Part 1 of 12
In 2004, the Lord clearly called my husband and me to full-time missions in the Philippines. The story that got us to that point of surrender could fill volumes, but suffice it to say, we began the support-raising process with aplomb and tenacity. However, after about a year, our support sagged on the stingy side of halfway and our spirits lagged precariously behind our needed quota.
I distinctly remember discussion after discussion about what to do with our house: Should we rent it out? Should we find a manager? Or should we sell it? We had already determined that when we hit 50% of our needed support, we would make our final decisions about what to do with our home, but eventually, the discussions took another turn: What if our support never comes in? What do we do then?
In wrestling through some of these issues with the Lord, He clearly placed His probing finger on this aspect of our support discovery. In essence, the question on the table had to do with my willingness to sell that home. I refused to even think of taking that option, fighting it fiercely. Instead, I kept asking my husband if he had heard from any managers or people willing to rent; the answer always being a resounding “no.”
“It’s just a house,” you might say, and you would be right, mostly. It was only a house, but to me, it represented something far more – more deep, more painful, and more gut-wrenching. You see, as a missionary kid, my parents moved to three different language groups in my first 18 formative years, so my “home base” was tried by, not just a movement in location, but a movement in culture and language…three times over. I went to a boarding school from age 6 to age 18, living in one place for only a semester at a time. For twelve years I practically lived out of a suitcase, only unpacking for a couple months at a shot before moving from home to school every Christmas and summer vacation and school to home every four months. Add to that three home service trips to a country – America – where I did not know anyone and needed to try and fit in when I clearly did not. These every-five-year moves added incredible stress to an already-present type of itinerant living.
As I struggled through this house decision with the Lord, the term that kept coming up was the overwhelming word ‘security.’ After Tony and I bought the house, we had lived in it for five years; that’s the longest I had ever stayed in one place. We raised our two boys in that home and its walls were filled with memories galore. I had made it my own: painting, decorating, and wallpapering; in short, creating a place where my home-making and self-designing beauty was an expression of my personal identity. For the first time in my life, I had a place to call my own, a place that seemed rooted, a place that felt securely me.
What God was asking me to give up was not just four walls and a roof. It was my guarantee for a place of retirement. It was a certainty of an assured future. It was the reliability, dependability and soundness of groundedness. The question on the table was, “Could I believe that God would take care of me? Would He look after my children, foresee my needs in my old age, and provide for me when money was short in the coffers? In short, did I truly trust God to be my security?
My sad struggle with the Lord revealed that I truly did not trust God to be my all in all. I was hedging my bets, hoping that God would somehow allow me to protect this security idol in one corner of my heart and serve him almost-wholeheartedly with the rest. It was not to be. (As an aside, lack of surrender toward God will never be allowed to just be in your relationship with the Lord. To love the Lord requires your whole heart, soul, mind and strength, no strings attached.)
I remember my last morning of wrestling with acute clarity. It was a knock-down-drag-out fight, but in the end, I surrendered. And finally, I felt peace. I informed my husband that yes, I was finally ready to sell the house and we put on our weekly prayer update this need as a prayer request.
Within a day or so, I heard my front doorbell ring. Standing on the stoop was a man I had known from a previous church years before. After dispensing with the pleasantries, he asked me, “Do you know of any people in the subdivision who are wanting to sell their house?” With a smile on my face, I invited him in to recount to him our story. Within less than a hour, we had a realtor.
That afternoon, my husband noticed a car that kept driving past our house, one in which he recognized the driver. On the car’s next drive-by, he ran down to the road to find out what was going on. The car’s owners happened to be former students of Tony’s and they told us that they were wanting to look at our house. They had read in our update about our desire to sell and wanted to see our place, but were too shy to just walk up to our door. Tony invited them in, at which point they began to rave about our home.
The next evening they returned with her parents to see the house. All seemed interested in the place and by closing time the next day, they had a realtor and a mortgage drawn up. That afternoon, just a couple of days after my surrender, our realtor put a ‘Sale Pending’ sign in our front lawn. We never had to put our house up for sale; God sold it for us. The rest of the story is that our support began to pour in and within six months, we were fully supported and making plans for our move to the Philippines.
As you may have already gathered, this next series of devotionals will hammer out the ramifications of a familiar-but-often-seldom-lived word: trust. What does it mean to trust? This simple answer and many more are up for discussion over these next weeks: building a life that trusts, bringing doubts into a focused trust, and living out that trust in the midst of storms that inevitably beat upon a life determined to believe.
Our protagonist over the next couple of months will be Hezekiah, one of the most godly of Judah’s kings. His story spans quite a large amount of the Old Testament, some thirteen chapters spread throughout 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles and Isaiah.
There are many lessons to be learned from these thirteen registered glimpses into Hezekiah’s life, but our perusal will only focus on one main theme: Hezekiah’s trust – and sometimes lack thereof – in God. By studying Hezekiah’s life, his trials, and his responses, you and I can glean helpful tools by way of his example; tools that will dig out the path of confidence toward a God we may sometimes struggle to trust, if we are truly honest with ourselves and with God.
This will be a long mini-series – a marathon of ten parts – but I hope this undertaking will not be burdensome in its longevity. Instead, I pray that the Holy Spirit will use this king’s vulnerable walk with His trustworthy Creator to breathe new life into your relationship with this same loving and ever-present Creator.
The goal of this series, for me, is to learn to rest better in what I know about God, to believe more whole-heartedly in what He has told me about myself, and to fight more effectively against the enemy of my soul. This enemy who desires nothing more than to interrupt love by driving wedges of unbelief into a sweet relationship. Learning to trust brings deeper intimacy. Living in trust solidifies identity and wielding trust leads to mind-blowing and God-pleasuring integrity.
I have a daunting task ahead of me – keeping your attention for ten weeks while mining truths from a formidable amount of text – but I am also very excited to see where God will lead us over these next three months. I am anticipating a great work of the Spirit in my life as I seek to clearly “hold out the word of life” (Phil. 2:16a) on a very applicable and personal subject. And dear one, I pray the same for you.
May God meet each of us at the table of His presence as we feast on Him, the Bread of Life, and the trustworthy sustenance of our souls.
In July of 1997, my husband and I landed in Manila full of hope and dreams for our ministry. We were young, had no children, and felt like we could conquer the world. Both of us started the school year teaching at Faith Academy, a school for missionary kids, content with where God had placed us. But quite unknown to us, storm clouds, both literally and spiritually, were gathering on our horizon.
On August 18, we finished teaching and left soon after to drive into the inner city to have supper with one of my former classmates from high school, who just happened to be visiting her parents still serving with SIL in Manila. We were too naive to check the forecast or to let anyone know where we were going; two lessons that were learned unforgettably in our future typhoon adventure.
While we were enjoying some Filipino food, we noticed that it had begun to rain. My friend’s parents indicated that we might want to hurry the meal along because the traffic would slow to a crawl dealing with floods. We did not really listen to that admonition, but continued on eating and enjoying our time together.
Hours later around 9:30 p.m., we exited the mall to find traffic at an almost stand-still. Getting into our car and out onto the highway toward home was a herculean feat, but it was just the beginning. Hours went by with us crawling feet by agonizing feet toward our home. Around midnight, we came to a complete halt. My husband was able to maneuver our little car into the middle section of the road, which was a bit higher than the sides and there we sat.
We turned off the car and waited. Rain poured down on the outside of our car and the floods rose up around us and even into our car. I sat with my feet on the dash so they would not get wet. People sloshed by all night, abandoning their cars and bikes to be able to get home.
I wore daily wear contacts at the time and knew I had to get them out, but I did not have my case or solution with me. Tony opened the door to get some rain in a disc case and I took my contacts out, with the intention of leaving them in the case. In the process, I lost one in the car, effectively blinding me.
The heat was intense. Because we had to conserve gas by turning off our car, we could not get any air into the car. It was raining anyway, like cats and dogs. Imagine sitting in a closed-up car in the middle of a tropical storm on a tropical island during the monsoon season.
Blind. Boiling hot. Bladder full. Pretty nervous and not having any clue of what to do, we sat there in the sloshy, rainy, stifling, darkness all through the night.
At about 6 A.M., a man came toward us in the rain and we noticed he was trying to turn people around. Finally catching on, we prayed a desperate prayer that our car would start and turned the key. Miraculously enough, it sputtered and caught. Even with the water on the inside of the car, it had not flooded the engine.
Tony did a multi-point turn and finally maneuvered our car back the way we had come into a mall parking lot. As we came up off the road, water poured out the back of our car. We parked it and sat on the sidewalk of the mall until the mall opened. (I did find an employee’s bathroom and availed of that luxury immediately.) Another couple teachers from Faith were also stuck in the flood and after finding each other, we hung out until the mall opened and we were able to buy tickets to a movie and finally go to sleep.
The rest of the story is that our mission personnel director had been calling around to locate everyone and of course, we had come up missing. She contacted the principal of the high school and search teams were dispatched. They did eventually find us and after buying junk clothes, we walked through the flooded main intersection in knee-deep water to a van waiting for us on the other side, which took us home to shower and sleep. We arrived home 26 hours after we had left to drive into town for a simple supper meal.
Typhoon Ibiang was our nemesis, the content of our first missionary newsletter, and our best educator. Before the typhoon, we had no idea of the severity of the storms, the mess of the traffic, or the danger of the floods. We were inexperienced about how to live in a tropical country in the typhoon season. Not only that, but we disregarded advice of seasoned missionaries and we neglected to inform anyone as to our whereabouts, causing a lot of stress for other people in our school and mission.
After the lessons of our flood experience, we often checked the forecast before we went anywhere on the roads in the rainy season. We let people know where we were headed and when we thought we might be back. We packed an emergency kit in our trunk, with extra clothes and blankets. More often than not, we just stayed home instead of going out on the town on a Friday night, the worst traffic night of the week. Even though typhoon Ibiang got the best of us that night, it also became our best teacher. Our applied knowledge became fodder for future decisions that were much wiser; maybe you could even say, enlightened.
