Lesson 97:

2 Kings 18:1 In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign

Hezekiah began to rule when he was twenty-five years old. He led the southern kingdom of Judah from around 715 to 686 BC, twenty-nine years in all. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kings 18:3) by getting rid of idolatry and reestablishing the worship of God. Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him (2 Kings 18:5).

Hezekiah’s greatest strength was simple trust in God. It was severely tested, but it served him well throughout his life. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6), says Proverbs. 

2 Kings 18:10 Samaria was captured in Hezekiah’s sixth year, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel

This event was catastrophic, and probably reinforced Hezekiah’s reliance on God. Samaria was the capital city of Israel, and its capture by the Assyrians in 722 BC was the end of the northern kingdom. 

The northern kingdom of Israel had split from the southern kingdom of Judah in 931 BC. Over the next two hundred years or so, the northern kingdom of Israel had twenty kings, none of them good. So God allowed them to be destroyed by the Assyrians, just as Moses foretold. The Lord will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your ancestors. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone (Deuteronomy 28:36).

This proved to Hezekiah that God does not make idle threats. If the southern kingdom of Judah obeyed God, they would enjoy his blessing. If not, they would be exiled too. In fact, now that the northern kingdom was destroyed, there was no geographical buffer between Assyria and Judah. Hezekiah needed God’s protection more than ever.

2 Kings 18:13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them

In spite of Hezekiah’s obedience to God, the king of Assyria invaded Judah and captured many towns. Hezekiah gave him a fortune to withdraw, but it was not enough. The king of Assyria wanted to capture Jerusalem too. So Hezekiah prayed: Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God (2 Kings 19:19).

Isaiah the prophet was aware of Hezekiah’s prayer, and sent a reply. [T]his is what the Lord says concerning the king of Assyria: He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the Lord (2 Kings 19:33-34). This was a wonderful promise that would quickly come to pass.

2 Kings 19:35-36 That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. 

This event is so important that the Bible records it three separate times (2 Chronicles 32:20-21, Isaiah 37:36). It was also recorded by the Greek historian Herodotus (fifth century BC), who attributed it to an outbreak of the bubonic plague. We even have corroboration from the king of Assyria himself.

The Sennacherib prism is on display at The British Museum in London. While it does not mention the loss of soldiers, it claims that Sennacherib captured forty-six towns in Judah, took a fortune in silver and gold, and shut up Hezekiah like a caged bird. This is consistent with the biblical account, including the fact that Sennacherib did not conquer Jerusalem.

2 Kings 19:37 One day, while [Sennacherib] was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword.

The man who put so many people to the sword, died by the sword of his sons. Pagan gods are of little help at the time of death, and Nisrok was no exception. But Jesus gives eternal life to all who believe in him. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die (John 11:25-26), he said. The believer’s death is not a period, but a comma.

2 Kings 20:1 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.

Hezekiah was still a young man and did not want to die, so he prayed earnestly and wept bitterly (2 Kings 20:3). God spoke to the prophet Isaiah again saying, Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you (2 Kings 20:5).

This is very interesting because we do not expect God to change his mind. God is not human . . . that he should change his mind (Numbers 23:19), said Balaam. And, all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16), wrote David. Likewise, [we are] predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:11), wrote Paul. 

These verses might suggest that human choice and behavior have little influence with God, since everything has been predetermined. But other verses should also be considered. If I tell a righteous person that they will surely live, but then they trust in their righteousness and do evil, none of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered; they will die for the evil they have done. And if I say to a wicked person, You will surely die, but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right. . . that person will surely live (Ezekiel 33:13-15), said God.

Nineveh’s response to the preaching of Jonah is a good example. Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown (Jonah 3:4), he said. But the city of Nineveh turned from their sin, and called on God. When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened (Jonah 3:10), wrote Jonah.

It is difficult to reconcile the unchanging plan of God with his willingness to change based on our response to him. But this only shows that we are dealing with a personal God, not impersonal fate. God and his plan are both unchanging, but he changes his plans based on our response to him. Since this is beyond our comprehension, we are tempted to accept one set of verses against the other. It is better to hold both together, and admit there are some things we will not understand until the age to come.

2 Kings 20:7 Then Isaiah said, Prepare a poultice of figs. They did so and applied it to the boil, and he recovered.

God told Isaiah that King Hezekiah would be healed (1 Kings 20:5), so we might expect a miracle. But Isaiah called for some figs to be applied to the boil, and Hezekiah recovered within a few days (2 Kings 20:8). We do not have to choose between God and other remedies, since God often uses other remedies to heal. There is nothing inconsistent about taking medicine and asking God to heal. 

Reflection and Review
What extra-biblical records confirm Assyria’s withdraw from Jerusalem?
If Hezekiah was so godly, why was he tested so severely?
Why is God so hard to understand?