The Temptation of Hezekiah
June 7, 2020 Series: Temptation
Topic: Expository Passage: Isaiah 39, 2 Kings 20:12-19, 2 Chronicles 32:24-26,31
The Temptation of Hezekiah
Good evening! Please turn in your Bibles to Isaiah 39. Tonight, we are going to study the temptation of Hezekiah. I thought about telling you to turn in your Bibles to the book of Hezekiah just to see who was paying attention, but I decided not to trick you like that. J
After three weeks in Daniel 1, I think we have mined most of the lessons about temptation that we needed to learn there, so I decided to go back to another Old Testament character I had skipped over in my excitement to get to Daniel, and that, of course, is Hezekiah.
We’ve talked about sexual temptation with Judah and Joseph, anger and leadership with Moses, and some of the temptations associated with living in a hostile culture with Daniel. Today, I want to look at the temptations associated with prosperity. We’re going to talk about the temptations that go along with God’s blessing. But first, let’s ask for the Lord’s help in prayer.
Let’s start with a flashback to Eve in the Garden. Genesis 3:6 says, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.”
There are three categories of desires in this verse. How would you label them? In my lesson on the temptation of Eve, I called them “physical desires,” “attraction to beauty,” and “ambition.” We want things that will produce physical comfort or make us feel good, we want material possessions, and we want glory. And we are often willing to break God’s commands in order to get those desires because we want those things more than we want God! We are idolaters.
But the ironic thing is that many times, when we determine to obey God rather than pursuing those things, He blesses us with them anyways! When we live wisely in God’s world, blessings flow from that! But those blessings also present their own unique set of temptations.
This is what happened to Solomon. God blessed him with riches and honor and then he fell into idolatry, alliances with foreign nations, immorality, etc. In fact, this happened to Israel over and over again throughout the Old Testament! And this happened to Hezekiah, as well.
The temptations associated with God’s blessings are some of the most insidious and disturbing temptations because they often take out God’s choicest servants. Listen to this description of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:5-6. “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. For he held fast to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses.” In terms of wholehearted trust in the LORD, Hezekiah was unique among all of the kings of Judah! This was a very godly man! And yet, as we are going to see, he fell to temptation.
So, let’s talk first about Hezekiah’s blessings.
Hezekiah was king of the nation of Judah around the time that the northern kingdom of Israel was taken captive into Assyria.
So if you remember the biblical framework, the nation of Israel split in two after the death of Solomon. Rehoboam, Solomon’s son became king of the southern two tribes (Benjamin and Judah), while Jeroboam became king of the northern ten tribes. The southern kingdom was known as “Judah,” and the northern kingdom was known as “Israel.”
How many good kings did Israel have? None. They were all bad kings. The northern kingdom strayed from God early on and never really wavered from that course, which is why God allowed them to be conquered by Assyria in 722 B.C.
How many good kings did Judah have? Judah was more of a mixed bag than Israel. They had both good and bad kings. There were times then the nation seemed to be doing great and following God, and there were times when they looked as bad as Israel to the north.
Judah survived longer than Israel, but finally, they too were conquered in 586 B.C. Do you remember who conquered Judah? It wasn’t the Assyrians; they had passed off the scene by that time. Who was the dominant world power in 586 B.C.? It was Babylon! Which is why Daniel and his friends were taken captive to Babylon. Are the dots all connecting?
So Hezekiah takes the throne in about 716/715 B.C., when he is just twenty-five years old. And 2 Chronicles 29-31 gives and extended list of all of the religious reforms he enacted soon after he became king. He cleansed the temple and restored public worship…. 2 Kings 18:4 says that he destroyed the idols and places of idol worship in the land, including the high places that so many of even the good kings of Judah had neglected to remove…. Judah had fallen into worshipping an old relic–the bronze serpent that Moses made in the wilderness–so Hezekiah destroyed that…. His celebration of the Passover was unlike anything Judah had ever seen since the days of Solomon (2 Chron 30:26)! … He reinstituted financial support for the priests and Levites so that they could focus on their work (2 Chron 31) …. He subdued the Philistines and was even so bold as to rebel against Assyria, the strongest nation on the planet, who had been exacting tribute on Judah since the days of Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father!
