Chizkiyahu's Monarchy in Jerusalem (III): The Character of Chizkiyahu (I)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion


Shiur #21: CHIZKIYAHU'S MONARCHY IN JERUSALEM (III)

THE CHARACTER OF CHIZKIYAHU (I)

 

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

            This shiur will deal with the relationship between Chizkiyahu and three other figures. On the one hand, we will discuss Chizkiyahu's attempt to model himself after David and Shelomo, and on the other hand, we will examine his relationship with the prophet Yishayahu.

 

I.          CHIZKIYAHU AND DAVID AND SHELOMO

 

Various passages suggest that in many senses Chizkiyahu tried to replicate, in his own day, the regime that was characteristic of the period of David and Shelomo. We already mentioned in the previous shiur the Gemara's statement that "the Holy One, blessed be He, wished to appoint Chizkiyahu as the Messiah, and Sancheriv as Gog and Magog" (Sanhedrin 94a). And while it is true that in the end this hope was never actualized, it is absolutely clear from the prophecy that heralded the birth of Chizkiyahu that he had been destined to generate a great change in the kingdom – to establish society on the principles of justice and judgement and to institute a stable regime in the spirit of the House of David:

 

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shone… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. And the government is upon his shoulder. And his name is called Pele-yo'etz-el gibbor-avi'ad-sar-shalom, for the increase of the realm and for peace without end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice – from henceforth for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts performs this. (Yishayahu 9:1, 5-6)

 

            Scripture traces many similarities between Chizkiyahu and David and Shelomo.

 

            Let us begin with the similarities to David. Scripture explicitly testifies regarding Chizkiyahu:

 

And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did. (II Melakhim 18:3)

 

            And indeed, in a number of place, Scripture uses the same wording regarding the two kings and speaks of similar projects that they each executed:

 

a)         Regarding David it is stated:

 

And David succeeded in all his ways; and the Lord was with him. (I Shemuel 18:14)

 

            And regarding Chizkiyahu it is stated:

 

And the Lord was with him; and he prospered wherever he went out. (II Melakhim 18:7)

 

b)         David says to the heads of the people:

 

As for me, I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God. (I Divrei Ha-yamim 28:2)

 

            And in the very same terms, Chizkiyahu informs the priests and the Levites of his intention to renew the covenant with God following the period of Achaz:

 

Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel. (II Divrei Ha-yamim 29:10)

 

c)         David counted the priests and the Levites and established their mishmarot (see I Divrei Ha-yamim 9:22, 15-16, and especially 23-26), and Chizkiyahu counted them and traced their lineage a second time and restored their divisions and mishmarot (II Divrei Ha-yamim 31:2, 16-18).

 

d)         David established singers from among the Levites:

 

And David spoke to the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers with instruments of music, lutes and lyres and cymbals, playing loudly to the raised sounds of joy. (I Divrei Ha-yamim 15:16)

 

            And Chizkiyahu restored the Levites playing of music and singing, Scripture repeatedly relating to David's efforts regarding this matter:

 

And he set the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with lutes, and with lyres, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king's seer, and Natan the prophet; for so was the commandment of the Lord by the prophets. And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. And Chizkiyahu commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments of David, King of Israel… Moreover, Chizkiyahu the King and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise to the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaf the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshipped. (II Divrei Ha-yamim 29:25-30)

 

e)         Like David, who fought against the Pelishtim (I Shemuel 17; II Shemuel 5) and Amalek (I Shemuel 27:8-9; 30), Chizkiyahu expanded his kingdom in the direction of areas controlled by these two nations (II Melakhim 18:8; I Divrei Ha-yamim 4:41-43).

 

f)          The deliverance from Assyria is described in Divrei Ha-yamim in words similar to those used to describe David and his wars:

 

Thus the Lord saved Yechizkiyahu and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sancheriv the King of Assyria. (II Divrei Ha-yamim 32:22)

 

Thus the Lord saved David wherever he went. (I Divrei Ha-yamim 18:6)

 

            There are no fewer similarities between Chizkiyahu and Shelomo:

 

a)         Shelomo dedicated the house of God, and Chizkiyahu rededicated it. Moreover, there is a similarity between the two dedications: Shelomo's dedication lasted fourteen days, the seven days of the dedication and the seven days of the holiday of Sukkot (I Melakhim 8:65; II Divrei Ha-yamim 7:9); and the cleansing of the Temple and its rededication during the time of Chizkiyahu lasted eight days and eight nights:

 

