• by Gordon Franz


    Reconsidering the Data
    It has been demonstrated that the two standard interpretations of this period are wanting. A new historical reconstruction will be set forth which conforms to the Biblical records and does justice to the Assyrian, Egyptian, and Babylonian histories.[1]  Literary evidence which justifies this reconstruction will also be set forth.

    The reconstruction proposes that Hezekiah reigned from 727 BC to 698 BC and twice Sennacherib attacked Judah. The first time, 713/12 BC, Hezekiah paid a large tribute to Sennacherib to gain the deliverance of Jerusalem. The second, 701 BC, the LORD miraculously delivered Jerusalem by destroying the Assyrian army which was besieging Jerusalem.

    The Beginning of the Reign of King Hezekiah
    The Bible gives several specific chronological indicators for the beginning and length of the reign of King Hezekiah. The writer of the Second Book of Kings states that Hezekiah began his reign in the third year of Hoshea, king of Israel (18:1). A few verses later the writer states that the siege of Samaria began in the fourth year of Hezekiah’s reign and lasted until the sixth year when Samaria fell (18:9-10). The date for the fall of Samaria is quite certain and is to be placed between December, 722 and March, 721 BC (Olmstead 1905: 179). Hence, Hezekiah became king in 727 BC. Since his reign was 29 years long (2 Kings 18:1; 2 Chron. 29:1), he must have died in 698 BC. Those who hold to a two-campaign theory, generally have a co-regency of Hezekiah and Manasseh for about eleven years and place his death in 686 BC (Thiele 1977: 78). There is no need for this hypothesis if the years of the three succeeding kings are added together. Manasseh reigned 55 years (2 Kings 21:1; 2 Chron. 33:1); Amon, 2 years (2 Kings 21:19; 2 Chron. 33:21); and Josiah 31 years (2 Kings 22:1; 2 Chron. 34:1); a total of 88 years. The fall of Carchemish to Pharaoh Necho of Egypt is another well established date from extra-Biblical sources. This occurred in 609 BC, the same year as the death of King Josiah (2 Kings 23:30-33; 2 Chron. 36:1-3; Bright 1981: 324). When the 88 years for the total reigns of these three kings is added to the year 609 BC, a date of 697 BC is concluded. The one year discrepancy can be reckoned for by how the beginning of the regnal year is reckoned. Thus, there is no reason to postulate a co-regency involving Hezekiah and Manasseh.

    It is not the purpose of this thesis to deal with the chronological problems prior to Hezekiah’s reign (Hopsapple 1972; Payne 1963: 40-52; Laato 1986: 210-221; Na’aman 1986: 71-92). It is possible, however, that Hezekiah had a co-regency with his father Ahaz for two years, thus putting the death of Ahaz in 725 BC (Isa. 14:28). This would be also when Hezekiah subdued the Philistines (2 Kings 18:8).

    In the first year of his reign, Hezekiah led the nation in a great religious revival and restored the proper worship at the Passover to the LORD in Jerusalem (2 Chron. 29-31). He also removed the idols from the territory of Judah. The prophet Jeremiah stated that Judah was spared the same fate which would befall Samaria because Hezekiah obeyed the words of the prophet Micah rather than continuing in the ways of Ahaz, king of Judah (Jer. 26:16-19; Micah 3:12).

    There is a fragmentary inscription which was written about 717 BC and referred to Sargon II as the “subduer of the country Judah” in 720 BC (Pritchard 1969: 287a; hereafter ANET). The people had “forgotten the God of their salvation” (Isa. 17:10), so judgment befell them (17:12-14). This semi-Assyrian dominance would lead to the events of the “fourteenth year.”

    The “Fourteenth Year”
    In this proposed reconstruction, the fourteenth year of the reign of Hezekiah is placed in 713/12 BC. This was an eventful year in the life of King Hezekiah. He fell sick, and on his deathbed he gave an appearance of humbling himself and cried out to the Lord to extend his life (2 Kings 20:1-11; Isa. 38:10-20). In spite of Hezekiah’s proud heart, the Lord heard and answered that prayer. God was faithful to His covenant with David in which He promised a Davidic king to rule on the throne of Judah (2 Sam. 7:8-16). Since Hezekiah had no son, [2]  there was a further divine purpose in granting Hezekiah a 15-year extension to his life. This fifteen-year extension, plus the preceding fourteen tears of his reign, made up the 29 years that Hezekiah reigned.

