Relief from Bitterness of Soul

The Lord will save me, and we will play my music on stringed instruments all the days of our lives, at the house of the Lord. (Isaiah 38:20)

Hezekiah, the king of Israel, was 39 years old when he heard the diagnosis, terminal illness. The prophet Isaiah delivered the news. “Set your house in order,” he said, “for you shall die, you shall not recover” (Isaiah 38:1). But the king wasn’t ready to die. He wanted more time. So he pleaded with the Lord. God answered, “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears,” and gave him 15 more years.

To encourage him even more, the Lord turned back the sun ten steps on the dial to symbolize how he had turned back the clock on the king’s life (Isaiah 38:2-8). When he recovered, Hezekiah wrote a poem (Isaiah 38:9-20). From this poem, you learn more about how to cry out to God in both lament and praise.

You may honestly voice your thoughts, fears, and disappoints. In raw honesty, the Bible records the king’s first response to the bad news. He was in the prime of his life: “In the middle of my days I must depart.” He would not see God’s promise to return Israel to their land: “I shall not see the Lord…in the land of the living.” He felt like his home was a shepherd’s tent about to be “plucked up and removed.” His life had become a mere weaver’s cloth to be rolled up and carried away. Like a lion, God was breaking the king’s bones. As a result, the king moaned like a dove. Like an injured bird, he chirped. But his complaining was directed at the right person: “O Lord, I am oppressed; be my pledge of safety!”

Again, be reminded.

Complaining about God, impugning his character, is sin. But complaining to God about your pain is an act of faith. It is a God-given means for you to grieve your loss, to walk through your valley with God.

So allow your heart to be refined by suffering.

In the bitterness of his soul, the king interacted with God. The bitterness mentioned here is not stubborn resentment against God, or a refusal to forgive others, of which a true believer in Christ must repent (Ephesians 4:31; Hebrews 12:15). It’s the bitterness of soul, the inner pain resulting from prolonged, multi-layered suffering which becomes distasteful. It’s what Proverbs 14:10 speaks of, “The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.”

This is what Hezekiah felt.

However, in time, the king came to realize his illness was for his spiritual wellbeing. “Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness.” His health challenge was from God, given “in love,” in order that he might know more deeply the deliverance of God’s salvation. Infinitely more important than deliverance from death is his recognition of God’s salvation from sin: “for you have cast all my sins behind your back.”

For this reason, his poem ends with a confession of faith: “The Lord will save me, and we will play my music on stringed instruments all the days of our lives, at the house of the Lord.”

Who is your soul talking to?

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