2 Kings 20:1-11
In those days was Hezekiah sick to death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, Thus said the LORD…
In order of time, this recovery of King Hezekiah from sickness stands before the destruction of Sennacherib, though in order of narration it comes after it. So with the Babylonian embassy (see on 2 Kings 18:1-13).
I. WARNING OF DEATH.
1. Unexplained sickness. "In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death." His disease was some ulcerous growth, called in the narrative "a boil." We have been accustomed in this history to see troubles of body, and calamities in the state, connected with sin, as part of its temporal punishment. But there is no reason to believe that Hezekiah was guilty of any special transgression which led to his being visited with this sickness. His own conscience was clear, and there is no indication of blame in the narrative. Affliction is sent for other reasons than the punishment of sin, and we grievously err, and do great injustice to the sufferers, if we insist on always interpreting it in this light. Job's friends committed this error (Job 42:7, 8; cf. Luke 13:1-5; John 9:1-3). In Hezekiah's case affliction was no doubt sent as a purificatory and strengthening discipline, intended to try his faith, and lead him to new experience of the grace of God.
2. The announcement of death. It was while Hezekiah's mind was troubled about his sickness that the Prophet Isaiah came to him, and brought the message, "Thus saith the Lord... thou shalt die, and not live." In its natural course the sickness would have had a fatal issue. The fact of our mortality is one we should often have before us. Every ache, pain, and trouble of body, reminds us that we are here but for a time - that this is not our rest. They are prophetic of the end. A time, however, comes when the near approach of the end is unmistakable, if not to the individual himself, yet to others. If a man is dying, it is the truest kindness to let him know it. Isaiah might have withheld this information from Hezekiah on the ground that it would agitate him, might hasten his death, could do no good, etc., - the usual pleas for keeping back from a patient the news of his hopeless condition. We have only to put the matter to ourselves: would we like to be within a few weeks or days of our death, and not be made aware of the fact? Would we in such circumstances like to be buoyed up by false hopes? Then why buoy up others? By acquainting a patient with his real state, we give him opportunity for setting his house in order; for prayer to God that might, as in Hezekiah's case, lead to his recovery; in any case, for suitably preparing his mind in view of departure.
3. The duty of preparation. "Set thine house in order" said Isaiah; "for thou shalt die." It is a duty incumbent on us, even in health, to have our worldly affairs so arranged that, if we should be unexpectedly removed, they would be found in order. The neglect of this simple duty - the putting it off under the idea that there is still plenty of time - leads in numberless cases to confusion, heartburning, strife, and loss. If the putting the house in order has not been attended to, the approach of death is a solemn call to do it. In any case, there wilt be final arrangements, last words, loving directions which belong peculiarly to the dying hour. If it is important to set our worldly affairs in order in view of death, how much more to have every spiritual preparation made!
II. PRAYER FOR LIFE.
1. Hezekiah's distress. The announcement that he was soon to die filled Hezekiah with deep grief. He turned his face to the wall, prayed earnestly to God, and wept sore. The grounds of his distress may be inferred from the hymn composed by him after his recovery (Isaiah 38:9-20).
(1) The natural love of life. This is implanted in every one. It has its root in a true instinct, for death in the case of the human being is unnatural. It was not a part of the primal order. Man as made by God was destined for immortality, not immortality of the soul only, but immortality of the whole person. Death is the violent wrenching asunder of two parts of his personality which were meant to be inseparable. It is the fruit of sin, and abnormal (Romans 5:12).
(2) The want of a clear hope of immortality. The experience of the Old Testament saints teaches us to distinguish between a mere idea of future existence, and such a hope of immortality as is now possessed by Christians. The Hebrew believed in the after-existence of the soul. But this of itself brought no comfort to them. Sheol was uniformly pictured as a region of gloom, silence, and inaction. Its shadowy life was no compensation for the loss of the rich, substantial joys of earthly existence. In hours of depression this was the view of Sheol that prevailed. Only in moments of strong faith did the believer rise to the confidence that God would be with him even in Sheol, and would deliver his soul out of these gloomy abodes. The Hebrew hope of immortality was really a hope of resurrection (Psalm 16:10; Psalm 49:14, 15). It is Jesus Christ who, in the full sense of the words, has brought life and immortality to light (2 Timothy 1:10).
