6. Hezekiah's Reign (Isaiah 36-39; 2 Kings 18)

Audio (42:37)

King Hezekiah on a 17th century painting by unknown artist in the choir of Sankta Maria kyrka in Åhus, Sweden.
King Hezekiah on a 17th century painting by unknown artist in the choir of Sankta Maria kyrka in Åhus, Sweden.

We have looked at a number of Isaiah's prophecies that relate to the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judah (715-687/6). Now we have a chance to meet the man in Isaiah 36-38 (which are nearly identical with 2 Kings 18:17-20:19). For the sake of completeness, I'd like to include in our study a few additional verses, 2 Kings 18:1-16, that explain the rest of Hezekiah's story.[139]

Hezekiah's Reforms (2 Kings 18:1-16)

Hezekiah ascends the throne as co-regent with his father Ahaz for a few years. Then he begins his reign as sole King of Judah at age 25 in 716/15 BC. His reign lasts 29 years until his death in 687/6 BC. He is known as one of Judah's only kings who "did what was right in the eyes of the LORD" (2 Kings 18:3), bringing about a number of religious reforms during his reign, which include:

  • Reestablishing worship in the temple, which had been closed by Ahaz his father, repairing it, and reorganizing its services, priests, and Levites (2 Chronicles 29).
  • Calling a national Passover (2 Chronicles 30).
  • Opposing idol worship (2 Chronicles 30:14; 31:1), toppling the hilltop "high places" where Baal was worshipped, smashing sacred stones, cutting down Asherah poles, and destroying Moses'bronze snake that had become an object of worship (2 Kings 18:4).

The Bible records about him:

"5 Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. 6 He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses. 7 And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook." (2 Kings 18:5-7)

Hezekiah's Policy toward Growing Assyrian Power (2 Kings 18:8-16)

Isaiah's focus, however, is on Hezekiah's foreign policy -- and his sometimes wavering, sometimes strong faith in and obedience to the Lord.

As Assyrian military power has grown in the Palestinian region, Hezekiah's father Ahaz (732-716 BC) has become a vassal of Assyria (2 Kings 16:7-8) and begins to introduce Assyrian religious practices into Judah. Though the northern kingdom of Israel has rebelled against Assyria, Ahaz has not.

As a result of the northern kingdom's rebellion, four years into Hezekiah's co-regency with Ahaz, Assyrian troops conquer Samaria, and take most of its leaders and prominent citizens into exile, replacing them with conquered peoples from other lands (2 Kings 17). When Ahaz dies in 716 BC and Hezekiah assumes the throne himself, he continues his father's policy of paying tribute to Assyria.

This is a time of growing influence from Egypt. A vigorous Ethiopian (Cushite) leader rises, Piankhi, the first Pharaoh of the 25th Dynasty. Egypt has designs on becoming a world power itself and is urging the Philistine and Phoenician city-states along the eastern Mediterranean coast to resist Assyria and rely on Egypt to help them in case of attack. This is the period during which Isaiah is told to strip and walk Jerusalem for three years as might a captive, to warn Judah against relying on Egypt (Isaiah 20). Hezekiah wisely seems to take Isaiah's counsel -- for the moment. So when Sargon II sends troops into the area and conquers the Philistine city of Ashdod in 711, Hezekiah avoids war.

But when Assyrian troops depart, Hezekiah sees an opportunity to assert Judah's independence. When long-reigning Assyrian king Sargon II dies in 704 BC, Hezekiah, and many surrounding kingdoms, sense a weakness to exploit.

"He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him." (2 Kings 18:7)

Hezekiah stops paying tribute and expands Judah's influence by attacking Philistine cities as far as Gaza that are allies of Assyria (2 Kings 18:8). Hezekiah becomes one of the chief ringleaders in a growing rebellion against Assyria in the region.

Anticipating conflict with Assyria, Hezekiah takes a number of steps:

  • Tunneling a shaft through 1,748 feet of solid rock to supply water to the city in time of siege (2 Kings 20:20).
  • Stopping up springs around Jerusalem that could supply water to an attacking army (2 Chronicles 32:1-4).
  • Extending and strengthening the wall of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 32:5a).
  • Increasing the production of shields and weapons (2 Chronicles 32:5b).
  • Organizing combat forces (2 Chronicles 32:6).

