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Tuesday, 14 July 2015 10:26

Hezekiah's Healing

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Our theme for today’s message in this series on the life of King Hezekiah, is “God Almighty and Hezekiah’s sickness and healing.” A brief reference is found in II Chronicles 32:24 but II Kings 20 and Isaiah 38 give us many more details. And truly how instructive and God-honoring and faith-building this story is. There is something important that we need to consider before we look at Hezekiah’s sickness, and that is, when did this actually happen in his life? The way the story is told in both II Kings and Isaiah you might think his sickness came years after the troubles with King Sennacherib and the Assyrian threat. But the reality is, Hezekiah became deadly ill probably right after the major defeat of the Assyrians as we learned about last time. We say that on the basis of the first phrase in II Kings 20, “in those days”. The chapter before was telling about the defeat of Sennacherib and his army with the 185,000 soldiers killed by one angel of the Lord. And now we are told, “in those days” this also took place, and the text tells about this sickness of Hezekiah. What confirms the timing of this serious sickness of his is the fact that with the miraculous healing we know the LORD also promised him another 15 years of life. We learned last time that the major battle or threat of the Assyrians came right in the middle of his reign as brought out both in II Kings 18:13 and Isaiah 36:1. There we read, “Now in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah and took them.” So what is most likely the case then is that right after the great God-given victory over the Assyrians, suddenly King Hezekiah becomes very sick. And what a trial that was again. As one put it: …having scarcely reached the shore from one shipwreck, suddenly [he] fell into another equally dangerous.” Yes the grim reaper of death would come and take Hezekiah now too, not by Sennacherib but by sickness. In connection with this fact of sudden sickness in his life, I want to give you here the commentary of John Calvin. He writes, in reference to Hezekiah going from one crisis to the next: Let us therefore remember that believers must endure various temptations [and trials], so that they are assailed sometimes by wars, sometimes by diseases, sometimes by other calamities, and sometimes one calamity follows another in unbroken succession, and they are laid under the necessity of maintaining uninterrupted warfare during their whole life; so that, when they have escaped from one danger, they are on the eve of enduring another. They ought to be prepared in such a manner, that when the Lord shall be pleased to add sorrow to sorrow, they may bear it patiently, and may not be discouraged by any calamity. If any respite [rest] be allowed, let them know this is granted for their weakness, but let not a short truce lead them to form a false imagination of a lengthened peace; let them make additional exertions, till, having finished the course of their earthly life, they arrive at the peaceful harbour. What a reality check here is given us, something to learn also just from the fact of this deadly illness coming over Hezekiah so soon after dealing with the Assyrian crisis. We live in times when we so easily can think that we are owed a smooth sailing throughout our lives. But the truth is, every day of our earthly journey, especially also for God’s people, life is full of challenges and trials and battles of one kind or another. At least if we will live faithfully and fruitfully unto the Lord in our generation and for the generations following. When you read the life stories of John Calvin and the reformers, you learn too how many trials they endured, one after the other, as servants of the Lord, seeking to live in wholehearted devotion to God, obeying His holy, infallible, inspired word. With this introduction, come now with me, along with the prophet Isaiah, to the sickbed of Hezekiah. How wonderful, by the way, when trials come, and God sends His servants, pastors, elders, and fellow Christians, to come and visit with you. What better then to have the ministry of the LORD with you in whatever trials and hardships or good times you and I may go through. In this case King Hezekiah is sick, very sick. And the prophet Isaiah, hearing about it, visits with the king, likely, as the text implies, sent to minister to him by the Lord Himself. But it is not happy news Isaiah has to bring. For what does the prophet say to King Hezekiah? You are going to die, dear king, this sickness is a sickness unto death. “Set your house in order; for you shall die, and not live.” How solemn that is. And imagine being told this so directly, so definitely. We all know that one day we will die but to be told death is coming shortly; you won’t get better again, you'll soon breathe your last, yes, you won’t live much longer; get ready to die, that is hard news to take in. How does Hezekiah respond? We are told it fills him with grief and sorrow, and “Hezekiah wept sore” it says in Isaiah 38:3. Literally the text reads, “Hezekiah wept with great or much weeping”. When the text mentions Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, that should tell us he spent time alone with God in fervent prayer, pouring out his sadness and deep grief to the Lord. Hezekiah was so sad that so early in life he would have to die, when just 39 years old, and that right in the heart of his reign as king of Judah. Hezekiah had in mind so much more work to be done in bringing the kingdom of Judah back to God and the true worship of Him and living for Him. Why would the LORD now cut short his life, when in all his reign his desire was to glorify God and to bring the people in submission to His word and will? Can you hear Hezekiah’s moans and groans in his weeping before the LORD? In Isaiah 38:14, in reflection himself, Hezekiah had written, “Like a crane [a whooping crane] or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward: O LORD, I am oppressed; undertake for me.” When you read all Hezekiah’s later reflections on this time in his life, it is clear too that he was conscious of his own sins and sinfulness and he speaks of all his sins in Isaiah 38:17. With his prayer to God as expressed in II Kings 20:3 and Isaiah 38:3 about walking before God in truth “and with a perfect heart”, he was not pleading ‘sinless perfection’ on his part. No, he was pleading, only by God’s grace, his life of covenantal obedience and seeking in all matters to live in integrity before God and others. Did God not promise His care and keeping of the righteous? So why now was his life being cut short? In his grief with the news of his death coming soon he was thinking of God’s displeasure upon him in one way or another still, and this too greatly adds to his sorrows. Something else to note, reading Hezekiah's whole story, it seems at this point he had no heir to the throne yet. Three years later Manasseh would be born, whom we know became king after Hezekiah. But that was three years away. And the issue here was not first for Hezekiah to have a son, but thinking of the promise of God that always there would be kings from the house of David on the throne. What would happen to that promise, ultimately in fulfillment by the great Son of David, the Messiah King to come, if Hezekiah now would die childless with no heir to the throne? You see, all this and more no doubt was involved in his outpouring of sorrow and grief before the LORD being told by Isaiah as God’s spokesman he would not get better but would die. How instructive to read this response of Hezekiah to this sad news! What do we do with whatever sad news comes our way, whether in regards to ourselves, or to loved ones, or difficult situations in family or church or country or world? Is your first and primary refuge in time of need the LORD? Isn’t this what the Bible urges from the first chapters in Genesis and all throughout till the last chapters in Revelation? In Psalm 50:15 you have that urgent invitation from the LORD, “And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” Psalm 46:1 declares the testimony of God’s people, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Is this your and my testimony too by God’s grace, as confessing Christians in our day? If it is not so, will you not learn from our text passage that there is no better or greater Hearer of prayer than God the LORD, and no better or greater Helper either. Here I come also to the next main point, considering not just the sad news with Hezekiah’s sickness, but listen now to the good news with his healing. We are told that upon Hezekiah’s prayer and plea before the LORD, God again sends Isaiah back to him. And this time the prophet may come with more happy news indeed. For we are told God heard his prayer and would answer it positively in restoring him to good health and indeed, giving him another 15 years to live. It is not quite clear how much time there was between the two visits of Isaiah to Hezekiah. The passage in II Kings suggests and implies, however, it wasn’t too long a time. After the first visit Hezekiah broke out in private personal prayer and petition before the LORD, and it seems from the text in II Kings 20:4 that even before Isaiah had made it to his own home again, he was being sent back to the king. The LORD tells Isaiah according to II Kings 20:5-6, “Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD. And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake. And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered.” What a turnaround for King Hezekiah! You may ask, why would the LORD have let him go through such a trial even unto death, and then upon prayer turn around and spare his life, giving him another 15 years of life? Isn't one reason this, that here we see someone pleading in prayer to God and God hearing that prayer. Just to promote true prayer to God, this history about King Hezekiah in a time of great need in his life speaks volumes. Too often we can think and act as if the LORD really doesn’t hear us when we pray and He doesn’t truly care. But as