(3) The thought that death would cut him off from the comforts of God's presence, and the privilege of waiting on God and serving him. This is implied in his view of Sheol, and is expressed in his song (Isaiah 38:11). It was, therefore, no unmanly fear of death which Hezekiah showed, but one resting on good and substantial reasons.
2. Hezekiah's prayer. Cut off from earthly help, Hezekiah betook himself in earnest prayer to God. The fact that he did pray, and that his prayer was answered, is an encouragement to us to pray for recovery from sickness. The New Testament also holds out this encouragement (James 5:13-16). In his pleadings with God, Hezekiah adopted a tone which may seem to us to savor too much of self-righteousness. "I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart," etc. It was not, however, in a spirit of self-righteousness that he urged this plea. He was conscious of many sins (cf. Isaiah 38:17). His meaning was that he had endeavored to serve God faithfully, and with an undivided heart, and had the claim which God's own promises gave him of life and blessing to those who acted thus. A good conscience is a great encouragement in prayer to God, though, with the deeper views of sin which the gospel gives, there is rightly a greater shrinking from pleading anything that might seem like one's own merit (see Perowne's 'Introduction to the Book of Psalms,' 2 Kings 3. sect. 3, "Assertions of innocence in the Psalms").
III. RECOVERY FROM SICKNESS.
1. The promptitude of God's answer. Scarcely had the prayer left Hezekiah's lips than the answer was communicated to Isaiah. The prophet had not yet left the palace, but was still within its precincts, "in the middle court," when word came to him to return to Hezekiah, and assure him of recovery. God in this ease, as always, was "waiting to be gracious" (Isaiah 30:18). The answer was given
(1) out of regard to Hezekiah himself, "Tell Hezekiah the captain of my people;"
(2) in answer to his supplication, "I have heard thy prayer;"
(3) for the sake of David, "The Lord, the God of David thy father" (and cf. ver. 6). This recovery was one of "the sure mercies of David' (Isaiah 55:3). For similar examples of prompt answer to prayer, see on 2 Kings 19:20.
2. The promise of lengthened life. The message which Isaiah was to carry to Hezekiah contained three parts:
(1) a promise that he would be healed, and able to go up to the house of the Lord on the third day. "A striking instance of the conditionalness of prophecy" (Cheyne). Hezekiah's first use of his recovered health is assumed to be a visit to God's house.
(2) A promise of fifteen years more added to his life. God thus exceeds his servants' askings. The king sought only healing; God assures him of a prolonged term of life (cf. Ephesians 3:20).
(3) A promise that the city would be defended against the Assyrians. This was another word to Hezekiah through which God caused him to hope (Psalm 119:49). Yet he nearly forfeited it by his subsequent worldly policy (see previous chapters).
3. The king's recovery. Isaiah's word was fulfilled, and the king recovered. Whether "the lump of figs" was a simple remedy or a mere sign need not be discussed. In our case the duty of using means in connection with prayer is plain.
IV. THE SIGN OF THE SUN-DIAL.
1. The request for a sign. When Isaiah communicated his message to Hezekiah, the king said, "What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me," etc.? One wonders that to so good a man the prophet's word should not have been sufficient, and that he should have asked for this additional confirmation. But
(1) It was an age of signs (Isaiah 7:10-12; Isaiah 8:18; 2 Kings 19:29).
(2) The thing promised was very wonderful and hard to believe, especially after the announcement, "Thou shalt die, and not live," made a few minutes before. There is no doubt a greater blessing on those that have not seen, and yet have believed (John 20:29); but weak faith too has its rights, and God shows his condescension in stooping to give it the needed supports.
2. The sign given. Isaiah had offered Ahaz a sign, either "in the depth, or in the height above" (Isaiah 7:11). Hezekiah had now proposed to him a sign in the height. The shadow on the steps of Ahaz's sun-dial would be made either to go forward ten degrees or go back ten degrees, according as Hezekiah should desire. As the more wonderful phenomenon of the two, Hezekiah asked that it might go back ten degrees, and at Isaiah's prayer it was done. We inquire in vain as to how the wonder was produced. The fact that it seems to have been a local sign, though widely noised abroad, suggests a miracle connected with the laws of refraction. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.