A King’s Faith Is Rewarded
1, 2. How did Hezekiah prove to be a better king than Ahaz?
HEZEKIAH was 25 years old when he became king of Judah. What kind of ruler would he be? Would he follow in the footsteps of his father, King Ahaz, and induce his subjects to follow after false gods? Or would he lead the people in the worship of Jehovah, as did his forefather King David?—2 Kings 16:2.
2 Soon after Hezekiah came to the throne, it became clear that he intended “to do what was right in Jehovah’s eyes.” (2 Kings 18:2, 3) In his first year, he ordered Jehovah’s temple repaired and temple services resumed. (2 Chronicles 29:3, 7, 11) Then he organized a grand Passover celebration to which the entire nation was invited—including the ten northern tribes of Israel. What an unforgettable feast that was! There had been none like it since the days of King Solomon.—2 Chronicles 30:1, 25, 26.
3. (a) What action was taken by the inhabitants of Israel and Judah who attended the Passover arranged by Hezekiah? (b) What do Christians today learn from the decisive action taken by those who attended that Passover?
3 At the conclusion of the Passover celebration, those in attendance were moved to cut down the sacred poles, break up the sacred pillars, pull down the high places and the altars of their false gods, after which they returned to their cities, determined to serve the true God. (2 Chronicles 31:1) What a contrast that was to their former religious attitude! True Christians today can learn from this the importance of ‘not forsaking the gathering of themselves together.’ Such gatherings, whether in local congregations or on a larger scale at assemblies and conventions, play a vital role in their receiving encouragement and being moved by the brotherhood as well as by God’s spirit to “incite to love and fine works.”—Hebrews 10:23-25.
Faith Put to the Test
4, 5. (a) How has Hezekiah demonstrated his independence from Assyria? (b) What military action has Sennacherib taken against Judah, and what steps does Hezekiah take to avoid an immediate assault on Jerusalem? (c) How does Hezekiah prepare to defend Jerusalem from the Assyrians?
4 Serious trials lie ahead for Jerusalem. Hezekiah has broken an alliance that his faithless father, Ahaz, concluded with the Assyrians. He has even subdued the Philistines, who are allies of Assyria. (2 Kings 18:7, 8) This has angered the king of Assyria. Hence, we read: “It came about in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah that Sennacherib the king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and proceeded to seize them.” (Isaiah 36:1) Perhaps hoping to protect Jerusalem from an immediate assault by the relentless Assyrian army, Hezekiah agrees to pay Sennacherib an enormous tribute of 300 silver talents and 30 gold talents.*—2 Kings 18:14.
5 Since there is not enough gold and silver in the royal treasury to pay the tribute, Hezekiah retrieves what precious metals he can from the temple. He also cuts down the temple doors, which have been overlaid with gold, and sends them to Sennacherib. This satisfies the Assyrian, but only for a while. (2 Kings 18:15, 16) Evidently, Hezekiah realizes that the Assyrians will not leave Jerusalem alone for long. Therefore, preparations have to be made. The people block up water sources that could supply water to invading Assyrians. Hezekiah also strengthens the fortifications of Jerusalem and builds an arsenal of weapons, including “missiles in abundance and shields.”—2 Chronicles 32:4, 5.
6. In whom does Hezekiah put his trust?
6 However, Hezekiah puts his trust, not in clever war strategies or in fortifications, but in Jehovah of armies. He admonishes his military chiefs: “Be courageous and strong. Do not be afraid nor be terrified because of the king of Assyria and on account of all the crowd that is with him; for with us there are more than there are with him. With him there is an arm of flesh, but with us there is Jehovah our God to help us and to fight our battles.” Responsively, the people begin “to brace themselves upon the words of Hezekiah the king of Judah.” (2 Chronicles 32:7, 8) Visualize the exciting events that follow as chapters 36 to 39 of Isaiah’s prophecy are reviewed.
Rabshakeh Presents His Case
7. Who is Rabshakeh, and why is he sent to Jerusalem?
7 Sennacherib dispatches Rabshakeh (a military title, not a personal name) along with two other dignitaries to Jerusalem to demand the city’s surrender. (2 Kings 18:17) These are met outside the city wall by three of Hezekiah’s representatives, Eliakim the overseer of Hezekiah’s household, Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder.—Isaiah 36:2, 3.
