|For You Shall Die and Not Live|
"In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, 'Thus says the Lord: "Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live." ' "2Kings 20:1 (NKJV)
Hezekiah, king of Judah, was one of the best kings that ever sat on the throne of Judah or Israel. He tried to follow God will all of his heart, but when he received these words from the prophet Isaiah he was crushed and would not accept them. It probably seemed unfair to him that he had to die after ridding his county of idols and trying to turn it back to God. Moreover, since Judah had just been delivered from the Assyrians after much turmoil, should he not be able to live to enjoy the newfound peace and prosperity? He decided that he would go to God for a reprieve.
"And said, 'Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.'" Isaiah 38:3 (KJS)
It is interesting to look at what Hezekiah was actually saying to God in this supplication. He claims to have walked with God with a perfect heart. The word here in Hebrew is shalem and it indeed means "perfect". Some of the newer translations use the word loyal for shalem, but that is inaccurate. He then goes on to say that he has "done that which is good".
Perhaps we have all been guilty of this, but it is clear that Hezekiah is bargaining with God based on his own good deeds and righteousness. Essentially he is saying that God should hear him because God owes him something. His response is essentially rebellion, because in his spiritual immaturity he will not accept what God has ordained. This was a most solemn error in his life, and one that had serious consequences for Judah, and also for his posterity. But let us now see how God answers him.
"And the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, saying, 'Go and tell Hezekiah, "Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: 'I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will add to your days fifteen years."'" Isaiah 38:4-5 (NKJV)
We might well imagine the jubilation that Hezekiah felt when he received this answer. However, if Hezekiah had known what these fifteen years would actually bring, it is doubtful that he would have made the request. For the events that followed this fateful decision clearly show that he had prayed a prayer that was antithetical to God's will.
Hezekiah Invites Babylon Into the Kingdom
"At that time Berodach-Baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that Hezekiah had been sick. And Hezekiah was attentive to them, and showed them all the house of his treasures--the silver and gold, the spices and precious ointment, and all his armory--all that was found among his treasures. There was nothing in his house or in all his dominion that Hezekiah did not show them." 2Kings 20:12-13
This episode in Hezekiah's life occurred right after he recovered from his sickness, but it was not coincidental - nor is any event in any believer's life. In Hezekiah's case, he had a strong desire for the material world, and so God had to test him in this realm, as we read in the following Scripture. It is also quite fitting that his test came from Babylon, for it is symbolic of quintessential materialism and worldliness.
"However, regarding the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, whom they sent to him to inquire about the wonder that was done in the land, God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart." 2Chronicles 32:31 (NKJV)
Interestingly, Hezekiah showed the Babylonians everything that was in his house, or "bayith" in Hebrew. One of the meanings of "bayith" is "on the inside", which carries the connotation of a deep personal relationship, or the type of intimate family details that one would typically not share with outsiders. In other words, Hezekiah breached his relationship with God in his attempt to impress these pagan leaders, who hailed from a nation which was known for its brutality and idolatry.
Exalting the World
Just how important is our physical life to us? Would we overrule God's will to protect it, if we could? God questioned Job regarding this, when he asked him, in Job 40:8, "'Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?'"
Job was truly a great man of God, but even the best among us are seriously flawed. Job thought that he was too good to be tested, and Hezekiah thought he had a "perfect heart," but both were wrong. Hezekiah's recent past revealed his heart was anything but perfect, for when Assyria first threatened Judah, instead of trusting God he paid them off with gold from the temple:
"At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria." 2Kings 18:16 (NKJV)
The symbolism in this matter is instructive for us. Gold in Scripture, when connected with the things of God, denotes His sovereignty, or kingly authority. And the door speaks to us of Jesus Christ. For just as the door to the temple was the way into the Holy Place, which led to the Holy of Holies, where God's literal presence dwelt, Jesus is the way or door to God the Father, as He clearly told us.
"'I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.'" John 10:9 (NKJV)
Therefore we see that when Hezekiah stripped the door of its gold, he was, in the spiritual realm, denying the authority and sovereignty of God. In effect, he was saying that he did not think that God could protect him from the fierce Assyrians, and so he resorted to defiling the temple of God. In the same way, when we trust in the "arm of the flesh" or scheme to get what we want, we are denying the sovereignty of God. But let us also notice that the gold Hezekiah stripped off was the same gold he had put on the door. The deep meaning here is that Hezekiah gave God the gold (authority) over his life part of the time, but also relinquished it part of the time. In other words, he was inconsistent - he vacillated between trusting God and looking to worldly help.
The Rebuke from Isaiah
If Hezekiah was blinded by his pride, the wake-up call was coming quickly. Isaiah the prophet was no one's "yes" man. In fact, today he would probably be considered "negative" for what he said to Hezekiah, and criticized for not being more "positive". Nevertheless, true men of God are concerned with truth - regardless of its polarity. And God could trust Isaiah to tell the king the whole truth, even though Hezekiah held the power of life and death over his subjects. In fact, Isaiah first made Hezekiah admit his sin, and then told him what the judgment from God would be.
"Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, 'Hear the word of the Lord: "Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left," says the Lord.' "And they shall take away some of your sons who will descend from you, whom you will beget; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon."'" Isaiah 39:5-7
Babylon, besides being a place where the flesh reigns and the spirit is ignored, literally means confusion. And how much more confused can a person be then when he puts material matters before spiritual ones? The fact is that sometimes God says "no" when we ask for something. And when we insist on having our own way, we set wheels in motion that find their destination in calamity.
