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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 38

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Isaiah 38:0


Hezekiah HealedHezekiah's Life ExtendedHezekiah's Illness and RecoveryKing Hezekiah's Illness and RecoveryThe Illness and Cure of Hezekiah
Isaiah 38:1-3Isaiah 38:1-3Isaiah 38:1-3Isaiah 38:1Isaiah 38:1-3
Isaiah 38:2-3
Isaiah 38:4-6Isaiah 38:4-8Isaiah 38:4-6Isaiah 38:4-6(Isaiah 38:21-22)Isaiah 38:4-6(Isaiah 38:21-22 and 7-8)
Isaiah 38:7-8Isaiah 38:7-8Isaiah 38:7-8The Canticle of Hezekiah
Isaiah 38:9-14(10-14)Isaiah 38:9-14(10-14)Isaiah 38:9-20(10-15)Isaiah 38:9-20(10-15)Isaiah 38:9-20(10-15)
Isaiah 38:15-20(15-20)Isaiah 38:15-20(15-19)(20)(16-20)(16-20)(16-20)
Isaiah 38:21-22Isaiah 38:21-22Isaiah 38:21-22

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compareyour subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. As Isa. 36-37 related to the Assyrian period, chapters 38-39 point toward the Babylonian period of influence on God's people.

B. It must be remembered that there are two distinct “Babylons”

1. Merodach-baladan II (721-710, 703-702 B.C., cf. 2 Kings 20:12; Isa. 39:11) of Hezekiah's day (who I think is the one referred to in Isaiah 13-14).

2. Neo-Babylon under Nabopolassar (626-605 B.C.) and his son, Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 B.C.), who caused the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 B.C. He ordered several exiles of Judeans (605, 597, 586, 582 B.C.)

C. The Jewish Study Bible (p. 858) says, “the events described in Isa. 38-39 preceded the events described in Isa. 36-37 by at least ten years.” This is because of Assyria's defeat of Merodach-baladan II.

D. Hezekiah's illness and healing are also recorded in 2 Kings 20:1-11. His psalm is similar to Psalms 6:0 and 118 or even Jonah 2:0. The psalm of Hezekiah does not appear in 2 Kings 20:0.

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 38:1-3 1In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, 'Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.'“ 2Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, 3and said, “Remember now, O LORD, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Isaiah 38:1-8 This is a good example of the fact that God is in control of history, yet history is also affected by our prayers (cf. Isaiah 37:21). But also remember that it was during this “extra time” of Hezekiah's life that his evil son and successor, Manasseh, was born. In some ways God's answer to Hezekiah brought judgment on Judah. We must pray in God's will, for we never see the big picture.

Isaiah 38:3 “Remember” The VERB (BDB 269, KB 269, Qal IMPERATIVE) is an IMPERATIVE of request. Hezekiah, like Nehemiah (cf. Nehemiah 13:14, Nehemiah 13:22), is asking God to take note of his lifestyle faith. It is interesting that in the Bible humans pray for God to forget their sins, while God asks for them to remember His word.

God's memory is a way to plead with Him to be faithful to His word and promises lived out in an individual life.

Notice what Hezekiah asserts.

1. I have walked (BDB 229, KB 246, Hithpael PERFECT) before You in truth (lit. “faithfulness,” BDB 54). “Walked” is a biblical metaphor of lifestyle faith (i.e., Psalms 26:3; Psalms 86:11).

2. I have done this with a whole heart, this is a biblical metaphor of total dedication.

3. I have done what is good in your sight.

“with a whole heart” This is a statement which is usually related to the reign and life of David (cf. 1 Kings 3:6; 1 Kings 9:4; 1 Kings 11:4; 1 Chronicles 28:9); the people (1 Chronicles 29:9); or Asa (cf. 1 Kings 15:14). Hezekiah is considered to be one of the godly kings of Judah (cf. 2 Kings 18:5-6).

“wept bitterly” There is some question as to why Hezekiah was so upset at the thought of his death: (1) his fear of dying in middle age, based on Isaiah 38:10 or (2) the fact that he had no heir (cf. Isaiah 38:19; Isaiah 39:7; 2 Kings 21:1). It is uncertain which, if either, of these is true because we do not have any psychological way to analyze the statements of people in history. The tragedy is that during this additional fifteen-year extended life span the birth of Manasseh occurred and he was the most evil king that Judah had and was greatly responsible for the Babylonian exile.

