Hezekiah’s illness

Chapter 20

Hezekiah’s illness

v1 During that time, Hezekiah became ill. He almost died. The *prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, went to see Hezekiah. Isaiah said this. ‘The *Lord says, “Put everything in order. (In other words, deal with anything that you need to deal with before your death.) You will die soon. You will not recover.” ’

v2 Hezekiah turned his face towards the wall and he prayed this to the *Lord. v3 ‘Remember, *Lord, that I have served you in a loyal manner. I have loved you completely. I have tried to please you in everything that I have done.’ Then Hezekiah began to weep bitterly.

v4 Before Isaiah had left the palace, the *Lord spoke to Isaiah again. v5 ‘Go back. And speak to Hezekiah, the leader of my people. Tell him what the *Lord, the God of his *ancestor David, says. The *Lord says, “I have heard your prayer. I have seen your tears. I will cure you. In 3 days, you will go to the *Lord’s *temple. v6 I will let you live for 15 more years. I will rescue you from the king of Assyria. And I will rescue this city from him. I will defend this city because of my own honour. I will also do it because of the promise that I made to my servant David.” ’

v7 Then Isaiah told the king’s servants to put some figs (small sweet fruits that are full of seeds) on the boil. (A boil is a thing like a hard painful lump under the skin.) They did so and Hezekiah recovered.

v8 Hezekiah had asked Isaiah this. ‘What is the evidence that the *Lord will cure me? How can I know that I will go to the *Lord’s *temple in 3 days?’

v9 Isaiah gave this answer. ‘The *Lord will give you some evidence to prove that he will keep (perform) his promise. Do you want the shadow on the staircase to go forward 10 steps? Or do you want it to go back 10 steps?’

v10 ‘It is easy for the shadow to go forward,’ replied Hezekiah. ‘Make it go back 10 steps.’

v11 Then the *prophet Isaiah prayed to the *Lord. The *Lord made the shadow go back 10 steps. It went up the 10 steps that it had already gone down on King Ahaz’s staircase.

This event probably happened before the army from Assyria attacked. The attack happened in the 14th year of Hezekiah’s rule. That was in 701 *B.C.. Merodach Baladan (verse 12) died 2 years before that, in 703 *B.C..

Hezekiah had some kind of plague (a disease that kills many people.) The evidence of that disease was some kind of boils (things like hard painful lumps under the skin). The illness became so serious that the people were expecting Hezekiah to die.

During Hezekiah’s life, Isaiah was the main *prophet in *Judah. God sent Isaiah with a message for Hezekiah. God told Hezekiah that he (Hezekiah) should not expect to recover. Instead, he should prepare for his death. Therefore, he should appoint the next king who would rule after him. And he should make financial arrangements in order to provide for his family.

This message upset Hezekiah greatly. He began to pray desperately. And his prayer was so desperate that he wept much. Hezekiah later wrote a record of what he prayed on that occasion (Isaiah 38:9-14). He considered that he was dying too soon. He had not achieved everything that he needed to achieve during his life. If he died at this time, his work for God would not be complete.

Hezekiah was not asking God to cure him because of his (Hezekiah’s) good deeds. He was asking God to act because of his (God’s) great kindness.

Hezekiah got an immediate answer. God promised to cure him. In 3 days, Hezekiah would be able to go to the *temple to give thanks. He would live for 15 more years. And also, God would save Jerusalem’s people from an attack by Assyria’s army.

People often ask about Isaiah’s use of figs (fruit) in this passage. Figs were a very cheap and common remedy. But they are not a powerful enough remedy to cure a very serious illness. They certainly would not cure someone who is likely to die. Of course it is right to use medicines if they are available. God has provided medicines as the natural means to cure ill people. But it does not seem that the figs made Hezekiah well here. Perhaps Isaiah told Hezekiah to use figs as an act to show *faith. Or perhaps the figs would ease Hezekiah’s pain until God cured him.

It took 3 days before Hezekiah was well enough to visit the *temple again. Hezekiah was very grateful to God. And Hezekiah wanted to thank God for his kindness. That is why he went to the *temple. He probably offered a special *sacrifice there.

Soon afterwards, Hezekiah wrote his own record of these events. You can read it in Isaiah 38:9-20.

During his illness, Hezekiah asked God to give him some evidence that Isaiah’s *prophecy was correct. Hezekiah’s father, King Ahaz, had built a staircase. When the sun’s shadow fell on it, it had the same function as a clock. It showed people what the time was. Hezekiah asked that the sun’s shadow should go back. Of course, such a thing never happens. The sun always travels in the same direction across the sky. So shadows always move in the same direction too. But somehow, God actually made the shadow go back. We do not know how that happened. It was a *miracle.

