Not all prayers need to be answered yes. Many prayers are better answered no and many times because they are petitioned just to satisfy our human desires. We normally cannot see further than just our own interests, we would even pray only because we need to have our own interests be fulfilled.
God’s answer to prayer is usually summarized in 3 things, yes, no, and wait. We all certainly understand what yes means, but we usually can’t accept an answer of wait or no. Uniquely, most of us actually understand exactly why our prayers are answered with wait or no. But then many of us wouldn’t still be able to accept that. We often think God is wrong!
In 2 Kings 20:1-11, Isaiah 38:1-8, and 2 Chronicles 32:24-26, the first verse reads something like this, in those days (king) Hezekiah fell sick and nearly died. This is the story of a king who feared God but fell ill. Hezekiah was the 13th king of the Kingdom of Judah, Kingdom of southern Israel. He was the son of King Ahaz and according to 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, he was a (very) righteous king. 2 Kings 18:5, he believes in the LORD God of Israel, and of all the kings of Judah, whether after him or before him, there is none like him.
But at one time he fell ill, very sick indeed. And he was dying because of it. The Bible did say that he almost died (from the illness), but not that he certainly will die because of it. It’s because we all know how this situation ended from the Bible itself of how he was ultimately healed. Moreover, this situation is only described in 10 verses at the longest from the 3 Bible passages where it is written, 2 Kings 20:1-11, Isaiah 38:1-8, and 2 Chronicles 32:24-26. You could read these 10 verses in 2-3 minutes. Or 4 minutes, at the most. Not something to worry about, we would think.
But when he (Hezekiah) experienced it, he didn’t know how the end of the moment he was going through. He was confused and must be wondering, what was going on? Why did I fall ill? What have I done? Where did it go wrong? Especially when he understands that, I have lived before You faithfully and with a sincere heart and that I have done what is good in Your eyes. 2 Kings 20:3. So are we, when we start to suffer the same thing as Hezekiah experienced, we often react the same. Why God? Is there anything wrong? Which are the things not pleasing to You? We cried out.
Such reactions are usually born of those who follow God obediently. God indeed wants us to live in obedience, following His commands. But often, this obedience creates a sense of righteousness in us rather than simply obeying Him because of our love for Him. When we fall in love with someone, we will follow whatever that person asks us to do. Likewise with God, when we fell in love with Him for the first time. But over time, our obedience often changes to be a feeling of self-righteous, to become I am right because I obey Him. Even to a point of I will no longer suffer misfortunes because I have followed what He wants. So when something goes wrong, we react immediately, why Lord? Haven’t I lived before You faithfully with a sincere heart, and haven’t I done all good in Your eyes?
Without us realizing it, obedience has changed us to be a legalistic person. One who then lives only with rules of right and wrong. Everything is seen only from this perspective: if you live right, you are saved. If there is a misfortune, something must be wrong. This becomes our first reaction when seeing a misfortune or disaster. This attitude would not only make us (always) like to judge others but also puts an (unnecessary) burden on ourselves. Did you know that if your obedience comes to this point, then the obedience itself has actually been born out of fear? It is no longer out of love for Him as it was for the first time. We have lost our first love.
Yes, we indeed need to fear God (must, no bargain at all) and only because of this we can then guard where our footsteps are going to. As Job 28:28 and Proverbs 8:13 says, to fear the LORD is to hate evil. But we don’t have to fall into the legalistic trap. When we are faced with adversity situations we need to learn to show mercy and grace to others, not react judgmentally first. It’s just like what Jesus mentioned in Luke 7:47, a person who is forgiven much would show much of love. But a person who is forgiven a little would only show a little love. And the fact now is that only a few of us came from a background of “need to be forgiven much”. Even then, those who experienced a lot of forgiveness often have a lot of difficulties getting into a Christian community. Many of us in church or a Christian community does not have bad backgrounds. Without us realizing this, we have become a (more) legalistic community instead of a grace community. We cannot show much love (and forgiveness) to others. If there is something wrong, discipline occurs quickly, even got expelled out. Why is that? Because we don’t experience much forgiveness.
Back to Hezekiah, 2 Kings 20:3 mentioned that after he cried out, he then wept bitterly. Previously verse 2 indicated that he was doing this by turning towards the wall. Have you ever seen a child who is sobbing while turning towards the wall? With hands banging against the wall? Did you know the causes of the child to cry in such a way can be as simple as not getting a candy? Or not getting what he wants as he wanted it? Not with the intention of demeaning a king here, but in the original translation, when verse 3 says Hezekiah wept bitterly, it says that he wept with a bitter heart. He cried until he sobbed. He cried lamenting his bad luck, He whined! Yes, what a whimper!
Look again at what he cried out in 2 Kings 20 verse 3, O LORD, please remember that I have lived faithfully and sincerely before you and that I have done what is good in your eyes. The question is like this, is there anything that we have done in this world, so good and extraordinary to God? Something that made Him rise from His throne, cheering joyfully and full of applause. Something so great that everyone knows God owes us for it?! Don’t we realize that our life-breath comes from Him, and even our faith comes from Him Himself in the beginning. Why do we now think that if we act right and sincere, we have served Him a debt? Have we forgotten that all is because of His Grace? If then, why we cried like a whiny kid?