The Storms of Life
A lifetime of walking through this world often runs parallel to our exciting-but-terrifying typhoon adventure. Life runs on auto-pilot, seemingly smooth-sailing for quite a while, lulling us into thinking it will always be easy. But inevitably, storm clouds begin to pile up on our horizon, signaling a typhoon deluge is in store for us. The rains fall and beat against our soul. The floods begin to rise, completely overwhelming our faith and our past knowledge about God and ourselves. We become completely overwhelmed by waves and wind, the circumstances that blow against us, and they begin to demolish our trust in God. These are the storms of life, systems that gust against our hope and bluster against our faith. There may be warning or there may not be; storms have a habit of making matchsticks of our planning, blowing into our lives quickly and often leaving behind more experience than we ever wanted.
Storms may come as trials, these testings of our faith, that Jesus allows to develop perseverance in our lives (James 1:3). The car will break down and with it three other major appliances. This is to teach us that life here is tenable and heaven is our real home. These storms are not preventable, but they are extremely educational and prove the level of trust that is actually placed in God.
Storms may come as personal failures, times when we neglect to live purely and solely for the glory of God. Temptation sometimes gets the better of us and we fall and hurt our reputation and others in the process. These are storms of the flesh, our personal fight with the old nature Christ is trying to sanctify within us. Hopefully, I will prove in this devotional that these kinds of storms can be nullified or greatly diminished by a relationship of trust.
There is another kind of storm though. These are vicious tropical storms, typhoons leveled at us by this world’s villainous weather-maker. If you are for God, then Satan is against you, and he will use your bad habits, this world’s evil offerings, and his personally vindictive vendetta against God to bring havoc into your life.
Satan uses our tendencies, other people, and trauma to work his strategy against us. He knows how much time you spend on the internet and will invent an “Ibiang” that comes against your purity. He knows your hurts and will connive a situation that causes even more suffering in those vulnerable places. He will use the words of your family, the actions of your friends, the decisions of your elders – and so many more tactics – to flood your life with uncertainty and despair. Satan is no respecter of persons, of tactics or of justice. He is only interested in drowning your trust in God.
The Boys Scouts have a motto: Be prepared. This means you are always to be in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty. You learn up-front about tropical storms. You educate yourself about your environment. You assemble the necessary items for emergencies, filling up your car with non-perishable food and blankets and clothes. You keep others well-informed; networking shares the load and encourages the heart. You watch the weather and change plans that are deemed dangerous. This is how you weather the real storms in life.
But what about the storms of the soul? How do you and I prepare for physical storms that affect our psyche, for emotional storms that flood our faith and for spiritual storms that seek to drown out God’s voice?
Just like the Boy Scouts, we have got to learn to be prepared. Storms are going to come. It is inevitable, but here is a small key to navigating the storms of life: preparation begins in the quiet before the storms. When life is sailing smoothly along, it is easy to ride the gentle waves, to lay back and enjoy the ride, to coast on our successes, and to congratulate ourselves for a job well done.
But this complacent attitude is the very action Satan desires from you. If you are lulled into a false contentment, you will never know what eventually hits you or how to navigate the storms of life with an unflagging faith. The calm before the storm is your training ground. It is where you prepare for the typhoons that will come.
The Lord instigated this preparedness mentality. Before the Israelites entered into the Promised Land, the Lord warned them, “When the LORD…brings you into the land…to give you a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant – then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Deu. 6:10-12).
The Lord knows our tendencies to coast in the good times. We do not just become satisfied, we become self-satisfied; proud of ourselves and our good fortune (Deut. 8:13). We neglect to give God the glory that is due Him and to cling to Him with all of our hearts. God was careful to exhort His people not to forget Him. You see, the calm before the storm is the place to remember.
On the heels of this warning, God went on for four more chapters with instructions on how to be prepared. They were to fear God and serve Him only (6:13). They were not to follow other gods (6:14-15). They were never to test God (6:16). They were to obey God’s commands (6:18) and the list goes on and on. The calm before the storm is the place to train in righteousness.
Not only that, but chapter 7 is a very clear picture of what they are to do to the peoples whose land they have possessed. They were to destroy them (7:2). They did this by breaking, smashing, cutting and burning their idols (7:5). They were to totally remove their influence over them, making no treaties with them and showing no mercy (7:2). They were not to intermarry with them (7:3), but were called to annihilate them. In case you do not know what that means, they were to war against them and slaughter them. The calm before the storm is the place to learn to fight spiritual battles.
While it is certainly easier to go with the flow in a non-stress time of life, it is dangerous for your future. The calm before the storm is integral to your ability to faithfully navigate storms, to handle trials that come, or to quell the siren call of the flesh. Storms will inevitably work to overwhelm you and me if we are not preparing ourselves to remember, to train, and to fight.
The Three “I’s”
Eight years ago – has it been that long? – the Lord allowed a titanic storm into my life. We were back in the States for a furlough year, trying to raise support to return to the field. In January of that year, my son and I were involved in a sledding accident, which broke my back. I was literally out of commission, hardly able to do anything, for four months.
In the early weeks of that trial, I could not lay in one position for more than about 30 minutes at a time; nor could I sit or stand more than that length of time. I was constantly changing positions, moving from my bed to my blue chair in the living room to my walker all night and all day in order to alleviate the pain. I remember asking the Lord what He wanted me to do in the midst of this trial. I was supposed to be teaching the Bible study at our church, but that option had been voided by the accident. I really wanted to use my time profitably and not waste the lessons God had for me.
One dark 2 A.M. morning, I was praying and reading my Bible while the house slept around me. This verse jumped off the page and into my heart, “The sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back” (Isa 50:4-5).
On the heels of my desire and consequent prayer to be useful in this obviously useless time, this verse became my marching orders. I knew God was saying that in those many hours when others were sleeping and I was up sitting awkwardly and pacing, I could read my Bible and write encouraging notes full of Scripture to people that God brought to my mind. In my excitement, I began looking at Scripture in an adventurous way. What would God say today that would encourage someone? To whom might this passage be beneficial? I realized that my forced season of physical inactivity could become a very fruitful season of spiritual activity.
Since that time, I have a new awareness of the importance of my quiet time with God. Yes, it is to encourage and sustain me, and it does; but more than that, it fortifies me with teaching fodder, with words of encouragement to sustain others and with the answers to people’s questions that cross my path on any given day. I take more seriously the exhortation in 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”
Notice that phrase ‘be prepared.” My devoted time with the Lord prepares me to preach His Word. It prepares me to correct an erring child, to rebuke a lie that infests a friend’s faith, or to encourage those who are down and out. It also prepares me to be patient with others since God is patient with me and to be careful how I instruct; the Word is the Holy Spirit’s text for guiding and leading.
Throughout the years, the Lord has developed in me a real heart for discipleship. I long to see women growing in the Word, in their faith, and in their walk with God. I desire, more than anything else this world offers, to be a part of the maturing process of my sisters in Christ. I pray often for opportunities to sow the seed of the words of God.
Whenever God gives me these opportunities to speak up for Him – whether it be in Bible study, in mentoring a younger women, in discipling a thirsty believer, or even in casual conversation – the three “I’s” are never far from my mind. For me, these three words summarize everything that is needed to walk an abundant life with God. The three “I’s” are: intimacy, identity, and integrity.
Intimacy speaks of the sweetness of fellowship with our heavenly Father. In fleshing out what intimacy means, I can answer questions like, “What does a quiet time involve? When should I meet with God? How do I learn to hear His voice? How do I best come to know God? Does He really love me and how do I know that? How do I move from a dry reading of God’s truths to a panting, desperate longing to meet with Him?” All these questions and many more are met at the crossroads of intimacy.
Having an intimate relationship with the Lover of the universe prepares you for the inevitable storms of life that will rock your trust in God.
The word ‘identity’ speaks of belonging. When you accepted Christ’s work on the cross personally, He came to dwell within you in the Person of the Holy Spirit. At that moment, your life changed forever. Along with the indwelling Presence of God, which is more inheritance than you might be able to comprehend, you have also been given countless treasures in Christ; most of them speak to our new identity in Him.
Knowing and living solidly in that identity prepares you for the inevitable storms of life that will rock your grounding in God.
The last “I” – integrity – covers just about everything else you need to know on your spiritual journey. It houses all the precious treasures of our spiritual armor: how we are equipped, how we can stand our ground against Satan’s attacks, and how we fight spiritual battles. It enables us to live in purity before God and men. God’s grace, in the form of our integrity – teaches us to “say ‘no’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…” (Tit. 2:11).
Walking in the truth that helps you stand your ground prepares you for the inevitable storms of life that will rock your piety in God.
The Perfect Example
I know you are wondering if we will ever get to Hezekiah. We will, but I first believe it is necessary to lay some groundwork about the calm before the storm. You see, that is where we will find Hezekiah later on today – in the calm, but he does not coast on his successes. He does not lay back on his beach chair, drinking his Cherry Coke. He is proactive in his inactive trial season and the actions he takes there are intentional preparation for all the storms of life that will follow.
We have been laying out some principles today so far in our time together. From the Israelites we learned the importance of remembering God in our off-season, of training, and of learning to fight. From my experience in a laid-up trial, we have gleaned that preparation involves being in the Word and sharing that unilaterally when the Spirit moves. We have also seen the importance of an intimate relationship with God, the essential grasping of our spiritual identity and the walk of integrity that opens doors with God and men. Now, I want to give you a living, breathing example of how this all plays out in real-time.
All four gospels tell the story of Jesus’ baptism in different ways, emphasizing different angles. I am partial to Matthew’s account, which sticks to Jesus’ baptism alone. One day, Jesus came from Galilee where He lived to the Jordan where John lived. He came for the express purpose of being baptized by his cousin.
John, Matthew says, tried to deter him, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me” (Mt. 3:14)? Jesus reply is astounding, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (v 15). In case you do not understand, Jesus states that all that God had sought to do, putting things right through all the preceding centuries, was coming together right then in His baptism (paraphrase of MSG). “It must be done, for we must carry out all that God requires” (NLT).
In case you have not connected the dots yet, Jesus’ answer came from a place of great integrity. Obeying God’s ways, His timing, His methods, ranked high on Jesus’ to-do list. He was most concerned with living in an obedient, pure way before God.
