The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Hezekiah began to reign when he was five and twenty years old, and he reigned nine and twenty years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah.Hezekiah: A True King
2 Chronicles 29
WE have not spared condemnation in the case of Ahaz. In this chapter we have once more the mystery of a bad father having a good son. There were few worse men than Ahaz; there were few better men than Hezekiah. There is a law in this progression and retrogression which we cannot understand. It is wholly bewildering that a philosopher should have a fool for a son, and that a fool should have a philosopher for his firstborn. There is one thing absolutely certain, and that is that God will have nothing to do with family respectability. When shall we learn with our heart that we cannot have respectable families, in the conventional and superficial sense of that term? Some of the most respectable families in the world have had members of the household who have been hanged; these are never spoken about. The whole mystery of family development shows that we cannot grow plants pure, wholly beautiful, and entirely perfect, outside the walls of paradise; we may cover up a good deal, we have skill in the uses of concealment; but there is the striking historical fact that God will not allow one family to boast over any other family as to its respectability in his sight: for no flesh shall glory in the presence of God. What we have termed natural logic would seem to have required that the son of Ahaz should be a degree worse than himself. Instead of the operation of that natural logic, that external philosophy of heredity, here is a man who stands up a very prince of heaven, his heart burning with the fire of piety, his whole soul troubled because of the corruptness of the nation, and his spirit bowed down within him because the temple is like a sealed tomb. Let us look steadfastly at facts, and never boast; for the respectability that culminates in us may suffer an appalling collapse in the man who comes next.
Hezekiah no sooner began to reign than he began to make his influence felt.
"He in the first year of his reign, in the first month [that is, in the first sacred month], opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them" (2Chronicles 29:3).
All this is negative. There must have been some man who had closed the doors. That man was Hezekiah's own father; yet the very first thing which Hezekiah does is to undo what his father did. There are precedents that are only to be shattered. There is a law of continuity which must be broken. The only true continuity is a continuity of righteousness, truth, pureness—real, healthy, honest piety. Continuance in anything else is but an aggravation of blasphemy; it is the consistency of evil; it is the monotony of darkness. Sometimes all that we can do is to open the doors. Even that, however, is a work of mercy, and means much more than is made evident in the letter. When the father leaves the door open at night, it is that some wandering child may be permitted to enter, should he return in the darkness. The father, when he leaves that door open, offers a whole liturgy of prayer, looks heaven in the face with an expression that means the very eloquence of intercession, so eloquent as to be silent, so sublime as to be mute. When the poor cottier lights the little candle and sets it in the little window, it is more than a candle, it is a beacon: it is a welcome, it is a sign; it means longing, expectation, hospitality; it means all that can be meant by love that bleeds itself to death. He does no small good to the nation who opens the doors of the sanctuary. They are doors which ought never to be shut. There is a cipher which men ought to be able to understand; there need not be written upon the church doors welcome to all who would come in; it will be enough to have the doors standing open. Open doors mean welcome, offers of light and truth, and all the hospitality of grace. Hezekiah, therefore, begins well, though he begins negatively.
Then he must still continue his negative course, even though he seek co-operation. Bringing in the priests and the Levites, and gathering them together, as if in public meeting, he says:
"Sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place" (2Chronicles 29:5).
That also is negative:—remove incumbrances, take away nuisances, abolish unholy memories and traditions; break in upon all manner of desecration. You cannot use the temple aright until you have disinfected it; the beasts who have turned it into a den have left behind them signs of their ungenial and all-desecrating presence. Before we can pray we must "carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place." He who begins thus fundamentally will close triumphantly. Hezekiah is in no more haste to accomplish his purpose, and therefore he will accomplish it all the sooner. We know when men handle their work like masters. Hezekiah's beginning augurs well. He makes haste slowly. He has about him that marvellous deliberation which expresses, not indifference, but such intensity of purpose that it can afford to be calm; it is the last expression of resolution. Let us have no rush, uproar, confusion, man falling over man, and one stream colliding with another; but let everything be done patiently, critically, and orderly: and who can tell what shall be done in sixteen days? To cleanse the sanctuary is to pray. When Hezekiah opened the doors, by that very act he worshipped; when Hezekiah repaired the doors of the house of the Lord, he wrought a wondrous work upon the heart that was sore by reason of its long-continued need and its painful solitude. To repair the building is to worship the living God; to give a cup of cold water to a disciple for Christ's sake is to oblige heaven.
