Hezekiah of Judah

18 1-4 In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz began his rule over Judah. He was twenty-five years old when he became king and he ruled for twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. In God’s opinion he was a good king; he kept to the standards of his ancestor David. He got rid of the local fertility shrines, smashed the phallic stone monuments, and cut down the sex-and-religion Asherah groves. As a final stroke he pulverized the ancient bronze serpent that Moses had made; at that time the Israelites had taken up the practice of sacrificing to it—they had even dignified it with a name, Nehushtan (The Old Serpent).

5-6 Hezekiah put his whole trust in the God of Israel. There was no king quite like him, either before or after. He held fast to God—never loosened his grip—and obeyed to the letter everything God had commanded Moses. And God, for his part, held fast to him through all his adventures.

7-8 He revolted against the king of Assyria; he refused to serve him one more day. And he drove back the Philistines, whether in sentry outposts or fortress cities, all the way to Gaza and its borders.

9-11 In the fourth year of Hezekiah and the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Shalmaneser king of Assyria attacked Samaria. He threw a siege around it and after three years captured it. It was in the sixth year of Hezekiah and the ninth year of Hoshea that Samaria fell to Assyria. The king of Assyria took Israel into exile and relocated them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River, and in towns of the Medes.

12 All this happened because they wouldn’t listen to the voice of their God and treated his covenant with careless contempt. They refused either to listen or do a word of what Moses, the servant of God, commanded.

13-14 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the outlying fortress cities of Judah and captured them. King Hezekiah sent a message to the king of Assyria at his headquarters in Lachish: “I’ve done wrong; I admit it. Pull back your army; I’ll pay whatever tribute you set.”

14-16 The king of Assyria demanded tribute from Hezekiah king of Judah—eleven tons of silver and a ton of gold. Hezekiah turned over all the silver he could find in The Temple of God and in the palace treasuries. Hezekiah even took down the doors of The Temple of God and the doorposts that he had overlaid with gold and gave them to the king of Assyria.

17 So the king of Assyria sent his top three military chiefs (the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshakeh) from Lachish with a strong military force to King Hezekiah in Jerusalem. When they arrived at Jerusalem, they stopped at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool on the road to the laundry commons.

18 They called loudly for the king. Eliakim son of Hilkiah who was in charge of the palace, Shebna the royal secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the court historian went out to meet them.

19-22 The third officer, the Rabshakeh, was spokesman. He said, “Tell Hezekiah: A message from the Great King, the king of Assyria: You’re living in a world of make-believe, of pious fantasy. Do you think that mere words are any substitute for military strategy and troops? Now that you’ve revolted against me, who can you expect to help you? You thought Egypt would, but Egypt’s nothing but a paper tiger—one puff of wind and she collapses; Pharaoh king of Egypt is nothing but bluff and bluster. Or are you going to tell me, ‘We rely on God’? But Hezekiah has just eliminated most of the people’s access to God by getting rid of all the local God-shrines, ordering everyone in Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You must worship at the Jerusalem altar only.’

23-24 “So be reasonable. Make a deal with my master, the king of Assyria. I’ll give you two thousand horses if you think you can provide riders for them. You can’t do it? Well, then, how do you think you’re going to turn back even one raw buck private from my master’s troops? How long are you going to hold on to that figment of your imagination, these hoped-for Egyptian chariots and horses?

25 “Do you think I’ve come up here to destroy this country without the express approval of God? The fact is that God expressly ordered me, ‘Attack and destroy this country!’”

26 Eliakim son of Hilkiah and Shebna and Joah said to the Rabshakeh, “Please, speak to us in the Aramaic language. We understand Aramaic. Don’t speak in Hebrew—everyone crowded on the city wall can hear you.”

27 But the Rabshakeh said, “We weren’t sent with a private message to your master and you; this is public—a message to everyone within earshot. After all, they’re involved in this as well as you; if you don’t come to terms, they’ll be eating their own turds and drinking their own pee right along with you.”

28-32 Then he stepped forward and spoke in Hebrew loud enough for everyone to hear, “Listen carefully to the words of The Great King, the king of Assyria: Don’t let Hezekiah fool you; he can’t save you. And don’t let Hezekiah give you that line about trusting in God, telling you, ‘God will save us—this city will never be abandoned to the king of Assyria.’ Don’t listen to Hezekiah—he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Listen to the king of Assyria—deal with me and live the good life; I’ll guarantee everyone your own plot of ground—a garden and a well! I’ll take you to a land sweeter by far than this one, a land of grain and wine, bread and vineyards, olive orchards and honey. You only live once—so live, really live!

