There are several women in Scripture for whom my heart absolutely aches. Leah, because her husband Jacob openly loved his other wife, Rachel, more. Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose joy of birth and early motherhood gave way to letting go of the unpredictable and divine Son she watched die on the Cross.
And then there is Hephzibah. She was wife of Hezekiah, the most righteous king of Judah and mother of Manasseh, the most wicked king of Judah. Oh, how her heart must have broken, watching her son destroy every righteous reform Hezekiah had made during his reign—after his father (King Ahaz) had nearly destroyed Judah with idolatry.
Truth, Fact, and Fiction
As with every story I write, there are certain Jewish traditions I rely on to fill in details of stories that aren’t included in our biblical text. Many of the stories come from Jewish Midrash, oral histories passed down for centuries, which are fascinating reading but not inerrant as is the cannon of Scripture. Hephzibah’s identity is mentioned in the Bible only once:
“Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. His mother’s name was Hephzibah.” 2 Kings 21:1–2
The name Hephzibah is used a second time in Isaiah’s prophecy to describe the restored Jerusalem. As a young believer, I remember thinking this odd. So I looked up what the name “Hephzibah” meant. I was both intrigued and amazed to discover it meant, delight of the Lord. What kind of woman would merit such a name? What qualities did she possess? Was she someone special to Isaiah? Someone special to God? In that moment, I decided I wanted to be a Hephzibah—a delight to my God.
Many years later I discovered, in the centuries-old Jewish stories, that the prophet Isaiah was Hephzibah’s father. How precious that he had spoken of his daughter with the same tenderness and joy that Yahweh felt for Jerusalem after its perfect and complete restoration.
A Father & His Daughter
My dad always adored my sister and me. My sister was his firstborn and the apple of his eye. I was his baby girl, and even until his last breath, I lit up his face when I walked into the room. Dad loved my brother dearly, of course, but it was different with us girls. He was our provider and protector until he gave us to our husbands—exactly as Isaiah speaks of his daughter and as God spoke of Jerusalem in the prophecy . . .
“No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married.” Isaiah 62:4
When I read and pondered this passage, I felt that Hephzibah’s early years in the story needed to be more than just a troubled teen in a prophet’s home. Deserted and Desolate imply some pretty hard circumstances, which is why the fiction portion of my story includes Isaiah’s adoption of the orphan girl named Ishma (which in Hebrew means, Desolation).
Who Gives This Woman?
Did Isaiah believe Hezekiah was the Messiah of his prophecies? Here’s an even more interesting thought: Did he think he was offering his daughter to marry the Messiah? It becomes evident, later in Isaiah’s prophecies, that he realizes Hezekiah is not the Messiah of his prophecies. What then?
Has something similar ever happened to you with a family member or friend? What happens when the person you once thought so noble or righteous falls off the pedestal you placed them on? Who gets hurt—you or them? Both?
Questions for Eternity
Hephzibah was a real woman, and I certainly have lots of questions I’d like to ask when I finally meet her in eternity. My guess is I’ll forget every question for Hephzibah when I stand in awe of the One who delights in her. May our prayers be that He delights in us. May His grace be sufficient to cover all we don’t know, all we think we know, and all we wish we knew.
- Stories from Jewish Midrash, oral histories passed down for centuries, are fascinating but not inerrant as is the Bible.
- Isaiah spoke of his daughter with the same tenderness and joy Yahweh felt for Jerusalem after its restoration.
- May God’s grace be sufficient to cover all we don’t know, all we think we know, and all we wish we knew.
- If you could ask Hephzibah, Hezekiah, or Isaiah any question at all, what would it be?