THE EXAMPLE OF HEZEKIAH
Reading: 2 Kings ch 20
On a certain occasion Paul was exhorting many new recruits to the Truth to continue in the faith, and he added that “we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God.” Not may, but must. In one of our hymns we sing: “Lead me by Thine own hand, Choose out the path for me.” Now if we can sing those words with simple and earnest sincerity, then they become a declaration of great faith, because we know that God’s path for us takes a very different course from that which the flesh would choose; but what a safc path it is. John, the beloved apostle, in vision was projected right forward through the centuries and was privileged to see thejourney’s end. As he gazed and wondered, he saw a great multitude with happy faces, assembled in joyful concourse from ali countries of the world, Jews and Gentiles, now united in one glorious happy family. They were in white robes, and John could see their countenances, the dignity and the glory, and an atmosphere of warmth and love. As he watched he heard their voices raised in a wonderful anthem of praise and thanksgiving. Then one of the elders spoke to him: “What are these which are arrayed in white robes, and whence came they’?” John answered: “Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” That meant that each one in that great multitude had followed the path which the Father chose out for them; and there was the end of the journey, with unalloyed joy, happiness, glory and delight.
Now no man trod a harder path than God’s own dear Son, but in all his sorrows and pain and suffering he had a clear vision of the joy that was set before him, and it was that joy which enabled him to endure. If only we ourselves could always keep that vision as clearly before us as he did! It is so easy to forget and to lose heart, to become puzzled ancj perplexed; and yet the fact is that the path of tribulation, if bravely trod, will bring us at last through the gates into that wonderful city. A continual, daily, lively appreciation of this fact will help us very much in those cares and anxieties that beset us all in ciii daily lives. No son or daughter of God worthy of the name will he exempt from tribulation; of that fact we are continually reminded ii’ our daily readings. There we have the lives of faithful men, men who will be in that great company, for whom a place is certainly reserved.
A case in point is that of Hezekiah of whom we are reading at the present time. He came to the throne a young man, only 25 years of age, and he had a bad father, a man who had disgraced the throne of the Lord, a marf who had offered incense to idols and had burnt his children in the fire, and who, in the words of the inspired chronicler, “transgressed sore against the Lord.” The record of his misdeeds is set out in the holy page, and that record ends with a phrase which fixes itself in the memory: “This is that king Ahaz.” Yet that bad man had a godly and excellent son, Hezekiah. This is a case that brings to our minds the words of the Almighty in Ezekiel 18, where we read:
“Now, lo, if he beget a son, that seeth all his father’s sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not suchlike. . . he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live.” So here we have two men, father and son. Of the father there is a memorial indelibly fixed in these writings, “This is that king Ahaz,” but of the son, engraved in an equally imperishable way, we have the words of God’s testimonial:
“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 dave to the Lord, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses.” That was the divine testimonial.
But was Hezekiah spared from tribulation on account of his godly life? On the contrary. When Hezekiah came to the throne, it was to reign over a kingdom which had been impoverished and well nigh ruined owing to the sins of his father. We read that “the Lord brought Judah low.” And now Hezekiah, at 25 years of age, dedicated his life to serve God. The first thing he did when he came to the throne was to open the doors of the temple. God’s holy house had fallen into disuse; the doors were repaired, the building was cleansed, and Hezekiah restored the temple services. Then he proclaimed a solemn passover, and we know the spiritual significance behind the passover. It was a promise of life from the dead for those who could look forward to Christ’s sacrifice; and for those who have faithfully kept in Christ, it will mean that the angel of death will pass over them.
So Hezekiah proclaimed a passover, and he sent messengers to the northern kingdom for the people to come and keep it; but we know what the northern kingdom was like. They laughed the messengers to scorn, although some came down to Jerusalem from three of the tribes. After the passover, the land was cleansed of the idols and images, and Hezekiah restored the course of the priests and Levites. Under his energetic spiritual guidance the people responded, and brought in the tithes until there was so much store that they prepared chambers in the temple to take it.
