February 17 - 23
Prayers of Desperation: Hezekiah
THOUGH ONLY EARLY SPRING, the farmers were already in fear of another horde of locusts, like the one that had devastated last summer's crops. A similar disaster would ruin many families, which was why April 26 was to be a day of fasting and prayer for every woman, man, and child in the community. That day, a hush fell across the land while prayers ascended to God. The next morning, the sun rose in a cloudless sky. The thermometer soared to midsummer heatand everyone watched in horror as the warm earth stirred with the dreaded insects.
During the next three days, the heat hatched a grand army of locusts. What kind of an answer to their prayers was this? But on the fourth day, the temperature dropped and frost enveloped the earth, destroying most of the locusts. That summer, the wheat waved tall and green.
As you study this week's lesson, think about the role of prayer in your life, especially when your prayers were uttered in frantic and fearful desperation.
THE WEEK AT A GLANCE:
I. Assyria, the Rod of God's Anger (2 Chron. 29; 30; 32:1).
II. Crisis Without and Within (Isa. 36; 38).
III. The Siege of Jerusalem (Isa. 36; 39).
IV. "Spread It Out Before the Lord" (Isa. 37:1-20).
V. Deliverance! (Isa. 37:14-38).
MEMORY TEXT: "Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord" (Isaiah 37:14, NIV).
The Assyrians had been the scourge of Israel and Judah for over 150 years. They attempted to eradicate the national identity of their captives by removing them from their homelands and settling them in foreign lands. In 722 B.C., they conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and took these people captive.
King Hezekiah of Judah inherited the problem of Assyria from his father, Ahaz. Ahaz disobeyed the Lord by asking the Assyrians for aid against his enemies. The Assyrians only made things worse by overpowering Judah. Ahaz also closed the temple and set up idolatrous shrines all over Jerusalem and the nation (2 Chron. 28:19-21, 24, 25).
What reforms did Hezekiah introduce when he became king? 2 Chron. 29:3-5, 10; 30:1. What explanation did Hezekiah give for the troubles Judah had suffered? 2 Chron. 30:6-9.
"A right regard for Him was no abstraction for God's people, but was grounded in pure and regular worship at the temple. Hezekiah at the beginning of his reign found the temple in a shocking state of neglect and misuse. It was a mirror of the people's condition before God. So two related tasks were necessary, to put the temple aright and to use it for a service [through] which the people . . . could get right with God again."Lloyd J. Ogilvie, general editor, Leslie C. Allen, The Communicator's Commentary: 1, 2 Chronicles, vol. 10, p. 370.
Read the invitation Hezekiah sent to the nation in 2 Chronicles 30:6-9. Underline the parts that appeal to you. Why do you find these sections particularly meaningful?
The huge crowd that came to Jerusalem enjoyed the "camp meeting" so much that they extended the celebration for another week (vs. 23). Serving God brings joy. Under Hezekiah's rule the nation enjoyed years of peace and prosperity. Eventually, however, the king of Assyria made war on Jerusalem, and the peaceful times quickly stopped (2 Kings 18:17).
Like Hezekiah, have you ever experienced a time when, even though you were working diligently for the Lord, things were going badly? Explain why wholehearted service to God does not always guarantee peace and prosperity.
In the fourteenth year of Hezekiah's reign (701 B.C.), Assyrian King Sennacherib began a western campaign against his rebellious provinces, including Judah. Hezekiah took measures to fortify Jerusalem. In an engineering feat for that time, he had a tunnel built from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, channeling water into the city to assure an abundant supply during the siege. He then fortified the city's walls. (For further study, see the SDA Bible Dictionary, pp. 484-487, "Hezekiah.")
Meanwhile, the Assyrian forces conquered 46 villages, including the fortress city of Lachish. Hezekiah tried to appease Sennacherib with a massive payment of silver and gold, but to no avail (2 Kings 18:14-16; see also the SDA Bible Dictionary, pp. 1003, 1004, "Sennacherib."). Sennacherib gloated in his Annals, "I laid waste the large district of Judah and made the overbearing and proud Hezekiah bow in submission."The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, George Arthur Buttrick, dictionary editor (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1962), vol 2: E-J, p. 600, "Hezekiah."
While Hezekiah faced the Assyrian invasion from without, his body was struggling with a life-threatening disease from within. Troubles often come in droves.
What message came to him from the prophet Isaiah, and how did he respond? Isa. 38:1-3.
At 39 years of age, Hezekiah was not ready to die. In response to his weeping, Isaiah returned with this message from God: "'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' "(Isa. 38:4-6, NIV).
