HEZEKIAH: Revival and Renewal

2 Chronicles 28—30

Just what is a “revival?” Where I live, in the southern United States, churches often have “revivals.” That’s what they call special evangelistic meetings. In the strange Christian-American sub- culture, a “revival” is something you have at a set time (like, 7 PM Monday evening). But, is a “revival” something you “have” or is it something that “happens to you?” Biblically speaking, a “revival” is really a spiritual awakening, sent by God in response to the prayers and passion of a local church. The New Testament clearly indicates that it is through the local church God works to reveal Himself to a sinful world:

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:10, 11).

This is why the local church is so important in the life of a Christian. How is the “manifold wisdom of God” made known? It is made known first through the mission of Christ:

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word. (Ephesians 5:25, 26)

It is through the exposition of the Word of God that the church (its members) are cleansed and made holy. Paul noted elsewhere that the preaching of the Word is the primary reason for the church’s existence:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11—13).

So then, a “revival” is a spiritual awakening that occurs within the local church as it fulfils its mandate; as the members are “built up” and as their faith grows into maturity. All this happens through the ministry of the Word of God. It is not a song or hymn that changes a life, it is the Word of God. Pot luck dinners and benevolent exercises may be worthy endeavours, evangelistic services may attract a crowd, but renewal or revival can only happen in the context of the ministry of the Word.

In the Old Testament, we have two excellent examples of national spiritual renewals; one under the reign of Josiah and the other under Hezekiah’s reign. Josiah’s revival is extraordinary. Judah had fallen far by the time he assumed the throne. The people had almost completely left the worship of God to chase after idols. Judah had literally become a nation of idolaters. When Josiah stumbled upon a copy of the Pentateuch in the Temple ruins, he called the people to the Covenant, read it to them, and a revival was sparked that changed the face of the nation.

Seventy years before this, however, King Hezekiah had a similar experience; one that Josiah must have been aware of. It is Hezekiah’s revival that we will study now, and we will study Josiah next time.

1. A call for sanctification, 2 Chronicles 28:1—4, 22—27; 29:1—11

One of the most important lessons to learn from studying the kings is that heredity and environment are not the only bases for success or failure. The all-important issue of personal choice cannot be ignored. Good and godly kings sometimes produced evil sons and vice versa.

The relatively good king Uzziah was succeeded by his son, Jotham, who is considered to have been another good king. Of Jotham, the chronicler wrote an interesting thing:

He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father Uzziah had done, but unlike him he did not enter the temple of the LORD. The people, however, continued their corrupt practices. (2 Chronicles 27:1, 2)

Even though he “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” that wasn’t enough to change the people’s collective heart; they remained fascinated with idols and idol worship. Perhaps one reason why the people remained spiritually stubborn was they bad example they had in Jotham: he did not enter the Temple. He was a good man, but he stayed away from the house of God. Like a great many Christians.

What kept Jotham away from the Temple? Remember his father’s bad experience in that same Temple; he barged in one day tried to play the role of a priest. In doing so, the Lord punished him with leprosy, which he suffered with until the day he died. No wonder little Jotham stayed away! He had a bad example in his father, and Judah had a bad example in Jotham. Jotham had a great opportunity to lead his people back to God, yet because of his bad example, and maybe because of either fear or bitterness, he refused to worship in the Temple.

Still, he was a good king and he died at the relatively young age of 41. His apostate son, Ahaz, took over the throne and he is known as one the weakest and most corrupt of all the 21 kings of Judah. Despite coming from good stock, Ahaz was as wicked as a king could get. He ruled for 16 years and died young, at only 36. He made idols to Baal and was a vile as the worst kings of Israel.

He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his children in the fire, engaging in the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. (28:3)

Because of Ahaz’s sin, God literally removed His protection from Judah. When He did this, it was like the floodgates of hell being opened. For the first time, Judah faced invasions from Syria, Edom, and Philistia. Not only that, Israel waged war against Jerusalem; wars are always the results of sin, as James noted in his letter:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. (James 4:1, 2)

As if adding insult to injury, instead of turning to God for help and deliverance, Ahaz turned to the Assyrians. He gave the king of Assyria treasures from the Lord’s Temple and the king’s palace as a kind of payment, but the king of Assyria offered no help at all. Ahaz, as the king of Judah, was national disgrace and a joke among the nations. Mercifully, when he died, his son Hezekiah, ascended to the throne. He was nothing like his father.

