Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Posts Tagged ‘Confronting the Assyrians

Just as Josiah was the son of a bad king of Judah, Amon by name, Hezekiah also was the son of a bad king, Ahaz, who sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. Hezekiah, who succeeded his father in about 720 BCE, ‘…did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done.’

Bearing any kind of resemblance to David was the measure of a good king in Judah, and besides Hezekiah, the comparison is made about Solomon, Asa, Josiah, and Jehoshaphat. Regarding Solomon, there is some ambivalence:

Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done.

Other kings of Judah are compared unfavourably with David, as in not walking in his ways, while the kings of Israel tended in the majority of cases to permit foreign worship in the high places. The idiom used of the kings of Israel is that they walked in the ways of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin.

The political situation in Hezekiah’s time was that Assyria was the dominating power of the region. 2 Kings 18, which deals with the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign, tells us that he removed the high places and the Asherah and broke the brazen serpent which Moses had made; ‘for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).’ He rebelled against the king of Assyria and refused to serve him and had some military success against the Philistines in Gaza.

In the sixth year of Hezekiah’s reign Samaria fell to the Assyrian Shalmaneser, who abducted the Israelites and resettled them in Assyria. Eight years later Assyria, under the leadership of Sennacherib, attacked the kingdom of Judah. Under pressure of Assyria’s superior military force, Hezekiah offered tributes to Sennacherib, from the Temple treasure. This did not have the presumably desired effect of satisfying the Assyrians and keeping them at a distance from Jerusalem, for Sennacherib’s emissaries came to Jerusalem from the Assyrian stronghold in Lachish , at the head of a large army.

And the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rab-saris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem.

These names appear to be military titles: Tartan, Rabsaris and Rabshakeh. The etymology suggests high office – saris is used in Genesis to describe Potiphar as a captain or officer of Pharaoh; Rab means great, and Rab-saqu is Assyrian for chief cup bearer; Tartan spelled with a tav may be connected with sar, prince or leader. According to Wikipedia:

There was a tartanu imni or ‘tartan of the right’, as well as a tartanu shumeli or ‘tartan of the left’. In later times the title became territorial; we read of a tartan of ‘Kummuh’ (Commagene). The title is also applied to the commanders of foreign armies ; thus Sargon speaks of the Tartan Musurai, or ‘Egyptian Tartan’.

The Rabshakeh has a speaking part, and he speaks in Hebrew, to impress or influence the people of Jerusalem, essentially telling them to cease reposing trust in Egypt since Pharaoh is toast, or as the Rabshakeh says: the broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. He tells them not to trust in God, since the Assyrians are invincible, without God.

 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah, and Joah, said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 27 But the Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and to drink their own urine?” 28 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of my hand. 30 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD by saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ 31 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die. And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, The LORD will deliver us. 33 Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 35 Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?'” 36 But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him.” 37 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of the Rabshakeh.

An identical passage is found in Isaiah:.

In 2 Chronicles 32, the servant of Sennacherib harangues the people of Jerusalem with a very similar speech, but he is not designated as Rabshakeh, Rabsaris or Tartan.

On being told the Assyrian’s words, Hezekiah rends his garments in distress, and sends for Isaiah the prophet. Isaiah tells him:

Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me.  Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.

The Rabshakeh departs as Sennacherib is engaged in wars on other fronts, but Hezekiah receives a threatening letter from the Assyrian king, in the same mode as the Rabshakeh’s speech, which Hezekiah takes to the Temple.

Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD and spread it before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said: “O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.”

Isaiah tells Hezekiah that God has heard his prayer and declaims an oracle in defiance of Sennacherib:

Thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 33 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD.  For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

That night an angel of God killed 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. After this Sennacherib returned to Nineveh where he was later assassinated by his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer,and succeeded by his son Esarhaddon.

Hezekiah became ill and Isaiah told him that God said he would not recover.

Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying,  “Now, O LORD, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.’

Isaiah told Hezekiah that God had relented and that in three days Hezekiah would be recovered sufficiently to go up to the Temple. God would add another fifteen years to his life, while saving Jerusalem from Assyrian aggression.

