Sovereign of Judah
2 Kings 18:1-12
Death brought Hezekiah on the scene in Scripture and to the throne of the nation of Judah. These facts we learn in the very first mention of Hezekiah in Scripture. "And Ahaz slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David: and Hezekiah his son reigned in his stead" (2 Kings 16:20). The death of King Ahaz was a welcomed death considering what a curse Ahaz was to the nation of Judah and what a blessing the new king, King Hezekiah, was to Judah. As the new sovereign of Judah after the death of King Ahaz, Hezekiah led his nation from the depths of degradation to the heights of holiness. Hezekiah cleaned up the religious and political mess his father had made and gave Judah a new lease on life.
How often a succeeding generation has had to clean up the mess which a preceding generation has made. And many pastors have had to clean up financial and spiritual and moral messes in their churches left by their predecessors. Hezekiah had much cleaning up to do of the mess his wicked father had left from his reign. A good portion of the record of Hezekiah given in Scripture will speak of this cleaning up of the foul mess that existed in Judah because of the unholy reign of his father Ahaz. So the death that put Hezekiah on Judah’s throne and into Scripture was a good death, a welcomed death, and a profitable death for the nation of Judah. It was good to get Ahaz out of the way, for he was a curse to the nation. His removal brought much blessing to the nation. It is sad but true that the removal of many people from society is a blessing to society. We all need to strive to live such a noble life that our presence, not our absence, will be a great blessing to people.
The text for this first chapter of our book about Hezekiah gives a summary of Hezekiah’s performance as the sovereign of Judah. Since nearly everything said of Hezekiah in Scripture is about his reign as the king of the nation of Judah, our text provides a good introduction to Hezekiah’s life as it is recorded in Scripture. To examine this introductory text about Hezekiah as the sovereign of Judah, we will consider the crowning of the sovereign (vv. 1, 2), the character of the sovereign (2 Kings 18:3,5,6,7), the campaigns of the sovereign (vv. 4, 8), and the conditions for the sovereign (vv. 9–12).
A. THE CROWNING OF THE SOVEREIGN
Hezekiah was crowned the twelfth king of the nation of Judah. Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, was the first of nineteen kings of Judah. While Hezekiah was the twelfth king of Judah, he was the thirteenth ruler of Judah; for a woman, wicked Athaliah, was queen of Judah for seven years after her son King Ahaziah was slain by Jehu. The nation of Judah was the southern kingdom of what used to be the nation of Israel. After Solomon’s death, the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms: the southern kingdom and the northern kingdom. The southern kingdom was called Judah while the northern kingdom was called three different names: Israel, Samaria, and Ephraim. Saul, David, and Solomon were the only men to rule as king over all Israel.
Our text speaks of three things concerning the crowning of Hezekiah as sovereign of Judah. They are the time of the crowning, the tribe of the crowned, and the term of the crowned.
1. The Time of the Crowning
"In the third year of Hoshea . . . king of Israel . . . Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. Twenty and five years old was he when he began to reign" (vv. 1, 2). Here we note the calendar, the chronology, the contemporaries, and the contrasts in the time of Hezekiah’s crowning.
The calendar in the time. The time reference given in Scripture regarding when Hezekiah became the king of Judah is the "third year" of the reign of Hoshea the last king of the northern kingdom. This time is estimated to be anywhere from 727 b.c. (Rawlinson) to 716 b.c. (New Scofield Bible). This was a very critical time for all Israelites. The captivity of the northern kingdom by Assyria was nearing (it occurred the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign over Judah), and Assyria was becoming an increasingly greater threat to Judah. But Hezekiah’s good relationship with God kept Judah from being defeated by the Assyrians as the northern kingdom was. Righteous rulers are a blessing to a nation, but wicked rulers are a curse to a nation even though they may be popular and have charming personalities.
