There’s a story in the Hebrew scriptures about a king named Hezekiah, who ruled over the southern kingdom of Judah in parts of the eighth and seventh centuries BCE. Hezekiah was one of the rare kings of whom this could be said: “He did what was right in the sight of the Lord just as his ancestor David had done.”
The story, from 2 Kings 20, goes like this: Hezekiah had been ill–gravely ill–and was at the point of death. A prophet, Isaiah, comes to him with these grim words, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.” Pretty matter of fact, huh? No room for a Lloyd Christmas, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.” Just the stark reality that Hezekiah’s time is waning.
In response to this news Hezekiah did what most people would do: he wept and he prayed. In response, God reversed course. Not only would Hezekiah not die, but God would add fifteen years to his life, and protect his kingdom from the Assyrian empire, the dominant force in the region. How could he be assured of this, Hezekiah asked. A fair question. The sun would retreat ten intervals in the sky (I know what you’re thinking, and while it isn’t the point of this post, we should give the writer a break here. It’s not been that long since we assumed we lived in a geo-centric universe).
It’s an interesting story, but I tell you this story because I really want to tell you the story that follows it. After Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery, envoys from the burgeoning Babylonian empire arrive with a gift. Hezekiah welcomes them enthusiastically, and gives them the grand tour. He shows them everything: “…all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses; there was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.”
When they leave Isaiah shows up and inquires about the envoy.
Who are they? Where are they from? What did Hezekiah show them?
Hezekiah’s responded, ““They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”
A flabbergasted Isaiah responded with bitter news: “Hear the word of the Lord: Days are coming when all that is in your house, and that which your ancestors have stored up until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left, says the Lord. Some of your own sons who are born to you shall be taken away; they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
Clearly, this is bad news. The Davidic dynasty–that was supposed to last forever–is on borrowed time. Hezekiah’s hubris, his need to flaunt his wealth to impress the Babylonians, would only inspire them to conquer. The royal heirs, i.e. Hezekiah’s own descendants, would be exiled to the courts of Babylon.
How would you respond to such news? Rend your garments? Sit in sackcloth and covered in ashes? Beg God for a do over?
“Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, ‘The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.”
Wait. Hezekiah says this is “good”? How can he say that? How can he even begin to frame this as “good”?
The text continues…
“For he thought, ‘Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?’”
The first time I read those words, I was stunned. Here is Hezekiah, after just hearing the news that his own children will pay the price for his hubris, and he’s totally fine with it. His life won’t be interrupted. His experience will be good, so he’s okay with kicking the can of consequence down the road to his kids and grandkids.
And that’s exactly what happened. Around a hundred years after Hezekiah’s death his descendant Zedekiah, the final Davidic king, was captured by the Babylonians. He was bound and his eyes were gouged out. The final scene he witnessed before losing sight was the slaughter of his sons, i.e. the future of the Davidic dynasty. He was then taken into exile in Babylon.
What a story, right? I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. How can someone be so egotistic, so self absorbed that they are willing to leverage the well being of future generations to have ease in their own time.
But this isn’t just a story about there and then, is it? This is about here and now. We are currently making decisions–or failing to make decisions–that are directly impacting the future of our children and grandchildren.
We are failing to act on climate change, while the effects of a warming planet are becoming rapidly obvious. Why–when the overwhelming, vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is 1) definitely happening and 2) that humans play a significant role in it–aren’t we sounding the alarm and acting decisively? Because the same politicians who question the science and deny climate change are being funded by special interest groups who depend on the economy staying the way it is. We are placing the consequences of our actions onto our children to maintain our wealth and power. For more on climate change visit: NASA
We are failing to act on commonsense gun reform. From January to April of this year there were more than one hundred mass shootings in ninety days. It is such a common occurrence that we no longer feel the shock of such a tragedy. Hearing about another shooting is just part of the news cycle. While we are quick to give thoughts and prayers, we are sloth-like when it comes to actually doing something to change this culture of violence in our country. We are not helpless. There are things that can actually be done. So, why aren’t we doing them? For the same reason we won’t act on climate change. Special interests (looking at you NRA) are funding politicians, who would rather be reelected than actually do something courageous. And we keep reelecting them. Our children are not safe. Not at school, not at the mall, not at the movies, not in a house of worship. We don’t have to accept that reality. We can change it.
We are failing to act forcefully in our condemnation of white supremacy and racism. Nazis marching in American streets. White supremacists emboldened by a lack of clear leadership. Friends, there are not good people on both sides. Period. White supremacy is America’s original sin, and we must repent. By repent I don’t mean ‘feel bad about it’, I mean dismantling the structures in our society that still perpetuate inequality. We can do this. We can make the world a more just and equitable place.
There are more areas that need attention (LGBTQ+ equality, the growing gap between rich and poor, health care, etc.) but the point is that we must muster the courage to set our house in order. These are our issues to sort, not our children’s. We must respond to these situations and issues in ways that create a world that is a just, generous, and equitable place for future generations.
We must stop passing the buck. We must learn to be grownups and talk to and with one another, not at one another. We must engage those who see things differently and seek, together, to do the hard work that will leave the world our children inherit better than we found it.
Otherwise, we will fail to learn the lesson of Hezekiah, and our children will pay the price.