Ruin and Restoration
2 Kings 17:1–20:21
Main Idea: While Israel experiences the ruin of exile, Judah experiences a restoration under the leadership of Hezekiah.
I. Ruin in Israel (17:1-41)
A. Do not rely on conspiracy.
B. Worship God alone.
II. Restoration in Judah (18:1–20:21)
A. Returning to true worship (18:4)
B. Relying on God alone (18:5–20:21)
III. Challenge 1: Crisis (18:13–19:37)
A. Express trust in God by requesting prayer (19:1-7).
B. Express trust in God by praying (19:14-19).
IV. Challenge 2: Illness (20:1-11)
V. Challenge 3: Pride (20:12-19)
VI. Remember That Ultimate Restoration Is Coming (20:20-21).
This past week has been so refreshing. In the middle of August, the morning temperatures have been in the 60s. Football season is right around the corner, and fans are getting excited. But Penn State fans have been preparing under a dark cloud because of the horrific news about their former coach, Jerry Sandusky. This longtime coach was convicted on 45 counts of sexual abuse. Sickening. Despicable. Infuriating. I recently read where his son was changing his name because of the association with his dad. Now let me ask you: What if this coach’s son grew up to be the greatest president in United States history? Would that shock you? What if he became the most influential Christian leader in the world, leading the nation in revival? Unlikely?
I definitely pray for this family and believe God can restore them and use them for His glory, just as He can use anyone who experiences His redeeming grace. The good news of the gospel is that if you had a terrible experience with your father, you don’t have to end up becoming like him.
If you find this hard to believe, then consider Hezekiah. God raised up this Judean king while a dark cloud was hanging over the nation. He led them into a time of restoration. He was the greatest king since David, yet his dad had been perhaps the most evil king in Judah’s history. Here was an example of his evil father: “He even made his son pass through the fire, imitating the detestable practices of the nations” (16:3). But God, by His grace, brought restoration in a season of ruin through the leadership of this son, Hezekiah.
In these chapters we should be reminded of the grace of God, who brings refreshing fall-like seasons in our life; and like Hezekiah we should be encouraged to seek the Lord.
Ruin in Israel
2 Kings 17:1-41
Israel’s “rain delay” is over. In 2 Kings 17 the writer describes the Assyrian storm and Israel’s fall into exile. Back in 1 Kings 14:15 Ahijah told Jeroboam that the Lord would “uproot” Israel and “scatter them beyond the Euphrates.” But God proved to be gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in faithful love, delaying judgment (2 Kgs 10:30; 13; 14:23-29). God continued to display His grace by saving Israel from various enemies through Elisha (2 Kgs 6–7), unnamed deliverers (13:5), and Jeroboam (14:27). But the previous chapters have also pointed ahead to the coming exile. The writer made us aware of the external and internal instability of the northern kingdom in chapter 15.
Do Not Rely on Conspiracy
In 2 Kings 17:1-5 we’re introduced to the nine-year reigning king, Hoshea. His name sounds promising (“salvation”); unfortunately, he doesn’t live up to that name. His biography in verses 1-5 sounds much like the other kings, with a few surprising exceptions. While he “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight,” the author adds, “but not like the kings of Israel who preceded him” (v. 2). We’re left to guess about what made him stand out. However, his political power plays between Assyria and Egypt anger “Shalmaneser king of Assyria.” Six times in these verses, we read of the “king of Assyria” (Davis, 2 Kings, 243). This king dominates the narrative. The angry Assyrian king first puts Hoshea in prison. Eventually, Shalmaneser captures Samaria and scatters the northern kingdom across a wide area (v. 6; 18:11). The 10 tribes of Israel are no more.
In verses 7-17 the writer provides a bit of sermon to explain why Israel went off into exile. One could give a number of reasons from a human perspective for their fall, but the writer is more concerned with the underlying problem. That problem is made clear by repetition. The verb translated as “fear” reverberates throughout this chapter—with either Yahweh or “other gods” as the object—no fewer than eight times (Yahweh in vv. 25,28,36,39; other gods in vv. 7 [“worshiped”], 35,37,38). It can also be translated “worship” or “revere.” The people looked to other gods for provision, joy, satisfaction, and salvation.
