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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Isaiah 39

 

 

Verses 1-8

2. THE BABYLONISH EMBASSY

Isaiah 39:1-8

1At that time Merodach-baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah: for he had heard that he had been sick, and was recovered 2 And Hezekiah was glad of them, and showed them the house of his [FN1]precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his [FN2][FN3]armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not.

3Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah, and said unto him, What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee? And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country unto me, even from Babylon 4 Then said Hebrews, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah answered, All that is in 5 mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shewed them. Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: 6Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord 7 And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be [FN4]eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, Good is the word of the Lord which 8 thou hast spoken. He said moreover, For there shall be peace and truth in my days.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

On Isaiah 39:1. The text of 2 Kings 20:12 sqq, reads בְּרֹאדַךְ בַּלְאֲדָן instead of מְרֹאדַךְ. According to the monuments the reading of Isaiah appears to be decidedly the correct one. For the name in Assyrian is “Marduk-habal-iddina,” i. e. Merodach gave a (or the) son (Schrader, p213). The form בראדך seems to have sprung from the attraction of sound of the three following words, which begin with ב. What has been said shows that Merodach-Baladan does not mean “Merodacus Baladani filius,” as our text and 2 Kings seem to understand it. [This imputed misunderstanding seems quite gratuitous in the Author.—Tr.]. We have here, also, an evidence of a later writer who was indifferently acquainted with the subject.—On ספרים comp. on Isaiah 37:14,—Our text differs from 2 Kings 20:12, in reading וישׁמע and ויחזק. Both seem to me traceable to correction. The editor of the text in Isaiah might take offence at the double כִּי, and thus have replaced the first by וְ. But he also stumbled at its only being said 2 Kings: “he had heard that Hezekiah was sick.” For it seemed to him that the wonderful recovery of Hezekiah, and the proof it gave of his being a ruler under the protection of a mighty god, had as much to do with the Babylonian’s sending an embassy.

On Isaiah 39:2. Here, too, the two texts differ. The וישׁמע of 2 Kings 20:13, is the more difficult reading, compared with which וישׂמח appears an emendation: being the easier and more natural reading.

On Isaiah 39:3. At the end of the verse our text has אלי after באו, which is wanting in 2 Kings 20:14.

On Isaiah 39:5. Our text has צבאות at the end, which is wanting 2 Kings 20:16. It may be here the same as in the case of chapּ Isaiah 37:32, compared with 2 Kings 19:31.

On Isaiah 39:6. Our text has בבל, 2 Kings 20:17, בבלה.

On Isaiah 39:7. Our text has יקחו; 2 Kings 20:18 only K’ri has this reading, whereas K’thibh reads יקח. Certainly the latter is the more difficult, and יקחו appears as an emendation. The sing may be taken either as the predicate of an indefinite subject (one) or, more correctly, as seems to me, as predicate of a definite subject, which, however, is present only in idea, viz.: the king of Babylon.

On Isaiah 39:8. 2 Kings 20:19 has הֲלֹא אם where our text has simply הלא אם does not occur elsewhere. Ewald (§ 324 b), takes it in the sense of “yea, if only.” But that is neither grammatically justified, nor does it give a clear meaning. According to my view of the context (see Exeg. and Crit. below) הלא = nonne. I, therefore, take אִם not as a particle expressive of desire, as many do, but it has its conditional meaning,—“if, in so far as.” The כִּי in the text of Isaiah has essentially the same meaning, as Delitzsch also has admitted. For it says, that between the sentiments that Hezekiah had betrayed in reference to the ambassadors and his affirmation “good is the word,” etc., there was no contradiction, because, in fact, while he lived peace and fidelity would certainly be undisturbed. At least, our text can be so understood. Whether its author really meant this, is another question. For it were possible, too, that he substituted for the obscure הלא אם the general, indefinite כי perhaps only in its pleonastic sense, that introduces the oratio recta.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

1. As the text needs no special comment, it may be well for the better understanding of the circumstances involved, to present briefly the chief points of Babylonian history relating to them, according to the data of the Assyrian monuments as far as the latter have been deciphered. Our chapter speaks of two Baladans, viz.: Merodach-Baladan, who sent the embassy and Baladan his father. Yet there appears in this a misunderstanding. According to the Assyrian monuments (comp. Lenormant,les premieres civilizations, Paris, 1874, Tom. II, in the essay “un patriote babylonien,” p210) our Merodach-Baladan was a son of Jakin. Comp. also the ostentatious inscription of Tiglath-Pileser mentioned above at Isaiah 21:1, which states that he received the homage of “Merodach-Baladan, son of Jakin, king of the sea, in the city of Sapiga.” We remarked above at Isaiah 21:1, that by tihamtu (תְּהוֹם, “sea, sea-land”) is to be understood south Chaldea, the watery region at the mouth of the united rivers Tigris and Euphrates. Merodach-Baladan, when he did homage to Tiglath-Pileser, was king of Bit-Jakin (such was the name of the residence and of the small territory of his father), and so remained till the year721. In the year721, when Sargon ascended the throne, this energetic Prayer of Manasseh, who was an enthusiast for the independence of Babylon, succeeded in mounting the throne of all Chaldea in Babylon. The canon of Ptolemy names Mardocempad, under this year as king of Babylon, a name that is universally regarded as identical with Merodach-Baladan. Sargon states, that in the first complete year of his reign (i. e., in the year721), after having in the year 722 completed the conquest of Samaria, he marched against Merodach-Baladan. But his undertaking was not successful. For Merodach-Baladan maintained himself, and reigned, according to the Canon, yet twelve years as acknowledged king of Babylon. Not till the year710 did Sargon again take the field against him. The struggle extended into the year709, ending in the dethronement of Merodach-Baladan (see the interesting description of this campaign in Lenormant,l. c. p 243 sqq.). In this year Sargon himself mounted the throne of Babylon. The Canon, from the year709 onwards, names Ἀρκέανος, i. e, Sarrukin or Sargon, as king of Babylon. But the courage of Merodach-Baladan was not yet broken. He fled back into his own hereditary land Bit-Jakin, a narrow strip of land on the Persian gulf, extending from Schat-el-arab to Elam. Sargon marched against him again and stormed first the strongly fortified position where Merodach-Baladan awaited him, then the city Dur-Jakin, his opponent’s last refuge on the mainland. Merodach-Baladan escaped with great difficulty. But still he did not submit. Sargon was compelled, in the beginning of the year705, to send his son Sennacherib against the obstinate rebel. But not long after, Sennacherib received in camp the intelligence of the murder of his father by a certain Belkaspai, probably a patriotic Chaldean and adherent of Merodach-Baladan’s.

