Manasseh was 12 years old when he became king, and he reigned 55 years in Jerusalem, the longest of any king in Israel. 2 He behaved wickedly before the Eternal, acting with the same abominations as the previous nations did before the Eternal gave their land to Israel. 3 He reversed the good deeds of Hezekiah, rebuilding the high places and altars for the Baals and hoisting carved images of Asherah into the skies. He worshiped all the celestial bodies as false deities. 4-5 He even desecrated the Eternal’s temple, the place honoring His reputation which was to remain in Jerusalem forever, by building pagan altars in two courts there (The Voice).
Typically, kings’ good and faithful works before God are rewarded with peace and prosperity. But not Hezekiah’s. His devotion to God is tested with an invasion by the most powerful army in the world—the Assyrian Empire, led by Sennacherib. Sennacherib is not just another bully coming to take the temple treasures; he intends to conquer the world, and Israel is a bump on his road to Egypt. Sennacherib is ample temptation for Hezekiah to abandon God and surrender Jerusalem in return for his own life. But Hezekiah is more faithful than that.
After his acts of faithfulness toward God, Hezekiah faced the greatest challenge of his reign. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, invaded Judah and besieged the fortified cities intending to conquer them for himself. Realizing that Sennacherib would eventually reach Jerusalem, Hezekiah prepared the city for a long siege. First, the king’s officers and warriors with a large number of the people dammed the water sources, both springs and rivers, outside the city so that when the Assyrians came they could not readily use the water sources. Second, Hezekiah reinforced the city by repairing the existing wall structure which surrounded the city, building towers for offensive position, and erecting another wall far outside the main city wall. Between the two walls, he strengthened the city’s millo.
This millo is an immense earthen rampart that supports the structure of the main city wall and prevents the attackers from tunneling under it to attack the city from the inside, should they destroy the new outer wall.
Third he cast new weapons and shields in abundance. Finally he appointed the military leaders over the people and commissioned them at the city gate.
Hezekiah: We can be strong and courageous because of the One who fights with us. Don’t be discouraged or fearful of the Assyrian king and the multitude of his people, for greatness is with us more than with them. Sennacherib will fight with an arm of flesh and bone, but we will fight with the Eternal God’s help and His warfare.
The people were strengthened by the words of Hezekiah, king of Judah.
While Sennacherib, with his forces, was busy besieging Lachish in a bloody battle, the king of Assyria sent messengers to Jerusalem to persuade Hezekiah and all the Judahites to surrender.
Sennacherib’s Message: Why are you remaining in Jerusalem when you know I am about to come destroy your city? What could you possibly be trusting that could save you from my army? Hezekiah must be entertaining you with lies, telling you how the Eternal God will save you from my conquest. If you listen to him, we will certainly conquer you while you die of hunger and thirst inside those walls.
Sennacherib cleverly poses the question to those inside the walls of Jerusalem: Do you really think your God will defend a king who has made it harder for His people to worship Him?
Sennacherib’s Message: Hezekiah removed His high places and altars from all over the country, forcing everyone to come to Jerusalem to worship. Haven’t you heard how my empire’s army has destroyed peoples and nations for years? We even conquered your own brothers in the Northern Kingdom. Where were their gods when their nations needed defending? Where will your True God be when you are being tortured and murdered? Stop listening and being deceived by Hezekiah. He is only giving you false hope. No god has ever rescued his people from me or my royal fathers before me, so what makes you think your God will?
Of course, Sennacherib completely misunderstands the nature of God and the reforms of Hezekiah. Hezekiah is only ingratiating himself to God when he consolidates the religion in Jerusalem. Sennacherib’s taunting of God, saying that He could never save His people, leaves the Assyrian king wide open for a display of God’s power.
Sennacherib’s servants continued blaspheming Hezekiah and the Eternal God. The Assyrian king himself wrote additional letters insulting the Eternal God of Israel, reminding the people that no god had ever saved his people from the Assyrians, and Israel’s God couldn’t either. Furthermore, Sennacherib wrote that God was a creation of humans, just as all the other pagan gods are. These letters were shouted in the common Judahite language of Hebrew as the people of Jerusalem stood on the city wall listening. The messengers thought their words would terrify and disturb the people into surrendering the city.
But King Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet, son of Amoz, were not threatened by the Assyrians’ words. They relied on their God and called to heaven for help. The Eternal responded quickly, sending a heavenly messenger to slaughter every Assyrian soldier, commander, and officer. Having been decidedly defeated by the very God he had taunted, Sennacherib, in shame, journeyed back to Assyria. In the security of his own god’s temple, Sennacherib was stabbed to death by his own children. In this decisive way, the Eternal saved Hezekiah and Jerusalem from Sennacherib’s attempted conquest and any other nation’s imperial intentions. So God provided for His people by those around Judah. Many people brought gifts to the Eternal and Hezekiah in Jerusalem, so that other nations recognized the king’s authority.