Curiously, Hezekiah asked Isaiah for proof, a sign from God, and was duly granted a miracle, when the shadow on the sundial went backwards.

After this, Hezekiah made a strange misjudgment while showing hospitality to some Babylonian envoys. At this time, Babylon was not yet a great power, and Hezekiah felt secure enough to show them all the treasures of his kingdom.

There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.

Isaiah perceived the error of this and told Hezekiah that the time would soon come when all the treasures would be carried off to Babylon and Hezekiah’s sons with them. In fact it was the sons of Josiah who were carried off to Babylon. Hezekiah heard the prophecy stoically, commenting that these events would not befall during his lifetime. The year of Hezekiah’s death is 692 BCE, so nearly a hundred years will pass before Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled.

This is not the only instance of an apparent conflation of the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah.

Hezekiah in Chronicles

In the Chronicles account, Hezekiah becomes king at the age of twenty-five, as in Kings. He appoints Levites to carry out the cleansing of the Temple and the Levites get rid of all the utensils of idolatry which had been permitted by King Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah. The Temple is reconsecrated with the priests slaughtering large quantities of bulls, sheep and goats, as sin offerings, on behalf of all Israel. The sacrifices took place to musical accompaniment, including singers and trumpeters. There were not enough priests to do all the sacrifices:

…so until other priests had consecrated themselves, their brothers the Levites helped them, until the work was finished, for the Levites were more upright in heart than the priests in consecrating themselves.

Hezekiah then sent letters to all Israel and Judah that they should come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. This was to take place in the second month, Iyyar, as there were not enough consecrated priests in Jerusalem during the month of Nisasn to hold the Passover on the usual date. Hezekiah’s couriers went as far as the tribe of Zebulun in the north, where they were mocked, but some men from Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun responded to the call and came to Jerusalem.

And the people of Israel who were present at Jerusalem kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with great gladness, and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day by day, singing with all their might to the LORD.

Hezekiah arranged the divisions of priests and Levites, according to their appointed tasks and commanded the people to tithe their produce as a means of support for the priests and Levites.

After this, Sennacherib invaded Judah, and Hezekiah prepared for war, building fortifications and diverting the water supplies outside the city. The Assyrian servants – in this version, anonymous – of Sennacherib addressed the people of Jerusalem, as in the accounts in 2 Kings and Isaiah.

Hezekiah and Isaiah resorted to prayer, and God sent an angel, who annihilated – יכחד – the Assyrian commanders and warriors, so that Sennacherib withdrew to his own country. 2 Chronicles does not include the poem spoken by Isaiah in 2 Kings 19. 2 Kings does have the angel who smote – יך – the Assyrian officers.

The Chronicler tells of Hezekiah’s illness, and that God answered his prayer and cured him, but does not mention the sun-dial.

But Hezekiah did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. Therefore wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem. But Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the LORD did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah.

In Kings, Hezekiah’s pride is shown in his dealings with the Babylonian envoys, when he shows them the treasures of the kingdom. Isaiah then warns him that the city will fall to the Babylonians, although not in his own lifetime.

Hezekiah compared with Josiah

The narratives concerning Asa and his son Jehoshaphat, kings of Judah, have material in common, as do those of Hezekiah and Josiah, notably ending the cult of male prostitutes, and engaging in both war and diplomacy with Israel and Syria, but Jehoshaphat was Asa’s successor, which permits some continuity in foreign and domestic affairs.

A notable point in common for Hezekiah and Josiah is that they revive the celebration of Passover. Josiah’s Passover seems to have taken place on the usual dates, beginning on 14 Nissan, as there is no assertion to the contrary, whereas Hezekiah’s Passover was the precedent for Pesach Sheni, occuring in the middle of Iyyar. The author of josiah’s narrative does not alluide to Hezekiah’s Passover, which would have taken place nearly a hundred years earlier than that of Josiah.

No such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the LORD in Jerusalem.

Hezekiah and Josiah both sacrifice thousands of sheep, goats and cattle for the Passover.
The reference to the time of the Judges may refer to Joshua who had celebrated the first Passover in the promised land with the people at the camp in Gilgal,

Destroying the idols
Hezekiah smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah.

