Part 4 of 12
A Rookie Mistake
I have a small claim to fame: my dad is a pilot. No, he does not fly commercially, but he is one of the few people I know that has a Piper Cub twin engine four-seater plane in his barn. (It is currently not airworthy, since the wings need to be refabricated to pass inspection.)
I admit I used this trademark anomaly in our family to my advantage in college. My parents were living in the greater Philadelphia area at the time and if I ever wanted to go home for the weekend, my dad would fly up to a small airfield fifteen minutes south of the college where I attended. All I had to do was find someone with a car to get me to the field; the lure being that my dad would give the generous driver a ride in his Cessna as payment. Most of my drivers were of the male variety, as you can imagine.
I remember one trip back to the college one Sunday afternoon quite vividly. My dad leaned over and said, “I’m kind of tired. Would you like to steer?”
After freaking out for a couple of minutes, my dad reassured me, “It’s really easy. Do you see that bare patch up ahead?” I looked ahead and found the scar on the side of the mountain.
“All you have to do,” he said, “is steer toward that mark. When you are almost there, just wake me up and I will take us up and over the mountain.”
Well, for the next ten minutes or so, I stared unblinkingly at my focus point. But after a while, the plane stayed in the air despite my concerns, my heart rate settled down to an almost-normal pace, and I began to enjoy the ride. Humming to myself, I started to look around a bit more. When I was just about on top of the scarred focus point, I tapped my dad on the shoulder.
He woke up, rubbed his eyes, and took back control of the steering. But then he looked at me quizzically and asked, “Where are we?”
I showed him the scarred portion on the mountain to which I had been carefully heading and after looking around a bit, he began to laugh. He pointed way up the mountain pass to our right and said, “You’ve been heading all this time toward the wrong spot on the mountain.”
I followed his finger and saw that both bare spots on the mountain were incredibly alike. Somehow, in taking my eyes off the original landmark to look around and enjoy my ride, I had accidentally re-trained my eyes to the wrong-but-similar landmark. It was a rookie mistake made by a person on her first rookie flight.
After correcting our course, we made it to the airfield safely only about fifteen minutes behind our original schedule. The fifteen minutes, mind you, where I had been innocently, yet inaccurately, steering toward the wrong focal point. There is a saying that closeness does not count except in horseshoes and hand grenades and it is true. Being close to our supposed target still could have gotten us quite lost.
The lesson this rookie learned: make sure you always steer toward the right focal point. This is also the lesson, by the way, that Hezekiah learned in our study today.
Trust. This is the topic we are dissembling over these couple of months. And not just any kind of trust: unwavering trust. The kind that does not wobble when life tries to knock it over or collapse when storms come against it. In this world there will be much tribulation, but we are to take heart in the midst of it all, for God has overcome the world (Jn. 16:33). And with the world, the storms, the angst, the doubt, and the lack of trust, that seek to derail our walk with God.
This week we commence with our fourth installment in a series I am entitling Unwavering Trust: Faithfully Navigating the Storms of Life. Our example as we plumb the depths of trust is King Hezekiah, who by his life mostly exemplifies how it looks to walk with God in a trusting, faithful relationship. So far, we have learned three principles of trust together:
- A life of trust is built on intimacy, identity, and integrity in the calm before the storm. I sought to prove in the first week that the calm before the storm is the place in which we must build our foundation of trust.
- Trust is the feeling of security that comes from resting one’s identity on the Word and the Person of God. Hezekiah stood tall when Israel collapsed because his foundation was built on truth.
- A person who trusts will respond to suffering with worship. Last week we saw that even when a person is obedient, God still allows suffering in her life. Trust in the middle of shattered dreams becomes a healing balm when a woman learns to worship despite unjust suffering. Worship is weeping prayer and an open soul. It involves repeated intercession and stems from a strengthened faith. It is humble walking as a result of invigorated love. And it is a praise-filled life.
Unfortunately, today we will see Hezekiah blow it; he will not respond to his circumstances with trust. Instead of standing in his preparation, in the Person of God, in the principles of His Word, and in praise, we see him take a stance of pride. And the repercussions are monumental. Before we begin to work through our three passages, would you take some time and read 2 Kings 20:12-21, 2 Chronicles 32:25-26, 31, and Isaiah 39:1-8? The Kings and Isaiah passages do overlap quite a bit, which gives us more time to flesh out aspects of pride and humility.
That Time, This Time
Hezekiah’s fateful downhill slide into pride began with these words, “At that time …” (Isa. 39:1a). Right about now a good scholar would be asking these questions, “When did this scene occur? About what time would ‘that time’ be?” I do not necessarily have all the exact answers, but these questions got me moving from questioning to meditation.
If you will recall from last week, Hezekiah became very ill; deathly ill, in fact. Isaiah came to him at one point and told him to put his household in order for he was going to die. Instead of curling up in a fatefully accepting ball, Hezekiah entreated the Lord for healing, for more time, for a longer life, and even for a son. Amazingly enough, the Lord answered his prayers and granted him all of his requests.
Not only that, but Hezekiah asked for a sign that proved that he would go up to the temple in three days to worship God in person. He and Isaiah negotiated for the most difficult-to-answer sign and God granted him this request as well. In the end, He made the shadow go back the ten steps it had gone down on the stairway of Ahaz (2 Ki. 20:11). Do you understand the import of these words? God literally turned back time to prove to Hezekiah that His word was true.
That Hezekiah recovered from his illness was a miracle. That he received the answers to his prayers was a divine work of incredible mystery. But that God would alter the natural workings of His world in order to make a promise to a mere mortal…now that is a supernatural phenomenon.
It is easy to discount Hezekiah’s healing and sign as just another godly guy interacting with Yahweh, the Old Testament God. This story – and many others in the past – seems surreal, unreal, and other-worldly. But we do God a disservice when we dismiss Him as being simply an Old Testament God.
It is true that God worked in amazing ways for the likes of Abraham, Gideon, Moses, Joshua and many more. He did ask Abraham to kill his son, then saved Isaac by means of a ram in the thicket. He did lead Gideon to attack the Midianites and win with only 300 men. He did enable Moses to conjure up plagues that decimated the Egyptians, and he did drop the huge wall of Jericho by having his people simply walk around it seven times and shout. These things, and many more, occurred in Old Testament history.
But the God who moved in ancient times is the same God of the New Testament and of our days now as well. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). He healed back then and He heals now. He gave promises to His people back then and He does the same now. He moved in miraculous ways, His wonders to perform then, and He is still working in unexplainable ways to bring glory to His name today. And, my dear friend, He answered prayers for all of His chosen people then just like He answers prayers for all of His chosen people now.
Hezekiah’s example of confidently asking God for the things he desired is an example for that time and our time too. So ask away. Do not be shy. The expansive, generous, loving, miracle-working, powerful, all-encompassing and creative God of “that time” is still the God of “this time” as well.
The Dilemma of Asking
This prayer-answering God is the subject of my meditation as well as my often-repeated dilemmas. For it is true that sometimes prayers and answers do not seem to match up, or at least not in the way we hope. Many times I have prayed for something and not received an answer. Numerous times I have prayed for a timely response and have been met by delay after frustrating delay. Often, I have begged God for healing or change or relief and have received a response altogether contradictory to my request. And yes, there have been some times when God has answered my requests.
But I want you to take note of this one truth: all of God’s bewildering behavior did not dissuade Hezekiah from asking. Despite God’s lion-like breaking (Isa 37:13), Hezekiah kept on crying and moaning as he looked to the heavens (Isa. 37:14). There is a seed of child-like trust and faith in his dependent actions; an inner resolve that pleased the Lord.
The psalmists cultivated this same seed of trust. Over and over in their writings, these godly and desperate men begged God out of their child-like faith. They did not doubt that God would answer; instead, they just assumed He would. Look at some of these examples with me:
- David cried out these words as he fled from his Absolom’s hostile takeover of the land, “But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill” (Ps. 3:3-4). Notice that David’s trust was in the Lord’s name and His ways and he asked out of the basis of his identity in God.
- “Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer…Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord will hear when I call to him ” (Ps. 4:1). Again, David appeals to God’s character, that He is righteous and merciful, and he asks out of his identity. God is pleased with His chosen ones and will hear as a result.
