King Hezekiah—Wasted Years
(Isaiah 37-39; 2 Chron. 32)
By Paul Robison

"A man tells about a track meet in high school in which he was a participant and had been assigned the second lane.  A competitor in the first lane held a record for a 100 meter dash, and one for arrogance as well.  He told the teen in the second lane as he was entering into the block: 'May the best man win, and I'll be waiting for you at the finish line.'  The gun sounded, and seven runners settled in behind the fellow in the first lane.  At about 180 meters in the race, the record holder began to bend over, hold his side, and groaned as he jogged along.  Everybody passed him like he was standing still, and the fellow in the second lane said that he waited for him at the finish line.  But soon, the winner's coach took him aside and said, 'Well, I hope you've learned your lesson today.  It makes little difference whether you hold the record for the 100 meter dash if the race is 400 meters long'" (Larson-Elshof).  The arrogant runner had a great start, but didn't finish well.  Can that happen in a Christian's spiritual race as well?  We'll see the answer to this question in a few minutes.

The prophet's name is Isaiah, and his name means "God is Salvation".  He is a contemporary of the prophets Hosea, Amos, and Micah.  Micah and Isaiah prophesy to the people down south in Judah.  So Isaiah's dates would be about 760-680 BC.  This man was married, had two boys, and worked as a historian for the court (2 Chron. 26:22; 32:32).  A court historian would hear and record many court cases, so it's no surprise that Isaiah's book almost sounds like a court case in certain sections. Isaiah was bold and sincere.  He lived for God's favor, and not the court's favor.  He went before a sinful people and fearlessly told them they were insulting God and tempting Him to His limits.  The times in which he lived were very turbulent.  You read about five wars in his book.

Politically, Assyria and Egypt were the superpowers, and Israel was the doormat where soldiers from the superpowers would often wipe their feet.

Coming up on the horizon was also Babylonia.  Socially, the rich abused the poor, and the leadership was filled with covetousness and drunkenness.

Religiously, there were formalistic ceremonies to God, but licentious pagan practices are what were really practiced.  Isaiah knows that God's wrath is about to be seen, but he speaks of the remnant more than any other prophet.

The remnant would be that group of Jews that God would mercifully allow to return to the Promised Land after they had been in captivity.  A few other interesting things about this book are: it repeatedly gives prophecies regarding Jesus' life and ministry; it calls God "the Holy One of Israel" about 30 times, and it gives prophecies concerning many other nations too.

The book could be outlined in the following way:
The reasons for God's punishment (chapters 1-6)
The results of God's punishment (chapters 7-12)
The recipients of God's punishment (chapters 13-24)
The blessings from God's punishment (chapters 25-35).

Then we see how Isaiah begins to present materials that almost sound like a lawyer making a case:
God's defense of His promise (chapters 36-39)
God's defense of His plan (chapters 40-48)
God's defense of the His people (49-57)
God's defense of His place (chapters 58-66).

This lesson comes from those four chapters which are written as a historical narrative, chapters 36-39.  Let's concentrate on the character named King Hezekiah.  This ruler goes through four stages: he trusts God wholeheartedly, then he trusts Him half-heartedly, then he trusts Him weak-heartedly, and then he trusts Him cold-heartedly.  He has a great start in the race, but as he continues to run towards the end, he gets weaker and weaker.  In the first verse of chapter 36, you will find a reference to Hezekiah's 14
th year as king, and this would be about 700 BC.  Now if you were Hezekiah, here's your situation.  Assyria will soon be attacking you.  Egypt wouldn't mind being your ally.  Babylonia is rising in power, and you could ally with them.  The prophet Isaiah is advising you not to make allies with any nation but to trust in God alone!  As you keep reading in chapter 36, you are introduced to an invasion by the Assyrian king named Sennacherib, who has conducted a campaign to take all the fortified cities in Judah.  While he was fighting against a city south of Jerusalem called Lachish, King Sennacherib sent one of his best diplomats to negotiate with the leaders of Jerusalem and to persuade them to surrender.  This diplomat was named Rabshakeh, and he was a master at psychological warfare.  Notice the message he delivers in 36:4-5: "Then the Rabshakeh said to them, 'Say now to Hezekiah, "Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: 'What confidence is this in which you trust? I say you speak of having plans and power for war; but they are mere words.  Now in whom do you trust that you rebel against me?'"'"  The word "trust" is used by Rabshakeh seven times as he tries to tear down all the options in whom Hezekiah and the people of Judah might put their trust.  Now notice how he keeps up his argumentation to surrender in verse 16: "Do not listen to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria: 'Make peace with me by a present and come out to me; and every one of you eat from his own vine and everyone from his own fig tree, and every one of you drink the water of his own cistern.'"  "Surrender, folks, and you'll enjoy plenty of food and water!"  Then Rabshakeh argues that no other gods have been able to save their nation from the Assyrians, and Judah won't be any different.  This message was then delivered to King Hezekiah.

