Dear radio friends,
Do you feel the need for your faith to be strengthened, to be restored, and to be refreshed?
This was the case with Hezekiah, king of Judah. Please open your Bible to Isaiah 38:17. There we read, “Behold, for peace I have 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.”
At the time when Hezekiah, king of Judah, spoke those words he stood in a time of great need for the strengthening of his faith. The words of verse 17 in Isaiah 38 are part of a writing that Hezekiah made when he was sick and had recovered from his sickness. According to the first verse ofIsaiah 38, his sickness had been a sickness unto death. Isaiah the prophet had come to the king to tell him the word of the Lord, that he would die and not live. When Hezekiah heard those words, he turned his face to the wall and prayed that the Lord would heal him. And the Lord, mercifully, answered that prayer. So Hezekiah, in his writing of those events recorded in Isaiah 38, gives an account of his experience when he had been sick unto death. We get a glimpse of his soul. He tells us in verse 17 that he had great bitterness, and that after he was recovered he was changed to joy in the Lord’s salvation.
Hezekiah tells us, then, that there was a time in his life as a child of God that he lacked peace. He should have had peace. We read in Isaiah 26:3, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.” Peace is the normal state for a child of God. Hezekiah knew that. He knew that he should have had peace in his heart. He says, “Behold, for peace I have great bitterness.” That is, instead of peace, where peace should have been in my heart, I was experiencing bitterness. He desired peace, but, nevertheless, there was a period in his life as a child of God that king Hezekiah lacked peace.
Now, of course, an unbeliever does not have the peace of God and therefore cannot agonize over having the peace of God, for he has never experienced it. But Hezekiah had experienced the peace of God and, as a child of God, he went through a period when he lacked the experience of that peace.
That is very applicable to us, is it not? There are times when we think ourselves to be in the pit of destruction. There are times when we lack the experience of the peace of God reigning in our hearts. We should not be in those circumstances, we confess. But, nevertheless, we know that experience.
There is deliverance from such bitterness. There is the restoration of peace. There is the strengthening of faith. That deliverance goes back to the cross of Jesus Christ and to the assurance that there God cast all my sins behind His back. Read that verse again! “Behold, instead of peace, I had great bitterness; but thou hast, in love to my soul, delivered it from the pit of corruption; for thou has cast all my sins behind thy back.”
Let us look at this a little more carefully. As I was saying, Hezekiah experienced bitterness in his soul. Instead of peace he had great bitterness, he experienced the lack of the peace of God. That was dreadful to him.
When Hezekiah says that he was experiencing great bitterness, he does not mean that he was soured, or filled with resentment, or struggling against deep animosity. That is also a temptation that we can experience at times. Those are things that we can experience in our hearts. But Hezekiah is not referring to bitterness in that sense. He is not referring to the fact that he had a soured or resentful spirit. But he means that his soul was filled with a great despondency and sadness and fear. If you look at Isaiah 38, you read in verse 3 that Hezekiah wept sore, with a great weeping. In verse 13 he says that he reckoned till morning that, as a lion, God would consume him in pieces, would break all of his bones. He was afraid at night. He could not sleep. He was afraid that in the morning God would meet him as a lion. He says in verse 14, “Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward: O LORD, I am oppressed; undertake for me.” He was experiencing despondency. His soul was black and heavy and filled with sorrow, inexpressible and almost impenetrable sorrow.
Of course, when the experience of the peace of God is gone from our heart, the opposite must take its place – the bitterness of despondency and death. He says that he was indeed experiencing the bitterness of death. He says that he lacked the assurance of God’s favor upon him. Then, as a result of that, he also says in the chapter that he became discontent with the circumstances of his life. He cried out that what God was sending to him was against him. He said to God that there was nothing that was good anymore. Everything was tearing him down. He had great bitterness. He had overwhelming sadness. He had despondency and fear. He would wake up in the middle of the night trembling with fear. And he concluded that God was against him. He says in verse 11, “I shall not see the LORD.” He had no contentment with his earthly life.
