Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 38

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes


This chapter contains the record of an important transaction which occurred in the time of Isaiah, and in which he was deeply interested - the dangerous sickness, and the remarkable recovery of Hezekiah. It is introduced here, doubtless, because the account was drawn up by Isaiah (see Analysis of Isaiah 36:0); and because it records his agency at an important crisis of the history. A record of the same transaction, evidently from the same hand, occurs in 2 Kings 20:1-11. But the account differs more than the records in the two previous chapters. It is abrigded in Isaiah by omitting what is recorded in Kings in Isaiah 38:4, and in the close of Isaiah 38:6, it is transposed in the statement which occurs in regard to the application of the ‘lump of figs;’ and it is enlarged by the introduction of the record which Hezekiah made of his sickness and recovery Isaiah 38:9-20.

The contents of the chapter are:

1. The statement of the dangerous sickness of Hezekiah, and the message of God to him by the prophet Isaiah 38:1.

2. The prayer which Hezekiah offered for his recovery Isaiah 38:3.

3. The assurance which God gave to him by the prophet that his days should be lengthened out fifteen years, and the sign given to confirm it by the retrocession of the shadow on the sun-dial of Ahaz Isaiah 38:5-8.

4. The record which Hezekiah made in gratitude to God for his recovery Isaiah 38:9-20; and

5. The statement of the manner in which his recovery was effected Isaiah 38:21-22.

Verse 1

In those days - That is, his sickness commenced about the period in which the army of Sennacherib was destroyed. It has been made a question whether the sickness of Hezekiah was before or after the invasion of Sennacherib. The most natural interpretation certainly is, that it occurred after that invasion, and probably at no distant period. The only objection to this view is the statement in Isaiah 38:6, that God would deliver him out of the hand of the king of Assyria, which has been understood by many as implying that he was then threatened with the invasion. But this may mean simply that he would be perpetually and finally delivered from his hand; that he would be secure in that independence from a foreign yoke which he had long sought 2 Kings 18:7; and that the Assyrian should not be able again to bring the Jews into subjection (see the notes at Isaiah 37:30-31; compare the note at Isaiah 38:6). Jerome supposes that it was brought upon him lest his heart should be elated with the signal triumph, and in order that, in his circumstances, he might be kept humble. Josephus (Ant. x. 2. 1) says that the sickness occurred soon after the destruction of the army of Sennacherib. Prideaux (Connection, vol. i. p. 137) places his sickness before the invasion of the Assyrians.

Was sick - What was the exact nature of this sickness is not certainly known. In Isaiah 38:21 it is said that it was ‘a boil,’ and probably it was a pestilential boil. The pestilence or plague is attended with an eruption or boil. ‘No one,’ says Jahn, ‘ever recovered from the pestilence unless the boil of the pestilence came out upon him, and even then he could not always be cured’ (Biblical Antiquities, Section 190). The pestilence was, and is still, rapid in its progress. It terminates the life of those who are affected with it almost immediately, and at the furthest within three or four days. Hence, we see one ground of the alarm of Hezekiah. Another cause of his anxiety was, that he had at this time no children, and consequently he had reason to apprehend that his kingdom would be thrown into contention by conflicting strifes for the crown.

Unto death - Ready to die; with a sickness which in the ordinary course would terminate his life.

Set thine house in order - Hebrew, ‘Give command (צו tsâv) to thy house,’ that is, to thy family. If you have any directions to give in regard to the succession to the crown, or in regard to domestic and private arrangements, let it be done soon. Hezekiah was yet in middle life. He came to the throne when he was twenty-five years old 2 Kings 18:2, and he had now reigned about fourteen years. It is possible that he had as yet made no arrangements in regard to the succession, and as this was very important to the peace of the nation, Isaiah was sent to him to apprize him of the necessity of leaving the affairs of his kingdom so that there should not be anarchy when he should die. The direction, also, may be understood in a more general sense as denoting that he was to make whatever arrangements might be necessary as preparatory to his death. We see here -

1. The boldness and fidelity of a man of God. Isaiah was not afraid to go in and freely tell even a monarch that he must die. The subsequent part of the narrative would lead us to suppose that until this announcement Hezekiah did not regard himself as in immediate danger. It is evident here, that the physician of Hezekiah had not informed him of it - perhaps from the apprehension that his disease would be aggravated by the agitation of his mind on the subject. The duty was, therefore, left, as it is often, to a minister of religion - a duty which even many ministers are slow to perform, and which many physicians are reluctant to have performed.

2. No danger is to be apprehended commonly from announcing to those who are sick their true condition. Friends and relatives are often reluctant to do it, for fear of agitating and alarming them. Physicians often prohibit them from knowing their true condition, under the apprehension that their disease may be aggravated. Yet here was a case in which pre-eminently there might be danger from announcing the danger of death. The disease was deeply seated. It was making rapid progress. It was usually incurable. Nay, there was here a moral certainty that the monarch would die. And this was a case, therefore, which particularly demanded, it would seem, that the patient should be kept quiet, and free from alarms. But God regarded it as of great importance that he should know His true condition, and the prophet was directed to go to him and faithfully to state it. Physicians and friends often err in this.