Now they began on the first day of the first month to sanctify, and on the eighth day of the month they came to the porch of the Lord. So they sanctified the house of the Lord in eight days; and on the sixteenth day of the first month they made an end. (II Divrei Ha-yamim 29:17)[1]

 

b)         Regarding the Pesach observed by Chizkiyahu it is stated:

 

So there was great joy in Jerusalem; for since the time of Shelomo the son of David King of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem. (II Divrei Ha-yamim 30:26)

 

c)         Two kings were active in organizing the administration of the regime: Shelomo instituted a new administrative system, that did not depend on tribal boundaries (I Melakhim 4); and about Chizkiyahu it is stated that he made storage cities "for the increase of corn, and wine and oil" (II Divrei Ha-yamim 32:28).[2]

 

d)         Wisdom is one of Shelomo's most prominent characteristics, this point being repeatedly emphasized by Scripture (I Melakhim 3; 5:9-14):

 

And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Shelomo, from all kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom. (ibid. 5:14)

 

            Chizkiyahu preserved and continued Shelomo's efforts in this realm:

 

These also are proverbs of Shelomo, which the men of Chizkiyahu, King of Yehuda, copied out. (Mishlei 25:1)

 

e)         Regarding the two kings, Scripture emphasizes their great wealth (I Melakhim 5:2-8; 10; II Divrei Ha-yamim 32:27-29).

 

f)          Both kings receive presents from foreign kingdoms:

 

And all the earth sought of Shelomo… And they brought every man his present, vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and garments, and armor, and spices, horses, and mules, and so it was year by year. (I Melakhim 10:24-25)

 

And many brought tribute to the Lord to Jerusalem, and presents to Yechizkiyahu King of Yehuda. (II Divrei Ha-yamim 32:23)

 

g)         Chizkiyahu's alliance with Egypt was sort of a continuation of Shelomo's connection to Egypt (I Melakhim 3:1; 9:15-17; 10:28-29).

 

The parallelism between Chizkiyahu and David and Shelomo is not only in the details; there is an essential parallelism. David chose as his capital the city of Jerusalem – which is located on the border between the rival tribes of Yehuda and Binyamin, who represent the sons of Rachel and the sons of Leah – with the objective of uniting all the tribes; he brought the ark to Jerusalem; he also established the organizational, material and practical infrastructure for the construction of the Temple, which was completed by Shelomo. Chizkiyahu was the first king of the House of David to enforce the prohibition of worship at the bamot (II Melakhim 18:4; II Divrei Ha-yamim 31:1), which follows from the construction of the Temple; he purified the Temple from the idol worship and uncleanness introduced by his father, Achaz; he restored the Temple service, including the enactments instituted by David; he invited the people of the Kingdom of Israel to celebrate Pesach in the Temple, and thus renew the covenant with God, while unifying the two kingdoms around the Temple. In all these things, Chizkiyahu continued the work of David and Shelomo in the construction of the Temple and followed in their ways. Most interesting in this context are the words of the Yerushalmi (Pesachim 9:1) that during the days of Chizkiyahu, "The skull of Arnan the Yevusi was found under the altar." As it were, it was only in the days of Chizkiyahu that the hold granted by David to Aravna, when he allowed him to continue to hold on to the place, was fully cancelled, and only then was this blemish corrected. And indeed, while in the days of David an angel was sent to destroy Jerusalem, in the days of Chizkiyahu an angel came to save Israel and smite the camp of Assyria.

 

We can summarize, then, by saying that in very many senses – spiritual, national, political, and military – Chizkiyahu tries to be like David and Shelomo, to continue their work and restore the crown of the House of the David to its former glory.

 

II.        CHIZKIYAHU AND YISHAYAHU

 

As we have seen, the relationship between Chizkiyahu and Yishayahu, the king and the prophet, began already before Chizkiyahu was born, and even before he was formed in his mother's womb. We refer of course to Yishayahu's prophecy concerning the birth of Chizkiyahu and to the spiritual and social revolution that he was supposed to bring about in his kingdom.

 

Indeed, at the beginning of Chizkiyahu's reign, he appears to be closely following what was expected of him: he abolishes idol worship, rededicates the house of God and restores the sacrificial service, observes Pesach together with the Kingdom of Israel, and appoints sages to commit prophecy and wisdom to writing. What brought Chizkiyahu, the son of the wicked Achaz, to do all this? The most reasonable conjecture is that Yishayahu assumed a very important role in Chizkiyahu's education and left a profound impression upon him.

 

As time went on, however – and apparently sooner rather than later – we find four prophecies (the details of which were already dealt with at length in previous shiurim) in which Yishayahu criticizes Chizkiyahu's policies, without addressing him directly:

 

*    In the first prophecy (according to the hypothesized chronological order), the prophet warns against reliance on Egypt and predicts its utter rout and exile by the Assyrian army (Yishayahu 20).

