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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Isaiah 39

 

 

Verses 1-8

EXPOSITION

This chapter is parallel with 2 Kings 20:12-19, and scarcely differs from it at all. Verse I has the additional words, "and was recovered;" 2 Kings 20:2, the phrase, "was glad of them," for "hearkened unto them;" 2 Kings 20:5, "Lord of hosts," for "Lord" simply; and 2 Kings 20:8 makes Hezekiah's last utterance an observation instead of a question. Otherwise the two accounts are almost word for word the same. Both relate the novel and important fact of ambassadors being sent to Hezekiah by the King of Babylon, shortly after his illness, and tell of the reception which he gave them, of the message which Isaiah was commissioned to deliver to him from God in consequence, and of Hezekiah's acquiescence in the terms of the message when it was conveyed to him. The Isaianic authorship of the chapter is much disputed, but solely from reluctance to admit that a prophet could predict the subjugation of Judaea by Babylon more than a century before the event.

Isaiah 39:1

At that time. The embassy probably followed the illness of Hezekiah within a year. Merodach-Baladan. This is a more correct form than the "Berodach-Baladan" of 2 Kings 20:12. The name is one common to several Babylonian kings, as to one who reigned about b.c. 1325, to a second who is placed about b.c. 900, and to a third who was contemporary with the Assyrian kings Sargon and Sennacherib. It is this last of whom we have a notice in the present passage. He appears first in the Assyrian inscriptions as a petty prince, ruling a small tract upon the seacoast, about the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates. Tiglath-Pileser takes tribute front him about b.c. 744. In b.c. 721 we find him advanced to a more prominent position. Taking advantage of the troubles of the time, he shakes off the Assyrians yoke, and makes himself King of Babylon, where he has a reign of twelve years—from b.c. 721 to b.c. 709. This reign is recognized by Sargon in his inscriptions, and by the Greek chronologist, Ptolemy, in his 'Canon.' In b.c. 709 Sargon leads an expedition against him, and drives him out of Babylonia into the coast-tract, Chaldea, where he besieges him in his ancestral town Bit-Yakin, takes the city, and makes him prisoner. On the death of Sargon, in b.c. 705, Merodach-Baladan escapes from confinement, and hastens once more to Babylon, where he is acknowledged as king, and has a second reign, which lasts six months (Alex. Polyhist. ap. Euseb; 'Chronicles Can.,' 1. 5. § 1). He is then driven from the country by Sennacherib, and, after various vicissitudes, obliged to become a refugee in Elam. The name of Merodach-Baladau is composed of the three elements, Merodach (equivalent to "Marduk"), the god, bal or pal, "son," and iddina, "has given," and thus signifies "Merodach has given (me) a son." The son of Baladan. "Baladan" is scarcely a possible Babylonian name. "Beladan" would, however, be quite possible, being a name formed on the model of Ishtardddin, Ninip-iddin, Ilu-iddin, etc. And the corruption of Beladan into Baladan would be easy. Merodach-Baladan III. is called by Sargon "the son of Yakin;" but this is perhaps a tribal or local rather than a personal name. Compare Jehu's appellation of "son of Omri". Sent letters and a present to Hezekiah. Hezekiah's fourteenth year was b.c. 714. Merodach-Baladan had then been King of Babylon for eight years, and, knowing that he might at any time be attacked by Sargon, was naturally looking out for alliances with other powers, which Assyria equally threatened. He had recently concluded a treaty with Khumbanigas, King of Elam, and had obtained the support of several of the Aramaean tribes on the Euphrates. He now apparently thought that Judaea, which Sargon was also threatening (ch. 38:6), might be induced to join him. Hezekiah's illness and "the wonder done in the land" (2 Chronicles 32:31) furnished him with pretexts for an embassy, which probably had more serious objects than either congratulation or scientific inquiry.

