In Isaiah 38-39 we see the story of Hezekiah’s sickness. Just when he thinks things can’t get any worse, they do.
First, Judah’s cities are defeated by the Assyrian king Sennacherib and his mighty army. When the forces move on to put Jerusalem under siege, Sennacherib sends his spokesman to try to get the people to surrender. “Don’t trust your king Hezekiah. I know he’s telling you to trust God, but consider a couple of things. First, Hezekiah himself hasn’t been very worshipful toward your god. He’s torn down all the high places, all your personal altars. He’s ruined your devotional life. Second, and likely related to this first point, your god told us to come conquer you. And we’re listening to him! Just see how successful we’ve been. Has any other people – or any other god – been able to stand up to us? Of course not! So – surrender now and save yourselves a lot of pain.”
Not very cheery is it? Isaiah tell us how Hezekiah prays and they experience the Lord’s deliverance. The Assyrian army is destroyed, Sennacherib goes home and is killed by a couple of his sons, and Jerusalem is free.
But while all this is happening, Hezekiah has another problem, a problem Isaiah only mentions after the narration of the adventures with Assyria. Hezekiah has gotten sick, and the word from the Lord is, “Put your house in order, Hezekiah, you’re going to die!”
How would you handle that if you were Hezekiah? Would you just given in, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” When the doctors say, “You are going to die; You have three months to live; Get your affairs in order,” we figure they’re speaking in general terms. They have broad experience of people in your condition. They’ve seen how the disease tends to take its course. If you don’t make it three months- or manage to eke out a little longer – we still reckon the doctor was in the ball park. We don’t expect exact accuracy. It might even be that you go into remission and living a long a fruitful life.
But God? When God says you’re going to die, God is not speaking in general terms based on experience. When God says you’re going to die, you’re going to die. What would you do, knowing this?
Hezekiah decides to go out kicking and screaming. “I don’t want to die!” he cries. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? A perfectly understandable response.
Isaiah, the bearer of the unfavorable diagnosis (“You’re doing to die”) is then directed by the LORD to return with a different message. “Buck up, Hezekiah! You won’t die after all. God has heard your prayer and he’s giving you another fifteen years.” Awesome! Hezekiah is overjoyed. In the midst of his city’s deliverance from Assyria he experiences a personal deliverance from death.
Eventually word gets out that Isaiah has been at deaths’ door but then miraculously healed. The king of Babylon sends envoys with get well cards. Hezekiah had heard of Babylon. It was someplace important. When the visitors arrive he doesn’t just put the flowers in a vase and the get well card on the buffet: he shows them around. Since he is doing so well know, full of wealth and every imaginable treasure, he displays it all. “You think you have a lot in Babylon? See what I have!”
Isaiah doesn’t see what’s happening until the Babylonians hit the road. Hearing Hezekiah explain who the strangers were, Isaiah has another prophecy. “In the not too distant future, this very nation, Babylon, will come to this place, destroy your city, and carry off all your treasures, even your own family.”
Hezekiah’s response is one of the saddest in all of scripture. “Whew! At least we’ll have safety and security in my days! Sure my kids and grand-kids will have a rough go of it, but at least I won’t be around any more.”
When Hezekiah’s city was surrounded by a deadly enemy, he cried out to the Lord, “Why us, O LORD? Have mercy!”
When Hezekiah’s life was threatened by a deadly sickness, he cried out to the Lord, “Why me, O LORD? Have mercy!”
When Hezekiah’s progeny and succeeding generations were threatened with destruction and exile he merely said, “Whatever you say God. Glad it’s not in my time!”
Could it be that these things “happened”to Hezekiah so he could learn to cry out to God for others and not just for himself? Could it be that one reason God delivered Jerusalem was so that Hezekiah’s faith would grow? Could it be that one reason God healed Hezekiah was so that Hezekiah’s faith would grow? Could it be that one reason God wanted Hezekiah’s faith to grow was so he could stand in the gap for the future generations, arguing for God to show them mercy?
Can it be that God allows things to come into our lives so we can experience his power and mercy, not merely for our own sakes, but so that our faith might grow enough that we might intercede for those who are now far off – either in time or space?