“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”Dickens, Charles “A Tale of Two Cities”
So wrote Charles Dickens about the times of Hezekiah. Or if he didn’t, perhaps he should have.
Hezekiah is a towering figure in the Old Testament. In the kingdom of Judah he stands as a first rank reformer, a charismatic and determined leader who from the moment he took power was passionately focussed on restoring the worship of Israel’s God. His life is a triumph of zeal for God. Yet there is more going on.
Hezekiah came into a kingdom which was in a tenuous position. As he notes in 2 Chron 29:9, the nation had suffered under the hands of invaders. His father Ahaz was attacked (per 2 Chron 28) by Aram – the old northern power – allied with Israel. As the power of Judah faded the Philistines and Edomites attacked as well (2 Chron 28:17-18). Ahaz appealed to the great northern power – Assyria for assistance, but they hurt rather than helped – demanding more tribute and offering limited aid (2 Chron 28:20). Disturbingly in the north, a new power was adding instability to the mix as the Babylonians continually rebelled against Assyria, upsetting the delicate balance of regional politics.
These are not words on a page, not an epic novel with fictional characters. These were real people. People died, horribly. The northern kingdom of Israel was on borrowed time. Unknown to them they had only four years until final invasion by the Assyrians and six until they would fall to rise no more.
Those in Judah were also in a perilous position. Ahaz, having lost swathes of the kingdom has just died. In his place was a 25-year old leader. Inexperienced. Worse. Ahaz passed his sons through the fire of Molech (2 Kings 16:2). So it could well be said of Hezekiah that:
he has no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention, no special appearance that we should want to follow him. 3 He is despised and rejected by people, one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness; people hid their faces from him; he was despised, and we considered him insignificantIsa 53:2-3
Judah needed an experienced credible king, like the vigorous warrior kings of Assyria. Judah needed a competent leader to align with either Egypt or Assyria. Hezekiah was not an appealing option.
So what did Hezekiah do?
1. He focussed on the positive first – rebuilding the worship of God & focussing on the temple (2 Chron 29:1-24)
The temple was always there. But under the time of Ahaz it had moved from the centre of the nation to merely ‘another temple’. Hezekiah’s day was profoundly polytheistic. You have your gods, I have mind. Live and let live.
This creates a challenge. Distinction. Commitment. The way of Jesus is not exclusively being attending a place of worship every Sunday. Attendance is not righteousness. However it is a little like fishing. If you want fish, you need to adopt certain habits. I’m not a fisherman, fish come from nice shops. But if you DIY fish then staying in at home or in a dry paddock won’t work – you need to frequent large bodies of water. If you are going to grow spiritually you need to be in community and you need to prioritise spiritual life.
Hezekiah wasn’t rebuilding the temple. He wasn’t remaking the various bits of furniture. Everything was there. It was just there with other stuff that was there. Dusting, polishing and decluttering was essentially the work of reformation. How can we get our personal focus more clearly on the God of Israel, reducing the clutter and distractions in our life?
Like anyone I’ve got my own challenges and my faith and commitment waxes and wanes. But I know some of the things which I do I’m healthier. Podcasts. Reading. Meeting others. It’s not much, its just taking out the clutter of other lazy choices I make – just some spring cleaning. Some people listen to spiritual material while they do chores. Others might read a book for 30 mins. Maybe you have a practical routine or trigger for putting a little polish on your day.
Examine yourself is the challenge of Haggai and the invitation of 1 Corinthians 11. Where is the dust, what needs a little polish, what could use a little decluttering in our lives?
2. Sacred cows 2 Kings 18:4
One of the remarkable pieces of decluttering was verging on blasphemous. In 2 Kings 18:4 as part of the decluttering, Hezekiah took the brazen serpent and destroyed it. He called it Nehushtan – which probably means “The Brass Thing.”1. Context – this was a priceless part of the heritage of God’s people. The serpent was hung on a pole in the wilderness as part of a miracle to stop the plague of serpents killing people in Num 21:8-9. Not only was this a vital reminder of God’s salvation, it was irreplaceable history. More. It was a symbol of the messiah – Jesus calls it a type of himself in John 3:14. Would you feel comfortable destroying a piece of faith history which was also a type of Jesus?
