Lord, I Have a Problem
Scripture: 2 Kings 18–19
“LORD, I HAVE A PROBLEM!”
2 Kings 18-19
Life is full of problems. We all know that. Last week we laid out a simple formula, though, that offers us some help. The formula is this:
Problem + Response = Result/Outcome
This is particularly true when our response to problems includes prayer. The theme of last week’s message was this: When we respond to problems with prayer, God acts. And of course, when God acts, the result or outcome is different than when we respond only out of our own human resources or ingenuity.
Now, as I say that, I recognize that it sounds very simplistic and cut and dried. I am fully aware that this is not the case. There remain many mysteries in our efforts to understand and apply the Biblical teaching on prayer.
I read a quote this week from a great British preacher named Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He said, on the topic of prayer: “Of all the activities in which the Christian engages, and which are part of the Christian life, there is surely none which causes so much perplexity, and raises so many problems, as the activity which we call prayer.”
If a great preacher like Lloyd-Jones didn’t have prayer figured out, I am not going to pretend that I have it sorted out. But while we may never understand prayer the way we might like to, that should not deter us from both studying prayer and, even more importantly, practicing prayer. Because prayer does change things. The Bible clearly tells us, in James 5:16 that, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power.”
So today we are going to continue with our exploration of this subject of prayer. Last week we looked at the prayer of Nehemiah. We found his prayer provided a helpful model as he responded to a problem with prayer – and saw God work in a powerful way.
Today we are going to look at another Old Testament story. This one is found in 2 Kings 18-19 and it is the story of a king of Judah named Hezekiah. Let’s set a little background about this man. He was one of the few righteous kings of Judah.
2 Kings 18:1-3 describes him: In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. 2 He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. 3 And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done.
Verses 5-7 continue the description: He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. 6 For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. 7 And the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered.
So, this is the character of the man we are studying. It gives substance to what we read in James, that it is the prayer of a righteous person that has great power. As we join the story, Hezekiah was facing a huge problem.
In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them.
There is a bit of chronological to and fro in the text here. If we compare this passage with the almost identical parallel passage in the Book of Isaiah, we find that there was apparently an earlier invasion in which Hezekiah bought some time by agreeing to pay tribute to the King of Assyria. But now he has rebelled, and in retaliation, the Assyrian army invades again. They capture all the fortified cities of Judah. Now that’s a big problem. Hezekiah is to all intents and purposes a king without a country. If the fortified cities are controlled, the country is controlled. And all his fortified cities have been captured. What is more, his capital at Jerusalem now comes under siege. The very survival of Judah as a nation is at stake.
The first strategy of the Assyrians is to intimidate the Jews into surrendering without a fight. In 2 Kings 18:19-25 we see their propaganda being laid out. Let me read the speech that the field commander made.
19 And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 20 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 21 Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 22 But if you say to me, “We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem”? 23 Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 24 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master's servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 25 Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.’”
There is both fact and fiction here, all blended into a speech intended to frighten the people of Jerusalem into surrendering. This goes on throughout chapter 18 with threat after threat made in the hearing of the people on the walls of Jerusalem. The threats continued to explicitly challenge the Jews’ reliance on God.
In 1 Kings 18:33-35: And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” 33 Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand?35 Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”
Hezekiah had a problem! It was a problem which overwhelmed him. It was a problem to which he had no human solution. So what did he do with his problem? Look at his response in 2 Kings 19:1: As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord.
There it is! Problem + Reponse. Hezekiah had a problem. You and I have problems as well. What makes Hezekiah’s story worth studying is not the fact that he had a problem. What makes Hezekiah’s story worth studying is what he did with his problem. He took it to the Lord.
Let’s flesh this out by reading a little further.
As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. 2 And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests ,covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. 3 They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. 4 It may be that the Lord your God heard all the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.”
If we examine this carefully, I think we can identify 4 things Hezekiah did which we can learn from.
1. He sought a place of closeness to God.
Verse 1 tells us that he went into the house of the LORD. For the Jews at that time, this was the place God had set aside as the visible representation of his presence. In his crisis, Hezekiah went immediately into the temple to seek the Lord and where he could sense God’s closeness.
