These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
“… became sick and was at the point of death” (v.1) RSV
There is nothing like sickness to rob us of energy, or hope, or a wholesome perspective on life. Hezekiah had had a fantastic first fourteen years as king of Judah. He had brought about an enormous religious reform, and he had seen the Assyrian army sent packing by God. Yet we now read of him lying in bed with a boil on his bottom, feeling that the end of his world had come.
His success and his popularity became as nothing to him in the face of personal mortality. He felt so depressed that “he turned his face to the wall … and wept bitterly” (vv.2-3). And to make matters worse the prophet Isaiah arrived with a short and simple message, “you shall die” (v.1). However Hezekiah did not give up but prayed.
Isaiah had hardly got out of the house before God told him to go back and deliver a different message. This time he told the sick man that he would live another fifteen years. What an amazingly quick answer to prayer!
The cure took three days and involved the application of a poultice of figs. It also required a faith-booster for Hezekiah. The shadow on the steps (a primitive clock) went backwards rather than forwards; this “sign” (v.9) was granted him so that he could believe the word of Isaiah that he would recover. Figs alone were not going to do it; it needed faith as well.
Not all sickness is healed, but this account of Hezekiah’s recovery is an encouragement to us that despite a fatalistic prognosis, God may in his mercy deliver us and restore us to his service. Hezekiah’s prayer for healing is recorded only in Isaiah 38:9-20. He was to live another fifteen years, but the sad thing is that he wasted them. We shall read about that in our next session. Meantime let us resolve to make the most of the time that is given to us, especially if we have had a miraculous escape from death.
Thank you Lord for every day you give me. May I live each one to the full and for your glory. Amen.
“… the Lord … slew 185,000 … of the Assyrians” (v.35) RSV
Miracles are not always ‘nice’. They are not all about healing people. Even Jesus cursed the fig tree and saw it wither and die the next day (Matthew 21:18-20). God is involved in every aspect of life, and that includes war. It is therefore not improper to attribute the death of 185,000 troops to God’s “angel” (v.35).
In fact, historians tell us that God’s angel worked through some sort of plague, possibly brought on by mice or other vermin. The expression “angel” refers to the unseen hand of God. But as with the acts of creation or the death of the firstborn in Egypt, there is also a scientific explanation. These two explanations are not mutually exclusive but are complementary to one another.
The things that make this a miracle are that a) it comes in answer to prayer, b) its timing is so perfect, and c) it solves an impossible problem. Miracles are not necessarily beyond our understanding, but they cause us to wonder in amazement, and our eye of faith sees that it is God at work.
Hezekiah’s prayer had allowed God to intervene in a most unexpected way. It was a classic case of, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). The Assyrian army was decimated and disheartened. They withdrew with their tails between their legs. On arriving home in Nineveh the king, Sennacherib, was assassinated by two of his sons. What a rout!
The answer to Hezekiah’s prayer was way beyond what he could have imagined. God’s ways are not our ways. Our duty is to bring any unsolvable situation into his presence, and leave it there. God will act and life will go on. However, sometimes God’s purposes are not to give deliverance but to allow judgement to work itself out; this was the case years later when Jeremiah foretold the fall of Jerusalem. We cannot tell God what to do, but we allow his will to be worked out.
Lord, your arm is not shortened that it cannot save. Great is your might. Teach me to bring all things to you. Amen.
“Hezekiah … spread the letter before the Lord” (v.14) RSV
Fear can come in many forms. Its power lies in the fact that it undermines faith. We lose our peace because we are temporarily overcome by the reality of our problems.
You may remember this is what happened to Peter when he took his first steps on water: “when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, cried out, Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30). Well, it was just the same with Hezekiah. When he read the letter from the besieging Assyrian army and when he knew all the havoc they had wrought further up north, he was full of apprehension.
However, he did the right thing. Previously he had tried to buy them off and he had prepared by digging a water course into Jerusalem, but now there was no other option left to him, he must pray. There is a beautiful simplicity, even naivety in what he does. He takes the threatening letter with him into God’s presence (the Temple), and spreads it out in front of him. He then reminds God of his love and care for his people.
