Thursday, December 7, 2023

EmmDev 2023-12-07 [Hints from Hezekiah] Not just Spiritual, but practical too

Not just Spiritual, but practical too

When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and that he intended to make war on Jerusalem, he consulted with his officials and military staff about blocking off the water from the springs outside the city, and they helped him. A large force of men assembled, and they blocked all the springs and the stream that flowed through the land. "Why should the kings of Assyria come and find plenty of water?" they said. Then he worked hard repairing all the broken sections of the wall and building towers on it. He built another wall outside that one and reinforced the supporting terraces of the City of David. He also made large numbers of weapons and shields. (2Chronicles32:2-5)
If you visit Jerusalem today, you can go and see Hezekiah's tunnel, some 531 meters long, hewn through the rock dug from both sides meeting in the middle. It is an impressive engineering feat and brought Jerusalem's only source of water inside the city walls and away from any enemy encamped on their outskirts. This tunnel takes water from the Gihon spring and into the city where it pops out at the pool of Siloam. (Where Jesus healed a blind man.)

This amazing tunnel reflects an important aspect of Nehemiah's leadership. He was not only spiritual, but practical. He was strategic and consultative and he deployed people and resources wisely.

As Christians we should always be doing the best we can for our communities. Our ministry should be holistic: Sometimes we have to feed people before we preach to them. Sometimes we have to provide them with water before we build a church. Of course, these are never actually mutually exclusive - we pray and sing while we make food and bring safety, light, food and water when we preach.

It is only towards the end of his life that Hezekiah becomes self-centered and materialistic, but here, as he faces Sennacherib, Hezekiah is at his best.

May we also be an attractive blend of holistic ministry styles.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

EmmDev 2023-12-06 [Hints from Hezekiah] Restoring Worship- Leading by example

Restoring Worship- Leading by example

Apologies for the missed EmmDev yesterday...
One of Hezekiah's first orders of business was to restore the worship of Israel. He gathered the priests and had them restore and cleanse the temple and then took a prominent role in making it happen.

If you read the whole chapter you'll see that Hezekiah pushed the priests and the work of restoring the temple and it was done in just 16 days. Just imagine: Years of neglect, the accumulation of pagan idols and symbols, the dust of waned devotion and the grime of distraction and temptation. Hezekiah will have none of it. His "spring clean" is decisive and determined. People are amazed that it was done so quickly, but this is the great truth: repentance doesn't have to be difficult or take long. Just be "all in."

When the priests report the work done, Hezekiah has them up early the next morning to re-establish worship. There are a huge number of sacrifices, there is singing, trumpets, pomp and splendour and it is all about worship.

Read the passage below and get a feel of the passion, the devotion, the hard work, and the urgency.

What spring cleaning is due in your spiritual life right now?

Hezekiah gave the order to sacrifice the burnt offering on the altar. As the offering began, singing to the LORD began also, accompanied by trumpets and the instruments of David king of Israel. The whole assembly bowed in worship, while the singers sang and the trumpeters played. All this continued until the sacrifice of the burnt offering was completed.
When the offerings were finished, the king and everyone present with him knelt down and worshiped. King Hezekiah and his officials ordered the Levites to praise the LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness and bowed their heads and worshiped.
Then Hezekiah said, "You have now dedicated yourselves to the LORD. Come and bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the temple of the LORD." So the assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings, and all whose hearts were willing brought burnt offerings.
The number of burnt offerings the assembly brought was seventy bulls, a hundred rams and two hundred male lambs--all of them for burnt offerings to the LORD. The animals consecrated as sacrifices amounted to six hundred bulls and three thousand sheep and goats. The priests, however, were too few to skin all the burnt offerings; so their kinsmen the Levites helped them until the task was finished and until other priests had been consecrated, for the Levites had been more conscientious in consecrating themselves than the priests had been. There were burnt offerings in abundance, together with the fat of the fellowship offerings and the drink offerings that accompanied the burnt offerings.
So the service of the temple of the LORD was reestablished. Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people, because it was done so quickly. (2Chronicles29:27-36)

Friday, December 1, 2023

EmmDev 2023-12-01 [Hints from Hezekiah] Hezekiah's debut in Chronicles

Hezekiah's debut in Chronicles

Although Kings and Chronicles cover similar historical events, they approach the narrative from different angles. Kings focuses on political and moral aspects, evaluating the kings based on their adherence to God's laws, while Chronicles emphasizes the religious and priestly aspects, promoting the importance of worship, the Davidic line, and the temple.