- In Psalm 17, David continues his prayers of faith, “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer…Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings…You still the hunger of those you cherish…And I – in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (Ps. 17:6, 8, 14, 15). Notice once again that David’s confidence is strong, his identity is secure, and his longing for God and His ways his highest priority. Out of these grounding principles, David asks and expects to answer.
- The author of Psalm 91 states God’s answering response as a fact as well: “Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him” (Ps. 91:14-15). Love. Acknowledging God’s name. Calling upon Him. These are the prerequisites to receiving the sure response of God, an incredible array of precious gifts: rescuing, protecting, answering, being with him, delivering and honoring.
(For other examples, look up these verses: Ps. 13:3, 5; 20:6; 27:7; 38:15; 55:2; 65:5; 69:16-17; 86:1, 7; 102:2; 119:45; 120:1; 143:7.)
Hezekiah confidently asked God for huge provisions. The psalmists, also, did not doubt God, but presumed he would answer in light of their relationship; their relationship of child and Father. And isn’t it the same for parents and children today?
Timmy loves chocolate and he will just ask for more and more, even if he ends up with a stomach ache. As a mother who is concerned about his health, I have to, in good conscience, proceed out of his best interest. That is when I say, “No, you have had enough.” Am I acting in an unloving manner by refusing his request? Of course not. Out of my wisdom and knowledge of his physical limitations, I choose what is best for him.
Sometimes Timmy will ask to stay up later at night. If he has had a nap and is not demonstrating fussy behavior, I may choose to allow him to play an extra fifteen minutes. But, if he has been whining because he is tired, then I tell him that bedtime is not negotiable. He can ask again another day when he is more well-rested. The delay in waiting for a better time to answer his request shows my love for him.
However, Timmy often asks for things I can readily grant: additional fruit for snack, more time of play during the day, his choice of cartoons during media time etc. Because I know these things will not harm him, I can acquiesce.
The earthly parent-child relationship is very similar to the relationship we enjoy with God. Like Timmy, we may ask for things that are downright bad for us in the long-run. I shudder to think of God granting some of the requests I have pitched out to Him in a desperate moment. Or God may choose to delay our requests until a later day based upon our doubting or trusting behavior. Then there are the times He readily says “yes.” He sees the big picture and knows the answer will not harm us and He also sees that we have willingly submitted to His big plan for our lives.
As I read the psalms and study the great prayer warriors of the Bible, I am reminded of the fact that God does answer. This is a bet-your-bottom-dollar kind of fact. My dilemma has more to do with my doubts than with the bonafide answers of God. I may be struggling with my identity in Christ. I may not be camping on the character of God. I may feel completely unloved by God. All of these add up to mountainous doubts that stand in the way of a child-like surety in God’s goodness.
And we all know what doubts do to impair the asking-receiving relationship, right? “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (James 1:5-7).
The simplest test of trust is to simply ask God for what you need. If there is any doubt roiling below your request, any waffling at all, you know that you are asking with a double-minded soul. Somehow, threads of instability are running through your intimacy with God, through your identity in Christ, or through your integrity.
The answer to the asking dilemma is found in James 4:8. You need to purify your heart if you are double-minded. This means sitting down with the Lord and asking Him why your are wavering. When He shows you what the problem is, you need to confess that to Him and ask Him to cleanse you and wash you from your doubt. These actions – and more – will bring your heart back into a single-minded focus on God’s desires, God’s agenda, and God’s love for you.
Hezekiah did not struggle with this dilemma, even at crises’ door. He knew his God. He knew His power. And he knew he was in right standing with God. So he simply asked God for a myriad of huge requests and the God he knew, and trusted in, answered him.
This is the relationship I aspire to, one that lives in righteousness all the time, one that seeks God first, and one that knows my God well enough to simply trust Him as my Father. For isn’t that Father-child relationship the baseline of trust? Relationship builds trust. Intimacy builds trust. Love builds trust. And so I desire to simply ask God because I trust Him to know what is best for me.
Hezekiah’s simple faith is a monumental example for me. If I could just live out of the truths of Isaiah 38 (Hezekiah’s response to his illness) the rest of my life, I could walk in absolute trust. But there is an Isaiah 39, a passage of Scripture where Hezekiah completely loses trust. And this confusing behavior becomes for me, the bigger dilemma. How could such a godly man, who has taken so many solo flights of faith and come through with flying colors, make such a rookie mistake?
Letters And A Gift
Isaiah 39 begins with these words, “At that time Merodach-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, because he had heard of his illness and recovery” (v 1). We have established that “at that time” is referring to the period of time soon after Hezekiah’s incredible crisis and consequent, trusting faith in his time of crisis. This standing-tall moment was followed by a downward spiral of distrust and pride. The way that Isaiah’s sequence of events, in particular, is juxtaposed shows this disparity even greater than the authors of Kings and Chronicles. It is almost like the great prophet, himself, cannot believe what transpired in Hezekiah’s faith.
From a standing-tall pillar of faith, Hezekiah fell to an all-time low of faithlessness.
You may be wondering who on earth Merodach-Baladan was and especially, why was Babylon mentioned at that time when Assyria was the reigning world power. Merodach-Baladan’s full name was Marduk-apla-iddinna II. He was the Chaldean king of Babylon from 721 to 710 B.C. and briefly again for about six months in 703/702 B.C. He is the first Babylon king mentioned during this point in history because all the other kings were viceroys of Assyria, meaning that they were governors of an area put in charge by the home country’s king.
Merodach-Baladan rebelled against the king of Assyria. He attempted to throw off the yoke that bound him, asserting his independence with varying degrees of success. His resistance to the throne of Assyria was a long and obstinate one.
Why would such a man send letters and a gift to Hezekiah? That is the crux of this whole story.
Letters and a gift. Ostensibly, these were given as a means of congratulations. Isaiah even stated that Merodach-Baladan had heard of Hezekiah’s illness and recovery. But I suggest to you that the letters and the gift harbored a hidden agenda. These presentations were not purely congratulatory; they were filled with mixed motives. Probably written during Merodach-Baladan’s forced exile from Babylon (NLT Study Bible Notes), the letters were an attempt to discover whether Hezekiah would join him as an ally against the great power of Assyria (Tyndale quoting Josephus). Merodach-Baladan tried to challenge his Assyrian overlords and desired Judah to join him in an anti-Assyrian coalition.
What must those letters have said? The contents will forever remain a mystery except for the response of Hezekiah. We can guess the letters’ purpose for “Hezekiah received the envoys gladly and showed them what was in this storehouses – the silver, the gold, the spices, the fine oil, his entire armory and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them” (39:2).
The purpose of those letters is pretty clear to me because they provoked Hezekiah’s free-handed response of displaying the resources and armed strength of his entire kingdom. And to relative strangers at best and men with evil intentions at worst. According to Merodach-Baladan’s checkered past, those letters could have only said one thing, “Join me in my rebellion.”
Letters and gifts can be used for good or for evil. Their motives can be to curry favor with a ruler or make a friend (Pr. 19:6). They can be given in secret to soothe anger or given as a bribe to pacify great wrath (2 Sam. 11:8, Pr. 21:14). Or they can be given as an offering out of gratitude (Deut. 16:17).
The purpose of Merodach’s letters and gifts were to curry favor and to bribe Hezekiah to join him in rebelling against the superpower that encroached on both of their lands. And Hezekiah fell for it. Notice that nowhere in these two verses do we see Hezekiah asking the Lord about what he should do. God’s name did not even come up in discussion until Isaiah confronted Hezekiah with his foolishness after the envoys had left.
Why would such a godly, trusting man neglect the Lord at such a pivotal turn? What turned Hezekiah from a position of absolute faith and reliance upon God to an attitude of independence from God? We find the answer to these queries in 2 Chronicles 32.
In Pridey He Trusted
Verse 24 of 2 Chronicles 32 succinctly condenses the entire saga of Hezekiah’s illness and recovery into two short sentences. He was ill, even to the point of death. Then he prayed to the Lord, who answered him and gave him a miraculous sign. Short and sweet and so inadequate. That is why we needed Isaiah 38 to flesh out the feelings behind all of Hezekiah’s angst and desperate prayer.
