CLICK HERE to read Isaiah 38.
This chapter jumps from the historical and prophetic layers for Judah and the Latter-days to focusing on King Hezekiah himself. The lesson is for all of us, in that we all experience a spiritual refreshment when we return to the Lord. Hezekiah finally submitted his will to what he knew to be true, and was obedient to this by seeking out the counsel of the prophet, and did his own salvation work by going to the temple and praying to the Lord. As soon as Hezekiah did this, the Lord was immediately present and answering Him and promising to deliver Him. The last chapters described how the Lord kept His promises, and how His words were fulfilled. This chapter is much more personal, telling the story of Hezekiah’s renewed relationship with the Lord and the miracles that follow.
This chapter is almost conversational, giving us a pattern for learning to interact with the Lord, even boldly in the way that we are able when we choose His righteousness. We are able to approach Him directly and boldly, because we are covered by the atonement and have exchanged what is not-of-God for His righteousness. This gives us the power and freedom to approach so boldly, without being afraid or ashamed.
Yet, that does not mean we should test the Lord, or demand signs. In fact, sign-seeking in and of itself is almost always evidence that someone has fallen into the pattern of Korihor (including sexual sin) (see Alma 30). But because our Heavenly Father is real, and is alive, and does care for us, it is important to notice those tender mercies that surround us like hugs from Him. These “divine signatures” tell us that He is present, paying attention, and promise-keeping.
This chapter happens in about 701 BC, the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign. We know this because 2 Kings 18:2 says that his reign was 29 years, and this chapter tells us how his life was extended 15 years. So 29 years minus 15 years means that this happened when he was 14 years into his reign. We also know, from verse six, that it was while Sennacherib was preparing to attack Jerusalem, but before the plague sent his army running back home to Ninevah.
So in about 701 BC, Hezekiah – the king of the southern kingdom of Judah – becomes deathly ill (verse 1). It was cultural custom for kings and other officials to talk to the prophet when they became so sick (2 Kings 1:2-16; 8:7-15). Not so much for any kind of “last rites”, as to inquire whether they would recover or not. This was partly for their own information, but a great deal to prepare them to confirm their heirs and political stability. There are spiritual layers, as well, in preparing for death, and this was the news from Isaiah: Hezekiah was going to die from this illness, so it was time for the king to get his affairs in order.
That was not good news for Hezekiah, but this time when he was in crisis – in contrast to before, when he tried to handle things his own way – the king turned immediately to the Lord in prayer (verse 2). King Hezekiah cries out to the Lord (verse 3):
O Lord, I beseech thee,
how I have walked before thee in truth
and with a perfect heart,
and have done that which is good in thy sight.
This may at first seem like a falsehood, when we know from earlier chapters that Hezekiah was slow to turn to the Lord, and even provoked Sennacherib into attacking Judah. He stripped the temple of its gold and precious things to pay his taxes to Assyria.
But this is redemption.
Hezekiah boldly claims the atonement.
He “beseeches” the Lord, meaning that he calls out to God as God, declaring his own submission to God, and acknowledging God’s place as higher than his own. He approaches the Lord as One-Who-Redeems, One-Who-Delivers, One-Who-Advocates. He is expecting the Lord to answer Him, to be true to the God that He is, to provide Him with both mercy and comfort.
He, in and of himself, had not walked in truth. The truth was that the Lord provided prophets to keep His people safe, and Hezekiah’s people were in danger because Hezekiah took so long to listen to the prophet. But Hezekiah did, in the end, listen to the prophet. He did, in the end, do what the prophet said.
This is the Ezekiel 36 principle: it doesn’t matter how close or far away from God we are, so much as it matters whether we are all the way turned toward Him or all the way turned away from Him. We may progress very far and be so very “good”, and yet to turn away is to be turned all the way away from God and fall. Or, we may be at the very beginning of our journey, and yet be all the way turned toward him and so be righteous.
It is being turned all the way toward God that gives us a “perfect heart”. It does not mean perfect as in never making mistakes. It means perfect as in whole. We are made perfect by claiming the atonement that does cover our sins and purge out of us what is not-of-God. Only then are we whole, and indeed “perfect” because we are filled with His righteousness.
Only our repentance – and the service to others that naturally results from understanding who He is and understanding who we are – only our repentance is “good” in His sight. This is our only offering: a broken heart and contrite spirit (Psalm 34:18; Psalm 51:17; 2 Nephi 2:7; 2 Nephi 4:32; 3 Nephi 9:20; 3 Nephi 12:19; Moroni 6:2). This is our sacrifice, and it is what thins the veil between us and His presence, us and His ministering spirits, us and those on the other side of the veil (Ether 4:15; D&C 56:18; D&C 59:8; D&C 97:8).
