AN INFLUENCE FOR GODLINESS

HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

2 Chronicles 29-31

Theme: King Hezekiah’s example teaches us that God can transform a nation through the influence of one godly man.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

As we continue our study of the lives of the Old Testament kings of Judah, we come this morning to one king who stands above the other kings of Judah. And that’s not just my opinion. It’s what the Bible itself says of him.

His name was King Hezekiah. And the Bible tells us, “He trusted in the LORD God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor who were before him” (2 Kings 18:5). In other words, among all the kings that came after the glorious days of King David and King Solomon, and all the way to through to the time when the king of Babylon carried the people of Judah in the days of King Zedekiah, there was no other king like King Hezekiah.

And what was the cause of his uniqueness among the other kings? The Bible goes on to tell us: “For he held fast to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the LORD had commanded Moses. The LORD was with him; he prospered wherever he went” (vv. 6-7a).

King Hezekiah’s story is so great—and the spiritual lessons to be learned from it are so important—that we can’t cover it all in one Sunday. And so, this morning, we’ll take a look at just the first great thing the Bible tells us about King Hezekiah’s life—the story of how, after he became king, he influenced his people toward godliness; and was thus used by God to bring about a great spiritual revival that completely transformed his nation.

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Now; the Bible devotes a great deal of space to this first great period of the king’s life. It’s told to us in 2 Chronicles 29, 30, and 31; and all that we can really do this morning is skim through these three chapters, and touch on the most important points along the way.

But I believe our time this morning will be made much more effective if we begin by thinking about what this first period of his life story illustrates to us. It concerns a command that was given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. As people gathered all around Him to hear Him teach, He spoke these words directly to those who were His followers:

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

In these words, Jesus compares us, His followers, to two things: salt and light. And just think for a moment about the properties of those two things. Salt, for example is something that brings flavor and zest to what is bland and tasteless. But it also has the capability of preserving things and keeping things from spoiling. Light, as from a lamp, counteracts darkness. It illuminates the place in which it is lit and exposes things for what they are. And both of those things require contact with the things they are meant to impact. Salt can’t have any impact on anything if it’s kept in a container. It must be sprinkled out on whatever it is meant to flavor or preserve. And light can’t illuminate anything if it’s covered up by a basket. It must be set up clearly on a stand so that it can shine on everything around it.

And that, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is what our Lord and Master says that you and I as a church must behave like in this world. As His followers—His redeemed ambassadors—we serve as His gracious provision to this dark and fallen world. We are that which He says functions in it like “salt”. As His ambassadors in this world—indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit—we add flavor and zest to an otherwise dark world through the message of the ‘good news’ that He has commissioned us to declare. We keep a sinful culture from rotting into utter spiritual decay by taking a stand, in the midst of it, for His eternal kingdom. We shine light in a time of moral and spiritual darkness by declaring His word and living holy lives in obedience to Him. We declare His law in order to expose the sinfulness of sin; but also to illuminate the way to salvation by declaring message of His cross, and by calling people to repent of sin and believe on Him.

And like salt and light, we can only have an impact on the people of this world if we have contact with them and behave like what Jesus says we are. That’s the reason why Jesus didn’t simply take us up to heaven with Him as soon as we believed. He has left us here so that we will bring a transforming influence upon the lives of others.

And that’s what, I believe, this first great portion of Hezekiah’s life is meant to illustrate to us. It helps to remind us that we are God’s gracious provision through Jesus Christ of “salt” and “light” in this world; and reminds us of His command to impact the people around us by faithfully being what He says we are.

And what’s more, dear brothers and sisters in Christ; this passage encourages us that when we behave faithfully as what Jesus says we are, God the Father is able to use us mightily as a transforming force in this world for godliness.

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Now; think back for a moment on where it was that Hezekiah came from. He was the son of King Ahaz; and as we found in our last study, Ahaz was one of the most wicked of all the kings of Judah. Even though he wore a kingly crown, Ahaz was a spiritual slave who was in utter bondage to sin. He dragged his nation down into spiritual darkness. Humanly speaking, no one would have ever expected anything good to have come from him.

But one of the wonderful things about our sovereign God is that, even in times of the deepest spiritual darkness imaginable, He is able to raise up someone that He uses to call people back to Himself and bring about the spiritual revival of a nation. And in the dark days that Ahaz had brought about in Judah, that man was Ahaz’ son Hezekiah.

I believe that Hezekiah was a man that God had called to Himself early on in life. He had a godly grandfather named Zechariah1; and I suspect that his grandfather had a powerful impact on him. And I suspect further that as he watched all the spiritual ruin his wicked father was bringing about, at some point in his life, Hezekiah made it his resolve—should he be given the throne—to do what was right in the sight of God and to follow after the ways of his great ancestor King David. And so, in 2 Chronicles 19:1-2, we read;

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 (2 Chronicles 29:1-2).

