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Calvin's Commentary on the Bible Calvin's Commentary
These files are public domain.
These files are public domain.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 39". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ cal/ isaiah-39.html. 1840-57.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Isaiah 39". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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1.At that time. Some think that this was the first king of the Chaldee nation; for his father, Baladin, had held the government over the Babylonians without the title of king. This Merodach, therefore, after having reigned twelve years, subdued the Assyrians, and made them tributaries to the Chaldeans; for it is a mistake to suppose that the war was begun by Nebuchadnezzar. It is indeed possible that he completed the subjugation of them; but it is probable that already they were half subdued, so that nothing else remained than to establish the royal power gained by the victory of his predecessor.
Sent letters and a present to Hezekiah Although the Prophet simply relates that messengers were sent, yet it is of importance to observe that this was done craftily by the Babylonian, in order to flatter and cajole Hezekiah. He was at this time threatening the Assyrians, whom he knew to be justly disliked by the Jews on account of their continual wars; and therefore, in order to obtain Hezekiah as an ally and partisan in the war which was now waging against him, endeavors to obtain his friendship by indirect methods. The mind of the good king was corrupted by ambition, so that he too eagerly accepted the false blandishments of the tyrant, and swallowed the bait.
The pretence was, to congratulate Hezekiah on having recovered from his disease. And yet sacred history appears to assign another reason, which was, that Merodach was induced by a miracle. (2 Chronicles 32:31.) There is certainly no doubt that the report of that prodigy, which took place when the sun went back, was yew widely spread; and it might have produced an impression on many nations. Yet it can hardly be believed that a heathen had any other object in view than to draw Hezekiah into his net; but since, by a remarkable sign, God had shewn that he cared for the safety of Hezekiah, and since wicked men commonly apply to a base purpose all the proofs of God’s favor, Merodach thought that, if he could obtain the alliance of Hezekiah, he would carry on war under the protection and favor of heaven. (98)
The consequence was, that he sent messengers to Hezekiah with presents, for the sake of expressing his good-will; for he wished to obtain his favor, believing that his friendship would be useful and advantageous to him; and his intention was, to make use of him afterwards against the Assyrians, to whom he knew well that the Jews entertained a deadly hatred. Such are the designs of kings and princes, to transact their affairs by fraud and craftiness, and bysome means to gain as many allies as possible, that they may employ their exertions against their enemies
Que la guerre qu’il entreprendoit de faire auroit heureuse issue, et seroit benite du ciel.” “That war which he carried on would have a successful result, and would be blest of heaven.”
2.And Hezekiah was glad The Prophet performs the part of the historian; for he merely relates what Hezekiah did, and will afterwards explain why he did it; that is, that Hezekiah, blinded by ambition, made an ostentatious display to the messengers; while he censures an improper kind of joy, which afterwards gave rise to an eager desire of treating them in a friendly manner.
Any person who shall barely read this history will con-elude that Hezekiah did nothing wrong; for it was an act of humanity to give a cheerful and hospitable reception to the messengers, and to shew them every proof of good-will; and it would have been the act of a barbarian to disdain those who had come to him on a friendly visit, and to spurn the friendship of so powerful a king. But still there lurked in his heart a desire of vain ostentation; for he wished to make a favorable display of himself, that the Babylonian might be led to understand that this alliance would not be without advantage to him, and might ascertain this from his wealth, and forces, and weapons of war. He deserved to be reproved on another ground, that he directed his mind to foreign and unlawful aid, and to that extent denied honor to God, whom he had recently known to be his deliverer on two occasions; for otherwise the Prophet would not have censured this act so severely.
This is a remarkable example; and it teaches us that nothing’ is more dangerous than to be blinded by prosperity. It proves also the truth of the old proverb, that “it is more difficult to bear prosperity than adversity;” for when everything goes on to our wish, we grow wanton and insolent, and cannot be kept in the path of duty by any advices or threatenings. When this happened to Hezekiah, on whom the Prophet had bestowed the high commendation, that “the fear of God was his treasure,” (Isaiah 33:6,) we ought to be very much afraid of falling into the same dangers. He is carried away by idle boasting, and does not remember that formerly he was half-dead, and that God rescued him from death by an extraordinary miracle. Formerly he made a solemn promise that he would continually celebrate the praises of God in the assembly of the godly, (Isaiah 38:20,) and now, when he sees that his friendship is sought, and that a powerful monarch sends to salute him, he forgets God and the benefits which he had received from him. When we see that this good king’ so quickly falls and is carried away by ambition, let us learn to lay upon ourselves the restraint of modesty, which will keep us constantly and diligently in the fear of God.
