Abi (Hebrew: אבי, ʼAḇī; "Name means::my Father") or Abijah (Hebrew: אביה, ʼAḇiyāh; "Name means::my Father is YHWH") was the mother of King Hezekiah of the Kingdom of Judah. Her father was the high priest Zechariah II.
The simple arithmetic of the regnal and accession dates of Kings Jotham and Ahaz indicate that King Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah, was not more than eleven years old at the time that he became a father. Abi's age is not given in the two surviving accounts.2_Kings 18:2-3 2_Chronicles 29:1-2
Child marriage appears to have been a common custom in the neighboring countries of that era. Often a crown prince would be given a wife by arranged marriage at an extremely young age. The youngest known example, Pharaoh Tutankamon of Egypt, being nine years old. In these cases the wife was usually a few years older than the king and from a noble family. The apparent purpose of these child weddings was to produce a firstborn heir from a noble mother before the young prince started collecting a harem of less noble women.
The Bible gives few clues to the circumstances of the child marriage between Abi and Ahaz. However, careful study of the careers and the succession of the kings and high priests of Judah reveal the following facts:
- King Jotham became pro-rex at the age of fifteen, and from a most shocking cause: his father Uzziah was stricken by leprosy when he attempted to perform a Temple rite that only a priest was allowed to perform.
- Zechariah II, Abi's father, was almost certainly present at the event, since he was an adult Levite and had probably been invested as a priest by his father, Azariah II, a few years before this event. When Azariah confronted Uzziah, he had eighty priests to back him up. Surely his own son would have been one of them.
- Zechariah II succeeded his father as high priest on or shortly after the death of Uzziah. Jotham had probably been serving as pro-rex for ten years.
Thus Zechariah and Jotham probably came to know one another well before each man succeeded to the responsibility to which he had been born. That their children might come to know one another equally well is only logical to suppose.
In addition, the House of David had two prior marital connections with the house of Aaron. The marriage of Abi and Ahaz would be the third. Jotham earned a reputation for doing right in the sight of God and perhaps wanted the same kind of noble match for his son that his father Uzziah had made for himself: marriage to the daughter of the then-incumbent high priest.
Jotham probably proposed the match, and Zechariah consented to it. Perhaps Jotham, still reeling from the traumatic events of the last sixteen years (ten years as pro-rex and then six years as king), desired the security of knowing that his royal line would continue. Why Zechariah would agree to ask a thirteen-year-old girl to marry a ten- or eleven-year-old boy is difficult to determine. And perhaps neither Jotham nor Zechariah expected the marriage to produce a child so soon after its solemnization—but that, according to the available chronological data, is exactly what happened.
|Jotham||daughter of::Zechariah II|
|Hephzibah||mother of::Hezekiah||Azariah III|
Raising a king
The Bible is silent on the circumstances under which the young Hezekiah was reared. But it does offer these salient clues:
- Ahaz did evil in the sight of God and closed the Temple.
- Hezekiah did right in the sight of God, and indeed became the Kingdom of Judah's most renowned reformer.
- Ahaz sacrificed one of his sons to pagan gods (probably Molech or Baal Melquart).
The above facts suggest that Hezekiah was greatly influenced by his mother and his grandfather Zechariah, the high priest, and may have been placed in his charge while Zechariah was still alive. Nor would this be the first time that a priest or Levite took personal charge of the upbringing of a king, for Zechariah's ancestor Jehoiada had done the same for King Joash.
Zechariah would live until Hezekiah was nine years old. When he died, Ahaz became king and instituted the wicked policies that the Bible describes. So Abi remained solely responsible for bringing up Hezekiah in a godly manner for at least the next eleven years, at which time Hezekiah became an adult. That he became one of the two greatest reformers of the Kingdom of Judah, and probably had a deep and abiding friendship with his cousin Azariah III, who became high priest in or perhaps before the year of his accession, is probably more to the credit of Abi than to any other person.