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First Fruits: Hezekiah’s Secret Weapon

Updated: Jun 25, 2019

Those who are passionate about Jerusalem, her past, present and future, are probably well acquainted with the story of King Hezekiah's tunnel that was dug during Sennacherib's conquest of the land of Israel. For the newcomers, here is the nutshell version: 701 BCE Sennacherib comes to attack Israel, destroying many cities in his wake.

Broad Wall Credit: Wikicommons

As he gets closer to Jerusalem, Hezekiah decides to enlarge Jerusalem by building a wall that stretches beyond the cities initial borders in order to protect all the refugees that sought safety within the city. A big number of refugees consisted of the Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom. Isaiah 22:10 refers to how some of the houses were destroyed during the construction of the wall. You can literally see this in the excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem.

You counted the buildings in Jerusalem and tore down houses to strengthen the wall.

- Isaiah 22:10

Hezekiah also rerouted the water of the Gihon spring underneath the city. Why? To prevent the approaching army from blocking off the water from the inhabitants of the city and also making use of the water supply for the enemy camp.

Hezekiah's Tunnel in the City of David | Credit: Wiki commons

The tunnel was built in a record time, 533 meters long, snaking underneath the city with a decline of only 30 cm – a miracle in itself. 2 Kings 20:20 mentions this feat:

Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and all his might, and how he made the pool, and the conduit, and brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?

This tunnel is open to the public and is a must for all visiting Jerusalem.

Sennacharib, a "text book" villain, played a tough psychological game, blasphemously boasting about the impending doom, telling the inhabitants of Jerusalem that their G-d won't save them, that their king obviously doesn't know what he is doing and that it's better to just give up and run (and maybe die).

Sennacharib's Prism | Credit: Wiki Commons

Reveling in his victories over other Judean cities he ordered a stone prism to be made, documenting these victories. A special section on this prism was preserved to describe his victory over Jerusalem…

Hezekiah and Isaiah together petitioned G-d to save the city. G-d answered that Sennacharib wouldn't even shoot one arrow at the city, and that he will return the way he came.

And then something really strange happened….

"That night the angel of the L-RD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning--there were all the dead bodies! "

- 2 Kings 19:35

A Divine intervention.

You might ask, what did Sennacherib end up writing on his pompous prism? Trying to save face, he wrote, referring to Hezekiah:

“Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage. I surrounded him with earthwork in order to molest those who were in his city's gate.”

….and that was it.

However, as all good stories go, we need to dig a little deeper into the story of the tunnel, the wall, and the very important "things" the Bible points out that preceded these events:

After these things, and this faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came...

2 Chron 32:1

The Remedy Before the Blow

Let's get some context. These "things" happened exactly in the time where we find ourselves right now in the Hebrew Calendar. We are in the month of Sivan - the third month. Now check for a moment what is written regarding the time frame of Hezekiah's story: In the third month they began to lay the foundation of the heaps, and finished them in the seventh month. – bull’s eye.

The time between Shavuot and Sukkot. The time of the Bikkurim or First Fruits – if anybody was wondering what these mysterious "heaps" were about. The Bikkurim were brought only from the seven species (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates).

Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov explains the offering of the Bikkurim as follows:

"By bringing his first fruits, one testifies – at the very place where G-d chose to reside – that he is not ungrateful, that he is not haughty, that he has not forgotten his roots, and that he remembers all of the good and the kindness that G-d has done for him. He shows that he places G-d above all of his concerns…"

And this is exactly what Hezekiah did by reinstating the offering of the first fruits. The kings before him not only canceled the Temple service and the subsequent offerings that accompanied this service like that of the first fruits, they also desecrated the temple and introduced idol worship. Hezekiah counteracted by rededicating the Temple, breaking down the idols, reinstating Pesach (and the other festivals) as well as the first fruit offerings.

Severed head of Asherah/Astarte from the time of Hezekiah's iconoclastic campaign | Private collection (GB)

Thus Hezekiah showed that he placed G-d above all his concerns. These are the "things" and the "faithfulness" that is referred to in the Chapter. And these are the very things that preceded Sennacherib's planned attack on Jerusalem. The ChaZal (Jewish Sages) teach that G-d always provides the remedy before the blow. The Hezekiah story is a perfect example of this. G-d allowed this righteous king to lay a solid foundation of faithful acts in order to set in motion a divine act of salvation. Take note: it's not that the enemy didn’t come. It's also not that Hezekiah sat and did nothing. He put every possible human effort in to be ready for what was coming at him and his people. And for that we have the proof of Hezekiah's legendary tunnel. But there is more…

During excavations at the City of David they found a number of ancient olive and grape seeds. The beauty of these seeds, being organic and all that, is that they can be carbon-dated and so determine the specific age of an excavated object almost to the "T". More than that, they discovered raisins hidden in an intact wine vessel with the seal Yayin Nesach (libation wine) dating back to the first temple period. These raisins along with other seeds that were discovered across ancient sites in Israel are now being genetically sequenced and will soon be able to reveal the exact type of grapes that were used during the Temple service….

And so these seeds are not just clarifying an emerging picture of the Ancient Jerusalem, they are witnesses –witnesses of "the things and the faithfulness" that once merited the salvation of a city.

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1 Comment

Feb 07, 2022

Thank you AnaRina!

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