Melakhim Bet Chapter 20
Hizqiyahu is ill and is visited by Yeshayahu the Prophet, who informs him that he should put his affairs in order because he will soon die. Once the prophet has left, Hizqiyahu prays to Hashem, asking that in the merit of all of his righteous deeds he should be spared. Before Yeshayahu has exited the city, he receives a message from Hashem ordering him to return to Hizqiyahu and inform the king that his prayer has been answered.
In three days, Hizqiyahu will be well enough to visit the Temple of Hashem and he will enjoy another fifteen years of life. During this time, Hashem pledges to continue to protect the Jewish people from the threat of Assyria. Yeshayahu instructs the king’s attendants to bring him a cake of figs, which is placed on the rash of Hizqiyahu, healing it, apparently to demonstrate that he will recover soon.
Hizqiyahu requests a sign from the prophet to validate his message. Yeshayahu offers the king two options: either the shadow on the sundial can move forward by ten degrees or it can recede ten degrees. Hizqiyahu chooses the latter, and witnesses a miraculous confirmation of the prophet’s words.
The King of Babylonia has heard of the illness and subsequent recovery of Hizqiyahu and sends a delegation to visit him and bring him gifts. Hizqiyahu welcomes the Babylonian representatives and provides them with a grand tour, displaying to them his treasuries, precious metals, spices, weaponry and other evidence of his success and accomplishment.
Shortly after, Yeshayahu again visits Hizqiyahu and inquires about the origin of the delegation and its purpose. Hizqiyahu explains that the men came from Babylonia and that he showed them his house and all he possessed. Yeshayahu informs Hizqiyahu that Hashem has decreed that, in the future, the Babylonians will conquer Jerusalem and carry all the wealth that they have seen back to their homeland. Hizqiyahu accepts and affirms the word of God and consoles himself with the knowledge that these developments will not occur in his lifetime. Hizqiyahu dies and is succeeded by his son, Menashe.
In sharp contrast with the bright and hopeful tone of the early years of his reign, the career of Hizqiyahu ends on a relatively negative note. Interestingly, the Sages comment that he was stricken with illness because he never expressed gratitude to the Almighty for the miraculous salvation his people were granted from Assyria. This suggests that the Rabbis perceived in Hizqiyahu a specific character flaw – a sense of pride and entitlement he developed on account of his religious reforms and devotion to Hashem.
We can catch subtle hints of this attitude even in the text of the otherwise sincere and heartfelt prayer of Hizqiyahu. He asks Hashem to heal him and allow him to live in the merit of his own righteousness and religiosity. However, when Hashem promises Hizqiyahu an extension of fifteen years of life as well as protection from the threat of Ashur, He declares that these blessings will be granted for the sake of His name and for the sake of King David, NOT because Hizqiyahu deserves them.
One detects a slight rebuke in this message – Hashem is telling Hizqiyahu not to bank so much on his own merits, not to romanticize what he has achieved and assume that God is compelled to reward him for it. Indeed, our Rabbis also point out that when Moshe Rabbenu prayed to Hashem, he never invoked his own merit – he always made requests based upon the merit of the Patriarchs. Hizqiyahu, on the other hand, took the unprecedented and inappropriate step of asking for God’s grace by virtue of his own righteousness.
Hizqiyahu’s self-aggrandizement is reflected in the manner in which he greets and interacts with the delegation from Babylonia. In an apparent attempt to impress them, he flaunts his great wealth and power, not once mentioning Hashem nor taking them on a visit to the Bet Hamiqdash. We can and should contrast this behavior with that of Shelomo Hamelekh, who used the visit of the Queen of Sheba as an opportunity to glorify the name of Hashem, emphasizing the role of the Temple and the wisdom of Torah in the success and prosperity of Israel. The Queen of Sheba and her attendants recognized the opulence and power of Shelomo’s kingdom as a function of Hashem’s providence and not as a manifestation of human majesty or might.
After his recovery from illness and his recognition (as expressed in his prayer) that his accomplishments were gifts from the Almighty, Hizqiyahu should have learned his lesson and seen the visit of the Babylonian delegation as a golden opportunity to sanctify Hashem’s name – to share his insight, inspire them, and teach them about the Torah and the service of Hashem. Recall that, in predicting Hizqiyahu’s recovery, Yeshayahu makes explicit reference to the king’s upcoming VISIT TO THE TEMPLE in three days, reminding him of the whole purpose for which he is granted a new lease on life – to serve Hashem and glorify His name in the world! Yet instead of rising to the occasion, Hizqiyahu fell back into his self-centered perspective, basking in the glory and honor that Babylonia bestowed upon him, and wishing to meet or exceed their expectations by showing off his wealth and power (even his response to Yeshayahu, when asked about the delegation, sounds like bravado of a sort).
This failure was Hiziqiyahu’s last and most decisive mistake. Had he played his cards right and responded to this situation properly, he would have set a direction and a tone for the monarchy that could have been learned and perpetuated by his successor. In this way, as our Sages comment, he could have ushered in the Messianic Era.
However, Hizqiyahu tragically traded the idyllic vision of the monarchy serving as a vehicle of the sanctification of God’s name for the fleeting, momentary enjoyment of being honored as an important leader of the region. His choice would have a domino effect on the future trajectory of the kingdom, ultimately eventuating in its destruction. Unfortunately, true to form, Hizqiyahu is unconcerned with the long term prognosis of the nation, preferring to focus on the fact that he will be able to reach the end of his own career peacefully and respectably.