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Saturday, July 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 38

Kingcomments on the Whole BibleKingcomments

Verses 1-3


The personal history of Hezekiah in this chapter complements the foreshadowing of Israel’s restoration in the previous two chapters. In those two chapters it is about the outer recovery, while in this chapter it is about the inner, spiritual recovery.

Illness and Prayer of Hezekiah

In the days of the king of Assyria’s invasion of Judah and his siege of Jerusalem, Hezekiah becomes mortally ill (Isaiah 38:1). Isaiah must even tell him that he is going to die and that, in view of his death, he must arrange certain things for his house. He has to make his will. Then Hezekiah turns his face away from anything that might distract him – no one is allowed to see his face either – and devotes himself to prayer (Isaiah 38:2).

Weeping bitterly, which shows his great sorrow, he speaks to the LORD about how his heart and his deeds have been completely focused on Him after all (Isaiah 38:3). He wants so badly to continue to live. That men do not weep is a foolish thought. Intense sorrow should not be suppressed, but may be expressed to the Lord (Lamentations 2:19).

For the Israelite, the wish to continue living is perfectly justified. After all, a long life is promised to him if he is faithful. Hezekiah has been faithful. To have to die has something in it of the anger of God. He is not that old yet, he is around forty years old. In addition, the state of the land is bad and he has no heir to the throne. Although his prayer does not contain a clear request for an extension of his life, the LORD knows what occupies the heart of Hezekiah.

In the prophetic sense it is about the work that God is going to do in the heart of the believing remnant in the future. They too will be saved from death threatened by the danger from outside, the Assyrian, and the danger from within, the beast and the antichrist. The LORD allows this to teach the believing remnant to pray with confession of their sins – like Joseph’s brothers in prison and like the ten days preceding the day of Atonement are characterized by confession of sins. This confession is necessary because of the two great sins of Israel: the rejection of the Messiah and idolatry or the acceptance of the antichrist.

Verses 4-8

Promise of Healing and Deliverance

Isaiah may convey to Hezekiah the answer of the LORD to his prayer (Isaiah 38:4). It is an answer of grace (Isaiah 38:5). The LORD says nothing about the faithfulness and wholeheartedness to which Hezekiah appealed. There is also no reproach. The LORD answers as “the LORD, the God of your father David”. All compassion for anyone who calls upon Him is based on the Lord Jesus, the true David.

The reference that the LORD is the God of David recalls the promise that the lineage of David will never cease. At that moment Hezekiah does not yet have a son to succeed him. Manasseh is only born three years later. The promise of God of the announcement of the death and, as it were, resurrection of Hezekiah, of which the third day speaks (2 Kings 20:5; Hosea 6:2), are a wonderful illustration of how God will soon restore Israel. It will be life from the dead (Romans 11:15), the resurrection of their dead, the dead body will rise (Isaiah 26:19; Ezekiel 37:1-2 Chronicles :; Daniel 12:1-Leviticus :).

God also lets Hezekiah know that He has seen His tears (Isaiah 38:5). He even collects them and records them in His register, His Divine library (Psalms 56:8). He does not write them down because He could forget them, but to show us how important they are to Him.

Hezekiah gets fifteen extra years. The LORD also confirms the promise that the king of Assyria will not get hold of the city (Isaiah 38:6). Here it appears that the illness of Hezekiah, his prayer and the answer to it chronologically precede the deliverance of Jerusalem described in the previous chapter. The Holy Spirit is therefore concerned here with the moral order and not with the historical one.

Hezekiah asks the LORD for a sign, in contrast with Ahaz (Isaiah 7:10-2 Chronicles :). Ahaz has refused to believe, Hezekiah has the desire to trust the LORD. The LORD promises a sign as proof that He will do what He has said (Isaiah 38:7). This sign consists of an intervention in the course of nature (Isaiah 38:8; cf. Joshua 10:12-1 Chronicles :). Just as the return of the sun goes against the natural laws given by God, so the LORD will heal the illness of Hezekiah against nature. The healing of Hezekiah is connected with God’s power over the sun. The sun is a picture of a ruler. Powers must give way when the LORD stands up for His people, His remnant. God triumphs over the illness of Hezekiah and also over the rulers who made His people suffer so much.

By letting the sun go back, the LORD makes that day last longer than normal. As miraculous as this operation is, so miraculous will the extension of Hezekiah’s lifespan be. To make this sign visible the LORD uses the stairway of Ahaz, the idolatrous and ungodly king, who made this stairway as an idolatrous object. The stairway indicates that time progresses in the direction of judgment. By God’s power, the stairway makes it clear that He makes the time of grace last longer, thus delaying the judgment and allowing grace to overcome the judgment.

Verses 9-20

Thanksgiving Song of Hezekiah

The historical part of Isaiah 36-39 can also be found, as already mentioned, in 2 Kings 18-20 and 2 Chronicles 32. An exception is the above section. This makes immediately clear that the first meaning of this part is not practical, but prophetic. It is written as a psalm of thanksgiving, but with the structure of a lamentation. It is a funeral song which suddenly has become a birth and life song. It also consists of two parts:
1. A supplication because of the illness and suffering of Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:10-2 Chronicles :).
2. A song of thanks for the healing and new life of Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:15-Proverbs :).

Hezekiah undergoes his illness and healing as if from the hand of the LORD. It has brought him into deep exercises. He feels the need to write down these exercises (Isaiah 38:9). In it we recognize much of what we read in the book of Psalms about the feelings of the remnant that is in great need. It is the spirit of Christ, Who connects Himself with the remnant and Who also works in Hezekiah. The suffering of Hezekiah is also the suffering of the remnant in the great tribulation, of which they acknowledge it comes over them because of their sins.

