We now begin a three-chapter study of the life of King Hezekiah who the Bible describes as the greatest of the kings to rule during the period of the Divided Kingdom.
After the reign of Solomon, a civil war erupted that ultimately split Israel into what was referred to as the Northern and Southen Kingdoms, each with their own kings. The Northern Kingdom quickly fell into idolatry and, as punishment, God allowed it to be conquered by the Assyrian nation who were now threatening the security of the Southern Kingdom as well. The Southern Kingdom was surrounded by strong world empires, Egypt to the south and the Assyrians and Babylonians to the north. Into this turbulent time Hezekiah was installed as the thirteenth king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
Ahaz — 735 BC
Hezekiah's father was Ahaz. He was an evil king who brought much trouble upon the kingdom of Judah. Ahaz had two main problems:
1. He refused the advice of the prophets to trust in the Lord, instead relying on the agreements he formed with other nations to keep the country safe. His treaty with Assyria to protect him from the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Syria cost the nation much of its wealth, with the nation having to pay tribute for over a century. In the end these payments did not help because Assyria turned on Judah and attacked it anyway.
2. He was an idolator. He placed an Assyrian type of altar in the temple at Jerusalem. He also used the original temple altar for divination purposes and closed the temple and sanctuary for regular worship to God. Despite warnings from Isaiah the prophet, Ahaz continued in this type of activity. He became king in 735 BC. Thirteen years later in 722 BC, the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians. Ahaz continued to reign in the Southern Kingdom for another six years and died in 716 BC.
This is the year that Hezekiah, his son, took over control of the country. He was 25 years old at the time. Unlike his father, Hezekiah was determined to turn the people back to the worship and service of the Lord.
Hezekiah in the Old Testament
There are many references to Hezekiah in the Old Testament, but the main information about him is contained in three areas:
- II Kings 16-21
- II Chronicles 28-33
- Isaiah 36-39
These passages do not list all of his activities and the details of his life in chronological order, however, they do provide the three most important events of his life:
- His efforts at reforming the nation.
- His response to the Assyrian army when they threatened to destroy the nation.
- His restoration by God from a terminal illness.
Hezekiah's Restoration Campaign
It is interesting to note that despite the political and financial mess that Judah was in, the very first effort made was to restore the moral and spiritual life of the nation. This restoration effort was described in two Old Testament books, II Kings and II Chronicles. II Kings gives a general summary of Hezekiah's reforms and II Chronicles provides a more detailed account of his work with the temple and the priests as well as his attempts to build religious unity among the people.
II Kings 18:1-8
Verses 1-3 summarizes his life and background.
1 Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea the son of Elah, king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. 2 He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. 3 And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done.
A judgment on his reign is given at the beginning, and it is a favorable one comparing him to David and declaring that he was righteous in the sight of the Lord. The Zechariah mentioned here is not the prophet who lived later on. Abi or Abijah means God is my father. It suggests that his religious influence came from his mother (we know it wasn't from his father Ahaz).
4 He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan.
The writer describes some of the things that Hezekiah began to do in order to begin his reform. Before establishing the good, you have to clean house and this is what he did religiously. Judah was in the grips of idolatry so this is what he struck at first:
1. Removed high places
- These were altars in the hills and mountains where sacrifices were offered to pagan gods.
2. Asherah poles
- Asherah poles were carved wooden poles representing female deities.
- Both the Asherah poles and the high places were remnants from the Canaanite religion which the Jews had failed to completely remove when they first arrived in the land.
3. Destroyed the Nehushtan
- In Numbers 21:8-9, there is the account of the Israelites in the desert complaining about their lot and God punishing them by sending poisonous snakes into the camp. Many were bitten and became ill so when Moses intervened on behalf of the people God instructed him to fashion a bronze snake and put it up in the camp. When people looked at the snake they were healed. The Jews had kept this bronze snake over the centuries but had begun to worship it as an idol. Hezekiah destroyed this object (used as a symbol for medicine or doctors today).
This type of action seems easy enough for us, but for a new king this was pretty risky since he was not only destroying images, icons and altars that were important to the people, he was also saying to them that they had been wrong in doing these things. It required great courage for a young king to confront the nation and go against its traditions and practices because they were wrong. Great leaders do what is right, not what is safe or popular.
5 He trusted in the Lord God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor who were before him.
The inspired writer (probably a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah) pays him a high compliment by declaring him the greatest of all the kings of the Southern Kingdom, and greater than any of his contemporaries including the leaders of the Northern Kingdom.
6 For he held fast to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses.
The writer explains that what Hezekiah did, he did because he trusted the Lord (something necessary when you go against what is popular and accepted) and he followed God's commands. He defended what he did by citing God's existing Word, not special revelation or prophecy. His reform was based on God's Word, not a private vision known only to himself.
7 The Lord was with him; he prospered wherever he went. And he rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. 8 He subdued the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.
As a result, God blessed him:
- The finances of the nation began to prosper. The Lord can bless you financially (not always, but he can) for spiritual renewal.
- They managed to break off 100 years of domination by Assyria (the writer explains later how it was done and what resulted from this).
- They defeated their age-old enemy, the Philistines, who took advantage of their past financial and spiritual weakness to attack and plunder them.