8. How does Rabshakeh try to break Jerusalem’s resistance?
8 Rabshakeh’s aim is simple—convince Jerusalem to surrender without a fight. Speaking in Hebrew, he first cries out: “What is this confidence in which you have trusted? . . . In whom have you put trust, that you have rebelled against me?” (Isaiah 36:4, 5) Then Rabshakeh taunts the frightened Jews, reminding them that they are completely isolated. To whom can they turn for support? To that “crushed reed,” Egypt? (Isaiah 36:6) At this time, Egypt does resemble a crushed reed; in fact, that former world power has been temporarily conquered by Ethiopia, and Egypt’s present Pharaoh, King Tirhakah, is not an Egyptian but an Ethiopian. And he is about to be defeated by Assyria. (2 Kings 19:8, 9) Since Egypt cannot save itself, it will be of little help to Judah.
9. What evidently leads Rabshakeh to conclude that Jehovah would forsake His people, but what are the facts?
9 Rabshakeh now argues that Jehovah will not fight for His people because He is displeased with them. Rabshakeh says: “In case you should say to me, ‘It is Jehovah our God in whom we have trusted,’ is he not the one whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has removed?” (Isaiah 36:7) Of course, far from rejecting Jehovah by tearing down the high places and the altars in the land, the Jews have actually returned to Jehovah.
10. Why does it not matter whether Judah’s defenders are many or few?
10 Next Rabshakeh reminds the Jews that militarily they are hopelessly outclassed. He issues this arrogant challenge: “Let me give you two thousand horses to see whether you are able, on your part, to put riders upon them.” (Isaiah 36:8) In reality, though, does it matter whether Judah’s trained cavalry are many or few? No, for Judah’s salvation does not depend upon superior military strength. Proverbs 21:31 explains matters this way: “The horse is something prepared for the day of battle, but salvation belongs to Jehovah.” Then Rabshakeh claims that Jehovah’s blessing is with the Assyrians, not the Jews. Otherwise, he argues, the Assyrians could never have penetrated so far into Judah’s territory.—Isaiah 36:9, 10.
11, 12. (a) Why does Rabshakeh insist on speaking in “the Jews’ language,” and how does he try to tempt the listening Jews? (b) What effect might Rabshakeh’s words have on the Jews?
11 Hezekiah’s representatives are concerned about the effect that Rabshakeh’s arguments will have on the men who can hear him from the top of the city wall. These Jewish officials request: “Speak, please, to your servants in the Syrian language, for we are listening; and do not speak to us in the Jews’ language in the ears of the people that are on the wall.” (Isaiah 36:11) But Rabshakeh has no intention of speaking in the Syrian language. He wants to sow seeds of doubt and fear in the Jews so that they will surrender and Jerusalem can be conquered without a fight! (Isaiah 36:12) Hence the Assyrian speaks again in “the Jews’ language.” He warns the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “Do not let Hezekiah deceive you people, for he is not able to deliver you.” Following this, he tries to tempt those listening by painting a picture of life as it could be for the Jews under Assyrian rule: “Make a capitulation to me and come out to me and eat each one from his own vine and each one from his own fig tree and drink each one the water of his own cistern, until I come and actually take you to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards.”—Isaiah 36:13-17.
12 There will be no harvest for the Jews this year—the Assyrian invasion has prevented them from planting crops. The prospect of eating succulent grapes and of drinking cool water must be very appealing to the men listening on the wall. But Rabshakeh has not yet finished trying to weaken the Jews.
13, 14. Despite Rabshakeh’s arguments, why is what happened to Samaria irrelevant to Judah’s situation?
13 From his arsenal of arguments, Rabshakeh draws another verbal weapon. He warns the Jews against believing Hezekiah should he say: “Jehovah himself will deliver us.” Rabshakeh reminds the Jews that the gods of Samaria were unable to prevent the ten tribes from being overcome by the Assyrians. And what of the gods of the other nations Assyria has conquered? “Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad?” he demands. “Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? And have they delivered Samaria out of my hand?”—Isaiah 36:18-20.
