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2 Kings 20:1-21
ILLNESS OF HEZEKIAH AND EMBASSY OF MERODACH-BALADAN. HEZEKIAH'S DEATH. The writer proceeds to relate an illness and a recovery of Hezekiah, which happened about the middle of his reign, probably in B.C. 713, and which was accompanied by strange, if not miraculous, circumstances (2 Kings 20:1-11). Hezekiah's recovery was followed by an embassy of congratulation from Merodach-Baladan, King of Babylon, which led Hezekiah into an act of folly, and brought upon him the rebuke of Isaiah (verses 12-19). The narrative terminates with a notice of some of Hezekiah's great works, and of his decease (verses 20, 21).
2 Kings 20:1-11
The illness and recovery of Hezekiah.
2 Kings 20:1
In those days. This is a very vague note of time, and cannot be regarded as determining the position of the events here related with respect to the preceding narrative. 2 Kings 20:6, however, shows that a time anterior to Sennacherib's discomfiture is intended; and the same verse also fixes the date to Hezekiah's fourteenth year, which was B.C. 713. If the date in 2 Kings 18:13 be regarded as genuine, we must consider that the illness happened in the year of Sennacherib's first expedition against Palestine; but if we regard that date as interpolated, and accept the Assyrian inscriptions as our chronological authorities, we must place the events of the present chapter twelve years earlier than that expedition, in the reign of Sargon over Assyria, and in the first reign of Merodach-Baladan over Babylon. It belongs, at any rate, to the middle part of Hezekiah's reign, while his treasures were intact (2 Kings 18:13-17), and had not been carried off to Nineveh. Was Hezekiah sick unto death; stricken, i.e; by a malady which, in the ordinary course of nature, would have been fatal. And the Prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him. The designation of Isaiah as "the prophet," and" the son of Amoz," as if previously unknown to the reader, indicates the original independency of the narrative, which the writer of Kings probably obtained from a separate source. And said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live. The statement was a warning, not a prophecy. It is parallel to that of Jonah to the Ninevites, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown."
2 Kings 20:2
Then he turned his face to the wall—i.e; away from those who were standing beside his bed, and might have distracted his attention, to pray with more concentration and earnestness—and prayed unto the Lord, saying. It was natural to Hezekiah, in every kind of affliction and distress, to take his trouble direct to God.
2 Kings 20:3
I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart. There is no Pharisaical self-righteousness here. Hezekiah is conscious that he has honestly endeavored to serve God, and to do his will—that, whatever may have been his shortcomings, his heart has been right towards God. He ventures, therefore, on something like expostulation. Why is he to be cut off in the midst of his days, at the age of thirty-nine, when such a wicked king as Uzziah has lived to be sixty-eight (2 Kings 15:2), and Rehoboam to be fifty-eight (1 Kings 14:21)? It is to be remembered that, under the old covenant, length of days was expressly promised to the righteous (Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 9:11; Proverbs 10:27, etc.), and that a shortened life was the proclaimed penalty of wicked-doing (Job 15:32, Job 15:33; Job 22:16; Psalms 55:23; Proverbs 10:27). Hezekiah's self-assertion is thus a sort of laying hold of God's promises. And have done that which is flood in thy sight; comp. 2 Kings 18:3-6; and note the similar pleadings of David, "With my whole heart have I sought thee" (Psalms 119:10); "I have remembered thy Name, O Lord, and have kept thy Law. This I had because I kept thy commandments" (Psalms 119:55, Psalms 119:56), and the like. And Hezekiah wept sore. Human nature shrinks from death instinctively, and it requires a very vivid imagination for even the Christian in middle life to feel with St. Paul, that "it is better for him to depart and to be with Christ." The Hebrew of Hezekiah's time had far mere reason to regard death as an evil. His hopes of a life beyond the grave were feeble—his conceptions of the life, if life there were, faint and unattractive. Sheol, like Hades, was a vague, awful, terrible thing. If we consider Hezekiah's words, "The grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee" (Isaiah 38:18, Isaiah 38:19), we may understand how the Hebrew shrank from the fearful change. And in Hezekiah's case there was a yet further reason for grief Hezekiah had as yet no male offspring (Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,'10.2. § 1). Manasseh was as yet unborn (comp. verse 6 with 2 Kings 21:1). If he died now, his house would be cut off, he would be without posterity—a sore grief to every Hebrew. Ewald's references to Isaiah 38:19 and Isaiah 39:7, as indicative of Hezekiah having sons at the time, are absolutely without value.
2 Kings 20:4
And it same to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court. The narrative in Isaiah 38:4 does not contain this touch, which is very graphic, and indicative of the eye-witness. "The middle court" is probably the second or intermediate court of the royal palace. Isaiah had not gone further than this, when he was arrested in his course by a Divine communication. That the word of the Lord came to him, saying. How the word of the Lord came to the prophets is an inscrutable mystery. Sometimes, no doubt, it came in vision, which to a certain extent we can understand. But how, when the prophet was secularly engaged, as in this instance, walking across a court, he knew that the thought which occurred to him was a Divine message, it is almost impossible to conceive. Still, we cannot doubt that if God determines to communicate his will to man, he must be able, with the message, to impart an absolute certainty of its source, an assured conviction that it is his word, which precludes all question, hesitation, or dubiety. Isaiah, in the middle of his walk, finds his steps arrested, anew injunction laid upon him, with a necessity of immediately obeying it.
2 Kings 20:5
Turn again—or, turn back—"retrace thy steps, and enter once more into the bedchamber of the king"—and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people. An unusual title for the Jewish monarch, but one applied in 1 Samuel 9:16 and 1 Samuel 10:1 to Saul, and in 1 Samuel 13:14 and 2 Samuel 5:2 to David. The proper meaning of נָגִיד is "leader"—"one who goes in front." Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father—Hezekiah obtains mercy, both as David's son and as David's imitator (see 2 Kings 18:3)—I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears (comp. Exodus 2:24; Exodus 3:7; Psalms 56:8). There is not a cry, not a groan, not a tear, not a sigh of his faithful ones, to which the heart of God is not open, which does not touch him, move him, draw forth his sympathy. If he does not always grant our prayers, it is because we "ask amiss"—without faith, or without fervor, or things not good for us. Hezekiah's earnest, faithful, and not unwise prayer was, as such prayers always are, effectual. Behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the Lord; i.e. thou shalt be so completely recovered as to be able to quit thy palace and pay thy vows in the courts of the Lord's house. God knows that to do this will be Hezekiah's first wish, as soon as his sickness is past (comp. Isaiah 38:20).
2 Kings 20:6
And I win add unto thy days fifteen years. God "does exceeding abundantly more than we either ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20). Hezekiah had asked for nothing more than immediate escape from death. God grants him fifteen additional years of life, i.e. more than doubles the length of his reign. And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the King of Assyria. If Hezekiah's illness took place in B.C. 713, and Jerusalem was then in danger of being attacked by the Assyrians, the king who threatened the attack must have been Sargon. Sargon made an expedition into Palestine in B.C. 720, another in B.C. 713, and a third in B.C. 711. In none of them does he seem to have invaded Judaea; but in the third he counts the Jews among his enemies. Hezekiah, who had revolted from him (2 Kings 18:7), may well have felt alarm both in B.C. 713 and 711. And I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake. The promise given in B.C. 713 in respect of Sargon was repeated in B.C. 699 (?) with respect to Sennacherib in almost the same words.