We make mistakes if we suppose that worship is a mere cloud, a foam of sentiment; it is work of all kinds, door-opening and lamp-lighting and floor-sweeping, cleansing, preparing, ventilating, expecting the people and welcoming them with joy; and then incense-burning, and cross-uplifting, and cry of thunderous and mute eloquence, and hymn, sweet, gentle, tender, and prayer that beats against heaven like artillery—all these things and many more are included in the complex idea of worship. Let each man, therefore, do what he can in this matter, knowing that no man works the whole ministry of worship, but that it is an act of co-operation and combination, one part working with another part, and each interrelating itself with the other, so as to constitute a sum total significant of unity, adaptation, music, and homage.
So calm is Hezekiah that he states the case in all its historical breadth, and with all the accentuating colour of painful memory and frank self-humiliation on account of sin:
"For our fathers have trespassed, and done that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord our God, and have forsaken him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord, and turned their backs. Also they have shut up the doors of the porch, and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense nor offered burnt offerings in the holy place unto the God of Israel. Wherefore the wrath of the Lord was upon Judah and Jerusalem, and he hath delivered them to trouble, to astonishment, and to hissing, as ye see with your eyes. For, lo, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this" (2Chronicles 29:6-9).
He continues well; he first does something himself, then he calls upon the priests and the Levites to do something more, and having created this initial interest he proceeds to give a historical summary of the situation. We cannot work effectively, or with any degree of divine masterliness in our sacred occupation, until we have history behind us, right up to date, so that we know what was done up to yesternight. History thus treated—massed, focussed, and brought to bear upon living men—becomes an appeal, an inspiration, an indication of the next point of progress. He who neglects history cannot read Providence. Do we comprehend the state of affairs in our own land or in lands far away? Some men do, and some do not. The men who do comprehend the estate in all its bearings and relations are the most earnest men in the Christian community. They who know least do least. They who see the whole field, and know all the forces there are at work within its four corners, are the men who are moved to deepest prayer themselves, and who are stirred to an untaught but mighty eloquence in the excitement of their hearts. Read the history of heathenism, so far as it is open, and we need no other incentive to Christian evangelisation; study the condition of barbarism, and never will the cross of Christ appear to be so dazzling a glory as after dwelling in that infinite gloom; understand what Christianity has done for the world, and then feel the necessity of extending its reign, enlarging the field of its sovereignty.
With what gentle, paternal eloquence Hezekiah addressed the men on whose co-operation he relied:
"My sons, be not now negligent: for the Lord hath chosen you to stand before him, to serve him, and that ye should minister unto him, and burn incense" (2Chronicles 29:11).
A pastoral king; a most shepherdly heart was the heart of king Hezekiah. There is a fatherliness that does not depend upon age. Hezekiah was not an old man: he spoke not from under a crown of hoary hairs, but he was a father because of his capacity of love, unselfish solicitude, patriotic aspiration. There are young pastors—they are born shepherds; in earliest conscious life they seem to be made to care for others. The pastor is a man who can carry all other men. A wondrous man! so many-sided, seeing all things when apparently looking at nothing; feeling everything, not requiring to have subjects urged upon him, driven into him, spelled out letter by letter to his dull stupidity; but feeling in the morning how the world is, hearing messages in the winds that are blowing, knowing by a look how the world's health reports itself everywhere; a man who feels the pulse whilst talking about other subjects, who attracts the patient's attention to things far away that he may in that moment of release watch him with a keener vigilance. You cannot make pastors, or kings, or fathers. You can make men bear the pastor's name, or the king's name, or the father's name; but all these may be but nominal functions: we are born to our estate; our inheritance is a descent, our primogeniture is not to be broken in upon by lawyers who trifle with the letters they do not understand. Here is ah entail sanctioned by heaven, an election which bears the imprimatur of God, a sovereignty which cannot be turned aside by our mechanisms and cunning devices. Have not some men a right to accost us as sons? Is there not a touch which means solicitude, brotherhood, unity, mutual understanding? No lesson does Hezekiah recite which he has learned in private; the words come to him as he needs them; they are his servants and they wait upon him, and when he opens his mouth they come and say, What wilt thou? here we are, send us. So thus he talks, with a healthy frankness, with a tender appreciation, with a majestic familiarity, with a condescension that cannot be trifled with.
