Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, May 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 39

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-4

Isa 39:1-4

Isaiah 39:1-2

Here we have the conclusion of the historical section, relating Hezekiah’s vanity in the display of his wealth to Merodach-Baladan’s ambassadors, the Lord’s rebuke through Isaiah, and the predictive prophecy that Babylon would be the power that would capture Jerusalem, loot the city, and deport the royal family to Babylon. The short chapter ends with the submissive resignation of Hezekiah to the fate of his beloved city and the personal rejoicing that he would not live to see the disastrous prophecy fulfilled. Also, he found great comfort in the assured time-lapse before the promised fulfillment of it.

The great thing in the chapter, of course, is the clear, graphic prediction of the Babylonian captivity, which in consideration of Isaiah’s oft-repeated mention of "the remnant" that would return, conclusively shows that this prophecy of the Babylonian captivity had long been anticipated; but only here is it boldly and emphatically declared. To be sure, many critical writers refuse to admit that Isaiah wrote this; but as Rawlinson pointed out, this denial is caused, "Solely by their reluctance to admit that a prophet could predict the subjugation of Judah by Babylon more than a century before the event." The judicial darkening of the human intelligence is clearly visible in such illogical unwillingness to see predictive prophecy here. The prophecy is wedged into the historical situation so skillfully, carries so many dramatic particulars, and so certainly belongs to the century preceding the events prophesied, that there cannot possibly be any reasons whatever for alleging that the prophecy is a "post eventum" prediction.

As Hailey suggested, the only difficult thing about this chapter is the problem of dating it. Rawlinson set it in the year 714 B.C. Cheyne located it in the era of Sargon’s invasion; D. J. Wiseman placed it in the year 705 B.C. We fully agree with Hailey who wrote that, "Determining dates for events in this chapter is beyond our ability.” Nevertheless, it is appropriate to ask, "What difference does it make"? We are certain of the approximate time, and the exact date makes no difference at all.

Despite the uncertainty regarding the exact dates involved here, there are a few facts which we believe shed light on exactly why this uncertainty persists. There is hardly any event in these historical chapters that can be nailed down chronologically with absolute certainty.

"Merodach-baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon ..." (Isaiah 39:1). Cheyne believed that there were two monarchs of this name, one ruling in the period of Sargon’s invasions of Judah, and the other during the period of Sennacherib’s invasions. "Merodach-baladan was not an uncommon name of Babylonian kings.” Thus, there is the problem of just "which" Merodach-baladan sent this embassy to Hezekiah. Furthermore, Merodach-baladan’s kingship of Babylon was ended in 710 B.C., when Sargon removed him. It should be noted in this connection that our text flatly declares that Merodach-baladan was "king of Babylon."

Now, take the reign of Hezekiah. Neither the beginning of it, nor the end of it, is actually dated in scripture. "It seems best to assume that Hezekiah was co-regent with Ahaz from circa 729 B.C., becoming sole king circa 716 B.C.”

The end of Hezekiah’s reign is just as uncertain. "His son Manasseh was probably, "Co-regent with him from 696 to 686 B.C.”

Even the invasions of Judah are not at all certainly documented as to their dates. In fact, Sargon, in inscriptions claims to have conquered Judah, but the Bible makes no mention of such a conquest.

In view of all these facts, there is little wonder that scholars do not know exactly what date to assign to some given event in these chapters. For example, in the "sixth year of the reign" of some monarch means nothing at all unless the knowledge of just "when" that reign started is also available.

After all, the big thing here is not exactly when the events of this chapter occurred, but that they did occur; and that they precipitated the great prophecy of the Babylonian captivity of Israel. Here we turn our attention to the text itself.

Isaiah 39:1-2

"At that time Merodach-baladan, son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah; for he heard that he had been sick, and was recovered. And Hezekiah was glad of them, and showed them the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious oil, and all the house of his armor, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not."

The proper understanding of what happened here must be derived from what is recorded in 2 Chronicles 32:25-26. After his illness, "Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefits done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem. Notwithstanding Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of Jehovah came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah."

Hailey’s comment here is appropriate:

"Hezekiah’s ancestor, David, had yielded to the lust of the flesh; and Solomon had yielded to vanity and pomp; and now Hezekiah, one of Judah’s most admired kings, had yielded to flattery and pride. The flesh is terribly weak.”

Human beings are simply not structured to be rulers. The old proverb that "Power corrupts; and total power corrupts totally" has grown out of the distilled experience of mankind throughout the ages.

The flourishing state of Hezekiah’s treasury cannot help us with the problem of the date, because, his treasury was full, not only before Sennacherib exacted that huge tribute, but again after the recovery of all that loot and more upon the death of the Assyrian army.

