The 13th Sunday After Pentecost August 30, 2009
537, 528(1-6), 420, 528(12-15)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
At that time Merodach-Baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered. And Hezekiah was pleased with them, and showed them the house of his treasures—the silver and gold, the spices and precious ointment, and all his armory—all that was found among his treasures. There was nothing in his house or in all his dominion that Hezekiah did not show them. Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say, and from where did they come to you?” So Hezekiah said, “They came to me from a far country, from Babylon.” And he said, “What have they seen in your house?” So Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shown them.” Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: ‘Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,’ says the Lord. ‘And they shall take away some of your sons who will descend from you, whom you will beget; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’” So Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord which you have spoken is good!” For he said, “At least there will be peace and truth in my days.”
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus, our true and lasting treasure:
Do you live in a forty room mansion or a two-room apartment? Do you set your table with fine china or disposable plates? You know it doesn’t really matter. What matters is what do you show your visitors and associates when they happen across you in daily life?
The text for today is a dividing point in the book of Isaiah. Up until now in the book, Isaiah concentrated largely on current events for Judah and Israel. He describes the petty jostling going on among the local nations and the looming threat posed by the Assyrians. He’s preached God’s Word in the land for forty years or more and outlasted three kings.
Finally, in these verses, Isaiah is dealing with a very fine king, Hezekiah. Here we have a godly leader who genuinely worshiped and trusted the Lord and was diligent in causing God’s name to be honored among the people. But Hezekiah, for all his good points, had a weak spot as this story shows. It is a soft spot that maybe crops up among us as well, and as we see from the case of Hezekiah, we should take care that it not be the undoing of ourselves or someone else.
Picture Isaiah, the prophet, coming to you after a visit from travelers, or an evening with friends, or the moving on of your children, and the prophet asks you “What have they seen in your house?” What have they learned from your life? What have they learned are the most important things you? I. Have others seen your life built around the things that will perish? II. Or have they seen the things that are praiseworthy and true?
As we’ve said, Hezekiah was a good king—possibly the most faithful king over Judah after David. And never was a king such as he more crucial to the nation. Four years into Hezekiah’s reign the Assyrians defeated Samaria—capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel—and hauled its residents away into captivity. The Assyrian king, Sennacherib, then moved south and invaded Judah, defeating every city except mighty Jerusalem. But Hezekiah listened to Isaiah and acted by faith, not by sight. He did a good job of choosing godly advisors and encouraging the people to put their trust in the Lord.
Eventually, the Lord crushed Sennacherib’s army and caused him to turn east to go home. Jerusalem was delivered. A crisis for the king had passed. But the Lord allowed another, more personal crisis to come Hezekiah’s way. The king fell mortally ill, and God sent Isaiah to advise him to “Get your affairs in order, because you are going to die” (cf. Isaiah 38:1). But again, Hezekiah acted by faith, not by sight. He humbled himself and prayed to the Lord to be merciful. The Lord heard him and granted him recovery and an extended life.
Then what seemed like a bit of good fortune, a fine honor, came his way. A delegation arrived with letters and a present from the new king of Babylon—a city-state that was pretty much under Assyria’s control. Merodach-Baladan had been a king in Babylon for a while, then was driven out, but now had returned to power, and he was no fan of the Assyrians.
Supposedly, the visit was a goodwill gesture to celebrate Hezekiah’s recovery, but, not surprisingly, there was more to it than that. Merodach Baladan was apparently trying to draw up support for an alliance of smaller nations to stand up against the Assyrians and Hezekiah was high on his list. Hezekiah was deeply flattered by the visit.
Hezekiah demonstrated his appreciation by showing the Babylonian delegation around the house. He showed them the wealthy storehouses full of gold and silver; the exotic oils and luxury items he had, and he showed them his military strength. From our perspective, Hezekiah seems practically goofy in his eagerness to display his extraordinary wealth. From a diplomatic perspective it may have been just a little more justified in that he was giving evidence that he and his people were rich enough to be of benefit to some political alliance.
So when people come around our houses and homes, when they have an opportunity to look “inside” our lives, what is it that we are eager to share? Are we eager to show off a grandiose home that we built for ourselves? Do we drag the visitor out to the garage to show a stable filled with the expensive toys? Is it jewelry that we think will make us sparkle? Or is it the life achievements that are worth showing off—university degrees, sporting trophies, or whatever?
The tricky thing, of course, is remembering that none of these things of itself is sinful to seek and possess as long as we come by it honestly and remember that our first love is to be our God and our fellow man. We shouldn’t begrudge the wealthy man his home, nor the famous man his honor. But Jesus also warned us, “Do not lay up your treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19).
Therein lay Hezekiah’s soft spot. Isaiah came and told him about it: “‘Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,’ says the Lord.” [v.6] What a stunning case of foreclosure and bankruptcy! And it’s not just the Babylonians that do such things. It might be Chase or Bank One here in America, or it might be a neighboring tribe in Kenya, or a Muslim government in Asia, but so often people have come to see how fleeting our earthly riches are.
