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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament
Isaiah 38



Verses 1-3

There is nothing to surprise us in the fact that we are carried back to the time when Jerusalem was still threatened by the Assyrian, since the closing vv. of chapter 37 merely contain an anticipatory announcement, introduced for the purpose of completing the picture of the last Assyrian troubles, by adding the fulfilment of Isaiah's prediction of their termination. It is within this period, and indeed in the year of the Assyrian invasion (Isaiah 36:1), since Hezekiah reigned twenty-nine years, and fifteen of these are promised here, that the event described by Isaiah falls - an event not merely of private interest, but one of importance in connection with the history of the nation also. “In those days Hizkiyahu became dangerously ill. And Isaiah son of Amoz, the prophet, came to him, and said to him, Thus saith Jehovah, Set thine house in order: for thou wilt die, and not recover. Then Hizkiyahu turned (K. om.) his face to the wall, and prayed to Jehovah, and said (K. saying ) , O Jehovah, remember this, I pray, that I have walked before thee in truth, and with the whole heart, and have done what was good in Thine eyes! And Hizkiyahu wept with loud weeping.” “Give command to thy house” ( ל , cf., אל , 2 Samuel 17:23) is equivalent to, “Make known thy last will to thy family” (compare the rabbinical tsavvâ' âh , the last will and testament); for though tsivvâh is generally construed with the accusative of the person, it is also construed with Lamed (e.g., Exodus 1:22; cf., אל , Exodus 16:34). חיה in such a connection as this signifies to revive or recover. The announcement of his death is unconditional and absolute. As Vitringa observes, “the condition was not expressed, because God would draw it from him as a voluntary act.” The sick man turned his face towards the wall ( פּניו הסב , hence the usual fut. cons. ויּסּב as in 1 Kings 21:4, 1 Kings 21:8, 1 Kings 21:14), to retire into himself and to God. The supplicatory אנּה (here, as in Psalms 116:4, Psalms 116:16, and in all six times, with ה ) always has the principal tone upon the last syllable before יהוה = אדני (Nehemiah 1:11). The metheg has sometimes passed into a conjunctive accent (e.g., Genesis 50:17; Exodus 32:31). אשׁר את does not signify that which, but this, that, as in Deuteronomy 9:7; 2 Kings 8:12, etc. “In truth,” i.e., without wavering or hypocrisy. שׁלם בלב , with a complete or whole heart, as in 1 Kings 8:61, etc. He wept aloud, because it was a dreadful thing to him to have to die without an heir to the throne, in the full strength of his manhood (in the thirty-ninth year of his age), and with the nation in so unsettled a state.

Verses 4-6

The prospect is now mercifully changed. “And it came to pass (K. Isaiah was not yet out of the inner city; keri סהצר , the forecourt, and ) the word of Jehovah came to Isaiah (K. to him) as follows: Go (K. turn again) and say to Hizkiyahu (K. adds, to the prince of my people ), Thus saith Jehovah, the God of David thine ancestor, I have heard thy prayer, seen thy tears; behold, I (K. will cure thee, on the third day thou shalt go up to the house of Jehovah ) add (K. and I add) to thy days fifteen years. And I will deliver thee ad this city out of the hand of the king of Asshur, and will defend this city (K. for mine own sake and for David my servant's sake ) .” In the place of העיר (the city) the keri and the earlier translators have הצר . The city of David is not called the “inner city” anywhere else; in fact, Zion, with the temple hill, formed the upper city, so that apparently it is the inner space of the city of David that is here referred to, and Isaiah had not yet passed through the middle gate to return to the lower city, where he dwelt. The text of Kings is the more authentic throughout; except that עמּי נגיד , “the prince of my people,” is an annalistic adorning which is hardly original. סהלו ך in Isaiah is an inf. abs. used in an imperative sense; שׁוּב , on the other hand, which we find in the other text, is imperative. On yōsiph , see at Isaiah 29:14.

