A Great Revival (Hezekiah)
Notes of addresses on the life of King Hezekiah
Address 1 : “A Free Heart” and “An Upright Heart” (2 Chr. 29)
We read in Romans 15:4 that “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” I am therefore the more free to turn to this Old Testament story of a great revival.
Hezekiah comes before us as a lovely example of the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Luke 12:31). From the very day that he mounted the throne his heart was engrossed in the things of the Lord. He was true to his name, which means “Strength of the Lord.”
“He, in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them” (v. 3). “Now they began on the first day of the first month to sanctify” (v. 17). Clearly he had not been many hours on the throne before the edict went out that produced such beautiful results. The condition of God’s people at this time was deplorable: the temple doors were shut, the lamps put out, neither incense nor burnt-offerings were offered to God, and the priests and Levites were starving. A worse state of affairs it were impossible to conceive. But God began to put things right by putting Hezekiah right first; and He did not begin with his head, or his hands, but his heart. If the heart be not right, all is wrong. God’s work always begins inside: it is striking how often the heart is referred to in the history of Hezekiah. He was a man who was not occupied with the work, but with the Lord, and therefore the work he did was most beautiful. The secret was this: “And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered” (chap. 31:21). We are told that “after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him. For he clave to the Lord, and departed not from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses. And the Lord was with him; and he prospered” (2 Ki. 18:5-7).
The books of Kings and Chronicles are by no means a repetition one of another. In the two books of Kings the history is given of both the kings of Israel and Judah, and their reigns concisely recorded, whereas in the books of Chronicles the history of the kings of Judah is given more fully, because they were connected with the temple and the house of the Lord; and the Holy Spirit records, with great detail, all that marked them in the question of devotedness to the Lord. On the one hand, some of these kings did “right in the sight of the Lord” (a very common phrase in these books), and, on the other hand, were those who “did evil.” Their conduct was almost always connected in some way or other with the house of the Lord, for the temple which Solomon built was the centre for every godly Jew.
You may not have noticed, but it is worth your while, in reading these books, to observe that the prophets Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah all brought out the mind of the Lord during the times of this king, Hezekiah: but not in his reign only, but also in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, kings of Judah (Isa. 1:1; Hosea 1:1; Micah 1:1).
It is an interesting and instructive study to compare the way these prophecies were received by the three kings I have mentioned, and the effect for prosperity or the reverse on each. On Hezekiah the prophetic word of the Lord, which dealt with the people’s moral departure from Himself, and warned of judgment if they did not repent, made a very deep impression: so much so that in Jeremiah’s day after the lapse of a century, the memory of it was still fresh, and we find the elders of the land speaking of how Hezekiah did “fear the Lord, and besought the Lord, and the Lord repented Him of the evil which He had pronounced against them” (Jer. 26:19). That evil, we learn from the preceding verses, was judgment, of which the nation was warned through the prophet Micah, and the testimony of the elders proves conclusively that the prophecy produced deep exercise of heart in Hezekiah.
What was it that led to Hezekiah’s revival? He had heard the word of the Lord. The word of God had entered into his soul and led him to self-judgment, repentance, and prayer, and then set him in movement towards that which was eventually effected. In plain language, the prophetic warning of God had fallen into a heart that was tender, exercised, and desirous to learn the mind of the Lord and to do the will of the Lord. Now I believe if we are to prosper, this is the great secret.
Now if you will trace the history at your leisure, you will find that spiritual decline in Judah was continuous from the days of Uzziah to the days of Ahaz. Jotham “did that which was right in the sight of the Lord. . . Howbeit, the high places were not removed” (2 Ki. 15:34-35). He was not himself an idolater, but he did not oppose it; he did not see the importance of clearing away that which was offensive to God; and the high places, a dishonour to Jehovah and a snare to the people, were allowed to remain.
But the climax of the departure was reached by Ahaz. “He sacrificed unto the gods of Damascus, which smote him: and he said, Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me. But they were the ruin of him, and of all Israel. And Ahaz gathered together the vessels of the house of God, and cut in pieces the vessels of the house of God, and shut up the doors of the house of the Lord, and he made him altars in every corner of Jerusalem. And in every several city of Judah he made high places to burn incense unto other gods, and provoked to anger the Lord God of his fathers” (2 Chr. 28:23-25).
This was the condition of the land: the temple doors shut, the lamps put out, and the vessels of the house of God cut in pieces and given to foreign kings. And at that moment Hezekiah mounted the throne. In 2 Kings 18:4 there is given a beautiful summary of the actions of his reign: “He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan” (i.e. a piece of brass: all that it was).
We further read of Hezekiah that “he trusted in the Lord God of Israel.” Here is the secret of his devoted pathway, which is thus commended: “So that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him. For he clave to the Lord” (vv. 5-6). That is a beautiful word; may God print it in our heart and mind. “He clave to the Lord.” It is the secret of peace within and power without. Notice its place in the Acts. Barnabas went to Antioch, “and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord” (Acts 11:23). It was this that Hezekiah did. “He clave to the Lord, and departed not from following Hun, but kept His commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses” (v. 6). Here, again, is a wonderful principle. He kept His commandments, His word. The word of God ruled in his soul. And now see the consequence: “And the Lord was with him.” Do I want to have the Lord with me? I must cleave to Him. “And he prospered whithersoever he went forth: and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not” (v. 7).
And now let us glance at the twenty-ninth chapter of 2 Chronicles. The first thing we find is that “he, in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them” (v. 3). Hezekiah’s first act as king was to throw open the doors of the house of the Lord, those doors so long closed. And others were immediately affected by this one fervent, earnest, real, living man. “And he brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them together into the east street” (v. 4). We are little aware of how we can influence others. If I am cold and half-hearted, I shall chill you, and vice-versa. That shows the importance of being warm. Yes, right with God, and warm and fervent in divine things. “And [he] said unto them, Hear me, ye Levites; sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place” (v. 5). What does not suit God must go. Ah! the Lord help us to carry forth the filthiness. Who are to do this? Christians, you and me. “But,” you say, “filthiness is a strong word.” It is. But it is the word used In 2 Corinthians 7:1.
The call has gone out: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:17-18). “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). The very thing that was done in the house of the Lord in Hezekiah’s day we are to do in ours. But here is the difference. We do not do it for our neighbour. I have to do it myself, so have you. I must be practically what Hezekiah made the house of the Lord. He cleared it of all that did not suit God.
The house of God today is made up of all God’s dear people. This is its collective aspect. But, further, your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost, and I think the “cleansing ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit” is the holy continuous habit in our souls of judging and repudiating what we find and feel will not suit God. That is where revival begins among God’s people.
