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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Isaiah 38

Verse 1

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

But see notes on Isaiah 36:1-22; Isaiah 37:1-38, in which the theory is advanced by Hincks, that Hezekiah's sickness is out of its right order in our collocation of Isaiah's text, and that it really came about the 14th year of his reign, when Sargon (not "Sennacherib," Isaiah 36:1) the "king of Assyria" came up against Palestine (Isaiah 20:1, etc.; 36:1). So "the 14th year" in Isaiah 36:1 is out of its place, and refers to Sargon's futile invasion, at least eleven years before Sennacherib's invasion.

Set thine house in order - Make arrangement as to the succession to the throne; because he had no son then: and as to thy other concerns.

Thou shalt die - speaking according to the ordinary course of the disease. His being spared fifteen years was not a change in God's mind, but an illustration of God's dealings being unchangeably regulated by the state of man in relation to Him.

Verse 2

Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the LORD,

Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall. The couches in the East ran along the walls of houses. He turned away from the spectators, to hide his emotion and collect his thoughts for prayer.

Verse 3

And said, Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, 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 now, O Lord ... He mentions his past religious consistency not as a boast, or a ground for justification, but according to the Old Testament dispensation, wherein temporal rewards (as long life, etc., Exodus 20:12) followed legal obedience, he makes his religious conduct a plea for asking the prolongation of his life.

Walked - life is a journey: the pious 'walk with God' (Genesis 5:24; 1 Kings 9:4).

With a perfect heart - sincere. not absolutely perfect, but aiming toward it (Matthew 5:45): single-minded in walking as in the presence of God (Genesis 17:1), The letter of the Old Testament legal righteousness was, however, a standard very much below the spirit of the law as unfolded by Christ (Matthew 5:20-48; 2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Corinthians 3:17).

And Hezekiah wept sore. Josephus says the reason why he wept so sorely was that, being childless, he was leaving the kingdom without a successor. How often our wishes, when gratified, prove curses! Hezekiah lived to have a son, late in life (for his son was only twelve years old at his accession, 2 Kings 21:1), about three years after Hezekiah's sickness. That son was the idolater Manasseh, the chief cause of God's wrath against Judah, and of the overthrow of the kingdom (2 Kings 23:26-27).

Verse 4

Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying,

Then came the word of the Lord to Isaiah. In 2 Kings 20:4 the quickness of God's answer to the prayer is marked: "afore Isaiah had gone out into the middle court the word of the Lord came to him" - i:e., before he had left Hezekiah, or at least when he had just left him, and Hezekiah was in the act of praying, after having heard God's message by Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 65:24; Psalms 32:5; Daniel 9:21).

Verse 5

Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.

The God of David thy father. God remembers the covenant with the father to the children (Exodus 20:6; Psalms 89:28-29).

I have seen thy tears - (Psalms 56:8.)

I will add unto thy days fifteen years. Man's years, however many (as those of Methuselah), are but as so many days (Genesis 5:27).

Verse 6

And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city.

In 2 Kings 20:8, after this verse comes the statement as to the means and the sign of his cure, which is put at the end, in order not to interrupt God's message (Isaiah 38:21-22) by Isaiah (Isaiah 38:5-8).

I will deliver thee and this city. The city was already delivered, but here assurance is given, that Hezekiah shall have no more to fear from the Assyrians.

Verse 7

And this shall be a sign unto thee from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that he hath spoken;

This (shall be) a sign - a token that God would fulfill His premise, that Hezekiah should 'go up into the house of the Lord the third day' (2 Kings 20:5; 2 Kings 20:8). The specification of the third day is not in Isaiah.

Verse 8

Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.

I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down - cause to return. In 2 Kings 20:9; 2 Kings 20:11 the choice is stated to have been given to Hezekiah whether the shadow should go forward or go back ten degree. Hezekiah replied, "It is a light thing (a less decisive miracle) for the shadow to go down (its usual direction) ten degrees: nay, but let it return backward ten degrees;" so Isaiah cried to Yahweh that it should be so, and it was so (cf. Joshua 10:12; Joshua 10:14).

