For those that enjoy Jewish studies and thought, we will take a short excursion into Jewish commentary on the king. King Hezekiah did six things: on three the sages agreed with him, and on three they did not. 1. He dragged his [wicked] father’s bones on a bier of rope. 2. He smashed the copper snake [of Moses so that it would not be worshipped]. 3. He hid [Solomon’s] book of medicines – to which they agreed. 4. He closed off the waters of Gihon [so that the attacking Assyrian armies would not find water to drink]. 5. He cut off the [gold from the] doors of the Temple and sent them to the king of Assyria [to appease him]. 6. He proclaimed a leap year during the month of Nissan – to which the sages did not agree. (Berachos 10b). The explanation offered for dragging “his father’s bones or coffin on a bed of ropes (like a wretched pauper), is taken from 2 Chronicles 28:27, where we read that Hezekiah denied his father’s body access to the grave of the kings.
Continuing with Jewish thinking, Hezekiah’s father and son were [both] wicked, causing Hezekiah to say, “Behold for my peace, bitterness is mine, bitterness (Isaiah 38:17) – Bitterness is mine because of Ahaz who preceded me, and bitterness is mine because of Manasseh who will follow me.” (Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 10:1). Then in Sanhedrin 63b, it says, “His father sought to burn Hezekiah [before the idol of Molech] but his mother covered him with a fireproof shield.”
Last time we looked at Hezekiah’s reforms and the exemplary beginning to his kingship in Judah. Because of wrong decisions he went on to make, and wrong actions that he took, we discover his human weakness, as we do when we study king David, and king Solomon and all the kings. Hezekiah’s contorted, twisted actions to avoid God’s word, eventually led himself, and the nation into trouble. He moved from doing what was right in the Lord’s eyes, to a less sure foundation. The shifting sand of time revealed the weakness of refusing the word of God spoken through the prophet. Having opened the doors of the Temple, Hezekiah’s mind-set now, meant he would “cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the doorposts which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 18:16). “Hezekiah king of Judah sent word to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; withdraw from me, and I will pay whatever you demand from me.” And the king of Assyria exacted from Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace. (2 Kings 18:14-15). The text hints that when Hezekiah overlaid the doors of the Temple with gold, he was considered “King Hezekiah of Judah.” When he peeled off the gold he is referred to as mere “Hezekiah” (v15). A Jewish question and answer concerning Hezekiah’s deed is: “Why did the Holy One, Blessed is He, afflict King Hezekiah with boils? Because [Hezekiah] had peeled the gold off the Temple [doors] to give [as a bribe] to the king of Assyria (Midrash Shir HaShirim). The Jewish commentator, Rashi, attributes Isaiah 1:5-8 to this period of time.
After the death of Sargon, Shabaka of Egypt gathered forces against Assyria. He viewed king Hezekiah as his main ally. From an international political perspective, this was probably Hezekiah’s finest hour. We read of Hezekiah’s participation in the rebellion against Assyria in 2 Kings 18:7-8, and in 1 Chronicles 4:38-41. Most will know something about Hezekiah’s tunnel and water system, mentioned only briefly in the Book of Kings, a better description is found in Chronicles. It is an amazing construction and achievement; and is still in place today for tourists to visit and walk through. (2 Chronicles 32:2-4).
Two Prophets, One people
Isaiah urged the people to withdraw into their shelters (Lockdown?) and let the wrath (of the nations) burn itself out around them (COVID-19?). His message was to remain passive, avoid conflict, and trust God. When another prophet entered the scene, Micah the Morasthite, he was to proclaim a different message to the people. Micah prophesied about the need to become stronger, to be swift and aggressive, and to crush the enemy. He called for the army to penetrate the enemy’s borders and strike the foe. Isaiah’s approach was that only God’s hand should strike; Micah urged the remnant of Jacob to wield the sword against the enemy. Both prophets agreed on one thing – They both strongly disapproved of Hezekiah’s political tactics. They both bitterly opposed the alliance with Egypt. Isaiah’s prophecies against the alliance are found in Isaiah Ch’s 30-31. The prophet’s warnings were ignored. He repeated words similar to those he declared against Ahaz and his rebellious enemies thirty years earlier.
In Isaiah 22:9-11, the prophet called Hezekiah to account: “You took note of the many breaches in the City of David. And you collected the water of the Lower Pool; and you counted the houses of Jerusalem and pulled houses down to fortify the wall; and you constructed a basin between the two walls for the water of the old pool – But you did not look unto its Maker, you took no note of Him who designed it long before.” Gone was the concern for the spiritual and physical needs of the people, they were simply cast aside as their homes were pulled down, and blind, fervent activity ruled the city – “This iniquity shall never be forgiven you until you die, said the Lord God of Hosts” (Isaiah 22:12-14).
When Isaiah had done crying out against Jerusalem fortifying itself for war, he prophesied against Shebna. Isaiah saw no good in the keeper of the house – Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, “Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is in charge of the royal household, ‘What right do you have here, and whom do you have here, that you have hewn a tomb for yourself here, you who hew a tomb on the height, you who carve a resting place for yourself in the rock? (Isaiah 22:15-16). What we encounter here is a man on the make. This senior governor and bearer of the keys of Jerusalem took advantage of the situation Jerusalem was in. While the people of the City were in a state of crazed excitement, Shebna took it upon himself to commission a magnificent tomb – for himself. It was situated in the most important section of the City’s graveyard, on the Mount of Olives. He was in charge of the City’s engineers and construction workers, and he grabbed the opportunity to use them for his own ends. While Judah was in a period of national emergency, Shebna selfishly dug his own grave. What selfish acts are happening in the nations of today’s world and the COVID-19 emergency? What conspiracies are taking place as those opportunists, both in authority and those in the shadows, take advantage of the situation, and the state of panic among the world’s citizens? Isaiah goes on to first of all declare the fate of Shebna, and then to speak some remarkable words concerning “My servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah.” Isaiah goes on to say, “I will place the keys of David’s palace on his shoulders; and what he unlocks none may shut, and what he locks none may open.” (Isaiah 22:17:22). “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of the One who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What He opens, no one will shut; and what He shuts, no one will open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door, which no one can shut” (Revelation 3:7-8).
