Hezekiah became king of Judah at age 25. His teen years were filled with impressions from the lifestyle of his wicked and idolatrous father, King Ahaz (see 2 Kgs. 16:1–20). Yet Hezekiah rose above that influence to become a zealous religious and political reformer. “He trusted in the Lord God of Israel … [and] kept his commandments. … And the Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth” (2 Kgs. 18:5–7). Hezekiah reigned 29 years (about 726–697 B.C.), sustained by the inspired counsel of the great prophet Isaiah.
Hezekiah’s life is a study in courage and faithfulness before the Lord in the face of extreme opposition. However, when his greatest test in life came, he faltered, leaving a tarnished legacy and laying the foundation for the eventual scattering and destruction of his people. His life provides an important lesson for anyone facing the inevitable event of mortal death.
Hezekiah’s goal was to cleanse his kingdom of all idolatry. His first act as king was to order the repair and reopening of the temple at Jerusalem, which had been looted and defiled by his father. He told all the priests, “Sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place” (2 Chron. 29:5). He also took the bold step of having the brass serpent of Moses destroyed (see Num. 21:9) because it had become an idolatrous object (see 2 Kgs. 18:4).
Hezekiah gathered the leaders of the people to rededicate the temple and invited all of Israel and Judah to come to the temple and celebrate the Passover. “So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem” (2 Chron. 30:26). Hezekiah’s leadership in bringing about a spiritual renewal of his people was an unqualified success.
Hezekiah inherited from his father a problematic relationship with the king of Assyria. His father had bought an alliance with the Assyrians with “the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord” (2 Kgs. 16:8). Hezekiah, however, courageously rebelled against the Assyrian menace. When Assyria under Sargon II invaded Judah, a wise Hezekiah was ready for them. He had fortified the walls of Jerusalem, appointed military officers, ensured Jerusalem’s adequate water supplies, and prepared the hearts of the people for battle (see 2 Chron. 32:1–8).
When Sargon was killed in Anatolia, Hezekiah defied the demands of Sargon’s son Sennacherib and had a tunnel built to bring water into Jerusalem should they come under attack (see Bible Dictionary, “Hezekiah’s Tunnel,” 702). In response to this rebellion, Sennacherib invaded Judah and devastated the land like a river that runs “over all his banks,” as had been prophesied by Isaiah (see Isa. 8:6–8). The Assyrians then laid siege to Jerusalem, causing much suffering and despair among the people. As conditions in the city worsened, Sennacherib sent three officials to the walls of Jerusalem with a message to frighten and demoralize the people. Speaking in Hebrew they mocked Hezekiah and spoke against the Lord, telling the people to not let Hezekiah persuade them to trust in the Lord. “Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?” the message asked. “How then could the Lord deliver Jerusalem from Assyria?” (see Isa. 36:15, 18, 20).
When Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth,1 and went into the temple. He asked the prophet Isaiah what he should do. Isaiah assured him that the Lord would not let these insults go unpunished. Isaiah also prophesied specifically how the Assyrian siege would soon end (see Isa. 37:1–7).
Hezekiah went again to the temple and pled with the Lord for his people: “Of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations. … Now therefore, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord, even thou only” (Isa. 37:18, 20). As an answer to his petition, the Lord sent an angel that smote the army of Sennacherib, destroying 185,000 men. The Assyrians withdrew from Jerusalem and returned to Assyria (see Isa. 37:36–38).
Shortly before the final defeat of Sennacherib, Hezekiah contracted a fatal disease and became “sick unto death” (Isa. 38:1). The Lord in His mercy directed Hezekiah to set his house in order and prepare to die, “for thou shalt die, and not live,” the prophet Isaiah testified. Hezekiah wept bitterly and prayed incessantly for the Lord to extend his life. He reasoned with the Lord, complaining that his life should be spared because (1) he was a good person and therefore didn’t deserve to die; (2) he was still in the prime of life, and death would rob him of his best years; and (3) he would greatly miss his family. Hezekiah also accused the Lord of unjustly taking his life, thus revealing that he had little understanding of or faith in the joy of the Lord in the spirit world (see Isa. 38:2–3, 9–20). He developed spiritual tunnel vision, becoming so obsessed with his desire to live that he lost an eternal perspective.
