Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 21 June 2015
For more sermons and other writings, please check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org
Leaving a Legacy
[The main account of Hezekiah’s reign is found in 2 Kings 18–20, Isaiah 36–39,
and 2 Chronicles 29–32 of the Hebrew Bible.]
At the age of 25, Hezekiah became king over Judah – the southern part of Israel which included the capital of Jerusalem. He was amazing. When God chose David as king centuries earlier, he declared that David was “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22) but Hezekiah – David’s descendant – matched him in piety and faithfulness.
2 Kings 18:2-7: He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years … He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done …
Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook …
Hezekiah received high praise. The Bible remembers him, saying: “There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him” – and his record as ruler is truly impressive.
Hezekiah was a man that was faithful to the end – trusting the Lord all the days of his life, holding fast to him, keeping his commandments – and his faith as the rightful king of his people brought revival to the whole nation. There was a complete turnaround of the nation’s worship and values. The people came back to God.
2 Kings 18:4: He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)
2 Chronicles 29:3-11: In the first month of the first year of his reign, he opened the doors of the temple of the Lord and repaired them. He brought in the priests and the Levites, assembled them in the square on the east side and said: “Listen to me, Levites! Consecrate yourselves now and consecrate the temple of the Lord, the God of your ancestors. Remove all defilement from the sanctuary. Our parents were unfaithful; they did evil in the eyes of the Lord our God and forsook him. They turned their faces away from the Lord’s dwelling place and turned their backs on him. They also shut the doors of the portico and put out the lamps. They did not burn incense or present any burnt offerings at the sanctuary to the God of Israel. Therefore, the anger of the Lord has fallen on Judah and Jerusalem; he has made them an object of dread and horror and scorn, as you can see with your own eyes. This is why our fathers have fallen by the sword and why our sons and daughters and our wives are in captivity. Now I intend to make a covenant with the Lord, the God of Israel, so that his fierce anger will turn away from us. My sons, do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before him and serve him, to minister before him and to burn incense.”
2 Chronicles 29:29-31: When the offerings were finished, the king and everyone present with him knelt down and worshiped. King Hezekiah and his officials ordered the Levites to praise the Lord with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness and bowed down and worshiped.
Then Hezekiah said, “You have now dedicated yourselves to the Lord. Come and bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the temple of the Lord.” So the assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings, and all whose hearts were willing brought burnt offerings [six hundred bulls, three thousand sheep and goats].
2 Chronicles 29:35-36: … So the service of the temple of the Lord was reestablished. Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people, because it was done so quickly.
2 Chronicles 30:1: Hezekiah sent word to all Israel and Judah and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, inviting them to come to the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the Lord, the God of Israel. / 2 Chronicles 30:13: A very large crowd of people assembled in Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread in the second month. / 2 Chronicles 30:23-27: The whole assembly then agreed to celebrate the festival seven more days; so for another seven days they celebrated joyfully. Hezekiah king of Judah provided a thousand bulls and seven thousand sheep and goats for the assembly, and the officials provided them with a thousand bulls and ten thousand sheep and goats. A great number of priests consecrated themselves. The entire assembly of Judah rejoiced, along with the priests and Levites and all who had assembled from Israel, including the foreigners who had come from Israel and also those who resided in Judah. There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling place. / 2 Chronicles 31:1: When all this had ended, the Israelites who were there went out to the towns of Judah, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. They destroyed the high places and the altars throughout Judah and Benjamin and in Ephraim and Manasseh. After they had destroyed all of them, the Israelites returned to their own towns and to their own property.
As Hezekiah was faithful to God and sought him first, God in turn blessed him and made him prosper:
2 Chronicles 31:21: In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.
2 Chronicles 32:27-30: Hezekiah had very great wealth and honour, and he made treasuries for his silver and gold and for his precious stones, spices, shields and all kinds of valuables. He also made buildings to store the harvest of grain, new wine and olive oil; and he made stalls for various kinds of cattle, and pens for the flocks. He built villages and acquired great numbers of flocks and herds, for God had given him very great riches.
It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channeled the water down to the west side of the City of David. He succeeded in everything he undertook.
2 Kings 18:5-7: Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook …
2 Kings 18:8: From watchtower to fortified city, he defeated the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory.
Faithful, becoming rich and victorious over his enemies – Hezekiah was a great king – with a great track record over many years of his reign. He had changed his nation. People went to church on Sundays and the economy was good.
But then trouble came.
