Sermon preached on 2 Kings 20 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/01/2020 in Novato, CA.
Today’s chapter closes out our study of Hezekiah in 2 Kings. One thing that has stood out in Hezekiah is his prayer life. Back in chapter 18, we were told how much Hezekiah trusted in the LORD as a man with a heart much like King David. Since then we’ve seen he’s a man of prayer when troubles come. That is of course, a major way we express our trust in the LORD. When troubles come, we should call out to God for mercy and aid. Hezekiah’s life has demonstrated that. We’ll see more of that again in today’s passage. And it should spur on our prayer life too.
Today’s sermon like the passage will be divided up into two main parts. Verses 1-11 deal with Hezekiah’s illness. Verses 12-21 deal with the envoys from Babylon that Hezekiah received. By the way, these events in Hezekiah’s life, including both his illness and the Babylonian envoys has the benefit of being recorded in 3 different places in Scripture: here, 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 38-39. I will pull in details from those parallel accounts as they help us to understand what is going in in these two events. Let us begin then first by considering Hezekiah’s illness.
The setting for Hezekiah’s illness in verse 1 says it was “in those days”. That refers back in general to the previous chapters that dealt with Assyria’s threatening of Jerusalem and Hezekiah. Verse 6 adds to this by telling us that during Hezekiah’s illness they were still facing the Assyrian threat. God even mentions there that he will defend the city, which is the same thing he had said at the end of last chapter in 19:34, just before God did deliver the city from the Assyrians. In other words, while we are not told specifics, it seems that this record of Hezekiah’s illness moves us chronologically backwards in time from where we ended up at the end of last chapter. It seems to put his illness at some point in time between when Jerusalem was being threatened by Assyria but before God had delivered them from them.
So then, apparently Hezekiah develops some sort of boil and is at the point of death. God sends the prophet Isaiah to inform Hezekiah that his disease is going to kill him, verse 1. In response, Hezekiah goes to the LORD in prayer. He doesn’t waste a moment. He immediately turns away from Isaiah and puts his face to the wall and begins to pray. You might observe that unlike in the past, we don’t see him go to the temple to pray. But I would note that he has this active boil and that would presumably make him ceremonially unclean and therefore not able to go into the temple, Leviticus 13. But that doesn’t stop his prayer life. He immediately prays, lamenting with many tears. He begs that the LORD consider how he has lived his life and walked in faithfulness. In asking God to remember this, he is praying for mercy from this death sentence. By the way, some have wondered if this is a prideful, and therefore not commendable, prayer of Hezekiah. I don’t think such a conclusion is justifiable. Hezekiah doesn’t claim himself to be perfect here. And this sort of prayer mirrors various prayers of lament in the psalms. Ultimately it is a commendable moment prayer by Hezekiah that humbles himself before the LORD and tearfully pleads for help.
We observe that when Hezekiah prays, God immediately grants his request. Apparently, Isaiah was still on his way out of the palace grounds when God sent him back to Hezekiah with his response that he will be healed in three days. Interestingly, God has Isaiah use the means of some sort of compress of figs to apply to the boil to bring about the healing. This is interesting because that was one medical practice back then to treat boils. Yet, we should understand that had he not prayed, no amount of figs would have healed him. But since he prayed and God granted the request, God saw fit to answer his prayer through the use of a common medical remedy of the day. However, the fact that it would be sufficiently remedied in this way so that in just three days he could be healed enough to return to the temple, points to God’s wonderful healing. By the way, I love how his third day healing from his death sentence makes us think forward to Christ’s third day resurrection from death!
Hezekiah’s prayer here for healing stands in contrast to his ancestor King Asa. You might recall that Asa was also described as godly king who did what was right in God’s sight. But Asa had grew in pride later in life and when afflicted with a foot disease only sought medical help. He didn’t pray to God for healing. And God didn’t heal him. So, here we see some wonderful truths. When we have a health trial, we should pray and go to the doctor. We should do both. Should God grant your prayer and bring healing through the medical treatment, you should thank your doctor and especially the LORD. But I love to see how Hezekiah does what other kings hadn’t done – faced with a health issue he prays to God for help.
