Updated: May 19
Just to give some context to today’s Bible prayer.
The Nation of Israel has had a bit of a fall out and is split into two parts. The Northern kingdom of Israel with its capital city in Samaria and the smaller Southern Kingdom of Judah with its capital city in Jerusalem.
Since King David and King Solomon Judah has enjoyed around 140 years of good kings who were more or less, faithful to God. Then Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz became king. He followed Baal and some of the other gods that were popular at the time. He thought that because he saw other nations growing strong that if he followed their gods then Judah would grow strong too. Ahaz even sacrificed his own son to these other gods. This is how far from the Living God he had fallen.
Ahaz had also formed an alliance with the evil Assyrian King. In return for some very large payments, the Assyrian King (modern day Iraq) offered protection from attacks by Israel and Aram (modern day Syria). It was a dangerous alliance that was very costly for Judah.
So by the time Hezekiah becomes king he inherits a country that is on its knees, far from God and under the rule of Assyria. Hezekiah loves God. He reopens the Temple and immediately tears down the places where other gods are worshipped, reinstaing the rituals and practices of following the Lord.
It takes some years, but Hezekiah stands against the king of Assyria and releases Judah from the alliance that his father had negotiated. Finally, Judah is being restored to the nation that Hezekiah knows it should be. But around this time he becomes very sick. He is likely to die. In fact, the Prophet Isaiah tells him that he will not recover.
We don’t know what illness Hezekiah has but understandably, when faced with imminent death Hezekiah is upset. He is actually devastated. He doesn’t behave like a king, he turns away from everyone, cries and prays to God. ‘Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.’
The people at the time believed that a long life was a sign of righteousness. A short life was a sign that you had sinned. Hezekiah is genuinely asking why, if he has served God faithfully, would God take his life before he is old. I find this a really sad prayer.
At this stage, Hezekiah does not have a son and as far as we know there is no one else who is a direct descendent of David and Solomon that is able to be king. Maybe Hezekiah is also upset that the family line is about to end with him.
Perhaps too, King Hezekiah is concerned about the future of Judah, about their economic and spiritual future.
Through the prophet Isaiah, Hezekiah is told to use an application made of figs and that God will heal him in 3 days. He is to have another 15 years to be King. Now, Hezekiah assumes that God will confirm this with a sign. In fact he is offered a choice of signs, for time to go forward or for time to go backwards. Hezekiah chooses that harder, time going backwards option.
Time was measured with a sun dial and some of these sundials marked time by casting a shadow on a set of steps. It is an incredibly accurate way of telling the time, if not very portable. In fact if you look up on the internet Jantar Mantar you can see images of this type of sun dial in India. As the sun travels across the sky a shadow travels down the steps. The shadow never usually travels up the steps because the sun never changes direction.
But here, in confirmation of Isaiah’s prophecy of healing, the sun appears to travel backwards.
Hezekiah has a really faithful relationship with God throughout his life. He prays in an honest and conversational style. And because God sees Hezekiah’s heart, and is pleased with it, he answers in amazing ways. This is not the first miracle that God has performed through Hezekiah’s prayers.
It reminds me that prayer is not just a task, something that we do, it is a lifestyle. I should be walking faithfully with God and praying, conversationally, continually. Of course, God answers our prayers, the Bible tells us that no prayer goes unheard, but it is when my heart is right with God that amazing happens.