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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

2 Kings 20

Verse 1

In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.

In those days was Hezekiah sick. As his reign lasted twenty-nine years (2 Kings 18:2), and his kingdom was invaded in the fourteenth (2 Kings 18:13), it is evident that this sudden and severe illness must have occurred in the very year of the Syrian invasion. Between the threatened attack and the actual appearance of the enemy, this incident in Hezekiah's history must have taken place. But according to the usage of the sacred historian, the story of Sennacherib is completed before entering on what was personal to the king of Judah (see also Isa. 38:39 ). Dean Stanley is of opinion that the king's illness occurred either during Sennacherib's invasion or immediately after his retreat, and was produced by mental excitement as well as bodily exhaustion connected with that crisis.

Set thine house in order. Isaiah, being of the blood-royal, might have access to the king's private house. But since the prophet was commissioned to make this announcement, the message must be considered as referring to matters of higher importance then the settlement of the king's domestic and private affairs. It must have related chiefly to the state of his kingdom, he having not as yet any son (cf. 2 Kings 20:6 with 2 Kings 21:1). For thou shalt die, and not live. The disease was of a malignant character, and would be mortal in its effects, unless the healing power of God should miraculously interpose.

Verse 2

Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying,

Turned his face to the wall. Not like Ahab (see the notes at 1 Kings 21:4 for an account of the position of beds), in fretful discontent, but in order to secure a better opportunity for prayer, to conceal his face from the notice of his attendants, that the fervency of his devotion might not be observed. But Lamy thinks that Hezekiah turned his face to the wall because he meant to pray looking in the direction of the temple ('De Tabernaculo,' lib. 7: cap. 1: sec. 5.

Verse 3

I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.

Remember ... how I have walked ... The course of Hezekiah's thoughts was evidently directed to the promise made to David and his successors on the throne (1 Kings 8:25). He had kept the conditions as faithfully as human infirmity admitted; and as he had been all along free from any of those great crimes by which through the judgment of God, human life was often suddenly cut short, his great grief might arise partly from the love of life, and the promise of long life and temporal prosperity made to the pious and godly, which would not be fulfilled to him if be were cut off in the midst of his days; partly from the obscurity of the Mosaic dispensation, where life and immortality had not been fully brought to light; and partly from his plans for the reformation of his kingdom being frustrated by his death, and from his having as yet, which was most probably the case, no son whom he could leave heir to his work and his throne. He pleaded the fulfillment of the promise.

Verse 4

And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying,

Afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court - of the royal castle.

Verse 5

Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD.

Thus saith ... the God of David thy father. An immediate answer was given to his prayer, containing an assurance that the Lord was mindful of His promise to David, and would accomplish it in Hezekiah's experience, both by the prolongation of his life and his deliverance from the Assyrians.

On the third day. The perfect recovery from a dangerous sickness, within so short a time, shows the miraculous character of the cure (see his thanksgiving song, Isaiah 38:9). The disease cannot be ascertained; but the text gives no hint that the plague was raking then in Jerusalem; and although Arabian as well as Persian (Morier) physicians apply a cataplasm of figs to plague-boils, they also do so in other cases, as figs are considered useful in ripening and soothing inflammatory ulcers.

Verses 6-7

And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 8

And Hezekiah said unto Isaiah, What shall be the sign that the LORD will heal me, and that I shall go up into the house of the LORD the third day?

What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me. His recovery in the course of nature was so unlooked for, that the king asked for some token to justify his reliance on the truth of the prophet's communication; and the sign he specified was granted to him. The shadow of the sun went back upon the dial of Ahaz the ten degrees it had gone down.

