One of the most effective teaching strategies that educators use is example and non-example. Wouldn’t we expect God, the master teacher, to use this educational technique as well? In fact, Jesus used this technique in many of His parables, and has even provided historical stories in the Bible to illustrate the principle. The life experience of one king of Judah, Hezekiah, is one of these illustrations, providing both an example and non-example concerning prayer and the after-effects.
When Hezekiah received a threatening letter from Sennacherib, King of Assyria, he took the letter and laid it out before the Lord. The letter was a reproach to the character and reputation of the living God, essentially the same as Nebuchadnezzar’s boast, “Who is that God that will deliver you out of my hand?” (Daniel 3:15).
Whenever we hear thoughts expressed by those around us that there is no God or that there was no Creator, we can know absolutely that God needs someone to respectfully, but with firmness, speak up for Him! Therefore, Hezekiah took the letter to the temple and opened it, asking God to read the letter pointing out that truly, the gods of the nations Assyria destroyed had no power to protect since they were only the work of men. He then appealed to God to save Judah, so that “all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord God, You alone” (Isaiah 37:15-20).
When this prayer is analyzed using the NKJV, there are very few personal pronouns referring to himself. Even though it is rather short, there are seven personal pronouns referring to God (5 You and 2 Your), and two personal pronouns referring to humans (1 our God and 1 us), and with no pronouns referring to himself. This is the prayer example that we should follow, asking God to respond for His honor and glory.
When God answered, He said, “I will defend this city, to save it for My own sake (benefit / reputation) and for My servant David’s sake” (verse 35).
Sometime later, when Hezekiah received the message from God that he would not recover from his illness (Isaiah 38), he turned his face toward the wall and prayed a prayer that focused on himself, weeping bitterly. Even though it is a much longer prayer, the number of personal pronouns referring to himself are astounding and give us a window into his mindset at the time. Using the NKJV again, there are 39 personal pronouns referring to himself or the people (15 I, 13 my, 9 me, 1 we, and 1 our), and 15 pronouns referring to God (4 He, 8 You, and 3 Your).
Looking at the whole prayer, it somewhat follows some of the psalms — prayers of David where the first half is complaining or asking God to wake up and see the wickedness everywhere. Then the second half turns to a triumphant description of God’s faithfulness and ultimate victory over evil. Examples of these are Psalms 22, 28, and 36.
It is interesting that Hezekiah’s second prayer is bookended by parenthetical explanations (Isaiah 38:9, 21, 22) similar to the introductory comments in Psalms 51 and 52. The main purpose of these “bookends” are to provide the historical context. However, it is surprising to have this particular prayer surrounded by comments that almost sound like an apology from Isaiah for having to record this rather self-referenced prayer, at least in the first half.
Most would say that God answered Hezekiah’s prayer, which is true. Nevertheless, the perfect will of God was to allow Hezekiah to pass to his rest. When God healed him, a sequence of events began to play out, starting with His asking God for a sign that he would be healed. God knew what Hezekiah would do in the future — bragging about his riches to the Babylonians, forgetting to testify about the God who healed him and who had the power to turn the sun backwards. However, the most devastating event came three years later with the birth of Manasseh. Manasseh was 12 years old when Hezekiah died, and was the most idolatrous king Judah ever had. His reign lasted over 50 years, and even though he repented and worked the last five years to undo the spiritual damage, Judah never recovered from Manasseh’s evil influence!
Yes, God sometimes answers our prayers the way we ask, which may not be His perfect will for us. Therefore, we need to trust His foreknowledge and always pray that His will be done — for His honor and glory. Our perfect example is Jesus, who said, “If it is possible, take this cup from me, nevertheless, not my will but yours be done” (for God’s benefit and reputation) (Luke 22:42).
Dennis Hollingsead works in the Office of Development at Andrews University.
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