This podcast covers Lesson 10 of Reboot Renew Rejoice Bible Study by Melanie Newton.
The Unstoppable Power of God’s Forgiveness
The prophet Isaiah lived during the time of King Hezekiah. As Isaiah was writing a song of praise in chapter 26, he said this,
When your judgments [God] come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness. But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.” (Isaiah 26:9-10)
That was certainly true regarding Israel.
God's people were His children. And, like any good parent, God demonstrated His love for his children over and over again—teaching them, providing for them, protecting them, and giving them guidance. Yet, the children rebelled again and again. Finally, the ones living in the Northern Kingdom called Israel were attacked by Assyria and taken away into captivity. The repercussions of that horrific event reverberated throughout the southern kingdom of Judah. And, the fear of that happening to them motivated them to finally obey their father God—under the leadership of their godly king, Hezekiah.
Fear of consequences led to repentance and renewal
Hezekiah was 25 years old when he became king. When you trace back the chronology, his father Ahaz must have been only a teenager when Hezekiah was born—an immature man who chose to be wicked. Yet, Hezekiah's mother was the daughter of a very godly man so Hezekiah's mother was likely a godly woman. It matters who your mama is! Thankfully, Hezekiah chose to follow his maternal side rather than his paternal influence. He was a true son of David.
Hezekiah's first priority was to repair and reopen the Temple, which had been ravaged and shuttered by his father. So, he brought together the priests and Levites because they were responsible for maintaining the Temple and the worship of God. In his challenge to them, Hezekiah rightly held accountable the previous generation of leaders and people for being unfaithful to God, leading to the northern kingdom’s defeat and captivity.
It was time for a fresh start, a reboot of Judah as a nation under God. And, he needed all the religious leaders onboard for this. As he called them together, he reminded them of their purpose with these words in 2 Chronicles chapter 29,
"My sons, do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before Him." (2 Chronicles 29:11)
The priests and Levites purified themselves and jumped into the task. It took 16 days to clean the filth from the Temple. Almost 2½ weeks! It must have been a total wreck!
Hezekiah then called together all the local leaders and publicly confessed the sins of the nation, just like on the Day of Atonement. His message to them was basically this, "We cleaned the Temple, so now let us get ourselves clean before God."
That’s repentance and renewal. This was followed by worship through offerings, singing, the praise band, and reading of the Psalms. The Bible says they were filled with gladness. What a glorious day of rejoicing! The leadership of Judah was going in the right direction at last!
In 2 Chronicles chapter 30, Hezekiah invited all the people in his land plus those Jews left behind in the northern kingdom to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. This was an attempt to unite Israel into one nation again after 215 years of separation. His letter of appeal said this,
"People of Israel, return to the Lord… Do not be stiff-necked, as your ancestors were; submit to the Lord [That’s a call to reboot] …
If you return to the Lord, then your brothers and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will come back to this land, for the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn His face from you if you return to Him (2 Chronicles 30:6-9)
Hezekiah knew the character of God. Those who were in foreign lands as captives still belonged to God. God still loved them.
You would expect an overwhelmingly positive response to that invitation, right? Nope. Some of those people in the north scorned and ridiculed the messengers. They didn't want God's compassion. That's foolishness. Just like people do today. But, there was good news, too. Many humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem. That's repentance. Isaiah had taught that God’s people would find refuge in Jerusalem. And, those who wanted God’s refuge did find it there.
And, God gave the people of Judah unity of mind to carry out the work they needed to do. They worked together to clean Jerusalem of the idolatrous filth that King Ahaz had spread everywhere. Have you ever worked hard like that to clean up idolatrous stuff in your life or home? Recognizing it and removing it.
As a leader, Hezekiah prayed for God's grace upon the people who really didn't remember how to purify themselves. They had lost the knowledge of how to come before God. And, our gracious God heard Hezekiah and healed the people. Grace. Mercy. Healing. That's what God does.
