Hezekiah Reasons with God in Prayer
Hezekiah was a most remarkable king. After David he was perhaps the most righteous and faith king that reigned in Judah. He did remarkable acts of service to the Lord, particularly protecting the Lord's worship and purifying it. But Hezekiah was also a great man of prayer and in the prayer of Hezekiah we can see something of a model for us as to what prayer to the true and living God should be.
Hezekiah is presented to us in our text through two prayers that he offers to the Lord. The first prayer is that God might be glorified in the defeat of Sennacherib's army. Such is rather easy to understand and seems to fit in well with our general understanding of prayer and our relationship to God in prayer. But the second prayer, when Hezekiah falls sick, is not so easy to understand. II Kings 20:3 records that brief second prayer of Hezekiah:
“Remember now; O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in thy sight.”
How many of us would be likely to pray a prayer like that, “O, Lord I've loved the truth, I've served you wholeheartedly and I've done what is good so you should be to me.” How are we to understand this prayer? What does this prayer really mean? One commentator at least suggests that it is not really a godly prayer at all. The Commentator says that prayer is “characterized by its self-centeredness not its faith.” But is that really a valid way of this prayer? After all, the Lord answers this prayer. We are told the Lord hears this prayer and heals Hezekiah. So it does not seem that the Lord treats this prayer as somehow selfish or self-centered or sinful. If this is a godly prayer, what can we learn from it? What can we learn from this and the experience of Hezekiah to help us to be similarly faithful praying people?
Just so there will not be too many expectations for this sermon at the outset, let me say that we are not going to learn that whenever the people of God fall sick, they can pray and be healed. That is not at all what Hezekiah's prayer teaches us. But it does teach us some very crucial things about how we are to pray and what we are to expect from the Lord as we pray.
The Problems of Hezekiah
In order to profit from this prayer we have to look at exactly what the problem is that Hezekiah faces that leads him to pray as he does. What are the problems in Hezekiah's life? The first problem is the obvious one: he's sick! He's very sick. He is miserably sick. If we had read a little further in chapter 20, we would see that the prophet Isaiah is told to make a paste out of figs to rub on what appear to be ulcers on his skin. This is really a miserable, wasting kind of disease that has struck a relatively young Hezekiah. Hezekiah is 39. Yet he is sick with a sickness unto death. He has only been on the throne 14 years.
As if that sickness were not enough, he has a prophet come to him and say to him that he had better set his affairs in order for he will surely die. This is not the kind of pastoral visit that most of us look for when we are sick. Here the great prophet Isaiah comes with this word of doom: --no word or encouragement, no word of hope, simply this word of doom.
And yet as we look more closely at this story of Hezekiah, we begin to see that his sickness is only a part and expression of a deeper problem that he wrestles with in prayer. It is not just his sickness that worries Hezekiah and drives him to prayer. At a deeper level, he is worried about what this sickness says about the faithfulness and reliability of God and his promises. One of the things we see as we study this story of Hezekiah is that was a man who knew the Bible and its promises intimately. His mind and heart were filled with the Scriptures and as he meditated on the Scriptures, he knew that the Lord had made certain promises to Israel. He knew that when the Lord had set Israel apart to be a showcase for his redeeming work among the nations, God had made a promise to Israel -- a promise expressed, for example, in Deuteronomy 4:39, 40.
“Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the Lord, he is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other. So you shall keep his statutes and his commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and your children after you, and that you may prolong your days on the land which the Lord your God is giving you for all time.”
The Lord had promised length of days to his people in Israel. That was part of the unique blessing that the Lord was going to manifest among those old covenant people. He was going to show to the world that he was the Lord of life and display that truth in his people. Israel among the nations would have that unique experience to show the peoples of the world that Israel served a life-giving God.
Hezekiah, however, finds his life threatened. Hezekiah only 14 years on the throne, only 39 years of age is facing death and he goes to the Lord. He wrestles with the Lord about this question, “How can this be? How can this be in accord with your promise to give life? I have been one of your most faithful kings and yet my reign is a rather short one. How does this relate to your promise? How does this manifest your glory?”
Beyond the general promise of life, Hezekiah sees a special reason for life in his situation. Hezekiah thinks specifically of the comparison between himself and Sennacherib. Think with Hezekiah about Sennacherib. Sennacherib had invaded Judah and he had come as a very well informed invader. Somebody had studied the Judeans for Sennacherib and had given him very good information as to what kind of people they were, what their culture was, and what their religion was. He had heard that they had this strange monotheistic religion. So Sennacherib comes into Judah and he says, “Jehovah sent me.” His spies must have told him that this might be meaningful to the people and so he comes, presuming to come in the name of the Lord. He appears to have been informed that the God of Israel was the God that had promised to his people a land flowing with milk: and honey, a land of peace and prosperity. So Sennacherib comes saying, “I will give you peace. I will give you prosperity. I will give the fruit of your figs and vines or if I don't let you stay in this land with your figs and vines, I will take you to a land just like yours, just as good as yours. You will have peace and you will have prosperity there.” Sennacherib says, “Don't go to war with me. Don't choose death. Choose life. I'm the one who can give you life. Don't put any trust in those promises of Hezekiah that the Lord will deliver you for none of the gods of the nations can stand before me.” So Sennacherib comes as if he were God. Sennacherib comes as if he were Messiah, as if he were the Christ bearing these promises of life and peace and prosperity. He claims to come in the name of the Lord to the people of God. In reality he exalts himself against the Lord and against his word and against his promises. Sennacherib claims to be able to stand and conquer all the peoples and all the gods including Jehovah. He comes as the proud blasphemer pretending to be the Lord's Messiah.
