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King Hezekiah (1)

J Gibson, Derby

2 Kings 18.1-12; 2 Chr 29.1,2; 31.1,20,21; 32.27-33

Hezekiah was one of the Godliest kings to sit on David’s throne; his father was probably the worst. When Hezekiah began to reign in 716 BC, aged twenty-five, he inherited a kingdom that was immersed in idolatry and facing multiple threats. Israel and Syria had invaded Judah from the north (2 Chr 28.5). Edom had made inroads from the south-east (2 Chr 28.17) and the Philistines attacked from the west (2 Chr 28.18). Assyria, a massive northern threat, cast its shadow over the whole region and demanded tribute from Judah (2 Chr 28.20-21). In years 4-6 of Hezekiah’s reign Assyria removed the northern kingdom of Israel, replacing its citizens with foreigners who merged a pseudo-Judaism with their own idolatrous practices, which included infanticide (2 Kings 17.5-41; 18.9-12). Surrounded by these overwhelming dangers Hezekiah threw off the Assyrian yoke (2 Kings 18.7) and he prioritized above all else the spiritual well-being of the nation. He acted as quickly as possible: "in the first year of his reign, in the first month, [he] opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them" (2 Chr 29.3). As well as restoring the worship of Jehovah, Hezekiah dealt idolatry a heavy blow. It is hard to believe that Moses’ brazen serpent, which 700 years previously had saved Israel from the serpents’ venom, and typified Christ’s saving cross-work, had become an idol (Num 21.8-9; 2 Kings 18.4; Jn 3.14). Hezekiah broke it in pieces, seeing it for what it was: "Nehushtan", meaning a piece of brass. Enthusiasm can get the better of a man. But Hezekiah’s passion was tempered by humility and he carefully refrained from overstepping the boundaries of a king’s office. Unlike his grandfather Uzziah (2 Chr 26.16) Hezekiah did not enter the Temple himself.

What was the secret of Hezekiah’s spiritual power? And how did a bad man like Ahaz have such a good son? First, Hezekiah had been patient. Even though his father’s rampant idolatry would have deeply grieved young Hezekiah, he bode his time, making plans and keeping his aspirations for God alive in his heart. If Hezekiah had rebelled against his father - who had shamelessly burnt Hezekiah’s siblings in the fires to Molech (2 Chr 28.3) – Ahaz would probably have executed the young prince. Second, Hezekiah did not allow his father’s spiritual history to impair his own zeal for God. Ahaz may have been a wicked man, but Hezekiah chose to follow the godly example of David (cf Phil 3.17) – the man by whom all subsequent kings were measured – doing "that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done" (2 Chr 29.2). Third, Hezekiah had an insatiable thirst for the word of God which may have been stimulated by the ministries of Isaiah (Is 1.1), Hosea (Hos 1.1) and Micah (Mic 1.1). As a true Israelite king, Hezekiah had read, written out and imbibed the principles of the Law of God (Deut 17.18-20), and he attempted wholeheartedly to do them. The Levites cleansed the Temple (2 Chr 29.3-26), and they did it "according to the commandment of the king, by the words of the Lord" (2 Chr 29.15). "And [Hezekiah] set the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets" (2 Chr 29.25). When Hezekiah celebrated the Passover (2 Chr 30; 31.1) the priests and the Levites "stood in their place after their manner, according to the law of Moses the man of God" (30.16). Hezekiah "commanded the people that dwelt in Jerusalem to give the portion of the priests and the Levites, that they might be encouraged in the law of the Lord" (31.4). However, he only ordered this collection of the tithes after he had first appointed "the king’s portion of his substance for the burnt offerings, to wit, for the morning and evening burnt offerings, and the burnt offerings for the sabbaths, and for the new moons, and for the set feasts, as it is written in the law of the Lord" (31.3). Everything Hezekiah did found its roots in the Holy Scriptures. "And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered" (31.21). Craving the word, Hezekiah even had his men copy out the proverbs of Solomon (Prov 25.1). With such an appetite for God’s word it is not surprising to read of Hezekiah that "He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him. For he clave to the Lord, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses. And the Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth" (2 Kings 18.5-7).

Another major shaping influence in Hezekiah’s life was probably his mother (2 Chr 29.1). She may well have been a godly woman, married to wicked king Ahaz by the arrangement of her parents for political expediency. What we can say with certainty is that godly women can play a crucial role in the rearing of a man of God (1 Tim 5.14; 2 Tim 1.5; 3.15). Hezekiah’s name gives us another clue to his spiritual success, for his name means "Jehovah will strengthen". Hezekiah’s deep interest in the things of God arose from a heart that had been touched by God, who is the source of all true spiritual desire (Neh 2.12; Phil 2.13).

Trials frequently occur in the path of God’s service (2 Tim 3.12). After Hezekiah drove forward massive religious reforms in Judah (2 Chr 29.3) and threw off Assyria’s yoke (2 Kings 18.7) he faced three major tests: the Assyrian invasion (Is 36, 37), the certainty of death (Is 38), and the Babylonian envoy (Is 39). Each of these vividly portrays different tactics employed by Satan in his assault on the people of God. The sheer might of Assyria and their forceful intimidation picture Satan as a dangerous roaring lion, or dragon, possessing all the subtlety of a serpent (1 Pet 5.8; Rev 12.9; 20.2). As a strong man Satan wields the fear of death as his great weapon, holding men in hard bondage all their lifetime (Heb 2.14-15). And, just like the Babylonian envoy, Satan often feigns friendship as an angel of light (2 Cor 11.14). All these different guises are equally dangerous to the child of God. Alas, after recovering from his illness, "Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem" (2 Chr 32.25).

To be continued.

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