Month 5:22, Week 3:7 (Shibi'i/Sukkot), Year 5935:136 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Sunday 21 August 2011
The Sin of Hezekiah
How His Debt to Yahweh Was Repaid
Shabbat shalom kol beit Yisra'el!
"Hezekiah had very great riches and honour. And he made himself treasuries for silver, for gold, for precious stones, for spices, for shields, and for all kinds of desirable items; storehouses for the harvest of grain, wine, and oil; and stalls for all kinds of livestock, and folds for flocks. Moreover he provided cities for himself, and possessions of flocks and herds in abundance; for Elohim (God) had given him very much property. This same Hezekiah also stopped the water outlet of Upper Gihon, and brought the water by tunnel to the west side of the City of David. Hezekiah prospered in all his works. However, regarding the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, whom they sent to him to inquire about the wonder that was done in the land, Elohim (God) withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his lev (heart)" (2 Chr.32:27-31, NKJV).
King Hezekiah of Judah is one of the few shining lights in the annals of the kings of Judah and Israel, and one of the most outstanding kings of the tribe of Judah. He achieved fame both for his exceptional piety and for his vigorous political activities and religious reform (2 Ki.18-22; Is.36-39; 2 Chr.19-32).
As a result of Ahaz's abject submission to Assyria, the religious life of the nation had been contaminated by heathen influences. Isaiah's early prophecies reveal the superstition, idolatry and spiritual blindness of the people (Is.2:6ff; 8:16ff, etc.). From the beginning of his reign Hezekiah sought to put matters right (2 Chr.29:2ff.). The temple was reopened and cleansed from all that made it unfit for use, true worship was re-established, and the ancient covenant between Yahweh and Israel was reaffirmed. Indeed, numerous Israelies from the north, at the invitation of Hezekiah, attended one of the greatest Pesachs (Passovers) ever since the disruption (2 Chr.30). Hezekiah's reformation spread beyond Jerusalem itself and into the countryside of Judah and Benjamin and as far north as Ephraim and Manasseh. So great was its impact (2 Ki.18:4; 2 Chr.31:1). He even destroyed the Mosaic bronze serpent which had become an idolatrous object of veneration.
In spite of all the good he did, Hezekiah had a major weakness, and it was this weakness that caused Yahweh to withdraw from him, as we read:
What happened here? The King of Babylon dispatched envoys to congratulate Hezekiah on his recovery from a serious illness. However, there was more to this embassy that was sent. They were sent to report back to the King on Hezekiah's successful revolt against the King of Assyria (who was an enemy of Babylon), and possibly also to find out more about the going back of the sun, which would of course have been experienced in Babylon and elsewhere too. Since the Babylonians worshipped the sun, they undoubtedly wanted to know why Hezekiah was so honoured with a miracle the likes of which had never been seen before. Here was a Judahite king who had not only triumphed against their mutual enemy Assyria but apparently was able to get their sun-god to do an amazing thing! They undoubtedly wanted to know why their god favoured Hezekiah do highly, so that they could honour the one their god had so honoured, and so obtain their god's blessings too.
"However, regarding the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, whom they sent to him to inquire about the wonder that was done in the land, Elohim (God) withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his lev (heart)" (2 Chr.32:31, NKJV)
And yet these miracles were sent by Yahweh not to honour any mythical sun-god but to awaken a stupid and careless world obsessed with lifeless idols and turn it to the living Elohim (God). Though startled by these amazing events, the Babylonians were not, as we know, converted to Yahweh, and would not start converting until the appearing of the Messiah much later (Mt.2:1-2). Worse, in some respects, was the fact that the attention given to Hezekiah by Babylon's ambassadors turned his head somewhat, and he began glorying in himself, enjoying the limelight and fame it brought him. He was lifted up in his pride.
People often wonder why Yahweh doesn't do great and fantastic miracles that often and the reason is man's pride. His unconquered flesh just can't help basking in the glory that was meant for Yahweh alone. At any rate, we are told that Hezekiah sinned in this matter and Yahweh left him to himself so that he could be tried and tested. This was for Hezekiah's own good so that he could discover what darkness lay lurking in his lev (heart) that he was unaware of. The struggle, that would result upon Yahweh departing from him, would reveal plainly to him that he was not as holy as he thought he was. He would get to better know himself, his own weakness and sinfulness, so that he would not in future be so conceited and self-confident. His journey into the dark recesses of his lev (heart) would teach Hezekiah to think more humbly about himself and to live in greater dependence upon divine grace.
Ever single one of us, great and small, has to learn this lesson. And it is a hard lesson...a painful lesson. Left to ourselves without the presence of Yahweh, we are indeed most pitiful, and hardly worthy of the accolates poured upon us by admirers, be they pagan Babylonians or fellow believers. So Yahweh left Hezekiah alone, to be proud of his wealth - to no doubt discover that the poorest person is the one whose only wealth is money - but mostly to prevent him from being proud of his set-apartness (holiness) as Yahweh's servant.
Hezekiah's lev (heart) was lifted up - he was proud of the honour that Yahweh had bestowed upon him so many times: the honour his neighbours did in bringing him presents, and now this royal embassy from Babylon to win his favour - these must have really made him proud. The irony is that the one who had himself destroyed the idolatries of his countrymen began to idolise himself.
