My life alongside God's word, volume 3. 'Bible characters' section.
Hezekiah’s biblical biography can be read in 2 Kings 18-20, 2 Chronicles 29-32 and Isaiah 36-39. There is much supporting archaeological evidence from the Assyrian world. Dates and the order of events are in dispute, but every event recorded in Scripture certainly happened.
Hezekiah reigned at a time when a foreign empire was consolidating its control over Palestine and Syria. His father had placed Judah under Assyrian domination in 735 BC,
2 Kings 16:7-8. At the accession of Sennacherib 705–681 BC, rebellions broke out all around the Assyrian empire. Hezekiah seems to have been the movement leader in Palestine, and gained support from Egypt. Preparing for the inevitable Assyrian campaign to retake lost territory, Hezekiah strengthened the defences of his capital, Jerusalem. Today’s visitors can still explore “the tunnel by which (Hezekiah) brought water into the city”, 2 Kings 20:20. He “blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channelled the water down to the west side of the City of David”, 2 Chronicles 32:30. This Siloam tunnel brings a good supply of running water inside the city walls, a precautionary defence against a long siege.
25 years old and trusting the Lord
Hezekiah was his own man. Importantly, he made a choice not to follow his father’s evil ways, 2 Kings 16:2-4, 18:1-3. Ahaz was his biological father, David his ancestor 13 generations earlier. He accepted the role life had given to him, 18:2. He achieved the blessing of the all-seeing God, 18:3. He axed the wrong religious perspectives and practices of his people, 18:4. He adhered closely to God and God’s ways, 18:5-7. His attitude made him keep on keeping on, 18:6. In these five attributes Hezekiah is a great example for young Christian people today.
Scripture commends young Hezekiah’s efforts
“And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook”, 2 Kings 18:7. “This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. 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. So he prospered”, 2 Chronicles 31:20-21. Following God is difficult and often involves very hard work. Those who make the effort will be forever rewarded.
Taking a God-given lead
In 2 Chronicles 29 Hezekiah cleansed the Lord’s temple. He realised it was the “anger of the Lord”, 29:8, a strong outburst of wrath from God himself, which had judged his own people. He urged backslidden temple workers to return to their jobs, 29:3-17. An amazing service of sacrifice, singing, worship and offerings followed over several days, 29:18-36. The Chronicler makes an insightful note in verse 36, “Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people”. A good leader knows he or she is always second-in-command. God must be number one. God uses followers just as much as leaders.
People before procedure
Not satisfied with reforming the temple worship Hezekiah sent representatives “throughout Israel and Judah” urging all the people to “return to the Lord” (four times in 30:6-9). Verse 12 highlights “the hand of God was on the people”. Without this, even the godliest leader will fail. Dependence is a huge part of a leader’s own discipleship.
Partway through this Passover celebration some priests and people realized they were doing what they were not ceremonially clean enough to do. Hezekiah’s prayer is an object lesson for practical church life today. “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God – the Lord, the God of his fathers – even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary”. God answered his prayer, 30:18-20. Perhaps some “legalists” were surprised that He did? We must always let God be God and never be surprised over rules that He bends. He sees more deeply into the human heart than we ever can, Mark. 12:32-34.
Provision made for appropriate worship
Leading by example Hezekiah started a generous movement of giving among God’s people, 2 Chronicles 31:3-8. There are seven different sorts of giving I found mentioned in this chapter: “the first-fruits, a great amount, a tithe”, vs5, “contributions”, vs10, “dedicated gifts”, vs12, “freewill offerings, consecrated gifts”, vs14.
Rather than try to distinguish between these I suggest the straightforward application for us is to lead from the front, by giving whatever we can to the Lord’s work. Only keep back what we need to live on. Supporting local and global ministry is every Christian’s responsibility, 2 Corinthians 8:7, 20. Don’t just talk about it. Do it!
Hezekiah made mistakes, as all leaders will
When Hezekiah was 39 years old Sennacherib overran much of Judah, taking 46 of its walled cities, and placing much conquered Judean territory under the control of neighbouring states, 2 Kings 18:13. While Sennacherib was besieging the city of Lachish, Hezekiah wrongly tried to buy his way out of trouble. He took valuables from the temple of the Lord and gave them to the Assyrian king, 2 Kings 18:15-16. It bought a little time and at a heavy price. The easiest options are often the worst. Sennacherib still demanded unconditional surrender.
One mistake, however, did not stop God from using Hezekiah. The chronology is uncertain, but the Bible is clear God kept using him. His speaking was inspirational to his followers and threatening to his enemies, 18: 36, 18:29-32; 2 Chronicles 30:22.
How to handle a crisis
2 Kings 19:1-2, 14-19, 2 Chronicles 32:20, and Isaiah 37:1-2, 14-20 all describe Hezekiah’s prayer and introduce us to Isaiah the prophet. Isaiah chapters 37-38 give the fullest account of events. Confronted once more by the king of Assyria, Hezekiah has no human resources left. He wisely and humbly goes to the temple of the Lord, Isaiah 37:1. He seeks advice from God’s prophet, a man known to be alive with the Holy Spirit of God, 6:1-8. Isaiah’s reply directs him to commit everything to the Sovereign God of the nations, 37:6-7.
