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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Kings 20

 

 

Verses 1-7

Hezekiah Becomes Mortally Ill But Is Healed By Isaiah In Answer To Prayer (2 Kings 20:1-7).

Hezekiah’s illness is now mentioned, not because it was important in itself, but because in different ways it revealed the power of YHWH. It would appear that he was mortally ill, but that on his crying to YHWH he was given a further fifteen years of life, and also promised that YHWH would deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrians. The connection of the two indicates that both had been in his prayers. We must therefore see this incident as preceding the previous ones, but taking place whilst the Assyrians were threatening, at a time therefore when humanly speaking Hezekiah was vital to the security of Judah.

Analysis.

· In those days Hezekiah was sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says YHWH, Set your house in order, for you will die, and not live” (2 Kings 20:1).

· Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed to YHWH, saying, “Remember now, O YHWH, I beseech you, how I have walked before you in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done what is good in your sight” (2 Kings 20:2-3 a).

· And Hezekiah wept sorely (2 Kings 20:3 b).

· And it came about, before Isaiah was gone out into the middle part of the city, that the word of YHWH came to him, saying, “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the prince of my people” (2 Kings 20:4-5 a).

· “Thus says YHWH, the God of David your father, I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you, on the third day you will go up to the house of YHWH” (2 Kings 20:5 b).

· “And I will add to your days fifteen years, and I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake, and for my servant David’s sake” (2 Kings 20:6).

· And Isaiah said, “Take a cake of figs.” And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered (2 Kings 20:7).

Note that in ‘a’ Hezekiah was ‘sick unto death’ and in the parallel he recovered. In ‘b’ he pointed out how faithfully he had walked before YHWH and in the parallel he was to receive fifteen further years of life, and the deliverance of Jerusalem from the hand of the king of Assyria. In ‘c’ he wept sorely, and in the parallel God had seen his tears and would heal him. Centrally in ‘d’ we have YHWH’s ‘change of heart’ and a reminder that Hezekiah was the prince and war-leader of His people.

2 Kings 20:1

‘In those days Hezekiah was sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says YHWH, Set your house in order: for you will die, and not live.” ’

‘In those days.’ An indeterminate phrase, the plural of ‘in that day’ Here it simply loosely connects what is to happen with the days of which the source is speaking.

Hezekiah is declared to be very ill, indeed dying. He has a mortal illness. He was ‘sick unto death.’ And the prophet comes to him with confirmation from YHWH. ‘Thus says YHWH --- you will die.’ He must prepare for death and do all that is necessary for a king to do to ensure that affairs of state are passed to his successor smoothly. God is concerned for the future of his people.

But with Assyria threatening there was no successor yet old enough to take the throne It is understandable therefore why Hezekiah would be so distressed. Looking from the divine point of view we might suggest that God had brought this on Hezekiah in order to make him consider what the situation was and prepare him for it. For this verse with its subsequent narrative is quite remarkable. It demonstrates that even ‘the word of YHWH’ can be reversed by repentance. Here indeed is a prophetic word which will be so altered. What seems to be a situation which cannot be altered, is thus altered through prayer. The same was in fact always true of God’s judgments (compare Jonah and Nineveh, and Ahab and Israel - 1 Kings 21:27-29).

2 Kings 20:2-3

‘Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed to YHWH, saying, “Remember now, O YHWH, I beseech you, how I have walked before you in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done what is good in your sight.”

Outwardly Hezekiah’s concern would appear to be for the situation he found himself in personally. There is nothing sacrificially noble about his prayer. It is presented as outwardly purely selfish and with limited perspective, as 2 Kings 20:19 also reveals him to be. He was a good king, a godly king, and but with a limited and selfish perspective. His concern was not stated to be the future of the kingdom as a whole or for the eternal purposes of God, but for his own survival, and his nation’s survival while he was king. How many there are of God’s people who are like this. When it comes down to it they are the godly selfish, (what a contradiction in terms, and yet how true of so many) and that is why they will achieve little. Outwardly it would appear that Hezekiah was successful, but he failed deeply in the purposes of God because his own ambitions took precedence. That is why he presided over an almost catastrophe.