Isaiah 39:2

Hezekiah was glad of them. A more pregnant phrase than that which replaces it in 2 Kings, "hearkened unto them." Hezekiah, like Merodach-Baladan, was looking out for allies, and "was glad," thinking that in Babylon he had found one which might render him important service. Sargon's promptness, however, frustrated his hopes. In b.c. 709 that prince, regarding Merodach-Baladan's proceedings as constituting a real danger to his kingdom, made a great expedition into Babylonia, defeated Merodach-Baladan, and took him prisoner, after which he had himself crowned King of Babylon, and during the remainder of his life ruled both countries. Showed them the house of his precious things; i.e. his treasury, or store-house. The treasuries of ancient monarchs were actual store-chambers, in which large quantities of the precious metals and valuable objects of various kinds were deposited (see Herod; 2:121; Arrian, 'Exp. Alex.,' 2 Kings 3:16, 2 Kings 3:18, etc.). The flourishing state of the treasury is an indication that the events here narrated are anterior to the great surrender of treasure to Sennacherib. All the house of his armour (comp. Isaiah 22:8). If a warlike alliance was contemplated, it was as important to show the possession of arms as of treasures. There was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not. We must allow for Oriental hyperbole. The meaning is, that, without any reserve, Hezekiah showed all that he could show.

Isaiah 39:3

Then came Isaiah the prophet. Isaiah comes, unsent for, to rebuke the king. This bold attitude was one which prophets were entitled to take by virtue of their office, which called upon them to bear testimony, even before kings, and to have no respect of persons. A similar fearlessness is apparent in Isaiah 7:1-17, where the king with whom Isaiah has to deal was the wicked Ahaz. What said these men? "These men" is contemptuous. The demand to know what they said is almost without parallel. Diplomacy, if it is to be successful, must be secret; and Isaiah can scarcely have been surprised that his searching question received no answer. But he was zealous of God's honour, and anxious that Hezekiah should rely on no "arm of flesh," whether it were Egypt or Babylon. Such dependence would straiten God's arm, and prevent him from giving the aid that he was otherwise prepared to give. The desire of the prophet is to warn the king of the danger which he runs by coquetting with human helpers. From whence came they? Isaiah does not ask this question for the sake of information, Doubtless all Jerusalem was agog to see the strange envoys "from a far country," who had now for the first time penetrated to the city of David. All knew whence they had come, and suspected why. Isaiah asks, to force the king to a confession, on which he may base a prophecy and a warning. And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country. Embassies from distant lands to their courts are made a con-slant subject of boasting by the Assyrian monarchs. Hezekiah, perhaps, is "lifted up" (2 Chronicles 32:25) by the honour paid him, and intends to impress Isaiah with a sense of his greatness"The men are come all the way from Babylon to see me!"

Isaiah 39:4

What have they seen? Isaiah had, no doubt, heard of what Hezekiah had done (verse 2); but he wished to have the confession of it from his own mouth before delivering his sentence. Hezekiah tells him the truth, since he is not ashamed of his act, but rather glories in it. He has shown the ambassadors everything, and has thereby made them eager to secure his alliance.

Isaiah 39:5

Hear the word of the Lord of hosts. Either the prophet had been specially charged with a Divine message to the king before he sought his presence, or the prophetic afflatus now came on him suddenly. The former is, on the whole, more probable.

Isaiah 39:6

Behold, the days come; literally, the days [are] coming, or [are] approaching. Of the exact "times and seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power" (Acts 1:7), the prophets generally knew nothing. They were mouth-pieces, to declare the Divine will, not keen-witted politicians, forecasting results by the exercise of sharp-sightedness and sagacity. To suppose that Isaiah foresaw by mere human wisdom the Babylonian conquest of Judaea, as Charles the Great did the ravages of the Northmen, is to give him credit for a sagacity quite unexampled and psychologically impossible. The kingdom of Babylon was one among many that were struggling hard to maintain independence against the grasping and encroaching Assyria. From the time of Tiglath-Pileser IX. she had been continually losing ground. Both Sargon and Sennacherib trampled her underfoot, overran her territory, captured her towns, and reduced her under direct Assyrian government. Till Assyria should be swept away, a Babylonian conquest of Palestine was impossible. To suppose it was like supposing a Russian conquest of Holland, while Germany bars the way. Nothing short of the true prophetic afflatus, which is God the Holy Ghost speaking by the mouth of his servants, could have made such an anticipation. And with Isaiah, as Mr. Cheyne says, it is "not a mere presentiment; it is a calm and settled conviction, based on a direct revelation, and confirmed by a deep insight into the laws of the Divine government." All that is in thine house. Not, of course, exactly all that was there when Isaiah spoke, but all the wealth that should be in the royal palace when the time of the Babylonian captivity arrived. (For the fulfilment, see 2 Chronicles 36:18.) That which thy fathers have laid up in store. A portion of this was carried off by Sennacherib in his first expedition (2 Kings 18:14-16); but the bulk of the temple treasures—the gifts of many kings—remained untouched until they were removed to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:2; Daniel 5:2; 2 Kings 24:13; 2 Kings 25:13-17).

