Obama, the Iran Deal, and King Hezekiah

One of the few good kings of the Biblical age was Hezekiah, who was unique in his devotion to righteousness, “so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those that were before him.” (2 Kings 18:5). But Hezekiah made the crucial error that would lead to the fall of the kingdom, and the Holy Temple, generations later. It is a mistake relevant to understanding the deal with Iran today.

Hezekiah survived two miracles–one political, one personal. First, the mighty Assyrian army that had defeated and carried away the neighboring kingdom of Israel to captivity was stopped at the gates of Jerusalem, miraculously. Second, Hezekiah himself suffered a deadly illness and was granted an additional fifteen years of life. In both cases his prayers and his faith in God were the cause for his reprieve from destruction. 

In the aftermath, the king of Babylon–then a minor power–sends a messenger with a gift for Hezekiah, a gesture of goodwill after his recovery. In return, Hezekiah gives the messenger the grand tour of Jerusalem, including all the treasures of his house and the Temple. The messenger leaves, and the prophet Isaiah arrives, rebuking Hezekiah for his pride: having shown Babylon the treasure, they are certain, one day, to invade.

Hezekiah realizes his mistake–an intelligence failure of the highest order. But he notes that Babylon’s invasion is not happening any time soon, and that his relationship with the foreign kingdom has at least preserved peace for the present. “Is it not good,” he asks Isaiah, “if there is peace and truth in my days?” (2 Kings 20:19) And that is the last act recorded for the great King Hezekiah, whose vision extended only to his own reign.

Obama is no King Hezekiah–but granting the imprecision of the analogy, the message is still relevant. The Iran deal in Geneva will likely forestall any conflict for the next few years. International nuclear inspectors will check Iran’s facilities. There will be disputes about whether they have seen everything, or whether Iran has complied with the deal. Meanwhile, Iran will retain its nuclear enrichment capacity, just short of weaponization.

There may be peace in Obama’s term. But there will not be peace forever, because the Iranian regime has broader ambitions, including destroying Israel, and is already at war in Syria and elsewhere. War has been deferred. But the underlying problem–the Iranian regime–is still there, and Obama’s weakened version of “containment” does not include regime change. Peace in his days may mean far greater war for his successors.