The morning had begun with a dull thumping disturbance, followed soon after by a distinctive resonance of drumbeats pounding out a dull, insistent message of doom. As midday approached the steady hammering noise was accompanied by chilling, high-pitched screams that insistently pierced the air and echoed around the hills of Tophet for all to hear. It was the monthly service for Molech and it was fast reaching its climax.

Amongst the worshippers stood Ahaz, king of Judah. One of his sons, Hezekiah, had previously been passed through the fire, but this time Ahaz was prepared to go one step further and actually commit one of his other sons to the all consuming fire of this savage idol (cp 2 Kings 16:3, 2 Chron 28:3).

The pomp and ceremony of the occasion hid a reign filled with infamy and immorality. The capital was saturated with molten idols and the hilltops and groves were replete with every kind of abomination. Ahaz had made sure that idolatry had gripped the heart of Judah with an iron fist. His influence was so evil that the record tells us that he made Judah naked, and then called him “king of Israel” (2 Chron 28:19). He was no different from that contemptible dynasty of tyrants who ruled in the north.

Several years earlier the nation had reeled from the onslaught of Rezin and Pekah who had punched a hole in Judah’s defences and slain 120 000 mighty men in one day (2 Chron 28:6). Judah surely could not sink much lower.

Yet to add insult to injury Ahaz had collected the sacred vessels, cut them in pieces for scrap and slammed the temple doors shut (2 Chron 28:24). In Ahaz’s mind, God was being locked out of His own house. It was a matter of tossing out the old to make way for the new as he replaced the altar of burnt offering with a Syrian counterfeit and remodelled parts of the temple entrance way to satisfy a request made by the king of Assyria (2 Kings 16: 14–18). How much more wickedness could the nation endure? Could change ever come?

Shaping Influences

Sometimes when we are at our lowest, God provides a way of escape. In these dark hours the faint stirrings of reform were already beginning to smoulder. From the greatest evil God was about to bring forth the greatest good.

The epicentre of this reform began with the work of Isaiah the prophet. In the shadow of Rezin and Pekah’s invasion he made a bold move. The nation’s heart was virtually impenetrable, but despite that he made a wonderful determination. “Bind up the testimony”, he is recorded as saying, “seal the law among my disciples. And I will wait upon Yahweh, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him” (Isa 8:16–17).

God was hiding His face from the nation by bringing calamity upon Judah and by temporarily withdrawing Isaiah from public ministry. This did not mean that Isaiah was to remain inactive. He made a resolve to tie and bind the word of God to a small remnant; a group whom he styled “my disciples”.

We tie together things we do not want to lose and we seal things which we want to keep secret. What Isaiah sought to do was to take Yahweh’s prophetic testimonies and preserve them in the hearts of a few faithful men and women making them ready for a day of unsealing. Isaiah was preparing them for a better day in the future and carefully selected a group of key men and women who could make a difference when the time was right. One of those disciples was Hezekiah, the prince who had survived the initiation ceremonies of Molech.

A young prince does not swim against the tide of evil unless there is a more powerful force motivating him to go in the opposite direction. Where did this spiritual strength come from? It could only have come from constant contact with the Word of God delivered by someone who was personally present in royal circles and who had the ability to inspire others in the ways of God.

Now we know that Isaiah had ready access to the court (cp 2 Chron 26:22) and when Hezekiah’s reforms burst upon the scene we find that his words were heavily sprinkled with allusions to Isaiah’s prophecies. It seems clear then, from this, that the young prince Hezekiah was among those disciples Isaiah claimed as his own. It was this connection with the prophet that worked mightily in his life to steer him away from the powerful undercurrents of evil that swirled through the palace and kingdom.

Another influence was the way in which Hezekiah adopted David as his mentor and father (2 Chron 29:2). He was able to breathe into his life the spirit of a king whose heart was knit with God in praise and thanksgiving. Imagine living in Ahaz’s palace and being able to soar above the evil because you are infused with the power of David’s psalms and prayers!

