Revivals Under The
Good Kings of Judah
IV. Hezekiah (1)
Over a century of backsliding intervened between the reigns of Joash and Hezekiah, during the reigns of four kings of Judah. It was at this time that Isaiah, the prophet of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow, uttered his divinely-inspired predictions, some of which were literally and accurately fulfilled in the eight centuries that followed. Others still await fulfillment when the King of kings shall extend His dominion from pole to pole and rule over the whole universe. The strength of man was prominent during the reigns of Amaziah and Uzziah: for Amaziah “strengthened himself”, and Uzziah “was marvellously helped until he was strong.” Jothan their successor became mighty because he prepared his way before Jehovah; but his influence over his subjects seems to have been negligible, and they continued to their corrupt and rebellious ways. During the reign of Ahaz, the immediate predecessor of Hezekiah, his wicked acts brought Judah low and stripped the land naked.
Hezekiah’s name means “Jehovah is my strength,” and he lived up to that and made the Lord his strength. Revival followed in the nation of Judah, but it was marred, through no fault of the king, by lack of unity among the people.
Hezekiah was a statesman, soldier, engineer, poet and outstanding religious leader, and because of his uprightness and devotion to the Lord his kingdom was saved from dissolution during his time. Three successive commands of Hezekiah to the three special classes in his kingdom, the worshippers, the workers and the warriors, reminded them of their privileges and responsibilities.
The priests, the worshippers of Jehovah, must seek
A Right Relationship with the Lord: and they were exhorted — “Be not now negligent!” (2 Chron. 29:11). Negligence had hitherto marked the conduct of both priests and Levites, and even after the king’s orders were communicated to them this continued. Their disobedience brought to light the disunity which figured so prominently in this revival. The four-fold purpose of their appointment was that they might.
1. Stand before the Lord, waiting, prepared and submissive, in His sanctuary:
2. Serve Him and Him alone by departing from idolatry, which means literally the service of images, and was a breach of the second commandment of the Law:
3. Minister unto Him in the prescribed acts of worship, in the offerings of the sacrifices and in the hymning of Jehovah’s praise:
4. Burn incense, an act symbolic of the prayers and intercessions of God’s people.
The first great festival that God had appointed for Israel was the Passover which is undoubtedly a type of the sacrifice of Christ, our Paschal Lamb slain for us: and the last was the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles) which typifies Israel’s triumph and exultation in the land the Lord had given them for an inheritance. The former was observed in the first month of the Jewish religious year, the latter in the seventh month, Each lasted seven days, for the Passover and Unleavened bread were celebrated as one feast. Each began and ended with holy convocations, and throughout no servile work was done. Those festivals were God’s trystings with the whole of His people Israel, and it is significant that some of the tribes that formed the Northern Kingdom, notably Ephraim, Manasseh, Zebulun and Asher, are specially mentioned as having accepted Hezekiah’s invitation to come to Jerusalem, the gathering centre for all the tribes, to keep the Passover there (2 Chron. 30:1-6, 10-12).
On the part of the workers, in contrast to the shirkers, there was
A Real Return to the Lord
The exhortation to them was “Be ye not stiffnecked, as your fathers were; but yield yourselves unto the Lord.” The servants of Jehovah must be a consecrated people, no longer stubborn and rebellious, as their fathers had been. This message was sent to all the people of God. To all God’s saints today God has sent the same exhortation by the pen of His servant and apostle, Paul. “Yield yourselves to God,” he writes in Romans 6.13: and in Romans 12.1 —“Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your logical worship.” In response to the call of Hezekiah, God’s devoted few went to the appointed centre to unite with their brethren in “keeping the feast;” so there assembled a very great congregation.
Two very important activities resulted from their obedience. The Observance of the Lord’s Passover was the first (2 Chron. 30:18-26). The removal of idolatrous altars that had found a haven in every corner of the city was a necessary preliminary to the observance of the Passover. It was their obedience in spirit and in truth to the command in Exodus 12:15 to put away all leaven out of their houses, for leaven in the Scriptures is always symbolic of what is evil. In the Church it has its counterpart in the purging out of the old leaven of malice and wickedness (1 Cor. 5:7, 8).
