Mercy in disguise

A long time ago I did a Bible Study on the Kings of Judah. This was the southern kingdom, the one ruled by the descendants of King David. Whereas the Kings of Israel, the northern kingdom, went from bad to worse, most of the ones in Judah stayed close to God. That is, until the end. We talked about that end last time, from the book of the prophet Jeremiah. The end of Israel was expected; they reaped what they sowed. But what happened to Judah? When did they cross the line of no return?

God sent the northern kingdom of Israel many prophets, including the most powerful prophets recorded in the Bible, Elijah and Elisha. But they still refused to repent and change their ways. So, the promised consequence eventually came for them in the form of the Assyrian invasion.

Hezekiah, was king of Judah at that time. 

Now, his father Ahaz was one of the bad kings of Judah. He had turned to the worship of the gods of the nations. He shuttered the Temple and even burned his sons in the fire to Molech. The result was widespread corruption of Judah because, by that time in the history of the southern kingdom, whatever the king did, the people followed.

But, when Hezekiah, his son, became king, he set out to restore the land to faith in the Lord. How could such a bad king have a believer for a son? The answer is: Hezekiah grew up knowing his grandfather Uzziah, who had been a faithful and righteous king. (Except for a lapse of pride at the end of his reign). And his mother was Abi, the daughter of Zechariah, the prophet that instructed Uzziah in the fear of the Lord. So, with that influence of godly mother and godly grandfather, faith in the Lord was passed on.

Hezekiah had the priests re-open the Temple and cleanse it and begin again the worship of the Lord. His revival spread out from Judah and Benjamin to encompass Ephraim and Manasseh (2 Chronicles 29-31).

Revival brings peace but only for a while

This is a truth that we see throughout the history of the Kings of Judah: Whenever they set their hearts on following the Lord, God gives them a time of peace. But the peace never lasts. Why?

Because we live in a fallen world. We are, as Jesus told us, in this world but not of this world. We are citizens of another kingdom, who have sworn allegiance to a King beyond all those kings who claim to have power in this world. Do we think that those other kings who want to have power over us will not notice? Sooner or later the world and its powers will take notice of us and challenge us.

Therefore, what the good Kings of Judah had to learn, what we should learn from them, is that the time of peace is given to us a for a reason: to prepare, to become stronger, to be ready; so that we can carry out the work our King has prepared for us.

Hezekiah saw that the Assyrians would come to attack Judah. So, he prepared Judah and Jerusalem to survive. In addition to fortifications, he had all the wells and fountains of water outside the city of Jerusalem stopped (so an Assyrian siege would have no water) and he diverted all that water through an underground tunnel to the reservoir at the pool of Siloam inside the city.

Hezekiah started his reign by putting his faith into action and acting prudently.

And then the Assyrians came…

2 Kings 18:14-16 And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have sinned; retire from me: I will bear what thou layest upon me. And the king of Assyria laid upon Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. And Hezekiah gave all the silver that was found in the house of Jehovah, and in the treasures of the king’s house. At that time Hezekiah stripped the doors of the temple of Jehovah, and the posts that Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave them to the king of Assyria.

Oops! What happened? The same thing that happens to all of us, more often than we would like to admit: We slip, we fail: our faith becomes “microscopic faith”, as Jesus told his disciples more than once.

But the good news from the story of Hezekiah is that God never gives up. As Paul said:

Philippians 1:6 …he who has begun in you a good work will complete it unto Jesus Christ’s day…

So, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, takes the bribe and then turns around and orders the city to be surrounded.

During that siege, we see Hezekiah’s faith return in full force. At first, he asks the prophet Isaiah to intercede and ask God for help. God indeed causes the Assyrians to back off; in effect, giving them a chance to retreat fully instead of being destroyed. But when the Assyrians refuse to take the hint and return to threaten the destruction of Jerusalem and mock God, Hezekiah himself asks God for help. And in response, in one night, an angel of the Lord kills 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. After that the Assyrians go away.

After victory, what comes next?

If that had been your life. If you had had the chance to restore your family to faith in God. If the enemy had thrown its worst attack against you and yours, and you had survived – more than that – triumphed… more than that – triumphed in such a way that God’s Name was glorified. Would you count that as a good life, as a life well lived?

I hope I would have. I hope that I never forget that this world is not my home. Why do I ask these questions?

Hezekiah 20:1 In those days Hezekiah was sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, Thus saith Jehovah: Set thy house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.

What would you do? If God were to tell you, “This is it; your time has come”. And then He gave you time to get your house in order, to tell your loved ones, one last time, the most important truths they need to hear from you, so that they can go on and live their lives for God… Would you do that?

Or would I try to cling tooth and nail to this life?