What was their response? Enough to read:
"Then the Levites arose" (2Chronicles 29:12).
In sixteen days the burnt offering began; songs were heard, the trumpet rent the place, and all hearts quivered with joy.
Observe two points. (i.) They were old words that the people sang—
"Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praises unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer" (2Chronicles 29:30).
(ii.) Not only were the words old, the enthusiasm was new—"And they sang praises with gladness." Literally, with exultation, with rapture. Religion is nothing if not enthusiastic. Praise without exultation is but a skeleton form. The whole place in which Christians are assembled for worship should vibrate, tingle again, because of the mighty, gracious, holy song. Here we have the changeable and the permanent: the permanent we find in "the words of David and of Asaph the seer"; and that which is changeable or capable of increase and variation is the gladness, the enthusiasm, the transport, the holy rapture. Nor was it merely vocal, in any sense of displaying musical gymnastic skill, for the people having sung with rapture, as if they had not space enough to sing in, and as if they would split the overarching heaven with their cry, "they bowed their heads and worshipped." The look was upward, downward; wild with an infinite rationalistic joy, and subdued because of a sense of the majesty of heaven.
Did the matter end with this singing? No.
"Then Hezekiah [still equal to the occasion, and keeping the oversight of it to himself] answered and said, Now ye have consecrated yourselves unto the Lord, come near and bring sacrifices and thank offerings into the house of the Lord" (2Chronicles 29:31).
What did the people say?
"And the congregation brought in sacrifices and thank offerings; and as many as were of a free heart burnt offerings. And the number of the burnt offerings, which the congregation brought, was threescore and ten bullocks, an hundred rams, and two hundred lambs: all these were for a burnt offering to the Lord. And the consecrated things were six hundred oxen and three thousand sheep" (2Chronicles 29:31-33).
And the freewill offerings came from every quarter, until the chronicler says:
"But the priests were too few, so that they could not flay all the burnt offerings: wherefore their brethren the Levites did help them, till the work was ended, and until the other priests had sanctified themselves" (2Chronicles 29:34).
So that people may sometimes get ahead of the Levites. Generosity may sometimes confuse officialism. If this spirit were to seize the Church, the only man that would feel incommoded by it would be the treasurer. He would want an increase of assistance. At present he has nothing to do, but if the people could be touched by the spirit of Hezekiah the treasurer would say, Some of you must come and assist me; the day is too short to count the gold, the time fails me when I would make record of the sacrifices of the people of God. This never can be done by exhortation; it can only be done by inspiration.
How did the matter end?
"And Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, that God had prepared the people: for the thing was done suddenly" (2Chronicles 29:36).
Observe the conjunction of words: "prepared—suddenly." That is the true order of progress—preparation as to process, suddenness as to revelation. As with the volcano: it is always gathering its heat, the moment of explosion is sudden; it always comes unexpectedly; it is like death itself, for though we have reckoned about the time death will come, when he does come, his white ghastliness makes us forget our preparation and say, It was so sudden at the last! Have we not had preparation enough? Is it not time now for enthusiasm? We have heard thousands of discourses; we have attended thousands of religious services; we have even gone so far as to criticise the services we have attended. Has there not been preparation enough? Is it not time for a little suddenness, outburst, genuine enthusiasm? "The Lord shall suddenly come to his temple." "Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host"; and yet all the ages had been preparing for that one moment. Eternity had been waiting for that crisis, and yet even then it was said, "And suddenly." "And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, a sound as of a rushing mighty wind."... Yet, though apparently so unexpected, "this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel."