There is no species of cruelty greater than to suffer a friend to lie on a dying bed under a delusion. There is no sin more aggravated than that of designedly deceiving a dying man, and flattering him with the hope of recovery when there is a moral certainty that he will not, and cannot recover. And there is evidently no danger to be apprehended from communicating to the sick their true condition. It should be done tenderly, and with affection; but it should be done faithfully. I have had many opportunities of witnessing the effect of apprizing the sick of their situation, and of the moral certainty that they must die. And I cannot now recall an instance in which the announcement has had any unhappy effect on the disease. Often, on the contrary, the effect is to calm the mind, and to lead the dying to look up to God, and peacefully to repose on him. And the effect of that is always salutary. Nothing is more favorable for a recovery than a peaceful, calm, heavenly submission to God; and the repose and quiet which physicians so much desire their patients to possess, is often best obtained by securing confidence in God, and a calm resignation to his will.

3. Every man with the prospect of death before him should set his house in order. Death is an event which demands preparation - a preparation which should not be deferred to the dying moment. In view of it, whether it comes sooner or later, our peace should be made with God and our worldly affairs so arranged that we can leave them without distraction, and without regret.

For thou shalt die, and not live - Thy disease is incurable. It is a mortal, fatal disease. The Hebrew is, ‘for thou art dead’ (מת mēth); that is, you are a dead man. A similar expression occurs in Genesis 20:3, in the address which God made to Abimelech: ‘Behold thou art a dead man, on account of the woman which thou hast taken.’ We have a similar phrase in our language, when a man is wounded, and when he says, ‘I am a dead man.’ This is all that we are required to understand here, that, according to the usual course of the disease, he must die. It is evident that Isaiah was not acquainted himself with the secret intention of God; nor did he know that Hezekiah would humble himself, and plead with God; nor that God would by a miracle lengthen out his life.

Verse 2

Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall - The wall of the room in which he was lying He was probably lying on a couch next the wall of his room. Eastern houses usually have such couches or ottomans running along on the sides of the room on which they recline, and on which they lie when they are sick. Hezekiah probably turned his face to the wall in order that his emotion and his tears might not be seen by the bystanders, or in order that he might compose himself the better for devotion. His prayer he wished, doubtless, to be as secret as possible. The Chaldee renders this, ‘Turned his face to the wall of the house of the sanctuary;’ that is, of the temple, so that it might appear that be prayed toward the temple. Thus Daniel; when in Babylon, is said to have prayed with his windows opened toward Jerusalem Daniel 6:10. The Mahometans pray everywhere with their faces turned toward Mecca. But there is no evidence in the Hebrew text that Hezekiah prayed in that manner. The simple idea is, that he turned over on his couch toward the wall of his room, doubtless, for the greater privacy, and to hide his deep emotion.

Verse 3

And said, Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee - The object which Hezekiah desired was evidently that his life might be spared, and that he might not be suddenly cut off. He therefore makes mention of the former course of his life, not with ostentation, or as a ground of his acceptance or justification, but as a reason why his limb should not be cut off. He had not lived as many of the kings of Israel had done. He had not been a patron of idolatry. He had promoted an extensive and thorough reformation among the people. He had exerted his influence as a king in the service of Yahweh, and it was his purpose still to do it; and he, therefore, prayed that his life might be spared in order that he might carry forward and perfect his plans for the reformation of the people, and for the establishment of the worship of Yahweh.

How I have walked - How I have lived. Life, in the Scriptures, is often represented as a journey, and a life of piety is represented as walking with God (see Genesis 5:24; Genesis 6:9; 1 Kings 9:4; 1 Kings 11:33).

In truth - In the defense and maintenance of the truth, or in sincerity.

And with a perfect heart - With a heart sound, sincere, entire in thy service. This had been his leading aim; his main, grand purpose. He had not pursued his own ends, but his whole official royal influence bad been on the side of religion. This refers to his public character rather than to his private feelings. For though, as a man, he might be deeply conscious of imperfection; yet as a king, his influence had been wholly on the side of religion, and he had not declined from the ways of God.

And have done that which is good - This accords entirely with the account which is given of him in 2 Kings 18:3-5.

And Hezekiah wept sore - Margin, as Hebrew, ‘With great weeping.’ Josephus (Ant. x. 2. 1) says, that the reason why Hezekiah was so much affected was that he was then childless, and saw that he was about to leave the government without a successor. Others suppose that it was because his death would be construed by his enemies as a judgment of God for his stripping the temple of its ornaments 2 Kings 18:16. It is possible that several things may have been combined in producing the depth of his grief. In his song, or in the record which he made to express his praise to God for his recovery, the main reason of his grief which he suggested was, the fact that he was in danger of being cut off in the midst of his days; that the blessings of a long life were likely to be denied him (see Isaiah 38:10-12). We have here an instance in which even a good man may be surprised, alarmed, distressed, at the sudden announcement that he must die. The fear of death is natural; and even those who are truly pious are sometimes alarmed when it comes.

Verse 4

Then came the word of the Lord - In the parallel place in 2 Kings 20:4, it is said, ‘And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came unto him.’ That is, the message of God name to Isaiah before he had left Hezekiah; or as soon as he had offered his prayer. This circumstance is omitted by Isaiah on the revision of his narrative which we have before us. But there is no contradiction. In this place it is implied that the message came to him soon, or immediately.

Verse 5

The God of David thy father - David is mentioned here, probably, because Hezekiah had a strong resemblance to him 2 Kings 18:3, and because a long and happy reign had been granted to David; and also because the promise had been made to David that there should not fail a man to sit on his throne (see the note at Isaiah 37:35). As Hezekiah resembled David, God promised that his reign should be lengthened out; and as he perhaps was then without a son and successor, God promised him a longer life, with the prospect that he might have an heir who should succeed him on the throne.

Behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years - This is perhaps the only instance in which any man has been told exactly how long he would live. Why God specified the time cannot now be known. It was, however, a full answer to the prayer of Hezekiah, and the promise is a full demonstration that God is the hearer of prayer, and that he can answer it at once. We learn here, that it is right for a friend of God to pray for life. In times of sickness, and even when there are indications of a fatal disease, it is not improper to pray that the disease may be removed, and the life prolonged. If the desire be to do good; to advance the kingdom of God; to benefit others; or to perfect some plan of benevolence which is begun, it is not improper to pray that God would prolong the life. Who can tell but that he often thus spares useful lives when worn down with toil, and when the frame is apparently sinking to the grave, in answer to prayer? He does not indeed work miracles as he did in the case of Hezekiah, but he may direct to remedies which had not before occurred; or he may himself give a sudden and unlooked-for turn to the disease, and restore the sufferer again to health.

Verse 6

And I will deliver thee and this city - The purport of this promise is, that he and the city should be finally and entirely delivered from all danger of invasion from the Assyrians. It might be apprehended that Sennacherib would collect a large army, and return; or that his successor would prosecute the war which he had commenced. But the assurance here is given to Hezekiah that he had nothing more to fear from the Assyrians (see the notes at Isaiah 31:4-5; Isaiah 37:35). In the parallel place in 2 Kings 20:6, it is added. ‘I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.’ In the parallel passage also, in 2 Kings 20:7-8, there is inserted the statement which occurs in Isaiah at the end of the chapter Isaiah 38:21-22. It is evident that those two verses more appropriately come in here. Lowth conjectures that the abridger of the history omitted those verses, and when he had transcribed the song of Hezekiah, he saw that they were necessary to complete the narrative, and placed them at the end of the chapter, with proper marks to have them inserted in the right place, which marks were overlooked by transcribers. It is, however, immaterial where the statement is made; and it is now impossible to tell in what manner the transposition occurred.

Verse 7

And this shall be a sign unto thee - That is, a sign, or proof that God would do what he had promised, and that Hezekiah would recover and be permitted to go again to the temple of the Lord Isa 38:22; 2 Kings 20:8. On the meaning of the word ‘sign,’ see Isaiah 7:11, note; Isaiah 7:14, note; compare the note at Isaiah 37:30. The promise was, that he should be permitted to go to the temple in three days 2 Kings 20:5.

Verse 8

Behold, I will bring again the shadow - The shadow, or shade which is made by the interception of the rays of the sun by the gnomon on the dial. The phrase ‘bring again’ (Hebrew, משׁיב mēshı̂yb) means to cause to return (Hiphil, from שׁוב shûb, to return); that is, I will cause it retrograde, or bring back. Septuagint, Στρέψω Strepsō - ‘I will turn back.’ Few subjects have perplexed commentators more than this account of the sun-dial of Ahaz. The only other place where a sun-dial is mentioned in the Scriptures is in the parallel place in 2 Kings 20:9-10, where the account is somewhat more full, and the nature of the miracle more fully represented: ‘This sign shalt thou have of the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing which he hath spoken: Shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees? And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees; nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees.’ That is, it would be in the usual direction which the shadow takes, for it to go down, and there would be less that would be decisive in the miracle. He therefore asked that it might be moved backward from its common direction, and then there could be no doubt that it was from God; 2 Kings 20:11 : ‘And Isaiah the prophet cried unto Yahweh, and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which had gone down in the dial of Ahaz.’

The shadow of the degrees - That is, the shadow made on the degrees; or indicated by the degrees on the dial. But there has been much difficulty in regard to the meaning of the word degrees. The Hebrew word (מעלה ma‛ălâh from עלה âlâh, to ascend, to go up) means properly an ascent; a going up from a lower to a higher region; then a step by which one ascends, applied to the steps on a staircase, etc. 1 Kings 10:19; Ezekiel 40:26, Ezekiel 40:31, Ezekiel 40:34. Hence, it may be applied to the ascending or descending figures or marks on a dial designating the ascent or descent of the sun; or the ascent or descent of the shadow going up or down by steps or hours marked on its face. The word is applied to a dial nowhere else but here. Josephus understands this as referring to the stem in the house or palace of Ahaz. ‘He desired that he would make the shadow of the sun which he had already made to go down ten steps in his house, to return again to the same place, and to make it as it was before;’ by which he evidently regarded Hezekiah as requesting that the shadow which had gone down on the steps of the palace should return to its place ten steps backward. It is possible that the time of day may have been indicated by the shadow of the sun on the steps of the palace, and that this may have constituted what was called the sun-dial of Ahaz; but the more probable interpretation is that which regards the dial as a distinct and separate contrivance. The Septuagint renders it by the word steps, yet understanding it as Josephus does, Ἀναβαθμοὺς τοῦ οικου τοῦ πατρός σου Anabathmous tou oikou tou patros sou - ‘The steps of the house of thy father.’

