Encouragements from Isaiah 38-39
October 22, 2020
Isaiah tells us the story of Hezekiah who is a model of confident faith and bold prayer even in a desperate situation, but he is also a cautionary tale of what happens when we become complacent and entitled in our relationship with the God of grace. #Isaiah #growgroups #prayer #lament #salvation
In our Grow Groups Sunday, we heard a strong call from Isaiah to give up putting our trust in anything other than the Lord to rescue us from the challenges we face in life. And this next week, we’re going to study in Isaiah 36 and 37 an amazing account of the Lord coming through on what he has promised, bringing a miraculous deliverance to a leader and his people as they trust in God despite a siege of threats all around. God delivers Jerusalem when Hezekiah prays in trust, staking everything on God’s zeal for his glory displayed in his faithfulness to his promises. In particular, King Hezekiah trusts a promise made to him in a time of crisis a few years earlier, though Isaiah records it for thematic reasons in the chapters following, in chs. 38-39. It’s that earlier, more personal crisis that I want us to consider today. And in this crisis, we can learn from Hezekiah examples of both how we should—and shouldn’t—respond to moments that stretch us beyond ourselves that invite us to trust. “In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. 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, you shall not recover”” (Isa 38:1). We don’t know too many details about his illness, but we know what we need to—and Hezekiah did, too. He was at the point of death. He knew his options were exhausted and then came the word of the prophet that he would in fact die. But Hezekiah doesn’t respond even to death with despair because he knows the Living God, and so he turns to him in prayer. And that is the first positive example we can draw from this story, affirmed throughout Scripture: When you confront weakness and loss, turn to God, cry out and even complain to him, trust him, and ask him to work for his glory and your good. Verse 2 says, “Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord…” And this wasn’t a polite, pious, pro forma prayer. It was honest and gut-wrenching. Isaiah remarks that “Hezekiah wept bitterly” (v. 3b). Even after the resolution of this severe crisis and the acute emotions of the moment had receded, Hezekiah composed a psalm that recounted his need and the Lord’s faithfulness, but he didn’t forget the reality of the emotional pain and anxiety of those moments. He remembered the words of agony he brought to the Lord. He remembered his lament, what pastor Mark Vroegop calls “a prayer in pain that leads to trust.” Hear what Hezekiah’s prayer of lament sounded like:
I said, In the middle of my days I must depart; I am consigned to the [realm of the Dead] for the rest of my years.… Like a swallow or a crane I chirp; I moan like a dove. My eyes are weary with looking upward. O Lord, I am oppressed; be my pledge of safety! What shall I say? For he has spoken to me, and he himself has done it. I walk slowly all my years because of the bitterness of my soul. O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these is the life of my spirit. Oh restore me to health and make me live! Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. For Sheol does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness. The living, the living, he thanks you, as I do this day; the father makes known to the children your faithfulness. The Lord will save me, and we will play my music on stringed instruments all the days of our lives, at the house of the Lord. (Isaiah 38:10, 14–20)
Hezekiah doesn’t pull any punches in talking about his pain with God. He is real about the fear and even despair he feels. But he also asks God boldly to do what only God can do. He turns to God, he talks honestly to God, he trusts God. It is a sin to grumble against God—that’s talking about God in our pain. But God invites us to lament—lament is talking to God about our pain. Second, we can learn from Hezekiah’s lament that we can approach God with confidence because of his great love for us and his all-consuming zeal for his glory. Hezekiah doesn’t ignore the crisis of the moment or hold back from what he wants to ask from God. Despite the word of doom, he asks God to spare his life and restore his health. But even in his anguish, Hezekiah doesn’t just ask for his own sake. In these lines, Hezekiah bases his requests on what will bring the greatest honor to God—that his love can deliver from destruction (v. 17), that his grace can forgive sins (v. 17), that he will give life so that his song of praise isn’t silenced and he can continue to praise the name of the Lord through all generations, through all the days of his life (vv. 18–20). And the Lord responds with grace, and he releases the king from an imminent demise, reminding Hezekiah that he is a God faithful to his Name, faithful to his promises: “Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city” (Isaiah 38:5–6). And did you catch that last part? God not only graciously spares Hezekiah’s life now, but he also makes a further promise for a future deliverance, too—the promise that God will keep for the sake of his name when Sennacherib comes to besiege Jerusalem with almost 200,000 troops in a few years’ time. When we hear an account like this, the natural response is to say, Well, if God did something that amazing for me, of course I would always trust him and thank him and praise him all the days of my life. But this is the third thing for us to learn from the example of Hezekiah, and this is a sobering warning: once we have experienced the deliverance of God, don’t fall prey to pride and entitlement. Arrayed with the promise of God, Hezekiah felt blessed, enriched, invincible, and in a sense, he really was all those things. But while he had promised God praise in return, it corrupted into pride instead. He became complacent and felt entitled to his deliverance and took it for granted. Confident he need not fear the rapacious appetite of the Assyrians, he lets down his guard and boasts of his wealth to the Babylonians. He doesn’t point them to Yahweh, his real treasure, but rather points them to the things they are inclined to worship instead: to his gold, his silver, his spices, and arms (39:1–4). God is true to his word: Hezekiah still lives 15 years after his illness, and God still delivers Jerusalem from the Assyrians for the sake of his name. Hezekiah is selfishly relieved that he won’t fully bear the brunt of the fall that follows his foolish pride. But sin plays the long game, and the consequences of Hezekiah’s pride will still come home to roost. His descendants will be led away blinded and worse by the descendants of those whom he invited to gawk at the treasures he had received by the grace of God without inviting them to behold the glory of God instead (39:8). But even Hezekiah’s sin doesn’t derail God’s ultimate plans for his people. He will still rescue them, when they turn to him and appeal to his faithful promise. Even Hezekiah is able to repent and return to trust in another moment of crisis, and that’s what we’ll see in Isaiah 36-37 in our Grow Groups this Sunday. On Zoom or in the room, we’ll see you there.