2 Kings 20:1-21.

The Consequence of Self-Importance

        American Journal of Biblical Theology               August 15, 2004            Copyright © 2004, J.W. Carter
www.biblicaltheology.com          Scripture quotes from KJV


2 Kings 20 brings us into the life of Hezekiah, King of Judah.  Unlike the kings of Israel who, without exception, rejected God's leadership as they lead their nation, several of the kings of Judah did seek the Lord's will in their administration.  The consequence for apostate Israel was dramatic.  God's promise of the inheritance of land was always predicated upon the people's obedience to Him.   Israel's rejection of God resulted in their loss of that inheritance as they were destroyed as a nation by the expanding empire of Assyria.  Many of the Israelites were taken to Assyria, others were refugees to Egypt, and those who remained assimilated into the culture of those non-Jews in the region and those brought in by Assyria.  This answer to promise is a type of God's promise for an eternal inheritance to those who seek Him.  Those who reject God, like the northern nation of Israel, will not receive the inheritance of an eternal home with God, but will face eternal separation from Him.

Hezekiah was described by the writer of 2nd Kings as one who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (Chapter 19).  He tore down the pagan places of worship and removed the influence of the pagan religious leaders from the nation of Judah.  When faced with crisis, Hezekiah would seek the Lord in prayer, and he openly accepted the advice of the prophet Isaiah who had served both his father and his grandfather.  As he witnessed the destruction of Israel in his 6th year in office, he was also threatened by Assyria and feared a similar demise for Judah.  However, because of his faithfulness, the LORD protected Judah against Assyria's attacks.  Though a continual threat, Assyria would never overrun Judah.  Hezekiah's faithfulness, and his efforts to bring the nation of Judah back to the LORD were acts that were pleasing to God, and so God preserved their land.

Still, as we look at the experience of Hezekiah, we find that he, like all people, are fallible and subject to the temptation to sin.  As King, he was in complete control of the nation, a nation that now relied on him for leadership.  He had seen the Lord work in his own life for his own behalf and on the behalf of the nation.  Like many who exercise such power, it was easy for him to be self-reliant to the point of an inappropriate self-confidence that forgets the part that God plays in our lives.  

2 Kings 20:1. 

In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live. 

God has a way of getting our attention when we get too self-reliant.  God knows the heart of Hezekiah, and through this illness Hezekiah will be able to see that it is God who is in control.  Often people ask, "why do good people suffer?"  Why would God allow the good king Hezekiah to suffer and die when he has been the best king over Israel since David?  Lacking the wisdom of the creator, we do not see God's purposes in all that happens.  We are reminded in Romans 8:28 that God's purposes supercede our circumstances, so it is through our circumstances that God will often reveal Himself.

There is some disagreement as to whether "those days" as described in these verses too place before the destruction of Israel or after.  There is very good evidence to argue that these chapters are organized by theological message rather than chronology with Hezekiah's illness taking place before the exile of Israel.  We will treat the chapter as though its position reflects the sequence of events in his life.

The primary content and message of this chapter is not dependent upon it's chronology, but rather by the heart of king Hezekiah.  Though his illness is not described in detail, its remedy reveals that the illness included the presence of boils or infections of the skin.  This is a profound situation for the king.  If this illness is, indeed, unto death, Hezekiah will never again see the inside of the temple.   Such an illness leaves him ceremonially unclean.  It was the practice for lepers to shout "unclean" as they passed through a crowd to warn others against any physical contact with them, a contact that would make those who touched them unclean also.  Also, their culture equated sickness with sin, so a confused Hezekiah would not understand why he would so suffer.  He was fully convinced of his own faithfulness and obedience to God and would find it difficult to resolve this illness that would cut him down in the prime of his life.

Hezekiah's situation was deemed desperate when his trusted prophet Isaiah brought no message of hope.  He trusted the word of the prophet who simply told him to set his house in order, a command that implies his certain and unavoidable death to this illness.  

2 Kings 20:2-3. 

Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying, 3I 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. 

