Hezekiah’s prayer in the temple is a powerful example of reliance upon God. Hezekiah was a righteous king who nonetheless had a penchant for trusting in foreign alliances rather than Yahweh. In order to protect Judah from the Assyrians, he made alliances with Egypt (2 Kings 18:21) and Babylon (Isaiah 39 along with 2 Chronicles 32:24-26). Despite the king’s maneuvering, Sennacherib and the Assyrians invaded Judah in 701 BC and destroyed forty-six fortress cities and captured 200,000 people. Hezekiah apologized to Sennacherib and paid a tribute which consisted of twelve tons of silver and gold (2 Kings 18:13-16). It’s a sad picture of a desperate king emptying the temple of its treasures and stripping the gold off the doors and doorposts because he believed the Assyrians were more worthy of his trust than God.
But of course, they weren’t.
After they received the tribute, Sennacherib sent troops against Jerusalem anyway. The commander of the invading force addressed the leaders and people of the city and told them they had no hope. The commander (and presumably some of his force) then left to provide assistance to Sennacherib who was fighting against the Egyptians. Sennacherib sent a letter to Hezekiah telling him not to get his hopes up—the Assyrians would be back and would take care of business. It’s possible that by the time Hezekiah received the letter the Egyptians had already been defeated and the news of their loss had reached Hezekiah.
All out of political options, Hezekiah repented and turned to God. He took the threatening letter from the Assyrian king to the temple and spread it out before Yahweh. There were no longer any secrets from God—no more attempts to play fast and loose and rely upon his own ability to fix things. He laid it all before God and begged for deliverance.
But it was more than a consumer, get-me-out-of-trouble prayer that he prayed. He asked for deliverance “so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You, Lord, are the only God” (Isaiah 37:20). And in view of the king’s overall life and the great reforms he had enacted, it’s clear he wasn’t just blowing smoke—he had come to his senses and saw things as they were. His prayer wasn’t Hezekiah first; it was kingdom first. He realized it wasn’t Assyria versus Judah; it was Assyria versus God and prayed accordingly.
That’s our challenge. It’s not difficult for most of us to spread out our letters before God. That’s not a bad thing because our Father wants to know what’s on His children’s hearts. But we also need to pray about what’s on His heart—He has spread out His letter before us as well (Matthew 6:9ff and other places) and healthy prayers reflect that. Eugene Peterson reminds us that prayer is like a conversation—it’s always better if we listen before we speak. John writes, “This is the confidence we have approach God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14). That’s kingdom first prayer—when we pray that He will merge our letter with His.
Click on the link below for a story of a young couple who have refused worldly alliances in order to merge their letter with God’s.