Matthew continues his account, saying that when Jesus came up out of the water, heaven was opened and the Spirit of God descended like a dove upon Him. A voice spoke over heavenly loudspeakers, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (v 17). Mark puts this all in first person, “You are my Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased (Mk. 1:11). The NIV is missing an important word, I think, that is in the NKJV, “This is my beloved Son.”
In this earth-shaking moment that could have obliterated any doubt for anyone listening, God spoke personally to His Son. There is no record in the gospels of the crowd hearing and understanding this heavenly voice. Mark says that only Jesus saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. This was a private moment, I believe, between the Father and the Son; a moment of integral preparation.
God wanted Jesus to know three things about their relationship having to do with intimacy, identity and integrity. First, God affirmed their intimate relationship. He called Jesus His beloved, and then spoke about how much He loved His Son. Next, He affirmed His identity, calling Him His beloved Son. As the Son, He was God in man. He was powerfully divine, yet humbly human. Reminding Him of His identity instilled in Jesus who He was. The last thing spoken was that God was very pleased with Jesus. He had watched Jesus obey his parents for thirty years (Lk. 2:51-52) and He took this special moment to affirm Jesus’ integrity.
Just to be clear, God began Jesus’ ministry fixed on the three “I’s” of intimacy, identity and integrity. This foundation, laid in heaven and reaffirmed on the banks of the Jordan river that day, became the basis for Christ’s entire ministry.
Immediately upon the heels of this affirmation, God brought a storm into Jesus’ life. Mark says that “at once the Spirit sent him out into the desert and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan” (Mk. 1:12). Luke says that he fasted for those days of temptation and at the end of them, He was very hungry (Lk. 4:2). His storm had weakened Him physically, emotionally, and spiritually; at least that was what Satan was counting on. But, Jesus was not spiritually weak, because during the thirty years of learning obedience and growing in favor with God and men, He was preparing Himself in the calm before the storm.
Satan came at Him three times with three different types of temptations. I could spend a lot of time studying this, but I just want to highlight one main thought. Look at how Satan approached him, keeping in mind what God just said by the Jordan river, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread…if you worship me, it will all be yours…If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here…” (Lk. 4:3, 7, 9).
Did you see that phrase, “If you are the Son of God?” Satan’s temptations were primarily focused on the three “I’s.” He was digging at Jesus’ intimacy with God, he was cutting at Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, and he was working hard to introduce doubt into Jesus’ integrity by causing Him to do what Satan wanted over what His Father wanted.
The temptations of Jesus were enticing because He was weak and hungry and probably very tired. And just so you know, Satan does not play fair. He comes against us, not when we are strong and stable and fortified, but when we are H – Hungry, A – Angry, L – Lonely, and T – Tired. He attacks when we are already low and discouraged and under the stormy weather.
But Jesus was spiritually prepared. God knew He needed to be reminded, before the storms came, that He was intimately loved, divinely identified, and full of righteous integrity that pleased God. That knowledge, and the application of the truths of Scripture, are what won the battle in Jesus’ favor. Over and over, Jesus stated what was written in the words of God (Lk. 4:4, 8, 12) and the undergirdings of intimacy, identity, and integrity coupled with Scripture calmed His storm. The devil left him, Luke says, for another opportune time (Lk. 4:13).
It Was The Worst of Times
The author begins 2 Chronicles 28 with these incriminating words, “Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord (v 1). The things that he did wrong fill an entire chapter; it was certainly, in Charles Dickens’ words, “the worst of times” (From A Tale of Two Cities).
Ahaz followed the evil practices of the kings of Israel. He made idols for worshiping the Baals (v 2). He burned sacrifices, even sacrificing his own sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites (v 3). He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places and under every spreading tree (v 4).
God punished Judah by handing him over to the Arameans (v 5). Israel also attacked and won in battle, killing 120,000 soldiers and taking many captive (v 6ff). Ahaz appealed to the Assyrian king for help because the Edomites had also come to attack Judah (v 16-17) as well as the Philistines (v 18). The king of Assyria came to him, but the Chronicler says he gave him trouble instead of help (v 20). Ahaz stripped some objects from the temple in order to pay for Assyria’s help, but it was to no avail (v 21). God was bound and determined to judge Ahaz for he promoted wickedness and was very unfaithful to the Lord (v 19).
In his time of trouble, in his storm, King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the Lord (v 22). He saw an altar in Damascus while meeting with the king of Assyria and he had it copied and constructed. He brought out the real altar from the temple and put the new one in its place (2 Kings 16:10-14). There, he offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus, who had just defeated him. He figured that if Damascus had beat him, those gods might favor him instead if he appeased them. But they became his downfall, Scripture says (vv 22-23).
The last item of unfaithfulness lodged against him was that he took the furnishings out of the temple. He shut up the doors of the temple and set up altars at every street corner in Jerusalem (v 24). He built high places in every town in Judah to burn sacrifices to other gods (v 25).
Idolatry and lots of it. Murder, even of his own sons. Wars. Loss of freedom. Continually being peppered by his enemies. Intrigue. Bribery that did not even work. All of this and more characterized the nation of Judah during the time of King Ahaz. It was a grim sixteen years…
…And then Hezekiah his son succeeded him as king (v 27). Hezekiah was a good king and we will get into that in just a minute, but I want to take a brief detour for a minute.
How does a father who is so ungodly raise a child that is the total opposite? What was it like for Hezekiah to grow up in such a wicked nation? Did he fear for his own life, that his father would someday kill him to appease powerless gods? Was he sickened by all that went on in the temple and in every town in Judah? Who influenced this young man to become the godly king Judah desperately needed?
We do know that Micah and Isaiah, the prophets, ministered during the time of Hezekiah. It is entirely possible that they were mentoring Hezekiah as he grew up, because they did influence him while he reigned. We will study Isaiah’s influence later.
Hezekiah’s mother is also mentioned in 2 Chronicles 29:1. Her name was Abijah and she was the daughter of Zechariah. To understand who Zechariah was, we need to go back to 2 Chronicles 26:5. Uzziah was the king at the time and Zechariah, an otherwise unknown spiritual advisor, instructed him in the fear of God.
How a spiritual advisor’s daughter married such a wicked king is completely unknown. But I believe that Abijah was the influence on Hezekiah as he grew up. Despite the evil in her husband, despite the horror of her marriage, and despite the horrible decisions Ahaz made, Abijah raised a godly son.
I am reminded of Elijah and his run from Jezebel, who had threatened his life for killing all of her Baal priests. Elijah fled as far from her as he could go, out in the desert and laid down to die. God ministered to him with food enough to bring him to a mountain where He met Elijah and encouraged him. Elijah’s chief complaint was that he was the only good guy left and now Jezebel was trying to take him out (1 Kings 19:14).
The Lord was quick to encourage him. He gave him three tasks to complete in the future. He made a couple of promises to Elijah and then dropped a huge encouragement in his lap: “I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him” (v 18).
What was God saying to our discouraged prophet? Elijah was not alone. He might have felt like it at times, but God knew the exact number of those who followed Him, who believed in Him, who worshiped Him: 7000. That’s a pretty big number, and sometimes trust is generated by the simple truth of solidarity; we just need to know we are not alone.
In every generation, I think God reserves a remnant. Noah stood out to God and saved his generation from extinction. Enoch was God’s man in his time and walked right on out of this world into God’s waiting arms. Esther was God’s appointed woman for such a time as she lived in and saved the Jewish nation. Ruth was only a Moabite yet in the end, she was rewarded for making Jehovah her God and the Christ child came from her lineage. I could go on and on and on, for the Bible is replete with stories about the man or woman God used in their own generation.
Zechariah was the obscure but godly man in his generation. His daughter, though married to an idolater, was the woman who influenced her next generation. And glory be praised, she raised a son that became the remnant Judah needed to turn away God’s wrath.
You may feel quite alone in your godly stance today. Perhaps you are surrounded by wickedness, either in your job or maybe even in your housing development. Possibly your very own family stands against God in blatant rebellion. Maybe evil feels like it is winning, but you need to know that it is not!
God knows you. He sees your stance for Him. He understands the difficult position you are in and He rejoices over you with singing (Zeph. 3:17). Your choice to follow Him, while ridiculed by some and ignored by others, is a great pleasure to Him. Do not give up the good fight. You are the remnant in your generation and perhaps, like Esther, you will be used to save some people. Perhaps like Daniel, you will come to trust in and hear from God in unimaginable ways. Perhaps like Enoch, you also will walk closely with God. And perhaps like Elijah, you may have an encounter with God that changes your perspective. And one day, my dear faithful friend, there will be a reward waiting for you. It will be personally handed to you by the One you have chosen as your earthly reward and it will be good – oh, so very good!
I have been listening to the For King and Country CD my son got for me this Christmas and one song has really ministered to me this week. It is called “God Only Knows.” If you feel alone and abandoned, check out these lyrics or maybe go online and just listen to God’s sweet words to you. Then go and be the best remnant you can possibly be.
God Only Knows, by For King & Country
Wide awake while the world is sound asleepin’ / Too afraid of what might show up while you’re dreamin’ / Nobody, nobody, nobody sees you / Nobody, nobody, nobody would believe you / Every day you try to pick up all the pieces / All the memories, they somehow never leave you / Nobody, nobody, nobody sees you / Nobody, nobody, nobody would believe you//God only knows what you’ve been through / God only knows what they say about you / God only knows how it’s killing you / But there’s a kind of love that God only knows / God only knows what you’ve been through / God only knows the real you / God only knows how it’s killing you / There’s a kind of love that God only knows.
Whether you are a Zechariah counseling someone or an Abijah mothering little ones, you can be a voice of truth, a voice that extends into future generations, changing the spiritual climate for the kingdom of God. I know it! Over and over in Scripture, God has used one man, one woman, even one child, to effect incredible transformation. Keep looking up to catch a divine “well done,” and be the best remnant God enables you to be.
It Was The Best of Times
Hezekiah was named king at the age of twenty-five and he had a good long run at the throne; twenty-nine years, in fact. He was a godly king; not perfect, but godly. We will study two incidents where Hezekiah really struggled to trust God, but the author of the Kings still spoke very highly of him, “There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him” (2 Kings 18:5b).
