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回归现实 Reality sets in

Sermon passage: (2 Kings 20:1-21:26) Spoken on: July 26, 2020
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 2 Kings

Tags: 2 Kings

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is the moderator of Jubilee Church, serving there since 2002. 王晓晖牧师是禧年堂的主理牧师。自2002年,在那牧会将近20年。
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Title: Reality sets in
Date: 26th July 2020
Speaker: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

Last week, we shared the story of how God defeated the Assyrians for his own sake and for the sake of his covenant with David. If it were a movie, it ended perfectly with a fairy tale ending to an epic story. We saw how Hezekiah fully trusted in the Lord, and just as Jerusalem was about to crumble, God wiped out the entire Assyrian army. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria who insulted God, was assassinated at home in Nineveh. Good won and evil lost. If it were a movie, it would be a feel-good story where the audience could leave feeling satisfied.

But real life is seldom scripted like a movie and today’s bible passages include four stories that peel back the curtain from our feel-good story. Reality sets in. The first two stories are actually prequels of what happened in chapters 18-19, and they reveal two events that occurred less than a year before the Assyrian invasion. Previously in chapter 19, Hezekiah was a heroic beacon of faith, unwavering in his resolve to rely on God for the salvation of Judah. But in chapter 20, we can sense a Hezekiah who is more like you and I, vulnerable to the fears of death and the pride of success. Hezekiah was reduced from a larger than life heroic figure immune to the trials and troubles of life, into a fellow human being merely trying his best to stay faithful to God. But faithfulness to God didn’t mean that everything in his life or whatever he did would be perfect.

In the first story, Hezekiah was on the verge of dying from a sickness, and prophet Isaiah came to tell him that his days were numbered and he should get his affairs in order.[1] A movie character hero might have been fearless before death, and he should have been laying down decrees that would ensure faithfulness to God for all future generations. But Hezekiah wasn’t a picture perfect hero. He reacted to news of his impending death with great sorrow, and asked God to remember his faithfulness. I don’t think he was necessarily seeking a recovery or appealing for mercy, because I think it is quite natural as humans to make peace with your maker in your final moments. But upon “seeing his tears”, God decided to extend his life by 15 years. Another reason for God’s intervention was that the Assyrian invasion was coming soon, and God wanted to save Judah through King Hezekiah. When Isaiah subsequently delivered this message to Hezekiah, it was such a stark difference to the earlier message that Hezekiah asked for a sign as confirmation. God caused the shadow to go in a reverse direction to assure Hezekiah that he would indeed recover.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong to be worried about one’s mortality. Looking at Hezekiah, I do wonder how I would react at my own dying moments. I have seen faithful Christians who departed with calm acceptance, as well as those with much regrets, still bargaining with God in grief. Have you ever wondered what would be your dying words? When the Apostle Paul was still struggling in his ministry, he said in Philippians 1: 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. But as he matured on, in his final days, he declared in 2 Timothy: 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. My personal reflection from the first story is that there are always more things to be done, even very meaningful and spiritual things; but there must come a time we must accept that our time has come, and we have done enough by the grace of God.

In the second story, the king of Babylon, Merodach-baladan sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that Hezekiah had been sick. 13 And Hezekiah welcomed them, and he showed them all his treasure house, and all that was found in his storehouses. Like I mentioned in my sermon last week [2] , the Assyrians had their moments of weakness, whenever there were transitions of kingship. When Sennacherib first took the throne, Merodach-baladan rebelled for the second time. Hezekiah must have really kinned with the Babylonians because he perceived them as fellow rebel vassal states of the Assyrian empire. However, Isaiah gave a prophecy of judgment that one day all of these possessions would end up in Babylon. Surprisingly, this time Hezekiah didn’t react to the prophecy with great sorrow like with the earlier news of his death. He accepted the will of God and was contented with the fact that it would only happen to the future generations. [3]

