A Sick King's Prayer

Bible Book: 2 Kings  20
Subject: Prayer; Divine Assistance; Power, How To Obtain

This report of a sick king’s prayer, recorded here in 2 Kings 20, is also found in 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 38. The fact that God records this story three times, in three different books of the Bible, says to me that he is calling special attention to it. That means that the story contains some especially important lessons for you and me-- lessons which, if taken to heart, will make a powerful difference in our lives. Let’s look at the account. Notice first...

I. The Occasion of the King’s Prayer

Hezekiah lived from approximately 715 to 686 B.C. and reigned over Judah. In verse 1 we read, “In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.”

We learn later in this account that Hezekiah’s problem was a “boil.” The Hebrew word for “boil” means “burning” or “inflammation.” He apparently had some kind of terrible infection. Some think it might have been leprosy, or cancer. Whatever its exact nature, it was pronounced to be terminal.

Although we aren’t given a lot of detail, we can easily imagine the scene described here. In my mind’s eye, l can picture Hezekiah tossing and turning, trying to get into a position where the pain won’t be as bad, but there is no relief. I can picture the palace physicians looking at one another gravely and slowly shaking their heads. Then there is a knock on the chamber door. A messenger whispers to the king; he nods his head, and the prophet Isaiah is brought into the room.

From what we know of Hezekiah and Isaiah, there was probably a strong bond of respect and friendship between them. Thus, it must have been difficult for Isaiah to deliver the message that God had given him for Hezekiah. But with typical frankness and clarity he did so. I can well imagine, though, that there must have been a lump in his throat when he said it: “Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.”

We know from what follows that this was a conditional prophecy. Often God’s prophets were led to announce events which would occur unless averted or offset by prayer or repentance. Jonah, for instance, declared in Jonah 3:4, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Yet that sentence was withdrawn when the people of Nineveh repented. So, this was another conditional prophecy; Isaiah was saying, in effect, “Hezekiah, as it stands now, you’re going to die.”

Now let’s look at...

II. The Content of the King’s Prayer

I can picture Hezekiah as he hears that stunning pronouncement. After his prophet friend has left, he motions for his attendants also to leave. Now this critically ill ruler lies there alone in his misery and sorrow. There is no pretense, no false modesty; the tears begin to flow.

Verse 2 says, “Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the Lord.”

Prayer was no new thing for Hezekiah. It was an integral part of his life. in 2 Kings 19 we’re told that Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, sent a blasphemous, threatening letter to Hezekiah and his countrymen. We read of what happened in 2 Kings 19:14-15: “And Hezekiah received the letter of the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up into the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord. ...”

Prayer has been a regular discipline for Hezekiah, so it’s only natural that now, in this personal crisis, he prays. The problem with many of us is that we don’t pray with consistency. We go through a form of prayer pretty often--but, to our shame, many of us don’t get deeply serious about prayer until the chips are down. We let our lives get so cluttered that we simply don’t take time to pray. But if a man is too busy to pray, he’s too busy for his own good.

There is always time for prayer, if our priorities are right. J. Winston Pierce told about the late Toyohiko Kagawa, a Japanese man who was widely known as one of the world’s most productive and influential Christians. Those who knew him said that he was also one of the busiest men in the world. One day someone asked Mr. Kagawa how he found time to pray. His face lighted up and he said, “I find the time to pray between three and four o’clock in the morning. Then I am undisturbed, and there is little probability that I shall be disturbed. I wake at three, and then I spend that hour with God. I could not possibly get along without it. Nothing would go right if I did. I could not be true to my friends; I could not get my work done; I could not possibly preach the gospel that Christ has given me for the poor if it were not for that hour between three and four o’clock in the morning.”

Apparently Mr. Kagawa had taken a cue from our Lord. In Mark 1:35 we find this statement about Jesus: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.”

Hezekiah was a man of prayer--so now, having been told that he is going to die, he turns his face to the wall and pours out his heart to God, and that prayer is recorded in 2 Kings 20:3: “I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.”

Notice three things about Hezekiah’s prayer:

A. First, he backed up his praying with his life.

Here’s what we read about him in II Kings 18:3-6

“And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did. He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan. He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him. For he clave to the Lord, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses.”

The words he chose in expressing his prayer on this occasion strike many of us as unusual. On the surface his prayer seems to denote pride; but we know from what resulted that obviously that was not the case, because pride would have short-circuited his prayer. In 1 Peter 5:5-6 we read, “...be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”

Whatever we might think about his choice of words, Hezekiah was speaking to God out of a clean, humble heart; he backed up his talk with his walk. He was remarkably faithful to God.

When he prayed, “I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart,” he wasn’t claiming to be sinless. The Hebrew word translated “perfect” means “whole” or “complete.” Hezekiah was saying, in effect, “O Lord, I have sincerely tried to honor you in all areas of my life.” The fact that he wasn’t claiming sinlessness is evident from what he said following this episode, in Isaiah 38:17: “...thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.” He acknowledged his sin, and thanked God for his forgiveness.

B. Notice in the second place the deeply earnest manner of his prayer.

The Bible says that “Hezekiah wept sore.” Someone has said, “What soap is to the body, tears are to the soul.” God honors tears of the right sort--tears that are prompted by a humble, broken heart, that is sincerely seeking God’s face. There is a song entitled, “Tears are a language that God understands.”

In Psalm 6:8-9 we read, “...for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer.”

Concerning the Lord Jesus, Luke 20:41 says, “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it.”

