“God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.” (NIV)
“God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him and to see what was really in his heart.” (NLT)
“God left him on his own to see what he would do; he wanted to test his heart.” (The Message)
In Part 1 I gave a brief backstory of King Hezekiah and talked about how God kills us to bless us. Now I propose that sometimes God leaves us to test us.
God leaves us to test us…
In contrast to certain promises the verse above has to be one of the Bible’s most puzzling passages. I included several translations of it in case you wondered if one or the other misrepresents the original language. Whatever version you use, it says the same thing – God “left” Hezekiah for the purpose of “testing” him.
I admit there’s no wisdom in founding a theological premise on one verse in the Bible. Though there exists a trove of references to God testing us, for all I know this is the only instance that God intentionally “left” one of his followers in order to x-ray his heart.
God “leaving” the king sounds a bit like Peter’s warning that God “resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Given the Mariana Trench deep pride in my own heart, that’s one of the Bible’s scariest verses to me. I know that for me, the last thing I need is for God to “resist” me. I have a hard enough time as it is without him looking the other way when I come looking for his help!
Since we’re so familiar with his promise to “never leave us or forsake us,” it’s clear that these are figures of speech and might well not mean exactly how they sound to our human ears. The statement that he “left him” is a Hebraic expression to communicate the way God dealt with Hezekiah that day. Since, as we know that God can’t be restricted to one space or restricted from another, this can’t be taken to express some spatial construct any more than when he’s said to be “close” to the brokenhearted. He’s never physically close by or far away since, in the strictest sense, he’s everywhere always.
However, just because it’s not particularly literal doesn’t mean that it means nothing in particular. It must mean something, and I don’t think it means that he was giving up on the Hezekiah.
- Maybe it means that he wouldn’t stand in the middle of the road if Hezekiah wanted to go his own way. In fact, he stepped aside and granted the pleading Hezekiah a fifteen-year overtime.
- Possibly it means that instead of shouting constant warnings, he would remain silent for a while in order to see which way the king would go on his own initiative.
- Could he have been distancing himself from him in the sense that he didn’t answer his prayers as readily as he had in the past?
- Maybe it was like a parent teaching her child to walk, withholding the constant and immediate support she had previously provided when her toddler tripped and fell.
When I was teaching my son how to ride a bike. The day came when the training wheels were gone and I let him discover his own balance apart from my hold on the back of the seat. Frankly, I was probably more scared than he was! I didn’t want him to get hurt but I knew it was a distinct possibility that he would – and he did! Evidently we hadn’t sufficiently gone over the proper use of coaster brakes and, after one brief moment of glory, he smashed headlong into the church van in the parking lot! No worries; it wasn’t our lot or our church van. We had used the Baptist Church lot across the street. Obviously can’t trust those Baptists!
Any other takes on this verse? I’d love to hear them…
Samson was another guy about whom it was said that the Lord “left him” (Judges 16:20). In his case, the most horrific part was that he hadn’t realized that God was gone. The only thing worse than God “leaving” us is when we’re too wrapped up in ourselves to notice it!
The test was about knowing “what was in Hezekiah’s heart.” Obviously, the heart scan was for Hezekiah’s sake not God’s. God already knew what was in his heart or he wouldn’t have “left him” to begin with. God always knows our insides better than we do and doesn’t need test results to confirm his suspicions. Apparently, he wanted to bring the contents of Hezekiah’s heart to the surface. He just wants us to see what he sees so we’ll take the medicine he prescribes.
If he must leave me to my own devices in order to unearth pride and prevent further damage to myself, to others, and to the glory of God, then so be it. I just hope that when he “leaves” me he won’t go very far away or for any great length of time! I hope I can decipher results of the scan and take any necessary repentant actions before it’s too late.
I wonder if this method of testing is all that rare after all. Is it possible that, when he deems it necessary, he more routinely “leaves” us than we realize? Maybe he uses this technique with some degree of regularity to induce his followers back on track. Hmmm?
I don’t get from this story that the withdrawal of God’s presence from Hezekiah was any sort of permanent arrangement. My guess is that he used it as a temporary measure to get him back where he belonged. Even when I flunk tests the first time, he usually gives me a “make-up test” that, with a renewed spirit of humble repentance, I have an opportunity to erase my former failure and go on to pass the next test, if not with flying colors, at least with a better score than before.
So, what about Hezekiah, did he pass the test? We’re not actually told. This is one of those Bible stories that doesn’t resolve itself with a happy or even an unhappy ending. In the same way, many of Jesus’ parables leave us hanging, so we’re inspired to insert ourselves into the story. If you can see yourself in this story, I propose one possible practical takeaway.
In the latter season of his life “Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him.” The scan of his heart showed up a cancerous tumor of conceit. Though, in his youth, he’d walked quite humbly with God, after he’d acquired astronomical power and wealth he developed a serious pride problem. C.S. Lewis called pride “the complete anti-God state of mind.”
Since God is not inclined to share his chair with anyone, I wonder if most of these deliberate divine withdrawals are aimed like lasers at the tumors of pride in our hearts. Tests such as these have exposed great numbers of these malignancies in me. I confess that many of them that the Spirit has lasered in the past keep coming back! Humble me, Lord, but be gentle!
Those of us who are closer to the finish line than to the starting blocks have undoubtedly experienced great things from God and have even done a few good things for God. It’s all too easy to take pride in our experiences and accomplishments as though we have somehow earned his approval.
Pride is not just the bane of youth, but can be an insidious and relentless foe of both young and old.
There is a brand of hubris common among the aged that says, “I’ve done my great things. I did my bit. I owe nothing to God or anyone else. Now I deserve to retire on the merits of my years of good behavior.” The young says, “I can do it all!” while the old says, “I’ve done it all!” The former leads to impetuosity and the latter to apathy.
If God seems more “distant” to you lately, scan your heart, and ask the Spirit to expose and irradiate any tumors of conceit he might find there.
Regardless of how near we are to the end of our race, if we want to finish well, we have to resist the notion that we have something to boast about except in the cross! Paul wrote, “Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died” (Galatians 6:14 NLT).
To us, the world should be a lifeless and rotting thing, unworthy of our fascination. It makes no sense to try to revive what God has put to death! And we must view ourselves as dead – dead to the world and its ways. It’s a good thing if the world looks at us and says, “Those Christians are dead to us. They’re gone and no longer have room in our hearts. There’s no more reason to try to work our magic on them. They won’t give in, they’re insensitive to our temptings!”
If God temporarily “leaves” us in order to test us, it’s only the cross that can save us. It’s only through that cross that we can pass the test! Like Hezekiah, we don’t wish to die! Our selfish self still possesses quite a stubborn survival instinct. That self has no attraction to God’s demand that we die in order to live. So, like the king, we tend to pray for extensions, for extra credit assignments that eliminate the need for such a drastic measure as crucifixion. If we don’t get the reprieve we’re hoping for, we shrewdly sneak our self-centered selves off the altar and invent our own cross-less religion, one where we demand from God what we want when we want it and we don’t have to die to get it.
That brand of life is more manufactured than resurrected. It’s more human than divine, more earthly than heavenly, more sweaty than spiritual.