2 Kings 20:4-6 shows a tremendous help and miracle which Hezekiah later experienced. He recovered and his age was added another 15 years. Was Hezekiah’s prayer in verses 2 and 3 so effective?
Interestingly, in Jeremiah 15:4 the Word of God said like this to the prophet Jeremiah, and I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem. God was so furiously angry to Israel, to the Kingdom of Judah which He practically destroyed and threw them all away from His presence, cast them to Babylon for 70 years. So who was this Manasseh who had provoked the Lord’s wrath to such an extent upon all Israel? 2 Kings 21:1 mentioned that Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king and he reigned over fifty-five years in Jerusalem. Manasseh was Hezekiah’s son which was born in the 15 years of extension age God gave to Hezekiah. When Hezekiah died, 2 Kings 20:21, his son Manasseh became king instead.
But Manasseh was nothing like Hezekiah. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominable deeds of the nations that the LORD had driven out from before the Israelites. 2 Kings 21:2 and verse 3, so on, even up to verse 9 tells us how evil this king was to God, he reversed all what Hezekiah had done and was very unfaithful. Even though God’s warning came to him in verses 10 to 15, verse 16 actually shows how he (even) shed so much (more) innocent blood. 2 Chronicles 33:6 shows that he sacrificed his own children to the god of Moloch. Did you also know that Manasseh was the one who gave the order to kill the prophet Isaiah by cutting the prophet into 2 halves at his stomach? The prophet whom God used to perform a miracle for his father Hezekiah, extending his life by 15 years so that Manasseh could be born in the 3rd year of the 15 year period?
Try this search on Google, who killed prophet Isaiah?
Did you know that because of Manasseh’s sin in his 55-year reign over the Kingdom of Judah, as God would not punish him directly, had made Israel so stubborn that the result of the ministry of prophet Jeremiah had no single soul repented and turned to the Lord? No wonder he wrote Lamentations, Jeremiah lamented the stubbornness of Israel and the fate they had to suffer cause the exile.
If God knew all of this, why did He answer Hezekiah’s prayer in 2 Kings 20? Isn’t He all-knowing and powerful God even to arrange and plan our future? To think about this, if God would not extend Hezekiah’s life by another 15 years, wouldn’t all this have happened?
Look at 2 Kings 20:1 again. It reads like this, in those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.'”
In many different translations of the Bible, 2 Kings 20 is written under the title of The Life of Hezekiah extended. Even the KJV and NKJV also give this title. This title distracts our minds to see what really should happen in verse 1, 2 Kings 20. We only focus on what is happening then in the entire 2 Kings 20 passage.
In those days Hezekiah fell ill, yes of a sudden, without any reason nor cause. The illness worsened to cause him to a near-death experience at the end. Then the prophet Isaiah came to give a prophecy which hardens the situation, give your last message to your family, for you will die, not be healed again. The KJV said, manage your household well, you will die, you will not live again.
In those days Hezekiah fell ill, maybe what happened was like this, Hezekiah suddenly experienced a symptom that was not good for his body and health. Symptoms were mild at first but didn’t get any better, worsen in a short time. And in just a matter of days, Hezekiah found himself lying on the bed, unable to wake up. He was dying. What was his thought of ah this is okay, just a common cold.., immediately turned into God help me! On the other hand, his heart was struggling.. trying to find the reason why he was dying. When he did not find the physical cause of the illness, he turned to spiritual reasons, what did I do wrong God? Why are you putting me on this problem?
Perhaps Hezekiah felt hopeful when he saw Isaiah stepping into the King’s Chamber where he laid dying. He thought I will be healed, God’s Servant has come. But what he heard was just the opposite. Then Isaiah was rushing to leave the central court of the Palace as soon as he delivered God’s message. Yes, who would have wanted to stay before the king after delivering such bad news? Verse 4 mentioned he was walking out right away after delivering his message.
Verse 1 actually shows how God was arranging a better future for the Kingdom of Judah, the Kingdom of southern Israel. God who knows the (better) future was crocheting their lives at that time, it was just that Hezekiah’s life had to be shortened for it. Hezekiah had to be the sacrifice for a future without Manasseh. But like most of us, Hezekiah was not willing (to die). Perhaps God should have told everything about what could happen if he was healed and the consequences that all Israel would have to bear for it. But God chose not to tell anything through Isaiah to Hezekiah. It could be that if God told everything, Isaiah himself did not want Hezekiah to be healed. Because he would later have found out of how one day he would die in Manasseh’s hand. In this case, God chose to remain silent and wanted Hezekiah (and Isaiah) to continue to trust in Him for God’s better ways, Jeremiah 29:11. He ordered Isaiah to tell Hezekiah only, for him to deliver the last message to his family, for he will die, not be healed again.