Within one month of taking the throne, he began to effect some real change. Remember that his father, Ahaz, had removed the altar and replaced it with a pagan altar. Remember that he had closed up the doors of the temple and overthrown God’s commanded means of worship. Hezekiah remedied those wrongs against God and the people of Judah almost immediately: “In the first month of the first year of his reign, he opened the doors of he temple of the Lord and repaired them” (1 Chron. 29:3).
Judah’s outlook went from horrific to heavenly within these years of peace and renewed fellowship with God. Hezekiah sought the Lord with all of his heart and strongly encouraged his people to do the same, leading by generous example after example. The inhabitants of Judah experienced a sense of restoration and freedom and joy in the Lord as they purged the nation of evil and came back together to worship. It was truly some of the best times Judah had ever experienced since the time of King David.
All the reforms that Hezekiah reinstated take up a large amount of print in 2 Chronicles; three large chapters, in fact. Do not worry. I am not planning to pick apart these verses bit by bit. That would take me weeks. I am more interested in the godly principles Hezekiah lived by and how he passed them on to his people. Those principles frame up Hezekiah’s trust, which, when tested, stood solid throughout the rest of his story.
The Three Pillars
My point is this: Hezekiah trusted in God. He was given many tests or storms later to prove that trust, but he was able to stand up in most of them with a stalwart faith because in the still before his storms, he had learned to cultivate a living, breathing relationship with his God.
In skimming through these three chapters, my prayer is that we will see the pillars upon which Hezekiah built his trust foundation, because, as you know, storms will come into our lives. If we do not have this same foundation – the rock-steady confidence Hezekiah had in his God – we will not come through our trials successfully. We, like our godly protagonist, need to learn to build a trust in God in the calm before the storm so that we can stand firm, even triumphantly, in the midst of our tropical storms.
As previously mentioned, I believe the foundation of trust in God is built upon three pillars: intimacy, identity, and integrity. There are no clear-cut steps on how to navigate between these three ‘I’s. In other words, you cannot follow step 1 and achieve instant intimacy with God. Step 2 does not just lead to pure integrity and step 3 is not an automatic stop at a secure identity. Our walk with the Lord is fluid and flexible and God, thankfully, is the Lord of this intricate dance.
However, I do believe that if certain principles are followed in conjunction with these three words, an unwavering trust in God can emerge. I will be placing these principles in an order based on what I see in Hezekiah’s life, but remember, God works in mysterious ways and really does not have to follow our organized plans. His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways (Isa 55:8). Hold this order loosely and think in terms of fundamental truths rather than a prescribed order.
Now with that rather nebulous introduction, let me continue. If I had to set up these three I’s in a hesitant sequence, it would look like this – circular and fluid (see diagram).
Before any intimacy with God can be experienced, there has to be a sense of penitence, a setting right of the heart in order to begin a life of integrity. The repentant heart seeks God desperately out of great humility and joy. God, in turn, looks full on the face of his beloved child and before long, the two are embroiled in sweet intimacy.
As that intimacy develops, the child comes to know about her Father’s names, character qualities and ways. Simultaneously, as she is deeply entrenched in the Word, she will also learn about who she is in Christ. Intimacy then leads to a greater awareness of who God is and who she is as a result of Jesus’ lifeblood shed on the cross. A deep sense of worth and identity based on God’s truths is born.
Intimacy and identity are tested by the storms of life. Faith that is not tested is really not faith at all, and so begins another round of integrity refining. If the storm is navigated faithfully by standing on these three pillars, that child of God will move into deeper and deeper levels of intimacy. Just so you know, stronger storms will most likely roll over the horizon to test that deepened relationship. If a child, at any time, fails to trust God in her storm, He will take her back to her first classroom, the classroom of penitent integrity. And so the cycled dance continues.
In a nutshell, these paragraphs outline the Christian walk. They demonstrate the interweaving dance moves of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the precious Holy Spirit working to bring about the daughter’s glorious sanctification. Discipleship is not a complicated affair; it simply requires absolute capitulation. Notice, I did not say it was easy, only uncomplicated. God must be given ownership of every material possession, every hurt and wound, every decision, every important loved one, and every gift, talent or pocket of time. The heart that stands open and soft and responsive to God is the heart of a woman who has learned to trust.
Integrity With A Capital “R”
I stated a few paragraphs back that penitence sets the heart right to begin a life of integrity. Before anyone can step into the “Dance of Abundant Life,” she must begin at this particular station on the journey: the station called repentance.
There is much to be said in the Bible about repentance, but honestly, there is not one particular Scripture that outlines the complete span of this particular package. For this reason, I believe that many believers do not know how to make things completely right with both God and people. They go through half-hearted attempts to try to absolve guilt and condemnation, but they often do not walk hand-in-hand with the Spirit through the many-stepped process from conviction to reconciliation. Consequently, people continue to hurt and relationships, marriages, and churches continue to divide.
I could have chosen from any amount of passages to flesh out this difficult subject, but I have landed on five major areas of Scripture, three from the Old Testament and two from the New. I will list them here right off the bat, so you can have them at ready access, and then we will begin to deconstruct their united whole and put them back together in a logical semblance of order.
- “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:13-14).
- “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. ‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool’” (Isa 1:15-18).
- “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live” (Ezek. 18:30-32)!
- “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?…When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives…friendship with the world is hatred toward God…Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:1, 3, 4, 7-10)
- “…All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same king of sufferings” (1 Pet. 5:5-9).
It is important to notice first that sin incurs God’s judgment. Almost all of these verses, and much of the major and minor prophets, deal with the presence of rebellion and sin and the result if that sin is not dealt with properly. Just read through the Bible a few times and you will see how much God hates sin.
God is clear to say that He will judge each person according to her ways (Eze 18). He will oppose the proud (1 Peter 5), sending consequences like drought, natural disasters or plague (2 Chron. 7). Often a rebellious person will pray and will not receive an answer because she asks with wrong motives; selfish and worldly desires cloud her supplication (James 4). God states quite clearly that He will hide Himself from the sinful woman who spreads her hands in prayer, even stopping up His ears when she talks to Him (Isa 1).
Sinful, unrepentant people cannot stand in the presence of a holy God; He cannot allow it. Something must be done about the heart to bring it into right standing with God’s exacting requirements. But praise God! He made a way – two ways, actually. He sent His Son to die to make atonement for sin in order to offer reconciliation to anyone who accepts His gift. And He sent His Holy Spirit into each believer’s heart to convict them of sin and righteousness and judgment (Jn. 16:8 – ESV).
Notice that John 16:8 uses the word convict instead of condemn. When a woman has been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, she moves also from the realm of guilt and condemnation to the realm of conviction. Condemnation conjures up feelings of punishment. “You will know condemnation because it’s accompanied by guilt that offers no clear means of relief” (Priscilla Shirer, Discerning the Voice of God, p. 113). If a person who is in Christ is feeling guilt and shame, she is listening to the lies of Satan for “there is now no condemnation” for her if she is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).
However, God does choose to put His finger on specific sins in our lives; consequently, we will experience the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Honestly, conviction sometimes feels like condemnation. There may be an equal heaviness of spirit, a similar internal angst of the soul. God may seem very far away in both instances and we may feel lost and alone. God may also bring increasing amounts of discipline into our lives to continue to pressure us to repent, to herd us like a Hound of Heaven toward His offer of forgiveness. You can tell the difference between the two, however, if you are drawn to God (conviction) or if you feel like running away from God (condemnation).
This gift of conviction does not sound like a loving act of God, but it is. He wants us to move from our sin into the safe place of restored fellowship with Him so He patiently convicts us when we are in error. His Spirit points out our specific sins in order to lead us to acknowledge them, confess them, and move into transformed living. The Holy Spirit “brings conviction that always provides a road map out and away from a specific sin. His aim is always to lovingly steer us in the direction of His grace and toward intimacy with the Father” (Priscilla Shirer, Discerning the Voice of God, p. 113).
How can you know whether your inner turmoil is condemnation or conviction? There are actually many differences and so I have decided to list out a few for you in a table format. This is a list in progress; in other words, feel free to add a lot more ideas to either column, but at least, it will give you a general idea of some of the differences between the two:
I hope that if you are struggling with any condemning feelings, this chart will help you sort out the truth. Condemnation can be rebuked in three steps: 1) Put off the old nature. Condemnation belongs to the old flesh so Satan deceives us by illusion. If you are a believer, condemnation has no power in your life. 2) Be made new in the attitude of your mind. Find the truths of Scripture in regard to conviction and begin to memorize them. 3) Put on the new self by stating the truth of who you are in Christ. You are a saint, a child of God, no longer under the power of Satan. Stand in the strength of the cross (Eph. 3:22-24).
R – Response of Humility
I love acronyms. They help me to consolidate the truths God is teaching me into bite-sized pieces and I am more easily able to remember spiritual lessons and apply them in my life. As I looked over these five main repentance passages, I watched these principles fall into six main categories; six main steps that lead to a complete repentance before God, hinging on the word ‘repent.’
The first step in repenting of sin is a genuine response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I say ‘genuine’ because it is easy to cry out to God for forgiveness just to get out from under the feeling of pressure in our souls. There are many mixed motives in our hearts, many of them selfish, and we need to sift through our reasons for trying to alleviate our soul-pain. Seeking the gifts of the Giver – peace, blessing, better relationships, even His voice – instead of the Giver Himself, is a veiled form of idolatry. We need to assess our hearts and make sure that our response is absolutely free from the pull of fleshly weight.
Additionally, notice that very important word ‘respond.’ You and I cannot conjure up a repentant heart. The heart does not just soften to God on a whim or because we say “this is the day I will change.” No, the heart is softened over time by the persistently-loving, yet tenaciously-convicting power of the Spirit in our life. He woos us to a crossroads of decision by employing His gentle – and sometimes not so gentle – tilling of the unplowed ground of our hearts (Hosea 10:12). It is His kindness, my friend, that leads you and me to repentance (Rom. 2:4b).
The crux of the matter is in how sincerely and quickly we respond. 2 Chronicles 7:14 shows us how to answer the Holy Spirit’s call: we are to humble ourselves before the Lord. This word ‘humble’ means to “bend the knee, to humiliate, vanquish, bring down, into subjection, under, subdue” (ESV Strong’s).
