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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

2 Kings 20



Parallel accounts may be read in Isaiah 38, 39.; 2 Chronicles 32:24-33.

Verse 1

(1) In those daysi.e., in the time of the Assyrian invasion. The illness may have been caused, or at least aggravated, by the intense anxiety which this grave peril created. Hezekiah reigned 29 years (2 Kings 18:2), and the invasion began in his 14th year (2 Kings 18:13). In 2 Kings 20:6 he is promised 15 years of life, and deliverance from the king of Assyria. That Hezekiah recovered before the catastrophe recorded at the end of the last chapter, is evident from the fact that no allusion to the destruction of his enemies is contained in his hymn of thanksgiving (Isaiah 38:10-20).

Set thine house in order.—The margin is right (Comp. 2 Samuel 17:23.)

Verse 2

(2) Then he turned his face.—And he turned his face round (1 Kings 21:4). Hezekiah did so to avoid being disturbed in his prayer; and perhaps because grief instinctively seeks a hiding-place.

Verse 3

(3) Remember now how I have walked . . .—Hezekiah deprecates an untimely death—the punishment of the wicked (Proverbs 10:27)—on account of his zeal for Jehovah and against the idols. As Thenius remarks, there is nothing surprising in his apparent self-praise if we remember such passages as Psalms 18:20; Psalms 7:8; Nehemiah 13:14. Josephus sets down the poignancy of his sorrow to childlessness, and makes him pray to be spared until he get a son; but this is merely an instance of that “midrashitic” enlargement of the narrative which we find elsewhere in that historian.

Verse 4

(4) Into the middle court.—This is the reading of some Heb. MSS., and of all the versions. The Hebrew text (city; see margin) is wrong. Before Isaiah had left the precincts of the palace, he was bidden to return. (Keil says that here, as in 2 Kings 10:25, the word rendered “city” denotes “castle,” i.e., the royal residence.)

Verse 5

(5) The captain of my people.—Or, ruler (nâgîd); a designation of honour (1 Kings 1:35; 1 Samuel 10:1). This is wanting in Isaiah 38:0, as well as the end of the verse “I will heal thee,” &c. That narrative looks like an abbreviated transcript of the present, or of a common original.

On the third day.—Comp. Hosea 6:2. Here, however, there is no ground for understanding the expression other than literally. The precise nature of Hezekiah’s malady cannot be ascertained.

Verse 6

(6) I will add unto thy days fifteen years.—In the Jewish reckoning fourteen years and a fraction of a year would count as fifteen years. With this very definite prediction comp. Isaiah 7:8; Isaiah 23:15; Jeremiah 25:11-12.

And I will deliver thee . . .—So that the Assyrians had not yet retired from the West. For the rest of the verse see 2 Kings 19:34.

Verses 7-8

(7, 8) In Isaiah these two verses are given at the end of the narrative; a position in which they are obviously out of place. Probably some copyist, after accidentally omitting them where they properly belonged, added them there, “with marks for insertion in their proper places, which marks were afterwards neglected by transcribers” (Lowth, cited by Cheyne), perhaps because they had become obliterated.

Take a lump of figs.—Figs pressed into a cake (1 Samuel 25:18). “Many commentators suppose the figs to be mentioned as a remedy current at the time. But surely so simple and unscientific a medicine would have been thought of, without applying to the prophet by those about Hezekiah. The plaster of figs is rather a sign or symbol of the cure, like the water of the Jordan in the narrative of Naaman (2 Kings 5:10)” (Cheyne). That in antiquity figs were a usual remedy for boils of various kinds appears from the testimony of Dioscorides and Pliny.

Laid it on the boil.—It is not to be supposed that Hezekiah was suffering from the plague and, in fact, the very plague which destroyed the army of Sennacherib. (See Note on 2 Kings 20:1). The word “boil” (shĕhîn) denotes leprous and other similar ulcers (Exodus 9:9; Job 2:7), but not plague, which moreover, would not have attacked Hezekiah alone, and would have produced not one swelling, but many.

