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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 39

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Verses 1-2

Introduction

This chapter is important because in the second main part of Isaiah, Isaiah 40-66, we are no longer in the days of Hezekiah, nor in the days of Isaiah, but in days further in the future. These are days when Israel is in Babylonian exile and close to the end of it. In order to understand these prophecies, we must move in spirit to the end of Babylonian exile. For that purpose, what is announced in Isaiah 39 must first be fulfilled. Jerusalem must have been destroyed and all the treasures and all the people of Judah must have been transported to Babylon.

This chapter answers the question of why the God, Who is able to deliver Judah from the hand of Assyria, has had Judah carried away to Babylon. We also see here the necessity of the deliverance described in Isaiah 40-66.

Isaiah speaks in the second part of his book to a people who still have to be taken away into exile, while he does so in a way that gives the impression that this exile is almost over. The message is this, that God has chosen a special tool to end the Babylonian empire. This tool is Cyrus, the Persian. Through this tool God will work a return of a remnant to His land. In Cyrus we can see a type of Christ, God’s perfect Servant, who will bring about the ultimate, true salvation for Israel.

The Envoy From Babylon

The king of Babylon, who at that time was still an insignificant empire, finds in the illness and recovery of Hezekiah reason to send him a letter and a present (Isaiah 39:1). The miracle of the sun’s shadow going back ten steps on the stairway also raised questions with him (2 Chronicles 32:31). Possibly he wants to seek support from Hezekiah in his fight against the Assyrians. Even more, it seems that he sent spies to see what treasures and weapons Hezekiah has at home. But behind all this there is God who wants to put Hezekiah to the test (2 Chronicles 32:31).

With this letter Hezekiah does not enter the temple to submit him to the LORD, as he did with the threatening letters of the king of Assyria (Isaiah 37:14). This is a danger to which we are all exposed. When the world threatens us, we go to the Lord, but when the world flatters us, we feel honored and go with the world. When the world reaches out the hand of friendship to us instead of making a fist of enmity against us, we are quick to accept the outstretched hand. It is one of the greatest dangers that can threaten to eliminate us as witnesses of our heavenly Lord.

Hezekiah feels caressed by this visit (Isaiah 39:2). He tries to make the best possible impression on the envoy. For this he shows all his treasures, without withholding anything. This also includes his, “whole armory”. He acts as if it is all his and leaves the LORD out of it. For Hezekiah Babylon is a powerful ally against Assyria. Hezekiah now puts his trust in people instead of in the LORD.

The treasures Hezekiah shows have a spiritual meaning. In Scripture, “Silver” is a picture of the price paid for the atonement. “Gold” speaks of the glory of God. “Spices” represent the various glories of the Lord Jesus. “Oil” is a picture of the Holy Spirit.

What Hezekiah does is what the Lord Jesus warns against: “Do not throw your pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6). The Lord Jesus warns not to do that, for the swine – a picture of the heathens – will trample the pearls under their feet, turn around and tear in pieces whoever throws them to them. This is what will happen to Hezekiah, i.e. his offspring.

The same will happen to us if we start to consider precious spiritual truths – of which the treasures of Hezekiah are a picture – as our own possessions and forget that we have received them from the Lord. Then we will ‘show them off’ and they will be taken away from us by those who we want to impress with it.

Verses 3-4

Isaiah Comes to Hezekiah

Hezekiah’s conduct stems from self-exaltation (2 Chronicles 32:25). He forgets that he owes everything to the LORD. That is why Isaiah comes to him (Isaiah 39:3). Isaiah asks him what those men have said and where they have come from. The king does not answer the first question, but the second one he does answer. Then Isaiah asks what they have seen. Hezekiah’s answer shows how flattered he felt by the visit from the distant Babylon (Isaiah 39:4). Doesn’t he know the prophecies Isaiah spoke about the God-hostile Babylon (Isaiah 14:1-Joshua :)?

Hezekiah apparently does not feel guilty. Nor do the questions of Isaiah penetrate his conscience. The spirit of the envoy from Babylon still hangs around him. He has opened himself to it because he has forgotten that he lives in presence of the LORD. That makes him insensitive to the fact that with Isaiah the LORD comes to him and speaks to him.

Babylon, which means ‘confusion’, presents Christianity as a system that wants to rule. In order to realize this, the various church leaders of the various denominations try to make all kinds of agreements. We see this in the pursuit of ecumenism and in the world council of churches. If true believers let themselves be tempted to participate, it is because they have forgotten their heavenly calling.

The flattery of the Christian world is a great danger. It can make good use of the knowledge of the Bible and the spiritual treasures of heavenly minded believers. They also like to display them when they are invited to do so. Then the Christian world shows us what it has to offer: attractive music, sounding names, a lot of brilliance, spectacular healings, results achieved in the social field and a program for world improvement. It appeals to our feelings, our eyes and our ears. If we open ourselves to it, our conscience will become insensitive to the presence of God.

Verses 5-8

The Deportation to Babylon Is Foretold

On behalf of the LORD Isaiah must pronounce judgment on Hezekiah for what he has done (Isaiah 39:5). Everything that the envoy has seen will be taken away to Babylon. Just as Ahaz trusted in Assyria, but would be oppressed by him (Isaiah 7:17), so the consorting of Hezekiah with Babylon will cause all the treasures he proudly showed to be carried to Babylon (Isaiah 39:6). His offspring will also suffer this fate (Isaiah 39:7). Their unfaithfulness and that of the whole people of which they are king will make the removal inevitable. Approximately ninety-five years later, Nebuchadnezzar will fulfill the words of Isaiah and take everything with him in a few ways (2 Chronicles 36:18; Daniel 1:2).

Hezekiah bends under this judgment and accepts it as “good” (Isaiah 39:8). He also foresees that it will still be peace in his days. It does not seem appropriate to accuse him of selfishness and also of insensitivity to his offspring. Rather, he is aware that the LORD has not acted with him according to what he deserves, but gives him by grace that he may spend the rest of his life in peace (2 Chronicles 32:26).

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 39". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/isaiah-39.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
 
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