In order to humble our hearts, we must realize that God opposes the proud, but that He gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). Knowing this truth helps us then submit ourselves to God (Jms 4:4) by humbling ourselves under God’s mighty hand (1 Pet. 5:6). The way to God’s heart is by hitting the floor in abject meekness, knowing what we truly deserve and living in grateful humility for the work of Christ’s death and resurrection, which frees us to walk the broken way to the Father’s heart.
E – Eagerness To Come To God
If we have sifted through our motives for humbling ourselves before God and eradicated any pride from our approach, we are then exhorted to pray and seek God’s face (2 Chron. 7:14). There are myriads of books written on prayer: how to pray, when to pray, how long to pray, what to say and what not to say; it can all get very overwhelming and frankly, I do not think Christ ever wanted it to be so complicated.
I firmly believe that on this side of the cross, we are to saturate our lives in grace. Grace simply says, “Come talk to me, sweet child. I have really missed you,” and so, we answer Grace’s call to come…and sit…and just be in His presence. Many people have made prayer complicated and I am sure that people will think I am oversimplifying matters, but prayer, for me, is just talking with my God. It is sharing all that is on my heart with the One who loves me more than anyone else could. I love the intimate invitation that drips from James’ writing implement, “Come near to God,” and the wonderful promise that follows, “and He will come near to you” (Jms. 4:8).
The excerpt from 1 Peter is in the context of suffering, I am aware. But so many of the principles God gives to help us suffer in a godly manner run congruent to repentance that I felt it needed to be included here. Peter’s compatible message tells us to cast all of our anxiety on God (1 Pet. 5:7).
While we are humbling ourselves and checking our motives for any defilement, fears, concerns, or anxieties may all rise to the top of our throats. Pressure and heat tend to do that in one’s life. Peter gives us a way to handle all the motives that might be impure, all the doubts that might be implicating our lack of faith, and all the anxieties that might be impoverishing our hope in God. We are to cast them onto God because He cares for us.
To cast a stone into a lake means to get rid of it. Once that stone leaves our outstretched hand, it is gone; sunk beneath the water’s still surface. All that is left is the eddy of ripples that move outward to the lake’s shore. Those ripples are real and may be felt, but they are not the stone. The stone has been swallowed up by the massive volume of the lake’s unfathomable depths.
This scenario mirrors what happens when you cast your cares on God. If you truly cast them, truly release them, into the hand of your Father, they can be gone. You may feel the ripples as they eddy out from your casting-away decision, but the Creator of the universe, who holds your hand and your cares at the same time, without them ever touching each other, is real and true and good. He is full of a massive volume of love for you and so your cares are gone, buried in His unfathomable depths of mercy and grace.
The same is true of your sins. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). Knowing these truths about God – that He will come near when you approach, that He cares for you and that He longs to remove your sins from you – helps you to eagerly approach His presence when you know you are in need of forgiveness. You can repent because you know you are loved.
P – Penitent Confession
We will be fleshing out genuine penitence in a few weeks as we study Hezekiah’s example, but for today, I want to generally define it. Two of our five key passages give us the proper way to confess our sins to God, but before I delve into that, I want to show you practically what I do when I walk through a time of discipline with Timmy.
If Timmy has rebelled, I am still a parent who applies the board of education to the seat of learning. I will make sure that he knows first what he has done before I “educate” him and I test that by asking, “Why is mommy spanking you?” If he seems unclear, the paddling is off the table and we spend a stern time teaching appropriate behavior. That has only happened once or twice; Timmy is normally quite aware of how he has transgressed his boundaries.
He is required to simply state what he did wrong and I tell him how many times I will paddle him. This usually depends on how hard his heart appears in his responses to me – usually 2-3 times. I paddle him and then sit and hold him until he has stopped crying, all the while telling him how much he is loved.
When he is able to talk and listen, I begin the real job of training. I ask him again why he was paddled, and he states what he did wrong. I dialogue with him about how he has hurt me or others by his behavior and he must verbalize that, or at least, acknowledge it. If he cannot see how his behavior has affected others, I re-teach him until he can verbalize it.
I then tell him that more than hurting mommy, he has hurt God. He has sinned against God by his behavior. I then lead him in a prayer confessing specifically what he has done, where he has to once again, verbalize the ramifications of his behavior. He has to tell God that he is sorry and ask for God’s forgiveness. And then I pray for God’s forgiveness to be granted to his little heart.
In the process of having him realize that he has been forgiven, I quote 1 Jn. 1:9 for him and remind him of Christ’s work on the cross. I pretty much walk through the plan of salvation every time I spank him and it is no coincidence that one of my older boys accepted the Lord into his heart after a major “educational” moment.
Why am I telling you all of this? It is because even our four-year old Timmy, at his very tender age, is learning what it means to confess his sins to God. Notice that I mentioned he has to state specifically what he did wrong. He must acknowledge or verbalize how he has hurt me or God. By doing this, I am praying that he will be trained in how to seek repentance with God and reconciliation with people.
There are three main thoughts that run parallel to a thorough confession. The first involves that word ‘penitent.’ Penitence is the action of feeling or showing sorrow and regret for having done wrong. Words like repentance, contrition, regret, remorse, shame, sorrow and guilt come to mind when thinking about a person who is confessing from a right heart. A person who is fully contrite will “grieve, mourn and wail. She will change her laughter to mourning and her joy to gloom” (Jms. 4:9). A godly sorrow is needed to obtain a full forgiveness, but that sorrow does not come from flippantly rattling off a list of sins to God. It takes a concentrated look into one’s sinful state and that brings me to my second main thought.
Our Ezekiel passage listed above is at the very tail end of a passage about the death that comes to a soul who sins. Ezekiel mentions two kinds of people: one that sins terribly and is put to death and his son, who lives for the Lord and is exempt from the guilt of his father (vv 13-18). However, the question is raised, “Why does the son not share the guilt of his father” (v 19), and the Lord states this principle, “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (v 20).
But Ezekiel takes his teaching lesson a step further. He puts forward the possibility of a wicked man turning from his sin to live for the Lord and goes on to say that none of his offenses will then be remembered by the Lord. God will only remember His righteous deeds (vv 21-23).
However, if a righteous man turns from God and commits sin, what happens then? Ezekiel makes this shocking statement, “None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die” (v 24).
In further clarifying this, Ezekiel brings up the justice of God, declaring that, contrary to popular opinion, God’s system is totally just. The man who sins should be punished for that sin, but if he turns away from his sin, he will save his life (vv 25-27). And here is the statement I have been building to, “Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live…” (v 28).
Look at that word ‘consider.’ It is the Hebrew word raa, having to do with sight. It means “to see, look at, inspect, perceive, consider, observe, look upon, find out, give attention to, distinguish, gaze at, look intently at, cause to gaze at, be exhibited to…”(ESV Strong’s).
If one of the qualifications for a thoroughly penitent confession is sorrow, how does a person become sorry? I can tell you that it does not happen automatically; in fact, it is hard, painful and sometimes even self-humiliating, work. The sinner must inspect her sin closely. She must observe all the ramifications and consequences of her actions. She must distinguish how her sin has damaged her relationship with God and she must be open to God causing her to gaze at her own soul-ugliness, even opening it up to be exhibited to Him and others.
Only when she sits in it long enough to be able to corroborate the words of David, “for I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Ps. 51:3), will she truly understand how deeply she has wounded God and others (Ps. 51:4). This second important principle of looking deeply into one’s sin is a prerequisite for a contrite and broken-hearted confession.
Only when we fully see how we have damaged our relationship with God and others, and are truly sorrowful over the damage, can we come to confess it to God. Otherwise, confession is a simple platitude, a bandaid trying to cover over a mile-long gash in the soul. “I’m sorry” does not cut it when soul-peace is on the line. Grieving, mourning, wailing – now these are outward signs of a deeply-felt and properly-mined honest look within the dark pool of soul-sin.
This third thought of washing and making clean is a common thread throughout the Bible. Isaiah said that when your hands are full of blood – in other words, there has been unrepentant personal wrongdoing toward another person – you must wash to make yourself clean. James backs up this thought, saying that the hands needs to be washed of their filth. David prays this particular request twice in Psalm 51, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (vv 2, 7).
What are these men implying? They are pointing directly to the cross. When sin is deeply processed and all its ramifications keenly felt, that sin should lead to sorrow. If sorrow is brought humbly to God, specific confession of each sin can be made. Then, and only then, can the blood of Jesus shed on the cross wash away the stain of that sin.
Timmy walks through this type of confession every time he is disciplined. He is made to feel the weight of his sin and whether it causes him sorrow outwardly or not, he must confess how he has wronged God and others. I then apply the blood of Jesus to that sin, making sure he knows he is absolved of all guilt; he has truly been forgiven.
E – Earnest Turnabout
All of our Old Testament passages speak to this fourth step in the journey of repentance:
- “And turn from your wicked ways” (2 Chron. 7:14)
- “Take your evil deeds out of my sight. Stop doing wrong…” (Isa 1:16)
- “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed” (Ezek. 18:30-31)
The word ‘repent,’ as seen in Ezekiel 18, means “to return or turn back” (ESV Strong’s). The idea is that we turn from our sin toward God. We turn from and we turn toward; it’s a dual action.
If a person struggles with gossip, for instance, an earnest turnabout would entail two actions. First, she must turn away from her behavior of gossip. This means understanding the harm that gossip causes people around her and the pain that it causes God. She then needs to confess this to God, but along with that confession must be a plan in place that will enable her to stop doing this wrong.
I believe the second half of that plan must include turning toward God. Remember Ephesians 4:22-24? Put off. Be made new. And put on. She needs to put off her old natural sin of gossip. She needs to know what God says in His Word about gossip and work to renew her mind with that Scripture. Then she needs to walk in her new nature, one who does not let unwholesome things come out of her mouth, but only those things that build others up (Eph. 4:29).
One other tiny word I want to draw your attention to is the inclusive word ‘all’ seen in Ezekiel 18. The exhortation is to turn away from all your offenses or to rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed. That little word ‘all’ is incredibly important and oftentimes, glossed over.