There is no longer a visible temple of God on earth. In fact we are told that our bodies are the temple of God and that the church, God’s people comprise the temple in which God dwells. So there is no particular physical place to go to be near to God.
But having said that, I believe that many of us have places where we especially sense the presence of God. Maybe it’s a particular room or chair where you have your devotions, or a church building where you can be quiet before the Lord, or a park bench or a sand dune, when the weather is cooler. Wherever that place is, it is important in a time of crisis to seek a place of quietness where you can be alone with God.
2. He consulted God’s messenger/message.
Hezekiah sent envoys to Isaiah in verse 2. The prophet Isaiah was God’s spokesman. He was the messenger of God to the nation. So Hezekiah sent to consult him. I do not believe that God sends us prophets today in the same way he did in the Old Testament. But he has, instead, given us the recorded words of his messengers. This is his message. It is a complete and authoritative word. We must study it, read it, meditate on it, search it for any word of instruction for us in our time of crisis. Of course, the better we know it, the more familiar we are with it, the easier it becomes to turn to those passages and principles which will give us the guidance we need.
We can also ask help from other believers who know the Word better than we do. But it is important to remember, you are not asking for human advice. You are asking for them to share some Biblical truth or principle which will give you guidance, confidence and trust.
3. He recruited intercessors.
In this case, Hezekiah specifically asked Isaiah the prophet to pray for the nation in verse 4 b: Therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left. I think this is always appropriate in times of crisis or problems. Find someone else, or a group of others who will pray with you and for you. This may be a single close friend. It might be your life group or Bible study group. You might want to call and put the need on the church prayer sheet or go to a member of the prayer team after a service. Sometimes a problem may be too personal or sensitive to share the details, but you can still share that you are facing a problem or a crisis and ask others to pray for you.
4. He prayed.
This is the final and most obvious point. Hezekiah himself prayed about his problem. We see this in 19:15. The verse begins with the words, And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord…”
We will take a closer look at Hezekiah’s actual prayer in a moment. Before we do that, however, there is a further development in the story. After Hezekiah consulted Isaiah and asked him to pray, Isaiah sent a message that God was going to deliver Jerusalem. Sure enough, within a few days, the armies of Assyria began to withdraw to meet another threat. But before they do, Sennacherib sends a letter to Hezekiah with more threats in it, basically saying, “Don’t think you’ve escaped. This is only a temporary reprieve. I’ll be back.” And again he repeats his reasoning: “The gods of the other nations have not been able to deliver them from my power. What makes you think your god is any stronger than theirs?”
When Hezekiah receives this letter, he goes into the temple again and prays. Let us continue reading beginning in verse 14:
Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord and spread it before the Lord.15 And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.”
What a powerful and eloquent prayer! As I studied Hezekiah’s prayer, I identified four elements of effective prayer from which we can learn.
1. Spread your problem out before the Lord.
I really like the description of what Hezekiah did in verse 14: Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. He took the letter with him, probably on some kind of scroll, and he opened and spread it out in the Lord’s presence and said, in essence, “Look, Lord. Read this!” It is a very vivid way of spreading the problem itself before the Lord. Maybe we might even do the same thing. Take an actual letter, if there is one. Or maybe it’s a bill you can’t pay, or a termination letter from your company, or a notification of a rent increase, or a bad report from the school, or a medical result. Actually spread it out in front of the Lord. If you don’t have an actual object, lay it out verbally. “Here’s my problem, Lord.” Tell him all about it. Yes, he already knows, but he wants you to lay it out before him.
2. Plead the attributes of God.
This is very significant. Do you see where Hezekiah starts? In verse 15 he says, “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.
Remember the first point in Nehemiah’s model prayer from last week? “You are…” He begins his prayer by focusing on the person of God and his attributes. Why do you think he started with this particular description of God? Because these were the attributes of God which were being challenged and threatened by his problem and by Sennacherib’s letter. Look at verses 17-18 : Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed.