We need to realize that idolatry isn’t confined to shrines and pagan temples; it resides in the hearts of people who look to other things to give them what only God can give. These can be things like money, sexual pleasure, power, or success. All sin problems are essentially worship problems. The wrong god equals the wrong lifestyle.
The author warns us about the danger of rejecting the real God. We might arrange our application in four parts.
Don’t reject the God who redeems (v. 7). Throughout these verses, the writer calls our attention to the exodus and the giving of the Ten Commandments. God redeemed His people “out of the land of Egypt from the power of Pharaoh,” yet Israel chose to worship (fear) other gods. Instead of having lasting gratitude for Yahweh, Israel looked to other gods.
Guard your heart against ingratitude. The drift into idolatry and immorality begins there. What’s often missing in corporate worship services isn’t better music but a lack of “singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16; emphasis added). Marvel at the grace of God not only in corporate worship but also in daily worship. Believers must seek to cultivate the discipline to “give thanks in everything” (1 Thess 5:18).
The God of grace has delivered us out of bondage to sin and from judgment, through Jesus Christ, who has led the ultimate exodus. Thank Him for His grace! Remember this about idols: they can never give you grace; they only enslave you. When you reject the God of the Bible, you are rejecting grace. Therefore, consider what God has done for us and how foolish your other options are.
Don’t reject the God who satisfies (vv. 8-12,16-17). The writer goes on to tell us of the inevitable results of idolatry. The people lived immoral lives, and they worshiped multiple false gods. Why? The psalmist explains, “The sorrows of those who take another god for themselves will multiply” (Ps 16:4). Idols only lead to sorrow; they never bring satisfaction. Asherot, Baal, the golden calves, or Molech cannot give what the human heart longs for, namely, the God who redeems and satisfies.
If money is your idol, then you will never have enough. If you don’t have any, it will crush you to the point of suicidal thoughts. If being popular is your idol, then being unpopular will crush you. If success is your idol, then you will live on a treadmill of pursuing one accomplishment after another. If sexual pleasure is your source of greatest pleasure, then no person (or image of a person) will ever thrill you enough. If a particular drug is your source of hope and strength, then you will only be enslaved, never liberated. These gods will not satisfy you. They say to you, “Serve me.” But you need to preach a better sermon back to them: “In [God’s] presence is abundant joy; in [His] right hand are eternal pleasures” (Ps 16:11). Deeper joy and more lasting joy are found in the presence of God.
Don’t reject the God who warns (vv. 13-15). Israel knew better. After the exodus God gave Israel His law and told them how to live. He also sent prophets. But “they would not listen” (v. 14, cf. 35-40). Why? They had a heart problem. They were “obstinate like their ancestors who did not believe the Lord their God.” They were like stubborn farm animals. Their stubbornness, like ours, stemmed from unbelief. Such was the history of Israel. They exasperated God with their unbelief. The psalmist recaps the history in Psalm 78 and says in verse 32, “Despite all this, they kept sinning and did not believe His wonderful works.” Israel’s fall into exile reminds us of the problem of “hardening our hearts” to God’s word (see Ps 95:7-11).
As a result of despising God’s word and resisting His warnings, “they pursued worthless idols and became worthless themselves” (v. 15). Here’s another truth about idolatry: we become like whatever we worship. The psalmist says, “Those who make [idols] are just like them” (Ps 115:8). In contrast, those who behold the glory of God are “being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor 3:18). If you don’t heed the warnings of God, then you will become like your idols: “false” (ESV) or “worthless” (HCSB). Worship really does change you! Transformation happens from the inside out.