The very next verse similarly summarizes the attitude behind Hezekiah’s rash decision to embrace the Babylonian envoys so gladly. We read, “Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore the Lord’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Chron. 32:25).
Pride. That was what turned Hezekiah from a position of absolute faith and reliance upon God to an attitude of independence from God. Pride is what caused this great king to neglect the Lord at such a pivotal moment. Self-regard undermined his discernment and paved the way for Judah’s ultimate destruction. One mistake, caused by arrogance and independence, sealed the fate of his nation. It was a costly error; how costly no one knew as well as Zedekiah, a descendant of Hezekiah only six generations removed from this fateful decision (see 2 Chron. 36).
Unlike the memoirs printed in Isaiah, however, there is no concrete explanation as to why Hezekiah began to be proud. We do not have a journal explaining this sudden lapse of faithfulness. Isaiah did not find a writing of the king confessing to his wrong. You and I are left wondering what on earth happened in that fateful moment.
Fortunately, we have the whole Bible to shed light on pride and its gradual build-up in a person’s life. We will be looking at quite a number of Scriptures that detail God’s thoughts on pride, how we can root out pride in our lives and what we can do to cultivate humility before God. All of these, in addition to Hezekiah’s own words and the Chronicler’s summation, will help us surmise why this godly man chose to trust in what he saw in front of him rather than in his invisible, yet powerful, God. And hopefully, they will be a warning to each of us to be careful to keep God ever before us.
Before we dive into a study on pride, I want to draw your attention to an interesting sentence in 2 Chronicles 32. Verse 30 ends with these words, “He succeeded in everything he undertook.” But the very next verse stands in stark contrast to this statement and pitches out a very difficult principle.
Verse 31reads like this, “But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.” I hope you can see the contrast. God was the one who gave him success in everything that he did. Hezekiah worked, but he worked with God, and as a result, he earned the pleasure and blessing of God.
That word ‘but’ stands in sharp dissimilarity to the previous success Hezekiah had known. The author is trying to give us a hint of the “un-success” that came about by Hezekiah’s welcoming committee. When the envoys were sent, Scripture declares a puzzling word about God: He left Hezekiah to test him to know everything that was in his heart. Notice that this leaving and testing occurred before Hezekiah grandly welcomed the Babylonian envoys.
First, let’s look at that phrase, “God left him.” Is it true that God just up and leaves us in crisis moments? Does He decide that He will forsake us to whatever calamity comes our way? This is absolutely not what the author is telling us. The fact is that God never leaves us nor forsakes us (Heb. 13:5). God, by way of the Spirit, is always in us. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is a gift from God to be our counselor, to be with us forever (1 Cor. 6:19, Jn. 14:16). Nothing will ever separate us from the love of God, not even pride or poor decisions (Rom. 8:35, 39).
So if God truly did not physically leave Hezekiah, what does this phrase mean? A look at a couple of other translations may help us decipher the meaning here. Each version is similar: God left him to himself (ESV), God left him alone only to test him (NASB), God left him on his own to see what he would do (MSG), and God withdrew from him (NKJV). No version indicates that God abandoned his king. All of them do indicate, however, that God just moved back from Hezekiah a bit and for a short time.
I have been teaching Timmy how to draw his capital letters. We began this process by simply learning to recognize the difference in the letters. Then, we moved on to naming them by sight. After he got the names mostly correct, we began the arduous undertaking of learning to write them.
First, I draw the letter, then have Timmy trace it. I sit real close during this whole procedure, giving guidance on how he holds his pencil and where he starts the letter. After he is comfortable with the shape and motion of the traced letter, I have him try to write the letter on his own. I tend to physically withdraw my hovering, guiding presence – even sitting back in my chair – in order to allow the previous steps to guide him in making the letter by himself. He does not enjoy this part of letter-writing much because he often fails at doing it correctly, or so he says. But then I lean in and help him to draw a more correct letter and he experiences a feeling of success.
I imagine God treating Hezekiah much like I treat Timmy as he works on this new skill. The Lord has been really close to Hezekiah, giving him a godly mother and good mentors to lead him in the process of learning to trust. But at this time, I imagine God leaning back a bit from Hezekiah, asking him to try this solo flight of trust on his own. He has not left Hezekiah; He has merely moved His physical presence and hovering support back a little to see how Hezekiah will respond in faith.
You and I know what this is like. Faith that is not tested is really not faith at all. So often, God teaches us a principle from His Word, then allows a situation into our lives whereby we need to use the truths He has taught. Never in a crisis situation does God leave us. He has simply stepped back in order to allow the previously learned principles to guide us in trusting Him more fully.
Chronicles is clear: God left him to test him. That word “test” means “to try, prove, put to proof or test” (ESV Strong’s). This word is often used of God when He tests human’s faithfulness (CWSB Dictionary). Abraham was tested to see if he loved God or his son more (Gen. 22:1). God tested Israel by appearing to them on the mountain in smoke and rumblings and fire. Moses told them not to be afraid for God had come to test them so that the fear of God would always be in their hearts (Ex. 20:20). David asked the Lord to test him and try him, to examine his heart and mind (Ps. 26:2). Testing is not a mean action of God; it is a required action of a God who knows that without tested faith, there can be no perseverance, character or hope (James. 1:3-4).
That last phrase, “to know everything that was in his heart,” can also be a bit confusing. Isn’t God omniscient? Didn’t He already know what was in Hezekiah’s heart? Yes, of course He did (see 1 Chron. 29:17; 2 Chron. 6:30, Ps. 94:11, Jn. 5:42, Acts 1:24). He knows the thoughts of every man’s heart. He has no need of a crisis to lay the heart bare; all secrets are exposed before God (1 Cor. 14:25).
What is meant by this phrase is that He wanted to make something known to Hezekiah. He wanted Hezekiah to realize that buried under his successes and subsequent trust, ran a thread of pride. Hezekiah did not see it. Even if God had told him, he might not have believed it. So God had to step back and allow a situation that would lay bare Hezekiah’s own heart to his own vision.
“God tests in order to refine, to stimulate repentance and to deepen faith” (Tyndale Commentary). God knew that His leaving and testing would lead to Hezekiah’s knowing. He would know, after the crisis, what aspect God was refining. He would discern where he needed to confess and repent. And he would also realize the true depth of his faith and trust in God.
This whole experience with the Babylonian envoys served to test Hezekiah in regard to the placement of his faith. Would he plant his faith in the rocky soil of human treaties or in the fertile soil of God? As we shall see in just a few minutes, Hezekiah planted and reaped poorly; pride being his prevailing deterrent to trust.
The downward path to pride is a subtle, slow slide. A person doesn’t just wake up one morning with an arrogant heart and an upraised fist. Pride begins with subdued actions of compromise, that if left unchecked, will develop into a full-blown epidemic.
Hezekiah’s story reveals four actions of compromise. The first two are very understated, yet nevertheless, visible.
Forgetfulness – Recall with me that Merodach-Baladan had sent Hezekiah letters and a gift (Isa. 39:1). We established together already that Merodach’s intentions were anything but pure; he was interested in insurrection and rebellion rather than kind regards. Though the letter’s contents were not disclosed, we can tell by Hezekiah’s consequent show-and-tell that Merodach was trying to ascertain whether Hezekiah would be a worthy ally or not. He probably wanted to know whether Hezekiah had enough finances to back his endeavor and whether his army was big enough to be of help. What Merodach wanted to know was whether Hezekiah would sign a treaty with him to attempt to overthrow the Assyrian regime.
The problem was that God had already told the Israelites what His opinions were on forming treaties with nebulous allies. Listen to these words that were spoken to Israel a few years before, “Woe to the obstinate children…to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin” (Isa. 30:1).
Notice what God called the children who would not listen to him: obstinate. Headstrong. Stubborn. Recalcitrant. Stiff-necked. These are all synonyms for the word obstinate, but they all sound like the word ‘pride’ to me. God called his people proud because they chose to make alliances without His approval. Their plans were not His plans. His Spirit was not consulted and in the process of obtaining this illegal treaty, the Israelites added sin to their already sinfully-full plate.