2 Kings 18:9-13: In King Hezekiah’s fourth year, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Shalmaneser king of Assyria marched against Samaria and laid siege to it. At the end of three years the Assyrians took it. So Samaria was captured in Hezekiah’s sixth year, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel. The king of Assyria deported Israel to Assyria and settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in towns of the Medes. This happened because they had not obeyed the Lord their God, but had violated his covenant—all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded. They neither listened to the commands nor carried them out.
In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them.
2 Chronicles 32:1-3: After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself. When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and that he intended to wage war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his officials and military staff …
Even great kings have their trouble – as do the servants of God even now – and – despite some early losses – we face whatever is troublesome with God on our side. The covenant with God is not in vain.
Sennacherib, king of Assyria, sent letters and officers to Jerusalem to threaten the nation and insult the Lord, their God:
2 Chronicles 32:10-19: “This is what Sennacherib king of Assyria says: On what are you basing your confidence, that you remain in Jerusalem under siege? When Hezekiah says, ‘The Lord our God will save us from the hand of the king of Assyria,’ he is misleading you, to let you die of hunger and thirst. Did not Hezekiah himself remove this god’s high places and altars, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You must worship before one altar and burn sacrifices on it’?
Do you not know what I and my predecessors have done to all the peoples of the other lands? Were the gods of those nations ever able to deliver their land from my hand? Who of all the gods of these nations that my predecessors destroyed has been able to save his people from me? How then can your god deliver you from my hand? Now do not let Hezekiah deceive you and mislead you like this. Do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or the hand of my predecessors. How much less will your god deliver you from my hand!”
Sennacherib’s officers spoke further against the Lord God and against his servant Hezekiah. The king also wrote letters ridiculing the Lord, the God of Israel, and saying this against him: “Just as the gods of the peoples of the other lands did not rescue their people from my hand, so the god of Hezekiah will not rescue his people from my hand.” Then they called out in Hebrew to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to terrify them and make them afraid in order to capture the city. They spoke about the God of Jerusalem as they did about the gods of the other peoples of the world—the work of human hands.
In distress, Hezekiah did what is always the best response in any crisis. He cried out to God: “Help!” Hezekiah knew that he had nothing to repel the armies of Sennacherib except his faith and trust in God. He humbled himself and “tore his [expensive] clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord” (2 Kings 19:1). He asked the prophet Isaiah to pray for the remnant of the people and there are tell-tale signs that his confidence was shaken. Maybe God was no longer listening to him but he was still Isaiah’s God and maybe would listen to his prayers – more than his own:
2 Kings 19:4: It may be that the Lord your God will hear all the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the Lord your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives.
Isaiah prayed and came back with a positive answer and God specifically responded to the words of blasphemy against him:
2 Kings 19:6: Isaiah said to them, “Tell your master, ‘This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard—those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me.’”
Sennacherib attacked a king and his nation at the height of their faithfulness to God. This was revival time and it is dangerous to attack a people where God is allowed to do a mighty work of reform, where people pursue and embrace a growing relationship with him in all of his power. God is not to be mocked especially not on holy ground among a holy people:
“The Autobiography of Charles Finney”, condensed & edited by Helen Wessel, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers 1977, p118-119: But in this revival, as in others that I have seen, God did some terrible things in righteousness. On one Sabbath whilst I was there, as we came out of the pulpit and were about to leave the church, a man came in haste to Mr. Gillett and myself and requested us to go to a certain place, saying that a man had fallen down dead there. I was engaged in conversing with somebody, and Mr. Gillett went alone. When I was through with the conversation I went to Mr. Gillett's house, and he soon returned and related this fact. Three men who had been opposing the work had met that Sabbath day and spent the day in drinking and ridiculing the work. They went on in this way until one of them suddenly fell down dead. When Mr. Gillett arrived at the house and the circumstances were related to him he said, “There! There is no doubt but that man had been stricken down by God, and has been sent to hell.” His companions were speechless. They could say nothing, for it was evident to them that their conduct had brought upon him this awful stroke of divine indignation.
“The Autobiography of Charles Finney”, condensed & edited by Helen Wessel, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers 1977, p123-124: One circumstance occurred in the midst of that revival that made a powerful impression. The Oneida Presbytery met there while the revival was going on in its full strength. Among others there was an aged clergyman by the name of Southard, I believe, a stranger to me. He was very much annoyed by the heat and fervour of the revival. He found the public mind all absorbed on the subject of religion; that there was prayer and religious conversation everywhere, even in the stores and other public places.
