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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 20

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1


1. In… days About the time of the first Assyrian invasion, for Hezekiah reigned twenty-nine years in all, and lived fifteen after this sickness, so that, according to biblical data, his sickness must have occurred in the fourteenth year of his reign. Compare 2 Kings 20:6 with 2 Kings 18:2; 2 Kings 18:13, and note on 2 Kings 20:12.

Sick unto death Sick with a disease intrinsically fatal, unless miracle intervened.

Set thine house in order Settle up all thy worldly affairs, make the final arrangement and disposition of thy household matters. Compare 2 Samuel 17:23. Some explain it, Make thy last will, and give orders respecting thy successor. This, however, would only be a part of the household affairs of a dying king. In homiletics these words are often explained as a charge to prepare spiritually for death and the judgment beyond.

Thou shalt die, and not live Literally, Dying art thou, and thou wilt not live. These words are not an irreversible decree that he should die from that sickness, but an announcement, which, like Jonah’s proclamation to the Ninevites, (Jonah 3:4; Jonah 3:10,) was revoked and changed by reason of the humiliation and prayers of the king. It was God’s decree, through ordinary natural law, reversible only by special interposition.

Verse 2

2. Turned his face to the wall Towards the wall of his room, away from all present, so as not to be confused by the sight of men. This act was “not merely to collect his thoughts, or to conceal his tears, but as a natural expression of strong feeling. As Ahab turned his face towards the wall in anger, (1 Kings 21:4,) so Hezekiah dies the same in grief.” Alexander.

Verse 3

3. I have walked before thee in truth He appeals to his piety and zeal for Jehovah, as evinced by his destruction of idolatry and trust in God, which were matters of record. Compare 2 Kings 18:3-7. This language of the king is not to be regarded as self-praise. “Hezekiah stood in the economy of the Old Testament, that is, in the economy of legal righteousness; the entire revelation of the Old Testament is concentrated in the Law of Moses, as that of the New Testament is concentrated in the Gospel; so that to walk according to this law is not to be morally pure and free from sin, but to serve Jehovah as the only God, to fear him, to trust him, and to love him with all the heart. Hezekiah could say all this without pharisaical self-praise, just as well as Paul could say, without self-righteousness, ‘I have fought a good fight; I have kept the faith.’ ” Bahr.

Wept sore Wept greatly, or violently. Josephus says, he was afflicted because he had no heir to succeed him in the kingdom. Such a fact may have increased his grief, for it appears from 2 Kings 20:6, compared with 2 Kings 21:1, that his son and successor, Manasseh, was born three years after this; but his chief agony seems to have been that he was about to be cut off in the midst of life, and such a calamity was looked upon as a stroke of Divine anger, and evidence of great wickedness. See Job 15:32; Job 22:16; Psalms 55:23; Proverbs 10:27; Ecclesiastes 7:17. It is easy to see, then, why Hezekiah appeals so earnestly to his righteous acts. It is not in self-praise, but in self-vindication.

Verse 4

4. The middle court So the Keri and the ancient versions; but the Kethib seems to be the more ancient reading, the middle of the city, that is, the central part of Jerusalem. So this word of the Lord came to him soon after he had left the king’s presence.

Verse 5

5. I will heal thee This change from the former announcement, that he should not live, (2 Kings 20:1,) shows that that announcement was not irrevocable but conditional.

On the third day thou shalt go up This would be to the king a pledge and token of Divine interposition, and place beyond doubt the miraculous character of his cure.

Verse 6

6. I will add unto thy days fifteen years A remarkable announcement, and of doubtful worth to Hezekiah. These additional years would not yet make him an old man, and most of them would be too apt to be spent in carnal security. And they produced an heir whose life and reign were a calamity to the kingdom.

Out of the hand of the king of Assyria This clearly indicates that these events occurred at the time of the Assyrian invasion. See note on 2 Kings 20:12.

Verse 7

7. A lump of figs Figs pressed together into a mass or poultice. The use of figs in the cure of boils or ulcers is attested by several ancient writers. Dioscorides says, they “disperse tumors,” and Pliny, they “open ulcers.”

The boil שׁחין , a burning sore, an in flamed ulcer. In Hezekiah’s case, it was very probably a carbuncle.