In the sun-dial of Ahaz (Hebrew, bªma`ªlowt (H4609) ... bashemesh (H8121)) - literally, in the degrees in the sun. Herodotus (2: 109) states that the sun-dial, and the division of the day into twelve hours, were invented by the Babylonians, and derived from them by the Egyptians. Ahaz was one, from his connection with Tiglath-pileser, likely to have copied the pattern of an Assyrian sun-dial as he copied the altar at Damascus (2 Kings 16:7; 2 Kings 16:10). "Shadow of the degrees" means the shadow made on the degrees (cf. Psalms 102:11; Psalms 109:23). Josephus thinks these degrees were steps ascending to the palace of Ahaz. The time of day was indicated by the number of steps reached by the shadow. The dial was of such a size and so placed that Hezekiah, when convalescent, could witness the miracle from his chamber. No mention of twelve hours occurs in the Old Testament. Compare Isaiah 38:21-22 with 2 Kings 20:9, where translate, shall this shadow go forward, etc.

The dial was no doubt in sight, probably 'in the middle court' (2 Kings 20:4) - the point where Isaiah turned back to announce God's gracious answers to Hezekiah. Hence, this particular sign was given. The retrogression of the shadow may have been effected by refraction: a cloud denser than the air interposing between the gnomon and dial would cause the phenomenon, which does not take away from the miracle, because God gave him the choice whether the shadow should go forward or back, and regulated the time and place. Bosanquet makes the 14th year of Hezekiah to be 689 BC, the known year of a solar eclipse, to which he ascribes the recession of the shadow. At all events, there is no need for supposing any revolution of the relative positions of the sun and earth, but merely an effect produced on the shadow (2 Kings 20:9-11); that effect was only local, and designed for the satisfaction of Hezekiah, because the Babylonian astronomers and king 'sent to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land' (2 Chronicles 32:31), implying that it had not extended to their country. No mention of any instrument for marking time occurs before this dial of Ahaz, 700 BC The first mention of the "hour" is made by Daniel at Babylon (Daniel 3:6).

Verses 9-20

The writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness:

-The prayer and thanksgiving song of Hezekiah is only given here, not in the parallel passages of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.

Verse 9. The writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness, is the heading or inscription.

Verse 10. Cutting off of my days. Rosenmuller translates, 'the meridian;' when the sun stands in the zenith: Verse 10. Cutting off of my days. Rosenmuller translates, 'the meridian;' when the sun stands in the zenith: so "the perfect day," Proverbs 4:18. Or, 'in the tranquillity [ bidmiy (H1824), from daamah (H1820), or daamam (H1826), to be silent] of my days' - i:e., that period of life when I might now look forward to a tranquil reign (Maurer). The Hebrew is so translated, Isaiah 62:6-7. The English version takes it from damah, to cut off-the image being that of a weaver cutting off the threads of the web from the beam. Isaiah 38:12 confirms this. The Arabic, 'in the taking away of my days.'

I shall go to - rather (Hebrew, 'eeleekaah (H3212) bª-), 'go into,' as in Isaiah 46:2 (Maurer).

Residue of my years - those which I had calculated on. God sends sickness to teach man not to calculate on the morrow, but to live more wholly to God, as if each day were the last.

Verse 11. I said, I shall not see the Lord, (even) the Lord. The repetition, as in Isaiah 38:19, expresses the excited feeling of the king's mind. To see the Lord ('Yahweh') is figurative for, to enjoy His good gifts. So, in a similar connection, Psalms 27:13, "I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living;" Psalms 34:12, "What man is he that desireth life, that he may see good?"

With the inhabitants of the world - Hebrew, chadel (H2465), or chedel (H2309), the world, or age, soon ceasing and unstable, from chadal (H2308), to cease; more usually written cheled (H2465), the transitory course of life. Maurer translates, 'among the inhabitants of the land of stillness' - i:e., Hades, in parallel antithesis to "the land of the living" in the first clause. Chedel (H2309), the land of ceasing, in contrast to cheled, the land of continuance (Hengstenberg on Psalms 17:14). (Job 14:6.) So the Vulgate and Syriac. I prefer the English version, "the inhabitants of the world" being directly parallel to "the land of the living." So the Arabic.

Verse 12. Mine age. So the Syriac, as the parallel, "shepherd's tent," requires habitation: so the Arabic (Gesenius). I prefer 'My pilgrimage,' or 'tenacity of life,' or 'the body.'

Departed - is broken up, or shifted, as a tent to a different locality. The same image occurs, 2 Corinthians 5:1; 2 Peter 1:12-13. He plainly expects to exist, and not cease to be in another state, as the shepherd still lives after he has struck his tent and removed elsewhere.

I have cut off like a weaver my life. He attributes to himself that which is God's will with respect to him; because he declares that will. So Jeremiah is said to "root out" kingdoms, because he declares God's purpose of doing so (Jeremiah 1:10). The weaver cuts off his web from the loom when completed. Job 7:6 has a like image. The Greeks represented the Fates as spinning, and cutting off the threads of each man's life.

