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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Isaiah 38


Hezekiah, having received a message of death, by prayer hath his life lengthened. The sun goeth ten degrees backward for a sign of that promise: his song of thanksgiving.

Before Christ 714.

Verse 1

Isaiah 38:1. In those days, &c.— Though the sacred historian has placed this sickness immediately after the defeat and death of Sennacherib, yet it is evident from Isa 38:6 that it happened before that time. Hezekiah reigned in all twenty and nine years; he had reigned fourteen years when Sennacherib invaded him, and after his sickness he reigned fifteen years. Consequently this sickness happened in the very same year that the king of Assyria invaded Judaea; but the sacred historian thought proper to defer the account of it, till he had finished the history of Sennacherib. Schultens reads ill, instead of sick unto death. Compare Isaiah 38:21.

Verse 2

Isaiah 38:2. Then Hezekiah turned his face See note on 2Ki 1:4 for an account of the Eastern beds; from the position whereof, as there described, it will appear that Hezekiah made use of this posture, that his attendants might not take notice of the fervency of his devotion; for he turned his face from them, and not towards the wall of the temple, as some have too fancifully imagined.

Verse 3

Isaiah 38:3. And Hezekiah wept sore Under the law, long life and uninterrupted health are promised as rewards of obedience, and immature death is denounced as a punishment. See Exodus 20:12.Deuteronomy 5:16; Deuteronomy 5:16; Deuteronomy 30:16. When we reflect on this, we need not be surprised at the sorrow which this good king expressed at his approaching dissolution. He looked upon it as a punishment, and consequently as a mark of the divine displeasure. Other reasons too might strongly operate upon a good mind, which yet was not perfect in the love of God: the suddenness of this terrible unexpected denunciation; the unsettled state both of his public and domestic affairs; and the natural dread of death inherent in the human mind, and which was not so commonly subdued by gracious souls under the law as under the Gospel, and which might in this case possibly be augmented from a sense of his own defects, and from a thorough persuasion that God was displeased at him, by cutting him off in such a manner in the very flower of his age, and when his kingdom and family so particularly required his best assistance. However, be the reasons what they might, it behoves us certainly to judge with great candour of a prince, whose character is so good as that of Hezekiah: and perhaps, blest as we are with a brighter view of a future state than Hezekiah enjoyed, there are but few comparatively who can look upon death, respectable as it is even to the best, without some degree of serious concern.

Verse 8

Isaiah 38:8. Behold, I will bring again, &c.— The dial in use among the Jews was a kind of stairs; the time of the day was distinguished not by lines, but by steps, here called degrees; and the shade of the sun moved forward a new degree every half hour. The Jewish doctors and the ancient Christian fathers were of opinion, that the sun itself actually went backward. They endeavour to support this opinion by shewing that Merodach-baladan was incited by the view of this miracle to send his messengers to Hezekiah; see 2Ch 32:31 and as a further confirmation they add, that it is really taken notice of by Herodotus in his Euterpe, chap. 142 where he expressly asserts, that the Egyptians had observed strange alterations in the motion of the sun, it having arisen four times out of its usual course. Though this observation should be allowed to be true, yet we are under no necessity hence to admit that the sun itself or the earth was retrograde, that is to say, that either of them went backwards; all that the Scripture requires of us is, to admit the fact of the shadow's going backward, and this may be accounted for without supposing any uncommon motion either in the sun or in the earth. Nothing more is required to effect this phoenomenon than a reflection of the sun's rays, and this might have been caused by an alteration in the density of the atmosphere. To this it may be added, that the original mentions nothing of the sun, but only of its beams or shadow; and how its beams might be inflected by a change made in the atmosphere, may easily be conceived by any person conversant in natural philosophy. This endeavour to account for the phoenomenon by no means lessens the miracle; for we assign the alteration of the atmosphere to the immediate and extraordinary operation of God; and every extraordinary interposition of Providence is essentially and properly a miracle. Let it further be observed, we by no means offer this solution in exclusion of others; and if any one thinks that the miracle can be better accounted for in any other way, we shall very readily subscribe to that opinion. Liberum de eo judicium lectori committo, says Vitringa. See Scheuchzer's Dissertation on the subject in his Physique Sacree, upon 2 Kings 20:0.

Verse 9

Isaiah 38:9. The writing of Hezekiah We have here an example of the piety of king Hezekiah, like a true son of David, singing to his harp (for it appears from Isa 38:20 that this was a song fitted to that instrument) and pouring forth his sacred meditations as was usual among the pious of this nation. Grotius is of opinion, that this song was dictated by Isaiah; Vitringa, however, thinks that there is something in it more involved and less sublime than in the writings of Isaiah.