The chronology in the time. Hezekiah was twenty-five when he began to rule as king (v. 2). This may seem young to us to be a ruler of a nation; but it was not uncommon then; for Scripture reports only three (Rehoboam 41, Jehoshaphat 35, and Jehoram 32) of Judah’s nineteen kings beginning their reign when older than Hezekiah (two of the kings, Abijah and Asa, do not have their ages reported). The important thing to note about Hezekiah was that though he was only twenty-five, he certainly was well prepared in ruling ability and spirituality when he was crowned sovereign of Judah. He had used his younger years well to prepare his heart and head for his royal responsibilities and in obtaining a good relationship with God. Both helped him to begin his reign as Judah’s king in a very successful way. Our youth today need to be as Hezekiah and be more seriously minded about the important matters of life rather than being so taken up with games and other forms of entertainment.
The contemporaries in the time. The notable contemporaries of Hezekiah when he was crowned king of Judah not only included Hoshea the wicked king of the northern kingdom but also two great prophets—Isaiah (2 Kings 19:2,5,6) and Micah (Micah 1:1 and Jeremiah 26:18,19). The blessing of these two men of God were very great for Hezekiah and his kingdom. Isaiah especially was close to Hezekiah and is prominent in the Biblical account of Hezekiah’s life. Isaiah, whose book records one of the three accounts of Hezekiah given in the Bible, was Hezekiah’s chief spiritual advisor. This was a rare privilege and blessing for Hezekiah which he did not despise but honored. We must honor our spiritual blessings or we will lose them.
The contrasts in the time. Hezekiah’s time as king was sandwiched between two very unholy reigns. Since Hezekiah was a godly king, this made him a sharp contrast to the kings before and after him. His father Ahaz, Hezekiah’s predecessor as king, was a very wicked king and his son Manasseh, Hezekiah’s successor as king, was also a very wicked king. Hezekiah was a good son of a bad father and a good father of a bad son. Being different from the others, Hezekiah gives us a good example about not going along with the crowd. He lived godly even though those on both sides of him were wicked. Hezekiah went the opposite direction the crowd was going, but it was the right direction. You have little character if you cannot go the opposite direction the unholy crowd is going. Any dead fish can float downstream, but it takes a live and healthy one to go upstream. The same is true in character and spirituality.
2. The Tribe of the Crowned
"Hezekiah the son of Ahaz . . . His mother’s name also was Abi, the daughter of Zachariah" (vv. 1, 2). Here we look at the bloodline of Hezekiah. He came from the tribe of Judah and from the line of David as did all the kings of Judah. That great heritage did not give him a good home, however. Rather, it was a bad home. He especially had a terrible father in Ahaz. As we noted earlier, Ahaz was a very corrupt king. He "did not that which was right in the sight of the Lord . . . But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel [northern kingdom], yea, and made his son [‘children’ in the Chronicles text] to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out from before the children of Israel. And he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree" (2 Kings 16:2–4). Hezekiah was not sacrificed as were some of his brothers (and perhaps sisters, too) but survived this cruel killing of children in this heathen worship rite. We can cite this as the first "survival" of Hezekiah’s prominent survivals. Being given to heathen religion, Hezekiah’s father also shut down the Temple in Jerusalem and caused much damage to be done to the Temple and its furnishings which Hezekiah later repaired which we will note later. Not only was Hezekiah’s father corrupt in the matter of religion, but he was also corrupt in the matter of government in that he sold out to Assyria and made Judah a vassal of them which obligated Judah to pay heavy tribute to Assyria.
With such an unholy father, it is amazing how Hezekiah came out of this home so godly. Some believe it was a tribute to his mother. This conclusion is suggested by the fact that both the name of Hezekiah’s mother and of Hezekiah were "Jehovah" names. The name Hezekiah means "strength of Jehovah" (Cook) or "whom Jehovah strengthens" (Keil) which is practically the same thing. Hezekiah’s mother’s name of Abijah (2 Chronicles 29:1—Abi in our text is an abbreviated form of Abijah) means "my father is Jehovah." If anyone in Hezekiah’s home had a godly influence upon him, it was his mother. It certainly was not his father. "The cause of God has always owed much to mothers" (James Smith), and that could certainly be true in the case of Hezekiah. But regardless of how Hezekiah was influenced to the right ways spiritually, his turning out so well really condemns those who have had better homes but who have turned out badly. Hezekiah did not have nearly as much spiritual help and influence as many do in godlier homes, yet he became very devoted to the Lord. How condemned are all those today who live with much spiritual opportunity yet do not prosper well spiritually. God judges according to our opportunity and advantage which means many today are in for a rough time at judgment time.
