2 Kings 20
February 13, 2000
A LIVING RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
Last week I was listening to a cassette tape of a lecture by Earl Palmer of University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, ostensibly on C. S. Lewis. At one point, Palmer talked about a man who had asked belligerently during a question period following one of his lectures, "What about the doctrine of total depravity, huh? What do you think of that?"
Palmer said to him, "Well, that's a good question, sir." To the audience for the lecture I was listening to, he said, "You say something like that to give yourself time to think." And then Palmer added, "You don't want to put the brakes on a question, so I moved with him and said, 'I love that doctrine'!" Got the guy's attention. "That's the most democratic doctrine in Christian theology. That doctrine says that we are all equal before God!"
Well, we read 2 Kings 20, and let's imagine someone asks, "What about the doctrine of God's sovereignty, huh? What do you think of that? If God is sovereign, why do good people get sick? Huh?"
Well, that's a good question, sir!" (Pause) "I love that doctrine! That doctrine tells me that God is not going to let chaos have the last word. God's world is one where every person is going to get what he or she deserves! But God is in firm control of things."
Hezekiah is described in chapter 18 as a man who "did what was right in the eyes of the Lord..., he held fast to the Lord and kept the commands of the Lord." And now he's sick. He had some sort of boil, according to verse 7. And God goes to the trouble of sending the prophet Isaiah to Hezekiah who has been king only 14 years. He's still in his 30s. And Isaiah says to Hezekiah, "Put your house in order, because God says you will die; you will not recover."
We know what year this happens. 20:1 only gives us a generic time, "In those days;" but Hezekiah, in verse 6, is given 15 more years of life, and we know Hezekiah died in 686 BC, so "In those days" is 702/701 BC, which is exactly the time that Sennacherib is beginning his invasion of Judah.
Now here is a good man who has done well in bringing a nation back to God and he's going to die of the side effects of this boil. When God in His sovereignty says through a prophet, this is what is going to happen to you, is that it? Is this a one way street? God passes His divine decree and we don't get a say? And the answer is, no. No, that's not the way God works.
What does Hezekiah do? He turns his face to the wall and he prays. Praying is always a good thing to do. The content of Hezekiah's prayer is, remember how I have walked before you faithfully. And then he wept.
In the meantime, Isaiah is walking out of the palace, and God stops him when he is still on the way and says, "go back to Hezekiah and tell him, 'I have heard your prayer and seen your tears';" that is, God knows this prayer is heartfelt. "I will heal you and I will add 15 years to your life." But there is not merely a personal need God responds to, there is also a national need. "I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria." But God is going to use Hezekiah to help do that.
Now let's think about this. It is not merely that Hezekiah is dying. God has told him specifically that he will die. It is not that Hezekiah asks, don't let me die. If you look at verse 3, that is not what Hezekiah says. What principles can we learn hear about God and about us from 2 Kings 20?
Whatever God's sovereignty and will mean, in this passage there is another factor that is often forgotten. God's will for us and for the world is based upon a personal relationship between people and God. God's will is not transcendent. God regularly responds, on the one hand, to submission and obedience in people, even if it's imperfect; and, on the other hand, He responds to sin, particularly continual sin where it affects the defenseless. God responds to us as people. One thing this personal relationship does not mean is that we do not treat God like a waiter, "I say, my good man, there's a death in my soup. Would you take it away and bring me another bowl." That's why it's significant, I think, that Zechariah does not ask God for a longer life but does those two things: recalls how he has been faithful to God and weeps in humility.
Here is Hezekiah who has kept the Lord's commands. In verse 3, what else we learn about him is that he submits to God with his tears. In doing that he shows God that he is not merely the king of Judah, but he is God's person. Everyone in a leadership role is in danger of being too big for his own boots. Maybe Hezekiah was. The passage doesn't say this, but it is consistent with what happens here, that Hezekiah was showing some of his father's hubris. What he shows here is his submission. There are other examples in the Bible where we may observe interaction between God and people.
Some 50-80 years before this time, Jonah did not want to go to preach at Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. When God finally sent him there and he preached, the people of Nineveh repented. The Assyrians repent! Imagine that! And in Jonah 3, "when God saw how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened."
There is an equally surprising incident in Ahab's life. Ahab is one of those kings of whom it is said, "he did evil in the eyes of the Lord." Not only that, 1 Kings 16:30, he did evil "more than any of those before him." When we read in 1 Kings 21, "There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife," we ask, why would God ever show mercy to a man like that? But then Elijah preaches to Ahab and "When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted... and, he went around meekly." And God responded to this change in Ahab, and God says to Elijah, "Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day."
This is really amazing. I can imagine Elijah saying to himself, "Yeah, right, God, this guy does this for show. Why are you taken in?" But God knows what He's doing.
In 2 Samuel 12, David repents after he has taken Bathsheba as his wife and killed her husband, Uriah. And God sees David's repentance and says, you won't die, but your son will. This son you had when you seduced Bathsheba.
