An Undesigned Coincidence in the Old Testament: King Hezekiah’s Treasury
There are many popular Undesigned Coincidences in the New Testament. In this post, I want to look at an undesigned coincidence in the Old Testament. But before we jump in let’s get a few of you up to speed. What the heck is an undesigned coincidence anyway? And why are they important?
In a nutshell, an undesigned coincidence is a case where two or more passages of Scripture interlock with — and frequently explain — one another. So you might be reading a passage and it raises a question, but then you turn to another account and it casually and subtly explains another passage. This isn’t what we’d expect from fictions and forgeries. Fictional stories don’t explain one another. You don’t pick up a copy of Harry Potter to figure out what those loose ends were about in Lord of the Rings. And a forger usually doesn’t interlock small details in a subtle kind of way. But these are the exact kinds of things we’d expect from fairly truthful and extensive accounts.
Let me give you a real world example. Let’s pretend that you work at Amazon Customer Service and someone calls in and says “I ordered a book and when I opened my package I got a baseball cap.” You might think the customer is telling the truth, or you might think they’re trying to hoodwink you into getting a baseball hat and a free book. But let’s say your neighbor in the other cubicle gets a second customer calling in, and they say “Bruh. I ordered a baseball cap. My box has a book in it. Not exactly my idea of headgear.”
Neither report by itself might tell you the person is telling the truth, but when you get both reports separately they fit together incidentally in a way that highly implies both are being honest. There’s probably no capping going on here. Yes, I can sense your groans. With all those preliminaries out of the way, let’s look at an Old Testament example of an undesigned coincidence.
Isaiah 38 tells the story of King Hezekiah’s illness and desperate prayer for healing. You might remember this story from Sunday school. In Isaiah 39, envoys from Babylon come to congratulate King Hezekiah on getting well. There’s a parallel description of those events in 2 Kings 20 that seems textually dependent on Isaiah (or perhaps it’s the other way around). Isaiah 39:1–2 describes the events as follows:
At that time Marduk-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, because he had heard of his illness and recovery. Hezekiah received the envoys gladly and showed them what was in his storehouses-the silver, the gold, the spices, the fine olive oil-his entire armory and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.
We learn that King Hezekiah proudly and rather foolishly showed the Babylonian envoys his treasure house. Hezekiah’s bad decision brings upon a prophecy of judgment. In Isaiah 39:3–7, we read:
Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, “What did those men say, and where did they come from?” “From a distant land,” Hezekiah replied. “They came to me from Babylon.” The prophet asked, “What did they see in your palace?” “They saw everything in my palace,” Hezekiah said. “There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.” Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord Almighty: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
King Hezekiah is selfishly relieved by the prophecy, thinking to himself that at least he will live in peace and safety (verse 8). Isaiah and 2 Kings both imply that Hezekiah became sick at about the time of the invasion by Sennacherib and before the outcome of that invasion. In both accounts, God promises Hezekiah that he will live and that he will deliver the city from the Assyrians (Isaiah 38:6; 2 Kings 20:6). So the messengers arrived from Babylon after his healing, and after the crisis with the Assyrians had been avoided. With that in mind, let’s look at another passage in 2 Kings 18:13–16:
In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. So Hezekiah, king of Judah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: “I have done wrong. Withdraw from me, and I will pay whatever you demand of me.” The king of Assyria exacted from Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace. At this time Hezekiah king of Judah stripped off the gold with which he had covered the doors and doorposts of the temple of the Lord, and gave it to the king of Assyria.
Hold on a sec. So Hezekiah has just made this humbling tribute to the king of Assyria. He was forced to offer him “all of the silver that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house.” It was so serious he had to strip the gold from the doors of the temple and from the doorposts. How on earth was he able to show all of this wealth to the Babylonian envoys shortly after this humiliation? The hasty answer is to say it’s just a contradiction. But if we examine things more closely, we find a pretty striking undesigned coincidence.