How did Hezekiah respond to this situation?  How would we respond to such a situation?  Some people would lash out against a God who would "allow this to happen."  Some would not recognize God's presence and seek to deal with the issue on their own.  Some choose these times in life as those few when they actually turn to God for help.  Upon hearing Isaiah's words, the king turned away from Isaiah and any others who may have been with them and faced the wall in order to pray to the Lord.  Note that it was Hezekiah's pattern to go to the temple to pray, but because of his condition, he could not enter the temple.  Instead, he simply turned to the wall nearest to him.

No argument or question of Isaiah's words is recorded.  Instead of seeking Isaiah's counsel, Hezekiah turned directly to the One who could indeed come to his aid, the Lord Himself.  The very nature of God's relationship with those who place their trust in him is personal.  All who love the Lord can approach the Creator of the Universe directly through prayer.  The faithful have no need of a mediator.  This concept is often hard to understand, and sounds illogical to one who truly perceives their humility before the Holy Lord God.  God honors such humility, but at the same time asks the faithful to bring their needs directly to Him.

The prayer of Hezekiah may not be recorded in its entirety, but its essence is clear.  The word translated "remember" is less a call to remembrance than it is a simple expression of testimony.  Just as the scriptures describe Hezekiah's life as one of obedience and faithfulness to the Lord, Hezekiah also saw his life in this same way.  Furthermore, he refers to his own heart as "perfect", and he refers to those things in his life that are "good" in God's sight.  Hezekiah reveals here that he does not suffer from an overflowing sense of humility.  Surely, no man other than Christ has ever had a "perfect" heart, and likewise all men have sinned.  Such a prayer reveals that Hezekiah does not see the broken nature of his own heart nor the sin that it holds that keeps it that way.  Likewise, many people today live in ignorance of their own condition of need.  Many today feel secure in their eternal future because they think that they are "good" people, and God is not going to turn away good folk.  To think of oneself so highly is a tragic error that can have eternal consequences.  Hezekiah would experience some of these.

Hezekiah's weeping reveals the true sincerity of his feelings, though he was sincerely in error.  I have witnessed others who profess self-piety and a level of self worth that is based upon their own feelings of self righteousness and self importance.  These are usually the most difficult to teach, the most resistant to counsel, and they often use their arrogance as a weapon to maintain power and control in the church body as they see themselves as more important than others.  Their self-importance is fully sincere, and they think that the sacrifice of their service to God is looked upon by God in favor.  So, they openly express a sincere faith, but are blinded by their own pride to the truth of their sin.  Though Hezekiah may not have gotten to this point in his self-importance, he was certainly headed in this direction.

2 Kings 20:4-5. 

And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 5Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, 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.

Apparently, when Hezekiah turned his back on Isaiah, the prophet took this as his invitation to be excused.  He did not make it very far, walking only to the entrance to the central court in the palace, when he heard from the Lord.  Though, like the prophets, all true Christians are filled with the Holy Spirit and can sense the word of God by listening to the "still small voice," and like the prophets all true Christians can approach the throne of grace, and like the prophets, all Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit to witness for Christ and to preach the gospel, few Christians have the sensitivity to God's voice that the prophets of the Old Testament had.  The message that Isaiah understood was clear, and it was for the moment.  God "told" Isaiah to turn around and go back to Hezekiah and give him a message of hope.  

God knew the heart of Hezekiah, and honored his prayer, his faithfulness, and his sincerity.  Indeed, Hezekiah's illness would not lead to his death, and indeed, he would be healed, not instantly, but quickly.  The Lord's command for him to go to the temple on the third day is significant.  When one was suffering from an illness that made them unclean, they were commanded by Mosaic law to show themselves to the priest in order to get permission to reenter the temple.  In this case, there was no such priestly reference necessary, as God Himself served that function.  Hezekiah would be cleansed.

2 Kings 20:6. 

 6And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant Davidís sake. 

God's revelation to Hezekiah did not end with his physical healing.  Hezekiah had witnessed the apostasy of Israel and their destruction as a nation.  Assyria had been terrorizing Judah, threatening to do the same to them as the king of Assyria pushed its boundaries back to envelope the largest area in its history.  God assured Hezekiah that he will live at least another fifteen years.  Furthermore, God assured Hezekiah that He would deliver Jerusalem from the hand of Assyria, a deliverance that is of His own purpose, and as a response to His promise to David.  