Although his reforms were risky and demanded great changes, they were successful and blessed by God.
II Chronicles 29-31
In II Chronicles, the writer not only gives more details about the reforms done by Hezekiah, he also focuses on the reforms effected in the areas of temple worship and national unity.
3 In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them. 4 Then he brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them in the East Square, 5 and said to them: "Hear me, Levites! Now sanctify yourselves, sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry out the rubbish from the holy place. 6 For our fathers have trespassed and done evil in the eyes of the Lord our God; they have forsaken Him, have turned their faces away from the dwelling place of the Lord, and turned their backs on Him. 7 They have also shut up the doors of the vestibule, put out the lamps, and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel. 8 Therefore the wrath of the Lord fell upon Judah and Jerusalem, and He has given them up to trouble, to desolation, and to jeering, as you see with your eyes. 9 For indeed, because of this our fathers have fallen by the sword; and our sons, our daughters, and our wives are in captivity. 10 Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that His fierce wrath may turn away from us. 11 My sons, do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before Him, to serve Him, and that you should minister to Him and burn incense."
Hezekiah groups the priests and Levites together and appeals to them to repair and cleanse the temple. He also requires them to purify themselves and renew their worship to God. He refers to what has happened as an encouragement to be restored to the Lord.
In verses 12-19 we see the Levites get to work and prepare the temple and themselves for worship.
20 Then King Hezekiah rose early, gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of the Lord.
Once all was consecrated, Hezekiah invites the leaders of the city to a special worship service. The writer describes an elaborate worship that resembled the type that existed in the days of the United Kingdom. Hezekiah encourages this in order to re-dedicate the temple and its leadership to the Lord.
II Chronicles 30:1-27
Once the temple and priests were ready, Hezekiah made a bold attempt to re-unite the people on a spiritual basis, even if they were separated politically. He sent messengers not only to cities in the Southern Kingdom, but also to the remnant in the former Northern Kingdom to come and celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. This was a homecoming of sorts where along with the invitation to worship, Hezekiah offered an olive branch of peace to brethren who were former enemies. Many in the north scoffed at the invitation, but a great number came nevertheless. In this way God provided a chance at unity to those who were willing to obey Him.
12 Also the hand of God was on Judah to give them singleness of heart to obey the command of the king and the leaders, at the word of the Lord.
When the time for the feast came about, many had not purified or prepared themselves in the proper manner. Hezekiah prayed for them so that they could go ahead anyway. In this instance, God set aside the regulations because their hearts were right and Hezekiah asked in prayer. In the end, there was so much rejoicing that they decided to continue celebrating the feast for another seven days.
27 Then the priests, the Levites, arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard; and their prayer came up to His holy dwelling place, to heaven.
God heard the prayer of the people who worshiped Him with a sincere heart, not just proper ritual.
Once the great feast and rededication was complete, Hezekiah made provisions so that the worship and work of the temple would go on. He instructed the people to support the temple and priests with their gifts, and organized the priests and Levites so that they could account for and use the gifts brought to them. He also reapportioned the lands and duties to the priests and Levites so that the work of the temple would be carried on in the future in a decent and orderly way.
The story of the restoration stops here as we see that people from both north and south, the priests, the leaders and king united and serving the Lord once again.
Hezekiah has long been used as a model for revival and restoration. Not only the revival and restoration of the church, but a model for personal as well as national revival. As we close this chapter I want to share some of the basic principles of revival that we learn from Hezekiah's life and times.
Principles of Revival
20 Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and true before the Lord his God. 21 And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, in the law and in the commandment, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart. So he prospered.
- II Chronicles 31:20-21
1. Revival is a seeking after God
It is not the emotion or excitement that makes or creates a revival in a person's life, in the church or in a nation. It is not about an event (i.e. "Million Man March"). Revival happens when there is an honest desire to seek and find God and His will because God searches the hearts of those who seek Him and His will. Hezekiah began with an earnest desire to find God and what He wanted, and then God led him to accomplish it. In doing so God blessed Hezekiah with clear thinking, courage, prosperity and mercy. In addition to this, all of these gifts were given in times of trouble (II Chronicles 31-32).
2. Revival requires total commitment
All the altars, all the Asherah poles, all the pagan traditions and all the old practices were removed. The entire temple was cleansed, all the people were encouraged to return for a spectacular service and provision for perpetual temple worship were put into place. Hezekiah did not hold back. He went about restoring the temple and worship of God with all of his heart.
Many resolutions to do better, to grow in Christ or to change things usually go nowhere because we do not go at it with all of our hearts. Revival requires an absolute dedication and a total removing of what is unacceptable in order to work. Revival is a fire and spreads like fire.
3. Revival restores God's Word
The purpose of revival or restoration is to go back and do what God has told us to do in His Word, not invent new things! Hezekiah's revival restored God's commands concerning worship in the seventh century BC.
The Restoration Movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from which the Churches of Christ were first established was an effort to restore and teach the Bible as God's Word and eliminate human traditions in the church. Every generation has to work at maintaining or restoring obedience and teaching of God's Word.
When we seek Him and His will, this is where He will lead us every time.