2 KINGS 20 and 21
The finest and most faithful king since the days of David was given a death sentence by God. “Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover”. (2 Kings 20:1). When a highly qualified medical consultant gives you an unfavourable prognosis, it is bad enough, but at least he is only assessing the balance of probabilities; when God – through his prophet – tells you the bad news, that is surely the end of the matter! This passage is found in Isaiah 38, and it leaves some questions unanswered. God said: “You will not recover” and yet Hezekiah did arise to live another fifteen years. What went on? Hezekiah had not done anything particularly wrong to offend the Lord and, as I said, he was one of the best kings over God’s people. His son Manasseh – a wicked ruler if ever there was one – lived far longer than his godly father.
Hezekiah responded as any normal human being would on receiving such news: he wept, since he was distraught; he thought of all the things that he had planned to do with his life and would no longer have time for. Why was the Lord not making much better use of such a trustworthy, attentive, obedient servant? God would have known that ‘Monstrous Manasseh’ was about to succeed to the throne; why did he permit this imbalance of life and death, favouring a seemingly unjust solution? One of the reasons was possibly the need to judge Judah for its unfaithfulness; Judah deserved to have a tyrant on their throne, due to their spiritually promiscuous attitude and their selfish lifestyles. The problem is that God has to juggle different aspects of justice, punishment, and mercy simultaneously, over individuals, governments, nations and empires. When he takes a course of action that impacts upon a certain individual, it is almost impossible for us ‘Earthlings’ to grasp the full picture – so we judge God as ‘unfair’.
Nevertheless, God did notice Hezekiah’s prayer for his own life, and he changed his mind (perhaps he always intended to) and added fifteen years to the king’s life. “I will heal you”, said the Lord; it is always God who heals us, whoever else is involved. The sovereignty of God and the prayers of the saints are beautifully and delicately interwoven, and prayer is always necessary. A poultice of figs was applied to the wound – but really the power of God was the cause of the healing. And, as a sign of good faith, the Lord made time go backwards (2 Kings 20:7).
Like father, not like son! Manasseh became king at twelve years old and reigned 55 years! It was a reign of terror, spiced with idolatry, religious prostitution, defiling of the Lord’s altar and even stooping to the depths of sacrificing his own son in the fire. For good measure, he consulted witches, mediums, spiritists, and practised a bit of divination. He was worse than any of the nations that Israel displaced from the land originally. He ‘filled Jerusalem with shed blood’. God himself therefore issued a decree of judgment over Jerusalem and Judah to completely empty it and destroy it.
Interestingly, what is not found in 2 Kings 21 is what is found in Chronicles 33 – which might throw a bit of light on why God permitted Manasseh to reign for so long. To find out – read tomorrow’s passages!