Moreover, there is a prophetic aspect to Isaiah's warning which is edifying. At the time of this prophecy, Babylon was not a mighty kingdom. In fact it was weak and struggling, and Assyria was the great power to reckon with. This might be another reason why Hezekiah was unconcerned about what he showed the men from that country. But Isaiah had prophetic insight into Babylon, and knew that it would eventually become a world leader, and would oppress Israel and Judah.
Now this is not only of historical interest, but it has spiritual relevance for us today. It speaks to us of the potential danger of asking for things that we believe are neutral. Today they may seem innocuous - indeed they may seem even good to us. Nevertheless, dreams have a way of becoming nightmares when we are out of the will of God. And most of us, if we carefully examine past prayers in which we have not received what we wanted, now see God's mercy in not granting our desires.
The Babylonish Request
The church today is filled with deceived teachers who tell us that we can have what we want. Some say we can simply speak our desires and they will come true, and others says that God is a better investment than even the stock market, because we will get a hundredfold return from Him with no risk. These concepts pervert the truth of Scripture and breed confused Christians who do not understand that the essence of obedience to God is found in sacrificing our own will for God's. Furthermore, the Bible specifically warns us against people like this, saying that their teachings are "useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself. Now godliness with contentment is great gain." 1Timothy 6:5-6 (NKJV)
Not My Will But Yours Be Done
It seems in the West we have cleverly convinced ourselves that whatever we want is also God's will for us. The requests in churches during prayer time are filled with cries to God for Him to fulfill any need we have. We seem to have no discernment to understand that sometimes God blesses us with what He withholds.
Perhaps we have lost sight of the fact that most of the great works accomplished for God, starting with Christ allowing Himself to be crucified, have their origins with people who chose a difficult path that required sacrifice over personal comfort. Paul did not pray to get out of prison, because he knew that he was there to be a witness to all of the leaders and judges he would stand before. Peter and the apostles risked their freedom and lives to bring the gospel message to the very people who had crucified Jesus, and received a beating for it. And missionaries such as Dr. David Livingstone and Hudson Taylor accomplished their great works by giving up the luxuries of England to practice medicine among heathens.
Did Hezekiah Change God's Mind?
Some teach that we can "bargain" with God and change His mind. They recall the Scriptures in the eighteenth chapter of Genesis where Abraham asked God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah. Nevertheless it is clear that it was God's intention that Abraham become an intercessor for the people, as a type of Christ. The incident with Hezekiah was quite the opposite, and the conclusion that Hezekiah changed God's mind because he held some sway over Him can only be reached through an exceedingly superficial interpretation.
Instead, it is clear that God had a perfect will regarding Hezekiah, but Hezekiah was not mature enough to submit to it. Since Hezekiah could not accept God's will, God decided to allow him to have his way so that he could see his errors. We might also call this "learning the hard way." If a child insists again and again on eating the whole chocolate cake, sometimes the parent gives in so that the child will be made wiser through personal experience. Alas, so much is destroyed and so much needless pain and suffering is experienced by us, simply because we do not yield to Him.
Hezekiah's Son Reigns
In the first three years of Hezekiah's extended time, he had a son named Manasseh. Manasseh would never have been born if Hezekiah had accepted God's ordained will for him, and Manasseh became the worst king Judah ever had.
"So Manasseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel." 2Chronicles 33:9 (NKJV)
Manasseh undid all the good that Hezekiah had done. He brought back idol worship and even set up idols in the temple of Jehovah! Sadly, he sacrificed his own children to Molech, and also did other dreadful things. We are told that the Old Testament stories have been given to us as examples for our admonition. Could there be a more frightening admonition than to see everything good that we have attempted to accomplish for God reversed because of our petty desires and fears, and to see the instrument of this come from our own loins or "flesh" as it were? Could God use any better example to show us that our disobedience has a "life," than this one, in which Hezekiah's sin was personified by Manasseh?
How sad that our legacy as a Christian might be ruined by our insistence against God's will, and yet this happened not to one of the greatest sinners in the Bible, but to one of Judah's best kings. We can also see that if Hezekiah had seriously considered the words of Isaiah that were preached during his own time, He might have seen the folly in his request, for Isaiah explains the reason for a righteous man dying early.
"The righteous perishes,
And no man takes it to heart;
Merciful men are taken away,
While no one considers
That the righteous is taken away from evil.
He shall enter into peace;
They shall rest in their beds,
Each one walking in his uprightness." Isaiah 57:1-2 (NKJV)
When Will We Die?
Can we not see from this example that the selfish prayer can be exceedingly dangerous? Can we glimpse that our world, and our culture, are so off track spiritually that we have lost the very blessings God wants to give us because we have become so self-absorbed? And are we aware that the ramifications of the selfish, fleshly led prayer will only lead to disaster?
"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain." John 12:24 (NKJV)
"Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin." Romans 6:6 (NKJV)
The old, unregenerate man inside us is insistent that life has to be "his" way. But God is showing us that unless we put that "old man" to death, we will never have the Christian walk we want. Moreover, everything we truly need, and the things that are best for us, He certainly promises to provide, as we read.
"For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly." Psalm 84:11 (NKJV)
First however, we must begin to understand that it is reasonable for God to ask us to give up our life on this earth. The desires and ambitions, the pride and the pomp, the promotions and the acclaim, the selfish pleasures and excessive luxuries, all have to be left by the wayside when we truly die to this world. And when they are gone, it is then the beauty of the renewed spirit will begin to shine forth in our hearts, and those around us will be affected eternally by our presence. For we have taken to heart His serious command from Romans, in which He instructs us.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. Romans 12:1 (NKJV)
And we have renewed our minds in Christ, and "…put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him." Colossians 3:9-10 (NKJV)