But pass on. There follows honest confession of sin and backsliding. “For our fathers have trespassed, and done that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord our God, and have forsaken Him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord, and turned their backs. Also they have shut up the doors of the porch, and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense nor offered burnt-offerings in the holy place, unto the God of Israel” (vv. 6-7). Are there any in this condition morally today? Yes this is the condition of the backslider. People sometimes say to me, “Why do you talk so much about backsliders?” Because I am continually meeting them, and if there is a man under the sun to be pitied it is a backslider. No light, no power, no testimony, and crying, perhaps over his weakness, and bemoaning his state, instead of being happy in the Lord’s love. Open the doors of your heart, poor backslider, and have the lamps relit. The Holy Ghost waits and would gladly re-enlighten your soul, and keep it very bright too.
Hezekiah said: “Wherefore the wrath of the Lord was upon Judah and Jerusalem, and He hath delivered them to trouble, to astonishment, and to hissing, as ye see with your eyes” (v. 8). But he is not discouraged. He said: “Now it is in mine heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that His fierce wrath may turn away from us” (v. 10). He began with his own heart, not his head. A lot of people are intelligent, but uncommonly cold. Such can discourse wonderfully about the truths of Scripture, but what one longs for is the fervent, hearty, breathing love to the Lord, to His people, and to all the varied interests of Christ. Note these words: “It is in mine heart.” That was right. The affections were in play. Of what use to the Lord are my brains or my hands if He has not my heart? He says: “My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways” (Prov. 23:26). Hezekiah’s heart was right; may ours be also.
Then be said: “My sons, be not now negligent: for the Lord hath chosen you to stand before Him, to serve Him, and that ye should minister unto Him, and burn incense” (v. 11). How beautifully he exhorts these Levites, as he reminds them of their privileges. And, beloved fellow Christian, nearness to the Lord is the privilege of every one of us. Not merely the old or intelligent; every Christian is so chosen. Each child of God is in that sense a Levite, for service, as well as a priest now. In service you are a Levite. In priesthood you form part of a company worshipping God together.
Well, what is the effect of this fervent exhortation! A certain few come to the front (see vv. 12-14). “And they gathered their brethren, and sanctified themselves, and came, according to the commandment of the king, by the words of the Lord, to cleanse the house of the Lord” (v. 15). It is beautiful to see how the movement spreads. “And the priests went into the inner part of the house of the Lord, to cleanse it and brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the Lord into the court of the house of the Lord. And the Levites took it, to carry it out abroad into the brook Kidron” (v. 16).
The priests appear on the scene now. Why did not Hezekiah call the priests before the Levites? We learn the reason in verse 34. “For the Levites were more upright in heart to sanctify themselves than the priests.” The Lord records this here for a purpose, for the priests had a higher function than the Levites. You may sometimes find a person with a good deal less spiritual light more upright in heart than those who plume themselves on possessing great knowledge.
The re-establishment of the work of God on a right and proper basis is given in verses 17-19, and is very instructive. All that was evil was taken away, and that which was proper was brought back. Now observe what followed. “Then Hezekiah the king rose early, and gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of the Lord. And they brought seven bullocks, and seven rams, and seven lambs, and seven he-goats, for a sin-offering for the kingdom, and for the sanctuary, and for Judah: and he commanded the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar of the Lord” (vv. 20-21). There was a sense of the sin that marked the whole kingdom, and it was acknowledged. If there is to be a real revival before the Lord comes, must there not be a sense of what the sin of the whole professing church has been? It is an immense thing when, in our confession to God, we can identify ourselves with all saints, and take in the whole Christian circle. You find this thought presented here as “they brought forth the he-goats for the sin-offering before the king and the congregation; and they laid their hands upon them” (v. 23). There you have identification. “And the priests killed them, and they made reconciliation with their blood upon the altar, to make an atonement for all Israel; for the king commanded that the burnt-offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel” (v. 34). That was for the whole kingdom. How right-hearted and large-hearted was Hezekiah. He felt the blood that could meet Judah’s sin could meet Israel’s too. That is a great point. And we too must in confession, as well as in appreciation of Christ’s atoning sacrifice get the sense in our souls of the unity of the church of God.
Now pass on. The atonement was made and then “he set the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet; for so was the commandment of the Lord by His prophets” (v. 25). This verse suggests the thought that there was great attention paid to Scripture. You will always find that in every divine revival of God’s people there is a turning to God’s Word. It is clear that it was that which at first so moved Hezekiah’s own soul. And now you observe, as the movement spreads, that it was not what they wished, or liked, or thought proper, but it was at “the commandment of the Lord.” “And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt-offering upon the altar. And when the burnt-offering began the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel” (v. 27). Now the sin offering is that which meets our guilt; while the burnt-offering is the presenting to God of all that Christ is in the fragrance of His wondrous devotedness to God and His glory, even unto death.
Now observe. “When the burnt-offering began, the song of the Lord began also.” God never forgets the value of Christ’s wonderful life and death. It is ever before God. The song of the Lord begins when we get a true sense in our souls of the abiding fragrance of Christ Godward. “And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded” (v. 28). Not a few singers now, but every heart was touched with a sense of the goodness of the Lord. “And all this continued until the burnt-offering was finished” (v. 28). It will never be finished, thank God, for us, for all that Christ has offered abides before God for ever.
“Then Hezekiah answered and said, Now ye have consecrated yourselves unto the Lord, come near and bring sacrifices and thank-offerings into the house of the Lord. And the congregation brought in sacrifices and thank-offerings; and as many as were of A FREE HEART, burnt-offerings” (v. 31). Now their devotion begins. It was not merely a commanded sin-offering and a burnt-offering, but they had an opportunity of being devoted and seized it. What is a free heart? it indicates a heart that does not think of itself. A “free heart” is a heart controlled by Christ, full of Christ, and devoted to Christ. That is, Christ is everything. “A free heart” will show itself, not by what it says, but by what it does.
The Levites were more upright in heart than the priests (v. 35); they had a more perfect judgment as to the failure and sin, and of what was due to God in consequence. A beautiful picture of real fellowship and communion, and the sense of what the grace of God was, is given us here. “So the service of the house of the Lord was set in order. And Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, that God had prepared the people: for the thing was done suddenly” (vv. 35-36).
And should not we long for something similar today? Should we be content with the existing state of things? No, let us look to God, and count upon Him, and seek to help each other. How wide was the influence of that young king, though but twenty-five! The Lord give us to have a true heart, a free heart, and an upright heart, a heart that is set on the interests of Christ, and Christ alone.
