Hezekiah's Foreign Policy
A general impression of confusion (2 Melechim 18-20; 2 Divre Hayamim 29-32; YeshaYahu 36-39)
The King of Yahudah, as a politician, playing a double game
In their Divre Hayamim the biblical writers deal at length with Hezekiah's foreign policy, though it does not seem very clear in its general plan. Sometimes Hezekiah is shown to us as the faithful vassal of Assyria, and sometimes as the avowed enemy of that country. He appears to be torn between the party in favour of peace, under YeshaYahu, and the military party with its continual dreams of resuming hostilities against the national enemy. And so we find Hezekiah constantly changing course and taking decisions in formal contradiction with conduct of the day before. In addition, certain episodes do not fit in very well and on occasion the chronology is difficult to determine. There is a general impression of confusion.
Now all this becomes clear if we accept the idea of the King of Yahudah as a politician playing a double game, from the beginning right up to the end. So long as he feels too weak to throw off the Assyrian yoke he feigns the most complete submission. Then, on several occasions, he believes that he has established a coalition strong enough to raise the standard of rebellion, but he discovers that he has overestimated his strength. Once more he returns to the pacifist fold. These changes of heart are easily explained if we do not lose sight of the fact that he was an ardent patriot -impatient to drive the enemy out of the country. Unfortunately, his unsuccessful attempts to liberate his kingdom obliged him, very unwillingly, to return to the attitude of a contrite and repentant vassal.
Hezekiah's foreign policy can be shown in the form of a drama in five acts.
First Act: Patiently, he bided his time. 716-705
We must not place excessive trust in the humble and servile attitude which from the time of his accession Hezekiah adopted towards Sargon II, the formidable ruler of Assyria. There was little that the weak king of Yahudah could hope to attempt against the huge military empire which ruled the Middle East. The only possible policy for Hezekiah was one of collaboration with Assyria. At this time the prophet YeshaYahu probably warned the young king against any act of open rebellion against Assyria. Any attempt at insurrection would lead to Yerusalem's experiencing at once the fate recently suffered by Samaria. There was no other attitude possible than complete submission to the conqueror.
It would have been very difficult for Hezekiah, therefore, to adopt another policy. As a clever diplomat ostensibly he shared the view of the great prophet, the avowed champion of peace.
Yet there can be no doubt that Hezekiah, while revealing it to no one, did not give up his secret desire for revenge. Patiently, he bided his time.
THE ASSYRIAN EMPIRE AT THE TIME OF ITS GREATEST EXPANSION UNDER ASHURBANIPAL (668-621)