Thursday, June 2, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 113. King Hezekiah Of Judah, Part 11

Prophets And Kings
Day 113
King Hezekiah Of Judah
Part 11

Hezekiah is stricken with a serious illness in today's passage.

2 KINGS 20:1-11
The events in Chapter 20 took place during the time that Jerusalem was under threat of Assyrian invasion, according to verse 6. The author didn't tell us until now that Hezekiah dealt with a deadly illness at the same time he was dealing with the king of Assyria. Hezekiah had trouble on top of trouble, just as we sometimes have trouble on top of trouble. Have you ever been through a season in life when it seemed like one thing after another was going wrong? That must have been how Hezekiah felt when faced with the threat of national defeat and the threat of death at the same time.

"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.'" (2 Kings 20:1) Hezekiah was only about thirty-nine years old when he fell ill and this was devastating news.

In the face of such dreadful words from the Lord, we might expect Hezekiah to give up and wait for death, but instead he appeals to a merciful God. He knows God might relent and let him live because he has been faithful to Him. He knows God might relent for the sake of Judah so she doesn't lose her king during troubled times. "Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 'Remember, 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." (2 Kings 20:2-3) When trouble comes on us because we've been living wrong, it isn't pleasant but at least we understand the connection between our actions and their consequences. But sometimes trouble comes even when we're living in the will of God. Hezekiah accomplished great things in Judah. He rid the land of idols and pagan altars. His faith encouraged a revival in the nation. Judah is walking closer with God during Hezekiah's reign than she has in a long time. Of course he wept bitterly, knowing he had been faithful to God and still was afflicted.

But it will turn out that his illness is not for the purpose of death. "Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: 'Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of My people, '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 20:4-6) The illness and the threat of Assyria appear to be linked together somehow. Maybe Hezekiah needed the discipline of the illness and the faith-strengthening divine healing in order to face down King Sennacherib. 

"Then Isaiah said, 'Prepare a poultice of figs.' They did so and applied it to the boil, and he recovered." (2 Kings 20:7) Isaiah uses medicine but likely does so at the direction of the Lord, with the Lord advising him on the type of treatment. The text indicates that Hezekiah would have died had he not prayed to the Lord, for it's only after he prays that the Lord says, "I have heard your prayer and seen your tears." It's only after he prays that the Lord sends Isaiah back with the proper cure. 

Some Bible scholars and physicians believe Hezekiah may have contracted bubonic plague and that this could be what wiped out over one hundred thousand soldiers of the Assyrian army in yesterday's passage. The boils produced by the plague could be softened and reduced in size by a poultice of figs but figs were unlikely to cure the disease. If figs could cure the plague then millions of people wouldn't have died of it over the centuries. The poultice Isaiah uses reminds me of the way the prophet Elisha used ordinary things to produce miracles. The miracle wasn't in the poultice or in the ordinary things. The miracle came from the Lord. Hezekiah's prayer of faith was heard and the Lord healed him.

Hezekiah understands his healing is from the Lord and not from the poultice. "Hezekiah had asked Isaiah, 'What will be the sign that the Lord 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 the Lord will do what He has promised: Shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or shall it go back ten steps?'" (2 Kings 20:8-9) Hezekiah's illness has rendered him bedfast. In his pain he desires a sign from the Lord. He feels so terrible that it's hard to imagine feeling well enough to go to the temple three days from now. 

Don't we long for a sign from the Lord when we are in dreadful circumstances? We feel like we can make it through if He will just assure us everything will turn out alright. Sometimes the Lord gives us these assurances and sometimes He doesn't. During one of the most awful periods of my life I repeatedly asked for a sign that things were going to work out the way I wanted them to work out. The Lord didn't grant my wish. Instead He very clearly pointed out that He wanted me to trust in Him no matter how things turned out. Up til then I trusted in other things more than I trusted in Him. I found my security in other things. He taught me a valuable lesson, a greater lesson than I would have learned if He had given me the sign I asked for. I had to trust Him step by step and day by day, not knowing what the end result of my troubles would be, and I learned more about my Savior than I would have otherwise.

The Lord asks Isaiah if he would like the shadow from the sun to go forward or backward as a sign he will be made well. Hezekiah knows the growth of his faith depends on his answer. He chooses the sign that seems most difficult to him so he will never doubt that the Lord personally healed him. "'It is a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps,' said Hezekiah. 'Rather, have it go back ten steps.'" (2 Kings 20:10) It was natural for the shadow to move forward as the day progressed. But it was not natural to see it go backward. Hezekiah knows that, over the next fifteen years the Lord is giving him, his human tendency might be to doubt his healing came from God and not from the poultice. If the sun goes in its natural direction, even though it makes a sudden ten degree leap forward, over time he may doubt what his eyes have seen. 

"Then the prophet Isaiah called on the Lord, and the Lord made the shadow go back the ten steps it had gone down on the stairway of Ahaz." (2 Kings 20:11) We don't know how the Lord did this but it's a small thing for the Creator to make a shadow go backward. He graciously heard the prayer of Hezekiah and promised him healing, then provided a sign so that for the rest of his life Hezekiah will know his healing came from the Lord. 

We can't be certain why the Lord allowed Hezekiah to be afflicted with a deadly illness but I tend to suspect it was for the purpose of strengthening his faith. There are things I've gone through that I wouldn't ever want to go through again. But I wouldn't trade what I learned about the Lord during those times for anything in this world. I bet my readers know what I'm talking about. There are things we learn about the Shepherd of our souls in the valley of affliction that we can never learn on the mountaintop of joy. This is why David wrote Psalm 23, for he had learned that the Lord was as able to shepherd him through the hard times as He was to shepherd him through the good times. Psalm 23 is probably the most well known of the psalms and it was written about the valley of affliction. We wouldn't have that psalm if David had never experienced hardship. We wouldn't have the testimony that we have if we had never experienced hardship. Because the Lord has allowed affliction in our lives, we can say in faith along with David, "The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing...Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me."

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