Psalm 42:1 (ESV) … “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”
Hezekiah’s father was an exceedingly weak and wicked man. His foreign policy was a disaster. Because of his unwillingness to believe the Word of God as preached to him by the great prophet Isaiah, the Assyrians had penetrated deeply into the country and were exerting tremendous pressure on the little land. Everyone in the Middle East was frightened of Assyria in those days. The Assyrians were the Russians of that time, a ruthless and terrible foe who made war with a thoroughness and savagery which completely intimidated their weaker neighbors. They scoffed at alliances made against them, bullying those who joined such alliances with dire threats of the consequences they could expect.
In Hezekiah’s day the Assyrians were already on the march. Judah’s sister state of Israel to the north had felt the full weight of the Assyrian war machine and the ten tribes were no more. They had been deported far and wide and their great city of Samaria left a smoking ruin.
Hezekiah had fallen heir to a little country divided against itself religiously and politically. Foul religious cults were flourishing in the land and the political parties squabbled over every move suggested in foreign affairs. Half the country wanted peace with the Assyrians at any price, half the country wanted to forge alliances with Egypt, Babylon, and any other nation able to help contain the Assyrian aggression.
Hezekiah found a ready ally in Isaiah who encouraged him to campaign against the false religions which had arisen in the land. Accordingly he cleansed and restored the Temple and put the spiritual affairs of the nation back in order. But no man or combination of men, no matter how good and godly they may be, can legislate revival. The majority of the people were skeptical and thought that attacking the false religions would only weaken the country further by causing needless resentment.
It would be as though a president of the United States were suddenly to stand up and be counted as a born-again believer, to actively lead legislation against Mormons, Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the various eastern and occult religions which plague the land; as though he campaigned against the vile homosexual movement, against pornography, and against the lax morals of America. Hezekiah stood up against unrighteousness, and Isaiah preached in support of him. As a result the land was torn with doubt and uncertainty, since the vast majority had little sympathy with the political and religious conservatism of the preacher and the king.
It was at this point that Hezekiah fell sick unto death. We do not know what afflicted him; the best suggestion is that he contracted the plague. We can well imagine what a disappointment it was to this godly king to be abruptly told to prepare for death. His work was not finished; he had no son or heir to sit upon his throne; death seemed so futile and unfair. Possibly, in his desperate condition, Hezekiah wrote this psalm.