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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature
Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, and thirteenth king of Judah, who reigned from B.C. 725 to B.C. 696.
From the commencement of his reign the efforts of Hezekiah were directed to the reparation of the effects of the grievous errors of his predecessors; and during his time the true religion and the theocratical policy flourished as they had not done since the days of David. The temple was cleared and purified; the utensils and forms of service were restored to their ancient order; all the changes introduced by Ahaz were abolished; all the monuments of idolatry were destroyed, and their remains cast into the brook Kidron. Among the latter was the brazen serpent of Moses, which had been deposited first in the tabernacle, and then in the temple, as a memorial of the event in which it originated: and it is highly to the credit of Hezekiah, and shows more clearly than any other single circumstance the spirit of his operations, that even this interesting relic was not spared when it seemed in danger of being turned to idolatrous uses. Having succeeded by his acts and words in rekindling the zeal of the priests and of the people, the king appointed a high festival, when, attended by his court and people, he proceeded in high state to the temple, to present sacrifices of expiation for the past irregularities, and to commence the reorganized services. A vast number of sacrifices evinced to the people the zeal of their superiors, and Judah, long sunk in idolatry, was at length reconciled to God (; 2 Chronicles 29).
The revival of the great annual festivals was included in this reformation. The Passover, which was the most important of them all, had not for a long time been celebrated according to the rites of the law; and the day on which it regularly fell, in the first year of Hezekiah, being already past, the king, nevertheless, justly conceiving the late observance a less evil than the entire omission of the feast, directed that it should be kept on the 14th day of the second month, being one month after its proper time. Couriers were sent from town to town, inviting the people to attend the solemnity; and even the ten tribes which formed the neighboring kingdom were invited to share with their brethren of Judah in a duty equally incumbent on all the children of Abraham. Of these some received the message gladly, and others with disdain; but a considerable number of persons belonging to the northernmost tribes (which had more seldom than the others been brought into hostile contact with Judah) came to Jerusalem, and by their presence imparted a new interest to the solemnity. A profound and salutary impression appears to have been made on this occasion; and so strong was the fervor and so great the number of the assembled people, that the festival was prolonged to twice its usual duration; and during this time the multitude was fed abundantly from the countless offerings presented by the king and his nobles. Never since the time of Solomon, when the whole of the twelve tribes had used to assemble at the Holy City, had the Passover been observed with such magnificence (2 Chronicles 30).
The good effect of this procedure was seen when the people carried back to their homes the zeal for the Lord which had thus been kindled, and proceeded to destroy and cast forth all the abominations by which their several towns had been defiled; thus performing again, on a smaller scale, the doings of the king in Jerusalem. Even the 'high places,' which the pious kings of former days had spared, were on this occasion abolished and overthrown; and even the men of Israel, who had attended the feast, were carried away by the same holy enthusiasm, and, on returning to their homes, broke all their idols in pieces ().
The attention of this pious and able king was extended to whatever concerned the interests of religion in his dominions. He caused a new collection of Solomon's proverbs to be made, being the same which occupy Proverbs 25-29 of the book, which bears that name. The sectional divisions of the priests and Levites were reestablished; the perpetual sacrifices were recommenced, and maintained from the royal treasure; the stores of the temple were once more filled by the offerings of the people, and the times of Solomon and Jehoshaphat seemed to have returned (2 Chronicles 31).
This great work having been accomplished and consolidated (, etc.), Hezekiah applied himself to repair the calamities, as he had repaired the crimes, of his father's government. He took arms, and recovered the cities of Judah which the Philistines had seized. Encouraged by this success, he ventured to withhold the tribute which his father had paid to the Assyrian king; and this act, which the result shows to have been imprudent, drew upon the country the greatest calamities of his reign. Only a few years before, namely, in the fourth of his reign, the Assyrians had put an end to the kingdom of Israel and sent the ten tribes into exile; but had abstained from molesting Hezekiah, as he was already their tributary. Seeing his country invaded on all sides by the Assyrian forces under Sennacherib, and Lachish, a strong place which covered Jerusalem, on the point of falling into their hands, Hezekiah, not daring to meet them in the field, occupied himself in all necessary preparations for a protracted defense of Jerusalem, in hope of assistance from Egypt, with which country he had contracted an alliance (). Such alliances were not favored by the Divine sovereign of Israel and His prophets, and no good ever came of them. But this alliance did not render the good king unmindful of his true source of strength; for in quieting the alarms of the people he directed their attention to the consideration that they in fact had more of power and strength in the divine protection than the Assyrian king possessed in all his host. Nevertheless, Hezekiah was himself distrustful of the course he had taken, and at length, to avert the calamities of war, sent to the Assyrian king offers of submission. Sennacherib, who was anxious to proceed against Egypt, consented to withdraw his forces on the payment of three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold; which the king was not able to raise without exhausting both his own treasury and that of the temple, and stripping off the gold with which the doors and pillars of the Lord's house were overlaid ().