Mr. Southard had never seen a revival, and had never heard what he heard there. He was a Scotchman, and I believe had not been very long in this country. On Friday afternoon, before the presbytery adjourned, he arose and made a violent speech against the revival as it was going on. What he said greatly shocked and grieved the Christian people who were present. They felt like falling on their faces before God, and crying to Him to prevent what Southard had said from doing any mischief.
The presbytery adjourned just at evening. Some of the members went home and others remained over night. Christians gave themselves to prayer. There was a great crying to God that night that He would counteract any evil influence that might result from that speech which had been made by Mr. Southard.
The next morning Mr. Southard was found dead in his bed. This again produced a great shock, but on the right side. It more than counteracted all the influence which Mr. Southard's speech had had in the presbytery. In the course of these revivals persons from a distance, in almost every direction hearing what the Lord was doing, or being attracted by curiosity and wonder at what they heard, came to witness what was doing, and many of them were converted to Christ.
Maria Woodworth-Etter: Signs and Wonders, New Kensington: Whitaker House 1997, p52-53: A merchant fell in a trance in his home, and lay several hours. Hundreds went to look at him. He had a vision, and a message for the church. The Lord showed Him the condition of many of the members. He told part of his vision, but refused to deliver the message to the church. He was struck dumb. He could not speak a word because he refused to tell what the Lord wanted him to.
The Lord showed him he would never speak till he delivered the message. He rose to his feet, weeping, to tell the vision. God loosed his tongue. Those present knew that he had been dumb, and, when he began to talk and tell his experience, it had a wonderful effect on the church and sinners.
One night there was a party seventeen miles from the city. Some of the young ladies thought they would have some fun; they began to mimic and act out the trance. The Lord struck some of them down. They lay there as if they had been shot. Their fun meeting was soon turned to a prayer meeting, and cries for mercy were heard.
The people came to the meetings in sleigh loads many miles. One night, while a sleigh load of men and women were going to the meeting they were jesting about the trances. They made the remark to each other that they were going in a trance that night. Before the meeting closed, all who had been making fun were struck down by the power of God, and lay like dead people, and had to be taken home in the sled in that condition.
Those who came with them were very much frightened when they saw them lying there, and they told how they had been making fun of the power of God on the way to the meeting. Scoffers and mockers were stricken down in all parts of the house.
One man was mocking a woman of whose body God had taken control. She was preaching with gestures. When in that mocking attitude God struck him dumb. He became rigid and remained with his hands up and his mouth drawn in that mocking way for five hours, a gazing stock for all the house. The fear of God fell on all.
They saw it was a fearful thing to mock God or make fun of His work; surely the Lord worked in a wonderful way in this meeting. The postmaster was converted. All classes, from the roughs and toughs to the tallest cedars and the brightest talents of the city, were brought into the fold of Christ.
Sennacherib keep threatening Hezekiah but God delivered him and the entire nation and he also assured him that his own prayers (as the appointed king and being responsible for the nation) – (not just relying on Isaiah) – were acceptable (despite his distressed feelings and circumstances).
2 Kings 19:9-37: Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the king of Cush, was marching out to fight against him. So he again sent messengers to Hezekiah with this word: “Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria.’ Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my predecessors deliver them—the gods of Gozan, Harran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar? Where is the king of Hamath or the king of Arpad? Where are the kings of Lair, Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah?”
Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: “Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.
It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”
Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I have heard your prayer concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria. This is the word that the Lord has spoken against him:
‘Virgin Daughter Zion despises you and mocks you. Daughter Jerusalem tosses her head as you flee. Who is it you have ridiculed and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride? Against the Holy One of Israel! By your messengers you have ridiculed the Lord.
And you have said: With my many chariots I have ascended the heights of the mountains,
the utmost heights of Lebanon. I have cut down its tallest cedars, the choicest of its junipers.
I have reached its remotest parts, the finest of its forests. I have dug wells in foreign lands and drunk the water there. With the soles of my feet I have dried up all the streams of Egypt.
Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone. Their people, drained of power, are dismayed and put to shame. They are like plants in the field, like tender green shoots, like grass sprouting on the roof, scorched before it grows up.
But I know where you are and when you come and go and how you rage against me. Because you rage against me and because your insolence has reached my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came.’
This will be the sign for you, Hezekiah: This year you will eat what grows by itself, and the second year what springs from that. But in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit. Once more a remnant of the kingdom of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
Therefore this is
what the Lord says concerning the king of Assyria: He will not enter this city
or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the Lord. I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.”
That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.
One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king.