3. The Term of the Crowned
"He reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem" (v. 2). Hezekiah’s reign was of good duration, for it lasted twenty-nine years. To get some perspective of the extent of the duration, we note that no president in our country has ever held office for anything close to that length of time. Hezekiah’s term of office was almost less than half the twenty-nine years, however. After he had served as sovereign of Judah for fourteen years, he came close to dying because of an illness. When he was sick he was even told by Isaiah that he was going to die (2 Kings 20:1; Isaiah 38:1). But Hezekiah prayed earnestly to God and was granted an extension of fifteen years to his life (2 Kings 20:6; Isaiah 38:5). We will note later in detail this experience in his life in which he survived a near fatal sickness and as a result gained fifteen more years to his life which meant fifteen more years as the sovereign of Judah.
B. THE CHARACTER OF THE SOVEREIGN
We have already noted that Hezekiah possessed noble character. Here we examine some details of Hezekiah’s excellent character. From our text we note five significant details of his character. They concern the faultlessness of his character, the forefather of his character, the faith in his character, the faithfulness of his character, and the favor for his character.
1. The Faultlessness of His Character
"And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord" (v. 3). One cannot find fault with that kind of conduct. To examine that good conduct of Hezekiah, we note the evaluation of it, the eyewitness of it, and the education for it.
The evaluation of it. Hezekiah’s conduct was judged "right" by God. There is no better evaluation of one’s conduct. Being right before God means your conduct is absolutely right. But being "right" in the sight of men does not mean your conduct is right. Being right before men does not mean that it is necessarily evil either, but it certainly does not guarantee that it is good.-Only being right before God guarantees that your conduct is good. In our day if your conduct is right before men, it probably is very corrupt; for our day is so evil in its thinking. But when your conduct is right before God, it is holy conduct! One of the great problems of men today is that they care little about what God thinks of their conduct. They are only interested in being right before men. If men give them a passing grade, that is good enough for them. It makes no difference to them whether God gives them a passing grade or not.
The eyewitness of it. "In the sight of the Lord" reminds us that God is an eyewitness of all that we do. Nothing is hid from His eyes. Our conduct may not be seen by many people, but it is always seen by God. We cannot conceal our conduct from God. He is all-seeing and all-knowing. This fact is both a warning and an encouragement. It is a warning to those who do evil. They may think they are concealing their conduct; but with God seeing it, it can be broadcast to the whole world if God so desires. Hence, nothing will so clean up one’s conduct as a strong awareness that God is watching. And this fact of God seeing all our deeds is an encouragement to those who do good. Oftentimes those who do good are unobserved by men and hence unrewarded by men. But God sees all and in due time those who do good will be rewarded for their noble conduct whether men have seen the good deeds or not.
The education for it. To walk right before God means you are going to have to learn what is right in God’s sight. You cannot walk obediently to God if you do not know how God wants you to walk. So to walk right before God means you will have to learn God’s Word well. Hezekiah only had a fragment of Scripture compared to what we have today, yet he knew it well enough to guide his conduct according to God’s ways. He knew about God’s commandments and "kept his commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses" (v. 6). Knowing God’s Word is a great education need in our day. Though we are educated in some areas far greater than ever before in the history of men, yet we are poorly educated in the most important area of all, namely, the Word of God. Great opposition is present to this education, however. Our public schools oppose it, our government opposes it, and carnality opposes it. But it still is the greatest education need of mankind.
2. The Forefather of His Character
"According to all that David his [fore]father did" (v. 3). Hezekiah’s character is said to be as excellent as King David’s character. This was a very great compliment. And the greatness of the compliment is emphasized by the fact that only two other kings besides Hezekiah were given this great compliment. They were Asa (1 Kings 15:11) and Josiah (2 Kings 22:2).