As a son of David, Hezekiah is also a picture of the Lord Jesus. What he experiences here is also a picture of what the Lord Jesus has undergone. He tasted the suffering of death (Hebrews 2:9), not for His own sins, but for those of His people. He offered up supplications to be saved from death, and He was heard (Hebrews 5:7). He was given an extension of life, not just fifteen years, but for eternity (Hebrews 7:17).

In Isaiah 38:10 death is represented as if it had gates through which a person enters (cf. Job 38:17; Psalms 9:13). In his illness Hezekiah sees himself confronted with death in the middle of his life, through which he cannot fulfill his years. This connects with the feelings prophesied by the Lord Jesus (Psalms 102:23-Jeremiah :; cf. Luke 23:31). “In the middle of my life” is literally “on the balance of my days”. Balance means halfway. This is true for Hezekiah, for the Lord Jesus, but also for the people of Israel.

In his illness he thinks with anguish that this means the end of his fellowship with the LORD and with people (Isaiah 38:11). He will no longer be able to ascend to the temple (Psalms 27:4). He feels how because of his illness his body, “tent”, is pulled up and removed (Isaiah 38:12; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:1; 2 Peter 1:13-2 Chronicles :). He compares the LORD with a weaver. Just as a weaver rolls up the fabric (cf. Isaiah 22:17-Job :) because the weaving is finished, so Hezekiah sees his life as ended. He reinforces that thought by talking about being ‘cut off from the loom’.

He feels abandoned by the LORD to the sorrows of death without being able to rest (Isaiah 38:13). He also feels it as something that suddenly comes over him. At the end of both Isaiah 38:12 and Isaiah 38:13 he says: “From day until night You make an end of me”. With this he seems to indicate a sudden, dramatic change in his circumstances: in the morning he is still perfectly healthy, in the evening he is dead.

In yet another picture he sees the LORD as a lion that breaks all his bones. He experiences this action of the LORD so heavy, that he says again that he feels the pain of it day and night. He is not free of it for a second. He no longer has the strength to shout. His voice is weakened to the twitter of a swallow and the moaning of a dove (Isaiah 38:14).

Hezekiah does not compare with these birds for nothing. They are birds which symbolize in a special way the connection with the presence of the LORD (Psalms 84:3; Mark 1:10). He longs for the proximity of the LORD, but he experiences distance and rejection. His longing eyes turn upward, while he expresses his fear to the LORD and asks him to stand surety for him (Job 17:3) that he will not be given up to the realm of the dead.

Now that he has expressed in this way the feelings he had during his illness, has experienced them again as it were and that he is now healed, he does not know what else to say (Isaiah 38:15). After all, the LORD has spoken that he would die and also that he would heal. He has recovered and after the bitter suffering of souls he will be allowed to live for years to come.

He lives by this act of the LORD with him (Isaiah 38:16). What he has received from the LORD has given him back his spirit power. This is not only because of the fact and the moment of the healing, but also at the moment that the LORD has given him the promise. The saying ‘hope brings life’ is true for all who continue to trust that God will fulfill all His promises.

A great change has taken place. The bitter trial has turned into salvation (Isaiah 38:17). Salvation is so great because the trial has been so great and bitter. Hezekiah knows that he was close to the pit of nothingness, to the moment his life would come into it. That has nothing to do with completely ceasing to exist. It is about the disappearance from the world stage. He would disappear into the grave and no longer be seen. It would seem as if he no longer existed, but the LORD saved him from that fate.

He sees in it the proof that the LORD has cast all his sins behind His back (cf. Micah 7:19). If Hezekiah had died, he would no longer be able to praise the LORD on earth (Isaiah 38:18). He does not yet know that the deceased believers live in the presence of the Lord Jesus (Luke 23:43). And Paul even longs to depart to enjoy perfect fellowship with Him (Philippians 1:23).

The expectation of the Old Testament believers was that one day they would rise and enjoy the blessing of fellowship with the LORD (Job 19:25-Daniel :; Psalms 17:15). For Hezekiah, the praise of the LORD is connected to life on earth (Isaiah 38:19). He also wants to pass this on to his children, to the next generation (Psalms 22:30-Obadiah :; Psalms 71:18). A father is someone who tells his children about the faithfulness of the Lord.

Although we, as New Testament believers, as members of the church, are connected not with the earth but with heaven, our life on earth must also have this great characteristic: that it is an ongoing hymn of praise to the glory of the Lord Jesus (Revelation 13:15; 1 Peter 2:5). We may begin on earth with something that we will continue for all eternity and that is: to worship the Father in spirit and truth (John 4:23). Let us pass this on to the next generations, until the Lord comes to pick us up.

In Isaiah 38:20 Hezekiah moves back to the moment when Isaiah tells him on behalf of the LORD that he will be healed. Hezekiah is so pleased about this, that he involves his whole people – as is shown by the word “we” – in the joy of this. The place where that joy is expressed is at the house of the LORD. It is also not an ephemeral expression, but an expression that will be there “all [the] days of our life”.

Verses 21-22

Medicine and a Sign

Hezekiah has prayed for recovery and Isaiah has told Hezekiah the hearing of his prayer. Isaiah did not set up a prayer healing campaign to frame the already promised healing with display. He has used a means of healing that is known for its healing effect (Isaiah 38:21). Hezekiah had an evil boil, and it is believed that the cake of figs attracted the poison that was in the body. In any case, the healing was done by the power the LORD gave to the cake of figs.

The promise of recovery has not been unconditionally believed by Hezekiah, but has revealed some weakness of his faith. He may have received the promise that he would recover and the medicine may have been applied, but he also asked if a sign could be given (Isaiah 38:22). The reason he wanted to recover does speak of love for the LORD for he wanted to recover in order to go up to the house of the LORD.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 38". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/isaiah-38.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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