3.Then came Isaiah the Prophet He continues the same narrative, but likewise adds doctrine. Although he does not say that God had sent him, yet it is certain that he did this by the influence of the Holy Spirit and by the command of God; and, therefore, he bestows on himself the designation of the Prophet, by which he intimates that he did not come as a private individual, but to perform an office which God had enjoined on him, that Hezekiah might clearly see that he had not to deal with a mortal man.
Now, when he says that he came, we ought to infer that he was not sent for, but was allowed to remain quietly at home, while Hezekiah was making’ a boastful display of his treasures; for prophets are not usually invited to consultations of this sort. But formerly, while he was weighed down by extreme distress, while Rabshakeh insulted him so fiercely, and uttered such daring’ blasphemies against God, he sent, to Isaiah, and requested him to intercede with God, and to soothe his anguish by some consolation. (Isaiah 37:2.) Thus in adversity and distress the prophets are sought, but in prosperity are disregarded or even despised; because they disturb our mirth by their admonitions, and appear to give occasion of grief. But Isaiah came, though he was not invited; and in this we ought to observe and praise his steadfastness, and are taught by his example that we ought not to wait till we are sent for by men who need the discharge of our duty, when they flatter themselves amidst the heaviest distresses, and bring danger on themselves either by levity, or by ignorance, or even by malice; for it is our duty to gather the wandering sheep, and we ought to do this diligently, even though we be not requested by any person.
Though Hezekiah may be justly blamed for having been corrupted by the flatteries of the king of Babylon so as not to ask counsel of God, yet it is a manifestation of no ordinary modesty, that he does not drive away or despise the Prophet, as if he had found fault without reason, but replies gently, and at length receives calmly and mildly a very severe reproof. It would have been better that he had, from the beginning’, inquired at the mouth of God, as it is said in the psalm,
“Thy commandments are the men of my counsel,”
but, having committed a mistake, it was his next duty to receive submissively the remedy for the fault.
What did those men say? The Prophet does not immediately inflict on him the pain of a severe reproof, but wounds him gently, so as to lead him to a confession of his sin; for Hezekiah flattered himself, and thought that all was going well with him, and, therefore, needed to be gradually aroused from his slothfulness. Still these words gave a sharp wound; as if he had said, “What have you to do with those men? Ought you not to keep at the greatest distance from a plague so contagious?” He likewise inquires about the contents of the message, in order to make Hezekiah ashamed of not having perceived the deceit that was practiced on him; for there is reason to believe that he would not have censured the congratulation, if there had not been some poison mingled with it, but he points out those snares in which the Babylonians wished to entangle him.
And yet it is evident from the reply, that Hezekiah was not yet struck by that gentle reproof; for he is still on good terms with himself, and boasts that those men came from a distant country, from Babylon There is reason to believe that Isaiah was not ignorant of that country, so that Hezekiah did not need to express the distance in such magnificent language; but he boasts in this manner, because he was under the influence of ambition. It was therefore necessary that he should be more keenly pressed, and that sharper spurs should be applied.
4.Then he said. Isaiah proceeds in his indirect admonition, to see if Hezekiah shall be moved by it and displeased with himself. But still he does not succeed, though it can hardly be believed that the king was so stupid as not to feel the punctures of the spur; for he knew that the Prophet had not come, as persons addicted to curiosity are wont to do, for the purpose of hunting out news; and he knew also that the Prophet had not come to jest with him, but to state something of importance. However that may be, we ought to put a favorable construction on his mild reply; for he does not break out against the Prophet, but modestly confesses the state of the fact, though he does not yet acknowledge that he has sinned, or at least is not brought to repentance; for he does not judge of his sin from that concealed disposition. Ambition deludes men so much, that by its sweetness it not only intoxicates but drives them mad, so that, even when they have been admonished, they do not immediately repent. When, therefore, we see the godly Hezekiah struck with such stupidity as not to perceive that he is reproved, or at least not to be stung by it so as to know himself, we ought carefully to guard against so dangerous a disease.