Several years ago a four-year-old girl in North Wales had her complexion turn a yellow-orange color. The doctor discovered the reason. She had been consuming one-and-a-half liters of Sunny Delight every day. The product was largely food coloring and sugar. The manufacturers admitted that their product could turn a person orange, but only if consumed in large amounts (Davis, 2 Kings, 250). And that’s what happened. She became what she drank (temporarily). Likewise, if you’re constantly drinking in a love of praise, a love of money, a love of sexual pleasure, or a love of success, it will change you spiritually. Don’t reject the warnings of Scripture. Turn “from idols to serve the living and true God . . . Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thess 1:9-10).
Don’t reject the God who judges (vv. 18-23). Israel’s rejection of His grace and His word provoked God to anger. He removed them from His presence: “Israel has been exiled to Assyria from their homeland until today” (v. 23). In the middle of these words of judgment on Israel, the writer comments on Judah, how they also “did not keep the commands of the Lord their God but lived according to the customs Israel had introduced” (v. 19). This surely points to the coming fate of Judah. Why did God judge Israel? They had followed the ways of Jeroboam, whom they made king when the kingdom split. They persisted in sin.
Recently, despite the example of all those who had been caught and punished, several more baseball players were found to be cheating by using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. They were banished from baseball for a time. In their pride they had ignored the warnings. Most players and fans want these guys to face consequences; they want justice. God gave Israel warning after warning, but they rejected Him. Now they were banished into foreign lands. And today, don’t think you are the exception to God’s judgment. When God offers you grace, embrace it.
The writer continues to speak of the northern kingdom in verses 24-41. The focus in this section is still on worship. While Israel is exiled, other peoples fill the land. Assyria’s king brings others from near and far to dwell there. Whom do they worship while residing in Israel’s land? We read that at first they didn’t worship the Lord, but “the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them” (v. 25). God demands exclusive worship from the nations. He isn’t a tribal deity. He doesn’t always send lions, but He always demands worship. The king of Assyria then actually responds better than Israel to this warning. He sends an exiled priest back to the land to instruct the people in Samaria on how to worship Yahweh.
What happened next? We read that the nations worshiped Yahweh alongside other gods. But we shouldn’t read this as if God accepted such syncretism, as verses 34-39 make clear. This displeased Him, like Israel’s syncretism had displeased Him. Apparently the priest taught the corrupt worship that Israel had been practicing. Mixed worship isn’t acceptable worship. Provan summarizes, “What is clear by the end of the chapter, then, is that the exile of Israel has not led to any improvement in the religion of the people who dwell in the land. . . . Nothing has changed” (1 and 2 Kings, 251).
The whole chapter calls us to examine our hearts. Who or what are you worshiping? Is it Yahweh plus some other god? Syncretism doesn’t glorify God, and it will lead you into an unfaithful life. Enjoy creation, steward creation, and be thankful for creation, but don’t worship created things. Worship the Creator and Redeemer alone. John concludes his first letter by simply and most significantly saying, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
Restoration in Judah
2 Kings 18:1–20:21
The previous chapters of 2 Kings (chs. 16–17) gave us a terrible picture not only of Israel but also of Judah. Will they head off into exile also? Not yet. What we read about in chapters 18–20 is a time of relief for the people of Judah, as a new king takes the throne during the third year of Hoshea in Israel: Hezekiah. He doesn’t take after his father, Ahaz, but after his father David. His 29-year reign is briefly summarized in 18:1-8, where we see that he “did what was right in the Lord’s sight just as his ancestor David had done.” He isn’t merely similar to David, like Asa or Jehoshaphat, but is more like a “second David.” He faces his “Goliath” in Assyria’s king, Sennacherib, who like Goliath boasts in himself and taunts Yahweh. He leads the people into a period of restoration. How so? He leads the people back to true worship, and he demonstrates trust in God.
Returning to True Worship (18:4)
One act that sets Hezekiah apart from previous kings is his removal of “the high places.” We have grown weary of the line, “Yet the high places were not taken away” (1 Kgs 15:14; 22:43; 2 Kgs 12:3; 14:4; 15:4,35). Hezekiah, though, cut down “pillars” (symbols of male deity) and “the Asherah poles” (symbols of female deity); he also “broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses made.” This refers to the story of the serpent in the wilderness (Num 21:4-9), which was never intended for worship (Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, 252).
