Sunday, September 12, 2010

Isaiah 38 - Hezekiah's Illness

Hezekiah and Isaiah watch the sundial go backward
Opening thoughtHave you seen that commercial where the man is pushing the little boy on the swing under a beautiful tree, and all is lovely and light? Then suddenly a full-grown man comes back in view where a little boy was and knocks the father down. Then the commercial ends, life comes at you fast. That’s what happened to Hezekiah in today’s passage.

Pray and Read:  Isaiah 38

Contextual Notes: In Isaiah 36-39, we find for the first time in Isaiah’s prophecy a section that is not poetry. It is prose, and not only that, it is history, important current events for Isaiah’s time which point to future events of great import for our world. But this historical interlude is not some rude intrusion into Isaiah’s poetic prophetic genius. It serves as a pivot on which the book turns.

But chapters 36-39 are not in chronological order. Chapter 36 and 37 happen in 704-701 B.C., while chapter 38 happens in 712 B.C. and chapter 39 in c. 700 B.C. Chronological order is not important to Isaiah. His purpose is not to write a history but to teach that his prophecies up to this point were accurate, and therefore the reader can believe the end-time prophecies with confidence.

Here in chapter 38, the story (with parallels in 2 Kings 20 and 2 Chronicles 32:24-26) begins with Hezekiah suffering from an illness that would have been terminal, but we see in this chapter his recovery after he prays for himself (chap. 38). The recovery gives him fifteen more years of life. Hezekiah’s prayer and his reliance on the Lord helped him grow as a person so that eleven years later during the invasion of Sennacharib in 701 B.C. he could pray instead for the glory of God to be revealed to the nations (37:20).

Key Truth: Isaiah wrote Isaiah 38 to teach Israel that we handle life with prayer.

Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about trusting God in prayer.

Sermon Points:
  1. Handle bad news with prayer (Isaiah 38:1-3).
  2. Handle new developments with trust (Isaiah 38:4-8).
  3. Handle it all with praise (Isaiah 38:9-22).
Exposition:   Note well,