This leads him into asking the Lord to sort out the problem. Hezekiah is not being prescriptive but he is definitely looking for a solution.
There are many, many ways to pray, but there is no technique that compels God to fulfil our will. Prayer is, one way or another, a matter of coming into God’s presence, opening our heart to him, reminding ourselves of his promises and commitment to us, and then resting in the assurance that he has heard and will answer (as the old Prayer Book says) “as is most expedient for us”.
As the old hymn goes: “What a friend we have in Jesus … What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. Oh what peace we often forfeit. Oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” Are you facing intractable problems? Pray!
Thank you Lord that nothing is too big or too small to bring to you in prayer. Make me eager to talk to you. Amen.
1 Who was in the custom of praying three times a day?
“(he) stripped the gold from the doors of the Temple … and gave it to the king of Assyria” (v.16) RSV
After Hezekiah had been king of Judah for four years the Assyrians, under Sennacherib, defeated the northern kingdom (Israel). Ten years later they were at the doors of Jerusalem. Hezekiah’s first line of defence was to try to buy them off. He stripped the temple of its silver and even took off the very gold from the doors which he had only fourteen years earlier put on.
The crisis of a foreign and powerful enemy was upon him. At first appeasement seemed the prudent approach, but it was not going to work. Fortunately Hezekiah had had the presence of mind over the previous years to build a tunnel from outside Jerusalem to inside, in order to bring water so that they would not die of thirst during any siege. This tunnel ended at the Pool of Siloam in the city of Jerusalem, and it can be walked through to this day.
The Assyrians did not go away. Instead they increased the pressure, sending alarming and threatening messages. But the people in Jerusalem loved and trusted their king. How vital it is for a leader to win the hearts and minds of his people. They did not try to reason with the enemy but left it to their King.
When we are under attack and our enemy frightens us, we too must turn to our Lord, for he has promised never to leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6). Certainly we need to stand our ground and not run away. But as we stand and face the enemy, calm in the strength of the Lord, we will find the enemy will flee (James 4:7).
When Jesus was attacked by the Devil in his Wilderness Temptation we read that he calmly and resolutely stood his ground. He countered each assault with the word of God, and eventually, it says, “the devil left him” (Matthew 4:11). He was to be attacked from time to time but each time he resisted and was successful. Let us be encouraged.
Lord, with you I can face any foe. Grant me the confidence to stand my ground and to see your deliverance. Amen.
“He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (v.3) RSV
The Kings of Judah (the southern kingdom) were on the whole a fairly rum lot, though not as bad as the Kings of Israel (the northern kingdom). But there were a few notable exceptions, Hezekiah being one of them. This man came to the throne aged 25, and for the following fourteen years did an excellent job as king. He was totally dedicated to cleansing Judah of its idolatry. This was the more amazing since his father, Ahaz, had been wicked, even burning one of his sons as an offering (2 Kings 16:3).
We do not need to repeat the sins of our father(s). By the Lord’s strength we can break the mould and be free to follow God’s ways. We read, “He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel … he held fast to the Lord … and the Lord was with him” (vv.5-6).
Hezekiah was zealous for his God. Much more about his reforms can be read in 2 Chronicles, chapters 29 to 31. There we see he repaired the Temple doors, and then rededicated the Levites. In turn they cleansed and sanctified the inside of the Temple. Sacrifices were made for the sins of all the people. The Levites then conducted renewed worship with songs and prayer. Thus he cleansed their religion.
Hezekiah then arranged a back-to-church initiative; this was to take place at the Passover Festival. Everyone from far and wide was invited by letter. Very many people responded and there was a great assembly, and they worshipped and feasted for seven days! Finally everyone was encouraged to give generously – always a sign of revival. True revival affects our pockets!
How we need to pray for a leadership that has the commitment and influence to turn our country back to God- centred living. We need to be turned from the ways of Ahaz to the ways of Hezekiah.
Thank you Lord for the Luthers and Wesleys who have turned people back to you. Raise up, I pray, brave leaders today who will turn us back to true religion. Amen.