Hezekiah was the greatest of Judah’s “revivalist-reformer kings,” greater than Jehoshaphat and perhaps second only to Josiah. Judah, the southern kingdom, last almost 150 years longer than it’s northern counterpart largely because of what Hezekiah did. At the age of 25, Hezekiah began his 29 year reign, which included 15 years of “borrowed time,” given to him by God. Hezekiah not only “did what was right,” he also had an unfailing trust in the Lord:

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. (2 Kings 18:5)

The very first thing he did was significant, for it brought about a time of national sanctification:

In the first month of the first year of his reign, he opened the doors of the temple of the LORD and repaired them. (2 Chronicles 1:3)

Those Temple doors, shut and locked since the days of his father, were opened up, repaired, and over-layed with gold. Then the king set about putting the Temple in order, concentrating on four things:

  1. Hezekiah had all the Levitical priests reconsecrate themselves to God. For many years, the priesthood had been allowed to degenerate and the priests engaged in acts of idolatry which led the people astray.
  2. The Temple and Temple grounds were purified, cleansed and cleaned up; restored, refurbished; and renewed.
  3. He rededicated the altar and the sanctuary, making the ready for the re-institution of the Mosaic sacrifices.
  4. He encouraged a national revival by re-instituting the sacrificial system long abandoned.

The importance of the Temple cannot be overstated. One might observe that there were many Jews at this time who were still faithful to Jehovah, and that was probably the case. But the Temple and the concept of corporate worship was absolutely essential in the Jewish faith, just as the local church and corporate worship is today in the Christian faith. It was then, as it is now, God’s intention for His people to gather together and worship Him corprately. That’s why the the repair and refurbishing of the Temple was top priority for Hezekiah.

Hezekiah did something else that no other king in Judah was able to do:

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)

With the Temple up and running, the king took away the alternative: he rid his nation of all signs of idolatry. He not only got rid of all the shrines, high places, and Asherah poles, he also did a very controversial thing: he destroyed a precious object inside the Temple itself; the bronze snake Moses, originally made at God’s behest. Why did he do that? Obviously, many of the people had fallen so far from God, that instead of worshiping God, they began to worship the “things” of God.

Many, many Christians today get caught up in that kind of worship. Walk into many churches and you will find, not idols, but icons all over the place. Whatever gives the worshiper a sense of peace or a feeling of spiritual well-being is Nehushtan! Nehushtan takes many forms in the 21st century. Nehushtan can be the cross that hangs on the wall of your church. There is no merit in that cross; there is merit in what Christ did on His Cross! Nehushtan can be hymn or a worship chorus if it makes you feel good or moves you. Nehushtan can also be your church, if it gives you something that should only come from God Himself. Whatever does for you what God Himself ought to do for you is Nehushtan—it’s an idol.

2. Passover restored, chapter 30

With the house of worship in order, the priests performing their duties according to the Word of God, and the people made ready for worship, it was time to celebrate Passover, the greatest of all Jewish feasts. Chapter 30 details Hezekiah’s awesome Passover, this was truly an event; it had not been celebrated properly since the days of the united kingdom. With that in mind, Hezekiah did a most unusual thing:

They decided to send a proclamation throughout Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, calling the people to come to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the LORD, the God of Israel. It had not been celebrated in large numbers according to what was written. (2 Chronicles 30:5)

What was so unusual about inviting the 10 tribes to the north to come to the Temple in the south to worship like the old days? It was unusual because by this time there were no ten tribes to the north any more! Almost all of the population of Israel—the northern kingdom—had been taken into captivity by the Assyrians. This grand invitation was sent out some four years after the fall of Israel. Of course, the Assyrians didn’t get all the Israelites. You can imagine many of them hiding in caves and forests when the Assyrian hordes came calling.

The couriers went from town to town in Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun, but people scorned and ridiculed them. (verse 10)

Some who survived the Assyrian invasion had no interest in returning to God. But there were some who jumped at the chance to worship with their brothers and sisters:

Nevertheless, some from Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem. (verse 11)

Verse 12 tells us that Hezekiah was doing exactly what God wanted:

Also in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the LORD. (verse 12)

Not since the days of Solomon had there been such a crowd of worshipers in Jerusalem! Amazingly, not only had the Temple grounds been fixed up, but Jerusalem the city was cleansed! This must have been one incredible party, and God was extremely pleased.

One final example of the kind of King Hezekiah was. We read this:

Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the LORD, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. (30:18—20)

What a beautiful picture! Almost all of the people specifically invited to Passover from Israel were ceremonially unclean, which means the shouldn’t have participated in it. But Hezekiah, whose heart was right, understood the difference between the letter of the Law and the spirit of the Law. He interceded on behalf of those who were deemed “unclean,” and God took care of them! He healed the unclean because of the prayer of the king.

Hezekiah also understood that the condition of the heart was more important than any form or ritual could ever be. We may sneer at people that visit our churches who don’t know the hymns or the Lord’s Prayer, or the Apostle’s Creed by heart, but does God? Of course not! God is not impressed with our rituals. The Creeds that we work so hard to memorize mean nothing to God. God wants worshipers who will drop all their pretences and come humbly to Him in spirit and truth.

This is what revival and renewal is all about. It is about God—His Person—and our response to Him. Our responses, not to a hymn or sermon, but to the living Word of God are the ones that are genuine.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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