Friday, May 18, 2012

Variations on a Hezekiah Theme

When God speaks the same word or touches on the same incident-issue more than once in the Bible, it doesn't mean He forgot what He'd previously said. Rather, His restatement highlights that subject's importance and our need to especially 'have ears to hear what the Lord is saying'. Let me explain. 4 different gospels proclaim the Good News of Jesus because this news is so vital. No single witness alone can fully communicate God's greatest gift. So we have 4 Evangelists' perspectives all focused on 1 Person and 1 Message to give us the complete picture of Jesus. Same message; just different perspectives. In a similar way, The Book of Acts records Saul's Damascus Road conversion 3 times; not because Luke didn't get it right the first time. But, in accordance with God's own requirement that truth must be established 'in the mouth of two or three witnesses' (Deut 17:6; 19:15), Luke gives 3 different perspectives to confirm and assure that this vital story makes its full, significant impact! The Bible also recounts the history of King Hezekiah of Judah in 3 parallel passages: 2Kings; 2Chronicles + Isaiah. Through previous readings, I've become aware of how all 3 basically agree on the facts of his life, reign and ministry; but each also differs somewhat in its own unique perspective. One includes what the others omit; one gives the general overview, the other provides specific details or presents them differently. Together, they give a full, non-contradictory picture of the truth. Kings records his kingdom's civic historical facts, even including their effect beyond Judah, on all Israel; Chronicles focuses exclusively on Judah and the priesthood's influence; Isaiah perceives the spiritual heart of the matter from a more prophetic angle. However, while re-reading them recently, I felt a remarkably personal kinship with Hezekiah while under spiritual attack. Not that my tribulations at all rival his in either intensity or significance; but trials are all pilgrims' common denominator, the great equalizers of all lives. Tests and temptations happen alike to peasants and kings. No one is immune. The Preacher says, 'The same thing - death - ultimately happens to us all!' So what did I see through the lens of my fellow traveler, Hezekiah? His trials are not only distant past reminders, but very much relevant to our contemporary situations. The 1st passage - 2Kings 18:13-20:21 basically outlines Hezekiah's desire to restore Judah to right standing in worshiping God. The very first verses call him a good king, one of Judah's best in fact: 'he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done.' (2Ki 18:3) He was a reformer: restored the covenant; repaired the Temple, both its building and priestly services; celebrated a joy-filled Passover as had not been since Solomon; and instituted far-reaching civil reforms. His arch-rival, Samaria, had been carried away captive by Assyria and Judah dwelt in peace. Life was good for Hezekiah. Contemporary commentators might say he enjoyed 'good karma' (not a Christian perspective): he had sown well so he would reap well. However, something changed. His enemy's enemy became his enemy and suddenly Assyria attacked Judah's cities, besieging even Jerusalem, bellowing threats against Hezekiah and his people. 'I'll bring you down just like all the other nations! You're no different; I've defeated them all! You say you trust the LORD? Well, I've got news for you: He's the One who's sent me against you. He's really not pleased with you. In fact, Hezekiah has deceived you and is really working against the true LORD. I know; that's why I'm here!' And as if these Goliath-like taunts weren't enough, 2Ki 20 tells us Hezekiah became very sick, right at the same time that his kingdom was under attack by the Assyrian army. So seriously sick, he calls for his trusted prophet, Isaiah, to give hope in the midst of this most desperate situation. I paraphrase Hezekiah's plea: 'LORD, what do you say about this? I need some light in this very present darkness!' But the prophet's words were not helpful. They provided neither relief nor comfort, but only made what was already distressing to be downright depressing! Instead of healing and hope, Hezekiah heard, 'Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live!' (2Ki20:2) Insult was now added to injury. It appeared God was abandoning his king in his most dire moment of need. So... Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall... away from Isaiah, the bearer of bad news to... what??? ... his problem?... his disappointment?... his insurmountable mountain?... a distraction?... his God?... himself? I don't know what his 'wall' was, but literally, Hezekiah was unable to face the truth, the prophet or his God and he turned away in his pain. Somehow he did find the faith to pray, to pour out his heart, if only to complain, recount all his past faithful deeds: 'Remember how I've walked before you... in truth... with a loyal heart,' and weep bitterly. Hezekiah was clearly finding it difficult to accept the Lord's revealed will for his life. Or was it really God's will? Perhaps this was just another part of the whole test? Regardless, even before Isaiah had made his way out of the palace through the middle court after delivering his discouraging word, the LORD spoke another word, Isaiah turned around and proclaimed what sounds like the exact opposite to his original prophecy! Had Isaiah's complaint moved God? Had the LORD changed His mind? 'I've heard your prayer, seen your tears, will heal you completely in 3 days, add 15 more years to your life and, (as if that's not enough), I'll rid you of the Assyrians too!' Who wouldn't want to receive a prophetic word like that? Everyone say, 'Amen!' So Isaiah put a lump of figs on the festering boil and Hezekiah miraculously recovered! That's all that was needed? That's all that stood between Hezekiah, God's faithful servant, and death: a bunch of figs?! So simple a solution! And then the LORD added, 'And would you like a sign to further show that my Word is true? Should I make the sundial shadow go ahead or back 10 degrees?' That is, God can change the times of the entire universe, either increase or reverse the speed of light, just as easily as heal bodies and win battles! So Hezekiah chose what he thought most impossible: reverse the shadows! Need anymore convincing? The LORD threw in an angel to slay 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in 1 night, sent their king Sennacherib fleeing back to Assyria where his own two sons murdered him. Assyria never recovered! Then nations, including an upstart Babylon, saw the miraculous signs in the heavens (a part of the day's light lost forever would be quite a sign to these astrologers!?) heard of Hezekiah's great victory, and sent their envoys to discover what was happening. Hezekiah, elated with his personal healing and national deliverance, abandoned wisdom and discernment, and opened up all his treasures to these curious strangers. Isaiah asked him, 'Have you shown them ALL that is in your house?' Hezekiah confirmed he had and Isaiah then prophesied again. This unlikely Babylon would one day accomplish what the Assyrians had failed to do: utterly destory his city, Jerusalem, and take his children captive. And what was Hezekiah's response? 