Against that pride and blasphemy, Hezekiah prays in his first prayer: “Now, O Lord, display before the nations your glory. Now, O Lord, show that you are the true and living God, the only true and living God and cast down this blasphemer before the nations that all men may see that his pride is brought to naught and that you are exalted.” And that, of course, is exactly what the Lord does. The Lord does strike down the blasphemer in the most dramatic way. His troops are decimated in one night. Sennacherib is forced to retreat to his capital, and even there he is not safe. Even in his temple and the bosom of his family, he is not safe. His own sons rise up against him and strike him down in the temple of his god and he is destroyed. As Hezekiah reflects on the destruction of Sennacherib, he thinks, “Lord, if it is right that the faithless Sennacherib be struck down and die so that your glory might be revealed among the nations, then it cannot be right that I should die in my youth when I have been good and faithful.” You see how intense that problem is for Hezekiah. It is not right that the good and faithful anointed king of God's people should suffer the same fate as Sennacherib, the wicked monster who has raised himself against God and his people. How can the glory of God be displayed in that?
As if these were not enough problems, there appears to be one more. It seems that Hezekiah at this point in his life, has no son, no heir. We read that when the Lord healed Hezekiah, his life was extended by 15 years. Then we read that when Hezekiah died, his son Manassah came to the throne at age 12. So it appears that at this point where Hezekiah is threatened with death, he has no son to sit on David's throne. There is no son to continue David's line. Therefore, the very line of Messiah is threatened in this illness and this sentence of death that has come upon Hezekiah. So out of all that, he turns to the Lord in prayer. We have to keep the depth and complexity of Hezekiah's problems in mind if we are to understand his prayer.
The Prayer of Hezekiah
The first thing we notice about Hezekiah's second prayer is that the very fact that he prays is a remarkable sign of the faithfulness of Hezekiah. Think how desperate his situation is. He feels sick unto death. He has had the prophetic word that he is going to die. How would you have reacted? I suspect that for many of us there would be a tendency not to pray but to be very angry, or simply to be in a state of numb despair. “OK, I'm going to die; what's the point of anything? I'll just roll over and die.” But that is not Hezekiah's attitude. In his prayer we see the man of faith, the man of God, revealed to us. In the midst of his sickness, in the midst of this terrible situation that he confronts, in the midst of distress about as serious as anyone can face he is a man of prayer. Here is an expression of the very heart of faith that in distress, it turns to God, not away from God. In facing problems, faith seeks help in God. It does not doubt God’s presence or despair of his goodness.
Hezekiah’s prayer flows from a mind fined with Scripture. I believe that he had in mind a psalm of David, Psalm 34. Let me read some verses out of Psalm 34 to show how well they fit with the situation of Hezekiah, and how knowing these promises would have encouraged the man of faith to turn to God in prayer:
I sought the Lord and he answered me, and answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” (v.4) “This poor man cried and the Lord heard him and saved him out all his troubles.”(v.6) “Who is the man who desires life and loves length of days that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and lips from speaking your deceit. Depart from evil and seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry. The face of the Lord is against evil-doers to cut off their memory from the earth. The cry and the Lord hears, and delivers them out all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out them all. ft (v.12-19)
Here are the kinds of promises of the Word of God that encourage Hezekiah. The Lord has promised to hear the righteous. The Lord has promised to deliver the righteous. So Hezekiah turns to the Lord in prayer and says, “Lord, I have been faithful. I have kept your covenant. I have been one who has sought to walk in your ways.”
Was Hezekiah saying that he was perfect? No! It is clear from Scripture that Hezekiah does not claim to be perfect. In Isaiah 38:17 we read another prayer of Hezekiah. There he prays:
“It is Thou who hast kept my soul from the pit of nothingness, for Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back.”
Hezekiah knew he was a sinner. Hezekiah knew that left to himself, there was no good thing in him. But Hezekiah also knew that he had been redeemed by the grace of God; that he had been forgiven and renewed by the grace of God; that he had been made a part of God's covenant family. He knew that in the covenant family, by the grace of he was a covenant keeper. When he turns to the Lord and says, “I have loved your truth; I have walked in your covenant; I have devoted myself to you,” is himself with Sennacherib. He is saying, “I have not been a covenant breaker like Sennacherib. I have not blasphemed against you. I have sought in all my life to serve you. So Lord be merciful to me. Lord, show me your grace and your favor. Lord show me your goodness in prolonging my life.” Hezekiah prays very much in the spirit of Psalm 26: 1-6.
