"In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live. Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, and said, Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore. Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying, Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years. And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city. And this shall be a sign unto thee from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that he hath spoken; Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down." (Isaiah 38:1-8)
The events of the next two chapters happened prior to Sennacherib's defeat in 701 BC. Isaiah's prophecy is divided into two major sections. The first section ends with chapter 39. This first part focuses mainly on coming judgment while the second part (40-66) focuses heavily on redemption. As the first division comes to a close, the focus is not so much chronological as it is topical. Judah's destruction at the hands of Babylon would soon be irreversible, and Hezekiah's failure as seen in chapter 39 would play an important role in the sealing of Judah's future.
II Kings 18:1-2 says that Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he inherited Judah's throne and that he reigned twenty-nine years. This means that Hezekiah was thirty-nine years old when he received the news from Isaiah that he would die. Naturally, the king was grieved to hear that he would die so young. One must be careful not to judge Hezekiah too harshly. Most people of that age would have a similar response. God does not condemn the king for requesting an extension of his life; therefore, the reader should not.
It is unlikely that Hezekiah was flaunting his righteousness before God. Rather, the language indicates that he was reminding the Lord of how he had sought to cleanse the land of idols and to reestablish the feasts of the Lord (II Kings 18:3-5). The Bible says of Hezekiah, "...He did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did." Few kings have received such a commendation. Grieved and confused by the news of Isaiah, the king pleaded his case before the Lord.
Before Isaiah could reach the middle court of the king's house, the Lord returned an answer to Hezekiah (II Kings 20:4). God cares about the feelings and needs of people. Had Hezekiah chosen to accept the news and die in peace, such would have been well and good. God's plans are perfect; yet, there are times when the Lord allows room for a change of direction when His attention is arrested by the prayers of His people.
The Lord is a God Who is acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), and He saw the king's heartache. The Lord mercifully extended Hezekiah's life by fifteen years. This would make Hezekiah fifty-four when he died sometime after Sennacherib's invasion. The Lord's promise to deliver the city out of Assyria's hand supports the conclusion that these things happened prior to 701 BC.
The parallel account found in the Book of the Kings says that Hezekiah was offered a choice by the Lord concerning the sign of the sundial. Isaiah had asked him, "...Shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?" Convinced that a reversal of the sun's natural setting would be the greater miracle, Hezekiah answered, "It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees."