II Kings 20

The Word Made Fresh

1During those days Hezekiah took ill and was at death’s door. The prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, came to him and said, “The LORD says you need to get your house in order. You are not going to recover. You shall die.”

2Then Hezekiah turned with his face to the wall and prayed; 3“Lord, I beg you to remember that I have been faithful to you and have always tried to do what is good in your sight,” and he began to weep bitterly.

4Isaiah had not yet gone past the center court when the word of the LORD came to him: 5“Go back, and tell Hezekiah, the prince among my people, ‘The LORD, the God of your forefather David, says this: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and on the third day you shall go to the temple. 6I will add another fifteen years to your life and I will protect you and this city from the king of Assyria for my own sake and my servant David’s sake.’”

7Isaiah told the servants to bring a poultice of figs and spread it over the boil, and Hezekiah began to recover. 8He asked Isaiah, “How will I know that the LORD will heal me, and I will be able to go up to the temple on the third day?”

9Isaiah replied, “This the sign that the LORD will do as promised: do you want the shadow on the sundial to move forward ten steps, or backward ten steps?”

10Hezekiah said, “The shadow usually moves forward anyway. Let it go backward ten steps.”

11Isaiah prayed, and the LORD brought the shadow on King Ahaz’ sundial backward ten steps.

12Not long afterward, king Merodach-Baladan, son of Baladan of Babylon, heard that Hezekiah had been ill, and sent ambassadors with credentials and a gift. 13Hezekiah received them and showed them around his palace compound, letting them see his silver and gold, spices and precious oil, his armory and all the storehouses. He showed them everything.

14The prophet Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Where did those men come from, and what did they say?”

“They are from a distant country,” Hezekiah told him. “They are from Babylon.”

15“What did you show them?” Isaiah asked.

“Everything,” said Hezekiah. “I showed them everything in the palace and in the storehouses.”

16Then Isaiah said to him, “This is what the LORD says: 17‘The time will come when everything in your palace and everything placed in the storehouses from the time of your forefathers will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left. 18Some of your own descendants will be carried away and be made eunuchs to serve in the palace of the king of Babylon.’”

19Then Hezekiah said, “You have spoken the word of the LORD, and it is good,” thinking that at least there would be peace and security during his lifetime.

21The reign of Hezekiah, his strength and his deeds, including an account of how he constructed the tunnel that brought water from a pool into the city, are written in the Book of the Acts of the Kings of Judah. When he died, he was buried with his forefathers. His son Manasseh became king after him.


1-7: Hezekiah is suffering from a boil that has made him ill. Isaiah, never one to break bad news gently, comes and tells him that God says he is going to die, then turns and leaves, not bothering to offer condolences to the poor man. Hezekiah prays that God will remember him for the good he has done, and grieves his plight deeply. Isaiah, on his way out, receives another word from the LORD that Hezekiah’s prayer has been heard and he will not die but will live fifteen years more and that Assyria will not again threaten Jerusalem. God’s word notwithstanding, Isaiah orders a treatment for Hezekiah’s boil. Perhaps the idea just came to him at that moment.

8-11: The poultice is applied, and Hezekiah wants some assurance from Isaiah that the LORD will do what Isaiah says the LORD will do. There is in the king’s compound some kind of sundial, to mark the sun’s passage by the shadows cast, that Hezekiah’s father, King Ahaz, had installed. Ahaz had been a bad king in the judgment of our historian (see chapter 16) who had worshiped pagan gods, likely including the sun and moon and planets. Although Hezekiah had undertaken sweeping religious reforms (18:3-6) he obviously left the sundial in place. He asks that it retreat 10 steps as a sign that what Isaiah says is true, that he will recover. Isaiah cries out to the LORD, and the shadow goes backward. Actually, the text says “he” brought the shadow back ten intervals. It is usually assumed that the “he” is the LORD and not Isaiah.

12-15: Envoys from a new empire called Babylon arrive with gifts from the emperor for Hezekiah upon his recovery. Hezekiah, eager to show these foreigners that he is a player on the world stage, shows off everything he thinks might impress them. The prophet Isaiah, who has really taken a keen interest in national affairs lately, comes to the king and asks him all about those visitors and their visit. Hezekiah brags that he has shown them everything.

16-19: Isaiah tells him that those Babylonians will one day carry off all the stuff Hezekiah showed them, and that some of his descendants will be castrated and forced to serve as eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. Hezekiah seems to be okay with that because it won’t bother him personally.

20-21: Hezekiah’s reign comes to an end after 29 years. One other accomplishment is mentioned: “the tunnel that brought water from a pool into the city.” Hezekiah’s tunnel conduit was a wonder of engineering (Google “Hezekiah’s tunnel”). It is 1750 feet long and connects a spring outside the city walls with a pool inside. It is probably the reason Jerusalem was able to withstand Sennacherib’s siege for nearly three years (see II Chronicles 32:2-4, 30).


It is gratifying to see that another “good” king comes to the throne in Jerusalem. But it is too late to save Judah; the damage done by Ahaz and the resulting spread of other religions throughout the land will result in a barrier between God and God’s people that is not completely removed by the rule of a good king. When parents, especially those who rise to positions of authority, do not pass their faith down to their children, the resulting damage can be disastrous.