2 Kings 20:1–11 (NIV)✞: Hezekiah’s Illness
Over the last few passages we’ve been reading about King Hezekiah in Judah. In this passage he becomes sick, and it’s short enough that I’ll just quote the whole thing:
1 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3 “Remember, LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
4 Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: 5 “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the LORD. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’”
7 Then Isaiah said, “Prepare a poultice of figs.” They did so and applied it to the boil, and he recovered.
8 Hezekiah had asked Isaiah, “What will be the sign that the LORD will heal me and that I will go up to the temple of the LORD on the third day from now?”
9 Isaiah answered, “This is the LORD’s sign to you that the LORD will do what he has promised: Shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or shall it go back ten steps?”
10 “It is a simple matter for the shadow to go forward ten steps,” said Hezekiah. “Rather, have it go back ten steps.”
11 Then the prophet Isaiah called on the LORD, and the LORD made the shadow go back the ten steps it had gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.
The only additional thing I’ll mention, before getting into the “thoughts,” is that this is actually a “flashback,” according to the ESV Study Bible, which I wouldn’t have noticed if they hadn’t pointed it out.
2 Kings 20:1 In those days. Verses 1–19 represent a “flashback” to the period around 713–712 B.C., some 12 years before Sennacherib’s invasion and some 15 years before Hezekiah’s death (cf. v. 6).
ESV Study Bible
Over the last 19 chapters of Kings I’ve become so conditioned to people letting God down that, reading this passage again, I got worried when I got to verse 8 and Hezekiah asked Isaiah for a sign that God would heal him as promised; would Isaiah castigate him for asking for a sign? But no, he asks for a sign and one is given! God actually goes so far as to ask Hezekiah what kind of sign he’d like, and then move the sun backwards just to show Hezekiah that He is going to do as He promised.
Which raises the question: when is it permissible to ask God for a sign? Because… if I was to guess a time when it wouldn’t be permissible it would be this exact situation! God comes to Hezekiah and specifically tells him what He is going to do, and then Hezekiah asks Him to prove it?
I’m not sure that I have a good answer, except that I feel it has to be related to one’s attitude. I’m constantly reminded of the stories of Zechariah and Mary responding to Gabriel’s messages in Luke 1 (NIV)✞:
- In 5–25✞ we get the story of the angel Gabriel going to Zechariah and informing him that he’s going to be a father, and Zechariah asks, “How can I be sure of this?” In response Gabriel strips him of his power of speech for his unbelief.
- In 26–38✞ Gabriel goes to visit Mary to tell her she’s going to be a mother, and she asks, “How will this be?” In response, Gabriel patiently explains to her what is going to happen.
Both people question the angel—the same angel, so we can’t say that Mary was talking to a more patient angel than Zechariah was—and, honestly, in both cases I think the question is valid, on the surface. But the difference is the attitude under the question: Zechariah’s response is almost akin to saying, “yeah, right, as if that’s going to happen – prove it!” while Mary’s is more like, “I don’t understand how this could be – can you explain it?”
All that to day, when Hezekiah asks for a sign—which, on the surface, is almost exactly the same question as Zechariah asked Gabriel!—I have to assume he was doing so with a humble attitude.
Do I ever expect to be visited by a prophet with an explicit prophecy about my life? No. So this question is somewhat academic. I do, however, read the Bible, and try to follow its teachings. As I do so, I should try to have an attitude more like Mary (and, presumably, Hezekiah), and not like Zechariah’s.
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