2 Kings 18 – 20; 2 Chronicles 29 – 32; Isaiah 36 39.
King Hezekiah’s achievements were remarkable and his reformation compared to those of his predecessors and others who followed after him, was thorough. At the commencement of his reign, he rid the nation of Judah of her idol paraphernalia and returned her to keep the commandments given to Moses. Even the latter’s crafted bronze serpent was destroyed when it became an idol. His trust in Yahweh was exceptional, and “there had been no other like him among the kings of Judah since then, nor among those who were before him” (2 Kings 18:1-6). However, with the invasion of Judah by the Assyrian King Sennacherib, Hezekiah’s mettle was put to the test. After being publicly insulted and belittled in Hebrew by Sennacherib’s field commander, a written ultimatum for Judah’s surrender was handed to him. Despite Isaiah’s encouragement that God was on his side, Hezekiah was at his wit’s end as he brought these menacing letters before the Lord (2 Kings 19). God again reassured him that He would defeat Assyria, but the intensity of the pressures on him took its fatal toll on Hezekiah’s health. In his desire to live, he pleaded with God, and God apparently changed His mind and extended Hezekiah’s life by another 15 years (2 Kings 20:1-11). After that, King Hezekiah became proud; when Marduk-Baladan, the son of the King of Babylon, visited him on hearing of his earlier illness, he brought him on a whirlwind tour of his armoury, treasury and storehouses. Babylon was then a rising Near Eastern superpower. This showcasing of Judah’s capability angered God, who consequently judged Judah by prophesying the Babylonian Captivity through Isaiah (2 Kings 20:12-21).
The intensity of temptations is no different through the human lifespan, even if their modus operandi differs. Like Hezekiah, it is probable that we may be able to remain faithful and fruitful servants of God most of our life, but also fail sorrowfully in other areas. But despite it, the need to persistently persevere humbly with God’s help each step of our way and allow His testimony in us to shine forth. Hezekiah’s story reflected these lessons for us. At the point of death, Isaiah’s only instruction from God to the King was “Set your house in order” (2 Kings 20:1). Although no mention of what he needed to put in order is mentioned, we can surmise that his responsibility and task of nation-building was not unimportant as a ruler, but with eternity in view, Hezekiah probably was following priorities that were obviously misguided (c.f., Phil 1:21-23). Often, our focus is on accomplishing essential matters for God, to the neglect of the little things in life, like putting our own house in order, which ultimately will entrap us. This is especially true when we allow our job to take first place over our family life. Furthermore, Hezekiah’s entitlement in his self-righteous attitude led him to justify his endeavours for God in years past in pleading for a longer life (2 Kings 20:2-3); sidestepping entirely what he needed to set aright. And when more years were given to him, his reputation for godliness waned (2 Kings 20:16-19). Hezekiah failed in recognising that he was just a steward for God as a ruler over Judah, He took his status and possessions in life as an entitlement, and that commenced his spiritual decline. This is a critical reminder for us; our very being, our existence, is the result of God’s grace, mercy and blessing. Nothing belongs to us, absolutely nothing! The compelling need is to discern what is God’s priorities in our lives and to take care that we endeavour to work through them in concert with His Holy Spirit until the task is done, and His testimony secured.
Pride is the inevitable fruit of entitlement, as Hezekiah claimed in his achievements for God. And it was that very pride that led to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 597 BC. Isaiah’s judgment was prophetic (it was fulfilled almost 120 years later), but King Hezekiah’s lackadaisical response to it illustrated his self-preoccupation and a lack of appreciation of the enormity of the catastrophe that would befall his descendants and the people of Judah. The choices Hezekiah made in the last 15 years of his life revealed the condition of his heart and how far he had moved away from trusting God. Hezekiah started out well, but that consistency of dependence on God began to deteriorate; it was likely that his meditation on Yahweh’s Law no longer held a premier place in his life. In that predicament, entitled leaders usually become self-indulgent and autocratic, and intolerant of justifiable constructive criticism even from those closest to them. When we remove idols from our hearts, we need to replace them with God’s Word in our life and allow His Holy Spirit to guide us, otherwise, we may be repositioning ourselves to repeat what had happened to Hezekiah (c.f., Psalm 19; Psalm 119:11; Rom 13:14; James 4:7-10). Let us draw near to God to persistently seek His face in humility, with a deep sense of dependence on Him.