32-35 “No. Don’t listen to Hezekiah. Don’t listen to his lies, telling you ‘God will save us.’ Has there ever been a god anywhere who delivered anyone from the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? And Samaria—did their gods save them? Can you name a god who saved anyone anywhere from me, the king of Assyria? So what makes you think that God can save Jerusalem from me?”

36 The people were silent. No one spoke a word for the king had ordered, “Don’t anyone say a word—not one word!”

37 Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah, the palace administrator, and Shebna the royal secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the court historian went back to Hezekiah. They had ripped their robes in despair; they reported to Hezekiah the speech of the Rabshakeh.

19 1-3 When Hezekiah heard it all, he too ripped his robes apart and dressed himself in rough burlap. Then he went into The Temple of God. He sent Eliakim, who was in charge of the palace, Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, all of them dressed in rough burlap, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. They said to him, “A message from Hezekiah: ‘This is a black day, a terrible day—doomsday!

    Babies poised to be born,
    No strength to birth them.

“‘Maybe God, your God, has been listening to the blasphemous speech of the Rabshakeh who was sent by the king of Assyria, his master, to humiliate the living God; maybe God, your God, won’t let him get by with such talk; and you, maybe you will lift up prayers for what’s left of these people.’”

That’s the message King Hezekiah’s servants delivered to Isaiah.

6-7 Isaiah answered them, “Tell your master, ‘God’s word: Don’t be at all concerned about what you’ve heard from the king of Assyria’s bootlicking errand boys—these outrageous blasphemies. Here’s what I’m going to do: Afflict him with self-doubt. He’s going to hear a rumor and, frightened for his life, retreat to his own country. Once there, I’ll see to it that he gets killed.’”

8-13 The Rabshakeh left and found that the king of Assyria had pulled up stakes from Lachish and was now fighting against Libnah. Then Sennacherib heard that Tirhakah king of Cush was on his way to fight against him. So he sent another envoy with orders to deliver this message to Hezekiah king of Judah: “Don’t let that god that you think so much of keep stringing you along with the line, ‘Jerusalem will never fall to the king of Assyria.’ That’s a barefaced lie. You know the track record of the kings of Assyria—country after country laid waste, devastated. And what makes you think you’ll be an exception? Take a good look at these wasted nations, destroyed by my ancestors; did their gods do them any good? Look at Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, the people of Eden at Tel Assar. Ruins. And what’s left of the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of Sepharvaim, of Hena, of Ivvah? Bones.”

14-15 Hezekiah took the letter from the envoy and read it. He went to The Temple of God and spread it out before God. And Hezekiah prayed—oh, how he prayed!

God, God of Israel, seated
    in majesty on the cherubim-throne.
You are the one and only God,
    sovereign over all kingdoms on earth,
Maker of heaven,
    maker of earth.
16 Open your ears, God, and listen,
    open your eyes and look.
Look at this letter Sennacherib has sent,
    a brazen insult to the living God!
17 The facts are true, O God: The kings of Assyria
    have laid waste countries and kingdoms.
18 Huge bonfires they made of their gods, their
    no-gods hand-made from wood and stone.
19 But now O God, our God,
    save us from raw Assyrian power;
Make all the kingdoms on earth know
    that you are God, the one and only God.

20-21 It wasn’t long before Isaiah son of Amoz sent word to Hezekiah:

God’s word: You’ve prayed to me regarding Sennacherib king of Assyria; I’ve heard your prayer. This is my response to him:

The Virgin Daughter of Zion
    holds you in utter contempt;
Daughter Jerusalem
    thinks you’re nothing but scum.
22 Who do you think it is you’ve insulted?
    Who do you think you’ve been bad-mouthing?
Before whom do you suppose you’ve been strutting?
    The Holy One of Israel, that’s who!
23 You dispatched your errand boys
    to humiliate the Master.
You bragged, “With my army of chariots
    I’ve climbed the highest mountains,
    snow-peaked alpine Lebanon mountains!
I’ve cut down its giant cedars,
    chopped down its prize pine trees.
I’ve traveled the world,
    visited the finest forest retreats.
24 I’ve dug wells in faraway places
    and drunk their exotic waters;
I’ve waded and splashed barefoot
    in the rivers of Egypt.”

