In a finely constructed cabinet, behind glass, under spotlights, were displayed two tiny pieces of clay, each no bigger than your thumbnail. Having been freshly unearthed from soil nearly three millennia old in the world’s holiest city, they attracted visitors from around the world. They were the star artifacts in an extraordinary archaeological exhibit that the Armstrong International Cultural Foundation hosted at our offices in Edmond, Oklahoma.
The exhibit, called “Seals of Isaiah and King Hezekiah Discovered,” featured two clay bullae, definitive archaeological proof of King Hezekiah and what we believe is Isaiah the prophet, discovered in Jerusalem just south of the Temple Mount.
Our exhibit featured 36 other artifacts from eighth-century b.c.e. Judah, the period during which these two men lived. We were grateful and excited to host this electrifying proof of the Bible’s veracity!
For the premiere event in June 2018, we connected by a live feed to a special reception we hosted in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, Israel, where Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Michael Oren and archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar spoke. In his address, Dr. Oren, who is also a noted historian, talked about the controversy within archaeology over what various artifacts mean, what they tell us about history, and to whom this is important. Yet I believe there is an archaeological principle that, if it were followed, would unify the archaeological community.
Fifty years ago, Herbert W. Armstrong, the namesake of our cultural foundation, began a wonderful partnership with Prof. Benjamin Mazar. They started working together on archaeological projects in 1968. I was there and was truly excited about those projects. The more you dig into the Bible, the more your excitement for digging in Jerusalem will grow.
We have continued this partnership with Professor Mazar’s granddaughter, Dr. Eilat Mazar.
Eilat has repeatedly said that when digging we need to “let the stones speak”—we must allow the discoveries to provide the evidence of their historical context. I truly believe if everyone would follow this principle, it would remove most of the controversy in archaeology and unify us.
Dr. Mazar and I have different views and different religious beliefs, but her approach to archaeology is definitely one I can enthusiastically endorse. Still, I would like to give you my view on the bullae of King Hezekiah and Isaiah, and what we can learn from these magnificent artifacts. The more I have looked into this, the more inspired and filled with hope I have become.
What makes these two clay seals particularly fascinating is that they represent a remarkable king-prophet relationship. The bond between King Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet, clearly described in the Bible, was the greatest king-prophet partnership since King David and Samuel.
There is some controversy surrounding the seal of Isaiah and whether it belonged to the prophet or to some other personality. I believe when you look at the weight of evidence concerning Isaiah the prophet, it should not be taken any other way.
There are 16 biblical verses where King Hezekiah and the Prophet Isaiah are mentioned together. Dr. Mazar’s excavations found the seals of Hezekiah and Isaiah in the same strata of soil—from the same historical period and within a few meters of each other. This is perfectly consistent with the Bible’s account of their relationship, and it underscores how closely these men worked with one another.
A Galvanizing Miracle
King Hezekiah was one of the most righteous kings to rule Judah since King David. “And he [Hezekiah] did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done” (2 Chronicles 29:2). When he became king, Hezekiah cleansed the temple Solomon had built. He restored the priests and Levites to their God-ordained duties. He reestablished the message of God in the kingdom of Judah. Under his leadership, most of the nation turned away from its idolatry and toward God.
But a great crisis lay on Judah’s doorstep: the Assyrian army. Hezekiah had weaknesses, just like all of us do. Both the biblical account and the archaeological record show that Hezekiah had a relationship with Egypt. He pursued an alliance with the Egyptians in an effort to keep Sennacherib, the leader of Assyria, out of Judah. The Prophet Isaiah had warned against this course, but Hezekiah didn’t listen to God’s man at that time.
God was displeased with Hezekiah’s lack of faith. As correction, He allowed Sennacherib and his giant army to march into Judah and conquer 46 powerfully fortified cities! Hezekiah, though deeply alarmed, chose once again to seek help apart from God and His prophet. He decided to fulfill Sennacherib’s demands for tribute money by plundering the temple of its gold and silver. He vainly hoped that he could buy protection by looking to a man—a monumental mistake.
This tribute only encouraged Sennacherib to redirect his attack on Judah’s capital city. He sent a letter to Hezekiah proclaiming that after attacking Egypt, he would return to conquer Jerusalem. In it, Sennacherib mocked and taunted the great God—all to his deep shame!
At last, Hezekiah chose a different response. “And Hezekiah received the letter of the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up unto the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord” (2 Kings 19:14). In the temple, Hezekiah cried out to God. He would no longer rely on men or wealth for protection. He started looking to God. And amazing things began to happen.
God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and dispatched Isaiah to him with a message. The king and prophet were now working together. Isaiah said, “Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come unto this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and he shall not come into this city, saith the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for Mine own sake, and for My servant David’s sake” (verses 32-34).
Sennacherib’s army eventually besieged Jerusalem. One hundred eighty-five thousand soldiers surrounded the city. No one could enter, and no one could leave. The inhabitants of Jerusalem prepared to die.
But God dramatically fulfilled His promise. When the watchmen inside the city woke up one morning, they saw that Sennacherib’s giant army, all 185,000 men, were dead! God had sent an angel to destroy an entire army! God protected Jerusalem in a miraculous way for David’s sake and for His own sake!
Stunned and disheartened after his entire army had been supernaturally slaughtered, Sennacherib returned to Nineveh. He had been deeply humiliated.
Still, Sennacherib recorded his conquest of 46 cities. This great Gentile king had conquered Lachish, Judah’s second-greatest city. He recorded that event on wall reliefs in his palace in Nineveh. Then he boasted that he had “shut [Hezekiah] up like a caged bird in his royal city of Jerusalem.” Tellingly, that is where history’s secular record ends.
Through artifacts like the Taylor Prism and Lachish wall reliefs, Sennacherib documented his successful conquests. But regarding Jerusalem, he failed to report on the one night that changed everything—for that city, for Judah and for the Assyrian superpower.
Sometime after his return, Sennacherib died an ignominious death: Two of his sons murdered him and then fled to Armenia, leaving another son to eventually become Assyria’s king.
Why do you think his sons killed him? Do you suppose it had to do with this stunning defeat—the fact that in one night, the Assyrian army had been utterly wiped out by an angel of God?
You can’t always trust history and the documentation of men. But you can always trust the true history of the Bible. This is a hard lesson for mankind to learn. I have looked at the story of Sennacherib from the angle of secular documents and biblical records, and every time I read what the Bible says, I’m more and more impressed, moved and galvanized to action!
And two important figures at the center of this remarkable history left seals in the dust of Jerusalem!
Seal of Hezekiah
When you look at the seal of King Hezekiah, you have to ask why he created a seal depicting a sun with two downturned wings.
2 Kings 20 tells us that around the time of Assyria’s conquests, Hezekiah was “sick unto death.” God was really testing and trying this king. Humbled by his illness, Hezekiah delivered a heartfelt and tearful prayer to God. God then sent him this message through Isaiah: “Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father: I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears; behold, I will heal thee; on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the Lord. And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for Mine own sake, and for My servant David’s sake” (verses 5-6).
After receiving this promise, Hezekiah asked for a sign that God would heal him. He was given the option to see the sun “move” either forward or backward. Hezekiah knew that the sun moves forward every day, so he wanted it moved back. And that is exactly what God did! The shadow on the sun dial moved backward 10 degrees. The sun “moved backward” as a sign to this great king that God would not only heal him, but He would also heal Jerusalem and all of Judah! What a powerful part of this history!
The wings on Hezekiah’s bulla represent God’s healing and protection. This symbolism is repeated throughout the Bible. Psalm 84:12 says that “God is a sun and a shield”; Psalm 91:4 says we can take refuge under God’s wings; Ezekiel 16:8 says God will cover us with protection. These verses explain why Hezekiah would use this emblem on his royal seal.
The Bible interprets its own symbolism.
“But unto you that fear My name Shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings; And ye shall go forth, and gambol as calves of the stall” (Malachi 4:2). This is essentially the same symbol as we find on Hezekiah’s seal. Let the “stone” of Hezekiah speak! This verse speaks with a thunderous voice today! God healed Hezekiah and the whole nation! That bulla is an impressive reminder of God’s protection. He promises that He will “arise with healing in his wings.” What a miraculous healing that is!
Our faith can become weak, just as Hezekiah’s did. We are subject to sin, just like one of Judah’s greatest kings. But Hezekiah really knew how to repent and to reconcile with God. What an inspiring story that is!
Dr. Mazar has said that the design for Hezekiah’s bulla was created after the invasion of Assyria. Why would Hezekiah choose this design for his bulla? He wanted to memorialize this miraculous history. Miracles such as this truly shake the universe! I don’t know how anyone could not be deeply moved by this marvelous truth.
Isaiah’s Message for Today
I believe God also safeguarded and preserved for us the seal of Isaiah. It truly is remarkable that these tiny, fragile artifacts survived for some 2,700 years!
The Prophet Isaiah is one of the Bible’s greatest prophets. Isaiah had a powerful warning for Judah in his book. But he did not write that message for his day. God instructed him, “Now go, write it before them on a tablet, And inscribe it in a book, That it may be for the time to come For ever and ever” (Isaiah 30:8). This verse is referring to the latter days—the age leading into the Messiah’s coming. Many other scriptures show that this is the time we live in today!
In his book, Isaiah took pains to record the entire history of Hezekiah, which is also recorded in 2 Kings. Why would he do that? It is because that history is prophetic—it is relevant for our time! We are living in the latter days. God wants us to go back to that example and learn some of the greatest lessons in the Bible.
The world is growing very dangerous. Whether or not people realize it, threats like powerful foreign armies are rising. The example of Hezekiah and Isaiah working together shows how such threats can be overcome! This combination is one of the Bible’s most powerful examples of a king working with a prophet. They give us an astounding example of the kind of miracles that can come from such a partnership!
The book of Isaiah contains some of the Bible’s most inspiring prophecies. For example, God says in Isaiah 51:16, “And I have put My words in thy mouth, And have covered thee in the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, And lay the foundations of the earth, And say unto Zion: ‘Thou art my people.’”
What does God mean when He says He will “plant the heavens”? Many verses show that He is going to beautify the whole universe! He will cause the Earth to blossom like a rose, and then He will expand that beauty out into the cosmos! Isaiah 9:7 says that “of the increase of [God’s] government and peace there shall be no end”—forever! (King James Version).
God is planning for that future right now. You can be a part of it.
When you think deeply on these facts, it becomes clear why God wants to keep the vision of Hezekiah and Isaiah alive. Let the stones of Hezekiah and Isaiah speak. The history they represent is awe-inspiring if we truly believe it. Those stones have a thundering voice of hope for any age—but especially for the time we live in today!