I hope, I pray, that I never forget that this world is not my home.

2 Kings 20:2 And he [Hezekiah] turned his face to the wall, and prayed to Jehovah saying, Ah! Jehovah, remember, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done what is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept much.

And it came to pass before Isaiah had gone out into the middle city that the word of Jehovah came to him saying, Return, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith Jehovah, 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 to the house of Jehovah; and I will add to 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.

Mercy in disguise

God is all powerful. His will is impossible to resist. Yet, by His own choosing, He made us in His own image. Because He wanted to have a Love relationship with us, He gave us a spirit so that we could live forever and He gave us free will so that we could Love freely. So, God, by His own choosing will not override our will. He will not coerce us…

Which is why we all have the power to destroy ourselves. We all have the power to reject His Love and His Will. Why do we do that? Because we get seduced by this world we live in.

1 John 2:15-17 Love not the world, nor the things in the world. If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world is passing, and its lust, but he that does the will of God abides for eternity.

Was the healing of Hezekiah an example of God’s Mercy?

No, categorically, No! God’s Mercy was: 2 Kings 20:1 …Thus saith Jehovah: Set thy house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.

Hezekiah could have died in an accident. He could have died from a stroke, suddenly. He could have died in the care of his doctors, while they were doing their best. But, no, God had mercy. He sent Isaiah to tell him his time had run out, to give him a chance to pass on his legacy of faith and obedience to the will of God to the next generation.

But instead of Hezekiah recognizing that chance to say goodbye, that chance to be an example before his people of how a servant bows down to the will of the true King, instead of recognizing that as an instance of God’s Mercy, he treated it as a cruel and unfair Judgment. He cried for more years of life.

Yet, Isaiah, in his prophecies had already said:

Isaiah 57:1-2 The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart; and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from before the evil. He entereth into peace: they rest in their beds, [each one] that hath walked in his uprightness.

God wanted to spare Hezekiah from the evil that was to come. And yet, Hezekiah wanted to keep on living in this world.

Was that so bad? The answer to that question, is: Who knows best?

Soon after this, envoys from Babylon come visit Hezekiah. And Hezekiah shows them the palace, the armoury, and all his treasures. And Isaiah comes to him and asks him who the visitors were, and where they came from; and then he tells him what is coming:

2 Kings 20:16-18 And Isaiah said to Hezekiah, Hear the word of Jehovah: Behold, days come that all that is in thy house, and what thy fathers have laid up until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left, saith Jehovah. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, whom thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.

What would your reaction be? Maybe now is the time to fall on my knees and pray for my descendants, and ask for mercy for them. But this is Hezekiah’s reaction:

2 Kings 20:19 And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, Good is the word of Jehovah which thou hast spoken. And he said, Is it not so? if only there shall be peace and truth in my days!

There will be peace in my days… Great!

What was God’s perfect Will in this case?

Many people have taught from the passage of the healing of Hezekiah the fact that God’s Will is not rigidly set, that even though God has a “Perfect Will” for every situation, He will allow, by His “Permissive Will”, a different course of action to take place. I guess that’s true. But in this case that is nothing to rejoice over.

Three years after Hezekiah was healed, his first son was born: Manasseh. He became king at 12 years old, and turned out to be the worst King of Judah. Under him the kingdom sank to its deepest depravity. And even though he repented after being taken captive by the Assyrians, it was too late. Not even Josiah, his grandson, who was one of the most righteous Kings of Judah – who had been prophesied, by name, since the days of Jeroboam the first king of Israel – not even he could turn the tide. The last three kings: Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah turned away from God.

When did Judah cross the point of no return? Let’s read the final verdict:

2 Kings 24:1-4 In his [Jehoiahkim] days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim was his servant three years; then he turned and rebelled against him. And Jehovah sent against him the bands of the Chaldeans, and the bands of the Syrians, and the bands of the Moabites, and the bands of the children of Ammon, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of Jehovah, which he spoke through his servants the prophets.

Verily, at the commandment of Jehovah it came to pass against Judah, that they should be removed out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done; and also [because of] the innocent blood that he had shed; for he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and Jehovah would not pardon.

What would have been God’s perfect will? We’ll never know. If Hezekiah had died, Manasseh would never have been born. And another descendant of David would have become King. We will never know that story.

But what about my story?

If God has determined to honor my free will, how can I keep myself from ruining my own life?

The first lesson from Hezekiah’s story is this: listen to John the disciple: Love not the world, nor the things in the world. If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

The second thing, listen to Jesus. As He came to the hardest point of His life, at Gethsemane, knowing that the agony of the cross lay before him…

Luke 22:41-42 (NASB) …He [Jesus] withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

That kind of prayer honors God, and God will rejoice to honor.

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