    Merodach Baladen
    Merodach Baladen, who ruled Babylon from 721 BC to 710 BC and then briefly in 703 BC (Brinkman 1964: 6-53), sent an envoy to Hezekiah with a congratulatory message regarding the recovery from his illness (2 Kings 20:12-15; Isa. 39). The Assyrian intelligence service apparently interpreted this visit as the occasion for encouraging Hezekiah to revolt against his Assyrian overlords. Apparently Merodach Baladen was either proposing to have a two-front revolt against the Assyrians, he on the eastern end of the empire and Hezekiah on the western end, or he was assessing the assets of Hezekiah, and the feasibility of a future revolt.

    The Revolt and Tribute

    Sargon, King of Assyria, had to deal with this matter. Since he was preoccupied with other matters, mainly the building of his new residence at Dur-Sarrukin (Tadmor 1958: 79-80, 95-96), he sent his “tartan” (the Assyrian supreme commander) to put down the revolt in the western part of his empire. The identity of the tartan according to this reconstruction should be Sennacherib though there is no clear historical evidence for it at the present. Olmstead, on the other hand, points out that Ashur-icka-danin was the tartan, yet this too is uncertain (1908: 78)³.  In putting down the revolt, Sennacherib conquered Ashdod (Isa. 20:1) and extracted tribute from the rest of Philistia, Judah, Edom, and Moab (ANET 287a).

    Sargon’s annals state that Judah paid tribute. Unfortunately, his annals do not identify the king of Judah, nor the amount of tribute. However, the Bible gives the amount which Hezekiah paid to the tartan, Sennacherib. It was 30 talents of gold and 300 talents of silver (2 Kings 18:14-16). These verses, 14-16, are an expansion of, or commentary on, verse 13 which states that the tribute was paid. This will be important for the discussing relating to the 701 BC tribute.

    The Archaeological Evidence for Two Campaigns

    The Biblical records also state that during the “fourteenth year,” “Sennacherib, King of Assyria, came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them” (2 Kings 18:13; Isa. 36:1). Randall Younker, a doctoral student in archaeology at the University of Arizona [in 1987], in an unpublished paper, has suggested that there is archaeological evidence for two campaigns into Judah at the end of the 8th century BC, or early 7th century BC. In his paper, he examines nine sites in Judah and has shown that six of them have two destruction levels at this time. These sites are Tel Halif, Tel ‘Erani, Tel Beit Mirsim, Tel Beersheva, Tel Arad, and Tel Zakariyeh (Azekah). The other three sites: Tel Miqna (Ekron), Tel Batash (Timnah), and Lachish, show only one destruction level. The literary evidence, both Biblical and Assyrian, indicates these cities were destroyed once, in 701 BC. Lachish was spared during the first campaign in 713/12 BC (2 Kings 18:14).

    Younker, following the standard Two-Campaign chronology, places the first campaign in 701 BC and the second ca. 688 BC. This archaeological investigation determining two phases of the Assyrian encroachment has much to commend it. However, the dating of the two phases should be reconsidered.

    During the “fourteenth year,” Hezekiah had “forgotten his Maker” and depended upon his own military preparations to protect himself from the Assyrian attack (2 Chron. 32:1-5; Isa. 22:8-11). [4]  These preparations included making weapons; repairing walls that had been previously damaged, probably during the reign of Ahaz (Isa. 7:6); and building “another outside wall” (2 Chron. 32:5). Most likely, the “other wall” should be identified with the recently excavated Iron Age wall discovered in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem (Avigad 1980: 45-60). This wall, called “Avigad’s Wall” after the excavator, was built to fortify the inhabited western hill of Jerusalem (Barkay 1985: 166-211; English summary xi-xiv). The abnormal expansion to the Western Hill was a result of a large influx of people to the city. This is attributed to three causes. First, some of the Israelites from the Northern Kingdom stayed after the great revival of the first year of the reign of King Hezekiah (2 Chron. 30:11). They probably could see the Assyrian might on the horizon and knew that the days of the Northern Kingdom were numbered. Second, more Israelites fled before and after the fall of Samaria a few years later. Third, some of the Judeans escaped from their cities as the Assyrians advanced during the campaign of Sennacherib in the “fourteenth year” (Broshi 1974: 23-26). [5]

    Hezekiah also protected Jerusalem’s water source by bringing it into the city. This was done by hewing a tunnel out of solid bedrock from the Gihon Spring, under the City of David, to the valley on the west side of the city (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chron. 32:30; Isa. 22:9, 11). This tunnel is now known as “Hezekiah’s Tunnel.”