Isaiah 39:7

Of thy sons that shall issue from thee. Hezekiah had at the time, probably, no son, since Manasseh, who succeeded him upon the throne, was not born till two years later. Besides Manasseh, he appears to have had a son, Amariah, who was an ancestor of the Prophet Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1:1). He may, of course, have also had others. His descendants, rather than his actual sons, seem to be here intended; and the fulfilment of the prophecy is to be found in Daniel 1:3, where certain "of the king's seed" are mentioned among the Israelites who served as eunuchs in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar.

Isaiah 39:8

Good is the word. While there is resignation, there is no doubt something also of selfishness, in Hezekiah's acceptance of the situation. "Apres mot le deluge" is a saying attributed to a modern Frenchman. Hezekiah's egotism is less pronounced and less cynical. He thinks with gratitude of the "peace and steadfastness" which are to be "in his day;" he does not dwell in thought on the coming "deluge." The "word of the Lord" is "good" to him in more ways than one. It has assured him of coming male offspring—of sons to sit upon his throne, and save him from the curse of childlessness. And it has assured him of a rest for his nation—a respite, so that the Babylonian struggle shall not follow immediately upon the Assyrian; but there shall be a "breathing-space" (Ezra 9:8), a tranquil time, during which Israel may "dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places" (Isaiah 32:18).

HOMILETICS

Isaiah 39:2-8

Carnal joy the prelude to spiritual sorrow.

The Babylonian embassy, a grand affair doubtless, comprising envoys in their rich clothing and with their jewelled arms, camels bearing valuable gifts, prancing steeds, and a vast train of slaves and attendants, was to Hezekiah an inspiriting fact, a circumstance that gladdened and excited him. With his imperfect knowledge of geography, the embassy seemed to him to come from the furthest limits of the earth's circuit—from a remote, almost from an unknown, region (Isaiah 39:3). He had hitherto not thought of attempting negotiations with any power further distant than Egypt. If the far-off Babylon courted his alliance, where might he not expect to find friends? from what remote quarter might he not look for overtures? What wonder that "his heart was lifted up" (2 Chronicles 32:25)? that he rejoiced, though with a carnal joy, that had no substantial spiritual basis? Isaiah had warned him against all "arms of flesh." Isaiah had bidden him "trust in the Lord Jehovah," and in Jehovah only. No doubt he had been especially warned against Egypt; but all the reasons that were valid against Egypt were valid against Babylon also. Babylon was as idolatrous as Egypt; Babylon was as licentious as Egypt; Babylon was as selfish in her aims as Egypt. Hezekiah's joy was thus a purely carnal joy, a rejoicing in his own honour, and in the prospect of material aid from a tainted source. In the midst of his joy the prophet announces himself. "What said those men?" he sternly asks. "Whence came they? What have they seen? Ah! they have seen thy treasures, have they? All of them? Thou thinkest those treasures will make them thy friends. Nay; they will make them thy bitterest enemies. It will not be forgotten at Babylon that thy temple and thy treasure-house are worth plundering. The days will come when all the wealth of thy house, and of the temple, and of the holy city will be carried off to enrich that city. The days will come when thou wilt have disgrace from Babylon instead of honour. Thy descendants—they that have issued from thy loins—will serve the King of Babylon, will be eunuchs, doing the menial offices in his palace." In a moment the king's joy is gone, and replaced by sorrow. It is with a saddened spirit that he submits, and acquiesces in his punishment. "Good is the word of the Lord"—he spares, even when he punishes; he chastens me with a milder chastening than I deserved at his hands—"in his wrath he remembereth mercy" (Habakkuk 3:2).

HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON

Isaiah 39:1-8

The dangers of prosperity.

I. THE OSTENTATION OF HEZEKIAH. The Chronicler passes a censure upon him. After his recovery he "rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore was there wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem" (2 Chronicles 32:25). He gives a picture of his treasuries, and store-houses, his cities, his flocks and herds. An embassy comes from Babylon, partly to congratulate him on his recovery, partly to inquire concerning the portent of the sun-dial or step-clock. Under these pretexts political views were doubtless concealed. And Hezekiah delighted to receive the embassy, and displayed to them the whole of his treasures and the resources of his armoury, his palaces and his kingdom.

II. THE REBUKE OF THE PROPHET. The prophet, in virtue of his Divine call and his insight into the heart of things, assumes an authority over the monarch, and, coming to him, inquires, "What have these men said? and whence came they to thee?" "He challenges the king to explain his conduct. Jehovah's will is opposed to all coquetting with foreign powers." It is "weaving a web without his Spirit" (Isaiah 30:1). The answer of the king is indirect, perhaps evasive: "They have come from a far country, from Babylon"—as if hinting that hospitality to them was a duty. A second stem question follows: "What have they seen in the house of the king?" And the king replies that he has shown them all his treasures. There is that in the very manner and questions of the prophet which implies censure. What he sees in the act of the king is an uplifting of the heart; not merely pride in his resources and wealth as such, but reliance on worldly resources—a desire to match himself with the great Eastern power on its own ground. And this is an affront to the Divine King in Zion, who had founded it that the afflicted of his people might find refuge therein (Isaiah 14:32). "Not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts" is ever the word, the principle, on which the kingdom must stand. If Hezekiah has violated this, there must be retribution, either in his person or in the persons of those he represents.

III. THE PUNISHMENT. It was to correspond to his sin. "He thought to subscribe his quota to a profane coalition, and his treasures should be violently laid hold of by wolves in sheep's clothing." Babylon had solicited friendship; she would end by enforcing slavery. Calm and dispassionate is the tone in which the prophet speaks. Charles the Great could not help weeping at the sight of the Northmen's vessels, thinking of the calamities which those fell pirates would bring on the flourishing coasts of the Franks. Jeremiah weeps at the thought of the cruelty of the Babylonians. In Isaiah contentment with the patent will of God overcomes his emotional susceptibility. All the boasted treasures of the king are to be carried away to Babylon, and his descendants are to become servants in the palace there. The king bows before the authority of the prophet, recognizing his word as the word of Jehovah, and as good. And further, he is thankful for the respite granted—for the promise that peace and steadfastness shall remain in his days. The chronicler says that he humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of Jehovah came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah. The picture of Hezekiah is that of a king who prospered in all his works. But the incident clearly teaches the danger prosperity brings to character and principle. It is but a "bad nurse to virtue; a nurse who is like to starve it in its infancy, and to spoil it in its growth." "The corrupt affection which has lain dead and frozen in the midst of distracting business or under adversity, when the sun of prosperity has shined upon it, then, like a snake, it presently recovers its former strength and venom. When the channels of plenty run high, and every appetite is plied with abundance and variety, so that satisfaction is a mean word to express its enjoyment, then the inbred corruption of the heart shows itself pampered and insolent, too unruly for discipline and too big for correction. Prosperity, by fomenting a man's pride, lays a certain train for his ruin; Scripture and experience teach what a spite Providence constantly owes to the proud person. He is the very eyesore of Heaven; and God even looks upon his own supremacy as concerned to abase him. Prosperity attracts the malice and envy of the world; and it is impossible for a man in a wealthy and flourishing condition not to feel the stroke of men's tongues, and of their hands too, if occasion serves. Stones are only thrown at the fruit-laden tree. What made the King of Babylon invade Judaea but the royal stores and treasures displayed and boasted of by Hezekiah before the ambassadors, to the supplanting of his crown and the miserable captivity of his prosperity?" (South). In the day of prosperity consider! Let

"Consideration like an angel come,

And whip th' offending Adam out of us."

