Biblical Revivals Pt. 3 - Pre-Conditions

The Revival under Hezekiah - Part 3 of 6

Conditions before Revival

When Hezekiah first sat on the throne of Judah, little hope of revival appeared on the horizon.His father, Ahaz, who was king before him was among the most wicked in the history of the country. Concerning his lack of attention to the spiritual conditions of the nation of Judah prior to Hezekiah, Kaiser writes:

bible-879070 640For the sixteen years just preceding the revival, he had done little more than poison the spiritual life of the people (2 Chron. 28:1-27). Everything Ahaz did led the people further away from God. The chronicle of his deeds reads like a litany of woes, for each act was another nail in his coffin and contribution to the spiritual doldrums of the nation (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. Revive Us Again: Biblical Insights for Encouraging Spiritual Renewal [Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1999], p. 116).

Not the least of his personal sins was that of burning his own children on an altar of sacrifice to the god Molech (2 Chron. 28:3).

Religiously, Ahaz closed the doors of the house of God. Autrey observes, “This was tantamount to breaking off all relations with Jehovah. If he did this to appease the false gods to which he had turned, he might have gone to the trouble to review history a bit and learn the results of such action” (C. E. Autrey, Renewals before Pentecost: How God’s Spirit Revitalized His People in Old Testament Times [Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1968] p. 96). He even demolished utensils used in the worship of Jehovah and the furniture of the Temple (2 Chron. 28:24). He built altars dedicated to the worship of other gods in every town in the country. It is little wonder that Kaiser concluded, “The time was long overdue for the nation and its leadership to turn to God. And this was the ministry that God gave to the young son Ahaz” (p. 118).

Smith declares, “One would think that such a condition as we have here seen prevailed in the days of Ahaz was hopeless, and yet, surprising as it may seem, every revival has begun in such a time of darkness and hopelessness as this” (Wilbur M. Smith, The Glorious Revival under King Hezekiah, rev. ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954], p. 16). Then, no nation on earth is beyond experiencing spiritual renewal.Following in the footsteps left by Hezekiah and the prophets as they led the people down the partway to revival makes that possible. These include the fact that the initiative for renewal came from the king but the prophets in the land also served as instruments in the revival. Other steps which they took include restoring the house of God, followed by re-instituting worship; reviving the celebration of the Passover; the return of joy in the congregation; national as well as individual reforms; renewing the practice of tithing; and efforts to stamp out idolatry in the land.

The Instruments in the Revival

First, then, both the king and the prophets in the land served as instruments in the renewal. The ministry of the prophets provided the foundation for the revival. However, in this case it was the king, the political leader in the land, who served as the dynamic force in instituting spiritual renewal in his domain.

The Prophets and the Priests

The ministries of Isaiah, Micah, and Hosea provided the foundation for the revival in Judah under King Hezekiah. Concerning the role of the prophets, Baker writes, “Never in the whole course of Old Testament history were such a faithful and brilliant set of preachers contemporary as during this time. Though neither of them is mentioned in connection with the revival under Hezekiah, we cannot but conclude that their work was a powerful predisposing cause” (Ernest Baker, The Revivals of the Bible [London: The Kingsgate Press, 1906], p. 67).

For example, during those days Isaiah declared before the people, “From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness” (1:6).He said further, “Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling; their words and deeds are against the LORD” (3:8). At the same time Hosea pleaded with the nation, “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God.Your sins have been your downfall!” (14:1). Amos also preached in the Northern Kingdom during this period. Most likely it was his ministry there that resulted in many of the people making a pilgrimage into the Southern Nation to participate in the revival under Hezekiah.

It appears, though, that the priests and the Levites were the most derelict in their duty to promote revival in Judah.Autrey observes, “They did not instigate the restoral of temple worship. If they had done their part all along, it might have been different with the Nation. They had become cold and professional. Being cold, professional, and spiritually blind, it took a consecrated person from without to awaken them” (p. 100).

The King-Evangelist

However, speaking of the revival under the king, Autrey observes, “It was no doubt greatly enhanced by great preaching, but it was not built around great preaching, nor theology. The kind of revival that Judah needed most at that time could best come through the labors of a king-evangelist, and God ordained to work through Hezekiah” (p. 97).