The events of chapter 29 had taken place very rapidly, and they show what a blessed revival may occur among God’s people if there be only one man with a heart set to please the Lord. We learn here what is the mighty and far-reaching effect of personality, the effect that you may have upon everybody round about you. You may say Hezekiah was a king, but it was not his kingly power that gave him his mighty influence. It was his state of heart.
His heart was right with God, and he was in thorough subjection to the Word of God, He had taken to heart the message that God sent to him by the prophets, and that cast him back upon the Scriptures, and from them he found what was the wish of the Lord for His people. He discovered that it was God’s desire that they should be constantly reminded of the great deliverance from Egypt’s bondage that He had wrought for them. The passover was instituted as a yearly feast to commemorate this intervention of the Lord on their behalf.
The Time for the Passover
But here a difficulty faced him. That feast by divine appointment had to be kept on the fourteenth day of the first month. But this was impossible for Hezekiah, for the house of the Lord was in a state of uncleanness, and the priests and people were alike unready. “They could not keep it at that time, because the priests had not sanctified themselves sufficiently, neither had the people gathered themselves together to Jerusalem” (v. 3).
A less diligent student of the law than Hezekiah might have said “We have lost our chance and must wait another year ere we can please the Lord in this matter;” but he had read the Word carefully, and discovered that God had made a provision in His grace for those who were unable to keep the passover at the appointed season. This provision was for the celebration of the feast on the fourteenth day of the second month (Num. 9:6-14).
Thus at the outset he found that the grace of God’s heart could meet the people in their weakness, and so shall we find it whenever we prepare our hearts to seek the Lord.
The Place for the Passover
God also appointed the place for the keeping of the passover. It was to be kept “at the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place His name in” (Deut. 16:6). This place was Jerusalem, where the temple stood, and to that one place as one people they had to gather in the name of the Lord.
Jeroboam had turned Israel from God’s appointment. He made Israel to sin by setting up other altars and places for worship. His act was independency and gross rebellion against the Word of God. If Hezekiah kept God’s centre before him, and also the whole of Israel as connected with that centre.
He had all Israel in his heart; there was the divine sense in his soul that God’s people were one. And so he sent out the proclamation “throughout all Israel, from Beer-sheba even to Dan that they should come to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem; for they had not done it of a long time in such sort as it was written” (v. 5). Had be been a sectary, a narrow-minded man, he would have said, “We are the people, and we have got the temple; and as for these naughty ten tribes, let them alone, they have all gone wrong, but we are right.” But no such thought filled Hezekiah’s heart. He had a profoundly deep sense that the people of God were one. Hence his action here.
There is an important lesson for us in this. Caiaphas prophesied “that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad” (John 11:51-52). And throughout the New Testament the thought of this oneness is found. It is so easy to forget this and become occupied with a narrow circle, to settle down in sectarian indifference to others, and so practically deny the truth of God as to the oneness of His saints. Moreover, the saints of God are all united by the Holy Ghost to one blessed Head, and God is gathering them to one centre, which is Christ. His name is upon them, and it is this that makes them one. The oneness in Christianity is far more complete than in Israel: there it was twelve tribes one nation; now it is many members but one body.
Hezekiah took care that the sin offering should be for all Israel, and now he sends out the invitation to the passover to all Israel; he had a very large heart. Let us cultivate that. Now see the effect of that letter on Israel; they were connected with the rebellious altars at Dan and Bethel, but Hezekiah determined to bring them face to face with the truth, that they might be delivered from what they were in. This is the way to help souls; it is not sufficient to say this in wrong and that is wrong, but bring out the truth. “The truth shall make you free.”
We do not read that they destroyed a single altar, as this great congregation came up from Dan and Beersheba. No, they were not in a moral state to do it; but they were sufficiently interested to come up to Jerusalem. Then they set aside what was wrong in Jerusalem before they partook of the passover (v. 17), and then, in the next chapter, you find that on their way back they broke the images in pieces, cut down the groves, and threw down the high places everywhere. There was a mighty awakening of the truth in the mind of God’s people then. The moment they were obedient to God, and kept the passover according to divine order, they had had fourteen days of fellowship and gladness, and it transformed their lives. It will be ever so, the light dispels the darkness, and it is in the power of the truth that evil is destroyed.
Mark well the terms of Hezekiah’s letter. “Ye children of Israel, turn again unto the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and He will return to the remnant of you, that are escaped out of the hands of the kings of Assyria” (v. 6). Observe how that principle goes all through Scripture. You return to the Lord, and He will return to you. God never lends His presence to disobedience. He must have obedience and subjection. Subjection to God’s Word is a principle of the finest and last importance for the soul’s blessing and happiness. Progress is always connected with obedience. I cannot press that too deeply. Obey the Lord. Obey His Word. Do not talk to me about legality, and beware of licence. Obedience to the Lord is the right thing. Happiness lies in obedience. Never has any child of God traversed or transgressed a single bit of God’s Word but he has brought some sorrowful effect upon himself which he would have escaped if he had obeyed the Word. God cannot help and bless the backslider in his disobedience. But God graciously calls you, poor back-sliding heart, to return to Himself, to the fact that He has loved you and that Christ has died for you. What blessed you in the beginning? His love. What cleansed you? His blood. What made your heart dance for joy? His grace. Has He altered? Ah no, He is ever the same.
“And sweet ’tis to discover,
If clouds have dimmed my sight,
When passed, Eternal Lover,
Towards me as e’er Thou’rt bright.”
King Hezekiah sent out the posts to all Israel and Judah, with an urgent appeal that they should come to Jerusalem to keep the passover, and most touching was the message they carried to the rebellious nation. The basis of it was the grace and mercy of God. Hezekiah was not ignorant of the God whose Word he sought to obey, for he said of Him, “The Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away His face from you, if ye return unto Him.” All hope for the backslider’s restoration and for any revival among the people of God must ever lie in what God is. “So the posts passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, even unto Zebulun: but they laughed them to scorn, and mocked them” (v. 10). There was some power in the testimony evidently, to produce such a result; but the people judged that it was the height of absurdity to attempt to keep a feast which spoke of the oneness of Israel when that nation was broken and oppressed; and that under the conditions it would be impossible to act in obedience to the word of God. You will find it even so today: to attempt to be obedient to the word of God alone will call forth the pity of many. “Paul’s Epistles,” say they, “and the doings of the early disciples were all well enough for those far-off days, but you cannot take these tor your guide today. You must at least water down the truth of God, be prepared to compromiser and suit your views to your environment.” If we are to stand against the scorn of the scorners we must be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
Though many refused the overtures of the king, God did not leave him without comfort, for we read, “Nevertheless diverse of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem” (v. 11). The person who seeks to walk in the truth will find that God will help him, cheer him, and maintain him. He will also find others to accept it and hold it with him. “Diverse humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.” This was Hezekiah’s reward. God gave to these men who humbled themselves before Him and gathered to obey His word a time of joy and gladness, for “they kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness.”
