Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 38

Sermon Bible CommentarySermon Bible Commentary

Verse 1

Isaiah 38:1

I. Many have sought to realise the moment after death, and have strained imagination and faith to their utmost in the effort to pierce the veil beyond, and understand how we shall feel. The effort is not altogether in vain; for the attention of the mind will, at all events, give increased reality to the fact of the great change, and of the transit from one world into another, if it do no more. Before the intensity of that gaze one earthly thing after another will disappear, till the fact of the change stands out in all its single solemnity, and we look at it face to face, without a lingering earthly disturbance to cloud its distinctness as earthborn mists cloud the sun, and to clothe the fact with terrors not its own.

II. Why should we shrink from the thought of death, or why should it be painful to us? If there be pain, it is simply and solely because the thought is not habitual. The terror is in us, not in death. Let the thoughts habitually extend over both states, and it will be gone; the strangeness will all disappear. The mind will be in harmony with the facts; and if in some small degree the brightness of life be subdued, it will be only as the slanting shades of summer evening soften the glare, and make the landscape more beautiful than before.

E. Garbett, Experiences of the Inner Life, p. 267.

Perhaps the most awful moment of our lives is when we first feel in danger of death. All our past life then seems to be a cloud of words and shadows; one less real than another, moving and floating round about us, altogether external to the realities of the soul. Not only childhood and youth, happiness and sorrow, eager hopes and disturbing fears, but even our communion with God, our faith in things unseen, our self-knowledge, and our repentance, seem alike to be but visions of the memory. All has become stern, hard, and appalling. It is as if it were the beginning of a new existence; as if we had passed under a colder sky, and into a world where every object has a sharpness of outline almost too severe for sight to bear. Let us see what we ought to do when God warns us.

I. First, we must ask ourselves this question, Is there any one sin, great or small, of the flesh or of the spirit, that we willingly and knowingly commit? This is, in fact, the crisis of our whole spiritual life. By consent in one sin, a man is guilty of the whole principle of rebellion, of the whole idea of anarchy in God's kingdom and in His own soul. A holy man is not a man who never sins, but who never sins willingly. A sinner is not a man who never does anything good, but who willingly does what he knows to be evil. The whole difference lies within the sphere and compass of the will.

II. We must next search and see whether there is anything in which our heart in its secret affections is at variance with the mind of God; for if so, then so far our whole being is at variance with His. We may love what God hates, as the pride of life; or hate what God loves, as crosses and humiliations.

Surely we ought to fear so long as we are conscious that our will is surrounded by a circle of desires, over which self and the world so cast their shadows as to darken the tracings of God's image upon them.

III. A third test by which to test ourselves is the positive capacity of our spiritual being for the bliss of heaven. When St. Paul bids us to follow after "holiness, without which no man shall sec the Lord," he surely meant something more than a negative quality. Doubtless he meant by "holiness" to express the active aspirations of a spiritual nature, thirsting for the presence of God, desiring "to depart and to be with Christ." We must learn to live here on earth by the measures and qualities of heaven, in fellowship with saints and angels, and with the ever-blessed Trinity, before we can think to find our bliss in the kingdom of God.

IV. There are two short counsels which it may be well to add. (1) The first is, that we strive always to live so as to be akin to the state of just men made perfect. (2) The other is, that we often rehearse in life the last preparation we should make in death. Joseph made his sepulchre in his garden, in the midst of his most familiar scenes. And he had his reward, for that tomb became a pledge of his election.

H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 311.

References: Isaiah 38:1 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 363.Isaiah 38:1-5 . E. M. Goulburn, Occasional Sermons, p. 403.Isaiah 38:9-20 . S. Cox, Expositions, 2nd series, p. 59. Isaiah 38:12 . R. W. Evans, Parochial Sermons, vol. iii., p. 95; W. V. Robinson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx., p. 29.

Verse 14

Isaiah 38:14

These are some of the words which King Hezekiah wrote when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness. This is surely a good prayer for a sick man, and it is a good prayer for a healthy man too; for if we understand what sickness is, we shall find it is sent that we may learn what is good for us when we are well. A man is broken down then that he may learn his true condition at all times. He feels the burden of death then that he may know he is carrying it about with him continually. The Church today gives us a prayer which is a little longer and fuller than this sentence of Hezekiah's, but which has the same sense in it, and will perhaps help you to see more clearly what it means. The prayer is: "Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord."

I. The thought concerning God which is set before us in this collect is contained in the words, "Almighty God, who seest." The recollection that God knoweth the very want which we are going to tell Him of is at the bottom of all prayer. It is in God's light that we see light. It is when we believe He is looking into our hearts that we begin to know something of what is passing there. We begin to know ourselves because God knows us; and then this feeling, that He knew us before we knew ourselves, and that our knowledge comes from His knowledge, helps us to pray.