Instead of ending Hezekiah's story on the tough note left for us in the book of Kings, we'll revisit his story from the perspective of the book of Chronicles...

The passage below is the description of the start of his ministry.
I'm not going to provide any commentary...
Just savour the passage.
Notice his focus, his conviction, his clear grasp of sin and repentance, the way in which he leads his people and the way he loves and honours his God.

Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother's name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done.
In the first month of the first year of his reign, he opened the doors of the temple of the LORD and repaired them. He brought in the priests and the Levites, assembled them in the square on the east side and said: "Listen to me, Levites! Consecrate yourselves now and consecrate the temple of the LORD, the God of your fathers. Remove all defilement from the sanctuary. Our fathers were unfaithful; they did evil in the eyes of the LORD our God and forsook him. They turned their faces away from the LORD's dwelling place and turned their backs on him. They also shut the doors of the portico and put out the lamps. They did not burn incense or present any burnt offerings at the sanctuary to the God of Israel. Therefore, the anger of the LORD has fallen on Judah and Jerusalem; he has made them an object of dread and horror and scorn, as you can see with your own eyes. This is why our fathers have fallen by the sword and why our sons and daughters and our wives are in captivity. Now I intend to make a covenant with the LORD, the God of Israel, so that his fierce anger will turn away from us. My sons, do not be negligent now, for the LORD has chosen you to stand before him and serve him, to minister before him and to burn incense." (2Chronicles29:1-11)

Thursday, November 30, 2023

EmmDev 2023-11-30 [Hints from Hezekiah] When we want more... (part 2)

When we want more... (part 2)

Hezekiah was terminally sick. He miraculously recovered.
They had fended off (prayed off) the Assyrians.
With the extra time Hezekiah had, he amassed wealth and riches and embarked on grandiose building projects. When a faraway Babylonian King sent a "Get well soon" message, Hezekiah took the messengers on an extensive tour, showing them all the wealth of the kingdom.

Isaiah the prophet realised that this was a scouting mission and that Hezekiah had just painted a target on Israel's back and he rebuked and warned Hezekiah. Look at the warning and Hezekiah's response.

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, "Hear the word of the LORD: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood, that will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon."
"The word of the LORD you have spoken is good," Hezekiah replied. For he thought, "Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?" (2Kings20:16-19)

Yesterday we saw how Hezekiah's dissatisfaction and desire for more bought him 15 years in which, unfortunately, he planted the seeds for Israel's ultimate destruction: Opulent wealth, a character deficient son and a self-centered attitude were the legacy of these extra years that Hezekiah so badly wanted.

Nowhere is Hezekiah's desire for immediate gratification more evident than in our passage today.
Isaiah warns him of the pending destruction coming to Jerusalem.
We would expect the Hezekiah we've known up to this point to rush to the temple - to plead with the Lord. We'd expect him to tear his robes - even to repent.
BUT what does Hezekiah do?
He says: "Oh well, it will be after my lifetime, so why worry?"

This is what happens when we become self-centered.

May we examine our own lives and ruthlessly stomp out this kind of attitude!

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

EmmDev 2023-11-29 [Hints from Hezekiah] When we want more... (part 1)

When we want more... (part 1)

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, "This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover."
Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, "Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes." And Hezekiah wept bitterly. (2Kings20:1-3)
Today's passage opens up a complex issue...

Hezekiah's time had come.
God even gave him time to prepare.
He'd had a significant life and had run a good race.
But he wanted more...

And so an unusual thing happens, God grants Hezekiah 15 extra years. This promise is accompanied by healing and a miracle where the sun moves back 15 steps on the staircase Hezekiah could see from his bed.

