19 Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah, Good is the word of the LORD which thou hast spoken. And he said, Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days? (2 Kings 20:16-19)
It has always seemed strange to me that some find fault with Hezekiah for these words. I have heard it said that Hezekiah showed a callous selfishness in so saying. The implication is that he was unconcerned that the judgment of God was to fall on others, if only he would be spared. But Christian charity requires us to think well of other saints – even if they are dead – and to put a charitable construction on their words and deeds, as much as possible. There is no necessity in these words for thinking the worst of the good king. It is better to understand them as words of submission to God's rebuke of him. He accepts the bad news, does not quarrel about it, and looks for the mercy that is in it. Would we be able to take it as well, I wonder?
Matthew Henry reads it this way:
Hezekiah's humble and patient submission to this sentence (2 Kings 20:19). Observe how he argues himself into this submission:
1. He lays it down for a truth that “good is the word of the Lord, even this word, though a threatening; for every word of his is so. It is not only just, but good; for, as he does no wrong to any, so he means no hurt to good men. It is good; for he will bring good out of it, and do me good by the foresight of it.” We should believe this concerning every providence, that it is good, is working for good.
2. He takes notice of that in this word which was good, that he should not live to see this evil, much less to share in it. He makes the best of the bad: “Is it not good? Yes, certainly it is, and better than I deserve.” Note:
(1.) True penitents, when they are under divine rebukes, call them not only just, but good; not only submit to the punishment of their iniquity, but accept of it. So Hezekiah did, and by this it appeared that he was indeed humbled for the pride of his heart.
(2.) When at any time we are under dark dispensations, or have dark prospects, public or personal, we must take notice of what is for us as well as what is against us, that we may by thanksgiving honour God, and may in our patience possess our own souls.
(3.) As to public affairs, it is good, and we are bound to think it so, if peace and truth be in our days. That is,
[1.] Whatever else we want, it is good if we have peace and truth, if we have the true religion professed and protected, Bibles and ministers, and enjoy these in peace, not terrified with the alarms of war or persecution.
[2.] Whatever trouble may come when we are gone, it is good if all be well in our days. Not that we should be unconcerned for posterity; it is a grief to foresee evils: but we should own that the deferring of judgments is a great favour in general, and to have them deferred so long as what we may die in peace is a particular favour to us, for charity begins at home. We know not how we shall bear the trial, and therefore have reason to think it well if we may but get safely to heaven before it comes.
There are many places in Scripture which show that God intentionally delayed judgment until one of his servants had died, to spare him the pain. Isaiah says:
The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. He shall enter into peace... (Isaiah 57:1-2)
This is no small mercy, and it is proper that it be acknowledged as such. Here is an example from the account of Josiah's response upon the discovery of a book of the law of the Lord:
And as for the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of the LORD, so shall ye say unto him, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel concerning the words which thou hast heard; Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the LORD. Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same. So they brought the king word again. (2 Chronicles 34:26-28)
God assures Josiah through the prophetess that He has heard his prayer for mercy, and granted it, as far as Josiah himself was concerned. What if Josiah had said the same thing as Hezekiah? Would he then be accused of selfishness?
Howard Douglas King
September 26, 2015