Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 38

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1


1. In those days Probably about the time Sennacherib and his host were providentially routed from out of the land: but see Isaiah 38:6.

Sick unto death With a sickness to all appearances fatal. Some conjecture that the plague which proved so destructive to the Assyrian army was still lingering in the neighbourhood. Such a mortality, necessarily without adequate burial, would taint the whole atmosphere, and produce, at least, sporadic diseases without discrimination over the land.

Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die Such was at first the Lord’s determination graciously turned aside by Hezekiah’s plea. The command implies, Make due arrangements for thy succession, and whatever else is left incomplete in thy plans. The king was not yet in his prime, being but thirty-nine years old, and had not prepared against an unanticipated death.

Verse 2

2. Turned his face toward the wall Upon his divan, his bed; and gave himself up to reflection and prayer.

Verse 3

3. Walked before thee in truth Hezekiah was conscious of entire rectitude. He had broken with idolatry against great odds. His plans were large for the future. To leave them unfinished was a deep grief. Manasseh was yet unborn, (Isaiah 38:6, and 2 Kings 21:1,) and, so far as appears, the king had no lineal heirs.

Verses 4-5

4, 5. Go… say to Hezekiah Isaiah lives in holy communion with God. A divine conviction seizes him before he has even crossed the outer entrance of the middle court, as is shown 2 Kings 20:4, to go back and give a contrary announcement to the king. Hezekiah was duly tested by the announcement that he must die. His grief was not on his own account, but for the peril he foresees to the kingdom. On Isaiah’s return Hezekiah was promised an addition of fifteen years to his life.

Verse 6

6. This verse has been taken by some to imply that Hezekiah’s sickness was at the beginning of the Assyrian invasion. This seems gratuitous, or assumed without adequate support. See Isaiah 39:1.

I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria This is a promise of assured protection from Assyria forever hereafter, as comments further on will show.

Verses 7-8

7, 8. The corresponding narrative in 2 Kings xx, is more full and circumstantial, for comments on which, see Terry, WHEDON’S Commentary, 2 Kings 20:1, etc.

A sign A token of the truth of Isaiah’s prediction of lengthened life. This “sign” was the backward movement of the shadow on the dial, or degrees, or steps of Ahaz. Ahaz borrowed as much as he could from other nations note his Damascus altar. It is known that astronomy was early cultivated beyond the Euphrates, and that Ahaz, being an idolatrous vassal to Tiglath-pileser, adopted at Jerusalem the eastern altars on the roof of his house for the adoration of the sun and the stars. A blameless result of all this was the measuring of time by the degrees, or advancing steps, of the sun on the dial, which may have consisted of a column or obelisk placed on the top of a terrace, so casting a shadow upon steps or stairs מעלות ( ma’aloth) ascending on either side, as to mark spaces of time. Several devices are given by Terry (WHEDON’S Commentary on 2 Kings 20:11,) to whose excellent comments the reader is referred.

Verse 9

9. The writing of Hezekiah A psalm celebrating God’s goodness in restoring him to health. By some it is supposed to be Isaiah’s composition for the king. The latter, however, was a writer of proverbs; (see Proverbs 25:1;) several psalms also are supposed to be his; he was a most devout man; why should he not, therefore, be accounted most fit in heart and intellect for authorship of a grateful song like this, on a recovery from what was at first pronounced a fatal sickness?

Verses 10-11

10, 11. I said In my heart, my thought.

In the cutting off of my days Of all the opinions on these very perplexing words, that seems the best which renders them, In the meridians, in the high noon, of life, just as I had attained the summit of my best years.

I shall go to the gates of the grave Of sheol, the under world. No more of life here remaining to me.

Shall not see the Lord Or, Jah, namely, in his working and providence on earth. Shall no more have demonstrations of his power and goodness in this state of being, but shall die and go away among the dead.

With the inhabitants of the world The “world” here, (in the Hebrew חדל , chedel, the land of stillness, of cessation from activity,) is a state sometimes dreaded even by the good. The import of the whole phrase, then, is, “I, with those in the land of stillness, shall no more see man.”

