Formations 09.07.2014: New MLB Commissioner to Take Office Next Year

2 Kings 18:1-8

Rob Manfred. Photo by Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA (FanFest 2014) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Rob Manfred. Photo by Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA (FanFest 2014) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Last month, Major League Baseball named former league chief operating officer and labor lawyer Rob Manfred to be the tenth commissioner in the sport’s history, replacing Bud Selig. Manfred will officially take the reins in January.

The new commissioner will inherit a league facing numerous challenges. It might even be argued that Selig was too comfortable in the closing years of his two-decade tenure and failed to take a needed hard stance on several issues. These issues will now demand Manfred’s attention. Sports commentator Brett Lyons offers a “to-do” list for Manfred that includes rules changes, allowing banned greats like Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame, and—probably Manfred’s biggest task—inspiring interest in the sport in younger generations.

A change in leadership can be a stressful time for everyone involved. This is especially the case when the new leader must address daunting challenges inherited from the previous leadership.

Such was the case of Hezekiah as he took the reins of power from his father, King Ahaz. As the new king ascended the throne, Judah lived under Assyrian domination and had suffered from years of spiritual apathy. Would Hezekiah have what it takes to turn his nation around?

Second Kings 18 tells us Hezekiah’s reign began with promise. Like David, he was right in God’s eyes. His first recorded act as king was to try to curtail the idolatry into which Judah had fallen. The biblical writer says, “He clung to the LORD and never deviated from him” (18:6).

On the political front, he rebelled against the Assyrians—the undisputed superpower of the late eighth century. It took great courage to stand up to the Assyrians as well as to confront Judah’s idolatry. In hindsight, we can declare that “the LORD was with Hezekiah; he succeeded at everything he tried” (18:7). The picture may not have been so clear, however, for Hezekiah himself.

In future lessons, we will see that Hezekiah’s rein had its fair share of turmoil and even tragedy. This should not detract us from appreciating the steps Hezekiah took toward revitalizing the people of God.

Brett Lyons, “Commissioner-Elect Manfred Has Long To-Do List,” CBS Chicago, 18 August 2014 .

Discussion

• When have you observed a new leader taking on a difficult challenge? What factors contributed to this leader’s success—or failure?
• How can believers find the resolve to do “what [is] right in the LORD’s eyes” (18:3)?
• How can we do so even in the face of opposition?

Reference Shelf

Hezekiah and Assyria

When Hezekiah came to the throne, he inherited his father’s vassalage to Assyria. Assuming the earlier chronology, he ruled during the entire reign of Sargon II, 721–705, who campaigned in the area of Judah in 720, 716, and 713 to keep his vassals in line. At the same time Merodach-Baladan, a Chaldean rebel, had successfully revolted against Sargon and controlled Babylon from 721–710. Probably close to the time of the third campaign of Sargon, Merodach-Baladan’s envoys from Babylon visited Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:12-19). Hezekiah showed them everything. Undoubtedly, Assyria viewed this treatment of a rebel quite negatively. Isaiah also condemned Hezekiah for granting these visitors such privileges and predicted a future exile to Babylon.

There are many other indications that Hezekiah was planning a revolt against Assyria. He strengthened the military (2 Chr 32:5-6), laid up provisions (2 Chr 32:28-29), fortified Jerusalem (2 Chr 32:5), and built a tunnel to carry water from the Gihon Spring under the city to the western mount (cf. 2 Kings 20:30). His religious reform may aso date to this time though the biblical text is unspecific. It included removing high places (local sanctuaries), breaking the pillars, cutting down the Asherahs, and breaking into pieces the bronze serpent (Nehushtan) that Moses had made (2 Kgs 18:4). Hezekiah also sent letters throughout Ephraim and Manasseh in the north inviting them to celebrate the Passover with the rest of the country (2 Chr 20:1ff.). It is obvious that religious reforms had political overtones in the sense that Hezekiah was attempting to revive nationalistic inclinations. This would inevitably lead to a revolt against the Assyrians (2 Kgs 18:8).

James C. Moyer, “Hezekiah,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 379.

The Lord Was With Hezekiah

Hezekiah had a long reign of twenty-nine years, though the exact chronology is taken by scholars to be problematic. The probable dates may be 715–686, but the precise dates are impossible to determine. The theological verdict on Hezekiah is without precedent in the books of Kings (18:3-6). He is the best! He did what was right as had David, although unlike David, Hezekiah had no embarrassing “except” as did David with Uriah (1 Kgs 15:5). That is, Hezekiah is like David, only more so!

His doing “right” consisted (as commanded in Deuteronomy 12:3 and as done by Jehoiada before him in 11:18) of destroying all the emblems of non-Yahweh worship: high places, pillars, sacred pole, and bronze serpent (18:4). The verbs are vigorous: “remove, break down, cut down, break.” Hezekiah is an assertive reformer of whom the narrator completely approves. The ground of reformist zeal, the willingness to take sides and refuse every compromise, is his trust (batah) in Yahweh. The king is willing to risk all on his conviction that Yahweh is a good and reliable force in the world, so that he rejects every alternative form of support (other gods). He is in every way, according to the narrator, scrupulously attentive to the Torah of Moses, here referring to some form of the book of Deuteronomy. He is the model for our narrator of conforming public policy to Torah requirements.

After such an unprecedented affirmation of the king, it is completely predictable that our narrator will say in the next verse, “Yahweh was with him…he prospered” (18:7a). Of course! It could not be otherwise. Deuteronomic conviction, here fully voiced, is that obedience produces prosperity. The unspoken negative counterpart that we have seen in Ahaz (16) and will see in Manasseh (21) is that disobedience produces disaster. This theory of moral coherence is fully embraced by Hezekiah, to the great benefit of the king and his realm (18:7b-8). He became so strong and so effective, precisely because obedience produces political independence. Hezekiah became strong enough to defy Assyria, that is, to refuse the submissiveness of his father Ahaz, apparently to withhold payment of tribute (see 17:4). Alongside defiance of Assyria, moreover, Hezekiah was able to advance boundary lines to the southeast and to recover territory along the Mediterranean Sea. Our narrative is preoccupied with the Torah, but does not miss opportunity to attest the concrete, pragmatic gains of such Torah obedience.

Walter Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 491–92.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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