We opened our first study with a question about our present-day situation, “Is it reformation or revival that is needed?”  We then went on to look at the reforms that king Hezekiah introduced, getting rid of the high places, pulverising the bronze serpent, chucking the idols into the Kidron valley; all were a kind of repentance in action, and a reversal of direction for the whole of Judah.  On the positive side, Hezekiah re-installed Passover, even inviting the separated northern tribes to participate in the celebrations in Jerusalem.  None of it was just words, Hezekiah did all that was right in the eyes of the Lord.  Hezekiah’s heart and character were shaped through obedience to the Word of the Lord (2 Chronicles 29:36 – Hezekiah rejoiced, as did all the people — That God had prepared the people [God had changed their hearts, 2 Samuel 3:30] –  the thing was done “suddenly”, and in the first year of Hezekiah’s reign – 2 Chronicles 29:3).  The hand of God was seen in the speed of the events and its affects – the sudden turn and change of heart of the princes, and the people from indifference to gladness and worship of God.  Hezekiah was probably taught the Scriptures and nurtured by the prophet Isaiah, who maintained a close relationship with the king (Isaiah 37—39).

Hezekiah’s Revival

When we got to 2 Kings 20, Hezekiah experienced a personal revival, like life from the dead.  Hezekiah was on his death-bed when the prophet, Isaiah, brought a word to the king, (2 Kings 20:1) “Thus said the Lord: “Charge your household, for you are about to die and you will not live.”  Hezekiah turned his face and saw that he was up against a [brick?] wall, and there he cried before the Lord.  There was no way out, so turning to God, he prayed.  God heard his prayer and saw his tears and answered him by sending Isaiah back with another message for the king granting him a reprieve – “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears.  I am about to heal you.”  We say that no-one knows when they will die; Hezekiah certainly knew the year he would die.  God granted Hezekiah an extension to his life of fifteen years.  He also delivered Judah from the hand of the tyrant that was tormenting them with psychological warfare, and threatening to annihilate them.  Life out of death for king and country.  Hezekiah’s psalm of thanksgiving for his recovery is expressed in Isaiah 38:9-20.  Even after the die appears to have been cast, one can still appeal to God.  In other cases in Scripture, the prophet predicts the demise of the royal concerned – Jeroboam’s son (1 Kings 14:1-18), Ahaziah (2 Kings 1:2-4), Ben-Hadad (ibid., 8:9-10) – a prediction that transpires.  Life out of death is the revival message of the New Testament.  I am writing this on the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.  Long before the Great War, and WWII, Normandy, France was conquered in 98 AD by the Romans and integrated into the province of Gallia Lugdunensis by Augustus.  In the 4th century, Gratian divided the province into the civitates that constitute the historical borders.  In May 1940, Hitler’s Germany invaded and occupied France.  The 76th D-Day celebration was on 13th April 2020.  Almost 2,000 years before D-Day in WWII, where there are now thousands of white crosses marking the graves of the fallen soldiers, in a land far away and in the Jewish City of Jerusalem, which was under the power of Rome, stood a cross.  It wasn’t a fancily constructed cross marking the grave of a fallen hero.  It was a rough-hewn cross used by Roman soldiers for crucifying criminals. Yet it was a cross of war nonetheless—a war for the freedom not of just Europe, but of the entire human race.  When Jesus died on the cross of Calvary, He paid the price for our spiritual freedom. When He was raised from His grave on the third day, He made it possible for us to live free from the power of sin, and free to be all that God created us to be.  “…your bodies are dead because of sin, but your spirits are alive because you have God's approval” (Romans 8:10).  “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” (Colossians 2:13).  “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:5).  Those who are “in Christ” have eternal life, not just a fifteen-year extension.  Sometimes we hear the name of God slandered, even by Christians when they speak about God and Jesus as though they are not One; and they say that the OT God is full of anger, and Jesus is kind and loving.  When God appeared to Moses, he declared His name before himself in these words: “…The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth….”  (Exodus 34:6, NKJV).  We see his love and mercy extended to Hezekiah and to the people of Judah.  Very recently the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Boris Johnson’s life was spared.  He was so close to death he feared he would never see his new-born son.  The medics had prepared to announce his death, and he made preparations for death himself.  However, having recovered from the present plague, he revived, and he lives today.  He has expressed profusely his thanks to the NHS for saving his life, but as yet he has made no open reference to God’s intervention and grace.  It is a sign of the times; God has no part in the life and existence of modern-day humanity.

