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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 39

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-8

Isaiah 39:1-8

Merodach-baladan, the son of Baladan, King of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah


Marduk-apal-iddina, son of Yakin, is the Chaldean ruler who more than any other vassal embittered the life of the Assyrian suzerain, because as a rival suzerain he was always renouncing obedience to one whom he felt to be a disgrace to the ancient renown of his country.

Lenormant, in his Anfangen der Cultur, has devoted a beautiful essay to him under the title, “A Babylonian Patriot of the Eighth Century B.C.” The chief matter told about him by the monuments is this: In the year 731 he did homage at Sapiya to the Assyrian ruler Tiglath-pileser IV. In Sargon’s first year (721) he, who was properly king of South Babylonia only, brought also North Chaldea into the range of his rule; war ensued, but although beaten, he still maintained himself on the throne, and from that time count the twelve years given to him by the Ptolemaic canon as king of Babylon. In Sargon’s twelfth year (710) he shook off the Assyrian yoke; only a year afterwards (709) Sargon succeeded in capturing and burning to ashes the fort Dur-Yakin, into which he had thrown himself; he himself, being required to surrender unconditionally, vanished. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)


The name means: Marduk (written also Maruduk) has given a son. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)

The embassy to Hezekiah

The embassy to Hezekiah was in all probability one of those undertaken by Merodach-Baladan for the purpose of providing himself with allies. Inasmuch now as there was at this time in Judah a party straining its utmost to combine all elements antagonistic to Assyria, there is nothing unreasonable in supposing that some understanding was arrived at between the ambassadors from Babylon and Judah. Upon this view of the circumstances of the occasion, Hezekiah’s motive in displaying his treasures will have been to satisfy the embassy that he had resources at his disposal; and Isaiah’s rebuke gains in significance and force. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)

Hezekiah and the embassy from Babylon

AFFLICTION OF BODY AND SORROW OF MIND ARE PRONE TO BE FORGOTTEN AND UNIMPROVED BY THOSE WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED THEM 2 Chronicles 32:25). The historian says of Hezekiah, that “his heart was lifted up.” The very deliverances which God wrought for him worked upon his vanity--the special mercies he had received elated his mind. What are we without grace?





Verse 2

Isaiah 39:2

And Hezekiah was glad of them

Hezekiah’s great mistake

Look at Hezekiah; as he takes the men round he says in effect, What an ally I would make if Babylon should ever be in trouble! Or, What an opponent I would make if ever Babylon should be insolent! Or, You see I am one of the great powers of the world.

We want large quotation marks for “great powers”! This is the danger of all uncontrolled and unsanctified power, or position, or possibility of dominion: much would be more, more would be most, and most would explode because of its own dissatisfaction. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Character superior to material good

Was this all Hezekiah had to show? There is nothing in it then. All these things can be stolen. A half-educated thief could take away the silver and the gold; a very young felon could take away the spices and the precious ointment; a man with very poor resources could carry off the armour. Hezekiah laid up his riches where thieves could break through and steal. Ah me, how like us all this is! What should he have shown to the men from Babylon? What we ought to show to every inquirer into our method of life--individual, domestic, municipal, and national: he should have shown them character, high citizenship, large education, self-control developed to its highest point of discipline,--these are things which no king of Babylon can take away. (J. Parker, D. D.)

A misimproved opportunity

What a missionary Hezekiah might have been! How he would have astounded the Babylonian delegates had he said to them: I receive you with respect, courtesy, and thankfulness, but I must tell you of this miracle; come within, and you shall hear how it was, how it began, continued, culminated; this will be something for you to tell when you go home again. In this way every man might create a home missionary field for himself. “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul.” (J. Parker, D. D.)

A city to plunder

The Babylonian ambassadors had probably somewhat of the feeling which led Blucher to say, as he walked through the streets of London, “Himmel! what a city to plunder!” (E. H. Plumptre, D. D.)

Verse 3

Isaiah 39:3

Then came Isaiah the prophet unto King Hezekiah

The prophet higher than the king

It is well to have Isaiahs in society, for Hezekiahs could never keep it together.

This is the tone we want. The prophet should be higher than the king. The Christian teacher should stand upon the topmost place. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verse 4

Isaiah 39:4

What have they seen in thine house?


The disciple at home

1. The parties of whom the prophets inquired, “What have they seen?” were Babylonians. Foreigners, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, ignorant of the true God, and, therefore, parties before whom it was specially important to exhibit nothing which was calculated to bring dishonour upon God. These strangers might have been greatly edified had they remarked a deeply chastened and humble spirit in the king. There is nothing so greatly hinders the propagation of the Christianity of England among foreigners as that practical irreligion which they observe among the English.

