Story Four

 •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 6
AFTER Ā́hăz, the wickedest of the kings of Jū́ dah, came Hĕz-kī́ ah, who was the best of the kings. He listened to the words of the prophet I-s̝ā́ iah, and obeyed the commands of the Lord. In the first month of his reign, when he was a young man, he called together the priests and the Lḗ vītes, who had the charge of the house of the Lord, and he said to them:
"My sons, give yourselves once more to the service of the Lord, and be holy, as God commands you. Now open the doors of the house of the Lord, which have been shut for these many years; and take out of the house all the idols that have been placed in it; and make the place clean, and pure from all evil things. Because the people have turned away from the Lord, he has been angry with us, and has left us to our enemies; now let us go back to the Lord, and promise again to serve him. God has chosen you, my sons, to lead in his 'worship; do not neglect the work that the Lord has given you to do.”
Then the Temple was opened as of old; the idols Were taken away; the altar was made holy to the Lord, and the daily offering was laid upon it; the lamps were lighted in the Holy Place; the priest stood before the golden altar offering incense; the Lḗ vītes in their robes sang the psalms of Dā́ vid, while the silver trumpets made music; and the people came up to worship in the Temple as they had not come in many years.
You remember that the great Feast of the Passover kept in mind how the children of Ĭś̝ ra-el had come out of Ḗ ġy̆pt. (See Part First, Story Twenty-three.) For a long time the people had ceased to keep this feast, both in Jū́ dah and in Ĭś̝ ra-el. King Hĕz-e-kī́ ah sent commands through all Jū́ dah for the people to come up to Jē̇-rṳ́ sā̇-lĕm, and to worship the Lord in this feast. He also sent men through the land of Ĭś̝ ra-el, the Ten Tribes, to ask the men of Ĭś̝ ra-el also to come up with their brothers of Jū́ dah to Jē̇-rṳ́ sā̇-lĕm, and to keep the feast. At that time Hō̇-shḗ ȧ, the last king of Ĭś̝ ra-el, was on the throne, the land was overrun by the Ăs-sy̆ŕ ĭ-ans̝, and the kingdom was very weak, and nearing its end. Most of the people in Ĭś̝ ra-el were worshippers of idols, and had forgotten God's law. They laughed at Hĕz-e-kī́ ah's messengers, and would not come to the feast. But in many places in Ĭś̝ ra-el there were some who had listened to the prophets of the Lord, and these came up to worship with the men of Judah. For each family they roasted a lamb, and with it ate the unleavened bread, that is bread made without yeast, and they praised the Lord who had led their fathers out from Egypt to their own land.
After the feast, when the people had given themselves once more to the service of God, King Hĕz-e-kī́ ah began to destroy the idols that were everywhere in Judah. He sent men to break down the images, to tear in pieces the altars to the false gods, and to cut down the trees under which the altars stood. You remember that Moses made a serpent of brass in the wilderness.
This image had been brought to Jē̇-rṳ́ sā̇-lĕm, and was still kept there in the days of Hĕz-e-kī́ ah. The people were worshipping it as an idol; and were burning incense before it. Hĕz-e-kī́ ah said, "It is nothing but a piece of brass," and he commanded that it should be broken up. Everywhere he called upon his people to turn from the idols, to destroy them, and to worship the Lord God.
When Hĕz-e-kī́ ah became king, the kingdoms of Ĭś̝ ra-el, and Sy̆ŕ ĭ-ȧ, and Jū́ dah, with all the lands near them, were under the power of the great kingdom of the Ăs-sy̆ŕ ĭ-ans̝. Each land had its own king, but he ruled under the king of Ăs-sy̆ŕ ĭ-a̝; and every year a heavy tax was laid upon the people, to be paid to the Ăs-sy̆ŕ-ĭ-ans̝. After a few years, Hĕz-e-kī́ ah thought that he was strong enough to set his kingdom free from the Ăs-sy̆ŕ ĭ-an rule. He 'refused to pay the tax any longer, and gathered an army, and built the walls of Jē̇-rṳ́ sā̇-lĕm higher, and made ready for a war with the Ăs-sy̆ŕ ĭ-ans̝. But Sĕn-năch́ e-rĭb, the king of Ăs-sy̆ŕ ĭ-ȧ, came into the land of Jū́ dah with a great army, and took all the cities in the west of Jū́ dah, and threatened to take Jē̇-rṳ́ sā̇-lĕm also. Then Hĕz-e-kī́ ah saw that he had made a mistake. He was not able to fight the Ăs-sy̆ŕ ĭ-ans̝, the most powerful of all the nations in that part of the world. He sent word to the king of As-sy̆ŕ ĭ-ans̝, saying:
"I will no more resist your rule; forgive me for the past, and I will pay whatever you ask.”
