The Life and Times of Hezekiah
We've looked at the life of Hezekiah as described in several Old Testament passages. These do not recount everything that happened, but they do describe three of the most significant times in his life:
1. Reformation — When Hezekiah became king at 25 years of age, he began one of the most ambitious religions and social reform programs in Jewish history. Because of these, the nation prospered economically and spiritually.
2. Response to Assyria — In the previous chapter we looked at what took place when the Assyrians laid siege to Jerusalem. Hezekiah refused to surrender and instead put his trust in God to save the nation, and God did save them by sending an angel to destroy 185,000 Assyrian soldiers.
Eventually, the Assyrian king returned home and was also killed, thus putting an end to the constant threat of this neighbor to the north. The interesting thing about this particular episode is not the fact that Hezekiah resisted the Assyrians. That he resisted was not what saved him and the nation, what saved him was that he sought the will of the Lord in what to do in the matter, and obeyed Him. Years later when the Babylonians were threatening Judah, the prophet Jeremiah was telling the people to surrender and submit to this foreign nation, but the people were stubborn and didn't listen and tried to do what Hezekiah did but failed. As a result, the city was destroyed and many were killed or taken into captivity.
The difference was not whether they chose to resist or surrender, the difference was whether they sought the Lord and followed His instructions or not. Hezekiah succeeded because when he saw his predicament he went immediately to the Lord in prayer to seek His help and counsel. God told him to resist, and if he obeyed he would succeed.
Success is not based solely on the plan we choose to execute. For the believer, success comes when we seek and follow God's plan. Some will say, "Well, it was easy for Hezekiah because he had Isaiah to actually tell him what to do." True, but many kings and leaders didn't listen to the prophets and did their own thing even after the prophets spoke. We read in King Saul's case that he disobeyed even after the prophet Samuel told him what to do.
Today we can still go to God in prayer to ask for direction, and He still answers us in a variety of ways:
- His Word, if we read it and know it, He will provide the answer and direction we should take. (II Timothy 3:16, teaching, reproof, correction)
- His church, the leaders and teachers in the church can be counselors to help find solutions and direction. (Ephesians 4:11-12)
- His Holy Spirit, that convicts our hearts and moves us to search and do what is right before God. (Romans 8:14 "…led by the Spirit")
Like Hezekiah, we can succeed in facing our greatest trials and challenges not by figuring out the best plan of attack or devising coping strategies, we succeed when we go to God first in prayer asking for His direction and His solution to our problem.
The final episode of Hezekiah's life that we will examine involves one more example of Hezekiah going to God in need. This time for a very personal matter.
In II Kings 20, the author simply states that Hezekiah became mortally ill (at about age 39-40). The remainder of the information about Hezekiah tells of how he prayed to God to be healed and after he was, the foolish way he acted with foreign envoys from Babylon.
1 In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, "Thus says the Lord, 'Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.'"
Hezekiah was ill, but there was a question of how serious it was. Isaiah announces that it is terminal.
2 Then he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, 3 "Remember now, O Lord, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Your sight." And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
A familiar response from Hezekiah is his immediate turning to God for help. Note that he is grieving his imminent death and his prayer is typical of one "bargaining" with God (one of the five steps in the grieving process). Perhaps Isaiah's announcement brought him out of the denial stage. He is telling God that he doesn't deserve this and that he has been good and done his best.
4 Before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 5 "Return and say to Hezekiah the leader of My people, 'Thus says the Lord, the God of your father David, "I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake and for My servant David's sake."'" 7 Then Isaiah said, "Take a cake of figs." And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered.
At exactly that moment, the Lord spoke to Isaiah and gave him a message for Hezekiah: it is the true God (of David and fathers) who speaks to you concerning this matter, God has heard the request, God has been moved by Hezekiah's grief and tears (not by his argument). We don't appeal to God with logic or arguments, but with a broken heart and a humble spirit.
God makes certain promises to Hezekiah:
- He will be well enough to go to the temple in three days.
- He will add 15 years to his life.
- He will save the city from the Assyrians.
- He will continue to protect Jerusalem.
These promises reveal that the illness took place during the episode with the Assyrians but was explained later on in the book of Kings. The writer reveals that Hezekiah suffered from an infected boil of some kind, and fig cakes (often used to draw infection) were used to treat it.
God provides the manner of healing, and more importantly, the promise that it would work. This is why we pray for doctors and their care of us today. They have the treatment, surgeries and medication, but we pray for God to provide the results.
8 Now Hezekiah said to Isaiah, "What will be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of the Lord the third day?" 9 Isaiah said, "This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that He has spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten steps or go back ten steps?" 10 So Hezekiah answered, "It is easy for the shadow to decline ten steps; no, but let the shadow turn backward ten steps." 11 Isaiah the prophet cried to the Lord, and He brought the shadow on the stairway back ten steps by which it had gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.
Hezekiah cannot simply wait the three days for his healing to take place; he wants a sign right away. The Lord obliges him by telling him to choose what sign he would like to see: the shadow of the sun-dial move forwards or backwards?