Caught on the hop
Moving from the commotion in Jerusalem in Hezekiah’s day, let’s briefly consider our own time of panic stations, and the fortifications against the Coronavirus. Once again, our “prophets” were unaware of the tragic danger facing not only Britain, but the world. The “lockdown is a huge social experiment;” “COVID-19 Lockdown: A Global Human Experiment;” “The global coronavirus lockdown is a ‘misguided social experiment’ which threatens to do far more long term damage than the disease itself;” “With some 2.6 billion people around the world in some kind of lockdown, we are conducting arguably the largest psychological experiment ever; This will result in a secondary epidemic of burnouts and stress-related absenteeism in the latter half of 2020” – These are just some of the headlines concerning lockdown. The cost of the lockdown is likely to include destructions that are not generally discussed, and that go way beyond the deaths caused by the virus itself. The chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, has always argued that Covid-19 will take lives in two ways: directly and indirectly. Directly: That up to 20,000 is the expected total; (it has actually exceeded that number. The figure I have at the moment is, 27,510 deaths in the UK). Indirectly – Initial models drawn up inside government suggest a figure of 150,000 ‘avoidable’ deaths caused by the lockdown, far greater than the revised toll expected from Covid-19 (The number of confirmed cases now is said to be 177,454) . The cause of deaths will be a mixture: Downgrading NHS services (less cancer care, mental health treatment cut) and people avoiding the NHS (visits to A&E were down by a third in March 2020). Whitty’s concerns include parents not vaccinating kids, which could threaten herd immunity for other diseases. The 150,000 figure is produced by a model, and like all models, its findings are the creation of its inputs. But there has never been any modelling about the side effects of lockdown: the effects on domestic abuse, deprivation of education – and, perhaps biggest of all, the effects on our ability to fund healthcare if the economy is permanently poorer. ‘This is a balancing act,’ one cabinet member told me, ‘but we need a clearer view of what’s on the other side of the ledger.’ (Fraser Nelson – The Daily Telegraph). But what of the opportunists, and those that will exploit the situation we are in? Will ageism feature in government policy? (Over 70s shouldn’t be allowed to vote, for instance). Will generational tensions continue and develop socially? Will those that refuse to conform be ostracised by the world community? Will church meetings be banned? Will Christians be used as scapegoats for the world’s troubles – Christian living exposes the sin of a Godless culture. Will we soon become a cashless society? Will we lose the freedom to be ourselves? So many changes could come about by those that manipulate the situation to build their socialist One World Government and utopia; those that are deceived, driven, and empowered by the spirit of Antichrist. They are such that will face the one who reveals Himself as: “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18). As the world builds its fortifications against attack from forces unseen as well as those seen, imaginary and real, what kind of people are we becoming? What does it mean for the world that, that despite its appalling record, and despite its long record of refusing inspections by international human rights monitors, China has been given a seat on the UN’s Council of Human Rights? This is not a small matter. The virus attacked the world at a most opportune moment – The EU is in turmoil economically and functionally; Britain is having to sort Brexit; the Middle East cauldron; huge fires in Australia, war and conflict displacing peoples; mass migration; USA elections this year; poverty is on the increase as the rich get richer; so many world problems and issues. It is the weakest sector of society that become the victims of corruption, just as it did in Hezekiah’s Jerusalem, when he was preoccupied with building walls and fortifications.
Strong but weak
Jerusalem was fortifying its walls, but society was crumbling within its boundaries. Micah shows up at this point and joined Isaiah in his protests. Britain could learn a lesson here; both prophets understood that Jerusalem’s strength lay not in its walls, but in its moral and social strength. Britain and the world are sinking socially, morally, and spiritually. Only God’s intervention can change the trajectory the world has taken. Hear the strong proclamation from the lips of Micah: “Hear this, you rulers of the House of Jacob, you chiefs of the House of Israel, who build Zion with crime and Jerusalem with iniquity; Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they look for the Lord's support and say, “Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us.” Therefore because of you, Zion will be ploughed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets (Micah 3:9-12). We are very similar, and think much the same about Britain. We think we can live as we like, but “Is not the Lord among us?” And, “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!” – Really?
It is not revealed in the chapter exactly when the prophecy was spoken by Micah, but there is textual evidence that Micah spoke the words during Hezekiah’s time. His prophecy was quoted a century later when another prophet, Jeremiah’s life was in danger (Jeremiah 26:17-19). Hezekiah was a righteous leader, and he did try to right the wrongs of corruption; and he sought to elevate the moral state of his kingdom. He accepted the criticism of the prophets and invited them to a special assembly of the people, and ministers of war (2 Chronicles 32:6-8). Though he had taken his eye off the ball, the king now rallied the nation calling them to a renewed confidence in God.
God willing, we will continue next time.
Blessings and shalom