JUDAH’S REFORMER KINGS
Scriptures are cited from the King James (Authorized) Version, unless stated otherwise.
AS CHRISTIANS we can learn many good lessons by studying Israel and God’s dealings with them. Following king Solomon’s death, the 12 tribes experienced a separation. The two more faithful tribes, Judah and Benjamin, formed the Southern Kingdom, and the other ten tribes formed the Northern Kingdom. The ten tribes eventually went into captivity, and later, the two tribes went into captivity for 70 years.
Good King Hezekiah
Two of the three greatest kings of Israel were Hezekiah and Josiah, “Israelites indeed.” Both were great reformers. An account of Hezekiah’s life and reign is found in 2 Kings 18-20; 2 Chronicles 29-32; and Isaiah 36-39. His reign in the Southern Kingdom began when he was 25 years old and he reigned for 29 years. Hezekiah’s father was the wicked king Ahaz. However, Ahaz had an excellent wife, named Abijah. She was undoubtedly a good mother and thus a good influence on Hezekiah. The prophet Isaiah also had a good impact on him.
By the time that Hezekiah took the throne at his father’s death, he was already well-instructed and thoroughly consecrated to the Lord. In the first month of his reign, he began to inaugurate reforms, restoring the true worship of the Lord. Hezekiah’s first public work was to open and prepare the temple of the Lord. He enlisted the Levites to perform that work. When the cleansing of the temple was complete a sin-offering was presented to the Lord. The Passover was approaching, and Hezekiah desired it to be celebrated by the entire nation, for very few had previously kept it, and those who did, had done so imperfectly.
Hezekiah desired the Passover to be kept properly, but that required time, so he decided to postpone its celebration until the 14th day of the second month. Special messengers were sent to invite all Israelites to worship the Lord at Jerusalem. The timing was favorable, for the 10 tribes were already going into captivity. His messengers were laughed at, although many representatives from five of the 10 tribes accepted the invitation. The invitation was well received by those in the Southern Kingdom. The celebration of the Passover was such a success, in fact, no such Passover had been kept like it since the days of king Solomon, 250 years beforehand. The people were so joyful that an additional week was set aside for worship.
But the revival did not stop with the Passover. The people were zealous for the true worship of the Lord. They supported the priests and Levites, so that the sacrifices could be maintained. A movement against every form of idolatry was started that included not only the Southern Kingdom, but also the Northern Kingdom. They destroyed the idols and the obscene high places where Baal was worshipped. This resulted in the people and the king receiving great earthly blessings. Storehouses were built to receive the people’s tithes and offerings.
Hezekiah’s Severe Trials
Later in Hezekiah’s reign he endured severe trials which strengthened and manifested his faith, and the Lord in turn responded to his trust and prayers. The Assyrian king, Sennacherib, had invaded the Northern Kingdom and carried its people captive. Eight years later he determined to invade the Southern Kingdom. The Assyrians had conquered other nations, and they were bent on conquering Egypt and becoming a universal empire. The Southern Kingdom was the last nation on the route to Egypt. Sennacherib first sent letters to Hezekiah, and then sent his general who demanded the Southern Kingdom’s surrender, saying that he did not desire their destruction. The letters were boastful of the power of Assyria and of all their conquests. He stated that their trust in the Lord was in vain; that other nations had trusted in their gods, but that they had failed to save their people. He argued that Israel’s God could do nothing more for them than the other gods were able to do for their people.
Hezekiah tried to placate his adversary by paying an annual tribute, and he sent Sennacherib a present of great value. Hezekiah erred in this, for he should have trusted in the Lord, and would thus have avoided unnecessary trials. However, as the situation became more dire, his faith increased. He and Isaiah prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered their prayer. Isaiah sent the Lord’s answer to Hezekiah in the following message: “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard” (2 Kings 19: 20). Hezekiah sent the rest of the message to Sennacherib, rebuking his boastfulness: “Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land” (Isaiah 37: 6, 7).
Valuable Lessons for Christians
Surely, we may learn valuable lessons from Hezekiah’s experiences. No matter how great the evil which assails us, a proper faith will look up to God and rely upon His promises for aid, rather than seeking to compromise as Hezekiah did at first. The Lord chastened Hezekiah, and He will also chasten us for our good. Hezekiah, his princes, and his people showed great faith and courage to resist the great power of Assyria. Shortly, they witnessed the Lord’s fulfillment upon the Assyrians, for immediately after they received Hezekiah’s reply, catastrophe struck. Sennacherib’s army of 185,000 died in one night by pestilence. And years later Sennacherib was slain by two of his own sons. Indeed, this reminds us of the words of the Apostle Paul who said, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked” (Galatians 6: 7). Sennacherib made that fatal mistake.
As a result of this deliverance Hezekiah received riches and honor, but his prosperity proved to be another severe test upon him, for his heart became filled with pride. Around this time, Hezekiah became sick to the point of death, probably due to his prosperity and pride. The Lord sent a message through Isaiah to him that his death was imminent. Hezekiah went to the Lord in prayer, and the Lord added 15 years to his life, to which he responded: “I shall go softly all my years . . . . We will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the LORD” (Isaiah 38: 15, 20). Hezekiah is surely an Ancient Worthy, and a good example to us.
Good King Josiah
King Josiah was another good king. An account of his life is found in 2 Kings 22, 23 and 2 Chronicles 34, 35. Josiah began his reign in the Southern Kingdom at the tender age of eight, and he reigned for 31 years. Like Hezekiah, he was the son of a wicked king, Amon, whose name means “Jehovah will support.” Likewise, Josiah also had a good mother whose name was Jedidah, which means “the beloved of Jehovah.” She proved to be a good counselor to Josiah. At the age of 16 he began to seek after the Lord, and at the age of 20 he determined to use his influence and power to completely overthrow idolatry throughout the kingdom. Josiah devoted the next six years to this work, which extended beyond Jerusalem and Judah. The project was difficult, and he was personally present to oversee it.
Upon Josiah’s return to Jerusalem, he determined to repair the temple. Money donations came in, and the work was completed. During temple repairs a book of the Law (probably Deuteronomy) was found by a priest named Hilkiah. He delivered it to Josiah’s secretary, who read it to the king. When Josiah heard it, he rent his garments in dismay, for he realized how short Israel had come in fulfilling the demands of the Law, plus he noted the punishments for unfaithfulness. He immediately sent messengers to a prophetess, Huldah, asking what should be done. God’s reply through the prophetess was that it was too late for the nation, but for Josiah He said: “Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place . . . and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the LORD” (2 Chronicles 34: 27).
Although Josiah did not live to see the trouble that came upon the nation, they celebrated the greatest Passover since the days of Samuel, along with great mourning for their past unfaithfulness. The Scriptures state that there was no king like Josiah, either before or after him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, soul, and might (2 Kings 23: 25). Surely, Josiah is another Ancient Worthy, and another good example to us.
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