Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Hezekiah's post-mature death

Jeremy Pierce explains.

Also, the following is from D.A. Carson in his book How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil (2nd ed.), pp 106-107:
Things Worse Than Death

Some time ago I was told by my doctor that I had contracted a rather rare disease. The prognosis was uncertain: the disease varies in its power from being quite mild to being lethal. As the months went by, it became evident that my case fell into the mild end of the spectrum. But the news gave me occasion to think through my reaction to the prospect of my own demise. Three years ago I came down with a heart virus which was at first (wrongly) diagnosed as a serious heart attack. Once again, I could not escape thinking about my mortality.

The hardest part of dying, I decided, was leaving my wife and children. If the prognosis turned vicious, I decided, I would do everything I could with my remaining strength to make the transition as smooth as possible for my wife, and to leave the stamp of a Christian father on my children. But apart from that one tie, I could not think of a single reason why dying would be so bad a thing.

I confess, with some shame, that this assessment did not stem from prolonged meditation on the glories of living with Christ. With Paul, I believe, at least at the formal level, that "to live is Christ and to die is gain," that "to depart and be with Christ . . . is better by far" (Phil. 1:21, 23), but I suppose I am not spiritually mature enough for these realities to grip me incessantly. Sometimes they do; I do not perpetually live in their light.

But I remembered the fate of King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20; 2 Chron. 32:24-31; Isa. 38-39). When he was under sentence of death, he begged the Lord for fifteen more years, and received the extra span. And in the course of those fifteen years he blew his entire reputation for integrity in one incident prompted by foolish pride. Nor was his reputation alone at stake: the bearing his action had on the future of his nation was disastrous.

That is why I decided there are worse things than dying. I do not know how many times I have sung the words, "O let me never, never / Outlive my love for Thee," but I mean them. I would rather die than end up unfaithful to my wife; I would rather die than deny by a profligate life what I have taught in my books; I would rather die than deny or disown the gospel. God knows there are many things in my past of which I am deeply ashamed; I would not want such shame to multiply and bring dishonor to Christ in years to come. There are worse things than dying.

1 comment:

  1. I generally appreciate Carson, and happily recommend his writing, both popular and scholarly. This may, in fact, be the case: that the most noteworthy factor in Hezekiah's receiving 15 more years was his failures.

    I would like to propose a different "major-factor" to consider, one that I do not see noted in Carson's reverie.

    In our attempts at chronology-reckoning based on the biblical data, some (including myself) have concluded that Manasseh who is reckoned at 12 years when he became king (2Ki.21:1) was not born 15 years prior, when Hezekiah's famous illness came about.

    He may have been the only son of Hezekiah; in any case I know of no others spoken of in Scripture. As bad as he was, for as long as he was (his relative youth might be the best account of his longest-reign of the kings of Judah) we do not read of him slaughtering any brothers, any rivals to his throne.

    I suggest another reason other than a purely selfish desire to live motivated Hezekiah's prayer for longer life. I think Hezekiah, as a pious son of David, understood that he had a covenant-duty to bring a son into the world, that the line of David might continue through him.

    "Well," it might be asked, "shouldn't he have realized that David's seed was wider than the royal line? Could not Messiah arise from another one of David's sons? Isn't Hezekiah still being petty, in pleading with God to let him live, and to have a son to sit on David's throne? Isn't God able to miraculously bring some unexpected fulfillment about?"

    I think those are questions that only sound "reasonable" after-the-fact. After Hezekiah lives a bit longer, and makes a major error with the Babylonian envoys. After Manasseh's disastrous reign.

    It seems eminently rational for the King of Judah, of the designated line of Promise, knowing the prophets and the hope of Israel--for this one perhaps more than the ordinary man--to think covenantally, and to cry out for his life, that if it be God's will he live to propagate Messiah's seed.

    And we know that's exactly what did happen, despite Hezekiah's failure; and Manasseh's apostasy. Both men stand in the line of Promise. Because Manasseh lives, Josiah his grandson lives. And the line of Promise survives in this manner.

    Consider, at last, Is.38:10ff, which is Hezekiah's prayer to God after his recovery, recorded in a psalmody mode. Interpreted with a covenant-consciousness, it makes good sense. He says, v17, "It was for Peace that I had great bitterness... you have cast all my sins behind your back."

    And vv19-20 contain these poignant line: "The father shall make known Your truth to the children. The Lord was ready to save me; therefore WE will sing my songs with stringed instruments all the days of our lives, in the house of the Lord."

    I think Hezekiah knew God had spared him for the sake of a son yet to be born. I think he had hopes of good things for Manasseh and his reign.

    Hezekiah was flawed. Who isn't? We should be careful what we wish for, but sometimes, "to stay is more necessary for you," Php.1:24. God uses flawed, sinful people to do his glorious church-work. We need well-tuned eyes of faith to see it, many times.

    Manasseh, we know, finally returned to the God of his father, well chastised, 2Chr.33:10ff. he could not redeem his own son from the effects of his formerly evil ways. But as I said, his grandson was Josiah. And "no king before him was like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and soul and might, according to all the Law of Moses; nor after his did any arise like him."

    I'm glad Hezekiah prayed to God for more days.