J.

HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM

Isaiah 39:6

Perishing things.

"Nothing shall be left." How true is this of all things of earth, as contrasted with essential being—with the life of our own souls! We can look at nothing material without being able to say, as we look to the inner world of personal consciousness, "They shall perish, but thou remainest."

I. COMPREHENSIVE LOSS. "Nothing shall be left." "All that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carded to Babylon." Exactly. There is always a Babylon which itself becomes a ruin. Grecian art is taken to Rome, there to be demolished in the sacking of the city. Treasures are taken in after years to Paris, there to be lost in flames. How few relics of any time or nation remain! and in due course these are lost to the possessors. If this is true on the great scale of nations, how manifestly true it is of ourselves! Let us look around on all the present possessions of earth, and remember that, so far as we are concerned, "nothing shall be left." "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be?"

II. IMMORTAL GAIN. The prophet is true in this revelation of loss. So is the apostle true when he says, "All things are yours." All that a man is remains, and all that a man does in loyal service remains. So there is permanence amid impermanence. The tabernacle totters, but the tenant lives. "The outward man perisheth, but the inward man is renewed day by day." All that is in thine house is lost, but all that is in thine heart is immortal. It behoves us, therefore, to remember that the true jewels are soul-jewels; the true ornament is in the hidden man of the heart; the imperishable wealth is in the sanctities of Heaven and the smile of God. "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven."—W.M.S.

Isaiah 39:8

The best blessings.

"There shall be peace and truth in my days." These are God's twin blessings. There can be no peace without truth. There is veracity in ,God's universe everywhere. It is only a seeming blessedness which exists apart from these things, for the flowers have no root. The dancing smile is only like phosphorescence on the face of the dead, if we are not at peace with God.

I. CHRIST'S LEGACY WAS PEACE. "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you." This is not peace of condition, but peace of conscience. The ocean, like Christ's life, may be troubled outwardly, but there is rest at the heart of it. We cannot judge by the surface-features of life. We must enter within to know if there be really peace. We must see the man in trouble, trial, solitude, and death. Then we shall see how true the acclamation is, "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." Bunyan had peace in Bedford Gaol; so had the confessors and martyrs of olden time.

II. CHRIST'S ATONEMENT GIVES PEACE. "Having made peace through the blood of his cross." We may be unable to give a theory of the atonement that can cover all its meaning—from the days of Anselm until now men have debated about that; but in depths of agony about sin we feel the need of a Saviour, and rejoice to sing—

"Nothing in my hands I bring.

Simply to thy cross I cling."

III. CHRIST GIVES PEACE THROUGH TRUTH. He tells the truth about our moral state and condition. He reveals the truth concerning the nature and purposes of God. He unveils the immortal life, not only as a doctrine, but in himself, in heavenly beauty of the earthly life. "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." How comfortable it is to rest on this gracious promise, and to know that the True One cannot lie!—W.M.S.

HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON

Isaiah 39:1-8

Complacency, rebuke, and acquiescence.

We may gather the preliminary truth that we need to look well before we decide on the character of Divine decisions and of human actions. Otherwise we shall certainly fall into serious mistakes.

1. It would be a mistake to assume that the calamities here foretold were consequent on Hezekiah's fault. So, at first sight, they might appear to be; but we may be quite sure that they were not. For in other places these national disasters are referred, not to one individual delinquency, but to national apostasy and disobedience. It was simply that the pride of the king provided a suitable occasion for intimating the sad humiliations which were in store for his descendants; just as the complacent remark of the disciples called forth the prediction that those great stones of the temple, in which they so much rejoiced, would before long be cast down to the ground. We need not, as indeed. we cannot, suppose that God would visit on a remote generation a terrible calamity in punishment of one comparatively small transgression.

