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2 Kings 18:1-6 meaning

Hezekiah becomes king of Judah during the third year of Hoshea, king of Israel to the north. Hezekiah of Judah was 25 when he received the throne, and reigned for nearly thirty years in Jerusalem. He was as righteous a king as the revered David his predecessor. Hezekiah reformed Judah by destroying every place of idol-worship in the kingdom. He trusted in God, followed Him, and kept His commandments.

The narrative of 2 Kings 18-19 is also found in Isaiah 36-37 as well as in 2 Chronicles 32. It  takes us to a pivotal moment in the history of the Kingdom of Judah. It occurs in the third year of Hoshea, son of Elah king of Israel when Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah became king (v 1). This marker places Hezekiah's rise to power around 727-726 BC.

Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz king of Judah, began his reign at twenty-five years old and would lead for twenty-nine years in Jerusalem (v 2). The mention of his mother, Abi the daughter of Zechariah, is significant, suggesting her potential influence on his religious reforms and adherence to the covenant which Yahweh God entered into with Israel (Exodus 19:8).

In a time when the integrity of worship in Judah was compromised, Hezekiah stands out. He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done (vs. 3). The comparison to King David is significant because his heart was after God's own (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). Hezekiah was many generations after David, but King David was still his father according to Jewish reckoning. Hebrew text does not recognize the notion of "grandfather" and generally considers any direct ancestral father as a father. 

Hezekiah's reforms were sweeping: he removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah (vs. 4). These high places were unauthorized centers of worship, often associated with idolatry. The sacred pillars and Asherah represent Canaanite religious influences that had mixed with Israelite worship.

Ashera worship predates the Israelite period by at least 1000 years. Being a goddess of fertility, motherhood, and life, many nations, and at times Israel and Judah, adopted a version of her to be a consort for their national god. Ashera worship seems to have originated with the Canaanites and quickly spread to the Hittite kingdom to the north, the Amorites, the Edomites, and even as far east as the Babylonian empire. 

The Canaanites had industrialized sexual exploitation and made it a common occurrence in those lands, even incorporating it into the worship of their pagan gods through various sex cults. It was as a result of their wickedness God judged and cast them out of the land they inhabited  (Leviticus 18:25, Deuteronomy 9:5). The Promised Land, Israel, formerly the land of Canaan, was special to God because He promised it as an inheritance to Abraham (Genesis 12:7). It was due to the Canaanites's wickedness that He was dispossessing them of the land (Deuteronomy 9:5-6).

Unfortunately, we read many times in the Bible that the kingdoms of Israel and Judah would drift towards idolatry, which included sex cults and temple prostitutes. Early in the history of Judah we find that a particularly disturbing idol was constructed, possibly in the courtyard of the temple of Yahweh,

"He also removed Maacah, the mother of King Asa, from the position of queen mother, because she had made a horrid image as an Asherah, and Asa cut down her horrid image, crushed it and burned it at the brook Kidron."
(2 Chronicles 15:16, 1 Kings 15:13)

Rashi, an 11th century rabbinic commentator says of this verse, "she had made a horrid image for an Asherah to gratify her lust. It carried lasciviousness to an extreme. She made herself a phallus for the image and would copulate with it."

Wicked leaders have often used sexual exploitation attached to religious activity to manipulate people.

In Leviticus 18, God sets boundaries for sexual norms. The Apostle Paul notes that God's will for the lives of believers is their sanctification, to be set apart from the wickedness of the world, and the first example he gives of being set apart is to abstain from sexual immorality (2 Thessalonians 4:3). This is consistent with 1 Corinthians 6, which explains that sexual sin is particularly bad because it is a sin against one's own body (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).

In all these instances, God does not address desire. The implication seems to be that God acknowledges that humans will have various sexual urges; otherwise there would be no reason for the prohibition. That means that at any point in time, a man might be sexually attracted to their mother, sister, daughter, or male or female neighbor. In these prohibitions, God only addresses actions. 

