In the face of these difficult, stormy times in our nation, I find I have turned to prayer. I am far from having mastered the spiritual discipline of prayer; it is not one of my strengths. But if I have ever prayed so fervently for my community and my country, I can’t remember it. I am saddened that in an already difficult time for our country, there is further tragedy and social unrest. In my prayers, I thought of Hezekiah, when the king of Assyria was attacking Judah and threatening Jerusalem. I remembered how God had answered the prayers of Hezekiah, and said “Behold I will put a spirit in [the king of Assyria], so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land. . .” (2 Kings 19:7) I was praying that God would put a spirit into the protestors to peacefully return home.
As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the LORD.
2 Kings 19:1
This week, I started reading J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. The very day that I had been so fervent in prayer, what I read made me question my motives. Am I praying because I am zealous for God’s cause and His glory, or because I am sad and afraid of what is happening? Is my prayer motivated by my desire for an easy life with the benefits of a peaceful and prosperous country, or because I want God’s glory to be made known among the nations? That God knows my heart is a two-edged sword. He knows my motivations better than I do, for better and for worse. I can’t help but feel that, no matter how fervent my prayers, my heart is not attuned to seeking God’s will for my life, my family, or my country. As I considered these things, Hezekiah came to mind again. So, I spent some time reading 2 Kings 18 and 19. I wanted to see how Hezekiah prayed and how God responded.
First of all, when Hezekiah heard the threats and taunts of the Assyrians, he tore his clothes. I gave this some thought, for the first time. It is difficult to know whether this was in response to the threats or because of his outrage over the blasphemous talk against the LORD. It was probably a combination of factors. The idea of tearing one’s clothes in anguish is foreign to us. It seems wasteful to me. I would like to think that maybe my modern clothes are more elaborate and expensive, but Hezekiah was a king. Surely he wasn’t just draped with fabric as we might imagine. I don’t think I have ever destroyed my own possessions out of distress. I can’t think of a modern equivalent for this act of tearing the clothes. Our modern culture seems devoid of feeling, in comparison.
Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD and spread it before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said: “O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. . .So now, O LORD, our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.”
2 Kings 19:14-16, 19
After God had sent the Assyrians away from Judah to fight other battles, a letter was sent via messengers, to Hezekiah. The letter again defied the LORD and threatened Hezekiah and Jerusalem with certain destruction. Hezekiah’s response to this letter is my favorite part of this narrative. After he read it, he went straight to the house of the LORD, and “spread [the letter] before the LORD.” I can picture Hezekiah knelt down, smoothing out the parchment, almost as though God needed it open to read it. I love this picture of prayer. It wasn’t necessary for him to take the letter at all, but it was symbolic of the fact that he was putting the letter and the situation into God’s hands. This speaks to my heart. When Hezekiah prayed over that letter, he asked for salvation from the hand of the enemy, and then he attached his request to God’s glory.
God protected Hezekiah and Jerusalem from the hand of the Assyrians. The angel of the LORD struck down the Assyrian army. God told Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah, “For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” Even God has more than one motivation, but His glory comes first. I suppose that, as long as we are human, our prayers will always be tainted by a selfish bent, but God knows whether He is our first call or our last resort. Hezekiah always made God his first stop, and his devotion wasn’t just in trials: “. . .he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses.” (2 Kings 18:6) My own pursuit is to know God better; I want to “hold fast” to Him. I must begin by making prayer a regular discipline. I have been slacking off in this. But I must make prayer a habit and a “knee-jerk response.” In time, His will and His glory will become more important to me than my own security and comfort. Certainly, my own interests will never disappear, entirely, but the closer my relationship is with God, the more our interests will align.
Note: I felt I had to use a puppy picture. Don’t worry, he has gotten past being this scared and is settling in to his new home!