Equipping Christians & churches for whole-life discipleship in the world.

Hezekiah (7): Any excuse for a party!

May 9, 2011
09 May 2011

The whole assembly then agreed to celebrate the festival seven more days; so for another seven days they celebrated joyfully.
2 Chronicles 30:23

‘It’s cold, and it’s long, the sermon, and it’s not very inviting,’ – an outsider’s view of church in the 21st century. Nick Spencer’s research, carried out in 2002, demonstrated that, for many, church was seen as ‘dull, didactic, authoritarian, incomprehensible, uncomfortable and inflexible.’ But, on the whole we know that much of this is perception based on very little experience, and that many churches are warm, friendly and open. And for some they provide more community and neighbourliness than many other ‘institutions’, including ‘the family’.

Hezekiah decided to celebrate Passover in the restored and reconsecrated temple. He held the festival a month late, because the priests and people hadn’t been ready before. He invited everyone in Judah and he also sent invitations to the people of Israel – the northern kingdom, now ruled by Assyria. Many who came were not sure what was going on and hadn’t prepared themselves properly, that is, in accordance with the Law of Moses. There were non-Jews, ‘aliens’ from Judah and Israel, perhaps one or two Assyrians. But there were no exclusions and Hezekiah simply prayed that the Lord would accept their hazy but honest worship. There was a lot of feasting, singing, music and praise. Hezekiah ‘ordered the people living in Jerusalem to give the portion due to the priests’, and they gave generously bringing tithes of their goods, ‘piling them in heaps’. ‘And so, he prospered.’

So maybe we have to bend the rules a bit – consciously widen the appeal, use music of all kinds, alternative worship experiences, lots of food, throw open the doors to the suspicious and the critical, and let them wonder what it is all about, where the love comes from, and don’t tell them the full story until they really want to know. Accept the odd Assyrian, and simply pray in our hearts that those who seek – a nice meal and a bit of a chat – will find, in the end, the Lord of the Passover, who still invites all who hunger and thirst to join him.

 

Margaret Killingray

Hezekiah (6): A fresh start

May 2, 2011
02 May 2011

Tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen our tears; I will heal you’
2 Kings 20:5

The increase in short-term contracts and sudden ‘downsizing’ as well as the threat of losing our jobs through proposed cuts, can mean that we find ourselves in a situation where we would like to carry on, but maybe can’t. Then we worry that someone else will ruin what we’ve worked hard to achieve or perhaps desperately yearn for a chance to get things looking good before we go.

Hezekiah was terminally ill and Isaiah told him to put his affairs in order. But Hezekiah wept and prayed. Perhaps he remembered the destruction his father had brought on Jerusalem, and perhaps he already knew that his son would do no better. He had worked very hard and achieved great things, but there was more to do and no one else who would do it. The Lord answered his prayer and sent Isaiah back with the promise of healing and fifteen more years of peace and protection. The Lord had already rescued Judah from the Assyrians and now he gave Hezekiah a further opportunity to run the country.

Deep down many of us would like another go at life. ‘Could have done better’ is not always an easy verdict to live with. Yet we, the ‘born-again’ ones, have been given exactly that – another go at life. Much may need forgiving, consequences of past sins sorted out, but every day we can start again. Paul recounted how Jesus had said to him, ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I am sending you to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified.’ Tell everyone they can have a fresh start, past forgiven, power for the future and a guaranteed party at the end.

 

Margaret Killingray

Hezekiah (5): I believe in the resurrection

April 25, 2011
25 Apr 2011

In the prime of my life must I go through the gates of death and be robbed of the rest of my years? For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise. The living, the living – they praise you as I am doing today
Isaiah 38:10,18

Hezekiah voiced one of the great cries of the human heart. Is everything simply going to fade and go to waste? Is death the end? Literature is full of this deep sense of futility. From Euripides,

‘…and so we are sick for life, and cling
On earth to this nameless and shining thing.
For other life is a fountain sealed,
And the deeps below us are unrevealed
And we drift on legends for ever’,

to Bertrand Russell,

‘There is darkness without and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendour no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment and then nothing.’

