Encouraging Bible Passages: 2 Kings 20:5

This is a passage we all can take heart from:

Okay, I already have a ‘Theology’ sub-section called ‘Difficult Bible Passages’ with 153 articles in it. And in this morning’s reading I came upon a really encouraging passage, as I often do. When I write them up, they might go in my ‘Sermons and Devotionals’ section. But I thought it is time to add this new sub-category. The problem is there would be so many older articles that I need to revisit and add to this new section.

So as my inaugural text, I will use 2 Kings 20:5 which states: “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you.” This comes from the familiar story of King Hezekiah. Below I will offer some theological and hermeneutical thoughts on this, but let me begin with some devotional reflections.

When I read this passage this morning I immediately posted it on my main social media page. I said this about it: “What God said to Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:5 is something we can take hope in: ‘I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you’.”

I also wrote: “He goes on to say that he has added 15 years to his sick life. My wife has been praying that prayer too. And whether or not we do get healing, the first two thirds of that verse is still a game-changer and something to take heart in: ‘I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears’.”

As you know, my wife has terminal cancer, and some time ago she said she was praying for another 15 years. God of course hears our prayers and sees our tears. How he answers our prayers however is another matter. The three main answers he gives are ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘wait’. We should above all want God’s will, not just our own desires fulfilled.

If the two line up, fine, but if God has other ideas from what we want, that is for the best. We have good friends who are in an almost identical situation: a busy Christian worker with a cancer-stricken wife. She has been praying for 20 years! (Maybe we should think bigger as well!)

But her chances are now down to almost zero, so she has to decide if she just stops the chemo altogether and focuses on quality of life for however long that might be, or keep on with the treatments and look at a possible small extension of life. A tough choice indeed.

It is a choice so many have to make, and likely one we too will have to make sooner rather than later. But every single believer in whatever situation he finds himself in can take real hope and encouragement from these two key truths: God hears our prayers and he sees our tears.

Other verses speak to this, most notably Psalm 56:8. As I wrote in an earlier article:

One final passage is well worth looking at however. I find it to be one of the most amazing and comforting passages in the entire OT. I refer to Psalm 56:8. As is often the case with Hebrew poetry, there may be some room to move here in translation, so I offer a few versions of this passage:


“Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?” (NIV)
“Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?” (KJV)
“You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?” (NASB)


However they are kept, it appears that every one of our tears will be preserved. While obviously an image, it is a very powerful image indeed. It tells us that none of our tears will be wasted. God is aware of every tear we shed, and he takes close account of each one. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/01/16/comfort-for-the-broken-and-afflicted/

Theological and hermeneutical considerations

With such an encouraging and wonderful passage, some might ask, ‘Why not leave it there? Why drag stodgy theology into it?’ Well, we always need to treat biblical texts with respect, and that includes reading it in context and seeking to understand how it might properly apply to us.

The rule of thumb is this: there is a primary interpretation of a text that we must discern, although there may well be secondary applications that we can unearth. So what we must discover is who is being spoken to and why and in what context. In this case this passage has to do with King Hezekiah of Judah, the southern kingdom. He was the 13th king and he reigned in the late 8th and early 7th centuries BC.

His story is told in 2 Kings 18-20. And the immediate passage of this encouraging verse is found in 2 Kings 20:1-11

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, “Now, O Lord, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord, and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” And Isaiah said, “Bring a cake of figs. And let them take and lay it on the boil, that he may recover.” And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of the Lord on the third day?” And Isaiah said, “This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he has promised: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps?” And Hezekiah answered, “It is an easy thing for the shadow to lengthen ten steps. Rather let the shadow go back ten steps.” And Isaiah the prophet called to the Lord, and he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which it had gone down on the steps of Ahaz.

So the promise of healing is to this particular king, as is the specific sign of the shadow going back ten steps. Thus it is not something Christians today can directly claim for themselves. While we can readily apply the general truths of the first two clauses of this verse (God hearing prayer and seeing tears), the third clause is something at best we can look for possible application, but not direct fulfilment in our own lives today.

