2 Kings 20: Hezekiah and Isaiah
We learned about the prophets Elijah and Elisha in Israel in the days of Ahab. Now we learn about another prophet, Isaiah. He lived in Jerusalem, and the king there at the time of our story was Hezekiah. W e can learn about Isaiah in the Book of Kings where we have read the story of Elijah and Elisha; and we also learn much more about Isaiah and many of the words that he spoke from the Lord in the book of the Bible that has his name.
The same enemy which conquered Israel and took the people captive had also threatened Judah and Jerusalem. The king of Assyria sent messengers to Jerusalem who spoke very proudly and insultingly, asking them to give the city up to the Assyrians, and King Hezekiah and the people were greatly frightened. But the prophet Isaiah encouraged the king from the Lord and made him strong, and the Assyrians did not take Jerusalem.
Now King Hezekiah was very sick, and the prophet Isaiah came to him again. At first Isaiah told the king that he would die. Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord and wept. Turning his face to the wall was like bowing down to the ground. This and his prayer and weeping were signs that he was humble before the Lord. Isaiah had not gone far, only into the middle court, or it may mean to the middle part of the city, when the Lord sent him back to tell the king that He would add fifteen years to his life. The prophet also told them to put figs upon the boil to heal the king. Figs were often used as a healing poultice.
Hezekiah asked for a sign that the Lord would heal him, and he was given a choice. There was a dial in the king's palace, perhaps a flight of steps with a column or pole placed so that as the shadow lengthened or shortened it fell higher or lower upon the steps. So by the place of the shadow they could tell the time of day. Should the shadow go forward ten steps, or should it go back ten steps? Hezekiah asked that it might go backward, and the Lord made it do so, as if to lengthen the day. It was a sign that the king's life and the life of his kingdom would be lengthened.
There was another time when the prophet Isaiah was sent to King Hezekiah. Messengers had come to Hezekiah from Babylon, a city far away, and he showed them all his treasures. Isaiah told him that he should not have done so; that some day Babylon would be an enemy of Judah, and the people of Babylon would carry away the treasures of Jerusalem and take its people captive. Let us read about Hezekiah and Isaiah. (2 Kings 20)
It is said of Hezekiah, “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.” (2 Kings 18:5) We have already learned how in the time of danger from the Assyrians he turned to the Lord, and how the prophet Isaiah strengthened him.
Both Isaiah and Micah were prophets in Jerusalem in these days. We learn more of these prophets in the books called by their names. Read sometime in Isaiah 6 how Isaiah was called to be a prophet of the Lord. Now we know a little about Hezekiah and Isaiah, the two important people in our story.
Notice the mention of Hezekiah in Isa. 1:1. It is interesting to find a part of this story that is told in the Book of Kings told in almost the same words in Isa. 36; 37; 38; 39. Compare especially Isa. 38 and 39 with our present chapter, 2 Kings 20. Isaiah adds the grateful writing of Hezekiah when he had been sick and was healed. Read also 2 Chron. 32.
There are three interesting subjects in our chapter. First, read verses 1-7 about Hezekiah's sickness and healing. “The middle court,” verse 4, perhaps should be “the middle part of the city.” In any case, the prophet had not gone far. The prophecy of what would come to Hezekiah was changed when the king was penitent and prayed. We read of similar things in other places in the Bible. For example, the predicted destruction of Nineveh did not come when the people repented. (Jonah 3) Read carefully Ezek. 33:13-15. Such words remind us that what the Lord can do for us depends upon our attitude toward Him, and upon our doing our part ourselves. Read what I have said to the little children about the dial of Ahaz. The going backward of the shadow on the steps, lengthening the day, represented the lengthening of Hezekiah's life. It also represented the lengthening of the life of the Jewish Church through the presence in it of some good people like Hezekiah.
Another part of the story begins at verse 12. Babylon was the great city far away to the east on the Euphrates River. At this time, Assyria and Babylon were enemies of each other. The king of Babylon was glad to send a friendly message to Hezekiah and a present, to make a league with him against Assyria. But the Lord had protected Hezekiah from the Assyrians when they threatened Jerusalem, and he ought not now to make friends with these people from far away and to look for help from them. This was the beginning of trouble, for as Isaiah told the king, Babylon would become the enemy of Judah and some day would take the people captive.
