Proverbs: Primer for Princes (9): Hezekiah and the Proverbs

Marvin Derksen

Sovereign Truth for a Sovereign

For a casual reader of Proverbs, the appearance of Hezekiah's name on its pages may come as a bit of a surprise. Although his reign as king of Judah was marked by outstanding virtues and even supernatural events, he is not usually thought of as a "literary man." Yet the opening verse of Proverbs 25, "The proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah copied out," reveals a monarch who valued God's Word and sought to have its impact mark his own life and restore unity among God's people.

But why was Hezekiah interested in Solomon's proverbs? No doubt at the very heart of the "copying project" was the recognition of his own need. Kings need wisdom to govern - and Hezekiah's reign was no exception. When he came to the throne, the condition of things in Israel was appalling. The Temple doors had been closed by Ahaz and idolatrous altars set up in "every corner of Jerusalem." It was a difficult time for the 25-year-old monarch. Hezekiah wisely turned to the Word of God and to the experience and writings of Solomon who himself had been taught divine wisdom from God. Interestingly, Hezekiah's resource for his pressing need is the same resource as ours today. The changeless truth of God's Word still impacts the changing times in which we live.

The Recognition of Inspiration

An obvious question concerns Hezekiah's selection of the proverbs to be copied. Solomon was said to have written 3,000 proverbs (1 Kings 4:32), only a fraction of which are in the canon of Scriptures. Of these, Hezekiah singled out 137. Why did he pick these and not others? Is it possible that the spiritual yearnings developed in his heart during his younger years amidst the godlessness around him found an answer in these inspired proverbs? No doubt the Holy Spirit guided and impressed him with relevant truth. He then collated these "unclaimed treasures," using them to govern his kingdom. They became "alive" to him as God's Word should be to us today. This "alive" quality is shared by all the Scriptures. Hebrews 4:12 teaches that the "Word of God is quick (living) and powerful." Peter writes that the incorruptible seed of "the Word of God liveth and abideth forever" (1 Peter 1:23). This "alive" factor is also evident in their impact and relevancy, not only for Hezekiah but for every age of testimony. The moral and spiritual laws and principles are timeless and the proverbs allow us to breath "heaven's air" in a defiling age.

The Recording of Truth

Hezekiah's involvement in the editing and formation of the written Scriptures is most interesting. He not only recognized their "inspired quality" but had them recorded with the other inspired proverbs. This project was certainly more than an "exercise in penmanship" or an attempt to keep his scribes busy! Proverbs 25:1 makes it clear that these proverbs were "copied," that is from some other book or scroll and thus were not written from memory. The value of a "written record" or "hard copy" as we call it, is easily discerned. Editorial selection would highlight truths and give them spiritual prominence. Perhaps he was seeking to carry out the exhortation given by Moses in Deuteronomy 6:6-9; "And these words ... shall be in thine heart.... and thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house and on thy gate." God's recorded Word would be more easily remembered and thereby become an integral part of spiritual restoration. The revival that marked Hezekiah's reign included both spiritual and national prosperity but also was accompanied by renewed literary activity. Although the Canon is now complete, there is great profit for us today in following Hezekiah's example. Chapters written out in long-hand or verses highlighted on file cards will assist memorization and help to preserve God's Word in our hearts.

The Relevance of the Scriptures

Perhaps the greatest significance of Hezekiah's choice of proverbs is reflected in the way that these truths addressed his circumstances. Many of them speak of ways in which a kingdom is preserved and prolonged. It was during his reign that Jerusalem experienced the siege of Assyria. Hezekiah's reign of 30 years falls into 2 periods of 15 years each and it is noteworthy to look at the issues which marked the beginning of each period in the light of the proverbs which he selected.

1) CONCERNS AND CONVICTIONS @ 25

The opening proverb (25:2) is significant for it reveals the youthful king's desire and passion to know the wisdom of God. "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing but the honor of kings is to search out a matter." One of the final selections emphasizes the omnipotent sovereignty of God. "Many seek the ruler's favor but every man's judgment cometh from the Lord" (29:26). Judah's kingdom included "evil men that understood not judgment ... but they that seek the Lord understand all things" (28:5).

Another feature of Hezekiah's early days was his desire to cleanse the land of idolatry and re-establish God's rights over the nation. Within just a matter of days, he cleansed the Temple, celebrated the Passover, and collected the tithes for the Lord (2 Chronicles 29-31). In view of this sweeping purification, the thrust of Proverbs 25:4-5 must have had a tremendous impact. "Take away the dross from the silver and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer. Take away the wicked from before the king and his throne shall be established in righteousness."

But Hezekiah's rule was also established by a deep desire for justice, integrity, and godly administration. Many of his 137 proverbs address these virtues. Consider the following: humility (Proverbs 25:6-7, 27; 27:2; 29:23), proper speech and response (25:11-12; 26:4-5), the corrupting danger of riches (28:6,11,22), self-examination (25:28; 27:23-27), the value of counsel (27:5-6, 9,17), and the blessing of compassionate judgment (29:14).

2) CRISIS AND CONSTERNATION @ 39

Hezekiah's "mid-reign crisis" was three-fold. At 39 years of age, he faced the invasion by the Assyrians, his own personal illness and predicted death, and finally the visit of the Babylonians. The Assyrian siege was an especially critical time, and for this, the Scriptures proved to be a most effective garrison. 2 Chronicles 32 gives the details of the insidious attack. Instead of launching an initial military assault, the Assyrians focused on trying to undermine the morale of the people. They cast doubt on Hezekiah's convictions and then claimed divine authority for their mission. Next, they suggested an attractive alternative, and when all these tactics failed, they railed against the God of heaven. At this moment of crisis, Hezekiah turned to God and His Word for guidance and strength.

He moved with careful response - "Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof" (25:8), along with insightful action - "scornful men bring a city into a snare but wise men turn away wrath" (29:8). Hezekiah refused to "hearken to lies" (29:12) for he knew that when "the wicked are multiplied, transgression increases" (29:16). The ultimate attack involved the ridiculing of Hezekiah's God, but the king was convinced that "the fear of man bringeth a snare but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe" (set on high) (29:25). His confidence in the reliability of God brought both deliverance and reward, for God's promise was that "whoso walketh wisely . . . he shall be delivered" (28:26) and "whoso walketh uprightly shall be saved" (28:18).

Has anything changed in our day? Centuries have passed since Hezekiah's reign, but the resource of the Scriptures in the midst of overwhelming issues resulted in a fruitful and cleansing revival. As the selected proverbs taught, "He that putteth his trust in the Lord shall be made fat. He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool" (28:25-26). May we know and experience more of the "fatness" and blessing that come from following God's Word implicitly!

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