In those days King Hezekiah was stricken with a terminal illness, apparently he has been sick for about 2 years during the time when Sennacherib invaded Judah and put Jerusalem under siege. The events of this chapter are out of chronological order, placed here to show a contrast to the previous chapters. It is at this moment that Isaiah delivers the dire message to Hezekiah “get your household in order, you are about to die; you will not get well”.
In contrast to Hezekiah’s previous demonstration of faith, this time he turns his face to the wall, weeps bitterly and complains to the LORD citing all the things he has done to serve the LORD and what he has done to carry out God’s plans. It is subtle but this prayer does not compare favorably to Hezekiah’s faith and prayer during the Assyrian invasion. At that time he affirmed God’s sovereignty and glory in all things, this time he appeals to the LORD on the basis of his own accomplishments and devotion.
While Isaiah was still in the courtyard the LORD sends Isaiah back to Hezekiah with a message of mercy. God heard his appeal, now for the sake of his ancestor, King David, God will heal Hezekiah, in two days he will be well enough to go to the LORD’s temple. He was also informed Hezekiah that he will live for an additional 15 years and the LORD will rescue him and Jerusalem from the king of Assyria. Note that God’s mercy was for the sake of God’s reputation not because of Hezekiah’s accomplishments; also note that God gave Hezekiah a double blessing, healing and deliverance.
At hearing this, Hezekiah asks for a confirming sign that the LORD would heal him. Signs were miracles that signified that what God said he would do, He would indeed accomplish. Requesting a sign was a common practice, but Hezekiah’s request amplified his lack of faith, especially compared to his previous prayer for deliverance. His recovery from his death bed in two days should have been enough of a sign, now he wants a second sign to confirm the first miraculous event. This is another example of God’s great mercy that He did not object to this request; Hezekiah requested that God move the shadows on the sun dial to go backwards as confirmation. God’s great patience is revealed in his doing what Hezekiah requested.
2 Chronicles records that after his healing Hezekiah was ungrateful; he had a proud attitude which provoked God to anger against Hezekiah and Jerusalem. Hezekiah and Jerusalem humbled themselves and abandoned their pride and once again the LORD showed mercy; Hezekiah became very wealthy and greatly respected. He built up storerooms for all his gold, silver, precious stones, as well as an abundance of grain, oil, wine and livestock from the generous harvest; it was God who gave Judah and Hezekiah this great blessing.
Following this Hezekiah receives an official delegation from King of Babylon, Merodach-Baladan, who was seeking an alliance with Hezekiah in opposition to the power of Assyria. Apparently the Babylonians had heard of Hezekiah’s illness, his miraculous healing by the LORD and the LORD’s deliverance from Sennacherib. Instead of magnifying the LORD’s grace and mercy towards Judah and Hezekiah, Hezekiah takes the visitors into the temple and palace storerooms to show them the great wealth he had acquired. Hezekiah’s pride strikes again, instead of trusting in the LORD, he trusts in his wealth and in the alliances that he will make with Babylon.
Then Isaiah delivers another message to Hezekiah, “Listen to the word of the LORD, Look a time is coming when everything in your palace and the things your ancestors have accumulated to this day will be carried away to Babylon; nothing will be left. Some of your very own descendants whom you father will be taken away and will be made eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon”. Hezekiah’s response to this dire prophecy is telling, “At least there will be peace and stability during my lifetime”, he is self-centered and unrepentant. Hezekiah took comfort in the postponement of disaster, but this did not comfort Isaiah. He carried this burden for God’s people, speaking to the future exiles in Babylon, “Comfort, Comfort my people” says your God. “Speak kindly to Jerusalem, and tell her that her time of warfare is over, that her punishment is completed. For the LORD has made her pay double for all her sins” Isaiah 40:2
After Hezekiah dies his son Manasseh becomes king, he will reign for a very long 55 years. He completely wiped out the reforms of his father Hezekiah. He rebuilt the high places, he set up altars for Baal, made an Asherah pole, and he bowed down to the stars in the sky and worshiped them. He built altars to foreign gods in the LORD’s temple; he makes a human sacrifice of his son in the fire and builds a ritual pit to conjure up the underworld spirits. Additionally, Manasseh killed so many innocent people that he stained Jerusalem with their blood from end to end.
The LORD sent prophets with warnings of disaster on Jerusalem and Judah saying, the LORD will wipe Jerusalem clean, like a person washing dishes, they will be swept away. The LORD will hand over the last remaining tribe to their enemies. It was during this time of persecution of the LORD’s faithful and his prophets that the prophet Isaiah was murdered by Manasseh.
After this the Assyrians attacked Jerusalem, Manasseh was captured, they put a hook in his nose, bound him in bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. 2 Chronicles 33 records Manasseh’s repentance, he called out to the LORD, and the LORD rescued him and brought him back to Jerusalem. Manasseh rebuilt the city walls of Jerusalem, and removed the idols and altars he had built. He restored the altar of the LORD and sacrificed thank offerings on it. He told the people of Jerusalem to serve the LORD, the God of Israel, but the people continued to sacrifice at the high places.
After Manasseh’s death his son Amon becomes king, he will reign for only two years. In that short time he reverses the good of Manasseh’s late reform, he did evil in the sight of the LORD. After two years his servants conspired against him and killed the king in his palace. They put down the rebellion that assassinated the king and made Amon’s son Josiah king in his place, Josiah was eight years old when he became king and will reign for 31 years. Josiah will be the last godly king of Judah; Nahum, Zephaniah and Jeremiah are the prophets at this time.
When Josiah is 16 years old, he began to seek the God of his ancestor King David, and then when he was 20 years old he purged Judah from all the high places, Asherah poles, idols and images. He ordered the altars of the Baals to be torn down, he smashed Asherah poles crushed them up and sprinkled the dust over the tombs of those who sacrificed to them. He burned the bones of the pagan priests on their altars; he purified Judah and Jerusalem. Josiah also extended his reforms into the areas of the northern kingdom of Israel, purifying the land in Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon and Naphtali. The power of the Assyrian empire was in decline, which gave Josiah the freedom to reform.
Six years later, at age 26, Josiah sets about repairing the Temple of the LORD, which had fallen into ruin and was desecrated during the reigns of his father and grandfather. Following the wise actions of his ancestor Joash (2 Kings 12) he bypassed the priests and Levites and gave the funds to the craftsmen to make the repairs and restore the Temple to its former condition. In the process of the restoration, Hilkiah the High Priest found the lost Book of the Law, which he handed over to the king’s scribe. Shaphan showed the king of the scroll and read it out loud to the king. When the king heard the words of the law, he tore his clothes in great despair over his ancestors’ failure to abide by the Covenant and realizing how great the LORD’s anger is against Judah. Josiah’s reaction showed that the contents of the book were very serious indeed. Its demands had not been met and the king feared the consequences.
King Josiah sent the High Priest and his representatives to the prophetess Huldah to inquire what the LORD wants them to know. She said to them: “This is what the LORD God of Israel says: I am about to bring disaster on this place and its residents, the details of which are recorded in the scroll which the king of Judah has read. This will happen because they have abandoned me and offered sacrifices to other gods, angering me with all the idols they have made. My anger will ignite against this place and will not be extinguished!” To Josiah she reported that because he displayed a sensitive spirit and humbled himself before the LORD, this coming disaster will not come in his lifetime; he personally will not have to witness the coming destruction of Jerusalem.