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Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Unseen Enemy

Hezekiah led one of the greatest returns to the worship of Jehovah in all of history of the divided kingdoms. His father, Ahaz, had completely abandoned the worship of Jehovah and led the nation into complete ruin and disaster over a period of 16 long years. Hezekiah’s grandfather, Jotham, though not perfect, had been  determined to follow the Lord: “Jotham grew powerful because he was determined to please the Lord his God” [2 Chron. 27:6 NET] The influence and heritage of the grandfather as well as great grandfather [Uzziah] perhaps made the difference in young Hezekiah’s life. As a young adult of 25, his first act as king was to reopen the Temple, have the priests & Levites consecrate themselves and then clean out the Temple.

After the temple had been re-consecrated, the young king assembled the city officials for worship and to consecrate themselves to the Lord.
    “As they began to offer the sacrifice, they also began to sing to the Lord, accompanied by the trumpets and the musical instruments of King David of Israel. The entire assembly worshiped, as the singers sang and the trumpeters played. They continued until the burnt sacrifice was completed.” [2 Chron. 29:27-28 NET]
Notice that the singing was part of the sacrifice and that they all worshiped. This was not for entertainment or show; this was a re-consecration to the Lord so that the leadership of the city would realize God was their ultimate authority. This preceded their own personal sacrifices for worship [v. 31] initiating the regular sacrifices in the Temple once again. 
Hezekiah’s next act as king was to send out messengers throughout the lands of all 12 tribes inviting them to return to the Lord and celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. [Some did return, but most did not. Little did they realize that in less than five years the Assyrians would carry the Northern Kingdom into captivity.] The celebration of Passover initiated by leadership was almost always tied to great revival in the Old Testament and this was no different. Not only was the celebration great, they decided to extend the length another entire week. Afterward, they destroyed the other altars dedicated for pagan worship.  The king called for the restoration of the offerings so that the priests and Levites could do the work of the Lord without having to work outside of their assigned responsibilities and God richly blessed.

Rumors began to fly that the Assyrians were about to invade the land, so Hezekiah began to make preparations: re-routing water supplies, manufacturing weapons and rebuilding the walls. The representative of the Assyrian king came mocking Jehovah God and declaring that the situation was hopeless, that no god could stop the powerful Assyrian king. Hezekiah cried out to God in prayer and God struck down the Assyrian army, leaving the few survivors to return to Assyria in shame.  Revival had come, the people and their king were worshiping and depending on God. It seemed as if no enemy could touch them.

However there was one enemy that Hezekiah failed to see. It was the same enemy that had defeated his great grandfather, Uzziah,  years before— pride. Listen to what Scripture says about Uzziah:
    “But once he [Uzziah] became powerful, his pride destroyed him. He disobeyed the Lord his God.” [ 2 Chron. 26:16]
Now compare that to Hezekiah:
     “In those days Hezekiah was stricken with a terminal illness. He prayed to the Lord, who answered him and gave him a sign confirming that he would be healed. But Hezekiah was ungrateful; he had a proud attitude, provoking God to be angry at him...” [2 Chron. 32:24-25]   
How do we know that Hezekiah was proud? Later when visitors from Babylonia came to see him, he tried to impress them with everything he had and had done. Verse 31 of the same chapter offers great commentary about the visit and Hezekiah’s response: “God left him alone to test him, in order to know his true motives.” Not long after, Isaiah the prophet declared that everything the visitors had seen would be carried off to Babylonia. No where in the biblical account did Hezekiah explain that he had recovered from his illness as a direct result of God’s gracious intervention. He might have thought that because he had done so much, God owed him his health. The spirit of entitlement very well could have been the source of leading the king toward his fall.

Pride had been the enemy of worship in the life of Uzziah, as he disregarded God’s commands to worship in a way the he as king wanted. God struck him with leprosy and he could never enter to worship again. [2 Chron. 26:16-23] Sadly, all the reforms Hezekiah led, the revival he promoted, and the great victory over the Assyrians could not prepare him for the enemy he did not see, his own pride and the consequences of letting that pride rule his actions.  Hezekiah's greatest battle was not lost during difficulty, but in prosperity, looking to what he saw as his own accomplishments, rather than as God's grace and blessing.

So what? That’s a tragic story, but what difference does mean for me, thousands of years later? I’m glad you asked. I imagine that books could be written, or may even have been written just on these chapters in 2 Chronicles. To get the entire background, go back and study the parallel passages in 2 Kings 15-20. For right now, I would just like to highlight some lessons as they might apply to worship and leading worship.

1. God decides what worship is and how to do it; we don’t. Uzziah learned the hard way and we can learn from his mistake.
2. Worshiping anyway we please has serious consequences. Again, Uzziah serves as an example of what not to do.
3. Past victories do not guarantee future ones. We must praise and thank God for what He has done in the past, but there is never a time when we can let down our guard, thinking that we cannot be defeated. Hezekiah had displayed amazing spiritual leadership in worship and in war, yet was totally caught off guard by his own pride.
4. Times of blessing can be the times we are most vulnerable. We cry out to God in our need, and we should. Yet, when we do not sense great need, it is easy to forget that we still are dependent on the Father for our “daily bread.”
5. Music used in worship should facilitate worship, not be done for entertainment.
6. Pride is a enemy of everything God wants to do in our life. It is directly opposed to the will and purposes of God. One of the fruits of pride is a spirit of entitlement, thinking because we have done so much, God owes us.
7. Sincere praise and thanksgiving can help remind us all that God is and what He has done and avoid allowing pride and a spirit of entitlement to control our actions and attitudes.

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