Isaiah 36-39 provides a historical interlude involving the Prophet Isaiah and the Judean King, Hezekiah. These four chapters also comprise the fifth major division in the Book of Isaiah. The previous four divisions include: I. The LORD is the Holy One of Israel (1-12); II. Oracles Against the Nations (13-23); III. The Little Apocalypse (24-27); and IV. Judgment and Salvation (28-35).
Chapters 36-39 are divided as follows: A. King Hezekiah is Delivered from King Sennacherib (36-37); B. King Hezekiah is Delivered from Illness (38); and C. King Hezekiah’s Self-Confidence Leads to the Future Exile of Judah (39). The four chapters duplicate almost verbatim 2 Kings 18:13–20:19 (cf. 2 Chronicles 32:1–23).
Chapters 36-37 contain a narrative concerning the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrian army under the command of King Sennacherib (701 B.C.). The chapters also describe the LORD’s glorious deliverance of His holy city.
Chapters 38 shares the story of King Hezekiah’s illness unto death. The narrative is also found in 2 Kings 20:1-11 and 2 Chronicles 32:24-26.
Isaiah 38:1 says, “In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.” There is no mistaking the tenor and tone of this passage. Hezekiah was going to die.
What does Hezekiah do in this situation? What would we do if, for example, a doctor told us we were dying of cancer? Ultimately, we would cry out to the LORD in prayer: for healing from the disease or for strength while battling the disease.
Hezekiah does this very thing. He was as human as we are. In desperation, he cries out to the LORD. “2 Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the Lord: 3 “Remember now, O Lord, I implore you, how I have walked before you in faithfulness with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly” (Isaiah 38:2-3).
Dr. John MacArthur writes that, “Hezekiah reminded the Lord in prayer of his piety and devotion to God. He did not specifically ask to be healed. Hezekiah wept because: 1) he thought his death would give Sennacherib cause for boasting; or 2) his son Manasseh was too young to become king. Hezekiah based his implied request for an extension of his life on an undivided desire to please the Lord.”
It was then that the LORD instructed Isaiah to go to Hezekiah with an oracle from the LORD. “4 Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: 5 “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of your ancestor David: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. 6 I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and defend this city” (Isaiah 38:4-6).
The LORD not only heard Hezekiah’s prayer, but chose to give the king 15 more years of life on earth. Does this automatically mean that God will do the same for us when we become sick unto death? Not at all. What was God’s will for Hezekiah, or for others, may not be His will for you or me. We must pray according to the LORD’s sovereign will (I John 5:13-15).
2 Kings 20:8-10 indicates that Hezekiah requested a sign to confirm the LORD’s promise. The LORD provided Hezekiah a sovereign sign assuring the king that this extension of his life would come to pass. Isaiah 38:7–8 says, “7 This is the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he has promised: 8 See, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps.” So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined.” (See Isaiah 38:22).
Hezekiah then wrote a journal account of this series of events. He indicated that he was depressed and felt betrayed by God and broken by his circumstances (38:9-16).
He then wrote about God delivering him from death. He wrote that God healed him and forgave his sins (38:17-18). In return for God’s graciousness, Hezekiah would write songs of God’s faithfulness and sing them daily (38:19-20).
The method of God’s healing involved Isaiah instructing the king’s servants to make an ointment of figs to spread over Hezekiah’s boils so that he would recover (38:21).
Dr. R. C. Sproul comments that, “God’s granting fifteen more years of life to Hezekiah does not mean He changes His mind like we do. Instead, such accounts show us that the Lord has a real relationship with His people in time and responds to our prayers and actions. Hezekiah did not know how God would answer His prayer for healing, but the Lord did. Similarly, God knows how He will answer our prayers even before we offer them, but that must not keep us from interceding for ourselves and others.”
Soli deo Gloria!