The clear implication of Sennacherib’s challenge was that the God of Israel was no different than the gods of the other nations. But in his prayer, Hezekiah claims otherwise: “You are the LORD Almighty, you are enthroned between the cherubim. You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You are sovereign over heaven and earth.”
Hezekiah focused on the attributes of God which were the answer to his problem. We can do the same. If we are in financial need, we can pray the Scriptures which talk of God as our provider. If we are feeling lonely and unloved, we can pray the Scriptures which speak of God’s constant and unfailing love. When we are confused, we can pray the Scriptures which speak of God’s wisdom and guidance. Whatever our need, God has an attribute to meet that need.
3. Ask for the glory of God to be upheld and displayed.
This is where our prayers often part company with Hezekiah’s. We are focused primarily on our needs and our wants and our gratification. Hezekiah recognizes that there was more at stake than simply his own personal survival or even the survival of Jerusalem. God’s authority, his glory had been blasphemed and spoken against.
Back in verse 4 we read:
It may be that the Lord your God heard all the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left
Here in this prayer in verse 16: Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God.
And this is how he concludes his prayer:
So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.”
In our prayers, how often do we stop to think of how the situation or the problem affects the glory and reputation of God? Is that what we are asking God for?
One final point:
4. Make your request with humble boldness.
That sounds like a contradiction doesn’t it? Humility and boldness are not two things we often put together. But I see these two coming together so often in the great prayers of Scripture. There is boldness here in verse 16 and 19: Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; Save us!
But there is also humility found back in verse 4: It may be that the Lord your God heard all the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard
You see, Hezekiah knew that his people had sinned. He knew that this very same army had carried the northern kingdom of Israel away into captivity. He knew from the very preaching of Isaiah himself that his own nation deserved the same fate. He knew he was in no position to demand anything from God. I get nervous about some prayer teaching that seems to carry a tone of demanding things from God as our right. I am not sure how to blend these together except with this phrase: humble boldness. I do see boldness in the great prayers of Scripture like this one. But I do not see arrogance. That boldness is always linked with humility. Calling upon God to act, but always recognizing that his will, his purposes, his ways, his wisdom are beyond our comprehension.
Hezekiah prayed boldly and yet with humility and God did act. In verse 20, Isaiah responds to Hezekiah: Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Your prayer to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard.
He then goes on to prophesy the destruction of Sennacherib and his army. The last few verses of the chapter tell us how those prophecies were fulfilled and how God delivered Hezekiah and the nation of Judah, demonstrated his sovereignty and took his vengeance against Sennacherib for his defiant words. God sent his angel to put to death 185,000 of Sennacherib’s soldiers in one night. And Sennacherib himself was assassinated by his own sons a short time later. It is a remarkable story of God’s deliverance and answered prayer.
Problem + Response = Result
When we respond to problems with prayer, God acts. Prayer changes things!
Have you got a problem resting heavily on you this morning? Maybe you are inclined to say to me: “Well, sure! But not like Hezekiah. How does this story relate to me?” And I admit that one of the risks of studying a passage like this is it may seem to put prayer up on a high shelf. Hezekiah was a king. His nation was at risk. The glory and sovereignty of God were being challenged. What does that have to do with the garden variety problems we are faced with every day? And yet the same principles do apply. Whoever we are or wherever we are or whatever our problems, we can learn from Hezekiah and respond to our problems in the same way he responded to his.
God is always listening and ready for us to say, “Lord, I have a problem!”
1. Hezekiah had a problem! Read about it in 2 Kings 18:17-20. How did he respond? (Read 2 Kings 19:1-4)
2. What lessons can we learn from his response? How does his response compare or contrast to how you deal with problems?
3. Read Hezekiah’s prayer. (2 Kings 19:14-19) How is his prayer similar to the prayer of Nehemiah which we studied last week? (Nehemiah 1) What lessons about prayer can we learn from Hezekiah?
4. In verse 14 it says that Hezekiah “spread it before the Lord.” That’s a good way to describe prayer. What are some literal and figurative ways that we might spread our problems out before the Lord?