Set Your House In Order

Isaiah 38:1-22

This and next chapter: flashback, prior to invasion by Sennacherib. Put here for stylistic reasons, not historical sequence. With description of angel of Lord decimating Assyrian army, Assyria essentially disappears from Isaiah’s prophetic record. Chapters 38 & 39 anticipate Babylonian exile, chapter 40 to end deals with life after exile. These chapters form bridge between parts of Isaiah, aspects of Jewish life before and after Babylon.

In 714 BC Hezekiah had been king for 14 years, on good terms with Merodach-Baladan, king of Babylon and perhaps other leaders in Mesopotamia. Had a problem – no son; in times like Hezekiah’s, monarchy that relied on family succession, having no heir to throne weighed heavily on Hezekiah. True, had numerous accomplishments – efforts to restore proper worship, oversaw building of tunnel from Gihon spring for water in Jerusalem during siege. No guarantees those things would outlive him; in fact, religious changes didn’t.

As if running the country, overseeing engineering projects, dealing with diplomatic issues, weren’t enough, Hezekiah got sick. Otherwise in good health, at first probably figured just a temporary setback, be laid up for a while and then back in the saddle. Except didn’t get better; news didn’t improve either. Heard from authoritative source – God’s prophet – “Hezekiah, only have a short time to live”. One thing to hear that about someone else: yeah, tough, but can deal with it. When it’s you, from trustworthy source, swallow hard and figure out what to do.

Do you pretend you didn’t hear? go get another opinion, and another, and another….? suck it up, reach down deep inside you and deal? Let’s see what Hezekiah did –

A. how can I die now? v.1-8, 21-22

Hezekiah heard hard words: “you’re terminal. you better get your affairs in order. make sure your will, any codicils are current, what you want; funeral arrangements made; time’s about up.” (1) Hezekiah didn’t pretend, ignore what was told him, faced it head-on because he knew the diagnosis came from God – had been communicated through God’s prophet. Since no rebuke came as part of message, Hezekiah could rightly assume he was not out of favor with God. God left no room for doubt – without a real miracle Hezekiah would die; also gave no indication the king had displeased God.

Apparently confined to bed, turned face to the wall (2). Action by itself could say different things: feel rotten, gonna die, go away and leave me alone. When Ahab responded to bad news that way, was result of bitterness and anger at not getting his own way (1 Kings 21:4). Job took himself to the city dump, sat there for a week before saying “why was I ever born?” (Job 3:1) followed by “what did I do to deserve this?” (Job 31:5-6) Not Hezekiah – no sulking, no anger or bitterness, no whining. Didn’t try to make a deal with God: if you’ll change your mind about this I’ll go to the mission field even if there’s snakes and bugs!

Turned face to the wall so he could shut out distractions, focus all mental energy on praying: “Please, LORD, remember how I have walked before You faithfully and wholeheartedly, and have done what pleases You.” (3) What a way to be able to pray, much like Nehemiah repeated “Remember me, O my God, for good” (Neh 5:19; 13:31) at end of life. To honestly, sincerely say you have done what is pleasing to God consistently and with right motives. A genuine loyal heart evidenced by constant obedience both publicly and privately.

Perhaps Hezekiah remembering some of God’s promises, really asking God to remember him (Hezekiah) in light of those promises. For example, Deut. 7:12-15:

“If you obey these ordinances and are careful to do them, the LORD your God will faithfully keep covenant with you as he promised your ancestors.He will love and bless you, and make you numerous. He will bless you with many children, with the produce of your soil, your grain, your new wine, your oil, the offspring of your oxen, and the young of your flocks in the land which he promised your ancestors to give you.You will be blessed beyond all peoples; there will be no barrenness among you or your livestock.The LORD will protect you from all sickness, and you will not experience any of the terrible diseases that you knew in Egypt; instead he will inflict them on all those who hate you.” NET

