Today’s reading: 2 Kings 20-22.
My head spins as I consider the implications of Hezekiah’s near-death experience. I’m convinced I don’t have the wisdom to sort out all the metaphysical possibilities. So instead of speculating about what might have been, I’ll stick to the things that are certain.
God had determined that Hezekiah was going to die from a severe boil. In the days before antibiotics and surgical skill in draining abscesses, this was the usual outcome. God told Hezekiah plainly that his death was near.
Hezekiah’s prayer changed God’s plan. We cannot know whether God was testing Hezekiah to see how he would respond. We can clearly see the power of prayer to change outcomes, even in matters of life and death. God hears our prayers and sees our tears (20:5). Before the prayer, Hezekiah was going to die; after the prayer God said he would heal him. I don’t mean that prayers routinely bring the dying back to life, only that prayers have the power to change what happens to us.
Hezekiah saw the purpose of God’s healing him. Isaiah 38 fills in the gaps in the events that took place after the king recovered. Hezekiah prayed in thanksgiving this time, acknowledging that God had brought him through his illness:
- to humble him (38:15)
- because his sins had been forgiven (38:17)
- so that he could praise God before men (38:19)
God strengthens our weak faith. God could have insisted that Hezekiah accept his promise unconditionally, but with grace he rolled back the sun by ten degrees to further cement the certainty of Hezekiah’s salvation.
Hezekiah lost the opportunity to capitalize on God’s gift. Ephesians 5:16 says we should redeem the time, because the days are evil. In other words, we should use our time to make a difference in eternity. Hezekiah knew that he had been saved to praise God, and that he had suffered in order to learn humility, but the record of his final fifteen years is a sad one. When a delegation from Babylon came to congratulate him on his recovery, he showed off the wealth of his treasury (pride) instead of giving God the glory (failure to praise). Within the next 100 years the Babylonians would return to capture all the wealth of Judah.
And one more thing: Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, began to rule Judah when he was twelve years old. He was born within Hezekiah’s last fifteen years. He ruled for fifty-five years. And he was probably the most vile king that ruled Judah.
Some people argue that Hezekiah should have accepted God’s initial plan and accepted his death. I say, instead, that we should praise God for the power of prayer, but humble ourselves and make the most of God’s grace when he does deliver us in the day of trouble.
Image by SimpleInsomnia on Flickr, CC by 2.0