I love how we see that God’s answer to his prayer goes above and beyond what Hezekiah was asking for. Hezekiah’s concern here seems to be about his health situation – that his death is imminent. But notice in verse 6 he is told not only will he be healed and granted fifteen mores years to live, but Jerusalem will also be saved. God promises not only healing, but also that he will save the city from the Assyrians. I guess that is complementary in that Hezekiah can know that he won’t have to spend those extra fifteen years in an Assyrian prison! And obviously this is good news for Hezekiah’s people – that God promises here salvation and life for them too!
At this point, I think we should touch on a relevant point of doctrine here as it relates to God’s eternal decree and Hezekiah’s praying. Last chapter, we discussed how God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, and nothing will change or thwart God’s plans. Yet, here we see that God told Hezekiah he was going to die imminently, but then Hezekiah prayed and God granted him fifteen more years. I think we need to understand and recognize that God’s eternal decree didn’t get changed. It was always part of God’s eternal decree that he would grant fifteen more years in response to Hezekiah’s prayer here. And so, verse 1 shows that God’s foreknowledge includes that he knows even what would happen under various possible circumstances. The Westminster Confession of Faith 3.2 summarizes Scripture on this saying, “God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions.” And so, God knew that had Hezekiah not humbly prayed, his disease would be fatal. But we learn that God had ultimately decreed that he would heal Hezekiah upon his prayer.
We might ask then why did God tell him it like this in verse 1 that he was going to die – if God knew he was going to ultimately heal him? God’s statement in verse 1 seems so final. And we might also ask, why would Hezekiah still pray for healing if God just told him he was going to die? Well, this shows that sometimes God states a possible future in such a way as to actually solicit our prayer. This happens several times in Scripture, particularly with regards to God announcing a judgment. In turn, sometimes the man of God recognizes this and prays for mercy even after God tells them the judgment that’s coming. Let me mention some examples. You have Moses atop Mt. Sinai in Exodus 32 when Israel is down sinning with the golden calf. God tells Moses, “Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” But Moses discerns that as an invitation to intercede on Israel’s behalf and beg for mercy – which God grants. Or you have even the wicked Ahab whom God declared judgment upon via Elijah in 1 Kings 21, but God delays the judgment in light of Ahab’s humbling himself before God in response to Elijah declaring God’s judgment. Or you have the judgment upon Nineveh pronounced by the prophet Jonah, but when they humble themselves before God, he has compassion on them. We should also note that such invitation to prayer in the face of God’s declared judgment doesn’t mean that God will always grant your prayer request for mercy. For example, you have the time when Nathan the prophet declared to David that the first baby born to him and Bathsheba would die. That spurs David on to major prayer for the child. But in that case, God didn’t grant the request and the child did die.
The point is that sometimes God will declare certain judgments as a way to invite prayer for mercy. In such cases, God’s declared judgment is stating what would happen if nothing changed. Yet we are delighted to see how our gracious God is eager to show mercy. This is not something to presume upon. We don’t blatantly sin and arrogantly demand mercy afterwards. But for the truly repentant – one who truly laments and turns back to God – we should be encouraged to bring such prayers to God as we see Hezekiah doing here. Likewise, let us recognize how the trials of our lives become occasions that invite us to pray. Even when things seem beyond any earthly hope – and even if they are – see how our heavenly father invites us to call out to him. Even if the answer is no, it is surely what God would have us to be doing in the face of whatever tribulation befalls us.
