A friend recently posted an intriguing question online: if you did not need a paycheck, what would you do differently? How many of us work a job merely for the paycheck? If we each had enough money to last us the rest of our lives, we might do something different. As soon as I saw the question I knew my answer: nothing would change. I would continue to pour myself into the work God has given me to do, with no change. Well. If I had that kind of money, one thing would change: I’d have a brand new Cannondale SystemSix Hi-MOD carbon fiber bike with a SRAM Red eTap AXS groupset. In terms of my actual work, though, nothing would change. There’s a related question that’s a little harder for me to answer: if you knew how much time you had left, what would you change? I don’t mean knowing the actual date of your death, but if you knew the year, would you live differently in the time you have left? There was a man who did, and his life is worth a closer look.
Hezekiah was 25 years old when he became king of Judah. It was not a great time in Judah’s history. The northern kingdom of Israel had been conquered by Assyria, and the people taken into exile—never to return. Though God had warned the people through various prophets, we read in 2 Kings 17:
But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God.2 Kings 17:14 ESV
Because of their refusal to repent and believe in the Lord, God cast them out of the land and they would never return. Judah, we’re told, wasn’t far behind. They embraced the idolatry of the northern kingdom. Then Hezekiah became king. We’re told in 2 Kings 18 that Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He removed the high places where the people sacrificed. He cut down the Asherah that Judah had been worshiping. He even destroyed the bronze serpent that Moses had made in the wilderness because Judah had begun worshiping it and offering sacrifices to it. Fourteen years after he became king, however, Assyria showed up with a powerful army.
Rather than trust the Lord for victory, Hezekiah offered to pay tribute—a heavy tax—to Sennacherib, king of Assyria. This was in response to him conquering multiple cities of Judah. He raided the temple and the city of all the silver he could find, and even stripped the gold from the doors of the temple in order to pay off Sennacherib. Still, Sennacherib marched on Jerusalem. His emissary—the Rabshakeh—stood outside the walls of Jerusalem and spoke loudly in Hebrew, mocking the God of Israel. He told the men on the walls of all the other nations who claimed their gods could stop the Assyrian army. Every one of them fell. Not one of those gods could withstand the mighty Assyrian army, so he tells the men of Judah that there is no reason for them to think their God is any different. Then Hezekiah prayed.
And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said: “O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.”2 Kings 19:15–19 ESV
Shortly after this the prophet Isaiah showed up to inform Hezekiah that God had heard his prayer. Sennacherib will not conquer Jerusalem. He says not a single arrow from the Assyrian army will come into the city. Not a single soldier will enter its walls. What is really striking to me is the sign that Isaiah tells him will prove to Hezekiah that the Lord will do this.
And this shall be the sign for you: this year eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs of the same. Then in the third year sow and reap and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit.2 Kings 19:29 ESV
Isaiah says the sign that God will defeat the Assyrian army is this: Judah will eat whatever grains grew from last year’s harvest. During a harvest many grains would fall to the soil and be left. Even if they did not plant any grain, some of these kernels would grow the following year. They will eat the scraps again the second year. Finally, in the third year they will plant and harvest a full crop. What kind of sign is that!? The Assyrian army is surrounding the city right now and the proof that God will defeat them is that in three years they will harvest a crop? Like Hezekiah, we often want something a little more immediate.
When Hezekiah woke up in the morning he received the news that 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were dead. The angel of the Lord struck them down overnight, while Hezekiah was sleeping. Sennacherib took whatever remained of his army and went back to Nineveh. This is where you’d think the story was over. Incredible victory, right? In chapter 20 we’re told that Hezekiah became sick and was dying. Isaiah came to him and told him to get his house in order. He must prepare his kingdom and his household for life without him. Hezekiah prayed. What else could he do? In response to this God instructs Isaiah to tell him he would give Hezekiah fifteen years. He would live for another fifteen years.