Verse 10

Isaiah 38:10. I said, in the cutting off of my days I said, while my days are cut off I shall depart; yea, even to the gates of the grave;—of sheol. Vitringa. Respecting the place of departed souls, and the several expressions concerning a future state found in this song, similar to those in the book of Job and of Psalms, having already spoken sufficiently, I shall only beg leave to refer my reader to the annotations on those books.

Verse 11

Isaiah 38:11. I shall not see the Lord, &c.— It is plain, that Hezekiah in this verse speaks singly and simply of the advantages which he should certainly lose by being suddenly cut off from life; without any respect to a future state. By not seeing the Lord in the land of the living, he seems to mean, that he should not see and enjoy the effects of his grace and goodness in the deliverance of his people. The meaning of the last clause, according to Vitringa, is, I shall behold man no more, being joined to the inhabitants of the world of rest.

Verse 12

Isaiah 38:12. Mine age is departed My habitation is taken away, and is removed from me, like a shepherd's tent: my life is cut off, as by the weaver; he will sever me from the loom; in the course of the day thou wilt finish my web. Lowth. Vitringa understands the word דור dor, rendered age, to signify the body; that habitation, or dwelling, in which the soul rather lodges as a guest in a moveable tent, than lives as in a fixed house; he means therefore to say in this passage, that the tabernacle of his body was removed, and as it were carried away by force, like a shepherd's tent, which, on occasion of any violence, is suddenly taken down and transferred elsewhere. The writer probably had in view the tents of the Arabs. See 2 Corinthians 5:4. 2 Peter 1:13. The metaphor in the next clause is taken from weaving. The king, dejected in mind, bears a tender sense of his sins and infirmities, whereby he had offended God, and had given him occasion to cut off the not yet finished thread of his life. Nay, he goes on, increasing the expression, that the weaver had not only cut the web which he had begun to weave, but that he had even cut it from the very first threads, (for so the original may be rendered,) and had wholly destroyed the woof. For, when Hezekiah, flourishing in life and power, proposed to himself a happy continuance of each; behold! a hand comes, which, having begun this pleasing web, seems now determined to cut it off entirely. The meaning of the last phrase is; "The web of my life, which thou hadst begun to weave, (the address being elegantly turned to God,) seemed to be a short work, and scarcely of one day's continuance; so that, having begun it in the morning, thou seemedst about to finish it before the evening." It answers to the former clause. Hezekiah, in the extremity of his misery, did not conceive that he should survive till the evening. See Vitringa.

Verse 13

Isaiah 38:13. I reckoned till morning, &c.— The meaning of the first clause is, "When I found myself surviving till the evening, I then thought with myself, that the next morning would be the utmost term of my life: in the mean time I experienced the most grievous pains, as if a lion broke all my bones." He repeats the sentence of the preceding verse, From day even to night, &c. to shew how he passed another day of grievous pain. See Vitringa.

Verse 14

Isaiah 38:14. Like a crane, or a swallow That is, "My pains were sometimes so violent, that they forced me to cry aloud; at other times my strength was so exhausted, that I could only groan inwardly, and bemoan my unhappy condition in sighs." The reader will find in Bochart. Hieroz. pars ii. 1. 1. c. 10. copious illustration of this verse, and also in Scheuchzer on the place. See Psa 119:122 and Psalms 130:1; Psa 130:8 which fully explain the latter phrase.

Verse 15

Isaiah 38:15. What shall I say? &c.— What say I more? he hath promised me, and he hath performed. The meaning of the verse is, "The suddenness of my deliverance so greatly surprises me, that I want words to express my thankfulness. He hath heard my prayer, and hath performed all my desires; and the remembrance of the misery I endured will excite me more and more to renew my thankfulness for his unbounded mercies." In the bitterness of my soul, is rendered more strongly by Vitringa, discharged of, or made superior to, the bitterness of my soul.

Verse 16

Isaiah 38:16. O Lord, by these things men live The meaning is, that the promises of grace, attained by humble prayer, and their quick and ready application, give life to the soul; or, that divine grace, and the promises of divine grace, are the life of the soul, are the food and nourishment of true life.

Verse 17

Isaiah 38:17. Behold, for peace I had great bitterness That is to say, "When I thought of, perceived, and feared no evil, and seemed to enjoy my usual health, then this terrible evil came upon me: but thou hast delivered me, and freely forgiven me my sins." Thus Hezekiah does not claim exemption from guilt, but readily and humbly confesses that he deserved punishment, and was indebted solely to the divine mercy.

Verse 18

Isaiah 38:18. For the grave, &c.— See Psalms 6:5; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 30:12.

