Tuesday, November 15, 2016

First Old Testament undesigned coincidence post--Hezekiah's treasure chamber

First of all, update on my forthcoming book Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts.

DeWard Publishing is gathering "blurbs" right now, having sent out advance reading copies. I'm doing a last read through for typos or other errors and have found a handful. I've been having a nice, peaceful, nerdy time indexing the book. It is going to have three indices (I know they are usually called indexes, but I kinda like "indices")--a Scripture reference index, an index of authors and modern names, and a subject index.

Right now the hope is for a spring release, with "spring" somewhat ambiguous, depending on how quickly we get endorsements. I hope that before too long the book will be available for pre-order on DeWard's site.

Meanwhile, I have been carefully re-reading John James Blunt's Old Testament section in Undesigned Coincidences in the Writings Both of the Old and the New Testament. I got started doing this both because it seemed intrinsically interesting and also partly because I'm so ornery. I have a good friend who, every time the name of Blunt comes up in conversation, will pause to say that he thinks the OT coincidences are not as good as the NT coincidences.

Now, granted, the OT coincidences are less densely packed than the NT coincidences, and they often lack the interesting characteristic of involving multiple accounts of the same event. Occasionally one does get that characteristic when the same incident is told both in Chronicles and in Kings. But for the most part, the OT coincidences are of different kinds. They may concern facts or social conditions rather than specific events, for example. The one I will be discussing in this post does involve several different books that tell about events surrounding the same event--namely, Sennacherib's attack upon Jerusalem and King Hezekiah's sickness and recovery.

Anyway, I went through the OT sections of Blunt and made notes about many of the coincidences that I thought worthwhile, and I'm excited to start gradually blogging about these.

For this coincidence, there is some ambiguity as to which books are involved in it and how. Blunt takes the account of Hezekiah's showing his treasure house to Babylonian envoys from Isaiah 39 and puts it in the prophecy section of his book. However, the same passage occurs almost word for word, with very little indication of independence (in that passage) in 2 Kings 20:12ff. One of the only differences is a variant in the name of the king of Babylon, but in the main these two accounts really do look literarily dependent somehow. How, exactly, they are dependent depends on numerous other questions, such as when 2 Kings was written and when Isaiah was written.

However, happily, even if we regard Isaiah/2 Kings to lie on one side of the coincidence, the other part of the puzzle occurs in 2 Chronicles, which is definitely by a different author than 2 Kings (by all accounts) and which does not have this identical passage at all, though it does allude in quite different terms and much more briefly to the visit of the Babylonian envoys.

What all of this means is that this coincidence may not be able to play one role that Blunt wanted to assign to it--namely, supporting the earliness of the book of Isaiah.

The coincidence does, however, tend to support the historicity of the events, and it goes like this:

In both Isaiah and 2 Kings we are told, after the account of Hezekiah's sickness and recovery and the prophecies and sign attending it (Isaiah 38, 2 Kings 20:1-11), that envoys came from Babylon bringing letters and a present from the king of Babylon to King Hezekiah to congratulate him on his recovery. Hezekiah shows them his treasure house, "the silver and the gold and the spices and the precious oil and the house of his armor and all that was found in his treasuries." Isaiah is not amused. He chides the king for this vain display and prophesies that Hezekiah's offspring will be carried off captive to Babylon. At this time (circa 700 B.C.), Babylon would not have been considered a danger. As we shall see, Assyria was the great danger to Hezekiah. Hezekiah's response to this dire prophecy is rather selfish and yet all too human: He is just relieved that he can infer that there will be peace (at least from Babylon) in his own time.

Both the account in Isaiah and that in 2 Kings imply that Hezekiah's sickness occurred at the time of the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib and before the issue of that invasion was decided, although the actual account of his illness comes in the books just after the account of the destruction of Sennacherib--a flashback. Both say that, when Isaiah assured Hezekiah that he would live, he also promised that God would deliver the city from the Assyrians (2 Kings 20:6, Isaiah 38:6). So the envoys apparently came after Hezekiah recovered, after the danger from Assyria was averted, and after word had gotten back to Babylon of Hezekiah's sickness and recovery.

