Yesterday I explained that seeing the locations of biblical events can help you connect the dots in the text of the Bible, revealing a more complete picture of what is being described. To help you see how this works, I’m going to start a new series of posts I’ll call “Dotwatch.” In this series, we’ll look at how a little knowledge of Israel can help you understand specific passages of Scripture.
In 2 Kings 18 and its parallels in 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 36, the Assyrian king Sennacherib sends an army to besiege Jerusalem, along with envoys who demand the city’s surrender. Masters of psychological warfare, these envoys call out in Hebrew so that all the people gathered on Jerusalem’s walls will hear why resistance is futile:
Suppose you say to me: We trust in the LORD our God. Isn’t He the One whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem: You must worship at this altar in Jerusalem? (2 Kings 18:22)
This Assyrian envoy is clearly referring to Hezekiah’s extensive religious reforms, in which he “removed the high places, shattered the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles” (2 Kings 18:4). Yet why would the Assyrian say that it was the LORD‘s high places and altars Hezekiah had removed? Weren’t all of Hezekiah’s reforms directed against pagan worship?
Not all of them. Hezekiah had also shut down various sanctuaries to Yahweh which were scattered throughout the country. One of these rival worship centers has been excavated at the southern city of Arad. This temple to Yahweh was built around the time of Solomon and featured an outer courtyard with a sacrificial altar, a Holy Place, and a Holy of Holies—much like the temple in Jerusalem. One can imagine the people of southern Judah preferring to worship at this local temple rather than having to make the journey to Jerusalem. The temple at Arad would therefore have been a source of revenue for the city, as pilgrims came and stayed there during the various feasts and festivals. It also would have been a source of civic pride to the people of Arad.
During the time of Hezekiah, the sacrificial altar in the temple’s outer courtyard was buried so that no more sacrifices could be offered there. This centralization of worship at Jerusalem could not have been popular at Arad and other towns with local worship centers. Even citizens of Judah who did not experience the loss of revenue or civic pride as a result of Hezekiah’s religious reforms must have wondered how shutting down Yahweh’s sanctuaries could possibly be pleasing to Him.
Thus, the Assyrian envoy was using the unpopularity of Hezekiah’s religious reforms to undermine the people’s confidence that the LORD would come to their rescue. Even after the Assyrians were forced to withdraw from Judah, Hezekiah’s reforms likely remained unpopular. That may help explain why his son Manasseh reversed them so completely.
I hope you can see how these kinds of connections really help make the Bible come alive. The original audience of Kings, Chronicles, and Isaiah would have understood how decentralized the worship of Yahweh was and how unpopular Hezekiah’s reforms would have been, so they would immediately have connected these “dots” in the text. We, on the other hand, need a little help connecting those dots. Yet when we get it, we too can find the “eyes to see.”