Verses 4-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 38:4-6 4Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah, saying, 5”Go and say to Hezekiah, 'Thus says the LORD , the God of your father David, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. 6I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city.”'

Isaiah 38:4-6 Inspiration is a difficult concept to describe. The doctrine is crucial for our faith, but how it works is undefined.

1. visions

2. dreams

3. symbolic acts

4. verbal statements

5. editors' work

6. even a translation (i.e., LXX used by the early church, i.e., Isaiah 7:14)

I believe the Bible is a unique book. A book of divine revelation. In this verse, as so often in the Prophets, the message is a specific verbal statement from YHWH. The eternal God has revealed Himself to His highest creation, mankind.

Isaiah 38:5 “the God of your father David” This statement links back to Isaiah 37:35 and forward to Isaiah 55:3. David represented the ideal king and YHWH made special promises to him and his family, 2 Samuel 7:0; 1 Kings 8:24-26. A future ideal Davidic king is mentioned in Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 16:5; Isaiah 55:3.

Isaiah 38:6 Not only will God spare Hezekiah's life, but He will spare Jerusalem's life also! The phrase “I will defend” is Holy War terminology. The covenant God acts on behalf of His covenant people!

Verses 7-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 38:7-8 7”This shall be the sign to you from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that He has spoken: 8Behold, I will cause the shadow on the stairway, which has gone down with the sun on the stairway of Ahaz, to go back ten steps.” So the sun's shadow went back ten steps on the stairway on which it had gone down.

Isaiah 38:7-8 “be the sign to you from the LORD” Here again, this was a physical sign to encourage Hezekiah that God was going to spare his life (2 Kings 20:8-11 is a fuller account). It seems to be related to

1. a sun dial designed to use the steps leading to the king's private chamber

2. the term “steps” means “degrees” of a sun dial (cf. 2 Kings 20:9-11, JPSOA translation, see James Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 183)

3. some type of astronomical phenomenon

We must be very careful in being dogmatic about exactly how God accomplished this. A supernatural God can do anything He desires within the laws of nature. However, this could equally be done by some natural phenomenon such as high humidity in a cloud layer. It is obvious that the other solar miracle in Joshua 10:12-13 is primarily more poetic than physical. We who believe in the miraculous must be careful that we do not attribute everything that we do not understand to the miraculous. Many times God used natural means to accomplish supernatural things (i.e., the plagues of Egypt). In the ancient world there was no distinction between the natural and supernatural (see John L. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis 1:0).

Verses 9-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 38:9-14 9A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah after his illness and recovery: 10I said, “In the middle of my life I am to enter the gates of Sheol; I am to be deprived of the rest of my years.” 11I said, “I will not see the LORD, The LORD in the land of the living; I will look on man no more among the inhabitants of the world. 12Like a shepherd's tent my dwelling is pulled up and removed from me; As a weaver I rolled up my life. He cuts me off from the loom; From day until night You make an end of me. 13I composed my soul until morning. Like a lion - so He breaks all my bones, From day until night You make an end of me. 14Like a swallow, like a crane, so I twitter; I moan like a dove; My eyes look wistfully to the heights; O LORD, I am oppressed, be my security.

Isaiah 38:10-20 This is a psalm written by Hezekiah. He was well aware of wisdom literature and he promoted the use of Psalms (cf. 2 Chronicles 29:25-30). However, it does not appear in the parallel of 2 Kings 20:1-11.

Isaiah 38:10

NASB“In the middle of my life” NKJV, TEV, REB“in the prime of my life” NRSV“in the noontide of my days” NJB“in the noon of my life” LXX“in the height of my days” PESHITTA“in the midst of my days”

The MT has דמי (BDB 198, KB 226 II), which means “cessation,” “pause,” “rest,” or “quiet.” Some scholars see this as referring to a mid-day time of rest. KB 226 I asserts there is another form of the same root that means “half” (NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 972). The LXX translates it as “height of my days,” which assumes a similar reading.

“the gates of Sheol” See Special Topic: The Dead, Where Are They? (Sheol/Hades, Gehenna, Tartarus).

The “gates of death” are mentioned in Job 38:17; Psalms 9:13; Psalms 107:18; and Matthew 16:18 (where “Sheol” is called “hades”). This is metaphorical of death as a prison.

