Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jesse Tree Day 19 - Hezekiah

In the third year of King Hoshea son of Elah of Israel, Hezekiah son of King Ahaz of Judah began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign; he reigned for twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the sight of the Lord just as his ancestor David had done. He removed the high places, broke down the pillars, and cut down the sacred pole. He broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it; it was called Nehushtan. He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel; so that there was no one like him among the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him. For he held fast to the Lord; he did not depart from following him but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. - 2 Kings 18:1-6
Ahaz of Judah was a rotten king. Fortunately for Judah, Ahaz had a son, Hezekiah, who was smarter. In fact, in some ways Hezekiah was much like his ancestor Solomon. Ahaz had permitted a lot of cultic worship, something Hezekiah not only stopped but destroyed. Even the staff of Moses with the golden snake had become an object of worship. Hezekiah destroyed the staff, any idols or other symbol of syncretic worship, repaired and reorganized the Temple and opened it again with a large ceremonious sacrifice. He also invited those Israelites who survived the Assyrian assault and subsequent deportation of their leadership and most of their people to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. It was a good move, designed to help undertake a small step toward re-unification of the kingdoms that had existed under his illustrious ancestors David and Solomon. One of his most interesting achievements came when he realized how vulnerable Jerusalem was to an impending Assyrian attack. He shut down all the wells outside the gates and had a tunnel dug through the rock on which Jerusalem stood from the outlet of the Gihon spring to the pool Siloam inside the walls. It was an engineering marvel given that the tunnel was begun at the ends and moved to meet in the middle -- which they did, and remarkably accurately given the lack of lasers, GPS and modern drilling technology. Even though Judah still became a vassal state to Assyria for a period of time, the tunnel still exists, and, unlike many sites in the Holy Land, actually has a provenance that is generally accepted as both factual and real. 
Hezekiah had a long and successful reign but at one time was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah (whether Isaiah one, two, or three we don’t know) came to bring the news to Hezekiah that he was going to die. Hezekiah prayed to God to spare his life but didn’t seem to be too sure that prayers were going to work. He asked Isaiah for a sign, something simple like making the sundial go back ten degrees. This time Isaiah prayed and the sign appeared. Hezekiah was cured and lived for another 15 years. During those remaining years though, Hezekiah made a mistake. The King of Babylonia sent good wishes and gifts to celebrate Hezekiah’s recovery and Hezekiah, being a good host as well as wanting to make a real impression on the foreigners, showed them around his palace in order to impress them with great wealth and power he controlled. That was his mistake. Instead of using it as an opportunity to give credit and glory to God, Hezekiah seemed to take the credit. Isaiah, having the ear of God, heard about this and was given the prophecy that one day Babylonians would destroy Judah and all it possessed. That prophecy came to pass not to much later in Judah's history. Hezekiah finally died after 29 years on the throne and his people sincerely mourned the king they had loved and trusted.
What can I learn from Hezekiah? It’s never wise to brag about what I have, especially if I’m trying to impress someone, because that someone might come back later and deprive me of all of it. It’s also nice to have a prophet to reassure me that my prayer is going to be answered (and actively take part in the healing). A third thing is to look for weak spots in my own defenses and prepare for future problems, including plumbing problems. Most of all, remember to credit God and not myself.
 Humility is wisdom.

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