The truth is, God is sovereign over life and death. If he seeks to heal someone, that is his prerogative. If he seeks not to heal someone, that is also his prerogative. Yes, we can all pray for healing, and all earnestly seek God in this regard. But at the end of the day we must trust him and ask that his will be done.

Of course some folks have a theology which claims that it is always God’s will that we always be healed. Others differ, as do I. I have written often of these matters, as in this article: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/29/is-physical-healing-in-the-atonement/

But my purpose here is not to once again get into a big debate about such matters. My purposes is to highlight one particular verse of Scripture, and especially emphasise the truth that God hears and God sees. He is near the broken-hearted. He cares about his people. He is aware of our condition – in great detail. And he will act accordingly.

That is good news indeed. That is really encouraging.

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15 Replies to “Encouraging Bible Passages: 2 Kings 20:5”

  1. May the God of all compassion comfort and strengthen you both knowing that many of us are trying to stand with you in your time of trial.

  2. Thanks for this article, Bill. So, Hezekiah rose to life, as it were, on the third day, just like Someone Else.

    FWIW, my beloved mother had a similar condition; she decided to stop chemo, and remarked with rather more levity than the situation warranted, “If this doesn’t carry me off, something else will…!” But she was so happy during her last summer, like a schoolgirl on holiday. Methinks she came to the view, that if ever you get the chance to leave all the lies, deceit and disappointment of this life behind, then take it.

  3. While I would be willing to give her years of my life, I don’t think it would be big loss if mine ended sooner, I also remember Hezekiah‘s extra 15 years were a disaster for him and it may have been better if he didn’t get them. NOT saying that would happen to your wife but since you brought up Hezekiah I wanted to mention it.

  4. Yes Paul, those who read the 3 chapters on his life that I mention in my article will see that he had issues, and he was certainly not free from sin and disobedience. So those realities also have to be taken into account for those who would try to use his life and healing as some sort of template for believers today.

  5. I’m not a believer, but I’ve never understood why Christians cling to this life as long as possible. If the afterlife exists, and is as wonderful as it is claimed be, why wouldn’t you be quite happy to escape this life with all its trials and difficulties as soon as possible?

    Mind you, I’ve never met anyone who has much to say about what the afterlife might be like. It sounds boring to me, floating around as a spirit for ever and ever.

  6. Thanks Grant. A believer just as much as a non-believer of course enjoys so many things in this life: loved ones, family, relationships, and so on. So in that sense we all want to hang around for a while and not die prematurely. Nothing wrong with that. But Christians DO know that the next life will be so much greater, free of sin and suffering and so on. I have often written about this, as have so many other Christians. Indeed, the early Christians did the same. The Apostle Paul for example could say this:

    “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Philippians 1:21-24). So all true Christians most certainly do desire and look forward to the next life, of which this life is in many ways a period of preparation.

    As to your view of heaven, a few things can be said:

    -It is of course a stereotypical and quite un-biblical view. The word ‘heaven’ is a catch-all term, and Scripture tells us that a new earth (in one form or another) will be the final destination of believers. So the sort of life we now live – minus all the sin and pain and tears, etc – will be the lot of Christians.

    -This idea of disembodied spirits floating around on clouds is not only false but of course misses the heart of the Christian message: Jesus not only overcame death, but he was bodily resurrected. Thus his disciples saw him, felt his pieced hands and feet, and even shared a fish dinner with him. And that is the reason Christians rejoice: we too will have a new resurrection body to enjoy them on the new earth.

    -Life in the next world will certainly not be dull, and for those who love God supremely, simply being with him forever will be their greatest joy and activity. But if you are interested in what we might expect to find on the new earth, see this piece for starters: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/07/20/will-there-be-art-galleries-in-heaven-christianity-culture-and-eschatology/

    Better yet, actually read the New Testament for yourself to go beyond the caricatures and misrepresentations that we find so often in popular culture. But thanks for writing in.

