Isaiah 38-39: The Price of Peace
Photo courtesy of Lamp of the Lamb
We’ve been reading about King Hezekiah—God’s bright spot between two of Judah’s most wicked kings. Although he was guilty of going to Egypt instead of going to God, Hezekiah repented and became a man of prayer. When it looked like Assyria was about to break down the walls, Hezekiah cried out to God to save Jerusalem, “so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, LORD, are God.” Isaiah 37:20
And He did.
But while the Assyrians were still outside the gates, good King Hezekiah came close to death and God sent Isaiah to tell him to put his affairs in order. He was going to die.
Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and said, “Please, Lord, just remember how I have walked before You wholeheartedly and in truth, and have done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept profusely.” Isaiah 38:2-3
Hezekiah’s prayers were a little different that day. He didn’t ask God to heal him to reveal His sovereignty to the nations. Instead, he asked Him to heal him, not because of who God was, but because of who he was.
Sometimes good people have a hard time understanding the simple gift of mercy; they reach into their satchel of good works to see what they can offer in exchange for an answer to prayer. That really doesn’t impress God, but many times in His mercy He responds to our requests despite our faulty reasoning. Just don't be surprised if His correction is a part of the answer.
In any case, God was quick to answer Hezekiah’s prayer. In fact, the words were barely out of Hezekiah’s mouth when God arrested Isaiah in the courtyard and sent him back with a message:
“This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: ’I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now, you will go up to the temple of the LORD. I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’” 2 Kings 20:5-6
Notice, God told Isaiah to deliver the message on behalf of “the God of your father David.” Not “Hezekiah’s God” or “Isaiah’s God” or “the God of Judah,” but “the God of your father David.” And He said He would do what Hezekiah asked, not for Hezekiah’s sake, but for His sake and for the sake of His son David. Interesting.
The reason for Hezekiah’s healing? God said He’d do it because of Hezekiah’s prayer and his tears. He said nothing about Hezekiah’s goodness. Hmm…
Then God told Hezekiah He was going to give him 15 more years to live. Why 15? Why give him a number at all? How would you like to know when your life is going to end? I think it would cast a cloud over the years I had left. Very odd.
Or maybe not.
Hezekiah was a descendant of God’s chosen man David. Three hundred years before, God had promised David that his kingdom would last forever (2 Samuel 7:11-16). But now, Hezekiah was facing death and Hezekiah had no children! How could the Davidic line continue if Hezekiah didn’t have a son? The road to the reign of the promised Messiah would come to an abrupt and sorrowful end.
God’s solution? Give Hezekiah 15 more years.
Keeping Hezekiah alive until he had a successor was probably God’s plan all along. Hezekiah’s illness was just a bump in the road. Nevertheless, it does beg the question: “Why pray if God is going to do what He wants to anyway?” Here’s what I think:
It’s God’s desire is for man to agree with Him in all He does. Why? Because that’s what man was created to do: agree; partner with God; bring heaven to earth. So although God knows ahead of time what He should do, could do, and will do, He gives man the chance to join Him in His work. Partnering with God makes us more like Him, powerful and full of joy when we see the things we’ve prayed for come to pass. If we don’t pray for God’s will to be done, no doubt it will be done anyway, but perhaps not as simply nor as quickly. Without question, God will make a way, but we will miss the blessing of partnering with Him.
Back to the story.
Then one of the most amazing events in all of history occurred.
Hezekiah asked God for a sign to assure him that what God said would happen would happen. (See 2 Kings 20.) It seems Hezekiah still had trust issues. But the ever-patient God said, “OK – See that shadow on the steps? I can make it move. What will it be? Forward or backward? Your choice.” And drawing on his best logic, Hezekiah said, “Move it back.”
And He did.
Look, God created the universe, and if he wants to arrest the spinning of the earth and make it spin the other way, He can. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday some anomaly in space and time accounts for the glitch. It happens. The smarter the scientists and the more sophisticated their instruments, the more they are finding that things are not always as they've expected. Another human hypothesis down the drain. It shouldn't surprise us that these surprises support the veracity of “God said.” One example? The Big Bang theory. In my mind, the Big Bang theory could very well be spot on. God said “Let there be…” and bang! The universe was birthed. (If you love science as much as I do, a scientifically-based book by cosmologist Paul Davies — The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life? — is fun to ponder.)
OK, Lori, back to the story.
Hezekiah’s response to all this is quite interesting. By his own admission, he is bitter and he focuses not on his healing or the extension of his life but on the fact that a day is coming when he will die. Well, what did he think???
”Hezekiah was one of the most truly human of the kings.” - J. Alec Motyer
And then there’s verse 15. I didn’t even know this was a saying back then: “But what can I say?” That’s what you say when you’ve come to the end of your understanding and there’s nothing left to say. Hezekiah came up with a pretty good recovery, though. “For He has spoken to me, and He Himself has done it.”
Hezekiah did finish his poem on a positive note—with thankfulness for God’s forgiveness and the opportunity to tell his sons about the faithfulness of God. After all, had it not been for the faithfulness of God, he would have no sons to tell.
”But You have kept my soul from the grave that destroys. You have put all my sins behind Your back. The place of the dead cannot thank You. Death cannot praise You. Those who go down to the grave cannot hope that You will be faithful. It is the living who give thanks to You, as I do today. A father tells his sons about how faithful You are. The Lord will save me. And we will sing my songs with harps all the days of our life in the house of the Lord.” Isaiah 38:16-20
And, compliments of Isaiah, a poultice of figs fixed him right up.
Then comes chapter 39. Wow. But what can I say?
Soon afterwards, Merodach-baladan, the son of Baladan, the king of Babylon sent Hezekiah a present and his best wishes, for he had heard that Hezekiah had been very sick and now was well again.
Aww…wasn’t that sweet?
Hezekiah received the envoys gladly and showed them what was in his storehouses—the silver, the gold, the spices, the fine olive oil—his entire armory and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.
Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah...
…and said, “What did they say? Where are they from?”
“From far away in Babylon,” Hezekiah replied.
“How much have they seen?” asked Isaiah. And Hezekiah replied, “I showed them everything I own, all my priceless treasures.”
What??? Was it because he was proud? Clueless? Indifferent?
Then Isaiah said to him, “Listen to this message from the Lord Almighty: ’The time is coming when everything you have—all the treasures stored up by your fathers—will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left. And some of your own sons will become slaves, yes, eunuchs, in the palace of the king of Babylon.’”
So the treasures of Judah would be carried to Babylon, and Hezekiah's sons would follow.
And Hezekiah’s response to all of this?
“The word of the LORD you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my lifetime!”
Not bitter. No longer clueless. But definitely indifferent. God help us.