When Hezekiah began to read that inflaming letter, he should have remembered what happened to the Israelites. Their desire to seek man’s help over God’s was a sledgehammer blow to the wall of their long demise. Hezekiah forgot what God had said about treaties with foreign allies and in the process, incurred God’s anger.
There was another moment of forgetfulness that blanketed Hezekiah’s good reason. Do you recall that when God sent Isaiah back to Hezekiah’s death-bed, He sent him with a pack of promises? First, He promised Hezekiah would live fifteen more years. Then He told the king that He would deliver Jerusalem from the king of Assyria. He promised to defend the city. And He gave Hezekiah a sign, that time would reverse to make the shadow go back on the stairway of Ahaz (Isa. 38:4-8).
If Hezekiah had been repeating those promises to himself, day-in and day-out, he would have remembered that God was going to defend Jerusalem. God was going to deliver the capitol city from Assyria’s stranglehold. All Hezekiah would have had to do was take one look at those letters, discern their intent, and remember that God was a lot bigger than Merodach-Baladan.
Hezekiah was sweet-talked into preparing to join Babylon in a joint overthrow, a rebellion against a massive and powerful country. Hezekiah fell for Merodach’s words: hook, line and sinker. This was a clear choice. He could have believed the promises and words of God or he could have chosen to believe in the power of man. Hezekiah made a choice that showed a level of compromise; he forgot the promises of God. In that forgetful choice, he did not respond to the kindness shown him and he incurred the wrath of God upon himself and upon all of Judah (2 Chron. 32:25).
Forgetfulness is a big deal to God. In His indictment against the Israelites, as written in Asaph’s psalm, God mentioned their habit of forgetting more than once. He equated trust in God with not forgetting his deeds and obeying His commands (Ps. 78:7). Again, he stated that they had forgotten what God had done, the wonders He had shown them (v 11). They did not remember His power or the day He had redeemed them from the oppressor (v 42).
I have to admit this point convicts me mightily. You see, I have been imploring the Lord to act on my behalf on a certain matter for months now. The Lord has given me many promises in regard to this weighty matter, but I still so often fall into abject discouragement. Even now as I write about Hezekiah’s subtle compromise of forgetting what God said, I am truly convicted. Hezekiah’s inaction has galvanized me to action, especially knowing the fall-out that ensued. Tomorrow morning, I will begin my intimate time with the Lord reviewing the sheets of promises God has given to me. I do not want forgetfulness to be my first step on a downward journey to pride.
Lack of acknowledgement – Proverbs 3:5-6 is one of the most well-known memory verses to kids and adults alike. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Trust, in these words of wisdom, is equated with refusing to lean on your own understanding and acknowledging God in all your ways.
When a crossroads of decision looms into your vision, what is your first response? Phone a friend? Talk to your husband? Check out your horoscope (I sincerely hope not)? Call a hotline? Or ignore the problem altogether? This is the Lord’s recommendation, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls…” (Jer. 6:16).
Between the time that Merodach-Baladan sent his envoys to Jerusalem and Hezekiah read the letters they brought, there is not one mention of God. Before, 2 Kings 18:5-7 had given a glowing report of Hezekiah’s lifestyle of faith. He had trusted the Lord, held fast to Him, not ceased to follow and obeyed His commands. For a man who was praised for having done what was right in the Lord’s eyes, Hezekiah totally blew it in this instance. Not once do we see him pray. Not once does he head to the temple to worship and offer sacrifices. Not once does he even get good, godly advice. He forges ahead in his own wisdom and strength, effectively cutting God out of the picture.
In God’s indictment against Israel in Isaiah 30:2, God mentions this very compromise. “Who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharoah’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge.” The Israelites heaped sin upon sin because they were obstinate, they carried out their own plans, they formed alliances without the Spirit’s involvement and they looked for Pharaoh’s protection without consulting God. For all of those actions, God promised they would suffer shame and disgrace (Isa 30:3).
You and I must train ourselves to think of God often. We need to practice asking for God’s wisdom in every decision-making opportunity. The consequences for not acknowledging God are monumental, “In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God” (Ps. 10:4). Pride. Wickedness. No room for God. These three thoughts should stop us in our tracks and energize us to make no room for compromise on this matter.
Hezekiah read the letters and welcomed the envoys gladly. And in between those two actions, he forgot God’s promises and the importance of seeking the Lord’s will. Let’s train ourselves to be godly; let’s not make this same compromising mistake.
Self-importance – After the envoys left Jerusalem, Isaiah took a quick trip to the palace to talk to Hezekiah about the Babylonians’ visit. Isaiah was a wise man and just like Jesus often did in the New Testament when trying to get people to discern the intent of their behavior, he probed Hezekiah’s heart by asking questions. “What did those men say, and where did they come from?” he asked.
“From a distant land,” Hezekiah replied. “They came to me from Babylon” (Isa. 39:3). Look at the words that began and ended his reply to Isaiah: distant land and Babylon. Notice also the word ‘to me’ that punctuated the center of his retort. Hezekiah was dazzled by the thought that he was so well-known in Babylon, that far and distant land.
Perhaps his thought patterns went something like this. Imagine them coming all this way to see me. Imagine this great rebel, who has been a thorn in Assyria’s side for years, wanting me as an ally. Imagine all the effort Merodach-Baladan has expended to connect with me. Imagine how important I must be to have caught this distant king’s attention. I must be somebody special.
Again, there was no mention of God. Never mind the fact that Hezekiah was successful only because the Lord was with him. What an evil father could not do through pagan idol worship, a foreign idol worshiper did through flattery. What Israel’s fall-out could not do by example, Merodach did through sweet-talk. What a death-inducing illness could not do through fear, Babylon’s king accomplished with honeyed words. All of these storms in Hezekiah’s past had only served to strengthen his trust in God, but it only took a few letters stroking Hezekiah’s significance, a gift of bribery, and an important-looking envoy, to cause Hezekiah to fall hard into pride.
Satan loves to appeal to our soul-cries, one of them being, a longing for significance. We desperately want to make our mark on this world. We desire to leave behind a monument of grandeur, much like Absolom did in erecting a pillar, because he had no son to carry on the memory of his name (2 Sam. 18:18). We long to do something important with our lives. This is a huge hook for Satan’s schemes and he casts the self-importance line skillfully and effectively.
You must be on guard not to be taken in by this scheme. If you place your significance in the things that you do, instead of banking on your significance that is found in Christ, you will begin to measure your self-importance by your earthly accomplishments. And, my friend, you will begin to slide into pride.
Treasures – The second question Isaiah pitched Hezekiah’s way was, “What did they see in your palace?”
“They saw everything in my palace,” Hezekiah said. “There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them” (Isa. 39:4).
The ESV uses the word ‘storehouses’ in place of the word ‘treasures.’ This word can mean “treasures, storehouses, cellars, armoury, garners, store, supplies of food or drink” (ESV Strong’s). Wealth is the specific word that the NCV Bible chose to use and I love the Message’s frank words, “I showed them the works, opened all the doors and impressed them with it all.”
I am a stamp collector; not a serious one, mind you, but pretty prolific. I have books upon books of stamps I have collected over the years while living overseas; it helps to have friends from many countries. I used to spend every vacation as a youth going through my parent’s collection, organizing it, and adding their extras to my own. My collection is probably not worth very much, since I have only used stamps that are not first-day issues or in mint condition.
However, my parents were well-acquainted with a woman named Mrs. Ruff, who had inherited a stamp collection from a rich relative. Her collection was so massive that she was required by the government to pay taxes on it. It was an incredibly valuable collection; many of her stamps dating back to the 1600’s with quite a number of her stamps being first-day issues. Many of those stamps even had their own pedigree paperwork. To lower her taxes, she would give away tons of stamps every year. Of course, you now know where I got many of my really cool stamps.
I have often wondered where that collection went since Mrs. Ruff died when I was in my teens. It stands to reason that it is probably in some attic or basement somewhere in the possession of someone who has no idea of its worth. I know this because it is considered by God to be a treasure of the earth and those kinds of treasures just do not last.
Jesus was very clear that we are not to store up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. Instead, we are to store up treasures in heaven, for “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:19-21).
