"The Best Of Men, A Man At Best"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2005 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Now we're turning to 2 Kings chapter 20, where we read from, to this story about King Hezekiah of Judah. My message, as I've already said, is entitled 'The Best of Men, a Man at Best'. If you're familiar with any of the kings of Israel and of Judah, you will know that Hezekiah is one of Judah's greatest kings. He is known in historical record as one of the most devoted spiritual leaders and reformers that Judah ever knew. In fact, in 2 Kings, if you look back at it, and chapter 18, you will see in verses 5 and 6 this very record: "He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him. For he clave to the LORD", to Jehovah, "and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses. And the LORD was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth".
In Judah's history we find that at one point, when God wanted to perform some radical spiritual and national changes, He turned to this man Hezekiah. Now under Hezekiah's father Ahaz, the people had been idolatrous, they were worshipping the idol gods of the Gentiles; and so God wanted to make the change, and He turned to Ahaz's son Hezekiah. The people had forsaken God, but God turned to Hezekiah, who had become king, to bring them back to God in repentance and in reformation. We see that in Hezekiah's life he had a great zeal for the worship of Jehovah; that there was no other God but Him, and that God's people should worship and serve Him alone. We find that on the very threshold of his reign, at the very beginning of his monarchy, he made a thorough reformation of the land. He cleansed the nation of idols and he brought the people back to temple worship of Jehovah.
Just at the outset, before we learn any other lessons from King Hezekiah, may I just say what an encouragement that is to my heart, and ought to be to yours as well. That no matter how far things can decline in a nation, indeed in a home or in the church, a family or in a life, the power of God is ultimate, and nothing is too hard for the Lord. Even in a day and age like our own day God can still raise reformers to reform God's people and to revive His cause. Do you believe that? I think a lot of people with our prophetic persuasion think all is lost because there is a Laodicean spirit that prevails in the church (and I would agree with you on that point), [they think] that there is no hope of a reformation or a revival in our present-day. Well, though I may subscribe to a certain view prophetically, I don't believe in that determinism that says that God cannot revive His people. We have seen it in the past: God can do it in the present.
Hezekiah repaired the temple, as I've said, he restored true worship of Jehovah on a scale that had never been seen before in the people's history. He called the whole nation together, Israel and Judah who had been divided, he called them together again - arguably to as great an extent as had never been since the reign of Solomon - to commemorate the Passover. So God's people gathered together, North kingdom and Southern kingdom, under the rule and reform of Hezekiah. As we've already said, he was the instrument of God to cleanse idolatry from the land. As I was reading the story of his life I found that one of the distinguishing characters and traits about this leader was that he had the ear of the people. If you were to turn to 2 Chronicles chapter 32 and verse 8 we read of him there: 'the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah'. Not only will we see that this is a man who had favour with God and had the very ear of God in prayer, but this is a man who had favour with the people and who had the people's ear. What a sight it is to witness in this story a man of God, but also a man of God who is leading the people of God who are willing to be led!
How few are like this in the day and age in which we live. There are few leaders who seek godly reform, and there are few people of God who are willing to follow it - but this is the mark of a great leader, and this we see in Hezekiah. Dwight D. Eisenhower was reported as saying this, during the years of the war I think, I quote: 'In order for a man to be a leader he must have followers, and to have followers he must have their confidence. Hence the supreme quality for a leader is unquestionable integrity'. Let me say that again: 'In order for a man to be a leader he must have followers, and to have followers he must have their confidence'. Hezekiah had followers, because Hezekiah had integrity. He must have been a very great man because, like the Lord Jesus Christ, the common people heard him gladly, followed his reforms, obeyed his leadership.
Now I want us to look, in the time that we have today, at Hezekiah and the calibre of the man that is before us. I want, under this title, as I have said, to look at him as the best of men, but a man at best. Here's the first character trait that I see in Hezekiah, and this is not an exhaustive list but just for our encouragement this morning. He was a man who overcame - I think this is very clear from his life, because when we look at Hezekiah's heritage, in other words the 'family mould' that he was born into, we see that he overcame it, he broke out of the family mould. Now if you read the book of Kings and Chronicles, you will see that in the lineage of Jewish kings heredity - that means the transmission of character - does not always operate. In other words, sons are not always like their fathers, and fathers don't always follow the behaviour of their sons. In fact, sometimes we find that children of kings depart from their ways, some kings obeyed the ways of the Lord and their sons did not. For instance, the antithesis of that is Ahab, a very wicked king, very dreadful character. He was the son of a godly father, and the father of a godly son, but it mattered not: they both went their own way, they had their own choice. Here in pious Hezekiah we see that he was the son of a wicked father, Ahaz, and he also became, as we'll see at the end of his life, the father of a wicked son Manasseh - probably the most wicked king that ever was. Yet Hezekiah stood out, though having a wicked father and later a wicked son, as being generally speaking a man of God from the very first day of his reign - he overcame, he was an overcomer!
In fact, when he came to the throne in youthful vigour at the age of 25, an age when most young men are eager to gratify their passions and lusts, he knew what it was - as Paul said to Timothy - to flee from youthful lusts. We see him as an example to any man of God, whatever age he may have been, that though his upbringing and his family lineage and background and history was extremely unfavourable, he began to reign a righteous rule, he abolished idolatry, and he called God's people back to the worship of the Lord God of their fathers.
Now what an encouragement that is to my heart today, and it ought to be to yours as well: because I see here, though it is in the Old Testament dispensation, the wonderful grace of God - the grace of God that comes to individuals, no matter who your father has been, or who your son or daughter will be. It is the grace of God that breaks the power of cancelled sin that perhaps has been over many generations, to the third and to the fourth generation. Ultimately what I'm saying is this: the wonderful grace of God gives every man a choice whom he will serve. Will he follow God, or will he follow Baal?
We know that in Adam all die but, hallelujah, the gospel tells us that in Christ shall all who believe be made alive. Is your heart warmed when you consider the grace of God? You too, my friend, can be an overcomer - no matter what your family background has been, no matter how your children are living - whether it be husband or wife, wherever you are found to day, the grace of God can cause you in Christ to overcome. Is that not what John said? 'For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world, and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith'. Are you an overcomer? Hezekiah was. He could say - a bit out of dispensation, forgive me - 'O victory in Jesus, my Saviour forever', and there is victory in the Lord Jesus Christ. If you're not knowing victory today, you're not overcoming the world and the things of the world, I'm not going to reprimand you for it because if you're under God's conviction you don't need me to add to it. But I say this to you on the authority of God's word: we preach the gospel of grace, grace that is greater than all our sin. Where sin doth abound, grace doth much more abound.
Hezekiah was a man who overcame his circumstances and his family history, but secondly I want you to see that he was a man of courage. You would think that such devotedness to God would save Him from problems, but if you're long enough on the Christian road and you know enough of the word of God, you'll know fine well that righteousness adds to your problems more than takes them away - them that live godly in this world in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. If you were to turn to 2 Chronicles 32 and verse 1, one version puts it like this: 'After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done', after all that he had so faithfully done before the Lord, 'Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah'.
You see, our obedience in the plan of God often leads to greater testing, for our good of course, and for God's glory, for all things work together for good to them that love God. But here is a man, and he is being severely tested of God - even though he has done everything, or most things at least up to this point, correctly - God is testing him further, and bringing the army of the Assyrians to invade the land. I ask you the question, as I have done of myself in preparation for this message: how would you meet this test? The vicious, barbaric armies of the Assyrians are coming to attack, and by now at this stage they have taken the whole land except Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is just about to fall to them - what would you do? How would you face the situation? Well, Hezekiah faces it with courage, and not only does he have personal courage but he finds it within himself to encourage faith in God in the hearts of God's people, his own soldiers and warriors.
This we read of him in 2 Chronicles 32, he says to the people: 'Be strong and courageous'. He says to them: 'Be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him' - and he goes on to tell them that Sennacherib is only an arm of flesh, but they have the living, the almighty, the omnipotent God with them. Now if you know anything about armies and warfare in history, you will know that when armies are put in such a predicament as this one, they are often prone to mutiny and to depose their leader. But this army didn't do such, this army listened to Hezekiah, his courage was contagious because courage in one breeds courage in another. Are you a courageous Christian? Are you one that faces trial with courage? An offshoot of that is that you will most likely, if you are courageous Christian, be an encouraging Christian! Hezekiah was a man of courage.
Thirdly, not only was he a man who overcame, a man of courage, but we find from the story of his life that he was a man of prayer. We read in the records that Rabshakeh, the leader of the Assyrians, sent an arrogant letter to frighten Hezekiah into surrendering to the Assyrians. If you look at 2 Kings 18 for a moment you can get a sense of the tone of this letter, verse 33: 'Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?'. 'No other gods of other nations have delivered them out of our imperial hand' - verse 34: 'Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? have they delivered Samaria out of mine hand? 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?'. In other words, 'Is your God any different than the gods of the nations that we have already defeated?'.