But perils were looming without. The Assyrians had been threatening the northern kingdom for some years, and in the fourth year of Hezekiah the armies of the Assyrians came down. Shalinaneser besieged Samaria, and the city held out until the third year, and then it fell; and with its fall the ten tribes were taken into captivity and all the warnings of God were fulfilled. He had pleaded with His people, but they rejected Him, they worshipped idols, despised His messengers, and so the kingdom fell and they were carried into captivity. What was the result for Hezekiah? He now had a hostile threatening power close at hand, and so the situation remained for about eight years. During that time Hezekiah, like a good shepherd over God’s flock, was guiding the sheep back into the fold, doing all he could to restore the true worship of the Deity. Nevertheless, we must remember that this Assyrian threat, close at his borders, must have been a considerable anxiety to him. After eight years the flood broke loose and the swirling waters came down. The strong cities of Judah fell before the Assyrian flood, and we read in Chronicles “. . . Hezek iah saw that Sennacherib was come, and that lie was purposed to fight against Jerusalem.” Now men of true faith are men of action, and Hezekiah took counsel to stop the outside fountains so that the Assyrians would find no water. He built up the walls of Jerusalem where they were broken, he prepared weapons of war, and set captains over the people, but above all he spoke to the people wonderful words of encouragement. He “spake comfortably to them, saying, Be strong and courageous, he not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him; for there be more with us than with him. With him is an arm offlesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hczekiah king of Judah.”
That did not mean that Hezekiah and his faithful friends were spared all anxiety. He was faced with something that I suppose we all have to face at some time or other in our pilgrimage. Though we may have great trust and confidence in God, there are times when we do not know how far the Almighty intends to try us. Hezekiah did not know what he might have to suffer. He knew that the record of Judah’s backslidings was as bad as that of Israel; in fact, later on they became worse. For aLl he knew, this might mean the end of the kingdom of Judah. We know those feelings, we have been through times of peril. During the last war we used to meet here never knowing whether we should see each other the following Sunday. We knew we were in God’s hand but we did not know to what extent He might try us or what suffering might come upon us. So we can picture the effect when Rabshakeh and Rabsaris came with a great hosi against Jerusalem, and Rabshakeh delivered that insolent address to the people on the wall and to the ministers of Hezekiah in the hearing of all the people. “Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria . . . Where is the king of Hamath, and the king of Arpad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, of Hena, and Ivah?” The messengers returned to Hezekiah and rent their clothes; and Hezekiah covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of God. He sent messengers to Isaiah and besought him: “Lift up thy prayer for the remnant that are left.” Then the messengers returned with an answer from God: “Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and shall return to his own land, and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.”
This was a wonderful message at such a time of anxiety. So Rabshakeh returned to find that Sennacherib had had to withdraw his army, being threatened by the king of Ethiopia. He sent a letter to Hezekiah: “Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee.
Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly; aud shalt thou be delivered?” Humanly speaking, things did took hopeless forJudah. The waters of the Assyrian river, had overflown, and as foretold in the early chapters of Isaiah, “He shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck, and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy Land, 0 Immanual.” Hezekiah took the letter and went into the temple, and spread it out before the Lord; and he prayed. There are times when prayer is perhaps more earnest than atothers, and this was sucha time. Presently the faithful prophet came in with a message from God in answer to his prayer. It occupies 14 verses in chapter 19, and that answer from God concluded with these words: “Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the Lord. For I will defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.” What a relief, and what a vindication of Hezekiah’s faith, and what humble gratitude it brought! How God would fight for His holy city was not revealed, but Hezekiah had previously encouraged the people with the words, “There be more with us than with him.” Rabshakeh had told Hezekiah: “How then wilt thou turn away the face of one captain of the least of my master’s servants?” Hezekiah’s army could not do it, yet in the night one angel went out and destroyed 185 thousand Assyrians. That is the power on our side. Why should we ever fear or be downhearted; the same power is with God, and verysoon itwill be shown onbehalf of the saints. At present our part is to submit, like sheep, like the Master himself when on earth; but there comes a time when the Almighty intervenes, as He did on behalf of Hezekiah. The whole campaign collapsed, the boastful Sennacherib could only return to Nineveh, and there his two sons murdered him.
