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Speak Tenderly to Jerusalem

Photo by Yoel Winkler on Unsplash
Photo by Yoel Winkler on Unsplash

The year is 682 BC. Or thereabouts.

Great King Hezekiah of the kingdom of Judah has just emerged from his royal chambers, having recently recovered from a most tiresome affliction. ‘Twas a painful, festering boil that stuck to the skin like hot tar, causing his majesty much misery. The thing threatened, he feared, to end his very life just a few short months before his fortieth year.

“In the prime of my life,” the monarch had agonized, “I shall go to the gates of Sheol. I shall observe man no more among the inhabitants of the world.”

Were it not for the intervention of the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, the king might at present be firmly ensconced in the bosom of Abraham.

But the Most High has been merciful, it is clear, for He speedily provided a miraculous cure for this strange disease by the hand of Isaiah His faithful prophet.

“.. take a lump of figs,” the prophet had instructed the king’s men, “and apply it as a poultice on the boil, and he shall recover.”

Recover the king did. And right back to work he went.

Hezekiah is no ordinary monarch, you see. He’s been a truly exemplary king; a focused and industrious ruler who has led with much wisdom and a deep love for his people. His kingdom of Judah has enjoyed renewed prosperity under his rule, and fervent spiritual revival not seen in recent times. See, the celebration of Passover has even been reinstated: the first of which was a magnificently joyous event, such as has never been witnessed since the days of King Solomon.

A particularly resilient king, Hezekiah has been able to resist the aggressive advance of the forcefully-expanding kingdom of Assyria. And the perpetual hostility of the Philistines in Gaza.

He has prospered in all his works and is thus highly esteemed among the nations.

“There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah,” the scribes will later record, “neither before nor after his reign.”

All this despite his relative youth, having ascended the throne at just twenty-five, after the sudden demise of his father Ahaz – he who infamously sacrificed a son by burning him with fire. The man did not live to see his fortieth year.

But that’s a story for another day.

For now, the news of King Hezekiah’s illness, and of his miraculous recovery, soon reaches Merodach-Baladan, son of the king of Babylon whose realm is in the far regions of the east. Merodach promptly arranges a diplomatic visit, sending envoys with letters and a gift fit for our king.

Moved, perhaps, by this show of apparent compassion, King Hezekiah welcomes his guests most warmly. He receives them personally, escorting them as they traverse the kingdom surveying his bounteous domain. And the king bares before them the full grandeur and riches of the kingdom; the treasuries of silver, of gold, of precious stones, spices, and all kinds of desirable goods; storehouses for the harvest of grain, wine, and oil; stalls for all kinds of livestock, and folds for flocks. He even ushers them into his armory, for a guided visual of the kingdom’s weapons of war.

The prophet Isaiah, learning of this, is visibly upset. And more than a little anxious.

“What did these men say?”, he inquires with trepidation when the envoys have left. “And from where did they come to you?”

“They have come to me from a far country,” the king replies, “from Babylon.”

“What have they seen in your house?” the prophet further prods.

“They have seen all that is in my house,” replies the king, perhaps unaware of the danger of his actions. “There is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”

Alas. Hezekiah, an otherwise astute man, has made a highly uncharacteristic error in judgment.

“Hear the word of the Lord of hosts,” Isaiah proclaims gravely, “behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left,” the prophet states, “sayeth the Lord.”

In the manner of prophets, it appears, Isaiah has been privy to some rather unsettling intel, quietly divulged to him in the realm of the unseen.

“Some of your own sons who will come from you, whom you will father,” the prophet continues solemnly, “shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

Hezekiah is understandably quite shaken. Nevertheless, he comforts himself with the revelation that the fulfillment of this oracle is in the far future. Not to worry, he says to himself. I will be resting with my fathers by then.

He’s right. For it will be at least four generations and close to one hundred years before one of his royal descendants, Jehoakim by name, will witness the prophesied invasion; a violent assault by a king named Nebuchadnezzar, future ruler of the self-same kingdom of Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar, driven by a thirst for power, and not a small measure of disdain for his southern neighbors perhaps, will at that time set his voracious appetites on Judah. His own kingdom will by then be a massive power, an empire really, but Nebuchadnezzar will not quite be satisfied. He will desire more territory. Their territory.

He will thus attack Judah, sending thousands of armed men to infiltrate the walled city of Jerusalem, its capital. His determined troops will break down its walls, burn the gates and go on a violent spree, looting the king’s possessions and those of his nobles and razing their palaces with fire.

They will rob the magnificent holy temple of its precious articles of gold, silver and bronze and burn down the imposing structure, reducing it to a smoldering heap.

As if this is not enough, the blood-crazed invaders will then turn their swords on the people themselves – men and women, young and old, the weak and infirm, they will execute with murderous passion. And those who escape the sword will be dragged off, terrified, to the kingdom of Babylon, where a chillingly uncertain future surely awaits them.

But right now, beholding these distant events, the prophet catches a glimpse, too, of something else – a divine exhortation, quietly-whispered to him by the voice of the Most High. The prophet takes hold of his scroll, inks his quill and pens rapidly what he hears in his spirit:

“Comfort”, he writes. “Comfort my people, says your God”.

A time will come, after that dreadful invasion, he records, when the nation of Judah shall surely be comforted. The forced exile will certainly come to an end, the prophet assures all who will believe, and the captives shall return to their homes. They shall live once again in peace and prosperity within the borders of their beloved nation; a powerful, much-needed promise for those who are to endure the harrowing times ahead.

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,” the prophet therefore counsels those who will be living at that time. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended.”

And sure enough, almost exactly seventy years after Nebuchadnezzar’s attack, a new ruler, Cyrus by name, will arise. And, beholding the captive’s plight, he will issue an incontrovertible decree, reversing their fortunes and setting them free to return to the land they so dearly love.

“..when the Lord brought back the captives of Zion,” their progeny will later record, “we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing…”

And in our present day, with persistent rumblings from a querulous nation in the east, and perennial terror from the strip in the south, the words of the prophet still gently resound; profound words of encouragement from the heart of He who so cares for His people, more than two and a half millennia later.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem therefore, brethren. And assure her, as did the prophet Isaiah, that her warfare will most assuredly come to an end…

Adapted from the Biblical Books of 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Psalms and Isaiah.

My name is Paulie Mugure Mugo, a published author from Nairobi, Kenya.

In October 2019, I published “KINGS” a historical non-fiction book that explores the lives and reigns of the monarchs who ruled Israel and Judah in ancient times. The process of writing this book strengthened my interest in Israel and no doubt deposited in me a good amount of goodwill for the nation.

This blog will thus highlight ongoing initiatives in support of the nation and people of Israel, from organizations and individuals across the continent of Africa, of which I have become keenly aware.

I thank The Times of Israel for this much-appreciated opportunity.

About the Author
Paulie Mugure Mugo is a published author based in Nairobi, the capital city of the East African nation of Kenya. Paulie has authored three books, two being lightly humorous personal memoirs, while the third, “KINGS”, is a memorable look at the rulers of ancient Israel, a subject she finds endlessly captivating. Were books children, this would be Paulie’s unwittingly spoiled favorite. She recently completed a certificate course, "The History of Modern Israel", and is currently enrolled to study "The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem" at the University of Tel Aviv, through one of the institution's online platforms. She enjoys reading widely, but rarely works of fiction as, in her view, nothing can be as fascinating as the world we live in. She lives in Nairobi with her husband, four boisterous offspring, and Nala, a guard dog who clearly has no clue she is one.
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