Further, though Autrey recognizes that the ministry of the prophets likely laid the foundation for the revival, at the same time he says:

". . . nowhere in the record do we find them calling an assembly of religious leaders and promoting a revival or putting forth a concerted effort to stamp out the worship of Baal. They cried out against the perversions and moaned the scarlet practices of their fellow citizens, but they did not organize a movement back to God. It was probably providential that their preaching should prepare the way for the actions of Hezekiah" (p. 99).

Likely the prophets were not in a position to take the kind of action that the political leader took. The prophet’s authority was limited to moral and spiritual influence, while the king had all of the legal authority of the country at his disposal. It appears, though, that Hezekiah led in the revival more from the respect the people had showered upon him than in driving his people through any kind of coercion. As Autrey notes, “The people generally follow their national leaders. The people would more swiftly follow their governmental leaders in religious matters than anyone else. This is due to the great influence they have with the people” (p. 98).

As to how revivals begin, Smith declares that they usually start in the heart of a single individual. Of such a person he writes:

"But this man must be, and always is, one utterly yielded to the Holy Spirit, kept clean by the Spirit’s indwelling, filled with a burning passion for souls, understanding what the will of God is, and being anointed with power in such a way that, however simple his preaching and teaching, great multitudes are brought to a realization of their guilt, and are led to confess the Lord as Saviour" (p. 19).

It appears that in this case that person was none other than Hezekiah, the king of the land. This was in spite of the fact that his father, Ahaz, was one of the worst of Judah’s kings. Scripture says that, “Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals” (2 Chron. 28:1, 2). His son’s reign began at age 25 and lasted for 29 years. Of him the Bible says just the opposite of its comment about Ahaz, “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done” (2 Chron. 29:2). Thus he serves as an example of a worthy son born to an unworthy, wicked father. The underlying truth in the account is the fact that one’s destiny is not determined solely by the parents he is born to or the environment in which he is raised.

Steps in the Revival

The king and the prophets, left specific footprints in the sand, as they led the people of Judah up the road to revival.

Royal Initiative

The first step in this revival came from the feet of the king of Judah. The revival began in the heart of its chief proponent, Hezekiah. Early on in its beginning he called for a session with the priests and Levites, the religious leaders in the country.In a solemn meeting he declared to them, “Now I intend to make a covenant with the LORD, the God of Israel, so that his fierce anger will turn away from us” (2 Chron. 29:10). Unlike some would-be leaders, he had already acted on his heart’s intent in the mere fact of calling for the assembly of religious officials in his domain. Immediately he confessed the sins of the nation as centering in their having forsaken the house of God (6-9).

They had closed the door of the Temple, ceased to burn incense within its walls, and no longer presented sacrifices to Jehovah on its altar of burnt offerings. These things spoke eloquently of their backsliding. No light in the Holy Place depicted spiritual darkness in the land. Failure to offer incense spoke of a lack of prayer. That there was no sacrifice showed a lack of repentance. As a result, the wrath of the Lord had come upon the nation. Their God had given them up to trouble, desolation, and the mockery of their enemies in the countries about them. Many of them had been taken into captivity and others had died in battle.

"The wrath of the Lord had come upon the nation."

Restoring the House of God and Re-instituting Worship

The Sovereign in the country then challenged the religious leaders to arise to the task of cleansing the Temple of the debris which had collected behind its closed doors (5, 11). They immediately responded (12-19). Within sixteen days they had removed all the rubbish and restored the building to its original condition. The account contains an implied lesson on the importance of keeping the house of God open and in a good state of repair.

At once the king called for the offering of sacrifices to Jehovah (20-25). Contrasting this with the lack of initiative from the religious leaders, Matthew Henry observes:

". . . we do not find the priests and Levites making application to him for the restoration of the temple service, but he calls upon them, which no  doubt bespeaks their coldness, as much as his zeal; and perhaps, if they had done their part with vigour, things would not have been brought into so very bad a posture as Hezekiah found them in” (Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. I [New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, n. d.], p. 996).

The choir and orchestra ministered as long as the sacrifices continued. Concerning this Baker says, “Accompanying the burnt-offering was a service of song of a very hearty character. The Welch revival has been described as a singing one. Such a description could be better applied to this revival under Hezekiah than to any other in the Old Testament” (p. 69).

