The stated purpose of this lesson in our current manual is “to inspire each class member to receive the promised blessings that come from temple work and scripture study” and draws from the stories of Hezekiah and Josiah. Those stories do indeed deal with the temple and the written word of the Lord, but to me they seem very poor choices to illustrate a lesson on the beauties of the temple and the scriptures. The entire point of the experiences of those Old Testament kings appears to be that when a people apostatizes, there comes a time when repentance is too late to avoid the consequences of sin. Their stories do not support the current manual’s “open a conduit to the Lord so that living water can flow in our lives” happy-happy feel good message about temple blessings and scripture study. When the seminary program of the church taught the stories of Hezekiah and Josiah in 1937, their lesson seems to fit the scripture much better than the awkwardness of our manual this year. (Haggai would have been a more apt scriptural text to make this point, I think.)
Sorry. Although I have generally avoided expressing judgment about the relative value of one year’s lessons over another in this series, this time I have to say that the current lesson is a misuse of the scripture. IMO.
Hezekiah to the Fall of Jerusalem
Note: In the last lesson we saw that Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Uzziah attempted to root out idolatry and wickedness from among the people. But the reformation was never entirely complete. The “groves” and “high places” remained as brooding grounds for the worship of heathen idol gods. It is strange, indeed, that idolatry held such fascination that Israel was constantly drawn away from Jehovah who alone had power to save them.
During the last years of the kingdom, Isaiah, Micah, and Nahum cooperated with the rulers in trying to save the people. But all in vain, for like Israel to the north, they were plunging headlong to destruction. Ahaz, the twelfth king, turned entirely to the worship of Baal. The sacred temple was desecrated and closed. Altars to heathen gods were built in every part of Jerusalem, and on every hill in the land where they offered even human sacrifice. Micah tried to show them the wickedness of it and what the Lord wanted. “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord,” he said, “and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:6-8)
Hezekiah and His Reform.
Then came Hezekiah to the throne. He did everything in his power to save his people. But the reformation was outward only, for inwardly the hearts of the people were turned to idolatry. His counselors were the prophets and he followed their advice.
a. Hezekiah Destroys Idols and High Places (II Kings 18:3-4, 7; II Chron. 31:1). “And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord … He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made; for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it. Now when all this was finished, all Israel that were present went out to the cities of Judah, and brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, and threw down the high places and the altars out of all Judah and Benjamin, in Ephraim and Manasseh, until they had utterly destroyed them all. Then all the children of Israel returned, every man to his possession, into their own cities. And the Lord was with him; and he prospered withersoever he went forth; and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not.”
b. He Reopened and Cleansed the Temple (II Chron. 29:3-5, 16, 18-19). He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them. And he brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them together into the east street, and said unto them, hear me, ye Levites, sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place. And the priests went into the inner part of the house of the Lord, to cleanse it, and brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the Lord into the court of the house of the Lord. And the Levites took it, to carry it out abroad into the brook Kidron.
Then they went in to Hezekiah the king, and said, We have cleansed all the house of the lord, and the altar of burnt offerings, with all the vessels thereof, and the shewbread table, with all the vessels thereof. Moreover all the vessels, which King Ahaz in his reign did cast away into his transgression, have we prepared and sanctified, and behold, they are before the altar of the Lord.
c. He Invited the Northern Kingdom to Join Him in the Feast of the Passover (II Chron. 30:2; 30:15, 27). And Hezekiah sent to all that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, to keep the Passover unto the Lord God of Israel. For the king had taken counsel, and his princes, and all the congregation in Jerusalem, to keep the Passover in the second month.
Then they killed the Passover on the fourteenth day of the second month; and the priests and the Levites were ashamed, and sanctified themselves, and brought in the burnt offerings into the house of the Lord. … Then the priests and the Levites arose and blessed the people: and their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to the holy dwelling place, even unto heaven.