Now we see how King Hezekiah responds to Rabshakeh's offer in chapter 37.

Verse one tells us that King Hezekiah shows a sign of repentance by wearing sackcloth.  Then he sends a delegation in sackcloth to Isaiah to ask for his prayers.  Now notice how Isaiah responds to them in verse 6: "Then Isaiah said to them: 'Thus you shall say to your master, Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid of the words which you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me.  Surely, I will send a spirit upon him, and he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.'"  Isn't that interesting?  Rabshakeh had said that Hezekiah's plans and power for war were just mere words, but now notice how God is going to use just mere words, a rumor, to cause King Sennacherib to return to his land!  Rabshekeh then finds his master doing war with the king of Ethiopia, but he warns King Hezekiah that this temporary retreat doesn't mean that the Assyrians will forget Jerusalem.  He and his people are going down very shortly.  Now let's read what happens in verse 14ff: "And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord.


Then Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, saying: 'O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth.  Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God.  Truly, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were not gods, but the work of men's hands—wood and stone. Therefore they destroyed them.  Now therefore, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord, You alone."


What an amazing action of faith on the part of Hezekiah!  Here he is trusting in God whole-heartedly!  The Assyrians had basically claimed that Israel's God would do not any better than the pagan gods of the other nations!  Well, it's interesting how Hezekiah takes this written threat, goes to the temple, and spreads it out so that God can see it!  He uses his greatest secret weapon against the Assyrians—prayer!  Did you know that only one verse is given to describe King Sennacherib's death, but five verses are given to record King Hezekiah's prayer?  How many times did you find the word "I" in Hezekiah prayer?  That's right, zero!  Look at this amazing prayer!  King Hezekiah begins by praising God and acknowledging that He is the only god over all the kingdoms of the earth (and not just Israel)!  This is the Creator of heaven and earth!  Then he shows how the Assyrian king has made a direct attack on the living God.  King Hezekiah admits that other nations have been defeated by the Assyrians, but their gods really had no power since they were really just the work of men's hands.  Then King Hezekiah hits Gods' “soft spot”—"Lord, save us, and by this action, let the other nations know who is really the true God!"  Someone observed that King Hezekiah gave an argument that God couldn't resist (Fortner)!  King Hezekiah is whole-heartedly trusting in God!

He "finally sees what Isaiah has been saying all along.  It is not this world [and its nations] with whom we have to deal, primarily; it is always God.  The nations and powers and ideas and fashions of human making are not ultimate, and [they should not define us]; God is ultimate [and He should define us].

We don't need human power; we need God's power" (Ortlund Jr.)!  Here we see that King Hezekiah is allying himself with God Almighty alone (as Isaiah had previously urged him to do)!  Now when a ruler humbles himself like King Hezekiah did (remember he put on sackcloth and had his officials do the same), and trusts in God whole-heartedly, and asks Him to act so that His glory among the nations would not be defamed, do you think that gets God's attention?  Look at verse 21: "Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, 'Thus says the Lord God of Israel, "Because you have prayed to Me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word which the Lord has spoken concerning him: ..."'"  Isn't this a beautiful example of God's sovereignty and human initiative?  What would have happened if King Hezekiah had not prayed?  We wouldn't have Isaiah's assurance that God heard him, we wouldn't have had Isaiah's prophecy against King Sennacherib, and we wouldn't see God's protection over Jerusalem.  King Hezekiah's prayer shows us that our human responsibility is real, and our prayers are meaningful, and what we do or don't do does matter to God!  Notice something else in God's reply to Isaiah in verses 29 and 35: "Because your rage [King Sennacherib's rage] against Me [and God is speaking] and your tumult have come up to My ears [yes, God hears all we say], therefore, I will put My hook in your nose [the king of Assyrian was getting paid back exactly what he himself had done to others] and My bridle in your lips.  And I will turn you back by the way which you came."  Here's a paraphrase for you: "Now, Sennacherib, you may be a wild stallion just about ready to run into Jerusalem, but I'm the bronco-buster.