Hezekiah was one of nine kings who were said in Scripture to do that which was "right in the sight of the Lord" (v. 3—a few times in the KJV it is "eyes" instead of "sight" in spite of the fact that the Hebrew word is the same). These kings besides Hezekiah were David (1 Kings 15:5); Asa (1 Kings 15:11); Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:43); Jehoash (2 Kings 12:2), Amaziah (2 Kings 14:3); Uzziah (2 Kings 15:3); Jotham (2 Kings 15:34); and Josiah (2 Kings 22:2). But only Hezekiah, Asa, and Josiah were said to do "right" as well as David. Five of these nine kings had a qualification exception about doing what was "right" in the sight of God. They were Jehoshaphat, Jehoash, Uzziah, Jothan, and Josiah. The exception in each case was that they did not remove the "high places." And one king, Amaziah, who was said to do "right in the sight of the Lord" was, however, said to behave "not like David his father" (2 Kings 14:3).
No king of the northern kingdom ever had it said that his conduct was "right in the sight of the Lord," but rather many of the kings of the northern kingdom had it said that their conduct was "evil in the sight of the Lord (1 Kings 15:34 etc.). Also no king of the northern kingdom ever had his conduct compared to David. Rather, their conduct was frequently compared to "Jeroboam . . . [who] made Israel sin" (1 Kings 15:30, etc.). Jeroboam was the first king of the northern kingdom and was a wicked king. The rulers that followed him followed in his steps. If we were to characterize the presidents of our nation by these statements, most, if not all, would be characterized as doing that which was evil in the sight of the Lord and acting like Jeroboam.
These details about the conduct of these kings remind us that God has a very accurate and detailed account of all of our lives. And as with the fact of God seeing all our conduct, this fact also will warn the wicked but encourage the godly.
3. The Faith in His Character
"He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him" (v. 5). Our text about Hezekiah’s faith speaks of the person of his faith and the praise of his faith.
The person of his faith. "He trusted in the Lord God of Israel." The word Lord is Jehovah. The Israelites were frequently junking Jehovah for other gods which were no gods but simply idols of the heathen. As an example, the great problem in Elijah’s day was that many Israelites had forsaken Jehovah for Baal. The father of Hezekiah was not a worshiper of Jehovah either. He went after the heathen gods. But Hezekiah did not go after heathen idolatry but put his faith in Jehovah God. It is a great commendation of Hezekiah’s character that in spite of the heathen religion all around him, he still trusted in Jehovah God. We need the kind of faith that can stand strong in spite of all the unbelief that is around us.
The praise of his faith. "So that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him." Hezekiah’s faith was certainly excellent. The praise here is exceptional. But this statement of high praise for Hezekiah’s faith presents two problems for the Bible student.
The first problem is that it is hard to believe that Hezekiah was greater than King David. But the solution to this problem is found in what "the kings of Judah" in our text means. It means a king over the southern kingdom. The southern kingdom did not exist until the nation of Israel split after Solomon died. David was king over all Israel. It is true that David was at first for seven years the "king over the house of Judah" (2 Samuel 2:4,11); but that was not the same as king of Judah. In David’s case Judah meant only the tribe of Judah. In Hezekiah’s case it meant king over the nation of Judah which included the tribe of Benjamin as well as the tribe of Judah.
The second problem is that a similar statement is made of Josiah (2 Kings 23:25). This looks like a contradiction. Keil and Rawlinson say it is not a contradiction because the statement made about Hezekiah refers to his faith while the statement about Josiah refers to his keeping of the law. They say one statement speaks of faith, one of works. This is not a satisfactory explanation, however, because you cannot separate faith and works. They go together like a hand and glove. Those great in faith will be great in works. It is best to explain the statements as being proverbial in describing the exceptional noble character of each of these two kings. These kings were both exceptional compared to the other kings. As F. C. Cook said, "We sometimes describe people in a proverbial way as being of singular piety when we definitely do not mean they stand distinctly alone." The fact, however, that we need most to note here from this statement is that Hezekiah stood above others in his character. He was not the run of the mill. He was very exceptional. Let us all endeavor to be likewise in our godliness.