Hezekiah became proud and neglected to appreciate the gifts he received. So the Eternal was angry with him and all of Jerusalem and Judah. When Hezekiah became deathly ill, he realized what he had done wrong. He humbled himself and prayed to the Eternal, who answered the prayer and healed him as a sign. The people of Jerusalem and Judah also humbled themselves so that He was no longer angry with His people during Hezekiah’s days. In fact, the True God blessed them with great wealth and honor. Hezekiah filled his treasuries with silver, gold, gems, spices, shields, and other valuables. He filled his storehouses with grain, wine, and oil. His stables contained all kinds of cattle and flocks. Then Hezekiah built more cities and acquired more flocks and herds. He also dammed the Gihon River and diverted its waters to the west side of Jerusalem. Hezekiah was successful at all his endeavors.
Later, when the rulers of Babylon sent diplomats to learn about the miraculous sign given at Hezekiah’s healing when the sun moved backwards, the True God left Hezekiah and tested the king’s heart and devotion to Him.
Near the end of Hezekiah’s reign, Mesopotamia is in turmoil. The Assyrian Empire is weakening due to internal struggles and a string of impotent kings. But the Babylonians are slowly gaining power and testing the strength of their surrounding nations. Soon Babylonian leaders will come to Jerusalem again. But the next time will not be a friendly visit.
The other actions and devotion of King Hezekiah, from his birth to his death, are recorded in the vision of Isaiah the prophet (son of Amoz) in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah. Hezekiah joined his ancestors in death and was laid in an upper tomb, a place of honor, with the descendants of David. He was mourned by all Judah and all Jerusalem. Hezekiah’s son Manasseh reigned in his place (The Voice).
Such a celebration has not happened since Solomon dedicated the temple. This celebration is reminiscent of that time in several ways: all of Israel gathers for the occasion, the king makes lavish donations for the celebration, and the festival lasts an extra week. Like Solomon, Hezekiah focuses on his nation’s relationship with God by making the temple and proper worship central to Israelite life.
31 When the Passover was finished, all the Israelites who had attended the festival left Jerusalem for the cities of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh. There they continued Hezekiah’s zeal by destroying all cultic statues and carved images of Asherah. Having purged the nation of idolatrous symbols like the high places and altars, the Israelites returned to their own homes.
2 Meanwhile Hezekiah continued structuring the temple activities. He reorganized the divisions of priests and Levites according to their duties, such as making burnt or peace offerings, ministering, worshiping, or praising near the gates to the Eternal’s camp.
This camp is, of course, the temple, but the chronicler refers to the temple here as “the camp” to remind the people of their early connection to the Lord when their ancestors fled Egypt and followed Him in the desert.
3 Just as his ancestors David and Solomon did before him, Hezekiah donated a portion of his animals for the morning, evening, Sabbath, new moon, and other festival burnt offerings as the Eternal’s law requires.[a] 4 He also commanded everyone in Jerusalem to offer a portion of their possessions to the priests and the Levites, so that each person could participate in the Eternal’s law by tithing. 5 Once everyone had heard Hezekiah’s request, the Israelites in Jerusalem gave more than was required from their best grain, wine, oil, honey, and produce, creating a surplus of offerings. 6 Those Israelites living in neighboring Judahite cities brought tithes and offerings of oxen, sheep, and other sacred gifts, which were cleansed and piled high for use by the Eternal One their God. 7 The offerings continued from the third month until the seventh month when the offerings were so plentiful that they lay in stacks around the temple yard. 8 Seeing the heaps of tithes, Hezekiah and his officers praised the Eternal and blessed the Israelites who had answered their obligations. 9 Hezekiah wondered why all the gifts had not been offered to God, so he asked the priests and Levites what would happen to the offerings. 10 Azariah, the chief priest and a Zadokite, answered.
Azariah: The Eternal One has favored His people, and they have shown their thankfulness with immense generosity. Since the Israelites began bringing their gifts to the Eternal’s temple, there has been more than enough to eat and have plenty left over to sacrifice.
11 Having no place to put the abundance, Hezekiah commanded the priests and Levites to prepare storage rooms in the Eternal’s temple. Once the rooms were ready, 12 the people continued offering their gifts, which were organized by Conaniah (the Levite) and his brother and assistant, Shimei. 13 They supervised Jehiel, Azaziah, Nahath, Asahel, Jerimoth, Jozabad, Eliel, Ismachiah, Mahath, and Benaiah, who were all appointed overseers of the tithes by both King Hezekiah and chief priest Azariah.