The sad thing is that in these 15 extra years Hezekiah loses the plot.
He amasses wealth like crazy, he displays the wealth of his kingdom to the Babylonian emissaries who come to visit, he fathers a son named Manasseh who will the most evil king the Southern Kingdom has.

It would have been better if Hezekiah had been content with God's initial plan.

And this is the mystery and complexity. Although God is sovereign, He allows us free will and He will sometimes give us what we want but it comes with risks and responsibilities.

Hezekiah squandered the extra years he had been given and tomorrow we will see how self-centred he became in that time. This is a great tragedy. We started the story of Hezekiah with: "There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses." But, sadly, Hezekiah squandered the gift he'd been given, and part of it is because he wanted more...

There are times that our discontent and wanting more can derail our lives...

To what extent could the instances of "I want more" in your life be derailing your future and legacy?

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

EmmDev 2023-11-28 [Hints from Hezekiah] Take it to God

Take it to God

We're back from 10 days of wonderful leave (we camped at AlDam, Gariep, Nieu Bethesda, Cango(Oudshoorn), Ladismith (WC), Keurboom Lagoon(Plett) and Middleburg(EC) and I rode my bicycle every second day and we feasted on the beauty of our country.)
Just before I left, we looked at the Assyrians who were camped on Jerusalem's doorstep and Hezekiah called out to the Lord and consulted the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah consoled Hezekiah, assuring him that God had heard his prayers and that the Assyrians would withdraw. This was all fulfilled.

Now Sennacherib, king of the Assyrians, having withdrawn from Jerusalem to deal with other pressing matters, writes to Hezekiah. The letter is haughty, threatening and, once again, a classic example of psychological warfare.

What does Hezekiah do? He takes it to God. Literally. He carries the letter into the temple, unrolls the scroll and spreads it before the Lord.

What a stunning act of trust and devotion!
"Look Lord! Look what is happening!"

And then he prays a stunning prayer: "Yes it's true that they have trampled over everyone, but their gods are wood and stone. Lord deliver us for your glory."

(The rest of the chapter shows how God decimates Sennacherib's army and he flees back home and is cut down in his pagan temple by his own sons. Evil does not last.)

Maybe we need to spread our newspapers before the Lord.
"Look at the wars and the corruption Lord!"
"See the grief and heartache!"
"All because of greed and materialism"
"Deliver us for Your glory Lord!"

Read of Hezekiah's actions below and read his prayer.
Let your heart and trust slide into Hezekiah's framework and know that God hears and delivers.

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: "O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.
"It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men's hands. Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God." (2Kings19:14-19)

Friday, November 10, 2023

EmmDev 2023-11-10 [Hints from Hezekiah] Desperate Trust

I will be away for the next two weeks. Brenda and I are going camping in the Karoo. I will resume EmmDevs after that...

Desperate Trust

In the fourth year of Hezekiah's reign the Assyrians attacked the Northern Kingdom and after three years of war, Samaria, their capital fell and the Northern Tribes were scattered. It must have been devastating.

Some four years later Assyrian forces moved south and captured all of the Southern Kingdom's (Judah) cities. You can imagine the terror in Jerusalem - all their defenses were overrun. Hezekiah pays a heavy tribute to Sennacherib king of Assyria.

But the Assyrians want to push their point and so a field commander goes down to Jerusalem (which was heavily fortified) to intimidate Hezekiah and the Israelites.

We need to understand what is going on here... The defeat of the Northern Kingdom took 3 years. Jerusalem alone was a very tough nut to crack. It was on a hill and had good city walls. The Assyrians wanted to try and break the spirit of the nation and not just rely on superior military might.

And so, in their "parley", the field commander addresses the Israelite commanders but he speaks loudly and in Hebrew so that the people hanging over the city walls can hear. His speech is a masterful example of psychological warfare. He points out that their alliance with Egypt was useless. He ridicules their military resources ("If we gave you a thousand horses you wouldn't be able to put riders on them") He tells them that Hezekiah is giving them false hope and that God had instructed the Assyrians to conquer Palestine and he trots out their list of victories, basically asserting that "our God is bigger than your God".