The Meaning of the Passover
We might turn aside from our narrative to see briefly what the passover was and what it teaches us. It was instituted to be a constant reminder to the Israelites of the great deliverance that God had wrought for them when He redeemed them out of the bondage of Egypt. It is called “the offering of the Lord” (Num. 9). It spoke, in type, to God of Christ in all the perfect goodness of His heart, giving Himself to death for the glory of God and the deliverance of His people. It is not only what meets us: the sprinkled blood was for God’s eye; by it the claims of righteousness were met and His people redeemed. There are four striking scriptures in the New Testament that mark out the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ as the antitype of the passover: “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:36); “But when they came to Jesus, and saw that He was dead already, they brake not His legs. . . For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of Him shall not be broken” (John 19:33 and 36); “For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7); and “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1 Peter 1:18-20). Therefore the passover is a touching figure of the perfection of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A feast for the commemoration of Himself, and of His love in going into death for us, was instituted by our Lord on the night of His betrayal; it is called the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11), and answers to the passover feast. No Christian can afford to treat this feast of remembrance lightly; spiritual decay must be the result of such conduct, just as the Israelite who made light of the passover came under God’s hand and died. This is the feast of which every one who loves the Lord should partake, but in a humbled and self-judged spirit: let a man examine himself and so let him eat (1 Cor. 11:28).
The Feast of Unleavened Bread
But they also kept the feast of unleavened bread. The leaven spoke of evil; during that week it was not to be in their houses, and these people had a sense of what they were doing, for they began at once to remove from their midst what was unsuited to God. “They arose and took away the altars that were in Jerusalem, and all the altars for incense took they away, and cast them into the brook Kidron” (v. 14). Observe, even in Judah, where things were outwardly right, where the temple and the worship of Jehovah were there were idolatrous altars. And it is quite possible for people to be right outwardly and correct as to doctrine, and yet to be harbouring idols: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” The unleavened bread speaks of holy separateness to Christ. Let us keep that feast.
The priests and Levites sanctified themselves and brought burnt-offerings into the house of the Lord. Every Christian is both a priest and a Levite: a priest for worship, a Levite for service. If you are a Christian, you are of the holy priesthood, and your privilege is to go into the sanctuary and there exercise your priestly function in worship Godward. You are also a Levite, to undertake service and testimony to Christ.
The mercy of God, which awoke them to do that which was pleasing to Him, followed them through the doing of it. This was specially manifested when some of them, through ignorance doubtless, “did eat the passover otherwise than it was written” (v. 18). For these Hezekiah took the place of intercessor and prayed for them, saying, “The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God. . . though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary” (vv. 18-19). That intercession was not in vain, for “Me Lord hearkened to Hezekiah and healed the people.” Let none fear because of weakness or ignorance to approach to God, for we have a mighty Intercessor on high, and if our hearts are prepared we shall ever prove the mercy of the Lord.
So they “kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness: and the Levites and the priests praised the Lord day by day, singing with loud instruments unto the Lord” (v. 21). Moreover, the Levites taught the people “the good knowledge of God;” and “there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the days of Solomon. . . there was not the like in Jerusalem. Then the priests the Levites arose and blessed the people: and their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to His holy dwelling place, even unto heaven” (vv. 26-27).
Great joy amongst the people, as we have seen, was the result of the revival of God’s work in the heart of Hezekiah. This joy was caused, not by an access of wealth or prosperity to themselves, but by the fact that the house of God had been opened, the lamps of it lit, the altars furnished, and the priests and Levites fulfilling the appointed tasks, the feasts of Jehovah had been restored. The joy was entirely because the people had got right with God, because their lives were being adjusted according to His Word—a very important thing for us to remember.
The thirtieth chapter closes in a most beautiful way: “So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon . . . there was not the like in Jerusalem. Then the priests the Levites arose and blessed the people: and their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to His holy dwelling place, even unto heaven.”
Now we learn that the blessing of God produces practical results; and indeed, for us, if Christianity is not practical, it is nothing. It consists of something more than “great joy” and prayer, it has its activities, and these are seen illustrated in our chapter.
“Now when all this was finished, all Israel that were present went out to the cities of Judah and brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, and threw down the high places and the altars out of all Judah and Benjamin, in Ephraim also and Manasseh, until they had utterly destroyed them all. Then all the children of Israel returned, every man to his possession, into their own cities” (chap. 31:1).
Not a single altar was touched while they went up to Jerusalem. They had not the spiritual power for that then, nor had they then the sense of what was right. But fourteen days in the presence of the Lord, and fourteen days in the enjoyment of the truth, wrought wondrously. There is nothing like that for putting people right; it is in “Thy light” that we see light.
They now go away, and the altars are cut down.
There is a lesson here for us. It is not by the mere condemnation of evil that the work of God is done, but if the truth is ministered to the saints of God, if they receive it and enjoy it, if their souls are brought by it into the presence of God, there will be as a practical result separation from the evil things—the altars to the false gods will be cast down. The man who spends his time in denouncing what is wrong wastes his life. What you and I have to do is, first to proclaim the truth, and then to maintain the truth, press the truth, and above all live the truth.
If but a few were thoroughly awakened to become the living expression of the grace of Christ, of the truth of Christ, and the ways of Christ, to live daily and hourly in subjection to the Word of God, it would have an immense power in delivering other Christians from evil entanglements. Of course, evil must be exposed, and the saints of God must be warned of the wiles and seduction of the devil; but let there be with the warning the presentation of the positive truth of God, for it is by that truth that saints of God are practically sanctified, and by that alone.
Now we have described a very simple, but a very beautiful outcome of the truth which had found a place in Hezekiah’s own heart. He at once begins to appoint and care for God’s servants, the priests and Levites. He is deeply interested now in those who were in special relation with God in connection with His worship. The Old Testament is a very instructive book in the way it describes the office of the priests and the Levites. They are illustrative of God’s people as worshippers, and likewise as servants. It is a great thing to see that all the Lord’s people are priests, and all the Lord’s people are Levites; they are called “an holy priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5), and they “serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:24). Every Christian has a place in the presence of the Lord in which he or she has the privilege of exercising as a worshipper the priestly function; but a priest cannot do his work well if be is not well fed. This as the great point of chapter 31.