One of the things that the previous king Ahaz did—if you can imagine it—was to seal up the doors of the temple of God so that the priests could no longer serve in it; and in its place, he set up pagan altars throughout Jerusalem and Judah. But Hezekiah wasted no time in undoing what his wicked father had done. The Bible tells us,

In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them (v. 3).

Throughout the sixteen long years of Ahaz’ reign, the temple was allowed to go to ruin. The holy articles of the temple were neglected, and even the most holy places of the temple were filled with trash. And this is where Hezekiah’s great work as a reformer—a young man of only twenty-six years—really begins to shine. He called the priests and the Levites together and said;

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. 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. 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” (vv. 5-11).

One of the ways that God uses someone to transform the times is by giving them the courage to stand up and do their duty. And often, He uses that same person to boldly call others to rise up and do their duty as well. And so, at the encouragement of King Hezekiah, the Levites rose up, repented of their sin, set themselves apart as “sanctified” for God’s use, and cleansed the temple of the Lord.

The priests went in to the innermost portions of the temple, where only they were permitted to go, and brought out all the debris that they found. And the Levites took the debris and carried it away. It took them eight days to clean from the holy place to the vestibule, and then another eight days to clean from the vestibule to the outer perimeters of the temple; but at the end of it all, they were able to come back to the king and report that the temple and all its articles had been cleaned and restored.

And by the way; I can’t help but see a spiritual lesson in the way that they accomplished this work. They started from the inside of the temple—in the innermost part—and cleansed until they came to the outside. So often, when people today try to change the times, they try to bring about external pressure, and effect change from the outside-in. That’s how politicians and educators and social reformers—in the power of their own flesh—try to change a culture. But that’s not God’s way of reform. When God brings about reform, He does something that only He can do: He starts with a transformation of the innermost regions of the heart; and brings about cleansing from the inside-out.

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So; God used Hezekiah to bring about a restoration of His temple from the inside-out. Once the temple itself was cleansed, the worship within the temple needed to be restored. And once again, Hezekiah took the lead. As king, he had authority over the leaders of his people; and so he made full use of that authority; and “rose early, gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of the LORD” (v. 20).

First, He led the leaders of the people in making a sin offering for themselves and for the nation. Then he positioned the musicians in the temple according to the stations established by King David, and they made burnt offerings according to the Scriptures. And then, when that was done, we’re told that Hezekiah spoke to the assembled people and said,

Now that you have consecrated yourselves to the LORD, come near, and bring sacrifices and thank offerings into the house of the LORD.” So the assembly brought in sacrifices and thank offerings, and as many as were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings. And the number of the burnt offerings which the assembly brought was seventy bulls, one hundred rams, and two hundred lambs; all these were for a burnt offering to the LORD. The consecrated things were six hundred bulls and three thousand sheep. But the priests were too few, so that they could not skin all the burnt offerings; therefore their brethren the Levites helped them until the work was ended and until the other priests had sanctified themselves, for the Levites were more diligent in sanctifying themselves than the priests. Also the burnt offerings were in abundance, with the fat of the peace offerings and with the drink offerings for every burnt offering.

So the service of the house of the LORD was set in order (vv. 31-35).

What an example this is! Hezekiah stood up, in a time of great spiritual darkness, and began the change just by boldly opening-up and repairing the doors of the temple that his father had shut. And in a very short amount of time, the Levites and the priests had sanctified themselves and rose up to their duty, the temple was restored, the leaders had repented and returned to the Lord, and the assembled people came back to God and made an abundant offering.

And please notice especially what it says in the very last verse of chapter 29;

Then Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced that God had prepared the people, since the events took place so suddenly (v. 36).

It wasn’t Hezekiah who had brought it all about. Of course, Hezekiah was faithful; and God used his faithfulness to influence others. But it was God Himself who had prepared the hearts of the people and brought about a spiritual revival.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; let’s never minimize the greatness of what God can do through us to transform the times in which we live, when we faithfully and obediently stand up and behave as the “salt” and “light” in that little portion of the world in which He has placed us!

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So; one way that Hezekiah influenced his people toward godliness was in regard to the temple. He opened up the doors to God’s house and invited the people back in. But way another had to do with the Passover feast.

The observance of Passover was one of the most important events on the sacred calendar of Israel. It commemorated God’s deliverance of the people from their bondage in Egypt, and how He “passed-over” His people when He brought judgment on the Egyptians. But the people of God had been disobedient in that they had neglected to celebrate the Passover feast. And so, as we read on in the thirtieth chapter, Hezekiah next took it in hand to call people back to faithful observance the feast that God had commanded.

Now; the priests were still in the process of sanctifying themselves. Things had happened so quickly that they had to postpone the feast for a month until the priests were ready. But this allowed Hezekiah to do something remarkable. He not only wanted the people of Judah to remember the feast; but he used that additional time to invite the people of the northern kingdom of Israel—the tribes who had wandered away from God—to come back and observe the feast too. This was a truly amazing and gracious thing; because his father Ahaz had formerly fought against them2, and the kingdom of Assyria had conquered and scattered them from their land3.