As a result of all of these things, God blessed Hezekiah. He blessed him with military victories, financial prosperity, peace and health. Isaiah 38 records how Hezekiah got sick and Isaiah said he would die. But Hezekiah prayed to the LORD, and God granted him fifteen more years of life and promised him deliverance from the Assyrians! He even gave Hezekiah a miraculous sign of the sundial going backwards ten degrees in order to confirm Hezekiah’s healing! In some ways, the man must have felt he was invincible.
Can you identify with Hezekiah? Has God blessed you? You say, “Not on that level!” Maybe not, but how has God blessed you? What are some ways that God’s blessings can flow to us? (By the way, when I speak of blessings and the temptations that result from God’s blessings in this lesson, I am referring to earthly blessings, not spiritual riches in Christ or anything like that. I just wanted to clarify that.) But what are some various types of blessings? Here are some types that I thought of.
Blessings that flow from career success
I’m at a point of my life now in which many of my friends from college, etc. are really blossoming in their careers. I know I’ve got multiple friends who are making $200k a year or more. Some of these guys were making less than I currently make 3 years ago.
Blessings that result from wise financial planning
Take your middle-aged couple who has been really smart financially, and now they are in a really good place going in to retirement. Or your older couple that was really smart financially and now are able to do things in retirement that other people can’t do!
Blessings that result from diligent effort in the home
I know couples (and I’m sure you do, as well) who have been blessed with several talented, godly, successful children. Some of these couples end up with lots of beautiful grandchildren.
You also have your couples who have this sort of storybook marriage.
Blessings that result from ministry success
A man plants a church or starts some parachurch ministry, and it grows really fast. A man becomes well-known as a preacher and gets asked to speak at big conferences. A couple of Christian moms start a blog, and it gains a huge following. Thousands of ladies read the blog or listen to the podcast every week. Someone becomes a well-known as a counselor, and everyone wants to buy his books and get his advice.
Blessings that result from healthy living
You are physically healthy and in-shape because you eat well and exercise!
Blessings that result from academic success
You earn your bachelor’s degree. Or a master’s degree. Or some kind of a doctorate. You graduate Valedictorian and get accepted into that elite college. You graduate nursing school or get a scholarship.
Blessings that result from success at a skill or hobby
You win the MVP trophy in your soccer league or first place in piano at the music festival. You earn your black belt in karate. You become well-known for your photography.
Or, maybe you develop a skill for construction or design. When people walk into your house, they think it belongs on HGTV. Or you develop skill as a mechanic, and fix up this really cool truck!
You see, God’s blessings can flow to us in a number of ways. However, the important thing to remember is that in all of those cases, they are still God’s blessings–we did not merit them, cannot control them, and do not deserve them.
So, how can situations like that lead to sin?
How Can I Sin When God Blesses Me?
- You begin to believe that you merited the blessings (arrogance; Isa 39:1-2).
Perhaps the most fundamental temptation of prosperity is to believe that you merited it and therefore deserve it.
This is the worst form of historical revisionism. You start to write God out of your life story and to believe that you’re wealthy purely because you work harder than everyone else. You have good kids because, well, you’re just plain awesome as a parent!
I’m not suggesting that your work doesn’t matter. But consider this: who gave you the ability to work? Who gave you your health or mental capacity? Do you get credit for being born in America? Who gave you those children? Can you create a human being? And if they are saved, did you save them? As Paul asked the Corinthians, “Who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it (1 Cor 4:7)?”
The Bible teaches that every good gift comes from God, and that includes the grace that I need to serve Him. So if God has blessed me as a result of my service, I still can’t take credit for that, because it was Him who gave me the desire and strength to serve in the first place!
Hezekiah seems to have forgotten all that. You say, “How do you know?” Well, he boasts! He shows off his treasures as if he is ultimately responsible for them! And not one word is mentioned of giving God the glory.
Hezekiah must have been flattered by these visitors. “These guys came all the way from Babylon–just to see me? And not only to see me, but to congratulate me on my miraculous recovery and the sign of the sun turning back? I must have really made it! I’ve hit the big time!”