"Hezekiah did not conclude that it was useless to pray, as though the prophetic message had made death inevitable. If we pray, God may be able to do for us that which He could not do if we did not pray. Requests for healing, however, must be made in the spirit of submission. God alone knows whether the answering of a petition will work for the good of those concerned and redound to [contribute to; advance] His glory."The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 966:2, "Prayed."
Why does God sometimes wait to act on our behalf until we pray? Are you presently facing a seemingly hopeless situation? Do you feel that praying about it is useless? Have you ever faced situations where what you specifically asked for in prayer hadn't come, but the mere act of praying itself gave you strength to deal with the situation?
Hezekiah won his battle with death, but the Assyrians still controlled all of Judah except Jerusalem. Why had the Lord permitted such calamity to strike His people, even after the national revival? Apparently, the years of prosperity that followed had undermined the character of the nation. As stated before, often it is easier to find God during adversity than during prosperity.
What character weaknesses did Hezekiah and his people reveal? Isa. 39:1-4; 22:9-11.
Hezekiah's pride was in his possessions rather than in God. The king who had disposed of idol worship in Judah had a few idols of his own! Also, he depended on the arm of flesh by making an alliance with Egypt despite Isaiah's warning recorded in 31:1-3: "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots . . . but do not . . . seek help from the Lord" (NIV).
The people trusted in the city's defenses rather than in God. And when the siege was temporarily lifted, they indulged in feasting and drunkenness, saying" 'Let us eat and drink. . . for tomorrow we die!'" (Isa. 22:12, 13, NIV).
One dreaded day, the Assyrian commander appeared outside Jerusalem and called for a conference with Hezekiah's officers outside the city walls. How did he try to confuse and deceive Hezekiah's men? Isa. 36:4-7; 13-20.
Compare his words to what Satan told Eve at the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:1-5). How does Satan use similar strategies to confuse and deceive us?
The commander's defiance of God was commonplace. Because of Israel's repeated apostasies, the surrounding nations no longer feared God, and the commander thought he could safely mock Him.
|German writer Gunther Grass once said that all he knows is what he sees, hears, and feels. Why do we tend to trust most in the things that we ourselves can see, feel, or hear? Is this one reason why, in wealthier nations, it's harder to spread the gospel? Think about these questions in the context of Hebrews 11:1.|
How did Hezekiah react when his officers relayed to him the message of the Assyrian commander? Isa. 37:1-4.
When we reach out to God, we are saying that we believe He exists and that He will help us as He helped Hezekiah. The message the Lord sent to him through Isaiah was, " 'Do not be afraid of what you have heard-those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Listen! I am going to put a spirit in him so that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword' " (Isa. 37:6, 7, NIV).
Previously, God promised to protect Jerusalem like mother birds hovering over their nests (Isa. 31:5), and He predicted that Assyria would fall by "a sword, not of mortals" (vs. 8, NIV). When Hezekiah was ill, He promised to deliver Jerusalem from the king of Assyria (Isa. 38:6). Are God's promises not more powerful than a mighty army?
In answer to Hezekiah's plea for help, Sennacherib raced from Jerusalem when he heard the news that the Egyptian army was advancing on him. Before he left, however, he sent a letter to Hezekiah proclaiming he would return and that no god would be able to save Judah (Isa. 37:9-13).
What did Hezekiah do with the letter? Isa. 37:14-17.
Jesus encourages us to do what Hezekiah did. " 'Come unto me,' is His invitation. Whatever your anxieties or trials, spread out your case before the Lord. Your spirit will be braced for endurance. The way will be opened for you to disentangle yourself from embarrassment and difficulty. The weaker and more helpless you know yourself to be, the stronger will you become in His strength. The heavier your burdens, the more blessed the rest in casting them upon the Burden Bearer.
"Worry is blind, and cannot discern the future; but Jesus sees the end from the beginning. In every difficulty He has His way prepared to bring relief. Our heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us of which we know nothing."The Desire of Ages, p. 330.
|Take time now to spread your case out before the Lord. Thank Him for His past care and guidance. Why is it so important to remember the Lord's past leading in your life as you attempt to trust Him with your future?|
Hezekiah's prayer was a model of what a prayer for help should be like. What attributes of God did Hezekiah recall as he prayed? Why were these particular characteristics of God so important at this time? Isa. 37:16.
What other features of this prayer do you notice? Isa. 37:17-20.
Hezekiah's prayer emphasizes the following:
1. A deep sense of God's presence: " 'Enthroned between the cherubim' "(vs. 16, NIV). "It is a point of the first importance that we should feel, in prayer, that God is with us in very deed and truth; that we stand in his near presence; that the angels who inhabit the heavenly kingdom are not more truly, though they may be more consciously, before him than are we as we take his Name on our lips and breathe our petitions into his ear."The Pulpit Commentary, vol. X, part II: "The Book of the Prophet Isaiah," chap. XXXVII, p. 29.