2 Kings 20:7
And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. Figs were the usual remedy for boils. Dioscorides says of the fig, διαφορεῖ σκληρίας; Pliny, "Ulcera aperit;" while Jerome, in his-commentary on Isaiah, has the following: "Juxta artem medicorum omnis sanies siccioribus ficis atque contusis in cutis superficiem provocatur." The remedy is said to be still in use among Easterns. It can scarcely be supposed to have cured a malignant bell by its intrinsic force; hut under the Divine blessing it was made effectual, and the cure followed. And they took and laid it on the boil. The royal attendants obtained a lump of figs, and applied it to the inflamed boil or carbuncle, as Isaiah had suggested. It is impossible to say what exactly was the nature of the "boil," since diseases change their characters, and every age has its own special disorders; but modem medical science knows of more than one kind of pustular swelling, which, as soon as it is detected, is regarded as fatal. And he recovered. Not suddenly, but by degrees; after the manner of natural remedies. It was three days before he was well enough to quit the palace, and offer thanks in the temple for his miraculous cure (see verse 5).
2 Kings 20:8
And Hezekiah said unto Isaiah, What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me? Having regard to the weakness of human faith, God, under the old covenant, often gave, or offered, near "signs" of promised blessings that were more remote, in order to sustain and encourage the doubtful and the wavering (comp. Exodus 3:12; 2 Kings 19:29; Isaiah 7:11, Isaiah 7:14, etc.). Hezekiah assumes that a near "sign" will now he granted to him, and simply asks what the sign is to be. And that I shall go up into the house of the Lord the third day? Three days would be a long and weary time to wait. It was not unnatural that Hezekiah should crave some more immediate assurance that his prayer was indeed heard. Neither God nor the prophet was angry at his request.
2 Kings 20:9
And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he hath spoken. Hezekiah is no more reproved for asking for a sign than was Gideon (Judges 6:37, Judges 6:39). Ahaz, his father, had been reproved for not asking (Isaiah 7:13). It would be faithless now for Christians to demand signs; but in an age of miracles, when there were prophets upon the earth empowered to give signs, faithful men might request them without incurring God's displeasure. Shall the shadow go forward ten degrees? The Hebrew text will scarcely bear this translation, which, however, seems to be required by Hezekiah's answer. Perhaps for צָלַךְ we should read הֲצָלךְ. Or go back ten degrees? literally, in both clauses, ten steps. There are abundant reasons for believing that the early dials consisted of a gnomon set up on the top of a flight of steps, and that time was measured by the number of steps on which the shadow of the gnomon fell.
2 Kings 20:10
And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees. Hezekiah views it as a comparatively easy thing for the shadow, which is already descending the steps, to accelerate its pace and rapidly descend fifteen degrees instead of slowly traversing them; and therefore accepts Isaiah's other offer. Nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees. Let it, i.e; change its direction, and having descended a certain distance, suddenly return and ascend again. This will be no "light thing," but a great marvel, which will thoroughly convince him. The thought was natural, though perhaps not strictly logical.
2 Kings 20:11
And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the Lord. Though the sign had been promised, Isaiah regarded his own intercessional prayer as not out of place, and "cried unto the Lord," i.e. prayed with energy, that the king's wish might be accomplished. So, though we have God's promise to care for us, and keep us from want (Matthew 6:25-30), yet we must daily beseech him to "give us this day our daily bread." And he brought the shadow ten degrees backward. How this was done, we are not told, and can therefore only conjecture. The earlier commentators imagined that the revolution of the earth upon its axis was actually reversed for a time; but this idea is now generally rejected. It is clear from 2 Chronicles 32:31 that the phenomenon, whatever may have been its cause, was local, "done in the land" of Judah, and not visible elsewhere. Some moderns have suggested an earthquake affecting the gnomon; some a trick on the part of Isaiah; ethers, and the generality, a very abnormal refraction of the sun's rays. An observed instance of something similar, which took place at Metz, in Lotheringia, in the year 1703, is on record. Two scientists, Professor Seyffarth and Mr. J. W. Bosanquet, think that the phenomenon was due to an eclipse, in which the upper limb of the sun was obscured temporarily. In such a case a slight recession of the shadow would certainly take place; but it would scarcely be such as to attract attention from any one but a scientific observer. On the whole, the most probable cause would seem to be refraction, which is accepted by Keil, Bahr, and Kay. By which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz; literally, on the steps of Ahaz. Sundials were invented by the Babylonians (Herod; 2:109), and were no doubt in use at Babylon long before the time of Hezekiah. They were of various kinds, and in some of them the gnomon was made to cast its shadow upon steps. There are still two dials in India—one at Benares, known as the Manmandir, and the other at Delhi—where this is the case.
2 Kings 20:12-19
The embassy of Merodach-Baladan. Soon after his recovery, Hezekiah received an embassy from a new quarter. Hitherto Babylon and Judaea had been isolated from one another, and had perhaps scarcely known of each other's existence. Assyria had stood between them, and Babylonia had been for the most part an Assyrian dependency. But recently Babylonia had asserted herself. In B.C. 722, on the death of Shalmaneser, a native Chaldean named Meredach-Baladan had made himself king of the country, and maintained his independence against all the efforts of Sargon to reduce him. His position, however, was precarious, and it was probably in the hope of concluding an alliance with Hezekiah also an enemy of Sargon's (see the comment on 2 Kings 20:6)—that he sent his embassy. He had two excuses for it. A neighboring king might well congratulate his brother monarch on his recovery; and a Chaldean prince might well inquire into an astronomical marvel (2Ch 33:1-25 :31). The date of the embassy appears to have been B.C. 712, the year following on Hezekiah's illness.
2 Kings 20:12
At that time Berodach-Baladan. Isaiah gives the name more correctly as "Merodach-Baladan" (Isaiah 39:1). The native form is Marduk-pal-iddin, i.e. "Merodach a son has given." This king makes his first appearance in an inscription of Tiglath-pileser's, where he is one of many chieftains among whom Babylonia is divided. Subsequently he is mentioned as revolting from Sargon in the latter's first year, B.C. 722, and holding the throne of Babylon for twelve years, when Sargon conquered him, deposed him, and took the kingdom. This twelve-years' reign is acknowledged by Ptolemy in his Canon, but the name of the king is given as Mardoc-Empadus. On the death of Sargon, in B.C. 705, Merodach-Baladan again revolted, and reigned for six months, when he was driven out of the country by Sennacherib, B.C. 704. He continued, however, to give trouble even after this; and his sons and grandsons were pretenders to the Babylonian throne in the reigns of Esar-haddon and his successor, Asshur-bani-pal. The son of Baladan. In the Assyrian inscriptions Merodach-Baladan is always called "the son of Yakin". Yakin, however, may have been his grandfather, as Nimshi was the grandfather of Jehu, and Baladan (Bel-dash?) his father. King of Babylon, sent letters and a present unto Hezekiah. Thus opening diplomatic communication. It has been almost universally felt that the object of the embassy must have been to conclude, or at any rate to pave the way for, an alliance. So Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 10.2. § 2), Ewald, Von Gerlach, Thenius, Keil, Bahr, and others. Assyria menaced both countries, and the common danger produced naturally a mutual attraction. But it was prudent to disguise this motive. For he had heard that Hezekiah had been sick. Assyria could not take umbrage at an embassy of congratulation, nor at one for scientific purposes (2Ch 33:1-25 :31). So these two objects were paraded.