The Lord heard Hezekiah’s complaints and sent Isaiah to tell him: “I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee. … And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria” (2 Kgs. 20:5–6). Hezekiah then asked Isaiah for a sign, that he might be more fully convinced of the Lord’s intentions (see 2 Kgs. 20:8). This kind of request often demonstrates a lapse of faith and loss of judgment (see Alma 32:16). Isaiah asked Hezekiah whether a simple or a dramatic sign would please him. Hezekiah asked for the dramatic one. The Lord then moved the shadow on the sundial of Hezekiah’s father backward 10 degrees, a miracle that seems to have fully satisfied Hezekiah’s seemingly inappropriate desire (see 2 Kgs. 20:9–11).
Although this miracle might initially appear to be a great blessing, Hezekiah soon became lifted up in pride (see 2 Chron. 32:24–25). And though he humbled himself again, the people of Judah paid a price for his pride.
Not long after the successful defeat of the Assyrians, Hezekiah was visited by the son of the king of Babylon. Hezekiah showed him all the royal treasures and armaments (see Isa. 39:2). This was a serious mistake, for it initiated a Babylonian lust for Judah’s possessions. Isaiah condemned Hezekiah’s action and prophesied that all the treasures he had shown would be “carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left” and that Judah’s royal family would be forced into exile in Babylon (see Isa. 39:6–8).
During Hezekiah’s extra 15 years, his wife bore a son, Manasseh, the heir to the throne. Manasseh began to reign at age 12 and ruled for 55 horrible years. He had the prophet Isaiah murdered and reversed all of the religious reforms of his father. He erected altars to Baal, installed idols in the temple, and burned his sons to death on these altars. He appealed to wizards for spiritual direction and hid the scriptures. His evil influence was a principal cause of the eventual destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (see 2 Kgs. 24:3–4).
We do not know what would have happened to Judah had Hezekiah died as prophesied by Isaiah. But Bishop John H. Vandenberg (1904–92) has said: “There have been some noble men who unwittingly sought to counsel the Lord. One such man was Hezekiah. … As one reviews [his life], one wonders, would it not have been better for Hezekiah to have submissively accepted the Lord’s first decree, ‘… Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die.’”2
The example of the Savior provides a striking contrast to those who resist God’s will or attempt to alter it to conform with what they think should happen. In the Garden of Gethsemane, facing His great test of suffering and imminent death, Jesus prayed to the Father, “If thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). The Lord has said, “He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God” (D&C 46:30).
In 1967 Ida Romney, wife of President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988), experienced a stroke. She lay in the hospital for weeks. Her condition worsened despite prayers and priesthood blessings. President Romney realized the outcome of this condition could be death or a serious handicap. Yet he did not want to pray for her healing unless it was the Lord’s will. He prayed and searched the scriptures for direction. One evening as he prayed to discover the Lord’s will, he ended his prayer, “Thy will be done.” He seemed to feel or hear a voice which said, “It is not contrary to my will that Ida be healed.” It was almost 2:00 A.M. He rushed to the hospital and blessed her, promising that she would be healed, and she made a miraculous recovery. Elder F. Burton Howard of the Seventy wrote concerning this experience, “By refusing to ask a special favor without first ascertaining the will of the Lord, [President Romney] had unknowingly demonstrated the quality of his faith.”3
For many of us, facing our own impending death or the death of a loved one will be a great test of our faith in the Lord. The example of Hezekiah is a warning that we not ask at that moment for our will to be done. We are to put the question of life and death into the hands of the Lord and pray to know His will, trusting in His tender love for each of us. We must pray with the attitude of the Savior, who by example has said, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2).