25 Did it never occur to you
    that I’m behind all this?
Long, long ago I drew up the plans,
    and now I’ve gone into action,
Using you as a doomsday weapon,
    reducing proud cities to piles of rubble,
26 Leaving their people dispirited,
    slumped shoulders, limp souls.
Useless as weeds, fragile as grass,
    insubstantial as wind-blown chaff.
27 I know when you sit down, when you come
    and when you go;
And, yes, I’ve marked every one
    of your temper tantrums against me.
28 It’s because of your temper,
    your blasphemous foul temper,
That I’m putting my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth
And turning you back
    to where you came from.

29 And this, Hezekiah, will be for you the confirming sign:

This year you’ll eat the gleanings, next year
    whatever you can beg, borrow, or steal;
But the third year you’ll sow and harvest,
    plant vineyards and eat grapes.
30 A remnant of the family of Judah yet again
    will sink down roots and raise up fruit.
31 The remnant will come from Jerusalem,
    the survivors from Mount Zion.
The Zeal of God
    will make it happen.

32 To sum up, this is what God says regarding the king of Assyria:

He won’t enter this city,
    nor shoot so much as a single arrow there;
Won’t brandish a shield,
    won’t even begin to set siege;
33 He’ll go home by the same road he came;
    he won’t enter this city. God’s word!
34 I’ll shield this city, I’ll save this city,
    for my sake and for David’s sake.

35 And it so happened that that very night an angel of God came and massacred 185,000 Assyrians. When the people of Jerusalem got up next morning, there it was—a whole camp of corpses!

36-37 Sennacherib king of Assyria got out of there fast, headed straight home for Nineveh, and stayed put. One day when he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer murdered him and then escaped to the land of Ararat. His son Esarhaddon became the next king.

20 Some time later Hezekiah became deathly sick. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz paid him a visit and said, “Put your affairs in order; you’re about to die—you haven’t long to live.”

2-3 Hezekiah turned from Isaiah and faced God, praying:

    Remember, O God, who I am, what I’ve done!
    I’ve lived an honest life before you,
    My heart’s been true and steady,
    I’ve lived to please you; lived for your approval.

And then the tears flowed. Hezekiah wept.

4-6 Isaiah, leaving, was not halfway across the courtyard when the word of God stopped him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, prince of my people, ‘God’s word, Hezekiah! From the God of your ancestor David: I’ve listened to your prayer and I’ve observed your tears. I’m going to heal you. In three days you will walk on your own legs into The Temple of God. I’ve just added fifteen years to your life; I’m saving you from the king of Assyria, and I’m covering this city with my shield—for my sake and my servant David’s sake.’”

Isaiah then said, “Prepare a plaster of figs.”

They prepared the plaster, applied it to the boil, and Hezekiah was on his way to recovery.

Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “How do I know whether this is of God and not just the fig plaster? What confirming sign is there that God is healing me and that in three days I’ll walk into The Temple of God on my own legs?”

“This will be your sign from God,” said Isaiah, “that God is doing what he said he’d do: Do you want the shadow to advance ten degrees on the sundial or go back ten degrees? You choose.”

10 Hezekiah said, “It would be easy to make the sun’s shadow advance ten degrees. Make it go back ten degrees.”

11 So Isaiah called out in prayer to God, and the shadow went back ten degrees on Ahaz’s sundial.

12-13 Shortly after this, Merodach-Baladan, the son of Baladan king of Babylon, having heard that the king was sick, sent a get-well card and a gift to Hezekiah. Hezekiah was pleased and showed the messengers around the place—silver, gold, spices, aromatic oils, his stockpile of weapons—a guided tour of all his prized possessions. There wasn’t a thing in his palace or kingdom that Hezekiah didn’t show them.

14 And then Isaiah the prophet showed up: “And just what were these men doing here? Where did they come from and why?”

Hezekiah said, “They came from far away—from Babylon.”

15 “And what did they see in your palace?”

“Everything,” said Hezekiah. “There isn’t anything I didn’t show them—I gave them the grand tour.”

16-18 Then Isaiah spoke to Hezekiah, “Listen to what God has to say about this: The day is coming when everything you own and everything your ancestors have passed down to you, right down to the last cup and saucer, will be cleaned out of here—plundered and packed off to Babylon. God’s word! Worse yet, your sons, the progeny of sons you’ve begotten, will end up as eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

19 Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “If God says it, it must be good.” But he was thinking to himself, “It won’t happen during my lifetime—I’ll enjoy peace and security as long as I live.”

20-21 The rest of the life and times of Hezekiah, along with his projects, especially the way he engineered the Upper Pool and brought water into the city, are written in The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah. Hezekiah died and was buried with his ancestors. His son Manasseh became the next king.

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