by William J. Stewart
I’m not asking if your dishes are done, if the floor is swept, the carpets are vacuumed, the light fixtures are dusted, etc.. Our title refers to 2 Kings 20, where the prophet Isaiah was sent to an ailing king Hezekiah. He had a very short but vital message for the king, “Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live” (20:1).
How aware are you of your own mortality? Have you considered the fact that you are going to die? I’m not suggesting we should obsess over it, but death is inevitable; it is universal. Yet many seem to live with no thought about the brevity of life, and I’m not just talking about unbelievers. Notice what James wrote to Christians:
Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit,’ whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-15)
The Bible writer is not discouraging us from having a plan, but urges us to realize our blueprint for life is not etched in stone. In particular, if our plans are contrary to the will of God, they will fail. The plans of some are hostile to God’s way (king Balak, Numbers 22; the Sanhedrin, Acts 5:34-40; etc.), while others simply do not accord with His timing and purpose (Paul’s travel plans, Acts 16:6-7). The words “Lord willing” should be part of a believer’s mindset and speech (Acts 18:21; 1 Corinthians 4:19; Hebrews 6:3).
James also reminds us that life is fragile. All may be going as we expected, and then the unexpected comes—time and chance happen to all (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Occasionally time and chance will have life altering or even life ending results. No one plans for a car wreck or severe illness, and yet they happen daily, ranging from minor setbacks to the heartbreaking loss of life.
Back to Hezekiah, he was a good king who trusted in the LORD (2 Kings 18:3, 5). He opened and repaired the temple, and reinstated the priesthood and the feasts (2 Chronicles 29:3-11, 30:1). He tore down the idols in the land (2 Kings 18:4), and when Assyria came against Judah, he prayed in faith that the LORD would deliver them, and He did (2 Kings 19:15-20, 35).
With all this, despite his illness, it is possible Hezekiah clung to the hope that he would get better. And when Isaiah arrived, he may have thought he would be healed. Instead, he was told to prepare for death. “Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.”
The immediate reaction for some is “That’s not fair!” May I say to you, the LORD is not unfair. God doesn’t guarantee long life for His people, no matter how faithful they may be. His focus is on our soul. Better to have lived a shorter life that has been prepared for eternity than a long life with no view for eternal things. The key, whether young or old, is to get our house in order, to use this life to prepare for eternal life.
Hearing he would die, Hezekiah prayed (2 Kings 20:2-3). Before he left the palace, the LORD sent Isaiah back to the king with a new message. God had heard Hezekiah’s prayer, saw his tears, would heal him, and would add 15 years to his life (2 Kings 20:4-6).
The LORD is good! Indeed, He is. It is encouraging to read or hear about answered prayers. It should build our faith in God and in the power of prayer. And in a case like this, we might reason that it was right and just for Hezekiah to live longer.
Given the description of the king before Isaiah brought the news of his impending death, it sounded like he was ready to meet the LORD. But, after he was granted 15 additional years, the LORD used the visit of some Babylonian ambassadors to test him and see where his heart was (2 Chronicles 32:31). Sadly, he foolishly and boastfully showed all the treasures and armory to them (2 Kings 20:12-15).
Isaiah returned with a judgment from the LORD. Because of his pride, all the wealth of the king’s house and some of his descendants would be taken captive to Babylon (2 Kings 20:16-18). His response is troubling. He affirmed that Isaiah’s word was good, for at least there would be peace and truth throughout the rest of his days (2 Kings 20:19).
We would hope that receiving such wonderful mercy would cause greater devotion, but in Hezekiah’s case, it appears that he relaxed his faith and opened himself to temptation. I suppose he is a great example of the warning given by Paul, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Let us stand in faith and get our houses in order!