2 Kings 20:13
And Hezekiah hearkened unto them. Hezekiah was dazzled by the prospect that opened upon him. It was a grand thing that his fame should have reached so far as Babylon, a still grander thing to be offered such an alliance. It must be remembered that he and his counselors were inclined from the first to meet Assyrian menace by calling in foreign aid (2 Kings 18:21-24; Isaiah 20:6; Isaiah 30:2-7; Isaiah 36:6). He had not yet accepted the view of Isaiah, that human aid was vain, and that the only reasonable ground of hope or confidence was, in Jehovah. And showed them all the house of his precious things; i.e. his treasury. Hezekiah did not do this in mere ostentation, though he may have had a certain pride in exhibiting his wealth. His main wish, no doubt, was to make known his resources, and show that he was a valuable ally. So Oroetes acted towards Polycrates (Herod; 3:123), and Hannibal towards the Gortynians (Com. Nep; 'Vit. Hannib.,' § 9). It is to be borne in mind that Hezekiah's treasures were, in B.C. 712, still intact, and included all that ample store which he sacrificed to save Jerusalem at the time of the first expedition of Sennacherib. The silver, and the gold, and the spices. Compare the description of the wealth of Solomon (1 Kings 10:25). "Spices" always form an important portion of the treasure of Oriental kings (comp. Herod; 2. 97, sub fin.). And the precious ointment; rather, the precious oil—שֶׂמֶן, not רֹקַץ. It is thought (Keil, Bahr) that the valuable balsam oil, which was obtained from the royal gardens, is intended. And all the house of his armor; or, of his vessels; but arms and armor are probably intended. It would be almost as important to show that he had abundant arms in store, as that he had abundant riches. And all that was found in his treasures—a clause implying that there was much more which had not been specified, as precious stones, ivory, ebony, and the like—there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not. This is a manifest hyperbole; but it can scarcely mean less than that he gave orders for them to be shown the collections of arms and stores which existed in his other strongholds besides Jerusalem. Hezekiah, no doubt, had many "store cities," as Solomon (2 Chronicles 8:6) and Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:5-12) had.
2 Kings 20:14
Then came Isaiah the prophet unto King Hezekiah; and said unto him. When a prophet came, unsummoned, into king's presence, it was usually to rebuke him. What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee? Isaiah does not ask because he does not know, but to obtain a confession, on which he may base the message that he has to deliver. And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country, even from Babylon. Note first, that Hezekiah does not give any answer to the prophet's first question, "What said these men?" being unwilling probably to make known the overtures that he had received from them, since he knows that Isaiah is opposed to any reliance on an "arm of flesh:" and secondly, that he answers the second question, not with shame, but with complacency, "They are come to me from a very far country, whither my fame has reached—even from Babylon are they come, 'the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency' (Isaiah 13:19)." Self-satisfaction shows itself in the answer. He thinks it redounds to his honor that he has been sought out from so great a distance, and by so great a city.
2 Kings 20:15
And he said, What have they seen in thine house? i.e. What hast thou shewed them? Hast thou treated them like ordinary ambassadors, or hast thou gone out of thy way to court an alliance with their master? And Hezekiah answered, All the things that are in mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not showed them. The reply is open and straightforward. Hezekiah is not ashamed of what he has done, or at any rate, will not, to escape blame, take refuge in lies or concealment. He readily acknowledges that he has shown the ambassadors everything.
2 Kings 20:16
And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah, Hear the word of the Lord. This is a phrase of warning very common in the mouth of the prophets, when they are about to deliver a rebuke or solemn condemnation.
2 Kings 20:17
Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried into Babylon. These treasures of thy royal house, whereof thou art so proud, and which thou hast of thine own accord made known to the Babylonians, to obtain their alliance, will in fact excite their cupidity, and the time will come when they, or what remains of them and represents them, will be carried off as plunder to Babylon by a conquering monarch, who will strip thy palace of its valuables, and drag thy descendants into captivity, and degrade them to the condition of slaves or servants, and make them discharge menial offices about his court. The revelation was now, it would seem, for the first time made that Babylon, and not Assyria, was the true enemy which Judaea had to fear, the destined foe who would accomplish all the threats of the prophets from Moses downwards, who would destroy the holy city and the glorious temple of Solomon, and carry away the ark of the covenant, and tear the people from their homes, and bring the kingdom of David to an end, and give Jerusalem over as a prey to desolation for seventy years. Henceforth it was Babylon and not Assyria which was feared, Babylon and not Assyria whereto the prophetic gaze of Isaiah himself was directed, and which became in his later prophecies the main object of his denunciations. Considering the circumstances of the time, the prophecy is a most extraordinary one. Babylonia was at the time merely one of several kingdoms bordering on Assyria which the Assyrians threatened with destruction. From the time of Tiglath-pileser she had been continually diminishing, while Assyria had been continually increasing, in power. Tiglath-pileser had overrun the country and established himself as king there. Shalmaneser's authority had been uncontested. If just at present a native prince held the throne, it was by a very uncertain tenure, and a few years later Assyria regained complete mastery. No human foresight could possibly have anticipated such a complete reversal of the relative positions of the two countries as was involved in Isaiah's prophecy—a reversal which was only accomplished by the appearance on the scene of a new power, Media, which hitherto had been regarded as of the very slightest account. Nothing shall be left, saith the Lord.
2 Kings 20:18
And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget. Under "sons" are included by the Hebrew idiom all descendants, however remote. The princes carried off from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar were Hezekiah's descendants, either in the fourth or the fifth generation. Shall they take away. Among the descendants of Hezekiah taken to Baby]on by Nebuchadnezzar were Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:15), Zedekiah (2 Kings 25:7), Daniel (Daniel 1:3), and others. And they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the King of Babylon. Keil and Bahr translate סָרִיסִים in this place by "chamberlains" or "footmen;" but there is no reason why the word should not have its ordinary sense of "eunuchs".
2 Kings 20:19
Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah, Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken. Hezekiah accepts the rebuke, thereby acknowledging himself to have been in the wrong, and submits without remonstrance to his punishment. "Good is the word of the Lord"—who "in his wrath has thought upon mercy." The king feels that God might, in justice, have visited him, in his own person, with some immediate affliction or calamity. It is a relief to hear that the blow will not fall during his lifetime. There may be a tinge of selfishness in his acquiescence, but it is not very pronounced, and does not call for any severe animadversion. The Old Testament saints were not faultless, and are not set before us as perfect patterns. There is one only "Ensample" given us whose steps we are to follow in all things. And he said—apparently after a pause, per-Imps turning to his courtiers, whose looks may have expressed astonishment at the words which he had just spoken—Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days? i.e. Am I not right to acquiesce in the sentence and pronounce it "good," if it promises me "peace and truth," or "tranquility and steadfastness"? Ought I not to accept with thankfulness the immediate boon, instead of troubling myself about a remote future? The sentiment is not far removed from that of the well-known lines—
"I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me."
2 Kings 20:20, 2 Kings 20:21
The great works of Hezekiah, and his decease. Hezekiah was known, not only as a pious king, and the king in whose reign the pride of the Assyrians was dashed to the ground, but also as one who, by works of great importance, conferred permanent benefit on Jerusalem (see 2 Chronicles 32:3-5 and 2 Chronicles 32:30; Ecclesiasticus 48:17). The writer feels that he cannot conclude his notice of Hezekiah's reign without some mention of these works. He enters, however, into no description, but, having referred the reader for details to the "book of the chronicles," notes in the briefest possible way the decease of Hezekiah, and the accession of his son and successor.