II. The collect supposes a man who has suffered trials without and temptations within, who has found that he has a poor suffering body of death with him continually; and what is worse than a body of death a weak heart, an inconstant will, unequal to all the ten thousand dark and evil thoughts which are assailing it. It supposes him, after long striving with himself, to know how he may overcome this evil and weakness, suddenly struck with the thought, "But God knows that I have no power of myself to help myself." He does not intend us to help ourselves; He did not send us into the world that we might learn to help ourselves, but to depend on Him. Is not this experience of our weakness and evil mercifully given us that we may throw away the vain confidence which has caused it, that we may see our own weakness even as God sees it, and that we may learn wholly to give up the keeping of ourselves to Him?

III. Our wants are (1) to be kept outwardly in our bodies; (2) to be kept inwardly in our souls. The life of the body perishes unless God preserves it; but the life of the soul perishes unless it is trusting Him to preserve it, unless it is understanding His care and love and resting in Him.

F. D. Maurice, Christmas Day and Other Sermons, p. 114.

There is such a vast disproportion between a man and some of his own feelings between the inner and the outer life of a man that the wonder is, not that we should sometimes feel the burden of existence, but that there should be any man who should not be always saying, "I am oppressed."

I. There are few minds who do not look out for sympathy. It is an instinct of our nature, that we must lean somewhere. Almost all error, all superstition, all worldliness, resolves at last into the feeling that a man must lean; but he is leaning on a wrong base. It is upon this great principle in the man's breast that the Gospel lays hold and points it to Christ. It sets Him forth as the one great Undertaker for all His people's wants; it bids all of us come to Him with the feeling, "Undertake for me, Lord."

II. What are Christ's undertakings for us? (1) He has undertaken to pay all our debts: they are very great. (2) He has undertaken that we shall never be alone: "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." (3) He has undertaken that you shall never be really overcome: "My strength is made perfect in weakness." (4) He has undertaken to place you on the sunny side of everything all life through: for "He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (5) He has undertaken that you shall always have a place of refuge: "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." (6) He has undertaken that death shall be to you only a name, not a reality: "He that believeth on Me shall never die."

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 4th series, p. 274.

References: Isaiah 38:14 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xiii., p. 346; A. Watson, Sermons for Sundays, Festivals, and Fasts, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 125.

Verse 15

Isaiah 38:15

The restoration of belief.

In the especial case of "Hezekiah, belief was restored by a great shock, which brought him into contact with reality. God appeared to him not as to Adam, in the cool of the day, but as He came to Job, in the whirlwind and the eclipse and Hezekiah knew that he had been living in a vain show. The answer of his soul was quick and sad: "By these things men live, O Lord." These are the blows which teach men what life really is.

I. The blow which sobered Hezekiah was a common one. It did nothing more than bring him face to face with death. The process whereby his dependence on God was restored was uncomplicated. But there are far worse shocks than this, and recovery from them into a godlike life is long and dreadful. There are things which at first seem to annihilate belief, and change an indifferent or a happy nature into earnest, even savage, bitterness. One of these is the advent of irrecoverable disease, protracted weakness, or protracted pain. God forgives our human anger then, but we speak roughly to Him at first. It is a dark anger, and may grow in intensity till faith and love are lost for this life; but it will not reach that point if we have some greatness of soul, if we are open to the touch of human love. One day the Gospel story in all its sweet simplicity attracts and softens the sufferer's heart. He reads that Christ's suffering in self-sacrifice brought redemption unto man. Surely, he seems to dream, this is no isolated fact. I too, in my apparent uselessness, am at one with the Great Labourer: I bear with Christ my cross for men. This is not only the restoration of belief, it is the victory of life.

II. But there are more dreadful things than long disease. There is that shipwreck which comes of dishonoured love. Many things are terrible, but none is worse than this. In some there is no remedy but death, and far beyond, the immanent tenderness of God. But there are many who recover, whom God leads out of the desert into the still garden of an evening life of peace and usefulness and even joy. Lapse of time does part of the work. In the quietude of middle life we look back upon our early misery, and only remember the love we felt. Faith is restored, hope is renewed, when like Christ you can turn and say, Father, forgive him, forgive her, for they knew not what they did.

III. There have been and are many of us who are conscious that, as we have passed into the later period of life and mingled with the world, our early faith has also passed away. We have lost belief because our past religion was borrowed too much from others. If we wish for perfection, and are not content to die and love no more, the restoration of belief may be attained by the personal labour of the soul. It is worth trying what one personal effort to bring ourselves into the relation of a child to a Father, in all the naturalness and simplicity of that relation, will do towards restoring faith and renewing life with tenderness.

S. A. Brooke, Christ in Modern Life, p. 380.

Verse 16

Isaiah 38:16

Affliction as related to life.