The Assyrian Empire during Isaiah's Ministry.
The Assyrian Empire during Isaiah's Ministry. Primary Source: Michael Roaf, Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East (FactsOnFile/Equinox, 1990), p. 179. Larger map.

After putting down rebellions closer to home, in 701 BC, the new Assyrian king Sennacherib (705-681 BC) is able to respond to rebellions in the west. He leads a massive military force into the area to put down the rebels, counteract Egyptian threats, and reassert Assyria's dominance. The Assyrian army crushes the rebels in Phoenicia and the Philistine coastal cities. Then it turns inland. Sennacherib can't allow Judah's rebellious tendencies to weaken Assyria's dominance in the area, which it needs to control as a buffer against its arch-enemy Egypt. All of Judah's walled cities are conquered and many of its villages given to loyal vassals in Philistia as punishment and political favors.

Finally, Hezekiah sees that his situation is hopeless and is forced to admit his rebellion and pay a huge tribute to lift the siege. Assyrian records from Sennacherib gloat over the victory:

Records of Sennacherib's military campaigns are inscribed on this 6-sided baked clay prism in tiny cuneiform script. In the Museum of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago.

"As to Hezekiah the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke. I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts, and to the countless small villages in their vicinity and conquered them.... Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage. I surrounded him with earthwork...."[140]

The scripture records the humiliating conclusion:

"So Hezekiah king of Judah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: 'I have done wrong. Withdraw from me, and I will pay whatever you demand of me.'The king of Assyria exacted from Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the royal palace. At this time Hezekiah king of Judah stripped off the gold with which he had covered the doors and doorposts of the temple of the LORD, and gave it to the king of Assyria." (2 Kings 18:14-16).

Shortly after this, Hezekiah falls ill, but when he prays, God promises him 15 more years of life.

Imagine the scene. The Assyrian army, the most powerful military force on earth, is ravaging the countryside a few miles away, threatening weaker cities into submission and destroying the rest, carting away their riches and levying a burdensome annual tax that bleeds the nation even more. Hundreds of thousands of enemy soldiers are within a two or three day march of Jerusalem.

You are Hezekiah, king of Judah, caught in the middle. Your capital is the fortress city of Jerusalem, high on the mountain chain that bisects Palestine. Stress is your daily companion. One report follows another of a city breached and burned, another cowed into submission. None is able to stand before the Assyrian army.

Your people quail in fear, many calling for you to submit to the Assyrians. "Resistance is hopeless," they cry. "You'll get us all killed." Yet you are a believer in Yahweh, the true God. "He will save us," you tell your people. Times couldn't be more desperate, more bleak, more filled with violence. How do you pray at a time like this? What do you say to God? [141]

The Rabshakeh's Threat (Isaiah 36)

The Assyrians must have felt after this that they had made a tactical error, exacting tribute but leaving Jerusalem unconquered. Sennacherib, encamped at Lachish a few miles south, sends his "field commander" (NIV) or "Rabshakeh" (KJV, NRSV) with a large army to Jerusalem. He threatens and belittles Hezekiah openly before the people and insults Yahweh himself:

"Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the LORD when he says, 'The LORD will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.'... Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the LORD deliver Jerusalem from my hand?" (36:15, 20)

The prophet Isaiah reassures Hezekiah, and the Assyrian army withdraws to fight the Egyptians (37:9). Then a letter comes to Hezekiah demanding that he surrender Jerusalem. I want to particularly focus on Hezekiah's faith and prayer in this situation.

Sennacherib's Letter (37:14-20)

"14 Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: 16 'O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17 Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.'" (37:14-17)

Detail of Sennacherib on his throne about 701 BC. From wall relief, 'Capitulation of Lachish in Palestine,' Southwest Palace of Sennacherib, Nineveh.
Detail of Sennacherib on his throne about 701 BC. From wall relief, "Capitulation of Lachish in Palestine," Southwest Palace of Sennacherib, Nineveh. Larger image.

When Hezekiah receives the letter, he brings it before the Lord and spreads it out for God to read. He reads it to God and observes that the insult is to the living God far more than it is to Hezekiah himself. God himself has been insulted, and he must respond.