Of course, in all likelihood this was more than just a friendly visit. There were official letters and a present from the king of Babylon involved. Also, Hezekiah not only showed off his treasures, but also his weapons!
Now, just to give you an idea, Babylon was certainly more impressive than piddling Judah at this time. However, they were not the dominant world power! They would not hold that title for almost a hundred years! For now, the world’s heavyweight champion was still Assyria. Which means that Babylon and Judah shared a common enemy. So, it is very safe to assume that the more pressing reason for the envoy’s visit was to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries, or at least to encourage Judah in its continued rebellion against Assyria. Now, if you were Hezekiah, how would you have felt about that? “Babylon wants me for an ally?” And in his haste to impress, he totally forgets to give God the glory.
So what is God’s response to Hezekiah’s delusional arrogance? This is fascinating. Turn with me to 2 Chronicles 32:31 (2 Chron 32:31). Hezekiah had begun to think or at least act as if he was a self-made man. I’m sure he would never admit to as much in public, but somewhere in the dark recesses of his psyche, that is what he began to believe. So God lovingly, graciously, removed His hand of blessing from Hezekiah’s life in this instance in order to show him what a mess of things he could make by himself! “Oh, you think you can do this by yourself, Hezekiah? Let’s just see how well you do by yourself!” God wanted what was in Hezekiah’s heart to come out so that he would have an opportunity to repent and to grow.
Isn’t God good to discipline us when we need it? How about you? Has God blessed you in one way or another? Have you begun to imagine that it’s all because you’re so awesome? I hate to burst your bubble, but… you’re probably not as awesome as you think.
You begin to trust in your blessings and your ability to get more rather than trusting in God (self-reliance).
Do you remember why we said God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him? It was to see what was in his heart! So when the tests were run, what came out of Hezekiah’s heart? Pride and arrogance. 2 Chronicles 32:25 says that his heart was “lifted up.” Hezekiah’s excitement over his wealth and weaponry betrayed the fact that he was trusting in those things rather than the Lord! His willingness to strike a deal with the Babylonians betrayed the same thing! When did Israel ever make a treaty with a foreign nation and it ended up going well? They didn’t need treaties with foreign nations in order to keep them safe? Good grief–they had God! Had Hezekiah forgotten that?
Arrogance naturally leads to self-reliance. First, you become over-confident. After all, if it was in your power to secure the blessings in the first place, is it not in your power to retain them? Whereas if you understand that your blessings are gifts, you know that just as easily as God gave, He can easily take away.
Second, you fail to consult God like you should. A very telling point in this story is when Isaiah shows up (vv. 3-4). The million-dollar question in this case is, “Where was the prophet of God before Hezekiah welcomed the foreign dignitaries and decided to show off the kingdom?” Wouldn’t you think the king would want to consult with the LORD before taking that step? Why wasn’t Isaiah called? Why was he just now finding out?
Apparently, it has slipped Hezekiah’s mind to ask what God thought. “Why should I ask God for help when I’ve got everything under control?”
How should Hezekiah have responded to the Babylonians?
He didn’t need to slam the door in their face and stick out his tongue as they trudged away! First, he should have consulted the Lord. Second, he should have given God all the glory and seen this as an opportunity not to boast, but to witness (think Solomon’s response to the Queen of Sheba)! Finally, he should have resolved in his heart to be wary of these men and not to form an alliance but to trust in the Lord.
But Hezekiah didn’t do any of these things. Instead, he allowed his heart to be pleased with the men. You know how your heart skips a beat when you are about to indulge in some sinful pleasure? Hezekiah was secretly delighted in how events were playing out because it made him look great.
Hezekiah’s actions in this story are reminiscent of Joshua when he failed to consult the LORD before making a pact with the Gibeonites. Hezekiah even uses the same excuse in v. 3– “they came from a far country”! Sadly, Hezekiah’s failure to consult the LORD resulted in horrible consequences (vv. 5-7).