Are there some idols that need to be removed from your own temple? This past week a strange thing happened. My son, James, was sleeping on the third floor, only to awaken to a bat flying around the room. He also heard something flying around in the adjacent room (the attic). He opened the door, turned on the light, and counted 12 bats! We called the “Batman” the next day, who counted 22 of these critters in our attic. He eventually removed them and solved our problem. You don’t welcome bats into your house. You should not welcome idols either. However, many are more troubled by their bats than their Baals. Remove them, just as Hezekiah removed the idols from the temple. Deal with idols ruthlessly and relentlessly.
Hezekiah not only removed the idols but also led the people to cleanse the temple and celebrate the Passover. The Chronicler focuses on these events (2 Chr 29–31), while the writer of Kings focuses more on the Assyrian crisis. The two aren’t opposed to each other. Hezekiah’s return to true worship is linked to his stand against the enemy (v. 7). And so it is with us. Everything flows out of worship. As we focus on the Word of God, gather with the people of God, and remember the Substitute, then we begin to truly live on mission.
Relying on God Alone (18:5–20:21)
The main virtue highlighted in Hezekiah’s life is his trust. Solomon is known for his wisdom; Josiah will be known for his reforms; Hezekiah is known for his unparalleled trust. “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord God of Israel; not one of the kings of Judah was like him, either before him or after him” (v. 5). The fruit of his trust was that he “remained faithful to Yahweh” and that he “kept the commands” (v. 6). The writer adds that the Lord was also “with him” and “wherever he went he prospered” (v. 7). So he was like David in that way: God was with him (only said of David and Hezekiah; Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, 253).
Hezekiah also had military success. Unlike Ahaz, his father, he didn’t yield to Assyria but instead “rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him” (v. 7). Like David he defeated the Philistines. They were the only two kings who defeated the Philistines (Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, 253).
In verses 9-12 the writer reminds the reader of what was going on in the northern kingdom. This context puts the bold faith of Hezekiah in perspective. In his sixth year Assyria took Samaria. What will happen to Judah? They will be threatened too. Will they trust in God?
Hezekiah’s trust is challenged in various ways in the following chapters. His challenges are like our challenges. As we identify with them, let’s also consider the appropriate response to them: prayer. Hezekiah’s prayer life is worthy of emulation.
Challenge 1: Crisis
2 Kings 18:13–19:37
The opening chapters don’t begin the way we would anticipate. The new king of Assyria, Sennacherib, comes against Judah, and Hezekiah caves in. He gives Sennacherib silver, gold, and treasures from the temple and from the king’s house. You might wonder, “I thought he rebelled against Assyria?” He did. But we must remember that verses 1-8 summarize his whole life. This opening story shows us a particular lapse, but that doesn’t mean his whole life is measured by this one mistake. We’re reminded that even the most faithful can have periods in which they cave in to pressure.
We expect to read no more of Sennacherib, but he decides the gold isn’t enough. He sends his army to Jerusalem trying to persuade Hezekiah to surrender. This introduces a competing voice. Rabshakeh, Sennacherib’s official spokesman, says, “Tell Hezekiah this is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: ‘What are you relying on?’” (v. 19). What does he focus on? Trust. It’s mentioned in verses 19,20,21,22,24,30, and 19:30.
In his speech Rabshakeh tries to sow seeds of doubt in Hezekiah’s heart. Like the evil one he mixes truth with error. He first questions Hezekiah’s trust in Egypt. While Egypt apparently served as an ally, Isaiah said it was folly to trust in Egypt (Isa 30:1-7; 31:1-3). Sennacherib thinks it’s folly to trust in Egypt because they cannot provide support. He was right about the folly of trusting Egypt, but for the wrong reason.