We know that the only one who is truly righteous and the only one who keeps God's law and covenant is Jesus, the Messiah. And so we understand something about the covenant of grace even more deeply and more fully than Hezekiah did. When we pray, we are careful to come to God only in Jesus name. We come in the name of the one who is truly righteous, the one who perfectly kept God's covenant in every way. Yet like Hezekiah, those of us in Jesus Christ can come to God saying, “I am a covenant keeper. I am not perfect, but out of the intention of my heart, renewed by your grace, I am striving to live for you, to serve you. I am your child. I am part of your covenant. O Lord, show me your mercy; show me your goodness.”
When Hezekiah prays as a covenant-keeper for healing, he is not praying selfishly and self-centeredly for himself. He is not saying, “O Lord, I have been good, so you owe me something.”
Rather Hezekiah is reasoning with the Lord in prayer at a very profound level. He is really saying to the Lord, “You are the giver of life. You are the one who has always supplied your people with life and health and strength. You are the one who can even raise one up from his death-bed, so that in the third day he may go into your temple and glory you. You are the one, O Lord, that grants life to your people. You are the one who raises the dead. To display your righteousness before the nations, as you have slain the wicked Sennacherib, so raise up the covenant-keeping Hezekiah that you might be glorified.” At the heart of the second prayer of Hezekiah is the same prayer for God's glory that we saw in the first prayer of Hezekiah. He is not praying selfishly. He is not praying self-centeredly. He is praying for God's glory, for God's purpose to be fulfilled, for God's kingdom to come.
You see, such prayers should guide and direct our praying. I fear that our praying often runs the risk of degenerating into a kind of shopping list. “O Lord, I'd like A, then I'd like B, then I'd like C, then I'd like D.” It is like children drawing up a Christmas list. These are the things we'd like. To a point that is legitimate, but what Hezekiah challenges us to do in our prayers is to go a further step and reason with the Lord, tell him why we desire the things for which we ask. How might it might change our prayers if every time we offered a prayer to the Lord, we explained to him how that particular request would advance the glory of his kingdom. Imagine a prayer meeting in which someone asks prayer for Aunt Bessie's broken leg. What if the leader of the meeting then said, “Why should we pray for Aunt Bessie's broken leg?” We might be shocked at first by such a question. But the question would encourage us to seek God-glorifying reasons for the requests we make to God. Perhaps if our prayers were focused on what advances God's glory, we would rearrange our priorities in prayer. Maybe we would begin to have prayers that were more spiritually directed to the great issues of God's kingdom. We are called to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
If we reason with God in prayer, we will pray for his glory and in the end we will pray that his will may be done. “Your will be done” is always the pinnacle of prayer. It is not the first element of our prayer as if in some Stoic fashion, having no feelings or emotions, we say “Your will be done.” No. We wrestle with the Lord in prayer; we present our petitions to the Lord in prayer; we try to reason with God to advance his glory. Then when his glory has become our greatest concern, we can say, “Your will be done.” Then we understand that his will glories himself best. When we say “Your will be done,” we are speaking as child to father, a father in whom we have utter confidence to do what is good and wise and right. Therefore after we have opened our hearts to God as Hezekiah opened his heart and as David so often does in the Psalms, we can at last turn it over to God and say, “Father, I love you and I trust you and I know that you are wiser in glorifying yourself than I am. Therefore, your will be done.” Implicit in Hezekiah's prayer is this same sentiment: “It seems good to me, O Lord, that I should be raised from this sickness, but whether I get well or not, glorify yourself, O Lord, and your will be done.” That is the kind of prayer that we are called upon to offer as we follow in the footsteps of Hezekiah.
The Lord shows his blessing upon Hezekiah by healing him, by raising him up, by uniting him in the fellowship of worship in his temple and by granting him 15 more years of life and by giving him a son, and by delivering Jerusalem from the hand of the Assyrians. The Lord surely did glorify himself in answering Hezekiah's prayer.
The Lord calls us then to pray seeking his glory. To pray person to person, to pray opening our hearts, to pray pouring out the deep desires of our hearts, our frustrations as well as our joys, but then to reason with God and with ourselves so that we too might be changed in prayer. We are to pray that God might be glorified and that his will might be done.
If we are to pray that way effectively, we need to do as Hezekiah did and fill our minds and hearts with the Word of God. Hezekiah's prayer flows out of his profound knowledge of God's purpose and the ways in which God glorifies himself. Hezekiah's mind was clearly filled with the Psalms, and ours should be too. That is why it is so important that we sing the Psalms. We need those rich and deep roots of piety out of God's own Word to fill our hearts so that we might glorify him. Sing Psalm 30 and unite with David (and Hezekiah) in celebrating the deliverance of the Lord.
May God encourage us to reason with him in prayer to seek his own glory and to glory in his will. Amen.
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