Various conjectures have been formed as to this dial The word in the original [ ma`ªlowt (H4609)] means Various conjectures have been formed as to this dial. The word in the original [ ma`ªlowt (H4609)] means "degrees," or 'steps;' and hence, many commentators have supposed that it was a stair, so artfully contrived that the shadow on the steps indicated the hours and course of the sun. But it is more probable that it was a proper instrument-`a series of steps or terraces like those of the Birs Nimroud, on which an upright pole cast its shadow the hours being marked by the coincidence of the shadow of the gnomon with the edge of the steps (degrees)' (Layard's 'Nineveh and Babylon,' p. 498: also 'Dissertation on the Old Testament' by M. Von Gumpach, p. 181). [The Septuagint evidently views it as consisting of steps; but the same version in Isaiah 38:8 calls the sundial of Ahaz, anabathmous tou oikou tou patros sou; and, from the Hebrews having no term to designate it, there is a strong presumption that it was one of the foreign novelties imported from Babylon by Ahaz, or presented to him by Tiglath-pileser.]

It seems to have been of such magnitude, and so placed in the court, that Isaiah could point to it, and the king see it, from his chamber. Mr. Bosanquet refers this incident to a partial eclipse of the sun which took place at noon-day at Jerusalem in January, B.C. 689. In the discussion produced by his suggestion, Professor Airey, the Astronomer-Royal, demonstrated, by chronological arguments, that such an eclipse did take place at the very time-namely, on the 11th January, 14 days after the winter solstice of 690 BC-and calculates the time of the central eclipse to have been shortly after eleven o'clock a.m.-too early an hour for the phenomenon being produced on the dial. Whereupon a supplemental contribution to this view was made by the eminent mathematician, Adams, to the effect that, as the received secular variation of the moon was a little erroneous, the time of the eclipse referred to might perhaps be advanced half an hour (Athenaeum, June 28, 1856). But admitting, on the testimony of these eminent astronomers, the actual occurrence of this celestial phenomenon at the date mentioned, and still further, that, as Vitringa and Gesenius state, instances of a refraction caused by some vapour or cloud have been known in modern times, these concessions will not bring the remarkable fact recorded in the text within the operation of the established laws of nature For it is distinctly asserted that the sign being left to the absolute choice of Hezekiah, whether the shadow on the dial should go ten degrees forward or backward, he fixed upon the latter. No doubt, the statement made here, that the conditions of the sign were submitted to the free selection of Hezekiah, does not appear in the parallel passage of Isaiah (Isaiah 38:7-8); but that omission cannot affect the truth of the narrative contained in the book of Kings, which is much more circumstantial and full than the succinct account given in that of Isaiah.

The only right conclusion appears to be, that the retrogression of the sun's shadow on the dial was miraculous, accomplished by the omnipotent power of God; but the phenomenon was temporary, local, confined to the notice, and intended for the satisfaction, only of Hezekiah and his court. It has been suggested as a conjectural emendation on this passage that an error may have crept into the text in the recorded number of degrees on the sun-dial of Ahaz. The present text says 10. But why that number rather than 5, 7, or 20? Assuming that it was 15 degrees, the passage will appear exceedingly beautiful-the sign would be perfect, and most apposite. The life of the king was to be prolonged 15 years, and in token of this favour the shadow on file dial recedes a corresponding number of degrees. It is fatal, however, to this critical hypothesis that the word "ten" is repeatedly used in the narrative, and that the proposed alteration is not supported by the authority of any of the ancient versions or manuscripts (see Strachey's 'Hebrew Politics,' pp. 286-290; 'Journal of Sacred Literature,' October, 1854, pp. 217, 218; 1855, pp. 163-178; 1856, p. 163).

Verses 9-11

And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the LORD, that the LORD will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees? No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 12

At that time Berodachbaladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present unto Hezekiah: for he had heard that Hezekiah had been sick.