Rabshakeh then arrogantly asks if Hezekiah’s focus of trust is “the Lord our God” (v. 22). He views Hezekiah’s reforms negatively. Then he claims, “The Lord said to me, ‘Attack this land and destroy it’” (v. 25). He was right in that the Lord had just used them to bring judgment on the people (17:1-23; 18:9-12). And we know that Isaiah prophesied about the Assyrians being the “rod of God’s judgment against Israel and Judah” (Isa 10:5-19). But that was only part of the story (Olley, Message of Kings, 323).
So an ultimatum is offered in verses 26-37. The basic thrust of the ensuing dialogue is that the people shouldn’t trust in Hezekiah but should choose life and not death by surrendering to Assyria. The dialogue begins with the officials requesting that Rabshakeh speak in Aramaic, the language of international diplomacy, so that the people on the wall cannot understand them. But he thinks the people should be allowed to hear his offer; otherwise they will be left to the horrific realities of a siege (eating excrement and drinking urine). He proceeds to tell the people that Hezekiah “can’t deliver” them out of their hand and that they shouldn’t listen to Hezekiah’s words about “trusting” in the Lord. He tells the Judeans that if they will yield to Sennacherib, then they can live, and they will live in a land similar to their current land. He then insists that no god can match up against Assyria; in other words, Yahweh is no match for Sennacherib because He is as powerless as other gods. In obedience to Hezekiah’s command, the people don’t respond. Then the king’s ambassadors report the situation to Hezekiah. How will Hezekiah respond to this rival voice? Will he cave in again?
Express Trust in God by Requesting Prayer (19:1-7)
This time Hezekiah responds appropriately. He first seeks help from Yahweh through Isaiah. He humbly puts on sackcloth and goes into the temple. His sackcloth actually represented a heart of desperation, unlike some previous examples. Then he seeks help from Isaiah. Remember, the first time he emptied the temple of wealth; now he goes into the temple for the right reason: to seek God’s help. He sends his messengers to Isaiah, confessing the humiliation and powerlessness of the nation, but he holds out hope that Yahweh has heard Rabshakeh’s mockery and will punish him. He tells Isaiah to “offer a prayer for the surviving remnant” (v. 5). Isaiah responds by saying,
Don’t be afraid because of the words you have heard, that the king of Assyria’s attendants have blasphemed Me with. 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. (v. 6-7)
It’s a short, powerful promise. Will it come true? Spoiler alert: yes. Check out the end of the story in 20:36-37. But let’s pause and just point out how Hezekiah is asking for the prayers of the prophet. Are you seeking the prayers of God’s people in your crisis?
In response Sennacherib counsels Hezekiah against trusting in God. After all, those who have tried this sort of thing before have all been destroyed. So basically nothing has changed. Jerusalem is still in a desperate position. Sennacherib is still mocking God. Isaiah’s prophecy has accomplished nothing so far.
Express Trust in God by Praying (19:14-19)
Hezekiah’s first response had been to seek the prayers of Isaiah. Now he prays himself. The following verses are powerful. They show us how one who trusts in Yahweh responds to fear and doubt: with faithful prayer. Consider the acrostic, TRUST:
T—take it before the Lord (v. 14). Notice the imagery as Hezekiah takes Sennacherib’s threatening letter and spreads it before the Lord in the temple. He physically lays his burden before God. Biblical writers tell us to cast our burden or care on God (Ps 55:22; 1 Pet 5:7) and to let our requests be made known to God (Phil 4:6). Come to God like this: helpless and in need of grace. Why don’t we do so? We must admit that at the root of prayerlessness is a feeling of self-sufficiency. If we think we can do things on our own, then why pray? Take a cue from Hezekiah and remember the words of Jesus: “You can do nothing without Me” (John 15:5).
R—recognize the greatness of God (v. 15). Hezekiah prays with an elevated view of God. He recognizes the majestic presence of God, who’s “enthroned above the cherubim.” He affirms the exclusive nature of God, who is God “alone.” He affirms the total sovereignty of God, who is the God of “all the kingdoms of the earth.” And he recognizes the unparalleled power of God, who “made the heavens and the earth.” Oh, that we had a vision of God like this when we pray! Is our prayerlessness not often rooted in a low view of God? Let’s “ponder anew what the Almighty can do!”
