Friday, May 20, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 103. King Hezekiah Of Judah, Part 1

Prophets And Kings
Day 103
King Hezekiah Of Judah
Part 1

Today we begin our study of King Hezekiah of Judah, one of Judahs best kings.

2 KINGS 18:1-7a
"In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother's name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done." (2 Kings 18:1-3) Somehow, from the wicked household of King Ahaz, a good king emerges. Hezekiah must have been deeply affected by the fact that his father sacrificed a son to the Caananite god Molech. (2 Kings 16:3) And maybe Hezekiah took heed to what happened to the northern kingdom of Israel because of her idolatry. We don't know exactly what shaped Hezekiah into a godly man but this is evidence that God can make something out of us, no matter what our background. God is not so much concerned with where we have been than with where we are going. Hezekiah was not even the natural heir, according to birth order, since it's likely it was Ahaz's firstborn son he sacrificed to a false god. The next son in line was probably the king's son Maaseiah, who was killed while leading Judah's army. (2 Chronicles 28:7) This would make Hezekiah third in line for the throne, according to birth order, but it would seem he is God's chosen man for this particular time in Judah. He follows the Lord like "his father David", not like his father Ahaz.

Hezekiah does something that all the kings of Judah before him should have done, "He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)" (2 Kings 18:4) Hezekiah removes every item in the land that tempts the people to idolatry. The last thing he wants is for Judah to go into captivity just as Israel has gone into captivity. As long as these high places and pagan idols remain, the people will flock to them. But if nothing but the temple of the Lord remains, Hezekiah hopes the hearts of the people will turn back to their God.

We find the account of the bronze snake in Numbers 21 when the children of Israel complained against the Lord and against Moses. They didn't believe the Lord was going to protect and care for them. They accused Him of bringing them out into the desert to die. So the Lord allowed some of the people to be attacked by venomous snakes in the wilderness, causing many of those bitten to die. The people recognized their trouble as discipline for sin and repented, saying to Moses, "We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you." (Numbers 21:7a) Moses prayed to the Lord for the people and the Lord instructed him to fashion a bronze snake on a pole so the people could look up to it and be healed. From then on, if anyone was bitten by a snake, they could look up to the bronze snake and be cured of the venom. 

This passage is difficult to understand, for the Israelites were forbidden to make images except in the case of God telling them what they could craft, such as this bronze snake and the cherubim on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant, for example. This is one of very few instances where the Lord tells anyone to make an image of anything. When the children of Israel were in the desert with Moses, they understood that they had sinned and they were able to see the connection between their sin and their current affliction of the snakebites. In my background study I found that bronze is connected with judgment and righteousness, so the Lord tells Moses to make the snake out of bronze to symbolize that the snakebites are a judgment for the people's sins. But the bronze snake is also a symbol of God turning away the judgment if the people will look up to the bronze snake in faith, faith in God, not faith in the snake itself. The snake wasn't saving them. This object stood for God's mercy, that if the people would look to it in faith believing God was able to save them, believing God was able to take away sin and make them clean, they would be healed. The people couldn't heal themselves either of their snakebites or their sinful natures. They had to look to God for help. This is why Jesus applied the passage from the book of Numbers to Himself when He predicted His death on the cross, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him." (John 3:14) We can't save ourselves or heal our own sinful natures. But Jesus Christ can. When He hung on the cross it symbolized God's judgment on sin, just as the bronze snake symbolized God's judgment on sin. But also like the bronze snake, the cross symbolized God's power to turn away the judgment from us if we look to Jesus in faith. Jesus took our penalty on Himself and now all we can do is look to Him for salvation. We must look to Jesus and what He did on the cross as the only way into the presence of God, the only way to be washed clean and made whole.

Over about eight centuries the people have begun to look on the bronze snake as if it has healing power in itself, as if it is a god, and they have been burning incense to it. This is how far they have fallen into idolatry. They have forgotten that the bronze snake was merely a symbol of God's saving power. They have named it Nehushtan, which appears to simply be a word that means or sounds like "bronze snake". They've given it a proper name as if it is a god and so, even though their highly revered forefather Moses crafted this it by command of God, King Hezekiah destroys it. It has become yet one more object of idolatry, no longer just a treasured artifact of Israel's history, no longer an object to remind the people of the one true God and His mercy.

"Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following Him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook." (2 Kings 18:1-7a) The Lord is faithful to this man to is faithful to Him. The Lord is faithful even to Judah in her sin, because in these last days of the kingdom the Lord gives them a godly king. The Lord gives the people another opportunity to repent and turn back to Him. In tomorrow's study we will find King Hezekiah opening the doors his father shut, the doors to the temple, and he will re-consecrate the temple to the Lord and will renew the nation's covenant with the Lord. The people who lived in these times will never be able to stand up in the judgment and claim that God didn't give them an opportunity to hear the truth, that He didn't give them a godly leader, that He didn't provide them with a good example. They won't be able to pretend ignorance of God's covenant or God's laws. 

How poorly will a nation like America fare in the judgment when we have been given every opportunity to hear the gospel and to know what our holy God requires of us? Nobody is taking our Bibles away from us. Nobody is locking the church doors and forbidding us to enter. Nobody is blocking the religious channels on our televisions or blocking the Christian websites on our computers. We have been blessed beyond measure and if we stand before God having neglected His word and having rejected the gospel, we stand before Him with even less excuse for our sins than ancient Israel and Judah. The word of God is available to us in any form we could possibly want. It's free. It's being broadcast twenty-four hours a day. We have the gospel available to us in ways Israel and Judah never dreamed of. What excuse will we have for not knowing what God's word says and for not obeying it?

This warning ministers to me as much as to anyone else. I need to be in the word of God more. I need to learn more of the One who loves me more than anyone has ever loved me. I need to daily grow in His word and in the faith. There are Christians in the world who are killed for possessing a page of Scripture and yet they are willing to take that risk. The gospel means so much to them they will die for the One who died for them. There are Christians meeting together secretly to study and pray, realizing that they are in jeopardy every hour. But they count Jesus worthy of the risk. Today's study challenges me to step up my Bible reading. The Scriptures are available to me whenever I want them and in whatever form I want them, but someday they may not be. We can't be complacent and lazy, believing a time of persecution can never fall on us, believing our rights can never be taken away. We have no guarantee of that. If tomorrow all the church doors were locked and it became a crime to own a Bible, would we have enough Scripture stored up in our hearts to make it through? Would we know enough about our God to trust in Him? 

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