2 Kings 18:1–16 (NIV)✞: Hezekiah King of Judah
The book of Kings will spend a good amount of time on Hezekiah relative to other kings that were covered, starting in this passage. As usual@ with the beginning of a king’s reign, there is a summary:
1 In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. 2 He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. 3 He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done. 4 He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)
5 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. 6 He held fast to the LORD and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses. 7 And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. …
Some recent passages have raised the question of being faithful to the LORD vs. being a good king, which are not necessarily one and the same; there have been kings who were faithful but bad kings and vice versa. One example was Amaziah in 14:1-22 who was faithful to the LORD but also made a terrible mistake, thinking that his faithfulness would cause God to back him up if he went against Israel, which He did not. Hezekiah makes a similar decision here—he decides to stop serving the Assyrians even though they’re a much bigger foe than Israel was to Amaziah—though the consequences to him aren’t as dire as they had been for Amaziah.
The king of Assyria eventually attacks Judah (the way I’m reading the passage it seems like it took a while for them to decide to do so), and captures all of Judah’s fortified cities. I don’t know enough about the history or politics of the world at the time but I believe this would leave Judah defenceless; the “fortified cities,” I’m assuming, would be the ones surrounding the nation, intended to defend Judah from foes before foreign armies would overrun the land. If my pile of assumptions are correct it seems that the king of Assyria might have been lenient with Judah, deciding to leave them as a vassal state and accept tribute rather than wiping them out as was done with Israel, because once they’d captured the fortified cities what was to stop them from going further?
Hezekiah admits to the king of Assyria that he has done wrong and agrees to pay whatever the Assyrians demand, which turns out to be so much silver and gold that Hezekiah not only cleans out the treasuries of the Temple and the palace (as numerous kings have done before him), he even has to strip off the gold that had been overlaid on the Temple doors!
This is not the end of this saga, however. We’ll be reading more about Judah’s dealings with Assyria in the coming passages. (The ESV Study Bible notes call Hezekiah’s bargaining, “a disappointing prologue to what will eventually turn out to be his finest hour,” though I’m not sure I’d be that harsh with him, as he’s facing off against the strongest nation in the known world, even with the help of the LORD…)
The first thing I wonder, every time I read about Hezekiah’s reign, is why he’s not better remembered! According to the author(s) of Kings there was never a more righteous king, before or after him. That means the author(s) consider Hezekiah to be more faithful to the LORD than King David was. In fact, one of the repeating themes throughout the book of kings is that even the faithful kings haven’t been able to wipe out the “high places,” yet Hezekiah is able to do so! As noted in the ESV Study Bible notes:
2 Kings 18:4 He removed the high places. This is a significant accomplishment because even the most righteous of Judean kings prior to Hezekiah in 1–2 Kings failed to do this (e.g., 1 Kings 3:2; 15:14; 22:43). Hezekiah also destroys the pillars and the Asherah (see notes on 1 Kings 14:15; 14:23), perhaps a particular Asherah that Hezekiah’s father Ahaz placed in the Jerusalem temple (as Manasseh will later do, 2 Kings 21:3; 23:12). Hezekiah takes further action against the bronze serpent named Nehushtan, which Moses had made in the wilderness (Num. 21:4–9) and which had recently itself become an object of worship (no doubt because of the close association of serpents with the goddess Asherah). At the site of Beersheba, archaeologists discovered a horned altar. The altar, from the late eighth century B.C., was built of hewn stones and had a serpent carved into one of its blocks. Obviously, this altar was used at the site in an aberrant cultic worship. It was probably destroyed during King Hezekiah’s religious reforms.
ESV Study Bible
But how often is Hezekiah’s name mentioned? I have heard the odd mention of him in Christian books or sermons, but he seems to be a person that is only known by people who make a point of studying the Old Testament, whereas the average layperson Christian might not even know who he is.
Even me: I have this reaction every time I read about Hezekiah in Kings/Chronicles, “Oh yeah, Hezekiah – why don’t we remember him more?” and then I’ll get a few more chapters into my reading and his name will already be leaking from my memory1. A month from when I wrote this post, if you were to ask me who was the most righteous king in the Old Testament I would remember that the Bible calls out a king in Judah for that honour but I wouldn’t remember his name out of the sea of kings’ names that have been presented in Kings.
Aside from that, I’d urge those with a good study Bible to read through their notes on this passage; the ESV Study Bible gives some good context on the politics of this situation, the various battles that happened, and even includes a map of the Assyrians’ progress through Judah. I’m always a fan of a good map when reading the Bible!
- Actually, my memory is so bad that what usually happens is I start reading the book of Kings and get to Joash and start wracking my brains; “is this the really righteous one?” And then I get here to Hezekiah and think, “Ah, no, this is the one!” ↩