SOURCE FOR QUESTIONS
2 Kings 18:1 through 20:21
KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“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)
The importance of the account of Hezekiah’s reign as king of Judah is evidenced by its nearly identical mention in three separate places: 2 Kings 18-20, 2 Chronicles 29-32, and Isaiah 36-39. Some scholars suggest that the relationship of Hezekiah with the Prophet Isaiah is the reason for this extensive history. While the Books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings record the history of the rulers of Israel and Judah from its inception through the Babylonian exile, they are much more than history alone. The account conveys spiritual and moral truths to the reader through the vehicle of objective political history. Specific kings are evaluated by a simple moral code — they either did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, or they did evil in His sight.
Hezekiah began to reign in Judah as co-regent with his father Ahaz at the age of twenty-five, around 729 B.C., and he reigned for twenty-nine years. He was identified as a good king, and took steps to eliminate idolatry in his kingdom, destroying altars, idols, and pagan temples. He cleaned out and restored the Temple in Jerusalem, and reinstated observance of the Passover.
His administration was, however, vexed with the pressures of politics. The neighboring Northern Kingdom (Israel) was conquered by Assyria during his reign and Hezekiah broke the treaty his father had forged with the Assyrians. Hezekiah attempted to bribe the Assyrian King Sennacherib, possibly in an attempt to avoid what was later to become an invasion of Judah and siege of Jerusalem.
There is also some evidence that Hezekiah made an attempt to secure a political alliance with Egypt in order to thwart the Assyrian invasion. In “The Annals of Sennacherib,” a translation of the historical record written by the Assyrian king, Sennacherib claims to have destroyed in Judah “forty-six of his [Hezekiah’s] strong, walled cities, as well as the small towns in their area which were without number.” His description of Hezekiah is, “Like a caged bird shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city.”(1) While this account does not acknowledge God’s miraculous deliverance, it does verify that Sennacherib was unable to conquer Jerusalem. Hezekiah agreed to pay a tribute (2 Kings 18:14), yet, Sennacherib treacherously invaded Judah again — a move which resulted in the divine destruction of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. Sennacherib retreated to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, and was later assassinated by his own sons.
Most Bible scholars agree that the 2 Kings 20 account of Hezekiah’s sickness and his reception of Babylonian diplomats actually took place prior to the Assyrian invasion. The shift in chronology matches that found in Isaiah, and possibly was used there for literary reasons and then was followed in 2 Kings.
SUGGESTED RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS
- All the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were deemed evil. Among the kings of Judah, both good and evil, only Hezekiah and Josiah gained the praise, “And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did” (2 Kings 18:3; 2 Kings 22:2). What actions resulted in this assessment of Hezekiah’s reign? 2 Kings 18:4-6
Hezekiah began by removing the high places and destroying the groves which were left from the idolatrous worship during previous administrations. Even under “good” kings, these places were only shifted in use from idol worship to the worship of God, apparently as poor substitutes of the Temple. The parallel account in 2 Chronicles 29 gives details concerning the reopening of the House of the Lord and the reinstituting of the worship of Jehovah in the Temple.
Hezekiah also recognized that the brazen serpent made by Moses nearly seven hundred years earlier (which was used by God to bring deliverance, see Numbers 21:9) had become an idol, distracting people from the true God rather than an icon drawing them closer to Him. He quickly destroyed it and named it “Nehushtan,” which means simply, “a piece of brass.”
Discuss with your students the importance of worship. Hezekiah was commended when he reopened the doors to the Temple and encouraged all of Judah to worship in that place. It is easy to accept less or to substitute something else for the true worship of God in the heart. We must always be on guard.
- Scripture records that Hezekiah trusted the Lord, clave to the Lord, and departed not from following Him (2 Kings 18:6). He apparently did this in the midst of extreme political, military, and economic pressure to do just the opposite. Name some ways in which we also are pressured to depart from the Lord and explain how our trust in God can help us resist.
You could address this question with your students by compiling a list of their answers regarding ways we are pressured to depart from the Lord. Suggestions might be fear, pride, busyness, distractions, consumerism, loss of employment, etc.
Then focus on what Hezekiah did right in terms of resisting pressure, using the specifics given in 2 Kings 8:6. Begin by considering the word trust. The dictionary defines trust as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” Hezekiah trusted in the character, ability and strength of God. Discuss with your students the character, ability, and strength of God. How can a focus on these attributes help us to withstand pressure to depart from Him?
