How do you deal with outside threats to your reliance on God? How do you recover after faltering in your trust? The Bible's account of King Hezekiah offers some valuable and practical lessons for us!
King Hezekiah of Judah. What a guy! When he takes the throne at age 25, he sets to rooting out the rampant idolatry which had proliferated in his kingdom under his father Ahaz’s rule. He succeeds, and even asserts his independence from the king of Assyria, to whom his father had paid tribute. The Bible says he was the best king Judah ever had — before or after. (See II Kings 18:5.)
Well, the Assyrians don’t stop trying to dominate everyone just because Hezekiah stands up to them. During year four of Hezekiah’s reign, the Assyrians besiege Samaria at King Shalmaneser’s command. In year six, they succeed in taking it, and exile all its inhabitants. Then, in year fourteen of Hezekiah’s reign, the new Assyrian king, Sennacherib, conquers all the walled cities of Judah.
At this point, Hezekiah volunteers to pay tribute to Sennacherib if he will withdraw from Judah. The price is set at 300 talents of silver and 30 talents of gold. Hezekiah scrapes and scrounges to find the tribute. He takes all the silver from the temple and his own treasury, and he cuts the gold from the doors of the temple, and from the pillars of the temple which he himself had had gilt.
Unfortunately, upon receiving this tribute, Sennacherib immediately sends three messengers plus a whole army back to Judah. The three messengers — Tartan, Rabsaris, and Rab-shakeh — call for King Hezekiah. But rather than talking to them himself, he sends three of his officials, Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah.
And that brings us to a great place to talk about
the spiritual lessons thus far!
I like that we’re told right off the bat that Hezekiah was the best king in the history of Judah. Now, in my paraphrase of the story, I’ve gone verse by verse chronologically. So, we aren’t told that Hezekiah was the best until we’ve also been told what actions of his set him apart. Casting out idols. Refusing to be under any authority but God’s. I imagine that once the people were more closely abiding by the Second Commandment — that is, after the idols and pagan worship sites were destroyed — it was a little easier for them to support Hezekiah as he brought his people into obedience to the First Commandment to have no other gods but God. (See Exodus 20.) Throwing off Assyria’s control was the natural manifestation of their realignment Godward, not to mention a wonderful demonstration of the right we all have to liberate ourselves from beliefs of heredity and habit. We are always free to obey God. No matter what our parents have done. No matter how long a wrong practice has been going on. No matter what. Mary Baker Eddy puts it this way, “If you believe in and practise wrong knowingly, you can at once change your course and do right" (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 253).
It almost seems logical that once you’re square, you know, God-wise (the Bible would call that being righteous), your troubles would be over. Eh, well — not exactly. As the Psalmist puts it: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all” (Ps. 34:19). And that’s what made Hezekiah the best king. Not that he prevented trouble from coming Judah’s way, but because his reliance on God ensured he and Judah would overcome the trouble. Even if he made some mistakes along the way.
So, what about those Assyrians creeping closer and closer? I think this part is a lovely illustration of what happens when we gain a stronger sense of morality. First, we find our lives increasingly harmonized. Then, familiar as we are with harmony and goodness, we start to become more aware of things that aren’t aligned with God’s moral law — things we may not have even noticed before. Similarly, for a time Hezekiah is so focused on guiding his own kingdom rightly, that he pays little attention to the troubles of neighboring kingdoms. But once his kingdom is safe, settled, and overall morally sound, he becomes aware of a threat outside his borders. The Assyrians are struggling to overtake Samaria.
A little history here: Samaria was the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel. I say northern kingdom because through the end of King Solomon’s reign, Israel and Judah were one kingdom. But then they split. The kingdom of Judah was composed of the tribe of Judah, one of Jacob’s, a.k.a. Israel’s, sons; the kingdom of Israel was composed of the other tribes of Israel. And it was the only other Hebrew kingdom besides Judah — the only other kingdom united in worshiping the one God. However, the Bible tells us that they strayed, and this is why they were conquered and scattered. (See II Kings 18:10-12.) Perhaps they, too, had given into idolatry, but unlike Judah, did not have a king who recognized their mistakes and strove to correct their behavior.
So, although the threat to Israel was technically outside of Hezekiah’s kingdom, it was still an attempt to dominate God’s people. Unfortunately Hezekiah didn’t recognize the threat for what it was. This can happen to us when we blandly accept that someone else is experiencing discord of some type — for instance, that a neighbor is ill. Then, we may declare our exemption from it, but if we don’t carry our logic and prayer all the way to realizing the powerlessness of the discord over anybody, we’ve allowed an opening in our own consciousness where discord may develop; we’ve admitted its possibility. In so doing, we’ve admitted a belief in a power, a cause, apart from God. In that state of mind, we trespass the First Commandment. And we cannot truly experience freedom from some other power while simultaneously admitting its reality, even though it’s only in belief.
It’s not surprising, then, that what follows is the Assyrians taking Samaria and, after some years and a change in leadership, boldly taking the cities of Judah. By this point, the “fact” of “domineering Assyrians” has been thoroughly accepted as a reality by the people of Judah. And this is what leads Hezekiah to offer to pay tribute. He knows better — nothing has changed from 14 years earlier when he assumed the throne and rejected Assyrian oversight. God was still the only God. Still in charge. But by not challenging the assumed Assyrian authority, he cedes somewhat to a supposed power apart from God.
From that standpoint it seems logical and expedient to pay a tribute and get the Assyrians out of Judah’s hair. But it turns out to be neither logical nor expedient. Hezekiah goes to great lengths to pay the Assyrians, but what does it get him? They take his gold and silver and immediately move aggressively to take the rest of his kingdom. This part illustrates perfectly what Mary Baker Eddy says happens if we allow ourselves to be hypnotized, to look to a supposed power apart from God, in hopes of removing a problem. She says, “The hypnotizer employs one error to destroy another. If he heals sickness through a belief, and a belief originally caused the sickness, it is a case of the greater error overcoming the lesser. The greater error thereafter occupies the ground, leaving the case worse than before it was grasped by the stronger error” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 104). “But Hezekiah wasn’t being hypnotized,” you might say. To that I would reply, “Wasn’t he?” The process was the same. He inadvertently accepts a belief that the Assyrians have real power, instead of relying on what he knew, namely, that God has all power. Then he proceeds to act according to the false belief he's entertaining: he tries to protect his kingdom by an act that outwardly acknowledges Assyria’s power over Judah. And the case is definitely worse!
Fortunately, it seems Hezekiah realizes where he has gone wrong. And so begins his campaign to — once again, but in an even deeper way — realign his thought and his kingdom’s with the right sense of God’s omnipotence, allness, and only-ness. He meets the three Assyrian ambassadors with three servants of his own. This represents how, in Christian Science prayer, we counter each false belief with its spiritual counter-fact. The results are assured, but the process of salvation will indeed be worked out with fear and trembling . . .
Stay tuned! The story continues . . .