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Reviews | Hezekiah the Great / The Songs of Degrees

Hezekiah the Great / The Songs of Degrees

Harry Whittaker / George Booker

Paperback, hardback or e-book (ePub)

224 pages

Hezekiah the Great / The Songs of Degrees

The Christadelphian review (from July 1986)

Hezekiah the Great / The Songs of Degrees

THIS is not one book, but two conveniently bound together. They share a common theme, the exposition of the life and literary interests of King Hezekiah. The first, Hezekiah the Great is written by Brother Harry Whittaker; the second, Songs of Degrees, by Brother George Booker. Although very different in style and treatment, they are pleasantly complementary.

Both owe an initial debt (which is several times acknowledged) to the pioneering work of J. W. Thirtle, who was reared in a Christadelphian ecclesia in the English Midlands. His book Old Testament Problems is sadly now out of print, but in it he confidently asserted what earlier Bible students had only tentatively ventured. In brief, he argued that Hezekiah was an outstanding type of the Lord Jesus Christ and that much of Isaiah (including the Servant passages) had an initial historical fulfilment in the king’s life history. He considered the Assyrian invasion to have coincided with Hezekiah’s severe illness, when he was told he would die (Isa. 38:1). And he saw the 15 Psalms of Degrees (from 120 to 134) as Hezekiah’s spiritual celebration of that 15 year extension of life granted to him, a prolongation which made possible the birth of a son, and thus the survival of the promised “seed” in Israel.

Hezekiah the Great

With his usual enthusiasm, Brother Harry Whittaker considerably advances the suggestions made by Thirtle. In his Exploring the Bible he suggested that Old Testament Problems is “packed with brilliant suggestions about the Psalms and Isaiah”, and he has lost none of his initial conviction. The reader is thus launched forthwith into a graphic and imaginative portrayal of the life and times of Hezekiah, and the impetus of the narrative never slackens.

Even if some of the suggestions made are intended to provoke thought, and that is very much this author’s style, there is seldom anything to indicate that he is other than fully persuaded. For example, describing the sign offered to Ahaz concerning the birth of Immanuel, Brother Harry asserts:

“Here the prophet pointed to a comely maiden in the group, the granddaughter of the high-priest, soon to become queen of the land by her marriage to Ahaz. ‘Behold,’ he cried, ‘the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel’.”

Although the book later (in a preface to the Appendices) points out the likelihood of dual fulfilment in prophecy—an initial reference to Hezekiah, an eventual reference to Jesus—the writer never spells that out as the book proceeds, he takes it for granted. In just the same way he does not trouble to observe that the rendering “the virgin shall conceive” is from his favoured R.V. margin. The reader is expected to do some of the work, and thus the more he or she pursues personal study, and exercises an enquiring mind, the more benefit will be obtained from both these books.

The Bible text has been studied with minute attention to detail, and the result makes excellent reading. There are inevitably places where the careful reader will be left only half convinced. Is there, for example, support for the idea that part of the temple was to be turned over by Ahaz to house an Assyrian cavalry garrison (page 7), and could the king really enter the holy place of the temple via a gallery over its east door (page 19)? In both cases it would be interesting to see the evidence for the suggestion so that it could be followed up if desired.

Unlike some of Harry’s recent books, there are very few footnotes in this one and the detailed Appendices (situated conveniently at the back of the book, after Songs of Degrees) are taken up instead with a suggested relationship between Hezekiah and the Psalms, Isaiah, Job, Micah and Joel, then some helpful archaeological reference material, some of which features in both books. But if the sources are not always indicated, there is an abundance of helpful suggestion. Had you for example thought about:

  • How God moved the shadow back 10 degrees?
  • How Rabshakeh could speak fluent Hebrew?
  • How he knew so much about the internal affairs of Jerusalem?
  • Why Hezekiah was sick at such a critical time for Israel?
  • Whether he or his ministers had earlier authorised the payment of tribute which necessitated cutting off gold from the doors of the temple?

Brother Harry has his own ideas on all those points, and more. You may not always agree with him; you can, however, expect to be stimulated and helped to make up your own mind.

Songs of Degrees

Brother George Booker first wrote this study for The Testimony magazine (August 1977 to February 1979) and later used one chapter in his book Biblical Fellowship. Some of the material thus achieves its third appearance in print, but it is worth repeating. The treatment in this half of the book is quite different from that just discussed. It is limited to the relevant Psalms and takes the form of a suggested structure for the Songs and a detailed verse-by-verse analysis of their contents with especial regard to those links with Hezekiah which might either have led to their composition (see Isaiah 38:20, “We will sing my songs”), or to their selection and inclusion in these 15 Songs.

There is a certain amount of unavoidable repetition with the earlier exposition, especially with regard to the Assyrian invasion at such a critical time. But there is also room for some disagreement in the interpretation of detailed applications. Thus Brother Harry applies Isaiah 54—“Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear”—to Hezekiah’s wife Hephzibah, even suggesting that there might have been an earlier separation due to the illness (page 89). But Brother George refers that passage to the city of Jerusalem, previously estranged but now reconciled to God (page 121). These differences in no way detract from the book: they enhance it for those readers who are prepared to consider different points of view on matters of detail.

One other welcome difference concerns Brother George’s application of the links traced between the Psalms and their initial historical setting. He extends that exposition to bring out the lessons for today, where Brother Harry is more content to let the reader do his own application. Thus, in considering Psalm 133 and its reference to renewed unity between North and South after the Assyrian defeat, the exposition concludes:

“Let us draw together in this, the contemplation of that eternal unity of shared blessings for those who love Christ and long for his appearing. And may we now and forever ‘dwell together in unity’ under the shadow of his love.”

As the Preface indicates, this joint volume is a testimony to the fact that two quite different expositions can happily co-exist in the same volume, because the writers share the same basic convictions and the same living faith. A careful reading of both these studies should lead to a greater familiarity with the struggles and successes of Hezekiah, and a renewed appreciation of God and His Word.


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