Kindness and Severity of God

In the book of Isaiah two portraits of two kings, Ahaz and Hezekiah, work together to teach us about the Gospel. Among a great many other parallels, both accounts share five elements in common.

One: Both kings face a serious political and military problem. Ahaz is troubled by the potential invasion of Syria and Israel to his north. He is also unsure about the strength of his alliance with the ever growing Assyrian Empire (Isaiah 7:1-6). Hezekiah is, arguably, faced with an even graver problem. Jerusalem is surrounded by the Assyrian army, which has just overtaken Syria, Israel, Philistia, and all of Judah except for Jerusalem (Isaiah 8:5-8).

Two: Both kings are encouraged, by signs from God, to trust the LORD. Ahaz is given the sign of Immanuel, which we explored at length in a previous post (Isaiah 7:14). Hezekiah is given two signs. The first is an agricultural sign, which had many similarities to the original intent of the Immanuel sign to Ahaz in Isaiah 7:14. This sign was that Hezekiah was to plant and harvest crops in Jerusalem for three years. Before the end of three years, the LORD would resolve his problem and send the Assyrians home (Isaiah 37:30-32). The second sign was a celestial sign. The LORD would make the shadow go back ten steps on the stairs of Ahaz, effectively reversing time for a little more than three hours. This was to show that God would heal Hezekiah and add 15 years to his life.

Three: Both kings had to respond to the prophetic exhortation for faith. Ahaz remained faithless and fearful (Isaiah 7:2; 7:10-13; 8:5-8). Hezekiah, on the other hand, demonstrated great faith, humbling himself by prayer in the Temple on multiple occasions (Isaiah 37:1; 37:14-20).

Four: God acted according to the response of each king. Though the LORD spared Jerusalem, He sent the Assyrians into Judah because of the lack of faith of Ahaz and the people of Judah, who followed after their king (Isaiah 8:5-8, 7:2). Likewise, the LORD saved Hezekiah and Jerusalem, miraculously slaughtering 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in a night and sending Sennacherib home to be assassinated by his own sons (Isaiah 37:21-29).

Five: God introduced a twist to this otherwise straightforward contrast. Though Ahaz had been faithless, God did extend grace to him by saving Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:7-9) on account of his unconditional promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and especially David (2 Samuel 7:14-21). On the other hand, though Hezekiah had been faithful, and though God did save Hezekiah from the immediate threats surrounding him, God nevertheless found him to be lacking in perfect righteousness. For all his good, Hezekiah was not able to save his city or his people forever. The LORD promised certain exile and castration for Hezekiah’s descendents (Isaiah 39:1-8).

In a paradigmatic way, you might say that Ahaz represents the worst of the worst. He, like Adolph Hitler and Paul Bernardo, has come to represent the evil extreme of fallen humanity. On the other side of the scale, Hezekiah represents the best of the best. He, like the apostle Paul or even Mother Teresa, has come to represent the best that we, as a race of creatures, has to offer. And yet, Ahaz was not so vile that he was out of the reach of God’s grace. Likewise, Hezekiah was not so good that he was able to earn a right standing before God in his own strength, nor was he a sufficient saviour for his people.

Oh the kindness and the severity of God! Ahaz and Hezekiah stand as eternal reminders that no person is beyond the reach of the Gospel and no person is without need of the Gospel. All of us, from one extreme to the other, desperately need a truly righteous king, the Lord Jesus Christ, to save us from our sin.

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