Verse 7-8

The pledge desired. (K. Then Isaiah said ) and (K. om.) let this be the sign to thee on the part of Jehovah, that ( אשׁר , K. כּי ) Jehovah will perform this (K. the ) word which He has spoken; Behold, I make the shadow retrace the steps, which it has gone down upon the sun-dial of Ahaz through the sun, ten steps backward. And the sun went back ten steps upon the dial, which it had gone down” (K. “Shall the shadow go forward [ הל ך , read הל ך according to Job 40:2, or היל ך ] ten steps, or shall it go back ten steps? Then Yechizkiyahu said, It is easy for the shadow to go down ten steps; no, but the shadow shall go back ten steps. Then Isaiah the prophet cried to Jehovah, and turned back the shadow by the steps that it had gone down upon the sun-dial of Ahaz, ten steps backward” ) . “Steps of Ahaz” was the name given to a sun-dial erected by him. As m a‛ălâh may signify either one of a flight of steps or a degree (syn. m adrigâh ), we might suppose the reference to be to a dial-plate with a gnomon; but, in the first place, the expression points to an actual succession of steps, that is to say, to an obelisk upon a square or circular elevation ascended by steps, which threw the shadow of its highest point at noon upon the highest steps, and in the morning and evening upon the lowest either on the one side or the other, so that the obelisk itself served as a gnomon. It is in this sense that the Targum on 2 Kings 9:13 renders gerem hamma‛ălōth by d e rag shâ‛ayyâ' , step (flight of steps) of the sun-dial; and the obelisk of Augustus, on the Field of Mars at Rome, was one of this kind, which served as a sun-dial. The going forward, going down, or declining of the shadow, and its going back, were regulated by the meridian line, and under certain circumstances the same might be said of a vertical dial, i.e., of a sun-dial with a vertical dial-plate; but it applies more strictly to a step-dial, i.e., to a sun-dial in which the degrees that measure definite periods of time are really gradus . The step-dial of Ahaz may have consisted of twenty steps or more, which measured the time of day by half-hours, or even quarters. If the sign was given an hour before sunset, the shadow, by going back ten steps of half-an-hour each, would return to the point at which it stood at twelve o'clock. But how was this effected? Certainly not by giving an opposite direction to the revolution of the earth upon its axis, which would have been followed by the most terrible convulsions over the entire globe; and in all probability not even by an apparently retrograde motion of the sun (in which case the miracle would be optical rather than cosmical); but as the intention was to give a sign that should serve as a pledge, and therefore had not need whatever to be supernatural, it may have been simply through a phenomenon of refraction, since all that was required was that the shadow which was down at the bottom in the afternoon should be carried upwards by a sudden and unexpected refraction. Hamma‛ălōth (the steps) in Isaiah 38:8 does not stand in a genitive relation to tsēl (the shadow), as the accents would make it appear, but is an accusative of measure, equivalent to בּמּעלות in the sum of the steps (2 Kings 20:11). To this accusative of measure there is appended the relative clause: quos ( gradus ) descendit ( ירדה ; צל being used as a feminine) in scala Ahasi per solem , i.e., through the onward motion of the sun. When it is stated that “the sun returned,” this does not mean the sun in the heaven, but the sun upon the sun-dial, upon which the illuminated surface moved upwards as the shadow retreated; for when the shadow moved back, the sun moved back as well. The event is intended to be represented as a miracle; and a miracle it really was. The force of will proved itself to be a power superior to all natural law; the phenomenon followed upon the prophet's prayer as an extraordinary result of divine power, not effected through his astronomical learning, but simply through that faith which can move mountains, because it can set in motion the omnipotence of God.

Verse 9

As a documentary proof of this third account, a psalm of Hezekiah is added in the text of Isaiah, in which he celebrates his miraculous rescue from the brink of death. The author of the book of Kings has omitted it; but the genuineness is undoubted. The heading runs thus in Isaiah 38:9 : “Writing of Hizkiyahu king of Judah, when he was sick, and recovered from his sickness.” The song which follows might be headed Mikhtam , since it has the characteristics of this description of psalm (see at Psalms 16:1). We cannot infer from bachălōthō (when he was sick) that it was composed by Hezekiah during his illness (see at Psalms 51:1); vayyechi (and he recovered) stamps it as a song of thanksgiving, composed by him after his recovery. In common with the two Ezrahitish psalms, Ps 88 and 89, it has not only a considerable number of echoes of the book of Job, but also a lofty sweep, which is rather forced than lyrically direct, and appears to aim at copying the best models.

Verses 10-12

Strophe 1 consists indisputably of seven lines:

“I said, In quiet of my days shall I depart into the gates of Hades:

I am mulcted of the rest of my years.

I said, I shall not see Jah, Jah, in the land of the living:

I shall behold man no more, with the inhabitants of the regions of the dead.