Why? What was the cause of all of this? It was all initiated by the announcement of the prophet Isaiah that he was going to die. He was sick, and the prophet came to him and said that he was going to die. Just take note of that for a moment. Spiritual distress there was occasioned by physical trouble and impending death. God has made an inseparable and close connection between the body and the soul, between the life of the body and the life of the soul. Normal care of our body is a calling of God. The body is a gift of God. It is an amazing and wonderful creation that God calls us to care for. Do not abuse it! Do not run it down, do not neglect it, and do not starve it. Take care of your physical body. Very often the troubles of our souls can begin even in physical ailments or struggles or stress or family difficulties.
Nevertheless, Hezekiah’s problem went deeper than just that. It went deeper than just the physical problems that he was experiencing. God told him, through the prophet, that he was going to die. It is very puzzling, when we read and study this chapter, that Hezekiah as a child of God reacted so violently to the news that he was going to die. It is even more puzzling when we see that Hezekiah interpreted death as destruction, an everlasting destruction. That is how he viewed this. Read Isaiah 38:11. He says, “I shall not see the LORD.” And in verse 18 he says that he would not be able to hope in God’s truth. He believed that he was going down to the pit of corruption, the pit of hell. We ask, “Why did he view his coming death that way?” We know from the Scripture that Hezekiah was a king who set his heart to serve the Lord, who walked in the ways of David his father. Did he not know the promise of Jesus Christ? Did he not know that death was going to be a passage for him into eternal glory? Yes. We know the Scripture says that death is a great enemy. But through the promises of God we have the victory over death. Do not say simply, “Well, he was in the Old Testament and he did not understand things. He did not have the hope that we have today.” No, that is not true. The Old Testament saints had that hope, too. Why, then, when God came to him and said to him, “Hezekiah, you are not going to recover of the sickness that you have. You are going to die,” why did he respond in such a violent way? Why did he view that death as destruction of his soul, so that he was cast into deepest bitterness and lost the experience of the peace of God in his heart? Why?
There are a couple of reasons. The first, of course, very simply, is that death, in itself, is a great enemy. Apart from the mercies of God, death comes as a lion to break our bones. The only defense, the only light, is in Jesus Christ the Lord, the Christ of the Scriptures, the Christ of the cross.
Still more, in Hezekiah’s case, it would have been what we would call a premature death. In II Kings 18 we read that Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he became king and that he reigned for twenty-nine years. In verse 5 of Isaiah 38 we learn the fact that he was given fifteen more years to live at this time. We can, therefore, conclude that Hezekiah was 39 years old when he was told that he was going to die. He saw that as a cutting off of his days.
But, there is more to it. It is not just that he was facing death. It is not just that he was facing death at 39 years of age. When we read the Scriptures we discover that at this time Hezekiah did not have a son. His son, Manasseh, would be twelve years old when Hezekiah died. So Hezekiah would not have a son yet for another three years. At the time that God told him that he was going to die, he did not yet have a son. That was very important! You must remember that God had sworn to David that there would not fail to sit upon David’s throne a son. Therefore, for each king to have a son was the continuation of the promises of God. Therefore, if Hezekiah is going to die before he has a son, he can only interpret that as God’s displeasure with him, as God’s cutting him off.
Then, still on top of it, this: Hezekiah knows that he has sinned. He has many sins and he feels the weight of them. Though he is a child of God, though he could say by the grace of God that he walked before God in truth with a perfect heart and did that which was good in God’s sight, nevertheless he had sins. He had great sins.
As the result of all of this, as a result of impending death, as a result, perhaps, of what we might call premature death, as a result of dying without a son for the continuation of the line of David, and as a result of knowing his own sins (the sins of his own heart), Hezekiah says, “I have great bitterness. For a time I lost the peace of God. I was filled with despondency and fear.” He was weighted down.
But God delivered him. “In love,” he says, “to my soul, Thou has delivered me from the pit of corruption.” How? “For Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back.” Now that is wonderful. That is the way of deliverance. That is the way of the restoration of peace in our hearts. The way of deliverance and restoration of peace is the knowledge of the great grace of God in Christ of casting all of our sins behind His back. That is a very wonderful way of saying it, is it not? What I throw behind my back is something I do not see anymore. It is something that I will not pay attention to. It is something that I do not take into account. Purposefully and intentionally I am determined no longer to take it into account. That is how God delivers a bitter soul – the bitter souls that His children at times experience. God does this. God gathers up all of our sins. He bundles them together and He casts them behind His back. God casts them behind His own back. He does not see them. He does not pay attention to them. He does not take them into account in His dealings with us. God casts our sins behind His back so that we are forgiven. That means that on that awful and wonderful Friday afternoon when Christ died the death of the cross, when He died the death that we should have died, God cast our sins behind His back.
