Guests: Dave Thomas and Zdravko Stefanovic
THIS WEEK’S STUDY: 2 Kings 18-20; 2 Chronicles 29-32; Isaiah 36-39
MEMORY TEXT: “The LORD will save me, and we will sing to stringed instruments all the days of our lives, at the house of the LORD.” Isa. 38:20 (NRSV)
A MARRED LIFE CAN STILL BE JUDGED FAITHFUL. Human beings can make mistakes that bring sorrow to themselves and to God’s people. Yet the record that counts for eternity depends not on flawless human performance, but on God’s perfect grace. That is the story of Hezekiah’s life.
OVERVIEW: FRIGHTENED, FOOLISH, FAITHFUL HEZEKIAH
I. THE PASSOVER RENEWED: 2 Chron. 29-31
II. THE CITY DELIVERED: 2 Kings 18-19; Chron. 32:1-23; Isa. 36-37
III. DESPERATION AND HEALING: 2 Kings 20:1-11; 2 Chron. 32:24; Isa. 38
IV. BABYLON’S LONG SHADOW: 2 Kings 20:12-21; 2 Chron. 32:25-33; Isa. 39
HOW DOES ONE TELL THE STORY OF A FAITHFUL KING WHO SLIPPED? Three Old Testament books narrate for us the life of Hezekiah. Why three instead of one? Probably for the same reason that God gave us several accounts of the life of Christ: “Why could not one of the disciples have written a complete record, and thus have given us a connected account of Christ’s earthly life? Why does one writer bring in points that another does not mention? Why, if these points are essential, did not all these writers mention them? It is because the minds of men differ. Not all comprehend things in exactly the same way. Certain Scripture truths appeal much more strongly to the minds of some than of others” (Counsels to Parents and Teachers,. 432).
The advantages of having more than one account, however, are complicated by the fact that differing versions of the same event may appear contradictory. “Different forms of expression are employed by different writers; often the same truth is more strikingly presented by one than by another. And as several writers present a subject under varied aspects and relations, there may appear, to the superficial, careless, or prejudiced reader, to be discrepancy or contradiction, where the thoughtful, reverent student, with clearer insight, discerns the underlying harmony” (The Great Controversy, “Introduction,” vi).
The key phrase in the paragraph just cited is “underlying harmony.” A similar phrase, “spiritual unity,” appears in an important 1886 manuscript addressing the same issue, reprinted in Selected Messages, 1:19-21: “There is not always perfect order or apparent unity in the Scriptures” (p. 20). Even though “everything that is human is imperfect,” Scripture is still fully capable of meeting our needs, for “the Bible was given for practical purposes” (p. 20).
How does the Bible address “practical” issues? By making application its primary object, rather than the assembling of mere facts or historical details. The process was likely similar to that used by Ellen White when she wrote the book The Great Controversy. In the “Introduction,” she notes that the “great events” are “well-known and universally acknowledged.” This history she presents “briefly, in accordance with the scope of the book, and the brevity which must necessarily be observed, the facts having been condensed into as little space as seemed consistent with a proper understanding of their application” (p. xi).
Application is the key. The stories are different because the Spirit directs each author to write out of his own experience and address a particular audience having a particular need. Nevertheless, the “thoughtful, reverent, student” is able to discern the “underlying harmony.”
In all three accounts Hezekiah is viewed as a great and faithful king, though that emphasis is strongest in Chronicles. But his failures were known, too. These mistakes the Spirit brings to our attention, especially in Kings and Isaiah, helping us understand how a sometimes frightened, sometimes foolish king can still be reckoned as faithful in God’s eyes.
I. THE PASSOVER RENEWED: 2 Chron. 29-31
Only Chronicles tells us of Hezekiah’s Passover. The event is not even mentioned in Kings or Isaiah. The Chronicler loves to talk about the temple and its services. Hezekiah’s Passover provides one more occasion to focus on the temple as a means of showing God’s patient love for His wayward people.