He recovered That is, at the end of three days; but previous to his recovery he asked and received a marvellous sign of Divine interposition. See 2 Kings 20:8-11. In Isaiah 38:9-20, we have a psalm of thanksgiving which Hezekiah sang to the Lord at his recovery.

Verse 8

THE SIGN ON THE DIAL OF AHAZ, 2 Kings 20:8-11.

8. What shall be the sign He cannot wait three days; he must have a sign immediately, for his emotion and anxiety are great.

Verse 9

9. Shall the shadow go forward A more accurate rendering of the Hebrew is that of Keil: The shadow has advanced ten degrees; if it should return ten degrees. This concise and idiomatic Hebrew might thus be paraphrased: The shadow has now advanced ten degrees; if it go back ten degrees, would that be a convincing sign to thee? Hezekiah’s answer in the next verse seems, however, to show that Isaiah had put it to him to decide whether the sign should be an advance or return of ten degrees, and so favours the common version.

Verse 11

11. The prophet cried… Lord So this sign was granted in answer to a prophet’s prayer.

He brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz The Hebrew word for dial is the same as that rendered degrees, ( מעלות ,) and means properly steps, or ascents; but is here evidently used of something that marked the course of the sun, (compare parallel passage, Isaiah 38:8;) it is, perhaps, best rendered degrees, and the passage may be literally translated thus: He turned the shadow in the degrees which it went down, in Ahaz’s degrees, backward ten degrees.

Various have been the attempts to explain this dial of Ahaz, but from our lack of any certain knowledge of its size and form, all the explanations that have been offered are at best only so many more or less plausible hypotheses. 1.) Some think that the degrees were literally the ascents or steps of some stairway connected with the royal palace, and the shadow was that of some pillar, or obelisk, which fell on a greater or less number of steps, according to the advance of the sun in the heavens. 2.) The rabbies say, that the dial was a concave hemisphere, in which twenty-eight lines were marked, and that the shadow which fell on these lines or degrees was caused by a little globe set in the midst of the concave surface. 3.) Dr. A. Clarke supposed that this dial consisted of eleven steps placed parallel to the horizon, with a perpendicular gnomon fixed in the upper step, which step was placed exactly north and south, and formed the meridian line. 4.) A dial has been discovered near Delhi, in India, which seems to have been designed for an observatory as well as a dial. It is thus described by Kitto: It is a rectangled hexangle, whose hypotenuse is a staircase, apparently parallel to the axis of the earth, and bisects a zone or coping of a wall, which wall connects the two terminating towers right and left. The coping itself is circular, and accurately graduated to mark, by the shadow of the gnomon above, the sun’s progress before and after noon; for when the sun is in the zenith he shines directly on the staircase, and the shadow falls beyond the coping. A flat surface on the top of the staircase, and a gnomon, fitted the building for the purposes of an observatory. 5.) Layard supposes that the dial of Ahaz was a present to that king from Tiglath-pileser, and that in form it resembled the ancient tower of Belus, which was, perhaps, erected partly for astronomical purposes. Whatever its form, this account of its origin is probably correct. Herodotus (ii, 109) informs us that the sun-dial ( πολος ) and the gnomon were inventions of the Babylonians, and Ahaz probably introduced it into Jerusalem at the same time he did the Assyrian altar. 2 Kings 16:10, note. Hence it would very naturally be called the dial of Ahaz.

