Isaiah 38–39. Hezekiah's Second Prayer.
Key Notes: God told him it was time to quit. Hezekiah begged for life and God gave him 15 more years. The extra years were counter-productive. God answers prayer. Pray in His will.
Hezekiah's first prayer was a model. In the face of Sennacherib's letter saying that God ccould not save Judah, Hezekiah prayed that God would save Jerusalem so that all the kingdoms of the earth might know that JHWH alone was God. (Isaiah 37:20). The second prayer was quite different. The story in Isaiah 38–39 is also told in II Kings 20 and II Chronicles 32:24–31 and these sources are consulted for details.
38:1 Isaiah came to Hezekiah who was seriously ill with a life-threatening boil (perhaps anthrax; many kings kept sheep and other livestock) and instructed him to put the kingdom in order because he would die of this disease. He was only 39 years old.
38:2–3 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and wept bitterly (II Kings 20:2–4) reminding God of his whole-hearted devotion and faithfulness.
38:4–8 God turned Isaiah back before he had made his way out (II Kings 20:4) and told him to grant Hezekiah healing and fifteen more years of life. In response to Hezekiah's request for a confirming sign, God moved the shadow on the sundial marked by the steps of Ahaz's building back ten degrees. There is no explanation of this event. Isaiah instructed the king's attendants to put a poultice of figs on the boil and he would be healed. (II Kings 20:8–11)
38:9–20 Hezekiah wrote a psalm in two parts when he recovered:
Lament: I am consigned to the grave, no longer to see God or man on earth. My tent is pulled down, my life rolled up, my fabric cut from the loom. I cry for help, I (my teeth) chatter and moan, but it is God who breaks my bones and leaves me sleepless and bitter.
Recovery: O Lord, restore me to health. I have learned my lesson. You have lifted my life from the pit, and cast my sins behind your back. Not the dead, but the living thank you. As a father I will tell the children of your faithfulness. We will sing with harps all our days in the house of the Lord.
39:1–2 Then came diplomats from the king of Babylon, Merodach-baladan, with letters and a present, congratulating him on his recovery. Many have suggested that Babylon had political reasons for approaching Judah against Assyria, and Hezekiah would see the advantage of tilting toward Babylon. Hezekiah had been given many presents after the victory over Sennacherib (II Chronicles 32:23) and he showed the envoys all the precious treasure of Judah—gold, silver, spices, oil, and weapons.
39:3–7 Isaiah was not amused. He realized that Hezekiah's two pieces of providence, victory over Assyria and restored health, had gone to his head and he had become proud. (II Chronicles 32:25). After he got confession from Hezekiah, Isaiah told him that it was all going to end up in Babylon, including his children. This was the first warning to Judah that the Babylonians were coming, after the Assyrians.
39:8 Hezekiah was contrite. He acknowledged the rightness of God and God spared him and Judah. (II Chronicles 32:26). He also appeared somewhat crass, shrugging off the bad news for his children so long as he was not gioing to suffer.
- Why did God warn Hezekiah of death? Why not let nature take its course? The king would not have suffered emotionally.
- The king was responsible for hundreds of thousands of people and had to prepare for his successor.
- Why would Hezekiah protest God's decision?
- He was only 39 years old. Life expectancy may not have been much longer at that period of Israel's life. (In 1900 U.S. life expectancy was only 46 years.) But since the blessing of the OT is long life (Ex.20:12), a short life implies judgment. It appears that he took the sentence as a sign of God's disapproval, a punishment for sin. He protested his faithfulness and undivided heart.
- Why did God purpose that Hezekiah should die?
- We are not told, but there were two crucial events in his subsequent life. Giving away the secrets of his treasury to the Babylonians was foolish and was an excuse for the Babylonian invasion. Second, the son who became king at 12 years of age was born during the extra fifteen years granted. This son, Manasseh, was the worst king Judah ever had. (II Kings 21). Both of these events tended to push the time of the Babylonian captivity closer.
- Did God change his mind?
- God's eternal purpose, His purposive will, never changes. But He also has permissive will that negotiates with human beings and their actions. For example, He gave Israel a king even as He diagnosed their loss of trust in Him. (I Samuel 9:16). Also, if we insist on going one way, God may simply bypass, or even over-ride our action. The classic case is Joseph. His brothers tried to bury him in Egypt as a slave. God used his slavery to expose him to a courtier who advanced him from the dungeon to the palace. In other cases, God refuses our request. We think of Christ in Gethsemane, Paul and his thorn in the flesh, and David praying for the life of his first child by Bathsheba. On the other hand there are many examples of Jesus' healing in response to a request or prayer.
- Why then, did God change His action?
- He said "I have heard your prayer. I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. And I will add fifteen years to your life." (II Kings 20:4–6)
God hears and answers prayer. He is merciful and kind.
- But Hezekiah’s prayer was not in the will of God.
- Plainly not. Hezekiah, if he had thought, would have to agree. But would we be willing to pray to our own disadvantage? We automatically assume that every prayer should be beneficial to us. But God in mercy blessed his servant with extra years of life even though in the long run it was not to his credit or to Israel's advantage.
- How then can we learn to pray in the will of God?
- "If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you ask whatever you will and it shall be done for you." (John 15:7) "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit...." (Ephesians 6:18).
We ask God to teach us to pray in His will.
- What was Hezekiah's downfall?
- Almost all of Judah's good kings fell from grace at a time of their greatest success.
God keep us from pride in our successes and give us wisdom in our prayers.