What do you as a leader do in the face of such overwhelming force and such intimidation?
Let's see what Hezekiah does:

Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went to Hezekiah, with their clothes torn, and told him what the field commander had said.
When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the LORD. He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. They told him, "This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them. It may be that the LORD your God will hear all the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the LORD your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives."

What does Hezekiah do in the face of overwhelming odds?
He tears his clothes (expressing grief and a sense of helplessness), he goes to the temple to pray and he consults Isaiah the prophet. The message he sent is desperate and you can see how helpless he feels and yet he believes that God will act.

The good news is the Isaiah prophecies that the army will quickly be withdrawn and that there will be a reprieve and this is exactly what happens.

May we be good leaders in challenging times:
- Humble enough to admit our struggles and inadequacies
- Ready to turn to God
- Willing to ask for counsel

Thursday, November 9, 2023

EmmDev 2023-11-09 [Hints from Hezekiah] Verbs of Devotion

Verbs of Devotion

Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. 6 He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow Him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses. And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. From watchtower to fortified city, he defeated the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory. (2Kings18:5-8)
Hezekiah's success and the distinction of there being "no one like him among all the kings of Judah" was due to his devotion to God. There are a few verbs (in bold in the reading) that offer us a clue to his distinctiveness...
  1. He trusted in the Lord. He relied on God. God was his first port of call. He turned to God and took God at His Word.
  2. He held fast to the Lord even when there were other voices and huge pressures. He kept turning to God and His ways and, if we look at the next phrase, which is a parallel, "holding fast" is to follow.
  3. He did not cease to follow Him. This is the parallel of "held fast". If holding fast is the positive, "ceasing to follow" is the negative and Hezekiah did the positive without doing the negative.
  4. He kept the commands that the Lord had give Moses. Sometimes leaders want to be unique and innovative for the sake of expressing their individuality and not because innovation is needed. We will see that Hezekiah could innovate when it was needed, but when there was no need to innovate, Hezekiah was content to "walk the ancient paths". There is value in the "old ways". Hezekiah was not afraid to observe God's law because he found it to be tried and tested...

    Now normally people would end the list of verbs here, because these verbs demonstrate the devotional and spiritual aspects of Hezekiah's rule. But there are two more verbs that we must consider because they demonstrate the practical and social implications of a life lived God's way.

  5. He rebelled against the king of Assyria. Prior to Hezekiah, King Ahaz surrendered to the Assyrians who had invaded the land. He had seen the Northern Kingdom and its capital Samaria destroyed and so he paid a huge tribute (by stripping the temple) and became a vassal king, answerable to Assyria. Hezekiah rebels against the oppressive and idolatrous oversight of the Assyrians and defies their godless ways.
  6. He defeated the Philistines. When King Ahaz was overrun by the Assyrians, the Philistines took advantage of the situation and captured a number of Israel's towns and cities. Hezekiah rights that wrong.

The "devotional and spiritual" verbs aren't ethereal and inconsequential - To trust only in God, to hold fast, not ceasing to follow and to keep His commands will have far-reaching implications in our day to day lives. The other two verbs, to rebel and defeat speak to standing up against oppression and righting injustices. They have social and societal implications and we need to recognise the need for these too.

These are the actions that made Hezekiah special...

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

EmmDev 2023-11-08 [Hints from Hezekiah] When good things become bad

Apologies for the missed devotion yesterday...

When good things become bad

In Numbers 21 we read about when the Israelites were in the wilderness and they complained against God. So venomous snakes entered the Israelite camp and bit the people. They repented and Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole - when people were bitten they could look at the snake on the pole and they would be healed. (This, by the way, is why the symbol of some ambulance services is a snake coiled around a pole.)

Later, when the ark of the covenant was made, the two tablets of the ten commandments, Aaron's rod that had budded and the bronze snake were kept inside as reminders of God's covenant.

But some 700 years later, things had changed...

He [Hezekiah] removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.) (2Kings18:4)

The NIV Study Bible notes that snake worship of various kinds was common in the Ancient Near East.