4. The Faithfulness of His Character
"He clave to the Lord, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses" (v. 6). Hezekiah, unlike some of his predecessors, did not depart from the Lord in his latter days but continued in the faith right to the very end. It is true that Hezekiah did some foolish things in his life, but he never turned away from God to idols. He was faithful in his worship of Jehovah God. He did not turn away from God’s commandments. Some kings, such as Solomon, Joash, and Amaziah, started out well and for a time were loyal to Jehovah God; but in the latter part of their reign, they forsook the commandments of Jehovah God and turned from Him to idols. Not Hezekiah, however; for he was faithful to the very end.
5. The Favor for His Character
"The Lord was with him, and he prospered whithersoever he went forth" (v. 7). The favor given Hezekiah for his character was the presence of God. We note here that this great favor of the presence of the Lord is predictable and profitable.
God’s presence is predictable. It was not surprising that "the Lord was with him," for Hezekiah faithfully followed God and kept His commandments. Those who do that will enjoy the blessing of Divine presence being manifested in their life. But if God seems far off to you, it probably is a result of your walking far off from Him. Scripture says, "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you" (James 4:8). But if you stay away from God and His Word, God will stay away from you.
This statement about God being with Hezekiah is not found in the Bible about any other king except David (2 Samuel 5:10). God, of course, was with other kings; but that it was said of David and Hezekiah says God’s presence is especially manifested where God’s presence is especially wanted. David, as well as Hezekiah, was very devoted to God; so it is not surprising that God manifested His presence to these two men.
In Scripture we read of God’s presence also being with Joseph (Genesis 39:2). Again we are not surprised. We could predict this to be so, too; for Joseph was a godly person and would delight in God’s presence in his life. And note that God’s presence was with Joseph even when he was put in prison (Genesis 39:21). Joseph had refused to dishonor God by sinning (Genesis 39:9), and this put him in prison. But God does not forsake those who are persecuted for faithfully giving Him honor. And it is better to be in prison with God’s presence than to be outside of prison without God’s presence.
God’s presence is profitable. "And he prospered." Nothing is so profitable to man as the presence of God. Hezekiah prospered much as a result of God’s presence. "Hezekiah had exceeding much riches and honor" (2 Chronicles 32:27) because God was with him. The details of his prosperity are given in the 2 Chronicles passage which we will study in a later chapter of our book. Suffice it here to simply note that God’s presence brings great profit.
We need to also note, of course, that the prosperity from Divine presence which men receive may not be material in this life. Material prosperity is not the greatest prosperity. Joseph was said to be "a prosperous man" (Genesis 39:2) as a result of God’s presence, but at that time Joseph was in slavery. This tells us that this prosperity must be viewed as a good deal more than an increase in material goods and even worldly position. God’s presence may not make you rich overnight or the president of a bank before you are thirty. But it will prosper you in a great way in any way that it prospers you. Wise men will covet the spiritual blessings from God’s presence more than any other blessings from God’s presence.
C. THE CAMPAIGNS OF THE SOVEREIGN
Two campaigns were most prominent in Hezekiah’s reign as the sovereign of Judah. They consisted of his worship campaign and his war campaign. In our text, which is introductory regarding the reign of Hezekiah, we have a capsule description of each of these campaigns. In future studies we will consider the details of these campaigns when they are given in lengthier description in Scripture. The accounts of Hezekiah’s life in 2 Kings and Isaiah give the lengthier description of Hezekiah’s war campaign while the account of Hezekiah’s life in 2 Chronicles gives the lengthier account of Hezekiah’s worship campaign. Here we will look at the summary description of these two campaigns.