2 Kings 20:20
And the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and all his might. Hezekiah's "might" was chiefly shown in the earlier portion of his reign, when he "smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof" (2 Kings 18:8). Against Assyria he was unsuccessful, and must have succumbed, but for the miraculous destruction of Sennacherib's host. And how he made a pool; rather, the pool, or the reservoir. The writer of Kings either knows of one pool only in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, or regards one as so superior that it deserves to be called κατ ἐξοχήν, "the pool." Recent discoveries make it highly probable that the "pool" intended is that of Siloam, or, if not the present Siloam reservoir, a larger one, a little below it, now known as Birket el Hamra. That there was at least one other pool in Hezekiah's time is evident from Isaiah 22:9, Isaiah 22:11. And a conduit; rather, the conduit. If "the pool" is Siloam, "the conduit" must almost certainly be that which was excavated under Ophel for the purpose of conveying the water from the Well of the Virgin in the Kedron valley to the Siloam reservoir on the western side of the spur. This conduit, which is curiously twisted, has a length of 1708 feet, with a height varying from two feet to four or five, and a width of about two feet. The roof is flat, the sides perpendicular, and the floor hollowed into a groove for the more rapid passage of the water. About nineteen feet from the southern extremity, where the channel opens upon the Siloam pool, a niche has been cut in the right-hand wall in the shape of a square tablet, and smoothed to receive an inscription of six lines, the greater part of which has been recovered. The letters are of the old Hebrew or Phoenician type, and by their forms indicate a date "between the eighth and the sixth centuries" (Sayce). The inscription, so far as it is legible, appears to have run as follows: "Behold the tunnel! Now, this is the history of the tunnel. As the excavators were lifting up the pick, each towards the other, and while there were yet three cubits to be broken through … the voice of the one called to his neighbor, for there was an excess (?) of the rock on the right. Then they rose up … they struck on the west of the excavators; the excavators struck, each to meet the other, pick to pick. And the waters flowed from their outlet to the pool for a distance of a thousand cubits; and three-fourths (?) of a cubit was the height of the rock over the head of the excavation here." We learn from it that the workmen began at either end, and tunnelled through the rock until they met in the middle—a result which their previous divergences from the straight line force us to attribute more to good fortune than to engineering science. And brought water into the city. The Well of the Virgin was without, the Pool of Siloam within, the city—the wall of the town being carried across the Tyropoeon valley from the extreme point of Ophel to the opposite hilt (see Nehemiah 3:15). Are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? Hezekiah's fame rested very much upon these works, as we see by what is said of him by the son of Sirach (see the comment on verses 20, 21).
2 Kings 20:21
And Hezekiah slept with his fathers. The writer of Chronicles adds, "And they buried him in the chiefest," or rather, in the topmost, "of the sepulchers of the sons of David" (2 Chronicles 32:33). The catacomb of David being now full, Hezekiah and his descendants (2 Kings 21:18, 2 Kings 21:26; 2 Kings 23:30) had to he buried elsewhere. The tomb of Hezekiah was either over the catacomb of David, or on the ascent which led to it. And Manasseh his son reigned in his stead. (See 2 Chronicles, 50. s.c; and Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 10.3. § 1.)
2 Kings 20:1-3
Aspects of death.
We may look on death from three points of view—that of the natural man, unenlightened by Divine revelation; that of the Israelite under the Law; and that of the Christian. The contemplation will be wholesome, for we are all too apt to turn our thoughts away from any consideration of the grim enemy, who will certainly have to be met and encountered one day.
I. DEATH FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE NATURAL MAN. By nature man has an absolute horror of death. Self-preservation is the first law of his being. He will suffer anything, he will do anything, to avoid death. Death is in his eyes a fierce monster, cruel, relentless, detestable. To live may be hard, grievous, wretched, scarcely tolerable; but to die is wholly intolerable. It is to exchange the bright pure light of day for absolute darkness, or at best for a dim, dull, murky region in which souls wander without aim or hope. It is to be cut off from all that is known, customary, intelligible, and to be thrown into a world unknown, unfamiliar, full of terrors. It is to lose all energy, all vigor, all robustness, all sense of power. In the "happy hunting-fields," the shade of the living man may still pursue the unsubstantial forms of elk, or deer, or antelope; but the sport is a poor and colorless replica of that pursued on earth, and is anticipated with but little satisfaction. Better, in the eyes of the natural man, to live on earth, even as slave or hireling, the hardest of all possible earthly lives, than to hold the kingship of the world below and rule over the entire realm of shadows. In the vigor of his youth and early manhood the natural man forgets death, views it as so distant that the fear of it scarcely affects him sensibly; but let the shadow be suddenly cast across his path, and he starts from it with a cry of terror. He can, indeed, meet it without blenching in the battle-field, when his blood is hot, and to the last he does not know whether he will slay his foe, or his foe him; but if he has to die, he accepts his death as a miserable necessity. It is hateful to him to die; it is still more hateful to be cut off in his prime, while he is still strong, vigorous, lusty. It is not till old age comes on, and his arm grows weak, and his eye dim, that he can look on death without loathing. Then, perhaps, he may accept the necessity without protest, feeling that actual death can be little worse than the death-in-life whereto he has come.
II. DEATH FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE ISRAELITE. The Israelite had not very much advantage over the natural man in respect of the contemplation of death. But little was revealed to him concerning the life beyond the grave. He knew, indeed, that his life did not end everything, that he would certainly go down to Sheol when he died, and there have a continued existence; but Sheol presented itself to him in as dismal colors as Hades did to the Greek. "The living, the living shall praise thee; Sheol cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee," cried Hezekiah from his bed of sickness (Isaiah 38:18, Isaiah 38:19). Thus the Israelite too shrank from death, not merely instinctively, but as a sad and poor condition compared with life. And untimely death was even more hateful to him than to the natural man, since under the Mosaic dispensation it was declared to be a mark of the displeasure of God. "The fear of the Lord prolongeth days; but the years of the wicked shall be shortened" said Solomon (Proverbs 10:27). "Bloodthirsty and deceitful men shall not live out half their days," sang David (Psalms 55:23). Long life was a gift repeatedly promised to the righteous (Proverbs 3:2, Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 9:10, Proverbs 9:11; Psalms 91:16, etc.); and when a man found himself struck down by a dangerous disease in his middle age, it seemed to him, and to those about him, that he must have sinned grievously, and so brought down upon himself God's anger. Still more bitter was the feeling of one who was cut off in mid life, if he was childless. Then the man's name was "clean put out;" his memorial perished with him; he had no more part or lot in Israel, no more inheritance among his brethren. Thus death remained a terror and a calamity, even to the most religious Jew, until, about the time of Daniel, the doctrine of the resurrection began to be preached (Daniel 12:1-3), and the life beyond the grave to take a more cheerful aspect.
III. DEATH FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE CHRISTIAN. The whole relation of death to life and of life to death became changed by the revelation made to man in Christ. Then for the first time were "life and immortality" fully "brought to light." Then first it appeared that earth was a mere sojourning-place for those who were here as "strangers and pilgrims" upon it, having "no continuing city." Then first were the joys of heaven painted in glowing hues, and men told that eye had not seen, nor ear heard, neither had it entered into the heart of man [to conceive], the things which God had prepared for those that love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). No sensuous Paradise of earthly joys was depicted, no "Castle of Indolence," no mere haven of rest, but man's true home, the place and state for which he was created, where is his citizenship, where he will be reunited to those whom in life he loved, where his nature will be perfected, and where, above all, he will "be with Christ" (Philippians 1:23), will "see God" (1 John 3:2), and "know even as he is known ' (1 Corinthians 13:12). The prospect of death thus, to the true Christian, lost all its terrors. "I am in a strait betwixt two," says St. Paul, "having a desire to depart, and be with Christ, which is far better" (Philippians 1:23); and again, "I am willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). Natural shrinking there may be, for "the flesh is weak;" but thousands have triumphed over it, have sought martyrdom, have gone gladly to their deaths, and preferred to die. Even when there is no such exaltation of feeling, death is contemplated with calmness, as a passage to a better world—a world where there is no sorrow nor sighing (Isaiah 35:10), where there is no sin, "where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest" (Job 3:17). Untimely death from natural disease or accident is to the Christian no sign of God's displeasure, but rather an indication of the contrary. God takes to himself those whom he recognizes as fit to die, of whom it may be said that τελειωθέντες ἐν ὀλίγῳ ἐπλήρωσαν χρόνους μακρόυς. He takes them in love, not in wrath, to join the company of "the spirits of just men made perfect" (Hebrews 12:23), to be among his "jewels" (Isaiah 61:10; Malachi 3:17).
