The Prayer of Hezekiah
One of my favorite stories in Kings concerns Sennacherib's threat against Hezekiah in 2 Kgs 18-19. The story's importance—both in a religious sense for Israel, as well as from a historical perspective—cannot be understated. In 1830, Colonel Robert Taylor unearthed in Nineveh what has become known as Taylor’s Prism or the Annals of Sennacherib. Originally composed in the early seventh century B.C., the prism details the military exploits of Sennacherib of Assyria, particularly those against Jerusalem and Hezekiah, confirming the biblical record. In the account, Sennacherib boasts of shutting Hezekiah up in Jerusalem “like a bird in a cage.” But conspicuously absent is any mention of conquest—and for good reason, which the biblical record goes on to explain. Once you learn the “rest of the story,” you’ll realize why this pompous regent omitted the details from his memoirs.
More significant than the story’s historical value, however, is the spiritual lesson it taught Judah. The battle belongs to the Lord! Israel had no reason to fear foreign threats as long as they were faithful to the Lord. Hezekiah trusted, not in chariots or horseman, but in the name of Yahweh.
When Sennacherib mocked the God of Jerusalem and Hezekiah, the king "went up to the house of the LORD and spread it before the LORD” (2 Kgs 19:14) as if he wanted Yahweh to behold Sennacherib’s audacity and hubris for himself. He then prayed. Hezekiah’s prayer had four main points I believe are worth spotlighting:
1. Hezekiah praised the sovereignty of God.
He was not foolish enough to think that Yahweh’s dominion was limited to Israel. His presence may have hovered above the Ark of the Covenant “above the cherubim,” but this was merely where he sat enthroned (cf. 1 Kgs 8:27–30; 1 Chr 28:2; Pss 99:5; 132:7). His authority in fact was over “all the kingdoms of the earth” and his mighty hand reaches even now beyond the most distant solar systems to the ends of the universe. Our Father in heaven is no less mighty in Nepal, Nigeria, or Nebraska—to say nothing of galaxies far, far away. When they faced their own threats in Jerusalem, the early church copied Hezekiah. No sooner had the religious leaders commanded Peter and John to stop preaching Jesus than the church called a prayer meeting which they addressed to the “Sovereign Lord” (Acts 4:24). When threats arise against the people of God, it is important for the church to confess that our Lord is in complete control, that he has not been caught off guard, that he will always work his perfect will for our good and his glory, that the entire universe is upheld “by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3).
2. Hezekiah invited God to see and hear the threat against Israel.
This might be the most confusing aspect of his prayer, but Hezekiah invited God to take notice of Israel’s situation. Had the king mistakenly concluded that God had somehow “missed” what had happened? Had the Lord been temporarily distracted? Like Baal at Carmel (cf. 1 Kgs 18), had Yahweh taken a potty break or been “out to lunch” when Sennacherib came against Jerusalem and made such blasphemous allegations? No. Instead, the king’s plea for God to incline his ear and open his eyes was a declaration of Hezekiah’s faith. Seeking help from a God already inclined to help his people is never redundant; it is in fact reaffirmation that God is our sole source of refuge and strength. Though we may know it intellectually, it's still nice to hear our family and friends say, "I love you." In the same way, it's good for us to realize that God does hear our prayers and does see our problems by asking him to do so.
3. Hezekiah acknowledged the worthlessness of false gods.
By recognizing the misplaced trust of Sennacherib’s past victims, the king was denouncing idols as worthless defenses against life’s dangers, toils and snares (cf. Isa 44:9–11). Namath, Arpad, Sephardim, Hena, and Ivvah lay in ruins because their trust had been in man-made images of wood and stone. “Our hope is not in idols but in you, O Lord,” Hezekiah confesses. He was not kissing up to God as much as reminding himself and Israel where their hope rested. When storms rage against us, our declaration of dependence must be explicit and constant. How easily our corrupted hearts believe that our salvation is because of something we’ve done. Noah had to enter the ark, David had to hurl the stone, and Israel had to cross the Red Sea, but salvation is always the Lord’s!
4. Hezekiah asked God to save Israel for God’s sake.
He made his request very clear—“save us, please, from his hand.” But his reasoning is what is noteworthy—“that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.” Hezekiah did not play the “We have a covenant with you, so keep your promise” card, nor did he couch his request in terms of God needing to prove that he really loved his people. No, Hezekiah’s deepest concern was seeing God’s Name glorified to the ends of the earth, that all the kingdoms of earth confessed Yahweh as God alone (cf. 1 Sam 17:45–47; 1 Kgs 18:36–37). When we find ourselves in dire straits and cry to God for help, it will be to our benefit to see our predicament as an opportunity for God to be greatly glorified (cf. Phil 1:20). Anything far beyond that opens up the possibility for tremendous disappointment.
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