He - God.

Will cut me off with pining sickness - Midalaah (H1803), from daalah (H1803), to be attenuated. So Aben-Ezra. Or else, from the thrum, or thread, which tied the loom to the weaver's beam.

From day (even) to night - i:e., in the space of a single day, between morning and night (Job 4:20).

Wilt thou make an end of me.

Verse 13. I reckoned till morning, (that), as a lion, so will he break all my bones - When night had come, I reckoned on living no longer than until morning, when He (God) as a lion will break all my bones.' Or else, I composed (my mind [ shiwiytiy (H7737)], from shaawah (H7737), to make level or smooth) during the night, expecting relief in the "morning:" so Job 7:4; for (that is not, as in the English version, to be supplied) as a lion He was breaking all my bones. Somewhat similarly the Vulgate, 'sperabam' (Vitringa). (Job 10:16; Lamentations 3:10-11.) The Hebrew in Psalms 131:2 is rendered, "I have behaved," "and quieted myself" is added. Or else, 'I made myself like a lion (namely, in roaring through pain), He was so breaking my bones!' So the Chaldaic, 'I was roaring until morning, as a lion which roars and breaks the bones of an animal, so are all my bones broken with pain.' Poets often compare great groaning to a lion's roaring; so, next verse, he compares his groans to the sounds of other animals (Psalms 22:1) (Maurer). The English version is good sense-in making one thing equal to another, the idea of comparing and reckoning arises.

From day (even) to night wilt thou make an end of me - when day dawned I did not dare to hope that I should live until evening.

Verse 14. [ cuwc (H5483) `aaguwr (H5693)]. A plaintive and a migratory bird is implied by the Hebrew cuwc. The northern Italians call the swallow, zisilla, a kindred word. So the Septuagint here. The `aaguwr (H5693), Gesenius takes as an epithet of the swallow 'circling,' from 'aagar, to roll round. But Jeremiah 8:7 shows a distinct bird is meant, probably the crane, from gaahar, to make a chatter-as grus is akin to garrio, ingruo. Translate, 'like a swallow or a crane.'

Chatter - twitter: broken sounds, expressive of pain.

Dove - called by the Arabs the daughter of mourning, from its plaintive note (Isaiah 59:11).

Mine eyes fail (with looking) upward to God for relief.

Undertake for me - literally, be surety for me (Hebrew, `aarªbeeniy (H6148), from `aarab (H6148)); assure me that I shall be restored (Psalms 119:122).

Verse 15-20.-The second part of the song passes from prayer to thanksgiving at the prayer being heard.

Verse 15. What shall I say? - The language of one at a loss for words to express adequately his sense of the unexpected deliverance.

He hath both spoken unto me, and himself hath done it - (Numbers 23:19.) Both promised and performed (1 Thessalonians 5:24; Hebrews 10:23).

Himself - no one else could have done it (Psalms 98:1).

I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul - rather, 'on account of the bitterness;' I will behave myself humbly, in remembrance of my past sorrows and sickness, from which I have been delivered by God's mercy (see 1 Kings 21:27; 1 Kings 21:29). In Psalms 42:4, the same Hebrew verb ['edadeh] expresses the slow and solemn gait of one going up to the house of God: it is found nowhere else. Hence, Rosenmuller explains it, 'I will reverently attend the sacred festivals in the temple.' But this ellipsis would be harsh; rather, metaphorically, the word is transferred to a calm, solemn, and submissive walk of life.

Verse 16. By these (things men) live - namely, by God's benefits, which are implied in the context (Isaiah 38:15, 'He hath Himself done it' "unto me"). All 'men live by these' benefits (Psalms 104:27-30).

And in all these (things is) the life of my spirit - i:e., I also live by them (Deuteronomy 8:3).

So wilt thou recover me, and make me to live. The Hebrew is imperative, "make me to live." In this view he adds a prayer to the confident hope founded on his comparative convalescence, which he expressed, 'Thou wilt recover me' (Maurer).

Verse 17. For peace - instead of the prosperity which I had previously.

I had great bitterness - literally, bitterness to me, bitterness-expressing intense emotion: cf. Isaiah 38:15, end.