    All these military preparations should be dated to the “fourteenth year” of Hezekiah’s reign. They reflect his “proud heart” (2 Chron. 32:25) which caused him to “forget his Maker” (Isa. 22:11).

    Shebna and Eliakim

    Isaiah seems to hint at another factor which influenced Hezekiah’s self-dependency: – the “royal steward” (prime minister), Shebna. He apparently was a Phoenician who somehow worked his way into this very influential position (Avigad 1953: 151-152; His is called a “steward” [NASB] which is a Phoenician loan word for “governor”). In Isaiah’s rebuke, he repeated the word “here” three times, indicating that he is a foreigner and did not belong in the courts of Judah (22:16). There is no mention of his father which, if he was a Judean, would be the case (cf. 2 Kings 18:18). As a foreigner, probably he would not be interested in the spiritual matters of the kingdom or seeking the Lord’s direction in times of trouble. Thus, he did not have a positive influence on the decision-making in the courts of Hezekiah (Isa. 22:15-19). [6]

    He probably influenced Hezekiah to capitulate to Sennacherib and pay the tribute imposed by him (2 Kings 18:14-16). Hezekiah did this, thus securing Sennacherib’s departure from the area, albeit as a high cost to Judah. The treasury was depleted, and the cities were in ruin. After the Assyrians left, there was a measure of humility among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Shebna, at least outwardly, was numbered among the “inhabitants of Jerusalem” (2 Chron. 32:26). Isaiah had proclaimed judgment upon Shebna, but apparently because of his outward humility, that judgment was stayed, at least temporarily.[7] He was, however, removed from being royal steward and demoted to scribe. Eliakim was promoted to royal steward. In the year 701 BC, approximately twelve years after the “fourteenth year,” Shebna still held the position of scribe and Eliakim the position of royal steward (2 Kings 18:18, 26, 37; Isa. 36:3, 22). The fact that the Biblical records state that there were two different royal stewards during the incursion by Sennacherib seems to indicate that they administered during two different periods of time. This fact cannot be reconciled by either of the other theories.

    According to Rabbinic tradition (Sanhedrin 26a), the remainder of Isaiah’s prophecy regarding Shebna’s departure from the land of Judah and subsequent death was fulfilled in 701 BC. As scribe, he still had influence in the court of Judah. There he tried to persuade the people of Jerusalem to surrender to the Assyrians. Isaiah admonished Hezekiah to trust the Lord for the deliverance of the city from the hands of the Assyrians. Shebna’s influence, at least with the people, seemed to prevail, and he convinced the people to surrender. As he was leading the Jerusalemites out the city gate, the angel Gabriel (so goes the tradition) shut the city gate behind him. Alone and embarrassed by this turn of events, he told the Assyrians that the rest of the people had deserted him. Not to be taken for fools, they put holes in his feet and dragged him over thorns and thistles, apparently to a far country and his death, thus fulfilling the words of Isaiah the prophet (Isa. 22:17-18).

    The Year 701 BC
    In 705 BC, Sargon II died and Sennacherib became the sole ruler of Assyria. As usual, the vassal states revolted, testing the power and resolve of the new king. Sennacherib set out to solidify his rule and to put down the various rebellions. While he was involved in the eastern part of his empire, Hezekiah took advantage of the opportunity to enlist the support of other kings in his area and revolted against Assyria.

    The Third Campaign
    After conducting two campaigns in the east, the first against Merodach-Baladen and Babylon (703 BC), and the second against the Kassites and Yasubigallians, east of the Tigris River (702 BC), Sennacherib turned his attention to the rebellion in the “Hittiteland” (Luckenbill 1924: 10-11). The ultimate objective of this third campaign was the subjection of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. [8]

    The first objective of the campaign was Phoenicia. He successfully overpowered the Phoenician cities and forced Luli (=Eloulaios), king of Sidon, to flee to Kittim (Katzenstein 1973: 245-258), thus fulfilling the words of Isaiah, “… though you arise and cross over to Kittim, even there you shall find no rest” (Isa. 23:12). Then he installed Ethba’al upon the throne and imposed tribute on them.

