By Elmer Ellsworth Shelhamer
Text: "God left him to try him that he might know all that was in his heart." 2 Chron. 32: 31.
Hezekiah was a remarkable king, the son of wicked Ahaz. Though good heredity is an advantage, this case proves that a child can turn out well even though the parents may be ungodly. As a rule, the second generation of rich, or royal parentage is either brainless, or corrupt. Hezekiah was a glorious exception in this respect, but his luxurious living brought on disorders which broke out in carbuncles. God told him he must die. He turned his face to the wall and prayed a prayer, such as was never before uttered by mortal man -- a prayer wherein he reminded God of his own righteousness and it was accepted for face value. You may be assured he was an exemplary man, else his prayer would have brought a curse rather than a blessing. God heard and healed him through natural means -- "a lump of figs." There is nothing better for a poultice than figs.
We must walk softly and with reverence when we study Bible characters. And yet, they are on record for our profit. If they were good men, they become an inspiration; if they were bad men, a warning. Now, as we approach this good king, I find three outstanding thoughts concerning him:
I. He was on trial and not aware of it.
II. His, was a trial of motive rather than social, or intellectual strength.
III. He outlived his day of usefulness and became a disappointment to God.
I. Hezekiah was on trial and did not know it. Here was a good king of whom we read, he "walked before God in truth and with a perfect heart." His outward life was exemplary in every respect. But it seems that human nature cannot survive ease and popularity. After his remarkable healing, congratulations and gifts began to pour in and we read, "his heart was lifted up; therefore there was wrath upon him and upon Judah and Jerusalem." Strange that God's wrath should come upon an entire city and nation because of one man's pride of heart! The same was true when David insisted on numbering the people; as a result seventy thousand men died with the plague. It appears that God recognized a representative man for the whole. Reverse it, and let one man like John Knox pray the prayer of faith for an entire nation and God stands ready to answer. O, what fearful responsibilities and glorious opportunities are ours!
"God left him to try him." There is a vast difference between a trial and a temptation. God tries us, to the intent he may strengthen us. Satan tempts us that he may weaken us. God tempts no one, but he does permit the devil to do so for one of two reasons: (1) To prove to us and others what Grace has already accomplished. (2) Or, to discover in us weaknesses and tendencies that we did not know existed. If we only knew when one of these tests was coming we would be on our guard. But as a rule they are on, and over before we awake to the fact.
O, what a thought! God lifts his hand of protection for a moment and turns a soul over to the devil on the outside and carnality on the inside! Who knows when this crucial test may come? And who will be able to stand? None but the pure in heart. Perhaps God and Satan held a debate over your soul this day. Satan challenges God to withdraw the "hedge," as in Job's case, and what a pity if, when God accepts the challenge you fail in the test.
Brother, you ought to be so well saved that God can let come what will and in every instance the adversary is put to shame. You should come out of every trial in a better shape than you went in. Only those who are sanctified through and through can do this. You ought to seek heart purity in self-defense, if nothing more. You are not safe a moment while carrying around with you an explosive that may blow you up any minute.
Listen! Did God ever leave you to try you, that he might know all that was in your heart? Yes, more than once! In the kitchen; in the hen-house, when you hit the wrong nail; when the cow or mule stepped on your foot; when you were ill treated. In short, when things did not go to suit you, God seemed to hide for the time being. But no! He had only stepped into the other room as it were and was listening, or looking on to see how you behaved while under pressure. When the storm passed over and you had time to think, did you feel perfectly satisfied that you showed the right spirit? Were there misgivings and dejection of soul?
These unpleasant tests are not the only times when God shows us up. Have you had a measure of success? Are you, or your children sought after more than others? Do you take an inward satisfaction in relating what you or your relatives have accomplished? Do you feel inwardly exalted when you are promoted and noticed above others? Do you find special delight in talking about your bright ancestors or grandchildren? On the other hand are you clever to avoid those photos, or names which reflect on family pride? Yes, doubtless you also have some relatives who are not bright, some who are too lazy, or wasteful to support themselves and must be helped by charity; and others who are either in the penitentiary or ought to be there.
Brother, do you swell out, or shrink up when these things are mentioned? If so, it looks bad on your part. Do you ever catch yourself swelling out with pride in letting relatives and others know in what city you live? Do you take more delight in driving up the boulevards and calling attention to the fine buildings, than in helping to pray some one through? Had you been dead to earthly joys you might have led a lot of visitors to Jesus. O, when you meet some of these damned souls at the judgment how will you be able to bear their frowns and curses! They might have been saved, but for your fear of offending them; but for your miserable pride of perishing things. Methinks I see Jesus cover his face and weep many times while you are entertaining company and showing off.
II. Hezekiah's test was that of purity of intention. After his remarkable healing, the king of Babylon sent princes and a "present, to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land." It was at this point where, unexpectedly, "God left Hezekiah to try him." Here was his opportunity to honor Jehovah and preach to these heathen ambassadors, the power of prayer. But instead, it seems he forgot God and took delight in showing off. We read, "He hearkened unto them and showed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures; there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion that Hezekiah showed them not." Perhaps he thought to himself: "These Chaldees think we Israelites are a back number and a poor, helpless people. I believe I will give them an eye-opener; after they have seen my riches, honor and military strength, they will return to their country feeling different. We must get on the map and make ourselves felt. They will fear to attack us when they know that I could hire all the armies of Egypt and defeat them in battle."
Does not this sound plausible and modern? I can see him now as he walks about from one large building to another, feeling "lifted up" over these earthly things. How sad! How blind is carnality. We have seen it strut around on a platform, or over a camp ground, while angels and eagle-eyed saints were feeling mortified.
