Many of us have been told, “Be careful what you ask for; you just might get it.” That is simply a way of saying that when we get the things we want, we often find out they are not nearly as satisfying as we thought they would be. In some ways, this is what King Hezekiah experienced in the final years of his reign.
Second Kings chapter 20 opens with these ominous words: “In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death.” Now “those days” actually refers to events in the previous chapter. In fact, the king’s illness took place prior to the Lord’s deliverance from the giant empire of Assyria, which we studied in our last session.
So, the Assyrian invasion isn’t Hezekiah’s only problem here; he’s also facing a health crisis. The prophet Isaiah says to the king in verse 1, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’” In other words, write out your will, and pick out your casket.
Hezekiah’s response is probably what yours and mine would be. We are told here in the next verse that Hezekiah starts praying and weeping before the Lord.
Now keep in mind that Hezekiah is only thirty-nine years old at this time. He wants to live, and he begs God to heal him.
God answers his prayer immediately. In fact, even before Isaiah can get back on his mule, the Lord answers through him and delivers this wonderful news to Hezekiah:
“Thus says the Lord . . . I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. . . . and I will add fifteen years to your life.” (verses 5-6)
Let me tell you, beloved, even if God doesn’t heal you, you can rest assured that He has heard your prayer and seen your tears.
Hezekiah then asks the Lord for some sign to accompany this promise of fifteen more years of life and health. Apparently in the palace courtyard there were some steps, and the shadow moving along those steps throughout the day was used, much like a sundial, to determine the time. So, God causes the shadow to retreat ten steps, miraculously making the day longer, just as He has promised to make Hezekiah’s life a little longer.
Now let’s be honest here. I think most of us would like to know how much longer we have to live. I think we are under the impression that this knowledge would make life richer and more meaningful. Well, it actually has the opposite effect. Not knowing how long we have to live and that today could be our last day reminds us to walk with God today because we may not have tomorrow.
Look at what happens to Hezekiah. This knowledge didn’t help him a bit. In fact, let me point out several results.
First, guaranteed health and life for the next fifteen years resulted in pride and a sense of self-sufficiency. When the king of Babylon sends envoys to Hezekiah to congratulate him on his recovery, Hezekiah rather arrogantly gives them a back-door tour of “his” glorious kingdom.
Verse 13 tells us:
Hezekiah . . . showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.
You might notice the references to his treasure house, his armory, his storehouses, and his realm. There is not one reference to God.
Over in the parallel account in 2 Chronicles 32, we are told that this visit from Babylon was a test from the Lord to see what was brewing in Hezekiah’s heart. What was brewing in there was pride, and there would be a price to pay for it.
You see, it’s not going to be the Assyrians but the Babylonians who will one day overthrow Judah. And Hezekiah has just given them a look at what is in the bank vault.
Second, this guarantee of fifteen more years brings a sense of spiritual complacency and apathy. In 2 Kings 20:17-18, Isaiah tells Hezekiah:
“The days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. . . . And some of your own sons . . . shall be taken away.”
And what is his reaction to this terrible prophecy? Verse 19:
Then said Hezekiah . . . “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?”
He is not concerned at all with what this prophecy means. He just notices that it’s not going to happen until after he is gone. So, instead of praying, seeking the Lord for his kingdom’s safety and his own family’s well-being, he just says, “Hey, this isn’t my problem. I’ll let the next generation deal with it.” What incredible apathy. Sadly, these are the last recorded words of Hezekiah.
In spite of all the good things he did and his faithful trust in the Lord during his earlier years, Hezekiah failed to pass on the truth of God to his own son and successor, Manasseh. Tragically, the first nine verses of 2 Kings 21 describe Manasseh as terribly wicked. He builds altars for Baal and other pagan gods; he even places altars and images in the temple of the Lord.
Sickeningly, verse 6 records:
He burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers.
He was simply the most wicked king ever to rule in Judah.
But then the most unlikely thing happens. Over in 2 Chronicles 33, Manasseh is taken captive to Babylon. Now listen to this testimony in verses 12-13:
When he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.
Listen, beloved, if you’ve ever thought someone was beyond the reach of God, think about Manasseh. He’s a prime example of human depravity, but he becomes an example of the greatness of God’s grace. Upon his return to Jerusalem, Manasseh attempts to turn Judah back to the Lord. He removes the idols, restores the altar of the Lord, and verse 16 tells us, “He commanded Judah to serve the Lord.”
Evidently, the kingdom of Judah is not interested. And when Manasseh’s son Amon takes the throne, the Bible says he lives a wicked life and refuses to follow God. Tragically, he is assassinated after reigning as king only two years.
As I look back over these chapters detailing the lives of Hezekiah and Manasseh, I think there are two timeless principles we need to underscore: first, a godly past is not a guarantee of future success. Hezekiah was a godly king, but his pride ruined his future and final years on the throne.
Second, a wicked past is not an obstacle to a godly future. Look at Manasseh. If God can move in a heart like his and bring him to repentance, maybe you need to keep praying for your son or daughter or husband or mom or dad. There is hope for even the most hardened unbeliever.