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.