 

*    The second prophecy (chaps. 30-31) spells out in detail the severity of the offense of reliance on Egypt and its being a retreat from the meaning of the Exodus from Egypt for the relationship between God and the people of Israel.

 

*    The third prophecy (1:21-30) describes the moral corruption of Jerusalem, and especially that of its leaders, who prevent its manifestation as the city of justice.

 

*    In the fourth prophecy (chapter 22), the prophet severely criticizes the fortification of Jerusalem without reflecting upon its significance for Israel's connection to God, and the atmosphere of security that pervaded the city and found expression in the people's focus on the here and now and upon wanton behavior (in the second half of the chapter we find the harsh prophecy concerning Shevna).

 

Even when Sancheriv arrives in Yehuda and conquers all of its cities, Chizkiyahu does not make haste to turn to Yishayahu. This he does only when Ravshake reaches Jerusalem, out of a sense of, "For the children are come to the birth, and there is not enough strength to bring forth" (II Melakhim 19:3). Yishayahu tells Chizkiyahu that he must not fear the King of Assyria: "Behold, I will send another spirit in him, and he shall hear a rumor, and shall return to his own land" (ibid. v. 7). And indeed, Sancheriv is forced to leave, but once again he warns Chizkiyahu that he will yet return and capture the city. Chizkiyahu goes up to the house of God, and prays: "You are the God, even You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth… Now, therefore, O Lord our God, I beseech You, save You us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord God, even You only." (ibid. vv. 15-19). Yishayahu then turns to Chizkiyahu a second time and informs him that God has heard His prayer: "For I will defend this city, to save it; for My own sake, and for My servant David's sake" (ibid. v. 34).

 

A parallel meeting (time-wise) between the king and the prophet is conducted against the backdrop of Chizkiyahu's illness: Yishayahu comes to visit the king and inform him that his death is imminent; Chizkiyahu prays; and Yishayahu informs him that God has heard His prayer and He will add fifteen years to his life, while repeating His promise to save him from the hand of the King of Assyria and protect the city (ibid. 20:1-11).

 

The last meeting recorded in Scripture between Chizkiyahu and Yishayahu takes place after Chizkiyahu shows his treasures to the emissaries of the King of Babylonia. Yishayahu responds with a harsh prophecy: "Behold, days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have laid up in store to this day, shall be carried into Babylonia; nothing shall be left… And of your sons… shall they take away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the King of Babylonia" (ibid. vv. 17-18). And Chizkiyahu answers: "Good is the word of the Lord which you have spoken. And he said, Is it not good, if there is peace and truth in my days?" (ibid. v. 19).

 

How are we to understand these upheavals in the complex relationship between these two figures?

 

It seems that already in the days of Achaz – and perhaps even at the beginning of Chizkiyahu's reign – Yishayahu taught Chizkiyahu to lead the nation in a manner opposite that of his father. Things began very well: the rededication of the Temple and the restoration of the sacrificial service, the observance of Pesach together with the Kingdom of Israel, and the renewal of the connection to Torah and wisdom. Already at an early stage of his reign, however, Chizkiyahu decides to rebel against Assyria. On the one hand, he forms an alliance with Egypt and other countries; on the other hand, he abandons the internal arena to the governance of wayward officers, including Shevna, who corrupts the city and the people.

 

It is difficult to say what caused this change in Chizkiyahu's policies. Did he understand that governing the country in a manner opposite of that of Achaz required that he rebel against Assyria? Or perhaps with the establishment of his kingdom, he decided to adopt an independent path, severed from the prophet, which brought about a retreat from the significance of the Exodus from Egypt, and from the path of justice and judgment that represented Jerusalem and was the goal of his reign? Either way, over the course of the first half of Chizkiyahu's reign, Scripture makes no mention of any connection whatsoever between the king and the prophet. The prophet, on his part, expresses (without turning directly to Chizkiyahu) absolute objection to the alliance with Egypt and the spiritual situation in Jerusalem: the moral corruption, the exaggerated self-confidence, the wantonness, and the focus on the here and now, with no thought given to the future.