Then there followed a period of two or three years, filled up with the strifes of various pretenders to the crown, and hence designated by the Canon as καιρὸς ἀβισίλευτος. Thus it appears by the account of Polyhistor in Eusebius (chron. armen. ed.Mai, p19), that after Sargon’s death, his son and a brother of Sennacherib ascended the Babylonian throne. But after a short term this one was obliged to give place to a certain Hagisa, who, after not thirty days’ reign, was killed by Merodach-Baladan. That this was our Merodach-Baladan can scarcely be doubted. The implacable enemy of the Assyrians boldly raised his head anew. Sennacherib marched against him and conquered him at Kis, a city that Nebuchadnezzar afterwards incorporated in the city territory of Babylon by means of his great wall. Sennacherib gave the throne of Babylon to a certain Belibus or Elibus, the son of a “wise Prayer of Manasseh,” whom, says the king, “they had brought up in the company of the small boys in my palace.” Hence this Belibus was not an independent pretender, as would seem according to Polyhistor, but a subordinate king recognized by Sennacherib after the expulsion of Merodach-Baladan. According to the Canon of regents (Schrader, p319), this expedition against Merodach-Baladan fell in the year704 B. C. In the year700 Sennacherib accomplished his unfortunate expedition against Judah and Egypt, according to the entirely credible testimony of the Assyrian monuments. The news of his defeat appears to have been the signal for a new insurrection to the Chaldean patriots. For in the following year (699), according to the Taylor-cylinder (Schrader, p224), we find Sennacherib on the march against the rebellious Babylonians. Merodach-Baladan had allied himself with a young prince Suzub, son of Gatul, of the race of Kalban, and Belibus found it best to enter into negotiations with these opponents. For this, according to Berosus, he was deposed and carried prisoner to Assyria. Sennacherib first attacked Suzub, whose troops were defeated; he himself escaped. Then Sennacherib turned against Merodach-Baladan, who gave way before the threatening danger. He fled by ship to the city Nagit-Raggi, situated on an island in the Persian gulf. The territory of Bit-Jakin was desolated. Sennacherib made his son Esar-Haddon king of Akkad and Sumir, i. e., Babylon (699). After that were eleven years of quiet. During this period, Merodach-Baladan, whom the king of Elam, Kudhir-Nakhunta, had made lord of a strip of the coast, had moved the discontented elements of Babylon and Chaldea to emigrate in mass into his land. This led Sennacherib to build a fleet in Nineveh (they were called “Syrian ships” because Phœnician seamen manned them), with which he attacked the island and the coast possessed by Merodach-Baladan, and entirely devastated them (see the remarks on Isaiah 43:14). At this point Merodach-Baladan disappears from history. It is related that the in fluential Babylonians then forsook him. On the other hand, they moved the king of Elam to send that Suzub to Babylon. Suzub, indeed, ascended the throne of Babylon. Their purpose was to cut Sennacherib from his own land. But the latter returned in time and defeated his opponents in two battles. He took Suzub prisoner, but spared his life. This happened in the year687. But in the following year Suzub escaped from prison, was again proclaimed king in Babylon, and, in alliance with Umman-Menan, king of Elam, the successor of Kudhir-Nakhunta, and with Nabusnmiskim, the eldest son of Merodach-Baladan, he opposed a considerable army to Sennacherib at Kalul on the Tigris. Sennacherib conquered again, and still again in another battle, by which he utterly destroyed the power of his opponents. He then resolved utterly to destroy Babylon: and this resolve was actually executed (685). Yet only four years after, the city was rebuilt. Sennacherib died681, and his son and successor determined to put an end to the everlasting strife with the Babylonians by an opposite policy. He raised Babylon to equal rank with Nineveh, and made it his residence.

The eldest son of Merodach-Baladan, Nabusu-miskun, was taken prisoner at the battle of Kalul and beheaded by Sennacherib. His brother next of age to him, Nabozirnapsatiasir, reigned after him in the land Bit-Jakin. A third brother, Nahib-Marduk, submitted to the Assyrians on the condition that he be put in possession of the land Bit-Jakin. Esar-Haddon, in the year676, actually invaded the land and conquered it. Probably Nabozirnapsatiasir then lost his life (Lenormant, l. c., p303). Nahir-Marduk’s Song of Solomon, Nabobelsum, returned to the sentiments of his grandfather. He took part in the insurrection made by Samulsumukin, the second son of Esar-Haddon and viceroy of Babylon, against his elder brother Asurbanipal, great king of Assyria (651). Asurbanipal conquered. Samulsumukin burned himself in his palace in Babylon (648). After many negotiations, and finally after an expedition that devastated the whole land of Elam, the king of Elam, Ummanaldas, was obliged to promise that he would surrender Nabobelsum. The latter procured his death at the hands of a master of the horse. Asurbanipal, when the head of the corpse was sent to him, had it preserved in salt. A small bas-relief, found in the palace of Kujundschik, displays Asurbanipal banqueting in a garden with his wives, and the head of Nabobelsum hanging before him on a tree. Only thirty-five years later Nineveh was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and Cyaxares (605)!