Why were not the priests doing their proper work until now? Why were the doors shut and the lamps out? Azariah tells us in the tenth verse. “And Azariah the chief priest of the house of Zadok answered him, and said, Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the Lord, we have had enough to eat, and have left plenty: for the Lord hath blessed His people; and that which is left is this great store.” God had been robbed of what was due to Him because the priests had been starved. But what lesson does this teach us? Well, if a Christian you are a priest: see to it that your soul is well fed, for if not, you will never be really a worshipper.
Why is it that there is so little true worship to God the Father? Why does He get so little of that which He seeks and delights in? It is because the saints of God feed so little upon Christ, and as a consequence they have no “spiritual sacrifices to offer which are acceptable to God by Christ Jesus” (1 Pet. 2:5). Every person who is part of God’s assembly is a priest. And it is accorded to all His children to bring to God that which is His bread. But to be equal to this privilege we must read the Word of God regularly, carefully, and prayerfully, in His own blessed presence. Feed on Christ, feed on the life of Christ; thus as a priest you will be well fed.
Then we come to the Levites. There is here more the thought of service, and all Christians have the privilege of serving the Lord, in some way or other (Mark 13:34). But if we are not well led, we shall be feeble in service. The priestly work was to bring the sacrifices and to give to God His bread (see Num. 28:2). The Levites had to carry the tabernacle through the wilderness, every part of which spoke of Christ. The boards, the curtains, the cords, the brazen altar, the table of showbread, the candlestick, and the ark of the covenant. They had each some part of the tabernacle to carry, and they thus, in type, each carried a little bit of Christ. Similarly every Christian is called to bear the name and character of Christ through this world, but we can only be rightly strengthened for this as we feed upon Him.
The Giving of the People
Hezekiah thought of God’s servants who were called to His service and determined that they should be encouraged. “He commanded the people that dwelt in Jerusalem to give the portion of the priests and the Levites, that they might be encouraged in the law of the Lord. And as soon as the commandment came abroad, the children of Israel brought in abundance the first-fruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly” (2 Chr. 31:4-5). This is deeply interesting and instructive. Do you think that we are sufficiently exercised on this point? The ninth chapter of 1 and 2 Corinthians each seem to run parallel to this chapter, and throw much light upon the subject of care for the Lord’s servants, and likewise generally on the subject of giving in the interests of the Lord.
God has laid down distinctly in His Word that there was to be a portion for the priests and Levites. Ponder, weigh, and study the scriptures which indicate this for yourself. It is interesting to notice the scripture where tithes are first mentioned. You will find it in Genesis 14. It was not there a question of demand, but a spontaneous gift. “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abraham of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: and blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all” (vv. 18-20).
The Spirit of God comments on this act in Hebrews 7:4: “Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.” Without being told so to do, Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the spoil. Later on, in the history of God’s dealings with men, He said, as it were, “My people shall be the children of Abraham in this respect,” so He bade them pay tithes (Lev. 27:30). God made a claim in that day of law. He does not do that now in this day of grace, but He “loveth a cheerful giver,” and Christian giving is always a question of devotedness to Christ. In Numbers 18 we see why the tenth was claimed (v. 8), and then in the next twelve verses how God took care that His servants should be maintained. The reason was this. “And the Lord spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel” (v. 20). Then He says: “And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for their inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation” (v. 21).
The giving of the tithe brought the giver into touch with God. It brought him to the place of priestly worship, for it is spoken of as a “heave offering.” They had to be brought up to that house where the Lord’s presence was. All true giving is to the Lord, and so a question of communion with Him.
In Deuteronomy 14 we have further important instructions. “Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which He shall choose to place His name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always” (vv. 22-23). God is very exact about this. “At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates; and the Levite (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee), and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widows which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest” (vv. 28-29). There is more of this in Deuteronomy 26. We have there the instructions as to laying down the basket of first-fruits (v. 11), in connection with which Israel owned that they owed their existence as a nation to God’s intervention for them, and that He it was who had brought them into all the wealth that they enjoyed.
Then there follows: “When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled” (v. 12). It is not only the Levite, mark you, but the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow who are to be thought of. How blessedly large is the heart of God; and He would have His people like Himself. Now observe that at this point a serious command occurs: “Then thou shalt say before the Lord thy God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of mine house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all Thy commandments, which Thou hast commanded me: I have not transgressed Thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them” (v. 13). This is the prayer of righteousness. The Jew had actually, as a matter of righteousness, to go in and say to God, “I have a clean breast.”
In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, this matter comes again to the front. God asks a question there. “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed Me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings” (3:8). “Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed Me, even this whole nation” (v. 9). You would surely regard this as a serious charge. But see what follows. “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in Mine house, and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (v. 10).
It is beautiful to note the grace of God here. Mildew had come in, and sorrow had fallen upon them as God’s people; and in the prophecy of Haggai, chapter 1, we see the reason: “Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes” (vv. 5-6). And why was that? God replies: “Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of Mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house” (v. 9). That is to say, God’s hand was upon His people, because they were not devoted to His interests; they had put their own things first.
You may say, But all this had reference to the Jew under law, and we are not under law, but under grace. That is true indeed, but being under grace, and knowing the giving God as we do, shall we be less devoted than they? The moral principles of God’s government are the same, whether in the day of Judaism or the day of Christianity. If we are not devoted the Lord may put His hand upon us. They of Haggai’s day put their money into bags, and when they came again they found holes in them. How did the holes get there? The Lord made them. They did not intend to put their savings into bags having holes in them. The cause of a great deal of the commercial break-up with many of God’s people today may be connected with this. The heart has not been devoted to the Lord, and earthly principles have ruled the mind, and wealth has been sought from selfish motives. We put what we have robbed Him of into a bag, and by and by come and find there is a hole in the bag. All this is intensely practical and very useful for our souls to bear in mind.
Now go back to our chapter once more. Hezekiah sends out his edict. “And as soon as the commandment came abroad, the Children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly. . . In the third month they began to lay the foundation of the heaps, and finished them in the seventh month” (vv. 5-7). The king’s heart must have been delighted. He had given out the edict in Jerusalem (v. 4), that those near by should answer to it, but it had gone right out far and wide, and this was the result. It was beautiful.
“And when Hezekiah and the princes came and saw the heaps, they blessed the Lord, and His people Israel. Then Hezekiah questioned with the priests and the Levites concerning the heaps. And Azariah the chief priest of the house of Zadok answered him, and said, Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the Lord, we have had enough to eat, and have left plenty: for the Lord hath blessed His people; and that which is left is this great store” (vv. 8-10). And so, all the servants were well and beautifully cared for. The moment the people began to respond in the right way to what was God’s claim, in obedience to God’s Word, instead of sowing much and getting little, they sowed little and got much. True is the word, “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth” (Prov. 11:24). You will find this, that the Lord will never be your debtor, nor mine.
