A second chance – Friday, 15th Week in ordinary time – Isaiah 38:1-6,21-22, 7-8

A second chance – Friday, 15th Week in ordinary time – Isaiah 38:1-6,21-22, 7-8

Today’s text is the last of the readings taken from the prophet Isaiah and a text that brings us to the end the first part of a three part section that divides the book of Isaiah. The structure of the text has been rearranged for easy reading. You will notice that we read verse 1-6 and then 21-22 and then go back to verse 7-8. This is because verses 21-22 are clearly out of place. They should have logically come after v. 6, as they do in the parallel account in 2 Kgs 20. But the two accounts from Kings and Isaiah are not identical and it appears that the version in Isaiah is abbreviated from that in Kings. If that is so then Isaiah 38:21–22 was inserted by a later reader who thought the account incomplete.

In today’s narrative we hear of the illness of a good king, Hezekiah who was also a faithful king who mostly followed God’s will. Among a line of kings who were steeped in idolatry and immorality, Hezekiah stood out for his goodness. Since Hezekiah died in 686/687 B.C., his sickness may have occurred in 702 B.C., that is, fifteen years before. We know from comparing 2 Kings 18:2 with 2 Kings 20:6, that Hezekiah was 39 years old when he learned he would soon die. The narrative of today seems to have taken place sometime before the Assyrian invasion by Sennacherib in 701 BC. (Isaiah 38:6). The events of this chapter are also recorded in 2 Kings 20:1-11.

We are not told how Hezekiah became sick but God was remarkably kind to Hezekiah, telling him that his death was near. Isaiah plays a central role in the king’s dialogue with God. It begins by the prophet telling the king, who is terminally ill, that it is time for him to put his affairs in order for his approaching death. Not all people are given the time to set their house in order.

We are told that king Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall. This “wall” was not any wall but the wall of the temple, God’s dwelling house. It shows us how earnest Hezekiah was in his prayer. He directed his prayer in privacy to God, and not to any man. Hezekiah prayed that God would remember the good things he had done in the service of Yahweh during his life.

Scholars have weighed in on the issues as to why Hezekiah wept bitterly. Was Hezekiah so shattered at the prospect of death? Perhaps, as some suggest at the age of 39, he yet had no son or successor to take over from him. To think that he was going to die without an heir was perhaps the greatest pain of what seemed a terminal illness.

But his prayer clearly pleased the Lord and his prayer was important. By all indications, if Hezekiah had not made his passionate prayer, then his life would not have been extended. Prayer matters and no matter what our situation we should find comfort in prayer.

Isaiah was sent with the good news that Hezekiah would be cured and in three days’ time would be able to go up to the Temple. God gave three gifts to Hezekiah. First, He gave the gift of an extended life. Second, He gave the gift of knowing he only had fifteen years left and that Jerusalem would be protected from the Assyrian king.

Finally, Isaiah ordered that a poultice of figs be applied by the court physicians so that the king could recover from an illness that was believed to be terminal. Figs were often used for medicinal purposes.

Hezekiah, for his part, asked for some sign to confirm that he would be healed and that he would be able to go to the Temple and make a sacrifice of thanksgiving. It is not clear what sign he was requesting but it might simply have been the healing of what is described as a ‘boil’. It doesn’t really matter how God did it; He has miraculous resources and ways we know nothing about.

When we are confronted with serious sickness, our own or that of people close to us, we too need that kind of attitude that accepts fully what God wills for us at this time. Perhaps it is the end of our time and earth and we have to bid farewell to it and go forth to meet our God face to face. Or it may be that our time has not yet come and we will be called to live on, either totally or partially healed, for some time to come. In that case, our healing is a call for us to greater service of God and our neighbour. It is also an opportunity to re-orientate our lives where that is necessary. Strange to say, a spell in hospital is not infrequently a grace-filled time to reflect on the meaning and direction of one’s life…perhaps better than even a retreat!

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