A Divided Nation
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence after separation from Malaysia, I can’t help recalling the tragic end of the two Kingdoms of Israel. After King Solomon’s reign, Israel was separated into two Kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom with 10 tribes was known as Israel, and Judah together with Benjamin became the Southern Kingdom, called Judah. The kings of Northern Kingdom were all bad, who abandoned God, worshipped 2 golden calves and other pagan gods. Judah had Jerusalem as its city and the Temple to worship God. But only some of the 20 kings in Judah were good and faithful to God.
Only one king, Hezekiah received a high commendation in the Bible. Because “Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.”(2 Kings 18:5-6). The reason for this was that “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done.” (2 Kings 18:3). Right from the beginning of his reign, even though he was only 25 years old, he removed and destroyed all idols set up by his father King Ahaz. He turned Judah back to worship God. Judah prospered and became strong. The Philistines, a constant menacing enemy was defeated. In the 7th year of his reign, the Assyrians invaded the larger and stronger Northern Kingdom. Israel was conquered, made desolate and its people captured and driven into exile, because of its persistent idolatry and unfaithfulness to God.
The Enemy and God’s Miracle
The Assyrians turned against Judah with an overwhelming military might and demanded Judah’s total submission. In weakness and fear, Hezekiah gave the Assyrian king a large amount of gold and silver, including the gold door handles from the Temple, as a peace offering. But King Sennacherib was not satisfied and his army general continued to harass Judah with threats of total defeat and destruction because Judah had said “We trust in the LORD our God”. God gave Hezekiah and Judah this message – “Isaiah said to them ’Tell your master, this is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard — those words with which the underlings of the King of Assyria have blasphemed Me”. (2 Kings 19:6) In the night, the angel of the LORD struck down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers and delivered Judah. God saved Judah by a miracle when Hezekiah trusted God.
Illness and God’s Miracle
Hezekiah became mortally ill and was told by Isaiah that he would die and not live. He wept bitterly and beseeched God to remember the good he had done in His sight. God answered him through Isaiah with this promise, “I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David”. (2 Kings 20:6) God confirmed his promise by visibly making the shadow go backwards 10 steps as a sign that Hezekiah had requested.
Fame and Fortune
After Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery from the mortal illness, God gave him fame and immense wealth and military strength. Hezekiah’s fame and Judah’s fortune became known far and wide and reached the rulers of Babylon, a new rising power far away. They sent envoys to him to inquire of the “wonder that had happened in the land.” Hezekiah, overwhelmed by the complements and gifts presented to him, gave them a grand show of all his treasuries and every riches in his dominion. Nothing was withheld from the visitors’ eyes.
Apparently, Hezekiah omitted to mention the wonder, the source and the origin of it all and his miraculous healing. On this matter the Chronicles has this to say about him: “But Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore the LORD’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem.”(2 Chronicles 32:25) Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart and God’s wrath did not come during his reign. In the matter of the Babylonian envoys’ visit, the Chronicles said, “But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.”(2 Chronicles 32:31) Nevertheless his pride and Judah’s success eventually led to its demise in the hand of the Babylonian Empire. His successors were bad kings, except Josiah, who did what Hezekiah did when young. Even that did not remove the wrath of God for their unfaithfulness in worshipping other gods. Jerusalem and the Temple were sacked and burnt by Babylonian invaders and the people were captured and taken into exile just like the Northern Kingdom Israel, at the end of King Zedekiah’s reign.
Singapore and the World
As we celebrated the golden anniversary of Singapore, which in every sense was a mere city state that could not have been a nation, but it has become a prosperous and respected nation. Insurmountable divides of culture, religion and ethnicity between the people have been bridged. A resourceless tiny island has become resourceful in many ways. As Singaporeans, is there pride or gratitude to God in our hearts? Even as we look back into PSPC’s long history, what should be our attitude, pride or gratitude to God in our hearts?
How Then Shall We Live?
As we look back into our lives, from where we were to where we are today, our attitude should be humility and gratitude to God in our hearts. The apostle John reminded us with these words:
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything in the world--the craving of sinful man, the lust of the eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does--comes not from the Father but from the world.”(1John 2:15-16)