What to do when you don’t know what to do Isaiah 38

Dr. Jerry A. Collins


Death haunts life waiting to surround and squeeze the last of its breath from the body. But what if, at the very moment death squeezes, life was somehow restored? What would you think? Hezekiah had such an experience and he leaves us his praise to God for such a turnaround in his own death door prospects. This chapter records another lesson on faith for believers of all time. It is faith in the power of the Lord to do what seems to be the impossible. King Hezekiah was in the sickness of death "Thus says the Lord, 'Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live'" (Isaiah 38:1). Apparently some type of infection in his body was killing him. Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord… And wept bitterly (v 2-3). God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and extended his life by fifteen years (v 5). A cake of figs was applied to the boil for medicinal effect so he could recover (v. 21). For a sign of that promise, the sun went back ten degrees on the sundial in response to Hezekiah’s request (v. 7-8, v. 21; cp. 2 Kings 20:10).


Hezekiah recorded his song of thanksgiving for the answer to prayer of extended life (v. 9-20). The last two verses record what Hezekiah had done for the healing, and what he had asked as a sign (v. 21-22). This is a declarative praise song that would be offered in the Sanctuary, accompanied by a peace offering. It is praise and jubilation in celebration of life, thanks to divine intervention. The point is captured by anyone who has had health restored, especially if dramatically from an apparent life-threatening situation. Of course, people who have had health restored from lesser ailments can also appreciate the blessing of life.


Faced with life threatening prospects believers can pray to God for help 

We may face the threat of pre-mature death 9-12

I said, "In the middle of my life I am to enter the gates of Sheol; I am to be deprived of the rest of my years” (v 10). The king is recalling what he thought when he learned that he might die pre-maturely in the prime of life. This is looking back—he is no longer in danger for this is a praise psalm! As he reasoned through what was happening, perhaps expressing his amazement that he might die, the point is that this is not the death of someone in a ripe old age—it was at the noontime of his life, before he lived out his whole course. His illness came at the prime of life.

I said, "I will not see the Lord, The Lord in the land of the living; I will look on man no more among the inhabitants of the world (v. 11). Convinced he should live and worship God in this life as long as he could, to die and go to the next world was not a wonderful thought, nor a solution to anything. Death was an enemy that God could and should conquer. The expression see the Lord refers to worship in the Sanctuary where he would observe evidence of the Lord’s favor through the praises of Israel. Certainly going to heaven would be perfection and glory; but edifying praise, prayers for intervention, and active participation in God’s spiritual program only work in this life, while we have life. Hezekiah did not want this experience to end early in his own life on earth.

Application—We should want to live our lives here on earth. Life is God’s gift to us and it is meant to be lived and enjoyed. Longing for heaven should never be an excuse to abdicate living a responsible God honoring follower of Jesus life here on earth. We will get to heaven soon enough. Paul said but I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake (Philippians 1:23-24). 


"Like a shepherd's tent my dwelling is pulled up and removed from me; As a weaver I rolled up my life. He cuts me off from the loom; From day until night You make an end of me (v. 12). This verse uses two similes of anguish at the brevity of his life. The dwelling is probably his life, or body; like a tent it was being folded up and taken away—imagine Bedouin tents and how easily they are removed. The other image is a weaver. Hezekiah’s life, under this figure, was rolled up and about to be cut off—he had spun his last work. God was bringing him to an early and sudden death.


Believers may pray for divine healing 13-14

"I composed my soul until morning. Like a lion-so He breaks all my bones, from day until night You make an end of me (v. 13). In these two verses Hezekiah recalls how he prayed for God to intervene and spare his life. Hezekiah waited for the Lord to restore him. He composed himself which accompanied his praying. The word morning is comparing the recovery to full health to the dawn of a new day! But it did not come quickly because the Lord was apparently “destroying” him He breaks my bones. My bones are referring to the whole person encased in his boney framework. Like a lion tearing into its prey breaking all the bones pictures his entire body being racked with pain and succumbing to the process of death.

"Like a swallow, like a crane, so I twitter; I moan like a dove; My eyes look wistfully to the heights; O Lord, I am oppressed, be my security (v. 14). His cries and moans of pain are compared to bird’s like a swallow, like a crane, so I twitter; I moan like a dove suggesting he was losing his strength and resolve and could only moan softly like the doleful sound of a dove. To ‘look on the heavens’ or heights is where he hopes as he prays. The praying and the prayer occurred while he was waiting on the Lord. When he prayed he grew tired and exhausted because of his sickness my eyes look wistfully. The eyes are singled out for the whole body because they easily indicate failing health and vigor, both to himself (he cannot see, or cannot keep his eyes open) and to others (who see in his eyes that he is near death). His spirit is failing O Lord, I am oppressed. His prayer is for God to come to his aid be my security. He wants God to pledge to him, or perhaps, to be his pledge, his assurance of life.

