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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 39

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes


This short chapter completes the historical part of Isaiah. The same record occurs with some slight changes in 2 Kings 20:12-21. Compare the Introduction to Isaiah 36:0. The chapter is composed of the following parts: -

1. The statement that the king of Babylon sent an embassage to Hezekiah to congratulate him on his recovery Isaiah 39:1. This embassage contemplated also an inquiry into the truth of the report in regard to the miracle on the sun-dial 2 Chronicles 32:31.

2. Hezekiah showed them all his treasures in an ostentatious and improper manner Isaiah 39:2. This was permitted, in order that he might be tried, and might know all that was in his own heart, and not be lifted up with pride, and with the conviction of his own righteousness 2 Chronicles 32:31.

3. Isaiah is sent with a message to Hezekiah to inquire what he had done, and who those ambassadors were Isaiah 39:3-5.

4. He is directed to deliver the solemn message of God that Jerusalem should be taken, and that all its inhabitants and all its treasures should be carried to Babylon - the place from where those ambassadors came Isaiah 39:5-7.

5. Hezekiah expresses submission to the just sentence and purpose of God, and gratitude that it should not occur in his days Isaiah 39:8.

Verse 1

At that time - That is, soon after his recovery; or after he had amassed great wealth, and was surrounded with the evidences of prosperity 2 Chronicles 32:27-31.

Merodach-baladan, the son of Balddan, king of Babylon - In the parallel place in 2 Kings 20:12, this name is written Berodach-baladan, by a change of a single letter. Probably the name was written and pronounced both ways. Merodach was an idol of the Babylonians Jeremiah 50:2 : ‘Babylon is taken, Bel is confounded, Merodach is confounded.’ This idol, according to Gesenius, was probably the planet Mars, or Mars the god of war. To this god, as well as to Saturn, the ancient Semitic nations offered human sacrifices (see Gesenius’ Lex. and Corem. in loc.) The word ‘Balddan’ is also a compound word, and means ‘Bel is his lord.’ The name of this idol, Merodach, was often incorporated into the proper names of kings, and of others. Thus we have the names Evil-Merodach, Messi-Mordachus, Sisimor-dachus, Mardocentes, etc. In regard to the statement of Isaiah in this verse, no small degree of difficulty has been felt by commentators, and it is not until quite recently that the difficulty has been removed, and it has been done in a manner to furnish an additional and most striking demonstration of the entire and minute accuracy of the sacred narrative. The difficulty arose from several circnmstances:

1. This king of Babylon is nowhere else mentioned in sacred history.

2. The kingdom of Assyria was yet flourishing, and Babylon was one of its dependencies.

For, only nine years before, Salmanassar the Assyrian monarch is said to have transported the inhabitants of Babylon to other parts 2 Kings 17:24, and Manasseh, not many years after, was carried captive to Babylon by the king of Assyria 2 Chronicles 33:11. These instances incontestably prove that at the time of Hezekiah, Babylon was dependent on the Assyrian kings. Who, then, it is asked, was this Merodach-baladan, king of Babylon? If he was governor of that city, how could he send an embassy of congratulation to the Jewish sovereign, then at war with his liege lord? The canon of Ptolemy gives us no king of this name, nor does his chronology appear reeoncilable with sacred history.

‘In this darkness and doubt,’ says Dr. Wiseman, ‘we must have continued, and the apparent contradiction of this text to ether passages would have remaimed inexplicable, had not the progress of modern Oriental study brought to light a document of the most venerable antiquity. This is nothing less than a fragment of Berosus, preserved in the chronicle of Eusebius. This interesting fragment informs us, that after Sennacherib’s brother had governed Babylon, as Assyrian viceroy, Acises unjustly possessed himself of the supreme command. After thirty days he was murdered by Merodach-baladan, who usurped the sovereignty for six months, when he was in turn killed, and was succeeded by Elibus. But after three years, Sennacherib collected an army, gave the usurper battle, conquered, and took him prisoner. Having once more reduced Babylon to his obedience, he left his son Assordan, the Esarhaddon of Scripture, as governor of the city.’