My bridle is going into your lips, and I'm going to ride on you, and turn you around, and send you back to Assyria!"  And then verse 35 states: "For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David's sake." 

Y
ou see, what gets us through is not our zeal for God, but it's God's zeal for His own justice, for Jesus, and for the church's well-being.  And this chapter closes showing the downfall of Sennacherib.  That great military commander woke up the next day, and there lay 185,000 of his men dead, slain in the night by just one of God's angels!  So King Sennacherib went back to Nineveh, and the last verse tells that when he went to the temple of his god, there he was killed by his own sons!  See the contrast: King Hezekiah got help at the house of the Lord while King Sennacherib was murdered in the house of his god!

Oh, if the story of King Hezekiah could have just stopped here!  Well, in reality, it almost did, but something unusual happened that we read about in the next chapter.  Chapter 38 begins with King Hezekiah suffering from an illness, and Isaiah the prophet came and told him that he was going to die.

King Hezekiah then prayed and told the Lord how he had been loyal to him. 

Before Isaiah could even leave the palace, God told him to tell King Hezekiah that He would grant him 15 more years of life, he would protect Jerusalem, and He would provide him a sign by making the shadow on the sundial go backwards.  Then follows a song of praise on the part of Hezekiah, but then follows something that is sort of baffling.  After Isaiah tells what should be done to heal King Hezekiah, we find a puzzling question in verse 22: "And Hezekiah said, 'What is the sign that I should go up to the house of the Lord?'"

King Hezekiah was so strong when there was a national emergency, but when a personal emergency struck, he began to lose his bearings once again.  God had already told him what His sign would be to prove His word, and God had followed through by performing the miracle (according to verse 8), so why did King Hezekiah doubt and ask him once again for a sign?  See, that's what's makes this question perplexing.  It's almost as if Hezekiah is saying that God's promise and sign are not good enough for him.  2 Chronicles 32 provides us some more insight for it says this in verses 25-26: "But Hezekiah did not repay according to the favor shown him, for his heart was lifted up; therefore, wrath was looming over him and over Judah and Jerusalem.  Then Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah."  How did King Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem become so proud that they needed to humble themselves?  The text doesn't really explain it.  Here was a man to whom God revealed that He would prolong his life, and before long, he's acting cocky and proud until later he realizes the error of way.  You see, now King Hezekiah was only trusting God half-heartedly.  We need to be careful that when God blesses us with victories that we don't think that everything from that point on will be smooth sailing.  Somehow Satan caused King Hezekiah to become proud.  Paul's warning is still valid for us: "Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Here's a question for you as we approach another section: "If you were the ruler over Israel and God had given you 15 more years to live, what would you do with that precious time?"  Would you make repairs at the Temple?  Would you write psalms for worship?  Would you have the law read and distributed to the people?  Would you have true prophets go among the people to warn them?  How would you have utilized that time?  Well, the text reveals what King Hezekiah did?  Look at 32:27-30 where the text says that he built up his treasuries with wealth and shields, he made storehouses, stalls, and sheep folds, and he dug a tunnel to bring water to Jerusalem.  Doesn't that sound like King Hezekiah is making a lot of preparations for the next military invasion?  Treasuries for pay offs, storehouses for food, stalls and folds for animals, water for survival.  We see that Hezekiah is now trusting in God weak-heartedly.  He's putting all the emphasis on the material things, and hardly doing anything about the spiritual needs and decaying morals of his fellow Jews in Judah.  In Deuteronomy 17:16-17, God warned Israel's kings not to multiple their wives, their horses, and their wealth.  They were to make a copy of God's law, to read it, and to live by it.  Isn't it sad that Hezekiah wasted those precious 15 years?  He could have been building Judah up spiritually, but instead he wanted to play the politician.  What about us?  Are we spending most of our time on building up the material or the spiritual?