Unlike Joshua's sign where the sun stood still as a sign to the people, this sign was private in nature and only for Hezekiah. He chooses that what was presently in shadow be illuminated on the steps of the palace. This also signified that extra time was given him, like the clock being turned back.
In Isaiah 38:9-20, Isaiah records a prayer written by Hezekiah where he praises and thanks God for his healing and extended life. In this poem or song:
- Hezekiah grieves over the sudden end to his life. It is interesting that he equates dying with not seeing God anymore. It was with David that the thought of life after death and a continuing relationship with God began to be fully expressed in writing.
- The king also pleads to live since this was the only way he could please and praise God. He says that after death there would only be silence. Again, no concept (like Paul) that death brought you into God's presence.
12 At that time Berodach-baladan a son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that Hezekiah had been sick. 13 Hezekiah listened to them, and showed them all his treasure house, the silver and the gold and the spices and the precious oil and the house of his armor and all that was found in his treasuries. There was nothing in his house nor in all his dominion that Hezekiah did not show them. 14 Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah and said to him, "What did these men say, and from where have they come to you?" And Hezekiah said, "They have come from a far country, from Babylon." 15 He said, "What have they seen in your house?" So Hezekiah answered, "They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing among my treasuries that I have not shown them."
After his recovery, and after the city was saved from Assyrians, Babylonian envoys were sent to visit with him. The Babylonians were a rising power at the time, not as strong as the Assyrians yet, but becoming more powerful. They were scouting the area for potential allies or future conquests. Hezekiah had prospered with his reforms and was showing off the wealth of his nation in an attempt to build political friendships with these people. He quickly forgot that he had no need for political alliances with pagan nations. He didn't realize that he was setting himself up for a future attack. He may have been overconfident because God had promised 15 more years of life and protection to the city (contingent on trust and obedience). He enthusiastically recounts to Isaiah what he did with the envoys.
16 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, "Hear the word of the Lord. 17 'Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and all that your fathers have laid up in store to this day will be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,' says the Lord. 18 'Some of your sons who shall issue from you, whom you will beget, will be taken away; and they will become officials in the palace of the king of Babylon.'" 19 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, "The word of the Lord which you have spoken is good." For he thought, "Is it not so, if there will be peace and truth in my days?"
Isaiah predicts what the Babylonians will do to the Southern Kingdom in about one century:
- He predicts the utter destruction of the city.
- He predicts the exile of its people.
- He even predicts the eventual influence of Daniel and the three young nobles from Jerusalem who were Hezekiah's royal descendants.
In Isaiah, it is after this event that the prophet begins to prophecy and lament over the future sufferings of the people and the coming of the ultimate Savior centuries later. For his part Hezekiah has a rather short-term view of what Isaiah has said. He believes and accepts it, but since it is in the future he is relieved, even happy that he can look forward to 15 years of peace and prosperity.
He probably thought that Babylon's becoming a great power was good since he wouldn't have to worry about Assyria, but we know from history that they became Judah's worst enemies later on.
20 Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah and all his might, and how he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 21 So Hezekiah slept with his fathers, and Manasseh his son became king in his place.
This summarizes and finalizes his life.
These have been stories that give us insights into a man who did great things and from whom we can learn much. His experiences and reactions to things are really the teachers in these stories. For example, they teach us about being God's person and what that means:
1. God's person is very human
Looking at what Hezekiah did does not reveal him to be some kind of superhero. It shows someone with a spotty record with some great, some good, some bad and some stupid moments:
- Cutting off the Assyrians — bad
- Getting rid of idols — good
- Obeying God in a crisis — great
- Showing off his wealth — stupid
- Did a bad job raising his son, Manasseh, who went back to idolatry and evil
Being God's person doesn't mean being perfect, it means that we remain God's person despite our successes and failures.
2. God's person relies on God
Hezekiah had an automatic reaction whenever something bad happened: he went straight to the temple to pray about it. His first response was always prayer and seeking God's will, and the times he failed we see it was because he failed to do this.
Not all of God's people are kings, but if a king felt the need to rely on God, shouldn't the rest of us be prepared to go to God first when trouble comes?
3. God's person lives by grace
Despite his mistakes, even compound mistakes (showing off, then being glad that punishment is only after you die to other people), God blessed Hezekiah.
He lost as many as he won, but God blessed him anyway. It made no sense, it didn't add up, the blessings compared to the track record. Grace doesn't add up, isn't logical, and is not based on scores or what you deserve. As I've said before, grace is getting what you don't deserve.
The only reason Hezekiah survived the revolt of his own people when he tore down their altars; survived the Assyrian army; survived a terminal illness; survived a diplomatic blunder, was because God decided to extend His grace to him.
The only reason we will ever survive our past mistakes, present weaknesses and future failures is because, as God's people in Jesus Christ, God has decided to extend His grace toward us.
This is the greatest lesson we can learn from this king and the most important lesson we can learn from the Bible as a whole!