185,000 enemies slain by the angel of God. Victory! Deliverance! Going from fear and despair to mocking Sennacherib, powerful king of Assyria – “Virgin Daughter Zion despises you and mocks you. Daughter Jerusalem tosses her head as you flee.” Juda, a military minion, beats Assyria, the undisputed world power. Not bad! Praise God! Everything is as it should be. Love God and life is going to work out.
Yet, this side of eternity, struggles remain and sometimes there seem to be constant struggles – one after the other – even or especially for God’s people in their conflict with a fallen world. Life is hardly ever carefree – (until life with God in eternity). If it’s not Assyria and the threat of war, it’s thunder storms or crop failure or sickness and, in Hezekiah’s case, it was sickness:
2 Kings 20:1: In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
This is interesting. Hezekiah had not set a foot wrong. “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done … Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.” Yet, he became sick at the age of thirty-seven and it was God who had determined that he would die because he had lived his appointed life span. Long life is a blessing but not every faithful servant of God gets blessed with a long life. (And some of us are not even that keen to stay on earth forever when eternity beckons.)
When God tells you at age thirty-seven that your time is up – after you have led a national revival and reformation and led through the Assyrian crisis – what is this telling you? Your accomplishments – which are God’s accomplishments because it is he who is working through you – your accomplishments were not about you but the nation that you have served as king – (in your position of service). You have done a job and it is okay that you do not enjoy much of the fruit of your labour because God made you to serve others – a nation even. It’s not about you.
However, Hezekiah did not see it this way. When your own body hurts and your own life is ebbing away, the crisis is as personal as it can get and – with the survival instinct kicking in – it is suddenly very much about you. Will I live? What about me?
Hezekiah lost some of his stature – began to sulk (lying in bed and turning his face to the walleHe
) and his prayers were no longer so much concerned about the honour and glory of God (he did not appeal to God’s mercy) but he began to argue with God based on his own track-record of which he was proud (and this is not as healthy as humility before God):
2 Kings 20:2-3: Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
And God, after rescuing Judah from Assyria, listened again to Hezekiah’s prayers, promised him another fifteen years of life and performed a stunning miraculous sign to prove to him that his prayers had been heard and answered:
2 Kings 20:4-11: Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’”
Then Isaiah said, “Prepare a poultice of figs.” They did so and applied it to the boil, and he recovered.
Hezekiah had asked Isaiah, “What will be the sign that the Lord will heal me and that I will go up to the temple of the Lord on the third day from now?”
Isaiah answered, “This is the Lord’s sign to you that the Lord will do what he has promised: Shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or shall it go back ten steps?”
“It is a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps,” said Hezekiah. “Rather, have it go back ten steps.”
Then the prophet Isaiah called on the Lord, and the Lord made the shadow go back the ten steps it had gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.
How anxious Hezekiah must have been about his own life that he asked for the maximum miracle sign (to have the shadow move back ten steps rather than forward) even though God had promised to heal him in three days which was not a long waiting period. He had no longer even prayed about the lingering Assyrian issue but, along with his health, God promised him anyway that the capital Jerusalem would be delivered for his own sake and the sake of his servant David (rather than Hezekiah’s good track record).
God was good. Health returned and everything was fine. Hezekiah had weathered the emotional turmoil of the Assyrian threat. He had survived his sickbed and his tears had dried up. He had come out of his troubles but – just as he began to relax – in the moment and season of triumph – God addressed something in his heart. [Don’t relax too soon.]
The Bible says:
2 Chronicles 32:31: But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.
2 Kings 20:12-21: At that time Marduk-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, because he had heard of Hezekiah’s illness. Hezekiah received the envoys and showed them all that was in his storehouses—the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine olive oil—his armoury and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.
Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, “What did those men say, and where did they come from?”
“From a distant land,” Hezekiah replied. “They came from Babylon.”
The prophet asked, “What did they see in your palace?”
“They saw everything in my palace,” Hezekiah said. “There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.”
Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
“The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?”
As for the other events of Hezekiah’s reign, all his achievements and how he made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah? Hezekiah rested with his ancestors. And Manasseh his son succeeded him as king.
Did Hezekiah know that he was going to be tested? [Do we know the times when God is going to test us? What are the more difficult tests – when we are suffering or when we are doing well? Why?] How did Hezekiah go? What do you think were his test results?
