• Lori

A Prayer Fit for a King

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

(Bible scholars debate the chronology of the following events; I have chosen the NIV Archaeological Study Bible as my source.)

King Hezekiah was at the point of death when the prophet came to him with a message: “Put your house in order, because you are going to die.” So the king turned his face to the wall and prayed, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes” (2 Kings 20:1-3 NIV*).

And it was true. Hezekiah was faithful. Devoted. Dynamic. It’s recorded in the ancient scrolls that there was none like him among the kings of Judah. It’s not surprising then that God was quick to answer his prayers, right? In fact, the words were hardly out of Hezekiah’s mouth when God sent Isaiah back to him with a message: “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life.” Not only that but, “I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake (2 Kings 20:5-6).” Bonus!

But notice: God said he had heard Hezekiah’s prayer and seen his tears; He said nothing about his record. He said He would deliver His people, not because of Hezekiah’s reputation, but because of His promise to David.

Some time later, the king of Babylon, having heard of Hezekiah’s recovery, sent envoys to honor him with a gift. Hezekiah welcomed them into his courts by showing them his impressive treasury and weapons of war. In fact, “There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them” (2 Kings 20:13).

Hospitable, yes. Wise? No.

Again Isaiah appeared at his doorstep with a message. “Hear the word of the Lord: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord” (2 Kings 20:16-17).

Because of Hezekiah’s foolishness—perhaps fueled by his pride—the people of his kingdom, even some of his descendants, would be carried off captive to Babylon.

Hezekiah’s response? “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” for he thought, “There will be peace and security in my lifetime” (Isaiah 39:8).

Good news? For who? (Yeah, yeah. I know it’s supposed to be “whom.“ But I don’t like how that sounds.) Though king, Hezekiah gave no thought to his kingdom. It seemed there was no reason to pray; his present was secure.

A dozen or so years later, just as Isaiah had prophesied, Assyrian troops surrounded Jerusalem, and Sennacherib’s officials came forward with threats, blasphemy, and bribes. When King Hezekiah heard, he donned his sackcloth, went to the temple, and sent his officials to the Isaiah with a message: “This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the moment of birth and there is no strength to deliver them. It may be that the Lord your God will hear all the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the Lord your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives” (2 Kings 19:3-5). In other words: We’re going down. Perhaps God, because of offense with the king of Assyria, will show His goodness to a few survivors.

It seems Hezekiah had forgotten the promise God made when He extended his life: “I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 20:6). At least back then, on his sickbed, Hezekiah had prayed with confidence that God was on their side. This time his prayer was nothing more than a whine of resignation.

The prophet Isaiah, however, didn’t even need to pray. He did remember the Lord’s promise, and without even checking with Him, he knew what the Lord would say: Don’t be afraid! I’ve heard of Sennacherib’s blasphemy; his days are coming to an end.

And faithful to His words, the Lord drew the Assyrians aside.

When Sennacherib returned from his distraction, he again sent messengers to Jerusalem’s walls. But this time, something was up in the kingdom. This time, Hezekiah didn’t call on Isaiah to pray. This time, he took Sennacherib’s letter to the temple and spread it out before the Lord.

“Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God” (2 Kings 19:15-16).

This time, Hezekiah approached God with confidence in God’s power, not his own goodness. This time, he asked for an answer that would reveal God’s glory, not save his own life. This time, his prayers were preoccupied with God and not the problem. This time, Hezekiah prayed a faith-filled prayer, a prayer fit for a king:

“Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God” (2 Kings 19:19).

And God’s answer?

“Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass.” (2 Kings 19:25) What? It appears God knew what He would do long before Hezekiah prayed! Did Hezekiah’s prayers matter?

It’s astonishing but true: God created His people to be stewards of His word—to agree with Him and ask that the will of heaven be done on earth (Matthew 6:10). Without a doubt, God has ordained His word’s fulfillment, but He allows us the opportunity to partner with Him in the work. If we can’t or don’t or won’t, we miss the blessing of intercession.

This invitation is for our benefit, not His. Partnering with God makes us more like Him: confident, kingdom-minded, full of faith, watching with joy as His words come to pass.