Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 20. 2 Kings (2)
2 Kings 19:1,2 When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz.
The book of 2 Kings is a completely mixed bag. After leaving the various accounts of the activities of Elisha (and 2 Kings 6:17 would be my third choice of a highlight verse if I was extending to three studies – but I’m not) we return to the accounts of kings which is a combination of good news and bad, mainly the latter. Hezekiah looks to be a classic example but does come out with some favourable points.
It is a particularly depressing and worrying time. When Hezekiah came to the throne, in the north Hoshea had been reigning for three years. Six years later the north was invaded by the present king of Assyria who deported all the people of the north and replaced them with foreigners from Babylon etc. (see 2 Kings 17). Hezekiah did well and trusted the Lord and cleared the land of signs of past idol worship (see 18:1-4) but it was in his sixth year that the north was overcome by Assyria (18:9,10).
Having started well, Hezekiah did not do so well as time passed. Eight years later the king of Assyria attacked Judah’s northern fortified cities and Hezekiah paid him a ransom to back off, including silver from the temple and treasures from the royal palace, as well as gold from the doors of the temple. There is no sign of him having sought the Lord for help. But all of this did not deter the king of Assyria who simply sent his chief commanders to Jerusalem. There the field commander stands outside and shouts threats to the people watching on the walls of the city. (see 18:19-25,28-36). It is scary stuff and meant to create fear and weakness.
It is at this point, at long last, that Hezekiah seeks the Lord. He first went into the temple (19:1) and then he sent his senior staff to go and find Isaiah the prophet and tell him what is going on – as if he didn’t know! Now before we move on, let’s consider why I have called this a highlight verse. Much of the lives of the kings were just them bumbling along and so often making a mess of things. Every now and then the Lord is involved and this is one of those times, a particularly spectacular time as we’ll see, but it challenges us with some very basic issues, the primary one of which is, do we wait until it is really a major crisis before we seek the Lord? Unless you do a survey it is difficult to know the habits of God’s people, but my impression is that in many at least today, the practice of the morning ‘quiet’ time is a thing largely unknown. Spending time in God’s presence, seeking Him in prayer, reading and studying His word on our own, these seem things of some scarcity in the modern church of the West. I may be wrong and I hope I am, but that is how it so often seems when I listen to God’s people.
Indeed one might pursue this further and ask how stressful will it have to get before God’s children get into the habit of regularly seeking His presence and help, strength and wisdom. When things start to go wrong, is our first response to take a tablet, seek a doctor, reason how to overcome, strive and struggle on through, or do we from the outset, seek Him?
Of course the story of Hezekiah and Isaiah presumes that this prophet hears God and can come up with an answer, and many of us are not so sure about ‘hearing God’. Indeed Isaiah has heard from the Lord and the message is very simply that the king of Assyria will hear a report that makes him return home and there he will be killed. (19:7)
In fact the reality turns out to be that the field commander hears from the king who has left Lachish (in the north) and was fighting against Libnah (a little further north) and so returns to him, lifting the pressure off Hezekiah. The King of Assyria hears that the king of Egypt is coming to attack him and sends Hezekiah a threatening letter that basically says, ‘Don’t you think you will get away from me because of this, I’ll be back’ (see 19:9-13). Hezekiah now responds well. He takes the letter and spreads it before the Lord and prays for His help (see v.14-19). The Lord sends Isaiah to him with a message of assurance. That night in the Assyrian camp 185,000 men died! The king of Assyria packed up and returned home and a short while later his sons assassinated him. (see v.35-37) Isaiah’s words were exactly fulfilled and Jerusalem and Hezekiah were saved.
The lesson of this story is all about Hezekiah learning to rely on the Lord. It is that simple. It is not the end of Hezekiah’s story which has yet to have some bumps in it, but it is a highlight in his life and in this part of scripture. The message to us comes again, loud and strong, do we have to wait for a real crisis before we will learn to enter into the reality of a relationship with the Lord on a regular, daily basis?