The question is if Hezekiah knew that his death would serve his generation and would have created a better future, would he be willing to die? Would he let the pain that was allowed by God to consume his life away? Do you know that the pressure of life would show the real of us? In this matter, God’s silence steps didn’t just ask them to keep the faith for the future but also to reveal Hezekiah’s real heart before his own self. Not that God wouldn’t have known Hezekiah’s heart before, He used the pressure of death to bring about the real him before his own self for him to change and repent! But do you know also that even when we would have come to know the real us, many of us would still hold our ground and never want to change? So was Hezekiah. We would only try to find a way to justify ourselves instead. That is how deceitful our hearts!
The answer is in verses 19, 2 Kings 20, as long as there are peace and security for the rest of my life! Out of our awareness, many of us love and serve God for our own benefits. We do everything for God even with a sincere heart (as we think so), but only for ourselves’ sake, as long as there are peace and security for the rest of my life. Ourselves can be deceit easily by our own (treacherous and evil) heart (Jeremiah 17: 9) even when we thought we have done all this correctly, properly, and sincerely. Only the pressure of life would have revealed this treacherous heart of us. Yes, it is not wrong to ask for blessings, to ask for healing and miracles. But if these things are the final goal, not God’s will, not God’s plan, especially so that God’s kingdom will come and become real on this earth (and our life) as in Heaven, all of those things are wrong and sinful before Him. A wrong cause. Because in the end, we would have still placed ourselves above God. This is a sin! And this Hezekiah’s hereditary sin became a real evident in the life of the next generation, his son Manasseh.
Abraham and Isaac used to lie to others about their wives, Sarah and Rebekah. This sin manifested to its fullest in Jacob who was later known as a liar, a deceiver. Likewise, with Manasseh, Hezekiah’s sin became real in the later generation. Hezekiah’s sin came from a wrong cause of a heart, a wrong motive, an evil heart that only loved himself, all the spiritual, good, and rightful things he did were for his own benefit, to be healthy, to be blessed, and to live long, even if others had to be sacrificed, all the generations of Israel that followed don’t matter. As a matter, a fact, all of this should be only a result, a reward of our good and righteous deeds, not an end in itself. Not a purpose. We do right, and do good for God to be glorified and because we love Him and His truth. If we then become healed, healthy, blessed, and have a long life, praise God. This is the result of it, not the end, nor the purpose. Because if we don’t get well, don’t get healthy, don’t get blessed, and don’t get to live long, even though we have done all that, please know that God is working in mysterious ways. We must continue to be joyful, never stop giving thanks, and never stop worshiping God. Isn’t God we want for? If God is preparing our future through our illness and death, will we serve His will? When the Lord Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, full of tears and His drops of sweat became like blood, Luke 22:44, still closed His prayer with these words but it is not My will, but Your will. Luke 22:42. Imagine if like Hezekiah, He prayed with a bitter heart and whined for the Cross to be removed? We will never enjoy the forgiveness and redemption we have gotten from The Cross. Through the pain, suffering, and death of the Lord Jesus on the Cross, a future is created for us. A future of hope, Jeremiah 29:11.
Hezekiah’s pain in 2 Kings 20 actually showed his true heart. When he was under stress, the pain of dying, who he was really becomes real. Yes, God allowed him to be sick (and should have died verse 1) so that he could serve his later generations and create a better future. But his reaction then showed that his real heart was not as sincere as he thought .. he was so fascinated by this miracle, he then flaunted his wealth to the Babylonians who in the future would be the enemy who seized everything. He was not in awe of God, but only in the miracle. Yes, he was so in awe (only) to himself who had become great, rich, healed, and had a long life, all because he himself had acted obediently and truthfully and now was rewarded and glorified by God. 2 Kings 20:12-19. His awe showed that he didn’t return the glory back to the Lord, but taken it all for himself as he thought this is all because of him. I deserved it and the Lord owns it to me!
If we can’t give in to His will and plans, all of our worship of God is fake. At the end of the day, we are worshipping only ourselves. And the miracles we receive would only feed our egos into bigger ones.
Every one of us who really serve God like Hezekiah (before he was sick) will be tested by God with all kinds that we normally would never think before. God who knows our hearts, really knows what is in them. He tests us not to bring us down, not to destroy us. But to bring us back to Him and be purified in His furnace, to be holy like He who is Holy God. Job was tested, Abraham was tested, everyone was tested. If only Hezekiah had not wept and whined in such a manner, but with the humility and sincerity as mentioned about him, imagine what would happen in the next generation of Israelites’ lives.
The pain and near-death experience of Hezekiah revealed all of this. Prayer should not change God’s heart, even persistent prayer, a kind of not giving up prayer, is not a way to persuade God to change His will. Prayer should change our hearts. Because God’s presence that comes down in prayer should make us realize who God is for us and who we are for God, who should be in power! Is it Him or me? If only we would give up in prayer as Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22), like the prayer He taught us by Himself (Luke 11: 2), let His will be done and His Kingdom come. When our prayers are answered no, we should still be able to rejoice and be grateful because we know God has a better way and plan. A no answer to our prayer guarantees that God has a plan and will that is running now, not ours.
His goodness is our good, what we think is good will never be as good as what is best He provides for us. Let us continue to believe in God and submit to His will every day because He always wants the best to happen for us.