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The Middle East

Hezekiah King of Judah

by Wayne McCleese, 6 March 2018

It is firmly believed by scholars that Samaria (Israel) was captured by Assyria around 722 BC.

This certainty would seem to serve to firmly establish the beginning of the reigns of both Hezekiah, king of Judah, and Hoshea, king of Samaria, from 2 Kings 18:9-12. In the sixth year of the reign of Hezekiah and the ninth year of Hoshea's reign, Samaria was taken.

Hezekiah began to reign at 722 + 6 = 728 BC

Hoshea began to reign 722 + 9 = 731 BC

But conflicts seem to arise in 2 Kings 18:13, where in the fourteenth year of the reign of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib of Assyria besieges Judah. The fourteenth year of Hezekiah would be 728 14 = 714 BC, but accepted history records that King Sennacherib reigned between 705-681 BC. That is supposedly nine years before Sennacherib became king.

Some possible reasons for this conflict are as follows

  • The date is incorrect, which seems unlikely since it is tied to the capture of Samaria by Assyria.
  • Sennacherib was not king but led the forces and, since he became king later, is referred to as the king of Assyria.
  • Sennacherib shared a co-regency with his father, Sargon II (722-705 BC), for some years. Sargon II was middle-aged when he became king and may have allowed his son to become co-regent for a number of years.
  • It was Sargon II and not Sennacherib who attacked Judah.

There could be other possibilities not mentioned here. But for those that are, the first two reasons seem unlikely, as does the last one. The co-regency has to be the preferred option.

The Old Testament's 2 Kings 18:14 states the demands of the king of Assyria, while 2 Kings 18:15-16 tells that Hezekiah sent silver and gold and met the demands of the king of Assyria.

King Hezekiah of Judah
An early twentieth century publication included this woodcut image of King Hezekiah, a ruler of Judah who received quite a large share of comment in the Old Testament


Ancient kings may have had their armies kill, rape, kidnap, torture, and enslave but they would not go back on a deal. Word would get out and why would others pay tribute if they believed they would immediately be attacked in any case? They could instead have used that treasure to try and buy help, but a king's word is his bond. If one of them made an agreement then he really had to stick to it, or face the consequences.

Around 732 BC, Hezekiah's father, King Ahaz of Judah, paid Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria for help against Rezin of Aram Damascus and Pekah of Samaria (2 Kings 16:5-9).

There is no clear indication of the outcome, but it seems likely that Hezekiah's payment satisfied the king of Assyria. Then years (about thirteen) passed between 2 Kings 18:16 and 2 Kings 18:17 when Assyria was besieging cities in Judah again (701 BC).

In 2 Chronicles 32:1 Sennacherib invaded Judah. In verses 2-8 Hezekiah had the wall at Jerusalem repaired, another outside wall built, the Millo strengthened, made weapons and shields in great number, and appointed military officers. These things must have taken a good deal of time.

Then it says, in verse 9, that after this Sennacherib sent his servants to Jerusalem. King Hezekiah then sent to Isaiah the prophet for divine help, and Isaiah told Hezekiah's messengers not to fear because the Assyrians would hear a rumour and return to their own land (2 Kings 19:6-8). That rumour is explained in 2 Kings 19:9-10 (NIV):

[9] Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the king of Cush[a] was marching out to fight against him. So, he again sent messengers to Hezekiah with this word: [10] 'Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, "Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria"'.

It would seem to be important that Tirhakah (Taharqa) is listed as king of Kush or Ethiopia here rather than pharaoh in Egypt. He is thought to be pharaoh between 690-664 BC.

It seems likely that Pharaoh Shabaka (721-707 BC) determined that upon his death Shebitku would be pharaoh of Upper and Lower Egypt (707-690 BC) and his nephew Tirhakah would be king of Kush (probably 705-690 BC).

Hellenistic Samaria
Ruins at Samaria of a different age - Hellenistic fortifications of the Seleucid empire around half a millennium after the Assyrian capture of the city


Then when Shebitku died in 690 BC, Tirhakah became pharaoh of all of Egypt and Kush (690-664 BC). In 2 Kings 19:32, Hezekiah is promised that the king of Assyria will not come back to Jerusalem. Soon afterwards, Sennacherib was engaged or was going to engage Tirhakah in battle when, in 2 Kings 35-36, a total of 185,000 men of the Assyrian army died in one night and the rest of the Assyrian army returned home.

However, it does not seem that 2 Kings 20 is in chronological order with the rest of the Hezekiah story.

These events should be taking place back around the fourteenth year of Hezekiah's rule (714 BC), because Hezekiah was very sick and was about to die - and then he was divinely gifted with fifteen more years to live (his total reign was twenty-nine years).

In Isaiah 38:10, Hezekiah wrote, '...in the middle of my life I am to be deprived of the rest of my years'. Hezekiah was probably thirty-nine years old at the time, having become king at twenty-five and then having reigned for fourteen years. With the extra fifteen years he was probably fifty-four when he died.

When Hezekiah was well the king of Babylon, Marduk-apla-iddina II (the Biblical Berodach-Baladan or Merodach-Baladan II) sent letters and presents to him. Marduk-apla-iddina reigned between 722-710 BC and again in 703-702 BC. The sending of the letters and presents probably took place in or shortly after 714 BC.

 

Main Sources

Smith, Doctor William - Dictionary of the Bible, 1863 (condensed as Smith's Bible Dictionary and now available online)

 

 

     
Text copyright Wayne McCleese. An original feature for the History Files.