Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 106

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 106

We are in the middle of a writing that King Hezekiah composed about his illness and recovery.  We begin with the anguish he felt while he was still sick, "I waited patiently til dawn, but like a lion He broke all my bones; day and night You made an end of me." (Isaiah 38:13) Hezekiah in his trial tossed and turned all through the dark night, waiting for dawn, only to find that no relief came with the sunrise. His fever did not break with the morning. We don't know how many days Hezekiah wrestled with his illness but he speaks of "day and night" as if it went on for a while. He's crushed by his circumstances like bones that have been crushed in the lion's mouth.

"I cried like a swift or thrush, I moaned like a mourning dove. My eyes grew weak as I looked to the heavens. I am being threatened; Lord, come to my aid!" (Isaiah 38:14) Hezekiah recognizes that it is the Lord who has given him this trouble, but he also knows it is the Lord who can save him from it. 

At the same time Hezekiah lies sick with his life threatened, his nation is being threatened by Assyria. He feels there isn't a worse time to have become sick. The small kingdom of Judah already appears weak in King Sennacherib's eyes; how much more will she appear weak if he finds out her king is dying? Hezekiah is looking at his situation from a human standpoint but God, in His awesome wisdom, knows there is not a better time to allow this trial to come into the king's life. Hezekiah is going to need the faith that will come from his healing in order to stand firm at the approach of the Assyrian army. As we've already seen in our study of Isaiah, by the time the soldiers reached the gates Hezekiah was depending on no one but God. He was promising the people that God was going to deliver them. He was praying a humble prayer in the temple. He was seeking the advice of the prophet Isaiah. The man who cried bitter tears on his sickbed will be the same man who stands firm in the faith when the enemy is at the door.

The remainder of the writing is about Hezekiah's healing. "But what can I say? He has spoken to me, and He Himself has done this." (Isaiah 38:15a) The Lord told Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah that He had seen his tears and heard his prayers; He was going to add fifteen years to the king's life. Hezekiah knows the Lord is the One who has healed him. 

"I will walk humbly all my years because of this anguish of my soul." (Isaiah 38:15b) I think Hezekiah meant this when he said it. Like many of us, he is ready to make great promises in the face of deliverance. He is overwhelmed with relief and thankfulness. But in our next chapter we find him pridefully showing the wealth of his palace treasuries to the envoys from Babylon. We know he doesn't do it in the right spirit because Isaiah gives him a woeful word of prophecy as a result of his actions. King Hezekiah is a man who messes up from time to time, just as we all do, and I'd be tempted to give him a pass on his problem with pride except it's evident the Lord views it harshly, coming as it does directly on the heels of the king's miraculous recovery. These two events (his illness and his behavior with the Babylonians) are inextricably linked together. Isaiah intends for us to see the contrast between the humbleness of spirit in today's chapter and the pride in tomorrow's chapter. 

But we don't want to get the impression that the Lord can't use Hezekiah after he makes a mistake. The author of the books of the kings says, "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 stop following Him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses." (2 Kings 18:5-6) There were twenty kings of Judah and Hezekiah receives the highest praise of them all. He overcame a great deal to serve the Lord, having been brought up in the idolatrous household of king Ahaz. He had the courage to reform the entire religious system and destroy the pagan altars of his father. He held fast to the Lord even in his illness, with no ugly words against God for allowing it to happen to him. When the enemy stood outside the gates of Jerusalem, scorning the king and blaspheming the Lord, he instructed the people to trust in God and promised them that God was coming to the rescue. Of course he made some mistakes in his life, but these did not disqualify him from serving the Lord. And thank God for that! If mistakes disqualified us there would be no place for me at the Lord's table! "If You, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve You." (Psalm 130:3-4) God, in His precious mercy, looks at our lives as a whole narrative, not as a series of specific bad choices. He sees us for who we can be, not who we were in the past. 

"Lord, by such things people live; and my spirit finds life in them too." (Isaiah 38:16a) By what things? I believe Hezekiah means the word of the Lord. He has just finished saying, "He has spoken to me", and the word of the Lord to him means more than simply a reprieve from death. His spirit finds life there too. The Lord spoke the word that healed his body but more than that, in the Scriptures Hezekiah finds what heals the soul. 

In God's word we find deliverance from many snares of this life and we find the deliverance of our souls from death. In His word we find the assurance that, if we have stumbled and fallen in the faith, we can repent and be restored. God doesn't cast us aside when we mess up. Like a father teaching a small child to walk, God lifts us to our feet and helps us on our way again. What father would say to his toddler, "Son, you've fallen down too many times. I'm just going to leave you there."? God our Father is patient with us and merciful to us. Every time King Hezekiah failed in his faith, the Lord helped him back up, and this is why the author of the kings has such wonderful things to say about him above all the other kings of Judah. Hezekiah never scorned the helping hand of the Lord. He had a teachable spirit. He had a heart that longed to know the Lord and to study the Scriptures. As long as we have these attitudes, God can do something with our lives. We don't have to just lie there in the mud when we fall down; God is reaching out His hand. With Him is forgiveness so we can get back up and keep on serving. 

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