The Chronicler tells us that Hezekiah had great riches and honor. He made many treasuries for his silver, gold, precious stones, spices, shields and valuables. He also made a lot of buildings to store the harvest of grain, new wine and oil along with stalls for various kinds of cattle, and pens for the flocks. He built villages and acquired great numbers of flocks and herds, for God had given him very great riches (2 Chron. 32:27-29).
Silver and gold. Precious stones. Spices. Shields. Buildings for grain, wine and oil. Cattle and flocks. Villages. All of these represented the treasures that Hezekiah showed the Babylonian envoy and to which he referred to as “my palace” and “my treasures.” Nowhere does he mention to the Babylonian emissary that all of them were given to him by God. He gave no glory to God for the wealth that God had helped him acquire and I daresay, this further incurred the wrath to which the Chronicler alludes.
What constitutes a treasure in your life? A good way to deduce the answer to this question is to think about what you would take from your house if it caught on fire. With only seconds to get your family to safety, for what object or possession would you run back inside? I would grab my journals and Bible and ipad, which has quite a number of commentaries in it. These constitute my earthly treasures that have a heavenly significance.
Scripture mentions a number of treasures that people clung to as a result of self-dependence. Uzziah, who was also a good king of Judah, had lots of wealth. He was famous, had a well-trained army and made machines for war. His fame spread far and wide, for God helped him until he became powerful.
“But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall” (2 Chron. 26:16). He entered the temple and began to burn incense to the Lord, a job only a Levite was allowed to do. The priests tried to remove him, but he just raged at them in anger. God struck him with leprosy right there in the temple (26:19-20).
The Israelites were warned about their treasure of satisfaction. “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord…Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God” (Deut. 8:10-14). Things added up to complacency and satisfaction, which led to pride and forgetfulness.
Ezekiel was given a prophecy about the king of Tyre, who is also thought to be another name for the angel that became Satan, “By your great skill in trading you have increased your wealth, and because of your wealth your heart has grown proud” (Ezek. 28:5). Later on in the same passage, God indicts the king for pride again on account of his beauty (28:17). So here we see that wealth, skill and beauty were treasures to the king.
In a couple more prophecies against Egypt and Lebanon, the Lord rebuked them for their treasures of “proud strength” (Ezek. 30:6) and “height” (Ezek. 31:1). Treasures do not have to be tangible to overtake one’s heart with pride.
The path of pride is a slide of complacent speech and actions. Hezekiah shows us how easy it is to fall into small compromises, which included forgetfulness, lack of acknowledgement, self-importance and the love of treasures. This slide was incredibly significant to God, for He displayed great anger, even wrath, upon Hezekiah and all of Judah. Notice next how God’s wrath played out. Hezekiah’s story shows us what his pride cost him; there are terrible consequences for a prideful slide into arrogant behavior. Pride always comes before a fall.
The Cost of Pride
Because of pride, Uzziah ended up quarantined with leprosy for the rest of his days (2 Chron. 26:16). The Proverbs tell us that along with pride comes disgrace (Pr. 11:2), destruction (Pr. 16:18) and being brought low (Pr. 29:23). The cost to King Nebuchadnezzar was that he was deposed from his royal throne, stripped of his glory and driven away from his people to live like an animal for seven years (Dan. 5:20-21). The Lord Himself says that He will pay back the proud in full (Ps. 31:23), He will know them from afar (Ps. 138:6), He will mock them (Pr. 3:34), He will tear them down (Pr. 15:25), and He will punish them (Pr. 16:5). Those who sin with their mouths and lips will be caught in their pride (Ps. 59:12).
You might think that with all of the good history between God and Hezekiah, this godly king might have been given a righteous pass instead of judgment. But God hates pride and arrogance (Pr. 8:13). Haughty eyes are first in God’s list of seven detestable sins (Pr. 6:17). There was no way God was going to overlook pride in Hezekiah’s life; this king – and God’s chosen people – were too precious to God.
Isaiah spoke God’s words of judgment to Hezekiah. “Hear the word of the Lord Almighty: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon (Isa. 39:5-7).
Hezekiah had showed his visitors “everything in his palace” and Isaiah answered that foolish act with the fact that “everything in your palace” will be taken. Hezekiah had mentioned “Babylon” in a positive light; Isaiah inverted that upbeat look at the distant land with the prediction that “Babylon” would be the hunter and Judah its prey. God reversed what instigated Hezekiah’s pride to be the microcosm of the nation’s downfall.
Isaiah’ response could not have been more bleak: defeat, captivity, and exile. Imagine if you were Hezekiah standing there receiving such an awful word. All he did was show some visitors his palace and treasures. He was being gracious, after all. Wasn’t he?
If Hezekiah truly thought that way, he would have been very human. How many times have you been caught in a little “white” lie and attempted to divert attention to a taller tale someone else has told? Or when you pass on a juicy prayer request and someone confronts you, do you try to explain it away? Or have you ever neglected to complete a certain task and when confronted, blame others for distracting you?
It is fleshly, human nature that blames others, deflects wrong-doing, diverts focused attention from personal sins, minimizes misbehavior, and holds others accountable for private misdemeanors. But underneath all of this deflection and cover-up is pride. We do not like to look bad. We want to maintain our pristine reputation and we will do it at the expense of others.
However, God is intimately acquainted with the inside of our reputations. He is perfectly aware of the motives that lie beneath our veneer of pretense. And the facade of supposed perfection is only whitewash on a flimsy wall, a wall that will collapse at God’s hands (Ezek. 13:10-14).
To many people in the nation, Hezekiah’s generous hospitality might have appeared to be a kind gesture; he gave the pleasant impression of a cordial neighbor. But these actions of Hezekiah did not align with God’s omniscient perspective. God knew the motives in Hezekiah’s heart that were driving this ostentatious display. He knew Hezekiah longed to be significant, to be recognized and affirmed from afar. He knew this king desired to have his ego stroked. And he knew the damage that pride could wreak if left unchecked.
Pride catches us up when we least expect it. It comes out of our hearts and flows out through our mouths (Ps. 59:12). Pride breeds quarrels and causes much dissension (Pr. 13:10). Unbeknownst to us, it hardens our hearts (Dan 5:20), causing us to act harshly toward God and others (Dan. 5:19). Pride deceives us, making us feel invincible, when we are actually quite weak (Obadiah 1:3). Pride makes our way seem right to us when it is dead wrong (Pr. 12:15).
Pride moves us from a trusting faith walk to independent wandering. “To depart from the way of faith is to walk in the way of destruction” (Tyndale commenting on Isa. 7:9). God knew that he needed to bring Hezekiah up short; He needed to excise the pride in his heart and humble him. Babylon would be Judah’s destruction and in this case, Judah’s demise was God’s loving discipline of a good king deceived by his own prideful heart.
The Man In The Mirror
During my high-school years, a popular Michael Jackson song played everywhere. I often found myself singing it while walking through a mall or sitting in a restaurant. While Michael Jackson is not a good role model nor is his repertoire at all decent, this one song had pretty profound lyrics.
The chorus goes something like this: I’m starting with the man in the mirror/I’m asking him to change his ways/And no message could have been any clearer/If you want to make the world a better place/Take a look at yourself, and then make a change//
God is out to change us. He wants to conform us to the image of His Son, Jesus. But to do that, He has to probe and refine us quite a bit. Pride is one aspect of our flesh that He despises and works diligently to remove from our lives. This process of sanctification can be very painful.
God uses three primary instruments to eliminate pride from the soil of our souls. The first instrument used is the Word of God, which is like a hammer (Jer. 23:29). Not only does it break up the hard soil of our hearts, it also serves as a light to guide us on our paths (Ps. 119:105). In working to show us the real man, God will hold up Scripture as the mirror that illuminates the sin within. We can respond to this hard kindness or we can shut our Bibles and ignore the God of the Word.
The second method God uses is circumstances: a stressful ministry, a difficult relationship, an errant child, or a debilitating illness. Job experienced this instrument of painful grace. When all was removed from his life, including his health, he chose to wrestle it through with God and in the end, repented of his arrogance. We also, like Job, have the choice to respond with bitterness or with the humility that God is seeking.
The body of Christ is the third primary instrument of change. While pride deceives the person it rules, another believer can easily tell where it is lurking. When other Christians are willing to point out our blind, proud spots, they become the hands and mouths of Jesus in our lives. Again, we can choose to respond with humility or with whitewashed hypocrisy.