Which is gone down on the sun-dial of Ahaz - Margin, ‘Degrees by,’ or ‘with the sun.’ Hebrew, literally, ‘which has descended on the steps; or degrees of Ahaz by, or with the sun (בשׁמשׁ bashemesh), that is, by means of the sun, or caused by the progress of the sun. The shadow had gone down on the dial by the regular course of the sun. Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah; and it is evident from this, that the dial had been introduced by him, and had been used by him to measure time. There is no mention of any instrument for keeping time in the Bible before this, nor is it possible, perhaps, to determine the origin or character of this invention, or to know where Ahaz obtained it. Perhaps all that can be known on the subject has been collected by Calmer, to whose article (Dial) in his Dictionary, and to the Fragments of Taylor appended to his Dictionary (Fragments, ii.; cii.) the reader may be referred for a more full statement on this subject than is consistent with the design of these notes.

The mention of the dial does not occur before the time of Ahaz, who lived 726 b.c.; nor is it certainly known that even after his time the Jews generally divided their time by hours. The word ‘hour’ (καἱρικός kairikos) occurs first in Tobit; and it has been supposed that the invention of dials came from beyond the Euphrates (Herod. ii. 109). But others suppose that it came from the Phenicians, and that the first traces of it are discoverable in what Homer says (Odyss. xv. 402) of ‘an island called Syria lying above Ortygia, where the revolutions of the sun are observed.’ The Phenicians are supposed to have inhabited this island of Syria, and it is therefore presumed that they left there this monument of their skill in astronomy. About three hundred years after Homer, Pherecydes set up a sun-dial in the same island to distinguish the hours. The Greeks confess that Anaximander, who lived 547 b.c., under the reign of Cyrus, first divided time by hours, and introduced sun-dials among them.

This was during the time of the captivity at Babylon. Anaximander traveled into Chaldea, and it is not improbable that he brought the dial from Babylon. The Chaldeans were early distinguished for, their attention to astronomy, and it is probable that it was in Babylon that the sun-dial, and the division of the day into hours, was first used, and that the knowledge of that was conveyed in some way from Chaldea to Ahaz. Interpreters have differed greatly in regard to the form of the sun-dial used by Ahaz, and by the ancients generally. Cyril of Alexandria and Jerome believed it was a staircase so disposed, that the sun showed the hours on it by the shadow. This, as we have seen, was the opinion of Josephus; and this opinion has been followed by many others. Others suppose it was an obelisk or pillar in the middle of a smooth pavement on which the hours were engraved, or on which lines were drawn which would indicate the hours.

Grotius, in accordance with the opinion of rabbi Elias Chomer, describes it thus: ‘It was a concave hemisphere, in the midst of which was a globe, the shadow of which fell upon several lines engraved on the concavity of the hemisphere; these lines, they say, were eight-and-twenty in number.’ This description accords nearly with the kind of dial which the Greeks called scapha, a boat, or hemisphere, the invention of which the Greeks ascribed to a Cbaldean named Berosus (Vitruv. ix. 9). See the plate in Taylor’s Calmet, ‘Sun-dial of Ahaz’ (Figs. 1 and 2). Berosus was a priest of Belus in Babylon, and lived indeed perhaps 300 years after Ahaz; but there is no necessity of supposing that he was the inventor of the dial. It is sufficient to suppose that he was reputed to be the first who introduced it into Greece. He went from Babylon to Greece, where he taught astronomy first at Cos, and then at Athens, where one of his dials is still shown.

Herodotus expressly says (i. 109), ‘the pole, the gnomon, and the division of the day into twelve parts, the Greeks received from the Babylonians.’ This sun-dial was portable; it did not require to be constructed for a particular spot to which it should be subsequently confined; and therefore one ready-made might have been brought from Babylon to Ahaz. That be had commerce with these countries appears by his alliance with Tiglath-pileser 2 Kings 16:7-8. And that Ahaz was a man who was desirous of availing himself of foreign inventions, and introducing them into his capital, appears evident from his desire to have an altar constructed in Jerusalem, similar to the one which he had seen in Damascus 2 Kings 16:10. The dial is now a well-known instrument, the principle of which is, that the hours are marked on its face by a shadow cast from the sun by a gnomon. In order to the understanding of this miracle, it is not necessary to be acquainted with the form of the ancient dial. It will be understood by a reference to any dial, and would have been substantially the same, whatever was the form of the instrument. The essential idea is, that the shadow of the gnomon which thus indicated a certain degree or hour of the day, was made to go back ten degrees or places. It may conduce, however, to the illustration of this subject to have before the eye a representation of the usual form of the ancient dial. Therefore, see the three forms of dials which have been discovered and which are present in the book. The engraving represents:

1. A concave dial of white marble, found at Givita, in the year 1762.

2. Another concave dial, found at mount Tusculum, near Rome, in 1726.

3. A compound dial, preserved in the Elgin collection in the British Museum. It was found at Athens, supposed to have been used in marking the hours on one of the crossways of the city.

The first two are considered to resemble, if indeed they be not identical with the famous dial of Ahaz.’