The book of Proverbs was another impelling influence in the young prince’s life. We know this because he arranged a special publication of Solomon’s proverbs when he became king, probably as a testimony to the influence they had in his development. The very first proverb he selected is recorded in Proverbs 25:1–2: “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing [word]: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter [word].” He felt the great weight of privilege in being permitted the opportunity of plumbing the depths of the Word of God in all its beauty and wonder. What a contrast to the blindness of his peers!

He knew he had survived the fires of Molech by the grace of God and under the careful tutelage of men like Isaiah he began to plan the day when he could replace his father as king. How he would have yearned for change, patiently waiting the day when God would step in and remove his father from office. When that day came, the planned reforms swept the palace and people with breathless rapidity.

The Change Begins

In 2 Chronicles 29:3 we read: “He, in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of Yahweh and repaired them.” We read in verse 17 that the priests began their cleansing of the house “on the first day of the first month”—which is the month Nisan. The word “second” was not in his vocabulary; God was first in everything he did.

Hezekiah made no attempt to consolidate his power. There was no time to be paralysed by the traditional period of mourning for his father. Time was of the essence and the work of God had to commence immediately. He had been planning this day for years and now he embraced the moment with great enthusiasm.

But he knew that he could not accomplish this work of change alone. He needed the support of like-minded friends. So he purged the court and installed “his princes” in places of authority (cp 2 Chron 30:2, Prov 25:4–5). He gathered together fourteen Levites from the key Levitical families and an unknown number of priests (2 Chron 29:12–16). The fact that he knew them by name and reputation and that they came when he asked them to come was evidence that he had made contact with them before he assumed the throne and had become firm friends with them.

We can picture him standing before the eastern gate early in the morning with an insignificant number of men ready to inspire them with the need for change. He bared his soul to them. He explained that he was ready to make a covenant with Yahweh, but that he needed their help to make it happen (2 Chron 29:5–11). He had this wonderful ability to be able to reach people’s hearts (2 Chron 30: 22; 32:6) and the response was immediate. These Levites fanned out to collect brethren of like mind and the work began in earnest.

Reformation must begin at home, in the private sanctuary of our heart. That’s why the inner recesses of the house were cleansed first, followed next by the courts. You cannot inspire others if your heart is full of unclean things.

The Reforming Passover

The temple was not ready in time for the Passover. They had missed it by a few days, but that did not deter the king from the pressing work of reconciling the nation to God. National and personal forgiveness was an essential part of the covenant that Hezekiah sought to make. Reformation is more than just cleaning out the rubbish. Reformation has to involve confession, reconciliation and commitment.

The altar had been restored and for the first time in years a sin offering “for the kingdom, the sanctuary and for Judah” was offered. In actual fact the service of the house involved a combination of sin and burnt offerings but when we read the account we discover that there is a powerful emphasis on the shedding of the blood for all Israel—even those in the north (2 Chron 29: 22–24). Blood was shed as a ritual declaration of God’s righteousness. It forcibly declared that God was right in condemning man to death because of sin. The sins of the nation weighed heavily on his mind and he sought to draw the people’s attention to their great need to understand the vital principles of reconciliation.

As the Burnt Offering was made, Hezekiah commanded the Levites to sing the psalms of Yahweh. The cries of Molech were now being replaced with the instruments of David and where there was once confusion and evil, there was now joy and peace. They were now free to offer willingly and the response was overwhelming. There were not enough priests to offer and so the Levites stepped in and assisted. Here was the spirit of the Law in operation—a true barometer of real change in people.

The chapter concludes with this comment: “And Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, that God had prepared the people: for the thing was done suddenly” (2 Chron 29:36). This tells us that Hezekiah understood that the humbling and debilitating circumstances of his father’s reign were put there by God as the necessary preparation for this spiritual revolution to work. He took no credit for himself. He knew it was God’s work.