- How far into his reign was Hezekiah before he initiated a religious reform? 2 Chron. 29:3.
The speed with which Hezekiah launched the reform is all the more remarkable in view of the unfaithfulness of his father, King Ahaz. Perhaps his mother, mentioned in Kings by the name of Abi and in Chronicles as Abijah, was the one who taught him truth.
- What signs of deterioration in the temple and its services reveal the urgent need for reform? 2 Chron. 29:3-7.
Doors _________________________________________________Holy Place ____________________________________________
Burnt Offerings _______________________________________
Once again the Old Testament shows that periods of stability in religious practice were rare and brief. If the temple was closed and the holy place full of “filth” (vs. 5, RSV), where did the faithful worship Yahweh? The daily sacrifices, the Sabbath services, and the annual festivals had fallen by the way.
Hezekiah’s reform did not prove permanent either. Some decades later, King Josiah again found the temple in disrepair, and again sparked reform and renewal (see 2 Chronicles 34).
- To what foretaste of the Babylonian captivity did Hezekiah refer? 2 Chron. 29:8-9; cf. 28:5.
Because of the problem of overlapping reigns, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary ( 2:86) suggests that Hezekiah’s reforms came after 715 B.C., the year Ahaz died. If this dating is correct, then Hezekiah’s reform came several years after the northern Kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians; its capital Samaria was captured in 722 B.C.
But Hezekiah referred to captivity involving his own kingdom. In the reign of Ahaz, both Syria and Israel took captives from Judah. For the first readers of Chronicles, however, the story carried yet more weight, reminding them of the long shadow of the Babylonian exile and the fall of Jerusalem.
Captivity was now a way of life for God’s people. Had they lost hope? Not quite. Listening to the Chronicler’s story of Hezekiah’s reform, they heard of a God who forgives and restores. For the discouraged inhabitants of Judah, that was good news.
- What evangelistic efforts did Hezekiah launch and with what results? 2 Chron. 30:1-11.
- In what ways did God allow Hezekiah and his people to fall short of the ideal in their renewal of the Passover?
2 Chron. 29:34 ________________________________________2 Chron. 30:2-3 _______________________________________
2 Chron. 30:15-20 _____________________________________
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That proverb is often used to make the point that good intentions are no substitute for full obedience. There is indeed a danger that we may relax our efforts to reach the ideal, excusing ourselves with a shrug and a lame, “We tried.”
But if we allow ourselves to settle for less than the ideal, we may have forgotten that God has given us the ideal for our good. Obedience is not conformity to an external check list simply to keep God happy; His law is for our benefit.
Speaking of the laws given to Israel, Ellen White commented: “The object of all these regulations was stated: they proceeded from no exercise of mere arbitrary sovereignty; all were given for the good of Israel” (Patriarchs and Prophets, 311). In another instance, speaking of the laws of health, she observed that students should come to regard obedience “not as a matter of sacrifice or self-denial, but as it really is, an inestimable privilege and a blessing” (Education, 201).
But how does God respond when we do our best and still fall short of the mark? While it may be true that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the story of Hezekiah’s reform reveals that good intentions are far preferable in His sight than bad ones. Hezekiah asked forgiveness for those who had done their best but could not quite attain the highest mark. “And the Lord heard Hezekiah, and healed the people” (2 Chron. 30:20).
II. THE CITY DELIVERED: 2 Kings 18-19; 2 Chron. 32:1-23; Isa. 36-37.
The Chronicler concludes his story of Hezekiah’s reform with a flourish, saying, in effect, that Hezekiah was faithful in all that he did. Then hard on the heels of “these acts of faithfulness” (2 Chron. 32:1), Sennacherib, king of Assyria arrived on the scene.
The siege of Jerusalem and the subsequent humiliation of the Assyrian army is a great Old Testament story coming down to us in three different versions. The accounts in Isaiah and 2 Kings are remarkably similar, reflecting a common original. There, Hezekiah appears less heroic than in Chronicles, though all three accounts contain the essential elements of the story.