O blessed Son of God, thou art always being transfigured before us: and if we miss the transfiguration, it is because our eyes are closed. Every day thou dost come to the world in a new revelation, a new beauty, a new helpfulness. Thy delight is not in destruction, but in salvation; the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. Herein is the Gospel, the sweet news, the glad tidings, the holy appeal that touches us in the depth of our distress. We needed a helper; for want of a Saviour we died; there was no eye to pity, there was no arm to save; we had been given up to the darkness of night but for the love and pity and tenderness of God. Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of man, thou art our friend, our brother, our Saviour: yea, we hail thee equal with the Father, who is God over all, blessed for evermore; and so we seek to be made like unto thyself in all the beauty of thy holiness. We know that thou mayest always be called upon in the day of trouble; thou dost find those who are troubled in heart, and they find thee, and there is kinship between us; thou wast tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin; thou knowest the sharpness of every pain, the humiliation of every infirmity, the utter solitude of heart thou knowest: for were not the heavens darkened to thee, and did not the earth tremble as if ashamed of thee, and did not thy disciples forsake thee and flee? Yet out of all the darkness thou hast arisen, an infinite light, a glory filling the universe, the great joy of sweetest song, the object of heavenly adoration. We would know the fellowship of thy sufferings that we may know the power of thy resurrection. We may not, dare not, suffer alone; for then suffering were nought but pain, agony unprofitable and unending; but if we suffer with thee, if upon thy cross we hang in fellowship with thy pain, then we shall see the glory that lies beyond, we shall be glad with a great ecstasy, even when the darkness of night is thickest. We bless thee for thy saving power, mighty Son of God; where we fail thou dost succeed, because thou dost work with the ease of almightiness; there is no effort to thee; the All-Power cannot strain; behold, thou stoopest to touch the universe; the sun is infinitely beneath thy feet. We commend ourselves, therefore, to thee for healing, for quietness of soul in the midst of earth's great tumult, and for the final salvation of our being. We cannot tell what salvation is; our conception is narrow and shallow and poor; we shall need eternity to interpret thy meaning of salvation: we see in it all growth, all progress, an eternal advancement towards the very perfectness of God: what can we require for a schoolhouse but God's infinity, and for a day-glory but God's own splendour? In so far as we are moving on the upward line we bless thee; for this is a miracle wrought against the gravitation of our nature, which is towards dust and meanness and death. Thou art always overriding this lower law by a greater; thou hast a grand spiritual mastery, an infinite persuasion, an allurement that gathers up into its omnipotence all contending and conflicting laws, and thou wilt out of all the stress of controversy and all the pain of war bring us to reconciliation and peace and music. Thou hast led us wondrously; we did not know one foot of the road; what we could see was like a cloud hiding a thunderbolt; but now how all things have opened up like a dawn, opened like flowers, opened like softly descending summer, which seeks out the barest places of the earth and sets a flower on them. We thank thee for all the road; when it was steepest it was healthiest; when it was darkest thy voice seemed sweetest to our listening love, and in the time when black affliction gathered, in all its branches and in all its issues, as if to overwhelm us, behold there was balm in Gilead, behold there was a physician there. We bless the Lord with organ and trumpets and stringed instruments of every name, and we call upon all trees, and hills, and rivers, and seas, and stars to join the infinite uproar of harmony, that we may praise thee with an infinite gladness, and rejoice in thee without a cloud to hide thy face. Be with all for whom we ought to pray—for those in trouble, for those in peril on the sea; for those who are suddenly and irreparably bereaved, to whom the sun is no light and the summer no offering of flowers or fruits, to whom the whole heaven is dark. Be with those who want to return home but cannot for the multitude of devils round about them, urging them to the hell they already feel in dread anticipation; they long to come home; O thou mighty One, go forth with thine own sword, and slay the hosts of blackness and redeem the hearts that want to pray. Be with those who are in perplexity, bewilderment, all manner of trouble, touching things that recede as they approach, and speaking to things that cannot reply, and uttering all manner of imprecations without coherence, without definitions, with a blindness which indicates insanity; the Lord direct all such, and when they are putting their hand into the darkness may they be startled to find that they have touched thyself. The Lord be our light. The Lord go before us, and behind us, and on either side of us, and above us, that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the mystery of his cross we may be lost yet found in God. Amen.