Saturday, December 17, 2016

Hezekiah: Faithfulness and Deliverance

1 Kgs 18–19

Overall, Hezekiah was one of the faithful kings in Judah, so that the prophetic history writers could say, “He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestor David had done” (2 Kgs 18:3). Later in his life he got into trouble over a bad misstep with some Babylonian envoys (2 Kgs 20), but overall he proved faithful and thus enjoyed the benefits of the dynastic covenant made with David and his descendants.

A Faithful King

Hezekiah pretty much did what the Lord wanted of his kings throughout his reign (726–697 b.c.). He patterned his life after David, stopping the pagan practices that had gotten popular in Israel during the reign of his father Ahaz. Like David, he showed due regard for temple worship (2 Chr 31:20). So the Lord made him “very successful” (2 Chr 31:21). He even smashed up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people had eventually turned it into a idol rather than a memorial (2 Kgs 18:4).

A Kingdom Under Siege

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Dedicated service to God doesn’t mean calamity will never come. The great power of the time was the ferocious Assryrian empire, who conquered the northern kingdom (Samaria/Israel) a couple years into Hezekiah’s reign in the south (Jerusalem/Judah). Assyria kept pressure on Palestine, with Sargon invading in 720 b.c. and Sennacherib invading in 713 and again in 701 b.c. A couple years before Hezekiah’s death, Assyria even succeeded in destroying Babylon (700 b.c.). When Sennacherib came knocking at Jerusalem’s doors his general Rabshakeh began taunting Jerusalem’s citizens that nobody’s gods had ever protected them from Assyrian military might (19:8–13).

A King’s Prayers

But Hezekiah turned to prayer. He called for a period of fasting and prayer, and he summoned Isaiah the prophet to lead all the kingdom’s officials in prayer. It’s interesting to note that the king didn’t ask a priest to lead this intercession; rather, he called on a prophet to do it. But then interceding had always been a prophet’s job, from Abraham (Gen 18; 20:7, 17), to Moses (Exod 7–10; Num 14–20), to Samuel (1 Sam 7:5–11; 12:17–18, 23), to Jeremiah (Jer 7:14ff.; 11:13ff.; 14:11ff.; 15:1)—even to Jesus (John 17). God never seemed to do anything without telling his servants the prophets (Gen 18; Amos 3:7), and when God threatened judgment, his prophets interceded for his people.

Hezekiah asked for two things, that God might deliver his own people and that he might sanctify his own name. He pled for God’s intervention so that Judah wouldn’t fall to the northern juggernaut, though the Assyrians had so far proved capable of crushing everything in their path. And he prayed that God act so that the whole world would know that the Lord was the true God. This would be the best response to Rabshakeh’s pagan taunts (2 Kgs 19:8–13).

The Lord’s Response

The Lord responded when Hezekiah prayed. When he called a fast and got Isaiah to lead everyone in prayer (2 Kgs 19:1–7), God responded with a reassuring word: “Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me from the Assyrian king`s messengers. Listen! I myself will move against him, and the king will receive a message that he is needed at home. So he will return to his land, where I will have him killed with a sword” (19:6–7, compare 19:37; 2 Chr 32:21).

When Hezekiah prayed a second time (19:14–19), God responded with a prophecy of Sennacharib’s fall (19:20–34). And to back that up, “That night the angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers” (19:35), which decidedly altered their plan to attack Jerusalem.

Once again, the Lord had spared his people and responded to the faithful prayers of a branch on the Jesse Tree.

Questions, Reflections, and Commitments

  • Note that part of Hezekiah’s obedience lay in breaking up the old idols that were misleading the people. In this Christmas season, do you see any old practices that might mislead your family that should therefore be eliminated from your household?
  • Reflect on the two-fold prayer of Hezekiah and see how it fits with two parts of the Lord’s prayer: “Hallowed by thy name” (Matt 6:9; Luke 11:2a), and “thy kingdom come” (Matt 6:10; Luke 11:2b).

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