    The defeat of the Phoenicians was apparently devastating and instilled fear in some of the kings who participated in the initial revolt. As the Assyrians marched down the Phoenician coast to Philistia, the kings from Samsimuruna, Sidon, Arvad, Byblos, Ashdod, Beth-Ammon, Moab, and Edom brought tribute to Sennacherib and paid him homage.

    There were till two kings who had not given up, the kings of Judah and Ashkelon. Thus the next objective in his campaign was Philistia. Sidqia, the king of Ashkelon, continued to resist the Assyrians. Sennacherib took the cities which belonged to the “Joppa-Aphek-Lod Triangle” (Beth-Dagon, Joppa, Banai-Barqa, Azura as well as Ashkelon) and deported Sidqia and his family to Assyria. Having put down two of the five Philistine cities (Ashdod and Ashkelon; however, Gath belongs to Hezekiah at this time), Sennacherib turns his attention to Ekron. The king of Ekron called for Egyptian help, but this arrived too late. The city fell.

    The Egyptians, with the objective of first cutting the Assyrian supply line, sent an expeditionary force to cut it before they engaged the main Assyrian force. A battle on the Plain of Eltekeh ensued (Aharoni 1979: 392). [9] The result was a devastating defeat for the Egyptians. Sennacherib boasted that he personally captured the Egyptian charioteers with their princes as well as the charioteers of the king of Ethiopia.

    This stunning victory on the Plains of Eltekeh was later used by the Rabshakeh to try and convince Hezekiah to forego his struggle against Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:21; Isa. 36:6). Rabshakeh argued that the Egyptians, the “bruised reed,” had been defeated and could not be trusted to come to their aid. On the other hand, Isaiah used this defeat to admonish Hezekiah to put his confidence in the Lord, rather than the Egyptians (Isa. 30:1-5; 31:1-3).

    With the Egyptians temporarily out of the way, Sennacherib turned his attention back to Philistia. Timnah, apparently a Philistine city, and Ekron fell.

    The third and final objective of this campaign was the capitulation of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. Before going up to the Hill Country, the routes leading to it in the Shephelah had to be secured. If Na’aman’s date for his recently rejoined tablet of Sennacherib’s “Letter to God” is correct, i.e. 701 BC, then it gives some valuable and important details of the beginning of his campaign against Judah (1974: 25-39). [10] The first two Judean cities to fall were Azekah and Gath. Since the text was broken on the name of the second city, it is not certain, but Na’aman suggests that it was Gath. This identification makes good geographical sense, assuming Gath is located at Tel es-Safi (Rainey 1975: 63*-76*), because Sennacherib effectively secured the Elah Valley and a route up into the Hill Country of Judah. The text states of the second city that it was “a royal city of the Philistines, which Hezekiah had captured and strengthened for himself” (Na’aman 1974: 27). An archaeological confirmation of this is seen in the “LMLK” seal impressions which were found at Tel es-Safi. These seal impressions clearly date to the reign of King Hezekiah (Ussishkin 1977: 28-60; Na’aman 1979: 61-86).

    Sennacherib boasted in his annals (ANET 288a) that he took 46 strong cities of Judah, walled forts, and countless small villages in the vicinity of these cities. He also made an exaggerated claim of carrying away 200,150 Judeans into captivity (Stohlmann 1983: 152-155).

    Lachish, the capital of the Shephelah, was the next major objective in Judah. Since he did not conquer Jerusalem, this was the crowning achievement of his third campaign. A trophy room for storing the booty was erected in a prominent place in the palace at Nineveh. It had a large relief on its walls commemorating this feat (Ussishkin 1982). The violent destruction of Level III at Tel Lachish is an archaeological confirmation of the fall of the city depicted on the relief and mentioned in the Bible (2 Kings 19:8; see also Ussishkin 1982; 1979).

    With the fall of Lachish at hand, Sennacherib felt confident enough to press his attack on Jerusalem. He sent his Tartan, Rab-saris, and Rabshakeh [11] with a large army, up to Jerusalem to offer them terms of surrender (2 Kings 18:17). Most likely they went up via the Elah Valley which had been secured at the beginning of the Judean campaign. [12]

    The Assyrian army set up camp to the northwest of the ancient city of Jerusalem (Ussishkin 1979: 137-142).  [13] From here the Rabshakeh left to speak with Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah at the “conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the fuller’s field” (2 Kings 18:18).  [14] The Rabshakeh engaged himself in psychological warfare by casting doubt on who and what Hezekiah was trusting in for deliverance, i.e. Yahweh and Egypt (2 Kings 18:18-25). He offered Hezekiah terms of peace (2 Kings 18:26-37). Isaiah advised Hezekiah to trust the Lord for the salvation of the city because the Lord had said it would happen (2 Kings 19:1-7). Hezekiah followed his advice.