2 Kings 20:7-11. 

7And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered. 8And Hezekiah said unto Isaiah, What shall be the sign that the LORD will heal me, and that I shall go up into the house of the LORD the third day? 9And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the LORD, that the LORD will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees? 10And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees. 11And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the LORD: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz.

We can see by the remedy that the illness that Hezekiah suffered was manifested as a boil.  Isaiah instructed Hezekiah's aides to make a poultice out of figs and place it on the wound.  The boil was healed.  The next discourse could leave for some confusion.  Why did Hezekiah ask for a sign from the Lord that he was healed?  God had made the surety of his healing clear by His command to Hezekiah that he would enter the temple in three days.  Was this an expression of a lack of faith on the part of Hezekiah?  Actually, it was not.  Culture and historical precedence shows that there was a coupling between a promise from God and a sign, the latter serving as a confirmation of the first.  A similar event took place in the life of Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah, the previous king of Judah.  Ahaz was offered a sign of confirmation, but rejected that offer for fear that he would expose his own unbelief.  Ahaz was rebuked for his refusal to select such a sign.  Therefore, when Hezekiah asked, "what shall be the sign," it was not a statement of unbelief, but rather an acknowledgement that such a sign was forthcoming. 

Isaiah offered a choice of two signs, each involving the sundial of his father, Ahaz.  The shadow of the dial naturally progresses across its face during the course of the day.  Isaiah asked Hezekiah whether he would like to see it advance ten degrees or retreat ten degrees.  Since it is normal for the shadow to advance, Hezekiah called for it to retreat.  After his choice, Isaiah prayed out to the Lord in a loud voice, and the shadow retreated.

One would think that Hezekiah would have been profoundly humbled by this experience.  He had seen two miracles of God performed on his personal behalf in a very short period of time.  However, it is evident, particularly as described by the writer of 2 Chronicles, that the events only served to fortify Hezekiah's feelings of self-importance.  Unfortunately, self-importance that is fueled by pride can often lead to self-reliance and a diminished reliance on God.  This turn in Hezekiah's nature would have a profound impact on the future of Judah.

2 Kings 20:12. 

At that time Berodachbaladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present unto Hezekiah: for he had heard that Hezekiah had been sick. 

At this time, Babylon was little more than a city-state that had been conquered by Assyria.  However, as a large and fortified city, Babylon had won some measure of independence from Assyria while its king was more involved in the offenses being fought on its other borders.  Babylon, for a short period of time, experienced a period of independence from the tyranny of Assyria, and it was during this time that Hezekiah and his son served as kings of Judah.  The king of Babylon had good reason to court Hezekiah since his was the only nation in the region that had successfully rebelled against Assyria.  An alliance with Judah would be good for Babylon.  Therefore, when Hezekiah became ill, the king of Babylon sent letters of concern along with gifts to Hezekiah.  

Why would Hezekiah have anything to do with this pagan city state?  The Mosaic law that Hezekiah had for so many years defended forbade alliances with foreign kings.  Hezekiah embraced the visitors from Babylon with lavish hospitality.

2 Kings 20:13. 

And Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and showed 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 showed them not. 

Hezekiah had just experience a miraculous healing of the illness that these messengers came to condole.  Here was a magnificent opportunity for Hezekiah to testify to the greatness of God.  However, Hezekiah makes no mention of God at all.  Instead of showing the men from Babylon how great God is, he took them through every corner of the palace, showing them all of his possessions.  He also described to them the treasures of the temple and those throughout the land.  In one single act of bragging, the Babylonians now knew not only of the riches that were in Jerusalem, but where they were located.

2 Kings 20:14-15. 

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. 15And 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 showed them. reigned in his stead.