Earlier, Hezekiah had encouraged the people with his own confidence in the greatness of the power of the unseen God:

"Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles." (2 Chronicles 32:7b-8a)

It sounds much like Elisha's assurance to his servant at the siege of Dothan, where they are surrounded by the horses and chariots of fire of the Lord's army:

"Don't be afraid.... Those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (2 Kings 6:16).

In the New Testament, the apostle John writes:

"The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." (1 John 4:4)

It is vital to understand that Hezekiah is bringing God's problem to God, rather than trying to solve it himself. The principle is: "The battle is the Lord's!" This is not an excuse to do nothing. Hezekiah has made all the military preparations he can, but now is the time to look to the Lord. Consider:

David to Goliath and the Philistines:

"All those gathered here will know
that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves;
for the battle is the LORD's,
and he will give all of you into our hands." (1 Samuel 17:47)


"Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem!
This is what the LORD says to you:
'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army.
For the battle is not yours, but God's.'" (2 Chronicles 20:14)


"This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel:
'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,'
says the LORD Almighty." (Zechariah 4:6)

Think of the pressure we take upon ourselves when we try to be the general in God's battles. We get discouraged. We give up. We fold our tents and go home. We can't handle it. But when we actually believe that the battle is the Lord's to fight, then we let him be the general and just follow his orders. Yes, we're under the stress of battle, but not the stress of trying to play God.

Q1. (Isaiah 37:14) What is the significance of Hezekiah spreading out the enemy's message before the Lord? What is the underlying principle illustrated here? How can we apply this principle to our own lives? What happens when we don't apply this principle?

Hezekiah's Vision of Yahweh (37:16)

Hezekiah spread the letter before the Lord (2 Kings 19:14). Woodcut by Rudolf Schäfer (1929) in illustrated German Bible.
Hezekiah spread the letter before the Lord (2 Kings 19:14). Woodcut by Rudolf Schäfer (1929) in illustrated German Bible. Larger image.

Hezekiah brings the letter before the Lord and begins his prayer.

"O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth." (37:16)

This corresponds to the magnificent opening of the Lord's Prayer,

"Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name."

Hezekiah begins his prayer with an awesome vision of who God really is.

"LORD" is the Hebrew personal, specific name of God. The Jews felt that the name of the Lord was too holy to even pronounce, and substituted for it the word Adonai, "lord," when reading or speaking. In most English Bibles when you see LORD in small caps it indicates Yahweh. Hezekiah calls his God by name.

"God of Israel." Israel is the name God gave to Jacob (Genesis 32:28) and is applied to the nation. In the period of the divided kingdom, Israel was generally used to designate the northern kingdom as opposed to Judah, the southern kingdom. It is significant that Hezekiah uses this term, shortly after the fall of the northern kingdom, to refer to the remaining remnant of God's people.

"Enthroned between the cherubim." "Enthroned" (NIV, NRSV) and "dwellest" (KJV) is the common verb yāshab, "sit, remain, dwell." Cherubim is the plural of kerûb, "angelic beings who are represented as part human, part animal."[142] The reference here is to the pair of cherubs facing each other whose wings overshadow the cover of the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:20). The ark of the covenant typified the throne of God in the Holy of Holies -- the cover or "mercy seat" as his dwelling place and the cherubim serving as guardians on each side. Hezekiah prays to Yahweh whom he sees as enthroned between the cherubim, in a much higher place than any earthly king. His vision of God drives his own faith in Yahweh's power.

"You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth." Hezekiah is a monotheist, a believer in one God. And he asserts that God's reign extends over and encompasses every human kingdom on earth, including the Assyrian empire.

"You have made heaven and earth." Hezekiah sees no limitation to God's power, since he made heaven and earth and can control anything within them. J.B. Phillips wrote a book entitled Your God Is Too Small.[143] The title says it all. If our own vision of God is small, we'll never ask of him great things. Hezekiah's prayer springs from his faith in the God of creation.

A Prayer for Deliverance (37:16-20)

Look at his prayer one more time:

"16  O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17  Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.

18  It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. 19  They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 20  Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God." (37:16-20)

The actual petition is quite brief: "Deliver us from his hand!" The basis of Hezekiah's appeal is that God be seen by the nations as the only true God.