But after he had received the silver and gold, the Assyrian king broke faith with Hezekiah, and continued to prosecute his warlike operations. While he employed himself in taking the fortresses of Judea, which it was important to secure before he marched against Egypt, he sent three of his generals, Rabshakeh, Tartan, and Rabsaris, with part of his forces, to threaten Jerusalem with a siege unless it were surrendered, and the inhabitants submitted to be sent into Assyria; and this summons was delivered in language highly insulting not only to the king and people, but to the God they worshipped. When the terms of the summons were made known to Hezekiah, he gathered courage from the conviction that God would not fail to vindicate the honor of His insulted name. In this conviction he was confirmed by the prophet Isaiah, who, in the Lord's name, promised the utter discomfiture and overthrow of the blasphemous Assyrian: 'Lo, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumor, and shall return to his own land, and I will cause him to die by the sword in his own land' (). The rumor which Sennacherib heard was of the advance of Tirhakah the Ethiopian to the aid of the Egyptians, with a force which the Assyrians did not deem it prudent to meet; but, before withdrawing to his own country, Sennacherib sent a threatening letter to Hezekiah, designed to check the gladness which his retirement was likely to produce. But that very night the predicted blast—probably the hot pestilential south wind—smote 180,000 men in the camp of the Assyrians, and released the men of Judah from all their fears (;;; Isaiah 36-37).
It was in the same year, and while Jerusalem was still threatened by the Assyrians, that Hezekiah fell sick of the plague; and the aspect which the plague-boil assumed assured him that he must die. In this he was confirmed by Isaiah, who warned him that his end approached. The love of life, the condition of the country—the Assyrians being present in it, and the throne of David without an heir—caused him to grieve at this doom, and to pray earnestly that he might be spared. And his prayer was heard in heaven. The prophet returned with the assurance that in three days he should recover, and that fifteen additional years of life should be given to him. This communication was altogether so extraordinary, that the king required some token by which his belief might be justified; and accordingly the 'sign' which he required was granted to him. The shadow of the sun went back upon the dial of Ahaz the ten degrees it had gone down [DIAL]. This was a marvel greater than that of the cure which the king distrusted; for there is no known principle of astronomy or natural philosophy by which such a result could be produced. A cataplasm of figs was then applied to the plague-boil, under the direction of the prophet, and on the third day, as foretold, the king recovered (;; Isaiah 38) [PLAGUE].
The destruction of the Assyrians drew the attention of foreign courts for a time towards Judea, and caused the facts connected with Hezekiah's recovery, and the retrogression of the shadow on the dial, to be widely known. Among others, Merodach Baladan, king of Babylon, sent ambassadors with presents to make inquiries into those matters, and to congratulate the king on his recovery. Since the time of Solomon the appearance of such embassies from distant parts had been rare at Jerusalem; and the king, in the pride of his heart, made a somewhat ostentatious display to Baladan's ambassadors of all his treasures, which he had probably recovered from the Assyrians, and much increased with their spoil. Josephus (Antiq. x. 2. 2) says that one of the objects of the embassy was to form an alliance with Hezekiah against the Assyrian empire; and if so, his readiness to enter into an alliance adverse to the theocratical policy, and his desire to magnify his own importance in the eyes of the king of Babylon, probably furnished the ground of the divine disapprobation with which his conduct in this matter was regarded. He was reprimanded by the prophet Isaiah, who revealed to him the mysteries of the future, so far as to apprise him that all these treasures should hereafter be in the possession of the Babylonians, and his family and people exiles in the land from which these ambassadors came. This intimation was received by the king with his usual submission to the will of God; and he was content to know that these evils were not to be inflicted in his own days. He has sometimes been blamed for this seeming indifference to the fate of his successors; but it is to be borne in mind that at this time he had no children. This was in the fourteenth year of his reign, and Manasseh, his successor, was not born till three years afterwards (;; Isaiah 39). The rest of Hezekiah's life appears to have been peaceable and prosperous. No man before or since ever lived under the certain knowledge of the precise length of the span of life before him. When the fifteen years had expired, Hezekiah was gathered to his fathers, after a reign of twenty-nine years. He died sincerely lamented by all his people, and the public respect for his character and memory was testified by his corpse being placed in the highest niche of the royal sepulcher (; ).
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Hezekiah'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/h/hezekiah.html.