Some of the conservative faithful (not the idol worshippers) probably thought Hezekiah was going too far, that he was unbalanced, he was overreacting! Hezekiah for his part got the sacred cow and dragged it straight to the BBQ, served it blue (as you should) with only a little salt & pepper to bring out the flavour.
Reformation means some sacred cows should be nervous. Things that served us well, things that God worked through, the untouchables. Everything needs brutal evaluation – does it serve God’s people now? Or is it Nehushtan? Of course there are some things we should never touch, so we think. No actually – Hezekiah would just be heating up the Webber…reformation doesn’t mean hanging onto traditions that hinder growth.
3. He brought back music (2 Chron 29:25-30)
Part and parcel of Hezekiah’s reforms were music. And joy. Actually, music as a path to joy. Music is a special gift from God which resonates in the heart of every right-thinking individual – as one of our own poets said:
The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils; The motions of his spirit are dull as night, And his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.Shakespeare, William “The Merchant of Venice”
So Hezekiah in 2 Chron 29:25-27 has stringed instruments, cymbals and trumpets as part of the temple rededication and singing. What was the spirit? V30 joy and happiness v36.
Sadly sometimes we think that the music of God is different to other music. The songs of Israel had different words maybe. Actually of the Psalms ape and repurpose the phrases of the Baal worshippers (eg Psa 29). The instruments used by Israel are the same as her neighbours. God’s worship has no unique sound. It should be a joyful, loud and active thing.
Culturally we might shrink away from this. Nonsense this is just a Nehushtan. How can we snap our fingers to the passing vapours of popular music while denying ourselves the same, or greater, joy in the presence of God? God gifted us the ability to enjoy music and He plants dance in the hearts of the young. Hezekiah complied with the spirit of Psa 150:3-5
Praise him with the blast of the horn! Praise him with the lyre and the harp! 4 Praise him with the tambourine and with dancing! Praise him with stringed instruments and the flute! Praise him with loud cymbals! Praise him with clanging cymbals!
Music is a powerful tool to set our personal agenda and our mindset. We have opportunities to seek out positive spiritual music. I’m not ranting about one style of music versus another (although kazoos don’t do it for me!). I’m just making the point that, just like listening to a podcast or talk, sometimes choosing some up-tempo faith music can be a joyful and spiritually uplifting addition to your life. Need a lift? Need to fire up a closer connection with our King? Use music.
4. Included everyone and their offerings (2 Chron 29:31)
The joy of worship is not, should not, be constrained. Hezekiah took an expansive view of the gospel. Literally when he decided to hold the Passover he sent out messengers and the prophet rejoiced saying (or singing if you use Handel’s Authorised Version):
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; That bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; That saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!Isa 52:7 (sorry for KJV but it sounds good, Handel and all that)
Oh but really! Why reach out to these people the spiritually careful might say! Israel were suffering the condemnation of God. They were idolators, “calf kissers” Hos 13:2 says. They had turned the word of God to a lie, worshipping the calves of Exodus, conflating the world and the word. No sane person would consider them within the remit of salvation. Why you might as well invite tax collectors, prostitutes, the mentally troubled and other undesirables into the kingdom! Yet despite the careful barriers of the self-righteous and valid judgements of God, Hezekiah extended the invitation to the disgraceful North to celebrate the Passover – the feast celebrating deliverance from the oppressor and new life – so appropriate to the needs of the shattered two nations.
As the followers of the great king, who also drew the reaction “Surely nothing good comes Nazareth” (John 1:46), we would never hesitate when faced with such openness would we? When faced perhaps with those who are finding their way back to the God of their fathers? Surely not. Individuals make their choices – our King wishes us to empower their choice. So in Hezekiah’s time the message went out. Some mocked but some came and were embraced. Isaiah and others would have rejoiced to see this action and response. Why? Because the prophesy of Isa 9:1-3 were coming to pass in front of their faces!