one commentator so beautifully put it in this connection, Apparently [yes, learn this from our text] the LORD loves to lift our anguish. Our prayers matter to him. Truly, the LORD hears our prayers and as the psalmist of Psalm 116 states, “He inclines his ear” to us when we pray. The one true God is not reluctant nor uncaring or unable to help. Here the lines of John Newton come to mind... “Come my soul, thy suit [need] prepare: Jesus loves to answer prayer, He Himself has bid thee pray, therefore he will not say thee, nay. Thou art coming to a King— large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, none can ever ask too much! Something else about why God let this all happen to Hezekiah is so we might see again and learn more what a gracious and great and glorious God is the LORD God of the Bible! For think how the LORD not only in an almighty way miraculously heals Hezekiah but He remembers His covenant promises and gospel promises. Notice the reference to David by Isaiah in Isaiah 38:5 - Isaiah there calls God - "the God of David". Why? Because God had promised David that of his family line the promised seed would come and one day the great Son of David, the Royal Messiah Himself, would be born. And Isaiah's mention of David brings all that to mind. And with God's answer don’t we see God seeking and showing to be faithful and true to His covenant promises? Notice too that while His faithfulness to His promises is not dependent on the prayers of His people, yet He will make use of the prayers of His people in the fulfillment of His promises. Oh, how reliable God is in Himself but how He teaches us here He delights in the prayers of His people and He works also through and in line with the His people calling upon Him and pleading His promises and His word in all their needs. In Isaiah 38:9-20 we are given a whole song of prayer that Hezekiah wrote out in reference to his sickness and healing before God and surely it is meant to teach us that God is so great and faithful and good and kind. And how good and right it is ever to rely on Him and to devote ourselves to Him in all our ways. In the last verse of that thanksgiving song Hezekiah testifies, “The LORD was ready to save me: therefore will we sing songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the LORD.” Thinking of God’s greatness through this whole event, there is not just the miraculous physical healing of Hezekiah to consider. But notice what greater good news Hezekiah so rejoices in as expressed in Isaiah 38:17. “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.” Isn’t that the best news ever? With the LORD there is forgiveness of all our sins, and with God is victory even over death. Hezekiah could not understand this gospel as clearly as we can in our New Testament age but he knew enough that, as the psalmist testified in Psalm 130, “With the LORD is plenteous redemption” for His people, for all who call upon God in repentance and faith. We know that ultimately this all could be so and is truly so till the last day because of Christ’s coming to this earth, sent of the Father and anointed by the Holy Spirit to serve as Saviour of sinners. What a perfect precious all powerful Saviour and refuge we find with the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and yes, of David and of Hezekiah too, and indeed for all who trust and follow Him. So the good news God sends through Isaiah shows how the LORD is the prayer-hearing God and a prayer-answering God. It shows too the great graciousness and goodness of God in faithfulness to His covenant promises and the full salvation He would bring in and through Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Saviour of sinners. On top of all this there is yet something else so wonderful and reassuring to be said. Wouldn’t you agree this whole part of Hezekiah’s life, his sickness and healing, by God’s mercy, shows so much as well the almighty strength and power of God? The Lord gave the healing and then He was pleased also to use some figs as a medicine or salve to further restore to health the open sores from the sickness. But not only that, even more yet, there is in this case also the amazing sign of the sun’s shadow going back ten degrees, or literally ten steps on the sundial. And here think of a mound in an open area with steps on all sides and the shadow from the sun falling on those steps as the day progresses. We are told in II Kings 20:11 that Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, had made this clock system, maybe in a park of some kind. When Hezekiah asked for a sign that God would heal him and restore him to full health, it was not from lack of faith but in faith and for more confidence in God and His word. For we need to realize here the Lord’s promise of healing was not only surprising but staggering seeing Isaiah had just said that not only would Hezekiah be healed quickly but completely and on the third day he could go to the temple again to worship the LORD. So a sign was requested to build Hezekiah's confidence in this promise of God. And apparently from II Kings 20:9 we