2 Kings 20:1-21
In those days was Hezekiah sick to death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, Thus said the LORD…
In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death, etc. A thoughtful man might raise many questions on this chapter - indeed, on all the chapters in this book. He might ask - Who was the writer of this chapter, ay, and of the entire Books of Kings? A question this which has not been settled, and, perhaps, never will be. He might ask on what authority certain men, called prophets, such as Isaiah, speak as from heaven, and say, "Thus saith the Lord." Priests and leaders of all sects profess to speak in the name of the Lord, and say, "Thus saith the Lord." Such questions might open up discussions of critical and speculative interest, but would be of no practical benefit whatever. Anyhow, I forego them. My purpose all along has been to turn whatever I find in this or any other book of the Old Testament to some practical use. Some years before the overwhelming destruction of Sennacherib and his army, as recorded in the preceding chapter, Hezekiah was seized with some severe disease which threatened the extinction of his life: death was before him. The account leads us to consider death in three aspects: as
(1) consciously approaching; as
(2) temporarily arrested; and as
(3) ultimately triumphant.
I. As CONSCIOUSLY APPROACHING. "In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the Prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live." Mark here three things.
1. When he became conscious of its approach. "In those days." "By this expression," says Dr. Keil, "the illness of Hezekiah is merely assigned in a general manner to the same time as the events previously described. That it did not occur after the departure of the Assyrians... is evident from the sixth verse, both from the fact that, in answer to his prayer, fifteen years more of life were promised him, and that he, nevertheless, reigned only twenty-nine years (2 Kings 18:2); and also from the fact that God promised to deliver him out of the hand of the Assyrians, and to defend Jerusalem."
2. How he became conscious of its approach. "Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live." It needs no Isaiah, or any other prophet, to deliver this message to man. It comes to him from all history, from every graveyard, from every funeral procession, as well as from the inexorable law of decay working ever in his constitution. Yes; and not merely the announcement, but the duty: "Set thine house in order."
(1) Men have much to do in this life. The "house" is out of order.
(2) Unless the work is done here, it will not be done yonder. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might," etc.
3. How he felt in the consciousness of its approach. "Then he turned his face to the wall."
(1) He seems to have been overwhelmingly distressed. "He wept sore." He turned away from the world, with all its multiplex concerns, from all his regal pomp, and peered into the invisible and the infinite.
(2) He cried earnestly to heaven. "He prayed unto the Lord, saying, I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight." In his prayer we note the cry of nature. All men, even those who are atheistic in theory, are urged by the law of their spiritual nature to cry to heaven in great and conscious danger. In his prayer we also note something of self-righteousness. "Remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight." Though he had been free from most sins, and had displayed some virtues, he had not done this. Perhaps no man that ever appeared on this earth, save the "Son of man," could say, "I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart," Moral self-deception is one of the most prevalent sins of the human heart. Like the Pharisee in the temple, we exult in virtues we have not. Now, death is approaching all men, whether we are conscious of the fact or not. The decree has gone forth, "Thou shalt die, and not live." Death is ever coming with stealthy steps, yet with resistless force. He is coming always, whether we are at home or abroad, on ocean or on land, in society or in solitude; asleep or awake, he, the king of terrors, is coming.
II. AS TEMPORARILY ARRESTED. Five things are to be observed here.
1. The primary Author of its arrest. "And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee." How came Isaiah into possession of this knowledge, this "word of the Lord," concerning Hezekiah's restoration? Was it by a dream, or through some other supernatural communication? On this point I confess my utter ignorance. The grand practical idea is that God can arrest death, and he only. Our times are in his hands. His constant visitation preserveth us. He is the absolute Master of death. At his bidding the most fragile creature may live forever, the most robust expire.
2. The secondary means of its arrest. "Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered." It would seem that the ancients, in the case of boils, abscesses, and such like, frequently applied figs to the affected parts, and no doubt there was remedial virtue in the figs. For aught we know, there may be an antidote sleeping in plants and minerals for all our physical complaints. The man who lives by the medical art is untrue to his mission, and unfaithful to his patient, unless he, with an independent mind and a devoted heart, searches Nature for those remedial elements with which she is charged.
3. The extraodinary sign of its arrest. "And Hezekiah said unto Isaiah, What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up into the house of the Lord the third day? And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees? And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees. And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the Lord: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz." Perhaps it was natural for a man, who when he felt himself on the brink of eternity was told he would recover, to desire some assurance of the fact so unexpected and yet so acceptable. Hezekiah desired a sign, and he had it. But what was the sign? We are told that the shadow on the dial-plate "returned ten degrees backwards." How was this? Did the sun recede, or, in other words, was the rotation of the earth reversed? I know not; neither does it matter. It is sufficient to know that, whether it was an illusion, or a natural eclipse of the sun, which some astronomers say did actually take place at this time ( B.C. 689), or a physical miracle, it seems to have satisfied the king. it seems to be a law of mind, that phenomena which it earnestly expects often occur. "Be it to thee according to thy faith."
4. The exact extension of its arrest. "I will add unto thy days fifteen years." The addition of fifteen years to man's brief existence in this life is a considerable item, and the more so when that fifteen years is added at a period when the man has fully reached middle life, and passed through the chief training experiences. He who can add fifteen years to a man's life can add eternity. "Our times are in his hands."
5. The mental inefficiency of its arrest. What spiritual good did these additional fifteen years accomplish for the king? They might have done much; they ought to have done much. But did they make him a morally better man, or an intellectually wiser man? Not the former, I trow, for mark his vanity. The letters which the King of Babylon, Mero-dach-Baladan, dispatched to him, together with a present, so excited his egotism that he "hearkened [or, as Isaiah puts it, 'was glad'] unto them," that is, the Babylonian deputies; and "showed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armor, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not." At this time he had enormous possessions. We find from 2 Chronicles 32:23 that presents were brought to Hezekiah from various quarters. "He had," says the Chronicler, "exceeding much riches and honor: and he made himself treasuries for silver, and for gold, and for precious stones, and for spices, and for shields, and for all manner of pleasant jewels; storehouses also for the increase of corn, and wine, and oil; and stalls for all manner of beasts, and cotes for flocks" (2 Chronicles 32:27, 28). All this, with an elated vanity, he exposed to the Babylonian magnates. Vanity, for many reasons, is one of the worst of all the bad elements of depravity; it is a species 'of moral evil, hideous to all beholders, and damnable to its possessor. Did these fifteen years added to his life make Hezekiah an intellectually wiser man? No; his judgment was not improved. In sooth, he seems to have lost that penetration, that insight into things and men, which he had previously possessed. Bow blind was he not to see that, by exposing his treasures, he was exciting the avarice of the Babylonians, tempting them to make an invasion of his country! This Isaiah told him: "Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried into Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord." Affliction does not always improve men, either morally or intellectually. Ah me! how many have I known who, when they have "turned their face to the wall," writhing in agony, with grim death before them, have solemnly vowed improvement should they ever recover? They have recovered, and become worse in every respect than before. What boots a term of fifteen years, or even a thousand years, added to our existence, if our souls are not improved thereby?
III. As ULTIMATELY TRIUMPHANT. "And Hezekiah slept with his fathers." The end of the fifteen years came, and he meets with the common destiny of all. The unconquered conqueror is not to be defrauded of his prey, however long delayed. Since death cannot be escaped by any, whether young or old, it has been asked, is there any advantage in longevity? Rather, would it not be better to die in the first dawn of infancy, than in any subsequent period? "Whom the gods love die young," was said of yore. We may go a step further, and say, "Why live at all?" - D.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.