This is what Hezekiah cries out to the Lord, thanking Him for the atonement and claiming the self He has become because of who the Savior is and what the Savior has done.
And so Hezekiah cried, out of grief for his impending death, and his gratitude for the atonement working in him before his opportunity to do so was complete (verse 3).
The Lord heard Hezekiah’s prayer, and answered him through His prophet, Isaiah (verse 4). Isaiah had just left Hezekiah after delivering the sad news, and got as far as the middle court of the palace before receiving the Lord’s next message for Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:4). Isaiah turned around and went back to Hezekiah, telling him that the Lord had heard his prayer and seen his tears, including the righteousness in Him because of what the Lord had done for him. Further, the Lord even says that because Hezekiah qualified for these blessings in this way, and because there is specific purpose in it, He will let Hezekiah survive the illness and live another fifteen years (verse 5). The Lord then takes it even further, promising to deliver Hezekiah and his people from Sennacherib (verse 6).
Because Hezekiah has offered His tears (broken and contrite spirit) as a token, or evidence, of his keeping the covenant of righteousness by the power of the atonement, the Lord offers him a sign in return as evidence that He will keep His promise to deliver Hezekiah (verse 7). The Lord says the shadow on the sundial will go backward by ten degrees (verse 8)! The story in 2 Kings 20 actually tells us more to the story, saying that the Lord simply offered to move the shadow ten degrees one way or another, and asked Hezekiah if he wanted the shadow to move forward or backward. Hezekiah told the Lord it was easy to make a shadow go forward (as time passed), and so asked for it to go backward, and it did.
Later, when Hezekiah was feeling better, he journaled some of his experience (verse 9). Part of these writings are included now in this record, poetic and pure. He opens with describing his understanding that he has been told he is going to die (verse 10). He begins to realize this means he will no longer be “with the inhabitants of the world” (verse 11). He grieves his life being cut short, comparing it to a home that is only a shepherd’s tent moved from place to place (verse 12).
He writes about praying all night and into the morning, and then into the next night again (verse 13), finally calling out to the Lord to help Him because only the Lord had the power to do so (verse 14). This, again, demonstrates Hezekiah’s understanding of the role of the Savior, that it was the Lord’s work to deliver, rescue, save, resurrect, restore, advocate, and even heal. Hezekiah also knows that he cannot argue with the will of the Lord, and submits to His will even while he grieves (verse 15), but He also know that if the Lord does will it, He has the power and ability to cause him to recover “and make me to live” (verse 16).
It is only after all of these declarations, only after testifying of who God is and his own relationship to Him, only after all this does Hezekiah actually make a request. Even in His petition, He declares who God is and what His role is. This is the truth he knows back in verse 3, and the perfectness of his heart (in tune with God’s will) by which he boldly makes such a request. He reminds the Lord of how he has been spiritually (Melchizedek!) cleansed, purified, and restored (verse 17), and the great love God has for him to do such a thing. He then points out that if he dies, he cannot praise God for this great work in the same way as if he were alive, and that he is dead he will not be alive to testify (verse 18).
This is very fun, in a good and righteous way.
I mean to say, Hezekiah is using the temple pattern to make his request.
This is brilliant teaching, and a pattern we should follow.
We first acknowledge who Heavenly Father has created us to be, and then confess who we have only been, and so claim the atonement to bridge the gap and cover the discrepancy so that we can be changed by His righteousness to be worthy of His presence.
In the same way, Hezekiah is pointing out the discrepancy between the great spiritual work that has happened (Melchizedek), and the physical work of testifying (Aaronic) that has not yet happened.
Hezekiah offers the spiritual cleansing as evidence that his request for physical healing is appropriate.
He boldly claims the request by first declaring Himself in tune with the Lord’s will.
He doesn’t just ask to be healed.
He testifies why and how His healing is the will of the Lord.
From the Bible Dictionary:
Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.
So Hezekiah does say how if he is able to live, he will be able to praise the Lord and to testify of Him (verse 19).
Hezekiah then gives details of how he was saved, in the the Lord revealed to Isaiah how to make a healing ointment for Hezekiah (verse 21; also 2 Kings 20:7-11).
This becomes a covenant he makes and keeps, one we all made premortally (that the Savior would make atonement for us, and we would testify of it). The Lord did heal Hezekiah, and Hezekiah did testify of Him (verse 20). The Lord’s sign of the covenant was that Hezekiah was healed, and Hezekiah’s token was that he did praise the Lord in the temple and testify of Him (verse 22).