    The Rabshakeh, apparently leaving the army in Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:8), returned to Sennacherib at Libnah [15]  to give Sennacherib word of Hezekiah’s refusal to surrender. While there, the Assyrian intelligence service warned Sennacherib that Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia, was advancing with an Egyptian army (2 Kings 19:9).
    As was previously stated (Chapter 2), Tirhakah was at least 20 years of age and fully capable of leading an expedition against the Assyrians in 701 BC. This second attack would be in keeping with the well attested Egyptian custom of deploying several distinct divisions when they campaigned in the Levant (Kitchen 1986: 159, footnote 309). [16]  Sennacherib left Libnah with his forces to engage Tirhakah. Soon after, he received word that his forces in Jerusalem were defeated. Hearing this, he returned to Assyria. There was apparently no confrontation between Sennacherib and Tirhakah; at least neither mentions it in their annals.

    The Rabshakeh left the army which was besieging Jerusalem to report to Sennacherib at Libnah (2 Kings 19:8-9). A large portion of this army was later destroyed by the Angel of the LORD in answer to Hezekiah’s prayer (2 Kings 19:35-36; 2 Chron. 32:21-22; Isa. 31:8-9; 37:36). Sennacherib, however, claimed to have made Hezekiah a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, and “caged him up like a bird” (ANET 288). This could be Sennacherib’s way of “saving face.” He could not admit he was defeated. [17]

    In his annals, Sennacherib claimed to have extracted 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver in tribute from Hezekiah (ANET 288). The account in 2 Kings 18:14 says that Hezekiah paid 30 talents of gold and 300 talents of silver to the Assyrian king. Is there a discrepancy here? As far as the gold is concerned, there is no discrepancy between the two accounts. However, the silver creates a problem. The Assyrian account says 800 talents, while the Biblical records state 300. Some scholars have maintained there is an exact agreement because there is a difference between the “light” talent and “heavy” talent (Montgomery 1951: 485, also the references he cites). Others suggest that one tradition exaggerated or reduced the number on purpose over the course of time (Rowley 1962: 415). Shea says a “scribal error in either tradition could easily explain this minor discrepancy” (1985: 402).

    The difference between the two accounts should not be brushed off as a “minor discrepancy” but viewed as two distinct accounts. The problem is resolved by carefully reading the Assyrian account which states that Sennacherib “increased the tribute and katru-presents” due to him. This tribute was imposed “above the former tribute” (ANET 288, italics the authors). Most likely, Sennacherib never collected this tribute of 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver in 701 BC. In light of his defeat, he had to save face by exaggerating his claim. To make it look credible, he stated that he increased the former tribute, referring to the tribute of 30 talents of gold and 300 talents of silver which he imposed in 713/12 BC (2 Kings 18:14). It is also possible that he was describing the booty which he captured on the campaign rather than the alleged tribute from Jerusalem.

    This section has tried to reconstruct the chronological aspects of Hezekiah’s life as well as attempt to harmonize the various sources which deal with Hezekiah’s encounters with Sennacherib on two different occasions, 713/12 BC and 701 BC. If it is correct, it will solve one of the major problems plaguing Old Testament scholarship.

    The Literary Justification for the Reconstruction
    If this historical reconstruction is accepted, than a straightforward reading of the Biblical narratives would be unacceptable and contradictory. The order recorded in the Biblical records creates at least three problems for this reconstruction. The first is in Isaiah 36. Verse 1 of this chapter states that the campaign recorded is attributed to the “fourteenth year.” Is this actually the case, or are there two campaigns here? The second problem is found in 2 Chronicles 32. Here, the sickness of Hezekiah is recorded in the last part of the chapter (vss. 24-26), after the 701 BC campaign of Sennacherib. Yet in this reconstruction, Hezekiah’s sickness is placed in the “fourteenth year.” The third problem, similar to the second, is found in Isaiah 38 and 39. In these chapters, there is an account of Hezekiah’s sickness and the visit by the envoys from Babylon is given. Again, it would seem that the events are out of order.