1. The Worship Campaign
"He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made; for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it; and he called it Nehushtan" (v. 4). The worship campaign described in our text was one of great destruction. We will learn later that not all the campaign was one of destruction, but destruction was a major part of the worship campaign. This type of campaign is never appreciated by the carnal Christian. It is too negative for them. The critics would say Hezekiah was not positive enough in his ministry. They would accuse him of being only destructive and not constructive in his work. Many preachers are accused of the same. If they preach against sin, they are criticized for not being loving enough. If they are separatists and refuse to join in with apostates in some ecumenical endeavor, they are accused of being divisive and told that we need unity not division. But when evil abounds, one’s ministry will have to be negative; just as when crime abounds, the law enforcement officers will of necessity be engaged in arresting people not in acclaiming people. Our day is a wicked day. It is a day in which God’s ministers need to cry out against sin, denounce evil, and exhort separation. It is not a day for backslapping and hail-fellow-well-met preaching.
The destruction in Hezekiah’s worship campaign involved the destruction of the places of evil worship and the destruction of the objects of evil worship.
The destruction of the places of evil worship. "He removed the high places" (v. 4). The high places were special locations on hills where people gathered to worship. It was a heathen tradition to worship on high places. They thought being on a hill made them closer to God. When Israel first entered Canaan they worshiped on high places, and this worship was not necessarily connected with idolatry. But idolatry was so connected with high places that worship in these places soon led to idolatry. When the Temple was built in Jerusalem, it alone was where the people were to gather to worship (Deuteronomy 12:5). Other places, especially the high places, were forbidden. But people continued to worship in high places and this worship usually led to idolatry. And when the people defected to heathen idolatry, it always led to an increase in the worship in high places.
In the record of the kings of Judah, some kings were given high compliments for their conduct but with an exception to their good conduct regarding failing to destroy the high places. We noted this exception earlier in this study. The kings with this condemning exception were Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:43); Jehoash (2 Kings 12:3); Amaziah (2 Kings 14:4); Uzziah (2 Kings 15:4); and Jotham (2 Kings 15:35). But Hezekiah did not fail in this work, for "he removed the high places."
The practice of worshiping in high places was still a problem in the time of Christ. We learn of this in the conversation between Christ and the woman at the well in Samaria. She said, "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain [a high place]; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship" (John 4:20). Jerusalem was indeed the proper place to worship then; but Christ used that comment to inform the woman that it was more than the place of worship that mattered but what mattered the most was the who and how one worshiped.
The destruction of the objects of evil worship. "He . . . brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made; for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it; and he called it Nehushtan" (v. 4). Three objects of worship are mentioned here. They are the images, the groves, and the serpent.
First, the images. The word "images" here refers to various idols. The generic meaning of the Hebrew word is pillar and in our text refers to idols. The Decalogue plainly stated that "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image" (Exodus 20:4, the word "image" in this Exodus text is a different Hebrew word than the one in our 2 Kings’ text, but the word in our 2 Kings’ text includes the images of the Exodus’ text). Israel often ignored this command in the Decalogue. Hezekiah, however, did not. So out came the hammers and other tools to break these images to pieces. Hezekiah was a great and holy Iconoclast (Iconoclast means an image breaker). He engaged in a great iconoclastic purge. We still need iconoclastic purges. The church of Rome, as an example, is full of images as seen in all the statues in their churches. And many folk have rabbits’ feet, horse shoes, and other so-called "lucky charms" which all need to be destroyed.
Second, the groves. "He . . . cut down the groves." The word "groves" here in our KJV text is a mistranslation which is a result of basing the translation on the Septuagint Greek text rather than on the Hebrew text. The Hebrew word is "Asherah." Asherah was the Canaanite female goddess of fertility. The "grove" was a carved wooden pole of the form of this goddess. It was an immoral thing. Asherah was generally considered the consort of Baal; and where Baal worship was found, you generally found these Asherah poles or idols. During Elijah’s time, 400 prophets of this foul idol goddess were fed at Jezebel’s table (1 Kings 18:19). Hezekiah wisely "cut down" all these poles of Asherah throughout the country. She was just another idol, and especially one associated with immoral practices in worship. True worship of God promotes morality! Therefore, Asherah creed and practice must go. Today we need a better emphasis on this morality aspect of true worship of God. With all the condoning of divorce and other immoral practices in our churches, we need to be more earnest about ridding our churches of all creed and attitudes which sanction immorality of any kind.