2 Chronicles 29 is another passage where Hezekiah's reign is recorded. There Hezekiah comes to the throne and verses 3- 10 describe God's anger at Judah, because of their worship of idols, and the anger of the Lord falls on Judah. At that time, Hezekiah makes a covenant with God and brings all the people together to do a right thing, to affirm the covenant and put away their idols, and God sees this repentance and the restoration of true worship and He reacts quickly, verse 36 says, to bless them.
God wants us to obey Him. He wants us to be humble. Eve's problem was that she wanted more than God gave her. Specifically, she wanted what God had forbidden her. That attitude has consequences. In Eve's case, it resulted in the fall of an entire world.
We need to be careful that we don't imagine it is God's job to forgive. Christopher Marlowe, a 16th century playwright, wrote a famous play titled, "Dr. Faustus." Faustus was a doctor of theology in Wittenberg who made a compact with the devil. The devil would give him power and wealth in exchange for his soul. Marlowe understood better than Goethe in the 19th century, who also wrote a play about Faustus, the danger of this pact. In Marlowe's play, Faustus thinks to himself that at the very end, when the devil comes to claim my soul, then I will repent, for God will hear my cry of repentance. And the night the devil comes to claim the soul of Faustus, some pupils of Dr. Faustus are out in the hall and they hear this strangled cry and a blow, and they rush in and Faustus is gone, but lying on the floor are Faustus' teeth. The devil was too quick for him and had knocked out his teeth so he couldn't cry out for repentance.
Sometimes it is one person who stands before God to plead on behalf of others. Moses sought the Lord for Israel after they had made the golden calf while Moses was up on the mountain receiving from God the 10 commands. God intended to destroy that people. Moses reminded God of His covenant with Abraham and he asked, what will the Egyptians say if you destroy your people in the desert after you have brought them out of Egypt? But it was not the rational arguments, it was Moses' own willingness to be humble before God and his desire to obey God that God responded to. God said something like, if I have a man like this, concerned for my people, I can trust his pleas for them. Maybe in your life there is someone like that who is pleading with God for you and keeping you from the judgment of God on your life.
There was a time Moses himself disobeyed God and struck the rock in anger and frustration at this same people, and God punished him by refusing to let him enter Canaan with the people of Israel.
On Saturday, Daily Texts used as its Old Testament verse Ezekiel 22:30. The Lord is speaking as He is about to judge Judah for all their unfaithfulness. There is no person like Hezekiah to help though God had sought for someone like that and so the verse reads: "I sought for anyone among them who would repair the wall and stand in the breach before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one."
Hezekiah had stood in the breach. Moses had done that earlier. Billy Graham is a person who has stood in the breach for half of the 20th century. Where are the men and women who will pray for the nation today and so avert God's wrath for all the sin of America? As someone said recently, if God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins, what will He do to New York City and San Francisco and Mechanicsburg?
God is sovereign, but He is also personal and as in all personal
relationships, there is give and take. God makes accommodations,
but He is not fooled by us. In this, He is like a parent. Nathan,
our grandson, is nearly 4. His brother, Wil, is nearly 2. They'll
be playing together, and Brian will hear Wil cry. And he'll go
into the room, and Nate will say, "I didn't hit him."
Now Brian knows very well when Nate says he didn't hit Wil, that
he did, but he wants Nate to see that it doesn't do to lie about
it. In a similar way, God isn't fooled by our excuses and lies
about what we do. Who do we think we're kidding? So Brian gives
Nate a choice, "Do you need to go into your room for a time
out?" and Nate trots right in there. He knows he was in the
wrong. God sees that in us. Which is why He is so gracious to
forgive us when we ask Him. For some reason beyond analogies,
God loves us, wretches that we are. God loves us like a father
and in that relation lies all the value of our prayers and the
need for humility and submission in us.
God loved Hezekiah and when Hezekiah names his past faithfulness and weeps at his future prospects, God says, okay, this is a personal relation. You know that your life is in my hands. I will give you 15 more years. And Hezekiah lives 15 more years, dying in 686 BC, which, surprisingly, is five years before Sennacherib dies.
God wants us to obey Him, but we may choose to do this or not. That's why in Psalm 143:10, the Psalmist asks, "Teach me to do your will," for that's what we need.
After God had granted Hezekiah a reprieve, we come to the second incident in chapter 20. Envoys from Babylon come to Jerusalem, because they have heard of Hezekiah's illness, and perhaps for political reasons. Babylon, you remember, is the nation which will finally destroy Jerusalem.
Hezekiah, who avoided hubris which means overweening pride in one situation, does not avoid it here. He shows these delegates all the treasures of Jerusalem as if to say, "look at what a great nation we are!" And Isaiah this prophet of doom appears again to Hezekiah and says the third word from God in this chapter. Why did you do that? Have you forgotten to stand in the breach? Now the Babylonians will come and destroy this land, though it will not happen in your day. And Hezekiah gives what can only be seen as a selfish answer, "well at least it won't happen in my day!" And at that moment, you can see that he doesn't have the concerns of the people in his heart. He is no longer standing in the breach for them. But God still keeps the promise made to him. This is the amazing thing about God. He establishes a personal relation with human beings like us, and he turns out to be a lot more faithful at keeping his terms of the relation than we do. What lesson do you need to learn from Hezekiah? Or, is there someone you should be standing in the breach for?
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