Verse 20

Isaiah 38:20. The Lord was ready to save me JEHOVAH was present to save me. Lowth. It seems probable from this verse, that Hezekiah composed several other songs, some of which may be still extant among the Psalms. We may just remark from this passage of Scripture, that the proper fruit and consequence of deliverance from evils is thanksgiving, diffusing itself through all the actions of life. It exhibits to us a picture of our duty and state, who, redeemed as we are, by the precious blood of the Son of God, from everlasting destruction, ought with all the powers of our souls and bodies to celebrate his name and glory, that our whole life may appear one continued thanksgiving. See Vitringa.

Verse 21

Isaiah 38:21. For Isaiah had said, &c.— Now Isaiah had said. "It seems to me extremely probable, (says Dr. Mead,) that the king's disease was a fever, which terminated in an abscess: for, in cases of this kind, those things are always proper which promote suppuration, especially digestive and resolving cataplasms, and dried figs are excellent for this intention. Thus the Omnipotent, who could remove this distemper by his word alone, chose to do it by the effect of natural remedies. And here we have a useful lesson given us in adversities, not to neglect the use of those things which the bountiful Creator has bestowed upon us; and at the same time to add our fervent prayers, that he would be graciously pleased to prosper our endeavours." We may add further, that though it be admitted that a roasted fig, with white sugar powdered, be at this time used, and found to be a suppurative for a plague-boil, yet this will not lessen the reality of the miraculous interposition of Jehovah; because, in the present use, the work of suppuration is gradual and progressive; but the cure wrought on the application to Hezekiah was instantaneous. See Mead's Medica Sacra, and the Philosophical Transactions, vol. 47: p. 387.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, To what has been observed before on the subject of this chapter, we may add,

1. That, since death is the common lot, it is our duty, before it approaches, to provide for it, both by a settlement of all our worldly concerns, that they may not at that time occupy our thoughts; and more especially by such a daily dying to the world and every thing temporal, as may make the day of our removal neither unexpected nor unacceptable.
2. In every situation, sick, afflicted, or tempted, prayer is the great relief. It is the heart's ease to unbosom ourselves to God.
3. It will be a comfort in every calamity, and a joy in the hour of death, to have our conscience bear us witness in the Holy Ghost, that in simplicity and godly sincerity we have had our conversation in the world.
4. God regards every tear which falls from the eye of his mourners, and will give them quickly the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
5. The prosperity promised to Zion was better to Hezekiah than the restoration of his health; as the welfare of the church, and the interests of the Redeemer's kingdom, are ever dearer to the faithful, than any other concern, merely relative to themselves.
6. One miracle served to confirm Hezekiah's faith; we have seen the glorious Redeemer work innumerable: and shall we distrust him?
2nd, In grateful acknowledgment of the divine mercy shewn him in his recovery, Hezekiah composed his sacred thanksgiving; and such memorials are not only profitable to keep alive our own gratitude, but stand as monuments of God's mercy, and an encouragement to trust him for future generations. We have,
1. The desperateness of his case. I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave; though in the prime of life, he saw the gates of the grave open to receive him: I am deprived of the residue of my years, which, in the course of nature, he might have expected to have lived; but his grief was more that he was removed in the midst of his usefulness, than in the midst of his days. I said, I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord in the land of the living; no more frequent the courts of his house, and join in the ordinances of his worship, encouraging by his example the piety of his people. I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world, be no longer able to serve the interests of God among his subjects, or be the instrument of advancing their reformation and happiness; and also no more enjoy the company of those near and dear to him, with whom, in the house of God, he used to hold sweet communion. Mine age is departed, and is removed from me as a shepherd's tent, or my habitation; the tabernacle of his body, ready to return to dust, is quickly and as easily removed as the shepherd's tent. I have cut off like a weaver my life, who, when his piece is finished, cuts it out of the loom; and his sins might be regarded by him as the cause of his days being shortened. He will cut me off with a pining sickness, or from the thrum, alluding to the metaphor of the weaver, and acknowledging the hand of God in the affliction, in whose hands are life and death. I reckoned till morning, or, set my time till morning, concluding it impossible longer to survive; that as a lion, so will he, or it, break all my bones; the Lord's afflicting hand, or his disease, the pains of which were as acute as if he had been torn and gnawed by a lion. From day even to night wilt thou make an end of me; though beyond expectation he saw the light of another day, he had no hopes of seeing a third. Note; (1.) When we are in distress, we are too apt to sink into despondence. (2.) A solicitude for God's glory, and his interest among men, is the only truly laudable motive which can make a good man prefer a continuance in the body to a departure to his Lord. (3.) The gates of the grave stand open day and night; it becomes us frequently to think of passing through them. (4.) Our most settled abode here is but as a poor shepherd's tent, and our passage through time swift as the weaver's shuttle: it should, therefore, awaken our solicitude to secure a more durable mansion, that when the days of time are cut off, we may be enabled with joy to step forward into eternity.