In our story last week, I portrayed Hezekiah as fully committed to God, totally relying on God to fight against the Assyrians and nothing else. While that was true in terms of Hezekiah’s devotion in worship and singlemindedness in destroying all the high places, it didn’t mean that Hezekiah did nothing else to boost his defenses, unlike how some Christians refuse to see a doctor or take medication but instead hope for God’s direct healing. In this second story, we are informed of how Hezekiah built a pool and water tunnel into Jerusalem (20:20) to ensure adequate water supply in the event of a siege. He kept diplomatic relations with fellow vassal states like Babylon. I think it was wise of Hezekiah to be well prepared in terms of the “peace and security” of his people (20:19), just as how I think it is similarly good and important for people to buy adequate insurance and for the government to build up our national reserves. But we must differentiate between being prepared and being smug about such securities. In a way, it is like wearing a face mask. It is good protection, but it is never total protection. You should be wearing a mask if you are going out, but if you think that wearing one means that you don’t have to maintain safe distancing and you can attend crowded parties, then that is foolishness. In our second story, Hezekiah was overly confident of his own protections and was too short-sighted to see the danger of exposing his kingdom to the Babylonians, and his future generations had to pay for his folly.

The first two stories happened before the Assyrian invasion, while the next two stories happened afterwards, sequels to our story from last week. The third story was about Hezekiah’s son Manasseh, a name which means “forget” (Genesis 41:51). Despite the fact that Hezekiah was co-regents with Manasseh for about 10 years before his death, it seemed like Manasseh did not learn or remember any of his father’s faithfulness to God, and instead he was just as idolatrous as his grandfather Ahaz. 2 Kings 21: 9 But the people did not listen. Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites. [4] The breaking of the holy covenant wasn’t just in worship but also in social justice. 16Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end—besides the sin that he had caused Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of the Lord. As a result, God pronounced a judgment that the southern kingdom of Judah would also be destroyed, just like what happened to the northern kingdom Israel.

The last story is a short story of Hezekiah’s grandson, Amon, who was just as evil as Manasseh. Unlike Manasseh who was co-regent with Hezekiah for 10 years and reigned by himself for another 45 years, Amon only reigned for 2 years before he was assassinated. His sudden death led to his son Josiah taking over the throne at 8 years old. We will continue the story of Josiah next week.

Although the stories of Manasseh and Amon can be interpreted on their own as them being unfaithful kings just like King Ahaz, I wish to connect it to the story of Hezekiah to reflect on intergenerational faith development. We might wonder why it was so easy to ‘forget’ (Manasseh) the miraculous salvation of God that happened in the previous generation of Hezekiah. You might even think that such ingratitude will never happen to you; that if you ever experience such a personal and dramatic direct intervention from God, it will surely stay with you for life. And this is perhaps why we are so fond of telling stories of miracles in our evangelism. We think that the bigger the miracle, the more memorable it should be.

But history has repeatedly proven that witnessing miracles are no guarantees of lasting faith. Psalm 78: 12 He did miracles in the sight of their ancestors in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan. 11 They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them. It was therefore not surprising that Manasseh also forgot what God had done and reverted to the idolatry of the previous generations before Hezekiah. In a way, it was like the resurgence of cases once the lockdown ended in many countries. Even in Singapore, complacency is already setting in even while the long battle against the Covid-19 pandemic continues. The beaches at East Coast Park and Sentosa were extremely crowded over the weekend, with many groups comprising more than 10 people from extended families or friends congregating. [5] So, we must never underestimate our ability to forget, no matter how miraculous the event or how painful the experience. In fact, the human mind is very quick to justify whatever it is that we desire to do, instead of remembering the lessons we ought to learn.

This is why the laws of the covenant put a strong emphasis on remembering. Not just for oneself, but also for future generations. Psalm 78: 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, 6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

I am reminded of an experience visiting an elder. The elder was getting weaker by the day, and we both knew that her days were numbered. The elder told me that she had a deep regret; that despite her efforts, her child was a non-believer. I was not familiar with her circumstances, and I did not know how to respond at that time. I left with a heavy heart after praying for her and that memory lingers on till today. In my reflection of the stories today, I am reminded of this elder even though it has been years since her passing. If I were to return to that moment, I would say: it was enough that she tried her best to pass on her faith even till her dying moments, ultimately her child was responsible for his own decision. It was enough for her to just keep her child in her prayers all the way.

