The accession of Hezekiah to the throne of Judah triggered one of the most radical reformations recorded in the Old Testament. Hezekiahs exercise saw the nations worship restored, delivered from darkness and idolatry.
Hezekiah faced formidable problems. The people worshipped in high places and groves, and had set up the brazen serpent as the object of idolatrous veneration (2 Kings 18.4). More poignantly, the doors of the Temple, which should have stood open for the worship of Gods people, were shut. Dust and dirt filled its holy compartments. The lamps had been extinguished and the altars, once occupied with sacrifices, stood empty and deserted.
These were days of dearth and departure. What about today? Are our lamps dim and our altars dusty through disuse? Is the energy that should be directed to the worship of our God being dissipated in the other places and pursuits? Do we, too, need a God-given deliverance of our worship from the bondage of barrenness?
When Hezekiah became king, urgent matters called for his attention. We might have expected that the refortification of Jerusalem (2 Chr 32) would have been at the top of the new kings to-do list.
For Hezekiah, however, true security and safety did not lie in walls or in feats of engineering. With spiritual discernment, he was able to identify the most pressing need. It was "in the first year of his reign, in the first month" (2 Chr 29.3) that he initiated his programme of reform.
We need to compare our priorities with Hezekiahs. We would all like to be stronger in testimony for God than we are. Worship is both the source and the measure of our strength. If we get it wrong, it really does not matter what else we get right. May God give us the understanding that Hezekiah had, and cause us to appreciate that it is a weakness in worship, above all else, that constrains our testimony and curtails our power.
Hezekiah had to address failure in the worship of the nation. In similar circumstances our impulse would be to innovate. The old pattern does not work, we would reason; we need something new. But Hezekiah was not tempted to implement a novel solution. He understood that the problems affecting worship did not stem from the pattern but from a failure to obey Gods word. This was a reformation and a revival Hezekiah went back to worship of "such sort as it was written" (30.5).
The restored worship took its pattern from divine revelation. It was from this source too that it drew its praise. "Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer" (29.30). The form and content of worship had already been provided; what was needed was not innovation or modification, but faithfulness to the word of God.
This lesson is vital for us. We will never encounter circumstances that justify abandoning the divine pattern. We live in days when a whole array of cacophonous expedients has displaced the simplicity of scriptural spiritual worship. It is easy for us to stray from Gods pattern. Whether that movement is sudden and startling or gradual and incremental makes no difference to its seriousness. In our collective worship we will never improve on the sacredness of the upper room, nor should we desire to. "When the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him" (Lk 22.14), and no innovation will ever compensate for His absence.
The deliverance of worship began with an exercise in the heart of King Hezekiah. It did not stop there, but spread in expanding ripples to touch many of Gods people. After the king, it touched the priests and the Levites. Hezekiah reminded them of their privilege and responsibility: "My sons, be not now negligent: for the Lord hath chosen you to stand before him, to serve him, and that ye should minister unto him, and burn incense" (29.11). It seems that they needed this reminder. They had lost sight of their remarkable calling to be worshippers of God. Only when they regained an appreciation of this were they ready to begin again the work of worship. We, too, have a high calling. From us, the Father seeks worship in spirit and in truth (Jn 4.24). If we only grasped the dignity and the privilege of this calling we would be ashamed to be found in dereliction of our duty of worship.
Revival had to spread further still. That it did so indicated clearly the divine source of this reformation: "And Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, that God had prepared the people: for the thing was done suddenly" (2 Chr 29.36). And there was no shortage of tangible evidence that the hearts of Gods people had been touched. They brought their offerings to the Temple in such profusion that "the priests were too few, so that they could not flay all the burnt offerings" (29.34). In contrast to the days of empty altars and dusty courts, there was now an overflowing of worship.
We would love to know something of this. For our worship to overflow the available time and resources would be a wonderful thing. The events of this revival prove that it is possible. But it is only possible if the hearts of believers are touched, and the souls of Gods people exercised to sacrifice. A revival of worship cannot be achieved by importing "worship leaders", it cannot be stirred up by individual charisma or by any other means. It can only stem from the commitment of individual believers before God.
It is encouraging to note that the effects of this revival spread still further. In ch.30, the posts go out with words of invitation and of warning: "Ye children of Israel, turn again unto the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and he will return to the remnant of you yield yourselves unto the Lord and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever: and serve the Lord your God" (30.6-8). The message expresses a longing that Gods people would be united in worship, but it also reveals that unity could not be purchased at the price of compromise.
In Hezekiahs letter we see an insistence of the Scriptural pattern and place for worship. All Israel and Judah (30.6) were welcome to worship God, but they must do it in His way, at His place, and in a spirit of repentance. To Sennacherib, this seemed arrogance of the highest order: "Hath not the same Hezekiah taken away his high places and his altars, and commanded Judah and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall worship before one altar, and burn incense upon it?" (32.12). But Hezekiah was not motivated by presumption but by his faithfulness to the word of God.
In this dispensation of grace we are not geographically limited in our worship (Jn 4.21). But we do well to remember that there is still a place that is described as "the temple of the living God" (2 Cor 6.16). The local assembly is the divinely-mandated place where our worship and our service are to be offered, and what we offer elsewhere is less than it should be.
Like Hezekiah, we desire that all Gods people would be united in worship. But we should appreciate, as he did, that such a unity can only be based on submission to the Word of God. Such an attitude now, as then, is sometimes dismissed as arrogance, and there is an ever-present danger of slipping into that loathsome state of mind. But this should not make us less determined to insist, humbly but firmly, on the absolute importance of obedience to the Word of God, and the divine pattern of gathering that it contains.
The results of delivered worship are predictable, but nonetheless remarkable. With God receiving His rightful portion "there was great joy in Jerusalem" (2 Chr 30.26). Along with that joy came an abundance of blessing, well beyond what was required: "Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the Lord, we have had enough to eat, and have left plenty: for the Lord hath blessed his people; and that which is left is this great store" (31.10).
The exercise of a godly king had delivered the worship of Gods people. His desire to worship found an answer in the hearts of the people. God was glorified, and His people blessed. There is much in the revival of Hezekiahs day to encourage and exhort us in the difficulties of our own day.
To be continued.