But the loss of those possessions was not even the worst. Isaiah continued: “And they shall take away some of your sons who will descend from you, whom you will beget; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” [v.7] Isaiah was prophesying the seeming end of the throne of David in Judah. One of the last kings in Judah, Zedekiah, had to watch while his sons were slain before his eyes and then the Babylonians put his eyes out and carried him away. Other young men of the royal household were taken away to serve in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, among them Daniel, and the threesome Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego.
We’ve spoken some about what people see when they observe what is most important in our lives. Who are the most impressionable observers of all? Aren’t they our children and grandchildren? While it isn’t likely that our children and grand children will be carried off into some foreign country, it is all too possible that they may become captive to the world and all its lusts. It is all too possible…and all too tragic when it happens.
Isaiah came to Hezekiah with a sensible and well-deserved rebuke, and above all a rebuke that came from God. Hezekiah took it well, at least with humble submission to the will of the Lord.
By the way, it should not be assumed that the Babylonian captivity was prompted by Hezekiah’s indiscretion and pride. The captivity had been determined long before. Still, it makes us all ask the question, “What do people—including our children—see when they look at us and our lives? What do they think makes us tick? Do they see the things that are praiseworthy and true? What is the most important thing we’d like people to come away with when they meet and observe us?
Hezekiah probably knew well enough that he had really blown it. Things could have been done very differently and he realized it after the fact. The Babylonians had plenty of chariots and swords, gold and fine perfumes, luxurious linens and gorgeous tapestries. What good would they gain from more of the same? But what did they know about the Lord, the God of Israel?
Hezekiah’s name means “Jehovah is strength.” What a great truth this proved to be in all of Hezekiah’s experiences. Time and again, throughout their history the Israelites had seen how the Lord God had taken them under His wing. He protected and prospered them in Egypt, in the wilderness, and in the Promised Land. He had proven Himself holy and true. What He spoke through His prophets was always for the benefit of His people and Hezekiah had seen many who defied His will come to great harm!
To those who trusted in the Lord, and in particular those who held on to His promise of a Redeemer, there came the bold confidence: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2). Not only that, but it was clear to the faithful, like David and Hezekiah, that the Lord had a plan— a goal that would bring peace and salvation to all the earth. This plan centered in His people Israel, the children of Abraham, father of believers. It caused them to see the world from a perspective outside of themselves. It caused them to see that there is no success apart from the Lord and there is no failure with Him. Later, the Lord through Isaiah would announce “I even I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:11).
So why, when the Babylonians arrived, did Hezekiah not take the opportunity to explain to them that Israel’s true strength was nothing else than their almighty and gracious God—the God who “visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Him, but shows mercy to thousands, to those who love Him and keep His commandments” (cf. Exodus 20:5-6)? That would have given those foreign kings a new take on international affairs and political strategy.
Why did Hezekiah not take them to the gate of the temple and show them, not the gold-covered pillars and massive bronze basins, but the sin-offerings and thank offerings? Why did he not have the priests explain their significance as witnesses to the people that God Himself would raise up a Priest and bring forward a Sacrifice which would atone for the sins of the people, redeem them from the curse of sin, and open for them the kingdom of God?
Why did Hezekiah not take them to his throne room, not to show them his jewel-encrusted throne, but to have the holy books read to them telling of the everlasting throne promised to David and the glorious King who would gather God’s Israel into one fold, under one shepherd, forever?
Why would Hezekiah, so newly returned from the brink of death, not speak to them of the promise of life everlasting which would come through the labors of the future King who would “swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:8)?
Hezekiah had such a golden opportunity, and so do we. It begins with our personal devotional life. Do we know our Lord and Savior? Is He our strength and our shield in rough times and our treasure and joy in pleasant times? Are we diligent students of His Word? This is most important when we consider those eyes and ears that observe our lives day in and day out—
our children and grandchildren. Do they know us to speak the truth and confess God’s great love? Does our faith play itself out in word and deed?
What about the trappings of our lives—the things we accumulate, do people who stop by see things that are praiseworthy and true? Do we cherish reminders of our God’s presence and counsel, or do they see things that tend to nullify our claim to follow the Lord God?
Hezekiah took the news of pending captivity well—it wasn’t really new information, just more specific, about what would come to pass. But even in this, he was grateful that his generation would still see good. But let us be a little more far-sighted. May God give us grace to let our light so shine that people around us today will glorify our Father who is in heaven; but let us also be so diligent in passing on the faith that we will impact the lives of our children and of their children too.
On my heart imprint Thine image
Blessed Jesus, King of Grace
that life’s riches, cares and pleasures
have no power thee to efface.
This the superscription be:
Jesus crucified for me
is my life, my hope’s foundation
and my glory and salvation. [TLH 179] Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.