Nevertheless here part of his problem was probably also that he saw his premature death as indicating that God saw him as sinful. Thus he was not only crying out for life, but was crying out for forgiveness and understanding. One reason why he wanted to live was because in his eyes it would prove that he had become right with God. So his personal concern is to some extent understandable.

‘Turned his face to the wall.’ He could not get to the privacy of the Temple so this was second best. He wanted to be alone with God.

There is no doubt that he summed up his life to God a little idealistically, and yet it was basically true. He had sought truth, he had sought to do what was right, he had sought to please God, he had lived a relatively godly life. But we are intended also to see that his life was flawed, as we will learn later on in the chapter. For he was unable to get away from his own selfish ambitions and desire for political glory.

Yet having said all that we may well see hidden under his tears a concern for his people. While it was not prominent in the way his thoughts were expressed, he would know that in losing him his people were losing one who could strongly affect their future, for he had no adult sons. It may well be therefore that we are to see this thought as included in his prayer. And it may possibly be that God recognised his concern, which might be why the next verses speak of deliverance from Sennacherib’s hands.

2 Kings 20:3

‘And Hezekiah wept sorely.’

‘And Hezekiah wept sorely.’ He did not want to die. He was fighting for life.

Given all this we can sum up Hezekiah’s prayer as indicating,

1) That he was horrified at the thought of premature death.

2) That this was at least partly because he saw it as indicating that God saw him as having sinned grievously so that he was being punished for it, and was thus unforgiven.

3) That underneath, unstated but known by God, was his concern for his people in the trying days that lay ahead of them, and in the face of the threat of invasion.

Yet we cannot hide from the fact that he did not articulate all these thoughts in his prayers. His prime concern is presented as being for his own deliverance. It was God Whose major concern was for His people.

2 Kings 20:4

‘And it came about, before Isaiah was gone out into the middle part of the city, that the word of YHWH came to him, saying,’

Meanwhile Isaiah had gone away, his unpleasant task, as he thought, accomplished, but even as he reached the middle part of the city the word of YHWH came to him with a new message. We have here a clear indication that Isaiah did not go into trances or get worked up when he received ‘the word of YHWH’.

2 Kings 20:5-6

“Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the prince of my people, Thus says YHWH, the God of David your father, I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you, on the third day you will go up to the house of YHWH. And I will add to your days fifteen years, and I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.”

Here we have a remarkable example of how ‘prayer changes things’. Hezekiah knew that his behaviour in the religious and political field had angered the king of Assyria. He had purified the temple, removing the Assyrian gods; he had refused to pay tribute; he had had discussions with his neighbours (2 Kings 18:7). He could hardly doubt that this had been noted and that the detail was known to Sennacherib’s spies. Thus he could have had little doubt that he would at some stage be called to account. This must surely have been part of the reason for his distress, that he was dying when his country needed him.

That explains why God sends to him and promises him, not only an extension of life, and that he will be fit enough to go up to the house of YHWH for his intercessory ministry, but also deliverance for him and Jerusalem out of Sennacherib’s hand. He promises that He will heal him so that he can go up to the house of YHWH (having been made ritually clean as well as physically whole), and that he will give him a further fifteen years, and will successfully defend Jerusalem. This met his major concerns. But it is also clearly implied that it would not be because of his own worthiness but because of God’s promises to David, for it was from ‘the God of your father David’.

The figure of ‘fifteen years’ is probably significant. Five is the number of covenant, and threefold five is covenant completeness. Thus it implies that God is acting within the covenant and for covenant reasons. Hezekiah will be living on borrowed time so that he can further the application of that covenant. (Fifteen and other multiples of five were a regular measurement in the Tabernacle. Compare also the twofold ‘five words’ of the commandments, and the five books of the Law and of the Psalms, all measures of the covenant).

By these promises God was revealed as the giver of life and as the Great Defender of His people, and Hezekiah as the great beneficiary. Surely now he would be dedicated to YHWH with all his heart and lean wholly on Him. And in order to seek to ensure this, God in His graciousness would go even further. He would add to this an even greater wonder. But as events would prove Hezekiah was still full of political ambition, an ambition that would contribute to the downfall of Judah.