We can never really clean ourselves. God cleanses the heart of faith. God has always responded to repentance with His mercy and grace. There was much rejoicing that day, including those non-Jews who immigrated from the northern kingdom and those non-Jews who lived in Judah. That's Gentiles! Gentiles joined the assembly of God's people and were accepted by God that day by faith. This is a foreshadowing of the future Church of Jesus Christ. As a Gentile myself, I thank you, God! My heart rejoices that I am included. I bet theirs did, too.
Repentance and renewal led to action
So, what was the difference this time compared to previous attempts to bring the people back to God? Their response was different. The people responded with obedience to God, not just compliance to the king's commands. They acted out their heart change by smashing the idols and places of idol worship throughout the whole southern kingdom of Judah and then they went into what was left of the northern kingdom to do the same. That took courage and commitment. The response to God’s grace was obedience to God. Humility before God leads to obedience to God.
The people destroyed the idolatrous worship centers that had led them astray. Their action reminds me of the Ephesian Christians who created a bonfire with all their witchcraft books and tools. You can read about that in Acts chapter 19. A heart change leads to a life change. We can all learn wisdom from watching the mistakes of others and choosing not to do that!
Peeling back the layers, though, why were the people so willing to do this? I think it was fear. Fear of the consequences of continuing their wicked lifestyle. The threat of captivity and exile from their homes. They knew what happened to the 10 tribes of Israel through the brutality of Assyria and the dragging off of hundreds of thousands of people to who-knows-where as slaves. Fear was the motivation.
You know what? Fear is not always a bad thing. God gave us fear as a gift. What do I mean by that? Fear is a normal human emotion designed by God to alert us to danger so we will take action against it. Fear alerts us to danger. We respond by taking action against it. That’s a good thing.
God gave the women of Jerusalem especially a 1-year warning of what was going to happen. In Isaiah chapter 32, we see God saying this to them,
“You women who are so complacent, rise up and listen to me; you daughters who feel secure, hear what I have to say! In little more than a year you who feel secure will tremble; the grape harvest will fail, and the harvest of fruit will not come. (Isaiah 32:9-10)
Isaiah was referring to the time when the vicious king of Assyria would attack Judah and surround Jerusalem for many days. It took place about a year from the date of this warning.
I have often thought it would be nice to get advance warning from God about something going to take place so I could get ready for it. I think a lot of us women would like to know the future. But, how would we really respond? Did the women who heard that warning repent of their complacency? Did they turn their hearts to God? Did that warning make them more willing to follow God’s leading through their king?
The danger for the Jews was defeat and captivity. God didn't want to do that. He sent prophet after prophet to woo His people back to Him. They wouldn't pay attention. They didn’t take action against the danger. They spurned His grace and His love and His protection.
But, His love for them didn't end. God gave the people a leader. Hezekiah did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord. In everything he did for the Temple and for restoring God's law in the land, the Bible says that,
"he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.” (2 Chronicles 31:20)
And the nation prospered so the people had abundance to bring as offerings to the Lord. It's much better to approach life God's way. In this case, a healthy fear of consequences can motivate selfish people to follow God instead.
Now, Hezekiah wasn’t a perfect leader. He made some sinful choices in his life as we all do, even those of us who are walking with God daily. But, his overall walk with God was faithful, just like that of David and of Jehoshaphat. He connected with his people, and they benefited under his authority. Except for his son Manasseh.
The disconnected leader
I just don't get it. Hezekiah's son Manasseh chose to follow the pattern of his wicked grandfather Ahaz (whom he never knew) rather than what was modeled before him in his godly father Hezekiah. Where was the disconnect?