God does not say "It is a sin to have an impure thought," rather scripture tells us to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). We know Satan can suggest impure thoughts (Ephesians 6:16, Matthew 16:23). The biblical emphasis is upon knowing and meditating upon what is true and best for us, and choosing to walk in those ways. This is what Hezekiah is commended for: scripture speaks well of him because he did right (v 3). 

One of the most significant acts of Hezekiah's reform was his destruction of the bronze serpent that Moses had made (v 4). This artifact is originally a symbol of God's healing and is a picture of Jesus' work on the cross (John 3:14-15). But it had become an idol, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called named Nehushtan (4)

Nehushtan means "a thing of brass." The issue would not seem to be the content of the name, but the fact that it had a name, and was personalized. Rather than representing an object of trusting God, it had itself become an object people petitioned, imagining it would give them favor. Hezekiah's destruction of this object underscores his commitment to purging Judah of Canaanite worship practices.

In John 3:14-15, Jesus explains salvation through this imagery of the bronze serpent that would have been familiar to any Jew. Jesus invoked this image from the Old Testament to explain how this will work. The Israelites had been bitten by venomous snakes and were dying. They cried out to God, and God told Moses to have Aaron fashion a bronze serpent and raise it up on a pole. Then, whoever had enough faith in Moses's words to look upon the bronze snake, hoping to be delivered from the effect of snake venom, would have their life delivered from physical death (Numbers 21:4-9).

The next verse, John 3:16, is one of the most famous Bible verses; it tells us the reason God lifted up Jesus, because of His love for the world. But John 3:16is explained by John 3:14-15—the new birth comes through having sufficient faith to look upon Jesus, hoping to be delivered from the poisonous venom of sin. 

Jesus told Nicodemus that the Son of Man—who Nicodemus would have expected to descend to earth in a cloud of glory and take dominion over the earth (as stated in Daniel 7:13)—will first be lifted up on a pole (cross). The reason for His being lifted up on a pole (cross) is so that whoever believes in Him will have the gift of eternal life (John 3:16). 

Everyone in the human race has the venomous poison of sin that separates us from God. Death is separation, so this is spiritual death. Without intervention, we will remain separated from God for eternity. But God has made provision in the person of Jesus. If we have enough faith to look on Jesus lifted up on the cross, hoping to be delivered from the sin that separates us from Him, then Jesus promises that we will have eternal life. Every sin of every human was nailed to that cross and born by Jesus (Colossians 2:14).

Jesus seemed to expect that Nicodemus would understand this, but he did not (John 3:10). Neither did the people in the days of Hezekiah. In the time of Hezekiah this symbol of Jesus had been turned into an idol. What was intended for good, to teach the people, had become an instrument of idolatry. The basic tenant of idolatry is transactional—to petition a spiritual force in order to get something you want. God mocks this human tendency in Isaiah 44:9-16, illustrating that when someone cuts down a tree and makes an image, they know full well that the tree has no true power. 

Hezekiah saw this perversion and terminated it. Hezekiah's reliance on God was commendable, setting a high bar for the kings that would follow. Scripture honors him, stating, He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him (vs. 5)

Accordingly, Hezekiah is an example of faithfulness for believers to follow. In particular, those in the last days who see the nations descend upon Jerusalem can look to Hezekiah as an example of faithfulness. Hezekiah did not give up hope but trusted in God, and Jerusalem was delivered. What Hezekiah will encounter in this passage seems to presage a future event (Zechariah 14:1-4). 

Hezekiah's trust was not a passive attribute but was demonstrated in his actions as he clung to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the LORD had commanded Moses (vs. 6). 

His adherence to the Mosaic law indicates a commitment to the covenant established at Sinai with Israel's Suzerain God, Yahweh, a covenant Hezekiah upheld in both belief and practice. Hezekiah kept His commandments. This means that Hezekiah knew God's law and sought to follow it. He studied, learned, and followed the law of God. This brought him great blessing. This pattern is echoed in Revelation 1:3, where a great blessing is promised to those who read, understand, and do what God instructs. 

We will also see Hezekiah do what he can to prepare to resist the Assyrian king. However, he will ultimately recognize his own inability to fight the Assyrians and turn to God for help. This is also an example of being industrious while not sinking into pridefulness.

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