And he recovered.—Heb., lived. The result is mentioned here by natural anticipation.

Verse 8

(8) What shall be the sign . . .?—Comp. 2 Kings 19:29 and note; Isaiah 7:11 seq., where Isaiah requests Ahaz to choose a sign. The sign was obviously a token that the prophet’s word would come true.

Verse 9

(9) Shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?—Rather, the shadow hath marched (or travelled) ten steps; shall it return ten steps? This is what the Hebrew text seems to say at a first glance. But Hezekiah’s answer apparently implies an alternative; and we might render: “the shadow shall have travelled ten steps; or shall it return ten steps?” (Comp. the LXX. πορεύσεται.) The Targum has: “shall the shadow march ten hours or return ten hours?” The Vulgate also makes it a double question. The Syriac is: “the shadow shall march ten steps, or return ten steps.”

It is very probable that the Hebrew text is corrupt. We might read the first word as an infinitive instead of a perfect, after the analogy of 2 Kings 19:29 (“ye shall eat”). Or we might read “shall it march?” as a question (hă-yçlçk); or better still, “shall it go up” (hă-yçlçk), after the hint afforded by the Vulgate: “Vis ut ascendat umbra . . . Et ait Ezeehias, Facile est umbram crescere,” &c. It is obvious that a kind of sun-dial is meant, though what kind is not so clear. The word “degrees” (ma‘ălôth) means “steps” or “stairs” wherever it occurs. (See Exodus 20:26; Ezekiel 40:6; Ezekiel 40:22; Ezekiel 40:26; Ezekiel 40:31, &c; 1 Kings 10:20; Nehemiah 3:15.) There is probability, therefore, in Knobel’s conjecture that “the dial of Ahaz” consisted of a column rising from a circular flight of steps, so as to throw the shadow of its top on the top step at noon, and morning and evening on the bottom step. This, or some similar device, was set up in the palace court, and was probably visible to Hezekiah lying on his sick bed and facing the window. Herodotus (ii. 9) ascribes the invention of the gnomon to the Babylonians. From the inscriptions we know that they divided time into periods of two hours, each called in Sumerian kasbumi, and in Assyrian asli. Each kasbu or aslu was subdivided into sixty equal parts.

Verse 10

(10) It is a light thing for the shadow to go down.—Because that was the ordinary course of things. As a natural phenomenon, of course, the sudden extension of the shadow would have been as wonderful as its retrogression; but what is in any way a familiar occurrence must needs seem easier than what has never fallen under observation.

To go down.—Rather, to spread. The LXX. has κλῖναι, another use of the Hebrew verb. The Targum, Syriac, and Arabic render “to go forward” (march).

Verse 11

(11) And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the Lord.—Thus the sign is evidently regarded by the historian as something directly involving the Divine agency, i.e., as a miracle.

He brought . . . Ahaz.—Literally, and he (i.e., Jehovah) made the shadow return on the steps, which it had descended in the steps of Ahaz, backward ten steps. On the question of how it was done, a good many opinions have been expressed, e.g., by means of a mock sun, a cloud of vapour, an earthquake, a contrivance applied by Isaiah (!) to the sun-dial, &c.

Ephrem Syrus, and other church fathers, believed that the sun receded in his celestial path; but it is not said that the sun went back, but the shadow. (Isaiah 38:8 says “the sun returned,” by a perfectly natural usus loquendi.) Keil assumes “a wondrous refraction of the sun’s rays effected by God at the prayer of Isaiah.” Professor Birks and Mr. Cheyne agree with this, assuming, further, that the refraction was local only. (See 2 Chronicles 32:31.) Thenius, after arguing at length in favour of an eclipse (that of September 26th. 713 B.C. , which, however, will not harmonise with the Assyrian chronology), says: “Notwithstanding all this, I do not insist upon the suggested explanation, but I attach myself, with Knobel and Hitzig, to the mythical conception of the narrative.” “That the sign was granted, and that it was due to the direct agency of Him who ordereth all things according to His Divine will, is certain. How it was effected the narrative does not in any way disclose” (the Editor). Ewald and others wish to see in the retrogression of the shadow a token that “Hezekiah’s life-limit was to go back many years;” but the prophet gave the king is choice whether the shadow should go forward or backward.

