20 Hezekiah’s Sickness

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“And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered.”-2 KINGS xx. 8.

THE character of King Hezekiah, as presented in the Holy Word, is that of a good man and a good king struggling with great difficulties. He had inherited the throne of his father Ahaz, who had been an extremely bad monarch. Ahaz had suffered idolatry to spread over the land. He copied some of the worst practices of the worst of the neighbouring nations, and under the king’s example the people increased in their unhallowed habits, and the land became corrupt and degraded, very little different from the nations around.

Under these circumstances, King Ahaz no longer felt the protection of the Most High about him and his people, as it had been about David and Solomon ; but he courted the alliance, and trusted in the power of the kings around, especially of the potent monarchs of Assyria. Having despised and neglected the protection of heaven, he sought the defence of the most powerful rulers of the time, and lived in fear of them, instead of relying on the arm of that God whose worship and whose law his nation had been marvelously raised up to preserve amongst men,

To the unhappy state which his father had thus impiously and unwisely governed and degraded, the good Hezekiah succeeded. He laboured to undo the mischief iniquity and folly had produced in the land. ” He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all which David his father did.” In one respect he gave an admirable example : he found that the brazen serpent which Moses had made had become an object of idolatry, by the superstition of the ignorant people, and he broke it to pieces. The harmless memorial of one time may become a snare to weak minds at another; and when that is the case, we learn from this example of Hezekiah, and from many other examples furnished by history, the prudent legislator will remove it out of the way.

There is a tendency in many minds to cling to forms, and not to penetrate to the substance and essence of things ; and these rest in and deify objects and modes which have lost their use and meaning, Hence come the preservation of relics and customs, which are not only useless, but injurious. Thus the brazen serpent, which when set up as an emblem by Moses of the Lord’s glorified humanity, had saved those who looked upon it with faith in the Divine protection from the fiery flying serpents; but when it was regarded, not as a symbol, but itself as a God, and foolish people burnt incense to it, Hezekiah caused it to be broken to pieces, and used the expression Nehushtan, a bit of brass, to intimate its true character.

The Cross, which among the Egyptians, thousands of years before Christianity, was the symbol of spiritual life, and after Christianity became blended with love for the Saviour who died to redeem us to spiritual life, became in the dark ages an instrument not only of superstition, but often of the vilest knavery. To bear our mental crosses with patience, and even to be thankful for them as means of chastening and purification, is truly Christian. Only those who thus humbly bear the cross, can ever wear the crown of righteousness. But to imagine there is anything Christian in adorning ourselves with a cross as an ornament, is rather to feed vanity with a not very elegant form than to promote religion. It is the new heart and the right spirit; the love of God and goodness, the promotion of wisdom; the affection for all that is noble and pure; the shrinking from all that is mean, false, and dishonourable : the inward seeking for the kingdom of God and His righteousness supremely, which form the Christian character and make us fit for heaven. If crosses are substituted, in however small a degree, for these interior graces, then we should do well to remember with Hezekiah they are but bits of metal wood ivory, or stone. They are Nehushtan.

Many a lying cross in England, where wicked monks deceived the ignorant populace by voices and machinery, the treacherous contrivances of bad men, were righteously exposed at the Reformation, and cast Into fires with a noble zeal like Hezekiah’s. God can only be served by purity, truth, and righteousness.

The object of our sojourn on earth is that we should become thoughtful, intelligent, pure, wise, and good. Everything which conduces to this training is valuable. Those things which have contributed in former times and other circumstances to good government and well-being, but have lost their significance or their utility; should be served ‘as Hezekiah served the serpent of brass, and removed out of the way. Other times, other manners. Laws and customs, once valuable and laudable, may become an offence; and the course of the wise man is decently to inter that’ which was good in its day, but has ceased to have any real life. But, faithful as Hezekiah was, he inherited many troubles. He could not escape the results of the bad courses of his father and his’ country. He was threatened by the power his father had courted. The unwise alliance with Assyria was a continual annoyance. And when he declined to become an abject slave to that giant monarchy, the king Sennacherib brought a vast host around Jerusalem, and with the most contemptuous language summoned Hezekiah to submit. Encouraged by the prophet lsaiah and his own trust in God, the king courageously resisted, and awaited deliverance. The enemy actively threatened; but the king relied upon the Lord and was saved.

It was in this time of peril, and probably from continued anxiety, that Hezekiah’s health failed. He is described as afflicted with a boil or abscess. His pain and distress, as we learn from his prayer, and reflections given in Isaiah, chapter xxxviii., were extremely severe; but he was consoled by the prophet and directed to use a poultice of figs, and the ulcer was healed. Thus was the suffering monarch restored, and soon after relieved also in an astonishing manner from the besieging army of Assyria. He lived In grateful recognition of the Divine goodness to him for fifteen years, and his excellent reign greatly retarded the fall of his kingdom, by the restoration of virtue and true religion. It does not appear that Hezekiah’s troubles were owing to any misconduct of his own; they were hereditary. We are informed that ” He clave to the Lord, and departed not from following Him, but kept His commandments which the Lord commanded Moses, and the Lord was with him ;” and even in his illness he pleaded without rebuke that” He had walked before the Lord with a perfect heart, and had done that which wars good in His sight.” But yet he was greatly troubled.

