Hezekiah's Prayer for Healing
Anthony Ray Hinton sat on Alabama’s death row for nearly 30 years convicted of crimes he did not commit. In his book “The Sun Does Shine,” Hinton speaks of the struggle of knowing that any minute a date and hour could be assigned as his last on earth. Most of us are not given that kind of clarity about our longevity or what our last hours will be like. Hezekiah, the ancient king of Judah was. At the beginning of Isaiah 38 we learn that Isaiah was sent to Hezekiah with the grim prediction that a disease he had contracted involving some sort of skin lesion would not be improving but would, in fact, lead to his death.
As a young man, just 39 years old, he is shocked but rightly cries out to the Lord for deliverance. His prayer is simple and to the point: “Please, O LORD, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” Mercifully, the Lord hears his prayer and answers with healing and the promise of another fifteen full years added to his life. An amazing sign was given to assure Hezekiah in the moment involving the reversal of the sun’s shadow ten degrees on the sundial. Reversing the course of time seems to be something of a parable to turning back the time on Hezekiah’s own biological clock. In his gratitude, Hezekiah prays a lengthy prayer, recorded in verses 9-20, which gives some insight into his thoughts and feelings both before and after the healing. There are several practical truths that emerge as we break down the elements of this thankful prayer….
1. We should remember that our days are uncertain
How long do shepherds stay in one place? Hezekiah likens his life to a shepherd’s tent: one moment here and the next vanished (v.12a). Or perhaps you can imagine a weaver finishing a fine rug or tapestry and then cutting it out of the loom leaving nothing but the threads dangling on that device. That seems to be how Hezekiah feels his life has gone: Beautiful in the making, but cut away quickly and nothing left on the loom but threads to show for it. (v.12b)
12 Mine age is departed, and is removed from me as a shepherd’s tent:
I have cut off like a weaver my life: he will cut me off with pining sickness:
From day even to night wilt thou make an end of me.
If our days are uncertain and short, we ought to pray for the Lord to make us as productive as possible in them. Hezekiah sees that, and recognizes the importance of his time on earth:
18 For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee:
They that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.
19 The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day:
The father to the children shall make known thy truth.
2. We should pray even if the situation seems hopeless
We have a saying about being “stuck between a rock and a hard place.” I’m told the phrase originated during the great depression when quarry workers who disliked their jobs in the rocks had nowhere to turn but homelessness and didn’t know which would be worse! Hezekiah probably feels stuck between a rock and a hard place because, according to v.15, “The Lord himself is the one who did this.” I have to wonder if this was perhaps a similar test as the one given to Abraham when the Lord requested him to sacrifice his son Isaac. The patriarch was so certain of God’s promise that his seed would continue through Isaac that he brought him to the altar of sacrifice convinced that God would have to raise him from the dead rather than break his covenant. Hezekiah’s son Manassah was crowned at 12 years old which means he would have been born during these 15 extended years. This tells us that, at 39 years old, Hezekiah didn’t yet have an heir. Yet the Lord had promised a continual seed on the throne of David! Hezekiah doesn’t seem nearly so certain of God’s promises based on his recollection of the experience in v.10-16 (see his “chattering” and “Mourning” in v.14). In fact, his faith doesn’t seem very strong at all listening to his moaning cries retold in this prayer. But he did pray, didn’t he? Walking with God isn’t about the quantity of faith we possess but the object of our faith. Even faith the size of a grain of mustard seed is enough to move a mountain and so Hezekiah was right to pray even if, in the moment, he may not have felt like it would do a lot of good.
3. No matter how the Lord answers, we should be grateful that he doesn’t treat us according to how we deserve
17 Behold, for peace I had great bitterness:
But thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption:
For thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.
There’s a good chance that Hezekiah’s bitterness was so great because he wasn’t sure he had peace with God. Was this disease a sign of God’s displeasure? Some punishment for a sin he had committed? Or had he not been effective enough or enthusiastic enough about turning the people of Judah back to the Lord? One of the great blessings of being heard and answered, beyond the 15 years of additional time on earth was the assurance that God had not held his sins against him. Perhaps Hezekiah was not confident of God’s love until after this scene. But if the Lord would answer that prayer, then surely he had been accepted in spiritual ways as well. What an application we can draw out of this passage, that every time we experience an answer to prayer it should be a reminder of our salvation and God’s kindness to us!