“Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord. Then Isaiah said, ‘Prepare a bandage made of figs.’ They did so and put it on the swelling, at which point Hezekiah started getting better.”
2 Kings 20:2, 7 (Common English Bible)
Theodore Roosevelt, our nation’s 26th president, was born a frail, sickly child with debilitating asthma. At seventeen, Roosevelt was as tall as he would grow, five feet eight inches, and was just shy of 125 pounds. His health, a continual concern of his parents, prompted Theodore Senior to decide that the time had come to “present a major challenge to his son.”i At the age of twelve, Theodore – nicknamed, Teedie – was told by his father that he had a great mind, but not the body. Without the help of the body, the mind could not go as far as it should. “You must make your body. It is hard drudgery to make one’s body, but I know you will do it.”ii Teedie made the commitment to his father that he would do so. The promise was adhered to with bulldog tenacity. The young Theodore Roosevelt took personal responsibility for his physical health and development.
Hezekiah, king of Judah, became a very sick man during his leadership. He had a wound that had become so serious that his spiritual counselor, a prophet named Isaiah, informed him that he should put his affairs in order because he was dying. That diagnosis came like a bolt of lightning to Hezekiah. In desperation, Hezekiah “turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord.” He pled with the Lord to reward his faithfulness as a man of God and to spare his life. Then, the scriptures tell us, Hezekiah cried and cried. Before Isaiah had left the courtyard of the king’s residence, God sent him back to Hezekiah with another and more hopeful message: “I have heard your prayers and have seen your tears. So now I’m going to heal you. I will add fifteen years to your life.”iii Then follows something that is most curious: Isaiah orders a bandage made of figs be placed on the swelling. Hezekiah prayed and Isaiah prepared a bandage: prayer and responsibility.
With powerful clarity, this passage of scripture teaches us that two things were responsible for Hezekiah’s rapid recovery: prayer and a bandage, faith and personal responsibility. If the king was to recover his health, both were required. The Bible refuses to indicate which of the two was the more important. We cannot know which was the most effectual. The message is that without either of them Hezekiah would have died in the prime of his life and at a time when his country most needed his leadership. The power of the Assyrian king, and his armies, threaten the peace Judah. The death of Hezekiah would have made Judah most vulnerable to their enemies. With his health restored, Hezekiah was able to defend his nation from the Assyrian threat. This story provides an important lesson for God’s people: While prayer is essential it must never be made a substitute for personal responsibility.
There are people who make the mistake of choosing between the two, prayer and responsibility. We have seen in the news recently where parents of a particular Christian sect refused medical treatment for their young son because they chose the avenue of prayer alone. A choice between faith and medicine is simply not supported by this Bible lesson. Each is a gift of God and each has its own power. Faith and medicine are both means of healing. They belong together. Both are agents of a compassionate God. Prayer and personal responsibility cooperate closely in effecting the highest well-being of those who struggle with illness. This story from 2 Kings reminds us not to neglect either. The second century French physician, Paré, reminds us of this truth when he wrote, “I dressed the wound and God healed it.”
i Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (New York: Random House, 1979), 32.
ii Morris, 32.
iii Portions of 2 Kings 20:5,6.