What did Hezekiah do in the face of such arrogant antagonism? Well, if you turn to 2 Kings chapter 19 and verse 14 we see exactly what Hezekiah did: 'Hezekiah received the letter of the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up into the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD, and said, O LORD God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubim, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth' - and I would encourage you to read the rest of that prayer, and indeed study it to see that the grounds on which he was bringing his petition to God was the glory of God and the exclusivity of our God, Jehovah, over all the nations and over all the realms of the world. What happened in answer to Hezekiah's prayer? Well, if you look at verse 34 you see it: Hezekiah went to bed, and I believe he slept the sleep of the righteous, and God said that He would defend this city. The fact of the matter is, we read that God killed 185,000 Assyrians in one night in answer to King Hezekiah's prayer. He went to bed, his armies were nothing to match the armies of Assyria, yet God kills 185,000 Assyrian warriors in one night! What a test and what a triumph of this man of prayer!
Now, of course, the New Testament tells us that the last enemy is death. When we turn to chapter 20 of 2 Kings, we see that in those days Hezekiah was sick unto death, the prophet came to him, the prophet Isaiah, and said unto him: 'Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live'. The greatest test of all, perhaps, in Hezekiah's life! What does he do in the midst of such a test? We read in verse 2: 'Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying, I beseech thee...', and we read his prayer. He turned to God who was his only refuge! We read that Hezekiah poured out his soul in prayer for the continuance of his life. I'm not going to enter into conjecture as to why he felt he needed to live longer, it may have been that he felt he hadn't finished the job of his reforms, or he needed to consolidate the kingdom, but whatever the reason is: how astonishing are the effects of his prayer! Immediately Hezekiah's cry is heard in the courts of heaven, and God tells him through Isaiah the prophet that in three days time he will be perfectly healed of his disease and 15 years of his life will be added to him. God give him a sign, causing the shadow to go back on the sundial ten degrees - and we read in Isaiah 38 the great Psalm of thanksgiving that arose from Hezekiah's heart for this momentous answer to prayer in his life. What a man of prayer!
I'll make a confession to you: whenever I enter into troubles, one of the first things I tend to do is turn to the nearest and dearest to me for counsel and for help. I am rebuked when I see this godly king, in the first instance of trouble he turns his face to the Lord. What a lesson from a man who overcame, a man of courage, a man of prayer.
Then fourthly: he is a man of purpose in God's providence. Now I'm not entering into a debate today, but Bible students have debated for years whether or not Hezekiah should have prayed and asked God for further time to be added to his life, whether he should have prayed for God to heal him, or whether his recovery was or was not in the perfect will of God, or the permissive will of God. We do know that sometimes God answers prayers when they're not the best things - that might seem astounding to you, but we read in Psalm 106:15 that God in the wilderness gave to the people of Israel their request, but sent leanness into their souls. It wasn't the best thing, but God allowed it to happen for His own sovereign purposes. People who believe that Hezekiah shouldn't have prayed like this point out that the king's final 15 years of his life involved a sinful alliance with the Babylonians that we read about in verses 12 to 21 of chapter 20, it also involved the birth of King Manasseh, his son, Judah's most wicked king - even though Manasseh repented in 2 Chronicles 33, they say 'Well, his reign wouldn't have been inflicted, such an unrighteous iniquitous reign, upon the people if Hezekiah hadn't lived those extra 15 years'. But on the other hand, other scholars will point to the fact that Hezekiah, when this word came from Isaiah that he would die, Hezekiah had no sons at all. There was no heir to the throne, and therefore this 'Set your house in order', can literally be translated 'Pick out a man to succeed you to the throne'. God had promised that Judah would always have a descendant of David on the throne, therefore some scholars believe that Hezekiah was actually holding on to the promise of God, that he would have to live and He would have to give him a son to fulfil His promise.
Well, one good question to ask, without coming down on either of these conclusions, is: how did Hezekiah use the bonus of the 15 years that God gave to him? How did he use them? Well, we read in 2 Kings that all of his sons were born in those 15 years, and though Manasseh was a godless king, among his sons was Josiah, one of the greatest kings and reformers that Judah ever knew. Also Hezekiah was busy, and if you turn to Proverbs 25, you don't need to, but at your own leisure in verse 1 we read of the men of Hezekiah. The men of Hezekiah were a group of scribes whose job it was to copy the Old Testament Scriptures and actually put them in order, and the order of some Old Testament books and chapters that we actually have in our Bible today are owed to the men of Hezekiah. In fact, two meetings previously in the Breaking of Bread and on Thursday night, a couple of Thursday nights ago, we have had meditations on the Psalms of degrees, the songs of degrees from Psalm 120 through to 134. There are several explanations to what Psalms of degrees actually mean, but the fact of the matter is it's probably true that Hezekiah's men, his scribes, put these Psalms of degrees together to commemorate his recovery from sickness. It's very interesting to read the Psalms in that light, but also at the end of some Old Testament Hebrew manuscripts you often find these Hebrew letters written: 'HZK' - Hezekiah, meaning 'commemorated to Hezekiah's reign', and that the writing of those manuscripts, the order that they were put in, is to commemorate Hezekiah's devotedness and thankfulness and gratefulness to God for adding 15 years onto his life.