But thou hast in love to my soul (delivered it) from the pit of corruption - "love," attachment, such as joins one to another tenderly; literally, 'thou hast lovingly embraced;' 'thou hast been lovingly attached to my soul from the pit'-Hebrew, chaashaqtaa (H2836); a pregnant phrase for, Thy love has gone down to the pit, and drawn my soul out from it. The "thou" is emphatic in the Hebrew. Thou hast done what neither I nor any other could do. The "pit" is here simply death, in Hezekiah's sense, realized in its fullness only in reference to the soul's redemption from hell by Jesus Christ (Isaiah 61:1), who went down to the pit for that purpose Himself (Psalms 88:4-6; Zechariah 9:11-12; Hebrews 13:20). "Sin" and sickness are connected (Psalms 103:3: cf. Isaiah 53:4, with Matthew 8:17; Matthew 9:5-6), especially under the Old Testament dispensation of temporal sanctions; but even now, sickness, though not invariably arising from sin in individuals, is connected with it in the general moral view.

Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back - thou hast consigned my sins to oblivion. The same phrase occurs, 1 Kings 14:9; Nehemiah 9:26; Psalms 50:17. Contrast Psalms 90:8, "Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance."

Verse 18. Death - i:e., the dead; Hades and its inhabitants (Job 28:22: see note, Isaiah 38:11).

Cannot celebrate thee. Plainly Hezekiah believed in a world of disembodied spirits; his language does not imply what scepticism has drawn from it, but simply that he regarded the disembodied state as one incapable of declaring the praises of God before men; because it is, as regards this world, an unseen land of stillness: "the living" alone can praise God on earth, in reference to which only he is speaking; Isaiah 57:1-2, shows that at this time the true view of the blessedness of the righteous dead was held, though not with the full clearness of the Gospel, which "has brought life and immortality to light" (2 Timothy 1:10).

They that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The Hebrew particle 'for' [ 'el (H413)] expresses turning or direction of the mind toward a thing. Their probation is at an end. They can no longer exercise faith and hope in regard to thy faithfulness to thy promises, which are limited to the present state. For "hope" ceases (even in the case of the godly) when sight begins (Romans 8:24-25); the ungodly have "no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Hope in God's truth is one of the grounds of praise to God (Psalms 71:14; Psalms 119:49).

Verse 19. The living, the living - emphatic repetition, as in Isaiah 38:11; Isaiah 38:17: his heart is so full of the main object of his prayer that for want of adequate words he repeats the same word.

The father to the children - one generation of the living to another. He probably, also, hints at his own desire to live until he should have a child, the successor to his throne, to whom he might make known and so perpetuate the memory of God's truth. Shall make known thy truth - God's faithfulness to His promises, especially, in Hezekiah's case, to His promise of hearing prayer.

Verse 20. The Lord (was ready) to save me. "Was ready" is not in the Hebrew; 'Yahweh was for my salvation' - i:e., saved me (cf. Isaiah 12:2).

We - I and my people.

All the days of our life in the house of the Lord. This song was designed, as many of the other psalms, as a form to be used in public worship at stated times, perhaps on every anniversary of his recovery; hence, "all the days of our life."

Verse 21

For Isaiah had said, Let them take a lump of figs, and lay it for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover.

Lump of figs - a round cake of figs pressed into a mass (1 Samuel 25:18). God works by means, the meanest of which He can make effectual.

Boil - the inflamed ulcer or carbuncle. Meade thinks Hezekiah's sickness was a fever terminating in an abscess.

Verse 22

Hezekiah also had said, What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the LORD?

What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the Lord? Hence, He makes the praises to be sung there prominent in his song (Isaiah 38:20; Psalms 116:12-14; Psalms 116:17-19).

Remarks: Men ought to have their house at all times 'set in order,' for they know not how soon they may "die." The great and rich have often more ties to bind them to the present life than the poor and humble; and so are often the most loath to leave it. But if the believer has committed his soul to His faithful and covenant keeping Father in Christ, he has no need to be anxious about secondary and worldly concerns. Hezekiah's pressing care in his sickness was, that if he should then die, he had no son to succeed him. Could he have foreseen what Manasseh, the son subsequently born to him; was about to prove, he would have been less concerned about the prospect of dying sonless. The servant of God, in prayer, though he cannot claim sinlessness, yet can appeal to the heart-searching God as to his sincerity (Isaiah 38:3). It is a consolation on a deathbed to be able, like Hezekiah, to say to the Lord, "I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart." None can say so absolutely; but every believer can say so relatively. Therefore, his prayer is acceptable to God, because "it goeth not out of feigned lips."

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Isaiah 38". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/isaiah-38.html. 1871-8.