There are many anomalies in life. We see but the outsides of things, and we see but a little way. A more interior view and our sight of truth in our eternal life will no doubt explain them all. Divine mercy does not give outward prosperity to some, BECAUSE He is giving them something better, truer, and more lasting. Hezekiah had walked well; but he was capable of being led to walk better, and hence, through sorrow, he had to be purified and elevated. His troubles arose from his hereditary difficulties, and they were severe, but they were salutary. By their means. he was enabled to say, ” O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit : so wilt thou recover me, and make me to live. Behold, for peace I had great bitterness; but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption, for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.” We are also often spiritually sick for similar reasons, and from similar causes. We have walked, for anything we know, uprightly. Yet afflictions come, adversity sets in; perhaps sickness and misfortune come together. A sorrow of soul comes over us. We are chagrined and unhappy. Coldness is within us and darkness around us. We have no pleasure in what we do; we are fretful, easily annoyed, and dissatisfied. A miserable change has come. We examine our conduct, and cannot trace to anything wrong in our ways this strange unhappiness, and our continued sapless life. A great gloom is around us, and continues for a time distressingly long. We cry sometimes very long, and apparently in vain. But light comes at length.

The soul has its diseases, as well as the body, and corresponding in all respects to those of the body. there are spiritual heats and spiritual chills—spiritual fevers and violent spiritual inflammations. There are spiritual palsies and spiritual lamenesses. There is spiritual jaundice which discolours the whole mind, and induces us to distort and disfigure everything which prejudice has led us to dislike. There is spiritual consumption–a wearing and wasting down of our strength, until our life is all gone. We have been living in bad air, and our lungs have got out of order. Our spiritual blood is not purified, and the whole tissues of our souls become weak, We become spiritually lean and feeble, expectorating the very substance of our lungs. Our flesh wastes away, our skin is scrofulous, and a settled low fever wastes us and we become almost sleepless, until we pine and fade away. In other words, from heedless indifference to the evil customs and impious maxims of bad society, the atmosphere of our souls is poisoned, and all our thoughts are corrupted and vile; we gradually lose all pure, tender, holy, virtuous, and manly feeling, we reject all rational remonstrance, until we lose the very faculty of noble or heavenly thought, and die to all that is good. Or, it may be, a spiritual abscess has formed, a large boil increasing from time to time,—some settled envy or constant fretfulness, or rooted malice, or lasting discontent. Our self-love has taken some offence against God or against man, and we dwell upon it, feed it, recur to it again and again; words, looks, every act of the offending individual, or the abhorred condition, all are construed by the unhappy one bad feeling we have cherished ; and the swollen sinfulness attracts our spiritual life; turns it into grim dislike, ever growing, and incapacitates us for loving work and holy states. We grieve, we hate, we gather malice, we sink in moody misery, and after years of self-inflicted anguish die. Such is the unhappy state without its fatal termination, that Hezekiah’s boil would represent.

These soul sicknesses are often alluded to or described in the Word, All spiritual evil is a disease of the soul. The world is a great hospital. None are quite without disease. If we could but realise the truth, it would help us often, both in our own cases, and in those of others. We should seek help from the Great Physician, and we should often pity others, as weak sufferers, whom now we harshly condemn. The Word affords abundant recognition of these spiritual ailments. How frequently do we read in the Psalms plaintive prayers for the soul to be healed of its sorrows. “Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak : O Lord heal me, for my bones are vexed” (Ps. vi. 2). “I said, Lord be merciful unto me: heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee” (Ps. xli. 4). How soothing is the beautiful language of the 103rd Psalm : “Bless the Lord, O Iny soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name, Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases (1-3). The name of Saviour, one of the dearest names of our Lord, means Healer, Giver of spiritual health. Salvation means health. Health of the body is the type taken to be an image of a true, heavenly, and happy state of the soul. “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt, 1, 21).

We may as easily recognise spiritual disease, if we consider it as the disease of the body, A person knows he is physically unwell when he suffers pain, or when he is weak, too weak to perform the duties or enjoy the pleasures of life. We are spiritually unwell when we feel unhappy, are care-worn, anxious, harassed, weary, and unable to perform with pleasure the duties .and enjoy the blessings of spiritual life; How few there are who in this aspect can be regarded as entirely well. The universe of our Heavenly Father is indeed streaming with delights, How innumerable are the charms of earth and heaven, in the midst of which we live! But how few are content! How few are happy! How few are grateful with the present lot, and feel sure that it is the place for them which Infinite Love and Wisdom deems the very best. How few there are who are not wrestling to quit their present position, who have tried but little to realize the heaven of doing their duty in their present position.

“Blessed are they that do His commandments.” “Great peace have they that love Thy law.” ” The Kingdom of God is within you.” These are the Divine maxims for happiness, and if we are not happy, under ordinary circumstances, we should seek the causes in ourselves. Of course, we are not speaking of unusual cases, of bitter persecution, or extraordinary trial, but of the conditions of ordinary life. Yet how many are far from happiness. How many are the mentally sick.