God did that according to an eternal decree in which He would give Christ to be the Savior for His people – a decree whereby God said, “I will impute the sins of My people to the Lord Jesus Christ, and in Him I will satisfy My justice.” He hath cast all my sins behind His back.
The important thing is that God has forgiven us our sins. Although God will chasten us, nevertheless, casting these sins behind His back means that God will not deal with us as those sins deserve. Those sins deserve eternal death. He will deal with us according to His mercy, chastening us when we fall into sin. But He will not visit us with the hot anger of His holy displeasure. Our sins are cast behind His back.
The world says that the important thing with your sins is that you cast them behind your back. But that is folly. What good does that do? To cast your sins behind your back, so to speak, to go on with your life? That is counsel for an afflicted soul: Get on with your life? What kind of counsel is that? “Don’t worry. Get on with your life,” they say in the world. “The past is in the past. Don’t worry about it. Bury your sins. Go on.” There is no comfort there. You cannot cast your sins behind your back. If you try to do that, you will go through your life dragging a bundle, as if you are pulling a cart laden with sin, says Isaiah in chapter 5. There is no comfort in casting your sins behind your back, trying to ignore them.
Nor is there any comfort in trying to cast your sins behind other people’s back. That is when you say, “Well, they don’t know about it. I got away with it. They didn’t find it out.” Is that your comfort? Then that is folly, too, utter folly – no peace there.
But the peace is that God takes our sins and casts them behind His back. God, in perfect justice, pays the debt of those sins in Jesus Christ and now deals with us out of His merciful kindness and out of His tender mercies.
That is the way whereby we may be delivered from the bitterness of our souls. There are many medicines offered today for a soul that lacks peace. These medicines come at a high price. But none of them can do it. Some of these medicines are called: the bottle, liquor, pills, hanging one on, and having a riotous life. There is no peace there. That is deception. That is the deception of a fool. There is no power in man’s wisdom to restore a soul to peace. There is no power in mystic religions. There is no power in modern Christianity which denies the principles of God’s Word, which denies the absolute authority of the Word of God, which simply preaches a “feel-goodism,” feel good about yourself. There is no power there. That is empty. There is nothing there, no peace there. It cannot forgive your sins. It cannot take you out of a pit. Peace for the soul is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel which declares that God in mercy placed all our sins (the sins of His elect) upon His beloved Son, and that His beloved Son, upon the cross, paid the price for them. In so doing, God cast all our sins behind His back.
God did this out of love, out of sheer love. “Thou hast loved my soul from the pit,” says Hezekiah. The love of God is a power. By the power of God’s love Hezekiah’s soul was lifted out of its bitterness. God loves bitter souls, the despondent souls of His children. God has loved His children eternally when He chose them in Jesus Christ. God has loved us when He gave us Jesus Christ to be our Savior. And God loves us in delivering our souls out of their bitterness and bringing them to peace.
Ultimately peace for the soul is one thing: it is the knowledge of the love of God. And the death of Christ is the testimony of the love of God. Therefore when, by grace, God gives us to see the cross of Christ as the full payment for our sins, we are assured of God’s eternal love. And in God’s eternal love we have peace.
What about your soul today? Does it have peace, or bitterness? Where do you bring your troubled soul and the grief of your soul today? Do you bring it to yourself? Do you bring it to another man? Do you bring it to a bottle? Do you bring it to a priest? God says, “Repent. Look unto Me and be ye saved.” Look to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Look to the cross. Look to the sheer mercy and grace of God. Hear His Words: “I have cast all of your sins behind My back.” That is peace. Believe that the mighty God, in love, in sheer love for our bitter souls, has cast our sins behind His back in the cross of Jesus Christ.
That is peace for the soul.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy word. We pray that that word may come to our hearts powerfully and that we may bow, by the gift of faith, and embrace that word. Amen.