In our coming to the Lord, we usually deal only with the sins of behavior or actions that others may see. God is much more interested in dealing with our attitudes and motives. That is why plumbing the depths of our sin is so important because God wants to excise the sin at its very center: our heart. The motives and attitudes that separate us from God are just as important, if not more so, than the actual behavior.
When we turn to the Lord, we must turn from sins of omission and commission. This means that we need to agree with God that the “pet” sin is really heinous in God’s eyes, that it breaks fellowship with Him and ruins relationships. We must, in our hearts, desire to give up that sin and make a clean break with it. Falling back into the same sin over and over may be a good indication that you are not really repentant. One of the fruits of repentance is an eager desire to do good, to please God, and to obey Him as He leads.
N – New Strength in Spiritual Warfare
In case you are not aware, Satan is not interested in repentance being a continuous part of your life. He is strongly set against you making any headway toward repairing your relationship with God. Chances are, he will dog your footsteps at every point in this process. He will use condemnation all along this journey to make you feel guilty and ashamed so that you hide from God and others, instead of baring all in order to be healed. That is why both James and Peter exhort believers so boldly in their repentance passages.
As you move through the process of repentance, Peter warns you to be self-controlled and alert. He names your adversary, the devil, as your enemy and describes him to be a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8). That ‘someone’ is you if you are persistently walking toward a pure relationship with God.
The moment you confess your sins and begin the process required to turn your back on your flesh, Satan will come roaring out of the woodwork. He will shame you. He will guilt you. And he will attack you. He never plays fair because he is a liar and desires to steal, kill and destroy all the good work God is doing in you (Jn. 10:10a). (We will spend two entire weeks studying Satan’s tactics in weeks to come. This personal study, for me, has been so enlightening. I pray it will be for you as well.)
The answer to Satan’s attacks is to resist him (Jms. 4:7b, 1 Pet. 5:9a). To resist means to “stand against, to oppose, withstand, to set one’s self against, to set against” (ESV Strong’s). There will first need to be a recognition of his lies in order to oppose him. Then you will need to know truth and have it rolling around in your thought life so you can speak it out. Then you must keep standing in truth, living it out in your everyday decisions (Eph. 4:22-24 again).
Notice though, that James quickly follows up his exhortation with a promise to you as you stand in God’s repentant power: when you resist the devil, he will flee from you (Jms. 4:7b). Repentance and reconciliation with God give a new strength to withstand the evil one. But this will only happen if you have embarked on the repentance journey. If sin is still lurking, if pride is still knocking, if conviction is still being ignored, you will be weakened by your sin and your unforgiven standing with God. Only the person who is “in Jesus” will experience the lack of condemnation that Romans 8:1 promises.
T – Transformed Heart and…
There are two steps still to go, both of them coming under this last letter in the word ‘repent.’ The first of the last is mentioned in Ezekiel 18:31. On the heels of informing his audience that they need to turn from their sins, Ezekiel states these startling words, “get a new heart and a new spirit.”
Is he really saying that we are responsible for changing our hearts? Absolutely no. A new heart is a gift from God, a gift that He offers on two separate occasions. “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh…” (Ezek. 11:19, 36:26 – ESV). A changed heart is God’s work. We are not responsible to transform our own behavior or speech or responses. All of that outward manifestation is the visible sign that God has morphing us from the inside out.
But we do have an obligation to the new nature, to live according to it. Paul states that obligation: we must put to death the misdeeds of the body by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13). We have an obligation to be led by the Spirit of God because we are children of God (Rom. 8:13-14).
What does this practically mean? Simply this: our job is to respond to conviction, to confess our sins, and to fight against evil. In short, we are obligated to remain in the Vine (Jn. 15). Ezekiel, in telling us to get a new heart, is saying that we need to stay securely attached to the new-heart-Giver. As we draw His life-giving sap into our spiritual veins, we are strengthened and renewed without any effort, except to stay connected.
If there is any self-effort at changing your speech, your walk, or your behavior, I daresay you have missed some of these steps along the way to repentance or your repentance has not been thoroughly sincere. God says that He does not hear the prayers of the unrepentant (Isa 1:15), so the prayer for a new heart will be placed on hold until genuine repentance has occurred. If your heart is not changing, you are either not properly connected to Christ or you are still not humbly submitting to God’s conviction about something in your flesh. This is easy to change; just go back to a genuine response to God’s conviction.
But on the glorious flip-side, you will confidently know when repentance is really doing its work. If you begin to see some changes in your life, it will not be because of any great work you have finagled. The lasting and miraculous changes in both your heart (mind, will, emotions, personality, conscience) and in your spirit (faith, belief, worship, etc) will come without any personal effort beyond just snuggling up into your Abba’s arms. God will then gift you with transformation when He sees that your heart is in the right place.
…T – Tenacity For Right Living
In the same two passages that outline the incredible gift of God in softening the repentant woman’s heart, there are fruits that grow up out of that gift. A repentant person will walk in God’s statutes, keep His rules and obey them (Ezek. 11:20 – ESV). Not only that, but God states that He will put His Spirit in that softened heart and He will and cause her to walk in His statutes and be careful to obey His rules. (Ezek. 36:27).
Repentance can be tested by its fruit. Confession and acceptance of forgiveness will lead to a burning love for God, a sincere desire to seek after Him, and a tenacious longing to do what is right. That is the manifested second gift of God’s Spirit moving in the repentant heart. A changed heart will lead to a changed life.
Isaiah clearly shows this transformation. After the sinner repents, she is to stop doing wrong; we talked about that earlier, but then she is to learn to do right (Isa 1:17a). Where does she learn this kind of living? Well, if the gift of a softened heart is doing its job and the gift of the Holy Spirit is being allowed to do His, then you will know the way to live righteously.
This anointing from God in the Person of the Holy Spirit, will help you to know truth (1 Jn 2:20). You will not need anyone else to teach you, John says. His anointing teaches you about all things and that anointing is real. One thing He teaches is how to remain in Him (1 Jn. 2:27).
Whoa! Did you get all of that? This is amazing teaching! As the repentant believer positions herself to receive all the blessings of God, she is anointed by the Holy Spirit. That Spirit is truth and as she remains in the Spirit, she will also know truth; the Holy Spirit will be her teacher. Dear one, another fruit of repentance is that you will hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, teaching you to observe all things (Mt. 28:20). He will guide you into what you should do to live righteously before God.
Isaiah is ever practical. He says that a repentant person will “go home and wash up, clean up her act, and sweep her life clean of evil doings” (Isa 1:16 – MSG). She will “seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, and plead the case of the widow” (Isa 1:17 – NIV).
A changed heart will result in changed priorities and passions. Cleaning the slate will become very important to a repentant person: making sure that all wrongs are made right in relationships, no matter the personal cost; going the extra mile to assuage hurts; and denying self in order to elevate the other to a place of worth and honor. Seeking justice for the underdog, encouraging those who are down-and-out, standing up for those who have no rights and going to bat for the defenseless – all these fruits and so much more, will flow out of a life that is truly repentant.
Just to drive this point home, I want to bring back a before-barely-mentioned passage in 2 Corinthians 7. Paul wrote a letter to this church and from the sound of it, it was pretty stern. He shared that they were quite distressed at the letter, even upset, but Paul did not apologize for the hardness of his speech. He said that he was, in fact, glad because his strong words jarred them into turning things around. He was gratified to see that the distress they felt brought them to God, instead of driving them away (vv 8-9).
Then Paul listed some ways that repentance completed its work. He gladly affirmed them, “You’re more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible. Looked at from any angle, you’ve come out of this with purity of heart” (v 11 – MSG). And that is the crux of the matter: purity.
James speaks to this fruit as well, “purify your hearts, you double-minded” (Jms. 4:8). You see, double-mindedness – having mixed thoughts about something – is a sure sign of a lack of faith, where a heart is full of fears and doubts and idols. When that heart is purified by confession and cleansing, the doubts disappear. The fears are quelled. Thoughts become focused and single-minded in their pursuit of truth. Mixed motives are deconstructed and removed and idols are demolished. And the sense of defilement is washed away.
Dear one, you will know when your heart is changing as a result of a genuine repentance, for there will no longer be a charade, a veiled desire to pretend that everything is copacetic. There will no longer be hypocrisy or a scrabbling for one’s rights. There will no longer be defensiveness and self-protection and denial. There will no longer be any lies or deceit, because all of it will have been laid down on the altar, one humble, repentant confession at a time.
Purity of heart cannot be faked. It is a fruit of genuine repentance and it will be seen clearly by all that are watching your life. God gives a pure heart in answer to a pure confession and then He gives a steadfast spirit to sustain that new work (Ps. 51:10). Then, and only then, will repentance complete its work in the contrite sinner’s heart.
Hezekiah’s Three-Pillar Overview
Finally, we get back to Hezekiah. These last few pages may have seemed off-topic, but they were essential to understanding the life of integrity that Hezekiah had built in his first twenty-five years of life. I will be more quickly able to prove Hezekiah’s solid foundational pillars of intimacy, identity and integrity because I have taken this quite long bird walk.
2 Kings 18:3-7a gives us the best synopsis of Hezekiah’s life. “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.) 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; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook.”
In these short verses we can see all three foundational pillars at work in his walk with God. First, how did Hezekiah demonstrate his intimate relationship with God? Verse 5 clearly states that he trusted in the Lord. There can be no trust without some level of understanding and understanding comes from knowing. We see this sure knowing of God in that Hezekiah held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow Him (v 6). And then the final proof of intimacy: the Lord was with him (v 7).
Hezekiah’s identity is not fleshed out very fully, but it is subtly stated. Verse 5 makes this statement about him, “There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.” Does this mean he was the most godly king of Judah? Not necessarily, seeing as David preceded him and Josiah came after him; these kings were also men after God’s own heart.
What the Chronicler is telling us about Hezekiah is that his identity was solidified in God’s mind because of his intimate relationship. God saw Hezekiah as a godly king. Because he followed the Lord with all of his heart, God bonded with him like few kings ever experienced. Again, the words, “the Lord was with him” (v 7) are both a proof of Hezekiah’s intimate relationship with God and of an identity that was founded in God’s presence alone.
