Hezekiah Became Ill and Was at the Point of Death

38: 1-8

   DIG: Why is Hezekiah so distressed by the message from Isaiah? What is the track record of whole-hearted devotion on which he appeals to the LORD to spare his life (see Second Kings 18:1-3)? Hezekiah asked Isaiah for a sign that his healing would occur (also see Second Kings 20:8-11). How does this contrast with Ahaz’ response to Isaiah in 7:11-14, when Ahaz was told to ask for a sign but refused to do so? Which man, Ahaz or Hezekiah, demonstrates more faith? How so? What does God’s response tell you about the LORD?

   REFLECT: Wicked people often live easy lives, or long lives, whereas those serving God often experience great hardships. How do you deal with the seeming unfairness (Psalms 37 and 73)? What might be God’s perspective on the matter? How do you think you will face death? How would the prospect of death change your view of material things? What hope does the Gospel give you that was unknown to Hezekiah?

    This chapter deals with King Hezekiah’s illness, prayer and healing. His deliverance from death was before the Assyrian defeat by the Angel of the LORD (37: 36-38). Hezekiah reigned twenty-nine years. He reigned fifteen years after this event, so his illness was in the fourteenth year of his reign, and we are told that Sennacherib came up against Jerusalem in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign (36:1). So the illness of Hezekiah and defeat of the Assyrian army all happened in the same year.

    This section is about Hezekiah’s serious illness, his prayer to God, the divine promise of a longer life and his thanksgiving. A parallel version with slight variations and the omission of Hezekiah’s psalm of thanksgiving is found in Second Kings 20:1-11. At the time Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death, Isaiah son of Amoz was sent to him with a message (38:1a). The LORD said that he was to put his house in order, because he was going to die. He would not recover (38:1b). This meant drawing up his last will and testament, and also appointing a successor. This became especially necessary because at that time Hezekiah had no sons. Another member of the house of David needed be chosen because Isaiah told the king that the illness was terminal.

    It was evident that Hezekiah knew something of ADONAI’s character that Moses also knew (see my commentary on Exodus Gs – Now Leave Me Alone So That My Anger May Burn Against Your People): God is always waiting to hear from us. He is relentless in His desire to bless us. He is the LORD of second chances (see my commentary on Jonah). This does not mean that we can pray to God to tell Him what to do, or that failure to pray is not necessarily a sign of surrender to His unyielding will. Rather, it may be a sign of apathy, or an unwillingness to wrestle with God (see my commentary on Genesis Hw – Jacob Wrestles With God). It is an antinomy; two things that are seemingly opposite, but both are true. For example, the trinity is an antinomy, three distinct, separate persons, yet one. It’s hard to get your mind around it. We probably will not truly understand it until we get to heaven. One the one hand, we cannot play God and dictate the events of our lives to Him; yet on the other hand, we cannot expect ADONAI to help us if we do not pray (see my commentary on The Life of Christ Ih – The Parable of the Persistent Widow). We must believe that prayer changes things.

    When Isaiah left, Hezekiah turned his face to the wall in prayer, and turning away from the people gathered around his bed, he withdrew to himself (Second Kings 20:2). At that time, he summarizes his spiritual state saying: Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes. And Hezekiah wept bitterly for he wanted to live (38:2-3).

    That he was faithful to ADONAI was not only Hezekiah’s evaluation, it was also the LORD’s evaluation. The Ruach HaKodesh tells us that he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it (It was called Nehushtan). Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Isra'el. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses (Second Kings 18:3-6). David was a man after God’s own heart, and yet in the evaluation of Hezekiah, God says that his spirituality exceeded that of David himself or any other king in Judah’s history.

    It is worth noting that Hezekiah did not withdraw completely because he did not withdraw from God. But he also didn’t lecture the LORD on the injustice of it all, nor demand that ADONAI heal him because of his position or reputation. Rather, he simply poured out the feelings of a wounded heart to a heavenly Father. No father’s heart can be unaffected by such a cry. Nor was the LORD’s.

    Almost immediately God answered Hezekiah’s prayer. Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him (Second Kings 20:4-5 and Isaiah 38:4). The middle court was the central portion of the City where the royal palace stood. The Hebrew word keri, or the middle court, was not the middle court of the Temple but the middle court of the royal palace.143 Therefore, before Isaiah had left the palace on his way home after talking to Hezekiah, ADONAI gave him the message to return to Hezekiah and say: This is what the LORD, the God of your relative David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; therefore, I will add fifteen years to your life (38:5).