Josiah smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah.

Hezekiah also breaks the bronze serpent which Moses had made, because it had become an object of worship.

The bronze serpent is therefore not there in Josiah’s day, but Josiah fills the empty spaces of the former Asherim with human bones, which had the dual effect of rendering the places ritually unfit for worship and invoking the prophecy of the Ish Elohim in 1 Kings that Josiah would burn human bones on the high places.

We read that Jerusalem was to be spared destruction in the time of Hezekiah but Huldah the prophetess has similar words for Josiah:

Because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the LORD, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the LORD. Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.

Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard his words against this place and its inhabitants, and you have humbled yourself before me and have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the LORD. Behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place and its inhabitants.

Names in common
Certain proper names appear in both the Hezekiah and Josiah narratives. Hilkiah is one example, thus, in the reign of Hezekiah:

And when they called for the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.

In the reign of Josiah:

And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.”

Shebnah and Shaphan are similar and may be cognate.

Other names common to both reigns as written in Kings or Chronicles are: Eliakim, Zechariah, Azariah, Conaniah and Shemei/Shemaiah, Jehiel, Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun and Jozabad, the latter appearing in the Levite accounts of the Chronicler:

Then Hezekiah commanded them to prepare chambers in the house of the LORD, and they prepared them. 12 And they faithfully brought in the contributions, the tithes, and the dedicated things. The chief officer in charge of them was Conaniah the Levite, with Shimei his brother as second, 13 while Jehiel, Azaziah, Nahath, Asahel, Jerimoth, Jozabad, Eliel, Ismachiah, Mahath, and Benaiah were overseers assisting Conaniah and Shimei his brother, by the appointment of Hezekiah the king and Azariah the chief officer of the house of God.

[Josiah’s] officials contributed willingly to the people, to the priests, and to the Levites. Hilkiah, Zechariah, and Jehiel, the chief officers of the house of God, gave to the priests for the Passover offerings 2,600 Passover lambs and 300 bulls. 9 Conaniah also, and Shemaiah and Nethanel his brothers, and Hashabiah and Jeiel and Jozabad, the chiefs of the Levites, gave to the Levites for the Passover offerings 5,000 lambs and young goats and 500 bulls.

Dual narratives
The replication of names and incidents raises the question of common narrative source used in the histories of Hezekiah and Josiah.

However, there are very many examples in the bible of dual versions, with or without the replication of names. The case of Abraham and Isaac pretending that their wives are sisters; the thankless children of both Jacob and David and the stories of Dinah and Tamar; Michal, like Rachel, deceiving her father to protect her husband; David sparing Saul’s life in two separate caves; Elijah and Elisha each reviving a child; we could make this the subject of future study. Edward Greenstein has written on this subject in an article The Formation of the Biblical Narrative Corpus and he notes a tendency for the book of Judges to retell versions of the Genesis narrative – when an angel appears to Gideon under a terebinth in Judges 6, there are parallels with the angels which appear to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18 and with Jacob’s encounter with the angel at the ford of Jabbok; the annunciation to Samson’s parents in Judges as aspects in common with the angels’ annunciation to Abraham and Sarah.

Hezekiah and archaeology
Hezekiah’s historicity is attested by archaeological evidence: the well-known Siloam inscription records the construction of Hezekiah’s tunnel which brought water from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam in East Jerusalem. The inscription, in paleo-Hebrew script, is believed to date from the late eighth century, during the reign of Hezekiah.

William J Dever, in his 2005 book ‘Did God Have a Wife’ uses archaeological finds such as inscriptions at Khirbet el-Qom and Kuntillet Ajrud as evidence to support his view that the worship of the Asherah was common practice in ancient Israel and Judah.

He cites archaeological evidence that a central cult room, dated to the late eighth century, of the fortress at Arad was demolished, with altars and massevot concealed under the floor. Dever writes:

The deliberate dismantling of the temple and its replacement by another structure in the days of Hezekiah is an archeological fact. I see no reason for skepticism here.

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