We learn, from this, the supreme importance of great, good and useful men studying their own infirmities and follies. We learn also the supreme importance for such men to come to understand that their heavenly giftings are the result of Yahweh's undeserved loving-kindness - His unmerited favour - His grace - which are not things they have in any way 'earned'. We learn the supreme importance for such men never to think highly of themselves and to earnestly beg Yahweh to resolve pride for them and keep them humble! For if they do not, Yahweh - who will not share His glory with anyone - will humble them in ways that will humiliate them before those whose praises they once basked in.
Indeed, I know of one minister who is astounded that people have stopped tithing to him because of all the wonderful things (as he supposes) he has done for them. The emet (truth) of the matter is that no one owes us ministers anything and we are, by default, expected to work to provide an income for our families, and not rely on our congregations, and especially not in these hard times. What we have in terms of the ministerial fruits of our labours comes from Yahweh, no matter how hard we may work, because the bottom line is that in serving others we are in the employment of Yahweh, not men. If they are led by the Ruach (Spirit) to support us economically, all well and good, but to expect to be paid for our service immediately ceases to make our service a work of ahavah (love) but of contractual employment.
So what, then, is the proper response to Yahweh's favours to us? How do we repay Him, as it were? Or as King David asked:
So what would you have done had you been King Hezekiah? How would you have responded to the miracles and grace shown to you? David knew:
"What shall I render to Yahweh for all His benefits toward me?" (Ps.116:12, NKJV).
Or as a more modern version puts it:
"I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of Yahweh. I will pay my vows to Yahweh now in the presence of all His people" (Ps.116:13-14, NKJV).
In other words, what is required of us is to give Yahweh public credit for everything - to acknowledge His salvation and publicly credit Yahweh with every gift, blessing and miracle we have received. The aggravation of Hezekiah's sin was that he made such a bad return to Yahweh for His many favours, making these favours the food and fuel of his pride instead of His public praise and acknowledgement. He did not render what was due to Yahweh as David explained. Our ingratitude to Yahweh will be charged to our account and make us debtors - our debts are settled by giving Yahweh glory through public acknowledgement of the source of our blessings. That is all we have to do. And Hezekiah didn't...at first.
"I will bring him an offering of wine and praise His Name for saving me. I will publicly bring Him the sacrifice I vowed I would" (Ps.116:13-14, LB).
Hezekiah's failure to credit Yahweh for what Yahweh had done cost both him and his kingdom dearly. Recall how Moses, who failed to credit Yahweh for a miracle bringing forth water from a rock cost him the privilege of entering the Holy land - he was allowed only to view it from a distance, on Mt.Pisgah. And interestingly, a volcano of the same name is erupting in California, a prophetic reminder to Americans for failing to give Yahweh credit for all He has done for that nation.
We may be tempted to believe that Hezekiah's and Moses' sins were little ones of no consequence but Yahweh says strongly otherwise. Pride is hated by Yahweh and becomes all the more devious when it appears to be something good. Doubtless Hezekiah thought he was being civil in showing the Babylonian ambassadors his treasures. Yahweh loathes pride and especially in His own people. Those that exalt themselves can expect to be abased and put under humbling circumstances. Yah's wrath came down hard on David for taking a census instead of trusting in Yahweh to provide!
Mercifully, Hezekiah got the message - he figured out what was going on, the true state of his lev (heart) was revealed to him, and he repented before Yahweh. Bible commentator Matthew Henry points out five practical lessons that are to be learned from his incident:
Finally, Hezekiah's personal repentance as king halted Yahweh's full judgment on the nation as a whole which had not fully repented. So long as he was alive, the terrible judgment that would result in Babylonian exile, was postponed. And what are the benefits of postponment? They give us more time to repent, an act of grace bestowed by someone else's repentance as our head.
- 1. Though [Yahweh] may, for wise and holy ends, suffer his people to fall into sin, yet He will not suffer them to lie still in it; they shall not be utterly cast down;
- 2. Heart-sins are to be repented of, though they go no further;
- 3. Self-humiliation is a necessary branch of repentance;
- 4. Pride of heart, by which we have lifted up ourselves, is a sin for which we ought in a special manner to humble ourselves; and
- 5. People ought to mourn for the sins of their rulers. The inhabitants of Jerusalem humbled themselves with Hezekiah, because they either knew that they also had been guilty of the same sin, or at least feared that they might share in the punishment.
It is well to remember that Hezekiah's sin was of the lev (heart) and not an overt action, but it was still offensive to the Most High. In this regard we all stand condemned. But he repented and died in grace. So must we. Hezekiah was honoured in life and in death, making the heavenly hall of fame because he finally conquered the master sin of pride.
Plucking our the eye or cutting of the hand that sins - the instruments of sinful desires leading to overt sin - is clearly not enough (Mt.5:29-30) - we have to deal with the mind and lev (heart) roots too. This is tough but necessary and we have probably failed more than we would care to admit. If the Ruach (Spirit) is withdrawn from your life it may well be so that you can come to know your own lev (heart), like King Hezekiah, in which case we all know what we have to do.
With that in mind, I bid you a fond chairo (2 Cor.13:11)!