The passage implies the genuineness of their worship in the fact that it bestows the title “seer” on Asaph, one of the chief musicians in the service that day (30). Elsewhere Scripture explains, “Formerly in Israel, if a man went to inquire of God, he would say, ‘Come, let us go to the seer,’ because the prophet of today used to be called a seer” (1 Sam. 9:9). Though the Bible recognizes Asaph’s ministry of music several times, only here does he wear the name of a prophet. The spiritual significance of music in worship also appears in that Jeduthun “. . . prophesied, using the harp in thanking and praising the LORD” (1 Chron. 25:3). He thus presented true ministry before the Lord and to the people as he played his instrument under the anointing of the Spirit.

Leaders first presented the offerings required for the nation. Interestingly, they offered seven times the required number of animals for the Day of Atonement (21). Then individuals offered their tributes to the Lord.The Bible says, “So the assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings, and all whose hearts were willing brought burnt offerings” (2 Chron. 29:31). Smith says, “. . . we do not have one single reference to ‘blood’ as part of a sacrifice offered by the Israelites for nearly eight hundred years!” (p. 36). However, now the people present their offerings to settle the sin question early in the revival. Drawing a lesson for these times from this event, Smith declares that every genuine revival to this day returns to the sacrifice of Jesus. Since that alone provides cleansing from sin, he writes, “. . . if there is no forgiveness, no reconciliation, no receiving of eternal life, then all our efforts are in vain, and whatever religious movement accomplishes, it is not a revival” (p. 38).

All of this produced great joy among the people of God (2 Chron. 29:36). A summary statement at the end of the account of the Passover says, “There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem” (2 Chron. 30:27).

Reviving the Celebration of the Passover

The Passover, which had been neglected, was kept once more. The Bible declares, “. . . they had not done it for a long time in the prescribed manner” (2 Chron. 30:5). Smith says, “This is the first time that we have any reference to the Passover for seven hundred twenty-five years in the history of the Hebrew People” (p. 37). He recognized it may have been celebrated some during that time. Still it is noteworthy that there is no record of it. Everyone was invited, including those of the tribes in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Though some scorned the invitation, many from Asher, Manasseh, Ephraim, Issachar, and Zebulun responded (2 Chron. 30:10, 11, 18).

Concerning church attendance Baker observes, “Men tell us they can worship God by the seaside and on the mountain slopes. Of course they can; but do they?” (p. 73). He remarks further, “Man is a social being, and his social characteristics are clearly evidenced by the results of observance or neglect of public worship. Assembling with others has a stimulating effect upon our spiritual life. Public worship brings to our minds truths and facts which we are too apt to forget in the rush of life” (pp. 73, 74). Then he says, “Under the influence of truths presented to us at worship we realize not only our own needs, but also those of others, and an interest in their spiritual welfare is created” (p. 74). He concludes, “It is an institution which saves people from being self-centered; it widens their interest in their fellows, and issues in activity on their behalf” (p. 74).

The king set the event one month late to allow for proper arrangements to be made.Scripture explains, “They had not been able to celebrate it at the regular time because not enough priests had consecrated themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem” (2 Chron. 30:3). As a matter of fact, Jehovah established a provision for celebrating the Passover one month later than its specified date, in cases of emergency (Num. 9:6-11). Making application as to Hezekiah’s scheduling of the event here, Matthew Henry says, “Let the circumstance give way to the substance, and let not the thing itself be lost upon a nicety about the time. It is good, striking while the iron is hot, and taking people when they are in a good mind. Delays are dangerous” (p. 1001).

Return of Joy to the Congregation

There was also a return to joy in the revival under Hezekiah. The people of Israel once again sang songs of worship to Jehovah. Scripture records, “King Hezekiah and his officials ordered the Levites to praise the LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness and bowed their heads and worshiped” (2 Chron. 29:30). Smith notes, “For three hundred years in Israel’s history, i. e. since the days of David (1 Chron. 25:7), we do not find a single reference to singing among the people of God until the revival that occurred under Hezekiah” (p. 43).

"They sang praises with gladness."

National and Individual Reforms

Kaiser recognizes that genuine revival requires more than mere religious activity. Reforms both national and individual must follow.

