The prayer of Hezekiah

(II Kings 19:14-19)

The man (II Kings 18:1-6)

Hezekiah was a rarity: a good king! His father Ahaz had reigned for sixteen years, and in that time had systematically dismantled the whole religious system of God’s people. Instead of worshipping Yahweh, he encouraged his people to worship idols, and even practised child sacrifice. He had removed all the sacred vessels from the Temple, set up a pagan altar in the courtyard, and finally shut the doors altogether.

Despite having grown up in this pagan environment, Hezekiah could not have been more different. As soon as he was on the throne, he reversed the royal policy completely: the Temple was re-opened and cleaned, the idols were smashed and destroyed, and the correct rituals and sacrifices were brought back. Throughout his life, he did “what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God.” (II Chronicles 31:20) Having laid a foundation of commitment to God in peacetime, he could confidently expect God to hear and answer his prayers “in the day of trouble.” (Psalm 50:14,15).

The situation (II Kings 18:13)

And yet a righteous life is no insurance against problems; within a few years disaster struck. The Assyrian army, having obliterated the northern kingdom of Israel, turned its attention to Judah. Ruthless and efficient, they overran the whole country; only a few fortified cities (including Jerusalem) managed to hold out, and they were all under siege. The countryside was laid waste, and what was left of Judah’s population faced either starvation or slaughter.

The Assyrian emperor, Sennacherib, then sent his field commander to demand the surrender of Jerusalem (II Kings 18:17-37). When Hezekiah refused, the emperor himself sent him a threatening letter (II Kings 19:9-14). In Assyrian eyes, the king of Judah was a misguided fool; his allies had failed him, his God was powerless, and his position was therefore hopeless.

God (II Kings 19:15)

Hezekiah’s last and only hope was God. But what a God! Sennacherib thought that Yahweh was the same as the idols worshipped by other nations, all of whom had been mown down by the Assyrian war machine. But he could not have been more wrong. “LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.”

Whenever we pray, but especially when we are facing some serious threat, it helps to begin by reminding ourselves of whom we are praying to. (The apostles did something very similar after their first taste of persecution from the religious authorities – Acts 4:23-30) However desperate our situation may seem, we need to remind ourselves that God remains in control. He has a purpose for us, and He will not allow our enemies to triumph.

The request (II Kings 19:19)

What do we want God to do, and why? Are we thinking primarily of ourselves? Do we merely want Him to make our lives a little more comfortable? Or do we have an eye on the bigger picture?

Hezekiah spread the emperor’s letter out in the Temple courtyard, for God to read and answer (verse 16). He prayed for deliverance, of course – but specifically for a deliverance that would glorify God and uphold His honour in the eyes of the world.

The answer (II Kings 19:32-36)

Almost immediately, God’s answer was given through the prophet Isaiah: “I have heard your prayer.” (II Kings 19:20) He would take swift action against the invaders; for the Assyrians, terrible though they were, were merely a tool in His hands (Isaiah 10:5,6), and were actually powerless to resist His will.

It might have seemed like an impossible dream – but within a few hours, plague broke out in the enemy camp. Assyrian morale collapsed, and the survivors left for home – never to return. God had acted, and the crisis was over.

“Be still and know that I am God.                                                                                                     I will be exalted among the nations,                                                                                               I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

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