5.Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah. From this judgment of God we perceive that the sin of Hezekiah was not small, though common sense judges differently; for since God always observes the highest moderation in chastising men, we may infer from the severity of the punishment that it was no ordinary fault, but a highly aggravated crime. Hence also we are reminded that men judge amiss of words or actions, but that God alone is the competent judge of them. Hezekiah shewed his treasures. Had they been heaped up, that they might always lie hidden in the earth? He received the messengers kindly. Should he have driven them away? He lent an ear to their instructions. But that was when the rival of the Assyrian voluntarily desired his friendship. Ought he to have rejected so valuable an advantage? In a word, so far as appearances go, we shall find nothing for which an apology may not be offered.
But God, from whom nothing is hidden, observes in Hezekiah’s joy, first, ingratitude; because he is unmindful of the distresses which lately pressed him down, and, in some respects, substitutes the Chaldeans in the room of God himself, to whom he ought to have dedicated his own person and all that he possessed. Next, he observes pride; because Hezekiah attempts too eagerly to gain reputation by magnificence and riches He observes a sinful desire to enter into an alliance which would have been destructive to the whole nation. But the chief fault was ambition, which almost entirely banishes the fear of God from the hearts of men. Hence Augustine justly exclaims, “How great and how pernicious is the poison of pride, which cannot be cured but by poison!” For he has his eye on that passage in one of Paul’s Epistles, in which he says that “a messenger of Satan had been given to buffet him, that he might not be puffed up by the greatness of revelations.” (2 Corinthians 12:7.) Hezekiah was unshaken, when all was nearly ruined; but he is vanquished by these flatteries, and does not resist vain ambition. Let us, therefore, attentively and diligently consider what a destructive evil this is, and let us be so much the more careful to avoid it.
Hear the word of Jehovah of hosts Being about to be the bearer of a harsh sentence, he begins by saying that he is God’s herald, and a little afterwards, he again repeats that God has commanded him to do this, not merely for the purpose of protecting himself against hatred, (99) but in order to make a deep impression on the heart of the king’. Here again we see his steadfastness and heroic courage. He does not dread the face of the king, or fear to make known his disease, and to announce to him the judgment of God; for although, at that time as well as now, kings had delicate ears, yet, being fully aware that God had enjoined this duty upon him, he boldly executes his commission, however much it might be disliked. Prophets were, indeed, subject to kings, and claimed nothing for themselves, unless when it was their duty to speak in the name of God; and in such cases there is nothing so lofty that it ought not to be abased before the majesty of God. And if his object had been to gain the good graces of his prince, he would have been silent like other flatterers; but he has regard to his office, and endeavors to discharge it most faithfully.
Non pas que pour crainte d’estre mal voulu, il se descharge sur le Seigneur.” “Not that, through fear of bringing ill-will on himself, he throws the blame on the Lord.”
6.And nothing shall be left It is proper to observe the kind of punishment which the Lord inflicts on Hezekiah; for he takes from his successors those things of which he vaunted so loudly, in order that they may have no ground for boasting of them. Thus the Lord punishes the ambition and pride of men, so that their name or kingdom, which they hoped would last for ever, is blotted out, and they are treated with contempt, and the remembrance of them is accursed. In a word, he overthrows their foolish thoughts, so that they find by experience the very opposite of those inventions by which they deceive themselves.
