Hezekiah is one of the handful of “good” kings that ruled over Judah. The book of Kings speaks of him in superlative terms: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done. … He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him” (2 Kings 18:3-5). The short biography of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18 and 19 pictures him as a godly warrior, fighting the battle of the Lord.
But then the book of Kings has two additional stories about Hezekiah in chapter 20. They speak especially to the significance of this great king of Judah as a shadow of the coming Messiah. He is both a positive type, prefiguring the glory of Jesus Christ; and a negative foil, bringing out the need for a greater Son of David.
Hezekiah’s Illness and Recovery (2 Kings 20:1-11)
In the first story, Hezekiah is seriously ill and about to die. This illness is not merely a personal crisis in the life of the king. Much more is at stake. First of all, as the Davidic king, Hezekiah functions as the mediator between the Lord and his people. His physical ailment expresses the disease of God’s people; they are spiritually sick beyond reasonable hope. The king’s illness and imminent death also signify the divine judgment. Because of her continued unfaithfulness, Judah deserves to be wiped out. The approaching Assyrian army and the ill king in Jerusalem are two channels through which the Lord metes out judgment.
But second, Hezekiah’s illness threatens to end the dynasty of David. There is some debate about the chronology, but it appears that Hezekiah was without an heir at this time. (His son Manasseh began to reign when he was 12 years old, and this supposedly happened 15 years after Hezekiah’s illness. Thus, Manasseh was not yet born.) If Hezekiah were to die, the Davidic line would be broken off, and the glorious covenant God had made with David in 2 Samuel 7 would fail.
Hezekiah’s prayer and Isaiah’s message of restoration are, therefore, gospel, good news for all of Judah. Note the double reference to the Davidic covenant, and the accompanying promise of the deliverance of the city (2 Kings 18:5-6). In this light we must also understand the sign of the receding shadow (v. 8-11): the shadow of God’s judgment is pulled back from his people; the approaching night of captivity is taken away, at least for now.
Reading this story as Christians, we cannot escape the similarities between Hezekiah and Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ suffering, he took upon himself the spiritual disease of his people. As the greater Son of David, he was crushed and put to grief by the Lord himself (Is. 53:10). This time the shadow of judgment was not retracted, but a thick darkness came over Calvary at midday. In Hezekiah’s time, the Assyrians were turned away from the gate of Jerusalem; but Roman soldiers were allowed to drag Jesus outside of the holy city and murder him there.
And when Isaiah promises Hezekiah that he will be able to worship again after three days, we are reminded of Jesus’ resurrection after three days, when he is restored and glorified to full fellowship with his Father.
Hezekiah and the Babylonian Envoys (2 Kings 20:12-21)
But 2 Kings 20 does not stop there. The second story recounts the grievous fall of Hezekiah. His miraculous recovery made him famous, and Hezekiah was tempted by earthly, political pride and arrogance. God’s gracious forbearance had turned the Assyrians away; but when Hezekiah welcomes other pagans, the Babylonians, into the consecrated city and treasuries, they become the new instruments of divine judgment.
Hezekiah, though the anointed of the Lord, was a fallible man. For all his zeal, he could not turn the hearts of Judah toward the Lord. With all his piety, he could not escape falling into sin. He was unable to raise his son to continue his project of spiritual reform; on the contrary, Manasseh would turn out to be the most wicked king of Judah yet, making the exile of God’s people irrevocable.
Hezekiah could be no more than a shadow of a complete Redeemer. In 2 Kings 20 we see God’s grace displayed in the nation of Judah, and a type of the King who was to come. But the narrative is also quick to underscore the need for a better reality, a final Son of David.