  7. Thanks Bill. If the belief is that material bodies will return to earth it raises many practical questions:

    What age will they be, and will aging continue? Will those who died as babies remain in that state?

    What happens to miscarried or aborted embryos and foetuses ?

    How will all the dead fit on earth, and manage to produce enough food, given we are already over-populated?

    Will we continue to reproduce, and if so, won’t that lead to an infinite population on a finite planet?

    What happens when the sun exhausts its fuel and dies in about 5 billion years?

    Where are the departed right now if spirits don’t exist?

  8. Thanks again Grant. But perhaps more important is for me to first ask you a few quick questions!
    -Are these just rhetorical questions on your part?
    -Is this another typical list of ‘gotcha questions” that atheists love to throw around, thinking they are unanswerable?
    -A type of pseudo argument is the ‘machine gun fallacy’ where a whole list of questions are asked, all requiring lengthy replies to properly do justice to them. Is that what you are up to?

    Mine are all fair and legit questions. But assuming for the moment that you are asking honest questions here, let me reply in two ways.

    One, all these objections and more have been answered thousands of times over the centuries of course. Entire libraries exist with works dealing with all this. Those who are seriously asking such questions should be seriously pursuing such volumes. I can readily provide lengthy reading lists here if you are really serious. The question is – are you?

    Two, as said, any important question deserves a lengthy answer to do it justice. I am not about to do that here since, as I say, it has all been covered so often by so many experts over the years, and I am not going to give you article-length comment replies here. Thus all I will do is give you the briefest of introductory answers to your 6 questions:

    1. Scripture does not provide exhaustive detail on this and some of the other questions. But it provides what we do need to know. People will be recognisable to others, whatever age they might be. So whether we remain just as we were at the time of death is not fully clear. What IS important to know is we will all be resurrected, to one of two eternal destinations.

    2. Biblical Christians believe they will “go to heaven” – that is, be with God in eternity.

    3. That is making a category mistake – asking the wrong sort of question. As I said, there will be a new heavens and a new earth which we inhabit, and it will not have the imperfections of this current world, which has been marred by sin (which is why people now die, suffer, get diseased, and so on). None of that will be there in the next life. Sufficient food supplies (assuming they will still be needed as they are now) will not be a problem, etc.

    4. It seems from the available biblical data that we will not continue to reproduce in the next life.

    5. See the answer to #3. God himself will be the source of all life, energy and so on. We will not depend on finite things in the next life.

    6. The Bible speaks often – but sparingly – of the intermediate state, where the soul goes after death, awaiting to be reunited with a resurrection body when Christ returns and the new heaven and new earth is established.

    As stated, Scripture provides us with ALL that we do NEED to know right now, and especially about THIS life. Why we are here, who we are, what went wrong, and how to fix these problems (all the key questions asked by philosophers and theologians) are covered in detail. The Bible does not give us exhaustive knowledge about everything there is to know, but it gives us sufficient truth about that which matters. Those who think they need all knowledge about all things before they can commit to something are simply being disingenuous. People commit to all sorts of important things based on very partial and incomplete knowledge all the time, including marriage partners, careers, and the like.

    Speculation about the fine points of the next life is NOT what the biblical writers are mainly interested in. They want us to have the important information we NOW need to have, especially in terms of who God is, why we are alienated from him, and how we can be reconciled to him. Those should be our main concerns as well.

    And as also stated, if you are asking honest questions here, it is not hard at all to find plenty of websites devoted to to extensively and competently answering these and other questions. And if you need a list of some excellent, detailed and quite cogent volumes dealing with your objections, I can provide that easily enough. So the ball is now in your court!

  9. If I could transfer 10 years to her I would but science hasn’t gotten that far yet. It’s something I see in some science fiction, albeit about “life force”, I wish we had – the ability to transfer life from one to another on a controlled scale.

    I’d let God have me now if ALL cancers, adult and child, could be cured in exchange. I adore children and if giving God my life, that he may take my soul to heaven now, would cure them I would and curing adults too, I lost my two good grandparents to cancer, I would be overjoyed to lay down my life for SO MANY OTHERS to LIVE. I wish many times we could have God transfer months and years from our ledgers to someone else’s. He has everything written and numbered so it would just be a little movement of numbers.