2. It would be a mistake to suppose that Hezekiah was indifferent to the fate of his posterity so long as he and his contemporaries were secure (Isaiah 39:8). So selfish a spirit is inconceivable in so good a man. We have, of course, only a small part of his reply to the prophet; but we may assure ourselves that he meant nothing more than to signify his thankfulness that the judgments of God were to be mitigated by mercy toward himself and his people. The incident may speak to us of ―

I. THE PERIL OF COMPLACENCY. It seems that, after his recovery from sickness, gratitude was lost in self-gratulation. Then came the ostentation which met with the Divine reproof. Complacency is a very "slippery place" for our foot to tread. Only the steadiest can walk there without a stumble. Whatever may seem to justify it—even if it be successful philanthropy, religious service, or delightful devotion—it is a perilous place, in which it is easy to err and almost impossible to keep quite straight with God. Our occupancy of it should be but momentary; gratitude is much safer as well as much more acceptable to God.

II. THE DIVINE REBUKE. God reproved Hezekiah for his foolish ostentation. This is a sin which is no less offensive to him than it is distasteful to us. We can all see and do all feel how very unbecoming is pride in man. For:

1. We have nothing at all which we have not ultimately received from God.

2. Whatever we possess, whether of strength, beauty, faculty, honour, riches, etc; it is all so much more than we deserve.

3. At any moment we may be required to lay it down. Of the house of our power and our possession we are but "tenants-at-will." Who can tell that God may not be about to say to us, "This night' thou goest forth?

III. HUMAN ACQUIESCENCE. "Good is the word of the Lord." God's rebuke may be met with

Isaiah 39:4

The home, seen though not shown.

No doubt the ambassadors of the King of Babylon saw many things in the palace of Hezekiah which he did not exhibit to them; more things are seen than those which are displayed. It is so in every house; and it may be that the visitor goes away more impressed with some things which no one pointed out to him than with anything to which his attention was called. If any one were to ask him what he has seen in the house, he would mention that which its master had not thought to show him. What would any visitor to our house see, though we did not show it to him?

I. ORDER OR DISORDER? The manifest presence of a strong hand keeping every one in order and everything in its place; or the painful absence of it?

II. OBEDIENCE OR DISOBEDIENCE? Filial readiness and even eagerness to comply at once with the parents' wish; or the lingering step or even the entire disregard of that desire?

III. COURTESY OR DISCOURTESY? Habitually becoming behaviour at the table and the hearth; or the unwise neglect of those smaller observances which minister to the beauty and the sweetness of daily life?

IV. LOVE OR INDIFFERENCE, OR POSITIVE DISLIKE? The presence of that warm affection which should bind husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, in the bonds of happy and enduring fellowship; or a cold and sad indifference to one another's well-being; or a still sadder animosity and persecution?

V. SELFISHNESS OR SYMPATHY? The confinement of thought and care to the four walls of the home establishment; or a considerate and generous regard for the wants and wishes of neighbours and fellow-citizens?

VI. PIETY OR WORLDLINESS? Family worship, and—what is better still—a prevailing religious tone, as if parents and children all felt that temporal success was a very small thing in comparison with spiritual worth; or the language and habits of an ignoble and degrading worldliness?—C.

HOMILIES BY R. TUCK

Isaiah 39:1

Friendship that serves its own ends.

A kind of friendship only too common. Illustrated in the motto of a successful Birmingham tradesman, "Friendly with all, thick with none? Which in full means, "Friendly with all, that I may get all! can out of everybody; thick with none, lest anybody should get anything out of me." This is surely the meanest of mottoes ever set for the toning of a life. But Merodach-Baladan's offered friendship with Hezekiah was much of the same kind. The only question with him was, what advantage he could gain for himself by it. And there is no possibility of noble friendship until we can forget self, and say, "What can this friendship be to my friend?" The historical facts of special importance to us are these: The family of Merodach-Baladan ruled in Southern Babylonia, on the shores of the Persian Gulf. The district of the marsh-land of the delta formed, for a period of many centuries, the place of refuge for fugitive rebels from Assyria. While the Assyrian armies were engaged in the siege of Samaria, Merodach-Baladan seized the Babylonian throne, and naturally tried to support his position by securing alliances with distant nations, especially such as were tributary to Assyria. A good excuse was found in the case of Hezekiah, in the report of his serious sickness. In our day the illness of a sovereign is the occasion for sending all sorts of telegrams and embassies.