14 Of course, Rabshakeh, a worshiper of false gods, does not understand that there is a big difference between apostate Samaria and Jerusalem under Hezekiah. Samaria’s false gods had no power to save the ten-tribe kingdom. (2 Kings 17:7, 17, 18) On the other hand, Jerusalem under Hezekiah has turned its back on false gods and has returned to serving Jehovah. However, the three Judean representatives do not try to explain this to Rabshakeh. “They continued to keep silent and did not answer him a word, for the commandment of the king was, saying: ‘You must not answer him.’” (Isaiah 36:21) Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah return to Hezekiah and make an official report of the words of Rabshakeh.—Isaiah 36:22.
Hezekiah Makes a Decision
15. (a) What decision now faces Hezekiah? (b) How does Jehovah reassure his people?
15 King Hezekiah now has a decision to make. Will Jerusalem surrender to the Assyrians? join forces with Egypt? or stand her ground and fight? Hezekiah is under great pressure. He goes to Jehovah’s temple, while dispatching Eliakim and Shebna, along with the older men of the priests, to inquire of Jehovah through the prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 37:1, 2) Dressed in sackcloth, the king’s emissaries approach Isaiah, saying: “This day is a day of distress and of rebuke and of scornful insolence . . . Perhaps Jehovah your God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his lord sent to taunt the living God, and he will actually call him to account for the words that Jehovah your God has heard.” (Isaiah 37:3-5) Yes, the Assyrians are challenging the living God! Will Jehovah give attention to their taunts? Through Isaiah, Jehovah reassures the Jews: “Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard with which the attendants of the king of Assyria spoke abusively of me. Here I am putting a spirit in him, and he must hear a report and return to his own land; and I shall certainly cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.”—Isaiah 37:6, 7.
16. What letters are sent by Sennacherib?
16 Meanwhile, Rabshakeh is called away to be at Sennacherib’s side while the king wages war at Libnah. Sennacherib will deal with Jerusalem later. (Isaiah 37:8) Still, Rabshakeh’s departure brings no letup of pressure on Hezekiah. Sennacherib sends threatening letters describing what the inhabitants of Jerusalem can expect if they refuse to surrender: “You yourself have heard what the kings of Assyria did to all the lands by devoting them to destruction, and will you yourself be delivered? Have the gods of the nations that my forefathers brought to ruin delivered them? . . . Where is the king of Hamath and the king of Arpad and the king of the city of Sepharvaim—of Hena and of Ivvah?” (Isaiah 37:9-13) Basically, the Assyrian is saying that it is senseless to resist—resistance will only bring more trouble!
17, 18. (a) What is Hezekiah’s motive in asking Jehovah for protection? (b) How does Jehovah through Isaiah answer the Assyrian?
17 Deeply concerned about the consequences of the decision he must make, Hezekiah spreads Sennacherib’s letters out before Jehovah in the temple. (Isaiah 37:14) In heartfelt prayer he implores Jehovah to give ear to the Assyrian’s threats, concluding his prayer with the words: “And now, O Jehovah our God, save us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Jehovah, are God alone.” (Isaiah 37:15-20) From this it is clear that Hezekiah is primarily concerned, not with his own deliverance, but with the reproach that will be heaped upon Jehovah’s name if Assyria defeats Jerusalem.
18 Jehovah’s answer to Hezekiah’s prayer comes through Isaiah. Jerusalem must not surrender to Assyria; she must stand her ground. Speaking as to Sennacherib, Isaiah boldly states Jehovah’s message to the Assyrian: “The virgin daughter of Zion has despised you, she has held you in derision. Behind you the daughter of Jerusalem has wagged her head [mockingly].” (Isaiah 37:21, 22) Jehovah then adds, in effect: ‘Who are you to taunt the Holy One of Israel? I know your deeds. You have great ambitions; you make great boasts. You have trusted in your military power and have conquered much land. But you are not invincible. I will frustrate your plans. I will conquer you. Then I will do to you as you have done to others. I will put a hook in your nose and lead you back to Assyria!’—Isaiah 37:23-29.