I need not say much about the two chapters which I point you to in the New Testament—they speak for themselves. The difference is this: in the ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul lays down the principle “that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (v. 14). Though he, for reason given in his second letter, would not take a penny of them. When you come to the ninth chapter of the second epistle it is more the thought of an answer to God’s unspeakable gift. “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift” (v. 15). What is the answer of our hearts? Take the illustration of it in Luke’s Gospel (chap. 21). That poor widow was devoted to the house of the Lord. She was reduced to two mites, and she cast them both into the treasury. She is the illustration of the most lovely devotedness. She put them both in, the two mites that made a farthing. The temptation was to keep the one and give the other to the Lord, but she cast in both—all her living. Her heart was true to the Lord. It is a picture of devotion to the Lord which He loves to see in His people.
The Lord help us in the sense of what a privilege it is to be here for God. But our enjoyment of priestly service and worship is very largely connected with what I have been touching on, and the subject is of great practical importance.
Its importance in God’s eyes is very clear from the striking comment He makes on Hezekiah’s action, which reads thus: “And thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah, and wrought that which was good and right and truth before the Lord his God. And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered” (vv. 20-21).
Address 4 : The Attack on the “One Altar” (2 Chr. 32:1-22)
The leading feature in the works of Hezekiah was that “in every work that he began in the service of the house of God. . . to seek his God, HE DID IT WITH ALL HIS HEART, AND PROSPERED.” The things of God had the uppermost place in his thoughts.
Yet he had his fears and his failures, and about these the Word of God tells the plain truth and it also records how his faith triumphed in spite of them; and here lies the help for us.
No child of God ever prospered in the things of God without being attacked by the enemy, and God allows this that the prosperity may in the end be greater and more enduring. Therefore we are quite prepared for the attack which the enemy delivers against Hezekiah.
We will turn back to this part of his history as given in the second book of Kings, chapter 18. His record there is very fine “He trusted in the Lord God of Israel . . . For he clave to the Lord, and departed not from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses. And the Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth: and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not” (vv. 5-7).
That was the root of Sennacherib’s invasion: he had lost a servant. Hezekiah’s father had become a permanent tributary to the king of Assyria, and now we find that Hezekiah flings off the yoke, and the consequence is this: “Now in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them.
“And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear.” This was his first hasty impulse, an impulse of fear when the strength of the enemy was more in his mind than the power of God. “And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king’s house. At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria” (vv. 14-16).
I dare say some one says, “Why, that takes the breath from me. The idea that a man who had come out so nobly for God should at the very first difficulty actually strip the house of the Lord of its gold and surrender it to the enemy.” Hezekiah was exactly like you and me, when faith is not in exercise, for if faith is not in exercise the very brightest saint will go down under pressure. For a moment Hezekiah’s faith failed. Although a true, real, and devoted saint, he was but human. But I do not say this to encourage or excuse failure. God forbid. We can never excuse ourselves. And I do not think Hezekiah excused himself. There is a very intimate moral connection between the stripping of the doors and that man covering himself with sackcloth a few days after.
The tribute was sent to the foe, and what was the effect? Did the king of Assyria retire satisfied with what be had obtained? Not he. This weak action did not help Hezekiah, Sennacherib pocketed the gold, and then he sent Rab-shakeh against Jerusalem. Give an inch to the devil and he will at once seek more. Surrender any bit of truth for the sake of quietness and case, and larger demands will at once be made upon you
Then Hezekiah strengthened himself and built up the wall, made shields and darts in abundance, and began to drill his forces. He had tried to buy off the foe, then he prepared to meet Sennacherib’s warriors in stern battle. Both alike were equally futile. Finally he got back to his resources; he got back to God; and spoke unto the people, saying, “Be strong and courageous, be 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” (vv. 6-7).
It is a great thing, beloved fellow-Christian, to get back to God. Hezekiah’s is a sample case. Have you ever gone through anything in the history of your soul at all similar to this? If not, I think it is very likely you will go through it yet. Those who have gone through difficulty, temptation, and exercise can tell us how they have got on. They can say with Hezekiah, “For there be more with us than with him.” Then, if so, why surrender anything to the enemy? Hold fast to every bit of truth that God has shown you, whether as to the person of the Lord, the gospel, or the church.
“Well,” you may say, “I feel I have failed.” So did Hezekiah. Yet God has told us of his failure to encourage us and to teach us that He never fails.
“With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles” (v. 8). Quite true, he had built his towers, prepared his darts, but there was no deliverance by them. Bring God in and all is changed.
It is not that God would have us neglect anything; but the point is—What is the first object of our lives? Is God first? Is the Lord, the house of the Lord, the assembly, the gospel, the interests of Christ? or is it ourselves and our own things? The sanctuary of the Lord was everything to Hezekiah. And he had learned what it was to go into that sanctuary to worship; and now in his difficulties he goes again into that sanctuary, and he has to do with God. There on his knees he wins a bloodless victory, a most wonderful victory.
And now he stills the people. The influence of one man who knows God is wonderful.
Turn now to Isaiah 37, because you get there details which are very interesting. In the second verse of chapter 36 we read that Rab-shakeh came up to Jerusalem with a great army. “And Rab-shakeh said unto them, Say ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest? . . . Lo, thou trustest in the staff of this broken reed, on Egypt; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all that trust in him” (vv. 4-6). He did not know that Hezekiah was leaning on the King of kings, and the Lord of hosts, the One who made heaven and earth. His soul, in this moment of extreme difficulty was clinging to God in the beautiful confidence that faith always has in God. Sennacherib, and Rab-shakeh knew nothing of this.
Then he says: “But if thou say to me, We trust in the Lord our God: is it not He, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and said to Judah and to Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar?” (v. 7). Satan is very cunning. He will even use the very devotedness of your soul as the reason to dislocate your soul from God, if he can.
If you advance in the knowledge of the truth, and act upon it (for indeed you will cease to advance if you cease to act upon what you know), if you act, for instance, upon the truth of the one body, the one Spirit, and the unity of the Spirit, and you are prepared to seek to maintain that truth, as Hezekiah acted on the truth of the one altar you may depend upon it you will have the devil and all his servants down upon you.
Here Hezekiah’s faith was tested. Rab-shakeh takes very bold ground. He says: “And am I now come up without the Lord against this land to destroy it?” Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, and his ministers simulate the righteous. Look at the following language: “The Lord said unto me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.”
