Christian Churches of God
King Hezekiah Restores the Temple
(Edition 1.0 20090221-20090221)
Hezekiah is one of the few kings who compared favourably with King David. He trusted in the God of Israel and kept the Commandments of God. He was successful in all he undertook because the Lord was with him. This paper has been adapted from chapters 137,138,139, Volume VI of The Bible Story by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press.
King Hezekiah Restores the Temple
The emptied cities of Israel didn't remain unoccupied long. The king of Assyria brought people from other conquered nations and surrounding vassal territories and settled them in the cities of Samaria (2Kgs. 17:24). However, the new settlers did not fear God so He sent lions among them and killed some of the people.
The king was told about the lions and that the nations he placed in the cities of Samaria did not know the law of God of Israel. He commanded that they send for one of the priests of Israel so he could come and live with the people and teach them the Law of God. Then one of the priests came and lived in Bethel and taught them how to fear God.
Although some knowledge of the Creator spread among them they still preferred to worship their own gods. However, they also feared the Lord God. Among these idols were those that resembled fish, horses, bulls, eagles, and combinations of animals and men. Readers of this story will agree that it was abysmally ignorant of men to look to animal images for supernatural help. But some readers may know people who believe that a rabbit's foot in one's pocket or a horseshoe over a doorway brings "good luck" to the possessors. The sobering fact is that many people still believe that certain lifeless tokens, crystals, symbols and images have mysterious powers, and go so far as to kneel and pray to some of those images (2Kgs. 17:25-41).
Back in the third year of the reign of Hoshea, last of the kings of Israel, a son of evil King Ahaz began to rule Judah. He was Hezekiah, a young man of twenty-five years. Strange as it seems, he was much the opposite of his disobedient father (2Kgs. 18:1-3; 2Chr. 28:27; 29:1-2).
One of Hezekiah's first important acts, carried out in the first year of his reign, was to reopen the Temple at Jerusalem. It had been closed about sixteen years previously because Ahaz had turned to idolatry and had stripped the Temple of its valuables to pay the king of Assyria for help against Judah's enemies.
Hezekiah made it known that because of the sins of his father and many others in the nation, Judah had come into years filled with all kinds of trouble. He declared that it was time to turn to God and renew the covenant all of Israel had made with the Creator years before.
In the first month of the first year of his reign he opened the doors of the Temple and repaired them. He brought in the priests and the Levites and said to them, "Listen to me Levites! Now consecrate yourselves and consecrate the Temple of God and remove all the filth from the holy place" (2Chr. 29:3-11).
By the end of the sixteenth day the whole temple had been cleaned (1Chr. 29:12-17). The priests came to Hezekiah to report that they had purified the entire Temple, the altar of burnt offerings with all its utensils, and the table for setting out the consecrated bread, with all its articles. The vessels that King Ahaz had removed were repaired, and consecrated (2Chr. 29:18-19).
Hezekiah was pleased at what had been accomplished, although he had strongly hoped that the Temple would be ready for use at Passover time, which was to be observed on the fourteenth day of Nisan. It was two days too late to begin at the proper date. Besides, the Temple should be rededicated, and not all the priests were fully prepared ceremonially to resume their duties.
Hezekiah didn't waste any time. He wanted to be certain that the Temple, the priests and all their helpers would be ready a month later for observance of the Passover. By announcing the date to be the same day of the next month, the king wouldn't be acting contrary to God, who had instructed Moses that the Passover should be observed the fourteenth day of the second month (Iyar) if circumstances made it impossible to observe it in the first month (Num. 9:9-12).
Early next morning Hezekiah informed the leaders in and around Jerusalem that there should be ceremonies that same day to institute the use of the Temple and establish again the functions of the priests and their helpers (2Chr. 29:20).
Cattle, sheep and goats were brought for sin offerings to make atonement not only for Judah, but also for all Israel. While the sacrifices were being made, the Levites sang songs composed by David, accompanying themselves with trumpets and other kinds of instruments David and the prophets had employed for making music at the house of God.