My home is broken up, and is carried off from me like a shepherd's tent:

I rolled up my life like a weaver; He would have cut me loose from the roll:

From day to night Thou makest an end of me.”

“In quiet of my days” is equivalent to, in the midst of the quiet course of a healthy life, and is spoken without reference to the Assyrian troubles, which still continued. דּמי , from דּמה , to be quiet, lit., to be even, for the radical form דם has the primary idea of a flat covering, of something stroked smooth, of that which is level and equal, so that it could easily branch out into the different ideas of aequabilitas , equality of measure, aequitas , equanimity, aequitas , equality, and also of destruction = complanatio , levelling. On the cohortative, in the sense of that which is to be, see Ewald, §228, a; אלכה , according to its verbal idea, has the same meaning as in Ps. 39:14 and 2 Chronicles 21:20; and the construction with בּ (= ואבואה אלכה ) is constructio praegnans (Luzzatto). The pual פּקּדתּי does not mean, “I am made to want” (Rashi, Knobel, and others), which, as the passive of the causative, would rather be הפקשׂדתּי , like הנסהלתּי , I am made to inherit (Job 7:3); but, I am visited with punishment as to the remnant, mulcted of the remainder, deprived, as a punishment, of the rest of my years. The clause, “Jah in the land of the living,” i.e., the God of salvation, who reveals Himself in the land of the living, is followed by the corresponding clause, הדל עם־יושׁבי , “I dwelling with the inhabitants of the region of the dead;” for whilst הלד signifies temporal life (from c hâlad , to glide imperceptibly away, Job 11:17), הלד signifies the end of this life, the negation of all conscious activity of being, the region of the dead. The body is called a dwelling ( dōr , Arab. dâr ), as the home of a man who possesses the capacity to distinguish himself from everything belonging to him ( Psychol. p. 227). It is compared to a nomadic tent. רעי (a different word from that in Zechariah 11:17, where it is the c hirek c ompaginis ) is not a genitive (= רעה , Ewald, §151, b ), but an adjective in i , like אוילי רעה in Zechariah 11:15. With niglâh (in connection with נסּע , as in Job 4:21), which does not mean to be laid bare (Luzz.), nor to be wrapt up (Ewald), but to be obliged to depart, compare the New Testament ἐκδημεῖν ἐκ τοῦ σώματος (2 Corinthians 5:8). The ἁπ γεγρ קפד might mean to cut off, or shorten (related to qâphach ); it is safer, however, and more appropriate, to take it in the sense of rolling up, as in the name of the badger (Isaiah 14:23; Isaiah 34:11), since otherwise what Hezekiah says of himself and of God would be tautological. I rolled or wound up my life, as the weaver rolls up the finished piece of cloth: i.e., I was sure of my death, namely, because God was about to give me up to death; He was about to cut me off from the thrum (the future is here significantly interchanged with the perfect). Dallâh is the thrum, licium , the threads of the warp upon a loom, which becomes shorter and shorter the further the weft proceeds, until at length the piece is finished, and the weaver cuts through the short threads, and so sets it free ( בצּע , cf., Job 6:9; Job 27:8). The strophe closes with the deep lamentation which the sufferer poured out at that time: he could not help feeling that God would put an end to him ( shâlam , syn. kâlâh , tâmam , gâmar ) from day to night, i.e., in the shortest time possible (compare Job 4:20).

Verse 13-14

In strophe 2 the retrospective glance is continued. His sufferings increased to such an extent, that there was nothing left in his power but a whining moan - a languid look for help.

I waited patiently till the morning; like the lion,

So He broke in pieces all my bones:

From day to night Thou makest it all over with me.

Like a swallow, a crane, so I chirped;

I cooed like the dove;

Mine eyes pined for the height.

O Lord, men assault me! Be bail for me.”

