Wednesday, December 27, 2023

2023.12.27 Hopewell @Home ▫ Isaiah 38

Read Isaiah 38

Questions from the Scripture text: What happened to Hezekiah in the days of Israel’s peace (Isaiah 38:1)? Who went to him? On Whose behalf did he speak? What did he tell the king to do? Why? To where did Hezekiah turn (Isaiah 38:2)? What did he do? What did he ask YHWH to do (Isaiah 38:3)? What did he ask Him to remember about his walking? About his heart? About his doing? What came to whom in Isaiah 38:4? To whom did God send him (Isaiah 38:5)? How did God identify Himself? What two things did He say that He had done? What did He say that He would do now? How many years would He add to the king’s days? What would God continue to do in that time (Isaiah 38:6)? What did He give Hezekiah to strengthen his faith in this (Isaiah 38:7)? What sort of sign (Isaiah 38:7-8)? What does Hezekiah do in response (Isaiah 38:9)? How had he felt about the timing of his death (Isaiah 38:10)? What did he desire to do in this world (Isaiah 38:11)? But Who was bringing him to his end (Isaiah 38:12-13)? So how did the king respond (Isaiah 38:14)? How does Isaiah 38:17d help us understand the attitude of Hezekiah’s prayer? How does he view his recovery (Isaiah 38:15)? How does he view the source of his renewed/ongoing life (Isaiah 38:16)? What was the purpose of the illness (Isaiah 38:17)? What is the purpose of his recovery (Isaiah 38:18-19)? Where is this psalm to be sung (Isaiah 38:20, cf. Habakkuk 3:19d)? What did Isaiah prescribe as the Lord’s means to heal the king (Isaiah 38:21)? What had the sign in Isaiah 38:7-9 told Hezekiah to do (Isaiah 38:22)?

What ought we learn from being sick and near death? Isaiah 38 prepares us for the first serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these twenty-two verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that life in this world of sorrow is a limited time opportunity to praise God in circumstances that will never be available to us again. 

Difficult, disciplining providence. Hezekiah was sick and near death (Isaiah 38:1), due to sin (Isaiah 38:17). Whether there was a recent/specific sin that instigated it, or whether it was just the “all my sins” of verse 17d, he was in a place where the Lord would bring him “great bitterness” (verse 17b) “for peace” (verse 17a). 

Turning attention to the Lord. When Ahab turned his face toward the wall in 1 Kings 21:4, it was to give undivided indulgence to his own feelings. But when Hezekiah does it here, in Isaiah 38:2, it is to give his undivided attention to YHWH Himself. There’s a huge difference between getting alone with yourself and getting alone with God. The believer’s distresses ought to provoke him to prayer and meditation.

Laying hold of grace. As Isaiah 38:17 makes clear, Isaiah 38:3 is not an appeal to merit. Whether here, Nehemiah 13, or many Psalms, the Scriptures often teach this sort of prayer. The instances in the Psalms help us, because we know that we sing and pray them in union with Christ. It is the logic of Romans 8:28. There, “for those who love God,” does not mean “those who have merited, by love, that things would work out for their good.” It means, “those who have been called according to God’s purpose, because that is the only explanation for their love.” 

And that’s the explanation for the characteristics in Isaiah 38:3, where Hezekiah walks in “truth” (emmet) and maintains his heart “loyal” (ḳessed). These are the words for faithfulness and covenant love that often function as a summary for God’s character. What Hezekiah is asking is that God, Who has begun a work of grace in Him, would treat him in accordance not with the king’s sinfulness but with God’s own character, and with the work of grace that He had begun in him.

Being laid hold of by grace. Isaiah 38:21 obviously coincides with the delivery of the message in Isaiah 38:4-6. And Isaiah 38:22 precedes Isaiah 38:7-8 (cf. 2 Kings 20:5–11). So, even by the selectivity of the narrative, Isaiah 38:4-8 emphasizes the grace of God. He hears the prayers (Isaiah 38:5). He sees the tears (even Hezekiah’s weeping was unto the face of YHWH!). Not only does He extend Hezekiah’s life, but the peace and safety of Jerusalem along with him (Isaiah 38:6). In addition to giving grace, the Lord gives assurance of that grace by the sign. 

The purpose of life in this world. In 2 Kings 20:5, Isaiah had delivered the message in a way that that reminded him of the purpose of life in this world: worship, and especially public worship—at “the house of YHWH” (cf. Isaiah 38:22). Being sick and near death had been difficult enough on account of the timing (in the prime of life, Isaiah 38:10), but it was the deprivation of seeing YHWH among men (Isaiah 38:11) that most troubled him. Such a discipline from the Lord’s hand (Isaiah 38:12-13) was cause for great mourning (Isaiah 38:14).

The Lord taught Hezekiah how to respond to the bitterness that comes in God’s good providence (Isaiah 38:15Isaiah 38:17): to remember that we exist by the Lord’s goodness (Isaiah 38:16) in order to praise the Lord’s glory (Isaiah 38:18-19). This praise aims to be more than just individual. 

As Hezekiah waits the three days to go up to public worship in the house of YHWH, he pens this Psalm to be used in public worship (n.b. “we” and “stringed instruments” in Isaiah 38:20b and “the house of YHWH” in verse 20c). It is especially in this public worship that the praise of God is taught from one generation to the next (Isaiah 38:19c). Public worship, in an assembly of the redeemed, is the great privilege of this life. While we will worship in perfection forever and ever, the opportunity to worship in this land of sorrow and sickness and death is a limited time offer. 

What trouble are you going through? When and where do you get alone with the Lord and pour your heart out to Him? What evidence do you see in your life of His grace? How does acknowledging it as His grace thus far encourage you to hope for grace in the future? What evidence is there that praising Him in the public worship is the great reason for you still to be alive in this world?

Sample prayer:  Lord, just as with Hezekiah, our great need is for You to cast all our sins behind our back. Any walking in faithfulness, or any covenant love in our hearts, has come from Your grace. Forgive us for when we have acted as if any good that is in us has come from us. And forgive us for missing the opportunities that come in the bitterness of our souls—opportunities to walk carefully and turn back to You. Grant that, by Your Spirit, we would turn back to You in Christ, we ask through Him, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP51B “From My Sins, O Hide Your Face” or TPH130A “LORD, from the Depths”

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