Assyria was the dominant world power during Hezekiah’s day, but Babylon was trying to form alliances to overthrow Assyria. The king of Babylon was curious about Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery, and maybe had heard about God’s miraculous sign.
At that time King Merodach-baladan son of Baladan of Babylon sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered.Isaiah 39:1 (NRSV)
Hezekiah was flattered and obviously did not read anything between the lines of the Babylonian letter. He was proud of all he had done. The author of Chronicles gives us some insight into the Judahite king’s frame of mind.
Hezekiah had very great riches and honor, and he made for himself treasuries for silver, for gold, for precious stones, for spices, for shields, and for all kinds of costly objects; storehouses also for the yield of grain, wine, and oil; and stalls for all kinds of cattle and sheepfolds.2 Chronicles 32:27-28 (NRSV)
He likewise provided cities for himself and flocks and herds in abundance, for God had given him very great possessions.
This same Hezekiah closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the city of David.
Hezekiah prospered in all his works.2 Chronicles 32:29-30 (NRSV)
So also in the matter of the envoys of the officials of Babylon, who had been sent to him to inquire about the sign that had been done in the land, God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart.2 Chronicles 32:31 (NRSV)
Flattery should raise a red flag with people we do not know. God had given Hezekiah health and wealth, quite literally, but the king took the credit for himself.
Hezekiah allowed pride and vanity to get the better of him. It was important to the king to display his affluence, and he was proud of his development projects. It was laudatory for a nation as large and diplomatically connected as Babylon to take an interest in him, that he might be known as rich and powerful. It seemed this affluent oriental delegation changed Hezekiah’s perspective. He took his eyes off of the Lord and fixed them on himself.
Hezekiah forgot that he was simply the steward of Judah’s wealth, and not the owner.
The king evidently saw no threat in these cultured Babylonian diplomats, so it seems he did not seek God’s will in how he should receive them. There is no record of him even asking the prophet Isaiah for advice. His guard was down, and he was vulnerable to deception. Things were going well, so he took risks without spending much thought on the consequences.
And he gave the Babylonians the cook’s tour.
Hezekiah welcomed them; he showed them
- his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil,
- his whole armory,
- all that was found in his storehouses.
There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.Isaiah 38:2 (NRSV)
The most damaging display was Judah’s armory.
The Babylonian envoys went home knowing exactly what Judah’s military strengths and weaknesses were—more information than even Judah’s own army would have known. Think of how carefully countries protect national security issues. That is the whole point of arms negotiations during times of peace.
What Have You Done?
When the prophet Isaiah came to King Hezekiah and said to him, “What did these men say? From where did they come to you?” Hezekiah answered, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.”
He said, “What have they seen in your house?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”Isaiah 39:3-4 (NRSV)
Aghast and appalled, Isaiah prophesied that one day the Babylonians – not the Assyrians – would carry off all of Judah’s wealth and send its people into exile.
Not only would they remember where all the treasure was hidden, but they would know in detail how to defeat Judah’s armies.
Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Days are coming when all that is in your house and that which your ancestors have stored up until this day shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left, says the Lord.
Some of your own sons who are born to you shall be taken away; they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”38:5-7 (NRSV)
At that time Babylon was not a world power.
But a hundred years later, Daniel and others were taken captive to be raised in the Babylonian courts.
At first, Hezekiah’s response troubled me.
Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.”Isaiah 39:8 (NRSV)
I had to spend some time with that. It sounds so callous, so uncaring about what his grandchildren and great grandchildren would have to face because of his own foolish, self-serving transgression.
Perhaps the best viewpoint that could be given about this king, one of Judah’s very few good ones, is his meekness in accepting God’s judgement. It meant his acknowledgment of his own sin, though clearly he was relieved that God had spared him, personally, from the consequences.
This was a test of Hezekiah’s character.
And it is context for the testing of our own character as well. You and I may find ourselves wanting to impress others with our own glory, forgetting the gifts of talent, opportunity, empowering, and resources God freely gives us. We may try to share in the glory that really is God’s alone.
To Whom should go the praise of Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery?
To Whom should go the credit for Hezekiah’s wealth and power, particularly in view of Judah’s small region?
At Whose feet should be laid Judah’s victory over the mighty Assyrian armed forces?
As king of a theocracy, in which religious reform he had initiated was already robustly underway, Hezekiah had an extraordinary opportunity to spread God’s fame abroad. Instead, he promoted himself.
What will be revealed in you and me when God, unknown to us, tests our characters?
Prosperity can be a greater threat than adversity
Hezekiah was more secure as a seriously ill man on his sickbed than he was as a healthy man on his throne. Had he thought to consult Isaiah concerning the Babylonian delegation before he welcomed them, he could have avoided such a dangerous blunder.
Hezekiah allowed prosperity to lull him into a false sense of security.
I wonder in what ways self-promotion sets you and me up for trouble later? Assyria used weapons and threats, but that failed. The Babylonian’s subtle use of flattery and gifts worked because Hezekiah failed to take their matter to the Lord.
Really, that is a lesson all in itself. We might be ready for a full-on attack. But how ready are we for sly deception?