The Power of Prayer

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: ‘Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears… . I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria’” (vv. 4–6).

- Isaiah 38

Yesterday, we noted that Isaiah’s sure word to Hezekiah that God would deliver Jerusalem (Isa. 37:5–7) did not prevent the king from interceding for his people. The king knew that the Lord’s promises are given not to make us passive but to encourage us to act, so he went to the temple and spread before God the letter of the Rabshakeh of Assyria that demanded Jerusalem’s surrender (vv. 14–20). As John Calvin comments on these verses, Hezekiah did not do this so that the Lord could read the text and find out what was going on; rather, Hezekiah did this to encourage himself to pray more fervently. Modern commentators contend that Hezekiah also did this to vindicate the Lord’s honor. By opening the letter, it was as if Hezekiah was saying: “O God of Israel, this blasphemy, by which Assyria thinks You are just one god among many, cannot stand, for You are the only God, the Creator of all. Please, my Lord, answer Assyria’s arrogance and deliver Jerusalem so that Assyria might know that You are the only God who is.”

The Lord said yes to Hezekiah’s prayer. Life would be hard in the short term, and food would be scarce because of what Assyria would inflict on the land, but Jerusalem would be spared (vv. 30–35). Then God sent the angel of the Lord to Assyria’s camp, killing 185,000 men. The angel may have done this with a plague of mice, for the ancient Greek historian Herodotus records such a plague afflicting the Assyrian army on the border near Egypt at about this time. Sennacherib himself was murdered some twenty years later by his sons while worshiping his gods. Ironically, the one who defied the only true God was killed in the service of the false gods in whom he trusted (vv. 36–38).

Hezekiah’s intercession shows the power of prayer before our sovereign Creator, which is also confirmed in today’s passage. This record of Hezekiah’s illness and recovery, Isaiah 38:6 reveals, took place before the events recorded in chapter 37. (Biblical authors sometimes do not order their accounts chronologically.) Therefore, the promise Isaiah gave in 37:5–7 was not the Lord’s first pledge to deliver Jerusalem from Assyria. In His grace, God repeats His promises to us, increasing our confidence in His Word.

Unlike his father, Ahaz, who lacked faith to ask for a sign from God, we know that Hezekiah asked for a sign of his recovery and Jerusalem’s rescue (2 Kings 20:8). God granted this sign, healing Hezekiah and adding fifteen years to his life (Isa. 38:4–6).

Coram Deo

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.

Passages for Further Study

2 Kings 20:1–11
2 Chronicles 32:24
Matthew 21:18–22
James 5:16

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