2 Kings 20:7

‘And Isaiah said, “Take a cake of figs.” And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered.’

Isaiah then made a request for a cake of figs, and when Hezekiah’s servants laid it on him, he recovered. The boil and the seriousness of the illness possibly indicate some kind of plague illness. The method of using a poultice to draw the boil was clearly known, and is attested by Pliny. And it equally clearly worked. If it was a miracle no emphasis is laid on the fact that it was so. The emphasis is rather on the fact that it was God’s doing. Once the boil was drawn healing could go on apace. But Hezekiah certainly saw it as a miracle of forgiveness and healing. A similar kind of plaster (of dried raisins) for use on horses is witnessed to in a Ugaritic text.


Verses 8-11

Hezekiah Receives A Remarkable Sign Confirming That YHWH Will Do All That He Has Said (2 Kings 20:8-11).

Prior to his healing in 2 Kings 20:7 a concerned Hezekiah asked for a sign that he would be healed so that he could go up to the house of YHWH on the third day. This was probably a day on which he knew he had an important part to play in his nation’s intercession. What he was not expecting, however, was a sign of such huge proportions that it would confirm that whatever problems Jerusalem might face in the near future, they were well within the capability of YHWH to deal with.

Assur, chief god of Assyria, was associated with the sun, and presided over gods and goddesses associated with the moon and stars. The Assyrians worshipped ‘the host of heaven’. Thus by demonstrating His power over the activity of the sun YHWH was indicating quite clearly why Hezekiah had nothing to fear. Not only would he heal Hezekiah who would thus be able to intercede in the house of YHWH, but through his intercession He would bring victory to Judah by driving back the one who claimed to have behind him the light of the sun.

Analysis.

a And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “What will be the sign that YHWH will heal me, and that I will go up to the house of YHWH the third day?” (2 Kings 20:8).

b And Isaiah said, “This will be the sign to you from YHWH, that YHWH will do the thing that he has spoken. Shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps?” (2 Kings 20:9).

b And Hezekiah answered, “It is a light thing for the shadow to decline ten steps. No, but let the shadow return backward ten steps” (2 Kings 20:10).

a And Isaiah the prophet cried to YHWH, and he brought the shadow ten steps backward, by which it had gone down on the dial of Ahaz (2 Kings 20:11).

Note that in ‘a’ Hezekiah asked for a sign, and in the parallel the sign was given. In ‘b’ he was given a choice of signs, and in the parallel he made his choice.

2 Kings 20:8

‘And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “What will be the sign that YHWH will heal me, and that I will go up to the house of YHWH the third day?” ’

We are possibly to see here that his main concern, his own healing, and progression from it. While God wanted the sign that He would give to be the greater sign of His power to deliver along with His promise of future deliverance, Hezekiah only thought of it in terms of his own healing. So Hezekiah, instead of being taken up with, and excited about, the promise of future deliverance, expresses concern lest he be unable to go up to the house of YHWH on the third day. This again brings out Hezekiah’s partly selfish concentration on his own need rather than on his people’s needs. It sounded pious enough, but it was proof of his mediocrity.

No doubt he also saw himself as being restrained from going up to the house of YHWH because the eruption rendered him unclean (see Leviticus 13:18), and it suggests that he longed to do so as soon as appropriate. He wanted to be ‘clean’ again. Such an ambition was not to be despised. It was good that he wanted to go up to the house of YHWH. But why did he want to do it? Are we to see this as being because he longed to carry out his intercessory prayer as the priest after the order of Melchizedek? (compare 2 Kings 19:1; 2 Kings 19:14). That would certainly be important, but possibly at that time not apparent to Hezekiah. Or are we to see it as in order that he might give thanks for his recovery? That he saw it as putting the cap on any delay in his recovery? The context suggests the latter.

In other words his mind was concentrated on the wrong thing. While God had tried to direct his thoughts to the great deliverance, all Hezekiah could think of was his own restoration. There could be no greater contrast than that between this current representative of the house of David, whose only desire was to survive and to whom the coming deliverance was secondary, and the coming Servant of YHWH whom Isaiah would later describe, Whose whole concern will be to do the will of God and Whose whole attention will be on the final deliverance, even though He would have to face death in order to bring it about (Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12). The Hezekiah revealed here fits well with the Hezekiah revealed in 2 Kings 20:19.