 

In parallel fashion, during the entire period that preceded the arrival of Sancheriv, we do not find even a single instance of the king relating to any of the prophet's criticisms. Only when the stage was reached that "the children are come to the birth, and there is not enough strength to bring forth" – only after Sancheriv's army invaded Yehuda, captured all of its cities, and threatened Jerusalem under the command of Ravshake who blasphemed the name of God – only then did Chizkiyahu turn to the prophet and seek God's deliverance. And God answered and reassured him through the prophet – "Be not afraid of the words that you have heard" (Yishayahu 37:6) – an answer that is explained in greater detail in the continuation, in the wake of Chizkiyahu's prayer in the house of God. The question begs to be asked: How is it that the prophet utterly changes his attitude, following the harsh prophecies that Yishayahu prophesied at the beginning of Chizkiyahu's reign?

 

It seems that the change in the prophet's attitude toward Chizkiyahu stems from the change in Chizkiyahu's attitude toward the word of God. His rending of his garments and covering himself with sackcloth; his going up to the house of God and offering of a prayer filled with recognition of the kingdom of God and a request for deliverance for the sake of God's name; and his very turning to the prophet – all these made it clear that Chizkiyahu now understands his absolute dependence upon God (as opposed to his independent conduct up until now). Combined with Chizkiyahu's repentance, Shevna is removed from his position "over the house," because of, among other reasons, his negative influence on the spiritual situation in Jerusalem (see shiur no. 19).

 

At the very same time we are witnesses to another meeting between the king and the prophet: Chizkiyahu becomes ill and appears to be dying, and the prophet comes to visit him. We already discussed this meeting in detail, as well as the parallel between it and the siege and deliverance. Here we wish merely to note the surprising suggestion made by Chazal that this meeting is the very objective of the illness that befell Chizkiyahu:

 

Rav Hamnuna said: What is the meaning of the verse: "Who is as the wise man? And who knows the interpretation [pesher] of a thing?" (Kohelet 8:1).  Who is like the Holy One, blessed be He, who knew how to effect a reconciliation [peshara] between two righteous men, Chizkiyahu and Yishayahu?

Chizkiyahu said: Let Yishayahu come to me, for so we find that Eliyahu went to Achav.

Yishayahu said: Let Chizkiyahu come to me, for so we find that Yehoram son of Achav went to Elisha.

What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He brought sufferings upon Chizkiyahu and then said to Yishayahu: Go visit the sick. For so it says: "In those days was Chizkiyahu sick unto death. And Yishayahu the prophet, son of Amotz, came to him and said unto him: Thus says the Lord, Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live" (II Melakhim 20:1; Yishayahu 38:1). (Berakhot 10a)

 

            Rav Kook (Ayin Aya on Berakhot 10a, 136) explains that the dispute, as described by the Midrash, between Yishayahu and Chizkiyahu revolves around the issue of the appropriate relationship between the power of prophecy, whose "objective is to fulfill the eternal needs of the people, to bestow upon it eternal spiritual life," and the power of the monarchy, whose concern is national life in the present:

 

Yishayahu was afraid that if he gives priority to the monarchy over prophecy, the people would fall in spirit and forget its eternal concerns. And Chizkiyahu was worried that if the people see the monarchy weak vis-a-vis prophecy, he would lose his temporal political strength and this would lead to evil consequences regarding the moral situation, regarding the Torah, fear of God and good character traits, which are all supported by royal power.

 

The compromise that God cast upon the two righteous men expresses the balance between these two powers – the eternal power of prophecy and the temporal power of the monarchy:

 

The Holy One, blessed be He, cast a compromise upon them, for according to Israel's situation at the time, it was necessary that these powers be precisely equal. That is, according to outward appearances, the monarchy should be elevated over prophecy, in order to strengthen the office and national strength. But one who penetrates inside will see that the king submitted himself and cancelled his temporal governance in favor of eternal prophetic good. This was God's compromise. He brought afflictions upon Chizkiyahu and told Yishayahu to go and visit the sick person. Now outwardly the hand of the monarchy was on top, for in the end the prophet Yishayahu went to King Chizkiyahu, but inwardly, who suffered from pain – the king.

 

According to Rav Kook, in the dispute over the proper balance, prophecy won. Superficially the monarchy came out on top, for in the final analysis the prophet went to the king, but it was the king who suffered afflictions. Thus the Midrash teaches a lesson that is applicable, according to our understanding, to Chizkiyahu's governance: "It is sometimes necessary to subjugate one's temporal outlook regarding national strength when it contradicts the eternal objective" (ibid.).