The meaning of shivvithi may be seen from Psalms 131:2, in accordance with which an Arabic translator has rendered the passage, “I smoothed, i.e., quieted ( sâweitu ) my soul, notwithstanding the sickness, all night, until the morning.” But the morning brought no improvement; the violence of the pain, crushing him like a lion, forced from him again and again the mournful cry, that he must die before the day had passed, and should not live to see another. The Masora here has a remark, which is of importance, as bearing upon Psalms 22:17, viz., that כּארי occurs twice, and לישׁני בתרי with two different meanings. The meaning of עגוּר סוּס is determined by Jeremiah 8:7, from which it is evident that עגּור is not an attribute of סּוס here, in the sense of “chirping mournfully,” or “making a circle in its flight,” but is the name of a particular bird, namely the crane. For although the Targum and Syriac both seem to render סוס in that passage ( keri סיס , which is the chethib here, according to the reading of Orientals) by כּוּרכּיא ) (a crane, Arab. Kurki ), and עגוּר , by סנוּניתא ) (the ordinary name of the swallow, which Haji Gaon explains by the Arabic chuttaf ), yet the relation is really the reverse: sūs ( sı̄s ) is the swallow, and ‛ âgūr the crane. Hence Rashi, on b. Kiddusin 44 a (“then cried Res Lakis like a crane”), gives âg , Fr. grue, as the rendering of כרוכי ; whereas Parchon (s.verse ‛ âgūr ), confounds the crane with the hoarsely croaking stork ( ciconia alba ). The verb 'ătsaphtsēph answers very well not only to the flebile murmur of the swallow (into which the penitential Progne was changed, according to the Grecian myth), but also to the shrill shriek of the crane, which is caused by the extraordinary elongation of the windpipe, and is onomatopoetically expressed in its name ‛ âgūr .

(Note: The call of the parent cranes, according to Naumann ( Vögel Deutschlands , ix. 364), is a rattling kruh ( gruh ), which is uncommonly violent when close, and has a trumpet-like sound, which makes it audible at a very great distance. With the younger cranes it has a somewhat higher tone, which often passes, so to speak, into a falsetto.)

Tsiphtsēph , like τρίζειν , is applied to every kind of shrill, penetrating, inarticulate sound. The ordinary meaning of dallū , to hang long and loose, has here passed over into that of pining (syn. kâlâh ). The name of God in Isaiah 38:14 is Adonai, not Jehovah, being one of the 134 ודּין , i.e., words which are really written Adonai , and not merely to be read so.

(Note: Vid., Bär, Psalterium , p. 133.)

It is impossible to take עשׁקה־לּי as an imperative. The pointing, according to which we are to read ‛ashqa , admits this (compare shâmrâh in Psalms 86:2; Psalms 119:167; and on the other hand, zochrālli , in Nehemiah 5:19, etc.);

(Note: Vid., Bär, Thorath Emeth , pp. 22, 23.)

but the usage of the language does not yield any appropriate meaning for such an imperative. It is either the third person, used in a neuter sense, “it is sorrowful with me;” or, what Luzzatto very properly considers still more probable, on account of the antithesis of ‛ ashqâh and ‛ ârbēni , a substantive ( ‛ashqah for ‛osheq ), “there is pressure upon me” (compare רזי־לי , Isaiah 24:16), i.e., it presses me like an unmerciful creditor; and to this there is appended the petition, Guarantee me, i.e., be bail for me, answer for me (see at Job 17:3).

Verses 15-17

In strophe 3 he now describes how Jehovah promised him help, how this promise put new life into him, and how it was fulfilled, and turned his sufferings into salvation.

“What shall I say, that He promised me, and He hath carried it out:

I should walk quietly all my years, on the trouble of my soul?!

'O Lord, by such things men revive, and the life of my spirit is always therein:

And so wilt Thou restore me, and make me to live!'

Behold, bitterness became salvation to me, bitterness;

And Thou, Thou hast delivered my soul in love out of the pit of destruction

For Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back.”