2. The subject may suggest to us some general reflections upon the kind of aspect which the house of a professing Christian should present to any stranger as a man of the world. What would such a man naturally expect to see in a Christian’s house? Clearly that which he looks for in other houses--namely, a general style and conformity with the particular profession orcharacter of the inmates. He would reckon upon finding there, what St. Paul calls “the Church that is in thy house”--the pervading air of heavenly-mindedness, and the symptoms of devotional exercises in all its sanctified “chambers of imagery”--“the treasures” of parental piety, of filial obedience and decorum; a well-ordered household extending its influence and sanction, like the sacred comprehensions of the law of the Sabbath, from the man himself, to his son and daughter, manservant and maidservant, and even cattle and stranger. Night and morning, it would seem to him to be the natural and consistent rule, that the offering of prayer and reading of the Word should be there presented to “the God of all the families of the earth.” In every room and chamber of the house, the ready Bible should suggest by its silent presence the privilege of secret study of the Holy Scriptures; some good books, to the use of edifying, should strew the tables, like little trophies, in incidental evidence of the triumph of religion in that place; the peace, and cheerfulness, and mutual harmony of Christian influence should breathe its airs from Heaven on every happy, thankful heart; the music of habitual concord should sound, like an AEolian psalm, in every aisle of that homely church; and family love, the instinctive antepast of the universal love of Heaven, should spread the sweet odour of its charity, like Aaron’s off, from the head of the house down to the very skirts of the living garment with which his blessed heart is clothed. This is what the worldly man should see in the house of the Christian; but, alas! is it always to be seen there?

1. “What have they seen in thine house?” Have they seen there the spirit of the world, in the shape of expensive apparel, or costly furniture, or ornaments beyond your means or your station in society? A Christian man may adorn his house or apparel his person in moderation with the accustomed decencies of life and even the beautiful things of art, for Christianity is no enemy of taste nor patron of vulgarity. But when a man of the world observes in a Christian professor that inordinate affectation of style and sumptuousness in furniture and dress, which leaves no external mark of difference between “him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not,” then such a professing Christian may well tremble for the stability of his principles. The ambassadors of the spiritual Babylon are visiting him, and they will have to report to their dark master that there is something to seize in the household of his divided heart. The remark is equally applicable to the humbler classes. Sin is sin, and vanity is vanity, whether it assume a vulgar or a refined shape.

2. “What have they seen in thine house?” Have they seen the continual eagerness to grasp and hoard up money, the absorption of every abused faculty of the mind and every overstrained energy of the body to extend business, increase capital, and multiply speculations, though at the expense of a neglected soul and a forsaken God? And is this done in the face of better convictions of duty and responsibility? Is the heart becoming hardened as the very metal it grasps so eagerly? There is much in the proper and becoming habits of Christian men which is calculated to aid their success in life, but this success should not be permitted to become a snare to them.

3. “What have they seen in thine house?” Have they marked the professing disciple of the self-denying religion of Jesus yielding to a habitual fretfulness and irritability at every trifling trial of temper, keeping wife, children, and servants in a perpetual ferment tending to the ultimate exacerbation of every temper in the household? Have they seen the man at one time discoursing in quiet tone and serious terms on the meek and lowly one, “who, when He was reviled, reviled not again,” at another time terrifying all around him with unrighteous ebullitions of anger? The Babylonians, the strangers, see it, and shake their heads, saying, “Deliver me from that man’s religion, if it cannot even curb his temper”; and thus a stumbling-block is cast in the way, that offends some poor, “weak brother for whom Christ died.” The children in such a house learn to despise a religion with the remembrance of their early terrors and discomforts; and the servants, or others employed about it, thank God that they have escaped their poor master’s supposed hypocrisy, even at the sacrifice of his real Christianity. Whereas if, on the other hand, the irascible spirit were to be seen only to be subdued before them; if its occasional outbreak is timely checked, and obviously striven against, and candidly mourned over, if they mark the man struggling against the buffetings of his infirmity, and honestly and earnestly doing painful violence to his besetment, there is a natural sympathy kindled in their hearts which God may vouchsafe to deepen into the conviction that the religion must be real which could generate such an inward contest, and must be influential, too, which could obtain such I victory.

4. “What have they seen in thine house? Have they seen the immoderate banqueting, excess of wine, revellings, and such like”?