In comparison, she had surpassed Hezekiah with her child’s faith being her deepest concern. We might recall from the second story that when Isaiah told Hezekiah that his descendants would be exiled to Babylon, 2 Kings 20: 19 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there would be peace and security in my days?” His lack of concern for the future generations was also reflected in the first story when faced with his impending death. His top concern was his own death and not the future of his son Manasseh who was only 6 or 7 at that time. Although Manasseh was responsible for his own evil, but unlike my belated response to the departed elder, I don’t feel that Hezekiah had given his best to pass on his faith despite his own undoubtable faithfulness to God. As a parent myself, I know that parenting is never easy, and I do not wish to add an additional burden of guarding your children’s faith. But if you look at the life of Hezekiah, you might discover this: that ultimately his greatest achievement of repelling the Assyrians and destroying all the idolatry counted for nothing, when it did not continue on to the next generation. You and I may not be as heroic as the Hezekiah we witnessed last week, but we can be heroes to our own children, when they witness the faith in our lives, and inherit that for their own future generations.

[1] This could be one of the reasons why his son Manasseh started to become a co-regent at the young age of 12 years old (21:1). Manasseh was probably designated as the successor at this juncture when he was still 6 or 7 years old.
[2] http://www.jubilee.org.sg/sermons/?sermon_id=1032
[3] On hindsight, this may be part of the reason why he was so quick to give up all these treasures when the Assyrians invaded (2 Kings 18:14-16), since he knew they would eventually be lost to the Babylonians anyway.
[4] The pronouncement was stated similarly to how Jeroboam I had led the northern kingdom astray (1 Kings 14:16).
[5] https://mothership.sg/2020/07/beaches-extremely-crowded-masagos/

2 Kings 20–21 (Listen)

20:1 In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, “Now, O LORD, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” And Isaiah said, “Bring a cake of figs. And let them take and lay it on the boil, that he may recover.”

And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “What shall be the sign that the LORD will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of the LORD on the third day?” And Isaiah said, “This shall be the sign to you from the LORD, that the LORD will do the thing that he has promised: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps?” 10 And Hezekiah answered, “It is an easy thing for the shadow to lengthen ten steps. Rather let the shadow go back ten steps.” 11 And Isaiah the prophet called to the LORD, and he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which it had gone down on the steps of Ahaz.

12 At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that Hezekiah had been sick. 13 And Hezekiah welcomed them, and he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. 14 Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come from a far country, from Babylon.” 15 He said, “What have they seen in your house?” And Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”

16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD: 17 Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. 18 And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” 19 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?”

20 The rest of the deeds of Hezekiah and all his might and how he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 21 And Hezekiah slept with his fathers, and Manasseh his son reigned in his place.

21:1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “In Jerusalem will I put my name.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger. And the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which the LORD said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever. And I will not cause the feet of Israel to wander anymore out of the land that I gave to their fathers, if only they will be careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them.” But they did not listen, and Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the LORD destroyed before the people of Israel.

10 And the LORD said by his servants the prophets, 11 “Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, 12 therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13 And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14 And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, 15 because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.”

16 Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides the sin that he made Judah to sin so that they did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.

17 Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh and all that he did, and the sin that he committed, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 18 And Manasseh slept with his fathers and was buried in the garden of his house, in the garden of Uzza, and Amon his son reigned in his place.

19 Amon was twenty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Meshullemeth the daughter of Haruz of Jotbah. 20 And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, as Manasseh his father had done. 21 He walked in all the way in which his father walked and served the idols that his father served and worshiped them. 22 He abandoned the LORD, the God of his fathers, and did not walk in the way of the LORD. 23 And the servants of Amon conspired against him and put the king to death in his house. 24 But the people of the land struck down all those who had conspired against King Amon, and the people of the land made Josiah his son king in his place. 25 Now the rest of the acts of Amon that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 26 And he was buried in his tomb in the garden of Uzza, and Josiah his son reigned in his place.

(ESV)