1 In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.’” 2 Then he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, 3“Remember now, O LORD, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 Before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 5“Return and say to Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of your father David, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. 6 I will add fifteen years to your [c]life, and I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.”’” 7 Then Isaiah said, “Take a cake of figs.” And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered.
8 Now Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “What will be the sign that the LORD will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of the LORD the third day?” 9 Isaiah said, “This shall be the sign to you from the LORD, that the LORD will do the thing that He has spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten steps or go back ten steps?” 10 So Hezekiah answered, “It is easy for the shadow to decline ten steps; no, but let the shadow turn backward ten steps.” 11 Isaiah the prophet cried to the LORD, and He brought the shadow on the stairway back ten steps by which it had gone down on the stairway of Ahaz. 2 Kings 20:1-11
I am one to think that prayer is simply a vocalization of my helplessness in the path of God’s relentless will. For some reason he wants to hear my resignation to my circumstances, as if what I see and feel is unalterable, and it’s wrong for me to pray for a different course.
I am quick to presume that this is how it’s going to be. But this is not how it works. Hezekiah certainly did not view it this way when he fell deathly ill. He dramatically petitioned God for healing, and his list of reasons (spoken and unspoken) was long and compelling. This was after Isaiah the prophet virtually signed his death certificate, saying, “Set your house in order.” The ultimate call to the bullpen.
It is symbolic that the king faced a wall to pray. Sometimes, maybe quite a lot of times, we feel like we are crying out to God, only to face some impenetrable barrier between us. “It’s like talking to a brick wall,” so to speak.
Undaunted, Hezekiah offers his undying devotion to the Lord as a his first case-in-point, how he walked with him in truth and with all his heart. Seeing so many faithful men and women “called home”, this is hardly a good reason to stay earthbound. Anyway, you can’t help but think the king was also concerned about a continuation of the reforms he started, and the ever-present threat of the Assyrians .We too can think of dozens of reasons why we need to stick around in the face of death. Not all are of Paul’s mindset: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21-24) So it’s doubtful that the king was just thinking of himself, but he could have been, because death is a very scary proposition for most.
What is remarkable in light of all my presuppositions is how quickly the Lord altered his course after hearing the king’s impassioned plea, i.e. bitter weeping. While Isaiah was on his way out of the building, God summoned him back to deliver a far more happy message; this time that Hezekiah would enjoy 15 more years. Why? Apparently, God responded to the king’s prayer and his tears. It seems the two go together. There are always the rational and emotional components to prayer.
The passage goes on to tell of the king’s desire to confirm the Lord’s change of heart. The audacity, we think, with a messenger like Isaiah and the apparent healing from the fig cake compress. Nevertheless, God obliged and provided a Grade A miracle as confirmation. I don’t know if James would have called this doubting or what. To me it is, but what do I know?
It’s good to know there appears to be some leeway with Jame’s “let him ask without doubt” edict. But I have come to understand that these “fleeces” are not to convince us of what he says, but that what he says he will indeed do. A sign is like the pounding of the Lord’s gavel. He said it; so shall it be. Even then, if I’m at death’s door and I see my shadow retreat, I want someone to tell me I’m not seeing things. I’m just saying.
The moral of this story is to pray, even faced with God’s abundantly clear will, knowing that at least in this case, God almost immediately changed his mind on one prayer! This is at least one good reason to give it a try.