After making sacrifices and musical praise to the Creator, Hezekiah announced that the priests and their helpers had well demonstrated that they were consecrated to their work. Then he invited the people attending to bring their sacrifices to make thank offerings.
There were a total of seventy bullocks, a hundred rams, two hundred lambs, six hundred bulls and three thousand sheep. However, the priests were too few to skin all the burnt offerings, so the Levites helped them until the task was finished and until other priests had been consecrated (2Chr. 29:21-36).
Hezekiah next sent messengers to all Judah and Israel and wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh that they should come to the House of the Lord at Jerusalem to keep the Passover in the second month.
"Return to your God, and He will return to you," the king of Judah wrote on the proclamation. "You who are still free from Assyria should especially thank your Creator at this time of worship. Don't go the way of your fathers and brothers who gave in to idolatry and were left helpless. Yield yourselves to God and escape His anger. If you turn to Him now, He will preserve you from your enemies, sickness and want and will bring your captive brethren back home. Join us at God's house in Jerusalem" (2Chr. 30:1-10).
Hezekiah's messengers were sent throughout Israel and Judah to spread the news of the reopening of the Temple at Jerusalem. But they were scoffed at and threatened by idol-worshippers, especially in the territories of Manasseh, Ephraim and Zebulun. But not all the Israelites laughed at or ridiculed the messengers. A few men of Manasseh, Ephraim, Asher, Issachar and Zebulun welcomed the news from Judah and they came to Jerusalem. The hand of God was also on the people of Judah to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king had ordered (2Chr. 30:1-12).
Many people came together in Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the second month. They removed the altars that had been used during the reign of the idolatrous King Ahaz. The altars were torn down and thrown into the Kidron valley.
The king of Judah was elated at the way the Passover turned out. It proved to be the greatest in attendance, as well as the most joyous, since the time of Solomon! There was only one temporarily adverse note. A few of the people, even including some priests, had failed to properly prepare themselves, ceremonially and mentally, for a fitting observation of the Passover.
When Hezekiah discerned this, he asked God to pardon the careless ones. Because he was obedient to God, his prayer was answered, and for a week there was joyous worship in the Days of Unleavened Bread, a time that God's Church still observes by praising the Creator in word and music, but not through meat sacrifices on altars.
The people were so enthusiastic that the government and church leaders took counsel and decided to continue worship services for another week. Hezekiah and the princes gladly arranged for two thousand bullocks and seventeen thousand sheep to be brought in to make more feasting possible. On the last day the priests asked God's blessing on those present, who dispersed with thankfulness that they had been able to come and enjoy the occasion (2Chr. 30:13-27).
When it was all finished, all Israel who were present went out to the cities of Judah and they smashed the images, cut down sacred groves and tore apart the altars. Then they returned to their homes (2Chr. 31:1).
Meanwhile, Hezekiah set about re-establishing a more permanent order of matters at the temple, including the specific ranks, courses and duties of the priests and other Levites. He planned how functions could be improved by more closely conforming to the manner in which they were carried out when the Temple was new (1Chr. 23:1-6).
Hezekiah also decided how much the king should contribute for offerings (2Chr. 31:3). David, Solomon and other conscientious kings of Judah had furnished much for special offerings. Hezekiah wanted to follow their good example (2Sam. 8:9-12; 1Kgs. 8:5,63; 1Chr. 22:2-4, 14-16; 2Chr. 7:4-5, etc.).
Also, in the times of the kings who followed God, the people supplied the needs of the Levites and the Temple by paying tithes. Hezekiah reminded the people of this tithe. The response was more than enough. During the months that followed, there was such a surplus of animals, grain, wine, oil, honey and valuables that places had to be prepared to store or keep them. The overabundance from the people reflected God's blessing on Judah because of the obedience of the king and his example and influence (2Chr. 31:2-12, 20-21).
This change for the better, however, didn't mean that there would be no trouble in the nation from then on. Judah was still under the burden of paying regular tribute to Assyria, because of the heavy commitment made by King Ahaz. Besides, the Philistines were a constant threat from the west.