Returning to our passage, we interestingly see that Hezekiah asks God for a sign here and God grants him a sign. This a confirmatory sign – that when the sign happens he will know that the promise will certainly come to pass. He even gives Hezekiah the option to pick the sign and Hezekiah picks the harder of the two options – that the shadow would go backwards ten steps. This would have defied the normal way nature works to have the shadow go backward. God granted this sign and encouraged Hezekiah accordingly. However, when it mentions in verse 11 that the shadow was being measured along the steps of Ahaz – steps King Ahaz presumably had built — that brings to mind another contrast. Recall that Ahaz was Hezekiah’s father and in his day was faced with the threat of an Israelite-Syrian coalition to try to utterly wipe out Jerusalem. At that time, the same prophet Isaiah prophesied salvation and instructed Ahaz to ask for a sign to confirm it. Ahaz rejected the command to ask for a sign. Elsewhere sign seekers are spoken against when they are just sign seekers and not truly people looking to put their trust in the LORD. Accordingly, Ahaz was trying to act holy when he wouldn’t ask for a sign. But God was not pleased with Ahaz since God had just told Ahaz to ask for a sign. So, God gave him a sign of his salvation anyways – the promise of a virgin giving birth to Immanuel. That sign, ultimately, looked far ahead to the birth of Jesus Christ. But the point here is that Hezekiah seems to have commendably asked for a sign where his father Ahaz had not. Hezekiah seems to ask for a sign in his trust in the LORD and to glorify God in the sign. In fact, 2 Chronicles 32:31 says that God’s plan for this sign was an opportunity to testify to it to the Babylonian envoys when they came.
Let’s then transition to consider now the Babylonian envoys that came to visit Hezekiah, starting in verse 12. There we see that these were from King Merodach-baladan and that they visited in response to Hezekiah being healed. Here we have even more of a challenge to figure the exact timing here. But probably the best guess is that it too happened quickly after Hezekiah’s healing and before Assyria retreated from Judah, but probably also before they fully surrounded Jerusalem. But its hard to say for sure and a possible timeframe after Assyria retreated from Judah cannot be completely ruled out.
At any rate, I think a bigger question is what is going on here? Why does Hezekiah get this prophecy of judgment after showing off all these treasures to Babylon? We might even note some apparent similarity to how in the past King Solomon commendably received the visit of Queen of Sheba and seems to take her on a somewhat similar tour. Yet, there is no prophecy of judgment that followed Solomon’s receiving the Queen of Sheba. Rather, that meeting between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba served to glorify God.
Well, we should note that our account in 2 Kings doesn’t answer that question. Nor does the parallel account in Isaiah. However, the account in 2 Chronicles has a few statements that give us a little bit more about what is going on. First, 2 Chr. 32:25 says that Hezekiah struggled with pride after his healing from this illness, and didn’t sufficiently express his gratitude toward God, and that is why wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem. But that chapter goes on to see a few verses later in 2 Chr. 32:31 that God used the envoys of Babylon to test Hezekiah to see what was in his heart, and that God had sent the envoys so they could learn about the sign God had given Hezekiah concerning his healing.
Now those verses don’t answer all our questions. But here’s one possible way they might fit together. Hezekiah’s heart after his healing was being tested for pride when Babylon came. It’s possible that Hezekiah then used that visit with Babylon as an occasion to exalt himself instead of God. If the 2 Chronicles account suggests that the visit was supposed to be an opportunity to showcase God’s work in healing Hezekiah, our account here in 2 Kings seems that Hezekiah made it an opportunity to showcase all his wealth. If Solomon’s tour for the Queen of Sheba emphasized the wisdom from God that ordered Solomon’s kingdom in wise ways, verse 13 seems to show Hezekiah just flaunting all his earthly treasures. Where the Queen of Sheba was inspired to take up and praise the name of the LORD after her tour from Solomon, our passage today is silent with regard to the name of the LORD. Neither Hezekiah nor the Babylon envoys are recorded as giving glory to God for all the tremendous riches that Hezekiah had shown off. So while there are superficial similarities there are
So then, the 2 Chronicles account fills in a few more details that helps us begin to think about what all is going on here. Yet, 2 Kings doesn’t choose to record those details for us. That means 2 Kings is particularly interested in us noticing other things. While we can observe a connection of the poetic justice with Hezekiah’s actions in that he’ll lose to Babylon all the treasures that he was quick to show off to them, the text goes on to highlight Hezekiah’s response to that judgment. Verse 19 shows that he understands that the prophecy of judgment is not for his day. Verse 19, he says, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?”