Sustaining Change

Moreover the success that had been wrought was achieved because it had been done suddenly and spontaneously. The right time had come with the change of leadership and Hezekiah wasted no time in pressing ahead. It’s no good planning change and never seeing it through. We have to seize the moment and forge ahead with God’s blessing. The wonderful thing about this whole turnaround is that it affected people’s hearts. Hezekiah provided the leadership and the framework for offering sacrifice and praise, but it took God to prepare the people. When this combination comes into play the consequences exceed all expectations.

It is one thing to start change; it is another to continue and sustain it. Hence Hezekiah followed the initial covenant ceremony with a determination to bring all Israel to Jerusalem to keep the Passover. This reveals a wonderful disposition in the heart of this king. The northern tribes had shared the same vices as Judah under Ahaz’s reign and so it would have been easy to forget them. They were apostate and on the verge of being snatched away by Assyria. God was about to give them up. How easy it would have been to have dismissed them with a cursory wave of the hand.

But Hezekiah was of a different spirit. He sought to reach through a stirring appeal based on the fact that they needed to come to where the centre of God’s Truth was. It is interesting to note that although he was a king he often sought the counsel of his friends (2 Chron 30:2, 32:3). He was able to win people over by his enthusiasm and because he “wrought that which was good and right and truth before Yahweh his God” (2 Chron 30:4, 31:20–21). His godly patience and soft persuasions won everyone over to the ways of God (cp Prov 25:15).

The king’s appeal was pointed yet conciliatory and God used this message to work in both Israel and Judah to bring them together as one (2 Chron 30:12). Many arrived ritually unclean but the earnest prayer of the king secured forgiveness and healing for all those whose hearts were prepared to seek Yahweh aright. The joy was unprecedented. Not since the days of Solomon had all twelve tribes kept a Passover like this. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” like this (Psa 133:1–3, cp also Psa 122:1–9).

Reformation that Touches the Heart

But the enthusiasm did not stop there. The joy and thankfulness of forgiveness experienced by an undeserving people was enough to ignite a deep love for God. As the surging crowds returned home they voluntarily removed their idols. Even those who returned to the north bravely faced the taunts of their kinsmen and utterly destroyed their images (2 Chron 31:1). There was no command from the king to do this, but they did it anyway, because they were energised by a powerful sense of wanting to serve God with singleness of heart. Idolatry can only be effectively removed when our love for God is the stronger force.

Surely this is a testimony to the effectiveness of Hezekiah’s work. The Word had touched their hearts and they had been forgiven. They were on the verge of despair and a king had appealed to them to return to God. Someone had shown an interest in them and asked them to submit to God’s will. And when they responded they were healed, finding a joyful peace that surpassed anything they could ever have imagined. Now, to paraphrase the words of Paul, the love of God was constraining them to commit their lives to God. The idols were being removed because the people understood the futility of idolatry and the greatness of God. The Word of God had removed the scales from their eyes.

The final episode in the reformation of the nation is described for us in 2 Chronicles 31 where we read of the appointment of the priests and Levites in their courses. The people had received great blessings from God and now it was time to give something back in return. They were commanded to give the portion that belonged to the priests “that they might be encouraged in the law of Yahweh” (2 Chron 31:4).

This is how you sustain change. You encourage people to read and expound the Word of God and when the Word is capably expounded, its exposition in turn further encourages you. You encourage to receive encouragement. It’s a wonderful selfsustaining cycle. Without it, change will always be short-lived.

We have witnessed in Hezekiah a wonderful example of change through godly leadership. He was able to motivate by touching people’s hearts. He was a leader yet he sought counsel from his friends. He was a king who never neglected those who were in desperate straits. His appeals were always based on what was good and right and true and with these he was able to show God’s kindness to those who were prepared to respond. If we seek to win people to God we must imitate this same kind of spiritual strength. Hezekiah sought Yahweh with all his heart. This was the secret of his greatness. This surely is the foundation principle for all reform.