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Hezekiah's holy heaps

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The mysterious "things" that helped save Jerusalem

 
By now all the lovers of the Ancient Jerusalem know about the story of King Hezekiah's tunnel which was dug during Sennacharib's conquest of the land of Israel. For the newcomers, here is the elevator speech version: 701 BCE Sennacharib comes to attack Israel, ransacking many cities in his wake. As he gets closer to Jerusalem, King Hezekiah orders to build a wall around Jerusalem to protect all the refugees seeking safety within the city.  He also calls for the rerouting of the water of the Gihon spring underneath the city. Why?  To prevent the approaching army from making use of the water supply or blocking it off from the inhabitants in the city. In record time, the tunnel was finished - 533 meters in length, snaking underneath the city with a decline of only 30cm – a miracle in itself. The Bible makes proud mention of this legendary tunnel. In the City of David, you can actually come and walk through it yourself!
 
But let's not Segway from our story (although you can also do that as part of your City of David experience if you ever come to visit, wink-wink). Sennacharib, a "text book" villain, played a tough psychological game, blasphemously boasting about the impending doom, boldly telling the inhabitants of Jerusalem that their God 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). Hezekiah and Isaiah together petition God to save the city. God answers that Sennacharib won't be able to shoot even one arrow at the city, and that the evil conqueror will return the way he came. 
 
And then something really strange happened…
 
 "That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death one 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. However, as all good stories go, we need to dig a little bit deeper (something we are experts in here at the City of David) into the story of the tunnel, and the very important "things" the Bible points out which preceded these events: "After these things, and this faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came,"(2 Chron. 32:1)
 
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 let's 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  – bulls eye.  
 
This is the time between Pesach (Passover) and Sukkot (Tabernacles). 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 in his Book of Our Heritage explains the offering of the Bikkurim as follows: By bringing his first fruits, one testifies – at the very place where God 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 God has done for him. He shows that he places God above all of his concerns…" 
 
And this is exactly what Hezekiah did by reinstating the offering of the first fruits. The kings before him desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem and introduced idol worship, cancelling the Temple service and the subsequent offerings, like that of the first fruits. Hezekiah counteracted by rededicating the Temple, breaking down the idols, reinstating Passover and the other festivals, as well as the first fruit offerings.
 
Thus Hezekiah showed that he placed God above all his concerns. These are the "things" and the "faithfulness" that preceded Sennacharib's planned attack on Jerusalem. The Jewish Sages (ChaZaL) teach us that God always provides the remedy before the blow. The Hezekiah story is a perfect example of this. God 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 we have more…
 
To put the proverbial cherry on the top of this fruity fanfare of the first fruits: City of David excavations have not only graced us with the revelation of the historical Hezekiahs' tunnel, but have also uncovered a number of ancient olive and grape seeds.  Finding these little treasures is huge, perhaps as big as finding a 533m tunnel. You see, the beauty of these seeds, being organic and all that, is that we can carbon-date them and so determine the specific age of an excavated object almost to the T. More than that, we found raisins hidden in a wine vessel, intact 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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