God used all three of these instruments in Hezekiah’s life. He spoke His Word of truth over Hezekiah’s life.“Hear the word of the Lord Almighty,” Isaiah said (Isa 39:5). God also used circumstances to prove the worth of Hezekiah’s faith. Remember, He withdrew from Hezekiah when the envoys came as a test for Hezekiah to see what was really in his heart (2 Chron. 32:31). And lastly, God used another believer, Isaiah, to speak to Hezekiah and point out where he was wrong and guide him into the right path.
A Pride Inventory
I have never had a mentor speak directly into my life. Never have I been discipled in the Word or in godly habits by another believer. However, I am a voracious reader and have found huge beacons of light illuminating my pathway from wise authors who write great books.
I have gleaned truths about parenting from James Dobson and how to have a better marriage from Gary Smalley. Charles Stanley has taught me about the Spirit-filled life. Neil Anderson has helped me break strongholds in my life and Beth Moore has tutored me in living free. I have learned how to experience God from Henry Blackaby and how to practice godliness from Jerry Bridges. A.W.Tozer, Henri Nouwen and John Ortberg have modeled a life of wrestling honestly with God, a discipline I engage even to this day. I have never had a real-life mentor, but I have been mentored by spiritual giants of the faith.
One book that I keep pulling off of my bookshelf at varying times is Brokenness: The Heart God Revives by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Since I know that one of my fleshly refining points is pride, I am very aware of how often I need to take a pride inventory. Nancy has thirty-five questions that I review frequently as a good check for the woman in the mirror.
Scripture is given to us for many reasons, but one important reason is for us to learn the lessons taught in its pages. Hezekiah’s story is not just a story; it is a mentoring session straight from God to our hearts. As I have worked through this particular lesson on pride, I have been reminded again of my fleshly nemesis. I have had to do some business with God on this battlefront once again and my prayer is that through Hezekiah’s failure to trust God, you have also been convicted of some pride in your life. That is, after all, why we study God’s Word; it is to change the man or woman in the mirror.
If God has been impressing you of a pride issue, but you are not aware of how it is creeping into your life, allow me to share a few of Nancy’s questions. Her honest analysis of the various ways pride overtakes us is incredibly thought-provoking. I highly recommend this book on brokenness and humility, since a broken and dying seed is the only kind that God will use (Jn. 12:23-26). Pray through these probing thoughts and take some spiritual inventory. These are drawn randomly from pages 86-93:
- Proud people focus on the failures of others and can readily point out those faults. Broken people are more conscious of their own spiritual need than of anyone else’s.
- Proud people are self-righteous; they think highly of themselves and look down on others. Broken people think the best of others; they esteem others as better than themselves.
- Proud people have to prove that they are right – they have to get the last word. Broken people are willing to yield the right to be right.
- Proud people are self-protective of their time, their rights, and their reputation. Broken people are self-denying and self-sacrificing.
- Proud people crave self-advancement. Broken people desire to promote others.
- Proud people have a drive to be recognized and appreciated for their efforts. Broken people have a sense of their own unworthiness; they are thrilled that God would use them at all.
- Proud people keep others at arms’ length. Broken people are willing to take the risks of getting close to others and loving intimately.
- Proud people are quick to blame others. Broken people accept personal responsibility and can acknowledge where they were wrong in a situation.
- Proud people are unapproachable or defensive when corrected. Broken people receive correction with a humble, open spirit.
- Proud people want to be sure that no one finds out when they have sinned; their instinct is to cover up. Broken people aren’t overly concerned with who knows or who finds out about their sin – they are willing to be exposed because they have nothing to lose.
Hezekiah did not have this fantastic book with which to evaluate his inner soul, but he did have the words of God, the refining circumstances of testing, and a good, godly friend. I pray that if trusting God is hard for you, that you will spend some time in the mirror of the Word and that God will refine you through circumstantial testing. I also pray that God would send someone to come alongside you; a person who will be honest and loyal.
After the envoys, after the spiritual faux-pas, after the probing questions, and after the judgment of the Word, Hezekiah had a choice. He could have responded with pride, acting in a self-righteous, self-protective way. He could have raged at Isaiah like Uzziah raged at the priests who confronted him many years before. He could have chosen to garner advice from colleagues instead of Isaiah. And he could have become bitter; blaming God and others for the judgment he had received.
But he did not.
Isaiah 39 ends with Hezekiah’s surprising words. “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied” (v 8a). This word ‘good’ is a very general word. It means “pleasant, agreeable, excellent, rich, valuable in estimation, appropriate, glad, kind, right (ethical), moral good, prosperity, happiness, bounty” (ESV Strong’s).
I am so sad that there is no more information given than in this simple sentence. We know from 2 Chronicles 32:26 that a monumental shift occurred in Hezekiah’s heart between hearing God’s pending judgment and him speaking this succinct, humble response. Listen to the Chronicler’s summation in verse 26, “Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore the Lord’s wrath did not come upon them during the days of Hezekiah.”
What happened here? I want the details of Hezekiah’s soul-change. So many times I am in this very same spot – caught between conviction and submission – without knowing what to do or what steps to take. It is in those times that I could use a long mentoring session with this now repentant king. But, unfortunately, no ‘how-to’ steps are given to us. We are left having to search the Scriptures on our own and submissively relying on the Holy Spirit for His personal guidance in our lives.
What we do know is that Hezekiah repented. He allowed the Word of God to soften his pride. He learned from his circumstances that were used to test his heart and which, revealed his arrogant flaw. He also heeded the rebuke of his godly friend. And again, God showed His gracious character: relenting of the judgment and choosing not to bring His wrath down upon Hezekiah and all of Judah in his day.
There is one more addendum to this story, however, and it is a controversial one. Chapter 39 ends with a confusing postscript to Hezekiah’s humble acquiescence, “For he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my lifetime’” (v 8b). Many Bible versions translate this last thought in a negative manner, making it sound like Hezekiah was selfish for being concerned only about security in his own generation: “For he said, “At least there will be peace and truth in my days” (NKJV); “For the king was thinking, “At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime” (NLT); “Within himself he was thinking, “But surely nothing bad will happen in my lifetime. I’ll enjoy peace and stability as long as I live” (MSG). The ESV Study Bible states that Hezekiah was unmoved by Isaiah’s prophecy, that he was self-centered, only caring about peace and security in his days.
I have to say that I totally disagree. Second Chronicles would not have stated that Hezekiah had repented of the pride in his heart if his last-mentioned thought was self-centered. Neither would the Lord have relented of the wrathful judgment He had pronounced if the goal of repentance had not been reached. But I will admit to the fact Hezekiah’s last statement is pretty confusing. So what does it mean?
That word ‘peace’ is the familiar word ‘shalom.’ It means peace or tranquility (CWSB dictionary). My ESV Strong’s defines it as “safe, well, happy…completeness, soundness, welfare, peace (of human relationships and with God especially in covenant relationship)…”
I want you to especially notice the part of the definition having to do with peace with God. I believe Hezekiah was incredibly humbled by his encounter with the Word of the Lord and I believe he repented, for his very next and last-mentioned thought expresses a recognition that peace (shalom) with God had been achieved. No longer was he proud. No longer was God’s wrath visiting him. He was back in right standing, back in right relationship, with his covenant God.
Additionally, that word ‘security’ is the word ‘emet,’ meaning “firmness, faithfulness, sureness, reliability…truth as spoken, of testimony and judgment, of divine instruction, as a body of ethical or religious knowledge, of truth doctrine” (ESV Strong’s). The NASB and NKJV versions actually translate that last phrase as: “there will be peace and truth in my days.”
Not only was Hezekiah grateful for the renewed relationship of completeness and wholeness with his God, but he was grateful also for the truths God had showed him. David understood the soul-relief of truth, even when it hurt, because he too, had lived with sin eating at his peace with God, “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place” (Ps. 51:6). When he repented of his pride, he entered into a right relationship with God based on the truth of the Word. These two principles – peace and truth – held in steady tension, constitute a heart that has made the Lord its trust.
