We left our narrative with 3 leaders of Judah tearing their clothes and reporting the words of the arrogant, effective, evil messenger of Assyria to King Hezekiah.
Isaiah 37:1 CSB
When King Hezekiah heard their report, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went to the Lord’s temple.
Hezekiah was emotionally wounded. He took on the posture of mourning - of sadness. He tore his clothes and put on sackcloth, and he left his throne to go to the temple. He went to the Lord’s temple. He went to the temple in Jerusalem; the place where God said his glory would dwell.
We need to look at what happens next, but FIRST we need to what happened before by reading what was written after ;)
How confusing is that?
I mentioned that there are 4 chapters in the middle of the book dedicated to Hezekiah. Chapters 36 and 37 are certainly the pivotal story. However, what happened in chapters 38 and 39 happened BEFORE chapters 36-37. Those prophets break ALL the rules!
Isaiah 38:1 CSB
In those days Hezekiah became terminally ill. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Set your house in order, for you are about to die; you will not recover.’ ”
“In Those Days” - this is a frustrating term. Sometimes it means at that same time. Other times it means immediately following. However, it means “during this period of time” which can also refer to events that already took place. Often, authors will use this phrase to revisit a topic that did not fit directly into the story they just told, so it comes as an afterword, a postscript that takes us back in time to fill in a significant detail.
When Hezekiah heard this news, check out his response:
Isaiah 38:2–3 CSB
Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord. He said, “Please, Lord, remember how I have walked before you faithfully and wholeheartedly, and have done what pleases you.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
He prayed. He pleaded. He cried. And God “changed his mind?”
Isaiah 38:4–8 CSB
Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the Lord God of your ancestor David says: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Look, I am going to add fifteen years to your life. And I will rescue you and this city from the grasp of the king of Assyria; I will defend this city. This is the sign to you from the Lord that he will do what he has promised: I am going to make the sun’s shadow that goes down on the stairway of Ahaz go back by ten steps.’ ” So the sun’s shadow went back the ten steps it had descended.
Isaiah leaves out a few of the details which we get in 2 Kings 20:
2 Kings 20:8–11 CSB
Hezekiah had asked Isaiah, “What is the sign that the Lord will heal me and that I will go up to the Lord’s temple on the third day?” Isaiah said, “This is the sign to you from the Lord that he will do what he has promised: Should the shadow go ahead ten steps or go back ten steps?” Then Hezekiah answered, “It’s easy for the shadow to lengthen ten steps. No, let the shadow go back ten steps.” So the prophet Isaiah called out to the Lord, and he brought the shadow back the ten steps it had descended on the stairway of Ahaz.
In 38:1 the detail is the deathbed of Hezekiah. It is believed that Hezekiah died around 687BC. Add 15 years to that and you get 702BC, a year before the Assyrian messenger stood on the road near the launderer’s field. It could have been while the fortified cities were being attacked as that probably took some time. So, the threat of Assyria is real, but the confrontation had not yet taken place.
SO - PRIOR to the events of the messenger of Assyria, Hezekiah was spared from death and promised 15 years and that Yahweh would defend the city from the king of Assyria.
Let’s move on to chapter 39...
Isaiah 39:1 CSB
At that time Merodach-baladan son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a gift to Hezekiah since he heard that he had been sick and had recovered.
“At that time” - is a first cousin to “In those days”. Both of them are married to frustration to those that like history to flow in a linear fashion. In this case, “at that time” would be following the healing of Hezekiah, and we only have that knowledge because it says so!
Merodach-baladan was king of Babylon, at this time a province of the Assyrian Empire, during two different times—721–710 BC and 705–703 BC. Which means that this Babylonian envoy was probably during the second reign of Merodach, which would be around 703BC. According to all of the accounts, this encounter takes place AFTER Hezekiah recovers, so we probably have to back up our date for chapter 38 to about 703BC. [though one bible dictionary placed his second reign at 702BC]
This guy rebelled against Assyria and was exiled by Sennacherib. He probably sent the messengers to Hezekiah to seek an alliance to overthrow Sennacherib, king of Assyria. Obviously, even the fact that they met would be treasonous in the eyes of Sennacherib.
Isaiah 39:2 CSB
Hezekiah was pleased with the letters, and he showed the envoys his treasure house—the silver, the gold, the spices, and the precious oil—and all his armory, and everything that was found in his treasuries. There was nothing in his palace and in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.
Hezekiah shows the envoys EVERYTHING, ALL his wealth. This is a major pride moment! Like when David numbered the armies of Israel.