- How do the different introductions set the tone for the story of Sennacherib’s attack?
2 Chron. 32:2-8 _______________________________________
2 Kings 18:14-16 ______________________________________
Paying tribute is negative (Kings); defending the city is positive (Chronicles). For both books, the emphasis is typical.
- How does Kings (and Isaiah) depict Hezekiah’s reaction to the Rabshakeh’s speech? 2 Kings 19:1-4 (Isaiah 37:1-4).
Both Kings and Isaiah record Hezekiah’s uncertainty in the face of the Assyrian siege. Hezekiah even hints at a loss of confidence in Yahweh, shifting the responsibility to Isaiah: “It may be that the LORD your God heard….” (2 Kings 19:4, RSV).
By contrast, Chronicler achieves a more positive and encouraging message by omitting a significant part of the unsettling conversations involving the Assyrians, Hezekiah, and Isaiah. A simple summary statement places the king and prophet side by side, confidently trusting in Yahweh: “And Hezekiah the king and Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz prayed because of this and cried to heaven” (2 Chron. 32:20, RSV).
- What supernatural intervention ended the Assyrian threat? 2 Kings 19:35-37 (Isaiah 37:36-38; 2 Chron. 32:21).
Herodotus, the Greek historian, describes the same event, but attributes the defeat of the Assyrians to the fact that mice invaded the camp and ate up the bowstrings of the soldiers (Herodotus, Bk. II, Sect. 141). Addressing moderns who are reluctant to recognize the validity of “supernatural” intervention in history, C. S. Lewis noted that if one is forced to choose between the Old Testament with its angels and Herodotus with his mice, “an open-minded man will be on the side of the angels” (C. S. Lewis, “Miracles,” in God in the Dock [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1970], 28).
Those who have experienced God’s power personally do not find it difficult to see God’s hand in history. Here the whole nation stood awed at God’s action on their behalf.
Ask yourself: When a remarkable and striking event occurs in my life, am I inclined to give credit to natural or supernatural causes? Does God sometimes work within the “laws” of nature and sometimes apparently transcend them?
III. DESPERATION AND HEALING: 2 Kings 20:1-11; 2 Chron. 32:24; Isa. 38.
Without warning and in the midst of prosperity a fatal illness struck. Isaiah brought the solemn word to Hezekiah: “Thus says the LORD, `Set your house in order; for you shall die, you shall not recover'” (2 Kings 20:1, RSV).
- On what basis did Isaiah return to Hezekiah with a reversal of the death decree? 2 Kings 20:2-6 (Isaiah 38:2-6).
This incident reveals God’s compassion. It also sheds helpful light on the nature of a prophet’s work. In the first instance, the death decree was conditional and revokable. In the reign of David, Nathan had brought good news from the Lord relative to the building of the temple, only to return with a reversal on the basis of a revelation. Here, Isaiah’s bad news was reversed by revelation.
This story also tells us that prayer changes things with God. Hezekiah pled for a longer life and God said yes.
- How do Hezekiah’s musings reflect the Old Testament understanding of what happens during death? Isaiah 38:9-20.
The doctrine of man’s natural mortality is clearly reflected in Hezekiah’s thoughts about death. Those who go down to the grave (Sheol) cannot praise God. Only the living can thank the LORD and make known His faithfulness (Isaiah 38:18-19). The Bible is clear about the condition of man in death. The idea of the natural immortality of the soul came from Greek thought, not from the Hebrew Scriptures. The Christian doctrine of the resurrection builds on the Old Testament concept of the whole person. Only in the flesh can we praise God. When we die our thoughts perish (Eccl. 9:5-6).
IV. BABYLON’S LONG SHADOW: 2 Kings 20:12-21; 2 Chron. 32:25-33; Isa. 39
Hezekiah requested a sign to confirm his healing. His choice was to see the shadow on the sundial move back 10 steps. The rising kingdom of Babylon heard about events in Judah. King Merodach-baladan sent a delegation to Judah to inquire about the marvel of the sundial.