After Hezekiah recovered, he became proud (2 Chronicles 32:24-25). And then God was angry with him. Perhaps that was when the army from Assyria attacked. Or perhaps it refers to the visitors from Babylon – see below. (The order of these events is not clear. Probably the visitors from Babylon came before Assyria attacked.) But afterwards, Hezekiah *repented and he became humble again (2 Chronicles 32:26).

Visitors from Babylon

v12 Then Baladan’s son Merodach Baladan, the king of Babylon, sent letters and a gift to Hezekiah. That was because he had heard about Hezekiah’s illness. v13 Hezekiah greeted gladly the men from Babylon. And he showed his wealth to them. He showed to them his silver, gold and *spices. He showed to them his fine *olive oil. And he showed his military equipment to those men. He showed to them everything in his *kingdom and palace. There was nothing that he neglected to show them.

v14 Then Isaiah the *prophet asked King Hezekiah, ‘Where did those men come from? What did they say to you?’ Hezekiah replied that they came from a distant country. They came from Babylon. v15‘What did they see in your palace?’ asked Isaiah.

‘They saw everything in my palace,’ said Hezekiah. ‘I showed them all that I had.’

v16 Then Isaiah said this to Hezekiah. ‘This is what the *Lord says. v17 “The time is coming when Babylon’s army will carry off everything in your palace. They will take everything that your *ancestors have stored up. They will leave nothing. That is what the *Lord says. v18 Also, the army will take away some *descendants from your own family. Those *descendants will become eunuchs (servants who cannot have sex). They will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.” ’

v19 ‘I agree with the *Lord’s good message,’ replied Hezekiah. He realised that there would be *peace and security during his life.

v20 You can read about the other events during Hezekiah’s rule and the things that he achieved. They are in the history of *Judah’s kings. Hezekiah made a pool and a tunnel (an underground passage) to bring water into the city. v21 Hezekiah died and the people buried him. Manasseh, his son, became the king after him.

Babylon was not an important country at this time. The kings of Assyria controlled it and, for a few years, the king of Babylon had to live abroad. After some years, Babylon would overcome Assyria and then Babylon became much more powerful. In fact, just 100 years later, Babylon would be the most powerful nation in the world.

There were several reasons why the king of Babylon sent this message to Hezekiah:

(1) He was pleased that Hezekiah had recovered after his illness. So the king of Babylon was being polite.

(2) The people in Babylon *worshipped the sun. They heard how the sun’s shadow had gone in the opposite direction. So they thought that they should give honour to Hezekiah. They wanted to ask him about this strange event (2 Chronicles 32:31).

(3) The people in Babylon wanted to *rebel against Assyria’s king. They hoped that Hezekiah would help them in that. So they wanted to have friendly relations with him. And they wanted to know about his military power. Then they could make an agreement with him.

2 Chronicles 32:31 explains what happened next. God was testing Hezekiah’s real attitudes. Hezekiah should have asked God for advice. It was very foolish to make a peace agreement without God’s advice. The *Israelites did that in Joshua chapter 9. But the people who requested that agreement were telling lies to the *Israelites. And Hezekiah would make a similar mistake.

Hezekiah was not wise when he showed all his wealth to those men. Perhaps he wanted them to tell their master what a great king he (Hezekiah) was. He tried to impress them. But it seems that he did not understand the importance of his actions. And of course, he did not know how important Babylon would become in the future. Only God knew that.

Isaiah asked what those men were doing. Hezekiah told him what he (Hezekiah) had done. Then Isaiah said that people would take away all Hezekiah’s wealth. Isaiah also said that Hezekiah’s *descendants would become slaves to the king of Babylon. (That actually happened to Hezekiah’s own son.)

Hezekiah agreed with God’s decision. God’s judgements are always right and fair. Hezekiah understood that, and he was humble. And Hezekiah was glad that God had not ordered those things to happen during Hezekiah’s life. There would be *peace while he was alive. Perhaps his *descendants would change their behaviour and the nation would trust God again. Then they might avoid *disaster.

King Hezekiah achieved many things. He built the pool called Siloam. (Look at John 9:7.) He built a tunnel (an underground passage) to bring the water to the pool. That would help the people in the city if other people attacked it. This tunnel still exists; its construction was an immense task. The workmen had to dig, by hand, through 1700 feet (518 metres) of solid rock.

The story about Hezekiah shows how God answers our prayers. But it also warns us not to have confidence in our own wisdom. And we must not have confidence in our own wealth. ‘You must trust the *Lord completely. Do not have confidence in your own wisdom. Remember the *Lord in everything that you do. He will show to you the right thing to do.’ (Proverbs 3:5-6).