We dive deeper into the theme of Exile and Return by examining the story of Hezekiah, which is found in Second Chronicles. Hezekiah, like all of us, struggles to acknowledge and wrestle with the importance of his choices. Our challenging circumstances make decision-making difficult. Trusting in God’s sovereignty does not negate, but rather informs, our call to steward our choices well. Even in Exile, God always offers Return and wants us to be fully restored to Him.
Let’s look at Hezekiah. This is where I want to start digging into this stuff.
And, again, what I’m hoping to do in this series is drill into some of these characters, drill into some of these messages in these prophetic books, and instead of going through the whole book, drill down and see some specific things that are in the books.
And I hope what happens as a result of this particular series is that the Bible becomes pieced together a lot better for you. It tends to be a little overwhelming when you don’t know the history and the culture and all that sort of thing. You see these different books of the Bible coming at you.
And you know that, like, Micah is quoted in the New Testament and so forth, and they have relevance in the New Testament period for this return of the King, which we know is Jesus the Messiah.
But what we’re going to try to do is overlay that with the actual context of what’s happening, which is this immediate captivity in these different prophetic books.
So let’s look at Hezekiah. Let’s start in 2 Chronicles 29. Hezekiah starts just after the Assyrian captivity has taken place. So 2 Chronicles 29.
Hezekiah became king when he was twenty-five years old, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abijah the daughter of Zechariah.
And he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done.
in the first year of his reign—note here. His father was David. I don’t know if it’s his great, great, great grandfather. But he’s still your father. He’s in his lineage. We saw how important lineage is.
In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them.
Then he brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them in the East Square, and said to them: “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.
For our fathers have trespassed and done evil in the eyes of the Lord our God; they have forsaken Him, have turned their faces away from the dwelling place of the Lord, and turned their backs on Him.
They have also shut up the doors of the vestibule, put out the lamps, and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel.
So what’s happened here? Yeah, the temple has gone into disuse, and instead they’ve replaced it with all the idol worship and so forth of these captors, of these oppressors that they have all around them.
Part of what these guys would do when they annex a place is they would exact tribute, and they would also insist that you worship their gods. Why would that make sense if you’re an annexing nation? Politically, why would that make sense?
Yeah, it creates unity, right? Yeah, you answer to the same authority we do. And it always included emperor worship of one kind or another. So now I’m supplanting—whatever authority you had, I’m supplanting that with mine. We’re starting to merge cultures. Well Israel had done that, and so now this is all in disrepair. Hezekiah is starting to rebuild it.
Now this would be considered, I think, a sign of rebellion from any onlooker with respect to the Assyrians or someone else like this because they’re now restoring their own identity and their own connection with their own God.
Verse 8. Therefore the wrath of the Lord fell upon Judah and Jerusalem, and He has given them up to trouble, to desolation, and to jeering, as you see with your eyes.
For indeed, because of this our fathers have fallen by the sword; and our sons, our daughters, and our wives are in captivity.
Chronicles has a recurring theme that bad things happen because of unfaithfulness. This is where trouble takes place.
Verse 10. “Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that His fierce wrath may turn away from us.
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.”
God’s covenant with Israel
Let me just stop here and say this is an appropriate thing for Hezekiah to be doing. If we go back to some place like Deuteronomy 30, when God made his treaty, his covenant, with Israel, there are two components to it. There’s an unconditional section and a conditional section.
The unconditional section says, basically, you’re my people. I’m going to fulfill these promises to Abraham, and I’m going to bless all the world through you; and, ultimately, I’m going to restore all things through you. Unconditional.
The conditional part is you choose the path. If you’ll take the path of life, then we’ll get there, and you’ll be blessed all along the way. If you choose the path of death, the destination is going to be the same, but there’s going to be massive trouble and suffering along the way. You pick.
It’s basically the same thing he does with us individually as believers. We believe in Jesus as our Savior, and we are given a new spirit. We’re made new creations. Our destiny with him forever is then secured completely. We’re sealed with the Holy Spirit. That’s something that Jesus does, the Holy Spirit does, completely independent. We have nothing to do with that. No more than a baby has anything to do with being born. We’re born again of the Spirit. Unconditional.
However, we have a lot of choices in front of us, and we can either be blessed in our life to get to that path of restoration, or we can create all kinds of wrath and trouble for ourselves. We’re delivered from slavery, but we can go back into it. We’re delivered from death, but we can go back into it. We’re delivered from condemnation, but we can live under it. It’s our choice at that point in time.
So if we look at Deuteronomy 30, this is the conditional part of the covenant.
Deuteronomy 30:11. “For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.
It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’
In other words, you don’t have to have an angel come explain this. It’s not that hard.
Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’
You don’t have to have a missionary come from some foreign land to explain this. Why do you not have to have anybody explain? It’s just not that hard. This is not that hard.
But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
You know what the Word of the Lord is. You know it. It’s in your heart. You already know it. You don’t need it explained to you.
“See, I have set before you today life and good—on the one hand—death and evil—on the other hand.
in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess.
But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them,
I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess.