According to our chapter, the embassy of Merodach-Baladan to Hezekiah fell in the time when the former reigned undisputed king of Babylon. As shown above, this was a period of twelve years, reaching from721–709. It must not be supposed that Merodach-Baladan would not have sought the friendship of Hezekiah had he not heard of his victory over Sennacherib. An inscription of Sargon’s (Lenormant, l. c., 231) says of Merodach-Baladan: “For twelve years had he sent embassies contrary to the will of the gods of Babylon, the city of Bel and the Dragon, the judge of the gods.” These twelve years are manifestly the twelve years of Merodach-Baladan’s undisputed reign. During this period the latter had sought allies for the event of war breaking out again. Is it to be wondered if, under these circumstances, he should send such an embassy to Hezekiah? According to 2 Chronicles 32:31, the messenger came from Babylon to Hezekiah “to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land.” The context shows that Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery and the miracle of the sun-dial are meant. It Isaiah, therefore, probable that the report of this miracle penetrated to distant lands. If it came to astrological Babylon, what wonder if the king of this city had his attention drawn to the king of Judea, especially as it was known of this people that more than once they had been an opponent or an ally of the Assyrians that was not to be despised.

2. At that time—shewed them not.

Isaiah 39:1-2, The author would say that Hezekiah gave ear to the words of those ambassadors (see Text. and Gram.). Probably there is in this an intimation that they already made propositions of a political nature not displeasing to Hezekiah. And as he was pleased to hear what they said, so he wished them to see the things that gave him joy. There appears to me, therefore, in this antithesis of hearing and showing, to be a hint of Hezekiah’s sin. נכת is an obscure word both as to derivation and meaning. In Genesis 37:25; Genesis 43:11נְכאֹת either means spices in general, or, which is more likely, a particular sort of spice (storax—or tragacanth gum. Comp. Leyrer in Herzog’sReal-Eycyclop. XIV p664). Many expositors are disposed to recognize in our נכתה (K’ri, 2 Kings 20:13, נכתו) the same word, and to understand by בית נ׳ a spice magazine; on which Leyrer, l. c., remarks that this would imply a great monopoly carried on by the kings of Judah in this particular. Others generalize the meaning and regard “spicery house” as a denominatio a potiori for “provision house” in general. Others, finally, derive נְכוֹת, not from נָכָא (“to beat, pound,” hence נכאת, “that which is pounded in a mortar”), but from a root כּוּת, not used in Hebrew, but which is kindred to כִּוּם, “to gather, preserve,” and in Arabic means (Pi. kajjata) “to cram, stuff full.” Of this נכת would be a Niphal form ( Isaiah 30:12), and mean “provision, treasure.” Thus Hitzig, Knobel, Fuerst (Lex. under כּוּם and כּוּת), Delitzsch (comp. Ewald, Gesch. d. V. Isr. III. p690, Anm. 1). The items that follow, in which, beside gold, silver and spiceries (בשׂמים, the most general expression for aromatic substances, comp. Leyrer, L. c., p661) are particularly named, of course correspond best with a word of such general significance as “provision.” Still the subject is not satisfactorily cleared up. On “the precious ointment,” Movers (who translates בית נכת “styrax house”) makes the following remark: “Here Jewish expositors, no doubt on the best grounds, understand the balsam oil got from the royal gardens, comp. 2 Chronicles 32:27. Olive oil, that was obtained in all Judea, was not stored in the treasuries along with gold, silver and aromatics, but in special store-houses, 2 Chronicles 32:28” (Phön. II:3, p227 Anm.). בית כלים is likely “the arsenal,” as כלים often signifies all sorts of war implements, and the arsenal doubtless was of prime importance to those ambassadors. In this case כלים is identical with the בית היער of Isaiah 22:8. It appears that Hezekiah in this display observed a climax descendens, beginning with the precious articles of luxury and ending with the things of practical need. אוצרות (probably the store-houses like e. g. Joel 1:17; 2 Chronicles 11, etc.) to contain stores in case of siege. It is to be noted that had this embassy come after the over throw of Sennacherib, Hezekiah would verilv have had nothing to show “in his dominion” outside of Jerusalem. For the whole land outside of the capital had been in the power of the enemy, who would have left little worth seeing. “His store-house, the spiceries, the fine oil,” do not intimate specially war-booty. Moreover it would then need to read: Hezekiah showed them the spoil he had taken from the Assyrians. Comp. on Isaiah 39:6.

3. Then came Isaiah—my days.

Isaiah 39:3-8. Apart from the internal probability of it, one may conclude from יבאו that Isaiah came to the king with the inquiry of Isaiah 39:3 while the ambassadors were still in Jerusalem. For this Imperfect can only have the meaning that the coming was in a certain sense still an incompleted transaction, although the king had then shown them every thing ( Isaiah 39:4). The Prophet regarded them as advenas, arrivals, and that is a quality they have as long as they are in Jerusalem (comp. Isaiah 37:34 with 2 Kings 19:33; Joshua 9:8 with Genesis 42:7). But it also seems very probable to me that the Prophet addressed his inquiries to the king in the presence of the ambassadors, and that “these men” is to be understood δεικτικῶς. This suits entirely the free and exalted position that the prophets assumed as the immediate messengers and instruments of Jehovah, even toward the kings themselves. Comp. on Isaiah 7:14. If thereby those ambassadors enjoyed the opportunity of observing for once a genuine prophet of the true God in the exercise of his office, and if thereby the true God Himself drew near to them, it was one of those revelations of His being such as the Lord at times vouchsafed to the heathen, e. g., Moses before Pharaoh, Balaam before Balak, Elisha before Naaman, Daniel before the kings of Babylon. To the question what said these men? Hezekiah gives no answer, and Isaiah presses it no further. Their very presence there and the reception they found were adequate proof that Hezekiah allowed himself to treat with them, that once again, as he had done by the Egyptian alliance (27–32), he had extended to the world-power at least the little finger. That, in his answer, he lays stress on the far country, betrays an attempt to excuse himself. One cannot show men the door who come from a distance to show one honor and friendship. And Hezekiah ought not to do that. Neither ought he to indulge in vain boasting nor to seek false supports. O, had he only known how ill-timed both were in the case of Babylon! He would surely, without violating the duties of hospitality, have, yet avoided with anxious care every approach to more intimate relations. That he adds the name Babylon so briefly to the preceding “they are come from a far country unto me” seems to betray a certain embarrassment, a presentiment of having committed a fault. [See remarks of tr. below.]