The chapter tells (verse 20) about work that Hezekiah did for the water supply of Jerusalem, at the time when the country and city were threatened by the Assyrians. Read more about this in 2 Chron. 32:1-4, 30. Hezekiah called out the people, and they covered springs throughout the country so that the Assyrians should not have the use of them. He also covered the spring of Gihon, called now the Virgin's Fountain, in the Kidron Valley, and led the water by a tunnel cut through the rock under the city to the pool of Siloam, which was then within the city walls. This was to keep the water from an attacking army and to bring it inside the city. It was a crooked tunnel, about seventeen hundred feet long and about six feet in height. There is on the wall of this tunnel an interesting inscription which is believed to have been written there by Hezekiah's men. This is a translation of the inscription: “The boring through [is completed]. And this is the story of the boring through: while yet [they plied] the drill, each toward his fellow, and while yet there were three cubits to be bored through, there was heard the voice of one calling unto another, for there was a crevice in the rock on the right hand. And on the day of the boring through the stone-cutters struck, each to meet his fellow, drill upon drill: and the waters flowed from the source to the pool for a thousand and two hundred cubits, and a hundred cubits was the height of the rock above the heads of the stone-cutters.”
The “pool of Hezekiah” in Jerusalem is modern, but it serves to remind us of the good king who did so much for Jerusalem and for the water supply of the city.
I have not tried in these notes to tell the story but only to give a few thoughts which may help you as you read the story for yourselves.
1. Who was Hezekiah? Was he a good king?
2. In what great trouble had he trusted the Lord, and the Lord had saved him?
3. Who was the Lord's prophet, who helped the king at that time and now when he was sick?
4. What sign was given that the king's life would be lengthened?
5. What did Hezekiah do for the water supply of Jerusalem?
Throughout this story we must keep in mind the meaning of Assyria. In a good sense, Assyria represents a noble power of rational understanding, compared to a cedar of Lebanon. But in a bad sense, it represents a proud spirit of trust in one’s own intelligence. This is fatal to spiritual intelligence (Israel), and is an enemy of good love (Judah). (A. 10227; R, 96)
This same nation, Assyria, which destroyed the kingdom of Israel also exacted tribute from Judah and threatened to destroy it. A false reason and understanding are opposed to goodness in the will and in life, but they may not absolutely destroy it. In spite of ignorance and false teaching, there may still be some simple goodness. This is represented by the continuance of Judah as a nation for one hundred and fifty years after Israel was taken captive, and by the deliverance of Hezekiah king of Judah from the Assyrians. (A. 4292, 4750; E. 433; R. 96)
The spiritual lesson of our story about Hezekiah's sickness and recovery is in line with this general thought. The sickness of the king which brought him near to death represents the languishing of spiritual life in people of that day and at all times when spiritual idolatries prevail and spiritual Assyrians threaten the soul. If this condition continues, spiritual death must follow. But this need not be. Recovery is possible and a lengthening of life if people are truly humble before the Lord and earnestly apply themselves, in obedience to the Lord, to such simple good deeds as they have power to do. The humility of soul is represented by Hezekiah's turning to the wall and by his prayers and tears. The simple good life is represented by the figs which healed his sore; for the sweet nourishing figs, the fruit of a low, spreading tree, represent works of natural goodness. Where such humility and such goodness are there is something of heavenly life, and the false reasoning of the spiritual Assyrian does not destroy the soul. Love and goodness are the heavenly sunshine. When these languish, as they did in the days of Ahaz, the shadow falls upon life’s dial. If these revive through humility and good life, the shadow is turned backward on the dial and the day of sunshine is prolonged. (E. 403, 706)
The reception of messengers from Babylon by Hezekiah was the beginning of the end. This was the enemy that would carry Judah captive as Assyria had carried Israel. Babylon throughout the Scriptures, from the tower of Babel in Genesis to Babylon in the Revelation, represents the evil of self-love, and of desire to rule over others even by the use of holy things. In answer to Isaiah's question about the messengers, Hezekiah said, “They are come from a far country, even from Babylon.” A far country. It means that the evil of self-love which they represented is far removed from heavenly life of which Judah and Jerusalem are the type. Remember the same words in the parable of the prodigal son. Turning to a life of self-indulgence, he took his journey into a far country. We have seen that something of good may exist in spite of false reasoning, but if self-love comes in and appropriates the treasures of the soul, all good in time is destroyed. You see why the prophet rebuked the king, for receiving these messengers from Babylon and showing them his treasures. (A. 1307; E. 811, 1029)
We know how often the waters of the Holy Land, its springs and streams, stand for truth received from the Lord in a heavenly life, cleansing that life and making it fruitful The rivers of Eden have the same meaning, and the river of water of life in the Holy City. Even the springs and pools of Jerusalem, naturally a poor and meager supply, become in the Scriptures types of this heavenly truth. We may see in what Hezekiah did for the water supply of Jerusalem a suggestion of the desire of a good motive in heart for the truth which shows how to do good, and of the power of such a motive to receive and hold such truth. Remember, however, Isaiah's rebuke for gathering the waters of the lower pool. (Isa. 22:9) The pool and conduit of Hezekiah seem to represent not an interior perception, but truth of a simple literal kind, such as alone is possible in a state of little spiritual life. (E. 453; A. 3096, 4926)