2 Kings 20:12-18
The sunshine of prosperity a greater danger than the storms of adversity.
When Sennacherib threatens, when his messengers blaspheme, when the huge battalions of the most powerful kingdom in the world have entered his territory and are about to march upon his capital, the Jewish monarch remains firm; his faith is unshaken; he casts his care upon God, looks to him and him only; believes in him, trusts in him, regards prayer as the only door of safety. Similarly, when disease prostrates him, when a painful and dangerous malady confines him to his bed, and the prophet, instead of bringing him words of comfort, is commissioned to bid him "set his house in order; for he shall die, and not live" (2 Kings 20:1), his faith fails not, in God is still his refuge, to God alone he betakes himself, and prays and weeps sore (2 Kings 20:2, 2 Kings 20:3). The blasts of calamity cannot tear away from him the cloak of faith; he clutches it the tighter the more the storm rages; nothing will induce him to let it go. But the danger past, health restored, the admiration of foreign kings attracted, his car besieged by congratulations and flatteries, his court visited by envoys from "a far country," and at once his grasp relaxes, the thought of God fades from his heart, his faith slips from him, and he is a mere worldling, bent on winning to himself a seat alliance, and obtaining the aid of an "arm of flesh ' against his enemies. And so it is and will ever be with most of us. We can bear the world's frowns, the buffets of fortune, the cruelty of oppressors, the open attacks of rivals and enemies; we can resist them, defy them, and still maintain our integrity; but let the world smile, let fortune favor us, let riches increase, let friends spring up on all sides, and how few of us can stand the sunshine! How few of us can remain as close to God as we were before! How few of us but drop the habits of prayer, of communing with God, of constant reliance upon him, which were familiar to us in the darker time, and substitute a mere occasional and perfunctory acknowledgment of his goodness! Alas, how few! Oh! may our cry, the cry of our heart, ever be, "In all time of our tribulation, in all time of our wealth … good Lord, deliver us!"
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
2 Kings 20:1-11
Every changing scene of life is depicted for us in the Bible. Whatever our circumstances may be, we can get some guidance, help, or comfort from that treasure-house of wisdom and experience. We have here—
I. A SOLEMN MESSAGE. "Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live."
1. It was a solemn message for Hezekiah. His kingdom seemed now to be securely established. God had helped him against the Philistines, and had overthrown them. He was doubtless looking forward to many years of rest and quietness, when he might enjoy for himself the benefits of peace, and develop the resources of the nation, so long desolated by invading armies. How startling, then, the announcement of his approaching death!
2. It is a solemn message for every one. It is a solemn thing for a human soul to pass from time into eternity, to enter into the immediate presence of the Eternal, to stand before God.
3. It is a message which may be truly spoken to every one. "Thou shalt die, and not live," There is an hour of death in store for every one of us. Somewhere in the unknown future there waits for us—
"The shadow feared of man."
We know not what a day may bring forth. "In such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh."
4. The certainty of death suggests the necessity for immediate preparation. "Set thine house in order." Can you say that you are prepared to meet your God? Is your heart right with God? Have you set your house in order? The time for preparation is "now." Scripture is very clear on that point. It is nowhere said, "See that you make ready when death comes." It is nowhere said," Look forward to being prepared for death" No; that would only be deceiving us, because death might come before we were prepared, though we might intend to be prepared, if we knew that death was near. No; but it is said, "Be ready." It is said, "Prepare to meet thy God." "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation."
II. A SORROWFUL KING. "Hezekiah wept sore."
1. He was not sorrowful because of a guilty conscience. He had endeavored to serve God faithfully. No doubt he had made mistakes. But his heart was right with God. "I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight." It is well to have a good conscience when the hour of death draws nigh. It is well when we can say with St. Paul, "Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men." Such a man is always "ready to depart."
2. He was sorrowful only because of the shortening of his life. How little we know what is best for us! It was after this that Hezekiah was led astray, as we shall see, by the pride of his heart. Though God lengthened Hezekiah's life in answer to his piteous request, perhaps it would have been better for him if he had been content to go when God first sent for him. There is often a great mystery to us when good men seem prematurely taken away. But God knows the reason why, and he doeth all things well. Let us leave the time of our own departure, and the departure of our friends, contentedly in God's hands.
III. A SPARED LIFE. The life was spared in answer to prayer; and yet this ease gives no encouragement to what is commonly known as "healing by faith." Isaiah directed the attendants to take a lump of figs and lay it for a plaster on the boil, and Hezekiah recovered (verse 7; Isaiah 38:21). We believe in the power of faith and prayer to heal the sick, and yet we believe in using the means. We use food to preserve and sustain our life from day to day. There is no lack of faith in that. And it shows no lack of faith if we use means to restore our life, asking all the time that God's blessing may accompany the means we use. How many of our lives has God spared? How many of us has he brought back again from the gates of death? Let the goodness of God lead us to repentance. Let the lives that he has spared be dedicated to him—C.H.I.
2 Kings 20:12-21
Hezekiah and the ambassadors.
Friendly greetings are always welcome. They are especially so after a time of sickness. Hezekiah's illness, no doubt, called forth many expressions of sympathy, and, among the rest, a message and present from Merodach-Baladan King of Babylon. The ambassadors who bore the message and the present were very courteously received by Hezekiah. Unfortunately, he allowed himself to be unduly elated by the honor done to him by the heathen king. He showed the messengers all the house of his precious things, and all his treasures of gold and silver and armor; "there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not." We see here—
I. FOOLISH PRIDE. Hezekiah's prosperity for once led him astray.
1. He gave not glory to God. It was God who had prospered him, and crowned all his labors with success. But there is no word of this to the ambassadors. He takes all the honor and glory to himself. He might have, perhaps, excused himself, as many do, by saying that there is no use in obtruding our religion upon strangers. But why should he have been ashamed to acknowledge God's bountiful hand, if he was not ashamed to take his bounties? Why should any of us be ashamed to confess Christ? To be ashamed of Christ is not only weak and cowardly; it is unreasonable.
2. We see also how foolish Hezekiah's pride was, when we remember his recent sickness. It was not so long since Hezekiah, now so vain and boastful, turned his face to the wall, and wept sore. The memory of that should have humbled him. Not only so, but when he was recovered of his sickness, he made special promises of praise to God and humility of spirit. "The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day." Where was Hezekiah's praise of God's goodness when these Babylonish ambassadors came to him? "I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul" (Isaiah 38:15). Where now is Hezekiah's humility? On the contrary, as it is said in 2 Chronicles 32:25, "Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up."
3. We see here how watchful we need to be over our own hearts. We read in 2 Chronicles 32:31, "Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart." We cannot tell how we may act until the temptation comes. Such a crisis as this may come to each of us. Let us watch and pray, that we enter not into temptation. "Above all treasure guard thy heart, for out of it are the fountains of life."