A genuine revival from God not only involved opening the door of the temple, but also going out to seek and find the lost sheep of the house of Israel and bring them together under the unity of genuine obedience to God. And so, Hezekiah sent out messengers to run up into the northern kingdom with this message:

Children of Israel, return to the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel; then He will return to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. And do not be like your fathers and your brethren, who trespassed against the LORD God of their fathers, so that He gave them up to desolation, as you see. Now do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD; and enter His sanctuary, which He has sanctified forever, and serve the LORD your God, that the fierceness of His wrath may turn away from you. For if you return to the LORD, your brethren and your children will be treated with compassion by those who lead them captive, so that they may come back to this land; for the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn His face from you if you return to Him” (30:6-9).

Many of those that the runners went to laughed at this message and mocked it. But some from the northern kingdom, whose hearts convicted them, humbled themselves and came. And this had an impact on the people of Judah;

Also the hand of God was on Judah to give them singleness of heart to obey the command of the king and the leaders, at the word of the LORD (v. 12).

As a result, a very great assembly of God’s people—both from the south and from the north—gathered to observe the feast of God that they had long neglected. And what a Passover it was! As the Bible tells us;

So the children of Israel who were present at Jerusalem kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with great gladness; and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day by day, singing to the LORD, accompanied by loud instruments. And Hezekiah gave encouragement to all the Levites who taught the good knowledge of the LORD; and they ate throughout the feast seven days, offering peace offerings and making confession to the LORD God of their fathers. Then the whole assembly agreed to keep the feast another seven days, and they kept it another seven days with gladness. For Hezekiah king of Judah gave to the assembly a thousand bulls and seven thousand sheep, and the leaders gave to the assembly a thousand bulls and ten thousand sheep; and a great number of priests sanctified themselves. The whole assembly of Judah rejoiced, also the priests and Levites, all the assembly that came from Israel, the sojourners who came from the land of Israel, and those who dwelt in Judah. So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. Then the priests, the Levites, arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard; and their prayer came up to His holy dwelling place, to heaven (vv. 21-27).

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Now; God used the godly impact of Hezekiah to restore the religious life of his people. He used him to restore the worship in the temple that had been neglected for many years; and to encourage the Levites and the priests to sanctify themselves once again to the Lord. And He used him to restore the Passover feast that had been neglected—even to the point of bringing the disenfranchised people of the northern tribes back to the worship of God.

But God also used Hezekiah to impact the way the people gave of their wealth to advance the work of God. As we read on in the thirty-first chapter, we find;

The king also appointed a portion of his possessions for the burnt offerings: for the morning and evening burnt offerings, the burnt offerings for the Sabbaths and the New Moons and the set feasts, as it is written in the Law of the LORD. Moreover he commanded the people who dwelt in Jerusalem to contribute support for the priests and the Levites, that they might devote themselves to the Law of the LORD (31:3-4).

He commanded that the people support the priest as the Scriptures told them to do; but he himself was faithful to first set the example by restoring the king’s portion of the support. And what a snow-ball of abundance that started rolling!

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. In the third month they began laying them in heaps, and they finished in the seventh month. And when Hezekiah and the leaders came and saw the heaps, they blessed the LORD and His people Israel. Then Hezekiah questioned the priests and the Levites concerning the heaps. And Azariah the chief priest, from the house of Zadok, answered him and said, “Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the LORD, we have had enough to eat and have plenty left, for the LORD has blessed His people; and what is left is this great abundance” (vv. 5-10).

Hezekiah commanded that rooms be prepared in the temple to store it all; and he set up a system by which all this abundance was faithfully distributed to the Levites and the priests in all their cities throughout the land; so that the work of God was well-supplied, and His servants were well-provided for.

And note carefully what verses 20-21 tell us;

Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and true before the LORD his God. And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, in the law and in the commandment, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart. So he prospered (vv. 20-21).

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Now; you and I may not have the kind of earthly authority and influence that King Hezekiah had in his day. But as we’ve seen at several points in these three chapters, it wasn’t Hezekiah—as great as he may have been—who brought about the great spiritual revival of his people. It was God Himself who did it.

But God chose to do it through Hezekiah—just a normal flesh-and-blood man like you or me—in his day; and it was because Hezekiah faithfully used what influence God gave him to draw his people back to God. He served, if you will, as “salt” and “light” in that portion of the world in which God placed him. And God blessed his impact abundantly; because nothing is too hard for God.

Let this be an encourage, dear brothers and sisters, that God can transform the world around us—and bring about great spiritual revival in these dark times—if we, too, will turn from our sins, yield ourselves to the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, and faithfully be the “salt” and “light” in this world that our Lord Jesus has declared us to be.

Author: Patriarch Gregg