The theories put forth to explain the manner in which he brought the shadow ten degrees backwards have also been various. Some have affirmed that the miracle was wrought by turning the earth backward in its axial revolution. So stupendous a miracle, however, would in this case have seemed too much like “leaping over the house to unbar the little gate.” Others exclude any real miracle by explaining it as a case of refraction of the solar light. Romauld, prior of the cloister of Metz, observed on March 27, 1703, that a cloud in the higher regions of the atmosphere caused such refraction as to make his dial deviate an hour and a half. A writer in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, (vol. xv, p. 286,) explains the turning back of the shadow as caused by an eclipse of the sun, which occurred Jan. 11, 689 B.C., and which time he accordingly assigns as the date of this event. He supposes that the dial of Ahaz was a flight of steps mounting from north to south at an angle of 34 , which is the angle of the sun’s elevation at Jerusalem at noon during the winter solstice. Thus the sun at noon would throw a shadow which would just tip the top step, and if at this moment the moon passed over the upper limb of the sun, it would have caused the shadow to go backwards on the steps. But whatever the precise nature of the phenomenon, it is clear from the Scripture that it was given as a miraculous sign. Divine power and wisdom may have used some natural media in its production, but it is by no means necessary to seek or to assume such media. Hezekiah was allowed to choose whether the shadow should go down, or return ten degrees, and surely God might have brought the shadow ten degrees backwards by a purely miraculous refraction of those rays only which fell upon the dial. It seems, perhaps, the most simple way to suppose that Divine power either threw a back shade on the dial, visible to the eye, or wrought subjectively upon the optic sense, so as to make it conceive a back shade, substituting conception for perception.

Verse 12


12. At that time Soon after his recovery. It seems from 2 Chronicles 32:31, that the “princes of Babylon” had heard of “the wonder that was done in the land,” and sent to inquire about it. If the dial were a Babylonian invention, (see note on 2 Kings 20:11,) the men of Babylon might naturally be interested in the wonderful sign that had been given in connexion with it.

Berodach-baladan Better written, as in Isaiah 39:1, Merodach. This king of Babylon was for a long time the great champion of Babylonian independence, and the head of the popular party in that country which long resisted the aggressions of Assyria. His name often occurs on the Assyrian monuments, from which it appears that he was twice defeated and driven from Babylon, once by Sargon, and again by Sennacherib. So unsettled are the principal authorities respecting the chronology of his rule at Babylon, that it seems impossible at present to decide, from sources aside from the Scriptures, the exact date of his sending this embassy to Hezekiah. The Scriptures, however, clearly make it synchronize with Sennacherib’s first invasion of Palestine, (see 2 Kings 20:1, note,) and until more certain and controlling evidence is gathered from the monuments, or from some other source, we prefer to adhere to this opinion. The absence of Sennacherib from his capital may have furnished an occasion for Merodach to seek an alliance with Judea, and perhaps also with Egypt, to resist the Assyrian power. And these very efforts of Babylonia to form a great league against Assyria may have caused Sennacherib to content himself for the time with Hezekiah’s silver and gold, (2 Kings 18:14,) and to return at once and vanquish Merodach-baladan. Afterwards, according to our note on 2 Kings 18:17, Sennacherib made a second campaign westward, presuming to complete the conquest of Judea and Egypt. It should here be noted that, as we have elsewhere shown, the sacred writers do not always record events with reference to their chronological sequence, and therefore the placing of this account of Hezekiah’s sickness and of this embassy after that of Sennacherib’s retreat is no certain evidence as to the order of the events.

Letters and a present According to Josephus, Merodach wished to form an alliance with Hezekiah, and these letters and the present were doubtless to prepare the way.

For he had heard Not only that he had been sick, but also that he had been miraculously saved, and that his dial had given a miraculous sign. 2 Chronicles 32:31.

Verse 13

13. Hezekiah hearkened unto them Many manuscripts and versions here read, was glad of them, or rejoiced over them, ( ישׂמח עליהם ,) as in Isaiah 39:2; but this is no sufficient proof that our text is corrupt. שׁמע is, indeed, seldom construed with על , but examples are to be found in chapter 2 Kings 22:13, and Genesis 41:15. The king hearkened unto the proposal to form an alliance with Merodach-baladan; and to convince them that he was not so feeble and destitute of resources as the king of Assyria might pretend, he showed them his treasures.

House of his precious things Better, as the margin, house of spicery, or spice house. So the word is rendered at Genesis 37:25. Spices were regarded as very precious things.

The spices Rather, the aromatics, or perfumes; all sorts of fragrant plants or spices which create a pleasant smell.

The precious ointment “Not fine olive-oil,” says Keil, “but, according to the rabbies and Movers, the valuable balsam oil which was obtained in the royal gardens; for olive oil, which was obtained in all Judea, was not stored in the treasure-chambers along with the gold, silver, and perfumes, but in special storehouses.” 1 Chronicles 27:28.