So, faced with life threatening prospects believers can pray to God for help. And…


God can Answer our Fervent Prayers for Deliverance from Death

A fervent prayer is answered 15

"What shall I say? For He has spoken to me, and He Himself has done it; I will wander about all my years because of the bitterness of my soul (v. 15). The king was amazed at the change of events what shall I say? Nevertheless, the bitter disappointment that had come into his heart because of the prophet’s announcement of impending death was something he would never forget while he lived I will wander about all my years because of the bitterness of my soul. God is the one who can deliver Hezekiah; but God is the one who has done this to him. How can that be explained? Probably not to our satisfaction! One can only conclude that God has a plan for our lives that can put us through all of this, so that we might cry to Him for healing. Therefore, faced with such power over our lives, and seeing no one else we can turn to for help, we, like this king, must wander about or ‘walk humbly or softly’ before Him. That is, to live a careful life of humble obedience—making sure that we do not make the wrong step. He realized that this experience should humble him and it should us.

God delights in saving life 16

"O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these is the life of my spirit; O restore me to health and let me live (v. 16). He prayed that due to his answered prayer others would learn from his experience, as he himself would O Lord, by these things men live. Those who believe in the Lord and pray to Him, living a life of cautious humble obedience—God blesses them with an enriched life. And this is why God blessed Hezekiah—his spirit revived when he knew what God was doing to him, and what God wanted to develop in him. So from this comes the great proclamation of praise, you restored me to health; you let me live. It means, of course, that God has power over our health, our life, and our death. Psalm 116 affirms, Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints—or, nobody dies without God’s “say-so.”

So, God can Answer our Fervent Prayers for Deliverance from Death. And…


God Restores Health in order that His People Praise Him in Life

Praise is edifying 17

"Lo, for my own welfare I had great bitterness; It is You who has kept my soul from the pit of nothingness, 

For You have cast all my sins behind Your back (v. 17). The king acknowledged that his bitter anguish was for his benefit, his welfare, or wholeness, or completeness—his health and well-being. There is simply no other way to develop this attitude and perspective within us. Jesus Christ, even though he was a son, learned obedience through the things that He suffered (Hebrews 5:8). To learn from suffering is critical; it is not sufficient merely to recover or be healed. The king then explained that God kept him from destruction by His love from the pit of nothingness. The expression indicates the place of destruction where one is reduced to nothing where there is no longer any contribution to life or satisfaction from life. God did not let his sins condemn him for You have cast all my sins behind Your back. They were kept out of sight. God did not let them get in the way of His love and compassion for Hezekiah in answering his prayer.

PT: So we learn from this and other Scripture that God loves His people and will preserve them from destruction, reduced to nothing; but in the process He may put them through bitter anguish so that they might have a stronger faith, greater obedience, humility (tread softly) and deeper praise.

Praise is declaration of God’s faithfulness 18

"For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness (v. 18). This is common teaching in psalms. The grave cannot praise for Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You. Hezekiah is no good to God if he dies and goes to the grave because he could not then tell how God saved him from the grave. Only the living can praise God’s faithfulness. Hezekiah’s experience of God’s faithfulness was that God mercifully restored to life His covenant believer. PT: We will be able to praise God in heaven throughout eternity; but only in this life can we praise God by saying, “He kept me alive to serve more in this life.”

Praise is to be unending 19-20

"It is the living who give thanks to You, as I do today; A father tells his sons about Your faithfulness. "The Lord will surely save me; So we will play my songs on stringed instruments all the days of our life at the house of the Lord" (v. 19-20). Hezekiah’s praise encourages others to pray when they are sick it is the living who give thanks to You, as I do today. The reason is so that the living will rejoice and praise in the way that God grants full life a father tells his sons about Your faithfulness. The theme of this praise is God restored the king to life the Lord will surely save me. Therefore, today and throughout all his life he will praise the Lord—not just once for the answer to the prayer so we will play my songs on stringed instruments all the days of our life at the house of the Lord. Every day he has is a gift from God, and he will declare that. God received 15 more years of praise. Hezekiah enjoyed 15 more years of life.



·      If God restores us to life—or even preserves our lives from danger—unending praise must come from us to Him and before others.

·      People should be praising God publicly, individually, for the additional life given to them. God restores people to life to serve Him further, and God lets people go through anguish for their welfare—to improve. God often has to put them in positions of desperate dependency on Him.

·      Encourage others who are ill or suffering, or even at death’s door, to pray for life. God can restore life, so we can pray for such as Hezekiah did.