Third, the serpent. "He . . . brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made." When the children of Israel were traveling towards Canaan under the leadership of Moses, they made the mistake of grumbling against God and Moses. God disciplined the Israelites for this poor behavior by sending "fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died" (Numbers 21:6). In mercy God told Moses to make a serpent of brass and put it on a pole and then when anyone looked at the serpent they would be healed of their snake bite (Numbers 21:9). When speaking to Nicodemus, Christ used this incident as a figure of His death on the cross (John 3:14). Hezekiah’s day was some seven hundred or more years from the time the serpent of brass was made, but the relic was still around and, unfortunately, the Israelites were worshiping it. It had become a idol. It was being looked at as another god. That the people worshiped the serpent is not surprising, for serpent worship (ophiolatry) was popular in those days. But popular or not, Hezekiah had it destroyed. If you are going to clean up the worship of God, the action you take will often not be very popular.
And interesting and instructive note is made about what the serpent of brass was called. Our text said, "He called it Nehushtan." The Hebrew meaning of Nehushtan is "a piece of brass" or "a little brass thing" or as the Amplified Version says, "A brazen trifle." The lesson in this name is that the serpent of brass was no god—it was only a trivial piece of brass. Nehushtan was the right name for it. Calling it a god was not the right name. We have a lot of things that need to be called Nehushtan today. The church of Rome calls the bread and wine the actual body and blood of Christ. But these elements are used only to symbolize the body and blood of Christ. They are not the actual body and blood of Christ. Therefore, they need to be called their Nehushtan name of simply bread and wine, for that is all they are. Likewise, modern art needs to be called its right name. In many art galleries, modern art is called high sounding names. However, such art is nothing but incoherent blobs of paint and scribblings on a canvas. That is their correct Nehushtan name. Psychology and psychiatry are also given high esteem today, and many professing Christian are more taken up with these forms of worldly philosophies than they are the Scripture. But these worldly philosophies of men need to be called their Nehushtan name of vain philosophy, for they are empty and worthless for the soul.
2. The War Campaign
"He rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not. He smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city" (vv. 7, 8). The report in our text of Hezekiah’s war campaign concerns his campaigns against Assyria and Philistia. In regards to Assyria, Hezekiah rebelled against them. In regards to Philistia, Hezekiah recovered land from them.
Rebellion against the enemy. "He rebelled against the king of Assyria" (v. 7). A great portion of the account in 2 Kings and Isaiah gives the details of Hezekiah’s war with Assyria. In the brief account of the war given in this introductory text of Hezekiah, we learn why there was a war with Assyria. It was because Hezekiah had rebelled against Assyria by refusing to pay tribute. Hezekiah’s father had sought help from ungodly Assyria to fight Syria (2 Kings 16:6–9). This help from Assyria cost plenty (2 Kings 16:8) and did not help as much as Ahaz thought it would (2 Chronicles 28:21). The main thing it did was to make Judah a vassal of Assyria and thus put Judah under tribute to Assyria. Tribute-paying was usually a very heavy burden for a vassal nation. Ahaz had made the mistake of seeking help from the ungodly rather than from God, and the cost was great. Anytime you obtain help from evil, you will pay a very high price for it. The price is usually concealed at first, but soon evil lets you know the real price. As an example, if sin gives you some pleasure, you will pay much and for a long time for that pleasure. Also, if a Christian college obtains help from the government to build buildings, there will be a tough price to pay. The price the college will pay is that it will be forbidden by the government to have any religious services in the buildings which government money has helped to build.
Hezekiah refused to be subjected to evil, so he rebelled. This is the kind of rebellion we need more of today. Mostly people are rebelling against God, against goodness, against truth, and against righteousness. We need more folk who will rebel against wickedness. Rebellion against evil will, of course, not be taken lightly by evil; and so Hezekiah suffered much for this noble rebellion. We will see this fact later in future studies when we study the attack by Assyria upon Judah. But for a great miracle of God, Judah would have been destroyed and taken captive as a result of this attack. But Hezekiah had put his trust in God for deliverance, and no one is disappointed who trusts in God for deliverance, especially for soul deliverance. Those who rebel against sin can count on God to help them when sin fights back.