I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him—
This passage is the core passage that a New Testament book refers to to make its main point. Anybody know what that is off hand? Romans. The book of Romans. This is Romans 10, and Paul uses this passage as an example of what the righteousness of faith looks like. You know what’s right, so do it. And if you do it, you get blessed.
He’s answering the question in Romans, should we continue to sin that grace might abound? Some people are saying to him, oh, no, no, no. You don’t get your new birth and just then be able to do whatever and you’re still born again. You have to also do other things to be part of the family of God.
And Paul is saying, no, actually, you don’t. Where sin abounds grace abounds all the more. It’s completely independent of anything you do. However, Paul says, if you want to be righteous, then you have to live by faith. That famous verse from Habakkuk that he quotes is the theme of the book. And the culmination of his argument is this: You know what’s right, so do it! It’s an inside-out life. You can’t add rules to anything God does.
So we’re made new creations in Christ, and that’s sealed; but, now, who we become as people and what we experience is up to us based on what we choose. And that’s not based on any rules of man; it’s based on what God put in our hearts.
That’s the basic idea.
Hezekiah understands this. Let’s go back to 2 Chronicles 29. And he says, as you see with your eyes.
For indeed, because of this our fathers have fallen by the sword; and our sons, our daughters, and our wives are in captivity.
“Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that His fierce wrath may turn away from us.
So let’s do what God asked us to do, and maybe that’ll happen.
Verse 12. Then he has these Levites come, and they sanctify themselves, and they start doing what he says to do.
And in 29:20, Then King Hezekiah rose early, gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of the Lord. And they brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven lambs, and seven male goats—so he starts reinstituting the temple sacrifice.
And, as a matter of fact, they do some interesting things in this passage. They are out of sequence from the Passover. They don’t have the ability to get on the right calendar. So Hezekiah prays to the Lord and says we’re going to mess some of this up. Would you just please give us some slack because we’re just trying to get started? And God says sure. No problem.
In Numbers, God sets up a second Passover in the 14th day of the second month for people that can’t make the first Passover.
Oh is that right? So he’s already got that principle in there? Well, God cares about the heart, right? They didn’t go and say we like this time better so we’re going to do this instead. It’s more convenient for us. That wouldn’t have gone over. It’s just like, we’re going to try to get started—So that’s in, basically, chapter 30.
And chapter 31, Now when all this was finished, all Israel who were present went out to the cities of Judah and broke the sacred pillars in pieces, cut down the wooden images, and threw down the high places and the altars—from all Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh—until they had utterly destroyed them all—
There’s a real revival going on here. There’s a real turning back to God.
And verse 2 And Hezekiah appointed the divisions of the priests and the Levites—
Verse 4, Moreover he commanded the people who dwelt in Jerusalem to contribute support for the priests and the Levites—
The whole system of worship and Levitical support had completely broken down, and he’s reinstituting it.
Verse 5. As soon as the commandment was circulated, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of grain and wine, oil and honey, and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.
And the children of Israel and Judah, who dwelt in the cities of Judah, brought the tithe of oxen and sheep; also the tithe of holy things which were consecrated to the Lord their God they laid in heaps.
So everybody’s just really encouraged because all this is happening spontaneously, and they’re all just amazed.
So chapter 32. After these deeds of faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and entered Judah; he encamped against the fortified cities, thinking to win them over to himself.
The king of Assyria, who only a few years earlier came in and dispossessed Israel, sees all this happen and says, “okay, we got a little rebellion going on here. We got to go take care of this.”
Verse 2. And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come, and that his purpose was to make war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his leaders and commanders to stop the water from the springs which were outside the city; and they helped him.
I’m going to just take a little pause here. If you go to Israel today, you can walk through the tunnel that Hezekiah dug to reverse the spring that was just outside the wall and bring it back into the city. Why would that be important if you’ve got this massive enemy coming upon you?
If you’ve got to go send people out to go get water, you’re just a sitting duck. So they actually hid the spring and successfully masked its existence, and now they had a source of water that was inside the city.
And there’s actually water still flowing in it. It’s still there today. It’s quite an engineering feat because they started it from both ends and met in the middle.
So they did that.
And verse 9. After this Sennacherib king of Assyria sent his servants to Jerusalem (but he and all the forces with him laid siege against Lachish), to Hezekiah king of Judah, and to all Judah who were in Jerusalem, saying,
“Thus says Sennacherib king of Assyria: ‘In what do you trust, that you remain under siege in Jerusalem?
Does not Hezekiah persuade you to give yourselves over to die by famine and by thirst, saying, “The Lord our God will deliver us from the hand of the king of Assyria”?
Has not the same Hezekiah taken away His high places and His altars, and commanded Judah and Jerusalem, saying, “You shall worship before one altar and burn incense on it”?
Do you not know what I and my fathers have done to all the peoples of other lands? Were the gods of the nations of those lands in any way able to deliver their lands out of my hand?
Who was there among all the gods of those nations that my fathers utterly destroyed that could deliver his people from my hand, that your God should be able to deliver you from my hand?
Now therefore, do not let Hezekiah deceive you or persuade you like this, and do not believe him; for no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people from my hand or the hand of my fathers.