1.   HANDLE BAD NEWS WITH PRAYER (Isaiah 38:1-3)
a.   In today’s episode, Hezekiah suffers from an illness that Isaiah informs him will be fatal (38:1). The king’s reaction is the same as when the Assyrians surrounded Jerusalem: he prayed (38:2; 37:1, 15). In his first prayer, Hezekiah put the glory of God first rather than his own situation (37:20). Here he puts his own faithfulness, devotion, and good behavior first (38:3). Notice that God answers this prayer partly because of his integrity regarding his covenant with David (37:35; 38:5).
b.   APPLICATION: The change in Hezekiah’s situation teaches us first that we handle bad news with prayer. We “ought always to pray” (Luke 18:1; 21:36; Ephesians 6:18) and though the very idea of prayer is that you are asking for something which might not be granted, still you turn your cares over on Him (1 Peter 5:7).
c.   Second, we see the importance of having someone else pray for us. Isaiah prayed consistently for Hezekiah. He received the first word that Hezekiah would die while praying for him (38:1; 2 Kings 20:1). But Isaiah continued to pray for Hezekiah after that bad news, and he heard the change the Lord had made in answer to Hezekiah’s prayer, even before he had left the middle court of the Temple (38:4-6; 2 Kings 20:4-6).
d.   Prayer is not magic; it does not force God to act, and thankfully, for where would you be if God had answered some of your prayers? We are as thankful for answered prayers sometimes as we are for unanswered. God in his wisdom, in his unchanging character, gives us what we need and some of our wants if they will not harm his plan for us.
2.   HANDLE NEW DEVELOPMENTS WITH TRUST (Isaiah 38:4-8)
a.   The Lord answers Hezekiah’s prayer and extends his life (38:4-5) with the guarantee of peace despite the Assyrian menace (38:6). Along with the prayer, Isaiah prescribes medicine as a means of healing (a poultice of figs). In contrast to his father Ahaz, who refused to ask for a sign (7:10-12), Hezekiah does (2 Kings 20:7-8; 38:21-22). The sign is similar to the one given to Joshua (38:7-8; Josh. 10:12-14). Signs are seldom granted by request, and then only to confirm a message or a mission as being from the Lord (Exod. 4:1-5; Judges 6:36-40). Signs confirm an already existing faith but do not precede it (Matt. 12:38-39).
b.   APPLICATION: Here is a lesson noted by the translator of the Latin Vulgate, Jerome in his commentary on Ezekiel 33. When a prophet predicts an event, it does not necessarily follow that what he predicts will happen. Jerome says, “For [the prophet] did not predict in order that it might happen, but lest it should happen.” God is immutable, that is, unchanging, but God is not a fatalist, that is, there is no hope for change. God’s counsels depend on the continuance of the circumstances which had determined them. For example, God’s principle is that nations which reject him will be punished. We see that throughout history, and we are beginning to see it in our own nation. But the punishment we are headed for can be avoided if we pray and repent! God’s principle is that anyone who rejects him will spend eternity in hell, but if they will pray and repent, they will turn that judgment away from them and receive eternal life! God is unchanging, yes, in his character, but he will move mountains for us when we pray.
c.   Here, like with the Assyrian invasion (chap. 37), Hezekiah has his prayer answered at the last extreme moment. He learned that God is forgiving and merciful and can turn aside the danger right at the deadline. If indeed as some scholars believe, that Hezekiah’s illness (Isaiah 38-39) happened in real time actually before the Assyrian invasion (Isaiah 36-37),[1] then the answer to Hezekiah’s prayer at the last critical moment was a lesson that prepared him for the great, mortally critical moment which would soon face his whole nation and the city of Jerusalem.
d.   APPLICATION: There are some of you today who find yourselves in the extreme last moment. Have you prayed? Have you turned the situation over to Christ? Or are you relying on yourself, relying on others, relying on a bank, relying on an employer, relying on family, relying on the government? Don’t be foolish. Turn your attention to Christ and cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.
e.   There are others who are in the red zone and you have prayed. You are desperate for God to move. You are weeping bitterly. You are praying your guts out for your situation. Keep on! Don’t stop. You are doing the right thing. Keep your focus on Christ.
f.    If indeed the chronology of the Assyrian invasion and Hezekiah’s illness are reversed (37:35; 38:6),[2] then it teaches us that God leads us through life events and circumstances that teach us his faithfulness so that later we can be confident in his faithfulness when a greater challenge comes along. This is the principle Jesus taught in Luke 16:10, 10He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.
Hezekiah's sign of ten steps
g.   38:7-8: The sign – We don’t know what exactly the stairway of Ahaz is (KJV: dial; NKVJ: sundial). Ahaz was Hezekiah’s father, a wicked king who brought in idolatry and ran to the Assyrians for protection against Isaiah’s counsel. It may be that on his visit to Damascus (2 Kings 16:10), when he saw and sketched out a new altar for the Temple, he saw and brought back other things. Some believe it was a sun-dial (which NKJV reads, which the ancient historian Herodotus (2.109) says the Babylonians had recently invented. One scholar says it was a gnomon, or index, a pagan structure incorporating a point within concentric circles.[3] The steps (KJV, NKJV: degrees) indicates it was an obelisk surrounded by ascending steps, so that the shadow marked the hours so that the morning sun fell on the first step to the west, with the shadow falling on the obelisk at mid-day. With the implication of twenty such steps (ten backward while time moved forward ten; 2 Kings 20:8-11), they must have marked quarters of the hour. In that case, the event happened around 2:30 pm.
h.   APPLICATION: This sign, then has a Messianic significance. It points to Jesus Christ. Jesus was crucified at 9am and was dead by 3:00pm (Mark 15:25, 33, 37), a space of six hours. With the sun returning ten degrees while time moved forward ten degrees, then six hours were lost, the time that Jesus was affixed to the cross. Between noon and 3pm, a dark shadow covered Jerusalem (Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44-45). In Hezekiah’s instance, the shadow was reversed from about 2:30pm to noon, indicating a coming reversal of the shadow and curse of death which would come one day.
i.    Shadows and Darkness – Throughout Isaiah, there is darkness that is dispelled by light. The deep darkness of 5:30 is dispelled by the Lord in chap. 6. The darkness of 8:21-22 is dispelled by the Great Light of 9:2, and in 9:6, we find that Great Light is a Child King (9:7). A King comes to dispel the darkness in both cases. Isaiah is merely teaching what the rest of the Bible teaches. The darkness of the crucifixion in Psalm 22 is dispelled by the resurrection of the Messiah in Psalm 23. The darkness of Genesis 1:2 is dispelled by the light of Genesis 1:3. John the Apostle in John 1 used Genesis 1 and followed the interpretation of Isaiah, “4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:4-5).
j.    There is one more thing. In the parallel passage in 2 Kings 20:1-21, Isaiah told Hezekiah that he would be healed on the third day so that he would worship in the Temple (2 Kings 20:5). And what famous person got up on the third day and worshiped in the heavenly Temple? That’s right, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 20:17). Now you might think all this is quite a reach, but the facts are there.
3.   HANDLE IT ALL WITH PRAISE (Isaiah 38:9-22)
a.   Notice that Hezekiah considered death to be the end of all life and of all connection with the land of the living (38:10-11, 18), but the underlying Messianic element is that God can save from death by pardoning our sins (38:15-17; 25:8; 26:19).
b.   The Lord saves him from illness and death (38:20), and he looks back on his earlier distress (38:10-15). He now sees value in his past suffering and future years (38:16-19). The final verse could well be translated “the Lord saves me.”
c.   38:9-21: The Song – So we have a death, burial, and resurrection in this chapter, with Hezekiah as the type of Christ. And that leads us into the song of praise that Hezekiah writes after his recovery. What is significant about Hezekiah’s song is that it has a number of similarities to Jonah’s song in Jonah 2 in the belly of the fish, a song with an obvious Messianic focus of death, burial, and resurrection – obvious because Jesus himself said that Jonah was a sign of the Messiah. We see the suffering of Messiah (38:10-13), the death of Messiah (38:14; cf. Mark 15:34); burial of Messiah (38:17-18); resurrection of Messiah (38:19-20).
Invitation: A Messiah suffered, A Messiah died, A Messiah was buried, and A Messiah rose from the dead for you. Won’t you make him your Lord today?

[1] cf. 37:5; 38:6 – why? Chapter 39’s focus on Babylon sets the transition to chapters 40-66.

[2] As Edersheim says, Bible History: Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), Book 7, chapter 13, p. 936-7. The Reese Chronological Bible puts Isaiah 38 at 712 B.C. and Sennacharib’s invasion at 704 B.C.

[3] That scholar is Ideler, Handbook d. Chronol., vol. 1, 485).