This is a tough moment. Something that had been a symbol of God's mercy and grace had now become an idol.
This is unfortunately part of our fallen human nature: we are too lazy to look through a symbol to the deeper meaning and we just worship the symbol instead.

The snake was a complex symbol - it was a reminder of Israel's rebellion and pride - it was a reminder that Adam and Eve listened to a snake and it had bitten them. Israel, by complaining against God and longing for the fleshpots of Egypt, were affirming their commitment to putting themselves first. When snakes came into the camp and bit them, it was God's way of saying "You're letting the snakes into your midst - you're listening to the snake again and it will bite you." What was the solution? Put the snake on a pole. Not a pedestal. A pole. The snake wasn't being venerated, it was being crucified! Looking at the crucified snake was a rejection of the snake's temptation and a reminder that sin had to be paid for.

Listen to what Jesus says to Nicodemus: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." (John3:14-15) (And Jesus was talking about His own crucifixion - He became the sin-bearer for us.)

But Israel got lazy - they didn't think about the symbol, they just worshiped it.
Today some people worship the symbols rather than the deeper reality.
People make idols of certain Bible translations, certain musical instruments, certain dress-codes and rituals.

I talked to someone who was adamant that the King James translation was the only viable translation. No argument I could make, even with my knowledge of Greek and Hebrew and translation practice could convince him. The irony, was that King James authorised and sponsored the translation in 1611 and his purpose was so that everyone could have access to the scriptures in contemporary language. Ironically, the contemporary language of 1611 is not contemporary anymore and our teenagers can't understand it. By putting the King James on a pedestal, we miss the key point: the point was not the "Thee's" and "Thou's" but the Bible in the language of the people.

In the same way clerical dress was meant to be like a mechanic's overall and a nurse's smock: symbols of service that highlighted the function and not the person. Now clerical dress is often a symbol of status and education.

And I could go on and on about good things that become bad when we worship them.

Hezekiah realised that the snake had become a distraction. Not only had the symbolism been lost, but now pagan and occultish practices accompanied it. He didn't hesitate - he removed it.

Friday, November 3, 2023

EmmDev 2023-11-03 [Hints from Hezekiah] Who's your Mommy?

Who's your Mommy?

For the next few weeks we're going to be getting "Hints from Hezekiah." Hezekiah has the distinction of being singled out as a king who was faithful to the Lord: "There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him"

We're going to walk through the passages about him in Kings, Chronicles and Isaiah and learn what we can from this remarkable man.

In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother's name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan. )
Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses. And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. From watchtower to fortified city, he defeated the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory. (2Kings18:1-8)

It needs to be said that Hezekiah lived in tumultuous times. Israel had split into Northern and Southern Kingdoms and the Northern Kingdom was godless, rebellious and crumbling morally, spiritually and politically. The Assyrian empire was on their doorstep and would soon invade and destroy them.

The Southern Kingdom, Judah (with Jerusalem as its capital) was not doing much better. While their kings were all from the royal line of Judah, many of them were corrupt and unfaithful to God and their people. Hezekiah's dad, Ahaz, was such a king. Amongst many evil things, he erected a copy of the Assyrian altars in the temple. His reign was so evil that Chronicles tells us that when he died, "he was not placed in the tombs of the kings of Israel..." (2Chron28:27)

So with such an evil dad, how did Hezekiah become such a good king?

One of the interesting features in Kings and Chronicles is that the authors start recording the names of the mothers of the kings. This is unusual in the very patriarchal culture of the day and, at times we are told when a mother is a good or a bad influence. In the case of Hezekiah, we are not told anything about his mother except her name: Abijah.

Abijah is a name used for men and women and means "God is my Father".

With no other strong influences being named in Hezekiah's life, I think it is safe to assume that Abijah must have been a good influence in her son's life.

Have you had a good and Godly mother? That is something to give thanks for!
Are you a mother or grandmother? Don't underestimate the power your influence you can have.

It looks like Hezekiah was a good king because he had a faithful mom...