Furthermore, from Hezekiah’s personal revival came what might be described as a national revival and life from the dead, as God delivered Judah from the hand of the Assyrians.  God’s mercy is great indeed. Perhaps the answer to our question in the first study (Hezekiah’s Reforms) – Is it reformation or revival that is needed? – For our situation today, reformation leads to revival.  Perhaps reformation is needed so that revival can come.  This way, man and God is working together, rather like Noah and God.  Another question for us to ask: Is it right to look for and expect revival in our time?  Jesus didn’t speak of revival occurring immediately before His Second Coming. He spoke about all kinds of disasters coming as God works out His purposes on earth.  How near are we to His Coming?  We could be very close, or it could be far into the future.  The birth pangs have continued for a long while now, and the days appear to be getting darker.  Covid-19 and the measures put into place by world governments, has been a stark reminder of the plagues to come (Luke 21:11); it is a reminder, not a fulfilment of the horrors to come, as detailed in the book of Revelation

Treasure on Earth

However, the story following that of Hezekiah’s illness and promise of recovery is not at all flattering for the king.  Just as revival spills into worldliness over a period of time, we learn once again how to do religion without God, so Hezekiah forgets the lessons of past leaders and kingdoms.  2 Chronicles 32:24-25 suggests that Hezekiah’s sin during his illness was an attitude of pride, a feeling of overconfidence after the victory against Assyria.  This time, pride before the fall is expressed to a guy named Berodach-baladan of Babylonia (In Isaiah 39:1 it is Merodach – probably a Hebraization of Marduk).  Here is where the big trouble begins, even though it takes time to work through to its conclusion.

“At that time Breodach-baladan, son of Baladan king of Babylonia, sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, [and he wasn’t even Greek! – “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts…”] because he had heard of Hezekiah’s illness.  Hezekiah received the envoys and showed them all that was in the storehouse – the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine oil, his armoury, and everything found among his treasures.  There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them” (2 Kings 20:12-13).

Israel today are the great innovators and world leaders in so many areas.  Medicine, science, armoury, salinization plants, so many things.  They must be careful about their treasures.  Hezekiah enthusiastically revealed all that he had in his entire kingdom, so-much-so that Isaiah was straight on his back.  He gave a chilling word of prophecy to the king; one of doom and exile:

“The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylonia.  Nothing will be left behind, says the Lord.  And some of your own sons, who shall be born to you, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylonia” (20:17-18).

These stories predate the Assyrian assault against Jerusalem.  Sennacherib’s siege is dated to the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign (18:13).  Hezekiah ruled for twenty-nine years (18:2).  He fell ill and was granted another fifteen years of life.  We can therefore date his illness to the fourteenth year of his reign, while the armies of Sennacherib surrounded Jerusalem.  Hezekiah’s illness-unto-death shines light on the nation’s impending catastrophe.  King Hezekiah appeals to the Lord in both instances, and deliverance of the two comes concurrently.

Berodach-baladan

Berodach-baladan, or Marduk-apla-iddina II, was a Babylonian rebel who united the Chaldean tribes to resist and overthrow Assyrian dominance.  His revolt succeeded, and from 722 BC to 711 BC he ruled Babylonia and sought to galvanize a broad resistance to crush Assyria entirely.  Sargon fought against him and prevented anything close to an anti-Assyrian coalition developing.  When Sargon died in 705 BC, Berodach thought it was an open door for him to try, but sadly for him, Sennacherib conquered Babylonia in 703 BC, and ambitious Berodach lost power.

Isaiah’s anger

Why did the prophet become angry with the king?  The prophet has constantly warned against alliances with foreign powers.  He tried to warn Ahaz against joining with Assyria; and he tried hard to prevent Hezekiah making a similar error by forming an alliance with Egypt.  We can imagine his frustration with Hezekiah entertaining the delegation from Babylon in the way he did.  Hezekiah was walking into the lion’s den.

“Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the Lord… “who go down to Egypt without consulting Me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge.  But Pharaoh’s protection will be your shame; Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace” (Isaiah 30:1-3).  What does Psalm 91:1-2 say?  “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, ‘You are my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”  This is where the nations of Europe forming a coalition of nations have gone wrong.  They have no trust in God.  Psalm 146:3 says, “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.”  You might feel strong and protected walking side-by-side with a big guy, but once his weaknesses are exploited, the big guy has lost his strength, and your protection has gone by the board.  The Babylonian alliance, as you will have seen if you have been reading through 2 Kings, was crushed by Assyria.  This empowered the Assyrian reprisal that endangered the survival of Judah.  So the next point was that Judah was just a tiny force up against huge imperial forces.  Judah, as Isaiah kept emphasising, would be better off staying neutral and not getting involved.  If Judah signed-up to the wrong alliance, she might eventually be destroyed.  This might be the reason why Isaiah sounded all doom and gloom in his prophecies.  He meant that, people you befriend today could turn against you tomorrow.  We even see this kind of thing in Christian circles and ministries.  So Isaiah said: “All that your predecessors have stored up until this day will be carried off to Babylonia.”  We don’t yet know for certain what is going to happen to Britain’s economy, or the EU’s economy, or the world economy.  It could all go crashing.  Isaiah was against forming international treaties and geographical conundrums.  Rushing into alliances with the strong guy in the region would lead to exile.  Israel is surrounded by great Muslim powers today, who portray themselves as David up against the mighty Goliath – Israel being Goliath!  You only have to look at a map to see how stupid an analogy that is, but the nations buy into It; why?  Because they plot against the Lord and His anointed (Psalm 2:2).  The world is siding and sliding into an alliance with whom they consider to be the big guy, the Muslim powers.  Both the Muslim and world powers will fall by the power of the Almighty.  God’s word has said that the heavens and the earth will be shaken, and only that which is of the Living God will remain. (Haggai 2:6; Hebrews 12:27).  Isaiah encourages reliance upon God rather than man.

Where on other occasions Hezekiah has turned to prayer, for some reason, this time he fails to do so.  He seems instead to accept the word delivered to him by Isaiah without seeking and praying for God’s deliverance.  Hezekiah said to Isaiah (20:19), “The word of the Lord is… good (tov)…If there will be peace (shalom) and security (emet) in my days.”  We see a change with Hezekiah’s indifference to Isaiah’s warning.  The terms he uses, tov, shalom, and emet shadow the prayer he uttered earlier in 2 Kings 20:2: “Remember…how I walked before You in faithfulness (emet) and with a whole (shalem) heart, and have done what is good (tov) in Your eyes.”  A commentator gives the explanation for Hezekiah breaking his familiar pattern:

“With the visit by the Babylonian delegation, Hezekiah’s story becomes a diplomatic story.  In other words, Judah responds to the Assyrian pressure in a political manner, supporting Babylonia to undermine the Assyrian empire…. As long as Hezekiah prayed to God, he expressed his trust and reliance upon Him, and Isaiah stood by his side…. However, with the arrival of the Babylonian delegation, Hezekiah changes course, and this becomes a story that is occupied with diplomatic strategy…. Therefore, a great opportunity was wasted, and the fourth cycle of the story breaks the pattern of the narrative.  Hezekiah’s irregular response to Isaiah is similarly the inverse of what we would expect.”

Hezekiah sounds somewhat arrogant as he addresses Isaiah: “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.”  For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?” (2 Kings 20:19).  It was as if he couldn’t care less about the scenarios of the distant future.   It is the fact that a pact with Babylon would bring “peace and security in my days” that makes it the correct policy to implement.  Future leaders would have to deal with future problems.  Hezekiah was struggling with a faith-orientated decision and skilled diplomacy.  He was a king of great faith and commitment to God, struggling sometimes with the balance between human effort and faith.  He came under fire for his alliance with Babylonia, which was then crushed when Assyria moved in on Jerusalem.  Hezekiah was left with no option but to turn to God, and miraculous deliverance came to him, and to the people.  Reliance on Almighty God is always the correct course.

Hezekiah’s achievements were great in word and in deed.  He turned an idolatrous kingdom around.  He rededicated the Temple, even though it was a remnant that worked with him, and not all of the people.  That is why the nation turned back to idolatry and to Manasseh so easily.  The massive fine that Hezekiah was forced to pay to Sennacherib undermined his leadership in the eyes of the people.  His spiritual revolution was in jeopardy once the Assyrian threat was removed.  The difficult period of rehabilitation that followed was what moved Hezekiah’s opponents to support his son, Manasseh.  “The faithless have acted faithlessly; the faithless have broken faith” (Isaiah 24:16).  It is the faithless acting faithlessly and breaking faith, that will drown out the voices of the righteous, and put the coming Antichrist on his throne.  As we saw at the beginning of his reign, Hezekiah cleansed the country of idolatry; and he sought to unite the southern and northern tribes.  Even after the destruction of Samaria and the destructive exile of the tribes of Israel, Hezekiah continued to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem.  Many of the Israelites that still remained in the north, joined the southern tribes in those celebrations (2 Chronicles 30).  Hezekiah was a great king and example, to Israel and to the world.

“On that day, this song shall be sung in the land of Judah: Ours is a mighty city; he makes victory our inner and outer wall.  Open the gates, and let in a righteous nation, who keeps faith” (Isaiah 26:1-2).

Blessings and shalom,

Malcolm [08.05.2020]

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