We are not significant because of what we do. Instead, we are significant because of whose we are. Hezekiah was God’s man in his generation because of God’s prevailing presence with him. That gave him worth and importance and impact the like of which Israel rarely ever saw again in its huge line of kings.
Integrity is seen by its fruit. Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (v 3). He removed all the high places, smashed the sacred stones, cut down the Asherah poles, and broke into pieces the Nehushtan, the snake Moses had built and elevated in the wilderness years before (v 4). On top of all of that, verse 6 tells us that Hezekiah kept the commands the Lord had given to Moses.
These three pillars – intimacy, identity, and integrity – were interwoven to produce a foundation that could weather physical and spiritual storms. Without any one of these foundational standards, Hezekiah would have bottomed out and become another kingly statistic. There were a couple of times that he blew it and when he did, it was because he overrode one of these standards by a fleshly response of fear rather than trust. But on the whole, Hezekiah’s early years and training set him up to be a great king, one who loved God, felt safe in His presence, and lived righteously before Him.
Hezekiah’s Example of Repentance
From my earlier diagram, which I called the “Circle of Abundant Life,” you will hopefully remember that integrity, especially repentance, is the first station on the journey of trust. I laid out for you seven main steps that make up the hard-to-define-word we call ‘repentance.’ Hezekiah’s life is an incredible example of what it looks like to truly repent. We find this spiritual quality that God deems so precious, laid out clearly in Hezekiah’s example as he set about to purify the temple (2 Chron. 29:3-36).
R – Response of Humility
You will remember that Ahab, Hezekiah’s father, was a very ungodly man. One of his biggest mistakes was closing up the temple, replacing the altar of sacrifice and selling off pieces of the temple to buy aid from Assyria. His decision to close up the temple effectually terminated the sacrificial system, and closed up God’s ears to Judah’s prayers.
Look at Hezekiah’s response of humility to God’s conviction in his life. “In the first month of the first year of his reign, he opened the doors of the temple of the Lord and repaired them” (v 3). I want you to see his quick response. Within the first thirty days of his reign, he began to initiate reform. That is pretty quick work and the fact that one of his first judicial acts involved the temple, shows me where Hezekiah’s priorities really are.
He could have doubled the size of the army, seeing as there were a lot of enemies breathing down Judah’s neck. He could have initiated land reform to a country that had been under quite a bit of siege. He could have gone on peace-making trips to neighboring countries, especially Israel, to gain political allies. But he didn’t. He began his work on the spiritual end of things.
I love the two action verbs in verse 3: opened and repaired. When we talk about an open house, thoughts of friends and food come to mind. When an open hand is mentioned, without a doubt, faces of generous people pop into focus. When a person is described as having an open heart, we can know that they are guileless and pure, generous and loving.
In one of his first acts as king, Hezekiah opened up the temple, but in so doing, he opened up his heart and the hearts of all the people in Israel. In humility, he knew that a closed temple signified a closed heaven and so he submitted to God’s authority and began spiritual reconstruction on the place where God had to be enthroned so that Judah could live in right relationship with Him.
That word ‘repaired’ shows humility too. Living in crippledness, like Ahab had done, leads only to evil, unless there is an understanding of sin. When that understanding is overridden for a long time, the conscience is seared, but it only takes a loving conviction of the Holy Spirit to remove the scar tissue on the conscience. Then crippledness can lead to healing brokenness. Hezekiah knew the spiritual economy of Judah was crippled. As a man of integrity, he responded with humility to their ruptured condition. He began the transformation of repentance with a humble opening of his heart to the repairing work of God.
E – Eagerness To Come To God
After opening the temple and repairing the doors, he assembled all of the priests and Levites in the square on the east side of the temple. In his eagerness to come to God, as seen in his quick work to reestablish temple worship, he issued these special men an invitation, “Consecrate yourselves now and consecrate the temple of he Lord. Remove all defilement from the sanctuary” (v 5).
He reminded them how unfaithful their fathers – and his father – had been. They had stopped worshiping at the temple and so God was angry with them; angry enough to kill them and send the remaining people into captivity (vv 6-9).
I would not have chosen such dire circumstances as the motivation for my first speech to the religious leaders, but Hezekiah knew that if the spiritual fervor was not ignited quickly, his initial movements of reform would come to nothing. So he made the message very personal. Until the people of Judah felt the weight of their sin, they would not feel the need to turn away from it to the living God.
Hezekiah then stated a very interesting initiative: he wanted to make a covenant with the Lord so His fierce anger would turn away from them (v 10). We have no idea what that covenant was, but as every biblical covenant was binding, this one would have been no different. Hezekiah was so eager to have his nation come near to God, enjoying a relationship that he already enjoyed, that he entered into a vow-type relationship with God on their behalf.
The next way he motivated the priests and Levites was through a personal reminder. He called them “sons” in his speech to them. I love that. It is so dear, so personal, and so intimate. He encouraged them not to be negligent in doing their duty; in other words, he called them to eagerly engage seeking God’s will. Then he reminded them that God had chosen them to stand before Him and serve Him, to minister before Him and to burn incense” (v 11). Do you see the motivational plug? It was an appeal to their identity before God.
These four motivations – the call to purity, the call to override their father’s unfaithfulness, the call to join in covenant, and the call to minister from their identity – lit a fire under those priests and Levites. Verse 12 tells us that the Levites set to work and the following few verses even list the names of those who eagerly came to God (vv 12-14). A response of humility led to an eagerness to engage God anew.
P – Penitent Confession
The first act the priests and Levites did was to consecrate themselves (v 15a). To consecrate means “to be clean, to sanctify, prepare, dedicate, be hallowed or holy, be separate” (ESV Strong’s). If you will remember, I set this up earlier as a step that required washing and cleaning. Penitent confession requires getting dirty by looking at all that has gone wrong, then honestly bringing all of that yuck to God, asking Him to cleanse it all away in the blood of His Son.
After these godly workers consecrated themselves, Scripture says that they went in to purify the temple, in obedience to the king and following the word of the Lord (v 15b). They started in the sanctuary and brought everything unclean out of the temple and burned it all in the Kidron valley (v 16). It took them sixteen days to clear the temple of all the defiled images and unclean objects, but in the end, the temple was prepared by cleaning and washing (vv 16-19).
Removing all of the impure images from the temple is a perfect picture of what penitent confession should look like. Imagine walking into a dusty, filthy building and looking around to see idols everywhere. Imagine the shame of a broken-down tabernacle that used to house the Shekinah glory of God. Imagine the hard work that was needed to pick up all the pieces of broken idolatry and carry them out, piece by piece, to be disposed of and burned. Imagine the crews of Levites with washrags and water, purging the dirt from the Lord’s precious sacrificial implements and then imagine a sparkling, clean, fresh-smelling temple prepared for the entrance of Yahweh.
This is an incredible metaphor of the purifying work that needs to be done in the heart. Sin defiles the temple within. If left unattended for very long, the inner places of our lives become dusty from disuse and filthy from the world’s pollution we have allowed inside. Hard work is needed to pick through all the broken idols we have turned to. They need to be held, carried out of our lives, piece by piece, and burned in the light of God’s presence. We need the Holy Spirit to show us how to wash up that space to make it clean and holy enough to suit the Presence of God. If anything – any impure idol, dirty thought, hurtful word, or misused talent – is missed in the confession process, the temple may not be prepared for God’s glory to fall. That is how important the purifying process is to the overall picture of repentance.
E – Earnest Turnabout
Once the removal of all known sin has taken place and the soul is cleansed of all known impurities, then repentance can move into its practical transformation. Hezekiah, once informed that the work was done, wasted no time in gathering all the city officials together early the next morning (v 20). Bulls, rams, lambs and goats were assembled for a massive sacrifice to the Lord, a sacrifice called the sin offering (v 21).
I am not an expert on the sacrificial offerings, but I have sat through months of preaching from Exodus and Leviticus over the past year or so. For those of you who have missed these incredible sermons, I want to give a very brief synopsis of what a sin offering looks like. (To study this further, look at Leviticus 4.)
Animals were sacrificed as a sin offering for known, specific sins. The sin offering does not cover the general state of sinfulness; that is the job of the burnt offering. As soon as a sin became known, a sin offering was to be given to the Lord to make things right. The sin offering also covered sins that were unintentional; sins that were ignorant, willful, passive or active. “The Israelites were held accountable for the sins they committed ignorantly…The sin offering strongly suggests that we had better become careful students of the revealed word of God, for it is disobedience to His Word that constitutes sin” (Bob Deffinbaugh, bible.org/seriespage/5-sin-offering-leviticus-41-513-624-30). Sin is evil to God and some sins that culture allows, constituted a capitol offense to God. Blood is the only way to remove the guilt of sin.
All the animals were brought to the temple and the priests offered these animals on the newly-purified altar. They slaughtered the bulls, rams and lambs and sprinkled the blood on the altar. The goats were brought and hands were laid on them while sins were confessed. Then the goats were slaughtered and their blood was sprinkled against the altar (vv 22-24). The goats constituted a part of the burnt offering that was offered next.
The burnt offering was very different that the sin offering. The purpose of the burnt offering was to make atonement for the sin of the offerer and gain God’s acceptance. The offerer laid his hands on the animal, identifying with it or at the least, identifying his sins with it. It was not necessarily for a specific sin but for a general state of sinfulness. It reminded the offerer of his depravity. The burnt offering appeared to provide a divine solution for man’s sinful state.
There is an incredible message here about repentance. Hezekiah, by reinstalling the sacrificial system, demonstrated the desperate need for an earnest turnabout. The sin offerings were sacrificed and blood was sprinkled to show that every sin had to be covered – sins that were known and specific as well as sins that were unintentional and even unknown. All sins needed to be confessed and covered by the blood of the animal. The burnt offering covered the general state of sinfulness and the offerer had to lay their hands on the animal while it was being slaughtered to have that animal atone for his identified sin.
Repentance requires both of these earnest actions to fully turn about. We must come to God, consecrated and pure, and identify our sinfulness to Him. We must apply the blood of Christ to our general depravity and we can do that by dwelling on the work of Christ on the cross. But we must also offer a sin offering, sacrificing our pride by confessing all of our known and unknown sins. This has to be a regular occurrence for a believer. There will be no change if Jesus’ blood is never applied to our sinful states. We need Christ desperately and repentance will be incomplete without the picture of these two offerings.
