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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 38:1-8

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, May 5, 2008

Hezekiah’s Illness

38 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
     2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD,  3 “Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
     4 Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah:  5 “Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life.  6 And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city.

Based on verse 6 and some other considerations, it seems pretty clear that the events of chapters 38-30 took place before—perhaps a long time before—chapters 36-37.

Look again carefully at Hezekiah’s prayer in verse 3. He didn’t beg God to spare his life. He didn’t say that God’s decision wasn’t fair. He simply asked God to remember his faith and his life of trusting God. Taken at face value, his prayer was simply a request that God remember his faith; the same prayer any believer would make to be taken to heaven when his life ended. He seems to have been about 40 when this took place—a year or so before Sennacherib invaded.

But God chose to give the king more time. He also promised a sign to show Hezekiah that he meant what he said. In Deuteronomy, God warned that even if a prophet performed a sign or a miracle, his message still needed to conform to the rest of what the Bible says (Deuteronomy 13:2-3). Here, Isaiah simply spoke God’s word, and the sign came true—just as the promise connected to the sign came true.

7 “‘This is the LORD’s sign to you that the LORD will do what he has promised:  8 I will make the shadow cast by the sun go back the ten steps it has gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.’” So the sunlight went back the ten steps it had gone down. (NIV)

We don’t know where this “stairway of Ahaz” was, but we do know that these were the steps to the king’s apartment and a suite of upper story rooms (a later king “pulled down the altars the kings of Judah had erected on the roof near the upper room of Ahaz,” 2 Kings 23:12).

There are some possible scientific explanations for what happened here. The sun’s shadow could have been changed by cloud patterns or some other refraction of light. An eclipse or deep overcast might somehow have been involved.1

But our explanations or theories about miracles don’t help us to see God’s word more clearly. In fact, they only muddy the water of God’s pure gospel. It is best all around if we simply listen to the words describing the miracle and look at what this did for Hezekiah, and for us. God promised that this sign would take place, and it did. In doing so, Hezekiah was promised a longer life than he should have received.

God also promised a sign that means a longer life for you. That sign is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And that sign, which is fulfilled completely, tells you that you will rise from the dead, too, and is the promise of a longer life that each of us should have received. In fact, it promises us life that will last forever, because of Jesus.

1 We should be careful not to say more than the Bible says about this. The sun’s light, the shadow of the sun, truly moved back up ten steps. But we should not say how large or small these steps were. For example, there is no reference to “degrees” in the Bible. The Babylonians, who worked in base 6 rather than our modern base 10, came up with the 360-degree / 60 minutes / 60 seconds concept about the time that Joshua was leading Israel into Canaan. The “steps” of verse 8 are clearly steps “on the stairway of Ahaz.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.