HEZEKIAH AND JOSIAH: A CONTRAST IN RESPONSE TO GOD’S ANGER
This commentary is an exchange I had with a good friend of mine who was puzzled by Hezekiah’s callous response to the prophecy of destruction that was going to come upon his people and asked what I thought about it.
My Friend’s Concern:
The response of King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:19 puzzles me greatly. How does a father think this way? I tried to contrast it with Josiah's response in 2 Kings 22:19-20 and 2 Kings 23. Josiah was promised a quiet death, yet he still acted! What made the difference? What’s the lesson here for me?
My Own Response:
Your perplexity is not misplaced. It’s absolutely in order to find disquieting, the response of King Hezekiah to the terrible things that was going to happen to his offspring and his nation in the future. I share your dismay. Below are my two cents on these two kings of Judah and the issues you’ve raised.
Beyond being of the lineage of David and kings of Judah, Hezekiah and Josiah, his great grandson, have a lot of things in common. Here are a few of the parallels between them:
Both of their fathers were godless and idolatrous kings who turned the hearts of the people of Israel away from God and led them to worship foreign gods. They watched their fathers commit all kinds of abominations in the land.
Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah, “walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and he even made his son pass through the fire, in accordance with the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had driven out before the sons of Israel. And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree.” (2 Kings 16:3-4)
Amon, the father of Josiah, “walked entirely in the way that his father had walked, and served the idols that his father had served, and worshiped them. So, he abandoned the Lord, the God of his fathers, and did not walk in the way of the Lord.” (2 Kings 21:21-22)
Both Hezekiah and Josiah inherited a godless nation and an idolatrous people.
Despite being raised by idolatrous fathers, Hezekiah and Josiah both feared and worshiped the LORD. The first thing both did when they became kings was to commence a process of spiritual purging, cleansing, and restoration. They both forcefully and radically purged Judah of idolatry and restored the worship of YAHWEH to the land. Even though their parents raised them in idolatry, they each chose to do what was right before God.
Hezekiah's righteous deeds are chronicled in Kings 18 and 19. In 2 Kings 18:5b-6 we read, “...and after him there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who came before him. For he clung to the LORD; he did not desist from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the LORD had commanded Moses.”
In 2 Chronicles 29:20, we read how Hezekiah restored the temple worship. In fact, in verses 25-28 we see him bring music back. Before then Israel had stopped singing and making melodies to God. Hezekiah made Godly music great again.
An interesting footnote about Josiah is the fact that 300 years before his reign, an unnamed “man of God” had actually prophesied to King Jeroboam of the northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) that “a son named Josiah will be born to the house of David” and that he would destroy the altar at Bethel. (1 Kings 13:1-3). The word of that prophecy was fulfilled.
Unlike Josiah, however, Hezekiah's walk with God always had a question mark, especially towards the latter part of his life. Here is why.
When the Assyrians attacked Judah, instead of asking God for help, he initially tried to pay them off. In 2 Kings 18:15-16 we read, “Hezekiah then gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasuries of the king’s house. At that time Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the doorposts, which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and he gave it to the king of Assyria.” It was only when the ransom failed that he turned to God for help.
During the extra 15 years that God gave him to live Hezekiah invited the Babylonians to Jerusalem. He took the Babylonians around his empire to arrogantly and cluelessly show off his great wealth and military secrets failing to realize that the Babylonian empire was a mortal enemy secretly plotting to invade and ransack Judah. (2 Kings 20:12-13).
You see, Hezekiah had some of the features of a narcissist. He was a man consumed with his own circumstances and had no regard for his heritage, the Davidic royal legacy. All he cared about was himself. He was more concerned about the here and now, and he failed to see or consider the future.
Though it can be said that Hezekiah had the fear of God, it is evident he did not teach his own children to do likewise. Manasseh, his heir, who was born during those 15 extra years added to his life, was one of the most wicked kings to ever reign in Judah, Manasseh inflicted unprecedented evil on the land, and he undid pretty much everything Hezekiah, his father, ever accomplished.
Hezekiah is testament to the fact that it's possible for a man to be known as a great man of God in the eyes of the watching public, but in his own house and in secret to have a terrible character and questionable relationship with God.
That’s where Josiah is different from Hezekiah, his great grandfather. Unlike Hezekiah, Josiah’s devotion to God was unwavering to the end. He served God faithfully all the days of his life.
And that’s the lesson for you and me. Our faith must permeate every area of our lives, both public and private. It’s important that we put premium on the spiritual well-being of our own household above anything else. Being a man of God at home is far more important than being a man of God outside. There can be no room for spiritual weariness, and we must ensure our walk with God endures till the end.