II. A FAITHFUL PROPHET. Isaiah did not delay in the path of duty. Hezekiah had humbled himself and his nation, and he had dishonored God, before these heathen ambassadors. Isaiah at once proceeds to the king's presence, and rebukes him for his folly and pride. Not only so, hut he foretells that Babylon, whose avarice had thus been aroused, would one day take advantage of this act of weakness, and take possession of the treasures of Jerusalem. Hezekiah's answer was wise and humble. He was a God-fearing, if mistaken, man. "Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken." So let us receive God's judgments, in humility, submission, and patience, and not in rebellion and defiance. What a blessing to a king to have a faithful and wise counselor! What a blessing to a nation and to a Church to have faithful ministers! They who fear God need not fear the face of man.—C.H.I
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
2 Kings 20:1-21
"In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death," etc. A thoughtful man might raise many questions on this chapter—indeed, on all the chapters in this book. He might ask—Who was the writer of this chapter, ay, and of the entire Books of Kings? A question this which has not been settled, and, perhaps, never will be. He might ask on what authority certain men, called prophets, such as Isaiah, speak as from heaven, and say, "Thus saith the Lord." Priests and leaders of all sects profess to speak in the name of the Lord, and say, "Thus saith the Lord." Such questions might open up discussions of critical and speculative interest, but would be of no practical benefit whatever. Anyhow, I forego them. My purpose all along has been to turn whatever I find in this or any other book of the Old Testament to some practical use. Some years before the overwhelming destruction of Sennacherib and his army, as recorded in the preceding chapter, Hezekiah was seized with some severe disease which threatened the extinction of his life: death was before him. The account leads us to consider death in three aspects: as
(1) consciously approaching; as
(2) temporarily arrested; and as
(3) ultimately triumphant.
I. As CONSCIOUSLY APPROACHING. "In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the Prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live." Mark here three things.
1. When he became conscious of its approach. "In those days." "By this expression," says Dr. Keil, "the illness of Hezekiah is merely assigned in a general manner to the same time as the events previously described. That it did not occur after the departure of the Assyrians … is evident from the sixth verse, both from the fact that, in answer to his prayer, fifteen years more of life were promised him, and that he, nevertheless, reigned only twenty-nine years (2 Kings 18:2); and also from the fact that God promised to deliver him out of the hand of the Assyrians, and to defend Jerusalem."
2. How he became conscious of its approach. "Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live." It needs no Isaiah, or any other prophet, to deliver this message to man. It comes to him from all history, from every graveyard, from every funeral procession, as well as from the inexorable law of decay working ever in his constitution. Yes; and not merely the announcement, but the duty: "Set thine house in order."
(1) Men have much to do in this life. The "house" is out of order.
(2) Unless the work is done here, it will not be done yonder. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might," etc.
3. How he felt in the consciousness of its approach. "Then he turned his face to the wall."
(1) He seems to have been overwhelmingly distressed. "He wept sore." He turned away from the world, with all its multiplex concerns, from all his regal pomp, and peered into the invisible and the infinite.
(2) He cried earnestly to heaven. "He prayed unto the Lord, saying, I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight." In his prayer we note the cry of nature. All men, even those who are atheistic in theory, are urged by the law of their spiritual nature to cry to heaven in great and conscious danger. In his prayer we also note something of self-righteousness. "Remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight." Though he had been free from most sins, and had displayed some virtues, he had not done this. Perhaps no man that ever appeared on this earth, save the "Son of man," could say, "I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart," Moral self-deception is one of the most prevalent sins of the human heart. Like the Pharisee in the temple, we exult in virtues we have not. Now, death is approaching all men, whether we are conscious of the fact or not. The decree has gone forth, "Thou shalt die, and not live." Death is ever coming with stealthy steps, yet with resistless force. He is coming always, whether we are at home or abroad, on ocean or on land, in society or in solitude; asleep or awake, he, the king of terrors, is coming.
II. AS TEMPORARILY ARRESTED. Five things are to be observed here.
1. The primary Author of its arrest. "And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee." How came Isaiah into possession of this knowledge, this "word of the Lord," concerning Hezekiah's restoration? Was it by a dream, or through some other supernatural communication? On this point I confess my utter ignorance. The grand practical idea is that God can arrest death, and he only. Our times are in his hands. His constant visitation preserveth us. He is the absolute Master of death. At his bidding the most fragile creature may live forever, the most robust expire.
2. The secondary means of its arrest. "Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered." It would seem that the ancients, in the case of boils, abscesses, and such like, frequently applied figs to the affected parts, and no doubt there was remedial virtue in the figs. For aught we know, there may be an antidote sleeping in plants and minerals for all our physical complaints. The man who lives by the medical art is untrue to his mission, and unfaithful to his patient, unless he, with an independent mind and a devoted heart, searches Nature for those remedial elements with which she is charged.
3. The extraodinary sign of its arrest. "And Hezekiah said unto Isaiah, What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up into the house of the Lord the third day? And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees? And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees. And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the Lord: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz." Perhaps it was natural for a man, who when he felt himself on the brink of eternity was told he would recover, to desire some assurance of the fact so unexpected and yet so acceptable. Hezekiah desired a sign, and he had it. But what was the sign? We are told that the shadow on the dial-plate "returned ten degrees backwards." How was this? Did the sun recede, or, in other words, was the rotation of the earth reversed? I know not; neither does it matter. It is sufficient to know that, whether it was an illusion, or a natural eclipse of the sun, which some astronomers say did actually take place at this time, or a physical miracle, it seems to have satisfied the king. it seems to be a law of mind, that phenomena which it earnestly expects often occur. "Be it to thee according to thy faith."
4. The exact extension of its arrest. "I will add unto thy days fifteen years." The addition of fifteen years to man's brief existence in this life is a considerable item, and the more so when that fifteen years is added at a period when the man has fully reached middle life, and passed through the chief training experiences. He who can add fifteen years to a man's life can add eternity. "Our times are in his hands."
5. The mental inefficiency of its arrest. What spiritual good did these additional fifteen years accomplish for the king? They might have done much; they ought to have done much. But did they make him a morally better man, or an intellectually wiser man? Not the former, I trow, for mark his vanity. The letters which the King of Babylon, Mero-dach-Baladan, dispatched to him, together with a present, so excited his egotism that he "hearkened [or, as Isaiah puts it, 'was glad'] unto them," that is, the Babylonian deputies; and "showed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the precious ointment, 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." At this time he had enormous possessions. We find from 2 Chronicles 32:23 that presents were brought to Hezekiah from various quarters. "He had," says the Chronicler, "exceeding much riches and honor: and he made himself treasuries for silver, and for gold, and for precious stones, and for spices, and for shields, and for all manner of pleasant jewels; storehouses also for the increase of corn, and wine, and oil; and stalls for all manner of beasts, and cotes for flocks" (2 Chronicles 32:27, 2 Chronicles 32:28). All this, with an elated vanity, he exposed to the Babylonian magnates. Vanity, for many reasons, is one of the worst of all the bad elements of depravity; it is a species 'of moral evil, hideous to all beholders, and damnable to its possessor. Did these fifteen years added to his life make Hezekiah an intellectually wiser man? No; his judgment was not improved. In sooth, he seems to have lost that penetration, that insight into things and men, which he had previously possessed. Bow blind was he not to see that, by exposing his treasures, he was exciting the avarice of the Babylonians, tempting them to make an invasion of his country! This Isaiah told him: "Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried into Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord." Affliction does not always improve men, either morally or intellectually. Ah me! how many have I known who, when they have "turned their face to the wall," writhing in agony, with grim death before them, have solemnly vowed improvement should they ever recover? They have recovered, and become worse in every respect than before. What boots a term of fifteen years, or even a thousand years, added to our existence, if our souls are not improved thereby?