The only objection to this satement, or to the entire consistency of this fragment with the Scripture narrative is, that Isaiah relates the murder of Sennacherib, and the succession of Esarhaddon before Merodach-baladan’s embassy to Jerusalem. But to this Gesenius has well replied, that this arrangement is followed by the prophet in order to conclude the history of the Assyrian monarch, which has no further connection with the subject, so as not to return to it again.

By this order, also, the prophecy of his murder is more closely connected with the history of its fulfillment (Isaiah 37:7; compare Isaiah 37:38). And this solution, which supposes some interval to have elapsed between Sennacherib’s return to Nineveh, and his death, is rendered probable by the words of the text itself. ‘He went and returned, and dwelt in Nineveh; and it came to pass,’ etc. Isaiah 37:37-38)

Thus we have it certainly explained how there was a king, or rather a usurper in Babylon at the time when it was really a provincial city of the Assyrian empire. Nothing was more probable than that Merodach-baladan, having seized the throne, should endeavor to unite himself in league and amity with the enemies of his master, against whom he had revolted. Hezekiah, who, no less than himself, had thrown off the Assyrian yoke, and was in powerful alliance with the king of Egypt, would be his first resource. No embassy, on the other hand, could be more welcome to the Jewish monarch who had the common enemy in his neighborhood, and who would be glad to see a division made in his favor by a rebellion in the very heart of that enemy’s kingdom. Hence arose that excessive attention which he paid to the envoys of the usurper, and which so offended Isaiah, or rather God, who, as a consequence, threatened the Babylonian captivity (see Dr. Wiseman’s Lectures on Science and Revealed Religion, pp. 369-371 Ed. And. 1837).

Sent letters - The Septuagint adds, καὶ πρέβεις kai presbeis - ‘and ambassadors.’

And a present - It was customary among the Orientals, as it is now, to send a valuable present when one prince sent an embassage for any purpose to another. It is stated in 2 Chronicles 32:31, that one object of their coming was to make inquiry ‘of the wonder that was done in the land;’ that is, of the miracle in regard to the retrocession of the shadow on the sun-dial of Ahaz. It is well known that, from the earliest periods, the Babylonians and Chaldeans were distinguished for their attention to astronomy. Indeed, as a science, astronomy was first cultivated on the plains of Chaldea; and there the knowledge of that science was scarcely surpassed by any of the ancient nations. The report which they had heard of this miracle would, therefore, be to them a matter of deep interest as an astronomical fact, and they came to make inquiry into the exact truth of the report.

Verse 2

And Hezekiah was glad of them - Possibly he regarded himself as flattered by an embassage from so great a distance, and so celebrated a place as Babylon. It is certain that he erred in some way in regard to the manner in which he received them, and especially in the ostentatious display which he made of his treasures 2 Chronicles 32:31.

And showed them the house of his precious things - The Septuagint renders this, Νεχωθᾶ Nechōtha - ‘The house of Nechotha,’ retaining the Hebrew word. The Margin, ‘Spicery.’ The Hebrew word (נכתה nekotoh) properly means, according to Gesenius, a contusion, a breaking to pieces; hence, aromatic powder, or spices reduced to powder, and then any kind of aromatics. Hence, the word here may mean ‘the house of his spices,’ as Aquila, Symmachus, and the Vulgate translate it; or ‘a treasury,’ ‘a storehouse,’ as the Chaldee and the Syriac here render it. It was undoubtedly a treasure or store house; but it may have taken its name from the fact, that it was mainly employed as a place in which to keep spices, unguents, and the various kinds of aromatics which were used either in public worship, or for the purposes of luxury.

The silver and the gold - Possibly Hezekiah may have obtained no small quantity of silver and gold from what was left in the camp of the Assyrians. It is certain that after he was delivered from danger he was signally prospered, and became one of the most wealthy and magnificent monarchs of the east; 2 Chronicles 32:27-28 : ‘And Hezekiah had exceeding much riches and honor; and he made himself treasuries for silver and for gold, and for precious stones, and for spices, and for shields, and for all manner of pleasant jewels; storehouses also for the increase of grain, and wine, and oil; and stalls for all manner of beasts, and cotes for flocks.’ A considerable part of this wealth arose from presents which were made to him, and from gifts which were made for the service of the temple 2 Chronicles 32:23.