U—unload the problem to God (vv. 16-18). Hezekiah asks God to “listen closely” and “hear” and “see.” He calls on God to consider the mockery of Sennacherib, who taunts “the living God.” His prayer then includes a lament, a description of the dire situation. He states that Assyria has destroyed other nations and their gods but affirms, “They were not gods.” Hezekiah isn’t complaining against God; he is taking his complaint to God. He is lamenting the situation, pouring out his heart. Talk out your issue in God’s presence. In our crises we get tempted to complain to other people before we pour out our hearts to God. Here’s a great example for us. Unload it to the One who can carry it.
S—seek the help of God (v. 19a). His supplication is simple: “Now, Lord our God, please save us from his hand.” You don’t have to have big, impressive words when you pray. Present your request to God (Phil 4:6). If you are the Father’s child, tell Him what you need like a child. Jesus said that God heard the prayer of the tax collector, who simply said, “God, turn Your wrath from me—a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).
T—treasure the glory of God (v. 19b). The purpose of his prayer is also simple but so important: “so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord God—You alone” (emphasis added). Hezekiah isn’t just praying for his own sake or for the people’s sake, but for the sake of God’s glory. Davis says, “When we are concerned with God’s glory we are likely to be heard” (2 Kings, 289). Is this “God, glorify Yourself” not reflected in the opening of the Lord’s Prayer? “Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy” (Matt 6:9) or “make Your name great.” Oh, that we might be consumed with this desire: the glory of God being made known among the nations!
Do you see how simple prayer is? Hezekiah faces the threat of the Assyrians. Instead of planning, plotting, or seeking outside help, he looks to God. Prayer doesn’t eliminate the need for human solutions (for example, Hezekiah had a great solution to get water into the city in 20:20), but our ultimate trust must always be in God alone. Corporately, Christians sometimes look to pastors/leaders instead of to God first. And when they bring their problems to pastors, instead of first seeking the Chief Shepherd, the pastors fail to seek God’s help. They take on a messiah complex instead of taking problems to God. Please don’t misunderstand. I think believers should always seek godly counsel. But nothing should substitute for dependence on God. Perhaps you should stop and pray this passage in your own words right now.
God’s response. In verses 20-37 God heard Hezekiah’s prayer, and He will reverse the situation. Isaiah brings God’s response to Hezekiah’s prayer in three parts.
First, we read a mocking song, or dirge (vv. 21-28). God speaks through the prophet in a poetic way concerning Sennacherib. Tracing the big picture, Sennacherib has spoken to Hezekiah about God; Hezekiah has spoken to God about Sennacherib; and now God speaks to Hezekiah about Sennacherib (Oswalt, Isaiah, 659).
In this dirge God refers to Israel as a virgin daughter who is being oppressed. But everything will change because to mock Israel is to insult God Himself. Then God says that Assyria’s success has only come because of His sovereign will (vv. 25-26; cf. Isa 10:5-19). This statement is intended to humble them. In the last part of the dirge, God promises that Assyria will go home. He says, “I will put My hook in your nose and My bit in your mouth; I will make you go back the way you came” (v. 28). House says, “The reference to the ‘hook’ and ‘bit’ reminds the original readers of the Assyrian practice of using these instruments to lead people into exile as if they were animals [cf. Amos 4:1-3]” (1, 2 Kings, 370). God will treat them the way they have treated other nations.
Second, the Lord will provide a sign for Hezekiah (vv. 29-31). The sign will occur when the Assyrians’ leave. It will take two years for the land to be replenished from the Assyrian invasion, but in three years it will be back to normal. Like the crops, a remnant of surviving Israelites will grow up out of Jerusalem (House, 1, 2 Kings, 370). How will this happen? “The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this” (v. 31).