In Mark 9:24 we read, “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief”--and that passage goes on to tell us that the child was healed.

James 5:16 says, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

God doesn’t honor dead, dull, listless chants. He doesn’t bless tired, worn repetitions.   He has no use for oratorical flamboyance which is intended to impress others with our eloquence or our piousness. Hezekiah wasn’t repeating something he had learned from a book. His heart was heavy with grief. He was deeply earnest. He “wept sore.”

C. He prayed with the Right Motive

There’s a third element to Hezekiah’s prayer that is not directly stated, but is implied: he prayed with the right motive.

That becomes clear as the narrative continues, and I’ll point it up presently. In spite of all other conditions having been met, if Hezekiah had prayed selfishly he would not have received the answer that came. James 4:3 says, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”

Hezekiah desperately wanted to live, and he prayed fervently to that end.

Now let’s look at...

III. The Answer to the King’s Prayer

We read in verses 4-5: “And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the Lord.”

Of course, it isn’t always God’s will to heal, even when an individual prays fervently, with a clean heart, with tears, and with a right motive. God is Sovereign, and for reasons that are beyond us he heals some and others he does not heal.

But in this case it was his will to heal. Notice verse 6: “And I will add unto thy days fifteen years....”

Then notice in that same verse--indeed, in the same sentence--that God went on to say: “...and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.” That brings us back to the issue of motive. Even though it is not explicitly stated, apparently the main reason that Hezekiah wanted so desperately to live was in order to complete the work he had begun--that of resisting the threat from the Assyrians, and also the work of leading Judah back to God. Hezekiah had instituted a number of reforms, and no doubt he desired to do even more.

We note with interest, in verse 7, the treatment that was used in ministering to Hezekiah: “And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered.” That seems to us a very strange type of treatment, but that’s what Isaiah, apparently under the leadership of God, told them to use. It may be that figs have some limited medicinal properties which God miraculously multiplied many times over in this case--or they may not normally have any medicinal properties whatsoever but were chosen in order that it might be evident to all that it was God who did the healing. At any rate, God did, indeed, do the healing, but he required Hezekiah to receive medical treatment, albeit treatment that seems odd to us.

That seems to me to be the point being made in James 5:14: “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” Some understand that to mean that the sick person should be anointed with oil as a ceremonial procedure in connection with prayer, and I respect that view--but personally I believe that James is saying to us, “If a person is sick, let him ask the elders to pray for him and at the same time to administer medical treatment to him, and under those conditions God will honor those prayers.” Anointing with oil was a common medical treatment in those days. I believe that for you and me that passage means that when we are sick we should ask God for healing, while at the same time locating the best doctor we can find and following his instructions.

As already mentioned, it isn’t always God’s will to extend people’s lives, regardless of how earnestly they have prayed. One of the great young leaders of the early church, Stephen, was stoned to death while in the prime of life. On the other hand, Peter, though under the threat of execution, was miraculously set free from prison and thus escaped with his life. I don’t know why one man became a martyr and the other was delivered. All of that is locked up in the mind and heart of the Sovereign God of the universe, who knows all things and makes no mistakes. But when he does not see fit to heal in answer to earnest prayer, our loving God always offers special grace to enable the sick or otherwise afflicted person to have victory in spite of the situation, even if death is the eventual result of the illness or other extremity.

So, when we ourselves are ill, or someone we love is ill, it is normal and right to pray for healing, so long as in our heart is the qualifier, “Thy will be done, O Lord.”

In this case not only was it God’s will to heal, but God also chose to give Hezekiah a miraculous sign to bolster his faith. That miraculous sign had to do with the royal sun- dial. Look at verses 9-11:

“And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees? And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees. And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the Lord: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz.”

Whether God stopped the rotation of the earth on its axis for a little while, or took some other approach, we simply don’t know. But we do know that God personally intervened so that on this occasion nature’s course was temporarily altered, as a miraculous reminder to Hezekiah that God answers prayer.

Throughout history God has suspended “natural law” or circumvented it when it suited his purposes to do so. There was the opening up of the Red Sea. There was the miraculous dividing of the waters of the Jordan River. Often Jesus performed miracles in the realm of nature, such as suddenly calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee.

I read of something that happened many years ago in China, when we had missionaries there. A Chinese lady who had recently been saved became extremely ill. She was burning up with fever. She was taken to the Mission Hospital in the area. Their only hope of saving her was to pack her body in ice to bring the raging fever down, and it was urgent that it be done within the next few minutes--yet there was no ice anywhere to  be found. But this new convert believed that God had service for her to render and prayed earnestly, expressing faith that God would answer. Then a black cloud suddenly appeared. The wind began to blow fiercely. Hail began to fall in huge chunks. The care-givers gathered up the hail, packed it around her feverish body, and God spared her life.

Jesus said, in Mark 9:23, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”

The power of prayer can be experienced by any person who meets God’s conditions. God doesn’t always answer in the way we hope, but he will answer in the way which he in his love and wisdom knows is right and best. Be sure that you have repented of your sins and by faith have received Christ as Lord and Savior--then, in times of crisis, pray until God impresses you that the issue is settled one way or the other.

It grieves God’s heart for you and me to be weak, listless, and powerless - and we don’t have to remain that way, because the mighty weapon of prayer is ours, if only we are willing to use it.

O, how praying rests the weary;
Prayer can turn the night to day;
So, when life seems dark and dreary,
Don’t forget to pray.