22 June 20102 Kings 19:9-36
"And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said: 'O Lord the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, you are God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.'" (v.15)
At the time of this story Judah was an Assyrian satellite
kingdom. A generation earlier the northern kingdom of Israel was
conquered and the southern part of Judah only escaped by allying
itself with Assyria. The prophet Isaiah railed against this policy
and he prophesied the destruction of Judah as a result. But humanly
speaking what else could Judah do? Isaiah's words are hard and he
was right, but not just yet!
Hezekiah is one of Judah's heroes. He comes to the throne in 715 BC and sets about reforming the country and the Temple worship, attempting to undo the damage caused by the introduction of pagan gods and the social injustices that breached covenant law. But this means rebellion against Assyria and their formidable ruler - Sennacharib.
Hezekiah, with the support of neighbouring states, thinks he is strong enough to rebel. But Isaiah once again berates him and accuses him of going against the will of God! (2 Kings 18:13-18;Isaiah 36:1-22). It looks as if Isaiah is right because in 701 BC Sennacharib invades and storms through neighbouring states, laying Israel to waste, until he besieges Jerusalem itself.
Hezekiah turns to prayer: a remarkable prayer that recognises God as Lord of the world, beseeching God to demonstrate this universal lordship by an act of power against Sennacharib. Amazingly, Isaiah reverses his prophecy - Jerusalem will after all be spared. Has this prayer changed God's mind, or was Isaiah wrong before?
Verse 35 says an "angel of the Lord" (a euphemism for God) decimates the Assyrian army; a Greek historian (Herodotus) says it was a plague carried by rats (possibly the bubonic plague?); Assyrian sources suggest the army had to be recalled to deal with trouble at home.
However you explain it, Jerusalem was spared. Hezekiah's prayer was answered and this story was treasured, and it reinforced a belief in the inviolability of Jerusalem. For Hezekiah's successors it left perhaps a dubious legacy - an unshakeable conviction that God would always defend Jerusalem "for my own sake". The destruction, when it eventually comes, will be even more terrible.
Does prayer change God's mind? If not, what does prayer do?
Do you think Jerusalem is still a special place for God? What should Christians say to Jews and Muslims about this?