House of his armour The armory, or arsenal.

In all his dominion He made known to them the whole extent of his resources, whether of wealth, luxuries, or power.

Those expositors who understand this embassy to have visited Hezekiah after the Assyrian invasion, and after Sennacherib had taken away all the silver of the temple and the palace, (2 Kings 18:15,) are put to it to account for all those treasures of gold and silver and precious things yet in possession of the Jewish king. They argue that Sennacherib took only silver and gold, not spices or arms, and that Hezekiah preferred to strip the doors and pillars of the temple for gold and silver, rather than give up that which was concealed in his treasuries. They also suppose that the treasury of Jerusalem had been replenished by the gifts mentioned in 2 Chronicles 32:23. But if, as we have assumed, (2 Kings 20:12, note,) this embassy came before Hezekiah had given all his silver and gold to Sennacherib, this accumulation of treasure is the more easily accounted for.

Verse 14

14. From a far country This thought seems to have flattered his vanity and pride. He must needs be great who receives ambassadors from such a far country as Babylon.

Verse 17

17. Shall be carried unto Babylon This seems to have been the first explicit prophecy of this great woe of Judah, though Micah’s (iv, 10) prediction of the same event must have been nearly contemporary. The prophecy is especially remarkable, since Babylon was at this time an inferior power, little more than a dependency of Assyria, whose leading men had risen in rebellion; and there was far more probability that Judah would be carried into exile either by the king of Assyria or by the king of Egypt, which two at the time seemed to divide the empire of the world between them.

Verse 18

18. Thy sons Thy descendants. For the fulfilment of this prophecy, see 2Ki 24:11-16 ; 2 Kings 25:1-21.

They shall be eunuchs They shall serve the king of Babylon in all those offices in which eunuchs were accustomed to serve. The word need not be pressed in its most literal sense to signify that all the Jewish captives who thus served would be castrated, for many would serve, like Daniel and his companions, (Daniel 1:3-7,) who were not eunuchs in the stricter sense.

Verse 19

19. Good is the word of the Lord A pious expression of submission to the Divine judgment. Compare the similar language of Eli. 1 Samuel 3:18, and of Shimei, 1 Kings 2:38. “He calls that good,” says Le Clerc, “in which it is right to acquiesce, as having proceeded from Him who does nothing but what is not only most just, but tempered with the greatest goodness, even when he inflicts punishment.”

If peace and truth be in my days He can regard it as nothing but pure goodness and special deference to himself that the judgment is not to come in his own time.

Verse 20


20. His might His valor or power in battle, by which he smote the Philistines. 2 Kings 18:8.

Pool… conduit The pool or cistern here mentioned is commonly identified with that still known as the “pool of Hezekiah,” which lies within the modern city, some distance northeast of the Yaffa Gate. “The natives now call it Birket-el-Hamman, from the circumstance that its waters are used to supply a bath in the vicinity. Its sides run towards the cardinal points. Its breadth at the north end is one hundred and forty-four feet; its length on the east side about two hundred and forty feet. The depth is not great. The bottom is rock levelled and covered with cement.” Robinson. This pool is supplied from the waters of the Gihon, or “upper pool,” mentioned in 2 Kings 18:17, which are led by a conduit, or aqueduct, which passes under the city wall a little north of the Yaffa Gate. This is doubtless the same work as that referred to in 2 Chronicles 32:30: “Hezekiah also stopped the upper watercourse of Gihon, and brought it straight down to the west side of the city of David.” Thus the king brought water into the city by covering over the fountains about the city, and leading their waters by subterranean conduits inside the city walls. Compare 2 Chronicles 32:3-4.

Verse 21

21. Slept with his fathers According to 2 Chronicles 32:33 he was “buried in the chiefest [rather, the ascent ] of the sepulchres of the sons of David.” Why he was not buried in the royal sepulchre does not appear; surely not because he was unworthy, for none equalled him in trusting Jehovah, (2 Kings 18:5,) “and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem did him honour at his death.” 2 Chronicles 32:33. Perhaps he had chosen this spot for his grave; or perhaps, as Thenius supposes, there was no more room in the royal tomb.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Kings 20". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/2-kings-20.html. 1874-1909.
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