    Isaiah 36 and the 701 BC Campaign
    A straightforward reading of Isaiah 36 would suggest that it were describing one event. If that is the case, then the campaign mentioned in this chapter should be attributed to the “fourteenth year,” i.e. 713/12 BC. However, this reconstruction has placed Isaiah 36:2 to 37:37 in the year 701 BC. How can this be reconciled?

    John Walton has pointed out that Isaiah reversed the chronological order of Isaiah 36-39 to introduce the second part of the book (1985: 130). The author of 2 Kings 18-20, possibly Isaiah, [18]  borrowed the account in the book of Isaiah and added the details of the tribute (2 Kings 18:14-16).

    The proposed separation of Isa. 36:1 and 36:2 is not without support. In 2 Kings 18, these two verses are separated (18:13 and 18:17). Thus 36:2 is the beginning of another historical section. This section is “bracketed” by the mentioning of Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah at the beginning (36:2-3), and end (36:21-22). The unit opens with the three going out from Hezekiah to the Rabshakeh, while it closes with them returning to Hezekiah with the words of the Rabshakeh. Between the opening and closing, are two speeches by the Rabshakeh. The first, 36:4-10, and the second, 36:13-20. Between these two speeches, the three Judeans reply to the Rabshakeh and he replies to them (36:11-12). If Isaiah is using a literary device, then it is possible that this historical unit could date to a different event than recorded in the first verse. Thus, Isaiah 36:1 should be dated to 713/12 BC, while Isaiah 36:2-22 should be attributed to 701 BC.

    Isaiah, along with the author of Kings and Chronicles, telescopes historical events. A clear case of this is found between Isaiah 37:36 and 37:37 (// 2 Kings 19:35-37 and 2 Chronicles 32:21). Verse 36 and 37 reports the destruction of the Assyrian army which was in Jerusalem and the return of Sennacherib to Nineveh. While verse 38 recounts the death of Sennacherib 20 years later in 681 BC (Luckenbill 1924: 18). Just as there is 20 years between 37:36 and 37, so there is approximately 12 years between 36:1 and 36:2.

    2 Chronicles 32

    The account of the illness of Hezekiah appears toward the end of this chapter (vss. 24-26). If, as this reconstruction has suggested, this took place in the “fourteenth year”, i.e. 713/12 BC, and Sennacherib’s 701 BC is recorded in the verses prior (vss. 9-23), than the chapter is not in chronological order.

    A very interesting chiastic structure of the two campaigns occurs in this chapter. The balanced chiasm for the “fourteenth year” (713/12 BC) may be set out as shown:

    A. Test. Assyria. 32:1
    B. Object of Trust. Military preparation. 32:2-5
    C. Outward Action. Proclaimed. 32:6-8
    D. The contrasting response of depending on the Lord for deliverance in the year 701 BC. 32:9-23
    C’. Outward Action. Prayed. 32:24-26
    B’. Object of Trust. Material possession. 32:27-30
    A’. Test. Babylon. 32:31

    The beginning of the three panels are; verse 1, “After these deeds …”, verse 9, “After this Sennacherib …”, and verse 24, “In these days …” It is proposed that the first and third panels be attributed to the “fourteenth year” (713/12 BC), the first Assyrian campaign. The middle panel (vss. 9-23) should be attributed to 701 BC, or the second Assyrian campaign.

    In the opening and closing panels, the development is identical but inverted. In each, the test, trust and action are brought into focus. The key to understanding Hezekiah’s heart attitude is seen in verse 25. It is stated that “Hezekiah did not repay according to the favor shown him, for his heart was lifted up.” This explains his actions in verses 6-8 and 24-26. He admonished the people to put their confidence in the Lord although he was secretly trusting in the military preparation that he had just completed (32:6-8). He also prayed for healing (32:24-26), but apparently not with a sincere heart. He did all the “right things,” even though his heart was not right before the Lord. The center of the chiasm, verses 9-23, is the important lesson the Chronicler is trying to convey. “Trust the Lord for your salvation.” That the events are recorded out of their historical order is no uncommon for the Chronicler (Williamson 1981: 164-176). [19]

    There has been a recent resurgence of interest in the Biblical use of chiastic structure in the scholarly world (Welch 1981). Herein may lay a helpful solution to the double campaign problem. If so, then the ordering of the material in 2 Chronicles 32 may be explained in terms of a literary device, rather than following a historical development.