The old prophet Isaiah, could scent the carnal mind afar off. No sooner had Hezekiah's "pride of heart" manifested itself than the prophet decided to go over and see the king. He greets him, bows to the earth and inquires of the departed messengers, then stands erect, the fire of God flashing from his eye and says: "Hear the word of the Lord. Behold the days come that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried unto Babylon; nothing shall be left, saith the Lord." After he pronounces these and other judgments, -enough to put the easy-going, self-indulgent king on his face, to our chagrin we hear Hezekiah reply: "Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken. Is it not good if peace and truth be in my days?" Let the coming generation suffer, just so I have a good time. This sounds like old carnal self.
The motive back of an action is bigger than the action itself. A man may perform a good deed and be condemned before God, because he did it from a selfish motive. Or, he may refrain from a wicked act and receive no credit whatever, because of a wrong motive. He did not refrain because he feared he would grieve God, but rather because of pride of reputation. He would have considered the act favorably, but for the thought "It might disgrace me, or my family. Yet, if I had the opportunity and positively knew that it would never come out on me, I do not know but that I might try it." God puts him down as guilty "before the fact," because in principle and purpose he was not above committing the act.
Of course it is better to live the white life outwardly even though the inward desire may not be pure. Why? Because of the example and influence you exert over others. If the inner intention is wrong and the outward man yields to the same, this is a double tragedy. But the fact is, every act is a false act, every word a false word, only as the ultimate aim is, the glory of God and the good of my fellow creatures without any thought of reward. The one and only incentive should be pure: disinterested love to God and man. Now, brother, do you measure up to this? I submit to you, Hezekiah did not, and this is what brought the wrath of God upon him and his people. O, brother, for your own protection, promotion and prosperity, I beseech of you, seek heart purity and begin today!
III. He outlived his day of usefulness. Most men die too soon because of exposure, dissipation, overwork or hereditary tendencies. But here was a king, a good king, who we fear lived too long. To say the least, after his miraculous healing he "Rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him." We do not read of a single good act after this. But on the other hand he became the father of Manasseh, one of the most wicked kings who ever lived. We have personally known people who were remarkably healed who, like Hezekiah, disappointed everybody afterward. But this does not reflect upon God in mercifully intervening for man's recovery. It only shows the fickleness and depravity of human nature. Paul and many others were restored to life and health and afterward rendered valiant service for God and humanity. It would have been a great blessing if some men could have died fifteen years before they did. They lived just long enough to pull down what they had labored hard to build up. What a pity! Here is a man -- perhaps a minister, who has been a great blessing and inspiration to others. He is a worthy example of self-sacrifice and Christlikeness. Finally he begins to fail in health, or for other reasons retires from active service. How sad that in many instances we see him become peevish, sour, covetous and slovenly, so that onlookers stumble over his inconsistencies. Even his intimate friends are pained and find it necessary to use a cloak of charity in order to have confidence in him. We hear them whisper among themselves in sadness, "Well, he is becoming childish and set in his ways, but at one time he was a great and a good man."
Say, friends, do you believe it possible to grow old, gracefully? How many old people do you know who are agreeable, not touchy, or talkative, but mellow-hearted and interesting? I hope a good many. I have prayed this prayer frequently: "Good Lord, let me live as long as possible; as long as I can be a blessing and bring glory to Thy name; as long as I can build up more, than in my awkwardness I knock down. But, when, through infirmities, or old age, I am no longer an asset to Thee; when I do more harm than good; when I grieve, rather than gladden; when I scold, rather than soften; in short, when I am in the way, rather than in demand, please Lord, kiss my life away quickly and take me to thyself, I ask in Jesus name, Amen."
There are some chief characteristics of an old man. Too bad when they appear in a young man. Here are a few:
1. A slouchy appearance; a dirty collar; hair untrimmed; shoes that have not been properly shined.
2. A swinging gait; bowed shoulders; a loose, untidy attitude on the street.
3. A tendency to live in the past and relate stories, often repeated.
4. Indifference concerning great events and a lack of interest in spiritual things.
5. A set way of thinking and doing things, which borders onto boredom and rutism.
6. Lack of sympathy and adaptability to young people and their peculiar trials.
Brother, would it not be a good thing for you to go home, and after thinking over these things, write your own epitaph for your tombstone and tack it upon the wall where you and your family can read it occasionally? It might have a salutary effect on your life. Write something like this:
"Here lies an old man who in his declining age had learned how to grow old pleasantly. Children loved him, young people sought his counsel and company, old people eagerly desired his friendship and no one ever called him a bore after he went out. He knew how to be silent at the right time and when he spoke everyone stopped to listen and do him reverence. He was never disturbed because he was not noticed, and maintained his serenity when his opinion was set at naught. He loved God and thought of Him more than himself. He lived to bless others and died happy, at a ripe old age, loving God and all men."
Say, if you do not quite measure up to this, begin now to amend and if need be do some apologizing so that those around you will have respect for your sincerity. You cannot afford to start out well, build up a good name and then in your latter days be looked upon as a contrary, covetous, unsympathetic, self-centered old man. God forbid!
"Try us, O God and search the ground,
Of every sinful heart;
If aught of sin in us be found,
O bid it all depart.
"If to the right or left we stray,
Leave us not comfortless;
But guide our feet into the way
Of everlasting peace.
"Help us to help each other, Lord,
Each other's cross to bear;
Let each his friendly aid afford,
And feel his brother's care.
"Then when the mighty work is wrought,
Receive thy ready bride;
Give us in heaven a happy lot
With all the sanctified."