The question, “What shall I say?” is to be understood as in 2 Samuel 7:20, viz., What shall I say, to thank Him for having promised me, and carried out His promise? The Vav in ואמר introduces the statement of his reason (Ges. §155, 1, c ). On הדּדּה (= התדּדּה ), from דּדה (= דּאדא ), see at Psalms 42:5. The future here, in Isaiah 38:15 , gives the purpose of God concerning him. He was to walk (referring to the walk of life, not the walk to the temple) gently (without any disturbance) all his years upon the trouble of his soul, i.e., all the years that followed upon it, the years that were added to his life. This is the true explanation of על , as in Isaiah 38:5; Isaiah 32:10; Leviticus 15:25; not “in spite of” (Ewald), or “with,” as in Psalms 31:24; Jeremiah 6:14, where it forms an adverb. A better rendering than this would be “for,” or “on account of,” i.e., in humble salutary remembrance of the way in which God by His free grace averted the danger of death. What follows in Isaiah 38:16 can only be regarded in connection with the petition in Isaiah 38:16 , as Hezekiah's reply to the promise of God, which had been communicated to him by the prophet. Consequently the neuters עליהם and בּהן( dna (cf., Isaiah 64:4; Job 22:21; Ezekiel 33:18-19) refer to the gracious words and gracious acts of God. These are the true support of life ( על as in Deuteronomy 8:3) for every man, and in these does the life of his spirit consist, i.e., his inmost and highest source of life, and that “on all sides” ( לכל , which it would be more correct to point לכּל , as in 1 Chronicles 7:5; cf., bakkōl , in every respect, 2 Samuel 23:5). With this explanation, the conjecture of Ewald and Knobel, that the reading should be רוּחו , falls to the ground. From the general truth of which he had made a personal application, that the word of God is the source of all life, he drew this conclusion, which he here repeats with a retrospective glance, “So wilt Thou then make me whole (see the kal in Job 39:4), and keep me alive” (for ותחיני ; with the hope passing over into a prayer). The praise for the fulfilment of the promise commences with the word hinnēh (behold). His severe illness had been sent in anticipation of a happy deliverance (on the radical signification of mar , which is here doubled, to give it a superlative force, see Comm. on Job , at Job 16:2-5). The Lord meant it for good; the suffering was indeed a chastisement, but it was a chastisement of love. Casting all his sins behind Him, as men do with things which they do not wish to know, or have no desire to be reminded of (compare e.g., Nehemiah 9:26), He “loved him out,” i.e., drew him lovingly out, of the pit of destruction ( c hâshaq , love as a firm inward bond; b e lı̄ , which is generally used as a particle, stands here in its primary substantive signification, from bâlâh , to consume).

Verses 18-20

In strophe 4 he rejoices in the preservation of his life as the highest good, and promises to praise God for it as long as he lives.

“For Hades does not praise Thee; death does not sing praises to Thee:

They that sink into the grave do not hope for Thy truth.

The living, the living, he praises Thee, as I do today;

The father to the children makes known Thy truth.

Jehovah is ready to give me salvation;

Therefore will we play my stringed instruments all the days of my life

In the house of Jehovah.”

We have here that comfortless idea of the future state, which is so common in the Psalms (vid., Psalms 6:6; Psalms 30:10; Psalms 88:12-13, cf., Psalms 115:17), and also in the book of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 9:4-5, Ecclesiastes 9:10). The foundation of this idea, notwithstanding the mythological dress, is an actual truth (vid., Psychol. p. 409), which the personal faith of the hero of Job endeavours to surmount ( Comment . pp. 150-153, and elsewhere), but the decisive removal of which was only to be effected by the progressive history of salvation. The v. is introduced with “for” ( kı̄ ), inasmuch as the gracious act of God is accounted for on the ground that He wished to be still further glorified by His servant whom He delivered. לא , in Isaiah 38:18 , is written only once instead of twice, as in Isaiah 23:4. They “sink into the grave,” i.e., are not thought of as dying, but as already dead. “Truth” ( ' ĕmeth ) is the sincerity of God, with which He keeps His promises. Isaiah 38:19 reminds us that Manasseh, who was twelve years old when he succeeded his father, was not yet born (cf., Isaiah 39:7). The להושׁיעני יהוה , μ έλλει σώζειν με , is the same as in Isaiah 37:26. The change in the number in Isaiah 38:20 may be explained from the fact that the writer thought of himself as the choral leader of his family; ay is a suffix, not a substantive termination (Ewald, §164, p. 427). The impression follows us to the end, that we have cultivated rather than original poetry here. Hezekiah's love to the older sacred literature is well known. He restored the liturgical psalmody (2 Chronicles 29:30). He caused a further collection of proverbs to be made, as a supplement to the older book of Proverbs (Proverbs 25:1). The “men of Hezekiah” resembled the Pisistratian Society, of which Onomacritos was the head.

Verse 21-22

On Isaiah 38:21, Isaiah 38:22, see the notes at the close of Isaiah 38:4-6, where these two vv. belong.

Verse 21-22

On Isaiah 38:21, Isaiah 38:22, see the notes at the close of Isaiah 38:4-6, where these two vv. belong.


Copyright Statement
The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.

Bibliography Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Isaiah 38:4". 1854-1889.

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Sunday, May 26th, 2019
the <>Sixth Sunday after Easter
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