    The Babylonian Visit and the Order of Isaiah

    If this reconstruction is accepted, the events of 713/12 BC are placed last in the Isaiah account. Chronologically, Isaiah 38 and 39 are to be placed after 36:1. When Merodach Baladen sent his envoys to Jerusalem, Hezekiah showed them all his wealth, being proud of it and trusting in it. Following upon this historically, the Lord used the Assyrians to remove the wealth which caused Hezekiah’s fall. The king was obliged to strip the treasuries to pay the tribute, 2 Kings 18:14-16. Yet God promised that they would not be taken captive by the Assyrians, but rather, their descendants would be taken captive by the Babylonians (Isa. 39:6-8). This was the “beginning of the end” for Judah, thus the order in the book of Isaiah. Further, by placing the Babylonian visit after the Assyrian unit (Isa. 36-37), the Spirit of God through Isaiah has provided an introduction to the second major section of his prophecy. This section provides consolation while in the Babylonian Captivity and Israel’s return from it.

    The content of Isaiah 36-39 with its handling, firstly of Assyria and then secondly of Babylon, suggest that the prophet is using this historical inversion as a summary signpost for his book. Chapter 36 and 37 conclude the ministry of Isaiah set against the backdrop of the Assyrian threat. On the other hand, chapters 38 and 39 introduce the more distant exile and return from exile in Babylon. Since the prophet has supplied such a literary “hinge,” it is reasonable to seek an Assyrian and more chronological interpretation of chapters 1-35 of his prophecy. That bring the case, it might be profitable to consider Isaiah 1-35 in chronological order, which may throw further light on the Assyrian period and even the two campaigns. See Appendix I.

    This rather lengthy chapter has set forth a new reconstruction of the Biblical and historical data relating to the reign of King Hezekiah and his encounter, on two different occasions, with Sennacherib, King of Assyria. It established the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign in 727 BC. The “fourteenth year” was determined to be in 713/12 BC when Hezekiah fell ill and on his deathbed prayed for his life for which the Lord gave him a fifteen year extension. Pride in his material possessions was a prominent factor in his life at this time. To humble him, the Lord sent Sennacherib against Judah to destroy it and extract 30 talents of gold and 300 talents of silver in tribute. The archaeological evidence for two campaigns by Sennacherib was discussed as well as the problem of Shebna and Eliakim. Shebna was a great (yet poor) influence in the life of King Hezekiah during this time.
    A detailed reconstruction of the eventful year of 701 BC was given. During this year, Sennacherib conducted a military campaign in the Hittiteland where he attacked Phoenicia, Philistia, and Judah. The Egyptians attempted two attacks against the Assyrians. The first resulted in a defeat for them; the outcome of the second was unknown. Sennacherib’s boastful claims were examined and found to be exaggerations and cover-ups for his defeat at the hands of the Lord in Jerusalem.
    The final section analyzed three “problem” passages for this reconstruction. They are found to be employing literary devices to convey certain spiritual truths, rather than concerning themselves with a strict chronological order.


    [1] This chapter is an expansion of a paper read by the author at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting held at Talbot Theological Seminary, November 21, 1985.

    [2] Manasseh was not born until 711 or 710 BC. He was twelve years old when his father died (2 Kings 21:1; 2 Chron. 33:11). If our reconstruction is correct, Hezekiah died in the year 698 BC. Twelve years prior to that would be 710 or 711 BC.

    [3] D. Livingston has also suggested that Sennacherib was co-regent, or crown prince, in 713 BC when he made his attack on Ashdod (nd: 38). He cites J. Lewy’s article (1942: 225-231) in which Lewy shows that Sennacherib had considerable power before he came to the throne in 705 BC, possibly in the form of a co-regency. When it started, and how long it lasted, is a matter of conjecture. If there was a co-regency with Sargon II in 713/12 BC, Sennacherib could legitimately be called the “King of Assyria.” If not, and he was the tartan, the Biblical writer used the literary device of prolepsis, when they called him “King of Assyria.” Similar is the case of Tirhakah, “King of Cush.”