    Hezekiah had behaved like a true son, or descendant, of David in the way he reacted to the news of his impending death.144 In addition, it was clear that the Davidic Covenant said that David would never be without a man to sit on his throne (Second Samuel 7:5-16). Hezekiah, the king, had no children at this time. God had seen Hezekiah’s tears, heard his prayer, and would add fifteen years to his life. We know from the account in Second Kings that Hezekiah was 54 years old when he died, so that would make him 39 when he became ill. In Second Kings 20:5 we learn that the healing would occur within three days of Isaiah’s prophecy.

    Besides healing him, Isaiah also prophesied that he would also be delivered from Sennacherib and Jerusalem will be delivered from the Assyrians. And I will deliver you and this City from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this City (38:6). This may seem confusing if we do not remember that Chapters 38 and 39 come chronologically before Chapters 36 and 37.

    Unfortunately, when God said: I will defend this City and as a result when the Angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-thousand men in the Assyrian camp (37:36), it would eventually lead to a false theology on the part of the Jews called the inviolability of the Temple (see Jeremiah 7:1-7). Because God did defend His city, the Jews came to look upon the Temple as their “good luck charm.” And since ADONAI did deliver Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib and the Assyrian army, the Jews came to assume that they had guaranteed security because of the existence of the Temple.

    Even worse, they believed that because of the supposed security net of the Temple, they could do anything they wanted there and there would be no consequences. This thinking ended up in idol worship within the Temple itself (Ezekiel 8)! When ADONAI said: I will defend this City (38:6b), they believed He would never violate or destroy His Temple because He made His dwelling place among His people. Like a child’s abuse of a parent’s love, they falsely concluded that there would never be any consequences. But Jeremiah knew better and he warned the Levites: Do not trust in deceptive words and say: This is the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD (see my commentary on Jeremiah Cc - False Religion is Worthless). In the process of worshiping their idols they would actually walk around the Temple chanting: This is the Temple of the LORD, over and over again as if to remind God of His promise.

    The Levites in the Temple of the LORD disregarded Jeremiah’s warning. They would find out soon enough that while God did love His Temple, He hated their sin even more. The people of Jerusalem, in Jeremiah and Ezekiel’s day, did not realize that the Shechinah glory of God had departed from the Temple because of their sin and idol worship (Ezekiel 10-11). Jeremiah’s point was that the mere existence of the Temple did not guarantee protection. Their only real security was that guaranteed security only comes through obedience to the Word of God (Jeremiah 7:5-7).

    All of it was almost too wonderful to be true, thus Hezekiah himself requested a sign of confirmation. Hezekiah had asked Isaiah, “What will be the sign that ADONAI will heal me and that I will go up to the Temple of the LORD on the third day from now? Isaiah answered, “This is the LORD’s sign to you that He will do what He has promised. Isaiah asked Hezekiah a simple question: Shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or shall it go back ten steps? “It is a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps,” said Hezekiah. Then the prophet Isaiah called upon ADONAI, and the LORD made the shadow go back the ten steps it had gone down on the stairway that Ahaz built (Second Kings 20:8-11; Isaiah 38:7-8). This was exactly the opposite of Ahaz’s refusal to accept a sign when offered one (7:10-17). Hezekiah chose to trust God, hid father Ahaz did not.

    The king had an option; he could choose the shadow to go forward, or to go back. Since forward was the normal pattern for a shadow to move, Hezekiah chose for the shadow to go back. It is unclear if the Hebrew word maaloth should read sundial, or steps. It was either the sundial of Ahaz, in which the shadow went back ten degrees, or steps constructed in such a way that the shadow of an obelisk (a tall, four-sided shaft of stone, usually tapering and monolithic, that rises to a pyramidal point) might indicate the hours. Both could be true, but either way the shadow went back down ten steps. The sun and its shadow moved in a way that was opposite of its normal movement. It went back instead of forward. This sign guaranteed that Hezekiah would recover within three days.

    The Holy Spirit transports us to the king’s bedside. There lies the king on his bed, but his face was no longer turned to the wall. With joy and hope brightening his eyes, he looks out of his window to the gardens below, in the middle of which, and in full view, stood the sundial of Ahaz with a series of steps leading up to it. Then sun had gone down and at least ten of the steps were in the shadows. But look again, the once darkened steps were then in the brightest sunlight! It was the exact sign for which the King Hezekiah had asked.

    The illness of Hezekiah is an important clue to the significance of Chapters 38 and 39 as well as the book of Isaiah as a whole. A parallel is being drawn between king and nation, Hezekiah and Jerusalem (which is effectively all that is left of Judah). Both are in crisis, and both have been given a reprieve. But there is more than a hint that, just as Hezekiah’s reprieve was temporary (fifteen years), so will Jerusalem’s be. In short, the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC at the hands of the Babylonians is already beginning to loom on the horizon of the story. It will be foreshadowed in Chapter 39 and will dominate the scene from there on.145


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