16 July 2010

Isaiah 38:1-16

"Remember now, O LORD, I implore you, how I have walked before you in faithfulness with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight." (v.3)


The story we have been following has moved on again. Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, is now king of Judah. His father Ahaz had made Judah a vassal to Assyria and introduced Assyrian ways of worship in the Temple at Jerusalem. Hezekiah, by contrast, was a reforming king and smashed the idols that the Israelites had worshipped. 2 Kings 18 records that he "trusted in the LORD the God of Israel ... held fast to the LORD" (verses 5-6).

Hezekiah also attempted, unsuccessfully, to rebel against the Assyrians and during his reign Judah was invaded by Sennacherib and the Assyrian army. Isaiah 36:13-22 (and 2 Kings 18:19-37) record a dramatic confrontation when Jerusalem was threatened and Rabshakeh of the Assyrian army taunts the people, telling them that they cannot rely on Hezekiah or God. In fact, the Assyrians' siege of Jerusalem failed, but it seems that shortly after the Assyrians left, Hezekiah faced a new crisis when he became extremely ill and was expected to die.

For the ancient Israelites, long life was seen as a sign of God's approval. The dead were believed to go to Sheol, a place of shadows. In Sheol the dead were separated from God and it was only in later Jewish thought that a belief in the resurrection of the dead developed.

So today's reading gives us two aspects of prayer. First there is a prayer in crisis asking for healing. It is worth noticing that God's answer links Hezekiah's return to health with the delivery of Jerusalem from the Assyrians. Secondly, from verse 9 onwards, there is a lament: a prayer in which a person who is hurting pours out their heart to God and tells of the struggle they are enduring.

To Ponder

Hezekiah pleads with God that he has been faithful all his life. Do you see this as an attempt to barter with God? An attempt to be honest with God about how he was feeling? Or something else?

How do you respond to Hezekiah's lament? Have you experienced laments in worship and to what extent do you think they could be a fruitful way of praying?

Bible notes author

The Revd Judith Rossall

Judith Rossall is a Methodist tutor at Queen's Foundation in Birmingham. Before moving to Queen's, she was a circuit minister and taught at STETS in Salisbury.