III. As ULTIMATELY TRIUMPHANT. "And Hezekiah slept with his fathers." The end of the fifteen years came, and he meets with the common destiny of all. The unconquered conqueror is not to be defrauded of his prey, however long delayed. Since death cannot be escaped by any, whether young or old, it has been asked, is there any advantage in longevity? Rather, would it not be better to die in the first dawn of infancy, than in any subsequent period? "Whom the gods love die young," was said of yore. We may go a step further, and say, "Why live at all?"—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 20:1-11
In order of time, this recovery of King Hezekiah from sickness stands before the destruction of Sennacherib, though in order of narration it comes after it. So with the Babylonian embassy (see on 2 Kings 18:1-13).
I. WARNING OF DEATH.
1. Unexplained sickness. "In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death." His disease was some ulcerous growth, called in the narrative "a boil." We have been accustomed in this history to see troubles of body, and calamities in the state, connected with sin, as part of its temporal punishment. But there is no reason to believe that Hezekiah was guilty of any special transgression which led to his being visited with this sickness. His own conscience was clear, and there is no indication of blame in the narrative. Affliction is sent for other reasons than the punishment of sin, and we grievously err, and do great injustice to the sufferers, if we insist on always interpreting it in this light. Job's friends committed this error (Job 42:7, Job 42:8; cf. Luke 13:1-5; John 9:1-3). In Hezekiah's case affliction was no doubt sent as a purificatory and strengthening discipline, intended to try his faith, and lead him to new experience of the grace of God.
2. The announcement of death. It was while Hezekiah's mind was troubled about his sickness that the Prophet Isaiah came to him, and brought the message, "Thus saith the Lord … thou shalt die, and not live." In its natural course the sickness would have had a fatal issue. The fact of our mortality is one we should often have before us. Every ache, pain, and trouble of body, reminds us that we are here but for a time—that this is not our rest. They are prophetic of the end. A time, however, comes when the near approach of the end is unmistakable, if not to the individual himself, yet to others. If a man is dying, it is the truest kindness to let him know it. Isaiah might have withheld this information from Hezekiah on the ground that it would agitate him, might hasten his death, could do no good, etc.,—the usual pleas for keeping back from a patient the news of his hopeless condition. We have only to put the matter to ourselves: would we like to be within a few weeks or days of our death, and not be made aware of the fact? Would we in such circumstances like to be buoyed up by false hopes? Then why buoy up others? By acquainting a patient with his real state, we give him opportunity for setting his house in order; for prayer to God that might, as in Hezekiah's case, lead to his recovery; in any case, for suitably preparing his mind in view of departure.
3. The duty of preparation. "Set thine house in order" said Isaiah; "for thou shalt die." It is a duty incumbent on us, even in health, to have our worldly affairs so arranged that, if we should be unexpectedly removed, they would be found in order. The neglect of this simple duty—the putting it off under the idea that there is still plenty of time—leads in numberless cases to confusion, heartburning, strife, and loss. If the putting the house in order has not been attended to, the approach of death is a solemn call to do it. In any case, there wilt be final arrangements, last words, loving directions which belong peculiarly to the dying hour. If it is important to set our worldly affairs in order in view of death, how much more to have every spiritual preparation made!
II. PRAYER FOR LIFE.
1. Hezekiah's distress. The announcement that he was soon to die filled Hezekiah with deep grief. He turned his face to the wall, prayed earnestly to God, and wept sore. The grounds of his distress may be inferred from the hymn composed by him after his recovery (Isaiah 38:9-20).
(1) The natural love of life. This is implanted in every one. It has its root in a true instinct, for death in the case of the human being is unnatural. It was not a part of the primal order. Man as made by God was destined for immortality, not immortality of the soul only, but immortality of the whole person. Death is the violent wrenching asunder of two parts of his personality which were meant to be inseparable. It is the fruit of sin, and abnormal (Romans 5:12).
(2) The want of a clear hope of immortality. The experience of the Old Testament saints teaches us to distinguish between a mere idea of future existence, and such a hope of immortality as is now possessed by Christians. The Hebrew believed in the after-existence of the soul. But this of itself brought no comfort to them. Sheol was uniformly pictured as a region of gloom, silence, and inaction. Its shadowy life was no compensation for the loss of the rich, substantial joys of earthly existence. In hours of depression this was the view of Sheol that prevailed. Only in moments of strong faith did the believer rise to the confidence that God would be with him even in Sheol, and would deliver his soul out of these gloomy abodes. The Hebrew hope of immortality was really a hope of resurrection (Psalms 16:10; Psalms 49:14, Psalms 49:15). It is Jesus Christ who, in the full sense of the words, has brought life and immortality to light (2 Timothy 1:10).
(3) The thought that death would cut him off from the comforts of God's presence, and the privilege of waiting on God and serving him. This is implied in his view of Sheol, and is expressed in his song (Isaiah 38:11). It was, therefore, no unmanly fear of death which Hezekiah showed, but one resting on good and substantial reasons.
2. Hezekiah's prayer. Cut off from earthly help, Hezekiah betook himself in earnest prayer to God. The fact that he did pray, and that his prayer was answered, is an encouragement to us to pray for recovery from sickness. The New Testament also holds out this encouragement (James 5:13-16). In his pleadings with God, Hezekiah adopted a tone which may seem to us to savor too much of self-righteousness. "I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart," etc. It was not, however, in a spirit of self-righteousness that he urged this plea. He was conscious of many sins (cf. Isaiah 38:17). His meaning was that he had endeavored to serve God faithfully, and with an undivided heart, and had the claim which God's own promises gave him of life and blessing to those who acted thus. A good conscience is a great encouragement in prayer to God, though, with the deeper views of sin which the gospel gives, there is rightly a greater shrinking from pleading anything that might seem like one's own merit (see Perowne's 'Introduction to the Book of Psalms,' 2 Kings 3:1-27. sect. 3, "Assertions of innocence in the Psalms").
III. RECOVERY FROM SICKNESS.
1. The promptitude of God's answer. Scarcely had the prayer left Hezekiah's lips than the answer was communicated to Isaiah. The prophet had not yet left the palace, but was still within its precincts, "in the middle court," when word came to him to return to Hezekiah, and assure him of recovery. God in this ease, as always, was "waiting to be gracious" (Isaiah 30:18). The answer was given
(1) out of regard to Hezekiah himself, "Tell Hezekiah the captain of my people;"
(2) in answer to his supplication, "I have heard thy prayer;"
(3) for the sake of David, "The Lord, the God of David thy father" (and cf. verse 6). This recovery was one of "the sure mercies of David' (Isaiah 55:3). For similar examples of prompt answer to prayer, see on 2 Kings 19:20.
2. The promise of lengthened life. The message which Isaiah was to carry to Hezekiah contained three parts:
(1) a promise that he would be healed, and able to go up to the house of the Lord on the third day. "A striking instance of the conditionalness of prophecy" (Cheyne). Hezekiah's first use of his recovered health is assumed to be a visit to God's house.
(2) A promise of fifteen years more added to his life. God thus exceeds his servants' askings. The king sought only healing; God assures him of a prolonged term of life (cf. Ephesians 3:20).
(3) A promise that the city would be defended against the Assyrians. This was another word to Hezekiah through which God caused him to hope (Psalms 119:49). Yet he nearly forfeited it by his subsequent worldly policy (see previous chapters).