He observes:

"But a revival does not only depend on the open doors of the house of worship or on the existence of divine services. More is needed that these outward acts of piety. There must be a turning around. That turning is twofold: it is a turning from sin, the first ninety degree turn, and a turning toward God, the second ninety degree turn, to make a complete about-face" (p. 110).
Turning from sin is basic in the act of repentance. One of the main words for the experience in the New Testament is metanoeo, meaning literally “to have another mind” (See 2 Cor. 7:9, 10). The word points toward a fundamental change of mind, attitude about God, sin, heaven, hell, a total new outlook on life. Accordingly, the change results in an “about-face” in life, conversion, where one both turns away from sin and toward God.

One of the basic words for repent in the Old Testament is shuv, meaning to “turn, to turn back, to return.” With a play on words, Kaiser writes, “The Hebrew word ‘to turn or repent’ is pronounced shuv. And in every one of the 118 instances where the word occurs with a religious significance, God was trying to give his people a shove in the right direction” (p. 120). Then, the New Testament emphasis in repentance is on the inner attitude; while that of the Old Testament is more on outward actions. With such emphases, people are not left without direction on how to repent. Prophets then spoke not as one weak-kneed preacher reportedly said, "I think, I suppose that maybe if you would repent to some extent you might not go to hell, I hope" (Bruce Jones, “Real Repentance” [Moody Monthly, Oct., 87], p. 21).

Smith has a similar emphasis on the need for repentance leading to reforms as a basic characteristic of genuine revival. He declares that a return to holy living is a mark of any true revival. He writes, “In the revival under Hezekiah we find words indicating sanctification and holiness twenty-six different times in seventy-two verses” (41). The Levites shared such truths with the people. The Bible says, “And Hezekiah gave encouragement to all the Levites who taught the good knowledge of the Lord” (2 Chron 30:22). No doubt it was the focus on those elements which led to reforms following the revival. Before the celebration of the Passover the people were stirred to remove both incense and burnt altars in Jerusalem that had been dedicated to the worship of Idols (2 Chron. 30:14). They scattered the debris in the Kidron Valley.

Renewing the Practice of Tithing

Hezekiah knew well, that for the revival to last it demanded more than the spirited worship which had been a part of it so far. The worship which he had re-instituted could not be maintained without financial support for the Temple and its ministers. He personally led the way in providing the needed funds. Scripture says, “The king contributed from his own possessions for the morning and evening burnt offerings and for the burnt offerings on the Sabbaths” (2 Chron 31:3). Then he challenged the people to follow his example. They responded by bringing offerings in abundance. The sacred record reports that, “As soon as the order went out, the Israelites generously gave the firstfruits of their grain, new wine, oil and honey and all that the fields produced” (5). They also immediately renewed the practice of tithing. The account continues, “They brought a great amount, a tithe of everything. The men of Israel and Judah who lived in the towns of Judah also brought a tithe of their herds and flocks and a tithe of the holy things dedicated to the LORD their God, and they piled them in heaps” (5, 6).

Efforts to Remove Idolatry

During the revival Hezekiah exerted efforts to stamp out idolatry in the land. The inspired writer records, “He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles” (2 Kings 18:4). Further, the king even destroyed Moses’ serpent of brass because by now the people used it as an object of worship. The Bible says, “He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it (It was called Nehushtan)” (4). Thus the people offered sacrifices to “the bronze thing” or “the serpent,” perhaps not even thinking they were engaging in an idolatrous practice.

Conclusion

Then, no nation on earth is beyond experiencing spiritual renewal. Following in the footsteps left by Hezekiah and the prophets as they led the people up the partway to revival makes that possible. These include the fact that the initiative for renewal came from the king but the prophets in the land also served as instruments in the revival. Other steps which they took include restoring the house of God, followed by re-instituting worship; reviving the celebration of the Passover; the return of joy in the congregation; national as well as individual reforms; renewing the practice of tithing; and efforts to stamp out idolatry in the land.

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Autrey, C. E. Renewals before Pentecost: How God’s Spirit Revitalized His People in Old Testament Times.Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1968.

Baker, Ernest. The Revivals of the Bible.London: The Kingsgate Press, 1906.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. I.New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, n. d.

Jones, Bruce. “Real Repentance.” Moody Monthly, Oct., 87, pp. 21-23.

Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. Revive Us Again: Biblical Insights for Encouraging Spiritual Renewal Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1999.

Smith, Wilbur M. The Glorious Revival under King Hezekiah. Rev. ed.Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954.