nearing its end. Most of the people in Israel were worshippers of idols, and had forgotten God's law. They laughed at Hezekiah's messengers, and would not come to the feast. But in many places in Israel there were some who had listened to the prophets of the Lord, and these came up to worship with the men of Judah. For each family they roasted a lamb, and with it ate the unleavened bread made without yeast, and they praised the Lord who had led their fathers out of Egypt to their own land.
After the feast, when the people had given themselves once more to the service of God, King Hezekiah began to destroy the idols that were everywhere in Judah. He sent men to break down the images, to tear in pieces the altars to the false gods, and to cut down the trees under which the altars stood. You remember that Moses made a serpent of brass in the wilderness. This image had been brought to Jerusalem, and was still kept there in the days of Hezekiah. The people were worshipping it as an idol; and were burning incense before it. Hezekiah said, "It is nothing but a piece of brass," and he commanded that it should be broken up. Everywhere he called upon his people to turn from the idols, to destroy them, and to worship the Lord God.
When Hezekiah became king, the kingdoms of Israel, and Syria, and Judah, with all the lands near them, were under the power of the great kingdom of the Assyrians. Each land had its own king, but he ruled under the king of Assyria; and every year a heavy tax was laid upon the people, to be paid to the Assyrians. After a few years, Hezekiah thought that he was strong enough to set his kingdom free from the Assyrian rule. He refused to pay the tax any longer, and gathered an army, and built the walls of Jerusalem higher, and made ready for a war with the Assyrians. But Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, came into the land of Judah with a great army, and took all the cities in the west of Judah, and threatened to take Jerusalem also. Then Hezekiah saw that he had made a mistake. He was not able to fight the Assyrians, the most powerful of all the nations in that part of the world. He sent word to the king of Assyria, saying:
"I will no more resist your rule; forgive me for the past, and I will pay whatever you ask."
Then the king of Assyria laid upon Hezekiah and his people a tax heavier than before. To obtain the money, Hezekiah took all the gold and silver in the temple, all that was in his own palace, and all that he could find among the people, and sent it to the Assyrians. But even then the king of Assyria was not satisfied. He sent his princes to Jerusalem with this message:
"We are going to destroy this city, and to take you away into another land, a land far away; as we have taken the people of Israel away, and as we have carried captive other peoples. The gods of other nations have not been able to save those who trusted in them against us, and your God will not be able to save you. Now give yourselves up to the great king of Assyria, and go to the land where he will send you."
When King Hezekiah heard this, he was filled with fear. He took the letter into the house of the Lord, and spread it out before the altar, and called upon the Lord to help him and to save his people. Then he sent his princes to the prophet Isaiah, to ask him to give them some word from the Lord. And Isaiah said:
"Thus saith the Lord, 'The king of Assyria shall not come to this city, nor shall he shoot an arrow against it. But he shall go back to his own land by the same way that he came. And I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land. For I will defend this city, and will save it for my own sake and for my servant David's sake.' "
Just at that time, Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, heard that a great army was marching against him from another land. He turned away from the land of Judah, and went to meet these new enemies. And the Lord sent upon the army of the Assyrians a sudden and terrible plague, so that in one night nearly two hundred thousand of them died in their camp. Then King Sennacherib hastened back to his own land, and never again came into the land of Judah; nor did he again send an army there. And years after this, while he was worshipping his idol-god in his temple at Nineveh, his chief city, two of his sons came upon him, and slew him with the sword. They escaped into a distant land, and Esar-haddon, another of his sons, became king over the lands ruled by the Assyrians. Thus did God save his city and his people from their enemies, because they looked to him for help. At the time while the Assyrians were in the land, and the kingdom was in great danger, King Hezekiah was suddenly stricken with a deadly disease. It was a tumor or a cancer, which no physician could cure; and the prophet Isaiah said to him:
"Thus saith the Lord, 'Set your house in order, and prepare to leave your kingdom, for you shall die, and not live.' "
But King Hezekiah felt that in a time of such trouble to the land he could not be spared, especially as at that time he had no son who could take charge of the kingdom. Then Hezekiah upon his bed prayed to the Lord that he might live; and he said:
"O Lord, I beseech thee, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which was good in thy sight. Let me live and not die, O Lord!"
The Lord heard Hezekiah's prayer, and before Isaiah had reached the middle of the city, on his way home, the Lord said to him, "Turn again, and say to Hezekiah the prince of my people, 'Thus saith the Lord, I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; I will heal you; and in three days you shall go up to the house of the Lord. I will add to your life fifteen years, and I will save this city from the king of Assyria.' "
Then Isaiah the prophet came again to Hezekiah, and spoke to him the word of the Lord; and he said, also, "Lay on the tumor a plaster made of figs, and he shall be cured."
When Hezekiah heard the words of Isaiah, he said, "What sign will the Lord give, to show that he will cure me, and that I shall again go up to the house of the Lord?"
And Isaiah said, "The Lord will give you a sign, and you shall choose it yourself. Shall the shadow on the dial go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?" Near the palace was standing a sun-dial, by which the time of the day was shown, for there were no clocks in those years. And Hezekiah said, "It is easy for the shadow to go forward ten degrees. Let it go back ten degrees."
Then Isaiah the prophet called upon the Lord, and the Lord heard him; and caused the shadow to go backward on the sun-dial ten degrees. And within three days Hezekiah was well, and went to worship in the house of the Lord. After this Hezekiah lived fifteen years in honor. When he died all the land mourned for him as the best of the kings.