In Jerusalem, after the death of King Ahaz, his twenty-five-year-old son, Hezekiah, inherited the throne. The very name of this king meant strength and firmness which was demonstrated by his character and his mission; later, he would become famous.
Unlike many of the kings of Judah and Israel who were known for their unrighteous lives, it was said about Hezekiah,
"He trusted in the Lord God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor who were before him." (2 Kings 18: 5, NKJV).
The main virtue of this king was his concern for the moral and religious revival of the country. In this regard, the reign of Hezekiah can be compared with his legendary ancestors, David and Jehoshaphat.
According to the Scripture narrative, in the first year of his reign, Hezekiah announced a nationwide celebration of the long-forgotten Passover which he ordered to take place in Jerusalem. Prior to this, the holiday was celebrated in the family circle.
Another bold step was the extension of an invitation to those in the North of the Land of Israel, "who survived from the hands of the kings of Assyria" (2 Chronicles 32:22, NKJV) so they could participate in the Passover as well.
"So they resolved to make a proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, that they should come to keep the Passover to the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem, since they had not done it for a long time in the prescribed manner.
Then the runners went throughout all Israel and Judah with the letters from the king and his leaders..." (2 Chronicles 30:5-6, NKJV).
The elevated status of the city of Jerusalem led to national unity and the rise of both religious and patriotic spirit. A return to purity of the Jewish faith became the main theme of Hezekiah's transformational leadership.
Further reformation occurred when Hezekiah cleansed Jerusalem's Temple and the whole country from statues and idolatrous relics that were used by the people to worship the God of Israel:
“He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan”
(2 Kings 18:4, NKJV).
As a result of the centralization of religious and political power in Jerusalem, the people dismantled altars to the God of Israel in cities throughout the country.
From then on, a single altar in the Temple of Jerusalem united the people.
The reign of King Hezekiah coincided with the time of the great prophet and herald of truth, Isaiah. The common thread running through Isaiah's teachings was a call for internal, spiritual changes in the lives of individuals and the people as a whole. Sacrifices, festivals and observance of the Sabbath did not matter while the iniquities continued,
more futile sacrifices;
Incense is an abomination to Me.
The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.
(Isaiah 1:13, NKJV).
Isaiah bitterly rebuked the people whose piety was superficial;
“Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths
And honor Me with their lips,
But have removed their hearts far from Me,
And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men" (Isaiah 29:13, NKJV).
The message and admonishment of the prophet resonated deeply in the heart of King Hezekiah. He wanted to ensure that true spiritual transformation in Judea was based on enlightenment and knowledge so he created a guild of scribes who put the Holy Scriptures in order. They compiled the prophets' predictions about the fall of Samaria and also combined the separate histories of Israel together.
During the reign of Hezekiah, a collection of wise sayings was also recordered which included the famous, beloved book of Proverbs, written by King Solomon. The ideals in this book also carried the moral ideals that Hezekiah and Isaiah aspired to and urged the people to follow:
"One who turns away his ear from hearing the law,
Even his prayer is an abomination." (Proverbs 28: 9, NKJV).
Of course, King Hezekiah was not only a spiritual leader, but also a political leader.
As such, he sought alliances to strengthen his country. In 713 BC, Shebna, one of the royal scribes and influential nobles, persuaded Hezekiah to accept the offer from King Ashdod Azuri and the Egyptians to enter into an alliance against Assyria. Hezekiah began negotiations with Azuri and met with envoys from Egypt but the Prophet Isaiah spoke out against this:
“Woe to the rebellious children, says the Lord,
Who take counsel, but not of Me,
And who devise plans, but not of My Spirit,
That they may add sin to sin;
Who walk to go down to Egypt,
And have not asked My advice,
To strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh,
And to trust in the shadow of Egypt!" (Isaiah 30: 1-2, NKJV).
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
And rely on horses,
Who trust in chariots because they are many,
And in horsemen because they are very strong...
Now the Egyptians are men, and not God;
And their horses are flesh, and not spirit" (Isaiah 31:1, 3, NKJV).
From Sargon's inscription, it is known that Ashdod, Edom and Moab and even Judea rebelled against Assyria.
Assyria was an ancient city-state (Ashur in Hebrew) located in the territory of modern Syria, Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and Turkey. It became a military empire and Aramaic was the spoken language which eventually became the Lingua Franca (the common language) of the Middle East.
During this period (727-705 BC), the ancient world was frightened by the shadow of the Assyrian military and its expansion. The nation of Israel was doomed and the Assyrian conquests continued like a flood. The Israelites were disunited, engulfed in tribal conflicts and politically divided into two kingdoms. The capital of Israel was in Samaria while Jerusalem was the capital of Judea.