Q2. (Isaiah 37:16) How do the first two sentences of Hezekiah's prayer (verse 16) correspond to the first sentence of the Lord's Prayer? How are they important to faith? How are they important to God answering the prayer?

The Answer to Prayer (37:21, 36-38)

The answer was not long in coming through Isaiah the prophet:

"This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria...." (37:21)

Isaiah makes several prophetic pronouncements:

  1. Sennacherib will return to Assyria (37:29).
  2. By the third year, Judah will have enough peace to plant a harvest (37:30).
  3. Sennacherib will not lay siege to Jerusalem in spite of his threats (37:33-34).

Yahweh declares:

"I will defend this city and save it,
for my sake and for the sake of David my servant!" (37:35)

The reason is given too. God has a purpose:

"For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant,
and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." (37:32)

After this poetic oracle, the narrator recounts:

"36  Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning--there were all the dead bodies! 37  So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. 38  One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king." (37:36-38)

This is an instance where the prophecy was given and fulfilled within just a few years. King Hezekiah believed God's word, acted upon it, and Jerusalem was saved.

Hezekiah's Illness (38)

God answered Hezekiah's prayer, but then another crisis loomed.

"In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, 'This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.'" (38:1)

The timing of the illness "in those days" can't be determined exactly,[144] but it may well have taken place around 701 BC at the time of Sennacherib's campaign. From God's response to Hezekiah's prayer through the Prophet Isaiah (38:6), it sounds like Sennacherib's presence was still threatening Jerusalem at this time. What a time to fall ill and die! What a difficult time this would have been to leave his country leaderless!

Hezekiah's mortal illness involved a boil (38:21), Hebrew shehîn, "boil, enflamed spot."[145] This may have been a furuncle or carbuncle, the latter being "a more extensive inflammation of the skin, usually attended by a lowering of bodily resistance, and it can prove fatal."[146] To us, most infections are easily cured with antibiotics, but in those days, a serious infection could bring death.

You may think it cruel to tell Hezekiah, "Put your house in order," but it was really a kindness. It is likely that he had no clear successor at that point. If this took place in 701 BC, it was before his son Manasseh was born. Hezekiah would have needed to name a successor so leadership would pass to another at his death without palace intrigues and unnecessary disruption to the kingdom.

God's Word and Human Response (38:1)

The Lord said, "You will die; you will not recover" (38:1), but that didn't happen. Why? If you remember Moses'intercession in Exodus 32, you can see the interplay between God's judgment and human response. Without any change in the situation, God's word stands. But with a different human response, the outcome can be different, though all within the boundaries of God's will. But Hezekiah did respond in prayer and faith, and God changed his mind. Let's examine Hezekiah's short prayer.

Hezekiah's Weeping (38:2-3)

"2  Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, 3  '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." (38:2-3)

The common English translations of the adjective describing Hezekiah's weeping do us a disservice. "Bitterly" (NIV, NRSV) and "sore" (KJV) suggest a wrong attitude on Hezekiah's part where the text doesn't imply any. The adjective is gādōl, "great," indicating "many" in number and other intensified concepts like "loudness" in sound, being "old in years," etc.[147] A good translation in this context would be "profusely." Hezekiah wept a lot; he wept profusely.

What kind of a baby is Hezekiah? Isn't it interesting how we westerners tend to see tears as a sign of weakness in a man? "Real men don't cry," is the way we train our sons. It's part of the macho exterior that men try to project. But in Hezekiah's culture, men were able to admit and express their emotions openly. It was no shame to cry when under stress.

Was Hezekiah terrified of death? Was he a faithless whiner? Certainly he did not look forward to death with the same longing as Paul, who saw it as "far better" (Philippians 1:23). But it is unfair to judge him by our knowledge this side of the cross. Hezekiah didn't know about eternal life in the presence of God; it was a later revelation.

His tears probably represent more than a fear of death. As mentioned above, it is likely that he had no heir yet, no one to carry on the line of Davidic kings promised centuries before that would culminate in a Messiah (2 Samuel 7:11-16). Hezekiah was a godly man who hoped in God. Young suggests: "Hezekiah could well be facing the same temptation that came to Abraham when he was commanded to offer up his son (Genesis 22:1)"[148] -- that is, the conflict of God's promise concerning his offspring with God's command that seemed to conflict with the promise.

