Hezekiah, a later king of Judah, prayed throughout his life. He reigned during a time of crisis; Assyria conquered Judah’s sister nation of Israel to the north while he was king, and invaded Judah. While David, Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Josiah all distinguished themselves by their devotion to God, 2 Kings 18 notes about Hezekiah, “He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel; so that there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah after him, or among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD; he did not depart from following him but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses” (2 Kings 18:5-6). He had the courage to attack popular idolatrous cults; he treated the prophet Isaiah as a trusted advisor.
In the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign, Assyrian armies surrounded Jerusalem. The Assyrian commander, a master of propaganda, spoke to Hezekiah’s representatives loudly enough that the people on the walls of the city could hear, and he spoke in their language. He laughed at Judah’s allies, he questioned the validity of Hezekiah’s religious reforms, and he even suggested that God himself had sent him to destroy Jerusalem.
Hezekiah, the king, sent a message to the prophet Isaiah. He informed him of the situation and asked that he pray for “the remnant that is left” (2 Kings 19:4). Isaiah assured Hezekiah’s messengers that the king should not fear; the Assyrian king would return home to address a problem there and would perish.
The Assyrian commander sent a written message warning Hezekiah that God would not be able to protect him from Assyrian might. He listed several kingdoms who had fallen to Assyria; their deities had been unable to rescue them.
Hezekiah took the letter “and read it; then 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, who are enthroned above the cherubim, you are 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, OLORD, and see; hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, and have hurled their gods into the fire, though they were no gods but the work of human hands – wood and stone – and so they were destroyed. So now, O LORD our God, Save us, I pray you, from his hand so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone” (2 Kings 19:14-19).
Hezekiah’s actions reveal his faith in God and the intimacy of his relationship with God. While he recognizes God’s “otherness” and power (“You are God, you alone;” and “You have made heaven and earth” demonstrate this awareness), he speaks, as it were, face to face with God, laying out the Assyrian message in the temple “before the Lord;” He describes the political and religious dimensions of the problem to God. After recognizing God’s power to handle the situation, he recounts the devastation Assyrian armies have caused in other kingdoms. He emphasizes that the Assyrians have carefully destroyed sacred images to assert their mastery of other nations’ gods. Then Hezekiah asserts that Judah has hope because the God to whom he prays is no mere wooden or stone creation by an artisan, but the creator of all. King Hezekiah prays to the universal God, not a local deity. He appeals to the LORD to act so that other nations may know he is God alone. This prayer, unlike earlier prayers by Solomon and Jehoshaphat, was not offered in front of large crowds; it is the cry for help by a weary monarch on behalf of his people.
Hezekiah was neither a perfect man nor a perfect ruler; his trust in God, however, gave him credibility with his advisors and his subjects. He did not always display his devotion publicly but acted humbly, remembering who really controls history. Hezekiah chose advisors wisely; his interactions with Isaiah reveal that. This king teaches us that powerful leaders can maintain a trusting faith in God and rely upon their creator while dealing with events of international significance.
Hezekiah trusted, and God delivered him. His story affirms the New Testament assertion that “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:16 NRSV). His example challenges believing leaders to remember their God and to remain faithful in the “halls of power,” the place where they most will need God’s help.