The answer to the puzzle
Let’s now take a look at 2 Chronicles. 2 Chronicles records the miraculous destruction of Sennacherib’s army by the angel of the Lord. This event is also found in Isaiah and 2 Kings but using wording and terminology differently from the version of the account in 2 Chronicles. Then in 2 Chronicles 32:23, there’s an insightful detail that could easily go unnoticed:
Many brought offerings to Jerusalem for the Lord and valuable gifts for Hezekiah king of Judah. From then on he was highly regarded by all the nations.
Ah. So here we find the answer to the puzzle. There is no contradiction here. After word spread about the allegedly miraculous salvation of Jerusalem from Sennacherib, the nations sent gifts to Hezekiah. So by the time that the Babylonians heard of his recovery and decided to send a gift and congratulatory letter of their own, Hezekiah had a full treasure house to show them. He went from being in dire straits to having a vault full of goodies. It would be natural for him to want to show it off.
In 2 Chronicles, there’s no mention of the humiliating tribute paid to the Assyrians. 2 Kings does mention the humiliating tribute and how he flaunted his treasury to the Babylonian envoys shortly afterwards. However, the gifts that replenished his treasury aren’t recorded. Isaiah does not mention the tribute or the gifts, but rather he describes his foolish display of vast wealth.
This undesigned coincidence reinforces the historical truthfulness of these events. It also strongly suggests that either Isaiah or the author of 2 Kings had access to Hezekiah’s court, and knew about the Babylonian officials’ visit there. It is highly unlikely that an imaginative writer would have been able to generate a detail of such complexity, particularly as the writers of Kings were already dead by the time that Chronicles was written.
Again, this is the sort of pattern we expect in real events in real history, but not the sort of pattern we’d expect from works of fiction. And note 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. But there’s more.
Archaeology and Hezekiah
It’s also worth mentioning that the Bible isn’t the only ancient text that details Sennacherib’s attack and Hezekiah’s preparations. We learn about the king’s preparations in 2 Chronicles 32:2–4, which reads:
“When Sennacherib had come, intent on making war against Jerusalem, Hezekiah consulted with his officers about stopping the flow of the springs outside the city … for otherwise, they thought, the King of Assyria would come and find water in abundance”
And guess what? Archaeology corroborates this fact. An ancient aqueduct, dating to the time of King Hezekiah, was discovered in 1838. Several years later a Hebrew inscription was discovered in the tunnel which recorded how it had been built that is dated to the 8th century BC.
More fascinating still is that several copies of the Annals of Sennacherib have been discovered. Three clay prisms describing events from Sennacherib’s reign contain the same text. They contain the boasts of Sennacherib boasts, who says:
“As for Hezekiah the Judahite who had not submitted to my yoke, I surrounded 46 of his strong walled towns, and innumerable small places around them, and conquered them by means of earth ramps and siege engines, attack by infantrymen, mining, breaching, and scaling. 200,150 people of all ranks, men and women, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, cattle and sheep without number I brought out and counted as spoils. He himself I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city, like a bird in a cage. I put watch-posts around him, and made it impossible for anyone to go out of his city.”
Sennacherib also says, “Now my lordly splendor overwhelmed that Hezekiah,” confirming Hezekiah did indeed pay him tribute. (2 Kings 18:14) It’s interesting to note that Sennacherib doesn’t brag about destroying Jerusalem, but rather shutting up Hezekiah in his royal city “like a bird in a cage.” This is consistent with the biblical description of God’s rescue of his people and Sennacherib’s return to Assyria without conquering Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:35–36). Writing centuries later, the Greek historian Herodotus ( 484–425 BC) mentioned the invasion and acknowledged Sennacherib’s failure to capture Jerusalem and the many deaths of Assyrian soldiers. However, where the Bible writers credit the Angel of the Lord, Herodotus blames a plague of mice!
The evidence for Hezekiah is strong
If this kind of evidence whets your appetite, there’s an awesome book full of examples like these by a 19th-century author named JJ Blunt, including 60 in the Old Testament. It’s a treasure trove of information and you can get it for free. It’s public domain. Check it out.