 

The final meeting between Yishayahu and Chizkiyahu teaches that Chizkiyahu was left in the end with a certain arrogance (II Divrei Ha-yamim 32:25), which found expression in the way he, in a certain measure, attributed the deliverance to himself, when he showed his treasures to the emissaries sent by the King of Babylonia. After God accepted his prayer and repentance and rescued him and Jerusalem, Chizkiyahu once again saw his kingdom as enjoying independent status, which is not directly dependent upon God, and he indirectly attributed to himself the great deliverance. The prophet responds with his harshest prophecy to Chizkiyahu – his prophecy regarding the exile to Babylonia – which apparently brought the relationship between him and Chizkiyahu to an end. Chizkiyahu's reaction to this prophecy - "Good is the word of the Lord which you have spoken. And he said, Is it not good, if there is peace and truth in my days?" – brings us back to Rav Hamnuna's criticism in tractate Berakhot according to Rav Kook's understanding: giving priority to the transient over the everlasting.

 

It seems that through this complicated web of relations between Chizkiyahu and Yishayahu, Scripture shows us the appropriate relationship between king and prophet. Here we must ask: What did Yishayahu really expect from Chizkiyahu? Did he really think that Yehuda in general and Jerusalem in particular would be able to stand up to the Assyrian attack and siege?

 

It seems that there was a gaping divide between Chizkiyahu's policies and the prophet's expectations in several areas.

 

First of all, Yishayahu had reservations about the very organization of an international alliance against Assyria and about standing at its head: "For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In ease and rest shall you be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength. And you did not wish it" (Yishayahu 30:15). This is the consistent position of the prophet which he had already expressed in the days of Achaz: "Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted on account of the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Retzin and Aram, and of the son of Remalyahu" (ibid. 7:4). According to this approach, the king's primary function is to bring about the internal spiritual repair of the people and the state – "to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice" – and not international military initiatives (this in addition to the spiritual problem involved in reliance on a foreign king, rather than on God). The king must certainly defend his country, and it was never the prophet's intention to prevent him from executing this obligation; the question relates only to the ways in which king does this and to his attitude toward God.

 

Moreover, Chizkiyahu's extreme focus on foreign relations was connected to his neglect of the spiritual-religious realm, and it allowed for the corruption of the regime and the people, since it was led, as it would appear, by Shevna who was over the house.

 

The fortification efforts in the face of the possibility of an Assyrian siege were legitimate in and of themselves. But these efforts should have been made with the understanding that only if Israel walks with God and follows in His ways, while improving moral conduct and in consultation with the prophet, would these fortifications yield their desired results  – and not in the manner of "My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth" (Devarim 8:17) and the wantonness that is expressed by the false trust in the fortifications of the city and political alliances. Again, the criticism relates not to the fortifications in and of themselves, but to the spiritual context in which they were built.

 

The last divide became evident after the great deliverance from Assyria. The prophet expected that now at last Chizkiyahu would recognize the clearly miraculous nature of the deliverance – "the sword, not of a mighty man" (Yishayahu 31:8) – and not attribute any part of it whatsoever to himself. This explains his harsh and severe reaction to Chizkiyahu's displaying the royal treasures, taken from the spoils of the Assyrian camp that was miraculously smitten, to the emissaries of the King of Babylonia.

 

The common denominator of all these differences between Chizkiyahu's actions and the prophet's position is that they all stem from Chizkiyahu's understanding of the monarchy as enjoying an independent status and from his disregard of the strong connection that is demanded between it and God's will. One of the ways of actualizing this connection is through constant contact with a prophet. Chizkiyahu already ceased to actualize this connection during the early period of his reign – as was expressed through the alliance against Assyria, the fortification efforts and their objective, the governmental corruption in Jerusalem, and his attitude toward the Babylonian delegation. Practically speaking, he turned to the prophet only during the greatest crisis of his reign, only when there "was not enough strength to bring forth."

 

SUMMARY

 

            In the first part of this shiur we examined Chizkiyahu's attempts to imitate David and Shelomo, to reestablish the monarchy of the House of David and restore it to its previous splendor. In the second half we noted the complicated relationship between Chizkiyahu and Yishayahu, which constitutes a window for reflection upon the relationship between king and prophet – between the eternal life of the nation and its transient national life.

 

            In the next shiur we will continue to examine other aspects of Chizkiyahu's personality and expand upon Chazal's interpretation of his character.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



 

 

 

 

 



[1] Conducting the ceremony at the beginning of the month of Nisan parallels the dedication of the Mishkan and the days of milu'im.

[2] Handles of jugs used for the storage of wheat have been found in many places in the territory of Yehuda. These handles bear seals inscribed with the words "for the king" and the name of one of the four major cities in Yehuda: Chevron, Zif, Sokho or Mimshat. It has been suggested that these cities supplied the kingdom with wheat during the period of Chizkiyahu, and the inscription on the handles indicate the source of the wheat.