Stuff I Don’t Get: Is Left Right?


We all know this passage from the OT:

It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.
—Deuteronomy 31:8

The NT frames it this way:

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
—Matthew 28:20b

But not as many people know this passage, one that makes for a series of puzzling questions:

And Hezekiah himself stopped the upper water courses of Gihon, and brought it straight down to the west side of the city of David. And Hezekiah was blessed in all his works. But, in regard to the ambassadors of the rulers of Babylon who sent to him to ask about the wonder that was done in the land, God left him in order to try him, to know all that was in his heart. And the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and his goodness, behold, they are written in the vision of Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, and in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel.
—2 Chronicles 32:30-32

So, when this righteous king, one of the few bright lights to sit upon the throne, Hezekiah and the Babylonian Envoysneeded God’s wisdom to know how to deal with Babylonian envoys, God leaves Hezekiah in order to test him?

The Hebrew word for left is pretty strong: ‘ âzab. One of its connotations is to forsake.

Hezekiah was a pillar of virtue. Sin was not the reason God left him at that point.

The passage said that God did this to see what was in Hezekiah’s heart. Didn’t He already know?

If Hezekiah had responded in some odd way, would this have surprised God?

Why test a king who had consistently proven himself good?

This is Babylon Hezekiah’s dealing with, not some podunk nation. Wouldn’t God’s presence and help be essential?

If nothing good can come out of a man apart from God, what’s going on here?

And sure, the Holy Spirit always indwells believers, but did God do this personal test with one of His own just this one time in 2 Chronicles? Or does He do something akin to this “leave in order to test” with believers today?

Nearly all the commentaries I have note that 2 Kings 20:13-21 expands what happens, as Hezekiah shows the envoys everything in his kingdom. Some commentators say that this proves that Hezekiah loved earthly riches and did not value God as much as he should. Or that he did not point the envoys to God by explaining the miraculous retrogression of the sun (Isaiah 38:4-8) or his own deathbed recovery (earlier in Isaiah 38). Yet this is what the Bible says elsewhere about Hezekiah:

In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. And the LORD was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him. He struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.
—2 Kings 18:1-8

So this is a man who doesn’t really love God as he ought? And God left him?

For me, 2 Chronicles 32:31 is one of the oddest verses in the entire Bible. I just can’t make any sense of it. If you can, please clue me in!

24 thoughts on “Stuff I Don’t Get: Is Left Right?

  1. To me, discipline … not triggered by lack but triggered by a father’s love for his son. The testing is for the purpose of development for a son and in this case, for the glorifying of the Father.

    Deu 8.1-10; Heb 5.7-8; 12.1-11

    And separate but related, I love how Scripture reports a man’s life from God’s perspective as a whole. There can be reported “sub-failings” but in summary Scripture records us in history and in eternity as righteous. We, the Church, would do well to report each other the same.

  2. Bob

    I take it as a cautionary tale: that even a godly man can lose his way later in life and get caught up in himself. I think Hezekiah was whole-hearted early in life, but later in life he seems to have slipped.

    Look at 2Ki 20:19. That seems to be an example of selfishness creeping in.

  3. There are many examples in the Old Testament of men who were blessed or not blessed, depending on whether they “inquired of the Lord” (reference the example of King David in 2 Samuel 21:1). The problem with the Gibeonites came about because Joshua accepted their story without going to God for guidance FIRST (Joshua 9:14).

    The fascinating example of Hezekiah is one of several where men of faith were tested as to whether they would rely on their “natural wisdom” to solve a problem or whether they would ask the Lord for divine guidance. When Sennacherib came up to attack King Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:14, 2 Kings 19:14), the godly King asked the Lord for deliverance, and God provided a dramatic deliverance (2 Kings 19:35).

    Each one of us as believers, no matter how godly we are, should ask the Lord for wisdom (Psalm 25:10,12,14) in all of life (see 2 Chronicles 27:6), every day when we awaken, not just “every few years” or “in a crisis”. We will face sad consequences otherwise (Proverbs 21:30-31).