2 Kings 20:9

‘And Isaiah said, “This will be the sign to you from YHWH, that YHWH will do the thing that he has spoken. Shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps?” ’

The sign that Isaiah offered to Hezekiah was of far greater significance than the sign that Hezekiah had asked for. Hezekiah had not expected a great miracle. But YHWH had promised such a great miracle to his father Ahaz at a time when Jerusalem was being surrounded, and He clearly desired to do the same for Hezekiah. The sign was to be the movement of the shadow on the steps of Ahaz. The steps of Ahaz are not said to be a sundial, although it is often assumed by commentators. They are rather chosen here as a reminder of the person of Ahaz, the one who refused God’s sign, the one who would not listen to YHWH. They are possibly the steps that had led up to Ahaz’s house of idolatry (2 Kings 23:12). But as that may have been designed for the worship of the sun god, it could well be that the steps had also been designed to follow the sun’s shadow, thus linking it with the passing of time. But the point is that what faithless Ahaz set up was to be used as the conveyor of a sign from God to his successor, who was now being given the same great opportunity as Ahaz had had, the opportunity to see God producing a miracle which would enable him to trust in God alone and reject all earthly support.

The sign would be indicated by an unusual movement of the shadow caused by the sun on these steps, and Hezekiah was given the choice of whether it should move forwards or back. It was an indication to Hezekiah that it was YHWH Who controlled the sun, not the sun god Assur. Sun, moon and stars were under His control, and the light of the sun moved at His command.

2 Kings 20:10

‘And Hezekiah answered, “It is a light thing for the shadow to decline ten steps. No, but let the shadow return backward ten steps.”

Hezekiah had no doubt about which choice to make. In his view the moving forward of the shadow at a quicker pace might have some other explanation. But for the shadow to move back. Now that would be something. So he asked that the shadow might move backwards ten steps.

2 Kings 20:11

‘And Isaiah the prophet cried to YHWH, and he brought the shadow ten steps backward, by which it had gone down on the step of Ahaz.’

As Isaiah cried to YHWH He caused the shadow to retreat ten steps on the steps of Ahaz. Ten steps which had come into the shade once more became open to the sun. This was too great a degree of change to be mistakable. Only an act of God could produce this phenomenon. And it was clearly witnessed, probably by Isaiah himself, for he asserts that it happened.

It is possible that the movement of the shadow was intended to be an indication to Hezekiah that God would remove the shadow which was hanging over him, and the shadow which was hanging over Jerusalem, the ten indicating covenant witness and certainty (twice five, symbolising the ‘ten words’ of the covenant). It was certainly in order to indicate that the Creator could do whatever He would on the earth. And the lesson was that if the shadow of the sun could be controlled by YHWH, how much more could Sennacherib, and the ‘host of heaven’ (2 Kings 17:16; 2 Kings 21:3-5) whom he worshipped be disposed of by YHWH.

It may also have been seen as indicating that God was giving the house of David a second chance, with time, as it were, retreating, thus eliminating the failure of Ahaz.

(We naturally ask how God did it. But how God did it is not a question we can look at scientifically for we do not have all the facts. We are not told that the phenomenon achieved a permanent change in the position of the sun. Nor indeed is the sun said to have been observed as moving. It was the shadow caused by the sun that was to be observed as moving, and that only on the steps of Ahaz. It has been suggested that it was related to an eclipse of the sun which occurred in 689 BC or 679 BC. Others have suggested that the sun’s waves were refracted by some unusual phenomenon. Then the miracle lies in the timing. But in the end we can only look on and wonder, as they no doubt did).

The message, however, was clear. With such a powerful God at his back Hezekiah need not fear Assyria and its hordes. Sadly, however, while he would not turn his back on YHWH like Ahaz did, Hezekiah also would be too taken up with a sense of his own importance to learn the lesson of only relying on YHWH. He wanted to be seen as a major player in world history as well. And so when the Babylonians came seeking for his support as part of a coalition against Assyria he allowed himself to be sucked in, and even more foolishly made clear to the rapacious king of Babylon what treasures he had. It would spell trouble for the future.