What did he do? The king of Babylon, the mighty ruler of another world power, took notice of “little” Hezekiah in “tiny” Judah, sent him letters and a gift which were delivered to him personally by envoys. Finally – after all the pressure and attacks – some recognition and honour from royal peers and Hezekiah fully bought into the value system of the kings of the world. He showed off all of his possessions – all of them – the storehouses with their silver, gold, spices and fine oil, the armoury. He left nothing out and was proud of all of his riches – the measure of success in the eyes of Babylon and all the other kingdoms around him.
I can understand that Hezekiah probably felt a need for recognition from his royal peers – finally – but how sad is his behaviour? How about “showing off” God – especially when the envoys asked about the miraculous signs which God had performed:
2 Chronicles 32:31: But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land …
Hezekiah had the perfect opening and could have testified to God’s grace (loving kindness) and glorified God in everything that had happened in his reign. The envoys were interested in God. Yet, Hezekiah only talked about riches in storehouses – riches which he was only to enjoy another fifteen years.
What would come out if God was testing your heart? After weathering one storm after another, have you become weary and has the focus begun to shift to yourself – a few more good years and finally some recognition from the world? After all the good that you have done, is it finally about you?
The consequences of Hezekiah’s attitude were terrible to the extreme. God, through the prophet Isaiah, did not outrightly scold Hezekiah but simply announced the consequences of his actions:
2 Kings 20:16-18: Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
God can build a nation, a church, a family over the years and within a generation tear it all down again. When his blessings become our own little empires, he does not worry about reducing riches to rubble (while our hearts break as we consider the sacrifices and fund raising).
Why were the consequences of Hezekiah’s actions so extreme? After all, Hezekiah is not the only leader that succumbs to the temptation of showing off his stuff. What if every Christian receives such extreme punishment for showing off a little – the car we drive, the trips overseas, what we put on Facebook? The problem of Hezekiah was the same as the problem of Sennacherib, the king of Assyria. This was revival time where God in all of his holiness dwelled among his people. The closer and more intimate you are with God – the more he gives you of himself – the more sin is a problem and invites consequences – Luke 12:48: “But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
In one of his books, John Bevere observed that when Eli was priest at God’s temple, his two sons practiced utter corruption. They demanded the meat of the sacrifice for themselves and “…slept with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting” (1 Sam. 2:22). Yet, God did not strike these two sons down immediately. In their case, judgment was not swift but delayed (see 1 Sam. 2:30-36).
However, when Aaron was priest at God’s altar, his two sons were killed immediately for making a mistake in the offering of a particular sacrifice:
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said: ‘Among those who approach me I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’”… (Leviticus 10:1-3).
Why did God kill Aaron’s sons immediately while He spared Eli’s sons for years and allowed their offenses to continue? John Bevere finds telling clues in the following Scripture verses:
…And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation. And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see, and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was… (1 Samuel 3:1-3 NKJV).
John Bevere writes [John Bevere, The Fear of the Lord (Lake Mary: Charisma House, 1997), 91-92]:
Note the following:
§ The word of the Lord was rare. God was not speaking as He had with Moses. Where His Word is rare, so is His presence.
§ There was no widespread revelation. Revelation is found in the presence of the Lord (Matt. 16:17). There was a limited knowledge of His ways due to the lack of His presence.
§ The eyes of the leadership were so darkened that they could not see.…
§ The lamp of God was going out.…
In the case of Aaron’s sons, the glory [of God] had just been revealed and was strong. Fire went out from the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. The presence and glory of God were very powerful. But Eli’s sons were shrouded in the darkness of almost-blind leadership and the darting shadows of a failing lamp.…There was only a trace of God’s presence remaining. His glory had already lifted. Instant judgment only comes in the presence of His glory. Therefore, their judgement was not immediate but delayed.
…The greater God’s revealed glory, the greater and swifter the judgment of irreverence!…The greater the intensity of light, the less chance darkness has to remain.
Comparing the fate of Eli’s sons with Aaron’s sons, John Bevere identified an important Bible principle. The more intense the presence and glory of God becomes, the greater and swifter is His judgment on sin. Eli’s sons sinned when the “word of the Lord was rare” and their judgment was delayed. But Aaron’s sons sinned when the glory and presence of God remained most intense in the place of worship. Therefore, they were struck down immediately because, to state the principle again, the more intense the presence of God becomes, the more immediate are the consequences of sin.
Another illustration of this principle is the story of Ananias and Sapphira, a couple among the first Christians in Jerusalem. They lied about their generosity and were struck dead immediately (see Acts 5:1-11). Oblivious to the danger, they lied in the midst of a fiery hot revival when even the shadow of the apostles seemed to heal people (see Acts 5:12-16). They chose to sin when the glory and presence of God was absolutely intense all around them.
