2 Kings 18, Habakkuk 1, John 10

Read 2 Kings 18, Habakkuk 1, and John 10 today. This devotional is about 2 Kings 18.

Our passage for today, 2 Kings 18, told us that Hezekiah was a godly king, like David (v. 3). Other kings of Judah were described as good kings but often with the caveat that they did not remove the high places used for idolatry. These kings, then, worshipped the Lord themselves and stressed covenant obedience to God’s law for the nation but they did not try to stop the private idol worship that was going on away from Jerusalem.

Hezekiah, however, did put a stop to that idolatry. Verse 4 told us, “ 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.)”

The reason he did this was that, “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel.” His faith in God led him to do what was unpopular with the people but right in the eyes of God. As a result God said of him, “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 stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook.” He stood alone among the kings of Judah because of his faith and God blessed him with success accordingly, just as He had promised to do in the law.

That doesn’t mean that Hezekiah did not face adversity. Verse 7b told us that, “He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him.” This statement is quite meaningful; Assyria was taking over the known world at that time. Verses 9-12 told us that Israel was invaded, defeated, and exiled from their land due to their disobedience to God’s law. Then the Assyrians attacked Hezekiah (v. 13). At first Hezekiah tried to buy peace from the Assyrians by giving them silver and gold, even gold harvested from Solomon’s temple (vv. 14-16). That peace lasted temporarily, then the Assyrians were back again like a 6th grade bully taking 3rd graders’ lunch money.

This time the Assyrians stopped water from flowing into Jerusalem, trapping the people in the city with no way for water or food to enter. They taunted God’s people and urged them (in their own Hebrew language, no less) to surrender despite what Hezekiah said. The Assyrians made this conflict about God, not just about world domination. In verse 22 they said, “But if you say to me, “We are depending on the Lord our God”—isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You must worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?” They misunderstood how worship was supposed to work in Judah, but their words resonated with the people whose idol altars Hezekiah had torn down.

Later they said that it was God’s will for them to attack Judah: “ Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this place without word from the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.’” (v. 25) Finally, the Assyrians appealed to their record of success against all other kinds of gods: “Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” (v. 35).

The lesson from this is that the promise of God’s presence with the godly does not mean an absence of adversity in your life.

In fact, the more you trust God, the more likely you are to face challenges to your faith from those who have rejected the Lord. If you’re facing some trials and hardships right now, understand that this is part of walking with the Lord. God hasn’t abandoned you or failed you; he has led you into an opportunity to test and strengthen your faith even more.

Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 37, Psalms 54-56

Read Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 37, and Psalms 54-56 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 37.

Yesterday’s reading from Isaiah 36 described how the Assyrian king Sennacherib attacked the southern kingdom of Judah and put the city of Jerusalem under siege. Having successfully stopped the flow of water into the city, the Assyrians invited the people of Jerusalem to surrender before they died of dehydration and starvation.

Here in Isaiah 37 Hezekiah the king of Judah showed great spiritual leadership. Instead of mustering his army and trying to fire them up with a rousing speech, Hezekiah recognized that God was the only possible route to deliverance.

Hezekiah began his demonstration of spiritual leadership by humbling himself, personally before the Lord by putting on the garments of humility and going to the Lord’s temple (v. 1). Then he sent some of his deputies, themselves clothed in humble sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet (v. 2). Their message to Isaiah, in verse 3, was not “Get us out of this!” or even “Pray for us!” Instead, they acknowledged how desperate their situation and need for God was (v. 3) and pointed out to Isaiah that the Assyrians had spoken words of ridicule against the one true God, the God of Israel (v. 4a). As a result, they asked Isaiah to pray that God would preserve his people from this dangerous moment in their history (v. 5).

Isaiah responded by assuring Hezekiah’s officials that God would fight for Israel and repay the Assyrians for their blasphemy (vv. 5-7).

Meanwhile, Sennacherib sent a personal letter to Hezekiah once again denying that God would deliver them and calling on Hezekiah to surrender (vv. 9-13). Hezekiah took the letter he received and brought it before the Lord (v. 14). He prayed and began by praising God for who He is (v. 15-16) and calling on God to deliver his people (vv. 18-20).