“deprived of the rest of my years” The age of one's life was seen as a marker of God's approval (i.e., Moses, cf. Deuteronomy 34:7; Joshua, cf. Joshua 24:29). For one to die before having a child would be seen as a judgment of God (cf. Psalms 55:23; Psalms 89:45, Psalms 89:46-48; Proverbs 10:27).

Isaiah 38:11 The ancient Hebrews did not see death as a reunion and fellowship with God, but a separation from life and the God of life. The OT has little light to shine on the afterlife. Even the NT is somewhat veiled in this area, though it does give more information.

“LORD. . .LORD” The MT has Yah (יה, cf. Isaiah 12:2; Isaiah 26:4) twice, which should probably be just one YHWH (יהוה). The scroll of Isaiah in the DSS has one Yah.

“among the inhabitants of the world” This translation is found in most English translations. The MT has the word “cessation” (i.e., “the land of the dead,” BDB 293 I, הדל); the change to “world” (BDB 317, הלד), comes from some Hebrew MSS and the Aramaic Targums. USB's Hebrew Text Project thinks it is a purposeful play on the terms (p. 93), not a textual confusion. The phrase “inhabitants of the world” also occurs in Psalms 49:1.

Isaiah 38:12 Hezekiah uses two metaphors to describe the end of his earthly life.

1. the taking down of a tent (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:1; 2 Peter 1:13, 2 Peter 1:14)

2. cloth cut from a loom

There is a question of how to translate the first word in the MT, דור (BDB 189, KB 217).

1. dwelling, form found only here (BDB 190, #4, KB 217 I), NASB, NRSV, NJB, JPSOA, REB

2. generation, life-span, common meaning of the root (BDB 189, KB 217 II), LXX, Peshitta, NKJV, TEV

There is also a question about the VERB (גלה, BDB 162, KB 191). It could mean

1. “rolled up” from גלל, BDB 164 II, Niphal PERFECT, cf. Isaiah 34:4 (used in this sense only here)

2. “removed” from גלה, Niphal PERFECT, a unique meaning here, usually it means either

a. uncover, reveal

b. to go away, send away

Most English translations use option #2, following the MT, but #1 fits the context well.

“From day until night You make an end of me” This is idiomatic language (cf. Job 4:20; Psalms 73:14) of a complete action.

Isaiah 38:13

NASB“I composed my soul” NKJV“I considered” NRSV, NJB“I cry for help” TEV“I cried out with pain” REB“I am racked with pain”

The MT has “I have smoothed” (i.e., “stilled my soul”), שׁוה, BDB 1000, KB 1436, Piel PERFECT, but many translators assume a change to שׁוע, BDB 1002, KB 1443 I, which means “to call out for help,” cf. Isaiah 58:9, which seems to fit best.

“Like a lion - so He breaks all my bones” Hezekiah's death is seen as an action of the sovereign LORD. The OT monotheism attributed all causes to the one God. The ancients did not recognize secondary causes.

The Hebrew uses strong metaphors to describe God's actions, here a lion.

Isaiah 38:14 As Isaiah 38:13 describes the LORD'S power, Isaiah 38:14 describes Hezekiah's weakness.

1. NASB, NJB, REB - “twitter”

NKJV - “chatter”

NRSV - “clamor”

TEV - “my voice was thin and weak”

This VERB (BDB 861, KB 1050, Pilpel IMPERFECT) means “to chirp,” “to peep.” It is used of birds here and Isaiah 10:14, but in other places, of mediums (cf. Isaiah 8:19; Isaiah 29:4).

2. “moan” - BDB 211, KB 237, Qal IMPERFECT, cf. Isaiah 16:7; Isaiah 59:11; Ezekiel 7:16; Nahum 2:7. It denotes sorrow for a current situation.

3. eyes look wistfully to the heights

a. “look wistfully” - BDB 195, KB 223, Qal PERFECT, used of prayer to God in Psalms 79:8; Psalms 116:6; Psalms 142:6 (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 951)

b. “heights” - BDB 928, would be a metaphor for heaven (cf. Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 57:15; Isaiah 58:4)

4. oppressed - BDB 799, this form is found only here. The Pual VERBAL form in Isaiah 23:12 means “crushed.” Maybe Hezekiah was thinking of Psalms 103:6 or Psalms 146:7.