Verses 12-19

The Visit Of The Babylonian Ambassadors (2 Kings 20:12-19).

News of Hezekiah’s sickness had reached Babylon, who may already have been in negotiations with him, and the consequence was that the king of Babylon sent ambassadors to Hezekiah in order to wish him well. Proud to think that he was of some importance to so illustrious a figure (for Babylon had had a unique and dazzling reputation from earliest times) Hezekiah then determined to demonstrate that he too was important, and so he boastingly showed to the ambassadors all his treasures and all his armaments. No doubt this was partly in order to prove what a reliable and important ally he would be, but, as Isaiah pointed out, what he had overlooked was that to make such a display to Babylon was like showing a jewel to a magpie. Once the magpie knew of it, it would not be long before the magpie came for the jewel. Hezekiah’s reply demonstrated the shortness of his vision. As long as there was peace in his day the future did not matter. (We can hear Manasseh saying, ‘Thanks, Dad’).

Analysis.

a At that time Berodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he had heard that Hezekiah had been sick (2 Kings 20:12).

b And Hezekiah listened to them, and showed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious oil, and the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures. There was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah did not show them (2 Kings 20:13).

c Then came Isaiah the prophet to king Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say, and from where did they come to you?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come from a far country, even from Babylon” (2 Kings 20:14).

d And he said, “What have they seen in your house?” And Hezekiah answered, They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing among my treasures that I have not shown them” (2 Kings 20:15).

c And Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of YHWH. Behold, the days come, that all that is in your house, and what your fathers have laid up in store to this day, will be carried to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says YHWH (2 Kings 20:16-17).

b And of your sons who will issue from you, whom you will beget, will they take away, and they will be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (2 Kings 20:18).

a Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “Good is the word of YHWH which you have spoken.”. He said moreover, “Is it not so, if peace and truth will be in my days?” (2 Kings 20:19).

Note that in ‘a’ the king of Babylon sent letters of sympathy, and in the parallel he is happy because it confirms peace in his day. In ‘b he reveals all his wealth, and in the parallel is informed that because of it his sons will be carried off to Babylon. In ‘c’ Hezekiah tells Isaiah that they came from Babylon, and in the parallel Hezekiah learns that that is also where all Judah’s possessions will go. Centrally in ‘d’ Hezekiah explains that he has shown them all that he has.

2 Kings 20:12

‘At that time Berodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he had heard that Hezekiah had been sick.’

It was customary for kings to send letters/condolences (and automatically the usual present) to their fellow-kings when they had either recovered or died, consequent upon an illness, but usually only to those whom they saw as comparatively equals with themselves (compare 2 Samuel 10:2). This deputation from great Babylon would therefore be very flattering to Hezekiah. It would give the appearance that the king of Babylon, who was, however, himself in a precarious position, was treating him as an equal. But there can be little doubt also that by it the king of Babylon was seeking to draw Hezekiah into an alliance with him against Assyria. Babylon had constantly been a thorn in the flesh to Assyria, and was seeking to be so again now that Merodach-baladan had retaken the throne, and was thus seeking to ensure the stretching of Assyria’s resources when Sennacherib’s strike at Babylon finally came. With much of the area south of the Euphrates formed into Assyrian provinces, Judah were one of the few ‘independent’ states strong enough to cause trouble for Assyria. This visit probably took place a little before the invasion described earlier, and the strength of Judah’s fortified cities at this time is born witness to archaeologically, making Hezekiah a worthy ally. (Even at the time of his flight back to Assyria Sennacherib, while occupying much of Judah, had not managed to cause Libnah to yield, and there were no doubt other cities also still holding out, especially in the hill country. Thus his forces were being tied up, and whilst being so, were therefore not available in such large numbers elsewhere. But by that time Merodach Baladan with his allies had already been initially defeated, so that it did not in the end help Babylon at all).