This charge of the enemy had not only come in the form of words, but evidently it had come by letter. And now we read: “And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord” (chap. 37:1). He had a deep sense of his weakness and failure. Sackcloth, in Scripture, is generally connected with repentance and brokenness. I have no doubt that Hezekiah felt he must come to the Lord, and as he passed into the house of the Lord, he must have seen those stripped doors. Ah, how sorrowful, how humbling, that he had had so little faith in God! And now he comes into the house of the Lord; but in what a different state of heart from that in which be stripped those doors. Unbelief and fear ruled him then. Now he has faith in God. The man is right here. There was the Assyrian king with all his hosts outside, and you would have thought it was impossible to escape his power, but this man, now covered with sackcloth in the house of the Lord, is leaning on God. He is bowed down before the Lord with the sense of weakness, and with the sense of failure, and good-for-nothingness. But he draws near to, and counts upon God. He had known for fourteen long years the sweetness of coming into the house of the Lord, to commune with the Lord, and to worship the Lord, when things were in peace, and now in difficulty he comes in before the Lord, and tells Him the whole situation. This is ever the privilege and the way of faith. God heard and answered.
“And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amos. And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth” (vv. 2-3). That is to say, it is a hopeless case unless God step in. That is the idea. “It may be the Lord thy God will bear the words of Rab-shakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God, and will reprove the words which the Lord thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left” (v. 4). He had this feeling, that this attack of Sennacherib was not against him really, but it was against God and God’s house, God’s people and God’s altar.
And you too must get hold of this, beloved Christian friend, that the attack of the enemy is not against you personally. His aim is at the Lord. And he does it through His people. That explains what the blessed Lord said to Saul of Tarsus, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?”
“And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid of the words that thou had heard, wherewith 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 return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land” (vv. 6-7). Thus was Hezekiah comforted.
“So Rab-shakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish. And he heard say concerning Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, He is come forth to make war with thee: and when he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah, king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God, in whom thou trustest, deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by destroying them utterly; and shalt thou be delivered?” (vv. 8-11); and he finally recounts the story of the victories of his fathers and himself. And now we read: “And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up into the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed unto the Lord,” and his prayer was a beautiful prayer; it is a most charming unfolding of the man’s confidence in God. “O, Lord of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims, Thou art the God, even Thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; Thou hast made heaven and earth. Incline Thine ear, O Lord, and hear; open Thine eyes, O Lord, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he hath sent to reproach the living God. Of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries.” He admits that. He does not deny the power of the enemy. Let us ever bear in mind that we are in conflict with a terrible foe; and we must not make light of the power of Satan. Admit it, and count on God. Then he says, “And have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them. Now therefore, O Lord our God, save us from his hand.” And he does not ask for this that he and his people might be delivered from their difficulties. His heart is full of desire that the Lord might be known by all, so that he finishes his prayer with the beautiful and unselfish request, “That all the kingdoms of the earth may know that Thou art the Lord, even Thou only” (vv. 15-20).
His heart was set, you see, on the testimony to the power and the glory of God; and while Hezekiah prayed deliverance came. He got a wonderful answer. “Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent unto Hezekiah saying, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to Me against Sennacherib king of Assyria: this is the word which the Lord hath spoken concerning him; The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee. Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel” (vv. 21-23). God took up the challenge of the proud Assyrian.
And then, having unfolded what really was the thought of this proud king’s heart, God answers him. “But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against Me. Because thy rage against Me, and thy tumult, is come up into Mine ears, therefore will I put My hook in thy nose, and My bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest” (vv. 28-29).
That was God’s answer to Sennacherib, And now a lovely word came to Hezekiah. “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 shields, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall be 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” (vv. 33-35). And that night God sent out His angel, and in the morning one hundred and eighty-five thousand men were dead corpses (v. 36). Nothing can stand against God. You bring God in, and all is right. Leave Him out, and all is wrong. That is the lesson.
Address 5: A “Lifted-up Heart” and its Results (2 Chr. 32:24-32)
Hezekiah had been so much an object of God’s favour and care and deliverance that, without knowing it, his heart got lifted up, and the Lord, in His tender love and mercy, had to teach him the real value of everything down here. So, suddenly, immediately after the wonderful deliverance from the power of the king of Assyria, he was confronted by another king, more mighty far than the king of Assyria, one that nobody loves to face who does not know God, and that was Death.
He was sick unto death; but, nevertheless, it is clear he hoped to live. But God sent a messenger to him with these words: “Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.”
The effect of these words on Hezekiah was very direct. And “Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the Lord” (Isa. 38:2). In the day when the incursion of Assyria upset all Jerusalem, and when the threat of the king thereof fell upon Hezekiah’s ear, he went to the sanctuary, laid the matter before the Lord, and prayed to the Lord. Now, his feet could not carry him to the sanctuary, but he turned his face to the wall and prayed, and wept sore. He did not want to go.
What a contrast to Hezekiah was Stephen? He turned his face to glory, and, so to speak said, “Lord, I am ready” (Acts 7).
The difference between Judaism and Christianity—the old dispensation and the new—is very great, even in the way a saint views death. Contrast the difference between Hezekiah’s attitude of soul and Paul’s in the prospect of death. The latter said: “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. . . . We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6-8).
And again he says: “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Phil. 1:20-23).
Some one will say, “There are very few saints like Paul.” There is no doubt about that. But it is not Paul the Apostle speaking here; it is Paul the saint, Paul the sinner saved by grace, whose heart was sweetly and deeply attached to the One in glory. Death was before him, and, humanly speaking, his life was not worth living, mewed up, as he was, in a Roman prison: but he says, “If you ask me what I desire, it is to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better?”
That is the contrast between an Old Testament and a New Testament saint. Hezekiah was a Jew of the old dispensation, and for a Jew to have his life prolonged in this earth was a mark of God’s favour; on the other hand, a Christian joys and delights in what is heavenly.
What your experience and mine is in this respect I am not going to say. The whereabouts of our souls as to this each heart knows before God. The true expression of the life of God in our souls now is really the repetition of the ways of Christ while we live here, and if He fills the heart and the eye, then the longing of the soul is to be with Him.
If you will turn now to the second book of Kings and read chapter 20, you will get a point or two which are not given to you in Isaiah 38. The two chapters are almost identical, but there are a few details in each chapter not found in the other. Isaiah’s summary brings out the fruit of grace in Hezekiah’s soul. The Spirit of God always loves to note what pleases God. In 2 Kings 20 you get fully the historical facts.
Look at verse 4. You get the grace of the Lord most beautifully there. “And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, Turn again and tell Hezekiah.” God would not leave Hezekiah long with all that struggle going on in his soul. He had heard Hezekiah’s prayer, understood what he wanted. So He says to Isaiah: “Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people.” What a comfort for the king at that moment to get this word. The Lord still owned him as the captain of His 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: on the third day thou shalt go up into the house of the Lord. And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for Mine own sake, and for My servant David’s sake. And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered” (2 Ki. 20:5-7).
