In the last two years, the doors of many halls have been closed, and public meetings have stopped. Some have drifted spiritually, and even some spiritual leaders have allowed standards to slip. All of these things were true after the reign of Ahaz when Hezekiah, aged 25, inherited the throne of Judah. But what a change he made in the first few weeks of his reign! Hezekiah promptly reversed the spiritual decline that Ahaz had caused. He re-established temple worship, then organized the celebration of the Passover for the first time in many years. Hezekiah was the cause of joy and spiritual confidence, first to the priests, then Levites, the musicians, and the princes of Judah. The subsequent Passover celebration had the same effect among the people of Judah and even among the tribes of Israel.
Hezekiah offers some important lessons in how to lead the people of God out of a spiritual crisis.
‘Ahaz … cut in pieces the articles of the house of God, shut up the doors of the house of the Lord, and made for himself altars in every corner of Jerusalem’, 2 Chr. 28. 24.1
The priests and Levites followed Ahaz into spiritual decline. They ceased to keep themselves ritually clean, and thus became unfit for divine service. The people of Judah became accustomed to worshipping false gods.
In our own country and society, similar things have happened. Things which ought to be reverenced have been first neglected, then trampled underfoot. Things are worshipped and celebrated that should instead be condemned. National religious leaders have retreated into compromise and unbelief and have entirely ceased their witness to the truth of God. ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes’, Rom. 3. 18.
In this post-Christian society, maintaining testimony has become difficult. Genuine believers are now completely out of step with the society and culture in which we live. Sadly, just as in the days of Ahaz, the pressure has been too much for some. Spiritual standards have been forsaken, and testimony has been damaged.
What can a young man like Hezekiah do in the face of such spiritual departure? What can we do in our generation?
‘In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them’, 2 Chr. 29. 3.
Hezekiah gave priority publicly to the things of God. No doubt there were many other things that Hezekiah could have chosen to do - the reign of Ahaz had been chaotic and disastrous, and the kingdom needed Hezekiah’s leadership. But he put the Lord first, and he did so in the most public way possible. In doing this, he gave a clear signal to all of his servants and to all who served in the temple that the Lord must come first, no matter what else is on the agenda. We sometimes exhort one another to ‘be an example to others’. It is worth remembering that we are an example to others, for better or worse. We may have struggled spiritually during the pandemic. Perhaps spiritual routines and standards have slipped. Hezekiah is an example of how to be an example. Let us all (young or older) take the advice of 1 Timothy chapter 4 verse 12, ‘Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity’.
Hezekiah did not work alone. He challenged and encouraged the Levites who had abandoned their spiritual duties, ‘Hear me, Levites! Now sanctify yourselves, sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry out the rubbish from the holy place’, 2 Chr. 29. 5. Hezekiah understood that spiritual restoration was impossible without sanctification. He urged the Levites not to be negligent, but he also set before them a positive spiritual ambition, ‘My sons, do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before Him, to serve Him, and that you should minister to Him and burn incense’, v. 11. It would have been easy to write off these men as spiritual failures, but Hezekiah recognized that by God’s grace they could be the leaders of the recovery. He challenged them about their own lifestyle, but then he gave them a spiritual work and a vision for their spiritual future.
It is not difficult to identify fellow believers who are not performing their spiritual duties as they should. But how can we motivate them to recover? Spiritual men and women can follow Hezekiah’s pattern, combining words of challenge with words of hope and encouragement. Even faithful believers can lapse, but their greatest work might still be ahead of them if they respond again to the call of God.
Hezekiah could have stopped after the first sixteen days. He had already sanctified the house of the Lord, restored the priests and Levites to their proper offices and led them in a ceremony of national repentance.
He could have said, ‘I’ve provided the impetus, now it’s up to the spiritual men to take over’. But his real desire was not yet fulfilled. Like David before him, Hezekiah shared the Lord’s desire to shepherd the whole nation. The work in the temple was necessary but not sufficient, because it reached only the priests and the Levites.
It is at this point that Hezekiah’s stature is revealed. He wanted to call the nation to celebrate the Passover, but there were serious spiritual obstacles to this. First, the entire first month had been occupied with cleansing the temple - but Passover ought to be celebrated in the first month. Second, only a few priests had consecrated themselves, whereas a national feast such as the Passover required many priests to serve at the altar.
Many in Hezekiah’s position would say, ‘The time has not come’, Hag. 1. 2, and turn to urgent secular matters like restoring the military or rebuilding the nation’s broken finances. But Hezekiah saw that the people of God had forgotten that they were redeemed by blood and separated to God. The Passover was essential, or recovery would stall.
‘So they resolved to make a proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, that they should come to keep the Passover to the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem, since they had not done it for a long time in the prescribed manner’, 2 Chr. 30. 5.
The people of God had not gathered to remember for a long time! Our own memories of the pandemic are still painful to recall, and we can easily imagine the effect of this on the spiritual health of the nation. But notice the spiritual ambition of Hezekiah. This is not a call to Judah only. It is a call to the entire nation. The proclamation reads like a gospel message, ‘Now do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the Lord; and enter His sanctuary, which He has sanctified forever, and serve the Lord your God, that the fierceness of His wrath may turn away from you’, v. 8. Hezekiah had vision - he longed to see the people of God gathered together to sacrifice, to serve, to worship together. No king had ever attempted such a thing, but Hezekiah believed that God was able to do it.
At this point, it is enough simply to rejoice in the record of scripture. Did God reward the faith of Hezekiah? ‘So the children of Israel who were present at Jerusalem kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with great gladness; and the Levites and the priests praised the Lord day by day, singing to the Lord, accompanied by loud instruments. And Hezekiah gave encouragement to all the Levites who taught the good knowledge of the Lord; and they ate throughout the feast seven days, offering peace offerings and making confession to the Lord God of their fathers. Then the whole assembly agreed to keep the feast another seven days, and they kept it another seven days with gladness’, vv. 21-23.
I hope your heart was uplifted as you read those words. What an occasion it must have been! What glory for God, and what joy for Hezekiah and all the godly men and women who had endured the reign of Ahaz.
As the doors of our halls have opened again and invitations begin to go out into the surrounding communities, let us learn from Hezekiah. What kind of example are we showing to our fellow believers? How great is our faith, and how large are our hearts? Our initial efforts may seem small but let us take encouragement from Hezekiah. If we begin by putting the Lord first, publicly and visibly, then we may inspire others to do the same. We may begin by simply opening the doors. But later we may have the joy of welcoming in all who need the Lord, regardless of whether they have ever been reached before.
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