But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy…
But what did Hezekiah do with these responders? They were not fit to take the Passover, they were unclean. Had they purged out leaven for 7 days? If not they should have been cut off from the community per Exod 12:15. It was all wrong, according to God’s Law. Hezekiah’s response was to seek God’s mercy as a more than appropriate salve to the insufficiency of the individuals:
May the LORD, who is good, forgive 19 everyone who has determined to follow God, the LORD God of his ancestors, even if he is not ceremonially clean according to the standards of the temple.2 Chron 30:18-19
Is there anyone here who can say they have always come to the Lord’s house clean? We celebrate the Passover of our king each week. It’s not like we come having not touched the leaven of wickedness (1 Cor 5:8), or the leaven of self-righteousness (Luke 12:1) in the last 7 days! Look at the attitude of our king.
“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 13 So he stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing. Be clean!”Luke 5:12-13
“Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 She replied, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”John 8:10-112
We do not need to let insecurity or awareness of fallibility hold us back. Our king has made us ALL fit to share his Passover feast. Joy, not fear, should mark our day – our everyday – as we remember our Passover – our deliverance from slavery and death. Our king’s righteousness, his relationship with our God cleanses and uplifts us all. He wills us to be clean, one and all. Let us live that reality – and help others, all others, live that reality.
5. Hezekiah really believed that mercy rejoices against judgement (2 Chron 30)
I’m a bit of a stickler. Conservative really. To the great amusement of my family, I don’t cope well with changes. At home Sarah periodically punishes me by moving furniture and in one famous case actually repainting a room a new colour. As a community we place a high value on questions like “what does God word say” and “what does it really mean”. Such investigations are valuable and reflect a rich heritage of a determination to serve God in spirit and in truth.
However, how would we cope with Hezekiah in our midst? Look what he does!
Firstly in rededicating the temple, he let the Levites step into the priests’ role in making sacrifices in 2 Chron 29:34. Now its not clear to me that the Mosaic Law required the priests to slay animals – however this is the clear expectation of the text here. In which case it is worth noting Num 18:7 which clearly says that anyone stepping into the priestly role was worthy of death. Pretty clear. And Hezekiah clearly ignored it for the greater priority of worship.
Secondly, he holds Passover in the second month (2 Chron 30:2). But Exod 12 plainly says the Passover had to be in month one. It was the set up for the religious calendar, for the feasts which followed. The feast of unleavened bread and Pentecost were based on time after the Passover. But that was not the only change in arrangements.
Thirdly we see the Levites killed the Passover (2 Chron 30:17) for many attendees but the rules clearly say the individual householder should have killed the lamb – Deut 16:5-6, Exod 12:3-6.
Now you could argue that there is an out in Num 9:12-13. If you touched a dead body or were on an overseas shopping trip you could defer your personal Passover to month 2. It is a massive stretch to say you could defer the entire national passover. That was NOT the purpose the exceptions in Numbers 9. Hezekiah is taking a very cavalier approach to interpretation!3 What has Hezekiah done? This is God’s word!
“Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled”Matt 5:18
to this man will I look, Even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, And trembleth at my word.Isa 66:2
I know where I would be sitting on this conversation. Firmly on the ‘no this is wrong’ bench. This does not align to my expectations of honouring the detail of God’s word. However perhaps it is demonstrating the maxim of James 2:13 that:
“mercy rejoices against judgement”
Hezekiah demonstrates an approach of respecting God’s way and will instead of idolising His Word. That might concern you. It challenges me. But we need to deal with the fullness of the text. Hezekiah did God’s will, even as he de-emphasised elements of God’s word. I’m not advocating Hezekiah gives us carte blanche to do anything we want. Hezekiah had a passionate implementation of the 1st commandment (or 2nd – depending on how you count them!) in Exod 20:2-3. His was no path of compromise and tolerance, but it was one where mercy toward individuals triumphed over the judgement of black letter law. We need to be very careful how we approach scripture, so we don’t elevate OUR priorities in His word above God’s own will.
Consider again our king. None of us can earn eternal life. Of ourselves we would earn the wages of sin and die, yet our king extends to us the gift of life by the grace of His father and God (Rom 6:23). The law of commandments which would otherwise be against us he has taken out of the way by his personal righteousness (Eph 2:15). So our king:
came and preached peace to [us] who were far off and peace to [the Jews] who were near, so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household,Eph 2:17-19
So here we all our by the mercy of our King as one people, free from law, free to serve, seeking the will of God over legalism.