The king of Babylon heard that Hezekiah had been sick so he sent a messenger to him with a gift. Assyria was the dominant superpower while Babylon was the up and coming superpower. Hezekiah was so impressed with himself, with the idea that the king of Babylon wanted to curry favor with him, that he began to show off. He showed the messengers his treasure house with its gold and silver and spices. All kinds of precious oils. He showed him his armory—his weapons of war. Surely Babylon was looking to Judah as an ally! Once again the prophet Isaiah came to him with a word from the Lord. This time it was not good. God said that Babylon would come and take all of it. Every last weapon, every last ounce of gold and silver. All of it. Even some of Hezekiah’s sons would be taken to Babylon. This was coming, he says. It was in the future. Here’s Hezekiah’s response:
Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?”2 Kings 20:19 ESV
Hezekiah is not bothered by the news that Babylon would one day march on Jerusalem and raid the temple and the royal treasury and even take into captivity some of his own descendants. Can you imagine? God miraculously spares Jerusalem by single-handedly wiping out the mighty Assyrian army. Then God miraculously spares Hezekiah’s life after telling him to set his house in order, promising him another fifteen years of life. When he hears that his kingdom will be destroyed, he’s not bothered by it because it won’t happen during those fifteen years. In chapter 21 we read this chilling words:
Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “In Jerusalem will I put my name.”2 Kings 20:21–21:4 ESV
Manasseh would reign over Judah 55 years. He did all the evil that led to Israel’s fall and destruction. He even put altars for false gods in the temple Solomon built. It was in response to Manasseh‘s sin that God declared he would destroy Judah as well. It was only a matter of time before Babylon would come and destroy the city and the temple and take its people into exile, because of the evil Manasseh did.
Did you catch how old he was when he became king? He was twelve years old. He was Hezekiah’s son. When Hezekiah died, Manasseh was only twelve, yet he became king. Did you catch that? God destroys Assyria. Hezekiah becomes sick and was dying so he prayed and God promised to spare him and give him fifteen years. Three years later Manasseh was born. Hezekiah had twelve years with his son who would be king. What did he do with that time? I’m not sure, but he did not set his house in order as God had instructed him. He did not spend those twelve years with Manasseh preparing him to be king by teaching him to love the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul. He did not teach Manasseh the law of Moses. He did not teach Manasseh to worship the Lord and him only. He merely enjoyed the peace and security in his days.
We can spend so much time living that we completely forget why we’re living. The truth is none of us knows how much time we have, but we know this: our time is limited. Some may have a few years while others may have a few decades. Regardless, hear God’s word to Hezekiah: “Set your house in order.” This may include making sure you have a will, but it’s so much more than that. Make sure you are living every moment for the reason you have life. Strive to live out Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV
Whether you’re single or married, whether you have children or not, whether you are just beginning your career or it’s all but wrapped up, whether you enjoy your current job or you’d change it if you didn’t need a paycheck, your life has a purpose. That purpose is to know God and to reflect his glory to those around you.
It would be really easy to judge Hezekiah for wasting those fifteen years he was given. The reality is that he was given a total of 54 years to live for the Lord. While he did some great things—2 Kings says he did what was right in the sight of the Lord—the reality is he did the big things right. Where he failed was the little things God gave him to do, things like raising his son to be a wise and righteous king.
We must live our lives in full recognition that every moment of every day is given by God to us for his glory. Many of us work jobs that pay the bills. We haven’t bought into the idea of following our passions. I heard a guy say the other day that only rich people can truly follow their passions, for only they have the resources to do so! We work in order to meet our obligations, to provide for ourselves, for our families, for those in need. And some of us really do love the work we have. None of us has been given the task of raising up the next king, but the task we have been given is no less important. We must live our lives today in light of those who come tomorrow, living for the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Whatever your “job” is, whether you punch a time clock or draw a salary or earn a commission, whether you get up in the morning to piles of laundry and dirty diapers and a sink full of dishes that seemed to multiply over night, whether you have lots of free time after your career is over or you cannot wait for your next vacation, God has given you a task to do, and that task is actually greater than that of a king. That task is to reflect the glory of the King of kings by living a life that honors him in whatever life situation you find yourself.
You and I do not know how much time we have left, so let’s do this: let’s set our houses in order. Let’s live for Jesus with whatever time we do have. We may not know the moment of our final breath, but we can know that every breath between now and then will be spent living for the Lord.