2 Kings 20:12–21 (NIV)✞: Envoys From Babylon
We finish the life of Hezekiah (king of Judah) in this passage with the end of his reign. So far we’ve seen:
- 18:1–16: The beginning of his reign, including a mistake (which God has used for His purposes)
- 18:17–37: The Assyrians threaten to conquer Judah and the leaders of Judah get very worried about it
- 19:1–19: Isaiah prophecies Judah’s deliverance and Hezekiah utters a prayer in thanks to God
- 19:20–37: Isaiah delivers a longer prophecy
- 20:1–20: A look back in time to tell of Hezekiah’s illness and God’s promise of delivery
I mentioned that this passage covers the end of Hezekiah’s reign, but not immediately; the bulk of the passage takes place at the same time as his illness, which was at least fifteen years prior. Upon hearing about Hezekiah’s illness the king of Babylon sends him envoys with a gift.
At this time in history I don’t know how big of a power Babylon is; Assyria is the nation that is currently dominating the world and Babylon is going to be next, but is Babylon already becoming a major power at this point? Or not yet? It seems to me like the king of Babylon might be looking to secure an ally in Judah, but I don’t know if that’s because he’s on the verge of taking on the Assyrians or he’s just showing a lot of foresight.
I also read into this passage that, even though he’s looking for an ally, he’s not expecting Judah to be a real strong one – or am I reading too much into the fact that he didn’t come himself and just sent envoys?
Regardless, Hezekiah must be feeling better by this point because he gives the Babylonian envoys a tour. He shows them all of the riches of the nation of Judah; as it says in verse 13✞, “There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.”
The prophet Isaiah comes to visit Hezekiah after their visit, however:
14 Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, “What did those men say, and where did they come from?”
“From a distant land,” Hezekiah replied. “They came from Babylon.”
15 The prophet asked, “What did they see in your palace?”
“They saw everything in my palace,” Hezekiah said. “There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.”
16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD: 17 The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD. 18 And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
Now, given what we know of Hezekiah—after I went on and on about what a righteous king he was back in 18:1–16—I’d expect that he’d show a humble, contrite response. Maybe regret his actions, and/or pray to God for forgiveness. He decides, however, to go a different route:
“The word of the LORD you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?”
The last couple of verses of the passage skip back to the “normal timeline” and tell of the end of Hezekiah’s reign and his son Manasseh becoming king. An engineering project of Hezekiah’s is also mentioned, in which he created some kind of pool and tunnel by which to bring water into Jerusalem. The ESV Study Bible notes mention how strategic this project would have been, ensuring that the city inhabitants would have water even during a siege.
If I’m thinking about this passage from a spiritual standpoint, of course my focus is going to be on verse 19✞. Hezekiah shrugging off this prophecy seems callous! “As long as it doesn’t impact me, who cares?”
Is this a temporary lapse from an otherwise faithful king? Or a deep character flaw – in an otherwise faithful king? Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that he was faithful to God, more than any other king in Judah’s history. But being more faithful than any other king in Judah’s history still makes Hezekiah far from perfect! We shouldn’t look at Hezekiah’s life and the praise he received and see hope for mankind; “if only more leaders could be like Hezekiah we’d be better off!” Instead we should look at his life and the praise he received and see a need for the Saviour Jesus; “even at our very best, we’re still far short of what God requires of us.”
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