5. “What have they seen in thine house?” Perhaps some of you have been mercifully restored from a serious illness: what did those about you see as the effect of your being spared? Did they see a thankful man, a subdued man, a man bearing the spiritual marks of the stripes of the rod of chastisement, more in earnest for God, less inclined to murmur at his lot, to cavil at religious obligations, or depreciate spiritual privileges, or to lower the personal standard of Christian life and conversation? If the world saw this in your house, you have got good yourself and done the world good; if they saw it not, in whatever degree it was not the visible effect upon you, in that proportion you have yourself forfeited the grace of your personal dispensation, missed and abused an ordinance of the Lord, and wronged your brotherhood.

6. And you, heads of families, who make no profession of religion, who have no particular anxieties at stake either way, “what have they seen in your houses?” Have they marked no family prayer, no godly conversation, no effort with the means of moral and evangelical influence? Have they seen children growing up in carelessness and irreligion, whose parental indulgence provoked that destructive judgment which the real love and tenderness of a timely discipline might have averted? If so, consider, you who have the solemn responsibility of a family of immortal souls laid upon you, how Hezekiah’s folly was visited upon his children, and tremble at the prospect of the heartrending anguish you may be laying up in store for yourselves in the spectacle of an ungodly and abandoned household.

7. “What have they seen in thine house?” Well, no matter what they have seen; be resolved by the grace of God as to what shall be seen for the time to come. (J. B. Owen, M. A.)

Verses 5-7

Isaiah 39:5-7

Hear the word of the Lord of hosts

Isaiah’s prophecy of the Babylonian captivity

Jarchi directs attention to the exact correspondence of the punishment with the offence.

As the Babylonians had seen all, they should one day take all; as nothing had been withheld from them now, so nothing should be withheld from them hereafter. (J. A. Alexander.)

A costly gratification

Benjamin Franklin, when a lad, was greatly enamoured of a whistle he saw for sale. Swept away by the desire to possess the toy, he gathered all his money and offered it to the vendor, who at once took it and handed over the whistle to the eager boy. For a time the sense of a craving gratified shut out all other consideration. Then, gradually, the lad realised how he had been fooled; and in after-days the wise man, as he observed men and their foolish ways, would remember his own early experience, and say of this man and of that, “He has paid too dear for his whistle.” (W. C. Bonnet.)

Verse 8

Isaiah 39:8

Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken.

“Good” The word “good” is here used, neither in the sense of “gracious” nor in that of “just” exclusively, but in that of “right” as comprehending both. (J. A. Alexander.)

Hezekiah’s acceptance of his punishment

Hezekiah’s reply expressed neither the highest magnanimity nor the mere selfish egotism which some commentators have seen in it; but a mixture of feelings in accordance with all that we know of his character. His appreciation of his position and duties as a king is shown in his restoration of the national worship, and his final resistance to Sennacherib, as well as in his general and successful care for the prosperity of his country. But though a religious sense of duty, or the pressure of necessity, could occasionally stir him to master circumstances by a great effort, we may infer from the domination of Shebna, and from his own demeanour and language when supplicating Sennacherib’s pardon, after the receipt of Rab-shakeh’s message and Sennacherib’s letter, in the time of his own sickness, and on the present occasion, that his natural and habitual disposition was rather to submit to the guidance of circumstances, with a gentle and pious confession that this weakness of his character was beyond cure, and to accept the consequences with pious and affectionate resignation to God’s will, and thankful acknowledgment of any mitigation of them. He could enter into the meaning of the Psalmist’s words, “Thou wast God that forgavest them, though Thou tookest vengeance on their inventions.” And though he had not, like Moses or Paul, the stern courage which could ask that the punishment might be to himself, and the forgiveness to his people; but on the contrary was thankful to learn that there should “be peace and truth in his days”; it must not be overlooked that it was peace and truth to his country as well as himself, and not merely selfish security that he was thankful for. (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)

A contrast: Hezekiah and St. Paul

There is certainly submission here, resignation to the Supreme will, readiness to accept the sentence of chastisement by this will. The sentiment thus far is that of Eli when he heard the doom of his house from the lips of the child-prophet: “It is the Lord: let Him do what seemeth Him good.” But the reason given by Hezekiah in the text itself is deeply disappointing in two ways--first, the selfishness, and, secondly, the earthliness of the consolation. Enough for him if he is spared the personal experience of the retribution; enough if he may live out his fifteen added years in the peace of an outward tranquillity, and in the truth, or, as it is otherwise given, in the continuance of an accustomed and unbroken prosperity. “There shall be peace and truth in my days,” would have had no meaning for St. Paul. All days were his days; days of time and days of eternity--all were his. (Dean Vaughan.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 39". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/isaiah-39.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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