We stand here on a boundary of immeasurable importance. Assyria is done away, but Babylon rises aloft. Ahaz had formally introduced Assyria by seeking its help. Here Babylon offers itself. With cat-like friendliness it creeps up. Hezekiah ought to have maintained an attitude of polite refusal. His vanity betrayed him into boasting and coquetting. Still by just this he yielded himself to the world-power. The Theocracy was later, under Zedekiah, ground to pieces between. Egypt and Babylon. Only by leaning solely and wholly on the Lord could it maintain itself between the southern and the northern world-power, between the Nile kingdom on the one hand, and the Euphrates-Tigris kingdom on the other. Hezekiah had unfortunately indulged in intimacies both with Egypt and with Babylon. The necessary consequence was that the Theocracy succumbed to the mightier of these. Hence it is announced to him that the precious things, of which he had made a boastful display, must go to Babylon, yea, that the posterity that was to issue from him who as yet was childless, would once do chamberlain service in the palace of the kings of Babylon. With this the Prophet points to a new and fatal future. Here, between the first and second parts of Isaiah, we stand on the bridge between Nineveh and Babylon. For what Nineveh was for the first part of Isaiah, Babylon is for the second.

Let it be particularly noted that Isaiah says: that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day ( Isaiah 39:6). Had Hezekiah’s treasures been emptied by the event narrated 2 Kings 18:14 sqq, the Prophet could not have spoken so. For then what the fathers had gathered came into the hands of Sennacherib; and whether, after the defeat of the latter, all was found again, one must doubt very much. Sennacherib, who knew that he would not be pursued, could take all the spoils with him. Therefore the expression: “what thy fathers have laid up shall be carried captive to Babylon” favors the view that Hezekiah showed the ambassadors the gatherings of his fathers, that therefore this embassy did not come after the defeat of Sennacherib. [If the foregoing has any force, it would equally prove that the Babylonish captivity must have preceded the invasion of Sennacherib, “for then, after the latter event, what the fathers had gathered cams into the hands of Sennacherib,” etc., as just above.—TR.]

That סָרִים is not simply the “eunuch” appears from Genesis 37:36; Genesis 39:1. The word often stands for court officer, chamberlain generally ( 1 Kings 22:9; 2 Kings 8:6; 2 Kings 9:32; 2 Kings 25:19, etc.). It is clear that בניך must not be understood of direct generation, and that is agreeable to usage. Hezekiah’s son Manasseh went, indeed, as prisoner to Babylon ( 2 Chronicles 33:11), but he did not act as chamberlain. Yet the prophecy was fulfilled by what is related Daniel 1:3.

Hezekiah humbly submits himself to the declaration of the Lord. The expression Good is the word,etc. involves in general the sense of approval and acquiescence (comp. 1 Kings 18:24), especially that of submission under a severe judgment, but one that is recognized as just (comp. 1 Kings 2:38; 1 Kings 2:42). For the meaning of כִּי(הלא אם, 2 Kings 20:19), see Text. and Gram. I fall back on the conjecture given above, that the ambassadors were present at this interview. If one then considers that the prophecy of Isaiah 39:6-7 presupposes war between Babylon and Judah, and that this poorly corresponds with the assurances of friendship just interchanged between Hezekiah and the ambassadors, he can see that the word of the Prophet would embarrass these parties. It would the king, because it must seem strange that Hebrews, at the moment when an honorable embassy had brought him offers of peace and friendship, should call the announcement of the termination of the friendship (though it should turn to his disadvantage) a “good word.” It might appear as if he, Hezekiah, were a weather-cock, an unreliable Prayer of Manasseh, who in turning about knew how to transform himself from a friend into an enemy. To ward off this evil appearance from himself, Hezekiah speaks these words, which are primarily, addressed to the ambassadors. He would say: is it not self-evident that I call the prophetic word good only on the assumption that peace and truth shall continue while I live? By this construction disappears also the objection that has been made to Hezekiah, as if he betrayed by this expression a sentiment like that depraved motto: “apres moi le deluge.”

It may be seen from 1 Kings 21:27 sqq. that the Lord lets Himself be moved by a penitent mind to postpone punishment beyond the lifetime of the man whom it primarily threatens.—שׁלום ואמת occurs again Jeremiah 33:6; comp. Isaiah 14:13; Esther 9:30. It means here, manifestly, peace and faithfulness in the sense of political peaceableness and fidelity to alliances.[FN5]

The only Scripture that can seem to give positive support to the (so commonly accepted) injurious view of Hezekiah’s conduct in the case before us is 2 Chronicles 32:25; 2 Chronicles 32:31. 2 Chronicles 32:31 clearly relates to the transactions of our text. But Isaiah 3225 as clearly does not, and must not be brought in to shed light on them. It is in the context separated from them by the statement of 2 Chronicles 32:26, viz.: that “Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah.” What follows this verse is but descriptive proof of the last statement in it, and included in this proof is 2 Chronicles 32:31. See the comm. of Dr. O. Zoeckler in the Lange, B. W. in loc. p27. The rendering of the Eng. Ver. “Howbeit” for וכן 2 Chronicles 32:31 is forced, and that by the pressure of the very opinion here combated. It means “And so” or “in this manner.” The particle introduces the additional statement of the trial Hezekiah underwent, and refers to the prosperity just described as having providentially led to it. Ver 31 does not imply reproach of Hezekiah or anything contrary to what may be included under the statement of 2 Chronicles 32:26. עזבו, God “left him,” does not. For it remains to be determined to what he left him. The context must supply this, and we must not understand simply divine desertion in general, especially as that conflicts with all the recorded facts. The verse itself only supplies the event of the Babylonian embassy, and we may include of course Isaiah’s interpretation of it. To that the Lord left Hezekiah. Comp. 2 Chronicles 12:5 “and therefore I have left (עזבתי) you in the hand of Shishak.” It is gratuitous to infer that God left Hezekiah to the workings of his own heart, It is equally so to infer that, because God so left Hezekiah, therefore Hezekiah must first have left God, as in the case just cited. Without leaving God or his own humility ( 2 Chronicles 32:26) Hezekiah might be thus left of God to this extraordinary providence. Comp. Psalm 22:1 with Matthew 27:46. לנסותו וגו׳ “to try him,” etc., does not imply reproach any more than the trial of Abraham Genesis 22:1. The sentiment of these words and even the very words are drawn from Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 8:16. As an obvious quotation from the most familiar part of the Law, the only proper completion of their sentiment must be found in the completion of the quotation. That must be; “to know what was in his heart to know whether he would keep his (God’s) commandment or not.” The records of Isaiah 39:8, and 2 Kings 20:19 furnish the only documentary information of what was revealed by this trial to be in Hezekiah’s heart. It was nothing but resignation and acquiescence in the will of God, the only form of obedience and keeping God’s commandment that the case admitted. It Isaiah, therefore, not only gratuitous to infer that the trial revealed the sinful vanity of Hezekiah’s heart, it is contrary to the very record. That he showed his treasures is thought to be evidence of such vanity. But this is only prejudice growing out of the very assumptions now combated. Why should this hospitality be so bad in Hezekiah, when that of Solomon to the queen of Sheba, substantially the same, is mentioned only with approval, and is even elevated to typical importance?