Before leaving these two verses, it should be noted that the occasion of this visit from Babylon was the recovery of Hezekiah, also an inquiry into that astronomical miracle which had accompanied it (2 Chronicles 32:31). This strongly indicates that the miracle was not a worldwide event, but one localized in Jerusalem. Behind this, however, the scheme of the Babylonian monarch to form an alliance with Hezekiah looms as the principal reason for the visit.

Isaiah 39:3-4

"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 unto me, even from Babylon. Then said he, What have they seen in thy house? And Hezekiah answered, All that is in my house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not showed them."

It seems nearly incredible that Hezekiah should have been so naive as to have turned his palace wrong-side out to display it to any foreign power, much less to one such as Babylon. There seems to be a very pleased vanity exhibited by Hezekiah here as he tells Isaiah that "This embassy has come all the way from Babylon to see me!" "Thus the faith of Hezekiah, proof against the heaviest blows, melts at the touch of flattery; and the world claims another victim by its friendship.”

Isaiah 39:1-2 VANITY OF THE KING: 2 Chronicles 32:31 relates that the envoys from Babylon were sent to “inquire about the sign that had been done in the land.” Evidently word had filtered into the courts of foreign potentates of the phenomenal, miraculous recovery of King Hezekiah from a terminal illness. Some commentators are inclined to think the inquiry of the envoys about Hezekiah’s recovery was simply a ploy, a ruse, to approach Judah for a military alliance against Assyria. Whatever the case, the text in II Chronicles indicates Hezekiah did not seek the Lord’s guidance in dealing with the Babylonians so, “God left him to himself, in order to try him and to know all that was in his heart.”

If our chronology is correct (see comments on Isaiah 38:1-3) the Babylonian envoys came to Hezekiah before the invasion of Sennacherib (Isaiah 36-37). They came soon after Hezekiah’s recovery. This would place their visit sometime in 710 B.C. Merodachbaladan (which means, Marduk has given a son) was probably named for the pagan god Marduk. He was the valiant leader of a people known as Chaldeans who gained power and rule over the southern territory of Mesopotamia. In 722 B.C. he rebelled against the Assyrian rule of that territory and formed his own kingdom. Sargon, king of Assyria (Isaiah 20), recognized his domain in 721 B.C. so he reigned over that small southern territory for 11 years. About 710 B.C. he sent envoys to Jerusalem, supposedly to give his best wishes to Hezekiah at his recovery from illness. What the envoys really came for was to invite Hezekiah to join in an alliance against Assyria. Merodachbaladan had already persuaded Susa, Phoenicia, Moab, Edom, Philistia and Egypt to join him in a military attack upon Assyria. Sargon learned of the planned attack and set about to defeat these nations, one by one. He took Babylon and Bit-Yakin (Merodachbaladan’s home in the swamps of southern Mesopotamia) and Merodachbaladan himself was captured. He managed to be reinstated as ruler of a small princedom at Bit-Yakin. Around 702 or 701 he occupied Babylon and ruled there again but only briefly. Sennacherib, Sargon’s son and successor drove him back to the swamps and Bit-Yakin. Later he was forced to flee to Elam (Persia) and Chaldean influence was silenced in Mesopotamia. Although Merodachbaladan was unsuccessful in his attempt to overthrow Assyria and revive the power of ancient Babylon, the Chaldeans rose after his death to the dominant power in Mesopotamia.

Merodachbaladan’s escapades and seditions are documented in the Assyrian inscriptions of Sennacherib found by archaeologists (See Archaeology and Bible History, by Joseph P. Free, pg. 210–211).

The Hebrew word samahk expresses more than gladness. It often means to shine cheerfully. Hezekiah was evidently very impressed with his visitors. He was flattered that the king of Babylon would send him a present. He was also momentarily charmed by their invitation to join in the efforts to break the Assyrian yoke. With such charming visitors Hezekiah felt it would be an opportune time to “show off” the grandeur of his country’s wealth and armament. He probably wanted to prove to them he was no second-rate king. Hezekiah committed a two-fold faux pas; a political blunder and a personal transgression. For the king of God’s covenant people to display all his treasures and weapons to pagan envoys who represented inevitable enemies was political stupidity. The envoys undoubtedly made mental note of fortifications, weapons and financial resources for future use. The personal blunder was in succumbing to vanity, pride, egotism and self-sufficiency. This detracted from his faith and trust in Jehovah. And this almost immediately after his great psalm of praise and trust in Jehovah! How like us mortal men he was!