    In the case of Hezekiah, his descendants (e.g. Manasseh in 2 Chronicles 33:10-11 where Hezekiah’s son was carried off to Babylon) were the ones to have consequences for Hezekiah’s arrogance in “showing off” to the envoys from Babylon (2 Kings 19:16-18).

    This is how I take the story, which is a very interesting one.

    • Don,

      “Take everything to God in prayer” is certainly a good lesson that not all of us heed.

      What do you make of the fact that God “left” Hezekiah? Do you think this same leaving occurs in times of testing of believers today?

  4. Would anyone care to engage the issue of God leaving people as part of a test? Does anyone think that this still happens today, or does the New Covenant preclude the possibility?

    • nick gill

      The tempering/testing process is not always one of inquiry. When a drill instructor tests a group of recruits by sending them on a training mission without guidance from an experienced leader, they aren’t trying to find out if the recruits are clueless or not. They’re doing two other very important things, though.

      One, they’re demonstrating (making known – another fair translation of “to know” in 2 Chron 32:30-32) how helpless the recruits are without effective leadership, and

      Two, they’re strengthening (tempering, proving – a fair understanding of “test”) the recruits through adversity, helping them acquire skills and attributes necessary for service and leadership in conflict.

      Both of these ideas fit the Hezekiah narrative, but do they fit the New Covenant? That’s a more challenging question, and I think the answer is Maybe… LOL I think maybe under the New Covenant that Jesus does not withdraw his actual presence, but rather is more than willing to withdraw all sensible aspects of that presence, in order to temper and strengthen our faith.

    • “Would anyone care to engage the issue of God leaving people as part of a test?” Where is the emphasis in this question? That is, as part of a test, would I like to engage the issue of God leaving people? Or, would I like to engage the issue of God leaving people as part of His testing them?

      To either, I think I would not. Because I think there are some foundational issues that seem to need sorting first and as you know, I’m not that smart.

      The first thing I think I want to establish is what does it mean for “God to leave” if I hold to the notion of omnipresence, etc…?

      See now my head hurts. So no, I do not want to engage. 🙂

      • Rick wrote:
        See now my head hurts. So no, I do not want to engage. 🙂

        I’ll quote the Lord here in response:
        Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!—John 1:47b KJV

  5. David

    I think it’s important to read on in the chapter, where God tells Moses: “You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?'”

    It’s a chicken and egg issue. Did God forsake Hezekiah first? Or did God provide Hezekiah with proof of the impossibility of man to succeed outside of the grace of God?

    How we view the story depends greatly upon our state of mind, doesn’t it? If we are steadfast in our belief, then we know that God will never desert us, it is we who desert God. If we are filled with sin, then we cry “My God, My God, why have You deserted me?”

    So is the conundrum of Job next? It falls in the same vein.

  6. Greetings Dan. I would like to respond to your question as to whether God departs the believer today.

    I am provoked to explore the sifting of Peter. What happened there? Where was God during the sifting process? We do know this that Jesus prayed for Peter. And second we do know that Jesus is now forever making intercession before the Father for us today. If God does leave us for a time of testing/sifting, and I believe He does from experience, it is comforting to know that Jesus is praying for me today. So are we truly alone?

    Now I know that I bring up even more questions in regard to testing and sifting. And in this case Satan asked God to sift Peter. But this did come on the heels of Peter’s carnal and prideful declaration of sacrificial devotion to Jesus Christ. Peter’s own prideful mouth exposed what was in his heart. The devil took the bait provoked the Lord to release him upon Peter and the testing came at the hand of the enemy. Now this lines up with Keith’s response.

    Maybe the Lord knows what’s in our hearts, but the test that matters is what we will do with what’s in our hearts …?

  7. Brian Fikkert

    Greetings, In the Lord’s prayer we are instructed to pray “and lead us not into temptation”
    Christ was “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil”
    We know that God is not tempted by sin nor does He tempt man. But He does lead us to a place of testing. I believe that if a Godly response to a situation can not be learned by any other means we are lead to (left to) a place where Satan will tempt us. The result will make us aware of the sinful response that comes from the flesh not yielded to God in that particular area of life.

