Thursday, October 13, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 107

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 107

Today we conclude Hezekiah's writing about his illness and recovery.

"You restored me to health and let me live. Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish." (Isaiah 38:16b-17a) Hezekiah is thanking the Lord for his troubles. There are things I wouldn't want to go through again for anything, yet I'm thankful for those troubles. I'm thankful for what I learned about the Lord during my trials. I can say, along with Hezekiah, "Surely it was for my benefit." 

The king's words remind me of one of my favorite verses from the psalms, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your word." (Psalm 119:67) Before he was afflicted Hezekiah was trusting in his alliance with pagan nations to save him from Assyria. Before he was afflicted Hezekiah looked everywhere but to God for help. After he receives divine intervention in his terminal illness, he will look only to the Lord to rescue him and the city of Jerusalem from the enemy. 

"In Your love You kept me from the pit of destruction; You have put all my sins behind Your back." (Isaiah 38:17b) "The pit" in the Bible was an abode of the dead but with a negative connotation. A person might refer to the pit in the same way in our times we might refer to hell. Literal pits were used in ancient times to trap wild animals or to place a prisoner in, so the term is connected with having fallen or with being trapped. Because Hezekiah is saved by his faith in the Lord, his sins are forgiven. He is spared the destiny of the pit. God has placed his sins behind Him, where they cannot be seen or brought up again. In addition to these wonderful things, God has also spared his life.

"For the grave cannot praise You, death cannot sing Your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness." (Isaiah 38:18) In Old Testament times, before the advent of the Lord Jesus and His clearer teaching about death and resurrection, people had only a cloudy idea about the realm of the dead. They believed in a place called sheol in Hebrew, known as hades in Greek, which unfortunately got translated as hell in English. This world of the dead was believed to have been divided into two compartments: one for the godly and one for the ungodly. In Old Testament times some believed this was the permanent abode of the dead, while others clearly understood there would be a resurrection of the dead, as attested by some powerful statements of faith. For example, the Lord revealed the resurrection to the prophet Isaiah, "But Your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise---let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy---Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead." (Isaiah 26:19) Job, in his anguish, spoke of a new life and a new body that his Redeemer would give him, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes---I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19:25-27) Bridging the gap between the Old and New Testaments, we find Martha the sister of Lazarus proclaiming a belief in the resurrection, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." (John 11:24) 

When Hezekiah says the grave can't praise the Lord, he is displaying his fear and confusion about what the realm of the dead might be. God has forgiven his sins, so he need not fear the pit of destruction, but he has no idea what activities go on in sheol for the godly. Will he know anything there? What will the nature of his existence be? Will he simply be asleep until the resurrection? The only thing he knows for sure is that, while he yet lives, he can praise the Lord on the earth. He can tell of the goodness of the Lord to others. "The living, the living---they praise You, as I am doing today; parents tell their children about Your faithfulness." (Isaiah 38:19)

"The Lord will save me, and we will sing on stringed instruments all the days of our lives in the temple of the Lord." (Isaiah 38:20) We don't know who wrote Psalm 146 but at this point in his life I think Hezekiah would agree with its message, "Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live." (Psalm 146:1-2)

At the conclusion of Hezekiah's writing, the scribe of Isaiah adds this information, "Isaiah had said, 'Prepare a poultice of figs and apply it to the boil, and he will recover.'" (Isaiah 38:21) I don't think the poultice itself had the power to heal Hezekiah. Fig poultices were commonly used in ancient times to draw out inflammation and help relieve pain, but if this had been capable of healing something as deadly as Hezekiah had, it would have already been tried. I think whatever infection he contracted, whether it was bubonic plague or something equally virulent, had spread throughout his entire system by now. He was terminally ill. If God had not stepped in he would have died. 

I think the poultice was intended more as a sign than as a cure, for the Bible tells us, "Hezekiah had asked, 'What will be the sign that I will go up to the temple of the Lord?'" (Isaiah 38:22) Isaiah had told him in 2 Kings 20:5b, "On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord." And upon hearing this, Hezekiah asked for a sign that he would indeed be in the temple three days hence. The sign appears to be the poultice, There are ancient medical writings from Emar on the Euphrates which indicate the use of poultices as signs for whether or not a person would recover. After applying the poultice, its color would be checked to see what type of inflammation it had drawn from the body, and the person would be treated accordingly. Apparently if the poultice turned black it indicated the person would die. I think Isaiah applied the poultice and used its color as a sign to Hezekiah that he would live. It did not turn the dreaded black that meant death.

Hezekiah's healing was from the hand of God, just like his forgiveness and redemption. No works of man healed his body. No works of man could save his soul. God alone performed these things for him and no wonder he intends to sing the praises of the Lord for the rest of his life.

No comments:

Post a Comment