So we can see why Berodach-baladan (usually named Merodach-baladan i.e. Marduk-appla-iddina) was so keen to obtain his friendship at a time when he himself, having again obtained the throne of Babylon (for a period of around six months or so in 703-2 BC on the death of Sargon, having previously reigned there in 721-710 BC)), was anticipating a fresh onslaught from Assyria. The ‘b’ instead of the ‘m’ was a common labial variant in Akkadian, and may have been intended by the author to remove the name of Marduk, chief god of Babylon, from the name. ‘Son of Baladan’, that is, of Bel-iddin.

2 Kings 20:13

‘And Hezekiah listened to them, and showed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious oil, and the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures. There was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah did not show them.’

It was also normal practise for kings to want to show off their wealth to visiting diplomats, and to make a great display in front of them. But it was not really wise to so rapacious a nation as Babylon. (Isaiah would have shown them nothing, but of course he sought glory from YHWH alone). But Hezekiah’s vanity demanded that he demonstrate his own greatness. And thus he showed them ‘everything’.

That this was at a time of great prosperity in Judah (mainly destroyed by the forthcoming war) comes out in the nature of what was shown. Silver and gold a-plenty (but with the emphasis on the silver), and spices and precious oil from Arabia, indicating wide affluent trading. That they were in abundance comes out in that they were shown. You did not produce what would show you up. And he showed them his armaments in the House of the Forest of Lebanon (so-called because of its many pillars of timber from Lebanon) which was part of the king’ palace complex. He wanted them to see that Judah could look after themselves. And besides this he showed them his other treasures, ivory-inlaid furniture, and so on. He put on as great a display as possible.

2 Kings 20:14

‘Then came Isaiah the prophet to king Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say, and from where did they come to you?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come from a far country, even from Babylon.”

Isaiah had noted the coming of this foreign embassage, but had clearly not been invited to the celebrations. This in itself suggests that Hezekiah was aware that what he was doing would not be approved of by the prophet of YHWH. Thus when the embassage had moved off Isaiah came to Hezekiah and asked whom they were, and what they had said. Hezekiah, no doubt somewhat proudly declared that they had come from no less a place than Babylon.

2 Kings 20:15

‘And he said, “What have they seen in your house?” And Hezekiah answered, They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing among my treasures that I have not shown them.” ’

But Isaiah, who was far more aware of the hearts of men (as well as the folly of men), was not impressed, rather he demanded what they had see of what Judah possessed. And his heart must have sank when Hezekiah somewhat boastfully declared that he had shown them all his treasures and armaments, and that he had left nothing out. he clearly felt that he had put on a good show.

2 Kings 20:16

‘And Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of YHWH.”

It actually did not need a prophet to foresee what the result of this would be, only a man of astute vision. Thus for a man like Isaiah it was so apparent that he probably could not believe that Hezekiah had been so foolish. And that was how it appeared to YHWH also, .for Isaiah brought to Hezekiah ‘the word of YHWH’. Such had been Hezekiah’s arrogance and folly that it had to be punished, for it was a divine principle that those who exalt themselves will be brought low.

2 Kings 20:17

“Behold, the days come, that all that is in your house, and what your fathers have laid up in store to this day, will be carried to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says YHWH.”

The consequence for Judah was thus to be that all that they possessed would be carried off to Babylon. Nothing of it would remain in Judah. It would be stripped of everything. That is what happens when you put all that you have on display to potential robbers. Ostentation brings its own reward. And this was the word of YHWH.

This stripping away from Judah of all that it possessed has been a theme of Kings. The prophetic author clearly wanted to bring home the lesson of the temporary nature of earthly possessions.

2 Kings 20:18

“And of your sons who will issue from you, whom you will beget, will they take away, and they will be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

But even worse was to be that his own sons who he himself had begotten (which is stressed), would be taken away to become eunuchs/officials in the palace of the king of Babylon. This would not only be a cause for great shame, but a threat to the continuation of the house of David itself. And it would all be the consequence of Hezekiah’s folly. That this did happen comes out in the fate of Manasseh, Hezekiah’s trueborn son, who was himself carried away to Babylon, along no doubt with many of Manasseh’s half-brothers and family, by Ashur-bani-pal of Assyria, whose father Esarhaddon had established himself at Babylon as its king. So Hezekiah had been indulging his fancies with a city which in the long term could only be a disaster for Judah and for his own family, and would in the end prove to be the greatest disaster of all. (It is noteworthy, however, that there is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem. The prophetic author no doubt had it in mind, but that is not what Isaiah had at this stage prophesied, and the author (unlike certain scholars) would not alter prophetic words which he would hold sacred).