Recovery from the enemy. "He smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city" (v. 8). During the reign of King Ahaz, Hezekiah’s predecessor, the Philistines were one of the nations that attacked Judah with success (2 Chronicles 28:18). But when Hezekiah became king, he recovered what was lost to the Philistines during the reign of Ahaz and drove the Philistines all the way back to Gaza the southern most city of Philistia which is located near the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The only way to deal successfully with evil is to give it a knockout punch. You must drive it all the way back to Gaza. A slight slap on the wrist will never defeat evil.
D. THE CONDITIONS FOR THE SOVEREIGN
The last four verses (vv. 9–12) of our text for this chapter report the end of Samaria the northern kingdom of the Jews. This is a repeat of what was given in the preceding chapter of Scripture which gave an account of the reign of Hoshea the last king of the northern kingdom. Repeating this account here of the demise of Samaria introduces us to one of the most difficult conditions under which Hezekiah reigned over Judah. We will note the calamity, the cause, and the consequences of the conditions.
1. The Calamity of the Conditions
"It came to pass in the fourth year of king Hezekiah . . . Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria, and besieged it. And at the end of three years they took it; even in the sixth year of Hezekiah . . . And the king of Assyria did carry away Israel [the Jews of the northern kingdom] unto Assyria" (vv. 9–11). This defeat, demise, and deportation of the northern kingdom was a great calamity for both the northern and southern kingdoms. It had been over seven hundred years since the Israelites had come into the "land that floweth with milk and honey" (Joshua 5:6). But now the end had come for those ten tribes in the northern kingdom. Thus Hezekiah reigned in a very difficult time in Israel’s history. And the excellent performance of Hezekiah under these calamitous conditions certainly emphasizes the excellence of Hezekiah’s character.
2. The Cause of the Conditions
"Because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord their God, but transgressed his covenant, and all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and would not hear them, nor do them" (v. 12). Scripture leaves no doubt as to the cause of the defeat and captivity of the northern kingdom. The cause was simply the disobedience of the people to God. They would not listen to or do God’s commands. As we have just noted, the northern kingdom went into captivity to Assyria well over a hundred years before the southern kingdom went into captivity to Babylon, the conquerors of Assyria. The reason why the northern kingdom went into captivity many years before the southern kingdom did was that the northern kingdom was more wicked than the southern kingdom. From the very beginning when Israel split into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom went into idolatry. They quickly departed from their devotion to God and obedience to His commands. Not once did the northern kingdom ever have a godly king. They were all ungodly, and finally God brought the judgment of defeat and captivity to them. There is no good future for those who despise God and His ways. They may continue on in their life for a long time apparently doing well, but sooner or later the end will come when sin destroys and puts the soul in the eternal bondage of hell fire.
3. The Consequences of the Conditions
The end and captivity of the northern kingdom brought the southern kingdom into great peril. It made the northern border of Judah wide open for invasion by Assyria. Before the captivity, the northern kingdom was a buffer on Judah’s northern border for such an attack. But after the captivity, the buffer was gone. Assyria could come into Judah easily—and they did; for later in Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib attacked Judah and nearly overcame Judah had it not been for a miracle of God which enabled Judah to survive. We will in future studies see the details of these failed attempts by Sennacherib to destroy Judah.
We learn a lesson here about the fact that the evil of one imperils and hurts others. The northern kingdom practiced idolatry and this imperiled the southern kingdom. The apostasy of Samaria imperiled Judah. When church members fall into sin, it hurts the entire church. When pastors fall into sin, it also hurts the entire church. When any of God’s people backslide and decline in devotion to the Lord, the work of God is hurt in many places. Samaria cannot fall without jeopardizing Judah. The Bible says, "None of us liveth to himself" (Romans 14:7). Throw a stone into a body of water and the circles will widen in an ever increasing size from the place where the stone went into the water. So it is with sin. The circle of the evil effect from sin will widen increasingly in its evil influence and peril.