For my weekly quiet time this week, I studied II Kings 20.
King Hezekiah of Judah is sick, and Isaiah the prophet tells him that he’s about to die. Hezekiah then prays to live, appealing to the perfection of his own heart as he speaks to God. Isaiah puts figs on Hezekiah’s boil, and Hezekiah recovers. Isaiah promises in the name of the LORD that Hezekiah will go to the house of God on the third day, and will live for fifteen more years. Hezekiah asks for a sign that this will happen, and God responds by reversing the course of the sun.
(Here, we may see different sources about Hezekiah’s recovery. After all, why would Hezekiah request a sign that he’d be healed, after Isaiah has already healed him with figs? On the other hand, maybe his recovery took a couple of days, and Hezekiah sought a sign during his convalescence that the fig-treatment would work.)
Having heard that Hezekiah was sick, King Merodach-Baladan of Babylon sent a gift to Hezekiah via messengers, and Hezekiah showed them all the treasures of his kingdom. When Isaiah hears about this, he prophesies that the treasures and the sons of Hezekiah will be carried away into Babylon. Hezekiah is happy, however, that the destruction and exile won’t occur while he is alive!
Here are some issues that I encountered in my study:
1. Chronology. Merodach-baladan ruled Babylon in two time periods: in 722-710 B.C.E., and in 704-703 B.C.E., times when Babylon could be independent from Assyria. King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E. What’s the problem? In II Kings 20:6, God promises to deliver Jerusalem from the hand of the King of Assyria, and this prophecy is made when Hezekiah is sick. If this prophecy is made in 701 B.C.E., which is when Sennacherib is invading Jerusalem, then how can King Merodach-baladan send messengers to Hezekiah after Hezekiah is sick? Merodach-baladan’s rule ended a few years before 701 B.C.E.!
The Book of Chronicles compounds the problem, for, in II Chronicles 32, we see (if I’m reading the chapter correctly) the following order of events: God delivers Jerusalem from Sennacherib, people bring gifts to Jerusalem, Hezekiah gets sick and recovers, and Merodach-baladan sends messengers to Hezekiah. Again, we have the problem of King Merodach-Baladan of Babylon sending messengers to Hezekiah a few years after the end of his reign!
I wonder, though, how scholars arrive at these dates, and if the Bible should be an item of evidence as to when certain events occurred—not the only item of evidence, mind you, but one piece of evidence among others. If the Bible’s dating is contradicted by so many sources, then maybe the biblical account is getting its facts mixed up. But I still wonder how scholars arrive at the dates that they do.
Or perhaps the Assyrian threat loomed large over Judah and Jerusalem before 701 B.C.E. That wouldn’t solve II Chronicles 32’s chronological problems, but it would iron out the difficulty in II Kings 20: when Hezekiah was sick, God promised that Jerusalem wouldn’t have to worry about the Assyrians anymore. Sure, in this scenario, the Assyrians hadn’t yet invaded during Hezekiah’s illness, but they were still a looming threat.
2. Was Hezekiah about to die childless? E.W. Bullinger says “yes”, affirming that all the talk about the blessing of children in Psalms 127-128 and 132 was Hezekiah hoping he could live so he could produce offspring. II Kings 20:8 refers to sons who will go out from Hezekiah, which may imply that Hezekiah hasn’t had kids yet. And II Kings 21:1 says that Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, began to reign at age twelve. That means that Manasseh was born three years after Hezekiah’s illness, for God gave Hezekiah fifteen more years of life after Hezekiah was sick.
What’s odd is this: God promised David in II Samuel 7 that a Davidid would always rule over Israel. Was God about to bring the Davidic line to an end by allowing Hezekiah to die—since Isaiah told Hezekiah in God’s name that he would die, and not live, before Hezekiah prayed and received a lease on life? Maybe God wanted Hezekiah to pray to God and to appeal to God’s promise to David in order to live.
3. Hezekiah appears to be proud when he asks God in II Kings 20:8 to heal him on account of his (Hezekiah’s) perfection of heart. But Hezekiah still acknowledges that he is a sinner, for, in Isaiah 38:17, Hezekiah says that God has cast his (Hezekiah’s) sins behind God’s back. Perfection in the Old Testament may not have meant sinlessness, but rather seeking to obey God.
4. After hearing about the future exile and devastation of Judah and Jerusalem at the hands of Babylon, Hezekiah rejoices that at least he won’t experience all that! Many preachers and commentators castigate Hezekiah for being selfish, and they may be right. But John Gray offers an alternative view, comparing Hezekiah to Arabs who praise the name of Allah even when they hear bad news, and who try to end things on an auspicious note. Was Hezekiah selfish, or was he trying to look on the bright side?