The Amplified version adds just a tidbit of insight to these already-fleshed out versions, “And he added, ‘For there will be peace and faithfulness (to His promises to us) in my days.” What does truth further look like? Truth is based on the promises of God’s Word. I think Hezekiah is saying here that God’s judgment was appropriate and well-deserved; it was just and fair. But he is also saying that His relenting of His wrath in Hezekiah’s day was a measure of His lavish grace.
God’s grace flows into our lives because of His faithfulness to the promises He has made to us. We do not deserve it. We cannot earn it. But we can show the proper humility in an attitude of undeserved merit and favor. The statement about God’s judgment being postponed to Hezekiah’s descendants was not a selfish epitaph; it was a “thankful recognition that God had not dealt with him personally to the measure of his desert” (Expositor’s Biblical Commentary)
And so the details of Hezekiah’s spiritual misdemeanor have come to an end. Just like my rookie mistake while flying my dad’s airplane, Hezekiah made the same error. He took his eyes off of the landmark of God and His Word to look around and enjoy the ride. For a while there – while he entertained envoys and read suggestive letters and basked in affirmation – he steered toward the wrong focal point. He did not see the pride in his heart, but not seeing it still got him a little lost, spiritually speaking. Through the prophet Isaiah, who spoke the Word of the Lord, Hezekiah was brought back on track, steering once again toward God as his center point. Repentance was what refocused his trust and enabled him to walk in peace and truth with God and that brings us to principle #4: Trust always humbly steers toward the focal point of God.
I have shared already today how sad I am that there are no ‘how-to’ steps mentioned in Hezekiah’s story. (I like simple, cut-and-dried answers). We cannot know exactly how to obtain humility and consequently, eschew pride in our lives, just by reading the account of Hezekiah’s prideful actions. I am pretty sure this is no accident, for if there were steps to follow to humility, we would find a way to follow them and then pat ourselves on the back for maintaining the appearance of humility. Unfortunately, following rules to achieve humility actually leads to a prideful attitude. You see the dilemma here, right?
I am convinced that if we are submitting to God’s tools of refinement – His Word, the difficult circumstances He allows, and the iron-sharpening-iron ministry of the Body – we will be well on our way to achieving humility. If we are listening to the words of our Father and capitulating to the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we will move closer and closer to Jesus’ example. God will be able to conform us to the image of His Son, who was the most humble of servants, even to the point of death (Phil. 2:7-8).
With all of that said, I do believe that we are to be proactive in rooting out sin, especially pride, in our lives. As the Holy Word reveals pride and as the Holy Spirit convicts, we must aggressively seek to route out arrogance and replace it with humility. This is not a work we can do in our own strength, but it is a work of servanthood that must be done with divine competence. Pride is a stronghold and we are to fight it with spiritual weapons (2 Cor. 10:4). As we come to know God more and more, His divine power gives us what we need for life and godliness. Through His promises, we can participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires, of which pride is king-pin (2 Pet. 1:3-5).
I do not know about you, but I do not want to be ruled by pride; I want to be ruled by the Prince of Peace. Therefore, I think it is important that we train ourselves to be godly (1 Tim. 4:7). Part of that training involves putting off that old way of life, which is being corrupted by deceitfulness. We are to be made new in the attitude of our minds, which means being familiar with what God says in the Bible about pride and humility. And then we are to put on the new self – in this case, humility – created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:22-24).
With all of these paragraphs as introduction and with an blaring word of caution, I tentatively submit to you a plan for humility on which the Lord and I have been working. Of course, it is an acronym; is there any other way to learn? (Smile) But I pitch this out to you with a caveat: it is not a step-by-step, do it and check it off kind of list. On the contrary, this acronym is a simply a reminder of what God has already said in His Word. It merely consolidates many verses on pride and humility so that, by meditating upon those Scriptures and by placing these thoughts at the forefront of your mind, it will help you be mindful of the importance of constantly cultivating an attitude of humility.
H – Honor God with obedient responses. Most of the chapter of Deuteronomy 8 reads like a primer on humility: what God expects, how He humbles, what the humbling process is to produce, and of course, what leads to pride. I will be referring to this passage a lot as I briefly flesh out this acronym. It is a passage you may want to study in more depth if humility is one of your prayer requests.
The first instruction God gave His people was about their obedience: “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the Lord promised on oath to your forefathers” (Deut 8:1). The NASB says, “you shall be careful to do (them),” meaning God’s commandments. Not only do we need to read God’s commands in His Word, we must be careful to follow them (Deut. 8:6, Zeph. 2:3), especially ones that the Holy Spirit has driven straight into our consciences.
In the New Testament, Jesus is the prime example of obedient humility. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8)! As per his example, all believers are to be subject to authority, to be obedient, to do good, to be peaceable and to show true humility (Tit. 3:1-2).
Deuteronomy 8:6 shows us how to be obedient to God’s commands: we are to walk in His ways and learn to fear Him. If we just learn to follow hard on the heels of Jesus, stepping where He stepped, with a heart of reverence and awe, we will not need to worry about what has been commanded; it will come pretty naturally. The proper attitude and the close proximity will yield obedient behavior. It is when we compromise the fear of the Lord, through bribery, extortion, or just plain foolish behavior, that we become proud and fall into sin (Ecc. 7:7)
U – Uphold a repentant lifestyle. I once read that the measure of a mature believer is how quick she is to confess sin. I hope you noticed that in this statement, there is the given assumption that all people are sinners. However, the depth of the child-God relationship is quickly seen when a woman is hurt by the lack of intimacy sin always brings. The measure of her true feelings for God is seen in how fast she acts to move back into a right relationship with God.
In the famous turn-around verse in 2 Chronicles, humility is coupled with a turn from wicked ways (2 Chron. 7:14). A heart that desires to about-face to righteousness must walk a prescribed path. There must be a desire to come near to God so that He can come near to you. A person must wash her hands, meaning that she must make her conduct pure. The call to purify her heart insists on purity of thoughts and motives, because double-mindedness is a clear deterrent to trust. There must be grieving, mourning, and wailing. Laughter should be changed to mourning and joy to gloom (Jms. 4:8-9).
Does all of this weeping mean that Christians are not to have any fun? Of course not! The author of Ecclesiastes clearly states that there is a time to weep and to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. There is a time for everything (Ecc. 3:1, 4), but when the pleasures of sin begin to interfere with our intimacy of God, something has to give. That something is pride.
Keeping short accounts with God is imperative to an attitude of humility. The proud have no need of God. They do not even listen to the Spirit’s conviction or if they do listen, they ignore His words. The humble, on the other hand, cannot stand to have anything obstruct their walk with God; they want to experience skin-to-skin contact with the Almighty. To do this, a woman must be aggressive in maintaining a life of integrity and that requires a lifestyle of confession and turning.
M – Make the Lord your trust. This principle of humility flows straight from Psalm 40:4, “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.” What does it mean to make the Lord your trust? Simply put, it means to trust God for everything. It means to lean not on your own understanding and to acknowledge him in all your ways (Pr. 3:5-6).
How can you practically make the Lord your trust? This concept is easy to write about, but a lot harder to do. Practically speaking, you make the Lord your trust when you pray and seek His face (2 Chron. 7:14, 2 Chron. 26:5, Ps. 10:4, Zeph. 2:3), when you go to Him for guidance and teaching (Ps. 25:9), when you submit to Him (Jms. 4:7, 1 Pet. 5:6), when you come near to Him (Jms. 4:8), when you cast your anxiety on Him (1 Pet. 5:7), and when you respond to God’s kindness (2 Chron. 32:25). In short, trusting God with all of your heart means you will choose not to lean on your own understanding and to acknowledge Him in all your ways (Pr. 3:5-6).
I – Identify Satan’s schemes. In two humility-endorsed passages in the New Testament, there is significant mention of the devil’s presence in the process. As you learn to submit to God, there will be notable resistance from the kingdom of darkness. You are to be self-controlled and alert, for where there is a desire for humble submission, there will also be an all-out attack by your enemy, who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. That ‘someone,’ dear child of God, is you if you are truly sincere about learning to walk in reverence and humility.
