In Chapter 36, Hezekiah tries to "do a deal" with the king of Egypt to stave off the annihilation of the remnant in Jerusalem, by Sennacherib, king of Assyria. Isaiah had warned Hezekiah that trusting Egypt was a slap in God’s face and a case of disunity with God.
Sennacherib’s sends a messenger to Hezekiah, who mocks him for daring to defy the unbeatable king of Assyria’s obvious power. And beyond that:
“Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this land to destroy it? The Lord said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it’” (Isaiah 36:10, ESV).
Hezekiah the Not-So-Great has made a mistake we often make, assuming that God is on our side against the enemy, even when we have been unfaithful; when in fact God sometimes uses evil to inspire our repentance before he can restore us under his never-ending love.
Take note, America.
In Chapter 37, Hezekiah reverses course, repents to God, and Isaiah assures him that his prayer has been heard and that he should not be afraid. After another mocking confrontation with Sennacherib’s messenger, Hezekiah prays passionately in the temple at Jerusalem, and God reverses course, delivers Hezekiah, and passes judgment on Sennacherib:
“…I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will turn you back on the way by which you came” (37:29).
God changes his mind about the mission God himself charged Sennacherib with, because of the passionate prayer of a not-so-great-but-sincere leader. The remnant of Israel shall eventually go out into exile, but Sennacherib will not go into Jerusalem and destroy it as originally planned. Sennacherib is assassinated shortly after at home by his own sons.
In Chapter 38, God still must deal with the not-so-greatness of Hezekiah and advises him that he will soon take ill and die according to his judgment. Hezekiah is overcome with depression (read 38:9-15, which ends with):
“What shall I say? For he has spoken to me, and he himself has done it. I walk slowly all my years because of the bitterness of my soul” (38:15).
But then Hezekiah becomes a bit greater, because he repents in truth, not just in sorrow for having been judged unfaithful:
“Behold, it was for my [own] welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back” (38:17).
God simply wants to hear us admit as sin what really motivates us outside of his never-ending love. When we put full faith in God, regardless of how desperate our situation, our sins are put behind his back where he chooses to no longer look at them!
So Hezekiah is restored by God, but alas, his not-so-greatness returns in Chapter 39. During a visit by the King of Babylon, this self-perceived "master of the art of the deal" shows off all the treasures of Israel to the man who would soon betray him and haul them – and the remnant of Israel – off to Babylon. Isaiah is so shocked at Hezekiah’s dereliction of duty to his people, he once again warns:
“Behold, the days are coming, when all…your fathers have stored up until this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing will be left…” (39:6).
Having received bounteous restoration by God, Hezekiah’s instinct is to butter up a political snake and lose his kingdom anyway.
How could he be so stupid and not-so-great?
Indeed. Aren’t we all more like Hezekiah that we would like to admit, but for the never-ending love of God?
Let’s all go look in the mirror the next time we doubt God – because we likely will.