'That's a good word... for at least it won't happen to me. There will be peace in my days!' Great story, but there's something wrong with this ending. Not the ringing, uplifting, feel-good conclusion we expect from this 'good' king's reign!? So let's look deeper... to the Bible's second passage on this story: 2Chronicles 29 -32. Same basic outline, but these chapters add a dimension 2Kings never really discovers. Concerning the aftermath of Hezekiah's healing and victory, this chronicler focuses on Hezekiah's heart condition: 32:23 sounds the warning: Hezekiah was exalted in the sight of all nations. Question is: How well do we handle exaltation? Seems Hezekiah didn't do too well with this part of the test. Likewise, history reveals the church does better in times of persecution than exaltation. Why is that? Light shines best in darkness? Do we so easily forget the great victories the LORD has won for us and all too quickly settle for the world's fanfare, the applause of American Idol? 32:25 continues: 'Hezekiah did not repay according to the favor shown him'. Favour shown from God calls for reciprocal favour from us towards Him. His heart was lifted up - with such a momentous, miraculous breakthrough, Hezekiah found it harder to process victory than challenge defeat? Why is that? 'Then Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart so the wrath did not come upon them in his days.' 32:31 the LORD sums it up: 'regarding this situation... God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart.' So what was in Hezekiah's heart, this great reformer king? Same as in that Israel generation that had miraculously destroyed Egypt, walked through the Red Sea on dry ground and followed the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness, but didn't regard that these great miracles were inherently 'to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart.'(Deut 8:2) Turns out: what was in his hearts was not good enough! But what is in our heart? Jeremiah (Jer 17:9-10) exposes it as inherently evil, deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, full of: Rebellion and unbelief - not enough faith to enter into His land of promise. Pride - caught up with its own works, unable to give God the glory and stop elation from becoming exaltation. Materialsm/Greed - when the Babylonians + all nations showed up, Hezekiah showed them all his things, his earthly prosperity and he failed to tell them the real heart of the great sign: why the sun and Assyrians were retreating: God's powerful love! Self - he was more thankful that God's wrath would be deferred to following generations than he was willing to deal with it personally and see its root cause eradicated in his own heart and generation. It is God's prerogative to test our heart: heal it from yesterday's hurts, purify it through today's presents, and transform us to His next glory! The enemy tempts, but God tests. The enemy wants to trip us up and ensnare us, but God wants us to enter in! Jesus went through a forty-day wilderness test at His ministry's beginning and overcame the enemy's temptations with God's Word + Spirit. Even in His final hour, no man could find any fault in Him. The enemy tempted, but Jesus completed His test with a triumphant, 'It is finished!' His Heart was to only know the Father's Heart and make Him known. Nothing deterred Jesus from this way. Want to go even deeper? Look at the third passage: Isaiah's more personal, intimate perspective. The prophet records Hezekiah's song in the midst of his trial, when he's most vulnerable, most transparent. Our song is not just words - thoughts and ideas, but it's our heart set to music, so we can hear ourselves clearly, the fuller sound of who we really are. Lyrics + melody. Word + Spirit. Isa 38:9-20 traces Hezekiah's process, his journey of faith through the test. The 1st part: v10-14 records a sad, bitter, despairing, depressing lament descrying his miserable condition before He is healed: 'O LORD, It's not fair that I am going to die before my time! I am upset/angry/oppressed! Do something! Can you relate? I can! The 2nd part is his response, quite evidently after he's been healed. His difference in tone is remarkable: Hezekiah has been changed! and more than just physically! 'It seems it was good for me to go through all those troubles. Throughout them all you held tight to my lifeline, You never let me tumble over the edge into nothing. But my sins you let go of... It's the living who thank you, just as I'm doing right now. The father shall make known Your truth to the children.' And that's the heart of the matter: trials/tests produce seed that reproduce good fruit to successive generations! Unfortunately, Hezekiah forgot this essential lesson during his 15 extra years. His son, Manasseh, was born during this time (he was 12 yrs old when Hezekiah finally did die!); but somehow Hezekiah failed to effectively convey his Father God's love + faith to his own son: Manasseh proved to be one of the most wicked kings in all of Judah's history! He did such evil that he undid all the good his father had done! Tradition reports he even had his cousin Isaiah sawn in two! Guess he didn't appreciate his prophecies?! So what song are you singing NOW during your wilderness test, in the midst of your fiery furnace, or your desert tribulation? A lament? a complaint? a dirge? or a praise-filled, victorious anthem? And how's your singing AFTER your deliverance? Is it different from when you're still 'going through it'? Has it become a rehearsed God-story from your past: the same words, but lacking spontaneous passion and vision beyond yourself, without the perspective of application to future generations? Hezekiah had the words, but he stopped living his song to his son. Our song is the Tree of Life which reaches over walls, bears fruit in every season, shines through our tests and reveals Christ's life throughout successive generations. This is the heart of the father making his truth known to his children; the exercise of faith and love that Hezekiah needed then and fathers like me still need to learn today.