6. Mercy leads to more service, it self-perpetuates 2 Chron 30:23-24
Hezekiah’s Passover, the assembled motley crew of the faithful, the reformed, the semi-pagans from the north all bought into the process. In 2 Chron 30:23-24 we see at the conclusion of the not exactly legal and proper Passover they made another crazy call. They did it all again. Where was the scriptural precedent for that? Well of course worship requires no precedent.
Can you imagine though? The priests were exhausted. The Levites, who had already gone above and beyond, were dead on their feet. The coffee beans were probably finished, and the budget was well and truly blown. Plus no-one had brought enough food to contribute to the extravagance of a second feast! Little matter. What happened? Three things according to 2 Chron 30:24. The king provided, his loyal servants provided, and MORE priests consecrated themselves.
Let’s pick up this last point first. We can point to the deficiencies in the first Passover. But what was the consequence of an imperfect service? Improved service. More volunteers. More engagement. Don’t let the great be the enemy of the good. Momentum in community is critical. As a result of joy, engagement and grace, more people dedicated themselves to service. Personally don’t let judgemental perfection seeking prevent seeking progress. Be engaged and grow, don’t let failure stop you. Build on the little things.
Point 1 and 2. We can’t provide but the king and his agents do. Many people contribute amazing amounts of time, money and energy in faith communities. There are many tasks which require dedication and sacrifice. There is always room for more shoulders on the wheel, but we would be absurd not to acknowledge the wonderful contribution of many. It would also be uncouth not to acknowledge the powerful contribution many older faith siblings make just by turning up to community worship – despite significant frailty.
Of course you know where we are going to go next. Our king is a provider, a carer. He provided natural things – although we rightly eschew any prosperity gospel. When he saw the multitude who followed him, he was moved with compassion. He taught and provided food through the miracle of loaves and fishes (Mark 6:34). Matt 11:28-29 describes his attitude and intention for his people
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Our king’s care for us extends far beyond the natural, and even beyond teaching us inner peace and rest. John 6:33 records him describing himself as the bread of life – a life giving provider. Jesus IS our Passover as 1 Cor 5:7. Our King has provided, our King has given us the bread of life and made the offering on our behalf. We take the emblems not just here because he is a wise teacher and a godly man – he has redeemed us:
from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors …—not by perishable things like silver or gold, but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb…1 Pet 1:18-19
Every time we share the Passover with our King we remember the one who initiated this feast of hope with the inclusive and passionate words:
With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I sufferLuke 22:15
Our king has given everything for us, he desires us to share his feast in remembrance of him and ultimately Jesus wants to share it with us.
7. Imitation as the consequence of worship 2 Chron 31:1
What will we do? We are, beneficiaries of the greatest Passover ever. We are servants of the most righteous king, the one who has provided for us and by whose intervention we are saved. Hezekiah’s people just did what was logical. They emulated their king. He smashed the idols, he dedicated himself to God and eschewed all other distractions. The people did the same. So what that their king was despised!?, that he was esteemed as nothing by those around – he was the son of David, the anointed of God.
Our situation today is vastly different to the shaky position of the Jews as their young and disfigured king came to the throne. Yet the decisions we face and the opportunities our king has created, have some similarities.
Our king has called us, cleansed us, provided for us. We keep the Passover another 7 days every seven days, seizing the opportunity to share joy together and be cleansed, to make vows and start again.
I don’t know what you need to do but I know our opportunity is now. Despite the troubles which will come to us (hopefully less than those which afflicted the Jews of the time!) the warmth and love of our King is unquestionable. We need not fear judgement nor the turmoil in the world about us. The questions we ask ourselves now are far more important than any others.
Ask yourself – as much as I need to – How can you let our King inspire you to action? Will you declutter? Will you find ways to rejoice in music? Will you dedicate a little time to spiritual growth? Will you seek out opportunities to serve? Will you carry the message and invitation of your King with dancing and inclusive steps to others? How will we imitate this one, this wonderful wonderful king?
- Hobbs, T. R. (1998). 2 Kings (Vol. 13, p. 251). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
- Obviously the textual consensus is that this probably an authentic history piece added to the inspired record (ie it’s my favourite ‘not in the Bible part of the Bible’)
- Dillard, R. B. (1998). 2 Chronicles (Vol. 15, p. 243). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.