Unlike the northern kingdom, the southern kingdom of Judah had a mix of good and bad kings. Obviously some were better than others but there is one who stands out from the rest in both his righteousness and even his historical significance. That king is King Hezekiah.
2 Kings 18 tells us that Hezekiah came to the throne in the third year of King Hoshea of the northern kingdom. Usually these markers mean little aside to historians who are trying to line up the reigns of the northern and southern kingdoms and see how they fit in with the other kings of the region. This time it is quite significant though as Hoshea is the last king of Israel. Hekekiah becomes king of Judah six years before the northern kingdom would be wiped out by the Assyrians.
As we shouldn’t believe in coincidences when it comes to God, it shouldn’t be considered a coincidence that Judah’s strongest king sits upon the throne at the time of its greatest need. 2 Kings 18:5-7 puts Hezekiah’s greatness in context:
Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him.
Hezekiah’s strength comes from his faith in the Lord. In addition to serving the Lord, he also tore down the Asherah poles and destroyed the places of idol worship in the land. We are even told that the bronze serpent that Moses had been instructed to make to heal the Israelites in the desert was still around 700 years after it was used. It was called the Nehushtan at this time and the people were burning incense to it so Hezekiah had it destroyed. Hezekiah saw that something that was a beautiful piece of Israel’s history had become a stumbling block to them and he knew that it was his duty to honor God first rather than history.
Hezekiah’s greatest adversary was Sennacherib, king of Assyria. While he laid siege to the cities of Judah and threatened Jerusalem, God protected the city. The Assyrians boasted how none of the other gods were able to stand against them but God responded to Hezekiah’s prayers. 2 Kings 19 records a prophecy of Isaiah that speaks of Sennacherib’s downfall. That very night the angel of the Lord went through the Assyrian camp and quietly struck down 185,000 troops. Sennacherib returned home and was murdered by his sons as he worshipped in the temple of his god.
The turning point in Hezekiah’s life happens sometime after God’s victory over the Assyrians. Hezekiah becomes ill and Isaiah the prophet is sent to him to instruct him to get his house in order because he is going to die. Hezekiah pleads with the Lord and God gives him another 15 years to live. As a sign, the sun moves backwards so that the shadow on the stairway of Ahaz went back ten steps.
As with David, even though Hezekiah loved the Lord, he is not without fault. Hezekiah’s pride gets the best of him as he accomplished much and gained great wealth. After Hezekiah had recovered from his illness, he received envoys from Babylon. It is worth noting that Assyria is the major power in the world in Hezekiah’s day and Babylon is hardly worthy of note. Ordinarily envoys from a distant place that is not a world superpower would hardly be worth recording and it probably happened many other times without record.
Hezekiah shows the envoys from Babylon all of the great wealth that he has accumulated. It is obvious that this is an attempt to impress his visitors and not a display of God’s greatness and His blessing upon the king and kingdom. Because of this, Isaiah is sent to Hezekiah with another message.
Hezekiah is told that there will come a day when all of the treasures that he just boasted about would be carried off by the very Babylonians that he just boasted to. In addition to this, some of his very descendents will be carried off to serve as eunuchs for the king of Babylon.
Hezekiah’s reaction to this news appears out of place and perhaps it is an indication of his pride at this time or perhaps he just isn’t thinking properly. He takes this bad news of the future desolation of Jerusalem and his descendants as good news. He sees it as a sign that harm will not fall on him and his kingdom during his reign. While this would be true, it is obviously missing the point.
Despite this confusing act by Hezekiah, he does realize the errors of his ways and repents of his sin. 2 Chronicles 32:26 records: Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore the Lord’s wrath did not come on them during the days of Hezekiah.
During the extra 15 years that Hezekiah was given his son Manasseh was born. This might be considered a mixed blessing as Manasseh was probably the most evil king that Judah had. Manasseh reconstructed the idols and high places that Hezekiah had destroyed and led the people deeper into idolatry. Manasseh essentially undid everything that his father Hezekiah had done. Then the Lord humbled him and had him deported. Once Manasseh cried out to God and repented God returned him to Jerusalem and the throne.
Hezekiah’s life had far more good points than bad points. Like his ancestor David, he followed the Lord and sought repentance for his shortcomings. He brought about revival among the Israelites that had not been seen since the time of David. That is his greatest legacy for the kingdom of Judah.