When my son was much younger, he pointed out something and remarked with a gleam in his eye, “That’s bad!” I responded, “No, that’s good!” He shook his head, “Dad, you don’t understand – that’s bad, that’s ‘dudeish’ bad.” I remember saying, “I don’t know about the ‘dudeish’ part, but I do know that’s ‘good’ – not bad.” Of course, I understood. If it was ‘good’ the hot teen term to use was ‘bad.’ While I was working with my word processor recently, I checked alternative terms for ‘wicked’ and found that the thesaurus defined it as ‘good.’ Shocking! It is not just the terms that have changed, they only reflect the upside down values. Good is now bad; and wicked is now good. Recently, you may have heard that our own military had blocked certain Christian internet sites, treating them as threats to national security. The professor who had his students write the name ‘Jesus’ on a piece of paper, drop it on the floor, and stomp on it – he is the hero; and the young student who refused to ‘bend and bow’ gets expelled from the classroom.
What is the hope for a nation whose ‘good’ and godly days are gone, one that has lapsed into decided moral decadence – and seems lacks either the desire or resolve to restrain itself? One where the heroes are yesterday’s villains and the good guys are now treated as criminal? Can such a nation change? It happened some 700 years before Christ.
The golden days of Jerusalem had long since passed. David’s successors had generally been a dreadful lot, often blatantly evil. Judah, the southern kingdom consisted of a small slice of the extended territory of the once glorious kingdom that had existed at the end of David’s career. No one seemed to connect the shrinking national influence with the long periods of spiritual unfaithfulness. Such ideas were as unacceptable then as now. Athaliah, the disreputable daughter of Jezebel, that notoriously wicked queen of the northern kingdom, had ascended to Judah’s throne bringing a good bit of her mother’s evil charm and practices. But then, the fortune of the nation changed and Judah had a string of four moderately good kings – mildly good, since none had the courage to openly address the negative influence of pagan worship centers. Idolatry remained prevalent. But then came King Ahaz and he took ‘wicked’ to a new low, approving and participating in the sacrifice of children as burnt offerings to pagan gods. He sacrificed more than one of his own sons. Children always become victims in cultures where pagan notions triumph.
There was no good reason for hope, for a son of Ahaz to turn out right. Ahaz had made a royal mess of things, so much so, that when he died the people refused to bury him in the royal cemetery with the rest of the nation’s kings. Even in death, his burial location was an indication of the rejection of his moral decadence even by a backslidden people. As ungodly as the nation had become, there was still a sense of corporate shame that surfaced at the time of his death and that conscientiousness offered hope. The nation had drifted far away from its Sinai roots, but suddenly their hearts seemed to open to the possibility of moral and spiritual renewal.
Perhaps it was Hezekiah’s mother, Abijah, who had played a key role in the spiritual formation of her son, nurturing in him the precious knowledge of Israel’s God. In any event, the Lord blessed him, and in Hezekiah’s day, the nation experienced a revival unlike anything they had witnessed since the glorious days of David and Solomon.
Here is the message – when the whole nation seems to be committed to the embrace of pluralism, and beyond that, paganism – and the fires of righteousness seem to have burned out, buried somewhere in the coals, now apparently cool and tame, is often a live ember capable of sparking a fire that could again engulf the nation in revival. Hezekiah was only twenty-five years old when he assumed the throne of Judah, and he reigned for twenty-nine years (726-697 BC). He was a godly king and was likened to David for his religious zeal for restoring the temple. He did what other kings had not done. He was not merely tolerant of Judah’s ancient faith among other options (pluralism), but an advocate for it. He took action against idolatry, recognizing the social and moral consequences of its ideology – and the clear mandate against it in the commandments. The great national spiritual reformation he led is recorded in 2 Kings 18:4 and 2 Chronicles 29:3-36.
This national revival, this reversal of national policies which had constituted a war against the very nature of the nation, the very bedrock, indeed, the identity of the people with Yahweh, in covenant with Him – is an encouraging example to us. Could it happen again? In our time?
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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.