Monday, October 10, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 104

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 104

As we begin Chapter 38 we need to keep in mind that it is not inserted in chronological order. It takes us back in time to a point before the Lord delivered Jerusalem from Assyria. On a specific day in his life, King Hezekiah of Judah was deathly ill. It happened before the Lord turned the Assyrians away because in Chapter 38 the Lord is still promising to help Jerusalem. And it must have taken place before Assyria had Jerusalem surrounded and closed in, for after Hezekiah's recovery in Chapter 39 we find the king of Babylon sending envoys and fine gifts to celebrate Hezekiah's deliverance from death. It's likely the events of Chapter 38 came about at around the time Hezekiah joined the coalition of nations to rebel against Assyria or right afterwards, when Assyria was attacking the outlying cities of Judah and intended to eventually attack Jerusalem itself.

"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.'" (Isaiah 38:1) Isaiah's words sound harsh but we don't know what tone of voice he actually used. He's relating the words of the Lord to a deathly ill king; I would imagine he spoke respectfully and solemnly. Hezekiah was considered one of the better kings of Judah and Isaiah could not have been happy at the thought of losing him, especially with a national crisis at hand. 

"Put your house in order" is practical advice for anyone facing death, and most especially for the leader of a nation. At this time Hezekiah doesn't even have an heir-apparent to the throne. The only son the Bible tells us he had was Manasseh, fathered after his illness. So Hezekiah is lying on his deathbed with no son to succeed him and would need to name a successor from his deathbed, just as King David had to do by putting his crown on Solomon's head. This would prevent civil war from breaking out with various relatives of the king vying for the throne. 

But I think when the Lord says "put your house in order" He is speaking of the spiritual condition of the king. Hezekiah has wavered in his faith lately and needs the wake-up call of this illness. The Lord has stated that Hezekiah will die but we know from the Scriptures that the king will recover. This is not deception on the part of the Lord. Had Hezekiah not prayed for help, the Lord would have made good on the words of death. But because Hezekiah will respond to this sad news by appealing to the only One capable of healing him, Hezekiah is not going to die and his family line will continue on. 

Hezekiah has been a good king and has done great things for Judah in removing the high places and the pagan altars and the idols. He has restored worship at the temple. He has observed all the laws and rituals a godly king is supposed to observe. But in his heart he has drifted from the Lord. With the Assyrians threatening to overtake the entire region, Hezekiah had a crisis of faith and fell into the same fear as the nations around him, nations whose gods were not gods at all. He failed to understand he was in a better position than those nations because he served the living God, a God able to help and to save. So when the Lord allows this dreadful illness to overtake Hezekiah, it's actually intended for his good. Its purpose is to get him back on track.

The message from Isaiah was devastating to the king. "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." (Isaiah 38:2-3) Hezekiah isn't lying when he says he has done what is good in the Lord's eyes. He has zealously tried to rid Judah of idolatry. He has pointed the people back to the Lord. His heart has not wandered off after other gods but has remained steadfast. His faith in God's deliverance may have wavered, but he believes there is only one God. He has not stopped believing that God exists. He has simply done what all of us have done at one time or another in dreadful circumstances: he doubts whether God is going to come to the rescue. Think back to the last time you were facing hard times. Did you stop believing God exists? As Christians we generally don't fall to that level of doubt even in our worst times. But we often doubt God is coming to help us. We know He's capable of more than we could ever imagine, yet we doubt He will help us. We can believe He's done great things for others, but we aren't sure He thinks enough of us to run to the rescue. We forget that most of the heroes of the Bible were just ordinary men and women who possessed extraordinary faith. God didn't run to their rescue because He liked them more than other people, or because they had higher status than other people, or because they observed more religious rituals than other people. He helped them because of their faith. They had the faith to ask big things of a big God and He responded by fighting on their side. 

We don't know whether the Lord answered Hezekiah's prayer the same day he prayed it. We know Isaiah had left the king's presence when the answer came because he had to go back to Hezekiah to relate the Lord's words. "Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: '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. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city.'" (Isaiah 38:4-6) 

The Lord is about to graciously give Hezekiah a sign he did not ask for. Hezekiah's idolatrous father, Ahaz, failed miserably when the Lord offered him a sign. He spurned the Lord's grace. But Hezekiah has a different kind of heart than that of his father and so the Lord reminds him he is descended from a faithful man like King David. The Lord skips over all the generations in between and says, "I am the God of your father David." (v 5) 

Isaiah goes on to tell the king, "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." (Isaiah 38:7-8) This stairway built by his father must have been visible from Hezekiah's sick bed. It's thought to have either been the stairs up to his private quarters, upon which the sun shone through the windows, or else it was a sundial outside the palace that Hezekiah could see from his bedroom window. Either way, Hezekiah knew it was not normal for the sun to change course and move backwards. We don't know how the Lord accomplished this but as the Creator, He is Master over the universe. In addition, some scholars suggest it was a local event only, because when the king of Babylon sends gifts to Hezekiah it is because he has heard of the events of today's chapter. He makes no mention of having seen the sign of the sun himself. This would mean the sun itself may not have literally moved backward but that the Lord engineered some refraction of light or special circumstance to make the shadow on the staircase move backward ten steps. 

More important than how it was done is why it was done: to give Hezekiah the faith to stand against the king of Assyria when his army amasses outside the gates. Hezekiah is lying ill to the point of death, incapable of doing anything but believing. He has to accept on faith that God has answered his prayers. And this is our condition when we come to Christ: we are lost in sins and facing death without a Savior. We are incapable of saving ourselves. We can do nothing but accept on faith what Christ has done for us. The Lord has done all the work and our only responsibility is to accept it on faith. We can add nothing to what Christ has wrought for us. We bring nothing to the table. As the old hymn says, "Jesus paid it all." 

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