14 Kore (son of Imnah the Levite and the eastern gatekeeper) distributed the freewill offerings to the True God—both the contributions to the Eternal and the most sacred gifts. 15-16 He supervised Eden, Miniamin, Jeshua, Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah in the cities of the priests, and they fairly distributed the goods to the Levites by their divisions and gave an equal amount to all men 30[b] years old and older, regardless of the size of their division or their lineage, who entered the Eternal’s temple to perform the daily duties. 17 Kore and his men also distributed goods to the priests according to their lineage and to the Levites 20 years old and older according to their duties and divisions. 18 (Included in those genealogical records were the Levites’ and priests’ wives and children who also cleansed themselves regularly to be holy before Him.)
19 Even the descendants of Aaron who lived outside the cities in the surrounding pasturelands were provided for. In each city men were designated to distribute goods to every male priest and every Levite included in a Levitical genealogy.
20 Hezekiah organized the religious practices throughout all of Judah, just as the Eternal, his True God, considered right. 21 Every idea Hezekiah had concerning the improvement of the True God’s temple was begun by his commandments and carried out by his people. And Hezekiah did all out of a dedicated heart and was rewarded for his work (The Voice).
Since the people could not gather in Jerusalem immediately and since not enough priests were sanctified in time to celebrate the Passover holiday during the first month of his reign, Hezekiah, the leaders, and the people of Jerusalem decided to celebrate during the second month.
After restoring the temple, Hezekiah’s first opportunity to celebrate Israel’s renewed connection with God is Passover.
So he decided to send word to everyone—from Beersheba in the far south to Dan in the far north—to come to the Eternal’s temple in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover honoring the Eternal One, True God of Israel. Until Hezekiah, Judah had not celebrated as frequently as they should have.
6 So messengers carried letters written by the king and his leaders throughout the kingdoms.
Hezekiah’s Letter: People of Israel, return to the ways of the Eternal One, True God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and He will return to those of you who escaped the conquering kings of Assyria to follow Him. 7 Don’t be like your relatives who ignored the Eternal One, the True God of their fathers; they were destroyed and became a horrific spectacle to other nations. 8 Do not be stubborn as they were. Obey Him, come to His sanctuary, and serve the Eternal One, your True God, so that He will not be angry with you. 9 If you return to His ways, then your families who were exiled by the Assyrians will receive compassion and will return to their homes because the Eternal One, your True God, is gracious and compassionate and will return to you if you return to Him.
10-12 When the messengers took this message throughout the Northern Kingdom, most of the Northerners ridiculed and ignored the message. But some people from the Northern tribes of Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun obeyed Hezekiah and the leaders and humbly traveled to Jerusalem just as all of the Southern Kingdom were given one mind and obeyed under the guidance of the True God via the command of the king and his officials.
13 Vast numbers of people responded to the king’s message and traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread in the second month. 14 As part of the festivities, the people destroyed the Canaanite altars in Jerusalem and threw the incense altars into the Kidron Valley.
Having purged the city and cleansed the temple, the people are ready to celebrate.
15 They slaughtered the Passover lambs on the fourteenth of the second month.
The priests and Levites humbled themselves, sanctified themselves, and brought burnt offerings to the Eternal’s temple. 16 There they attended to their assigned duties, as Moses the follower of the True God had described, sprinkling the blood of the animals which the Levites sacrificed. 17 The Levites slaughtered the Passover lambs that were offered by the unclean people in the assembly while those who had sanctified themselves slaughtered their own lambs to the Eternal. 18 Many of the people from the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves as prescribed, but they were able to eat the Passover feast because Hezekiah prayed on their behalf.
Hezekiah: Eternal One, because You are good, cover their sins for 19 everyone here who has neglected to ritually cleanse himself in order to properly enter the temple of the True God, the Eternal God of our ancestors. Everyone here wants to follow You.
20 The Eternal One heard Hezekiah’s prayer and healed them from the threat of disease for not approaching God as instructed. 21 So the Israelites who had traveled to Jerusalem joyously celebrated the Festival of Unleavened Bread for seven days while the Levites and the priests played their instruments praising the Eternal daily. 22 Hezekiah commended the Levites who had remained faithful and prudent toward the Eternal, and everyone celebrated for seven days: feasting, sacrificing peace offerings, and offering praise to the Eternal One, True God of their ancestors.
23 Everyone decided to celebrate for another seven days, and they celebrated with joy. 24 By the time the festival ended, Hezekiah, king of the Southern Kingdom, had donated 1,000 bulls and 7,000 sheep, and the leaders had donated 1,000 bulls and 10,000 sheep for the people to sacrifice. Also many priests had sanctified themselves. 25 Everyone in Judah rejoiced: priests, Levites, Northerners who had traveled for the festival, and Northerners who had moved to Judah permanently. 26 Nothing like this celebration had happened in Jerusalem since the reign of Solomon, son of David, so the people were joyous. 27 Finally the Levitical priests concluded the festival by blessing the people. And He heard their prayer from His sacred dwelling in heaven (The Voice).