Around the time that the king of Assyria sent his men to King Hezekiah, Hezekiah was about to die from a boil. The Lord spoke through Isaiah to tell Hezekiah to set his house in order because he was going to die. Second Chronicles 32:25 indicates this illness was the result of pride.
At the time, Hezekiah did not have a son that would become heir to the throne. Many thoughts must have passed through Hezekiah’s mind as he thought about his impending death. Isaiah 38 describes his petition to the Lord for life. Second Chronicles 32:26 says he humbled himself before the Lord so that the Lord’s wrath would not come upon him and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. As a result of Hezekiah’s prayer, the Lord turned back time and granted Hezekiah another 15 years to live.
According to Isaiah, the Lord temporarily spared Hezekiah from the pit of corruption (mishachat beliy)—a place of death and decay (Isaiah 38:17). This is most likely a reference to sheol (Greek is hades) in verse 18 which is often translated as the grave or hell. Hezekiah says that the grave is a place where one cannot praise or celebrate the Lord. There appears to be an ellipsis here; perhaps he would have added “like you can among the living.” Hezekiah continued by saying that those that go there can’t hope for the Lord’s truth. Finally, Hezekiah says what you can do if you alive; you can praise the Lord and make known His truth.
Since Hezekiah has brought up the subject, let’s explore what else the Bible says about sheol. As mentioned before, the Hebrew word sheol is comparable to the Greek word hades. Geenna (sometimes spelled Gehenna) is another Greek word that is often translated as hell. Sheol or hades is primarily a reference to the grave itself but it’s also a reference to hell whereas geenna, which is also translated as hell is a reference to the place of future punishment by fire. It was originally a reference to Tofet or the valley of the sons of Hinnom. Trash was continually burning in this place and worms crawled in place where it wasn’t. It was also a place where human sacrifices to Moloch took place. All of this is a picture of the future punishment in the lake of fire. Isaiah 66:24 says that on every new moon and Sabbath everyone will come into the Lord’s presence. When they leave they will see the bodies of those who rebelled against Him; their worm will never die and their fire will never be quenched. It sounds like we’ll be able to see into the depths of hell.
As I reflected on this, it reminded me of a story Jesus once told about a beggar named Lazarus. This story also gives us a picture of what happens after death. The rich man who had no regard for Lazarus when he was alive was being tormented in flames of sheol (hades). Between the rich man and Lazarus was a great chasm; Lazarus was on the other side of the chasm “in the bosom of Abraham.” According to the Power New Testament by William J. Morford, Abraham’s bosom is an idiom which refers to the place of honor at a banquet. In this story, it refers to Lazarus being next to Abraham who would’ve been eating at the same banquet. This is similar to John who was reclined next to Jesus at the Last Supper.[i] Since the rich man wanted Lazarus to go back and warn his living relatives of their future, it seems that the punishment of hell (sheol/hades) is only a prelude to the final judgment in geenna. Either way, the goal is to destroy both body and soul in geenna.[ii]
Now let’s get back to Hezekiah. After hearing Hezekiah’s plea to avoid death and the grave (sheol), the Lord instructed Isaiah to have someone use figs as a medicinal treatment for the inflamed boil. Hezekiah asked for a sign that he would be able to go up to the house of the Lord but no answer was given. It’s commendable for us to note that Hezekiah was interested in worshipping the Lord in the temple. It shows his heart was facing the right direction yet his pride still remained.
Often when we are ill, we wonder if the treatment which the doctor prescribed will work or not. I do not know if using figs were a common treatment for ailments in Biblical times but there are many herbal remedies that were used in Biblical times and are still used today. Sometimes I think it would do us some good to go back to these treatments and learn the old ways of doing things considering the fact that pharmaceutical companies are in business to make money and not necessarily to heal people. If an herbal treatment can’t be patented, the next best thing is to take what the plant has to offer and chemically modify it so it can be patented and sell it. The problem with this is that there are numerous side effects from such drugs. In the end, no matter what kind of medication we take, we still have to trust the Lord for healing.
Sometime after Hezekiah’s recovery, Isaiah 39 says Merodach-Baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon came to visit Hezekiah. He had heard of Hezekiah’s illness and recovery. Hezekiah was pleased with them and did not realize the danger of showing off his treasures. He was still full of pride and showed Baladan and his men the silver, gold, spices, precious ointment, his armory, and everything in his dominion. I’m sure this was quite impressive. Surely Baladan wanted all of it for himself.
When Isaiah saw Hezekiah, Isaiah asked who these people were, where they came from, and what had they seen in Hezekiah’s house. When Hezekiah said they had come from Babylon and seen everything in his house, Isaiah gave Hezekiah a shocking word from the Lord. Isaiah 39:6-7 says, “Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,’ says the Lord. 7 ‘And they shall take away some of your sons who will descend from you, whom you will beget; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
Hezekiah’s response was even more shocking. He said Isaiah’s word from the Lord was good and “at least there will be peace and truth in my days.” Everything that had taken generations to collect would be stripped from the kingdom. Hezekiah failed to understand the depth of his actions.
Where was the repentant spirit we had seen previously in Hezekiah? It seemed to have left when he realized his behavior didn’t affect himself. This was selfish; this was definitely a fleshly response.
This is what is wrong with us and our leaders today. No one cares how their behavior will affect the future of others as long as it doesn’t affect them personally. We need to be repentant, not only for ourselves but for the entire assembly, and for our nation.
Take some time to reflect on Hezekiah’s last days to see what else you can learn.
Turn back to God and pray He has mercy on us!