What have they seen?
In a moment of self-pride, we can miss an opportunity of a lifetime. Where we are, why we are, and who we are must all reflect God’s eternal purposes in life — and not our fleeting wishes.
Amidst the ups and downs of the chronicles of the kings of Israel and Judah, in the ebb and flow of the history of Israel after Solomon, kings rose and kings fell. Some were evil, yet not completely evil; some were good, yet not totally so. Some were totally evil, leaving no room for God to work. Others were good, but not fully so. Saga after royal saga is contoured by what the kings did in terms of loyalty to God, keeping away from paganism and idolatry, and doing or not doing that which was right in the eyes of God.
In this parade of kings, at a momentous point in Israel’s moral history, after serial failures of king after king who did evil, a new king suddenly appears on the scene who “did right” in the sight of God. Incredible! You can read about it in 2 Chronicles 29 and in 2 Kings 18.
How did Hezekiah do what was right? His father clearly was not righteous. Perhaps he had a godly mother — after all, she was a daughter of priests. But perhaps, even more importantly, Hezekiah made some important decisions as a young man that changed the course of his life. The book of 2 Kings mentions great accomplishments: regaining much of the kingdom’s territory and riches that had been lost, and liberating Judah from the tyranny of foreign powers that had made it a tributary. Even more significantly, Hezekiah restored the true worship of God, destroying the idols and their altars that dotted the nation. He even destroyed the bronze serpent that Moses had made in the desert (Numbers 21:8-9), because by this time people were burning incense and worshipping it (2 Kings 18:4). Truly, Hezekiah accomplished great things and “there was great joy in Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 30:26).
When things were going well for the king, a prophet enters the story. Isaiah had access to the king, whom he often visited with messages from God. On one occasion, for example, Hezekiah came to the temple completely distraught because the Assyrians were marching against him with an army of 185,000 and threatening to overwhelm Judah. At such a perilous time, Hezekiah turned to the temple to pray and await God’s word. And the word came through Isaiah. His message was simple and direct: “Do not be afraid” (2 Kings 19:6). Everything turned out all right.
Sometime thereafter, Hezekiah fell sick. The news this time was not good. “Set your house in order,” Isaiah warned, “because you will die, and not live” (2 Kings 20:1). Hezekiah began to weep like a child. “Oh, God, remember all the wonderful things that I have done!” As if God should need to be reminded! Incredibly, before Isaiah had left the middle court, God answered Hezekiah, “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you … and I will add fifteen years to your life” (verses 5-6).
So God had spoken. But Hezekiah wanted further assurance: “Can’t I have a sign that God will heal me?” Isaiah replied, “Shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or shall it go back ten steps?” Now Hezekiah may have been ill, but he wasn’t dumb. “It is a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps,” the king said to himself, and asked the prophet to have the shadow go back ten steps. And so it happened.
Hezekiah’s illness and healing became front-page news, and why shouldn’t it! After all, in addition to the king’s illness, there was the unheard of and the unexplainable: the miracle of the shadow in reverse gear. Even the kings of distant nations were impressed. One of them, Merodach-Baladan, king of Babylon, sent emissaries with letters and a gift. “Hezekiah received the messengers and showed them all that was in his storehouses — the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine oil — his armory and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them” (verse 13). And the Babylonians returned home with great news, but not a word about the One who causes and bestows good news.
Isaiah re-enters the scene. “What did those men say, and where did they come from?” “Oh, they came from a distant land,” Hezekiah replied. “From Babylon.” “What did they see?” Isaiah asked. “Well, everything!” Hezekiah exclaimed. “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, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD” (verses 16-17).
Reading that prophetic rebuke causes a certain indignation. Why didn’t Isaiah come ahead of time, to instruct Hezekiah how best to relate to the Babylonians? Why did he wait until after they had left? Why didn’t Isaiah say, “Hezekiah, some Babylonians are coming. I know that sometimes you are proud and a bit haughty, but don’t go showing off your treasure. That would be very dangerous!” Why didn’t Isaiah warn him?
The answer is found in 2 Chronicles 32. After recounting all of the great accomplishments of King Hezekiah, beginning in verse 23, the chronicler refers to the king’s illness and that a miracle took place, although the precise nature of that miracle is not specified. So why didn’t Isaiah forewarn Hezekiah about the visit? Verse 31 clarifies, “But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.”
The Babylonian princes came to learn more about the wonderful works of God, but King Hezekiah showed them his own works, his treasure, and his accomplishments. And one of the Babylonian visitors took careful notes. The Babylonians would return a later day to enrich themselves with the treasures of Jerusalem!
Hezekiah, in one moment of self and pride, missed an opportunity of a lifetime. “The visit of these messengers from the ruler of a faraway land gave Hezekiah an opportunity to extol the living God. How easy it would have been for him to tell them of God, the upholder of all created things, through whose favor his own life had been spared when all other hope had fled! What momentous transformations might have taken place had these seekers after truth from the plains of Chaldea been led to acknowledge the supreme sovereignty of the living God!”1
I have the privilege of working at Montemorelos University in Mexico. Some years ago, a national accrediting body sent a committee to review the School of Medicine for its initial accreditation. A number of the faculty and students were worried. After all, there were other schools of medicine in the country that were larger, and had more imposing structures and perhaps better-equipped laboratories. What should we show them? Then someone said, “This visit isn’t about us. It is about God. More than anything else, we want them to see our God.”
Now, that didn’t mean that we didn’t work hard to prepare the required documentation, or to make sure that the facilities were the best that we could have. Academic excellence was important, and so were high-quality clinical experiences. But it was a matter of our priorities.
What did they see? Their own words told the story. “This is incredible! We have never seen anything like this anywhere else! These students are different. The teachers are different. You seem to have a purpose that goes beyond yourselves, a moral framework that guides your lives, a commitment to love and to serve.”
What did they see? Not the facilities, nor the equipment. They saw God reflected in the lives of His children.
What will others see in your house? What will they see in your life? Will they listen to a litany of your accomplishments? Will they see your trophies and acquisitions? Or will they see the life-changing power of God?
Ruth Hernandez Vital (Ph.D., Montemorelos University) is associate academic vice-president at Montemorelos University. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1943), 344.