Isaiah 39:3-4 VOICE OF THE PROPHET: It appears Isaiah came almost immediately after the tour of the envoys and confronted Hezekiah with his blunder. Isaiah was sent by Jehovah as Isaiah 39:5 confirms. His approach reminds one of the confrontation between the prophet Nathan and King David. Hezekiah is so charmed by the prestige apparently accorded him by this visit he misses the ominous inferences of the prophet. Isaiah asks, what have these men said? and where are they from? Hezekiah places first importance on where they were from—Babylon. Never mind what they say—even though they may be talking about a Babylonian-Judean alliance. The important thing to notice is how important I am that they would come all the way from the great city of Babylon to see me.

Isaiah’s next question is one of foreboding also, What have they seen in your house? In other words, How much have you shown them of your armament and treasures? Have you been discreet or indiscreet? Still elated over being flattered by such auspicious visitors, the King blurts out that he has shown them everything! Nothing has been kept secret. Isaiah’s questions were intended to reveal to the king his blunder. They were specifically to remind him he had not kept his promise to trust in Jehovah but he had been seduced through his egotism to trust in men.

Verses 5-8

Isa 39:5-8

Isaiah 39:5-6

"Then said Isaiah unto Hezekiah, Hear the word of Jehovah of hosts: Behold the days are coming, when all that is in thy house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith Jehovah."

As Rawlinson observed that, "Concerning the exact times and seasons, the prophets generally knew nothing. They were mouth-pieces to deliver the Divine will. They were not keen-witted politicians, forecasting results by the exercise of sharpsightedness and sagacity.”

No human wisdom could have supplied such information as this to Isaiah. Babylon, at the time of this prophecy, was a rebellious portion of the Assyrian Empire; and it would be only a few years until Esarhaddon, the son of Sennacherib, would be on the throne of Babylon. What an unlikely prophecy this must have appeared to be! Nevertheless, in about 120 years, all of this prophecy was completely fulfilled in Babylon’s rape of Jerusalem and the deportation of the royal family first, and later, the whole population to Babylon.

As Jamieson pointed out this is "the very first place in the Bible where the place of Israel’s punishment is announced." It is particularly important, however, that this is by no means the first prophecy of Israel’s being plucked off of `their land.’ Moses prophesied, "Ye shall be plucked off the land; and Jehovah will scatter thee among all peoples" (Deuteronomy 28:63-64). Ahijah prophesied against Jeroboam: "Jehovah will root up Israel out of this good land which he gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the River, because they have made their Asherim, provoking Jehovah to anger" (1 Kings 14:15). "Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith Jehovah, whose name is the god of hosts" (Amos 5:27). Here, at last in the prophecy of Isaiah, God finally revealed the very city into which Israel would be carried captive. Although it had been known from the beginning by the Father that Babylon would be the place of Israel’s captivity, it was only in this chapter that God at last revealed it through Isaiah. Yet, it is clear enough that "Babylon" was actually intended in those other prophecies.

Isaiah 39:7

"And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, whom thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon."

This is good news and bad news combined. The good news is that Hezekiah would not die childless as he had feared; but the bad news was the prophetic fate of his sons. The prospect of their being eunuchs in the place of the king of Babylon was indeed a terrible destination. Furthermore, Manasseh who would succeed him in the throne was indeed an evil son of the devil until near the very end of his life.

In the Book of Daniel, we read that, "Among the princes of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azaraiah; and the prince of the eunuchs gave names unto them (Daniel 1:6-7). It was usually true in that era that "eunuchs" were men who had been emasculated; and although it was also true that sometimes "eunuchs" were "officers of the king." This was by no means true of the princes of Judah in Babylon. They were not officers of the king, but captives; and here, they even endured the humiliation of having their names changed. We not only agree with Culver that, "There is a great possibility that Daniel and his friends were emasculated,” but we, through the influence of Isaiah’s prophecy here, believe that that is the only proper understanding of the fate of those princes of the royal household of Judah. Many agree with this interpretation. "The descendants of Hezekiah, rather than his actual sons, seem to be intended here; and the fulfillment of this prophecy is to be found in Daniel 1:3, where certain of `the king’s seed’ are mentioned among the Israelites who served as eunuchs in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar.”

Isaiah 39:8

"Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah, Good is the word of Jehovah which thou hast spoken. He said moreover, For there shall be peace and truth in my days."

In 2 Chronicles 32:26, we learn that, "Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of Jehovah came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah." This information was also, in all probability, imparted to Hezekiah at the same time with the message here; and it was for this that Hezekiah was especially glad.

