Hezekiah's Sickness and the Sundial (2 Kings 20:1-11; 2 Chronicles 32:24; Isaiah 38) May 1
We are skipping over Sennacherib's invasion for now. Indeed, many date Hezekiah's sickness and the visit of Babylonian envoys, which we'll read about in our next reading, as having occurred prior to Sennacherib's invasion. One reason for this is the fact that Hezekiah proudly shows the wealth of the national treasuries to the Babylonians, as we'll see (2 Kings 20:13)—and yet Hezekiah gave away much of the treasuries to Sennacherib (18:15-16). Another important indicator is God's statement in 2 Kings 20:6 that He will defend Jerusalem and Hezekiah against the king of Assyria—seeming to indicate Sennacherib's assault, which would necessitate that it had not yet occurred. Finally, destruction is seen looming over Jerusalem following Hezekiah's sickness (see 2 Chronicles 32:24-25). Therefore, we will proceed on what appears to be the likelier supposition—that Hezekiah became ill prior to Sennacherib's invasion.
But his sickness must have come right before—earlier in the same year as the invasion. In 2 Kings 18:13, we are told that Sennacherib (who invaded in 701 B.C.) came in the 14th year of Hezekiah. Thus we understand Hezekiah's sole reign upon the death of his father to have begun around 715 B.C. Hezekiah's 29-year reign is reckoned from 715 to 686 B.C. Since Hezekiah's life is extended 15 years beyond his sickness, this would place his sickness in 701. The Bible says his illness came "in those days" (2 Kings 20:1; 2 Chronicles 32:24; Isaiah 38:1)—that is, in the days of Sennacherib's invasion. And this must have indicated a narrow span of time, as we've seen.
Sadly, as faithful as Hezekiah had been, in preparing for war against Assyria, he and his people were not looking to God but to their military capabilities and strategies. Isaiah had stated this very thing in Isaiah 22:8-11, which we read earlier. God, then, allows Hezekiah to fall prey to a deathly illness involving some kind of lesion. Hezekiah thus refocuses on his commitment to God—fervently praying for healing. And God promises to heal him.
It is interesting to note Isaiah's prescription of a poultice of figs even given God's promise to heal. "The practice of applying figs to an ulcerated sore is well attested in the records of the ancient Middle East, being mentioned as early as the Ras Shamra (Ugaritic) tablets of the second millennium B.C." (The Nelson Study Bible, note on 20:7). This shows that we are to do what we physically can to relieve ourselves of illness in addition to fully relying on God's healing. In addition to purely supernatural miracles of healing, there are natural laws of health and healing that God created for healing. All healing comes from God—and our working within His laws of health and healing does not betray trust in Him. Even using physical methods such as Isaiah prescribed, it is still God and His laws that do the healing. Thus, God's promise to heal can include using the systems of the body and is not limited to overt miracles. In Hezekiah's case, perhaps God supernaturally healed part of Hezekiah's problem and let natural healing methods alleviate the other part.
We then see the sign of the sundial. This was an incredible miracle. Like the miracle of Joshua's long day, it involved stopping the earth from turning—and this time rotating it backwards a ways. Consider that the surface of the earth at the equator is moving at a speed of more than 1,000 miles per hour. The laws of inertia demand that if the earth were suddenly stopped, everything on its surface would go flying forward—and massive upheaval would result on land and sea. So God had to have kept everything calm and in place. It is truly staggering to contemplate. Certainly Hezekiah understood it to be a great miracle. But given our scientific knowledge today, we are able to realize the immense complexity of this miracle far more than Hezekiah possibly could have.