If it be objected that it is unreasonable, that the sacking of a city and the captivity of a nation should be attributed to the fault of a single man, while the Holy Spirit everywhere declares (2 Chronicles 36:14) that general obstinacy was the reason why God delivered up the city and the country to be pillaged by the Babylonians; I answer, that there is no absurdity in God’s punishing the sin of a single man, and at the same time the crimes of a whole nation. For when the wrath of the Lord overspread the whole country, it was the duty of all to unite in confessing their guilt., and of every person to consider individually what he had deserved; that no man might throw the blame on others, but that every man might lay it on himself. Besides, since the Jews were already in many ways liable to the judgment of God, he justly permitted Hezekiah to fail in his duty to the injury of all, that he might hasten the more his own wrath, and open up a way for the execution of his judgment. In like manner we see that it happened to David; for Scripture declares that it was not an accidental occurrence that David numbered the people, but that it took place by the fault of the nation itself, whom the Lord determined to punish in this manner.
“The anger of the Lord was kindled against the nation, and he put it into the heart of David to number the people.” (2 Samuel 24:1.)
Thus in this passage also punishment is threatened against Hezekiah; but his sin, by which he provoked God’s anger, was also the vengeance of God against the whole nation.
7.Of thy sons It might be thought that this was far more distressing to Hezekiah, and therefore it is put last for the sake of heightening the picture. Even though any calamity spread widely in a nation, it is commonly thought that kings and their families will be exempted, as if they were not placed in the same rank with other men. When he understood, therefore, that his sons would be made captives and slaves, this must have appeared to him to be exceedingly severe. Hence again we may learn how much God was displeased with Hezekiah for seeking aid from earthly wealth, and boasting of it in the presence of wicked men, when God by a dreadful example punishes it as an unpardonable crime, that Hezekiah made an ambitious display of his wealth in presence of unbelievers.
8.Good is the word of Jehovah From this reply we learn, that Hezekiah was not a stubborn or obstinately haughty man, since he listened patiently to the Prophet’s reproof, though he was little moved by it at the commencement. When he is informed that the Lord is angry, he unhesitatingly acknowledges his guilt, and confesses that he is justly punished. Having heard the judgment of God, he does not argue or contend with the Prophet, but conducts himself with gentleness and modesty, and thus holds out to us an example of genuine submissiveness and obedience.
Let us therefore learn by the example of the pious king’ to listen with calmness to the Lord, not only when he exhorts or admonishes, but even when he condemns and terrifies by threatening just punishment. When he says that “the word of God is good,” he not only gives him the praise of justice, but patiently acquiesces in that which might have been unwelcome on account of its harshness; for even the reprobate have sometimes been compelled to confess their guilt; while their rebellion was not subdued so as to refrain from murmuring against their Judge. In order, therefore, that God’s threatenings may be softened to us, we must entertain some hope of mercy, otherwise our hearts will always pour forth unavailing bitterness; but he who shall be convinced that God, when he punishes, does not in any degree lay aside the feeling of a father’s affection, will not only confess that God is just, but will calmly and mildly bear his temporary severity. In a word, when we shall have a powerful conviction of the grace of God, so as to believe that he is our Father, it will not be hard or disagreeable to us to stand and fall according to his pleasure; for faith will assure us that nothing is more advantageous to us than his fatherly chastisement.
Thus David, having been very severely reproved by Nathan, humbly replies, “It is the Lord, let him do whatever is right in his eyes;” (100) for undoubtedly the reason why he is dumb is, not only because it would be of no use to murmur, but because he willingly submits to the judgment of God. Such is also the character of Saul’s silence, when he is informed that the kingdom shall be taken from him. (1 Samuel 28:20.) But because it is only punishment that terrifies him, and he is not moved by repentance for his sin, we need not wonder if he be full of cruelty within, though apparently he acquiesces, because he cannot resist, which otherwise he would willingly do, like malefactors who, while they are held bound by chains or fetters, are submissive to their judges, whom they would willingly drag down from the place of authority and trample under their feet. But while David and Hezekiah are “humbled under the mighty hand of God,” (1 Peter 5:6,) still they do not lose the hope of pardon, and therefore choose rather to submit to the punishment which he inflicts than to withdraw from his authority.
