Once again, a small caveat on the chronology of events: I’m purely guessing here. Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t put in one book, the blow by blow events of what happened. So all I can do is try to piece together things as best I can.
As we saw earlier Sennacherib, the king of Assyria had already taken the northern Kingdom of Israel, and had then attacked Judah. Judah had been paying tribute to them, but then stopped. When Sennacherib came the first time to attack Jerusalem, Hezekiah bought him off with treasures from the temple, and from his own coffers.
But now Sennacherib had come again, and so Hezekiah made further preparations, blocking off the water from the springs outside the city to make sure that they would have enough water during a siege, while denying it to their enemies. He also had the walls repaired, had weapons made, and basically did everything humanly possible to prepare for the siege.
Again, I’m purely speculating here, but even though his treaty with the Egyptians failed to protect him from Assyria, and while was doing everything humanly possible to prepare, he still wasn’t trusting in God. He was putting all his trust in Egypt and his own efforts. And so God struck him with an illness.
And after months or perhaps even years of ignoring Isaiah’s warnings, he finally called Isaiah to the palace to inquire of the Lord. And Isaiah told him,
This is what the Lord says: “Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” (II Kings 20:1)
What must have gone through Hezekiah’s mind at that time? His city under siege, he was dying, and there was no son to take his place (Manasseh, his son, wasn’t born until three years later).
Perhaps he raged at God. “Why is this happening? Why are you doing this to me?”
Maybe that rage turned to self-pity. “Why does this have to happen to me?”
But then it turned to humility.
With no other recourse, he humbled himself before God, pleading that God not remember his sin and pride, but the good things that he had done. How he had sought the Lord in the past. And as he wept before the Lord, God stopped Isaiah as he was going home and sent him back to Hezekiah, saying,
This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city. (Isaiah 38:5-6)
And then the Lord, gave him a sign, causing the shadow cast by the sun to go backwards on the sundial. How he did that, I don’t know. Whether he reversed the earth’s rotation, or whether it was a trick of the light is not clear. But whatever he did, God kept his promise, and Hezekiah recovered.
What can we get from this? Many times God will humble us in order to get our attention. If we refuse to listen to him, and go our own way, he loves us too much to just leave us be. He will work to bring us back.
Hezekiah wrote later,
What can I say? He has spoken to me, and he himself has done this. I will walk humbly all my years because of this anguish of my soul…Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love, you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind our back. (Isaiah 38:15,17)
Are you suffering because of the sin in your life? God doesn’t desire to destroy you. He desires that we humble ourselves and live. To trust in him that our lives may go well. And that we might teach others to trust in him too.
Hezekiah finished his psalm of praise by saying,
Fathers tell their children about your faithfulness. The Lord will save me, and we will sing with stringed instruments all the days of our lives in the temple of the Lord (Isaiah 38:19-20).
So let us not trust in ourselves. But every day, let us humble ourselves before God, trust in him, and teach others to do the same.