Paul, however, 450 years after Euripides and 1900 before Russell, wrote with the certainty of one who had met the risen Christ.

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people the most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.
1 Corinthians 15:17-20

We would not be human if we were not sometimes assailed by fear of death and uncertainty of what is beyond. Then I find that I cling not so much to Paul’s powerful rhetoric, but to the picture of Jesus, waiting beside the lake for the disciples, raised from the dead but recognisably himself, cooking breakfast in the early morning. Hezekiah did not have our certainty. But, when he did reach heaven as a faithful servant of the living God, how great must have been his joy and surprise to join in the praises of his Saviour, a man like himself.

 

Margaret Killingray

Hezekiah (4): Psychological warfare

April 3, 2011
03 Apr 2011

The field commander said, “Tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: ‘on what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have counsel and might for war -but you speak only empty words.’”
Isaiah 36:4,5

In the British Museum you can see the stone panels from Sennacherib’s Palace in Nineveh. They show the siege and capture of Lachish, the last of the fortified cities of Judah that Sennacherib had captured before sending his commander to Jerusalem. Lachish’s inhabitants trudge into captivity; its officials are tortured and executed. The same fate awaited Jerusalem when the Assyrian king sent his commander to reason with Hezekiah. Jerusalem’s prospect looked bleak and the Assyrians knew it. So they began to ‘reason’ with the Israelites.

They questioned the Israelites’ confidence by questioning their alliances. They questioned their faith in God and their military strength. They even questioned God’s plans: ‘The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it’ (Isaiah 36:10). This is a brilliant example of psychological warfare.

Many of us are familiar with this kind of attack. Sometimes it comes from other people, sometimes from the weight of circumstances; sometimes it’s the voice of ‘reason’ within us, telling us that we simply don’t have the ability. ‘You can’t trust your friends, your ability, your faith, your God…’ Self-doubt can be a very healthy thing, humbling us, challenging our arrogance and encouraging us to trust God more than we naturally would. But it can also tempt us to cowardice, weakness and surrender. Are we prepared to whistle blow knowing what the consequences might be? Will we stand up to corporate policy that we know is not right? Would we intervene if we witnessed an injustice?

None of us, God willing, will ever have to face a dilemma like Hezekiah’s, when the fate of an entire city rested on his resolve. But we all encounter injustice and we all face ‘psychological warfare’ when our conscience fights against our ‘common sense’. At such times we need not only Solomon’s wisdom to know how to act but also Hezekiah’s resolve to ignore the ‘Assyrian reasons’ and to trust God. And in the end he was vindicated and the Assyrians went home with their tails between their legs.

 

Nick Spencer

Hezekiah (3): Making Mistakes

March 28, 2011
28 Mar 2011

Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. So Hezekiah sent this message to the king of Assyria: ‘I have done wrong. Withdraw from me and I will pay you whatever you demand.’ Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the temple of the Lord. He stripped off the gold with which he had covered the doors of the temple and gave it to the king of Assyria.
2 Kings 18:13-16 (extracts)

Seven years after the northern Kingdom had been conquered, Assyria came back to attack Judah. Hezekiah tried to buy off Sennacherib with gold and silver from the temple he had only recently repaired. The Assyrians simply took the treasure and continued the attack. Should Hezekiah have given the gold and silver to the conquering attacker? He was doing his best to protect the city and the people. He also made practical and military preparations, reinforcing the walls, blocking off the springs outside the city to deprive the attackers of water. Mistakes are not always sin; they are often the outcome of our limited knowledge of the circumstances. Sometimes we have to jump in, do the best we can and trust God for the outcome. Yet we are sometimes too quick to blame each other and our leaders for mistakes that are simply part of being human.