I. Take first the conception of life as a whole, and see how that is modified or altered by experiences like those through which Hezekiah passed. They who have had no such critical experiences in any form have never fully awakened to the difference which there is between mere existence and life. In how many instances has a serious illness, or a terrible business humiliation, or a trying domestic bereavement when the world seemed going from beneath him, and he was left alone, in the blank and solitude of things, to face eternity and God, brought a man to revise his theory of life! He has rectified the per spective of his existence, and has been led to value the now for its bearing on the hereafter; the present for its motherhood of the future.

II. But passing now to the quality of the life, we may see how that also is affected by such experiences of affliction. Such experiences develop (1) the element of strength, whether in its passive exercise as patient endurance, or in its active manifestation as persevering energy. Afflictions are to the soul what the tempering is to the iron, giving it the toughness of steel, and the endurance too, and if that be so we may surely say regarding them, "By these things men live." (2) Unselfishness. When a man has been in the very grip of the last enemy, and has recovered, or has been within a little of losing all he had, and has escaped, you can understand how such an experience sends him out of himself. It intensifies for him the idea of life as a stewardship for God, and he sees the folly of making all the streams of his effort run into himself. Affliction of some sort seems to be requisite for the production in us of thoughtfulness for others. (3) Sympathy is born out of such experiences as those of Hezekiah. He who has passed through trial can feel most tenderly for those who are similarly afflicted. (4) Experiences like Hezekiah's have much to do with the usefulness of a man's life. Usefulness is not a thing which one can command at will. It is, in most cases, the result of a discipline, and is possessed by those who in a large degree are unconscious that they are exercising it. It depends fully more on what a man is than on what he does; or if it is due to what he does or says, that again is owing very much to what he is; and what he is now has been determined by the history through which he has been brought.

W. M. Taylor, Contrary Winds, p. 136.

References: Isaiah 38:17 . Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Ecclesiastes to Malachi, p. 231; Ibid., Sermons, vol. vi., No. 316, vol. xix., No. 1110, vol. xxiii., No. 1337.

Verses 18-19

Isaiah 38:18-19

Hezekiah presents to us here, in the strongest contrast, the two states of life and death.

I. Death was to him for he lived before the day of Christ a far darker, far drearier state than it is to us. If he had any hope of a life beyond the grave, it does not appear in his words. He probably looked upon death as the close of all, the gate, not to an immortal life, but the entrance into a land dark and silent, where all things are forgotten. But it is this very view of death, this looking at it as the end-all of man's short existence, which enhances to Hezekiah the value of life. Because life afforded his single field for serving God, he grudged to have it shortened. Every hour saved from that dark silence was precious to him.

II. Even in this darker view there is a lesson for our learning. Though death be not now the end of all life, it is the end of this life the end of our day of grace the end of that period which God gives us to see if we will serve Him or no.

III. Every life is wasted and misspent which is not led to the glory and praise of God. To lead such a life we must begin early. None are too young to work in God's vineyard. God will not be put off with the leavings of our days. We owe Him, and He expects of us, the best that we can offer the prime of our years, the vigour of our faculties, our life whilst it is fresh and young. "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, in which thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them."

R. D. B. Rawnsley, Sermons for the Christian Year, p. 38.

Hezekiah was, in the full sense of the word, a good king. His piety is shown (1) in his conduct with reference to idolatry; (2) in his conduct in the matter of the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib. But there are two passages in his life which show the weak side of his character. One is his parading his treasures before the ambassadors of the king of Babylon; the other is his conduct in the matter of his severe illness, which is recorded in the chapter from which the text is taken.

I. The essence of the history is this, that in the prospect of death Hezekiah's strength of mind quite broke down. He looks upon death as a thing to be dreaded and shunned; he speaks of it in a way in which no Christian who has learned the Lord's prayer could ever venture or even wish to speak of it. Hezekiah looked to his grave with such melancholy feelings, because he could not clearly see a life beyond it. He knew that he must serve God while life lasted; he had manifestly no express revelation beyond, and therefore he looked upon the grave with dismay.

II. If it were not for the light which Christ our Lord has thrown into the grave, we should mourn like Hezekiah, and our eyes would fail as did his. We have greater spiritual help than Hezekiah, and brighter light, and clearer grounds of hope, and it is incumbent on us to act, not like those who groped their way in the twilight of the old dispensation, but like those upon whom the brightness of the knowledge of the glory of God has shined in the face of Jesus Christ.

Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 3rd series, p. 78.

References: Isaiah 38:19 . J. N. Norton, Golden Truths, p. 98. Isaiah 38:20 . R. W. Evans, Parochial Sermons, vol. iii., p. 104.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Isaiah 38". "Sermon Bible Commentary".