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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 38

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-22

Isaiah 38:1 . Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die, and not live. This burden of the Lord placed the prophet in a critical situation. God saw that nothing milder than this harsh and tremendous stroke would bring the royal mind to recollection, and elicit those fine sentiments of repentance which follow in the subsequent psalm. But the prophet’s life would also have been in danger, had it not been for the recession of the solar shadow on the dial of Ahaz, having as a false prophet terrified and deceived his sovereign, and given a falsehood to the nation.

Isaiah 38:2 . Towards the wall. Either to hide his tears, or rather to look towards the temple.

Isaiah 38:6 . I will deliver thee out of the hand of the king of Assyria. Of course, this sickness was presently after the Assyrians had fled.

Isaiah 38:8 . The sun returned ten degrees on the dial of Ahaz. The Chaldaic reads ten hours, but nearly all the Versions ten steps; and though we are ignorant of the construction of this dial, it was no doubt correct, its gnomen or stile indicating on the steps of the palace the time or hours of the day. The ancients divided the day and the night into four parts, as we learn from Matthew 20:3-6; calling them the third, the sixth, and the ninth hour; they therefore had dials by which time was measured. All authors agree that dials were invented by the Chaldeans, yet they must in some form or other have been coëval with the labours of man, Job 7:2. The dials of Greece and of India, are all found standing on pedestals, or are of mural structure. Though Jerome represents the dial of Ahaz as placed on a staircase, it is thought to have been otherwise constructed. Be the form what it might, the gnomen was parallel with the poles of the earth. The lines marked on the plane are what the text calls degrees; but whether those lines were three to the hour, as in India, or four as with us, we have no certainty.

How was this retrogation of the solar shadow on the dial effected? Our rational theologians say, by a deflection of the sun’s shadow. That might indeed have convinced the priests in the temple; but how could it convince the people that Isaiah was a true prophet? The phenomenon seems to have been observed in Chaldea, as well as in Judea, which induced the king of Babylon to send an embassy to congratulate Hezekiah on his recovery. The event was also registered at Heliopolis in Egypt, where all the people were called astronomers. The priests assured Herodotus “that from the time of their first king, to the destruction of Sennacherib’s army, the sun had four times changed from east to west; that he had risen twice where he now sets, and that he had twice set where we see him daily rise.” Euterpe, chap. 142. It is also added, that no change had been produced by these phenomena, on the Nile, on the nation, or the affairs of Egypt.

Had it not been for this stupendous miracle, the recession of the sun’s shadow, Isaiah would have been denounced as a false prophet, who had presumptuously afflicted both the king and the people; but providence took care to seal the divine prediction. And it is surely some help to our faith, to see the facts of sacred history confirmed by pagan testimony; nor does it appear that any reputable author has denied the correctness of the above statement, though some have smiled at the Egyptian chronology in dating back eleven thousand years. See also the note on Joshua 10:0.

Isaiah 38:10 . In the cutting off of my days, being then in his fortieth year. The word is used of weavers, who “cut off” one piece, and then proceed to work the rest of their warp or chain, as is repeated in Isaiah 38:12. It would also have been the cutting off of his house, Manasseh not being born till the third year after the king’s sickness.

Isaiah 38:11 . I shall not see the Lord. I shall not go and thank him in his temple for my recovery, and praise him for the victory over the Assyrians by enjoying its fruits. Many think that this sickness happened while Sennacherib was fighting in Egypt.

Isaiah 38:17 . Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back. A phrase of the same import occurs in the Wisdom of Solomon, 11:23. “Thou lookest another way, and beholdest not the sins of men that they may repent.” Æsop has given us a fable of a Greek, who put all his own faults in one end of a wallet, and his neighbour’s in the other. Unluckily, he threw the end with his own faults behind his back, and carried his neighbours before.


Hezekiah reformed his kingdom of idolatry, and restored the worship of the Lord, but he purged not his heart from vanity. He walked with God with so perfect a heart that he spared not the brazen serpent when it became an occasion of sin; and yet he retained certain idols in his own breast. After the destruction of the Assyrians, he proudly placed their armour in the arsenals of David, and displayed the banners of nations, not taken by his own sword, in the sanctuary of God. The wealth and spoil he put in his treasuries, which were considerably augmented by the gifts of kings and ambassadors who crowded his court and temple. Thus his favours were great, and high above all the kings of the earth; but he rendered not again unto the Lord. He did not possess the excellent spirit of his Sire, who said, What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits? Hence we learn a most instructive lesson, that when God has raised a man from poverty and affliction, and loaded him with prosperity, to be forgetful, and less pious, is highly provoking in his sight.

We may also remark, that such is the proneness of human nature to vanity as to render it necessary for the Lord greatly to try those whom he greatly honours. Thus it was with the patriarchs, with the prophets, and with the apostles; and so it must ever be in the wise administration of providence.

Hezekiah was smitten with a mortal sickness in the midst of his years, when he was a father to the church and the joy of his kingdom. So it daily happens that many good men, in the prime of life, and at the crisis of their greatest usefulness to their families and the public, are arrested by affliction and death. The Lord it may be sees some dangerous snares before them, and death is infinitely preferable to sin. And if not, the bringing of a man’s heart and affections home to heaven, is more than any temporal services he can do in health.

When Isaiah approached his afflicted sovereign it was not to comfort, but to sanctify his soul. He was commissioned to say, Set thy house in order; set thy heart and thy kingdom in order, for thou shalt die, and not live. Oh, language is not able to describe the situation of a careless professor, when he is suddenly seized with affliction, and brought to the gates of eternity, and without any evidence of his adoption; but on the contrary, a heart which reproaches him for hoarding up wealth, while his soul was barren, cold, and poor. He has made a hard struggle to excel his neighbours in riches, but has lost sight, too much lost sight, of the unfading crown of life and glory. Ministers ought not, like Drelincourt, to comfort these men against the fears of death till they have first sanctified them. In their prosperity they have not rendered again unto the Lord, by kindness to the poor, and adequate support of the christian ministry, but have wasted much in household establishments, and tours of pleasure. They have encreased in the spirit of the world, instead of encreasing in piety and the fear of the Lord. Providence therefore is obliged to sanctify them with the rod.

Hezekiah raised from death in answer to prayer, very piously committed his sentiments to writing, that he might not again forget, as he had partially done with regard to the Assyrians. He blames himself for despairing, though his affliction was very heavy. He paints all the scenes of his suffering in delicate sentiments, that he might repeat them in devotional songs. He particularly thanks God for healing his soul, as well as his body, by removing the bitterness of his mind and refusing to look at his sins, implied in casting them behind his back. His sentiments also are finely marked, in regard to his future good intention. The dead cannot praise the Lord in his earthly temple, therefore the living shall praise thee; and this vow he faithfully performed.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 38". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/isaiah-38.html. 1835.
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