Whatever the answer to the complex question of whether Hezekiah should have prayed to God for the elongation of his life is, the fact of the matter is that he put those 15 years of his life to good use. He may have made some mistakes during them, I believe he did, but much of his 15 years was used wisely. The point I want to make to you today is this: here is a man, I don't think we know of any other man in the Bible apart from the Lord Jesus of course, who knew how much more time was allotted to him on this earth, and he used the majority of it well to glorify God.
What would you do if God said to you today: 'You're going to die tomorrow'? Or 'You're going to die this time next week'? How would you spend the rest of the day? How would you spend the rest of the week? How would you put your house in order like Hezekiah? Would you need to put it in order regarding salvation? For the cry of salvation is: 'Today is the day of salvation', you must trust Christ today! Maybe you haven't done that, and that's the way you would have to set your life in order. You might be like the fool in Luke chapter 12, and you've decided you're going to eat and drink and make merry, and God will say to you: 'Tomorrow you'll die, and you're a fool, for then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?'.
Would you have to set your life in order regarding sanctification? You're not living a holy life as a Christian? Or in service? The Lord has told you to do something or go somewhere, and you've disobeyed Him, and you know that you've left that thing undone that God has told you to do. Or would you be like John Wesley, who was asked the question on one occasion: 'What would you do today if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?', and he said 'I would live the way I lived yesterday'. Who of us can say that? 'I would do just what I did yesterday', because your life is in the will of God. But the fact of the matter is: none of us know how long we've got here, at least I assume none of us know - but all of us, without an exception, have been given an allotted lifespan by God. God knows the hour, God knows the day, it is declared by God, and Hezekiah is proof of that fact. The question that remains to all of us is: how are we spending that time? That time is a grace gift from God to use for Him: what shall I do with the lease of years that God has given to me? Paul says: 'Redeem the time, for the days are evil'.
Another encouraging truth from this is the fact that if we are truly living in and for the will of God, our time, our lifespan will be preserved until God's purpose is through with us. As Whitefield put it: 'I am immortal until my life's work is done'. Well, I want to move on, because my final point is simply this: though he was a man who overcame, and a man of courage, and a man of prayer, and a man of purpose in God's providence, he was a man who was only, at best, a man. A man who was only, at best, a man - and you've heard the little quip: 'The best of men are only men at best'. What Assyria could not accomplish by force because of Hezekiah's courage, Babylon in chapter 20 coming by stealth and guile attempted and won. They got Hezekiah to sin where Assyria couldn't. Isn't it true that the devil sometimes comes like a roaring lion, like Sennacherib of the Assyrians, but there are other times that he comes like a serpent, like the Babylonians, in guile, stealth and subtlety.
We read in chapter 20 that Hezekiah's pride, after he had victory over the Assyrians, after he had been healed miraculously by God, his pride got hold of him and he entered into an alliance with Babylon - and God would curse the people for it. An interesting note here is the fact that he had been on the throne now for some time, and maybe you're a long way on your Christian life and you think you know it all, you think you've got everything worked out - Hezekiah perhaps was like that in his reign, and God had prospered him, but had he got to the point in his life where he was trusting in his riches and his reputation and his own strength more than God? Is it possible to rely upon God's gifts rather than the Giver of those gifts, God Himself? Pride was the reason for Hezekiah's fall. He took that Babylonian leader into the treasure room, and he showed them everything that Judah had to their own, and he literally handed all the spiritual victories of his life over to the devil through pride.
I don't know how many spiritual victories you've had in your life, but one thing I do know, having a few, is that you can get intoxicated by the victory. You forget that any victory that you have is owed to God's grace. Maybe you think unconsciously: 'I had something to do with that, that was down to my strength or expertise' - and then, when we think like that, the devil makes his move. Hezekiah fell in this regard: he let the enemy see the wealth and the weapons, and he was carried away with his own pride. We read of it in verse 15: 'my house', and 'my treasures' he talks about. Because of his pride the same prophet that brought the joyful message of his physical healing had to convey the sad message of judgment that would come upon the people. Babylon would invade them and take the people away captive, and every treasure that Hezekiah showed the Babylonians would be lost.