Does he have a “me” problem?
—How much less will your God deliver you from my hand?’ ”
Furthermore, his servants spoke against the Lord God and against His servant Hezekiah.
He also wrote letters to revile the Lord God of Israel, and to speak against Him, saying, “As the gods of the nations of other lands have not delivered their people from my hand, so the God of Hezekiah will not deliver His people from my hand.”
Then they called out with a loud voice in Hebrew to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten them and trouble them, that they might take the city.
And they spoke against the God of Jerusalem, as against the gods of the people of the earth—the work of men’s hands.
Now because of this King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah, the son of Amoz, prayed and cried out to heaven.
Now Hezekiah gets Isaiah. Anybody ever heard of Isaiah? Isaiah’s ministry of prophecy spans this time of Hezekiah. And they go, and they start a prayer meeting, and they cry out to heaven.
Then the Lord sent an angel who cut down every mighty man of valor, leader, and captain in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned shamefaced to his own land. And when he had gone into the temple of his god, some of his own offspring struck him down with the sword there.
Let’s read Isaiah’s version of this. Go to Isaiah chapter 36.
Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them.
Then the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh—I think I’m going to change my title to the Rabshakeh. That’s a kind of a nasty sounding title. Maybe not. Maybe not. —with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem.
Verse 4. Then the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say now to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: “What confidence is this in which you trust? We just read all of that.
Go to chapter 37. And so it was, when King Hezekiah heard it, that he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord.
Then he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz.
And they said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah: ‘This day is a day of trouble and rebuke and blasphemy; for the children have come to birth, but there is no strength to bring them forth. I started these reforms, but we don’t have a big enough army to resist this!
It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to reproach the living God, and will rebuke the words which the Lord your God has heard. Therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’ ”
So the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah.
And Isaiah said to them, “Thus you shall say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Do not be afraid of the words which you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me.
Surely I will send a spirit upon him, and he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.”’ ”
So, that’s what happens. Only a few years later Assyria is overthrown and Babylon takes it over. I believe this is 612. I’m going to get these down to the point where I can just reel them off. I don’t yet have them myself.
In 612 is when Assyria actually just falls apart. This ruler here ended his reign in 627. So we are, you know, in the 700s, and they’re at the height of their world power, and they’re just a few decades away from, basically, just falling into—and shifting all their power over to Babylon.
So I think you’ve got great insight here. You’ve got exile stories, exile returns stories within exile return stories within exile return stories. Each one of us has an exile and return story that’s personal to us. We’re all living with other people that have exile and return stories. They’re personal to them. The whole human race is in an exile and return story. And what we have here is all these exile and return stories that are given to us in quite graphic detail in the scripture. I think in large part as instruction and encouragement to us in our own personal walk.
Hezekiah understood, the choices we make matter even though God’s election of Israel is irrevocable. He understands that if we want to have the blessings of God, then we’ve got to follow what God tells us to do.
The New Testament tells us if we want to enjoy the blessings of God, we’ve got to trust him and we have to love other people; otherwise, we go back into the stuff from which we were delivered.
Romans 1 tells us the wrath of God is revealed against ungodliness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. And the way that wrath is revealed is God gives us over to the things we want. And the picture you get is God holding us back, holding us back, holding us back, holding us back.
And we say, “I want that! I want that!”
“No you don’t want that.”
“No, I want that!”
“No, no, you don’t! You don’t want that.”
“I want that!”
“No, you don’t.”
When we were on our trip, we went to this little, local cafe place, and I said, “I want one of those muffins in there.”
And the lady behind the desk said, “No, you don’t.”
I said, “Really?”
“No. Those things are nasty. You don’t want one of those.”
Interesting sales technique. I bought several other things. I asked, “Then, what’s good?”
Well, that’s kind of what God does. “No, you don’t. You don’t want that.”
But if we keep persisting—you know, if I would have said, “No, no, I want one of those. Just put it—and make it two.” She would have eventually said, “Okay,” right?
Well that’s the way it works with God. He gives us over to our passions, and then he gives us over to our sin nature. And then he gives us over to a debased mind. We can’t even think right. That’s the wrath of God. And it’s us pursuing that which is not good for us.
If we want to break away from that, then he says, hey, just do what I ask you to do. Hezekiah understood that, but there was a big consequence that came from it, wasn’t it? When the world sees us do that, they don’t like it. And they press in, and they criticize. Our flesh really doesn’t like it. It goes into major war mode. And it starts coming up with all kinds of reasons why that’s not okay.
If you’ve got a bitterness issue, and you say, well, I’m just going to forgive, your flesh will go into double overtime trying to give you all the reasons why you should revive that hatred for that person. We’ve all experienced this. And, yet, the real promise is if we’ll follow God’s way, we get his blessings.
The cool thing, though, is that even if we don’t, there’s still a restoration that God has promised unilaterally. It’s really a cool picture.
And so what we’re going to do in this series is just delve into all these interconnected circles; and I hope at the end of it, not only do you have inspiration for your own life as these lessons come home, but also you’re going to have a much better idea how these prophets and everything fit together historically.