“O LORD” The MT has adon (BDB 10), as in Isaiah 38:16, not YHWH, as in Isaiah 38:3, Isaiah 38:4, Isaiah 38:5, Isaiah 38:7, Isaiah 38:11, Isaiah 38:20 (twice), Isaiah 38:22.

“be my security” This IMPERATIVE (BDB 786, KB 876, Qal IMPERATIVE) expresses Hezekiah's request based on his weakness. The VERB means a pledge (cf. Job 17:3; Psalms 119:122). YHWH Himself was Hezekiah's hope and guarantee!

Verses 15-20

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 38:15-20 15”What shall I say? For He has spoken to me, and He Himself has done it; I will wander about all my years because of the bitterness of my soul. 16O LORD, by these things men live, And in all these is the life of my spirit; O restore me to health and let me live! 17Lo, for my own welfare I had great bitterness; It is You who has kept my soul from the pit of nothingness, For You have cast all my sins behind Your back. 18For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. 19It is the living who give thanks to You, as I do today; A father tells his sons about Your faithfulness. 20The LORD will surely save me; So we will play my songs on stringed instruments All the days of our life at the house of the LORD.”

Isaiah 38:15-20 This strophe reveals the OT theology of Sheol. The afterlife was not a desirable place.

Isaiah 38:15 “He has spoken. . .He Himself has done it” This reflects the sovereignty of the monotheistic God of Israel. He speaks, it happens (cf. Isaiah 55:11)!

Isaiah 38:16 The second line is difficult in the MT. The LXX translates it as “and you revived my breath”; JPSOA translates it as “my life-breath is revived.”

Isaiah 38:17

NASB“You who has kept my soul” NKJV“You have lovingly delivered my soul” NRSV“You have held back my life” NJB“you have preserved my life” REB, PESHITTA“you have saved me”

The MT has the VERB “loved” (חשׁק, BDB 365 I, KB 362, Qal PERFECT), but it does not seem to fit well in this line of poetry, so some scholars assume “hold back,” חשׁך, BDB 362, cf. Isaiah 14:6; Isaiah 54:2; Isaiah 58:1.

“For You have cast all my sins behind Your back” This psalm is related to Hezekiah's relief that he has been delivered from Sheol. Yet, somehow in Jewish mentality, disaster is always linked to sin. It is not certain how any of Hezekiah's actions were seen by YHWH to deserve early death. However, it is a wonderful statement that God forgives and forgets. Please compare Psalms 103:11-14; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 43:2-5; Isaiah 44:22; Jeremiah 31:34; and Micah 7:19.

This is such an important truth-when God forgives, God forgets! Many believers claim God's forgiveness based on Bible promises, but have not yet experienced the complete joy of God's forgetfulness!


Isaiah 38:20 “The LORD will surely save me” See Special Topic: SALVATION (OLD TESTAMENT TERM).

Notice the “salvation” here involved physical deliverance from death allowing future worship in the temple, cf. Isaiah 38:22; 2 Kings 20:5, much like Psalms 23:6.

Verses 21-22

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 38:21-22 21Now Isaiah had said, “Let them take a cake of figs and apply it to the boil, that he may recover.” 22Then Hezekiah had said, “What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the LORD?”

Isaiah 38:21-22 These verses are absent in the DSS of Isaiah, but they are in the LXX. A form of them is found earlier in the account in 2 Kings 20:7-8. The NJB puts them in their translation after Isaiah 38:6.

Isaiah 38:21 “Let them take a cake of figs, and apply it to the boil, that he may recover” We know from other ancient Israeli documents that figs were used as a medicine (also in Ugarit). Here we have the exact nature of Hezekiah's illness (i.e., a boil). Whether it was some kind of cancerous growth or a boil at a vulnerable place is uncertain.

Notice it is YHWH who heals, but court physicians who apply medicine (i.e., figs). Again the ancients did not differentiate between the divine cause and a natural cause. All causation is attributed to God. He is intimately involved in His world, His covenant people, and individuals!

This verse has three JUSSIVES.

1. Let them take - BDB 669, KB 724, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

2. Let them apply it (lit. rub) - BDB 598, KB 634, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

3. Let him live - BDB 310, KB 309, Qal JUSSIVE

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Isaiah 38". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/isaiah-38.html. 2021.
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