King Hezekiah’s Royal Seal Found in Jerusalem
The royal seal of a Biblical king has been found, stating “belonging to Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, king of Judah” near the Temple Mount.
Science Daily calls it the “First seal impression of an Israelite or Judean king ever exposed in situ in a scientific archaeological excavation.” There are qualifiers there, because Hezekiah was known from other sources, such as the famous Sennacherib stele. Numerous clay jars from Hezekiah’s time stamped “belonging to the king” are known. Nevertheless, this is an important find, because it actually mentions two Biblical kings by name (Ahaz and Hezekiah) and was found in place from the original location by archaeologists. A short film by The Israel Project explains its significance, with an interview with archaeologist Eilat Mazar, who led the excavation. She stands at the site of this and other discoveries, describing how it was found. The finding was published this month in the final report of the Ophel Excavations of 2009-2013.
Hezekiah was one of the most important of the righteous kinds of Judah, though born of wicked king Ahaz and followed by his wicked son Manasseh, who repented at the end of his life. During Hezekiah’s reign, God preserved Jerusalem from the advances of Sennacherib through a mighty miraculous intervention, the Bible says. Despite a few indiscretions (such as revealing his treasures to Babylonian envoys), this king was praised by prophets and chroniclers:
He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. (II Kings 18:5-7)
Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Jerusalem, carved 1,750 feet in bedrock to bring water from the Gihon Spring into the city, was an engineering marvel for its time, and is still popular for tourists today. Considering the possibility that Hezekiah’s own hand might have impressed his royal stamp onto this small bit of clay, this seal, or bulla, puts us into close contact with one of the greatest kings of the Bible.
Every archaeological find like this (and there are many) gives us additional confidence in the word of God, but it is our trust in God’s word that sheds light on archaeology, not the other way around.
Bible students may wonder about the apparently pagan symbols of the ankh and scarab beetle on the seal. These do not warrant concern; our own American money has pagan symbols that do not imply worship, but only symbolism. Live Science thinks that Hezekiah may have added the ankh as a symbol of life after he prayed for healing (II Kings 20). There isn’t much space on a 1/2″ signet ring to put things. It’s not like the king could have added “In God we trust” to it. The Egyptian symbol for life is small and easily recognized. The scarab beetle probably served the same purpose as the eagle on the American presidential seal. One other possibility is that this seal was carved during a time of Hezekiah’s backsliding after his recovery, when he was proud and may have wanted to impress foreign dignitaries.
We have a wealth of detail in the written Scriptures (II Kings, II Chronicles, Isaiah) to give us ample information about Hezekiah. He was ministered to by the great prophet Isaiah, whose writings are preserved on the great Isaiah scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls—one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.
Hezekiah makes for a good character study in the Bible. He was a righteous man, but with some failings. He cleansed the Temple and restored true worship, finally destroying the pagan high places that previous righteous kings had failed to remove (II Chronicles 29). He re-instituted the Passover and other God-ordained feasts, bringing great joy and prosperity to Judah. He sent teachers around the land to instruct people in the law of the Lord. He invited God fearers from the northern kingdom to return to true worship in the Temple:
“And the priests consecrated themselves in great numbers. The whole assembly of Judah, and the priests and the Levites, and the whole assembly that came out of Israel, and the sojourners who came out of the land of Israel, and the sojourners who lived in Judah, rejoiced. So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. Then the priests and the Levites arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard, and their prayer came to his holy habitation in heaven.” (II Chronicles 30).
Hezekiah responded appropriately to the propaganda and threats of the Assyrian army captain (those threats exemplify several propaganda tactics in our Baloney Detector). The king acted wisely in fortifying Jerusalem and protecting its water supply when he knew how viciously the Assyrians destroyed neighboring towns and fortresses, including Lachish and Azekah. He lived in a time of international turmoil and threats from terrorists, never losing his confidence in God, though natural fear was evident in his words. His prayer in the Temple is a model for supplication with its focus on God’s glory (II Kings 19:14-19).
Isaiah did have to rebuke the king for showing off his royal treasures to the Babylonian envoys, though, and Hezekiah’s short-sighted response gives pause: “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?” (II Kings 20:19). We might also learn from his prayer for healing that God’s timing is best. Isaiah had told him by the word of the Lord that he would die from his disease (II Kings 20:1-11), but the Lord graciously heard Hezekiah’s prayer, seeing his bitter tears, and healed him, giving him 15 more years to live. After that, though, his son Manasseh was born—one of the most wicked of all Judah’s kings, in large part personally responsible for the judgment of the Babylonian captivity that followed. Manasseh probably ordered Isaiah’s execution among his many crimes.
After Hezekiah’s recovery, too, was when he showed off the Temple treasures to the Babylonian envoys; he failed in this test from the Lord. He and the people became proud (II Chronicles 32:24-26), bringing God’s wrath on him and the land; fortunately, he humbled himself and gained relief for a time. Manasseh his son undoubtedly witnessed these failings. How much was Hezekiah to blame as a father for his son’s apostasy? We can only speculate on how Judah’s history might have differed had Hezekiah accepted God’s will about the timing of his death. We should pray for God’s will and His timing, not our own health and safety. Centuries later, James may have had this story in mind when he advised everyone to pray according to God’s will (James 4:13-17):
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
Hezekiah also made some dubious alliances with foreign countries. Overall, though, his testimony shines in the often dark pages of the chronicles of the kings:
“Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. 21 And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered.” (II Chronicles 31)
The discovery of this king’s personal seal adds to the rich trove of tangible evidence outside of Scripture that supplements our confidence in the historical accuracy of the Bible. It brings us closer to an eyewitness of two of the most remarkable miracles of the Old Testament: (1) the slaughter of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in answer to his supplication, when the people of Jerusalem faced certain death and torture surrounded by the overwhelming force of Sennacherib’s army, and (2) the reversal of the shadow of Ahaz’s sundial as the sign of his recovery (II Kings 20:8-11)—a matter of astronomical curiosity to modern scientists. Was this the sign that motivated the Babylonian envoys to travel a long distance to investigate? II Chronicles 32:31 contains this indication it was a widespread, not local, sign: “And so in the matter of the envoys of the princes of Babylon, who had been sent to him to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart.” We should not question the ability of the Creator to alter the course of the astronomical bodies or laws of nature. After all, He spoke them into existence.
The royal seal reminds us, finally, that Hezekiah was an ancestor of Jesus, the Messiah (Matthew 1:9). Skeptics may scoff at the miracles, but they cannot deny the real existence of “Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, king of Judah” having lived in Jerusalem. Nor can they deny the real Sennacherib who intended to destroy them all. Sennacherib could not brag of a conquest, but only that he “kept him like a caged bird” in the city for a short time (see Taylor Prism on Bible-History.com)—a silent witness that something unusual prevented him from turning Jerusalem into a pile of burnt rubble like the other cities he had conquered. These are strong evidences, but so is the Bible. If you want the whole story, you need to go to the very best evidence—the testimony of eyewitnesses inspired by the Holy Spirit, who never lies.