In regard to this miracle, it seems only necessary to observe that all that is indispensable to be believed is, that the shadow on the dial was made suddenly to recede from any cause. It is evident that this may have been accomplished in several ways. It may have been by arresting the motion of the earth in its revolutions, and causing it to retrograde on its axis to the extent indicated by the return of the shadow, or it may have been by a miraculous bending, or inclining of the rays of the sun. As there is no evidence that the event was observed elsewhere; and as it is not necessary to suppose that the earth was arrested in its motion, and that the whole frame of the universe was adjusted to this change in the movement of the earth, it is most probable that it was an inclination of the rays of the sun; or a miraculous causing of the shadow itself to recede. This is the whole statement of the sacred writer, and this is all that is necessary to be supposed. What Hezekiah desired was a miracle; a sign that he should recover. That was granted. The retrocession of the shadow in this sudden manner was not a natural event. It could be caused only by God; and this was all that was needed. A simple exertion of divine power on the rays of the sun which rested on the dial, deflecting those rays, would accomplish the whole result. It may be added that it is not recorded, nor is it necessary to an understanding of the subject to suppose, that the bending of the rays was permanent, or that so much time was lost. The miracle was instantaneous, and was satisfactory to Hezekiah, though the rays of the sun casting the shadow may have again been soon returned to their regular position, and the shadow restored to the place in which it would have been had it not been interrupted. No infidel, therefore, can object to this statement, unless lie can prove that this could not be done by him who made the sun, and who is himself the fountain of power.

By which degrees it was gone down - By the same steps, or degrees on which the shadow had descended. So the Septuagint express it; ‘so the sun re-ascended the ten steps by which the shadow had gone down. It was the shadow on the dial which had gone down. The sun was ascending, and the consequence was, of course, that the shadow on a vertical dial would descend. The ‘sun’ here means, evidently, the sun as it appeared; the rays, or the shining of the sun. A return of the shadow was effected such as would be produced by the recession of the sun itself.

Verse 9

The writing of Hezekiah - This is the title to the following hymn - a record which Hezekiah made to celebrate the goodness of God in restoring him to health. The writing itself is poetry, as is indicated by the parallelism, and by the general structure. It is in many respects quite obscure - an obscurity perhaps arising from the brevity and conciseness which are apparent in the whole piece. It is remarkable that this song or hymn is not found in the parallel passage in the Book of Kings. The reason why it was omitted there, and inserted here, is unknown. It is possible that it was drawn up for Hezekiah by Isaiah, and that it is inserted here as a part of his composition, though adopted by Hezekiah, and declared to be his, that is, as expressing the gratitude of his heart on his recovery from his disease. It was common to compose an ode or hymn of praise on occasion of deliverance from calamity, or any remarkable interposition of God (see the notes at Isaiah 12:1; Isaiah 25:1; Isaiah 26:1). Many of the Psalms of David were composed on such occasions, and were expressive of gratitude to God for deliverance from impending calamity. The hymn or song is composed of two parts. In the first part Isaiah 38:10-14, Hezekiah describes his feelings and his fears when he was suffering, and especially the apprehension of his mind at the prospect of death; and the second part Isaiah 38:15-20 expresses praise to God for his goodness.

Verse 10

I said - Probably the words ‘I said’ do not imply that he said or spoke this openly or audibly; but this was the language of his heart, or the substance of his reflections.

In the cutting off of my days - There has been considerable diversity of interpretation in regard to this phrase. Vitringa renders it as our translators have done. Rosenmuller renders it, ‘In the meridian of my days.’ The Septuagint, Ἐν τῷ ὕψει τῶν ἡμερῶν μου En tō hupsei tōn hēmerōn mou - ‘In the height of my days,’ where they evidently read ברמי instead of בדמי, by the change of a single letter. Aquila, and the Greek interpreters generally, rendered it, ‘In the silence of my days.’ The word used here in Hebrew (דמי demı̂y) denotes properly stillness, quiet, rest; and Gesenius renders it, ‘in the quiet of my days.’ According to him the idea is, ‘now when I might have rest; when I am delivered from my foes; when I am in the midst of my life, of my reign, and of my plans of usefulness, I must die.’ The sense is, doubtless, that he was about to be cut off in middle life, and when he had every prospect of usefulness, and of happiness in his reign.

I shall go to the gates of the grave - Hebrew, ‘Gates of sheol.’ On the meaning of the word sheol, and the Hebrew idea of the descent to it through gates, see the notes at Isaiah 5:14; Isaiah 14:9. The idea is, that he must go down to the regions of the dead, and dwell with departed shades (see the note at Isaiah 38:11).

The residue of my years - Those which I had hoped to enjoy; of which I had a reasonable prospect in the ordinary course of events. It is evident that Hezekiah had looked forward to a long life, and to a prosperous and peaceful reign. This was the means which God adopted to show him the impropriety of his desire, and to turn him more entirely to his service, and to a preparation for death. Sickness often has this effect on the minds of good people.

Verse 11

I shall not see the Lord - In the original, the Hebrew which is rendered ‘Lord,’ is not Yahweh, but יה יה yâhh yâhh. On the meaning of it, see the note at Isaiah 12:2 (compare the note at Isaiah 7:14). The repetition of the name here denotes emphasis or intensity of feeling - the deep desire which he had to see Yahweh in the land of the living, and the intense sorrow of his heart at the idea of being cut off from that privilege. The idea here is, that Hezekiah felt that he would not be spared to enjoy the tokens of divine favor on earth; to reap the fruits of the surprising and remarkable deliverance from the army of Sennacherib; and to observe its happy results in the augmenting prosperity of the people, and in the complete success of his plans of reformation.

I shall behold man no more - I shall see the living no more; I shall die, and go among the dead. He regarded it as a privilege to live, and to enjoy the society of his friends and fellow-worshippers in the temple - a privilege from which he felt that he was about to be cut off.