I. OFFERED FRIENDSHIP MAY FIND GOOD EXCUSES, True in common life of the individual; specially true in the relation of nations. Diplomacy is the art of working out a policy under the shelter of the deception of skilful excuses. It seems to mean a very simple thing; it really works a very subtle work. Baladan had two excuses.

1. His messengers honoured Hezekiah with congratulations on his recovery. A polite thing, quite likely to disarm all suspicions, and win confidence.

2. From 2 Chronicles 32:31 we learn that Baladan also framed a scientific excuse, and desired his ambassadors to inquire concerning the singular astronomical phenomenon which had been reported. All this kept out of sight Baladan's political schemings.

II. OFFERED FRIENDSHIP MUST BE JUDGED BY THE CHARACTER OF THOSE WHO MAKE THE OFFER. It was at least suspicious that Baladan was acting as a rebel against his sovereign lord. Hezekiah might have looked for some schemes of his own in this embassy. Friendship is always the expression of character and the test of character. The friendship of one who is unprincipled is full of peril. "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers."

III. OFFERED FRIENDSHIP MAY PROPOSE MORE THAN IT CAN ACCOMPLISH. So we should distinguish between friendship that is self-seeking and friendship that is weakly gushing, yet sincere. Our friends, in their love, often promise more than they can perform; and we must learn to take the will for the deed, giving credit for good intentions. God never disappoints.

IV. OFFERED FRIENDSHIP MAY HIDE POSITIVELY MALICIOUS DESIGNS. This will lead to references to the offered friendship of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the utter baseness and iniquity of Judas in coming to Jesus as a friend on the night of betrayal.—R.T.

Isaiah 39:2

The sin of presuming.

"And Hezekiah was glad of them, and showed them the house of his precious things." Presumption is taking the ordering of our lives into our own hands, without consulting God or remembering our dependence on him. It is the sin to which kings and rulers and men of masterful dispositions are specially exposed. Therefore David prayed so earnestly, "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me." The singular thing, and the suggestive thing, in the case of Hezekiah is that he took the insulting Assyrian letter and at once spread it before the Lord. Trouble drove him at once to God, but flattery disarmed him, and he acted without consulting God. Not without good reason is it urged that prosperity is a severer test of character than adversity; that "woe is unto us when all men speak well of us;" and that added years after a serious illness are oftentimes a very doubtful blessing. The writer of the Chronicles (2 Chronicles 32:25) helps us to read the heart of Hezekiah. He says that Isaiah was displeased with him because "his heart was lifted up." Vanity is indicated in this exhibition of all his treasures. Cheyne finds all the excuse that can be found for Hezekiah. He says, 'Was it merely vanity which prompted the king thus to throw open his treasuries? Surely not. It was to satisfy the emissaries of Baladan that Hezekiah had considerable resources, and was worthy of becoming his ally on equal terms. To Isaiah, as a prophet of Jehovah, the king's fault was principally in allowing himself to be courted by a foreign potentate, as if it were not true that 'Jehovah had founded Zion,' and that 'the afflicted of his people could find refuge therein.'" Matthew Henry says of Hezekiah, "He was a wise and good man, but when one miracle after another was wrought in his favour, he found it hard to keep his heart from being lifted up, nay, a little thing then drew him into the snare of pride. Blessed Paul himself needed a thorn in the flesh to keep him from being lifted up with the abundance of revelations." The sin of presumption is a more common, and a more serious, sill than we are wont to consider it. It is one that finds frequent illustration in Holy Scripture. The sin that lost Eden was presumption. Jacob's grasping at the birthright was presumption. Moses' smiting the rock twice was presumption. Saul's forcing himself to sacrifice when Samuel tarried was presumption. David's numbering the people was presumption. Peter striking off the ear of Malchus was presumption. These are but specimen cases, readily recalled. A careful estimate of many sins will reveal presumption at the root of them. Still, if we read our lives aright, we shall find that we are constantly presuming on what God would have us to do, and acting without making due inquiries of him.