Verse 12

12. Mine age is departed “Age,” from דור , ( dor,) which, besides meaning a period, a generation, also means a dwelling; so here body, the dwelling of the soul. It has this meaning from being round, like a nomad tent. Thus the parallel with next phrase is complete.

Is removed… as a shepherd’s tent The same idea runs in the words, I have cut off… cut me off, etc., as a weaver cuts his threads of warp when he has finished his cloth has cut the web which fastens to the loom.

From day even to night During all the day, life seemed to wane.

Make an end of me Finish me, cut off existence; as the weaver loosens the cloth from the loom when it is fully woven.

Verse 13

13. Night came, but no relief.

Till morning The disease wrought hard, like a lion, to break all my bones To kill outright. Then all the following day.

From day… to night Pain was so great, so resembling a lion crushing all my bones, that I thought a quick end must be certain.

Verse 14

14. Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter Mournfully twittering. So Furst, decidedly, and Gesenius with wavering views.

I did mourn I sorrowed vocally as a dove does when it has lost its mate. The attempt here is to indicate the sounds made by him in his extreme pain of body and mind.

Mine eyes fail Because weak from constant looking upward for help. In his pain the poor man cried,

I am oppressed Overwhelmed.

Undertake for me Be surety for me. Hezekiah seems not to have surrendered all hope.

Verse 15

15. And hope grew with each hour.

What shall I say Perhaps the second announcement of Isaiah comes in here. Despair leaves Hezekiah entirely. He turns to praise.

I shall go softly This probably means, I will humbly pass the rest of my life. Submission to God shall mark my days in the future.

Verse 16

16. By these… men live God’s virtual promise in the preceding verse is referred to. In consequence of this, “men live,” and in them shall my life be. Thou hast ordained to recover me, and cause me still to live.

Verse 17

17. Behold Hezekiah here challenges attention to an important fact, namely, In place of my former healthful, peaceful life, I came to have extreme anguish. But God has saved me from the dreaded sheol, the pit of corruption, as it was held by the ancients in its first intention. With all Hezekiah’s rectitude he yet was sinful, and this was his chastisement, meant, however, for his good; and it bringing its appropriate results, no longer were his sins remembered.

Verse 18

18. The grave cannot praise thee The idea of sheol, above mentioned, is here recognised. See Psalms 6:5; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 88:11-12. The removal of this sad idea was effected only by the progressive history of salvation. There was, indeed, beyond this, a vague belief of a future state, ever growing more receptive of strength and vividness, till, by Christianity, “life and immortality” were brought fully to light. But Hezekiah’s age saw principally the dark, natural images of the future state, which fact explains the words of this verse.

Verse 19

19. The living, the living Intensive of those who were conceived as alone able to render active praises to God. One generation of the living to another, was the order in which those of old held that praise to God could be continued. Does this give the clew to Hezekiah’s ground for great mental agitation during his sickness? (He had then no children, if Manasseh was his firstborn.) This granted, we see his anguish to have been because of his pious interest for the religious future of the kingdom.

Verse 20

20. The Lord was ready to save me Did not delay when the king’s moral condition of submission was to all obvious. The king proposes a public rejoicing praises set to music on stringed instruments, (see Isaiah 5:12,) to be given in the temple.

Verses 21-22

21, 22. For Isaiah had said Introduced thus, these verses give the occasion for the previous song of gratitude. But their proper place is between the sixth and seventh verses, and they are so arranged in the corresponding narrative in 2 Kings 20:0.

A lump of figs A cake of bruised figs to be applied to the ulcer.

Boil From a word implying heated, inflamed; thus quite likely denoting the disease to have been the remains of the pestilence in the land. This kind of plaster was not known, or is said to be not now known, as an efficacious remedy; but it was ordered and it did its work.

Hezekiah also had said An additional reason for composing the above song of praise.

What is the sign The sign of a divine interference in the use of natural agencies, effecting a most remarkable change of the apparent course of the sun on the dial of Ahaz. What is its import? That I shall go up to the house of the Lord? Communion with God, the first thought and design of the prolonged life.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 38". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.