“This Will Be the Sign for You”
19. What sign does Jehovah give Hezekiah, and what does it mean?
19 What guarantee does Hezekiah have that Isaiah’s prophecy will be fulfilled? Jehovah answers: “This will be the sign for you: There will be an eating this year of the growth from spilled kernels, and in the second year grain that shoots up of itself; but in the third year sow seed, you people, and reap, and plant vineyards and eat their fruitage.” (Isaiah 37:30) Jehovah will provide food for the trapped Jews. Although unable to plant seed because of the Assyrian occupation, they will be able to eat from the gleanings of the preceding year’s harvest. The following year, a sabbath year, they must let their fields lie fallow, despite their desperate situation. (Exodus 23:11) Jehovah promises that if the people obey his voice, enough grain will sprout in the fields to sustain them. Then, in the following year, men will sow seed in the usual way and enjoy the fruitage of their labor.
20. In what way will those who escape the Assyrian attack “take root downward and produce fruitage upward”?
20 Jehovah now compares his people to a plant that cannot easily be uprooted: “Those who escape of the house of Judah . . . will certainly take root downward and produce fruitage upward.” (Isaiah 37:31, 32) Yes, those who trust in Jehovah have nothing to fear. They and their offspring will remain firmly established in the land.
21, 22. (a) What is prophesied concerning Sennacherib? (b) How and when are Jehovah’s words about Sennacherib fulfilled?
21 What of the Assyrian’s threats against Jerusalem? Jehovah answers: “He will not come into this city, nor will he shoot an arrow there, nor confront it with a shield, nor cast up a siege rampart against it. By the way by which he came he will return, and into this city he will not come.” (Isaiah 37:33, 34) There will be no battle between Assyria and Jerusalem after all. Surprisingly, it will be the Assyrians, not the Jews, who are defeated without a fight.
22 True to his word, Jehovah sends an angel who strikes down the cream of Sennacherib’s troops—185,000 men. This apparently happens at Libnah, and Sennacherib himself wakes up to find the leaders, chiefs, and mighty men of his army dead. Shamefaced, he returns to Nineveh, but despite his resounding defeat, he stubbornly remains devoted to his false god Nisroch. Some years later, while worshiping in the temple of Nisroch, Sennacherib is assassinated by two of his sons. Once again, lifeless Nisroch proves powerless to save.—Isaiah 37:35-38.
Hezekiah’s Faith Is Further Strengthened
23. What crisis does Hezekiah face when Sennacherib first comes up against Judah, and what are the implications of this crisis?
23 About the time that Sennacherib first comes up against Judah, Hezekiah falls gravely ill. Isaiah tells him that he is going to die. (Isaiah 38:1) The 39-year-old king is devastated. His concern is not only for his own well-being but also for the future of the people. Jerusalem and Judah are in danger of being invaded by the Assyrians. If Hezekiah dies, who will lead the fight? At that time, Hezekiah has no son to assume the rulership. In fervent prayer Hezekiah begs Jehovah to show him mercy.—Isaiah 38:2, 3.
24, 25. (a) How does Jehovah graciously answer Hezekiah’s prayer? (b) What miracle does Jehovah perform, as described at Isaiah 38:7, 8?
24 Isaiah has not yet left the palace courtyards when Jehovah sends him back to the stricken king’s bedside with another message: “I have heard your prayer. I have seen your tears. Here I am adding onto your days fifteen years; and out of the palm of the king of Assyria I shall deliver you and this city, and I will defend this city.” (Isaiah 38:4-6; 2 Kings 20:4, 5) Jehovah will confirm his promise with an unusual sign: “Here I am making the shadow of the steps that had gone down on the steps of the stairs of Ahaz by the sun retrace backward ten steps.”—Isaiah 38:7, 8a.
25 According to the Jewish historian Josephus, there was a staircase inside the royal palace, probably with a column near it. When the sun’s rays hit the column, they cast a shadow on the stairs. One could measure the time of day by observing the progress of the shadow on the steps. Now Jehovah will perform a miracle. After the shadow drifts down the steps in the usual way, it will retrace its path backward ten steps. Who ever heard of such a thing? The Bible states: “And the sun gradually went back ten steps on the steps of the stairs that it had gone down.” (Isaiah 38:8b) Shortly thereafter, Hezekiah recovers from his illness. News of this spreads as far as Babylon. When the king of Babylon hears it, he sends messengers to Jerusalem to obtain the facts.
26. What is one result of the lengthening of Hezekiah’s life?
26 About three years after Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery, his first son, Manasseh, is born. When Manasseh grows up, he does not show appreciation for God’s compassion, without which he would not have been born! Instead, during most of his lifetime, Manasseh does on a large scale what is bad in Jehovah’s eyes.—2 Chronicles 32:24; 33:1-6.