3. The king's recovery. Isaiah's word was fulfilled, and the king recovered. Whether "the lump of figs" was a simple remedy or a mere sign need not be discussed. In our case the duty of using means in connection with prayer is plain.
IV. THE SIGN OF THE SUN-DIAL.
1. The request for a sign. When Isaiah communicated his message to Hezekiah, the king said, "What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me," etc.? One wonders that to so good a man the prophet's word should not have been sufficient, and that he should have asked for this additional confirmation. But
(1) It was an age of signs (Isaiah 7:10-12; Isaiah 8:18; 2 Kings 19:29).
(2) The thing promised was very wonderful and hard to believe, especially after the announcement, "Thou shalt die, and not live," made a few minutes before. There is no doubt a greater blessing on those that have not seen, and yet have believed (John 20:29); but weak faith too has its rights, and God shows his condescension in stooping to give it the needed supports.
2. The sign given. Isaiah had offered Ahaz a sign, either "in the depth, or in the height above" (Isaiah 7:11). Hezekiah had now proposed to him a sign in the height. The shadow on the steps of Ahaz's sun-dial would be made either to go forward ten degrees or go back ten degrees, according as Hezekiah should desire. As the more wonderful phenomenon of the two, Hezekiah asked that it might go back ten degrees, and at Isaiah's prayer it was done. We inquire in vain as to how the wonder was produced. The fact that it seems to have been a local sign, though widely noised abroad, suggests a miracle connected with the laws of refraction.—J.O.
2 Kings 20:12-19
The Babylonian embassy.
Berodach-Baladan, or as he is more correctly termed in Isaiah, Merodach-Baladan (Isaiah 39:1), at this time held possession of the throne of Babylon, and was everywhere casting about for alliances to strengthen him against Assyria. We have here the account of his embassy to Hezekiah.
I. RECEPTION OF THE BABYLONIAN MESSENGERS.
1. Hezekiah's visitors. In the streets of Jerusalem were seen strange men, in princely robes, with servants bearing costly presents. They were the envoys of the King of Babylon, ostensibly come to congratulate Hezekiah on his recovery from sickness, and to inquire into the wonder that had been done in the land (2 Chronicles 32:31). This, however, was, it is probable, only a pretext to cover their real object, which was to establish an offensive and defensive alliance with Hezekiah against Assyria Professions of friendship veiled the designs of a merely selfish policy. Does not much of what is called diplomacy consist of deceit, insincere profession, intrigue, subtle designs, covered by fair appearances?
2. Hezekiah's vanity. Hezekiah seems to have been completely imposed on by the fair words of his visitors. He felt flattered at being singled out for notice by this king of "a far country; and spared no pains to impress the ambassadors with ideas of his own greatness. He showed them all his treasures, all the resources of his kingdom, his silver, his gold, his precious things, everything he had. This love of display, this vain desire to stand well in the estimation of a foreign potentate, this boasting of mere worldly wealth as the distinction of his kingdom, shows a weakness we should not have expected in this good king. No man is perfect. The best character has its side of weakness, and men are singularly apt to be led astray when skilful appeals are made to their vanity.
3. Hezekiah's sin. It was not a mere weakness of human nature that Hezekiah was guilty of when he "hearkened" unto the ambassadors, and showed them all his precious things. It was not for a mere yielding to vanity that Isaiah afterwards so severely rebuked him. His offence was of a graver kind. The ambassadors had come with proposals for an alliance, and in hearkening to them on this subject Hezekiah had really been unfaithful to his position as a theocratic king. He was departing from the example set him by David. As king of the holy nation, it was his duty to keep himself free from entangling worldly alliances, to make God his boast, to rely on him for defense and help, and to resist solicitations to worldly pride and vanity. From this ideal he had fallen. Flattered by the attention of his visitors, deceived by their specious proposals, and led away with the idea of figuring as an important political personage, he consented, or was disposed to consent, to the alliance sought. In displaying his treasures, he was practically placing them before God, as the glory and defense of his kingdom. In reciprocating the friendship of the foreigners, accepting their gifts, and encouraging their advances, he was taking a first step in that direction of forming worldly alliances, which afterwards brought such trouble on the state. It was this policy, indeed, which ultimately led to the Captivity, as already a similar policy had wrought the ruin of Israel. The lessons for the Christian are obvious. "The friendship of the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4). It is his duty to avoid worldly display, to guard against being ruled by worldly motives and ambitious, and to avoid ensnaring worldly alliances. He who gives way to these things is laying the foundations of his own spiritual overthrow.
II. PREDICTION OF THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY.
1. The prophet confronts the king. In the theocracy the prophet stood beside the king, to be his friend, guide, and counselor if he did right, and his accusing conscience if he did wrong. Thus Nathan confronted David (2 Samuel 12:1-14), Elijah confronted Ahab (1 Kings 18:17; 1 Kings 21:17-24), Zechariah confronted Joash (2 Chronicles 24:20). Here Isaiah confronts Hezekiah, and calls him to account for his transgression. The king did not seem aware of his wrong-doing, for he answered the prophet's questions with the utmost frankness.
(1) The questions Isaiah asked were searching ones. He made Hezekiah tell out of his own mouth who the men were that had come to him, whence they came, and how he had received them. The object of these interrogations was to make Hezekiah aware of his sin. Many a thing is done, of which we do not at first perceive the criminality, but the sin of which is obvious enough when we have had the deed set objectively before us.
(2) Hezekiah's answers revealed the folly he had committed. In the very stating of what he had done, Hezekiah must have perceived the magnitude of his error. It is God's design in his questioning of us to bring us to conviction. He would have us judge ourselves. It does not follow, that because we are unconscious of sin, therefore we have no sin. The object of Divine discipline is to make us conscious. Every sinner will at the last be convicted out of his own mouth.
2. The prophet predicts the Captivity. If doubt remained in Hezekiah's mind as to his wrong-doing, it was speedily dispelled by Isaiah's stern answer to him. The prophet, without further parley, announced God's punishment for the sin committed. The penalty answered, as so many of God's penalties do, to the nature of the transgression. The messengers had come from Babylon; into Babylon should Hezekiah's sons (descendants) be carried away. He had displayed his treasures; these treasures would be carried to Babylon. He desired union with Babylon; he should have it in a way he did not look for. A prophecy of this nature implied a collapse of the kingdom of Judah as complete as that which had overtaken Israel. Such a collapse was, of course, the product of many causes, most of them already in operation. But not the least potent was the species of worldly policy of which Hezekiah's action was a typical example. As an outstanding and contributory cause, God fixes on it as the point of connection for the prophecy. We must take our share of the responsibility of every event which our actions have contributed to produce.
3. The king's reply. Hezekiah was no doubt shocked and startled by Isaiah's message. The only ray of consolation he derived was in the thought that the predicted evil was not to fall in his days, but in that of his descendants. His language on this point, "Is it not good, if peace and truth shall be in my days?" may seem selfish and even cynical. It is doubtful, however, if there is much room for blame. Hezekiah gathered that a period of respite was granted, and that the fulfillment of the threatening was somewhat remote. He rightly took this as an act of mercy to himself. There are probably few who would not feel relieved to know that, though calamities were to fall upon their land in future days, there would be peace and truth in their own lifetime. With lapse of time, too, opportunity was given for repentance; and who knew but that the sentence of doom might be reversed?—J.O.
2 Kings 20:20, 2 Kings 20:21
sum up briefly the good deeds of Hezekiah for the city, and narrate his end (see 2 Chronicles 32:1-5).—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 20". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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