We deeply appreciate the discernment of Kidner who saw in this little chapter the explanation of the rest of the great Prophecy of Isaiah:

"To Hezekiah there was comfort in the postponement of the disaster awaiting Israel, but not to Isaiah. Evidently, he took this burden home with him, and so lived under its weight that when God spoke to him again it was to one who in spirit had already lived long years in Babylon (Isaiah 40:2), and who could speak "to the heart" of a generation of exiles yet to be born.”

Here then, is the explanation of Isaiah’s focus upon the problems of later generations featured in the next division of his prophecy.

Some have read a certain trait of selfishness into Hezekiah’s words of thankfulness here; but we believe Dummelow was correct in the statement that, "On the contrary, his spirit at this time seemed rather to have been one of humble contrition.”

(The end of Division V.)

Isaiah 39:5-7 CARRYING AWAY: Isaiah came, not in a human advisory capacity, but as a prophet of God. His prediction carried all the authority of Almighty God. It was, in fact, the word of Jehovah.

It is ironic that all the treasures Hezekiah had shown to the Babylonian envoys will someday, Isaiah predicts, be carried off by the Babylonians as the booty of conquest. Isaiah’s prediction is enigmatic and problematical, to say the least. Here are the Babylonian envoys bringing gifts, expressing concern about Hezekiah’s health, making friendly and charming inquiries about the grandeur of Judah’s beautiful Temple vessels, diplomatically inviting Hezekiah to join forces with a great crusade against the common enemy, Assyria, and Isaiah is predicting they will be Judah’s real conquerors. What appears to be the real threat, which has terrified the people, Assyria, Isaiah has predicted will disappear and pose no threat at all to Judah. What it really amounts to is a confrontation between the finite knowledge (limited only to the past and present) and the infinite knowledge of God (unlimited). Hezekiah’s part in the drama is to decide which he will trust.

A prediction even more piercing to the heart of Hezekiah was the one concerning his sons. He does not even have a son yet! Now the dark news comes that when he shall have a son, his destiny is that of conquest and slavery in a pagan palace. The fulfillment of this prediction may be seen in Daniel 1:3-6; 2 Chronicles 33:11; 2 Kings 24:12-16. Manasseh, Hezekiah’s immediate son, was taken to Babylon by the Assyrians; Jehoiachin, a great-great-great-great grandson of Hezekiah was taken captive by the Babylonians. The throne of Judah, the house of David, so precious to Hezekiah, will not only cease to exist, but the sovereign crowned heads which sit upon it will be forced into shameful servitude in an unclean, idolatrous, pagan court.

Isaiah 39:8 CALM ACOUIESCENCE: Hezekiah reacts to the rebuke of Isaiah and the word of the Lord as one would expect a man of his calibre to react. He is a man of great faith, but not a perfect man. He has weaknesses. But he is a man of a good and malleable heart. He is capable of acknowledging his sin and repenting when confronted with the will of God. In this respect, he is like his progenitor, David. It is not only the sin of Hezekiah that brings on the Babylonian captivity (cf. Deuteronomy 28:32), but the whole nation has defaulted on their covenant with God. Already other prophets have arraigned Judah before the judgment bar of God (Amos 2:4-5; Hosea 6:11, etc.).

Hezekiah should not be accused of a selfish attitude when he says, “For there shall be peace and truth in my days.” He has resigned his will to that of the Lord and pronounced the will of the Lord “good”! What all does he mean? We cannot be certain. Perhaps he is acknowledging the justness of God’s chastisement. Perhaps he is acknowledging the good that will result from the chastening of a rebellious and unfaithful people through the coming captivity. He himself has just endured a chastening in his illness, and it has made him a man more responsive to the revealed will of God. Now he thanks the Lord, not only for himself but for his nation, that there will be a time of peace and truth for Judah before the darkness of the Babylonian captivity falls. E. J. Young paraphrases Hezekiah, “There will be peace and truth at least in my days, but I am not spared the misfortune of the knowledge that my descendants will go into captivity.”

The great forces of evil that oppose the redemptive work of God through His covenant loom on the horizon in Babylon. The mercy of God is extended to the covenant people for a short time. But soon they must be cast into the crucible and purified. Soon they must suffer the discipline of God that produces the fruit of righteousness. Soon the remnant must be refined that through it may come the Messiah and redemption to all peoples. It is no comfort to know that “peace and truth” will last only for Hezekiah’s day. What about the future fortunes of the people of God? What ultimate and everlasting comfort can be given to God’s people? What about peace and truth forever?

The answers to these questions are reserved for the second great section of the book of Isaiah, chapters 40–66.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Isaiah 39". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/isaiah-39.html.
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