    [4] There are several reasons to suggest that Isaiah 22 should be dated to the “fourteenth year”, i.e. 713/12 BC. Verses 1-3 describes the rejoicing by the inhabitants of Jerusalem for some sort of deliverance even though some of their leaders were taken captive. However, in verses 4-8a, Isaiah sees the Assyrians returning to Jerusalem. It should be pointed out that some commentaries have taken this passage as a reference to the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem in 587/6 BC because in verse 6, the Elamites were part of the forces which attacked Jerusalem. In 713/12 BC, Elam was allied with Babylon against Assyria. However, it is possible that there were captives forced into Assyrian military service and sent to fight on the “western front”, away from Elam or Babylon. Or, they were mercenaries employed by Assyria. It seems the Elamite king, Sutruk-Nahhunte, would do almost anything for money (Brinkman 1965: 161-166). Also, in verses 20-25, Eliakim is not yet royal steward which he is in 701 BC. See also Ginsberg (1968: 47-49).

    [5] Broshi places the date of the construction of this wall at 701 BC. In light of this new proposal, it should be redated to 713/12 BC.

    [6] As shown before (footnote 4), Isaiah 22 should be dated to the “fourteenth year” of Hezekiah, 713/12 BC. This oracle records the departure of the Assyrian army with a host of Judean captives (22:1-3), the military preparations which Judah made for the Assyrian attack (22:8-11, cf. 2 Chron. 32:3-5, 30). This date will be justified later in this chapter.

    [7] Two examples can be cited for stays in judgment. First, Jonah the prophet. His message to Nineveh was, “Forty days and then comes destruction” (3:4). Nineveh repented, and judgment was averted, at least temporarily. Nineveh eventually returned to her wickedness and the city fell (cf. Nahum). The second example, cited earlier, is that of Judah. Hezekiah called the people back to the Lord in the first year of his reign at the encouragement of the prophet Micah, thus averting judgment (Micah 3:12, cf. Jer. 26:16-19).

    [8] Sennacherib describes this and other campaigns in various annals and inscriptions. The accounts of the third campaign can be read in Luckenbill 1926: 2: 118-121, 136-137, 142-143, 154 and ANET 287-288.

    [9] Aharoni believed in only one Egyptian attack against the Assyrians.

    [10] Contra Bill Shea’s opinion (1985: 404-407). As was pointed out in Chapter 2, this text could possibly be dated to the reign of Sargon II and the campaign of 713/12 BC. No matter what date is assigned to this text, from a military perspective, the Assyrians would begin their campaign against Judah with these two cities.

    [11] These names are titles for the three top-ranking officials in Sennacherib’s army.

    [12] Some have suggested that Sennacherib penetrated Jerusalem from the north because of a line of attack mentioned in Isa. 10:28-32. More than likely, this attack should be attributed to Tiglath-pileser III in the 730’s (2 Chron. 28:20).

    [13] Flavius Josephus, in his Jewish Wars 5: 303, 504-507, mentioned that the Roman army, under Titus, set up their camp in the same location. Both camps should be situated in the area between the northwest corner of the Old City and the Russian Compound.

    [14] The “upper pool” is probably located somewhere in the area of the present day Damascus Gate or the sherut parking lot across the street (oral communications with G. Barkay).

    [15] The identification of Libnah has been a problem for historical geographers. Several sites have been proposed, but most likely it should be located at Tel Goded.

    [16] Kitchen cites several examples of this from the campaigns of Sethos I, Ramesses II at the Battle of Qadesh, and Shishak. Also, Na’aman 1979: 64-70. Yurco (1980: 221-240) gives a detailed historical reconstruction for the year 701 BC.

    [17] A recent example of this sort of face-saving interpretation took place when Israel removed their troops from the Shoufe mountains in Lebanon after the first War in Lebanon (1982). The party which was in power in Israel (Likud) called this maneuver “tactical redeployment”! The opposition party (Labor) called it “retreat.” Reagan followed the Likud line when he withdrew the Marines from Lebanon after their headquarters at the Beirut airport were blown up.

    [18] P. Gilchrist, “The Sources and Authorship of 1 and 2 Kings,” paper given at the Southeastern Evangelical Theological Society meeting, March 27, 1987. Gilchrist argues that the authors of the Kings narrative were a succession of prophets, thus Isaiah could have composed this section from his own work.

    [19] Williamson proposes a chiastic structure in 1 Chron. 11 and 12. This structure would cause the historical events to be out of chronological order. See also Dillard 1984: 85-93.


    [1] Contra Bill Shea’s opinion (1985: 404-407). As was pointed out in Chapter 2, this text could possibly be dated to the reign of Sargon II and the campaign of 713/12 BC. No matter what date is assigned to this text, from a military perspective, the Assyrians would begin their campaign against Judah with these two cities.

    Posted by Gordon Franz @ 6:12 pm

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