Fear of Consequences Motivates Obedience (2 Chronicles 29-31)

Fear is a normal human emotion designed by God to alert us to danger so we will take action against it. Most teaching about fear considers it bad and always sinful. But fear is a gift. Did you know that God uses a healthy fear of consequences to motivate us to obedience? The action we take to the threat of consequences can result in sinful behavior or to obedience and greater trust of our great God.  In this article, we will see how God uses fear to motivate us to obedience and the unstoppable power of God’s forgiveness when we return to Him as Lord of our lives. Hezekiah is our example.

God’s people were His children. And, like any good parent, God demonstrated His love for his children over and over again—teaching them, providing for them,  protecting them, and giving them guidance. Yet, the children rebelled again and again. Finally, the ones living in the Northern Kingdom called Israel were attacked by Assyria and taken away into captivity. The repercussions of that horrific event reverberated throughout the southern kingdom of Judah. And, the fear of that happening to them motivated them to finally obey their father God—under the leadership of their godly king, Hezekiah.  

Hezekiah was 25 years old when he became king. His father Ahaz was very wicked. When you trace back the chronology, Ahaz must have been only 12-15 when Hezekiah was born. A teen father. Immature. Yet, Hezekiah’s mother was the daughter of a very godly man (2 Chronicles 29:1) so Hezekiah’s mother was likely a godly woman. It matters who your mama is! Thankfully, Hezekiah chose to follow his maternal side rather than his paternal influence. He was a true son of David (2 Chronicles 29:2). Hezekiah’s first priority was to repair and reopen the Temple (ravaged and shuttered  by his father). So, he brought together those responsible for maintaining and operating the Temple and the worship of God—the priests and Levites (verse 4-5). In his challenge to them, Hezekiah rightly held accountable the previous generation of leaders and people for being unfaithful to God, which led to Israel’s captivity (verses 6, 9). It was time for a fresh start, and he needed all the religious leaders onboard for this, reminding them of their purpose. “My sons, do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before Him (verse 11).” The priests and Levites purified themselves and jumped into the task. It took 16 days to clean the filth from the Temple (verse 17). 16 days! Must have been a total wreck! Hezekiah then called together all the local leaders and publicly confessed the sins of the nation, just like on the Day of Atonement. His message to them was, “We cleaned the Temple, so now let us get ourselves clean before God.” This was followed by worship through offerings, singing, band playing, reading of the Psalms and hearts filled with gladness (verses 27-31). What a glorious day! The leadership of Judah was going in the right direction at last!

In 2 Chronicles 30, Hezekiah invited all the people of the land including those Jews left behind in the northern kingdom to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover (verses 1-5). An attempt to unite Israel into one nation again after 215 years of separation. His letter of appeal said, “People of Israel, return to the Lord…that He may return to you who are left, who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria…If you return to the Lord, then your brothers and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will come back to this land, for the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn His face from you if you return to Him (verse 6, 9).” Hezekiah knew the character of God. The captives still belonged to God, who still loved them. You would expect an overwhelmingly positive response to that, right? Well… Some of the people in the north “scorned and ridiculed” the couriers (verse 10). They didn’t want God’s compassion. That’s foolishness. Others “humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem (verse 11).” That’s repentance.

And, God gave the people of Judah “unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered following the word of the Lord (verse 12).” As a group, they cleaned Jerusalem of its idolatrous filth that King Ahaz had done to it. Hezekiah prayed for God’s grace upon the people who really didn’t remember how to purify themselves. “‘May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God…even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.’ And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people (verse18-20).” That’s grace. That’s what God does. We can never really clean ourselves. God cleanses the heart of faith. There was much rejoicing that day, “including the aliens who had come from Israel and those who lived in Judah (verse 25).” That’s Gentiles! Gentiles joined the assembly of God’s people and were accepted by God that day by faith. Foreshadowing of the future. Thank you, God!

So, what was the difference this time compared to previous attempts to bring the people back to God? Their response. The people responded with obedience to God, not just compliance to the king’s commands. This is what is recorded in 2 Chronicles 31:1, “When all this had ended, the Israelites who were there went out to the towns of Judah, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. They destroyed the high places and the altars throughout Judah and Benjamin [southern kingdom] and in Ephraim and Manasseh [northern kingdom].” The response to grace was obedience. The people destroyed the idolatrous worship centers that had led them astray. Reminds me of the Ephesian Christians who created a bonfire with all their sorcery books and tools (Acts 19). Peeling back the layers, why were the people so willing to do this? Fear. Fear of the consequences of continuing their wicked lifestyle. The threat of captivity. They knew what happened to the 10 tribes of Israel through the brutality of Assyria and the dragging off of hundreds of thousands of people to who-knows-where as slaves. That was the motivation. God didn’t want to do that. He sent prophet after prophet to woo His people back to Him. They wouldn’t pay attention. They spurned His grace and His love and His protection. But, His love didn’t end… 

God gave the people a leader. Hezekiah did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord. In everything he did for the Temple and for restoring God’s law in the land, “he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered (2 Chronicles 31:20).” And the nation prospered so people had abundance to bring as offerings to the Lord (verses 9-10).

We can all learn wisdom from watching the mistakes of others and choosing not to do that! It’s much better to approach life God’s way. In this case, a healthy fear of consequences can motivate selfish people to follow God instead.

Read or listen to the “Unstoppable Power of God’s Forgiveness” about Hezekiah’s choices to follow God and do what is right in 2 Chronicles 29-33.

More Resources:

Reboot Renew Rejoice Bible Study of 1 & 2 Chronicles (download pdf)

Melanie Newton is the founder of Joyful Walk Ministries, an online ministry that helps women learn to study the Bible for themselves and grow their Bible-teaching skills to lead others on a joyful walk with Jesus. Melanie has written many Bible study guides (available on Bible.org and her website) and presented insightful messages to large groups of women. All of her BIble Studies are available as books on Amazon.com. Melanie is wife to Ron Newton (“Integrity at Work” ministry), loves to be outside in her garden, and enjoys her yearly fix of boiled crawfish.

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