Today in Jewish History
• King Hezekiah Falls Ill (548 BCE)
On this day, King Hezekiah, the greatest of all the Judeaen kings, fell seriously ill, and was informed by the Prophet Isaiah that he would die, for G-d was displeased with the fact that Hezekiah had never married.
Hezekiah had refused to get married because he had prophetically foreseen that his children would lead the Jewish people to sin. He erred, for it is man’s job to heed the commandment of procreating, and the rest is in the hands of G-d.
Hezekiah asked the prophet to pray on his behalf, but he refused, insisting that the Heavenly decree was final. The king asked the prophet to leave, saying that he had a tradition from his ancestors that one should never despair, even if a sharp sword is drawn across one’s throat. The king prayed to G-d, and his prayer was accepted. G-d sent Isaiah to tell him that he would recover and that his life would be extended for fifteen years. Hezekiah recovered three days later, on the first day of Passover.
The King later married Prophet Isaiah’s daughter.
Hezekiah’s Last Years of Reign
This miraculous help to the besieged Jerusalem occurred at the same time as another, not less miraculous event. Three days before Sennaherib’s army had been smitten at the gates of Jerusalem, Hezekiah fell seriously ill, and the prophet Isaiah came to tell him that he was to die. The prophet also told him that G‑d was greatly displeased because Hezekiah had not married. Now Hezekiah who had the gift of prophetic vision knew that his children would mislead the Jewish people. Therefore he had refused to marry. But Isaiah told him that human beings must not interfere with G‑d’s ways of governing the world. All man can do is to live according to G‑d’s commands, and fulfill his duties. Everything else is in G‑d’s hands.
When the king heard the prophet’s words, “Set thy house in order for thou shalt die,” he turned his face towards the wall and fervently implored G‑d that he might live. His prayer was accepted, and G‑d sent Isaiah back to tell him that he would recover and that his life would be prolonged for fifteen years. When Hezekiah asked for a sign that he was to get well again, Isaiah replied that the shadow on the sun-dial would recede ten degrees. Indeed this miracle occurred. Isaiah put a fig-plaster on Hezekiah’s boils, and the king recovered completely.
This last miracle proved to the entire world that Hezekiah was a favorite of G‑d. The day of Hezekiah’s recovery was the first day of Passover. While the people gathered in the Holy Temple to praise G‑d, the good news of the Divine punishment that had overtaken Sennaherib’s army reached the crowded city and greatly intensified the joy and happiness of the people.
Hezekiah, the pious and G‑d-fearing descendant of the House of David, had been destined, according to the predictions of the prophets, to be the G‑d-sent redeemer of the people, to bring back the exiles of the ten tribes of Israel, and to unite all Israel once again under the dynasty of the House of David. However, a sin committed by Hezekiah, seemingly small, but unpardonable in so great a man, caused him to forfeit the privilege of playing the supreme role for which he had originally been chosen. It happened as follows: Merodah (Berodah) Baladan, the King of Babylon, an astrologer, had to his great astonishment observed that G‑d had halted the course of the sun for the sake of Hezekiah. He was deeply impressed by this event, and wanted to learn more about the pious king of Judea. He sent a delegation to Hezekiah to congratulate him on his recovery and to express his admiration for the miracle G‑d had wrought on his behalf. The king, full of cordial courtesy, welcomed the Babylonian messengers, and showed them all the treasures collected in the palace and in the Holy Temple. As soon as they had departed, the prophet Isaiah appeared before the king and told him in the name of G‑d that he had committed an unpardonable sin, for instead of using the occasion to sanctify G‑d’s name by pointing out the Divine power over life and death and over all the forces of nature, the king had boasted of his riches. The prophet then said: “Behold, the days shall come when all that is in thy house and that which thy fathers have laid up in store for thee to this day shall be carried to Babylon!” But Hezekiah was promised that this calamity would not come to pass in his own lifetime.
The last fifteen years of Hezekiah’s reign were peaceful and happy. G‑d’s blessing was with everything he undertook. An abundance of gold and silver and precious oils and spices flowed into Judea and increased the wealth of the little Jewish nation, to an extent unknown since King Solomon’s time. Many exiled Jews found their way back to Jerusalem. The Holy Temple was the only spiritual center, and the recognition of G‑d and His holy commands again ruled supreme in the daily life of the Jews.
The reign of King Hezekiah was a period of happy political and economic development. But its greatest importance lies in the renaissance of the true Jewish spirit and the elimination of the various forms of idolatry which had prevailed till that time.