Then there is a message from God:
Isaiah 39:5–7 CSB
Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of Armies: ‘Look, the days are coming when everything in your palace and all that your predecessors have stored up until today will be carried off to Babylon; nothing will be left,’ says the Lord. ‘Some of your descendants—who come from you, whom you father—will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’ ”
This chapter in Hezekiah’s story is a bridge chapter. It not only mentions that Judah will NOT be taken captive by the Assyrians, it predicts that they WILL be taken away by the Babylonians.
And what is Hezekiah’s response:
Isaiah 39:8 CSB
Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good,” for he thought: There will be peace and security during my lifetime.
We get a little more insight into this story from Chronicles:
2 Chronicles 32:25–26 CSB
However, because his heart was proud, Hezekiah didn’t respond according to the benefit that had come to him. So there was wrath on him, Judah, and Jerusalem. Then Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart—he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem—so the Lord’s wrath didn’t come on them during Hezekiah’s lifetime.
His heart was no good at this time! Though he started well by destroying the idols and re-establishing temple worship, eventually he became proud. Perhaps it was the promise of 15 years? Maybe it was all the wealth?
Continue to verse 31:
2 Chronicles 32:31 CSB
When the ambassadors of Babylon’s rulers were sent to him to inquire about the miraculous sign that happened in the land, God left him to test him and discover what was in his heart.
It was all a test of the heart.
Friends, it is easy to rely on God when we are in trouble. When the bullets are flying there are very few atheists left! It is easy to cry out to God when we are in anguish: physical, emotional, relational, financial… and well we should!
Can we acknowledge that it is just as easy to neglect or ignore God after we benefit from his blessing! It was after the healing and after having much wealth that Hezekiah became proud.
God said this would be the case - take time this week and read Deuteronomy chapters 28-30!
Deuteronomy 8:11–18 CSB
“Be careful that you don’t forget the Lord your God by failing to keep his commands, ordinances, and statutes that I am giving you today. When you eat and are full, and build beautiful houses to live in, and your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold multiply, and everything else you have increases, be careful that your heart doesn’t become proud and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. He led you through the great and terrible wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, a thirsty land where there was no water. He brought water out of the flint rock for you. He fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your ancestors had not known, in order to humble and test you, so that in the end he might cause you to prosper. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and my own ability have gained this wealth for me,’ but remember that the Lord your God gives you the power to gain wealth, in order to confirm his covenant he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
Sadly, it is our nature to recognize God in our need and to take all the credit when we have more than enough.
Hezekiah had the king of Babylon send messengers to him because he heard of the miraculous healing that took place.
What should Hezekiah’s response been? He had the ear of an upcoming world power and instead of sending the message of Yahweh, the healer, deliverer and protector of Israel, he shows them his bling. #fail.
BUT he did humble himself!
2 Chronicles 32:26 CSB
Then Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart—he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem—so the Lord’s wrath didn’t come on them during Hezekiah’s lifetime.
This was the pattern of David as well! BOTH of these kings made mistakes, but both humbled themselves.
FRIENDS: this story of Hezekiah is SO important because it is our story as well. It is not a question of IF we will become arrogant and take credit for what God has done, but WHEN. And then the question is, what will we do about it?
REPENTANCE is a GIFT from God! It is a gift because it is a gracious offer to restore things to the way they should be and avoid the punishment that could be.
So what we have learned so far that leads up to our story in chapter 37?
*** WHY THE HISTORY MATTERS ***
The events that led up to this moment were meant to build the faith of Hezekiah. God has been testing him and refining him as a leader. Would these current events of being saved from death and being forgiven for arrogance affect or influence the actions of Hezekiah as he faced the present situation?
And THAT is where we pick up in chapter 37. Let’s read it together:
Isaiah 37:1–7 CSB
When King Hezekiah heard their report, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went to the Lord’s temple. He sent Eliakim, who was in charge of the palace, Shebna the court secretary, and the leading priests, who were covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. They said to him, “This is what Hezekiah says: ‘Today is a day of distress, rebuke, and disgrace. It is as if children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to deliver them. Perhaps the Lord your God will hear all the words of the royal spokesman, whom his master the king of Assyria sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke him for the words that the Lord your God has heard. Therefore offer a prayer for the surviving remnant.’ ” So the servants of King Hezekiah went to Isaiah, who said to them, “Tell your master, ‘The Lord says this: Don’t be afraid because of the words you have heard, with which the king of Assyria’s attendants have blasphemed me. I am about to put a spirit in him and he will hear a rumor and return to his own land, where I will cause him to fall by the sword.’ ”
After this, the king of Assyria left Lachish and went to Libnah so he sent a personal letter to Hezekiah. It sounded much like the the threats and message of the messenger of Assyria: surrender or we will wipe you and and no god can save you.
