King Hezekiah: Almost a Messiah
by John A. Tvedtnes, FARMS
Hezekiah, king of Judah, reigned from 726 to 697 B.C., during one of the most turbulent periods of ancient Near Eastern history. He witnessed the Assyrian advance on kingdoms stretching from present-day Iran to Turkey to Egypt. Among the nations to fall captive to Assyria was Israel, many of whose inhabitants were removed from their homeland in 722 B.C. A mere twenty-one years later, the Assyrian army subdued forty-six of Hezekiah’s own cities and besieged him, as the Assyrian king Sennacherib recorded, “like a bird in a cage” in his capital, Jerusalem. Hezekiah’s had made the mistake of allying himself with the Egyptians, the Philistines, and the Phoenicians.
Hezekiah pleaded with the Lord to deliver him from the invaders. In response, the Lord sent an angel into the Assyrian camp, causing them to break the siege and return home (2 Kings 19; 2 Chronicles 32; Isaiah 36-37).
Hezekiah found answer to his prayers because “he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did . . . He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him . . . For he clave to the Lord, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses. And the Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth” (2 Kings 18:3, 5-7).
Hezekiah had destroyed the high places, idols, and groves associated with Canaanite worship, along with the brasen serpent of Moses that the people had begun to worship (2 Kings 18:4; 2 Chronicles 31:1). He also ordered repairs and cleaning of the temple and reinstituted the temple rites that had been neglected by his wicked predecessors (2 Chronicles 29-31). As a result, the Lord blessed Hezekiah and his people. By contrast, the northern kingdom of Israel was taken captive by the Syrians “because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord their God, but transgressed his covenant, and all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and would not hear them, nor do them” (2 Kings 18:12).
During the time of the siege, “Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.” But the king “turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the Lord, saying, I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.” The Lord took pity on him and sent the prophet back to tell him, “I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee.” Then “Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered” (2 Kings 20:1-7).
Isaiah’s cure of Hezekiah’s illness by means of a poultice of boiled figs may seem strange at first glance. But the prescription is also known from the ancient city of Ugarit, in northwestern Syria, where a number of medical tablets from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries B.C. were discovered. One of the Ugaritic texts refers to a poultice of compressed figs called dblh, which may be related to Arabic dibis, a thick sticky liquid made from boiled grape juice. (Hebrew, Ugaritic, and Arabic are related languages). Another text from Ugaritic prescribes a salve made from figs, raisins, oatmeal and liquid for curing a horse’s swollen head or sore nose; the mixture was administered via the nostrils.
During the time of his illness, Hezekiah was visited by emissaries of the Babylonian king Merodach Baladan (also termed Berodach Baladan in error). He showed them the gold and silver–probably amassed to pay for a possible war against Assyria–as well as his armory. The prophet Isaiah was very concerned about this latter development and informed Hezekiah that the gold and silver would entice the Babylonians to ultimately come to Jerusalem for plunder (2 Kings 20; Isaiah 39). A century later, Isaiah’s words were fulfilled, when Nebuchadnezzar II took Jerusalem and all its wealth.
Hezekiah was noted as a righteous king, particularly in comparison with most of the other rulers of Judah. He had a good working relationship with the prophet Isaiah and saw miracles save both his kingdom and his own life. Jewish tradition has it that he was almost righteous enough to have been the Messiah.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.