In the end it made no difference. Sennacherib’s campaign against Judah was now freshly funded – by his victim. Hezekiah had to trust God alone to save them. Dealing with mistakes with honesty, putting them right, and admitting we were wrong, are some of the hardest things we have to do, particularly if others are dependent on our leadership. But these can be the beginning of a renewed and refreshed relationship with the Lord, and with others. When someone makes a mistake that affects us we need to reassure rather than demand recompense and repentance, telling them that we understand and that we might have made the same mistake ourselves.

‘Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done’ (18:3). Christian disciples are not the good, but the forgiven. They obey God out of love and gratitude. And they also make mistakes. And Sennacherib never did conquer Jerusalem.

 

Margaret Killingray

Hezekiah (2): First things first

March 21, 2011
21 Mar 2011

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was not one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses.
2 Kings 18:5,6

He was CEO of a small company. His predecessor had allowed the company to slide into bad practice – there was unchecked inefficiency, secret deals and major conflicts of interest. Larger predatory companies surrounded him. A company with close links to his was taken over, workers forced to work in distant towns, many jobs lost and offices sold off. Would his be next? But he decided, in the face of some grumbling and fear, that he had to sort the company out, end the bad practices and put it onto a sound ethical and financial footing, whatever happened.

Hezekiah, king of Judah for 29 years, reigned over the small area round Jerusalem. His father had been a disaster and his son would be another after him. Assyria, Babylon and Egypt loomed threateningly. The northern kingdom of Israel, based round Samaria, was destroyed by Assyria three years into his reign. But he sought first God’s kingdom and his righteousness. He believed that everything would fall into place if that were Judah’s priority. He cleared all the idolatrous high places and altars. He purified the temple and celebrated Passover.

‘Hezekiah did… what is good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. In everything that he undertook… he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.’ 2 Chronicles 31:20,21.

Wherever we have responsibility, even if it is just for ourselves and our relationships, or whether like Hezekiah we run a business, or just one desk, we are called to seek God’s kingdom first. That may not always be straightforward, but that is the way of obedience. It didn’t last but Hezekiah had been true to what he knew of God’s requirements. Our times are in his hands – the good we have done may be swept away by those coming after us. But the promise is that all we have done to build His kingdom will in the end count and its worth will be shown when he comes again.

 

Margaret Killingray

Hezekiah (1): Do you see this, God?

February 7, 2011
07 Feb 2011

‘Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed …’
2 Kings 19: 14-15

Threatened by the Assyrians, Hezekiah has stood firm, he has declared that he and the nation are trusting the Lord, and Isaiah has brought word that Jerusalem will be delivered from any assault. Immediately the enemy responds with further threats and a letter that ridicules Hezekiah and his God. So what does Hezekiah do? In my mind he bustles along to the temple, open letter in hand, calling out to God: “Do you see this? Look at what has come now! Would you look at this, God?”

Of course Hezekiah may have been very calm and composed, but since he is in sackcloth at the start of the chapter, then receives (second-hand) prophetic reassurance from Isaiah followed by the hate mail, all by verse 10, I imagine it to be more of a faith and emotional roller-coaster. The need to bring it all to the Lord is Hezekiah’s – it is not God who is unaware, not God who does not know what to do next, not God who feels thwarted or fearful. The faith Hezekiah displays appears very familiar, doubt and panic rubbing shoulders with strong declarations and disciplined spiritual action.

In the coming months and years, I’ll receive bills and think ‘how?’, receive tragic news and ponder ‘why?’, face uncertainties and consider ‘what now?’. And to God I will show a bank statement, the photograph of a loved one, a newspaper article, perhaps a letter or a text, and I will ask ‘Do you see this, God?’ Not because God needs to be told but because I need to be in the place where I can receive. Faith and the concerns that exercise us, major or trivial, can too easily be held apart in our Christian life. It is when they touch, in directed prayer, that self and situations are transformed.

‘Would you look at this with me, God?’ And he does.

 

Karen Vincent