One of the interesting things in this passage was that at a time when there were probably still hard feelings between Israel and Judah, Hezekiah reached out to the remnant that remained in the northern kingdom after the Assyrians had sent most of them into exile.
And basically, Hezekiah told them, “We, like you, have turned our backs on God and have paid the price for it. Now we’re turning back to God. Won’t you join us? Won’t you come back with us?”
As I look at this passage, I think there are several things we can learn when calling people to repentance.
One is that we need a heart of forgiveness and compassion even for those who have hurt us. The Israelites of the northern kingdom had joined forces with Aram, and had caused much trouble for the people of Judah during the time of Hezekiah’s father Ahaz (Isaiah 7). But when Israel fell to Assyria, Hezekiah reached out with compassion, begging them to return to the Lord. We need that kind of heart as well. A heart that longs for the repentance and salvation of those around us, even those that have hurt us. But too often, instead of reaching out to them, we rejoice at their suffering.
The second thing to note is the message itself. What is the message of salvation? “Return to the Lord. Your life is a mess because you’ve turned back on him. But if you will return to him, ‘he is gracious and compassionate and he will not turn his face from you.'” (9)
The message is the same today. “Maybe you have messed up your life because of the choices you’ve made. But God still loves you and wants a relationship with you, no matter how messed up your life is. And if you return to him, he will forgive and restore you. All you have to do is turn.” That’s the message we need to be giving people. A message of repentance and hope.
The final thing to remember is that we cannot control how people will respond to the message. Many of the people in Israel scorned and ridiculed Hezekiah’s messengers. But others humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem to join in the Passover Feast with the people of Judah. And when it was all done, they not only helped destroy the places of idol worship in Judah, but they went home and destroyed the places of idol worship in their own towns as well.
Some people will reject the message of the gospel. That’s okay. You can’t control their response. But there will be others that will respond with open hearts, and they will repent. So don’t get discouraged. Just keep preaching the message.
As God told Isaiah,
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)