  10. Bill, I assure you that my questions are genuine and based on curiosity about life and death. I am no longer a believer but I would love to think that we survive death. I’m genuinely curious about why believers (of all faiths) believe in the supernatural,

    My career background is in brain science, mind and consciousness, and I dabble fairly deeply in cosmology as a hobby. I gave up on Christianity around age 25 because it no longer made sense to me in the light of scientific knowledge.

    I really appreciate the effort you have put into answering my questions. I have several friends who are active Christians and we often debate these matters in a deep but friendly manner. None of these friends believe that heaven is a continuation of material life, so I there is clearly a division amongst Christians on this question.

    It seems that faith is based on a huge amount of subjective interpretation of scripture and tradition, which exlains why there ard so many denominations, and quite a few cults. I read your posts occasionally to try to understand how your type of Christian thinks. Human thought and the relationship with mind, brain and consciousness is my passion.

  11. Thanks again Grant. A few replies if may:

    -Everyone – including yourself – has plenty of subjective interpretations of most things. No one is totally objective. But it depends on where we look for objective truth and certainty. Those who think it can only be found in materialistic science and philosophical naturalism do not really believe in science of course, but in scientism – big difference. But see more on this here for starters: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/09/17/scientism-as-the-new-fundamentalism/

    -As to the next life, no genuine biblical Christian can deny the central tenet of the Christian faith: the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of all of us at the last judgement, to one of two eternal destinies. As I said above, some of the less important fine details of the next life are not presented to us in Scripture, but they do not need to be. What does matter is that God has revealed to us ALL that we do need to know right now about the things that really matter.

    -That some believers may differ on some of these matters is no more astounding than knowing that scientists can and do differ with each other on a whole range of issues. That it is how science is done of course.

    -Having dealt with hundreds of atheists and sceptics over the decades, I have found that very few – when prodded enough – have actually left Christianity because of intellectual concerns or a lack of evidence. It is usually for moral reasons, and the fact that they refuse to admit that they might not be the centre of the universe, but someone else in fact is.

    -I too have an interest in brain science, mind and consciousness. But my study of it has lead me – and so many scientists and others – to further believe and trust in the God of the Bible and not turn away from him. See here for more on this:


    Part Two features a reading list of over 70 volumes penned by leading scientists, neurosurgeons, philosophers, theologians and other experts.

    -As I keep saying, the real proof of the pudding as to whether you are simply into asking rhetorical questions and having your intellectual palette tickled, or are an honest seeker, willing to do whatever it takes to find truth, will in part be determined by what you do with a reading list like this. Do you dismiss it out of hand because the books do not fit into your predetermined worldview, or will you carefully check them out to see if perhaps they might be right in so many areas, and that you might be wrong in some of these core areas? That is up to you of course. And only you and God knows the real you, and just how honest you really are as a truth seeker. (And we must always be aware of how easy it is to deceive ourselves!)

    -I will continue to pray for you, knowing full well that God certainly does reward the diligent seeker (but not the casual inquirer).

  12. Thank you Bill for the article. Will continue to pray for your dear wife.
    2 things stand out.
    1. An absolute holding to God’s sovereignty and power. He can and does anything he pleases.
    2. Acceptance of his will, praying, “If it is according to your will. Your will be done”

    And great responses to the unbeliever.

    If you do not mind, please pray for me.
    I have it on my heart to write to my namesake, Douglas Murray, whom I first came across on Sky News, Aus.
    He grew up as an Anglican and professed to be a Christian until 29. I have seen a few discussions with him and Christians. Also Tom Holland, Stephen Meyer,
    NT Wright (who sometimes gets it wrong) Justin Brierley.

    Of course, he is very well read and smart.

    He has said he is looking for answers, “wishes Christianity was true” and comes across as troubled and insecure, calling himself a “Christian atheist / agnostic”.

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