2. An attitude of reverence: " 'You alone are God' "(vs. 16, NIV). It is true that we can pray to God as to a friend, but we must never forget that we are speaking with the Majesty of heaven, the one true God, infinite and eternal.
3. Complete confidence in God's power: " 'You have made heaven and earth' "(vs. 16, NIV). "To doubt God's power to interpose on our behalf. . . must be painful to him, and must invalidate our prayer."The Pulpit Commentary, vol. X, part II, XXXVII, p. 29.
4. Confidence in His interest in us: " 'God of Israel' "(vs. 16, NIV). "We place ourselves in accord with God's will concerning us when we assume the fact that we are the objects of his deep solicitude, that we are near to his heart, and that he is disposed to do all that is needful for our present well-being and future blessedness."Ibid.
5. An unselfish spirit: " 'Deliver us... that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone. . . are God' " (vs. 20, NIV). Hezekiah was concerned about the fate of Judah, but even more so, He was concerned that God be glorified.
|In times of difficulty, what is your first reaction? Why do some of us seek God only when we are in trouble? If you are facing a difficult problem, of course you will want to pray, but take time now to thank God and praise Him for the many blessings He has given you.|
FURTHER STUDY: Review yesterday's lesson. Then read the answer to Hezekiah's prayer in Isaiah 37:21-35. To learn how the Lord's answer was fulfilled, read verses 36-38.
Is God concerned with the fears and worries of His people today? A comforting answer to that question is found in the chapter, "The Invitation," The Desire of Ages, pp. 328-332. You also might want to read the following chapters from Prophets and Kings concerning Hezekiah: "Hezekiah," pp. 331-339; "The Ambassadors From Babylon," pp. 340-348; "Deliverance From Assyria," pp. 349-366.
"Hezekiah's pleadings in behalf of Judah and of the honor of their Supreme Ruler were in harmony with the mind of God. Solomon, in his benediction at the dedication of the temple, had prayed the Lord to maintain 'the cause of His people Israel at all times, as the matter shall require: that all the people of the earth may know that the Lord is God, and that there is none else.' 1 Kings 8:59, 60. Especially was the Lord to show favor when, in times of war or of oppression by an army, the chief men of Israel should enter the house of prayer and plead for deliverance. Verses 33, 34."Prophets and Kings, p. 359.
SUMMARY: Our God is still mighty enough to save and to deliver us from crises and from sin. Let us pray always that in the process of such deliverance His name will be glorified, whatever the outcome of our particular trying situation.
AUSTRALIAPat Turton had everythinga husband she was proud of and a beautiful home on the coast of eastern Australia. But her life was empty. When John Kingston, a literature evangelist, visited her, Pat sensed his relationship with God and began asking him questions. She expressed her desire to know God, and Kingston arranged for Pat to take Bible studies.
Then Pat's husband died suddenly. Pat was devastated, but she continued her Bible studies. However, Pat had an addiction to tobacco, and following her husband's death, her smoking increased.
Pat moved to a small farm some distance away, but the peace she sought eluded her.
One day an Adventist couple living near Pat received a phone call alerting them to Pat's interest in spiritual matters. They visited Pat, and she resumed Bible studies. Eventually Pat was baptized.
But Pat had not gained complete victory over tobacco. She tried to hide her habit from her friends, but the habit drove a wedge between her and God. Soon she stopped attending church and pretended to be away when church members came to visit.
Months passed; Pat tried everything she knew to win the battle over cigarettes. But the habit was stronger than her will. Her health began failing as her smoking increased to 150 cigarettes a day. Then she heard about the church's stop-smoking program and called to see if any sessions were being held in her area. None were. Pat asked for a "stop-smoking-at-home" kit.
As Pat waited for the kit to arrive, she thought seriously about her relationship with God and her inability to stop smoking. She knew she needed to surrender her life fully to God before she could truly gain victory over cigarettes. When the stop-smoking kit arrived, Pat committed her problem to God and asked Him for the victory over tobacco and her will. With strength she received from reading the Bible and the encouragement of a trusted Adventist friend, Pat started the stop-smoking plan.
With God's help she won her freedom from tobacco. She testifies that once she committed her will to God, He took away her desire to smoke, a desire that had enslaved her for years.
Pat rejoices in her new life. She sings as she works and wants to tell everyone what God has done for her.
Paul Livingston is a literature evangelist living in Australia.
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