2 Kings 20:19

‘Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “Good is the word of YHWH which you have spoken.”. He said moreover, “Is it not so, if peace and truth will be in my days?” ’

We may see this as Hezekiah seeking to make the best of a bad job, or even as an indication that he did not really believe it. Consideration for the prophet would have prevented him from expressing his incredulity. That is more probable than that he complacently considered that such a fate for his sons was acceptable in return for present peace. So he piously went along with Isaiah, and declared that the word of YHWH was, as always, good. And then sought to cover what might have appeared to be unconcern about the future of his family with an explanation that at least it meant that there would be peace and truth in his day. In those days the guarantee of peace was worth its weight in gold. Of course, as we know from the preceding narrative, he did not receive that either (and had not been promised it). So his rather complacent attitude would soon be revealed to be folly. But as he was at the time very much involved with alliances which had not been approved of by Isaiah, the disharmony between them would not be surprising. It is probable, however, that we are to see it as indicating that once Sennacherib had withdrawn Hezekiah was not troubled again. This would not be all that surprising. The amount of Judah which he now controlled was probably not seen as worth a major expedition against it, when other far more important issues remained to be resolved, and Sennacherib may well also have had a presentiment which prevented any further attack as a result of the mysterious disease which had destroyed his army. His son would have no such fears.


Verse 20-21

The Final Comments On The Reign Of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:20-21).

The great act for which Hezekiah was remembered was that of ensuring the supply of water for the city in the time of siege. That is thus referred to in the final mention of his acts. This involved cutting through the rock a long tunnel (over 520 metres (1700 feet) long) to connect the spring at Gihon (which must have been camouflaged in some way) with the reservoir to which it led, possibly to what is known as ‘the lower pool’ (Siloam), or even to the upper pool. This digging was commenced at both ends and may have been in mind in Isaiah 22:11. The fact that both tunnels eventually met, although with some deviations, was an engineering triumph, given the instruments of those days. The tunnel is still accessible today and a favourite tourist attraction. It is mainly possible to walk through it upright, although with the occasional need to bend. (I have been through it myself. Calling back to those who were following in the darkness how low it was (theoretically and misleadingly) getting was part of the fun. We were young at the time). On the wall, about 5 metres (seventeen feet) inside the tunnel was discovered an inscription in ancient Hebrew which read, ‘--was being dug out. It was cut in the following manner. (They were swinging their) axes, each man towards his fellow, and while there were still three cubits to be cut through, the voice of one man shouting to another was heard, showing that he was deviating to the right. When the tunnel was driven through the excavators met man to man, axe to axe, and the water flowed for twelve hundred cubits from the spring to the reservoir. The height of the rock above the head of the excavators was one hundred cubits’

2 Kings 20:20

‘Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and all his might, and how he made the pool, and the conduit, and brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?’

The remainder of the acts of Hezekiah (and most of the details that modern historians would love to know about his eventful reign) were written in the royal annals of Judah, accessible to the prophetic author, but not accessible to us. And these included the story of how Hezekiah brought water into the city in the way described above. Of the final part of his reign we know nothing, although he may well have been left alone by the Assyrians because of their adventures northward, reaching as far as Tarsus in 698 BC, and their major problems with the Elamites and their allies, which at times again included Babylon (which having initially been subjugated was having an up and down period and was again destroyed in 689 BC). For the end of Sennacherib’s reign the Assyrian records do not help us.

2 Kings 20:21

‘And Hezekiah slept with his fathers, and Manasseh his son reigned instead of him.’

Hezekiah died peacefully and ‘slept with his fathers’ presumably in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 32:33. He was not buried in the royal tombs themselves but in ‘the ascent of the sepulchres of the sons of David’, probably because by this time the actual rock hewn caves were full. (No burials are mentioned in them after this date). His son Manasseh followed him on the throne.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Kings 20:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-kings-20.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, October 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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