With the inhabitants of the world - Or rather, ‘among the inhabitants of the land of stillness;’ that is, of the land of shades - sheol. He would not there see man as he saw him on earth, living and active, but would be a shade in the land of shades; himself still, in a world of stillness. ‘I shall be associated with them there, and of course be cut off from the privileges of the society of living men.’ (See Supplementary Note at Isaiah 14:9.) The Hebrew word rendered ‘world’ (חדל chedel), is from חדל châdal, “to cease, to leave off, to desist; to become languid, flaccid, pendulous.” It then conveys the idea of leaving off, of resting, of being still Judges 5:6; Job 3:17; Job 14:6; Isaiah 2:22. Hence, the idea of frailty Psalms 39:5; and hence, the word here denotes probably the place of rest, the region of the dead, and is synonymous with the land of silence, such as the grave and the region of the dead are in contradistinction from the hurry and bustle of this world. Our translation seems to have been made as if the word was חלד cheled, “life, lifetime”; hence, the world Psalms 17:14; Psalms 49:2. The Vulgate renders it, ‘Habitatorem quietis.’ The Septuagint simply: ‘I shall behold man no more.’

Verse 12

Mine age - The word which is used here (דור dôr) means properly the revolving period or circle of human life. The parallelism seems to demand, however, that it should be used in the sense of dwelling or habitation, so as to correspond with the ‘shepherd’s tent.’ Accordingly, Lowth and Noyes render it, ‘Habitation.’ So also do Gesenius and Rosenmuller. The Arabic word has this signification; and the Hebrew verb דור dûr also means “to dwell, to remain,” as in the Chaldee. Here the word means a dwelling, or habitation; that is, a tent, as the habitations of the Orientals were mostly tents.

Is departed - (נסע nı̂ssa‛). The idea here is, that his dwelling was to be transferred from one place to another, as when a tent or encampment was broken up; that is, he was about to cease to dwell on the earth, and to dwell in the land of silence, or among the dead.

From me as a shepherd’s tent - As suddenly as the tent of a shepherd is taken down, folded up, and transferred to another place. There is doubtless the idea here that he would continue to exist, but in another place, as the shepherd would pitch his tent or dwell in another place. He was to be cut off from the earth, but he expected to dwell among the dead. The whole passage conveys the idea that he expected to dwell in another state - as the shepherd dwells in another place when he strikes his tent, and it is removed.

I have cut off like a weaver my life - This is another image designed to express substantially the same idea. The sense is, as a weaver takes his web from the loom by cutting the warp, or the threads which bind it to the beam, and thus loosens it and takes it away, so his life was to be cut off. When it is said, ‘I cut off’ (קפדתי qipadetiy), the idea is, doubtless, I AM cut off; or my life is cut off. Hezekiah here speaks of himself as the agent, because he might have felt that his sins and unworthiness were the cause. Life is often spoken of as a web that is woven, because an advance is constantly made in filling up the web, and because it is soon finished, and is then cut off.

He will cut me off - God was about to cut me off.

With pining sickness - Margin, ‘From the thrum.’ Lowth, ‘From the loom.’ The word דלה dalâh means properly something hanging down or pendulous; anything pliant or slender. Hence, it denotes hair or locks Song of Solomon 7:6. Here it seems to denote the threads or thrums which tied the web to the weaver’s beam. The image here denotes the cutting off of life as the weaver cuts his web out of the loom, or as he cuts off thrums. The word never means sickness.

From day even to night - That is, in the space of a single day, or between morning and night - as a weaver with a short web accomplishes it in a single day. The disease of Hezekiah was doubtless the pestilence; and the idea is, that God would cut him off speedily, as it were in a single day.

Wilt thou make an end of me - Hebrew, ‘Wilt thou perfect’ or ‘finish’ me; that is, wilt thou take my life.

Verse 13

I reckoned - There has been considerable variety in interpreting this expression. The Septuagint renders it, ‘I was given up in the morning as to a lion.’ The Vulgate renders it, ‘I hoped until morning;’ and in his commentary, Jerome says it means, that as Job in his trouble and anguish Isaiah 7:4 sustained himself at night expecting the day, and in the daytime waiting for the night, expecting a change for the better, so Hezekiah waited during the night expecting relief in the morning. He knew, says he, that the violence of a burning fever would very soon subside, and he thus composed himself, and calmly waited. So Vitringa renders it, ‘I composed my mind until the morning.’ Others suppose that the word used here (שׁוּיתי shı̂vı̂ythı̂y), means, ‘I made myself like a lion,’ that is, in roaring. But the more probable and generally adopted interpretation is, ‘I looked to God, hoping that the disease would soon subside, but as a lion he crushed my bones. The disease increased in violence, and became past endurance. Then I chattered like a swallow, and mourned like a dove, over the certainty that I must die.’ Our translators, by inserting the word ‘that,’ have greatly marred the sense, as if he had reckoned or calculated through the night that God would break his bones, or increase the violence of the disease, whereas the reverse was true. He hoped and expected that it would be otherwise, and with that view he composed his mind.

As a lion so will he break all my bones - This should be in the past tense. ‘He (God) did crush all my bones.’ The connection requires this construction. The idea is, that as a lion crushes the bones of his prey, producing great pain and sudden death, so it was with God in producing great pain and the prospect of sudden death.

From day even to night ... - (See the note at Isaiah 38:12) Between morning and night. That is, his pain so resembled the crushing of all the bones of an animal by the lion, that he could not hope to survive the day.

