Dating Hezekiah's Reforms (2 Kings 18:1-3; 2 Chronicles 29) March 26
In our previous reading, we learned of the Assyrian campaign in which most of the populace of the northern kingdom of Israel was deported (733-732 B.C.). Later, we will read, in 2 Kings 17, of the final fall of Samaria around 722 B.C., when the rest of the northern kingdom is deported.
We come now to the reign of Ahaz's son, the righteous King Hezekiah. There is some debate over the chronological placement of Hezekiah's reforms and great Passover observance. There are many chronological difficulties in sorting out the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah. We examine this particular matter now for two reasons. First, to explain why we are presently skipping over the fall of Samaria and Israel's second captivity in 2 Kings 17 and are proceeding to the reign of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18.
Second, many contend that the significant presence of Israelites in the northern tribal territories at the time of Hezekiah's Passover (2 Chronicles 30) proves that the final Assyrian deportation of Israel left many people in the land—and that it was through them, later commingled with the Jews, that God would fulfill the national promises made to Abraham. Yet this notion is based upon an apparent misdating of Hezekiah's Passover—for that Passover likely came before the fall of Samaria, as we will see.
The discussion that follows can become somewhat tedious because of all the dates and lengths of years given. It is presented here for the sake of substantiation and for those who are interested.
Let us consider, then, the dating of Hezekiah's reign. Two decades after the fall of Samaria, in 701 B.C., the Assyrian Empire will make an assault on Judah, carrying away much of its citizenry. This event is biblically dated to the 14th year of Hezekiah's reign (2 Kings 18:13), meaning Hezekiah's reign began around 715 B.C. Also, "in those days" (20:1)—apparently the days of Assyria's attack on Judah, as we will later read—God tells Hezekiah that he will live 15 more years (verse 6). Thus it appears that Hezekiah's death must have come around 686 B.C. And since we are told that Hezekiah reigned 29 years (2 Kings 18:2; 2 Chronicles 29:1), his reign is again shown to have begun around 715 B.C. (Realize and keep in mind as we go through these dates that most are approximations, yet probably accurate to within a year or so.)
Yet 2 Kings 18:1 says that Hezekiah began to reign in the third year of Hoshea, who became king of Israel in the aftermath of the Assyrian campaign ending in 732 B.C. This means Hezekiah's reign must have begun around 729 B.C. The apparent discrepancy is, as usual, the result of overlapping reigns. The late Edwin Thiele, a recognized authority on unraveling the dates of the Hebrew kings, normally accepted the accession years given in the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament. But he considered this one and related scriptural statements showing overlap between Hoshea and Hezekiah to be late editorial mistakes (see Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, 1983). Yet he should not have dismissed these figures, as they could have been fit into his overall chronology, as demonstrated by Eugene Merrill in his book Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, 1987.
To reconcile the two different inauguration years for Hezekiah, there must have been a coregency between Ahaz and Hezekiah from 729-715 B.C. Ahaz's reign is given as 16 years (2 Kings 16:2; 2 Chronicles 28:1). If it ended with his death in 715 B.C., then the beginning of his reign would be reckoned at 731 B.C.—though we have seen in earlier highlights that Ahaz began his reign in 736 B.C. Perhaps 731 B.C. is the year that his father Jotham actually died (likely since other indications tell us that it was sometime between 732 and 729 B.C.). It is also possible that Ahaz's 16-year reign is reckoned from 736 to 720 B.C., which would mean that Ahaz abdicated the throne in 720—five years before his death in 715. In any event, Ahaz appears to have all but abdicated at a much earlier date, as we'll see. In fact, there is another way to date Ahaz's 16-year reign that seems to fit the best, which we will touch on shortly.
To see that, we first need to consider the magnificent reforms begun by Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 29. We are told: "In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them" (verse 3). And from there things really snowballed in the right direction, leading to the great Passover celebration in 2 Chronicles 30 (which is our next reading).
When did these things happen? Was the first year of Hezekiah here the beginning of his coregency with Ahaz in 729 B.C.? Or was it the commencement of his sole reign in 715 B.C.? We should notice that in 2 Kings 18, both years are used to date his reign. In verse 13, as we've seen, the Assyrian attack on Judah (701 B.C.) is said to have occurred in the 14th year of Hezekiah—thus dating his reign from 715 B.C. But a few verses earlier, in verse 9, the siege of Samaria (725-722 B.C.) is said to have begun in the fourth year of Hezekiah and seventh year of Hoshea—thus dating Hezekiah's reign from 729 B.C. Here, then, is proof that the "first year" of Hezekiah could refer to either 715 or 729 B.C. So in which of these did his reforms begin?
Merrill and many others place them in 715. Yet there is a major problem with dating Hezekiah's first-year reforms and great Passover to 715 B.C.—which is frankly the crux of the matter for our purposes here. As we'll see in our next reading, 2 Chronicles 30-31 shows a substantial remnant of the northern tribes still dwelling in the lands surrounding Samaria at the time of this Passover. Yet as we will later see in 2 Kings 17, following the second Assyrian deportation of Israel soon after Samaria's fall (722 B.C.), there were no Israelites left in the north to speak of (verse 18)—except for perhaps a few scattered fugitives who had escaped death or slavery. (We do see some Israelites in the north later in Josiah's time, 2 Chronicles 34:9—but this was most likely due to a rather surprising historical development, which we will take note of later.) So that would seem to leave us with the reforms and Passover occurring in the early accession year of 729.
But at first consideration, this earlier date seems to be out of the question since Ahaz was still alive until 715. For how would Ahaz, a godless apostate, have stood by while his son made such sweeping reforms? Indeed, how would he have continued to stand by for 14 years? Yet consider that Ahaz could have developed some physical or mental problem or malady that made him unfit to govern—indeed God might have so stricken this wicked ruler to bring about the reforms He desired at this time.
This brings us to the other possible way to date Ahaz's 16-year reign. In 2 Kings 17:1, Hoshea is said to have become king of Israel, which we know happened in 732 B.C., in the 12th year of Ahaz. This would date the beginning of Ahaz's reign to 744 B.C., giving him a coregency with his father Jotham. If Ahaz's reign started in 744, 16 years later would bring us to 729 or 728 B.C. That lines up well enough with the 729 starting date for Hezekiah's initial reign for us to assume that Ahaz did indeed give up the throne to Hezekiah completely at this point (729/728), even though he lived 13 or 14 years longer.
Again, we must consider the possibility that Ahaz was unable to govern any longer. Remember that God was certainly orchestrating events. In fact, we are directly told, "God had prepared the people, since the events took place so suddenly…. Also the hand of God was on Judah to give them singleness of heart to obey the command of the king [i.e., Hezekiah]" (2 Chronicles 29:36; 30:12).
Furthermore, it is possible, though unrecorded, that Ahaz stood by for only a short time and later reasserted himself to some extent. Judah's commitment to God must have waned in the years following these events for God to later allow the Assyrians to invade and deport so many of its people. The actual reason for this, however, is not made clear in Scripture.
Hezekiah Restores Temple Worship (2 Kings 18:1-3; 2 Chronicles 29)
Hezekiah's grandfather, the relatively righteous Jotham, had abdicated the throne in favor of Ahaz around seven years before Hezekiah was first crowned. Judah, in the time since Jotham's abdication, had been twisted and corrupted by Ahaz's evil reign as sole king. Yet it appears that Jotham was still alive until two or three years before Hezekiah came to the throne, and Jotham may have instructed the youth in the need to turn the nation back to God. Besides the positive influence of his grandfather, Hezekiah probably also knew Isaiah, who by tradition was of royal blood, and perhaps Micah. And Hezekiah's mother Abi or Abijah, given special mention in both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, may have been a major influence in his doing "what was right in the sight of the Lord." Many of the kings of Israel and Judah were righteous when the father was unrighteous, or unrighteous when the father was righteous. This may have been partly the result of neglect by fathers who were too busy with governmental affairs to be the major influences in the lives of their children. Perhaps more significantly, the mother's name is often mentioned, probably indicating that she had the greater influence in how the son turned out. As the saying goes, "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world." (It may also be that since "queen mother" was an official role and position of honor, her name was simply mentioned for thoroughness.) In any case, Hezekiah saw the folly of his father's actions and set about to correct them as soon as he was empowered to do so.
Hezekiah wastes no time in making needed religious reforms in the wake of his father's apostate reign. He opens the doors to the temple, in contrast to Ahaz having shut them as an act of hostility toward God (see 2 Chronicles 28:24). In his instructions to the priests, Hezekiah describes how the sacrificial system has been abandoned. He also makes mention of the captivity of the people of Judah and Jerusalem (29:9), referring not to the deportation of the northern tribes by the Assyrians but to the Jews who had been carried captive—to Syria, Israel and Edom—during his father's reign (compare 28:5-8, 17—of the 200,000 taken to Israel, though many were clearly freed, it is possible that some were not).
Hezekiah leads the nation in entering into a renewed covenant relationship with God, pledging himself to lead the nation in faithfulness (29:10). He commands that atonement sacrifices be made for "all Israel" (verse 24)—showing his intention to bring all 12 tribes, including the remnant of the northern kingdom, back into alignment with God. We will see his appeal to this remnant in the next chapter.
Once the temple is cleansed, Hezekiah encourages the people to bring sacrifices again (verse 31). The word "sacrifices" in the King James and New King James Versions here apparently refers to peace offerings (Hebrew zebach), the most common type of personal offering. Except for a token cut of meat given to the priests—and the blood and fat burned on the altar to God—the meat of such sacrifices was eaten by the offerer and his family and friends. These sacrifices were more a part of a celebration than something the participants had to completely give up.
In contrast, the same verse goes on to add that "as many as were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings." Burnt offerings were entirely burned on the altar, so those who brought them were relinquishing all rights and benefits to these animals. And because the whole animal was offered, much more work was required, as described in the succeeding verses.
If Ahaz was indeed still alive at the time, as it appears he may have been, he was nevertheless somehow out of the picture as these reforms were set in motion. Through the swift and powerful intervention of God (compare verse 36), Ahaz was sidelined as events moved beyond his control. Hezekiah now reigned as king—and Judah was turning back to God (see 30:12).