Next, consider the old English word clave, which suggests staying close or near. Point out that there is One to whom we should stay near and follow if we are to resist pressure from the world. It is a simple principle: stay close. Though we may be tempted to wander, lag behind, or even depart in a different direction, focusing upon the character of God in the person of Jesus will help us stay close during difficult times.
- What was the Assyrian King Sennacherib’s perspective on Hezekiah’s God? How did he try to influence the inhabitants of Jerusalem? 2 Kings 18:19-22
The Assyrian king assumed that his military strength would overcome the people of Judah and their God just as he had overcome many others, whom he readily listed for Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
After crushing their confidence in an Egyptian alliance, Sennacherib’s representatives tried to influence the inhabitants of Jerusalem by brazenly questioning Hezekiah’s confidence and trust in God. The Assyrians suggested that Hezekiah’s removal of the groves and high places had taken the people farther away from their God instead of closer to Him, and even claimed that the Lord had sent the Assyrians to destroy the land of Judah. Finally, the brash diplomats attempted to stir up the people by broadcasting distrust and fear directly to the residents of Jerusalem who lived near the wall and could hear the proclamation of doom. The Assyrians falsely promised affluence and prosperity in exchange for surrender.
As a follow-up question, ask your class: How does the enemy of our souls use similar tactics to thwart our faith in God? Discussion should bring out that in the Garden of Eden, Satan began by questioning the truthfulness and integrity of God. He uses the same tactics today. Just because we cannot readily see God in times of difficulty and tragedy does not negate His faithfulness or the truth of His character. Some might assert that our honest attempts to draw closer to the Lord actually take us farther from Him, while others may claim to “know the will of God” for us just as Sennacherib did for Judah. Most obviously, Satan attempts to broadcast distrust and fear directly into our hearts and into the hearts of those around us.
- How did Hezekiah respond to the threats brought first by the Assyrian diplomats and then by a letter sent directly from Sennacherib? 2 Kings 19:1
King Hezekiah responded to the threats with a truly humble spirit. We read that “he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord.” He then sent his senior advisors, who had also heard the Assyrian threats, to the Prophet Isaiah requesting intercessory prayer on behalf of the remnant in Jerusalem. The response was a positive one promising the destruction of Sennacherib in his own land (see 2 Kings 19:37, which describes Sennacherib’s death some twenty years later).
Upon receiving the arrogant and threatening letter from Sennacherib, King Hezekiah read it and then immediately took it to the Temple and spread it before the Lord. He prayed a simple but beautiful prayer, acknowledging God’s sovereignty in the universe as Creator and then requesting that God see and hear the blasphemy of the letter. He simply asked for deliverance so that all the earth would know of God’s sovereignty.
After considering Hezekiah’s response to taunting and accusatory words, discuss with your students how we should respond when we are accused or mocked. Taking these situations humbly to the Lord in prayer would be a wise response. Ultimately, we represent God and want His name to be lifted up and glorified in the world around us. Taking time to humbly pray, encouraging others to do the same, asking for intercessory prayer, asking God for guidance, etc., are all great responses.
- God sent word to Hezekiah to “set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live” (2 Kings 20:1). Since we do not know when we will step into eternity, how can we “set our houses in order”?
In Hezekiah’s case, this directive no doubt meant that he was to arrange his governmental and private affairs in light of his imminent death. Tending to such details is practical for us, too, but of far greater importance is “setting our houses in order” in spiritual matters. To do that, we must first make sure we have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This is obtained through repentance by faith resulting in the forgiveness of our sins. Beyond this, we can make wise choices concerning our relationships, service to God, finances, and the other affairs of life. Since we only know the surety of our death and not the time frame, it is wise to keep our “houses in order” at all times. This will also keep us ready should the Lord return prior to our death.
- Hezekiah received from God what many have wished for — knowledge of the specific time of his death. How did Hezekiah respond to this information, and what was the end result? 2 Kings 20:2-3, 6
The news of Hezekiah’s impending death caused him to turn his face to the wall, weep, and pray. He reminded God of how he had lived up until that time and the sincerity of his heart toward God. Immediately, the Prophet Isaiah was sent back to Hezekiah by God with a new message. Hezekiah was told that he would be healed and would live fifteen additional years.