Turning His Face to the Wall (38:2)

What does it mean, "Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord...."? Is this a childish, petulant response to an unwelcome word from God's prophet? I don't think so.

He is in his own bedroom, probably hovered over by various counselors, officers, and physicians who are concerned at the impending death of this strong and godly king. To be alone with God that he might pray with some privacy and without interruption, he turns to the wall. God has been his help in crisis many times. He turns to God now in earnest and heartfelt prayer. His tears are tears of emotion and struggle. You've been there. You know. Hezekiah is a human, weakened by illness, facing the heavy responsibilities of defending his nation against its enemies. In addition, now he faces death and the burden of succession.

Hezekiah's Petition (38:2-3)

"Prayed" is pālal, "intervene, interpose, pray," the most common Hebrew root for prayer and praying, the verb occurring 84 times in the Old Testament. Though the exact derivation of the root is a matter of conjecture, both the verb and the noun (tepillâ , 20:5) refer most often to intercessory prayer.[149] Here he petitions God strongly for his own life, but because of his position and responsibility, he also prays for his nation's uncertain future -- under military pressure, leaderless, and without a successor that can inspire national unity and resistance.

His prayer seems short, but he knows God well by this time in his life, and in its shortness and abbreviation of expression much is implied:

"Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes." (38:3)

You may think it naive of Hezekiah to appeal to God on the basis of his own righteousness. After all, everyone sins. But his righteousness is not only his own judgment, but the judgment of the inspired writer of Kings, who tells us:

"He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD...." (2 Kings 18:1)

"Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. 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. And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook." (2 Kings 18:5-7a)

Why does Hezekiah say what he does? I believe he is appealing to God's promises to David concerning his son Solomon and Solomon's offspring:

"When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever." (2 Samuel 7:14-16)

God promised an unbroken line of David's sons upon the throne. Hezekiah is also appealing to God's promises for offspring and for a long life to those who walk uprightly before him:

"Honor your father and your mother,
so that you may live long in the land
the LORD your God is giving you." (Exodus 20:12)

"Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the LORD your God gives you for all time." (Deuteronomy 4:40)

"Do not eat [blood], so that it may go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is right in the eyes of the LORD." (Deuteronomy 12:25)

Hezekiah, I am sure, had not reached sinless perfection, but he had been careful (unlike his father) to live a godly, righteous, and faithful life before the Lord. He had been zealous for the Lord, in the face of much pressure and criticism from idolaters. He had encouraged the people with confidence and trust in God when threatened by his enemies. Hezekiah not only talked about a righteous life. He lived it! He walked the walk!

Q3. (Isaiah 38:2-3) Why is Hezekiah's healing important for his nation? How did it relate to God's promises made to David (2 Samuel 7:11b-16)?

God's Immediate Answer (38:4-6)

Hezekiah appealed to God's promises for an heir and for long life for those who live a righteous life. God heard and answered quickly:

"Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: 5  'Go and tell Hezekiah, "This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. 6  And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city."'" (38:4-6)

Wow! God's answer is both amazing and wonderful. A saint of God prays and immediately God both changes his mind and sends alternate instructions to his prophet. A few minutes after Hezekiah prays, Isaiah returns to his bedroom. Elsewhere we read, "Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him" (2 Kings 20:4). Hezekiah is still lying on his side facing the wall. Isaiah says: "Hezekiah, this is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says...." Hezekiah turns over with wonder and joy on his face.

"Isaiah had said, 'Prepare a poultice of figs and apply it to the boil, and he will recover.'" (38:21)

According to Pliny, figs were used for the cure of ulcers.[150] Did the poultice of figs cure Hezekiah? It was probably instrumental, but only because God enabled it. Prior to this, Hezekiah was about to die and no figs would have helped. It is God who turned the situation around! Within three days Hezekiah would be strong enough to get out of bed and to go up to the temple (2 Kings 20:8).

Isaiah had given him a sign:

"This is the LORD's sign to you that the LORD will do what he has promised. 'I will make the shadow cast by the sun go back the ten steps it has gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.'So the sunlight went back the ten steps it had gone down." (38:7-8)

How God moved the shadow of the sun back to a previous position without utterly throwing the earth out of its orbit, we have no idea. But that's what happened.

