“And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of the Lord on the third day?” And Isaiah said, “This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he has promised: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps?” And Hezekiah answered, “It is an easy thing for the shadow to lengthen ten steps. Rather let the shadow go back ten steps.” And Isaiah the prophet called to the Lord, and he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which it had gone down on the steps of Ahaz.”2 Kings 20:8-11, ESV
“Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”Isaiah 7:10-14
Through the Bible: 2 Kings 20-21
During Isaiah’s forty year ministry, four kings sat on Judah’s throne. The first two—Uzziah and Jotham— did right in the eyes of the Lord. The third, Ahaz, was awful. 2 Kings 16 says he offered his own son as a burnt offering to the pagan Canaanite gods. 2 Chronicles adds that he stripped the Temple of all its gold and gave it as tribute to the king of Assyria, shut and locked the doors of the Temple, and set up pagan altars “in every corner of Jerusalem” (see 2 Chron, 28:21-26).
For all this, the Lord, through Isaiah, invited this wicked king to ask Him for a sign that God was with Him. The result was one of the clearest prophecies of the coming Messiah and the greatest word of comfort:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Ahaz died, and his son Hezekiah became king in his place. Somehow, Hezekiah was as good a king as his father was bad. He tore down all the altars his father had set up. 2 Kings 18 says the Lord was with him in everything he did.
Still, Hezekiah was stricken with a fatal disease. Isaiah was sent to him to tell him to get his affairs in order. When he got the news, Hezekiah cried out to God, and the Lord added fifteen years to his life. When Isaiah came back to tell Hezekiah the news, Hezekiah asked the Lord to give him a sign that God was indeed with him.
The contrast is striking.
- A wicked king is invited to ask for a sign, and refuses. God gives him one anyway: Immanuel. God is with us.
- A good king asks God for a sign, and God gives him one: I will be with you.
We might think it is virtuous to refuse to ask for a sign. On the surface, Ahaz sounds pious when he says, “I will not put the Lord to the test.”
By the same token, we might think it is wicked to ask God for a sign. On the surface, Hezekiah sounds presumptuous when he says, “What sign will God give me that I’m really going to be healed?”
So back to the question we began with: Is it okay to ask God for a sign? I think the lesson from these to kings is, if God invites you to test Him, then test Him. God rebuked Ahaz, for not asking for a sign.
We are learning that we can’t make universal principles from the way God dealt with specific individuals in specific circumstances. At best they can serve as models for us.
We also know that if we do interpret a circumstance as a sign or confirmation from God, it will never contradict or supersede what He has already spoken in His word. God is right to ask, “Why should I give you a sign when you aren’t paying attention to what I’ve already told you?”
The thing to remember in both of these stories is that God is after His glory. God was glorified through Ahaz’s temporary victory over Assyria, and Immanuel’s (Jesus’) ultimate victory over sin.
God was also glorified by giving Hezekiah fifteen more years of life. It’s worth noting that Ahaz reigned for sixteen years (see 2 Kings 16:1). Perhaps God knew Hezekiah needed those extra years to undo the damage His father caused.
We know that it is always wrong to disobey God, which is what Ahaz did when he refused to ask for a sign.
On the other hand, it may be inappropriate to ask God for a sign. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist learned that when God struck him dumb for nine months (see Luke 1:18-20).
But it might not be. God gave Gideon the sign he wanted, twice (see Judges 6). All through 2 Kings, God granted Elisha’s request for signs.
God granted Mary’s request for a sign (or at least an explanation— see Luke 1:34).
But Jesus did not grant the Pharisees request for a sign when they asked for one:
“A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.”
Matthew 16:4 NIV
Also remember Hebrews 1:1. The wrier makes a clear distinction between how God used to speak compared to Gods final Word:
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”
Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV
Bottom line: go ahead and ask for a sign from God when you need assurance that he is with you. Just keep three things in mind:
- Seek His glory, not your benefit.
- Don’t expect Him to rearrange the letters in your alphabet soup.
- Be aware that God has already given you assurance that He is with you. He sent Jesus.
God with us.
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