Still at prayer and still at war Hezekiah receives a direct challenge to his God, 37:9-13. The focus of his heart is still the great God Almighty, vs15-20. In particular Hezekiah wants God to enhance God’s fame and reputation, not his own, vs20.
At this point Jerusalem was saved by a miraculous intervention of God. “The angel of the Lord” decimated the Assyrian war machine, 2 Kings 19:35-36; 2 Chronicles 32:21; Isaiah 37:36. The awful carnage of that single day must be seen against the awesome holiness of God. Our Sovereign God uses heathen rulers to achieve His purposes, even while He holds them accountable for these same atrocities. He judges them for what they do, even though He is able to use what they do for His own purposes (check out Sennacherib’s “I” compared to God’s “I”, in 2 Kings 19:23-28, also Psalm 33:10-11, and Jesus’ words about Judas, Mark 14:21. It was “the Lord (who) saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem”. “He took care of them on every side”, 2 Chronicles 32:22.
The sin of pride
To understand the final events of Hezekiah’s life we need first to read 2 Chronicles 32:24-25. Any successful Christian leader may easily fall into the trap of pride in his or her achievements. This may be feeling better than other people, feeling more special than others, or simply thinking, “I have done some great things”. It is sobering to note God’s response to pride, “therefore the Lord’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem” vs25.
Foolishly Hezekiah entertained envoys from Babylon, some time after he had been diagnosed terminally ill, 2 Kings 20; Isaiah 39. “There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them”, Isaiah 39:2. In boasting about his blessings he forgot about the One who had blessed him! Where would he have been without his God? 2 Chronicles 32:29. God deserves all praises! Sometimes the very things God gives to us can become stumbling blocks in our walk with Him. Some of the greatest believers I have met in my African ministry are those who have nothing in this world. They taught me so much.
At this time, “God left (Hezekiah) to test him and to know everything that was in his heart”, 2 Chronicles 32:31. Obviously God knew all about it. He wanted Hezekiah to come to realise it too. We must often pray, “Create in me a pure heart, O God”, “Give me an undivided heart”, “Search me, O God, and know my heart”, Psalm 51:10, 86:11, 139:23.
Facing up to death, aged 54 years
Facing death should not be a problem for any believer because we know where and to Whom we are going. Living with cancer for seven years has helped me to have my heart and eyes in heaven, while my hands and feet are still here on earth. Hezekiah’s reaction is recorded three times, 2 Kings 20:1-11; 2 Chronicles 32:24 and Isaiah 38:1-8. Two additions found only in Kings may indicate why God did this to and for Hezekiah.
God calls Hezekiah “the leader of my people”, 2 Kings 20:5, and He says “I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David” vs6. God is showing this older man that his 29 year-long kingship is still only delegated leadership. God is the real leader of His people. God is reminding Hezekiah it is God’s own glory that is being worked out, a glory that He rightly will never share with anyone else. Later Isaiah prophesied this to Israel, Isaiah 47-48. Yes, Babylon will be destroyed. You, my people, will be delivered. Why? “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another”, Isaiah 48:11.
Asking God for signs
Having “wept bitterly”, Isaiah 38:3, in apparent repentance over his pride, 2 Chronicles 32:26, linked with shock at his ominously dark diagnosis, Hezekiah asks a sign from God to confirm he will live for an “extra” 15 years. The negotiation, best seen in 2 Kings 20:8-11, is also mentioned in 2 Chronicles 32:24 and Isaiah 38:2-8.
Hezekiah’s account of his own good works, 2 Kings 20:2-3, is not boasting but bringing before God King Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple, 2 Chronicles 6:16-17; 1 Kings 9:1-9. Hezekiah knew that God would always remain true to his promise and reward those who were faithful to Himself.
Asking that the clock would go backwards for a while was asking a lot. But God could alter His creation, and He did, 2 Kings 20:8-11. Scripture records it in such a matter-of-fact way that we marvel. The Sovereign Master of creation will do what He chooses, Isaiah 46:9-10. We must submit our wills into His will, as our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, Matthew 6:10. God gives doubting believers specific signs on some occasions (Gideon has three, Judges 6:17-22, 36-40). Other times God’s grace is given to help quietly confident believers cope with adverse situations (Paul twice, Acts 23:11, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Does God change His mind between 2 Kings 20:1 and verses 4-6? I don’t think so. God simply shows us Hezekiah’s fallen humanity. The selfishness of 2 Kings 20:19 and Isaiah 39:8 left the people waiting for the real inaugurator of God’s true kingdom, Jesus Christ. His first words recorded are “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”, Matthew 4:17.
Unique to Isaiah 38:9-20 is Hezekiah’s autobiographical account of his illness. He expresses his disappointment at imminent death, vs10-14. He is glad to be able to live in praise of God vs15-20. Notice especially verse 19. A father has a responsibility to lead his family into a personal experience with the living God. In modern times, as well as speaking face to face with children while we live, we can leave written or recorded testimony for them. Then, even after we die, we can witness to future generations how great is our God.