Verse 12

(2 Kings 20:12-19).

(12) At that time Berodach-baladan.—As to the name, Berodach is a transcriber’s error for Merodach (Jeremiah 1:2). Some MSS. of Kings, and the LXX., Syriac, and Arabic, as well as Isaiah 39:1, and the Talmud, spell the name with m, a letter easily confused with b in Hebrew. Above all, the cuneiform inscriptions present Marduk (or, Maruduk)-abla-iddina (“Me-rodaeh gave a son”). A king of this name occupied the throne of Chaldea at intervals, during the reigns of the four Assyrian sovereigns Tiglath Pileser, Shalma-neser, Sargon, and Sennacherib. He is called in the inscriptions “son of Yâkin,” an expression which, like “Jehu son of Omri,” is territorial rather than genealogical. Bît- Yâkin was the name of the tribal domain of the “sons of Yâkin,” just as Bît-Humria was that of the territory of which Jehu was king. He is further designated as king of “the land of the sea” (mât tihâmtim), i.e., the country at the head of the Persian Gulf, and of “the land of Chaldea” (mât Kaldi). He did homage to Tiglath Pileser in 731 B.C. In the first year of Sargon, Merodach-baladan established himself as king of Babylon, and was eventually recognised as such by the Assyrian sovereign. He reigned about twelve years contemporaneously with Sargon, who in 710 and 709 B.C. defeated and captured him, and burnt his stronghold Dûr-Yâkin. On the death of Sargon, Merodach-baladan once more gained possession of the throne of Babylon; and perhaps it was at this time (so Schrader) that he sent his famous embassy to seek the alliance of Hezekiah and other western princes. After a brief reign of six months, he was defeated by Sennacherib, and driven back to his old refuge in the morasses of South Chaldea. Belibus was made Assyrian viceroy of Babylon. These events belong to the beginning of Sennacherib’s reign. (He says, ina ris sarrutiya, “in the beginning of my sovereignty.”) There was yet another outbreak before Merodach-bala-dan was finally disheartened; and later still Esarhaddon mentions that he slew Nabu-zir-napisti-sutesir, son of Mardak-abla-iddina, and made his brother Na’id-Maruduk king of “the land of the sea” in his stead.

Son of Baladan.—The name of Merodach-baladan’s father is not mentioned in the cuneiform inscriptions.

He had heard that Hezekiah had been sick.—The ostensible business of the embassy was to congratulate Hezekiah on his recovery, and to inquire about the sign that had been vouchsafed him (sec 2 Chronicles 32:31, and Note); but the Assyrian records make it pretty clear that the real object was to ascertain the extent of Hezekiah’s resources, and to secure his alliance against the common enemy.

Verse 13

(13) Hearkened unto.—A scribe’s error for “was glad of them” (Isaiah, and many MSS. and the versions here).

The silver, and the gold.—This, as well as the phrase in 2 Kings 20:17, “that which thy fathers have laid up,” appears to contradict 2 Kings 18:15-16. Schrader regards this as an indication that Hezekiah’s illness and the embassy of Merodach-baladan belong to the time preceding Sennacherib’s invasion. Thenius, however, supposes that Hezekiah simply gave all the money in his treasury to Sennacherib’s envoys, and stripped off the gold plating of the Temple before them that they might suppose his resources exhausted, when, in fact, he had not touched his real treasures, which were concealed in subterranean chambers. Thenius also refers to the “credible” statement of the chronicler, that presents were made to Hezekiah from all quarters after the retreat of Sennacherib (2 Chronicles 32:23). Professor Robertson Smith agrees with Schrader in referring the embassy of Merodach-baladan to the years 704-703 B.C.