At that time Berodach-baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, [ Bªro'dak-Bal'ªdaan (H1255) (as in Isaiah 39:1); Mªro'dak-Bal'ªdaan (Gesenius). This name, as compounded of Mªrodaak (H4781), Mars, the great slaughterer (Jeremiah 50:2), and frequently incorporated with proper names, so Evil-merodach, etc., Baladan = bel (H1078), and 'adown (H113), sovereign lord, read on the side of a bowl found at Nineveh, Mered-onkh-bal; probably Mardocempalus of Ptolemy (Rawlinson's 'Herodotus', 1:, p. 502), "son" of Baladan.] The father of Merodach-baladan seems, from the Assyrian inscriptions, to have been Yagina, or Yakin (Rawlinson's 'Bampton Lectures,' p. 443, note; 'Ancient Monarchies,' 2:, p. 395. note); so that Baladan must have been his grandfather, or some distinguished, ancestor. He is here called "king of Babylon." In the 'annals of Sennacherib' the name of Merodach-baladan occurs as king of Kardunyas, or Chaldea. But Babylon was at that time a provincial capital of Assyria; and then, could there be, during the existence of the old Assyrian empire, a king of Babylon possessed of an independent kingdom, and free to appoint mission of the kind to Hezekiah, who was the determined and successful enemy of the Assyrian power?

In, the Armenian version of Eusebius' 'Chronicle,' discovered few years ago, a fragment of the Chaldean historian Berosus, preserved by Alexander Polyhistor, throws a welcome light on this obscure portion of history. It is to the following effect: After the reign of the brother of Sennacherib, Acises reigned ever the Babylonians; and when he had exercised supreme authority for the space of thirty days, he was slain by Marodachus Baladanus, who held the empire by force during six months; and he was slain by a person called Elibus, who succeeded to the throne. In the third year of his reign Sennacherib, king of the Assyrians, levied an army against the Babylonians, and in a battle in which they were engaged, routed and took him prisoner, with his adherents, and ordered them to be carried into the land of the Assyrians. Having assumed the government of the Babylonians, lane, he appointed his son, Asordanius, to be their king as his deputy, after which he himself retired again into Assyria' (Cory's 'Fragments').

Thus it is explained how, since the rulers of Babylon were formerly viceroys of the Assyrian monarchs, there happened to be a "king of Babylon" who acted independently, and despatched a friendly embassy to a distant monarch, who was notoriously in opposition to the Assyrian power. Merodach-baladan was one in a series of three successive rulers who, having thrown off the Assyrian yoke, were de facto kings of Babylon; and whether these usurpers took advantage of the fatal campaign in Judea, which reduced the Assyrian empire to low ebb, for unfurling the banner of independence, as the Medes are thought also to have done, or whatever other occasion may have tempted them to rebel, this precious fragment of Berosus has solved a historical problem, has given an actual existence to a person who, in the absence either of direct testimony or indirect corroboration from any quarter, was long considered a myth; and by thus establishing the reality of Merodach-baladan's royal condition, has wrested from sceptics one of their most formidable weapons against the truth of the Old Testament history, (see Layard's 'Nineveh and Babylon'-the results of a Second Expedition, pp. 140-145, 212, 443, 620; Rawlinson's 'Outlines,' pp. 39-32; Niebuhr, pp. 46, 47, 169; Bonomi, 'Ninevah and its Palaces,' pp. 51, 52; Wiseman's 'Lectures on the Connection of Science and Revealed Religion, p. 409, etc.) Sent letters and a present unto Hezekiah. It is highly probable that the message of congratulation to Hezekiah on his recovery, was only a polite pretext for the embassy; and that in the circumstances, common to these kings of Babylon and of Judah, of opposition to the Assyrian power, Merodach was desirous of forming a defensive league with Hezekiah against their great foe. The presents were, according to Eastern usage, an indispensable passport to the commencement of civil or social communications of any kind, and might be more or less valuable according to the ability or the purposes of the donor. But it appears further (2 Chronicles 32:31), that one important object of this mission to Hezekiah was, in accordance with the favourite tastes and pursuits of the chief men, in Chaldea, to inquire respecting the 'wonder' which had occurred in the country of Judah. That 'wonder' was in all probability, not the miraculous overthrow of the Assyrians, but the recession of the sun's shadow; because that phenomenon was directly connected with the convalescence of Hezekiah, and, doubtless, excited great interest among the astronomers of Babylon.