The third response to Hezekiah’s prayer is God’s specific promise that the Assyrians will not conquer Jerusalem (vv. 32-34). God will defend the city for His name’s sake and for the sake of His servant David.
The execution of God’s promises is found in the closing verse of the chapter. The angel of the Lord strikes down 185,000 soldiers. God delivers His people. “Salvation is from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). Then we read of the fulfillment of the promise in 19:7. Sennacherib returns home and is put to death by the sword.
Are all gods the same? We hear this question a lot. The Assyrians believed that Yahweh was like the other gods—basically powerless. But God humbled the mockers and proved otherwise. David expressed what Hezekiah experienced: “There is no one like You among the gods” (Ps 86:8).
Challenge 2: Illness
2 Kings 20:1-11
The report of Hezekiah’s illness probably isn’t in chronological order. House notes that “in those days” apparently refers to the general period of Hezekiah’s reign. His illness must have occurred before the Sennacherib invasion (House, 1, 2 Kings, 373n76). Regardless of when it happened, it did occur, and it serves as another case study on faith and prayer.
Hezekiah is sick and is told that he will die. Will he not live to enjoy the victory over Assyria? Once again Hezekiah takes his trouble to God in prayer. He appeals to his own personal character in this prayer, saying, “Please Lord, remember how I have walked before You faithfully and wholeheartedly and have done what pleases You” (v. 3). Then he “wept bitterly.” Some view this petition as self-centered, but Hezekiah is really following a common Israelite pattern of the lament prayers in Psalms. He’s praying a lot like David (Pss 7:3-5; 17:1-5; 18:20-26; 26:1-7; 44:17-22). Davis says, “There is no thought of sinless perfection but only of covenantal obedience” (2 Kings, 301).
Isaiah immediately returns to give him a revised word—that God has heard and will heal the king. God promises to give him 15 more years. Did God change His mind? Davis says, “Sometimes what sounds like a final decree is a subtle invitation” (2 Kings, 301). See Exodus 32:7-14 as an example.
What we should learn is that our prayers matter. Interestingly, Hezekiah will rise on “the third day” (vv. 5,8), becoming a “resurrected” king. Additionally, God says, “I will defend this city for My sake and for the sake of My servant David” (v. 6). God not only heard his prayer and promised healing but also promised that He would continue to defend the people from the Assyrians. Isaiah then calls for “a lump of pressed figs” to be applied to the infected area (v. 7). In this example we see that God may choose to work His healing through human means.
Hezekiah asked for a sign of healing (unlike his father Ahaz, who rejected Isaiah’s sign in Isa 7:12). The prophet gives him a choice of signs: “This is the sign to you from the Lord that He will do what He has promised: Should the shadow go ahead 10 steps or go back 10 steps?” (v. 9). Hezekiah opts for the more difficult sign, “Let the shadow go back 10 steps” (v. 10). Thus, “His healing takes on miraculous proportions. . . . He lives under God’s blessing, while Sennacherib lives under God’s judgment” (House, 1, 2 Kings, 373).
God doesn’t always heal us when we pray, but sometimes He does. Regardless of the outcome, we should trust in God with our lives. Hezekiah shows us a good example of crying out to God when we’re sick (Jas 5:13-14).
Challenge 3: Pride
2 Kings 20:12-19
Once again we have an interaction between Isaiah and Hezekiah. We might call his final challenge the challenge of pride. Like other kings before him, Hezekiah became his own greatest problem. He gets puffed up with his success and his stuff, and in his pride he looks to the Babylonians instead of God for help.
It’s often easier to look to God in suffering than in prosperity. When things are going well, we often lose sight of our dependency on God. As a church, it’s easy to get puffed up with big numbers or “success” and start trusting in ourselves instead of God for advancing the kingdom. As a nation, prosperity often crushes dependency. How quickly we can forget the giver of gifts. As individuals, it’s easy to turn into Hezekiah, failing to crush pride and cultivate humility. But we must remember that “pride comes before destruction” (Prov 16:18).
