In my early twenties, Hezekiah was one of my favorite examples of intercession in the Bible. I was drawn to the image of him receiving threats from the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, and literally spreading them before God, before God went to battle for him (2 Kings 18-19). Then, of course, there was the time when Hezekiah was dying and cried out to God, and God healed him (2 Kings 20:1-11). Clearly, his prayers meant something to God.
As I grew in intercession, and came back to his story in my mid-twenties, something started to bother me about Hezekiah. After envoys come from Babylon and Hezekiah shows them everything he owns, Isaiah prophecies that the Babylonians will later come and carry off Hezekiah’s possessions and descendants, Hezekiah shrugs (in my imagination, at least) and says to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” because, the Bible says, he thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?” Hezekiah had no trouble interceding in things that personally affected his life, but there was no thought of interceding for the ones who would come after him.
I mean, how might Hezekiah have changed the course of history if he had repented and interceded for God’s mercy instead? After all, we are told that God would have destroyed Israel in the wilderness if it hadn’t been for Moses, “who stood in the gap before Him” (Psalm 106:23). Then, of course, God tells Solomon, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). And surely, after everything he had seen God do in his own life as a result of prayer, Hezekiah didn’t believe Isaiah’s prophecy was inevitable?
Just a few chapters later, following the obnoxiously evil reigns of Manasseh and Amon, Josiah takes the throne and after hearing God’s word, repents – gets rid of the things that are so offensive to God. But you know what? None of it changes God’s mind. It’s too late.
And I just wonder, would that have been the case if Hezekiah had repented and interceded?
As an intercessor, I grapple with the mystery of intercession – how God moves in us to pray, and how He works in our prayers. As I continue to grow in my prayer life, I’ve come to believe that God reveals things to me – insights and warnings – so I can intercede in them. If I didn’t believe God was showing me things He wants to do and things He wants to prevent, and if I didn’t believe prayer makes a difference before God in what actually takes place, I wouldn’t bother praying.
Still, intercession – or my intercession, at any rate – often deals with human hearts – hearts that have their own things they want to do, and their own things they want to prevent. And if there’s anything I know about God, it’s that He’s not about control. He moves in lives surrendered to Him to desire and do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13), but believe me, He’s not going to force anyone into anything. So, I believe intercession has its limits, because there is a limit to what God will do in a life not surrendered to Him.
Maybe repentance and intercession from Hezekiah would have made a difference even in the life of his son, for whose sins God’s anger was still fierce during Josiah’s reign and after his history-making repentance (2 Kings 23:25-26), and thus altered Judah’s history, or maybe Manasseh would have chosen his own way, anyway.
We will never know.
We do know that Hezekiah had an opportunity to intercede, and didn’t.
I’ve done that before – passed up an opportunity to intercede, and possibly change history, and I didn’t, because it didn’t directly involve and/or affect me. One day, I’m going to have to stand before God and give an account for that missed opportunity, that disobedience, and all of the consequences that flow from it. Not because I’m fully responsible, but because I undeniably share in the responsibility.
So now I seize opportunities to intercede when God gives them. I may not know what will happen when I do, but I sure don’t like what happens when I don’t.