I’ve just finished reading through 1 & 2 Kings, in Hebrew, last Friday. For the sins of King Manasseh, the nation of Judah was finally thrust out into the judgment of Exile to Babylon.
Some weeks ago I did a blog entitled ‘Humbling Hezekiahs’. I had been reminded at that time about the danger of pride in leaders, particularly after times of successes. Re-reading the life and times of Hezekiah has given me a fresh more positive take on his reign – I’ve recently declared in church ‘Hezekiah is my new hero!’
The bit of the text by which I was struck like a thunderbolt was 2 Kings 18.3:
“And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David, his father, had done. He removed the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).”
There is far more to Hezekiah than initially meets the gaze. His reign concluded in a downfall caused by pride, when self-interest finally trumped and eclipsed a career of outstanding service. However, the bulk of his work was devoted to God’s glory, namely to purging the nation of false gods and to cleansing the church of images.
It was this abomination of idolatry which most aroused the burning jealousy of Yahweh. Not only did Hezekiah give the LORD the exclusive dedication he demanded – obedience to the most weighty commandment of the ‘Shema’ Law to love the LORD His God with all His heart, soul and mind (Deuteronomy 6.4); nor simply, like great, great, great. great, etc.. grandfather David, was Hezekiah my Hero a king after God’s own heart; but far exceeding that, unlike any previous monarch, from the time of centralisation of worship in the Solomonic Temple in Zion, he removed, terminated, abolished and eradicated all the local high places where local Jews offered worship. Without any pity he demolished shrines of sin that had caused the church to stumble – and in one fell swoop he removed before God’s face every source of polluting provocation.
No doubt this was in obedience to His copy of the Deuteronomic Law received at His coronation. Yet this was also the duty in which each Israelite had a part: it seems Hezekiah must have been instructed in the study of Deuteronomy 12.1-7.
“These are the statutes and rules that you shall be careful to do in the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess all the days that you live on the earth. You shall surely destroy all the places where he nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of tha place …But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put His Name and make His habitation there. There you shall go …there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and your shall rejoice, you and your households in all that you undertake, in which the LORD your God has blessed you” (emphases mine).
The Spirit was powerfully at work through the Word in reviving the life of Judah under the jurisdiction of Hezekiah. What then is it that makes ‘Hezekiah my Hero’ stand out, head and shoulders, above the crowd of his Davidic Dynastic predecessors? Let me state a first principle in this manner:
Believers who love God with all their heart, mind and soul, and endeavour to pursue all their responsibilities and duties with vigour to the Glory of God are very rare indeed – or to put it another way – whole-hearted believers are an endangered species, who could be properly called ‘lesser-spotted Christians’.
Hezekiah was not the kind of king who was content with half-measures. No doubt it took him time, I’m sure he had a plan, and without doubt, though the opposition from tradition would have been stiff, he had both the duty and authority, to removed these wicked images, and put and end to their leaders. Yet he did not take refuge behind the cliché ‘You can’t fight every battle!’: here was a man who waged a relentless war on wickedness, who give no quarter to ‘other darling deities’, and refused himself rest until the land and church was rid.
Can you imagine the courage it took to finally get rid of ‘Nehushtan’? All the high brow men saying ‘destroy this beautiful, ancient, bronze artefact?’. All the emotional women ‘This lovely traditional Mosaic snake is so dear and precious to us for healing!’ The outcry among the elders and other religious leaders whose ear the people of Jerusalem had. ‘How can Hezekiah just remove this sacred tradition which we have warrant for in Numbers.’ No doubt there were local presbyters keen to impeach their President for this outrageous, blasphemous act. Nevertheless, heroic Hezekiah pressed on with God’s help in the task.
Do you feel a wimp before the prowess of this prince? So many men of God refuse to ‘grasp the nettle’ just in case they get a sting. How often we cover it up with ‘all for the peace of the church.’ Of course, we must cherish, true spiritual Gospel unity purchased at the incalculable cost of the blood of the Son of God (how often this central Gospel reality has been ungraciously sidelined in heated debates over more minor points of doctrine). Yet, on the other hand, true ‘shalom’ peace in Scripture is the outflowing of grace of the presence of God which springs from right relationship with the LORD. Where the worship of idols flourishes, the God of peace is revealed as God the Jealous. Preaching and living Christ is meant to humble ‘self’. If we are dead against ‘multiculturalism’, there is often deafening silence against Mammon, feminism, hedonism, and all the other rival priorities or deities which are cherished in our bosom.
Perhaps, like me, this is a moment for confession? Or have you been persuaded that it is high time to stop hiding behind pseudo-religious excuses? ‘Half-heartedness must go!’ Have you just said that to yourself? Where did Heroic Hezekiah get the courage for his work?
What was the power-source that generated such godly concern? Don’t imagine for a minute, it was down to natural temperament, or sheer force of personality. There was a dynasty of hum-drum kings who had never taken action, or like many believers today, settled for a little progress while embracing a quiet life, without rattling people’s cages or ruffling too many feathers. Biblical theology is the answer to Hezekianic Heroics and the Timidity of Timothys: this leads me to a second principle in this Hezekiah passage:
Every truly good, godly, example of a believer in any Old Testament passage is due to the secret, internal, influence of the Holy Spirit, or evidence of saving grace, through their faith-union with Christ (we might also want to add that good examples of pagans in Old Testament are marks common grace at work in their lives).
To put this another way, Hezekiah, received grace from the LORD, in Messiah, to whom he looked for help. This is the same conviction for the glory of God that burned like a furnace in Jesus, when he entered into the Temple and overturned the tables of those self-invested money changers. I think it was Martyn Lloyd-Jones, when commenting on this text, said with respect to abuses of worship ‘He always drives them out!’ So the heroics in Hezekiah reflect the courage and concern of Christ, mediated to His heart, through the Mosaic means of grace.
Finally, eventually, Hezekiah left this earth. His departure was not before he had set heroics to one side and given breathing space to ease and selfish pride. He had defects and he died, so we must look to someone else. The far more excellent courageous, humble, Messiah for whom Hezekiah makes us hanker.
Believer, Christian, mother, father, brother, sister, elder, minister, teacher, member, colleague, employer, employee, sportsman, musician, artist, labourer, engineer, doctor, nurse, physiotherapist, friend: do you have problems ‘fronting-up’ or ‘manning-up’ for the Lord? Confess the weakness and half-heartedness that still lingers in your flesh! Cry to Christ for His concern and courage! To root out every rival that saps your Christian service. To purge your home of false gods that inhibit your sanctification. You don’t have the power. Flesh will only fail. Only Christ can supply the resources to continually and persistently glorify God in all your duties. Heroic Hezekiah was made of the same stuff as you and I – he lived before the face of God and fixed two eyes of faith on truth!
Have you a holy hankering after the heroics of Hezekiah? Our God is good, great, and replete with infinite grace. Turn on the taps of prayer, that drain from Hezekiah’s heavenly Hoover Dam, and watch the mercy flow, to make you bold, courageous, undaunted as Messiah’s Man.