  8. I agree with Brian’s comment.

    some relevant verses on “testing” are quoted below – (NKJV)

    1) “And they were left, that He might test Israel by them, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the LORD, which He had commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.” (Judges 3:4)

    2) “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, But the LORD tests the hearts” (Proverbs 17:3)

    3) “He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)

    4) “For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds.” (Psalm 7:9)

    5) “The LORD is in His holy temple, The LORD’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.” (Psalm 11:4)

    6) “For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined.” (Psalm 66:10)

    7) “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” (Isaiah 48:10)

    8) “But You, O LORD, know me; You have seen me, And You have tested my heart toward You.” (Jeremiah 12:3)

    9) “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways.” (Jeremiah 17:10)

    10) “that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things” (2 Corinthians 2:9)

    11) “even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

    • Don,

      I most assuredly understand that God tests people. That’s not the question.

      The question is whether, in the midst of that testing, God “leaves” people.

      I would also wonder, as noted in the case of righteous king Hezekiah, why one must continue to endure tests once one’s “track record of excellence” has been so firmly established. In other words, does a time of rest from testing ever come?

      • Jeremy


        I think 2 Chron. 32:31 needs to be looked at a bit more soberly. I wouldn’t over exaggerate the phrase or the range of meaning in “God left him to test him to see all that was in his heart.” The Hebrew word for “left” does not always mean “forsake” or “abandon” nor is there any reason that it has to be interpreted so forcefully here.

        It seems that 32:24-26 may be occurring simultaneously as vv.27-31. If this is the case then the “proud heart” spoken of in vv.25, 26 may be the “heart” that God is observing/testing in v.31. Therefore, when the envoys came to see the king (given his illness and the sign that followed), it may be that it was at the time when he was struggling with pride. The confusion may come in when we read it chronologically instead of simultaneous events.

        In addition, the occasion of the envoys coming to check out Hezekiah’s stuff (wealth and military) seems a bit too tempting for a king to fall into that pride as “look at all my wonderful toys.” I am uncomfortably reminded when I read the accounts of these kings and their wealth of Dt. 17:17 “also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself.” Yet in 2 Chron. 32:27 that is exactly what Hezekiah has done. I think there are nuances here that can’t be ignored. Yes, Hezekiah was a good king over and against the ones before and after him, but–that’s not saying much.

        You say, “Sin is not the reason God left him at this point.” I hesitate with that because the word/motif of “heart” is too close contextually to be dismissed off hand. They are seperated by only three verses (v.26 and v.31).

        • I like Jeremy’s suggestion that “left” doesn’t mean abandoned by God. I’m not an expert in Hebrew or Greek, but couldn’t this particular passage be similar to how Jesus quoted the OT about God hardening people’s hearts and causing them to not hear? Jesus said this in connection with the Parable of the Sower, where He clearly asked those with ears to hear. I think the overall sense is that God’s message was withheld from those whose hearts were not ready for it.

          Perhaps King Hezekiah similarly rejected God’s wisdom, instead wanting to flaunt his success to the Babylonian envoys. So the Bible says that God “left” him.

  9. At a time when so many church folks talk about “God showing up,” it’s interesting to think about God walking away.

    He did divorce faithless Israel (Isaiah 50:1 and Jeremiah 3:8), and He would not answer Job for forty chapters, nor Daniel (10:2) for three weeks.

    And what do we make of God’s answer to Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane? Surely He learned obedience in the hardest possible way. I know James says that the testing of our faith develops perseverance … but I derive much more comfort from the examples of Job, Daniel and Hezekiah. If I hold on to integrity, patience, prayer, faith, and penitent obedience … God is likely to show up at the end of the test. (2 Chronicles 32:25-26)

  10. bob pinto

    Was Jesus any different?

    Christ becomes deeply troubled in Gethsemane and makes the cry from the cross “why have you forsaken me?”

    “Experts” just can’t believe in God’s leaving without it somehow being the fault of those left.

    I have lots of theories that won’t help anybody. Maybe it’s just an issue of trust.