As for the rest of Hezekiah’s answer Isaiah 39:8 b; 2 Kings 20:19 b, “Good is the word of the Lord,” etc., it may be interpreted best in the light of Deuteronomy 8:16. A promise of good is given there for the latter days of those that stand the proof of God’s trials and keep His commandments. Hezekiah had the consciousness of such integrity ( Isaiah 38:3), he therefore gratefully rested in the expectation of such good for his latter days; in which he was also justified by the terms of Isaiah’s prophecy, if not by some more explicit announcement ( 2 Chronicles 32:26).

The event of the Babylonian embassy, as it appears in our book, must be viewed as subservient to the ends of prophecy. It is told for the sake of the prophecy in Isaiah 39:5-7. Our Author himself well remarks (at the beginning of the introduction to chapters36–39), that our chapters “show how ‘from afar’ (מרהוק) was begun the spinning of the first threads of that web of complications, that were at last so fatal.” The event of the embassy was providentially ordered for prophetic purposes. It may be compared to such events as Melchizedec, Esau selling his birth-right, the queen of Sheba’s visit, the birth of Maher-shal-al, the wise men of the east at the crib of Christ, the inquiring Greeks, John 12:20-24. The questions of Isaiah, and the replies of Hezekiah as recorded, bring out precisely the traits needed for the prophecy about to be made. The “from a far country” was a providentially indited expression, like that of Caiaphas John 11:49, sqq. Previous prophecy, likely familiar to Hezekiah, had made known that a visitation of wrath was coming on Judah “from far” Isaiah 10:3, Isaiah 30:27. Now this event strangely brings to Jerusalem and its king representatives of the very people that were to be the instruments of this wrath, and the Prophet appears, and identifies them and their destiny. And from this onward the Babylonians become more distinctly the theme of prophecy. Hezekiah submits, not like one receiving a well merited rebuke, but like Moses when the people were turned back from Kadesh-Barnea. All that the Author says about negotiations looking to alliance between Hezekiah and Babylon, does not pretend to be more than shrewd conjecture. As it does not find one word of corroboration in the Scripture, it would be well to make little or no account of it. Comp. the Author’s conjectures on Isaiah 7:10-16, and the additions by TR. That follow—TR.]

Footnotes:

FN#1 - Or, spicery.

FN#2 - Or, jewels.

FN#3 - Heb. vessels or, instruments.

FN#4 - chamberlain.

FN#5 - In his conjectural interpretation of Hezekiah’s conduct and its relation to Isaiah’s prophecy the Author has only built on a foundation dating back to the earliest traditionary exposition. And the building, one must admit, agrees with the foundation. He has only built further than others, but in the same style. Yet, when so much is built, and of such a sort, one is constrained to look at the foundation to see if such a structure is justified. The Author admits that he resorts to conjecture; his confidence is in the natural reasonableness of it. But his work may be challenged down to the very foundation as, not only without warrant in Scripture, but actually against Scripture. See Baehr, on 2 Kings20 p211. And if this appear to be Song of Solomon, then the judgment of expositors against Hezekiah, though it be the judgment of ages, must be reversed.]

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. On Isaiah 36:4 sqq. “Haec proprie est Satanae lingua et sunt non Rabsacis sed ipsissimi Diaboli verba, quibus non muros urbis, sed medullam Ezechiae, hoc Esther, tenerrimam ejus fidem oppugnat.”—Luther. “In this address the chief-butler, Satan performs in the way he uses when he would bring about our apostacy1) He urges that we are divested of all human support, Isaiah 36:5; Isaiah 2) We are deprived of divine support, Isaiah 36:7; Isaiah 3) God is angry with us because we have greatly provoked Him by our sins, Isaiah 36:7; Isaiah 4) He decks out the splendor, and power of the wicked, Isaiah 36:8-9; Isaiah 5) He appeals to God’s word, and knows how to turn and twist it to his uses. Such poisonous arrows were used by Satan against Christ in the desert, and may be compared with this light ( Matthew 4:2 sqq.). One needs to arm himself against Satan’s attack by God’s word, and to resort to constant watching and prayer.”—Cramer.

The Assyrian urges four particulars by which he would destroy Hezekiah’s confidence, in two of which he was right and in two wrong. He was right in representing that Hezekiah could rely neither on Egypt, nor on his own power. In this respect he was a messenger of God and announcer of divine truth. For everywhere the word of God preaches the same ( Isaiah 30:1-3; Isaiah 31:1-3; Jeremiah 17:5; Psalm 118:8-9; Psalm 146:3, etc.). But it is a merited chastisement if rude and hostile preachers must preach to us what we were unwilling to believe at the mild and friendly voice of God. But in two particulars the Assyrian was wrong, and therein lay Hezekiah’s strength. For just on this account the Lord is for him and against the Assyrian. These two things are, that the Assyrian asserts that Hezekiah cannot put his trust in the Lord, but rather he, the Assyrian is counseled by the Lord against Hezekiah. That, however, was a lie, and because of this lie, the corresponding truth makes all the deeper impression on Hezekiah, and reminds him how assuredly he may build on the Lord and importune Him. And when the enemy dares to say, that he is commissioned by the Lord to destroy the Holy Land, just that must bring to lively remembrance in the Israelite, that the Lord, who cannot lie, calls the land of Israel His land ( Joel 4:2; Jeremiah 2:7; Jeremiah 16:18, etc.), and the people of Israel His people ( Exodus 3:7; Exodus 3:10; Exodus 5:1, etc.).