Unfortunately, Hezekiah seemingly did not respond to the news of his impending death with the prayer, “Thy will be done.” And it was during the additional fifteen years granted him that Hezekiah foolishly exposed the wealth and military capabilities of Judah to visiting Babylonian diplomats. Hezekiah was chastened by God with judgment to follow in later generations. It was also during this time frame that Hezekiah’s son Manasseh was born. Manasseh turned out to be one of Judah’s most wicked kings, rebuilding the idolatrous worship sites which his father had destroyed, sacrificing his own son, supporting witchcraft, and leading the nation down a terrible path.
There was no way for Hezekiah to know these future happenings when he wept before the Lord. Ask your students: Do you think Hezekiah’s choices would have been different if he had not been given a timeline? How would we respond if we were given a timeline? Would we prepare our house or would we become lax between now and the appointed time? The point should be made that there is a definite need to be completely yielded to God’s plan for our lives. He knows what is best for us, whether or not we can see or understand it.
- An amazing miracle is recorded in 2 Kings 20:9-11. What was it and why was it given?
Hezekiah asked the Prophet Isaiah for a sign from God to assure him of his healing which was promised by God. The miracle was that the shadow went backward ten degrees. Some have supposed that this was approximately forty minutes, assuming the shadow was marked on a 360-degree Babylonian sundial. The Hebrew word translated degree simply means “step” or “stair,” so some historians assume it was the steps on an astrological sundial, although that cannot be confirmed. The sign was given at Hezekiah’s request and was not necessary for God’s promise of healing to be fulfilled.
You could follow up this point by asking your class if God always gives signs. Do we need to have a sign in order to trust God? Why or why not? The point should be made that while God sometimes sends signs, repeats promises, etc., they are never something which can be mandated by us as the receivers, nor are they necessary to prove the trustworthiness of God. We thank God for every encouragement and faith-building sign which He sends our way, but our trust is in Him and not in signs which may or may not come.
- Apparently during his rejoicing over a crisis passed, Hezekiah received diplomatic letters and gifts from Babylon. He proceeded to make Judah vulnerable by exposing the nation’s wealth and military assets to visiting Babylonian diplomats. As a result, God declared that all would be taken away by the enemy. What are some ways that we as Christians might make ourselves vulnerable to Satan’s snares? How can we avoid them?
Sometimes the enemy attacks right after a good prayer meeting or the obtaining of a spiritual blessing. Financial or material blessing can lull us into complacency as well. Sometimes we assume we can handle whatever the enemy sends our way on our own without consulting God. Hezekiah consulted God concerning Sennacherib’s threats but apparently did not bother to do so on what seemed to be a much smaller issue. It is also possible that pride factored into his response to the Babylonian emissaries, for in verse 15 he referred to “mine house” and “my treasures.” (Verse 25 of the parallel account in 2 Chronicles 32 says, “. . . his heart was lifted up,” which would also indicate a prideful attitude at this point in his life.)
Class discussion should bring out that we too can make ourselves vulnerable through neglect, pride, indifference to spiritual matters, etc. We must guard our hearts at all times, taking care to preserve that which is precious. The attack of the enemy will not always be as blatant as that of King Sennacherib; it might be subtle like that of Babylonian King Baladan.
- In our lesson we learned that King Hezekiah faced three different crises: impending invasion/destruction, illness/impending death, and espionage by spies from Babylon. We also will face a variety of crises in our Christian walks. Identify what some of these might be and indicate some ways we can overcome them with God’s help.
As Christians we may be confronted directly with personal attacks by those who are resistant to the Gospel, by problems at school or in employment, or by family and relationship problems. We could face sickness or death for ourselves or in those whom we love and care about. Finally, we may face more subtle harassment from the enemy concerning our prosperity, influence, accomplishments, etc.
If we will respond with humble prayer, God will surely be with us. We should also enlist our fellow Christians to pray with and for us. We must stay close to God and desire His will more than our own, even at the cost of our lives. We must be vigilant and on guard to protect the precious truths of the Gospel which God has entrusted to us.
There are several lessons to be learned from King Hezekiah’s life history. When a crisis appears, we need to humbly “spread it before the Lord” and ask Him to undertake for us. Our lives are on God’s timetable and we should “set our houses in order” to be ready either for death or for the coming of the Lord. We are each entrusted with precious things from the Lord and we must be careful to guard them so we can not only finish well personally, but also pass the precious things on to those who follow us.
1. D.D. Luckenbill, “The Annals of Sennacherib,” University of Chicago Press, 1924.