Manasseh experienced the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib when he was about 10 years old. Was he aware of his father and Isaiah praying together over that letter sent by Sennacherib demanding surrender? I don’t know. But, I am sure he heard about it afterwards and heard about the miraculous response of God. You don't have an army of 100's of thousands surrounding your town get wiped out by an angel and retreat without the news spreading and being talked about for months. Even without social media. Hezekiah had prepared the water sources and the defense systems beforehand, but the power of God’s presence put on the show. Manasseh must have heard his father praising God as greater than any enemy more than once in his young life. Granted, Hezekiah got a little prideful afterwards which angered God. But, then Hezekiah repented and was restored to God's good favor again. He was a good model of repentance and renewal for the boy.
When Manasseh was 12, he began to co-rule with his father and did so for 10 years until Hezekiah died. Ten years of growing up beside someone who was on God's side, not following pagan religious practices. Yet, Manasseh chose to be a wicked ruler. He undid all the good work of his father. Why did he do that? He had plenty of promptings from God to straighten his act during the 55 years God let him be the king. Yet, the Bible says that he ignored the prophets and chose to be like his grandfather Ahaz. Why would Ahaz's fame of horrible leadership be attractive to this young man?
Not only was Manasseh a horribly wicked leader for his people, leading them back to idolatry, his practices were more wicked than any of the surrounding pagan nations! It's like he was trying to be the worst he could be to make a name for himself. Tradition has it that Manasseh is the one who murdered Hezekiah’s friend, the prophet Isaiah. It makes no sense whatsoever. Do you know some people like that today?
As a parent, I just don't understand the disconnect. But, we all know that every single one of us has to individually choose to follow God. And, God is not finished calling that person to Himself until the day they die.
There are always consequences to wicked behavior. And, God uses those consequences to encourage repentance. We see that in Manasseh’s life. God stayed faithful to His promise to David by disciplining Manasseh.
The unstoppable power of God’s forgiveness
When I read 2 Chronicles chapter 33 verse 11, I was rather surprised. Manasseh king of Judah was taken prisoner by the Assyrians to Babylon with a hook through his nose and shackles on his ankles. What a humiliation for a king! But, God used that to capture Manasseh's attention big time! The Bible says in verses 12-13 that he came back to Jerusalem a changed man. I would hope so! And, during the last 8-10 years of his reign, he did the right things in God's eyes.
I still don't understand what happened with young Manasseh. His mother's name from 2 Kings chapter 21 sounds Jewish. So, it doesn't seem to be a foreign mother's influence. The truth is that even the best parents have no control over their adult children's decisions. Hezekiah loved the Lord; his son didn't until he was an old man.
Each one of us comes to God on our own merits not our parents' merits. Being raised in a godly home with God-honoring parents is a true blessing to children who choose to follow their leading. Even those raised in ungodly homes can learn to love God well and break the wicked cycle, hoping their children will continue the faithfulness. We’ve seen that in our study so far. All we as parents can do is our best before God and trust the results to God.
I like the way one writer helped me see the value of studying the Chronicles. He said,
Chronicles teaches us that God is bigger than our past. Each generation has the opportunity—and the responsibility—to repent and turn to God for blessing. And even our own personal history of sin is not enough to stop God’s grace. The Chronicler shows us the repentance of David and Hezekiah, and even the worst king of all, Manasseh, turns to God and is forgiven. … If you are someone who is tempted to think that your past will make God give up on you, Chronicles can be a constant reminder of the unstoppable power of God’s forgiveness. (James Duguid, “Why Study the Books of 1-2 Chronicles?” www.crossway.org)
The unstoppable power of God’s forgiveness. As believers in Jesus Christ, we have God’s continual forgiveness for every sin—past, present, and future. But, even more than that, we have the power of God’s presence with us. Our God’s powerful presence helps us to reboot our lives, renew our commitment to Him, and live a life of rejoicing as a result. What a blessing!
Let Jesus satisfy your heart with the power of His presence. Then, live in that power!
Until next time, I’m Melanie Newton. And, this is Series 6 of Satisfied.
Joyful Walk Bible Studies by Melanie Newton are available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.