Assyrians Try to Subdue Judah (II Kings 19:29-30, 35; II Chron. 32:19-22). The Northern Kingdom was already in bondage to the Assyrians. It was just before the people were taken captive by Shalmaneser. Then the Assyrians conquered Egypt and turned to Judah. Hezekiah tried to buy them off. he gave them silver and gold, including the trimmings of the temple. But they returned and insultingly demanded him to surrender. The Assyrian king’s servants said:
Thus saith the king, let not Hezekiah deceive you; for he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand. Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria. Who are they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand? And they spake against the God of Jerusalem, as against the gods of the people of the earth, which were the work of the hands of man. And for this cause Hezekiah the king, and the prophet Isaiah, prayed and cried to heaven. And the Lord sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in his own land. And when he was come into the house of his God, they that came forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword. Thus the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all other, and guided them on every side.
e. Hezekiah Healed through Faith and Prayer (II Kings 20:1-6). In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live. Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the Lord, saying, I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore. And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the Lord, … I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears; behold, I will heal thee. On the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the Lord. And I will add unto thy days fifteen years.
f. He Entertained Spies from Babylon (II Kings 20:12-17). At that time … the king of Babylon sent letters and a present unto Hezekiah: for he had heard that Hezekiah had been sick. And Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and shewed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not. Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah, and said unto him, What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee? And Hezekiah said They are come from a far country, even from Babylon. And he said, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah answered, All the things that are in mine house have they seen; there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shewed them. And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah, hear the word of the Lord. Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried into Babylon; nothing shall be left, saith the Lord.
Even then the Babylonians were planning to conquer the Jews, and the captivity was definitely foretold by Isaiah. After the death of Hezekiah, the Jews relapsed into idolatry and sin of the worst kind. Isaiah also died. Jewish tradition affirms that he was sawn asunder by Manasseh, the next king.
Closing Days of the Kingdom.
a. Josiah, the last of the Reformers (II Kings 22:2, 8, 10-11; 23:1, 3, 14, 26-27). Josiah was but a youth of eight years when he became king. And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord … and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left. When eighteen years of age he commanded the priests to repair and cleanse the temple. And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. And Shaphan the scribe shewed the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath delivered me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king. And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes.
And the king sent, and they gathered unto him all the elders of Judah and of Jerusalem. And the king stood by a pillar (of the temple) and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant. And he brake in pieces the images, and cut down the groves, and filled their places with the bones of men. Notwithstanding the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah … And the Lord said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.
b. Jeremiah, the Prophet, Introduced. We have now been introduced to most of the prophets who lived before the captivities, and have seen them at their work trying to preserve the people from destruction. But these great men were dead and a new one had arisen, Jeremiah. He was helpless to save his people, for they were, so to speak, at the edge of the cliff, and he lived to see them fall over and carried captive into Babylon. He commenced his work in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah. He is called the prophet of sorrow because of his apparent suffering and lamentations for his people. He did as the others had done; he pleaded, warned, and threatened but with no more success. Inasmuch as we shall refer to him and his work later we shall here quote but a few of his sayings concerning Judah. You will note that the messages of these prophets are the same.
Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents: I have not found it by secret search, but upon all these. But where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? let them arise, if they can save thee in the time of thy trouble; for according to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel. Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. For if ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, forever and ever. Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel; saith the Lord; it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language thou knowest not, neither understandest what they say.
For thus hath the Lord said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end. And I will make Jerusalem heaps, and a den of dragons, and I will make the cities of Judah desolate, without an inhabitant. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim.
Comments and Sidelights.
1. (a) The attempts during this period to destroy idolatry are good examples of the power of habit. Evil, once established in person or nation, cannot be rooted out without great effort. Both individuals and nations fall because of habits and traditions.
2. This is indeed a short prayer, but note the very basic elements of faith it contains. “I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart.” Such a life cannot fail to bring great results.
3. (f) Our sympathy is with Hezekiah. These men posed as friendly visitors from a foreign king. Today we treat such ambassadors also with consideration and respect, but we do not give them our secrets of defense.
Questions and Exercises.
1. Memorize the quotation from Micah 6:6-8.
2. Give a three-to-five minute talk on some advantage and disadvantages of habits. Use one illustration from this lesson.
3. Explain the meaning of “groves” and “high places.”
4. Why were the “high places” like disease germs?
5. Name the prophets of the Northern Kingdom, and of the Southern Kingdom.
McKibbon, Old Testament History, chs. 104-108.
Rae, How to Teach the Old Testament, chs. 55-57.
Robinson, The twelve Minor Prophets, chs. 6-7.
Sell, Bible Study by Periods, chs. 11-12.