- What judgment fell on Hezekiah’s house because he showed off his wealth? 2 Kings 20:16-18 (Isaiah 39:5-7).
- As noted in Kings and Isaiah, what flippant and spiritually immature answer did Hezekiah give in response to Isaiah’s announcement of judgment? 2 Kings 20:19 (Isaiah 39:8).
The Chronicler omits most of the story about the visitors of Babylon. And instead of recording Hezekiah’s rather callous response about judgment not coming in his own day, Chronicles simply states that “God left him to himself, in order to try him and to know all that was in his heart” (2 Chron. 32:31, RSV).
WHICH VERSION OF HEZEKIAH’S EXPERIENCE DO YOU FIND MOST HELPFUL?
* Kings and Isaiah tell the positive and about Hezekiah, but do not flinch before his weaknesses — both in connection with Sennacherib’s attach against Jerusalem and in connection with visit from Babylon. Are you someone who needs solemn and straightforward warnings to keep you spiritually strong?
* Chronicles stresses the positive in Hezekiah, adding the story of the Passover and temple renovation and shaping the other stories in such a way that his goodness and faithfulness clearly overshadow his flaws. Are you someone who needs to see the positive side of life to keep you growing spiritually?
The need for differing perspectives in Scripture as a way of meeting differing needs among human beings can readily be linked with Ellen White’s comments about the differences in human beings. Particularly striking are her comments from Ministry of Healing, 483:
“Every association of life calls for the exercise of self-control, forbearance, and sympathy. We differ so widely in disposition, habits, education, that our ways of looking at things vary. We judge differently. Our understanding of truth, our ideas in regard to the conduct of life, are not in all respects the same. There are no two whose experience is alike in every particular. The trials of one are not the trials of another. The duties that one finds light are to another most difficult and perplexing.
“So frail, so ignorant, so liable to misconception is human nature, that each should be careful in the estimate he places upon another. We little know the bearing of our acts upon the experience of others. What we do or say may seem to us of little moment, when, could our eyes be opened, we should see that upon it depended the most important results for good or for evil.”
Further Study and Meditation. Read Prophets and Kings, 331-66.
The coloring and shaping of a story to produce negative motivation (as in Kings and Isaiah) or positive (Chronicles) can be much more subtle than that of direct prophetic counsel. Yet the Spirit guides the inspired authors to address the specific needs of God’s people both through stories and through direct counsel. That guidance can come directly in a vision. But a prophet does not need a specific vision in order to shape a particular message or story to a specific need.
Ellen White addressed that issue in 1889 when some were claiming that “warnings, cautions, and reproofs given by the Lord through His servant, unless they come through special vision for each individual case, should have no more weight than counsels and warnings from other sources” (Testimonies 5:683). In response, she referred to her forty-five years of experience as the Lord’s messenger. In “Christ’s school” she had been “trained and disciplined for a special work.” “When I see men and women taking the very course, or cherishing the very traits, which have imperiled other souls and wounded the cause of God, and which the Lord has reproved again and again, how can I but be alarmed? When I see timid souls, burdened with a sense of their imperfections, yet conscientiously striving to do what God has said is right, and know that the Lord looks down and smiles on their faithful efforts, shall I not speak a word of encouragement to these poor trembling hearts? Shall I hold my peace because each individual case has not been pointed out to me in direct vision?” (Testimonies 5:686-87).
Ponder the extent to which you think a similar process was at work in the ministries of Isaiah, the Chronicler and the author of Kings as each considered the needs for reproof or encouragement among God’s people.
SUMMARY: The biblical stories of Hezekiah show how the Lord can take the experience of a frightened, foolish, faithful king and use that story to reprove (Kings, Isaiah) as well as to inspire (Chronicles) His people.