HEZEKIAH AND PSALM 44
The second portion of our Old Testament reading for today brings us to consider Psalm 44. The circumstances of this Psalm appear to mirror particulars contained in the inspired record of king Hezekiah, and so for the basis of our exhortation today, we shall consider this background.
It is evident that Psalm 44 was penned at a time of national crisis, and military defeat. So we read in verses 9-10:
“But thou hast cast off, and put us to shame; and goest not forth with our armies. Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy: and they which hate us spoil for themselves” (Psa. 44:9-10).
But perhaps unusually, this crisis also comes at a time when the nation had actually turned to Yahweh, and trusted in him to provide the victory. Hence we also read:
The characteristics of the historical background to Psalm 44 then, is a time of military crisis, and yet a time of faithfulness when the people looked to their God for salvation. We suggest that this background is matched in the circumstances of Hezekiah’s reign.
2 Chronicles 29 recounts the faithfulness of the king:
The chapters which follow describe the national reform that came from Hezekiah re-establishing the faithful worship of Yahweh in the land. Chapter 30 describes his great Passover, the invitations to which were sent to both Israel and Judah (2 Chron. 30:1, 6, 11). Chapter 31 describes the removal of Idolatry from the land:
And the chapter concludes:
Here then, was a period of national reform, with the worship of Yahweh being re-established in the land. But there is a principle in Scripture that our Father chastises his children to develop their spirit and character. So we read that “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons, for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye illegitimate, and not sons” (Heb. 12:6-8). Again, our Master taught that “every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may yield more fruit” (Jno. 15:2).
The situation is contrary to the natural way of thinking: naturally we think that if we are passing through adverse circumstances, troubles and trials in our lives, then we ask “Why has God left us?” But the actual situation is that Yahweh will be with us in those trials, and the difficulties of life are brought upon us as tokens of our Father’s love towards us. This was the situation in king Hezekiah’s day: he had succeeded like no other king had, to bring a national reform to the nation of Yahweh, turning their hearts back towards their God. But he was put to the test in two particulars, firstly the invasion of Sennacherib, and secondly a life-threatening illness, which we will consider in turn.
2 Chronicles chapter 32 recounts how that Sennacherib the king of Assyria invaded Judah, and purposed to fight against Jerusalem. However, true to character, Hezekiah trusted in Yahweh for deliverance. So he said to the people:
This spirit is seen again in Psalm 44:
The Psalm continues to describe how the adversary spoke against the God of Israel: “for the voice of him that reproacheth and blasphemeth: by reason of the enemy and avenger” (Psa. 44:16). And the commentary of Isaiah describes the reproach and blasphemy of Rab-Shakeh, the servant of Sennacherib. The word of Yahweh came against him, and his railing accusation: “Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? And against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? Even against the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 37:23, see also verses 6, 23). Evidently, Psalm 44 was written at the time of this invasion, with the plea of the King to Yahweh to save his people.
In response to Hezekiah’s faith, Yahweh destroyed the strength of Assyria:
The reference to the Angelic saviour is interesting. Back in 2 Chronicles chapter 32 cited above, Hezekiah had said “ … be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him” ( 2 Chron. 32:8). The allusion here, is to the occasion described in 2 Kings chapter 6, where the prophet Elisha and his servant were faced with “horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night and compassed the city about” (2 Kings 6:14). Here were two men faced with a large army: humanly speaking, the situation was desperate: there was no hope. Elijah’s servant was greatly distressed:
“and his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! How shall we do? And he answered, Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Yahweh, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see. And Yahweh opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:14-17).
Hezekiah was a man of spiritual vision, who could recognise the great company of Angels that encamped round about him and his people, which would bring about a deliverance from the adversary. Let us also be men and women of vision, trusting in our angelic minister (Heb. 1:14) to save us out of our distresses!
In Psalm 44, the Psalmist laments:
“Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust: our belly cleaveth unto the earth. Arise for our help, and redeems us for thy mercies’ sake” (Psa. 44:24-26).
This was true of Israel as a people, who were faced with an invading power which threatened their national existence. But it was also individually true of Hezekiah himself, who was smitten with a terminal sickness. 2 Kings 20 describes the message of Yahweh through the prophet Isaiah: “thus saith Yahweh, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die and not live”. In response, Hezekiah “wept sore” and presented the matter to Yahweh in prayer, as described in verse 3. Then the word of Yahweh came again to Isaiah, to tell Hezekiah:
As a token to demonstrate that He had added to Hezekiah’s life, Yahweh gave a “sign”, of the moving of the shadow on the sundial: “Isaiah the prophet cried unto Yahweh: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz” (2 Kings 20:11). The extent of this miracle is amazing: the measurement of time had changed, and this was a sign declaring the greatness of Hezekiah’s God, and His power to save.
This is interesting when we see the events that followed. 2 Kings 20 proceeds to describe how “at that time, Berodach-Baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present unto Hezekiah: for he had heard that Hezekiah had been sick” (2 Kings 20:12). On the face of it therefore, the Babylonian king sent his best wishes to a fellow ailing king, hearing that he had not been well. But the record in 2 Chronicles 31 informs us that actually, this was a pretext. His real reason for sending messengers to Hezekiah, was because the time had changed, and although he know it had something to do with Hezekiah’s God, he didn’t know why. So we read:
Here was the true motive of the princes of Babylon: they were renowned for their astrologers (as comes out in the book of Daniel), and they knew that a wonder was done in the land. Unfortunately however, Hezekiah did not declare the greatness of his God, rather he showed them all the splendour of his kingdom and his own greatness: so the Scriptures present his failing as well as his faithfulness.
There is another point that comes out from Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery. Isaiah was the messenger of Yahweh to Hezekiah in this matter, and in the first chapter of his prophecy, he describes the nation as a whole as being spiritually sick:
Hezekiah appealed to Yahweh on behalf of his people, “and Yahweh hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people” (2 Chron. 30:20). Interestingly, the prophecy of Hosea also describes the healing of the nation, giving the same time period as Hezekiah’s own healing: 3 days:
Here is a time of national resurrection – also described by the prophet Ezekiel – when as a nation, Israel shall be healed, and raised up to a new life. This speaks of days yet future, when Messiah shall turn ungodliness from Jacob, and establish righteousness in the land – of which Hezekiah’s own reforms were but a type.
When we come to consider the example of our Master, we see a merging together of these principles. Just as Hezekiah wept bitterly, and prayed to Yahweh for deliverance, which would come on the third day, so we read of Messiah:
Again, Psalm 21, a Psalm of David, also speaks of Messiah in terms which remind us of Hezekiah:
Hezekiah’s extension of life thus comes to typify Messiah’s “length of days” which he would be given. But in the case of our Saviour, his extension of life was not just for a few years, it was for evermore. He has accomplished the victory over the flesh, or the diabolos, the great enemy of mankind. He has given us the victory over even death itself, that like as he was raised to newness of life, even so shall we be made like him – even as it is written: “our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).