  1. Hezekiah's problem, like many of us stems from being filled and then not needing. As humans, we need to sustain ourselves with food or we die. We constantly seek our next meal.

    I have been praying the Lord's prayer over the last few weeks; not blah, blah, blah in 59 seconds but worshipfully over a half hour. My prayer for "give us this day our daily bread" took on the usual, "provide for my needs" role. I suddenly became aware during the past few days that it was John 6:35 that I needed. "I am the bread of life; he that comes to me shall never hunger."

    Bill Johnson reminded me today in "When Heaven Invades Earth" that according to Matthew 13:15, the dull of heart doesn't see and hear. He says a knife that was once sharp becomes dull with use. The implication here is that believers lose their edge. Why? They forget their need. They forget what took them to the "wall" and who brought them out.

    We need to pursue that "Bread" just like we need to pursue food, just like the Israelites pursued manna. Hezekiah was fed up.

    Henry makes a very good point. Many of us stand near the turning points where I believe God is going to step in and defeat our enemies. Some of our Bible heros didn't do so well after that point (but praise God for the Daniels) and yes, I think it is the AFTER that is going to matter most.

  2. Good insight! And again a good challenge! Trials are what build character and how we come through the trial is how we lose/gain ground in the Kingdom. I want our children to not just see us as pacified survivors but as grateful victors!