Have we focused more on treasuries, storehouses, and projects rather than focusing on God's kingdom, a spiritual family, and a devoted and upright character?  Evangelist Steve Norris reminded us that God wants first place in our lives.  Are we giving it to Him?  Have we become weary in our Christian race and are we trusting Him weak-heartedly?

Now look again in Isaiah 39 where an envoy is sent by the King of Babylon to visit King Hezekiah.  Now you can rest assured that this visit was more than just a house-call to congratulate King Hezekiah on his illness.  Babylon was Assyria's rival.  These ambassadors were trying to get King Hezekiah to join them in an alliance.  King Hezekiah was playing with fire and courting disaster.

So he shows them all his riches.  Someone helps us to understand what is going on with these words: "Hezekiah feels flattered, and flattery is hard to resist.  His sense of self-importance is clouding his sense of God's importance. . . . Poor, naive Hezekiah!  He wants to be 'a player' in international politics.  He wants to up in the big leagues, even if God isn't there ([You see], he doesn't consult God before he commits himself here).  But these Babylonians don't respect him.  In their eyes, he's just another petty kinglet out in the boondocks.  As they walk with him from room to room in his palace, politely smiling, ooh-ing and ah-ing as he shows off, they've seen wealth many time greater in their own kingdom.  They're just making mental inventory of what they'll someday carry back to Babylon" (Ortlund Jr.).  And this is exactly right!

Isaiah then tells Hezekiah that all these things and his sons will be carried off into Babylon.  Before looking at the closing verse of this chapter, flip back over to 2 Chronicles 32:31 where we read: "However, regarding the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, whom they sent to him to inquire about the wonder that was done in the land, God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart."  What was wrong with Hezekiah's heart?  As we've already seen, it was growing colder and colder.  And now listen to how Hezekiah answers the prophet Isaiah in 39:8: "'The word of the Lord which you have spoken is good!'  For he said , 'At least there will be peace and truth in my days.'"  These words have been paraphrased in this way: "Isaiah, you had me worried there for a minute, with your talk of Babylonian invasion.  But what a relief!  The collapse of everything I've lived for, the ruin of the kingdom of God, my descendants as [slavish] boot-lickers in Babylon—it's all okay, because I'll die peacefully in my [own] bed" (Ortlund Jr.).  Now we see Hezekiah trusting God cold-heartedly.

He was basically thinking only of himself.  Someone made this observation: "Some Christians live too long.  It's better to die prematurely and honorably than to live long enough to betray the cause of God in our generation.

Hezekiah would have been better off dying in chapter 38.  His faith, his honor, his responsibility—now they all lie in ruins at his feet, and the disaster is his own doing" (Ibid).

The story is told about a dog that fell into a farmer's well.  "After assessing the situation, the farmer decided that neither the dog nor the well was worth the bother of saving.  He’d bury the old dog in the well and put him out of his misery.  When the farmer began shoveling dirt down the well, initially the old dog was hysterical.  But as the dirt hit his back, the dog realized every time dirt landed there, he could shake it off and step up.  'Shake it off and step up; shake it off and step up!' he repeated to himself.  No matter how painful the blows were, the old dog kept shaking the dirt off and stepping up.  It wasn’t long before the dog, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of that well!  What seemed as though it would bury him actually benefited him — all because of the way he handled his adversity" (Shelly in Larson-Eslhof).  It may be of some consolation for us to know that even though King Hezekiah didn't finish his race well, he is still assessed as one of the good kings in Israel.  Isn't it wonderful that our God judges us on the whole of our lives?  Let's trust God whole-heartedly all the days of our lives, shake off Satan's various attacks, and keep on stepping up!  Is your trust in the Lord wanning?   Is it half-hearted, or weak-hearted, or even cold-hearted?  The Lord has given you another opportunity to repent and to ask for His forgiveness and help.  Be like Hezekiah when he wholeheartedly trusted the Lord.  Pray for His help and cast your cares fully upon Him!  Let him help you fight your battles and escape from your wells!  Let Jesus help you reach the finish line!