Isaiah’s days of being a prophet was during the reign of four kings in ancient Israel: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah.
In chapters 38 and 39 of Isaiah we come across an interesting incident with King Hezekiah, who is gravely ill at the time. He receives a message from God through Isaiah, telling him that he will die.
Next, we read that Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed. This phrase about the wall seems quite odd, but it probably means he turned towards the wall of the temple. God hears Hezekiah’s prayer and then another message comes from God through Isaiah saying that Hezekiah will not die from this illness but will instead have another 15 years of life.
I find the whole thing disconcerting.
Isaiah initially tells Hezekiah that he will not recover, yet Hezekiah’s prayer leads to the opposite. Even if you believe that prayer has the power to change things – as I do – I think this is unsettling.
How can prophecy change? How can God give one message and then change it? God is not supposed to lie or change his mind. Yet here he seems to be doing either one or two of those things.
Is there something that we don’t usually understand about prophecy being displayed here?
What if someone gives you a Bible verse as a word of prophecy that in many ways seems to be correct? Yet, then it changes. Does prophecy only exist for a certain time period?
Give us this day our daily bread, but the prophecy will be different tomorrow?
How can we cling onto the promises if that is the case?
At this point, I should probably add that this post is not providing any answers, just raising questions.
To make matters even more confusing, in chapter 38 of Isaiah it ends by narrating in a double past tense. Hezekiah writes what is effectively an ancient Jewish poem, before we are told he did this because of something Isaiah said. And Isaiah said that because of a sign Hezekiah asked to be given. And that sign was given just before the poem was included…
Getting confused? The chapter is nowhere near as simple as it seems on the surface.
Let’s move onto chapter 39 then, which just feels totally caked on with dramatic irony. Only 8 verses long, it’s got a rock-solid subtext rolling the whole way through.
Some envoys come from Babylon with well wishes for Hezekiah, having heard he has recovered from his illness. If the ancient Babylonians had a phrase for ‘strike while the iron’s hot’ this is it in action.
They’re totally sussing out the place for the oncoming invasion and Hezekiah’s pride just lets it all happen. He’s sitting pretty after his near-death miss and decides he’ll give the Babylonian envoys a tour of the palace. The whole palace. With all the loot.
Isaiah then comes along and gives Hezekiah a reality check.
He tells Hezekiah that he’s basically just engaged in an act of prophecy. Whatever he showed them is what the Babylonians will carry off, when they carry off the Israelites including Hezekiah’s descendants.
Hezekiah showed them the lot.
This may cause some to break out into a mild panic. Not Hezekiah, he was listening closely to that word, ‘descendants’.
He knows he’s sitting pretty. He’s got 15 extra years of life and he’ll be safe for all of them. The invasion will happen after he’s gone.
“The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my lifetime.”
I love how Isaiah knows exactly what the king is thinking.
It’s easy to stand in judgment over Hezekiah, but he’s all too human at this point. It’s a very standard human response to have a puffed-up ego and a desire for personal safety. I know it myself.
Perhaps Hezekiah here reflects God’s people at the time? A lack of justice and striving to protect the vulnerable. Looking out only for number one: themselves.
Are we not the same? Is the Church these days any different?
I’m fine. I’m safe. My life is all sorted out.
No need to worry about her. No need to follow up him. I’m sitting pretty.
How natural a response. Yet how unlike the Father God and His Son. In fact, the complete opposite.
We can’t share the gospel with those that need it most if we focus our worry on making sure we remain sitting pretty.
Perhaps there’s a bit too much of Hezekiah in all of us. Myself included.
Yours in trying not to break out into a mild panic,