2. On [“In regard to the indelicacy of this passage we may observe: 1) The Masorets in the Hebrew text have so printed the words used, that in reading it the offensiveness would be considerably avoided2) The customs, habits and modes of expression of people in different nations and times, differ. What appears indelicate at one time or in one country, may not only be tolerated, but common in another3) Isaiah is not at all responsible for the indelicacy of the language here. He is simply an historian4) It was of importance to give the true character of the attack which was made on Jerusalem. The coming of Sennacherib was attended with pride, insolence and blasphemy; and it was important to state the true character of the transaction, and to record just what was said and done. Let him who used the language, and not him who recorded it bear the blame.”—Barnes in loc.].

3. On Isaiah 36:18 sqq. “Observandum hic, quod apud gentes olim viguerit πολύθεια adeo, ut quaevis etiam urbs peculiarem habuerit Deum tutelarem. Cujus ethnicismi exemplum vivum et spirans adhuc habemus apud pontificios, quibus non inscite objici potest illud Jeremiae: Quot civitates tibi, tot etiam Dei ( Jeremiah 2:28).”—Foerster.

4. On Isaiah 36:21. Answer not a fool according to his folly ( Proverbs 26:4), much less the blasphemer, lest the flame of his wickedness be blown into the greater rage ( Sirach 8:3). Did not Christ the Lord answer His enemies, not always with words, but also with silence ( Matthew 26:62; Matthew 27:14, etc.)? One must not cast pearls before swine ( Matthew 7:6). After Foerster and Cramer.

5. On Isaiah 36:21. “Est aureus textus, qui docet nos, ne cum Satana disputemus. Quando enim videt, quod sumus ejus spectatores et auditores, tum captat occasionem majoris fortitudinis et gravius premit. Petrus dicit, eum circuire et quaerere, quem devoret. Nullum facit insidiarum finem. Tutissimum autem est non respondere, sed contemnere eum.”—Luther.

6. [On Isaiah 37:1-7. “Rabshakeh intended to frighten Hezekiah from the Lord, but it proves that he frightens him to the Lord. The wind, instead of forcing the traveler’s coat from him, makes him wrap it the closer about him. The more Rabshakeh reproaches God, the more Hezekiah studies to honor Him.” On Isaiah 37:3. “When we are most at a plunge we should be most earnest in prayer. When pains are most strong, let prayers be most lively. Prayer is the midwife of mercy, that helps to bring it forth.”—M. Henry, in loc.]

7. On Isaiah 37:2 sqq. Hezekiah here gives a good example. He shows all princes, rulers and peoples what one ought to do when there is a great and common distress, and tribulation. One ought with sackcloth, i. e., with penitent humility, to bring prayers, and intercessions to the Lord that He would look on and help.

8. On Isaiah 37:6 sq. “God takes to Himself all the evil done to His people. For as when one does a great kindness to the saints, God appropriates it to Himself, Song of Solomon, too, when one torments the saints, it is an injury done to God, and He treats sin no other way than as if done to Himself. He that torments them torments Him ( Isaiah 64:9). Therefore the saints pray: ‘Arise, O God, plead thine own cause: remember how the foolish man reproacheth thee daily’ ( Psalm 74:22).”—Cramer.

9. On Isaiah 37:7. “God raises up against His enemies other enemies, and thus prepares rest for His own people. Example: the Philistines against Saul who pursued David, 1 Samuel 23:27.”—Cramer.

10. On Isaiah 37:14. Vitringa here cites the following from Bonfin Rerum Hungar. Dec. III. Lib. VI. p464, ad annum Isaiah 1444: “Amorathes, cum suos laborare cerneret et ab Vladislao rege non sine magna caede fugari, depromtum e sinu codicem initi sanctissime foederis explicat intentis in coelum oculis. Haec sunt, inquit ingeminans, Jesu Christe, foedera, quae Christiani tui mecum percussere. Per numen tuum sanctum jurarunt, datamque sub nomine tuo fidem violarunt, perfide suum Deum abnegarunt. Nunc Christe, si Deus es (ut ajunt et nos hallucinamur), tuas measque hic injurias, te quaeso, ulciscere et his, qui sanctum tuum nomen nondum agnovere, violatae fidei poenas ostende. Vix haec dixerat .… cum proelium, quod anceps ac dubium diu fuerat, inclinare coepit, etc.”

[The desire of Hezekiah was not primarily his own personal safety, or the safety of his kingdom. It was that Jehovah might vindicate His great and holy name from reproach, and that the world might know that He was the only true God. We have here a beautiful model of the object which we should have in view when we come before God. This motive of prayer is one that is with great frequency presented in the Bible. Comp. Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 43:13; Isaiah 43:25; Deuteronomy 32:39; Psalm 83:18; Psalm 46:10; Nehemiah 9:6; Daniel 9:18-19. Perhaps there could have been furnished no more striking proof that Jehovah was the true God, than would be by the defeat of Sennacherib. The time had come when the great Jehovah could strike a blow which would be felt on all nations, and carry the terror of His name, and the report of His power throughout the earth. Perhaps this was one of the main motives of the destruction of that mighty army.”—Barnes, on Isaiah 37:2].

11. On Isaiah 37:15. “Fides Ezechiae verba confirmata magis ac magis crescit. Ante non ausus est orare, jam orat et confutat blasphemias omnes Assyrii. Adeo magna vis verbi Esther, ut longe alius per verbum, quod Jesajas ei nunciari jussit, factus sit.”—Luther.

12. On [“It is bad to talk proudly and profanely, but it is worse to write Song of Solomon, for this argues more deliberation and design, and what is written spreads further and lasts longer, and does the more mischief. Atheism and irreligion, written, will certainly be reckoned for another day.”—M. Henry].