There are basically two ways we can take such a statement. We could take it as strictly a selfish statement – that he doesn’t’ care about the future problems as long as he has peace in his own life. Or we could take as a humble response that has consigned himself to the righteous judgment of God and is thankful that a measure of mercy has been given to delay the judgment. We could think of how Job responded to his tribulation saying that the LORD gives and the LORD takes away. There can be a humility that accepts the Lord’s chastening for the justice that it is. In fact, the 2 Chronicles account again seems helpful here, seeming to suggest something more along the lines of humility. 2 Chr. 32:26 says that the reason why this wrath didn’t come upon them in Hezekiah’s day was because Hezekiah humbled himself from the pride of his heart. So, I want to give the benefit of the doubt to verse 19 and find the most positive reading possible of it.
But again, 2 Kings didn’t choose to tell us what 2 Chronicles did. Questions of pride and humility aren’t explicitly raised in our passage for today. So, 2 Kings chooses to put our focus elsewhere. And here I think is where the focus of 2 Kings comes. I think we are intended to compare and contrast the two scenes in today’s chapter. For Hezekiah, when personal sickness struck and God declared a terrible judgment of death upon himself personally, he took that judgment as an invitation to pray for God’s mercy. He begged and wept and humbled himself and God was quick to show mercy. But when God declared a terrible judgment for the future that would rob his descendants of their treasure and even some of his own sons would become eunuchs in Babylon, he is content to accept the Lord’s judgment. Why not see that as an invitation to pray for mercy? Why not drop down to your knees and again beg and weep and lament such a declared judgment? Why not see that declared judgment for the future as only a possible future in light of the mercy of God? Why not say what David had said when he prayed for his dying child that God said would die, “Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me” (2 Sam. 12:22)?
And so surely the two scenes in our chapter today are meant to be compared with each other. When we compare these two scenes side by side, we can’t escape the fact that Hezekiah wept and cried and prayed against the word of the LORD when his own life was at stake. But when it was the wellbeing of his future descendants at stake, he is content to humbly accept the word of the Lord and just be thankful their will be peace and security in his own remaining fifteen years of life. Sadly, it will be Hezekiah’s son Manasseh who is more specifically faulted for why Babylon will be allowed to conquer Jerusalem, because Manasseh would live such a very, very wicked life as king. If only Hezekiah showed more concern here for his sons! But you can’t help but see the contrast here that Hezekiah shows more concern before the LORD to save his life than to be concerned for his sons and his kingdom after he’s gone. Of course, can you really fault him? How many of us would have done any differently? Satan in Job 2:4 says something that surely is too true for us, “All that a man has he will give for his life.” At the end of the day, most of us prize our lives above everything else. Can we fault the godly Hezekiah for doing that? I can’t say he strictly did something wrong. Yet he could have done something else that would have been so right.
What’s the point? King Hezekiah was a very commendable King from David’s lineage, but he was not the ultimate promised king for God’s people. If we were to ask of Hezekiah, “Is he the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” the answer is that is we need to look for another. That king to come from the line of David is King Jesus. Remember his perspective. He laid down his life for his sheep. There is no greater love. Just before Jesus died, we see his prayer in John 17 which is largely consumed with concern for his disciples and those who would come after them. That is why Jesus died on the cross, to save his chosen people and secure a future everlasting kingdom. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.” This Lord Jesus whom God raised from the dead on the third day is our King. In Jesus, we know the manifold mercies of God and find grace for the trials that we have before us.
Let us then take from today’s passage the practical application of prayer. Let us pray boldly, even when all earthly hope seems lost. Let us pray not only for our own peace and security, but for others as well. Let our prayers model even that sacrificial mind of Christ that we are called to have toward others. And in all this, let us rejoice for that the joy set before us. Each of us in Christ have been mercifully granted life – not just fifteen more years – but life eternal. That eternal life shall be of peace and security in a glorious kingdom yet to come. Let our prayers then deal with the troubles we face here and now. But may they also direct us and others toward that glory which awaits all who put our hope in Jesus.
Copyright © 2020 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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