Hezekiah the son of Ahaz began to reign when Ahaz died. Hezekiah did what was right in the Lord’s eyes AND he walked in the ways of his father King David. He is the only king of Judah who was as faithful to the Lord as David had been. The first year of his independent rule was 715 B.C. but he had been a co-regent with his father beginning in 729 B.C. Hezekiah did not waste any time showing his zeal for the Lord. In the first month of his reign, he began the work of restoring the temple of the Lord. Hezekiah’s opening the doors of the temple his father had shut was a sign of opening the temple and the nation to spiritual renewal. Ahaz had closed the temple doors as a sign of his hostility towards God. And Hezekiah wasted no time in dealing with the sins of his predecessor. He gathered the priests and Levites and commanded them to consecrate themselves so they were fit to serve in the temple. Hezekiah knew Judah was in the trouble they were, because of his father’s disobedience to the Lord. Once they were cleansed Hezekiah ordered the priests to cleanse and consecrate the temple. The Hebrew word cleanse here means ‘to make free from blemish’ and it is almost always used in a ritual or spiritual sense. Nearly half the occurrences of this word on the Old Testament occur in the Book of Leviticus where ritual cleansing is related to sanctification and is opposed to the moral filthiness of the Israelites. Both people and objects used in the temple needed to be cleansed because the Lord is a Holy God. The ritual cleansing of the people was a symbol of internal purity. We will see both Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophecy about the future cleansing of the people from their sins so they could truly be God’s people both inside and outside. The idea of cleansing carries through to the New Testament. In the Book of Revelation, we see the Lamb’s bride…the church…in clean linen which symbolizes the righteous acts of believers.
Hezekiah was acting at the Lord’s direction and as one who believed in the Lord, Hezekiah was gladdened to do these tasks. Part of the cleansing was to go into every part of the temple, including the Holy of Holies to remove all the debris caused by idol worship and other detestable practices. They began their work in the Holy of Holies and worked their way out to the courtyard. Once the temple was cleansed and made ready for proper worship Hezekiah gathered the leaders of the city and together, they went to the house of the Lord. They went to make sin offerings…for the kingdom, for the sanctuary, and for Judah. We see a picture of worship as we have seen it before with the animals killed and their blood drained out. Blood was sprinkled on the altar, just as was commanded by the Lord. And finally, the priests took the goats for the sin offerings and Hezekiah and the leaders put their hands on the goat’s head, transferring the sins of the people to the goat. Instead of setting the goat free in the wilderness the goats were killed and offered up as a sacrifice to the Lord. Seven of each animal were offered because seven represented the wholeness of their repentance.
We read of both the kingdom and of Judah. The kingdom here refers to the nation as a political entity and Judah to the people. And the fact that Hezekiah’s offerings were intended for all Israel suggests that Hezekiah meant to include all twelve tribes, even the northern kingdom. Hezekiah brought out the instruments of King David, those deemed appropriate for temple worship. They worshiped using the psalms of David and Asaph, found today in our Book of Psalms. The people of Judah used these for community worship and private meditation. The people brought offerings to the Lord and they piled up in the temple. Storerooms were built so that the gifts had a place to be kept until they were used.
Under Ahaz the priests and Levites had been stripped of their duties and now, 20 years later, there were not enough priests. Hezekiah had to reconsecrate older priests and commission new ones. His reforms took place so quickly that the priests received a special dispensation to assign Levites to areas of ministry which would normally have been off limits to them…things like skinning animals for sacrifice. It was nearly two centuries prior to Hezekiah’s reign that the kingdom of Israel had split into two kingdoms. But Hezekiah had not lost sight that God’s covenant was made with all twelve tribes and that His promises included all of them.
Next on Hezekiah’s list was the celebration of the Passover. The observance of the Passover is tied to the deliverance of God’s people from the plague on the Egyptians firstborn and the Israelites subsequent exodus from Egypt. The feast was to be celebrated on the 14th day of the first month and it was combined with the feast of unleavened bread. In Numbers 9:11 we read there was an alternate date a month later for anyone who had been unclean or otherwise unavailable to celebrate the Passover on the primary date. The celebration of Passover is recorded only a few times in the Bible: in the days of Moses, Joshua, Hezekiah, Josiah, and Zerubbabel. This does not mean the feast was not celebrated at other times although the commemoration does seem to have been neglected during periods of apathy and apostasy. All the people had not had time to gather together at Jerusalem, so they delayed the celebration until the second month. But the fact that all Israel was included reveals that there were still many followers of God left in the northern kingdom despite more than 200 years of backsliding and idol worship. Hezekiah pleaded with the remnant that was left behind to repent, but the people chose not to. Judah was much more receptive because God had put His hand on Judah. God’s grace is always a part of a person’s efforts to please Him. The Passover was celebrated with great joy. There was the remembering but also worship and music. It was a joyous time for God’s people.
The long interruption of Judah’s official worship in the time of Ahab brought chaos to their religious life. They abandoned the system of priestly and Levitical division like David had set up. Now Hezekiah was reorganizing it. The law of the Lord clearly stated that the people were to bring tithes and offerings to the Lord to support the work of the temple. Numbers 18:8-24. There were to be three tithes, two every year and one every third year. The chief priest was a descendant of Zadok, and they had been since the reign of Solomon. We see the results of Ahaz’s disregard for worship. The majority of the priests lived outside of Jerusalem, so their allotments were taken to them. Hezekiah did what was good and right before the Lord. God saw all he was doing, and He was pleased. He sought God with all his heart and because of this Hezekiah prospered.
We read in 2 Kings 18:13-17 the Assyrian king Sennacherib came and entered Judah with the intent of taking control of Jerusalem and Judah. Hezekiah had been warned of his coming and took great pains to fortify and secure Jerusalem. Walls were built and the water supply was protected. When Sennacherib arrived, he came uttering threats and insults against the Lord. He was quite sure that since no other god had been able to withstand the Assyrian army the God of Judah couldn’t either. Sennacherib wrote letters to Hezekiah mostly because he wanted to avoid a long and costly siege. We have not seen it here but by this point the prophet Isaiah had been involved in the public ministry to the kings of Judah for nearly 40 years. He had considerable prestige and was especially important as a counselor to young Hezekiah. We have read the account. Hezekiah went to the temple of the Lord and prayed, and the Lord delivered Judah and Jerusalem out of Sennacherib’s hand. We have also read about Hezekiah’s sickness and God’s miraculous healing. But even Hezekiah fell to pride. He received a delegation from Babylon and in his pride, Hezekiah showed the Babylonians everything he had. God’s wrath was looming, and the prophet revealed to Hezekiah that there would come a time in the not-too-distant future where the wealth he had shown to the Babylonians would be seized by those very people and it would be taken to their distant land. When Hezekiah died, he was buried in the tombs with the godly ancestors of King David. There were other kings entombed in the city of David but not in the same area. That Hezekiah was honored meant there would be public rites and ceremonies such as public lamentation and ritual fires. Life had been rich and full under the reign of Hezekiah, but his son Manasseh was about to begin his rule, and everything would change again.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W