At the end of Hezekiah’s prayer, he said the words that God always wants to hear: “…deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.” As he called on God to fight for his people, Hezekiah tied his request to the demonstration of God’s glory (v. 20).

God answered Hezekiah’s prayer (vv. 21-38) and here we are thousands of years later reading about what God did and praising God in our hearts for his almighty power and defense of his people.

When we ask God for something in prayer, do we ever think about what God would get out of answering our prayers? The biggest human need we think we have is insignificant compared to the importance of magnifying the glory of God and calling people to surrender to him.

God is loving and compassionate toward his people but his main objective in this world is to spread the knowledge of himself throughout the world. Do we ask God to use our weaknesses, our needs, and the answers to prayer that we seek from him in ways that help spread the knowledge of God and bring worship to him? Or is our praying self-seeking, concerned mostly (or only) with getting what we want from God for our own relief or our own life-enhancement?

The kind of prayer God loves to answer is the one that recognizes God’s purposes in this world and aligns the answer we seek with the advancement of God’s agenda in some way.

If you’ve been praying for something, how would God’s giving you the answer you want spread his knowledge in the world? Tying our requests to what God is concerned about—his kingdom—is important for an encouraging answer to our requests.

Think about what you find yourself asking from God in prayer. Is the answer you want really just a way to make yourself comfortable? Or do you see how answering your prayer might have an impact on the real reasons Christ came into the human race? Do you see how God is glorified when he answers in such “difficult” situations? When you pray, connect your prayers to the promises of God and his mission to reach his chosen ones and see if God does not answer more quickly, more completely and thoroughly in your life.

2 Chronicles 32, Zechariah 14

Today we’re reading 2 Chronicles 32 and Zechariah 14.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 32.

Hezekiah honored the Lord from his heart, led Judah to honor and seek the Lord, and God blessed the nation with spiritual renewal. That did not mean, however, that Hezekiah had it easy. Here in chapter 32 he had to deal with a significant military threat from Sennacherib king of Assyria. The Assyrians had built a powerful army and were intent on subjugating as many other nations as possible to their control. In verse 1, Sennacherib picked off some of the smaller fortified cities in Judah, then set his sights on defeating Jerusalem. Remember that David chose Jerusalem to be his capital because it was built on a high hill and surrounded by other mountains which made it difficult to attack successfully. Hezekiah did what he could to prepare Jerusalem for Sennacherib’s attack. He blocked off the springs of water outside the city so it wouldn’t be easy for the Assyrian army to camp there indefinitely (vv. 2-4). He also fixed the broken sections of Jerusalem’s wall and built some towers to improve surveillance around the city (v. 5a-b). He manufactured “large numbers of weapons and shields” (v. 5d) and built an outer wall and “reinforced the terraces of the City of David” (v. 5c).

Hezekiah also prepared his army for the attack (vv. 7-8) and held fast against the propaganda war that Sennacherib waged (vv. 9-19). Most importantly, he prayed. He and Isaiah the great prophet waged war on their knees in this moment of crisis (v. 20) and God honored them by miraculously delivering Judah from Sennacherib (vv. 21-23). Later, when he contracted a fatal illness, God honored his faith and his prayers by healing him (v. 24).

What an amazing life this man led, yet because he was a man he was not immune from sin. He had many victories and much success (vv. 27-29) but he also struggled with pride (vv. 25-26). This temptation follows many people who achieve everything, or most things, they want in life. We forget how much God and others contribute to our success and we start thinking that we have all the answers and deserve everything we’ve gotten. God hates pride and those who succumb to its temptation usually find themselves humbled in some way before him. The ultimate test of pride is whether one is repentant or not when God deals a blow to their pride. Hezekiah did repent (v. 26) and God was merciful to him to a degree (v. 26b). His story reminds us to be careful about our thoughts when things go well for us. If you’ve had a great year in 2016, I am happy for you and wish you even better things in 2017 but remember to thank and praise God rather than taking too much credit in your heart. God loves humility and rewards the humble but the proud he usually brings to humility.

2 Chronicles 31, Zechariah 13:2-9

Read 2 Chronicles 31 and Zechariah 13:2-9 today.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 31.