Verse 13

And Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and shewed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not.

Hezekiah hearkened unto them, [ yishma` (H8085); but the parallel passage, Isaiah 39:2, has yismach (H8055), was glad. The latter must, from the tenor of the context, be regarded as the proper reading, because the Babylonians came not as suppliants for a favour, but as the bearers of a congratulatory message. It is confirmatory of the correctness of this view that the Septuagint has echaree ep' autois in both passages]. The king of Judah, flattered with this honour, showed the ambassadors [ beeyt (H1004) keelaayw (H3627)

... kaal (H3605)] all the house of his precious things-his store-house containing the regalia and hereditary treasures belonging to the crown, his armoury (see 2 Kings 22:8) and warlike stores; and his motive for this was, evidently, that the Babylonian deputies might be the more induced to prize his friendship.

The silver, and the gold. He had paid so much tribute to Sennacherib as exhausted his treasury (2 Kings 18:16). But after the destruction of Sennacherib, presents were brought him from various quarters, out of respect to a king who, by his faith and prayer, saved his country (2 Chronicles 32:23); and, besides, it is by no means improbable that from the corpses in the Assyrian camp, all the gold and silver he had paid might be recovered. The vain display, however, was offensive to his divine liege-lord, who sent Isaiah to reprove him. The answer he gave the prophet (2 Kings 20:14) shows how he was elated by the compliment of their visit; but the display was wrong, as making a vain exhibition, for his own aggrandizement, of what had been offered him from reverence and respect to his God, and at the same time presenting a bait for the cupidity of these rapacious foreigners, who, at no distant period, would return from the same city of Babylon, and pillars his country, and transfer all the possessions he ostentatiously displayed to Babylon, as well as his posterity, to be court attendants in that country (see the notes at 2 Chronicles 32:31). Besides, it was wrong in a higher point of view still, as all alliances with foreign or pagan states were at variance with the fundamental principle of the theocratic kingdom of Judah.

This passage affords a strong argument as to the prophecy respecting the captivity to Babylon, showing that the words must have been spoken very long before the event. 'The folly of the king and the reproof of the prophet must stand or fall together; the one prompts the other; the truth of the one sustains the truth of the other; the date of the one fixes the date of the other. Thus the period of Hezekiah's display of his finances being determined to a period soon after the downfall of the Assyrians, this rebuke of the prophet, which springs out of it, is determined to the same. Then the rebuke was a prophecy; because as yet it remained for Esarhaddon, the son of Sennacherib to annex Babylon to Assyria by conquest; it remained for the two kingdoms to continue united for two generations more; it remained for Nabopolassar, the satrap of Babylon, to revolt from Assyria, and set up that kingdom for itself; and it remained for Nebuchadnezzar his son to succeed him, and by carrying away the Jews to Babylon, accomplish the words of Isaiah. But this interval occupied a hundred years and upwards; and so far therefore, must the spirit of prophecy have carried him forward into futurity, and that, too, contrary to all present appearances. For Babylon was as yet but a name to the people of Jerusalem; it was a far country, and was to be swallowed up in the great Assyrian empire, and recover its independence once more, before it could be brought to act against Judah' (Blunt's 'Undesigned Coincidences,' p. 222) (cf. Micah 2:10; Micah 4:10).

Verses 14-18

Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah, and said unto him, What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee? And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country, even from Babylon.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 19

Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah, Good is the word of the LORD which thou hast spoken. And he said, Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days?

Good is the word of the Lord - indicating a humble and pious resignation to the divine will. The concluding part of his reply was uttered after a pause, and was probably an ejaculation to himself, expressing his thankfulness that, though great afflictions should befall his descendants, the execution of the divine judgment was to be suspended during his own lifetime.

Verse 20

And the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and all his might, and how he made a pool, and a conduit, and brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?

Pool, and a conduit - (see the notes at 2 Chronicles 32:30.)

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 2 Kings 20". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/2-kings-20.html. 1871-8.