Today I begin a series of studies on Hezekiah, king of Judah. Hezekiah ruled during a turbulent period in the history of the Southern Kingdom. In upcoming posts I will study the kingship of Hezekiah. The posts will deal with the historical situation in Judah at the time Hezekiah assumed the throne. The studies also will deal with his religious reforms, his attempt at political and economic reforms, his attempt at independence from Assyrian control and the crisis that ensued, his illness, and his relationship with the prophets Isaiah and Micah.
The editors of the Deuteronomic history, the biblical section that includes the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, wrote that Hezekiah, King of Judah, “trusted in the LORD the God of Israel; so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him” (2 Kings 18:5).
In fact, according to the Deuteronomic historians, from the division of the united monarchy in 922 B.C. to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., there were only four kings in Judah who were considered to be good kings, kings who upheld the religious traditions of the worship of Yahweh. Hezekiah is considered one of these four. No king of the Northern Kingdom was deemed to be a good and faithful king, not even Jehu, a faithful Yahwist.
Hezekiah (715-687 B.C.) became king of Judah at a time marked by religious and political crises. Inheriting the kingdom from his father Ahaz, Hezekiah attempted to overthrow Assyrian control and lead Judah back to freedom and independence. However, in the end, the attempt for independence failed.
Hezekiah’s Accession to the Throne
Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz, King of Judah. His mother’s name was Abi, the daughter of Zechariah. Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he began his reign and he reigned for twenty-nine years (2 Kings 18:2).
The precise date for Hezekiah’s accession to the throne is debated because of the conflicting information provided in the biblical record. For instance, 2 Kings 18:10 declares that Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom, fell in the sixth year of Hezekiah’s reign: “In the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken.”
Samaria was conquered by Sargon II in 722 B.C. thus, the sixth year of Hezekiah and the beginning of his reign would be 728/7. However, 2 Kings 18:13 indicates that Sennacherib’s invasion of Jerusalem occurred during the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign: “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them.”
Since Assyrian records indicate that Sennacherib’s invasion took place in 701 B.C., then the accession of Hezekiah to the throne took place in 715 B. C., a date which would place the fall of Samaria during the reign of King Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father. It is possible that Hezekiah ruled as co-regent with Ahaz for fourteen years before becoming king. The reference in 2 Kings 19:9 concerning the confrontation between Sennacherib and Tirhakah, the king of Egypt who ascended the throne in 690, confirms Hezekiah’s 29 years’ reign.
The political situation in the Ancient Near East at the time Hezekiah became king of Judah was very tense because of the presence of Assyria as an imperial power in the region.
Damascus, the capital of the Aramean state, was conquered by Tiglath-pileser III in 732 B.C. According to John Bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1981), p. 275, Tiglath-pileser ravaged the city, killed the leadership of the Aramean state, deported many of the city’s inhabitants to Kir, and the Aramean state was incorporated into the Assyrian empire and it was divided into four Assyrian provinces (see 2 Kings 16:9). The Northern Kingdom was also conquered by Assyria and had become an Assyrian province.
Because of the threat posed by Assyria, the population of Judah was divided between those who were pro-Assyria and those who were anti-Assyria. 2 Chronicles 28:7 suggests that an unsuccessful effort was made to assassinate Ahaz, either before or during the Syro-Ephraimite war.
The Syro-Ephraimite War (2 Kings 16:5-20; Isaiah 7:1-17), Judah’s war against Syria and Israel, forced Judah to request military help from Assyria, (2 Chronicles 28:6-8). Judah had to deplete the royal treasury in order to pay Assyria for help (2 Kings 16:8). Because of the policies of Ahaz during the Syro-Ephraimite War, Judah had become a vassal of Assyria and was required to pay an annual tribute which was a great burden on the nation’s economic resources. Thus, as a vassal, Judah was now within the sphere of influence of the Assyrian empire.
As a result of Ahaz’s struggle with the Israelite-Syrian coalition, the Edomites invaded Judean territory and recovered Elath. According to 2 Chronicles 28:17, some Judean captives were taken at the time of the invasion. The loss of the port of Ezion-geber was an additional economic burden on Judah because with the loss of the port, Judah lost an important trade route.
Additionally, the Philistines raided the Shephelah and the Negeb of Judah and conquered several cities, including Beth-shemesh, Aijalon, Gederoth, Soco, Timnah, and Gimzo settled in them (2 Chronicles 28:18).
Another factor that made an impact on Hezekiah’s reign was the religious life of Judah. Since the days of Ahaz, the religious situation of Judah had deteriorated. As a vassal of Assyria, Judah probably was required to pay homage to the Assyrian gods.
Ahaz introduced a copy of the Assyrian altar into the temple of Jerusalem (2 Kings 16:10-20). Ahaz also introduced Assyrian pagan practices (2 Chronicles 28:23). According to the Biblical text, Ahaz practiced many other pagan rituals: child sacrifice (2 Kings 16:3), he worshiped on high places (2 Kings 16:4), and he also practiced solar worship (2 Kings 23:12; 20:8-11). So, when Hezekiah became king of Judah he recognized the need for political and religious reforms in Judah.
To be continued.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary