Today's Watchtower lesson touched on the history of Hezekiah's reign, and then made a surprising modern-day application. Having used my time before the meeting to research the underlying material instead of highlighting my magazine, I personally found this to be an upsetting study, and decided to put this warning here in the hopes that some active Witnesses read it.
The most important thing I want to say to you is that the actual flow of events in this Bible account were severely misrepresented, and that there are some disturbing implications in the distortions that were made. Here is the uncensored timeline of Hezekiah's rule, as found in the Bible:
1. Hezekiah's father Ahaz makes himself a vassal to Assyria out of fear of their overwhelming might (2 Kings 16:7, 8).
2. Upon becoming king, Hezekiah rebels against Assyria (2 Kings 18:7). Being that they are a vassal state left to rule themselves, the only conceivable way to rebel is to stop paying tribute.
3. It is at this point that the Assyrians attack (2 Kings 18:13)... because they were provoked by Hezekiah. The WT article omits this.
4. In the face of the attack, Hezekiah takes many logical steps to defend the kingdom and the city, as discussed in the Watchtower (2 Chron. 32:2-5).
5. Hezekiah then begs for forgiveness from Assyria, and is fined a certain amount of gold and silver. To make the payment, he gives all of the silver in the temple to Sennacherib, as well as lots of gold. Where does he get the gold? By stripping it off the posts at the entrance to the temple! (2 Kings 18:14-16) The WT totally omits this passage from its summary and cited scriptures.
6. Apparently unsatisfied, the three Assyrian representatives mentioned in the WT article approach Jerusalem and threaten to conquer the city and deport its people (2 Kings 18:17-35). They also warn Hezekiah that they cannot depend on Egypt. Wait a minute! I thought Hezekiah would never make an alliance with a foreign nation?! But in 2 Kings 18:21, the Rabshakeh says that they have "put their trust" in an alliance with the Pharaoh. The Society directly contradicts this with paragraph 10, where they assure us that Hezekiah would not "desperately enlist the help of a pagan nation, as his apostate father, Ahaz, had done". This statement about Hezekiah's character is never made in the Bible, because the Bible writers knew better!
7. The Rabshakeh learns that his king has gotten into a skirmish with Ethiopia, and quickly returns to aid him. He sends threatening letters to Hezekiah to remind him that they haven't forgotten about him. (2 Kings 19:8-13)
8. Hezekiah prays to God for help and Isaiah tells him that the Assyrians will not take Jerusalem. (2 Kings 19:14-33)
9. The angel of God strikes down 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp (or, in 2 Chronicles, 'effaces all the mighty men') and they flee back home. (2 Kings 19:35, 36; 2 Chron. 32:21-22)
10. Hezekiah gets sick, but recovers after praying to God. (2 Kings 20:1-11)
11. Hezekiah gets a visit from a Babylonian envoy who congratulates him on his recovery, and in exchange he gives a boastful tour of his riches to the envoy. These riches include lots of gold and silver stored in Hezekiah's "treasure-house." (2 Kings 20:13)
12. Isaiah tells Hezekiah that this foolish act will result in the Babylonians eventually taking all the wealth of Judah as well as enslaving some of his own descendants. Hezekiah is okay with this, as long as it doesn't happen in his lifetime. (2 Kings 20:19) He eventually dies and is buried.
Let's review: was Hezekiah a good king or a bad one? First, he antagonizes a much stronger nation, losing 46 cities in the process. Next, he pays Sennacherib to leave him alone by pillaging God's house of everything shiny, while apparently leaving his own treasure-house alone. He then attempts to ally with Egypt against Assyria. In case you think Rabshakeh was lying (though nothing in that passage contests his claim), I point you to the entirety of Isaiah chapters 30 and 31, which reprimand an unnamed king for going to Egypt for help. Isaiah was contemporary with Ahaz and Hezekiah, and Ahaz is recorded as doing many bad things, but asking for help from Egypt is not one of them. Scholars almost unanimously agree that Isaiah must be referring to Hezekiah (e.g., see the commentaries here).
To get back to the WT article studied today, it's clear that the Society lied about Hezekiah not making an alliance with a foreign nation, and omitted other important facts that would work against the message they were trying to strain out of the Bible account. They have to whitewash the two-faced king's story because they are claiming to be the modern-day Hezekiah (yes, they didn't say this directly, but who else gives orders to the modern-day princes, or elders?). They also seem confident that Witnesses will not read the whole account for themselves, only the cited scriptures in the article.
The Society confidently asserts that, according to Micah's prophecy, there will be a future attack by "the Assyrian", and he will be resisted by the "eight dukes". However, the article acknowledges the fact that Micah was a contemporary of Hezekiah and that this prophecy was intended to reassure the king in the same way that Isaiah reassured him. The dukes that Micah mentions were simply Hezekiah's princes, and are now translated as such in the Revised NWT. The Society gives no reason why "the attack of the Assyrian" will have a second, future fulfillment, but by comparing it to the attack of the king of the north and Gog of Magog, they instill fear in the reader.
The Society then makes a second leap of logic in paragraph 17, the alarming climax to the article: "At that time, the lifesaving direction that we receive from Jehovah’s organization may not appear practical from a human standpoint. All of us must be ready to obey any instructions we may receive, whether these appear sound from a strategic or human standpoint or not". The problem here is that Hezekiah's defenders were given very logical instructions, rather than ones that did "not appear practical"! Ask yourself: can I really trust seemingly-illogical instructions from the organization if I cannot trust them to summarize a simple Bible account clearly and honestly? If the Society claimed to be a prophet, we could evaluate them by the success of their past prophecies (Deut. 18:20-22).
However, we do not need to judge the Society by their predictions, because, as the Society wrote in the Jeremiah book: "God's people today are not prophets. We are not inspired to add to Jehovah's infallible words of truth found in the Bible. Still, we have been commissioned to preach the good news of the Bible" (God's Word For Us Through Jeremiah, p. 167). Therefore, how should we respond to articles like this, which seem to be tenuously reinterpreting scripture to arrive at strange conclusions?
If we see inaccuracies and omissions from the source material, we should not accept any conclusions derived from the incomplete information. Since the Society is not claiming to be a prophet, has not demonstrated any miraculous powers like the men of God in the Bible, and cannot add to what is found in the Bible, there is no reason to fear that God would punish you for not following a message that does not make sense to you.
To ignore the alarm bells that this duplicitous article should ring in your head means that you will be personally responsible if harm is done to yourself or someone else by following future instructions from the organization without question. Please, for your own sake, and for any family that you have, keep your wits about you and do not be scared by a frightening doomsday message into following men blindly. That's not to say that we shouldn't be afraid of anything; for instance, what if the Society really were a modern-day version of the real Hezekiah!?
In closing, keep in mind the Biblical accounts about courageous men who went against the tide, even within God's nation Israel, like the two faithful spies who dared to disagree with the ten. And remember that even leaders in Israel made many mistakes and gave bad orders. Would you have helped David take the forbidden census just because he was king? Please, apply the good advice offered by the literature and leave the bad advice on the printed page. Be prepared to make a stand regardless of how others react. It could be that, if you speak your mind at a crucial moment, others will be emboldened to follow your lead and make a stand as well.