Isaiah’s response should have been devastating. “You showed these men from Babylon all that is in your house? The days are coming when all that is in your house will be taken away to Babylon! Not only that, but some of your own descendants will captured, castrated, and taken to Babylon as booty.” I mean, Isaiah, is really twisting the dagger! How would you feel if someone told you that was going to happen to one of your grandsons as a result of your sin? Not only that, but for the royal house to be looted and the royal family deported can only mean one thing–the defeat of the nation. “Congratulations, Hezekiah, this nation that you have worked so hard to establish and protect, is going to be crushed by your recent house guests.” Hezekiah should have been wrecked!
That brings us to the saddest part of this story (v. 8). Hezekiah says two things in this verse. The first sentence is something he says out loud. The second sentence is something he says in his heart. To Isaiah, he responds piously, “The word of the LORD is good!” But in his heart, he is thinking, “At least there will be peace in my day!”
Aren’t you glad that your thoughts don’t get recorded in the Bible? My goodness! I’m sure Hezekiah never dreamed that anyone would ever know that he thought that! But omniscient God knew what was in his heart. And he knows what is in your heart, as well.
In his piggish selfishness, Hezekiah doesn’t care if the nation goes to pot, as long as he lives out his fifteen precious years in ease and comfort! When his life was on the line, Hezekiah wept and prayed to the LORD! Where are his tears now? Why doesn’t he pray for his descendants? What has happened!?
Hezekiah has grown fat. He’s complacent. And he’s far too attached to the comforts of prosperity. So much so that he now loves his blessings more than he loves other people. This is the third temptation associated with prosperity.
You become complacent and begin to love pleasure more than people (selfishness).
Have you found yourself getting short with your kids because you were craving some “me time” to do whatever you like to do? Has a certain hobby, food, activity, or TV show become so important to you that you get frustrated when people get in the way? If so, then you may be allowing God’s blessings to turn you into Hezekiah!
There is one more temptation associated with blessing.
You ignore the sin until God sends the pain (lack of repentance).
It is sad to see how Hezekiah ignores or excuses his sin in this story. When Isaiah asks him point blank, “What did they say to you?” Hezekiah dodges. When he asks the king what they have seen, Hezekiah gets belligerent, like he has nothing to hide. “I showed them everything in my house! Is there a problem with that?” And then in v. 8, he plays the hypocrite and tries to act holy. In other words, he misses a perfect opportunity to repent.
C.S. Lewis famously said that pain is God’s megaphone. He said, “We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities…. But pain insists upon being attended to.” That’s true, isn’t it? You can tell your toddler, “Don’t touch” till your blue in the face, but when you finally flick his hand, now you’ve got his attention! We are often the same way with God, aren’t we? You’re floating along contentedly in your stupidity until God sends the pain.
Here’s the difficulty with times of blessing: there’s not very much pain. So we don’t tend to repent very much in those times! So what does God do? He sends some more pain. Turn back to 2 Chronicles 32:24-25 (2 Chron 32:24-25).
Now, some of the events in the life of Hezekiah are a little bit difficult to harmonize, but this verse is clear that God’s response to Hezekiah’s pride was to send him some pain. As best I can tell, the “wrath” referred to in this verse is the invasion of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, which nearly resulted in Judah’s being taken into captivity! After groveling before Sennacherib and giving away all of his treasures (down to stripping the gold from the doors of the temple), Hezekiah finally humbles himself, prays to the LORD, and God’s intervenes, killing 185,000 Assyrians in one night. (You can read about that in 2 Kings 18:13-19:37, 2 Chronicles 32:1-23, and Isaiah 36-37.) But the point is that God has to send pain to get Hezekiah’s attention.
Which leads me to a simple concluding thought. What is the proper response to blessing or judgment? It’s humility. The temptations associated with God’s blessings start with pride and they end with humility (2 Chron 32:26).
Thankfully, for Hezekiah, this king not only starts well, but he finishes well. He repents and turns back to God in humility and that is how he lives out his days. However, by that time the damage has been done. A dark cloud will hang over the godly life of Hezekiah because of the sins we’ve discussed today.
So what about you? Has God blessed you in one or more areas of your life? Are you in danger of becoming proud or complacent? You had better watch yourself as carefully as you possibly can and plead with God for humility.