In the Passover two great truths that had been forgotten by a backsliding race, redemption by blood and the unity of the redeemed, were again recalled. Since Solomon’s reign during a period of 2 ½ centuries there had never been such a jubilant observance of the feast of Passover. Because the time God had appointed for the celebration of the Passover, the 14th day of the first month, had already passed, it was not possible to observe it “according as it was written.” Hezekiah and his people therefore availed themselves of a special, gracious provision of God for those who, by reason of defilement from contact with a dead body or because they had been obliged to take a journey at the set time, could not keep the feast in the first month (Numb. 9:9-11). To such the observance of the Passover on the corresponding fourteenth day of the second month was graciously permitted. Judah was in a spiritual state in which they could avail themselves of Jehovah’s gracious provision; for the people, defiled by the loathsome carcase of idolatry, were on their way back to God. The one essential for communion with God at His trysting-place was a prepared and sincere heart: the rest was an occasion for the display of God’s sovereign grace. There was no excuse for laxity, however, if it proved at all possible to keep the Passover “according as it was written.” There were then, as there always have been, some who were out of tune and scoffed at the idea of revival in their time.
The second important activity was the Offering of the Lord’s portion (2 Chron. 31:1-10). Till then Jehovah had been robbed of His portion. Hezekiah himself set an example to his people by bringing to the Lord “the king’s portion”; and he and his people proved the Lord and received the promised superabundant blessing from the opened windows of heaven (Mal. 3:9-12). After the people had unstintingly brought in their gifts and offerings, the priests and Levites were more than abundantly supplied and there remained a great store that was not then used (verse 10). The joy of giving led to the joy of living. God was honoured and His people blessed. “Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, that God had prepared His people” (2 Chron. 29:36). God always prepares His people when they give evidence of having prepared themselves to seek Him and obey His precepts. In what respects did they prepare themselves?
In Sanctification— “they sanctified themselves.” That is, they set themselves apart for the service of the Lord. Sanctification and purification go together, and every believer can sing—
“A sacrifice to God in life or death are we:
Then keep us ever, blessed Lord, thus set apart for Thee.”
The priests and Levites were the first to purify themselves, for the prophet Isaiah had commanded them, “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (Isa. 52:11). The Brook Kidron, whose name means blackness became the repository for the unclean filth from the temple when “they sanctified the house of the Lord.” Blessing will come only when the local assembly, which is the “temple of God,” is purified and sanctified. The vessels of God’s house were also cleansed and became meat for the Master’s use.
In Sacrifices (2 Chron. 29:20-24). The king led the people back to the Divinely-appointed sacrifices. In every age the man of God must point the way back to the Cross, the place in which every sacrifice of old has its complete fulfilment. In the offering of the sin-offering, which is mentioned first, the number seven, symbolic of perfection, is prominent. The burnt-offering which followed was accompanied by a flood of joyous praise to God in song. “When the burnt-offering began, the song of the Lord began.”
In Song (2 Chron. 29:27). The song not only began but continued, to the accompaniment of musical instruments, the king, princes, priests, Levites and people all joining in adoring worship. This was followed by thank-offerings offered in such profusion that “the priests were too few” and the Levites had to be called in to assist. But all were not whole-hearted in offering their praise to the Lord. Some were doubtless indifferent: others were reluctant to participate because musical instruments were being used, or perhaps there appeared to be too much emotionalism: others again were out of touch with God and disapproved of such a thing as revival. In spite of this, the Lord was magnified and praised, the king and the people were filled with holy joy, and the Levitical singers mingled heart and voice in praise to God. Praise always occupies a foremost place in every true revival. It was so in Luther’s day, in the time of the Wesley’s, and in the movement that has given to the Church for our enrichment the spiritual songs of J. N. Darby and others.
In Service willingly rendered by hands dedicated to the Lord. The king encouraged his people with the words, “Now ye have consecrated yourselves unto the Lord” (2 Chron. 29:31), using the Hebrew verb “Male yad” for “consecrate”; and this means “fill the hands” for service. The Lord doubtless used the wooing message of Isaiah, mingled with the warnings of other prophets, to turn many to repentance and revive His work in their midst.