Friday 16th September 2022

ISAIAH 37, 38 and 39

When Hezekiah heard the Assyrian commander’s threat on behalf of the King of Assyria, he did the right thing: he humbled himself, dressed for mourning, fasted, and went to seek the Lord in his temple.  And he sent word to Isaiah to the effect that the King of Assyria had insulted the Living God and needed to be taught a lesson.  The reply came via Isaiah, telling Hezekiah not to be afraid, and that He, the Lord, would deal directly with the King of Assyria.

Fulfilment of the promise started to happen swiftly, and the besieging armies almost immediately withdrew – but not before Sennacherib had given a final parting insult to God and Hezekiah, telling them that ‘he would be back!’.  Again, on hearing this message, Hezekiah went and humbled himself before the Lord; his prayer is instructive for us, since it embraces two opposite truths: “Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth…” (37:16) and: “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands…” (37:18). The prayer recognised the majesty, the power, and the sovereignty of the Lord, and it was realistic about the human opposition that Judah faced.  Prayer needs to be truthful and realistic, whilst still leaving room for faith in the miraculous.  Joining these two thoughts together, Hezekiah prayed: “Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.”

And so, because Hezekiah had prayed for God’s honour and glory to be seen, the Lord responded and declared that he would put up with Assyrian ridicule no longer!  And that he would defend Jerusalem for the sake of his glory and for Kind David’s sake.  God put to death 185,000 enemy soldiers and forced the end of the war.  The King of Assyria retreated home to Nineveh in shame and was killed with the sword by his own sons.

What would you do if you were told – during an illness – by God’ prophet that you would soon die; that there was no chance of you recovering?  Would you just accept it?  Hezekiah was distraught; he had not lived a great number of years and had been one of the best and most faithful kings that Israel or Judah had ever had.  It just seemed so unfair!  When you consider that Manasseh, such an evil king, lived the longest of all Judah’s kings, it is clear that a lengthy life is not always given for good behaviour – it is not as simple as that.  So Hezekiah wept bitterly before God – a very normal reaction that God did not criticise at all – and reminded the Lord how faithfully he had served him.  God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and changed his mind, choosing to add 15 years to Hezekiah’s life.  As a sign that this promise was true, he made an ancient sundial go backwards – symbolically ‘turning the clock back on his original decree’.  Later on, after he had recovered, Hezekiah wrote a highly perceptive hymn of worship, including such phrases as: “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish…”. 

In the last two verses of this chapter (38) it is clear that God’s healing power was not contradictory to the medical practices of the time either – they worked hand in hand.  We must realise, in prayer for healing, that we must first and foremost trust the Lord and seek his glory.  Also, we must be realistic about the human chances of recovery.  Asking God to glorify his name is the prime reason for calling for healing.  And don’t pour scorn on modern medicine; God can use all kinds of means to achieve his ends!  God is sovereign in healing, as much as in anything else in life, so let us not pretend that we can change his mind if he does not want to change it; yet persistent prayer does seem to accomplish much.  Don’t we live in a paradoxical world!

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