Some have many small boils that harass them, petty vexations, which, however, prevent them from enjoying rest. Now and then, there is a great misery, a rooted sorrow, such as Shakespeare alludes to :

“Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased;
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow;
Raze out the written troubles of the brain;
And with some sweet oblivious antidote,
Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff,
Which weighs upon the heart?”

To a great wearing misery like this, malicious humours make their way, and constantly increase. The heartache is deep and lasting. It sleeps with its victim, and wakes with its victim. The face may smile, but the sorrow is rankling there. There may be interruptions, chequered changes, but the better misery returns again, and makes content and peace impossible, Like the woman in the Gospel, the soul tries many physicians, but there is no healing; the soul gets worse, and will still become worse, until we go to the true Physician. The Great Saviour can heal, and none but He can thoroughly heal the soul. ” Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” are the questions of the Lord Himself ” Come un to Me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

The method by which Hezekiah was healed, as recorded in our text, is the Divine means of restoration in a case of spiritual abscess. The prophet Isaiah came to him. ‘The prophets of those times were to Israel what the Word of God is now to us. When we search the Bible, the prophets are speaking, and indeed the Great Prophet is delivering His counsel to us, and he says, ” Take a bunch of figs.” Figs are the emblems in the Word of God, and in nature, of the virtues of everyday life. They were the common fruit of Palestine. They were planted on the way-sides, and as they stood with their noble leaves and their nutritious and pleasant productions, inviting, useful, and delicious everywhere, they represented the good man whose fruits of integrity and kindness are the true products in their season of his religion in the path of duty, genuinely right and cheerfully rendered.

The fig-tree in this respect is frequently referred to in the Divine pages. In the book of Judges, it was one of the trees invited to become the king, and it is represented as refusing, and saying, “Should I forsake my sweetness and my good fruits, and go to be king over the trees?” (ix. 11 ). Far better is it to be useful ministers in the walks of daily life, and desire to bless others in the genuine performance of our duty, than to seek pre-eminence over our fellow-men in the vain desire to rule. Good figs are represented as corresponding to good people, in the prophecy of Jeremiah : “Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good; for I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land ” (xxiv. 5, 6.) The fig-tree which the Lord Jesus went to examine, as He passed along the way from Jerusalem, desiring to find fruit, but only realizing leaves, was the symbol of the Jewish” Church of the time, plenteous in profession-abundance of leaves, but totally wanting in good fruit. The good fruit of the fig-tree corresponding to the lowest virtues-external acts-the lesson afforded is that the Jewish Church at that time was not only not productive in the higher excellencies of exalted love or wisdom, but even the. homely virtues were wanting. They had made the commandments of God of none effect by their traditions.

Take a lump of figs, then, would mean, determine to do good, to perform kind and just acts to the person against, whom you have strong dislike. The great law of loving our neighbour as ourselves, is often felt to be difficult of exercise towards persons who are disagreeable to us. The exclamation will sometimes be heard.—” How can I like people whom I don’t like ?” I wish I could alter my disposition towards such or such persons, but indeed they are very disagreeable. I cannot pretend to be pleased with them when I am not pleased. It would be hypocrisy. Religion cannot require that. The Divine method in our text tells us, what to do. We cannot directly or immediately alter our interior disposition, but we can determine our acts. We can embrace every opportunity of doing good, that is, of doing right to everyone, and when we compel ourselves to do kind acts towards those to whom we have felt bitterly, the Lord will alter the disposition. You get the lump of figs, the Lord will heal the boil.

Oh, it is a sad thing to have a rankling spirit of enmity where love, joy, and peace should prevail. Yet sometimes jealousy, pique, prejudice, a readiness to take offence, will embitter the soul towards those with whom there should only be loving intercourse. We fasten upon every little word, look, and act, and gather matter of offence; and the boil which gives us excruciating pain continues and increases. Take the Divine counsel. Look up to the Lord, and determine to do them good. Look out for an opportunity of serving them. It does not imply that we should fawn and flatter those for whom we have no respect, but we should desire really to serve them, and rejoice in the opportunity of performing towards them acts of real justice, real kindness, and real good. Do this, and the mental boil will disappear in three days, or when your kindness is fully carried out, and you, like Hezekiah, will recover.

A kiss for a blow, “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you.” These constitute the Divine method, and they are infallible in their power of healing. But often the irritating boil is not even the bitter feeling induced by an enemy, but the misconception, the misconstruction, the misunderstanding of the spirit and language of our friends of those who really mean well, and who, when they see by our kind actions that we desire their good, will at once reciprocate, and change the gloomy frown into a cheerful smile. What we most need in the world is sympathetic love, is open-hearted kindness. Vast numbers of persons mean well, but want helping out. They may be weak, and they may sometimes fall; but a kindly word and a kindly act will often strengthen them, and allure them back to good. The Lord helps all; we should help each other. If we would strive to do this, and actually apply this spirit of kindness to our souls, we should find our own boils to disappear, and in blessing others we should ourselves be blessed. “Do good and lend, hoping for nothing again, and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest; for He is kind to the unthankful and the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”

Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)