Did Hezekiah Ask Wrongly?

I've heard people accuse Hezekiah of selfishness in his prayer for healing. The result of his prayer, this argument contends, is the birth of Manasseh, the worst king Judah had ever seen. If Hezekiah hadn't asked for healing, Manasseh would never have been born. Be careful what you pray for! That argument is specious and weak. Here's why.

  1. The Bible never indicates that requesting prayer for healing is selfish. Where in the Bible do you find such a preposterous suggestion? (James 5:14-15; Matthew 10:7; 12:15; etc.)
  2. Judah had a long history of bad kings before and after Hezekiah. Hezekiah isn't responsible for Manasseh's sins any more than God is.
  3. Without Manasseh, we wouldn't have had Josiah the boy king who brought about great reforms.
  4. Beyond seeking to pray within the boundaries of what we know to be God's will, the dictum of "Be careful what you pray for," is useless. No one can see the future but God. No one could have predicted Manasseh's wickedness except God himself.
  5. We pray to a Father who gives us what is good for us, not what is bad for us (Matthew 7:7-11). We can trust our prayers to a loving Father, who knows better that we do.
  6. God chose to answer Hezekiah's prayer and to bless him during his lifetime. Let's not confuse this by second-guessing.

Why Did God Grant Hezekiah's Prayer?

From God's response through Isaiah we get some hints to the reasons why God seems to have responded to Hezekiah's prayer, though we can't read God's mind:

  1. Hezekiah prayed. If he hadn't asked, God would have continued with the plan announced by Isaiah -- an early death. James says, "You do not have, because you do not ask God...." (James 4:2b).
  2. Promises made to David centuries before. The Lord identifies himself as "the God of your father David" (38:4) and says he will defend the city "for the sake of my servant David" (2 Kings 20:6).
  3. Respect for Hezekiah's leadership role. "Hezekiah, the leader of my people" (2 Kings 20:5a).
  4. Concern for Jerusalem's welfare. "I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city...." (38:6).
  5. Honor for Hezekiah's upright life. "I have heard your prayer," indicates that he has heard Hezekiah's implied prayer and honored the basis on which he made it, an upright life.
  6. Love for Hezekiah. "I have heard your prayer and seen your tears" (38:4). Hezekiah loves God and God loves Hezekiah. The Father has seen his child's tears and responded.

You, dear friend, are also loved by God. He has redeemed you by the blood of Jesus, which cannot be valued because it is so costly. He has made promises to you. He has encouraged you to pray to him. You may not be a king, but you have influence important to the kingdom. I encourage you to pray.

The Prayer of a Righteous Man or Woman

I also encourage you to consider personal holiness. Sometimes God answers the prayers of rank sinners and backslidden Christians. But his ear is particularly open to his children who seek to be obedient to him.

Consider your own children's petitions. When your child is being openly rebellious, are you quick to respond to his demands? No, you withhold everything except the necessities so your actions aren't construed as rewarding disobedience. But when your child is compliant and obedient -- and asks for something special -- you think twice about saying no. You want to say yes. And if it won't hurt him, you'll often give it to him.

This doesn't mean you must be sinless to get your prayers answered. Hezekiah wasn't sinless (2 Chronicles 32:26). He had made mistakes, wrong decisions, and had moments that reflect a weakness of faith. But Hezekiah made an honest attempt to follow God in his life and repented when he was convicted of his sin. God honored this with blessing, success, and answered prayer.

In no way do I want to imply that God owes us anything, that salvation is by works rather than grace. This isn't a works-righteousness mentality. It's just good heavenly parenting. All God's gifts are by grace -- his own favor towards us, which is neither earned nor deserved.

But God does honor the prayers of the upright over those of the backslidden. James teaches us:

"The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16b).

Q4. (Isaiah 38:3) What is the basis on which Hezekiah asks for healing? Why is personal righteousness and holiness important in getting your prayers answered? How can unrighteousness prevent answered prayer if all gifts from God are by grace anyway?

The narrator records a beautiful lament written by Hezekiah concerning this illness and healing (38:9-20). It is rich in imagery concerning mourning and death and praise:

"Like a shepherd's tent my house has been pulled down and taken from me.
Like a weaver I have rolled up my life, and he has cut me off from the loom" (38:12)

Hezekiah realizes that this healing was not because of sinlessness.