This is beautiful. It is not only, “you shall recover, but I have got My eye upon this city and this kingdom, and I will take care of this city for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.”
God falls back you see, upon His own promise and faithfulness.
The calming effect of that message upon Hezekiah’s soul surely must have been wonderful, yet he wanted further assurance, and said: “What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up into the house of the Lord the third day? And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees? And Hezekiah answered, it is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees. And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the Lord: and He brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz” (vv. 8-11).
God had caused the sun to stand still in Joshua’s day, and now he caused it to go back ten degrees. Of course the learned infidel will scoffingly ask, “How could that be?” I do not know, and you do not know. But it is a fact. The great object of God with us is that we bring Himself in. God is omnipotent. Bring the omnipotent One in, and the difficulties disappear.
Practically speaking, it was resurrection that Hezekiah had to learn. And that is what you and I have to learn. God would have us to know Him as the God of resurrection, One who has raised from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ. He has also quickened us out of death and brought our souls into association with Christ in resurrection life; and the next thing is this—so completely does that blessed One fill your heart that, if you are brought to face death, in the power of the Holy Ghost you will be able to say what Paul said.
In Isaiah 38 we have the writing of Hezekiah consequent upon his recovery. From it we learn the exercises though which his soul passed, and how he breaks out into worship because of God’s goodness to him. This was pleasing to the Lord, for what God designed and desired was to bring him nearer to Himself.
This illustrates the truth: “My Father is the Husbandman. Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:1-2). His praiseful spirit was a deep proof of the work of God’s Spirit in Hezekiah’s soul, and thus he brought forth fruit.
The story of Hezekiah’s illness and recovery is summed up in one verse in 2 Chronicles 32:24. And then we read: “But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem” (v. 25).
The remarkable deliverance of the Lord in relation to the Assyrians, the thought of how devoted he had been, and the effect upon all the people round about, lifted up Hezekiah’s heart, because “he was magnified in the sight of all nations” (2 Chr. 32:23). He was looked up to. Here was the danger to him, and to us also. The more we are looked up to by others, the more danger of the heart being, as it is put here, “uplifted.” Because it leads, oftentimes, to what is not real. To our thinking more of our reputation with men than the condition of our souls before God. Hezekiah’s heart was uplifted—“Therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem.” Evidently God let him learn what was in his heart—“Notwithstanding Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” He betook himself again to the presence of the Lord and there humbled himself. There is a difference between being humbled and being humble. If you are humble you get into God’s presence and you get a deeper enjoyment of His love, and a fuller revelation of Himself to your soul, and you walk with Him. You could not walk with God unless you were humble, because He knoweth the proud afar off, but He says, “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit” (Isa. 57:15). The effect of walking with God must always keep the soul lowly. But if we are not humble it will be necessary for God to humble us by our faults, failures, breakdowns, that we may learn what we are.
The result of Hezekiah humbling himself is thus stated: “So that the wrath of the Lord came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah” (v. 26). And the next thing, we are told, is this; “Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him.” Isaiah 39 tells us that they brought a sympathetic letter, consequent upon his recovery. But they wanted to get to the bottom of the curious sign done in the land, and Hezekiah was deceived by them. He did not turn to God on this occasion, because there was no apparent danger, and “God left him to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart” (v. 31).
To me these words are intensely solemn. The most devoted person, the most pious person will fall if God leave him. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” “God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart” is a pregnant statement, but he learnt a lesson that was of very deep moral value to him.
Observe, these ambassadors came up from Babylon. Babylon stands for the world, and there is nothing more dangerous than the world. That which brought in sorrow in the days of Joshua was the Babylonish garment and silver which Achan hid in his tent. And now this blessed man of God is tripped up from the same source. “At that time Merodach-baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah: for he had heard that he had been sick, and was recovered” (Isa. 39:1). Nature was appealed to. Beware of the world’s attention, the world’s favour, or anything from the world. The Christian is a man who is not of the world, he walks through it, but his heart is outside it, and if he allows himself to receive the attentions of the world, he falls.
Hezekiah’s test was a very simple one. When he was in great difficulty, he went into the house of the Lord, and spread the letter under the eye of God. When it is a case of his own impending death, he turns to the Lord in prayer. But now he ceased to be prayerful, he did not take the Babylonish letter and present into the presence of the Lord. He says, “This is very nice, they think something of me.” He was glad of them. What is the result? In a moment the man who was inflexible when God was with him is overcome by this little bit of attention from the world. Instead of ascribing all the glory of his recovery to the One who sat between the Cherubims, instead of stating all that He was, and declaring the power of His hand, he does not, as far as we can judge, say one single thing about God, but really replies, “See what I have got, and see my treasures, and my goods.” All about himself, not a word about the Lord.
Friends, if we, in any way, let the world touch us, we get under its power. It is not a question of where we have to do our daily work, but it is this—if we accept the world’s attentions, we have lost our power to be God’s witnesses.
The ambassadors went back to Babylon, and in effect said to their king, “The sooner you go up against Jerusalem, the richer you will be, for there are great treasures of gold there.” That was their side of it. “Then Isaiah came to Hezekiah and said, What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee? And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country unto me, even from Babylon. Then said he, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah answered, All that is in mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not showed them. Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (chap. 39:3-7).
If you will take the trouble to read the first chapter of Daniel, you will find this remarkable statement fulfilled. Verse 3 of Daniel 1 shows that the words of Isaiah were fulfilled in completest detail, and the princes of the seed royal were eunuchs in the palace of Babylon. No doubt Hezekiah’s soul was deeply touched by this, but he says, “Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken. He said moreover, For there shall be peace and truth in my days” (v. 8). That may sound a selfish sort of statement, but I think he had the sense, “God is so good, that in spite of my failure He will not take away the truth and the quietness that I enjoy.”
I am sure there is great encouragement in consideration of Hezekiah’s history. It will repay your prayerful and careful study. We see the immense importance of dwelling in what belongs to us, and seeking through grace so to walk that, when the enemy comes in a subtle way, we may be prepared. The devil works very largely in these days through subtlety. The roar of the enemy Hezekiah met, but when he came in this beguiling way he was not prepared, and he was overcome.
The Lord keep us with the sense of dependence, and the heart true to Christ, till the moment of His coming. Hezekiah’s history, while most encouraging and stimulating, is doubtless placed on record in Scripture as a beacon light to warn us off the hidden rocks of the world’s flattering attentions, which affected a man of God in a way its open assault could not.