After David, Hezekiah was perhaps the greatest king that Judah ever had. He was a good king and a steadfast follower of The Lord. He did what none of his predecessors had done, he removed the idols and the high places. He made Jerusalem as it should have been. He eliminated anything that could make the people depend on anything other than The One True Living God. (This story is also related in Isaiah chapters 36 and 37) Verses 1-8 read,
“In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. 2 He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. 3 And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done. 4 He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). 5 He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. 6 For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. 7 And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him. 8 He struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.”
He did not tolerate idolatry. He did not tolerate other kings oppressing or threatening Judah. Even something that had been apparently good and for The Lord, the bronze serpent had become an object of idolatry. People worshipped it for saving Israel in the wilderness. It was not the Nehushtan that had saved Israel, but The LORD.
During his reign, Israel’s king Hoshea was handing Israel to Assyria. Israel was besieged, captured, and scattered. Judah was all that was left. Verses 9-12 describe it.
“In the fourth year of King Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria and besieged it, 10 and at the end of three years he took it. In the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken. 11 The king of Assyria carried the Israelites away to Assyria and put them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, 12 because they did not obey the voice of the Lord their God but transgressed his covenant, even all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded. They neither listened nor obeyed.”
Hoshea and Israel refused to obey The Lord, they depended on a myriad of handmade gods and rituals, they sacrificed their own children and cowered before the Assyrian king. But Hezekiah depended only on The Lord. He refused to bow before Assyria. Hezekiah steadfastly followed the Lord. The siege of Israel meant that food was scarce. There was war and oppression surrounding Judah but Hezekiah still depended on The Lord. Verses 13-16 in The Message read,
“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.”
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.”
Hezekiah, steadfast and faithful as he was had a moment of doubt, Assyria had attacked Judah, he gave in and paid tribute to Assyria. He turned to the money of the Temple instead of the riches of The Lord. In doing so, he weakened and impoverished Jerusalem. Hezekiah’s reliance on himself and the gold of the Temple did not appease Assyria, it made the king bolder and more brazen. Verses 17-25 in The Message continue the narrative.
“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!’”
Rabshakeh audaciously lied to the king’s representative, Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah. He ridiculed them and scorned The Lord. He must have thought them stupid to believe that a god could save them. No gods had saved any of the other places Assyria had conquered, including Israel, who purported to worship the same god that Judah professed. But Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah would not let Rabshakeh shake their faith and they did not want the people surrounding them to be frightened or fall for the lies he was telling them. Verses 26-35 read,
“Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah, and Joah, said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 27 But the Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and to drink their own urine?”
28 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of my hand. 30 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ 31 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die. And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” 33 Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 35 Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”
Rabshakeh stopped pretending that he was only addressing the king’s men, he addressed the people directly in their own language. He delivered a political speech meant to turn their devotion from Hezekiah and The Lord to the king of Assyria. He wanted to scare them. He reminded them of their poverty and painted a picture of a bleak future. If they refused to follow Assyria, they would become so poor and desperate they would eat their own feces and drink their own urine. That future appeared very possible for anyone without faith that The Lord is The Lord God Almighty. Rabshakeh promised a fig tree in every garden and a cistern for every house. He promised the land they would be taken to would be a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey.
The enemy’s lies can sound so similar to the truth that a person might give in to her doubt and believe them. The enemy will tell you how bleak your future will be if you do not do something to save your own skin or how great your future will be if you would just follow his advice instead of holding tight to The Lord. The Lord’s promises are better, because they are sure. The enemy’s promises are empty. Rabshakeh promised ‘a chicken in every pot’ but what he would deliver was slavery. He promised a land of grain and wine but he would deliver captivity. He had no intention of keeping his word, he was lying for the king of Assyria. But God’s Word is certain; His promises are already kept.
How did Hezekiah ensure that Judah would not give in to the fear of the enemy and remain faithful to The Lord? He had commanded them not to engage with the enemy, not to answer at all. Verses 36-37 read,
“But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king's command was, “Do not answer him.” 37 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of the Rabshakeh.”
There is more to the story. What will Hezekiah do? Will Jerusalem be saved? Will the LORD remain with His people? We will read it about it in chapter 19. But I leave you with these thoughts: Hezekiah was steadfastly faithful. He made it so there was no one but The Lord to depend on. But it was when he acted on his fear that he gave the enemy a foot hold to conquer Jerusalem. The enemy tried to shake Hezekiah’s faith, Eliakim’s, Shebna’s, and Joah’s faith, and the faith of the people. But he couldn’t because they would not engage with him.
Be encouraged, act on your faith and not on your fear or doubt. Don’t listen to the enemy and definitely don’t talk back. Come back tomorrow to find out what happens!