  11. Jeremy

    I think that “experts” look for fault because God doesn’t just leave his servants on a whim without reason. Therefore it is vital to look at the subject who is left to see what the cause may be. God acts consistently according to his nature. Humans on the other hand do not and usually we offend God and are the cause.

    In addition, there was a reason Jesus felt forsaken, because of the sin he bore on the cross and the torture he was experiencing. Do you believe Jesus was forsaken by the Father or just felt that way?

  12. “These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out” (Proverbs 25:1).

    Check out Proverbs 25. I believe these proverbs are connected to this and other times in Hezekiah’s life.

  13. JP

    Interesting discussion. And hi to Brian Fikkert!

    1. The new covenant must be different: “the Holy Spirit is with you, and shall be in you.” There is no indication in the NT that the HS is ever “not in us,” for any reason, once he has entered us. So it can’t be that he “leaves us” in the way Dan is concerned about.
    2. If I stand in the living room and tell my son not to touch the vase, and then go into the kitchen and watch him from there to see what he’ll do, I don’t think I could be said to have “left him” in an objective sense, even though my son might experience it subjectively as my having left him. The Bible frequently conflates objective with subjective descriptions of God: e.g., “God is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent,” but “God repented that he had made man,” etc.
    3. In a related vein, I don’t think God tests people to “see” what is in their heart, as though he doesn’t know. I think he tests people to reveal to them what is in their hearts. “There is nothing hidden which shall not be made known”–not to God, but to beings other than God.
    4. In my experience, and I think this is biblical, one of the facts of being a little Christ is that God will push you to (past) the point of failure. This is not to say that he will permit you to be tempted beyond what you can endure–he says he won’t. What I have in mind is Elijah giving up in the wilderness, or Paul saying, “We were pressed out of measure, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life,” etc. If a person never experiences that failure, they will also never experience the graciousness of God who loves them despite their failure–“without one plea.” It is probably possible in theory to humble oneself sufficiently before God without having to go through that kind of experience, but I can’t think of anybody in the Bible who is said to have done it.
    5. As applied to Hezekiah, this means something like the following: Prior to the test at issue, God told Hezekiah that he was going to die. One possible reply to this theretofore inexplicable news might have been, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” Yet, instead of taking this as “Mission Accomplished” and a ticket home (“… devout men are taken away, while no one understands, For the righteous man is taken away from evil”), Hezekiah clearly wanted to live more. He humbled himself sufficiently that God healed him and gave him 15 more years of life. Nothing wrong with that, and better than many other responses, but it isn’t obvious that this was God’s first choice. In particular, one of the things that we know about those final 15 years is that it was in them that Hezekiah fathered Manasseh (who was 12 when Hezekiah died, 2 Ki. 21), who was an evil king (correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that none of Judah’s righteous kings was able to raise up a righteous king). We also know Hezekiah’s attitude towards the future of Israel, after Isaiah’s message following the test (which pointed to the destruction of Israel and, in particular, to the captivity of his sons): “‘The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good.’ For he thought, ‘Is it not so, if there will be peace and truth in my days?'” Without taking anything away from Hezekiah, I think it is fair to say that that attitude does not exhibit the foresight, anguish, intercession, self-sacrifice, etc. that we associate with, say, David or Paul.
    6. So I draw two conclusions: (a) Human life is sort of like a helium balloon: the higher you rise, the more you expand, and the weaker you become, until you pop. Unless you introduce some outside force (“humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God”), that seems almost like a natural law. (b) Without testing and failure, Hezekiah evidently would not have realized that he loved this life and loved his own life more than God did. In that sense, God did not “leave” him; he simply “left him to his own devices,” which eventually manifested themselves in ways that Hezekiah and the rest of the world could see.
    7. I think there is something about our relationship to God that requires this kind of failure or crushing, among other reasons to establish irrevocably in our hearts that he is God and we are not, despite (or because of) the fact that we are to be like him eventually. So e.g. “it pleased the Lord to bruise him” etc., even though he was perfect. God doesn’t appear to regard the crucifixion as a distasteful necessity, but as an essential passage to loving sonship.

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