"You have put all my sins behind your back." (38:17b)

As a result, Hezekiah is inspired to both humility and praise:

"I will walk humbly all my years because of this anguish of my soul." (38:15b)

"The living, the living--they praise you, as I am doing today;
fathers tell their children about your faithfulness.
The LORD will save me,
and we will sing with stringed instruments all the days of our lives
in the temple of the LORD." (38:19-20)

Hezekiah's Foolishness with the Babylonian Envoys (39)

This historical section concludes with an incident in which the king of Babylon -- a sometime rebel against Assyria -- sends envoys to Hezekiah, ostensibly to congratulate him on his recovery, but probably to encourage him to rebel against Assyria.

"Hezekiah received the envoys gladly and showed them what was in his storehouses--the silver, the gold, the spices, the fine 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." (39:2)

Hezekiah shows these envoys his wealth as a way of demonstrating his importance as a king. Pride.

Isaiah rebukes him for his foolishness. It is the occasion for a prophecy of the rise of the Babylonian empire.

"Hear the word of the LORD Almighty: 6 The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD. 7 And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon." (39:6-7)

The prophecy was fulfilled ultimately in 587 BC when Jerusalem was destroyed by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar and its people sent to Babylon in exile.

Chapter 39 serves as a transition. It is the last chapter where the focus is on contemporary events, and it points to events that will take place more than a century hence. Chapters 40-66 are written primarily to encourage and instruct these exiles and guide them in their return to Jerusalem in 537 BC and later.

Chapters 36-39 have taught us about faith that is tested through the most extreme circumstances -- and comes out strong.

We learn from Hezekiah's example that God will answer the simple prayer of his servant. God's heart is open to the prayer of his child seeking to live a faithful, upright, righteous life. Since God has less need for discipline, he has greater freedom to grant us answers to our prayers without hurting us.

Can you pray Hezekiah's simple prayer? "Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes." I hope so.


Father, help us to move from being unruly children to the place where you don't need to discipline us so much. Help us to be like your servant Hezekiah, who trusted in you and your promises with all his heart, and wasn't afraid to ask you for what he needed. Help us grow in you. In Jesus'name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: 'O LORD Almighty, 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, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.'" (Isaiah 37:15-17)

"I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant!" (Isaiah 37:35)

"Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, 'Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.'" (Isaiah 38:2-3)

End Notes

[139] This chapter is adapted from Chapter 7, "Hezekiah's Petitions for Deliverance and Healing (2 Kings 19:14-19; 20:1-7)" of my book Great Prayers of the Bible: Discipleship Lessons in Petition and Intercession  (JesusWalk, 2005).

[140] Quoted from the Prism of Sennacherib, in James B. Pritchard (ed.), The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton University Press/Oxford University Press, 1958), "Sennacherib (704-681 BC): The Siege of Jerusalem," pp. 199-201 (corresponds to ANET 287-288).

[141] E.J. Young discusses the various problems of dating and reconciling accounts in a long and detailed appendix (Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah (Eerdmans, 1969), Vol. 2, Appendix 1, pp. 540-555). The period is also discussed in Donald J. Wiseman, 1 & 2 Kings: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries; InterVarsity Press, 1993), pp. 271-285; and Samuel J. Schultz, "Hezekiah," ISBE 2:703-705. In an attempt to resolve some of the problems, John Bright (A History of Israel, pp. 298-309) argues for a second campaign by Sennacherib into Palestine in 688 BC, but I think that approach creates more problems than it solves.

[142] R. Laird Harris, kerûb, TWOT #1036.

[143] J.B. Phillips, Your God Is Too Small (1952; Touchstone, reprint 1997).

[144] Young, Isaiah 2:509.

[145] Elmer A. Martens, shhn, TWOT #2364a.

[146] Alexander Macalister and Roland K. Harrison, "Boil," ISBE 1:532.

[147] Elmer B. Smick, gādal, TWOT #315d.

[148] Young, Isaiah 2:510.

[149] Victor P. Hamilton, pālal, TWOT #1776.

[150] Pliny, Hist. Nat. 23.7.122.

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