learn Hezekiah is given a choice. What shall God do for a sign for Hezekiah? Have the shadow go forward ten steps or backward ten steps; ten steps up or ten steps down? Hezekiah reasons, mistakenly, that it is more significant to see the shadow go backward ten steps than forward ten steps so he asks what he thought would be the harder. In response to Isaiah’s prayer to God to do so, the shadow in an instant of time fell back ten steps instead of forward. We cannot be sure of what this exactly all means, but that it was no natural affair and another great miracle of God almighty is clear. Doesn’t it help bring out how God will stop at nothing to be the helper and comforter of His people, and He is mighty to save and ready to help all who trust and follow Him? And again in our New Testament age we can know this so much more, or not? Truly in and through Christ Jesus, the Saviour of sinners, the Royal Seed of David also through the line of Hezekiah, God is able and willing to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think in regards to all our needs for body and soul, and in life and death and for time and eternity. All God’s people, saved by grace through faith in Christ, will say in glory: …the half hasn’t been told us, about the fullness and preciousness of our Saviour God and His salvation and provision for us! It is unbelievable; it is tremendous! All praise and glory and thanksgiving be to our God Triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Will you be there too in that final day among the assembly of the redeemed, saved by our Saviour God as revealed in the crucified and risen Saviour of sinners, Jesus Christ the LORD? To help answer that question let us move to our third and last main point. God almighty and Hezekiah’s sickness and healing has been our theme. We have thought about the sad news with his sickness, then the good news with his healing, and now the great news with his remaining years. Here let me just highlight the great news, something easily missed, how in addition to the healing and confirmation of complete healing with a special sign the Lord also gave the additional promise as told in II Kings 20:6. What does God promise Hezekiah there? The LORD promises further complete success and triumph over the Assyrians. How reassuring wouldn’t that be for King Hezekiah, even after the great victory over the Assyrians earlier? To know from God we may have victory over our enemies in life, how comforting this is, surely! But here I want to bring out how with the great news with Hezekiah’s remaining years, those extra fifteen years given to him, we learn from the whole event and all that Hezekiah wrote about it too that he wanted those years to be all in devotion and service to the LORD. His song of praise in Isaiah 38 certainly testifies to this. Hezekiah had asked to live longer not because he wanted to enjoy life for himself but for the kingdom of God and service to the LORD. And this is a mark of true faith and repentance before God. Where that is present in our lives, there is the fruit by God’s grace of wanting to live a life of thankful obedience to God’s praise and honor and for our neighbor’s good, seeking to be a light for the gospel to the world around us. Is this your response for all the mercies and benefits and multitude of loving-kindnesses shown to you? Serving the gods of this world brings us no true help and no eternal deliverance and no ultimate hope. But trusting and following the one true God as revealed in Scripture and the Saviour is the way of true and everlasting blessing and being a blessing in our generations and following to the praise of God and the wellbeing of all around us. This contrast comes out also when Isaiah ends chapter 37 with Sennacherib in his idol temple worshipping a false god and being murdered by his own children. Meanwhile, Isaiah 38 ends with Hezekiah wanting to go to, and be in, the house of the LORD to worship Him in and through whom he found life, abundant life and even eternal life. Hezekiah’s life story, including this part about God almighty and his sickness and healing, shows so clearly that when we are in the way of grace then there is also this God-worked desire and fruit of grace, that desire and resolve to live for God’s glory and praise and the extension of His church and kingdom. Let no one deceive themselves in thinking you can be saved still without any care and prayer to live sanctified godly lives before God and our neighbor. May God bless this word by His Holy Spirit, that we not only learn the gospel lessons from Hezekiah’s life for ourselves personally but that we live to help promote His gospel cause and His church and kingdom in line with all His holy word and will in Christ Jesus. Isn't He again calling us to all this? May none of you disregard His call, but respond to it even now, for who knows how suddenly we may fall sick unto death or meet death suddenly with no warning at all. He that has an ear to hear, let him hear. Amen. Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor
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