Hezekiah restored the temple and the priesthood (chapter 29) led Judah to observe the Passover again after generations of ignoring it (chapter 30), and called his people to return to serving and worshipping the Lord from the heart (also chapter 30). God worked through his leadership and the people responded favorably to the Lord. The word “revival” is used whenever a large number of people turn or return to the Lord. Here in 2 Chronicles 31, we see the results of genuine revival from the heart.

The first result is the removal of idols. Idolatry was a constant struggle within Israel and Judah and even when godly kings ruled, it was still practiced in secret. After God revived the hearts of his people under Hezekiah, they voluntarily destroyed their own idols as a result (v. 1). This demonstrates a true repentance–a true turning from sin to serve the Lord alone. It is what happens in our lives, too, when God works to revive and strengthen our commitment to him.

Another result of revival is giving to the Lord’s work from the heart (vv. 2-19). The Levites and priests had abandoned their ministries, as we saw in chapter 29. This was partially due to their own disobedience and partially due to the lack of funding they were receiving from God’s people. After God worked through Hezekiah to revive the hearts of people, the people gave so generously to the Lord’s work that the priests and Levites had more than enough for themselves (vv. 9-10). How did this happen? People started tithing faithfully (vv. 5-6). When people were faithful in tithing, there was more than enough to provide for God’s work and God’s servants. In fact, there was so much more than what was needed that the priests just starting piling it up (vv. 7-8) and built storerooms to warehouse it all (vv. 11-13). In addition to providing for the priests, were two additional results to this faithful tithing. First, there was heartfelt praise and thanks to the Lord for his provision (v. 8). Second, there was adequate provision for more men to dedicate themselves to serve the Lord (vv. 16-19).

This is what happens when God works in a group of people. People stop loving and start hating and repudiating their idols and they start giving faithfully to God’s work. As God’s work is better funded, his servants are able to do more for him and a virtuous cycle begins.

What is the state of your heart before the Lord? Are you praying for God to revive the hearts of people in our church and our community?

2 Chronicles 30, Zechariah 12:1-13:1

Today, read 2 Chronicles 30 and Zechariah 12:1-13:1.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 30.

The revival and reformation in Judah that we read about yesterday continued in this chapter. The new aspect of this revival was a desire to celebrate the Passover which we read about today. God commanded Israel to observe the Passover every year so that the nation and each succeeding generation would remember God’s miraculous extraction of his people from slavery in Egypt.

But, beginning with Solomon, God’s people wandered away from obedience to God’s laws. That disobedience included not observing the feast days, like the Passover, which God commanded in his law. We saw this in verse 26 which said, “There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.” The span of time between Solomon and Hezekiah was something like 200 years so God’s people had no personal history to guide them. They didn’t have memories of celebrating the Passover with their families yearly so they were unprepared to celebrate this festival to the Lord properly. We saw their unpreparedness in verse 2-3 as well as 17-19,

In their excitement to celebrate the Passover, these unprepared people actually broke God’s laws concerning the Passover. It was Hezekiah’s prayers for them that saved them from God’s wrath (v. 20). God was merciful to them because Hezekiah prayed for them and because their hearts were right even though their actions were not. Good motives are not an excuse for habitual disobedience to God’s word but God is often merciful when his people are acting in love for him.

What strikes me in this passage is how much better it is to build godly habits and maintain them. Regular church attendance is very important, in my view, for maintaining your walk with God. It is one of several habits of godliness that a Christian needs to grow; however, there are many Christians who attend church sporadically and haphazardly. They attend now and then, maybe once a month. Then they may come for a few weeks in a row before dropping back to old, inconsistent patterns. It is much harder to start a godly habit–like Passover observance or church attendance–than it is to keep doing a habit that your parents and their parents established a long time ago.

BUT, if you’ve fallen out of practicing a godly habit, the best time to change that is now. It might not have been the correct time to observe the Passover (see verse 3) but it was better to re-start the observance as soon as possible than to continue to live in disobedience to the Lord.

So what’s the status of your habits as a Christian? By all means, continue to maintain the godly habits you have but, if you need to start a good, godly habit, DO IT NOW. So what will you begin cultivating ASAP?

Merry Christmas!

2 Chronicles 29, Zechariah 11

Today’s OT18 readings are 2 Chronicles 29 and Zechariah 11.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 29.