Because Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord by destroying idols and removing the high places and keeping the commandments, the Lord was with him. Wherever he went he prospered. He rebelled against the King of Assyria and would not serve him. He defeated the Philistines and pushed them back westward to the city of Gaza, their capital (2Kgs. 18:1-8).
As a matter of further preparedness, however, he built up all the wall that was broken down and raised towers upon it and reinforced the supporting terraces of the City of David. Outside it he built another wall. He believed in doing all that he could to prepare for the worst. He also made large numbers of weapons and shields. He encouraged the people and told them not to fear the Assyrian army, for he trusted in God. Whatever he couldn't do for Judah would have to come as protection from God (2Chr. 32:5-8).
After these things and these acts of faithfulness Sennacherib King of Assyria came and invaded Judah and attacked all the fortified cities and captured them (2Chr. 32:1; 2Kgs. 18:13).
The king of Judah was troubled. It was evident to him that this invasion was the result of his refusal to pay tribute to Sennacherib. A showdown at Jerusalem obviously wasn't very far away. Hezekiah called an immediate meeting of his advisors to determine what should be done next for the defense of the capital.
They decided that the most effective thing they could do, in the probable event the Assyrians came to Jerusalem, was to cut off the water supply by plugging up wells and springs outside the city. This was done after rural residents had stored much water in hidden places, although this measure was certain to bring hardship to farmers and stockmen. A crew of many workers even managed to divert and cover the stream called Kidron, so that it wouldn't be recognizable or easily accessible.
By this time a large part of the citizens of Jerusalem and its environs were filled with fear, having heard that a gigantic Assyrian army was about to swallow up the whole nation of Judah and take the people into slavery as the invaders had done with the unrepentant inhabitants of the kingdom of Israel. (II Kings 18:9-12.)
The king of Judah made a decision that changed matters somewhat, though not necessarily for the better. Messengers delivered a message to King Sennacherib at Lachish that said:
"I have done wrong. Withdraw from me and I will pay whatever you demand of me" (2Kgs. 18:14).
The king of Assyria extracted from the king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the Temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace, plus the gold that was stripped off the doors and pillars of the Temple (2Kgs. 18:13-16).
A Tyrant's Boast and Divine Justice
Hezekiah soon learned that the king of Assyria had accepted the special tribute from Judah without honouring the promise to cease war; for the king of Assyria sent three officers with a large army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem (2Kgs. 18:17).
They called for the king and Hezekiah's men of top rank. They were Eliakim, Shebna and Joah. These were the stewards of the royal household, the king's chief secretary and his official recorder and keeper of the archives.
"Where is the military power of your king, who is so foolish as to rebel against the powerful Sennacherib?" Rab-shakeh roared. "Could it be that your Hezekiah is waiting for the Pharaoh of Egypt to come galloping to his rescue on his overrated horses? If that's the way it is, your king is due for disappointment, because Pharaoh is about as dependable as a broken reed in the Nile River!
"Don't ask us to believe that it will do your king any good for him to rely on his God! Hezekiah forced you to stop sacrificing to your God in your favourite high places and made you crowd in before only one altar in only one temple! How can help be expected from a God who was thus offended?
"Since Pharaoh won't help you, we will make a bargain. We'll give you two thousand horses that are superior to any you could find in Egypt! Then you can send your army out to fight if you dare. Do you think you could scrape up anywhere near two thousand riders from among all of you?
"Now listen to this, which will surprise you! Because your God doesn't care for you anymore, He has asked us to destroy you if you resist" (2Kgs. 18:18-25).
With this, Rab-shakeh stepped aside for Rabsaris, the chief of Sennacherib's attendants. He continued in the same blasphemous vein. By the time he finished, the audience was somewhat stunned by all the loud bragging and lying. Then Eliakim, Hezekiah's chamberlain, held up his arms to get the attention of the Assyrian officers.
"If you have more to say," he called down to them in the Assyrian language, "considerately talk in your native language instead of Hebrew. The three of us understand Assyrian, and we'll pass on your remarks to our king. No good will come of our people hearing what you have to say."