13. On Isaiah 37:21 sqq. [“Those who receive messages of terror from men with patience, and send messages of faith to God by prayer, may expect messages of grace and peace from God for their comfort, even when they are most cast down. Isaiah sent a long answer to Hezekiah’s prayer in God’s name, sent it in writing (for it was too long to be sent by word of mouth), and sent it by way of return to his prayer, relation being thereunto had: ‘Whereas thou hast prayed to me, know, for thy comfort, that thy prayer is heard.’ Isaiah might have referred him to the prophecies he had delivered (particularly to that of chap10), and bid him pick out an answer from thence. The correspondence between earth and heaven is never let fall on God’s side.”—M. Henry.].

14. On Isaiah 37:31 sqq. “This is a promise of great extent. For it applies not only to those that then remained, and were spared the impending destruction and captivity by the Assyrians, but to all subsequent times, when they should enjoy a deliverance; as after the Babylonish captivity, and after the persecutions of Antiochus. Yea, it applies even to New Testament times from the first to the last, since therein, in the order of conversion to Christ, the Jews will take root and bring forth fruit, and thus in the Jews (as also in the converted Gentiles) will appear in a spiritual and corporal sense, what God at that time did to their fields in the three following years.”—Starke.

15. On Isaiah 38:1. “ Isaiah, although of a noble race and condition, does not for that regard it disgraceful, but rather an honor, to be a pastor and visitor of the sick, I would say, a prophet, teacher and comforter of the sick. God save the mark! How has the world become so different in our day, especially in our evangelical church Let a family be a little noble, and it is regarded as a reproach and injury to have a clergyman among its relations and friends, not to speak of a son studying theology and becoming a servant of the church. I speak not of all; I know that some have a better mind; yet such is the common course. Jeroboam’s maxim must rather obtain, who made priests of the lowest of the people ( 1 Kings 12:31). For thus the parsons may be firmly held in rein (sub ferula) and in political submission. It is not at all good where the clergy have a say, says an old state-rule of our Politicorum.” Feuerlein, pastor in Nuremberg, in his Novissimorum primum, 1694, p553. The same quotes Spener: “Is it not Song of Solomon, that among the Roman Catholics the greatest lords are not ashamed to stand in the spiritual office, and that many of them even discharge the spiritual functions? Among the Reformed, too, persons born of the noblest families are not ashamed of the office of preacher. But, it seems, we Lutherans are the only ones that hold the service of the gospel so low, that, where from a noble or otherwise prominent family an ingenium has an inclination to theological study, almost every one seeks to hinder him, or, indeed, afterwards is ashamed of his friendship, as if it were something much too base for such people, by which more harm comes to our church than one might suppose. That is to be ashamed of the gospel.”

16. On [“We see here the boldness and fidelity of a man of God. Isaiah was not afraid to go in freely and tell even a monarch that he must die. The subsequent part of the narrative would lead us to suppose that, until this announcement, Hezekiah did not regard himself as in immediate danger. It is evident here, that the physician of Hezekiah had not informed him of it—perhaps from the apprehension that his disease would be aggravated by the agitation of his mind on the subject. The duty was, therefore, left, as it is often, to the minister of religion—a duty which even many ministers are slow to perform, and which many physicians are reluctant to have performed.

No danger is to be apprehended commonly from announcing to those who are sick their true condition. Physicians and friends often err in this. There is no species of cruelty greater than to suffer a friend to lie on a dying bed under a delusion. There is no sin more aggravated than that of designedly deceiving a dying Prayer of Manasseh, and flattering him with the hope of recovery, when there is a moral certainty that he will not and cannot recover. And there is evidently no danger to be apprehended from communicating to the sick their true condition. It should be done tenderly and with affection; but it should be done faithfully. I have had many opportunities of witnessing the effect of apprising the sick of their situation, and of the moral certainty that they must die. And I cannot now recall an instance in which the announcement has had any unhappy effect on the disease. Often, on the contrary, the effect is to calm the mind, and to lead the dying to look up to God, and peacefully to repose on Him. And the effect of that is always salutary.” Barnes in loc.]

17. On Isaiah 38:2. It is an old opinion, found even in the Chald, that by the wall is meant the wall of the temple as a holy direction in which to pray, as the Mahometans pray in the direction of Mecca. But הקיר cannot mean that. Rather that is correct which is said by Forerius: “Nolunt pii homines testes habere suarum lacrymarum, ut eas liberius fundant, neque sensu distrahi, cum orare Deum ex animo volunt.”

18. On Isa 38:8 :—

Non Deus est numen Parcarum carcere clausum.

Quale putabatur Stoicus esse Deus.

Ille potest Solis cursus inhibere volantes,

At veluti scopulos flumina stare facit.”

—Melanchthon.

19. On Isaiah 38:12. “Beautiful parables that picture to us the transitoriness of this temporal life. For the parable of the shepherd’s tent means how restless a thing it is with us, that we have here no abiding place, but are driven from one locality to another, until at last we find a resting-spot in the church-yard. The other parable of the weaver’s thread means how uncertain is our life on earth. For how easily the thread breaks.” Cramer. “When the weaver’s work is progressing best, the thread breaks before he is aware. Thus when a man is in his best work, and supposes he now at last begins really to live, God breaks the thread of his life and lets him die. The rational heathen knew something of this when they, so to speak, invented the three goddesses of life (the three Parcas minime parcas) and included them in this little verse:

Clotho colum gestat, Lachesis trahit,

Atropos occat

But what does the weaver when the thread breaks? Does he stop his work at once? O no! He knows how to make a clever weaver’s knot, so that one cannot observe the break. Remember thereby that when thy life is broken off, yet the Lord Jesus, as a master artisan, can bring it together again at the last day. He will make such an artful, subtle weaver’s-knot as shall make us wonder through all eternity. It will do us no harm to have died.” Ibid.—Omnia sunt hominum tenui pendentia filo.

[“As suddenly as the tent of a shepherd is taken down, folded up, and transferred to another place. There is doubtless the idea here that he would continue to exist, but in another place, as the shepherd would pitch his tent in another place. He was to be cut off from the earth, but he expected to dwell among the dead. The whole passage conveys the idea that he expected to dwell in another state.” Barnes in loc.].