Here is the lesson, if there's any that I want you to carry with you today, and it's found in verse 31 of 2 Chronicles 32. Please turn this one up, 2 Chronicles 32 verse 31, God in this test in Hezekiah's life was testing the state of his heart, God was testing the state of his heart. We read this illuminating statement in 2 Chronicles 32 verse 31, it's found in this verse, look for it: 'God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart'. Read that again: 'God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart'. When God left him to try him, Hezekiah swiftly learned of his own depravity. If God removed some of His gracious influences from you, or from me, how would we fare? Are you listening? If God removed some of His gracious influences from you or me, how would we do? Think of this one: food, when He takes food away from people in the Old Testament, they start eating each other. Some of us are sanctified by a good meal three times a day. What about our marriage relationship? Maybe you think you'd be sanctified more if you weren't in that! But nevertheless the Bible teaches us the opposite: it is a form of sanctification. How would you control yourself? What about God's providence? If His providence wasn't instrumental in our affairs down here on earth, would there not be chaos wreaked upon our existence?
Here what we are seeing is that God left him to try him to know all that was in his heart, and we find that this greatest of men was a man at best, and without God he was helpless and hopeless! It's a characteristic feature of divine revelation in Scriptures that portraits painted of men of God are painted Cromwell's way - you know what that is? Warts and all. You see, it's when we forget our own inherent depravity that we are in danger. Did not Paul say that in 1 Corinthians chapter 15? Let me read it for you, 1 Corinthians 15:9: 'For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me'. That's why he said in 1 Corinthians: 'Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed, lest he fall'. C.S. Lewis said that pride is the sin by which the devil became the devil. Pride can be in the greatest men of God.
Was it Robbie Burns who said: 'O for the gift to see ourselves as others see us'? Oh for the gift to see ourselves without grace! J.C. Ryle, that Bishop of Liverpool, said: 'A holy man will see more evil in his own heart than in any other in the world. He will understand something of Abraham's feeling when he says, 'I am dust and ashes', and Jacob when he says, 'I am less than the least of all Thy mercies', and Job when he said, 'I am vile', and Paul when he says, 'I am the chief of sinners''. Ryle goes on to speak of holy John Bradford who was burned at the stake, and he tells that how sometimes when he finished his letters he finished them with these words: 'A most miserable sinner, John Bradford'. William Grimshaw equally, in his last words upon his deathbed, was heard to say: 'Here goes an unprofitable servant'. Where are we regarding the knowledge of our own depravity, and without God's grace what we would be? Can that be the reason why at some time God allows us to fall, to remind us that we need Him whoever we are! The greatest of men are nothing without God's grace. It's one thing to start the Christian life well, it's one thing to go on well, it's another thing to finish well. Isaiah pronounced to him the judgment that Babylon would overcome them, but Hezekiah is heard to say - and I don't know what spirit he said it in - 'That's the word of God, and it's good'.
I remember early in my Christian life, and with this I finish, I read a book by R.A. Torrey entitled 'Why God Used D.L. Moody', and under a paragraph entitled 'Humility' R.A. Torrey wrote these words to every Christian: 'Listen: get down upon your face before God. I believe here lies one of the most dangerous snares of the Devil. When the Devil cannot discourage a man, he approaches him on another tack, which he knows is far worse in its results; he puffs him up by whispering in his ear: "You are the leading evangelist of the day. You are the man who will sweep everything before you. You are the coming man. You are the D. L. Moody of the day"; and if you listen to him, he will ruin you'. Now listen to this: 'The entire shore of the history of Christian workers is strewn with the wrecks of gallant vessels that were full of promise a few years ago, but these men became puffed up and were driven on the rocks by the wild winds of their own raging self-esteem'. They didn't learn what it was to say 'O to grace, how great a debtor', they hadn't abided at the cross - for no one can stay at the foot of the cross without a knowledge of their sin, without securing a constant humility. My friend, if you contemplate Calvary you will say, as we have sung:
'O Lord I believe it with wonder and joy,
Confirm Thou this precious belief,
While daily I learn that I in myself,
Of sinners am vilest and chief'.
He was the best of men, a man of courage, a man who overcame, a man of prayer, a man of purpose in God's providence - but he was only a man, just as we are, and we need Him every hour of our lives.
'Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my smitten heart with tears, two wonders I confess:
The wonders of redeeming love and my own worthlessness'.
'My sinful self, my only shame, my glory all, the cross'. Lord, help us to be more like Hezekiah, but help us to boast in nothing but the cross. Lord, help us, if we need to get back to the cross, and if we can by Thy grace get back there, help us to stay beneath it. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "The Best Of Men, A Man At Best" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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