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38 Meanwhile, back in Judah, Hezekiah became very sick and was about to die. Learning of it, Isaiah, Amoz’s son, went to visit him.

These are sad times for Judah and Isaiah. Although Isaiah has served as a court prophet for several of Judah’s kings, he and King Hezekiah have gotten to know one another particularly well over the years. Now the aging king is about to die. On many occasions Hezekiah seeks Isaiah’s counsel and takes it seriously. Even if he doesn’t always do exactly as he should, it is clear that he is genuinely concerned about the welfare of his subjects. With Isaiah’s help and perhaps a bit of his pestering, Hezekiah comes to understand that Judah’s national welfare is not separate from his and his people’s personal relationships with God.

Isaiah: Here is what the Eternal One has to say:

Eternal One: Get your affairs in order. You are going to die. You are not going to recover from this.

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and started praying.

Hezekiah: Eternal One, I beg you to remember how I have followed the path You set before me, and how I did so with all my heart. Remember how I have done what You wanted with sincerity of purpose every step of the way.

Then Hezekiah broke down and wept. He wept and wept. Then a different word from the Eternal came upon the prophet Isaiah.

Eternal One: Go and tell Hezekiah that the Eternal, the God of your ancestor David, says: “I have heard your prayer, and I have seen your tears. I’ve decided to add another 15 years to your life. Not only that, but I will also rescue you and this city and not allow you to fall under the control of the Assyrian king. I Myself will protect this city, Jerusalem. You’ll know that I, the Eternal One, will keep My promise by this sign: I will make the sun’s shadow—which has climbed these steps of Ahaz’s stairway—go backward 10 steps.”

And the shadow on the stairway moved backward 10 steps. When Hezekiah, king of Judah, recovered from his illness, he composed a poem.

10 Hezekiah: I thought for sure in the prime of my life
        that I’d been brought to the gates of death,
        that I’d miss out on the rest of my years.
11     I thought: That’s it. I will never again see the Eternal in the land of the living.
        I will never again enjoy the company of those alive in this world.
12     My time on earth is folded up and packed away like a shepherd’s tent.
        It’s as if a weaver has snipped me off from the loom and rolled me up.
        From day to night You bring my life to an end.
13     I stay calm until morning arrives,
        then like a lion He breaks all my bones.
        From day to night You bring my life to an end.
14     Oh, how I argue and mourn for my passing life!
        Like a swallow or a crane I twitter;
        like a lonesome dove I moan.
    My eyes become bleary from looking up to the heavens for help.
        I cry, “O Lord, way up high, I am oppressed; come and help me!”
15     But what can I say? God has spoken to me.
        Things are as He made them.
    So I am determined to go slowly, make the most of my years,
        even though I am bitter to the core.
16     But I so wanted to live! So I prayed, “Lord, by these things, people live
        and my spirit is grounded in the same.
    So heal me, let me live!”
17     Paradoxically, my bitter experience was pushing me toward wholeness.
        For You, God, have put behind all my shortcomings and wrongdoings.
    You have rescued me from death.
        You pulled me from a black hole of nothingness and held me close to You.
18     And so I join the living in giving thanks to You.
        After all, thankful voices never rise from the land of the dead.
    After all, the songs of praise never soar from death’s dark realm.
        Those who go down into the pit—that great black nothingness

Hezekiah becomes confident that God will restore his health and bring him back from the edge of death. Ironically, many years earlier his father Ahaz refused to ask for a sign even though God insisted that he do so. The son, it seems, has learned a valuable lesson; so he asks for a sign because he wants to know when he will be well enough to return to God’s house and offer thanks to Him among the rest of his citizens. Unfortunately, with some people, it is only in the bitterness of disease and in death’s dark shadow that a person learns to embrace life and live it to the fullest. Hezekiah’s near-death experience embitters his soul, but it also moves him toward wholeness. What Hezekiah does not know is that the Babylonians have their eyes set on dominating the rest of the world. For years, the Assyrians and Babylonians have coexisted, but the Babylonians are not content to remain a regional power. As they build their empire—annexing lands, conquering peoples, gaining strength—they begin to take an interest in little Judah. Hezekiah doesn’t account for how his actions might affect his nation. He simply isn’t that shrewd.

    They can’t even begin to hope for Your faithfulness.
19     But ah, the living! And I am among them today,
        giving praise and thanks to You for life,
    The old telling the young about the loyalty of Your love.
20     The Eternal will rescue me,
        and we will break out the stringed instruments.
    We will sing and make music for the rest of our lives,
        right here in the house of the Eternal.

21 Isaiah instructed the physicians to apply a compress of squashed figs to the boil on Hezekiah’s skin to help him recover.

Hezekiah: 22 When will I know that I am well enough to go to the Eternal’s house? Is there a sign I should look for?

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