And the precious ointment - Used for anointing kings and priests. Or more probably the ointment here referred to was that which was in more common use, to anoint the body after bathing, or when they were to appear in public.

And all the house of his armor - Margin, ‘Vessels,’ or ‘instruments,’ or ‘jewels.’ The word כלי kelı̂y denotes any article of furniture, utensil, or vessel; any trapping, instrument, or tool; and any implement of war, weapon, or arms. Probably it here refers to the latter, and denotes shields, swords, spears, such as were used in war, and such as Hezekiah had prepared for defense. The phrase is equivalent to our word arsenal (compare 2 Chronicles 32:27). Solomon had an extensive arsenal of this description 1 Kings 10:16-17, and it is probable that these were regarded as a part of the necessary defense of the kingdom.

Nor in all his dominion - Everything that contributed to the defense, the wealth, or the magnificence of his kingdom he showed to them. The purpose for which Hezekiah thus showed them all that he had, was evidently display. In 2 Chronicles 32:25, it is stated that ‘Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him, for his heart was lifted up;’ and in 2 Chronicles 32:31, it is said, that in regard to this transaction, ‘God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.’ The result showed how much God hates pride, and how certainly he will punish all forms of ostentation.

Verse 3

Then came Isaiah - Isaiah was accustomed to declare the will of God most freely to monarchs (see Isaiah 7:0)

What said these men? - What proposition have they made? What is the design of their coming? It is implied in the question that there had been some improper communication from them. To this question Hezekiah returned no answer.

And from whence came they? - It was doubtless known in Jerusalem that ambassadors had come, but it would not be likely to be known from what country they had come.

From a far country - Probably this was said in order to palliate and excuse his conducts, by intimating to the prophet that it was proper to show respectful attention to foreigners, and that he had done nothing more than was demanded by the laws of hospitality and kindness.

Verse 4

What have they seen? - It is probable that the fact that Hezekiah had showed them the treasures of his kingdom was known in Jerusalem. Such a fact would be likely to attract attention, and to produce inquiry among the people into the cause.

All that is in mine house - Here was the confessions of a frank, an honest, and a pious man. There was no concealment; no disguise. Hezekiah knew that he was dealing with a man of God - a man too to whom he had been under great obligations. He knew that Isaiah had come commissioned by God, and that it would be in vain to attempt to conceal anything. Nor does he seem to have wished to make any concealment. If he was conscious that what he had done had been improper, he was willing to confess it; and at any rate he was willing that the exact truth should be known. Had Hezekiah been like Ahaz, he might have spurned Isaiah from his presence as presenting improper inquiries. But Hezekiah was accustomed to regard with respect the messengers of God, and he was therefore willing to submit his whole conduct to the divine adjudication and reproof. Piety makes a man willing that all that he has done should be known. It saves him from double-dealing and subterfuges, and a disposition to make vain excuses; and it inclines him to fear God, to respect his ambassadors, and to listen to the voice of eternal truth.

Verse 5

Hear the word of the Lord of hosts - Hear what the mighty God that rules in heaven says of this. This is an instance of great fidelity on the part of the prophet. He felt himself sent from God in a solemn manner to rebuke sin in a monarch, and a pious monarch. It is an instance that strikingly resembles the boldness and faithfulness of Nathan when he went to David, and said, ‘Thou art the man’ 2 Samuel 12:7.

Verse 6

Behold, the days come - The captivity of the Jews in Babylon commenced about one hundred and twenty years after this prediction (compare Jeremiah 20:5).

That all that is in thine house - That is, all the treasures that are in the treasure-house Isaiah 39:2.

And that which thy fathers have laid up in store - In 2 Kings 18:15-16, we are told that Hezekiah, in order to meet the demands of the king of Assyria, had cut off even the ornaments of the temple, and taken all the treasures which were in ‘the king’s house.’ It is possible, however, that there might have been other treasures which had been accumulated by the kings before him which he had not touched.