N – New Strength in Spiritual Warfare
Before the burnt offering was sacrificed, Hezekiah stationed musical Levites in the temple, with the prescribed instruments that the Lord commanded his prophets to use (v 25). Those Levites stood ready to play their instruments at the right moment (v 26). Hezekiah gave the order to sacrifice the burnt offering and singing and playing began in tandem. The whole assembly bowed in worship as the singers sang and the trumpeters played and all of this continued until the sacrifice of the burnt offering was completed (vv 27-28).
Oh, how I would have loved to have been there. This is a music teacher’s dream: a worship concert where masses of people are singing and sacrificing and playing together, honoring the Lord and humbling themselves as a living offering to God (Rom. 12:1). There is power in combined worship and this was a powerful moment.
You may wonder what singing and playing have to do with spiritual warfare. They do, but more importantly, I want to draw attention to two phrases. First, the word ‘stationed,” meaning “to stand, take a stand, to remain steadfast.” The first time this word is used is in Genesis 18:8. “It is what a soldier does while on watch.” It also means to “be established, immovable and standing upright on a single spot” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).
The second phrase is that the Levites “stood ready,” which, by the way, is the exact Hebrew word as “stationed.” Both of these uses indicate a readiness for warfare and it is no coincidence to me that this action of readiness is coupled with sacrifice and praise.
The people of Judah had just offered up their sin offering and Hezekiah knew enough about spiritual warfare to have Levites ready to worship in a war-like stance while the burnt offering was being sacrificed. You see, spiritual ground was being taken back. Spiritual strongholds were being confessed. Spiritual atonement was covering hidden and not-so-hidden sin. It was a critical moment in the lives of his people and Hezekiah understood the strength of worship in the midst of spiritual battle.
T – Transformed Heart and a Tenacity For Right Living
If you will recall, a soft heart is a gift from God along with the ability to live righteously before Him. Righteousness can often be faked, however, especially by believers who have walked with God a long time. They know the lingo and the expectations. They understand what Christian people are supposed to do and so, they can impersonate holy behavior. And this is why there are many warnings in the Old and New Testament to be on guard against false shepherds.
Sad, though that is, I daresay that a soft, fleshy, transformed heart is much harder to fake. Joy and peace and gratitude just bubble up out of that kind of a heart without a lot of effort. This is because the Spirit is alive and at work within the innermost part of a repentant person. They are not perfect; they just live like they are forgiven.
Hezekiah demonstrated a transformed heart before God, but it was catchy, for the people also responded as per his example. When the mighty singing and playing and sacrificing were finished, the king and everyone present with him knelt down and worshiped (v 29). The Levites sang praises with gladness and bowed their heads and worshiped (v 30). Praise is a visual fruit of true repentance.
The king invited the people to bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the temple. The whole assembly got involved, bringing their sacrifices and thank offerings. Those whose hearts were willing also brought burnt offerings (v 31). A willing heart is visual fruit of true repentance.
Over 600 bulls and 3000 sheep and goats were sacrificed that day (v 33), overwhelming the amount of priests that had dedicated themselves (v 34). The Chronicler informs us that there were burnt offerings in abundance, along with the fellowship offerings and drink offerings that accompanied the burnt offerings (v 35). The service of the temple was reestablished and Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people, because it was all done so quickly (v 36). Generosity in abundance along with rejoicing accompany a heart of true repentance.
Hezekiah’s Example of Intimacy
I have spent a huge amount of text detailing repentance, an essential component to integrity. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I believe repentance is the precursor to a journey of trust. It is where every unbeliever gets on the God-train and it is where every believer living in sin, has to return to time after time. There can be no unbroken intimacy without integrity by way of repentance. And there can be no confidence in the identity of a person who is living out of the boundaries of that very same identity. Repentance is the key that opens the door to a huge vista of intimacy, identity, and consequent victory in integrity.
The second reason is that 2 Chronicles 29-31 mostly deal with matters of integrity. We looked at the purification of the tabernacle outlined in chapter 29 separately because it clearly steps sequentially through a picture of repentant integrity. The other two chapters detail many more reforms Hezekiah undertook, matters of integrity also.
I do want you to see, however, that intimacy is interwoven throughout these two chapters. When I speak of intimacy, I speak of the friendship between a person and God. It is relatively easy to discern whether people have a close walk with the Lord or not. It is hard to fake. Those whose lives are intimately woven with God speak often of Him. Their face lights up when they talk about what He has been saying to them. They pray often throughout the day, taking their concerns to God as if He were their best friend, which He is. They rest in Him often, yielding their concerns in complete trust and their lives are characterized by peace. In short, they act like they are truly in love with God and it shows all over their face and lives.
Hezekiah was a God-lover. He spent a lot of time talking about God and drawing others into His presence. Chapter 30 opens with Hezekiah sending word all over Israel inviting people to come to the temple to celebrate the Passover (v 1). So, as per the king’s order, couriers went throughout Israel and Judah inviting everyone to come (v 6). Look at his message:
“People of Israel, return to the Lord…that He may return to you who are left…Do not be like your fathers…who were unfaithful…Do not be stiff-necked…submit to the Lord. Come to the sanctuary, which He has consecrated forever. Serve the Lord your God, so that His fierce anger will turn away from you. If you return to the Lord, then your brothers and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will come back to this land, for the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn His face from you if you return to Him” (vv 6-9).
You should see a lot of verbiage in this invitation that is repentance language: return, submit, come, consecrated, and serve. But what I want you to see further is that Hezekiah really knew His God. He understood His ways: that unfaithfulness leads to judgment, that God gets fiercely angry at sin, that if someone returns to God, He returns to them, and that He does not turn His face from those that return to Him. Not only that, but He knew God’s character, that He is gracious and compassionate. He was well-versed in how God worked down through the ages as well.
Intimacy entails knowing God’s character and His ways.
Though some scorned and ridiculed the couriers, many humbled themselves and did come to the Passover celebration. However, many of them arrived ceremonially unclean. They had not had time to prepare themselves to celebrate and so they ate the Passover, contrary to the Law of Moses (v 18). Hezekiah prayed for them and this is what He said, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God – the Lord, the God of his fathers – even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary” (vv 18-19). The next verse says that the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people (v 20).
Hezekiah really knew his God. Despite the people’s disobedience due to negligence, Hezekiah knew that God was more interested in the motives of the heart rather than the outward behavior. Because of that, he simply asked God to overlook their disobedience to the rules in favor of their heartfelt desire to worship. I love those words, “and the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.”
Intimacy entails trusting God’s heart and being heard by God when you pray.
Chapter 31 ends with these words, “In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered” (v 21). Notice here that he sought His God; it’s a very personal, intimate description. Also notice that he worked with all of his heart. Nothing was held back. He loved God with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mk. 12:30).
Hezekiah’s Example of Identity
There is no real mention of Hezekiah’s identity in God, besides the occasional “his God,” that is mentioned. However, Hezekiah was obviously secure enough in his identity in God, because he was often leading others to stand in their own identity.
In his invitational call to the people of Israel and Judah, he reminded them of their identity. They were the people of Israel (30:16) and because of that identity, he reminded them also of their heritage. God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel and also their Father. He told them that God was their God (30:8).
As people came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, in essence, they were celebrating their identity. The Passover was a celebration commemorating the escape from Egypt; it signified their freedom from captivity and all the amazing miracles God did on their behalf. Even though some of the Israelites were captive to Assyria at that present time, Hezekiah wanted them to remember who they were: the chosen people of God.
Hezekiah encouraged the Levites in their duties before the Lord (30:22). They showed good understanding of their service and Hezekiah affirmed them. He helped them realize that they were doing what God had called them to do. Later on, in chapter 31, he further assigned them to divisions according to their duties. Some offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, some ministered and some gave thanks and sang praises (31:2). He helped them realize who they were and how they could minister to God with their God-given potential.
Hezekiah’s Example of Integrity
If you can remember way back today, we started the “Circle of Abundant Life” with integrity; specifically, with repentance. Integrity led to intimacy, which sparked a deeper identity, which, in turn motivated a genuine life-giving integrity once again.
In chapters 30 and 31, Hezekiah acted with great integrity. The fruits of his humble dependence upon God show very clearly. Besides his care for his people, his all-inclusive invitation to come and celebrate the Passover (30:1-9), and his prayer for those who were not purified (30:15-20), Hezekiah provided 1000 bulls and 7000 sheep and goats for the assembly out of his personal coffers (30:23). His generosity sparked huge amounts of giving on the part of his own people.
Not only that, but repentance trickled down to all the people who experienced the intimacy of God as well as their identity as His people, for they went out and smashed sacred stones and cut down Asherah poles in the towns of Judah. They destroyed high places and altars throughout Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim and Manasseh. Scripture says that after they had destroyed all of them, they went back to their own homes (31:1). All of them, mind you; they destroyed all of the idols and high places. Their repentant hearts led to a sense of intimacy and identity, which moved them to walk a life of integrity.
Any Storms on the Horizon?
If you have survived the blog to this length already, you deserve a gold star. I am almost done, you will be glad to note.
I know some of your stories so am aware that a number of you are sitting in the middle of a deluge of circumstances. Life is hard right now and you are really struggling. Others of you are in between storms and very grateful for the hiatus. Wherever this devotional finds you, I pray that you have someone who can be a Hezekiah to you: someone who can encourage you, pray for you and be a godly example of trust for you. If you do not, I pray that this blog will help you focus on the God who makes the storms and calms them with a word. (And…you can always write me. I would love to hear from you.)
If you are sitting in the calm between storms, remember it is training time. This is the perfect opportunity to do some heart-searching before God. Clean up your inner temple as the Holy Spirit leads. Engage God with passion. Embark on a treasure hunt for your Christ-bought identity and live out your life within the righteous boundaries of integrity – all for the love of God.
There will soon come a time when all that you have learned will serve its glorious purpose, the purpose of helping you walk confidently on the waves of the storm that may threaten to overwhelm you. Hezekiah will face a storm next week and hopefully, be your guide in similar circumstances.
Until then, trust your Weatherman. He is always right.