Sunday, July 02, 2006

Finishing poorly

There's a part in O Sacred Head, Now Wounded that always makes me think:
O make me thine forever;
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love for thee.
What does it make me think? I guess it makes me wonder what it would mean to die rather than to stop loving God.

It also makes me think about Hezekiah king of Judah. He was a good guy, but today's passage makes me think he finished poorly. Here's the story:
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 Hezekiah wept bitterly.

2 Kings 20.1-3
It's interesting that the Lord changes his mind and adds fifteen years to Hezekiah's life. Not only that, but he provided a little miracle to show what was going to happen.

So it's all good, and Hezekiah lives happily ever after, right? Sorry to say, nope. After he recovers, he has some visitors.
Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, "What did those men say, and where did they come from?"

"From a distant land," Hezekiah replied. "They came from Babylon."

The prophet asked, "What did they see in your palace?"

"They saw everything in my palace", Hezekiah said. "There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them."

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, "Hear the word of the Lord: The time will surely come when everything in your palace ... will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood, that it will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon."

2 Kings 20.14-18

Ouch! But how does Hezekiah react? "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?" (2 Kings 20.19)

Hezekiah doesn't mind that the Babylonians will empty out his palace and castrate some of his descendants -- an astonishing thing. Speaking of descendants, Hezekiah has a son during this 15-year stretch of borrowed time. How did he turn out? Take a look at the first two verses of chapter 22:
Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. His mother's name was Hephzibah. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites
I think that's about the longest reign of any human king in Israel. And it was a rotten reign, too. Manasseh re-established idol worship in Israel, and sacrificed his own son in the fire.

We're never told what would have happened if Hezekiah had died from his illness -- if the Lord had not extended his life. But I have to think the kingdom of Israel would probably have been better off had Hezekiah not outlived his love of truth and justice -- his love for the Lord.

What happened? What caused Hezekiah's downhill slide?

I'm going to guess that he did not get up one morning and say, "Well, that's enough of following the Lord; I think I'll turn into an apathetic old coot and sire a son to undo my entire career."

It seems more likely to me that he started believing his own press releases. Maybe he started thinking that his wisdom, rather than the power of the Lord, saved Israel from the Assyrians. Maybe he meditated on his architectural accomplishments rather than on the Lord's care for him and for the nation. And though it is written,
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"
2 Kings 18.5-6
... yet somehow he finished poorly.

And how about you and me? Do I sometimes forget that everything I have is a gift from God? Do I sometimes think it's my own wisdom or power that has brought good things into my life?

To tell the truth, sometimes I do. I hate to admit it, but sometimes I think to myself, "they're lucky to have me as an employee"... things like this. Which is poison, really. Pride goes before destruction....

1 comment:

Robert Nickel said...

I never realized that, about the direct connection between Hezzakaiah's recovery and the wicked reign of his son. Fresh word, Collin-- thanks!