So here’s what happens. Hezekiah has company over. The Babylonians pay him a visit, bringing him a present, ostensibly because the king’s son “heard that he had been sick” but also to bring “letters and a gift” (v. 12; Isa 39:1ff). These letters probably had something to do with a hidden agenda (Motyer, Isaiah, 240). When we read that Hezekiah showed the Babylonians everything, being “pleased” to receive them (Isa 39:2), he is doing more than giving them a tour. He’s showing them his resources and discussing an alliance against Assyria. Motyer captures what might have been going on in Hezekiah’s heart: “Imagine them coming all that way to see me! Imagine Merodach-baladan wanting me as an ally!” (ibid.).
Isaiah knows it isn’t acceptable for the king to seek such an alliance (Isa 30:1-5; 31:1-3). He takes the opportunity to tell the king about the future. He tells him that that one day Babylon will take everything in the palace, and some of the king’s sons will be eunuchs in the palace of the Babylonians. We have the privilege of knowing that this won’t happen for over a century, but Isaiah’s word will indeed be fulfilled.
What’s the problem? The Chronicler says, “God left him [Hezekiah] to test him and discover what was in his heart” (2 Chr 32:31). If this event was intended to test him, then the test had to do with pride, especially given his earlier problems with pride (see 2 Chr 32:24-29; House, 1, 2 Kings, 375). Hezekiah was flattered by Babylon’s interest in him and thrilled by a possible alliance, but all of it was idolatrous and arrogant. What happened to his humble trust in Yahweh to fight the enemies? We have another example like Uzziah: “But when he became strong, he grew arrogant” (2 Chr 26:16). Let us remember that “no matter our age or vocation, humility is our greatest friend and pride our greatest enemy” (Mahaney, Humility, 14).
Hezekiah responds strangely, “‘The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good,’ for he thought: Why not, if there will be peace and security during my lifetime?” (v. 19). Either this is a self-serving and unrepentant response, meaning he doesn’t care about the future but just his own day, or he sees this as a “good” word because God is delaying His judgment in His grace (Davis, 2 Kings, 306). I prefer to take the former position, given the problem of pride in the story.
Remember That Ultimate Restoration Is Coming
2 Kings 20:20-21
The end of Hezekiah’s life reminds us of the challenge of consistency. It reminds me of the 2009–10 Kentucky Wildcats basketball team. They dominated the regular season, losing only two games, but didn’t reach the Final Four. Their amazing season ended with a “clang” as they shot 4 for 32 from the three-point line, including missing their first 20 three-point attempts. They go down as an impressive team that fell short of glory.
As we close the books on Hezekiah’s tremendous season as king, we recognize that his reign ended with a “clang.” He couldn’t bring ultimate restoration. Judah’s exile is coming. He accomplished a lot, but he died, and Manasseh reigned in his place. Manasseh will lead Judah into evil like Ahaz did, and soon Judah will be in captivity.
The best of kings fall short of glory. Only one King can bring true restoration: Jesus. As we finish this section, we recognize the absolute importance of worshiping and trusting in the living God. We can do this through our union with the Son of God. Jesus is the King of kings. Hezekiah was like David, but he wasn’t the David that was to come. Jesus alone is the King who lived a totally sinless life, who died for idolaters, taking their judgment, and who rose on the third day to give them life in His eternal kingdom. Let’s rejoice in our King!
Reflect and Discuss
- Why are people stubborn and unwilling to obey the word of the Lord?
- What are the consequences of Israel’s and Judah’s disobedience?
- How is it possible to fear the Lord and also to serve carved images?
- Describe some ways God’s people today attempt to serve both God and idols.
- Why is Hezekiah called the greatest of the kings of Judah who came before or after him?
- Discuss any personal experiences with steadfastness under affliction.
- Where can God’s people today look for hope in the midst of affliction?
- Why does God sometimes use unbelievers to expose the sin of His people?
- Describe Hezekiah’s prayer.
- Why do you think Hezekiah responds the way he does when Isaiah prophesies that Babylon will take away everything from his house?