The precious ointment.The fine oil (Cheyne). Perfumed oil used for anointing.

All that was found in his treasures.—See 2 Chronicles 32:27-28. Storehouses beyond the precincts of the palace, and beyond Jerusalem. (Comp. the phrase “in all his dominion,” which alludes to the resources of Hezekiah in the country, statistics of which he might show to the envoys.)

Verse 14

(14) What said these men?—“Isaiah, with that fearless assumption of a superior position which we have noticed in Isaiah 7:0, at once challenges the king to explain his conduct. Jehovah’s will is opposed to all coquetting with foreign powers. (Comp. Isaiah 30:1.)” [Cheyne.]

From a far country.—So the Assyrian kings describe Palestine as “a far off land,” using the same adjective (rûqu).

Verse 17

(17) Behold, the days come . . .—Comp. 2 Chronicles 32:25-26; 2 Chronicles 32:31. It is there said that Divine wrath fell upon Hezekiah, because his heart was lifted up; and that the Babylonian embassy was an occasion in which God made proof of his inward tendencies. Self-confidence and vanity would be awakened in Hezekiah’s heart as he displayed all his resources to the envoys, and heard their politic, and perhaps hyperbolical, expressions of wonder and delight, and himself, it may be, realised for the first time the full extent of his prosperity. But it was not only the king’s vanity which displeased a prophet who had always consistently denounced foreign alliances as betokening deviation from absolute trust in Jehovah; and a more terrible irony than that which animates the oracle before us can hardly be conceived. Thy friends, he cries, will prove robbers, thine allies will become thy conquerors. That Isaiah should have foreseen that Assyria, then in the heyday of its power, would one day be dethroned from the sovereignty of the world by that very Babylon which, at the time he spoke, was menaced with ruin by the Assyrian arms, can only be accepted as true by those who accept the reality of supernatural prediction. Thenius remarks: “An Isaiah might well perceive i what fate threatened the little kingdom of Judah, in case of a revolution of affairs brought about by the Babylonians.” But the tone of the prophecy is not hypothetical, but entirely positive. Besides, Isaiah evidently did not suppose that Merodach-baladan’s revolt would succeed. (Comp. Isaiah 14:29, seq., 21:9.)

Verse 18

(18) Thy sons . . . begeti.e., thy descendants. Comp, the fulfilment (Daniel 1:3). Ewald refers to the captivity of Hezekiah’s own son Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:11).

Eunuchs.—Rather, courtiers, palace attendants (so Josephus). Cheyne, “chamberlains” (so Thenius: kämmerer).

Verse 19

(19) Good is the word of the Lord . . .—Pious acquiescence in the will of God. (Comp. Eli’s: “It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good.” Comp, also a similar expression in 1 Kings 2:38.)

Is it not good, if peace . . .—This rendering appears to be right. Severe as is the prophetic word of judgment, it contains an element of mercy, in that Hezekiah himself is spared. The words are introduced by and he said, to indicate that they were spoken after a pause.

Peace and truth.—Rather, peace and permanence (or, security, stability; Jeremiah 33:6). Ewald, Thenius, and Bähr render: “Yea, only may there be peace, &c, in my days.” (Comp. the prayer of the church: “Give peace in our time, O Lord.”)

Verse 20

(20) His might.—See 2 Chronicles 32:0; Isaiah 33:18; Psalms 48:12-13.

A pool . . . a conduit . . . water.—Rather, the pool . . . the conduit . . . the water. The pool of Hezekiah is now the Birket-Hammâm-el-Batrak. (See Notes on 2 Chronicles 32:4; 2 Chronicles 32:30, and Isaiah 7:3.)

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Kings 20". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.