How do you handle the schemes of the devil? We will be spending two entire weeks fleshing out Satan’s tactics during the month of May, but for now, both Peter and James give good advice: resist him, standing firm in your faith (Jms. 4:7, 1 Pet. 5:9). James goes on to say that if you resist the devil, in Jesus’ name and power, he will flee from you (Jms. 4:7). Dear one, stand on this promise of God when you are undergoing great temptation to yield to sin of any kind, especially pride. Whether you struggle to believe it or not, God has got your back. He is fully invested in your sanctification and knows that there will be skirmishes with evil at the least, and full-out battles at the most. He stands ready to help you so you need to stand firm in your God-given armor (Eph. 6:14ff) and fight for righteousness and humility (Zeph. 2:3).
L – Learn the art of remembering. There is so much I could say here, quite honestly, because God speaks an inordinate amount about this lost art, especially in regard to humility. Personally, I believe that the people who have cultivated the arts of meditation on and memorization of God’s words are some of the most humble, godly people I know. In great contrast, proud people do not seek God; in all their “thoughts there is no room for God” (Ps. 10:4). Clearly, thinking about God and His ways leads to humility.
In God’s long speech to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 8, remembering is the key theme. He asked them to remember how God led them in the desert for forty years, to humble and test them in order to know what was in their hearts, whether or not they would keep His commands (v 2). He asked them to remember how He humbled them by causing them to feel great hunger and then feeding them with manna, to teach them that man must live on the Word of God (v 3).
They were to remember His provision for them, since their clothes never wore out and their feet did not swell in the desert heat (v 4). Another point of memory was that God did a lot of discipline in the desert, but it was because He was treating them as sons (v 5).
When life became prosperous in the Promised Land, the Israelites were to be careful that they did not forget the Lord (v 11). After eating and being satisfied, after building nice houses and settling down, after accruing large herds and flocks and gathering a lot of money, their hearts would very easily have become proud so that they would forget God (vv 10-14). God asked them to remember that he had brought them out of Egypt, out of slavery, and had led them through the dreadful desert, bringing water out of the rock and giving them manna to eat (vv14-16). He told them, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord…for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…” (vv17-18).
How do you and I cultivate humility? We learn to remember. We remember to think about God, to fill our thoughts with His character and ways. We remember how He has led us and used circumstances to humble us. We need to remember when things are going well, to give God the glory. He gives us the ability to work, minister, even breathe every day. It is imperative that we not forget the slavery that Christ bought us from and the inheritance He has led us into.
My friend, do not forget the Lord. Make a choice to remember Him and in the mediation and memorization, you just may cultivate a little bit of humility.
I – Immerse yourself in the fear of the Lord. Buried deep within this same Deuteronomy passage are three important words, “Revere the Lord” (Deut. 8:6). The book of Proverbs has much to say about the benefits of learning to fear God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Pr. 1:7). It adds length to your life (10:27). It is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death (14:27). It helps you avoid evil (16:6). It leads to life, where one can rest content, untouched by trouble (19:23 – I particularly like this one). Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life (22:4). The fact is: you cannot lose when you choose to fear God.
What does it look like, however, to fear God? This awe and reverence leads us to be able to submit to Him (Jms. 4:7, 1 Pet. 5:6). Since wisdom seems to be a by-product of this godly fear, it stands to reason that a person who has spent a lot of time immersing herself in the fear of the Lord, will be a person who is wise. The Lord lists three examples of a God-fearing person in Isaiah 66:2, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”
Fearing God helps us to submit to Him. It makes us wise and along the way, we also develop humility and contrition. But a huge test of your reverence for God is that last phrase in Isaiah 66:2. Do you tremble at God’s Word? Can you hardly wait to spend with God in your devotions? Do you seek God’s guidance through this love letter to you? And do you honor what He writes? If you have a love-affair with Scripture, you can know that you are developing godly fear, which will lead to a humble heart.
T – Train your heart in gratitude. I have to admit that with my glass-half-empty perception on life, this principle is one of the hardest for me. Honestly, I get so caught up in my circumstances that I have a hard time looking for the silver lining. The Israelites were warned, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you” (Deut. 8:10). What God is saying here is that humility always takes the time to thank God for all the good things He has done and is still doing.
But what about when you are not satisfied? What about when the times get tough and you have no energy to get going in praise? Isaiah ups the ante quite a bit, saying that the humble rejoice in the Lord; even the needy take the time to rejoice (Isa. 29:19). James echoes Isaiah’s sentiments. We are to consider trials to be a joy because we know that they are testing our faith; they are showing us what is in our hearts. That faith develops perseverance, which in turn, makes us mature and complete (Jms. 1:2-4). A person who is mature is a humble person, so you see, we have come full circle.
Asaph admonished his readers to sacrifice thank offerings to God and call upon Him in the day of trouble. In turn, God promised to deliver them so that they would honor Him (Ps. 50:14-15). When your heart is being tested, when your back is against the wall, that is a hard time to praise God, which is why Asaph says thanksgiving is a sacrifice. But look at the blessings that come when we choose to train our hearts in gratitude: “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God” (Ps. 50:23).
Not only does praise lead to humility, but it leads to perseverance, maturity, completeness and the salvation of God. Yes, it is hard to praise God when storms hit and floodwaters rise, but the man who trusts in the Lord, who puts his confidence in God, will be blessed and will experience firsthand, the Lord’s unfailing love (Ps. 84:12, Jer. 17:7)
Y – Yield your rights and preferences to God and others. Jesus was described as gentle and humble in heart (Mt. 11:29). This gentleness was seen in how he interacted with people, some who were most ungracious. It may be a surprise to know that while we are to yield to God, humility also requires that we yield to others. And honestly, this is where the proverbial humility rubber hits the road.
We can behave with incredible humility before the Lord. We may even train ourselves to respond to crisis moments with a gracious and humble spirit. But when another person comes against us or gets in the way of our plans, look out! If there is any pride left in our hearts, that is when it will come pouring out of our mouths.
God uses people as tools to reveal our hearts. A snide remark here, a critical jab there and that is all it takes for us to defend, deflect, and justify our behavior. Pride stands up when opposed, while humility takes the onslaught lying down, mostly because humility’s identity is firmly placed on God. A humble person does not need to justify her behavior; she knows she is secure in Christ. A proud person actually feels very insecure, which is why she must do things that are measurable in the world’s eyes.
A person who is learning to yield to others will seek truth, humility and righteousness (Ps. 45:4), instead of the increase of their own reputation. They will serve with humility and many tears (Acts 20:19), knowing that a repentant attitude paves the way for effective ministry.
By consolidating five passages of Scripture, I have come up with a huge list of characteristics that accompany humility. Each of these attributes describe how we are to behave toward God and people, even those who get under our skin. We are to be completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, and making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:2-3). God expects us to be like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and in purpose. We are to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility, we are to consider others better than ourselves. In the process of humility, we are to look to the interests of others (Phil. 2:2-4). We are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another, forgiving one another and loving deeply (Col. 3:12-14). We are to live in harmony with one another, be sympathetic, love, be compassionate and humble. We are to repay evil with blessing (1 Pet. 3:8-9). And lastly, we are to be submissive to one another and clothe ourselves with humility toward one another (1 Pet. 5:5). And my friend, this is just a sampling of how we are to treat others.
As I close out this devotional, I want to briefly remind you from where we have come. Pride rose up in Hezekiah and caused him to make foolish decisions. The Lord used three tools – His Word, circumstances and another believer – to refine Hezekiah in his proud state. Hezekiah did the right thing: he repented of his pride. Never again, at least in his written history, do we see him revert to arrogance before God. He learned his lesson. Yes, it was learned the hard way, but isn’t experience sometimes the best teacher?
After meditating on this passage with me, perhaps the Lord is also speaking to you about this insidious sin of pride. If so, reverse the four steps that led Hezekiah into his downward spiral. Do not forget the Lord. Acknowledge Him in all of your ways. Do not seek your own importance or significance and be cautious about what you call a treasure. On top of these four important steps, remember to cultivate the attitude of humility.
If you do these things with all of your heart you will always steer toward the right focal point. You will not make pride your trust, but God will be the Rock, in whom you will always take refuge (Ps. 18:2). Don’t be a rookie like Hezekiah. Instead, revere the Lord and tremble at His Word.