The redemption of sin is predicated by its exposition.  Hezekiah has entertained a nature of pride and self-confidence that implies he stands next to God, making reference to Him when it is needful, and ignoring Him when not.  Like any of us who err, it is often necessary that an outside observer expose to us the nature of our sin when we are so often blind to it.  Most Christians will choose not to sin if that sin is exposed, but because of our continually compromised faithfulness, we do not hear the word of the Lord as clearly as we might.  The purpose of Isaiah's exposition of the king's sin is redemptive.  Likewise, when we are called upon to rebuke a Christian brother or sister for their sin, the purpose should be redemptive also.  

Hezekiah's self-confidence convinced him that this "far country" was no threat.  Certainly at this moment they were not.  However, the future would be quite different.  This little, harmless, nation would one day gain freedom from a weakened Assyria and begin to build its own dynasty turning its gaze back to Judah, but instead of alliance, they would be seeking domination.  Pride can blind one to the truth by motivating rationalizations that cover what really lies in the foreground of our lives.  In the Hebrew, Hezekiah's description of Babylon is on the point of belittling them, stating that anything he might reveal to them is irrelevant.

Isaiah was quite aware of the prideful nature that had overtaken this king, and the kings treatment of the Babylonians was another evidence of it.  Furthermore, just as we do not see Hezekiah's acknowledgement of what God has done for him, we also do not see any repentance.  If Hezekiah continues in this path of self-righteousness, the consequences for Judah will be dramatic.  Of this, Isaiah is sure.

2 Kings 20:16-18. 

And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD. 17Behold, 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. 18And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. 

When a Christian leader is motivated by a spirit of pride, self-importance, and self-righteousness, the kingdom of God always suffers.  Unless Hezekiah change from his prideful nature, Judah will follow the same path of destruction that was taken by their northern brothers in the kingdom of Israel.  All that Hezekiah has come to rely upon, his house, his treasures, and his very kingdom, will all be taken away. And, by who?  The Babylonians.

2 Kings 20:19. 

Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah, Good is the word of the LORD which thou hast spoken. And he said, Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days? 

Hezekiah's lack of repentance is driven home by his response to Isaiah's prophesy:  since this will not happen in his lifetime, he considers it good news.  When one becomes absorbed by his self-importance, nobody else matters.  He measures the rest of the world by his own back yard, considering what is his as relevant and everything else as irrelevant.  One probably does not need to look far to see individuals who are characterized by this type of self-importance.  When these personalities are given authority in the church, the results can be disastrous.  These are the "my way or the highway" types.  Their administration is characterized by autocracy rather than love.  Jesus said that the greatest among the faithful would be those who are the servants of others, those who see themselves in the humble, lesser form of a bond-slave.  This exposes the self-important as the opposite of the servant that Jesus describes.  

2 Kings 20:20-21. 

And the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and all his might, and how he made a pool, and a conduit, and brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? 21And Hezekiah slept with his fathers: and Manasseh his son reigned in his stead.

The remainder of Hezekiah's reign was relatively uneventful.  He did succeed in the construction of a vital aqueduct that brought water into the city.  However, there is no more of the praise of his faithfulness.  Furthermore, his growing apostasy was completed in his son, a king who would be characterized as one of the worst of Judah's kings.  This would lead to the demise of the country.  The turning point of the nation's demise took place in the reign of Hezekiah when he turned from a faithfulness and dependence upon God to a self-important and self-reliant king.

What is to be learned from Hezekiah's failure.  We can see the impact of self-importance and pride on the health of the kingdom of God on earth.  Such an attitude may bring satisfaction to the prideful, but always hurts those around him/her.  However, as we troll the congregation looking for those whose prideful self-righteousness is in need of exposure, first look into your own heart.  Is there an attitude of pride or self importance?  Do you think that you are better than others?  Do you think you know more, that you have a closer connection to God, that you are more righteous than others?  Do you depend upon God for your needs, or are you fully self-reliant?  Does the challenge of your prideful spirit anger you?  If your honest answer to any of these is "yes", it may be time to stop trolling and start confessing.  The consequences of the unrepented sin of pride can be devastating to God's work.  However, God is always there to accept our confession and repentance.  If we turn from our prideful ways and submit to Him fully as our Lord, He is always faithful to forgive, and will empower our ministry in ways we could never imagine.