"King Sennacherib didn't send us to speak just to you and your king!" Rab-shakeh bellowed back in Hebrew. "We came here to tell all of you that unless you come out to us peacefully, you will soon have nothing to eat or drink except what comes from your own starving bodies!" (2Kgs. 18:26-27).
Rab-shakeh continued: "Now hear me, you people of Judah! The mighty Sennacherib warns you not to believe your king when he tells you that your God has the power to save this city! It is a lie! Your only hope is to come out to us! Then you will be free instead of prisoners inside those walls, and you will be given farms to live on in comfort. Many of you will be favoured by being taken to a bigger and a richer land where there is an oversupply of grain, grapes, olives and honey! Do you have the wisdom to choose these good things, or do you choose to foolishly follow your fanatical king to your death?" (2Kgs. 18:28-35).
The people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded them to remain silent regardless of what they heard. Then Eliakim, Shebna and Joah went to Hezekiah with their clothes torn – in the ancient manner of Israelites who were greatly grieved – and told him what the field commander had said (2Kgs. 18:36-37).
When Hezekiah heard all that had been said, he, too, was so overwhelmed by grief that he ripped his coat. Then he removed his royal attire and dressed himself in sackcloth, an Israelite custom of expressing extreme sorrow. And he went to the Temple to pray. He sent Eliakim and Shebna and some of the leading priests to the prophet Isaiah (2Kgs. 19:1-2).
Isaiah had lived a long time in Judah. Back in the last days of King Uzziah he had become a faithful and obedient follower of God's Laws (Isa. 1:1). One time when he was in the Temple, he was startled to see the Lord sitting on a high throne surrounded by shining, six-winged creatures known as seraphim, who were calling out in praise of the Creator (Isa. 6:1-4).
Isaiah was afraid and he felt unworthy because he considered himself a man of unclean lips and lived among people of unclean lips, yet he was allowed to see the King, the Lord of hosts in a vision.
To add to his fright, one of the seraphim flew to a fiery altar, picked up a glowing coal with tongs, and with it touched Isaiah’s mouth.
"Now that this has touched your lips, you have been purged of sin," the seraph said, and flew off to leave Isaiah puzzled and trembling (Isa. 6:5-7).
Then the voice of the Lord said, "Whom shall I send to warn the people of Judah of what they will face in the future?"
"Send me!" Isaiah called out.
"He said, "Go, you are chosen to tell the people of the misery to come to them unless they turn from their idolatry. They won't listen and they therefore won't understand, but they won't be able to say that I didn't warn them. I shall instruct you from time to time what to say to them. Your warnings will only cause them to become more blind and deaf and have less understanding because they will refuse to change their ways. Nevertheless, continue warning them."
"How long must I continue doing this thing?" Isaiah asked.
"Until the people have been herded from their cities and fields and have been forced to go to other parts of the world," the Lord answered. "Long after that, a tenth part of them shall return, like a planted tree seed, to start a new national growth" (Isa. 6:8-13).
Isaiah slowly realized that he was in the Temple, and not in heaven, and that he had seen only a vision. He understood that it was a commission from God, and that for the rest of his life it would be his duty to prophesy, as God would direct.
Down through the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham, Isaiah came to public and royal attention because of his predictions. But in Ahaz's day he was generally ignored. Before the predictions came true, he was usually ridiculed. But by Hezekiah's time, because so many in Judah had turned back to God, Isaiah gained national respect. Hezekiah considered him the man closest to God in Judah. That is why Eliakim and Shebna were sent to him (2Kgs. 19:2).
"I know the king is dismayed by the close presence of the enemy," the prophet told them, "but God has already made it known to me that there is nothing to fear. Tell the king that Rab-shakeh has left to ask Sennacherib what to do next. Tell him that bad news will come to the king of Assyria and cause him to change his plans. He will return to his country where God will cause him to be murdered" (2Kgs. 19:3-7).