This was, and always is, the wrong time. There are plenty of Christians today who are dishonest with money and they are not immediately struck down, even when they are dishonest in the church. But the more intense God’s presence becomes the swifter is His reaction and judgment of sin.
[Another dangerous time for sin is around the body and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. In Corinth, this led to premature death (see 1 Cor. 11:27-34). The closer we come to Jesus, the more sin is judged swiftly.]
God announced these terrible consequences and then came Hezekiah’s most disappointing behaviour. He said: “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good.” For he thought: “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?” Had not God proven to him that he listened to his prayers – even the imperfect ones? Had God not demonstrated that you can ask him to change his plans and does he not love to spare his people from judgement?
Jeremiah 18:7-10: If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.
Hezekiah prayed when it was about him – his sickness and his life – but now simply accepted the word of judgement – without the previous tearing of his clothes, without consulting the prophet Isaiah, without tears, without prayers and appeals to God’s character and mercy. He was happy that at least there would be peace and security in his lifetime.
That spoiled his legacy, at least in my eyes and probably your eyes. Isaiah announced that some of his own descendants (grand-children maybe) would be eunuchs in a foreign land and most men would prefer not to be eunuchs. Why not fight for your sons and daughters and their children? Why not fight for your nation? Why suddenly settle for such a small vision? For Hezekiah – after all the good that he had done – life became about him – peace and security in his lifetime. Maybe he had become battle weary but he had made the mistake. He had failed the test and what was in his heart was not so great. Maybe it would have been better for him if God had let him die at the appointed time rather than add another fifteen years which turned out to be so costly for the entire nation. Maybe God’s plan A had some wisdom.
Hezekiah’s son turned out to be a complete disaster:
2 Kings 21:1-6: Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem I will put my Name.” In the two courts of the temple of the Lord, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.
Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son and heir, was a complete disaster and more than undid all of his father’s reforms. But, without excusing him, was not Hezekiah also to blame? Why would a son not turn against his father when his father was happy to leave him a legacy of judgements – where there was not going to be an inheritance, neither any possessions nor land (the land would be ruled by a foreign power). If a father does not care and love his son or daughter – if he does not sacrifice for them and have their best interest at heart – is it any wonder when the children turn against everything that their parents stand for? [You may investigate King David’s dealings with his children and the consequences.] The generation, that suffered through two world wars and struggled, they saved and did everything that their children would have a better life than themselves. (This was also the ethos of the pioneers in Australia.) But there are a good number of baby boomers that don’t mind the slogan “I am spending my children’s inheritance” and there is plenty of merchandise to prove the point: Show PowerPoint slide. What impact will this have on the children and what kind of legacy will this leave?
Hezekiah’s life and reign – the whole revival, the breakthroughs in prayer, the miraculous salvation from the Assyrians – none of this was about him. He was king of a nation. But he failed the test towards the end.
How can you make sure that you will do better? This is difficult because we do become weary and feel like giving up – stepping out of the frying pan and live out our days peacefully (not worrying about more battles for the next generation). The most important key is to remain humble and be satisfied in God alone. You don’t need the recognition of the king of Babylon, neither his letters nor gifts nor envoys. You are satisfied with God’s recognition – that he listens to your prayers and has given you a place to serve. You are satisfied when God, whom you love, is glorified – which he is in a revival. You always put before yourself that it is not about you but him and the people whom he entrusts to you.
Jesus prayed on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34) and this is the legacy that empowers the next generations – Acts 7:60: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Romans 8:32: He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Will we fail? Yes – sometimes – but God’s mercy knows no bounds. He never forgot the good works which Hezekiah had done and he never failed to honour him for it. One mistake – or a number of mistakes – are not cancelling out our best moments in God. God’s standard of holiness is impossible tough. He is God but he remembers that we are human and honours what we give to him. In the estimate of the Bible, Hezekiah remained a great king: “There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.” God can be hard on you with swift judgement but this does not mean that he is not proud of you.
May you and I finish well. After revival and the reformation of many – after battling the Assyrians and maybe sickness – after seeing God perform many miracles – may we pass the test and leave a legacy of blessings to our sons and daughters. It is not about us. It has never been about us but God – his glory and honour – his love and serving the people that he loves. Hezekiah stopped praying to avert the crisis but we will not. Our children may build on what we leave them. I have no interest in spending their inheritance. You have no interest in spending their inheritance. May they thrive and go on strongly in God after we are gone. It’s not about us. Amen.