Nothing shall be left - This was literally fulfilled (see 2 Chronicles 36:18). It is remarkable, says Vitringa, that this is the first intimation that the Jews would be carried to Babylon - the first designation of the place where they would be so long punished and oppressed. Micah Micah 4:10, a contemporary of Isaiah, declares the same thing, but probably this was not before the declaration here made by Isaiah. Moses had declared repeatedly, that, if they were a rebellious people, they should be removed from their own to a foreign land; but he had not designated the country Leviticus 26:33-34; Deuteronomy 28:64-67; Deuteronomy 30:3. Ahijah, in the time of Jeroboam 1 Kings 14:15, had predicted that they should be carried ‘beyond the river,’ that is, the Euphrates; and Amos Amos 5:27 had said that God would carry them ‘into captivity beyond Damascus.’ But all these predictions were now concentrated on Babylon; and it was for the first time distinctly announced by Isaiah that that was to be the land where they were to suffer so long and so painful a captivity.

Verse 7

And of that sons - Thy posterity (see the note at Matthew 1:1).

That shall issue from thee - Of the royal family. The captivity at Babylon occurred more than a hundred years after this, and of course those who were carried there were somewhat remote descendants of Hezekiah.

And they shall be eunuchs - The word used here (סריסים sâriysiym) denotes properly and strictly eunuchs, or such persons as were accustomed to attend on the harems of Oriental monarchs Esther 2:3, Esther 2:14-15. These persons were also employed often in various offices of the court Esther 1:10, Esther 1:12, Esther 1:15, and hence, the word often means a minister of court, a court-officer, though not literally an eunuch Genesis 37:6; Genesis 39:1. It is not easy, however, to tell when the word is to be understood literally, and when not. The Targum understands it of those who should be nurtured, or become great in the kingdom of Babylon. That the Jews were advanced to some offices of trust and power in Babylon, is evident from the case of Daniel Daniel 1:2-7. It is by no means improbable, also, that the king of Babylon would have a pride in having among the attendants at his court, or even over the harem, the descendants of the once magnificent monarchs of the Jews.

Verse 8

Good is the word of the Lord - The sense of this is, ‘I acquiesce in this; I perceive that it is right; I see in it evidence of benevolence and goodness.’ The grounds of his acquiescence seem to have been:

1. The fact that he saw that it was just. He felt that he had sinned, and that he had made an improper display of his treasures, and deserved to be punished.

2. He felt that the sentence was mild and merciful. It was less than he deserved, and less than he had reason to expect.

3. It was merciful to him, and to his kingdom at that time. God was not coming forth to cut him off, or to involve him in anymore calamity.

4. His own reign and life were to be full of mercy still.

He had abundant cause of gratitude, therefore, that God was dealing with him in so much kindness. It cannot be shown that Hezekiah was regardless of his posterity, or unconcerned at the calamity which would come upon them. All that the passage fairly implies is, that he saw that it was right; and that it was proof of great mercy in God that the punishment was deferred, and was not, as in the case of David (2 Sam. 13-14 ff), to be inflicted in his own time. The nature of the crime of Hezekiah is more fully stated in the parallel passage in 2Ch 32:25-26, 2 Chronicles 32:30-31.

For there shall be peace - My kingdom shall not be disturbed during my reign with a foreign invasion.

And truth - The truth of God shall be maintained; his worship shall be kept up; his name shall be honored.

In my days - During my reign. He inferred this because Isaiah had said Isaiah 39:7 that his posterity would be carried to Babylon. He was assured, therefore, that these calamities would not come in his own time. We may learn from this:

1. That we should submit to God when he punishes us. If we have right feelings we shall always see that we deserve all that we are called to suffer.

2. In the midst of severest judgments we may find some evidence of mercy. There are some considerations on which the mind may fix that will console it with the evidence of the compassion of God, and that will not only make it submissive, but fill it with gratitude.

3. We should accustom ourselves to such views of the divine dealings, and should desire to find in them the evidence of goodness and mercy, and not the evidence of wrath and severity.

It is of infinite importance that we should cherish right views of God; and should believe that he is holy, good. and merciful. To do this, we should feel that we deserve all that we suffer; we should look at what we might have endured; we should look at the mercies spared to us, as well as at those which are taken away; and we should hold to the belief, as an unwavering principle from which we are never to depart, that God is good, supremely and wholly good. Then our minds will have peace. Then with Hezekiah we may say, ‘Good is the word of Yahweh.’ Then with the suffering Redeemer of the world we may always say, ‘Not my will, but thine be done’ Luke 22:42.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 39". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/isaiah-39.html. 1870.
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