Then the king of Ăs-sy̆ŕ ĭ-ȧ, laid upon Hĕz-e-kī́ ah and his people a tax heavier than before. To obtain the money, Hĕz-e-kī́ ah took all the gold and silver in the Temple, all that was in his own palace, and all that he could find among the people, and sent it to the Ăs-sy̆ŕ ĭ-ans̝. But even then the king of Ās-sy̆ŕ ĭ-ȧ, was not satisfied. He sent his princes to Jē̇-rṳ́ sā̇-lĕm with this message:
"We are going to destroy this city, and to take you away into another land, a land far away; as we have taken the people of Ĭś̝ ra-el away, and as we have carried captive other peoples. The gods of other nations have not been able to save those who trusted in them against us, and your God will not be able to save you. Now give yourselves up to the great king of Ăs-sy̆ŕ ĭ-ȧ, and go to the land where he will send you.”
When King Hĕz-e-kī́ ah heard this, he was filled with fear. He took the letter into the house of the Lord, and spread it out before the altar, and called upon the Lord to help him and to save his people. Then he sent his princes to the prophet I-s̝ā́ iah, to ask him to give them some word from the Lord. And Ī-s̝ā́ iah said:
"Thus saith the Lord, 'The king of Ăs-sy̆ŕ ĭ-ȧ shall not come to this city, nor shall he shoot an arrow against it. But he shall go back to his own land by the same way that he came. And I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land. For I will defend this city, and will save it for my own sake and for my servant Dā́ vid's sake.'”
Just at that time, Sĕn-năch́ e-rĭb, the king of Ăs-sy̆ŕ ĭ-ȧ, heard that a great army was marching against him from another land. He turned away from the land of Jū́ dah, and went to meet these new enemies. And the Lord sent upon the army of the Ăs-sy̆ŕ ĭ-ans̝ a sudden and terrible plague, so that in one night nearly two hundred thousand of them died in their camp. Then King Sĕn-năch́ e-rĭb own land, and never again came into the land of Judah; nor did he again send an army there. And years after this, while he was worshipping his idol-god in his temple at Nĭń e-veh, his chief city, two of his sons came upon him, and slew him with the sword. They escaped into a distant land, and É sar= hăd́ don, another of his sons, became king over the lands ruled by the Ăs-sy̆ŕ ĭ-ans̝. Thus did God save his city and his people from their enemies, because they looked to him for help. At the time while the Ăs-sy̆ŕ ĭ-ans̝ were in the land, and the kingdom was in great danger, King Hĕz-e-kī́ ah was suddenly stricken with a deadly disease. It was a tumor or a cancer, which no physician could cure; and the prophet Ī-s̝ā́ iah said to him:
"Thus saith the Lord, 'Set your house in order, and prepare to leave your kingdom, for you shall die, and not live.”
But King Hĕz-e-kī́ ah felt that in a time of such trouble to the land he could not be spared, especially as at that time he had no son who could take charge of the kingdom. Then Hĕz-e-kī́ ah upon his bed prayed to the Lord that he might live; and he said:
"O Lord, I beseech thee, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which was good in thy sight. Let me live and not die, O Lord!”
The Lord heard Hĕz-e-kī́ ah's prayer, and before Ī-s̝ā́ iah had reached the middle of the city, on his way home, the Lord said to him, "Turn again, and say to Hĕz-e-kī́ ah the prince of my people, `Thus saith the Lord, I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; I will heal you; and in three days you shall go up to the house of the Lord. I will add to your life fifteen years, and I will save this city from the king of As-sy̆ŕ í-ȧ.'”
Then I-s̝ā́ iah the prophet came again to Hĕz-e-kī́ ah, and spoke to him the word of the Lord; and he said, also, "Lay on the tumor a plaster made of figs, and he shall be cured.”
When Hĕz-e-kī́ ah heard the words of Ī-s̝ā́ iah, he said, "What sign will the Lord give, to show that he will cure me, and that I shall again go up to the house of the Lord?”
And Ī-s̝ā́ iah said, "The Lord will give you a sign, and you shall choose it yourself. Shall the shadow on the dial go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?" Near the palace was standing a sun-dial, by which the time of the day was shown, for there were no clocks in those years. And Hĕz-e-kī́ ah said, "It is easy for the shadow to go forward ten degrees. Let it go back ten degrees.” Then Ī-s̝ā́ iah the prophet called upon the Lord, and the Lord heard him; and caused the shadow to go backward on the sun-dial ten degrees. And within three days Hĕz-e-kī́ ah was well, and went to worship in the house of the Lord. After this Hĕz-e-kī́ ah lived fifteen years in honor. When he died all the land mourned for him as the best of the kings.