Which thou hast spoken. It is worthy of notice that he acknowledges not only that the sentence which God has pronounced is just, but that the word which Isaiah has spoken is good; for there is great weight in this clause, since he does not hesitate to receive the word with reverence, though it is spoken by a mortal man, because he looks to its principal Author. The freedom used by Isaiah might undoubtedly be harsh and unpleasant to the king; but acknowledging him to be the servant of God, he allows himself to be brought to obedience. So much the more insufferable is the delicacy of those who are offended at being’ admonished or reproved, and scornfully reply to teachers and ministers of the word, “Are not you men as well as we?” As if it were not our duty to obey God, unless he sent angels from heaven, or came down himself.
Hence also we learn what opinion we ought to form concerning fanatics, who, while they pretend to adore God, reject the doctrine of the prophets; for if they were ready to obey God, they would listen to him when he spoke by his prophets, not less than when he thundered from heaven. I admit that we ought to distinguish between true and false prophets, between “the voice of the shepherd (John 10:3) and the voice of the stranger;” but we must not reject all without distinction, if we do not wish to reject God himself; and we ought to listen to them, not only when they exhort or reprove, but also when they condemn, and when they threaten, by the command of God, the just punishment of our sins.
At least (101) there shall be peace The particle
(ki) sometimes expresses opposition, but, here it denotes an exception, and therefore I have translated it at least; for Hezekiah adds something new, that is, he gives thanks to God for mitigating the punishment which he had deserved; as if he had said, “The Lord might have suddenly raised up enemies, to drive me out of my kingdom; but he now spares me, and, by delaying, moderates the punishment which might justly have been inflicted on me.” Yet this clause may be explained as a prayer, (102) expressing Hezekiah’s desire that the punishment should be delayed till a future age. But it is more probable that what the Prophet had said about the days that were to come, Hezekiah applied for soothing his grief, to encourage himself to patience, because sudden vengeance would have alarmed him still more. This exception, therefore, is highly fitted to induce meekness of spirit, “At least God will spare our age.” But if any person prefer to view it as assigning a reason, “For there shall be peace,” (103) him enjoy his opinion. כי
Peace and Truth. Some think that
, (emeth,) Truth, denotes the worship of God and pure religion, as if he were thanking God that, when he died, he would leave the doctrine of godliness unimpaired. But I consider it to denote “permanency,” or a peaceful condition of the kingdom; if it be not thought preferable to view it as denoting, by the substitution of one word for another, that there will be certain and long-continued prosperity. אמת
But it may be thought that Hezekiah was cruel in taking no care about posterity, and not giving himself much trouble about what should happen afterwards. Such sayings as, (
,) “When I am dead, let the earth be committed to the flames,” that is, “When I am dead, all are dead;” and other sayings of the same kind, which are now in the mouths of many swine and Epieureans, are profane and shocking. But Hezekiah’s meaning was quite different; for, while he wished well to those who should live after him, yet it would have been undutiful to disregard that token of forbearance which God gave by delaying his vengeance; for he might have been led by it to hope that this mercy would, in some degree, be extended to posterity. ἐμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πυρί
Some reply that he rejoiced at the delay, because
“we ought not to be anxious about to-morrow, seeing that sufficient for the day is its own affliction.” (Matthew 6:34.)
But this does not apply to the present passage; for Hezekiah does not disregard posterity, but, perceiving that God moderates the punishment by forbearance, he gives thanks to God, as we have already said; for although this punishment awaited a future age, still it was his duty to acknowledge the present favor. And indeed we ought to labor most for our own age, and to pay our chief regard to it. The future ought not to be overlooked; but what is present and immediate has stronger claims on our services; for we who live at the same time are bound by God with a stronger tie, in order that, by mutual intercourse, we may assist each other, as far as shall be in our power. It ought likewise to be observed that, while the Lord had formerly promised a lengthened life to hezekiah, when he was very near death, there was now strong reason to fear that he would again cut short his life on account of that sin. When he is informed that the promise is ratified, he gives thanks to God, and bears more patiently the calamity which was to come, though he felt it to be grievous and distressing.
(100) Our author, quoting from memory, relates the words, not of David to Nathan, (2 Samuel 12:12,) but of Eli to Samuel. (1 Samuel 3:18) — Ed.
(101) “For there shall be peace.” — Eng. Ver.
Au moins qu’il y ait paix.” “At least let there be peace.”
Car il y aura paix.