Verse 14

Like a crane - The word used here (סוּס sûs) usually denotes a horse. The rabbis render it here ‘a crane.’ Gesenius translates it ‘a swallow;’ and in his Lexicon interprets the word which is translated ‘a swallow’ (עגוּר 'āgûr) to mean “circling,” making gyrations; and the whole phrase, ‘as the circling swallow.’ The Syriac renders this, ‘As the chattering swallow.’ The Vulgate, ‘As the young of the swallow.’ The Septuagint simply reads: ‘As the swallow.’ That two birds are intended here, or that some fowl is denoted by the word עגוּר 'āgûr, is manifest from Jeremiah 8:7, where it is mentioned as distinct from the סוּס sûs (the crane) ועגוּר וסוּס vesûs ve‛āgûr. On the meaning of the words Bochart may be consulted (Hieroz. i. 2. p. 602). It is probable that the swallow and the crane are intended. The swallow is well known, and is remarkable for its twittering. The crane is also a well-known bird with long limbs made to go in the water. Its noise may be expressive of grief.

So did I chatter - Peep, or twitter (see the note at Isaiah 8:19). The idea here is doubtless that of pain that was expressed in sounds resembling that made by birds - a broken, unmeaning unintelligible sighing; or quick breathing, and moaning.

I did mourn as a dove - The dove, from its plaintive sound, is an emblem of grief. It is so used in Isaiah 59:11. The idea is that of the lonely or solitary dove that is lamenting or mourning for its companion:

‘Just as the lonely dove laments its mate.’

Mine eyes fail - The word used here (דלוּ dâllû) means properly to hang down, to swing like the branches of the willow; then to be languid, feeble, weak. Applied to the eye, it means that it languishes and becomes weak.

With looking upward - To God, for relief and comfort. He had looked so long and so intensely toward heaven for aid, that his eyes became weak and feeble.

O Lord, I am oppressed - This was his language in his affliction. He was so oppressed and borne down, that he cried to God for relief.

Undertake for me - Margin, ‘Ease me.’ The word (ערב ârab) more properly means, to become surety for him. See it explained in the the note at Isaiah 36:8. Here it means, be surety for my life; give assurance that I shall be restored; take me under thy protection (see Psalms 119:122): ‘Be surety for thy servant for good.’

Verse 15

What shall I say? - This language seems to denote surprise and gratitude at unexpected deliverance. It is the language of a heart that is overflowing, and that wants words to express its deep emotions. In the previous verse he had described his pain, anguish, and despair. In this he records the sudden and surprising deliverance which God had granted; which was so great that no words could express his sense of it. Nothing could be more natural than this language; nothing would more appropriately express the feelings of a man who had been suddenly restored to health from dangerous sickness, and brought from the borders of the grave.

He hath both spoken unto me - That is, he has promised. So the word is often used Deuteronomy 26:17; Jeremiah 3:19. He had made the promise by the instrumentality of Isaiah Isaiah 38:5-6. The promise related to his recovery, to the length of his days, and to his entire deliverance from the hands of the Assyrians.

And himself hath done it - He himself has restored me according to his promise, when no one else could have done it.

I shall go softly - Lowth renders this, in accordance with the Vulgate, ‘Will I reflect.’ But the Hebrew will not bear this construction. The word used here (דדה dâdâh) occurs in but one other place in the Bible Psalms 42:4 : ‘I went with them to the house of God;’ that is, I went with them in a sacred procession to the house of God; I went with a solemn, calm, slow pace. The idea here is, ‘I will go humbly, submissively, all my life; I will walk in a serious manner, remembering that I am traveling to the grave; I will avoid pride, pomp, and display; I will suffer the remembrance of my sickness, and of God’s mercy to produce a calm, serious, thoughtful demeanour all my life.’ This is the proper effect of sickness on a pious mind, and it is its usual effect. And probably, one design of God was to keep Hezekiah from the ostentatious parade usually attendant on his lofty station; from being elated with his deliverance from the Assyrian; from improper celebrations of that deliverance by revelry and pomp; and to keep him in remembrance, that though he was a monarch, yet he was a mortal man, and that he held his life at the disposal of God.

In the bitterness of my soul - I will remember the deep distress, the bitter sorrows of my sickness, and my surprising recovery; and will allow the remembrance of that to diffuse seriousness and gratitude over all my life.

Verse 16

O Lord, by these things men live - The design of this and the following verses is evidently to set forth the goodness of God, and to celebrate his praise for what he had done. The phrase ‘these things,’ refers evidently to the promises of God and their fulfillment; and the idea is, that people are sustained in the land of the living only by such gracious interpositions as he had experienced. It was not because people had any power of preserving their own lives, but because God interposed in time of trouble, and restored to health when there was no human prospect that they could recover.

And in all these things - In these promises, and in the divine interposition.

Is the life of my spirit - I am alive in virtue only of these things.

So wilt thou recover me - Or so hast thou recovered me; that is, thou hast restored me to health.

Verse 17

Behold, for peace - That is, instead of the health, happiness, and prosperity which I had enjoyed, and which I hope still to enjoy.

I had great bitterness - Hebrew, ‘Bitterness to me, bitterness;’ an emphatic expression, denoting intense sorrow.

