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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 39

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


The Babylonian envoys ch. 39

Verse 1

The phrase "At that time" (cf. Isaiah 38:1) anticipates a specially significant event and ties it to what preceded in chapter 38. As this verse explains, the events that follow happened after Hezekiah had recovered from his illness (Isaiah 38:5). This was most likely during the year 701 B.C. before Sennacherib’s invasion of Jerusalem (chs. 36-37; cf. Isaiah 38:6; 2 Kings 18:16).

Merodach-baladan (Cuneiform "Marduk-apal-iddina," lit. the god Marduk has given a son) raised Babylon to a position from which it threatened and eventually overthrew Assyrian dominance in the ancient Near East (cf. Isaiah 21:1-10). He was the first king of Babylon, and he led that nation during two periods: 721-710 B.C. and 703-702 B.C. The historians vary in their dating of the ancient Near Eastern kings’ reigns by a few years, but I believe the dates above are fairly accurate. In 710 B.C. Sargon, another Babylonian leader, ousted him, but in 702 B.C. the Assyrians defeated Merodach-baladan. After this defeat, he continued to foment revolt against Assyria in the Fertile Crescent. This seems to have been his motivation for cultivating Hezekiah’s friendship by sending letters and a present when he heard of Hezekiah’s recovery.

Verse 2

Hezekiah received Merodach-baladan warmly since he had expressed sympathy toward him and because the Babylonians shared Judah’s antagonism toward Assyria. But showing the Babylonians all of his wealth and military resources went beyond what Hezekiah needed to do for such a friendly visitor. The Lord Jesus’ responses to the flattery of Nicodemus (John 3) and the rich young ruler (Mark 10) provide examples of how Hezekiah should have responded. Hezekiah’s response expressed a desire to share these resources with an ally who might help Judah oppose Assyria. Thus Hezekiah’s act demonstrated trust in Babylon and reliance on her for safety.

"Here was a ready-made opportunity for Hezekiah to glorify God before the pagan Babylonians, to tell of his greatness and of his grace. Instead, he succumbed to the temptation to glorify himself and to prove to the Chaldeans that he was a worthy partner for any sort of coalition they might have in mind. There is no indication that they were interested in such an alliance, however. Much more likely they simply wished to encourage someone whom they viewed as a petty kinglet without making any commitment on their part." [Note: Oswalt, p. 695.]

This visit constituted a divine test of Hezekiah’s heart. 2 Chronicles 32:31 reads, "And even in the matter of the envoys of the rulers of Babylon, who sent to him to inquire of the wonder that had happened in the land [namely, Hezekiah’s recovery], God left him alone only to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart."

Verses 3-4

God’s Spirit and Hezekiah’s failure to trust the Lord undoubtedly moved Isaiah to confront Hezekiah. First, the prophet asked about the visit of the Babylonian ambassadors and what Hezekiah had done with them. Hezekiah told the truth and put his actions in the best light, but he did not relate what the envoys had said or explain his motive. He put the best possible light on his actions. Nevertheless he put his own neck in the noose by answering Isaiah’s simple questions as he did (cf. Galatians 6:7).

Verses 5-6

Isaiah informed the king that the Babylonians would end up taking everything that Hezekiah had shown the ambassadors back to Babylon-not as resources for opposition to Assyria but as the spoils of war. This is the first explicit reference to the Babylonian captivity in Isaiah. Many critics of the Bible who do not believe in predictive prophecy have used this reference as evidence of a much later date of writing than Isaiah’s day. The ambassadors had come "from Babylon" (Isaiah 39:3), and they would carry everything off "to Babylon" (Isaiah 39:6). Hezekiah had shown them "all" (Isaiah 39:4), and they would take "all" (Isaiah 39:6, twice) to Babylon. This happened finally in 586 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem (cf. 2 Kings 24:13; 2 Kings 25:13-15; 2 Chronicles 36:18; Jeremiah 20:5). Isaiah’s mention of Babylon as the enemy undoubtedly shocked Hezekiah because at this time Assyria was the great threat to Judah. Furthermore, Isaiah had previously predicted the demise of Babylon (ch. 14).

". . . Isaiah’s message to Hezekiah is the same as it was to Ahaz, whose trust was in Assyria. ’That which we trust in place of God will one day turn and destroy us.’" [Note: Oswalt, p. 696.]

This one sin of Hezekiah’s did not doom Judah to Babylonian captivity. However, it illustrates the pride that the whole nation and its leaders manifested that ultimately resulted in the captivity.

Verse 7

Some of Hezekiah’s descendants would also be taken (captive) to Babylon. It is very probable that at the time of the events in chapters 36-39 Hezekiah had no children. His son, Manasseh, began reigning when he was 12 years old, and Hezekiah died a year later, in 686 B.C. Thus, Isaiah’s announcement here may have sparked a hope-in Hezekiah’s mind-for some descendants. As usual, God’s promise of judgment contained some hope. This prediction of Hezekiah’s descendants became true of the king’s physical seed: his son Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:11), King Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:12), and King Zedekiah (2 Kings 25:7). It also became true of many of Hezekiah’s people, his children in that sense, when Nebuchadnezzar carried three deportations of Judahites off to Babylon (cf. 2 Kings 24:12-16; 2 Chronicles 33:11; Daniel 1:3-4; Daniel 1:6).

Verse 8

Hezekiah’s response to Isaiah’s announcement of God’s punishment for his lack of faith was deeply disappointing. Formerly, when Isaiah had announced coming divine judgment, the king had mourned and fasted (Isaiah 38:1-2), and God had relented (Isaiah 38:5-6). This time, Hezekiah simply rejoiced that it would not come in his lifetime. Another less probable view is that Hezekiah was simply thankful that God was being merciful to him personally. [Note: See, for example, Grogan, p. 240, Young, 2:539, or Wiersbe, p. 47.] The king acknowledged that Judah deserved divine judgment, but his lack of concern for his people’s welfare shows that he did not really have the heart for them that the predicted Davidic ruler would need in order to rule in righteousness. Hezekiah could not be the promised child of Isaiah 7:14.

The chronological relationship of the events in chapters 36-39 is difficult to understand, but clearly all these events happened at about the same time, probably within a year or two. [Note: See Young, 2:556-65, for an extended discussion of the nature and authorship of Isaiah 36-39.] During this period Hezekiah trusted God twice and failed to trust God once. This should teach us that it is possible for a person to trust God in very difficult circumstances and turn right around and trust in people and things with the next temptation. We need to demonstrate consistent trust in the Lord, by His grace. We can do this by maintaining a daily intimate relationship with Him, marked by humility and prayer. We also need to learn not to trust in human leaders, because their faith wavers, but in the Lord Himself, whose faithfulness never varies.

". . . chs. 36-39 make chs. 40-66 a necessity. Given that God may be trusted, what then? Given that salvation is not in Hezekiah, where is it? Given that one-time trust is not enough, how is a life of continuous trust possible? Given that the best of God’s people fail, where is our hope?" [Note: Oswalt, p. 673.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 39". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/isaiah-39.html. 2012.
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