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Judean king Hezekiah

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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Hezekiah ruled Judah in the late 8th century BC.

1 Now in the third year of Hoshea, son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, became king of Judah. 2 He was twenty-five years old when he became king, ruling in Jerusalem for twenty-nine years; his mother’s name was Abi, the daughter of Zechariah. 3 He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord as David his father had done. 4 He had the high places [bamoth, likely just shrines] taken away, and the stone pillars [aka sacred stones or masseboth] broken to bits, and the Asherah [Asherah poles] cut down; and the brass snake [named Nehushtan] which Moses had made was crushed to powder at his order, because in those days the children of Israel had offerings burned before it, and he gave it the name Nehushtan. 2 Kings 18:1-4

When Assyrian king Sargon II (721-705 BC) died, Hezekiah stopped paying the tribute imposed upon Judah and allied with the Egyptians. However, Sargon II's son Sennacherib (704-681 BC) invaded Judah in ~701 BC and his prism states the he conquered 46 Judean cities. Sennacherib came against the walls of Jerusalem and Hezekiah surrendered at a tribute of 300 silver talents (800 total were eventually procured) and 30 gold talents.

Hezekiah performed massive religious reforms to severely oppress Canaanite cults.

This scale of opposition to Canaanite traditions was unmatched until Josiah's reign 100 years later. He struck down bamoth (likely Canaanite shrines), masseboth (likely Canaanite sacred stone pillars) and Asherah poles (poles representing the Canaanite deity Asherah). Religious reforms do not just happen spontaneously; they happen in response to a pressure or danger. In Hezekiah's case, the cause was the impending attack from Assyria.

When Hezekiah stopped paying tribute to Assyria yet again, he believed that Yahweh would protect Judah. However, Hezekiah also made practical preparations just in case: development of fortifications; storage of food in jars stamped with special lmlk seals; and protection of Jerusalem's water source. The lmlk seal denoted a jar belonged to the king and jars bearing lmlk seals have been found throughout Judah (although primarily at Lachish and Judah). A notable fortification was the broad wall around Jerusalem that was 8m thick and 8m high (Isaiah 22:1-14).

To protect Jerusalem's water source, Hezekiah built Hezekiah's Tunnel to bring water from nearby hills into Jerusalem (according to the tunnel inscription). In 701 BC, the siege finally occurred and Jerusalem was able to repel the Assyrians. Thus, Judah was free from being a vassal to Assyria.

Hezekiah did much to administer the economy of his country.

Hezekiah made for himself … storehouses for the yield of grain, wine, and oil; pens for all kinds of cattle; and sheepfolds. 2 Chronicles 32:27 – 28

He standardized measures and weights in Judah as part of a larger effort at centralization that also included suppression of outlying rivals to the Jerusalem Temple. Some of the small limestone weights bear Egyptian hieratic numerals. On others, the unit of weight is spelled out in Hebrew. At this time hacksilver, cut-up pieces of silver and silver jewelry, was beginning to be used like money. Accurate small weights, conforming to a recognized standard and preferably inscribed, were crucial to the efficient functioning of a pre-monetary system in which hacksilver had to be weighed out in exchange for goods.

Also, from Hezekiah’s reign come thousands of large store jars stamped with special lmlk seal. These might have been part of a system of taxation, or may have represented a governmental guarantee of their capacity.