But thou hast in love to my soul - Margin, ‘Loved my soul from the pit.’ The word which occurs here (חשׁקת châshaqtâ) denotes properly to join or fasten together; then to be attached to anyone; to be united tenderly; to embrace. Here it means that God had loved him, and had thus delivered his soul from death.

Delivered it from the pit of corruption - The word rendered “corruption” (בלי belı̂y), denotes consumption, destruction, perdition. It may be applied to the grave, or to the deep and dark abode of departed spirits; and the phrase here is evidently synonymous with sheol or hades. The grave, or the place for the dead, is often represented as a pit - deep and dark - to which the living descend (Job 17:16; Job 33:18, Job 33:24-25, Job 33:30; Psalms 28:1; Psalms 30:3; Psalms 55:23; Psalms 69:15; Psalms 88:4; compare Isaiah 14:15, note, Isaiah 14:19, note).

For thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back - Thou hast forgiven them; hast ceased to punish me on account of them. This shows that Hezekiah, in accordance with the sentiment everywhere felt and expressed in the Bible, regarded his suffering as the fruit of sin.

Verse 18

For the grave cannot praise thee - The Hebrew word here is sheol. It is put by metonymy here for those who are in the grave, that is, for the dead. The word ‘praise’ here refers evidently to the public and solemn celebration of the goodness of God. It is clear, I think, that Hezekiah had a belief in a future state, or that he expected to dwell with ‘the inhabitants of the land of silence’ Isaiah 38:11 when he died. But he did not regard that state as one adapted to the celebration of the public praises of God. It was a land of darkness; an abode of silence and stillness; a place where there was no temple, and no public praise such as he had been accustomed to. A similar sentiment is expressed by David in Psalms 6:5 :

For in death there is no remembrance of thee;

In the grave who shall give thee thanks?

In regard to the Jewish conceptions of the state of the dead, see the notes at Isaiah 14:15, Isaiah 14:19.

(See the Supplementary note at Isaiah 14:9; also the Prefatory Remarks by the Editor on the Author’s exposition of Job. The ideas entertained by the Author on the state of knowledge among the ancient saints regarding a future world, cannot but be regarded as especially unfortunate. After the fashion of some German critics, the Old Testament worthies are reduced to the same level with the heroes of Homer and Virgil, as far as this matter is concerned at least.)

Cannot hope for thy truth - They are shut out from all the means by which thy truth is brought to the mind, and the offers of salvation are presented. Their probation is at an end; their privileges are closed; their destiny is sealed up. The idea is, it is a privilege to live, because this is a world where the offers of salvation are made, and where those who are conscious of guilt may hope in the mercy of God.

Verse 19

The living, the living - An emphatic or intensive form of expression, as in Isaiah 38:11, Isaiah 38:17. Nothing would express his idea but a repetition of the word, as if the heart was full of it.

The father to the children - One generation of the living to another. The father shall have so deep a sense of the goodness of God that he shall desire to make it known to his children, and to perpetuate the memory of it in the earth.

Verse 20

The Lord was ready to save me - He was prompt, quick to save me. He did not hesitate or delay.

Therefore we will sing my songs - That is, my family and nation. The song of Hezekiah was designed evidently not as a mere record, but to be used in celebrating the praises of God, and probably in a public manner in the temple. The restoration of the monarch was a fit occasion for public rejoicing; and it is probable that this ode was composed to be used by the company of singers that were employed constantly in the temple.

To the stringed instruments - We will set it to music, and will use it publicly (see the notes at Isaiah 5:12).

Verse 21

For Isaiah had said - In the parallel place in Kings the statement in these two verses is introduced before the account of the miracle on the sun-dial, and before the account of his recovery 2 Kings 20:7-8. The order in which it is introduced, however, is not material.

Let them take a lump of figs - The word used here (דבלה debēlâh) denotes “a round cake” of dried figs pressed together in a mass 1 Samuel 25:18. Figs were thus pressed together for preservation, and for convenience of conveyance.

And lay it for a plaster - The word used here (מרח mârach) denotes properly to rub, bruise, crush by rubbing; then to rub, in, to anoint, to soften. Here it means they were to take dried figs and lay them softened on the ulcer.

Upon the boil - (משׁחין mashechı̂yn). This word means a burning sore or an inflamed ulcer Exodus 9:9, Exodus 9:11; Leviticus 13:18-20. The verb in Arabic means to be hot, inflamed; to ulcerate. The noun is used to denote a species of black leprosy in Egypt, called elephantiasis, distinguished by the black scales with which the skin is covered, and by the swelling of the legs. Here it probably denotes a pestilential boil; an eruption, or inflamed ulceration produced by the plague, that threatened immediate death. Jerome says that the plaster of figs was medicinal, and adapted to reduce the inflammation and restore health. There is no improbability in the supposition; nor does anything in the narrative prohibit us from supposing that natural means might have been used to restore him. The miracle consisted in the arrest of the shade on the sun-dial, and in the announcement of Isaiah that he would recover. That figs, when dried, were used in the Materia Medica of the ancients, is asserted by both Pliny and Celsus (see Pliny, Nat. Hist. xxiii. 7; Celsus, v. 2, quoted by Lowth.)

Verse 22

Hezekiah also had said - What evidence or proof have I that I shall be restored, and permitted to go to the temple? The miracle on the sun-dial was performed in answer to this request, and as a demonstration that he should yet be permitted to visit the temple of God (see the note at Isaiah 38:7).

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 38". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.