Thus the word of the Lord was fulfilled. What a change for Jerusalem; the threatening storm was suddenly dispersed, and the sun of God’s favour shone with gentle beams on Zion. Hezekiah, still a comparatively young man, must have felt unutterable relief. But we know that intense mental strain takes its toll, and when tension is relieved very frequently a reaction sets in. This may have been so with Hezekiah, because he fell ill. He had a dangerous tumour, and as he lay on his bed Isaiah came in with a message from God: “Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.” This was the hardest blow of all, and Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed: “I beseech thee, 0 Lord, remember now howl have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight.” The 38th chapter of Isaiah tells us his reflections at that time. Hezekiah knew what death was, a reality, and he said, “The grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee.” He knew of the promise of the coming Seed who should bruise the serpent power in the head and who would be the resurrection and the life; but to die now, when everything seemed bright in the Kingdom!
Isaiah went out of the king’s presence, no doubt very sad at heart, but he had not gone very far before the Spirit spoke to him again:
“Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears, Behold, I will heal thee; and on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the Lord. And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and Twill deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria.” We can well imagine the quickened steps of Isaiah as he went back with this great news, and the word was immediately confirmed with a remarkable sign. God said: “I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees.” There is no need to speculate how God performed that great miracle; commentators love to voice their views upon it; but the Scripture says the shadow went back ten degrees, and that is all we need to know. We are all so puny in our minds that we are apt unconsciously to limit the power of the Eternal, but God can do as lie wills with the planets or the sun. So the shadow went back on the sun dial of Ahaz, and so it did on the sun dials of Babylon. Those people were interested in astronomy, and they heard that it was a sign given to the king in Jerusalem, and so they sent ambassadors to enquire about this wonder. They sent presents to Hezekiah, and he was greatly exalted and magnified in the eyes of the surrounding nations; no doubt the news had reached them of the destruction of Sennacherib’s army in one night.
Then the inspired record says of Hezekah, “His heart was lifted up”; “he rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him.” So God left him to test him. Hezekiah had built up the wall of Jerusalem against the enemy, but now in the plenitude of material prosperity the wall of separation was broken down; the ambassadors from Babylon were received and shown everything in his house. Hezekiah was 39 years of age when he was told he should die and when he prayed earnestly, and God added 15 years to him, and those added years nearly proved his undoing. However, he was of the right material; God rebuked him through Isaiah, and the rebuke went home. Hezekiah humbled himself and he was forgiven. So the fifteen years became ten years, then five and then one; he knew when he should die, but this time he was composed in mind, and he died in that hope which sustained him through a long and trying experience, the hope of a resurrection from the dead, a rising to eternal life. Hezekiah will be among that seed whom Jesus in that day will behold, when he “shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied.”
Now there is a great lesson for us in these experiences of Hezekiah. God’s care of His people today is just as tender and just as effectual as it was in the days of Hezekiah. God does not work by miracle or sign, but be sure that whatever trial we may pass through, God’s care will never fail. There are times when our feet well nigh slip and we cannot trace the working of the divine hand; but if we cannot trace, let us never fail to trust. We have all said: “Thy way not mine, 0 Lord, However dark it be”; and how frequently it is true that it is much safer for us when the day is dark. It was so in Hezekiah’s case.
Now, thanks be to God, the night is far spent, and the sorrows of the night will very soon be forgotten in thejoy of the morning. We are very near the end of the journey, and when that wonderful host, that happy company that John saw in vision, becomes an actual reality, as it will be not many years ahead, may God grant that you and I and all our dear brethren and sisters who have tried to serve the Lord and longed for his return, may find a place reserved for us in that great throng. Tribulation is only a passing phase, and if in that day we find ourselves in that great company, we shall be able to look back, and shall feel that it was a very light affliction compared with the glory that will then be ours:—-G. M. Clements