Now here is an interesting thing. We have an apparent contradiction at first, because in 2 Kings 18:13-16 the chronicler says that Hezekiah attempted to buy off Sennacherib with a tribute. It's unclear whether Sennacherib knew that he would try to take Jerusalem anyway and was being devious all along or whether he changed his mind after taking the tribute. But it was a very heavy one in any event:
So the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. Hezekiah gave him all the silver which was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasuries of the king’s house. At that time Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the doorposts which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.
So here, either during Hezekiah's sickness or at least around the time of that sickness, his treasury is completely empty to try to satisfy the voracious appetite of Sennacherib. Hezekiah is reduced to scraping the gold from the doors and doorposts of the Temple. To no avail, as the invasion continues.

How, then, could he have had a full treasure house not long after, when he received envoys from Babylon who came to congratulate him on his recovery? A treasure house so full that he shows it to them with much pride?

The point about the extorted tribute is not found in Isaiah, and neither Isaiah nor 2 Kings (both of which tell of the envoys' visit) explains this apparent discrepancy. Although the problem arises in 2 Kings (since 2 Kings tells of the tribute), that chronicler doesn't bother to explain how the treasure house was replenished.

The explanation is found in 2 Chronicles. There, after the story of the destruction of Sennacherib's forces (found in all three books, in near-identical wording in Isaiah and 2 Kings but in different terminology in Chronicles), there is this unique verse:
And many were bringing gifts to the Lord at Jerusalem and choice presents to Hezekiah king of Judah, so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations thereafter. (2 Chronicles 32:23)
This, then, solves the apparent discrepancy. After word got out of the salvation of Jerusalem from Sennacherib (the Bible says by the miraculous intervention of the angel of the Lord), the nations around thought it would be a good idea to send gifts to Hezekiah the king of Judah. The "many" may also refer to Jews in other parts of Judah who were sending gifts both to the Lord and to Hezekiah. Thus, by the time that the Babylonians heard of his recovery and decided to send a gift and congratulatory letter of their own, he had a treasure house full of goodies to show them. And we can guess that he was perhaps all the more eager to do so because of the contrast between this state of wealth and his previous financial and military humiliation.

The historian of 2 Chronicles doesn't mention the humiliating tribute. The historian of 2 Kings mentions the tribute and the later fullness of the treasure house but not the gifts from other nations that account for its replenishing. The author of Isaiah does not tell of the tribute nor of the gifts but does tell of the vain display of the treasures.

There is one other rather interesting verse in 2 Chronicles concerning the envoys, of which 2 Chronicles gives no full account:
Even in the matter of the envoys of the rulers of Babylon, who sent to him to inquire of the wonder that had happened in the land, God left him alone only to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart. (2 Chronicles 27:31)
It is unclear whether "the wonder that had happened in the land" is meant to refer to the death of the armies of Sennacherib or the sign (described in 2 Kings and Isaiah as the sun's shadow moving backwards) given to Hezekiah that he would recover. I would be inclined to guess the former, but the author of 2 Chronicles is cryptic on this point.

The facts that fit together here in the way that marks an undesigned coincidence are a) the emptying of Hezekiah's treasury to try to stave off the Assyrians, b) the subsequent fullness of the treasury when he shows it to the envoys and is rebuked by Isaiah, and c) in between these, the preservation of Jerusalem followed by celebratory and/or congratulatory gifts sent to Jerusalem.

This is a very nice coincidence that connects and confirms 2 Kings (with Isaiah) and 2 Chronicles. Blunt would not want me to omit that the central event that turns things around from despair and an empty treasury to an overflowing treasury is a miracle--the destruction of Assyrian army by God.

It would be even more satisfying if the account of the full treasure house were unique to Isaiah, showing some sort of unique access by the author of Isaiah to events in the court of Hezekiah. Of course, if we could date the writing of Isaiah with confidence prior to the end of 2 Kings, then Isaiah would be earlier and hence not based on 2 Kings. But at this point I'm not prepared to wade into the waters of the precise dating of the book of Isaiah. Regardless, someone seems to have known about the visit of the envoys, and I'll leave it at that.

I hope to put up more posts, probably jumping around the OT as the whim takes me, in subsequent weeks and months.

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