Meanwhile, to the southwest toward the border of Egypt, Sennacherib had ended his siege of Lachish. He decided, next, to move his army toward Jerusalem, to another walled city, Libnah. This is where Rab-shakeh found him (2Kgs. 19:8). Sennacherib then received a troublesome report that the king of Ethiopia, a nation also known then as Upper Egypt, was on his way north with an army to help the soldiers of Lower Egypt push back the Assyrians (v. 9). Sennacherib immediately decided to pit all his troops against Judah's capital. If he could take Jerusalem, he was certain that the whole nation would be his and that the Ethiopians would be defeated. However, he still had hopes of sparing his army from a costly battle by frightening Hezekiah into surrender without any fighting.
The king of Judah soon received this letter from the king of Assyria: "Do not be so foolish as to trust in your God, who has deceived you by boasting of His ability to protect Jerusalem. Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to the countries, destroying them completely. Your God won't be able to do any more for you than the gods of other nations did for their people whom I killed or captured.”
Sennacherib’s officers spoke further against the Lord God and against His servant Hezekiah. The king also wrote letters insulting the God of Israel. They called out in Hebrew to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to terrify them and make them afraid in order to capture the city (2Kgs. 19:10-13; 2Chr. 32:9-19).
Hezekiah was so perturbed by this letter, delivered directly by Sennacherib's messengers, that he went at once to the Temple. There he spread the letter out before God and kneeled down to pray.
"God of Israel, Creator of the universe," Hezekiah began, "please listen to me. See in this letter the blasphemous words of the king of Assyria and how he has tried to belittle you. He boasts that the gods of other nations have failed to save those nations from his invasions. To brag about being more powerful than lifeless idols of wood, stone and metal is nothing. The troublesome part is that he has swallowed up one nation after another because they trusted in idols instead of trusting in your supreme power. Rescue us from this pagan scourge, I beseech you. Then people everywhere will learn that you are the one and only true God" (2Kgs. 19:14-19; 2Chr. 32:20).
When Hezekiah returned to his palace, Eliakim and Shebna were waiting for him with the encouraging message from Isaiah. They informed the king of Judah that God had heard and would answer the prayer he had uttered at the Temple, asking for help against the Assyrians.
"With God as your strength, there is no reason for you to be fearful or discouraged," Isaiah's message read. "Even the young women of Jerusalem hold Sennacherib in such contempt that they laugh at the mention of his name, though his troops are just outside the city. God has been greatly angered by his blasphemy and his boasting about the nations he has conquered.
"This tyrant would be shocked if he knew that he never would have become king of Assyria or won even one small battle if the God of Israel hadn't allowed it. Any success he had in conquering other nations was because the Creator chose to use him to carry out a small bit of a plan formed centuries ago.
"Now God is through with him, and because of his despicable acts and words against our God and against you, God will send him back to his country. Then the fields and orchards the Assyrians have ravaged will produce of themselves, in spite of their mutilated condition – a miraculous sign of God's power and willingness to help Judah. Those who have been driven off their farms, and are taking refuge in Jerusalem, shall return safely to find fruits, grains and vegetables starting to grow without attendance.
"As for Sennacherib, he shall not set foot inside this city. Not one arrow shall be shot against it from an Assyrian bow. No enemy soldier shall approach the wall with his shield in front of him.
The Assyrians shall not put even a shovelful of dirt against the wall to start building a bank from which to attack you. God will protect Jerusalem because He wants to, and because of the covenant He made with King David more than three hundred years ago. All this, God has made known to me so that I should inform you" (2Kgs. 19:20-34).
That night the Angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. Then Sennacherib, king of Assyria departed and went home to Ninevah. One day [some time later] as he was worshipping in the house` of his god two of his sons slew him with the sword, and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhabdon his son reigned (2Kgs. 19:35-37; 2Chr. 32:21).
So God saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib and from the hand of all his enemies. He took care of them on every side. Many brought gifts to the Lord to Jerusalem and precious things to Hezekiah, king of Judah. From then on he was highly regarded by all the nations (2Chr. 32:22-23).
We will continue with this Bible story in the paper The Decline of Judah (No. CB150).