2. His fervent prayer in his distress. Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter; sometimes aloud, in extremity of pain; sometimes low, worn out with anguish, or so interrupted and broken were his prayers, through the torment he endured. I did mourn as a dove, bemoaning himself over his transgressions: mine eyes fail with looking upward; ready to close in death, despairing of relief. O Lord, I am oppressed, or it oppresseth me, my disease: undertake for me, to pluck me from the bars of the pit; or it may be rendered, I have no righteousness; be surety for me; as containing his humble confession, and his dependance for pardoning grace on that Redeemer, who, in the fullness of time, should be his people's surety. Note; (1.) Nothing can make a dying-bed easy, but confidence in the sufficiency of our divine Surety to undertake for us in the great day. (2.) Till our eyes are closed, our lips ought not to be silent; yea, when our tongue can no longer perform its office, to this dear Redeemer should our soul aspire, till we breathe it forth into his bosom.

3. His grateful acknowledgments. What shall I say? where words are wanting to express the gratitude I feel. He hath both spoken unto me, and himself hath done it: sure is every word of his promise, and now by experience he can bear testimony thereto. I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul; meditating upon the mercies received, and ashamed of his own sinful distrust: or the words may be rendered, I shall go cheerfully all my years, after the bitterness of my soul; the storm blown over, peace and prosperity shall crown all the years that God doth prolong. O Lord, by these things men live; by the word of divine promise, and the gracious providence of God: and in all these things is the life of my spirit; the power, providence, and grace of God, appearing thus wonderfully for him, gave renewed life to his soul as well as his body, filling him with faith, and love, and joy. He instances several particulars which call for especial praise.

[1.] His recovery: So wilt thou recover me, and make me to live; or so hast thou recovered me, and made me to live; and every new life bestowed justly calls on us to adore the gracious giver.

[2.] The pleasing contrast of ease for pain, health for sickness. Behold, for peace I had great bitterness: or, as it may be rendered, behold, into peace hath he changed my great bitterness.

[3.] The love of God seen in his case made the mercy unspeakably sweeter and more endeared to him. Thou hast, in love to my soul, delivered it from the pit of corruption, the grave: or, with tender love thou hast embraced my soul, from the pit of corruption; snatching me from it, as a tender parent, when I was rushing into the horrible pit. Note; Health restored is doubly pleasing, when we can see that it is in love to our souls.

[4.] His sins pardoned, fully and freely: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back. And herein every believing soul is called upon to join the thanksgiving of this pious king; for, (1.) Our souls and bodies, by reason of sin original and actual, in heart and life, are forfeited, and ready to fall into the bottomless pit of eternal perdition. (2.) The transcendently rich and gracious love of God in Christ Jesus hath interposed to pluck us from ruin, and to this alone we are indebted. (3.) All the bitterness which a sense of guilt and danger awakens in the conscience, God's love removes, and fills the soul, O blessed change! with joy and peace in believing.

4. His resolution to continue himself, and excite others to join him, in this constant and delightful work of praise: For the grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: silence there reigns; no grateful songs ascend from the dust, and no more service can be rendered to God's interests here below, by those who are departed. They that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth; there God can be no longer glorified by faith or hope in his promises; but the living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: those whose bodily lives are through mercy renewed, and their souls spiritually alive also, these would join him in God's praise. The father to the children shall make known thy truth; transmitting to posterity the memorial of God's faithfulness, to encourage their trust, and awaken their gratitude. The Lord was ready to save me; instant as I called, relief appeared: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life; I, and all the faithful rejoicing in my mercies, will render the ceaseless tribute of our songs in the house of the Lord. Note; (1.) Since in the grave we can no more glorify God, what now our hand findeth to do for him, let us do it with our might. (2.) Who shall praise him, if they do not who have been recovered from going down to the pit? (3.) While life and breath endure, so long should our praises last, and then we shall go where they will never end. (4.) Godly parents will not fail to transmit to their children the memorial of their father's mercies, and to encourage them to trust in the same promises which themselves have proved so faithful.

5. At the close of this history it is remarked, as in 2Ki 20:7-11 that the sign was given at Hezekiah's request; and a lump of figs, at Isaiah's command, laid on the boil, either as a means to procure his recovery, or as a sign to assure him of it. Note; (1.) Though in sickness our dependance must not be on the medicines, yet we are to trust God in the use of means. (2.) The great comfort of health is, ability to attend on God's worship, and be employed actively in his service; and this is the great end for which a good man wishes to live.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 38". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.