Praying Through the Bible project
Prayers of Weakness and Failure in Times of Suffering
(2 Chron 32.24)
In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. He prayed to the LORD, and he answered him and gave him a sign.
Have you ever considered that sometimes, when we are weak and failing in faith, that we pray improperly? For the wrong things? Hezekiah, despite his great faith, did so in a time of suffering. What can we learn about prayer from his failure?
This prayer is a summary of the parallel story in 2 Kings 20.1-11, and it seems clear that the writer of Chronicles assumes his readers have read that passage.
There, Hezekiah had become very sick, and the prophet Isaiah tells him he should prepare to die. Hezekiah pleads with God, and his prayer seems a bit pouty and self-centered—certainly not in line with his faithful actions in the past. But God answers his prayer—perhaps because of his past faithfulness—and gives him fifteen more years. Even then, he wanted more proof that he would be okay. And then another proof!
Here, the writer of Chronicles simply tells us he got sick, he almost died, he prayed, and God answered him and gave him a sign he would live. But in the next verse, the writer tells us that this was an occasion for pride, because he did not respond as he should have. But he eventually did humble himself and repented of his price. God did not punish him or the people for his sin.
The writer then tells us that the rest of his life was filled with blessings. At his death, he was given great honor. Again, the writers wants us to think of Hezekiah much like the good kings David and Solomon. In spite of their occasional failures and lack of faith, the whole of their lives stand as models for the readers of people who followed God’s ways, to the benefit of themselves and those around them.
In Chronicles (as in some other places in the Bible), illnesses are often the result of sin. Here, we are told of no sin of Hezekiah. Did he become sick because a sin we aren’t aware of? Or did he just get sick as a matter of being human, and the sin was how he responded to it? Here, it sounds like it is the response: “he did not respond according to the benefit done to him” (God sparing his life) because “his heart was proud.”
Despite Hezekiah’s great faith and actions, and even the comparisons in the story to David and Solomon, he was still capable of human weakness and selfishness. As we noted in the same story in 2 Kings, our weak and limited human nature can make us self-centered—especially in a time of suffering. For Hezekiah, this weakness included not only being so self-focused, it also made him doubt God and want multiple proofs before he would be satisfied that God meant what he said.
Does this surprise us? It should not, for we all fail. Adam and Eve, despite the great blessings given them of food, shelter, and even intimate walking with God, were tempted by having even more. King David, after everything he was given, had an affair with the wife of a soldier and then had the soldier killed to cover up her pregnancy. Even the disciples of Jesus, who saw who he was with their own eyes, doubted when a storm came, doubted when there was not enough food, and betrayed, abandoned, and denied him when in fear for their own safety.
Fortunately, the story never has to end there. Repentance and a renewed dedication brings forgiveness and restoration. Hezekiah humbled himself. The disciples, except one, came back and later suffered for the faith themselves. Like them, we also are offered second chances when we fail.
Remember the words written in James 5:15: “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the LORD will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”
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