Unlike the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Judah had some kings who served God–eight of them (out of 20) to be exact. The degree to which they served God, however, varied widely from one king to another as we have seen. Here in 2 Chronicles 29 we read again about Hezekiah, one of Judah’s best kings. After introducing him in verses 1 and 2, the author of 2 Chronicles began telling us how bad things had gotten in Judah when Hezekiah became king. Hezekiah “opened the doors of the temple of the Lord and repaired them” (v. 3b) because the previous generations had “turned their faces away from the Lord’s dwelling place and turned their backs on him. They also shut the doors of the portico and put out the lamps. They did not burn incense or present any burnt offerings at the sanctuary to the God of Israel” (vv. 6b-7). The magnificent temple Solomon built and dedicated was neglected and in disrepair, a fitting symbol for Judah’s spiritual condition as well. It needed to be fixed up and cleansed both physically and spiritually (v. 5). When Judah turned away from the Lord in previous generations, many of the priests also abandoned their work of serving the Lord (v. 34). So there was much to do if Hezekiah wanted to restore Israel’s ability to worship the Lord biblically.

Despite all that needed to be done, Hezekiah wasted no time before starting Judah on a path of worship reformation. In verse 3 we are told that he started this reformation, “In the first month of the first year of his reign.” Of all the things he sought to change and improve as king of his nation, obedience to the Lord in national worship was A1 on his priority list. As you look at your life here at the end of 2018, what do you want to change? Do you want to eat healthier? Exercise more? Spend more time with your children? Strengthen your marriage? Paint your house? Get trained in some area of your work so that your career can move to the next level? All of these are good things but far less important than your walk with God.

When I was growing up, preachers used to encourage us to “get dedicated” or “rededicated” to the Lord’s work. Many of them meant something theologically that is unbiblical so I have resisted using that language in my preaching. Instead, I try to encourage people to be obedient to the Lord today and do the same thing tomorrow. But this passage indicates that maybe there is something to be said for making a renewed covenant to serve the Lord, as Hezekiah did in verse 10, after a time of disobedience or half-hearted obedience. Maybe that’s something to consider in your life this Christmas eve.

2 Kings 20, Hosea 13

Read 2 Kings 20 and Hosea 13 today.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 20.

The most outstanding quality Hezekiah had was his ability to pray. In verses 1-11 of this chapter, Hezekiah gets some kind of deathly illness (v. 1) which involved a boil on his skin (v. 7). Isaiah came along and told him to meet with his estate attorney immediately because he was going to die and not recover (v. 1).

Unlike all the kings of Israel and most of the kings of Judah, Hezekiah actually believed the word of the Lord’s prophet. He did not order Isaiah to be imprisoned like Jeremiah was or killed like Jezebel tried to do to Elijah. Instead, he accepted that Isaiah’s words were God’s word.

Next, he didn’t argue with God or try to say that God’s will was unjust. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23a). Hezekiah was a sinner, therefore he was going to die someday, somehow. We live different amounts of time but we all are destined to die by some method at some time. This was Hezekiah’s time and the illness was the way. Hezekiah accepted that as true.

But he didn’t believe that it had to be true. Instead, he believed in the power of God. His first instinct, then, was to turn to God in prayer. HIs prayer is simple–“Remember, Lord” (v. 3). He did not claim perfection or any right to healing but Hezekiah did remind the Lord that he had lived a faithful, devoted life. He also reminded God that, as Judah’s leader, he did “what is good in your eyes” (v. 3). So personally and “professionally” Hezekiah could say that he had done the will of God.

And that’s it. That’s all he told God in his prayer. He did not directly ask for God’s healing; instead, he said, “remember me” and how I have lived my life and led your people.

God knew what Hezekiah wanted and how sincerely, based on his tears, he wanted it. So God both healed him (v. 7), promised him both another fifteen years of life (v. 6a) and deliverance from Assyria, the nation that had swallowed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. God also performed a miracle, the first daylight saving time fallback (vv. 10-11) to confirm Isaiah’s word.

All of this was accomplished because Hezekiah prayed.

There is no guarantee that God will answer your prayers or mine in this way. Honestly, there was no guarantee that he would answer Hezekiah this way. Hezekiah was the recipient of God’s goodness and love, not a shrewd negotiator with the Almighty.

So there are no guarantees. But. What might be different in your life if you prayed like Hezekiah prayed in this passage?