Isaiah 37:14–20 CSB
Hezekiah took the letter from the messengers’ hands, read it, then went up to the Lord’s temple and spread it out before the Lord. Then Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: Lord of Armies, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you are God—you alone—of all the kingdoms of the earth. You made the heavens and the earth. Listen closely, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see. Hear all the words that Sennacherib has sent to mock the living God. Lord, it is true that the kings of Assyria have devastated all these countries and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but made from wood and stone by human hands. So they have destroyed them. Now, Lord our God, save us from his power so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are God—you alone.
The prayer was that God would defend his own honor. That God would spare Judah so the nations of the world would know that the God of Isreal is THE God, and no other is greater.
He spreads the letter out before God, as if God cannot see them otherwise, and then says, listen closely, hear me, open your eyes and see. To think that God does not hear everything and see everything is as absurd as to think that God can be contained in a dwelling place like a temple ;)
Our prayers do not need to be perfect or flowery, they just need to be from the heart. God hears, God sees and God is a god of compassion who rewards those who seek him.
Isaiah 37:21 CSB
Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: “The Lord, the God of Israel, says, ‘Because you prayed to me about King Sennacherib of Assyria,
I find it fascinating that we often view prayer as a last resort when it is really the most powerful and intelligent thing we can do. WHY struggle with our limited strength when we can call out to the God who made the heavens and the earth? Why try o control our situation when we can call out to the one who made time and sustains all things?
God’s response was, “because you prayed to me about this...”
How amazing is our God that he WANTS us to bring our problems to him?!
Isaiah 37:36–37 CSB
Then the angel of the Lord went out and struck down one hundred eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. When the people got up the next morning, there were all the dead bodies! So King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and left. He returned home and lived in Nineveh.
I actually like the addition that the Chronicler added:
2 Chronicles 32:20–23 CSB
King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz prayed about this and cried out to heaven, and the Lord sent an angel who annihilated every valiant warrior, leader, and commander in the camp of the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria returned in disgrace to his land. He went to the temple of his god, and there some of his own children struck him down with the sword. So the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the power of King Sennacherib of Assyria and from the power of all others. He gave them rest on every side. Many were bringing an offering to the Lord to Jerusalem and valuable gifts to King Hezekiah of Judah, and he was exalted in the eyes of all the nations after that.
Get it? THAT is the story of the Bible. That is the story of the Garden, the Flood, the Wilderness, the Promised Land, the Messiah, the Church and of every God-follower from the beginning of time until the end of the same.
Friends, it is NEVER about the battle in front of you - it is about the battle of the heart and who you will trust. It is never about the trials, hardship, the money, the pain or the difficulty - it is about God wanting us to learn to trust him in all things - good and bad - so that he can do what only Yahweh can: use broken people for his divine purpose.
James 1:2–4 CSB
Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
I said that it is easy to start well, but not always easy to finish well.
Hezekiah started super well. Then he became proud and failed. However, he repented and was restored. And in the end, he finished very well.
2 Kings 18:5 CSB
Hezekiah relied on the Lord God of Israel; not one of the kings of Judah was like him, either before him or after him.
It never says he was perfect, but it does say that his life was characterized by relying on God. Why would Isaiah pause his messages from God to include this long narrative of Hezekiah? Because the story of Hezekiah is one that should be the story of every Jew, and every Jesus follower as well!
You cannot always choose how you feel: discouraged, depressed, overwhelmed, sad, angry, etc. God made us emotional beings and relates to our emotion. Feelings are not sinful in and of themselves.
HOWEVER, it is what you DO that will be sinful or faithful.
THAT is the moment of truth!
If THIS was your story, interrupting the pages of the book, what would it say? Would there be highlights of your faithfulness to God? I hope so! Would there be reruns of your blunders? Probably. But in the end, how will you be known?
I believe Isaiah had the story of Hezekiah in his book for a greater purpose than just to provide a historical segue from Assyria to Babylon. I believe Isaiah included this story because it was what Israel was called to do and to be - and that is who he was writing to. It is the quintessential symbol of living out the Mosiac covenant and being a person of God. It is a reminder of what God intended from the beginning, and equally a reminder of the reality that the ideal can be realized at any moment in time.
Your past does not matter. Your heritage does not matter. Your culture, circumstances, threats or prosperity do not matter.
Each day you are faced with moments of truth where you need to decide who you will rely on.
Turn to God. Turn to prayer. TRUST God, because he is trustworthy.