20. On [“Note1) When God pardons sin, He casts it behind His back as not designing to look upon it with an eye of justice and jealousy. He remembers it no more, to visit for it. The pardon does not make the sin not to have been, or not to have been sin, but not to be punished as it deserves. When we cast our sins behind our back, and take no care to repent of them, God sets them before His face, and is ready to reckon for them; but when we set them before our face in true repentance, as David did when his sin was ever before him, God casts them behind His back2) When God pardons sin, He pardons all, casts them all behind His back, though they have been as scarlet and crimson3) The pardoning of sin is the delivering the soul from the pit of corruption4) It is pleasant indeed to think of our recoveries from sickness when we see them flowing from the remission of sin; then the cause is removed, and then it is in love to the soul.” M. Henry in loc.]

21. On [Cannot hope for thy truth. “They are shut out from all the means by which Thy truth is brought to mind, and the offers of salvation are presented. Their probation is at an end; their privileges are closed; their destiny is sealed up. The idea Isaiah, it is a privilege to live because this is a world where the offers of salvation are made, and where those who are conscious of guilt may hope in the mercy of God.” Barnes in loc.] God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance ( 2 Peter 3:9). Such is the New Testament sense of these Old Testament words. For though Hezekiah has primarily in mind the preferableness of life in the earthly body to the life in Hades, yet this whole manner of representation passes away with Hades itself. But Hezekiah’s words still remain true so far as they apply to heaven and hell. For of course in hell, the place of the damned, one does not praise God. But those that live praise Him. These, however, are in heaven. Since then God wills rather that men praise Him than not praise Him, so He is not willing that men should perish, but that all should turn to repentance and live.

22. On Isaiah 39:2. “Primo (Deus) per obsidionem et bellum, deinde per gravem morbum Ezechiam servaverat, ne in praesumtionem laberetur. Nondum tamen vinci potuit antiquus serpens, sed redit et levat caput suum. Adeo non possumus consistere, nisi Deos nos affligat. Vides igitur hic, quis sit afflictionum usus, ut mortificent scilicet carnem, quae non potest res ferre secundas.” Luther.

23. On Isaiah 39:7. “God also punishes the misdeeds of the parents on the children ( Exodus 20:5) because the children not only follow the misdeeds of their parents, but they also increase and heap them up, as is seen in the posterity of Hezekiah, viz.: Manasseh and Amon.”—Cramer.

HOMILETICAL HINTS

[The reader is referred to the ample hints covering the same matter to be found in the volume on 2 Kings18-20. It is expedient to take advantage of that for the sake of keeping the present volume within reasonable bounds. Therefore but a minimum is here given of what the Author offers, much of which indeed is but the repetition in another form of matter already given.—Tr.]

1. On Isaiah 37:36. “1) The scorn and mockery of the visible world2) The scorn and mockery of the unseen world.” Sermon of Domprediger Zahn in Halle, 1870.

2. On the entire38. chapter, beside the 22 sermons in FEUERLEIN’S Novissimorum primum, there is a great number of homiletical elaborations of an early date; Walther Magirus, Idea mortis et vitae in two parts, the second of which contains20 penitential and consolatory sermons on Isaiah 38. Danzig, 1640,1642. Daniel Schaller (Stendal) 4sermons on the sick Hezekiah, on Isaiah 38. Magdeburg, 1611. Peter Siegmund Pape in “Gott geheilighte Wochenpredigten,” Berlin, 1701, 4sermons. Jacob Tichlerus (Elburg) Hiskiae Aufrichtigkeit bewiesen in Gesundheit, Krankheit und Genesung, 18 sermons on Isaiah 38. (Dutch), Campen, 1636. These are only the principal ones.

3. On Isaiah 38:1. “I will set my house in order. This, indeed, will not be hard for me to do. My debt account is crossed out; my best possession I take along with me; my children I commit to the great Father of orphans, to whom heaven and earth belongs, and my soul to the Lord, who has sued for it longer than a human age, and bought it with His blood. Thus I am eased and ready for the journey.” Tholuck, Stunden der Andacht, p620.

4. On Isaiah 38:1. “Now thou shouldest know that our word ‘order his house’ has a very broad meaning. It comprehends reconciliation to God by faith, the final confession of sin, the last Lord’s Supper, the humble committing of the soul to the grace of the Lord, and to death and the grave in the hope of the resurrection. In one word: There is an ordering of the house above. In reliance on the precious merit of my Saviour, I order my house above in which I wish to dwell. Moreover taking leave of loved ones, and the blessing of them belongs to ordering the house. And finally order must be taken concerning the guardianship of children, the abiding of the widow, and the friend on whom she must especially lean in her loneliness, also concerning earthly bequests.” Ahlfeld, Das Leben im Lichte des Wortes Gottes, Halle, 1867, p522.

5. On Isaiah 38:2-8. This account has much that seems strange to us Christians, but much, too, that quite corresponds to our Christian consciousness. Let us contemplate the difference between an Old Testament, and a New Testament suppliant, by noticing the differences and the resemblances. I. The resemblances1) Distress and grief there are in the Old, as in the New Testament ( Isaiah 38:3). 2) Ready and willing to help beyond our prayers or comprehension ( Isaiah 38:5-6) is the Lord in the Old as in the New Testament. II. The differences1) The Old Testament suppliant appealed to his having done nothing bad ( Isaiah 38:3). The New Testament suppliant says: “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and “Give me through grace for Christ’s sake what it pleases Thee to give me.” 2) The Old Testament suppliant demands a sign ( Isaiah 38:7-8; comp. Isaiah 38:22); the New Testament suppliant requires no sign but that of the crucified Son of Prayer of Manasseh, for He knows that to those who bear this sign is given the promise of the hearing of all their prayers ( John 16:23). 3) In Hezekiah’s case, the prayer of the Old Testament suppliant is indeed heard ( Isaiah 38:5), yet in general it has not the certainty of being heard, whereas the New Testament suppliant has this certainty.

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 39:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/isaiah-39.html. 1857-84.

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