A Lapse in Judgment
27. In what ways does Hezekiah show appreciation for Jehovah?
27 Like his forefather David, Hezekiah is a man of faith. He treasures God’s Word. According to Proverbs 25:1, he arranged for the compiling of the material now found in Proverbs chapters 25 to 29. Some believe that he also composed the 119th Psalm 119. The moving song of gratitude that Hezekiah composes after recovering from his illness shows him to be a man of deep feeling. He concludes that the most important thing in life is to be able to praise Jehovah at His temple “all the days of our life.” (Isaiah 38:9-20) May all of us feel the same way about pure worship!
28. What error in judgment does Hezekiah make sometime after being miraculously healed?
28 Although faithful, Hezekiah is imperfect. He makes a serious error in judgment sometime after Jehovah heals him. Isaiah explains: “At that time Merodachbaladan the son of Baladan the king of Babylon sent letters and a gift to Hezekiah, after he heard that he had been sick but was strong again. So Hezekiah began to rejoice over them and proceeded to show them his treasure-house, the silver and the gold and the balsam oil and the good oil and all his armory and all that was to be found in his treasures. There proved to be nothing that Hezekiah did not show them in his own house and in all his dominion.”—Isaiah 39:1, 2.*
29. (a) What may be the motive of Hezekiah when he shows his wealth to the Babylonian delegation? (b) What will be the consequences of Hezekiah’s error in judgment?
29 Even after the stinging defeat by Jehovah’s angel, Assyria continues to pose a threat to many nations, including Babylon. Hezekiah may have wanted to impress the king of Babylon as a possible future ally. However, Jehovah does not want the inhabitants of Judah to consort with their enemies; he wants them to trust in him! Through the prophet Isaiah, Jehovah discloses the future to Hezekiah: “Days are coming, and all that is in your own house and that your forefathers have stored up down to this day will actually be carried to Babylon. Nothing will be left . . . And some of your own sons that will come forth from you, to whom you will become father, will themselves be taken and actually become court officials in the palace of the king of Babylon.” (Isaiah 39:3-7) Yes, the very nation that Hezekiah sought to impress will eventually plunder Jerusalem’s treasures and reduce her citizens to slavery. Hezekiah’s showing his treasure to the Babylonians only serves to whet their greedy appetite.
30. How did Hezekiah show a good attitude?
30 Apparently referring to the incident in which Hezekiah showed his treasure to the Babylonians, 2 Chronicles 32:26 states: “Hezekiah humbled himself for the haughtiness of his heart, he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and Jehovah’s indignation did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah.”
31. How did things turn out for Hezekiah, and what does this teach us?
31 Despite his imperfection, Hezekiah was a man of faith. He knew that his God, Jehovah, is a real person who has feelings. When under pressure, Hezekiah prayed fervently to Jehovah, and Jehovah answered him. Jehovah God granted him peace for the rest of his days, and for that, Hezekiah was grateful. (Isaiah 39:8) Jehovah should be just as real to us today. When problems arise, may we, like Hezekiah, look to Jehovah for wisdom and the way out, “for he gives generously to all and without reproaching.” (James 1:5) If we continue to endure and to exercise faith in Jehovah, we can be sure that he will become “the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him,” both now and in the future.—Hebrews 11:6.
Worth more than $9.5 million (U.S.) at current values.
After Sennacherib’s defeat, surrounding nations brought gifts of gold, silver, and other precious things to Hezekiah. At 2 Chronicles 32:22, 23, 27, we read that “Hezekiah came to have riches and glory to a very great amount” and that “he came to be exalted in the eyes of all the nations.” These gifts may have allowed him to replenish his treasure-house, which he had emptied when paying tribute to the Assyrians.
[Picture on page 383]
King Hezekiah trusts in Jehovah when he faces the might of Assyria
[Full-page picture on page 384]
[Picture on page 389]
The king sends emissaries to Isaiah to hear Jehovah’s counsel
[Picture on page 390]
Hezekiah prays that Jehovah’s name be magnified by Assyria’s defeat
[Picture on page 393]
Jehovah’s angel strikes down 185,000 Assyrians