Had hardly finished praying (2 Ki 20:4), Isaiah returned (4), assured him God had heard prayer and seen his sorrow. Brought further assurance he would live 15 more years (5), would be delivered from Assyrians (6). God could have healed directly, instead chose to work through means. Instructed Hezekiah, have your doctor use this specific treatment and you’ll recover (21). Recovery wouldn’t be instantaneous, either; third day would be well enough to go to temple (22, 2 Ki 20:5, 8). Few generations before King Ahaz refused to ask for sign from God; Hezekiah does ask and received sign (7): shadow from sun moved back ten degrees on the dial. (8)

B. how can I endure this? v.9-14

At least on this occasion, kept a prayer journal (9). Helps us understand man and his character better, thought process he went through as he prepared to die. Also what he thought as he recovered from his terminal illness. No surprise at age 39 Hezekiah would wonder: why am I to die now, thought was a lot of life left to experience (10). Still have bunch of things to accomplish – not anywhere near end of bucket list. Certainly at that age hadn’t made out last will & testament, especially not having an heir.

Expressed deep regret over end to fellowship: first with God, then with family and friends (11). Placed high value on communion with God, probably referring to fellowship experienced in worship at temple. Either didn’t understand what happens after death (absent from body present with Lord, 2 Cor. 5:8) or believed imminent death was because of God’s displeasure. If that was case, didn’t know quite what to expect, just it wouldn’t be good. Hezekiah also knew he didn’t want to leave loved ones, not ready to say goodbye to them yet.

Bemoaned the shortness of life, suddenness with which end came upon him when he wasn’t expecting it (12). Compared it to one-man tent – quick up, quick down, once gone no sign of where it had been the night before. Life like the fabric a weaver makes – rolls it up on the roller, then cuts loose from leftover threads. Hezekiah’s life was all rolled up, just waiting for loose ends to be trimmed off, then he would be gone. More he thought about all this (13), more grief it caused him until in despair cried out to God: I am oppressed; help me, support me, undertake for me. (14)

C. how can I thank You? v.15-20

Verse 15 begins part 2 of prayer journal, Hezekiah’s ponderings after had heard message from God. He was at loss for words – “What can I say?”, can almost see his mouth hanging open, smile beginning to replace tears and grief. The answer to question came immediately and it’s not complicated: remainder of his life would be one of praise to God. Every step he took would be carefully considered – just like walking in formal procession, in dress formation, solemn uniform cadence. With each step would come reminder of bitterness and sorrow experienced as he faced early death.

Hezekiah acknowledged his very life dependent on sovereign will and work of God; for him to be restored to health required act of God (16). Because of love by which God had bound himself to his people, Hezekiah was miraculously healed. Also, even more importantly, received forgiveness of his sin because of same love (17). Was love that came from God, source solely in God, directed toward Hezekiah in that particular way for reasons known only to God.

Dead men tell no tales, they sing no songs (18); the living, they not only can praise, they cannot help it (19). Having been in a sense brought back to life by God’s intervention, Hezekiah’s life would be a continuous song of praise to God. Twila Paris: “My lips will praise You / For You are holy / My voice will ever rise / Before Your throne / My heart will love You / For You are lovely / And You have called me / To become Your own.”

Not just his lips, his words, but response of his heart and mind and actions would be loving praise to God who had so wonderfully delivered him (20). He understood two NT principles: “We love him because he loved us” (1 John 4:19) and, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). His commitment was that for rest of his life he would love God, show it by obedience and praise. Stated simply: “The Lord will save me, we will sing.” Not only did Hezekiah sing, his singing encouraged those around him to praise God also.

Hezekiah received gift of life. Gained a renewed sense of purpose. Re-committed to faithfully pleasing God. In Paul’s terms: presented himself a living sacrifice to God. If you need gift of life, pray humbly and earnestly as Hezekiah that God be pleased to grant it. If you have received that gift – either a revitalized physical life or, even more important, eternal life, follow Hezekiah’s example. Commit to faithfully serving God in word and deed – praising him at all times, doing what is pleasing to him 24/7 for all the days he gives to you.

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