In 727 BC, Assyrian King Tiglath Pileser ווו died and Gosha, king of Israel, decided to stop paying tribute to Assyria because he had entered into an agreement with the Egyptians. The new ruler of Assyria, Shalmaneser V, soon learned about this and made military preparations. King Gosha was captured and thrown into prison. Egypt, as it had done in the past, deceived them and dashed the hopes of the children of Israel. The Assyrian commander, Rabshakeh, was right when he said to the besieged inhabitants of Jerusalem,
"Look! You are trusting in the staff of this broken reed, Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him" (Isaiah 36: 6).
In 725 BC, King Shalmaneser and his troops laid siege to Samaria which lasted about three years, similar to the agony of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. During this time, a coup took place in Assyria and King Sargon (whose name meant “true king”) ascended to the throne. Sargon did not destroy Samaria after its surrender and 27,000 people were resettled to Assyria and the region was settled by foreigners.
The Assyrian kings endorsed a transfer policy to suppress Jewish resistance and assimilated the population into their culture. The fall of Samaria and the resettlement of the Israelites led to the loss of their national and religious identity.
In 705 BC, Assyrian King Sennacherib invaded Judah to conquer Jerusalem but King Hezekiah withstood the onslaught,
"After these deeds of faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and entered Judah; he encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them over to himself. And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come, and that his purpose was to make war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his leaders and commanders to stop the water from the springs which were outside the city; and they helped him.
Thus many people gathered together who stopped all the springs and the brook that ran through the land, saying, ‘Why should the kings of Assyria come and find much water?’ And he strengthened himself, built up all the wall that was broken, raised it up to the towers, and built another wall outside; also he repaired the Millo in the City of David, and made weapons and shields in abundance.
Then he set military captains over the people, gathered them together to him in the open square of the city gate, and gave them encouragement, saying, ‘Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid nor dismayed before the king of Assyria, nor before all the multitude that is with him; for there are more with us than with him.
With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.’ And the people were strengthened by the words of Hezekiah king of Judah" (2 Chronicles 32:1-8).
"The rest of Hezekiah and all his exploits, and that he made a pond and brought water into the city, is written in the annals of the kings of Judah" (2 Kings 20:20).
Isaiah the prophet saw arrogance in Hezekiah's project and attempted to call the people of Israel to return to their spiritual foundation and the faith of their fathers rather than place their hope in engineered structures and military achievements,
"You also made a reservoir between the two walls,
For the water of the
But you did not look to its Maker,
Nor did you have respect for Him who fashioned it long ago" (Isaiah 22:11).
Criticism of the drainage project continued in the pages of the Talmudic literature. According to the sages, the drainage of water from the Canaan Canal meant drought and the death of the wonderful olive groves and vineyards that grew on the mountain slopes,
"They did not recognize him (Hezekiah) being right ... he closed the way for the waters of the upper Gihon, and they disappeared ..." (Mishnah, Psahim 4:9).
The tragic events in Judea left their mark on the king. He was exhausted, weak, and even got dangerously ill. Prophet Isaiah, visited the king and was sure that his hour of death was near and therefore said:
"Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live” (2 Kings 20: 1).
However, Hezekiah, who had only passed forty years of age, turned to the wall, lying on his own bed, appealed to God's mercy. Isaiah returned, told the king he would live and undertook responsibility to personally heal the king.
Information about the last years of Hezekiah's life is vague; however, it is believed among the Bible scholars that Sennacherib invaded Judea again around 688 BC. As in the first campaign (701 BC), King Sennacherib set up his headquarters in Lakhish in the northern Negev.
To this day, mystery surrounds the events of this campaign, a fiasco due to unrevealed events which ruined the plans of the conqueror. During modern day excavations of Lachish, a mass grave was discovered which contained the remains of more than 1,500 Assyrian soldiers. What was the cause of their death?
In 2 Kings 19:35, we are told "the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand..."
After the departure of the Assyrians, their empire retained its dominance in the ancient world for a long time. King Sennacherib survived Hezekiah for several years but died at the hands of his own sons.
Manasseh, Hezekiah's heir, was completely reconciled to the yoke of Assyria rule. The inscription of the new king of Assyria, Asargaddon, lists 22 conquered Syrian kings who brought tribute to Nineveh. Among them is Manasseh,King of Judah.
One of the later (but unreliable) legends claims that the champion of the truth, Isaiah, was killed by order of Manasseh. Another prophet records the harshness of the king, which may lend credibility to this claim,
"Manasseh shed so much blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end" (2 Kings 21:16)