I. TEMPTATIONS TO PRESUMPTION.

1. These come partly out of natural disposition. There is an evil of over-meekness; sometimes we find a lack of energy and self-assertion which prevents men from impressing themselves on any sphere of life which they may be called to occupy. But there is much more frequently the evil of over-assertion, that belongs to energetic, enterprising natures, that take life with a strong grip. Many men cannot wait. They form their judgments quickly, and want them immediately acted on. And such persons are constantly tempted to presume. If good men, they act first, and ask of God the approval of their actions. Oftentimes this strong self-willedness is a hereditary disposition, which the Christian spirit has to battle with and overcome. Oftentimes it is sadly fostered by the pettings of childhood, and the false education of youth; and then it is the serious confirmed evil that is hardly overcome even in a lifelong struggle.

2. The temptations come partly out of circumstances. In the desperateness of business pressure, the almost bankrupt man presumes on his friends, acts wilfully, and even brings others down in his ruin. But circumstances of success prove even greater temptations. Nebuchadnezzar is the type of the presumers, as he stands in the midst of his city, saying, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built?"

II. SIN OF PRESUMPTION.

1. It is sin against man's creaturehood. Man is not an independent being. He cannot stand alone. "No man can keep alive his own soul." He has nothing of his own. Then he has no right to presume.

2. It is a sin against a man's childhood. Parents have to repress this spirit in their children, because it is subversive of true home-life. And so must the great Father.

3. It is especially sin in man as redeemed. Because, as redeemed, man is the humbled sinner, who is made a monument of grace, and ought to walk humbly with God, always coming after him, and never pressing on before. The evil of this sin is seen in the deterioration of Christian character which follows whenever it is indulged.

III. PUNISHMENT OF PRESUMPTION. Usually this comes by the failure of the self-willed plans; or the sad results that follow the self willed course that is taken. In the case of Hezekiah God sends a vision of what will follow out of that embassy of which the king was so proud. It was the thin end of a wedge. Driven home, by-and-by, it meant the destruction of Jerusalem, and the captivity of Judah, by those very Babylonians. Hezekiah boasted in order to get a worldly alliance. His boastings excited cupidity, which presently led to the carrying away of the exhibited treasures. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" into the sin of presumption.—R.T.

Isaiah 39:6, Isaiah 39:7

Shadows projected from coming trouble.

Almost our worst troubles are the things we fear. They loom so large and seem so terrible, like distant figures in a fog. The mind is so long occupied with them before it can do anything in relation to them. Our Saviour's life was darkened with the shadows of his coming woe. As he talked with heavenly visitants, he "spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." He cried, "Now is my soul troubled Father, save me from this hour." The shadow seemed easier to bear when it darkened down into an actual present conflict and woe. Most men are "all their life in bondage through fear of death," and thousands of men are almost hypochondriacal in their anxieties about troubles that always seem to 'be coming, but seldom really come.

I. FUTURE THINGS THAT FLING SHADOWS OVER THE PRESENT.

1. The fear of the young Christian that he will not hold out to the end, Often a morbid fear; always an unworthy fear, because it really means our doubting whether God can keep us safely to the end.

2. Fears born of the difficulties of times of business depression. Parents often talk, in their homes, about the workhouse, in a joking way, which nevertheless means that the shadow of it lies upon their lives. A dread of failure and bankruptcy broods over many a business man. Unworthy dread, in view of the promise, "Verily thou shalt be fed."

3. Fears growing out of conditions of health. The exaggeration of this is observed in cases of religious mania or nervous depression. Then all the future is black and hopeless, and the soul immovably accepts the idea that it is for ever lost. These fears, alas! often inspire the suicide to his self-murderous deed.

4. Fears that gather about the certainty of judgment when the conscience bears testimony to guilt. A whole life may be shadowed by a crime. It is not the memory of the crime that flings the shadows; it is the conviction that the crime must come up again to view some day, and make its appeal for vengeance. In one way or another shadows lie on all our lives.

II. PRESENT THINGS THAT RELIEVE THE SHADOWS FLUNG BY THE FUTURE.

1. Human hope. The most indestructible thing in human breasts.

2. Right estimate of life; as the sphere in which a great moral purpose is being wrought out: character is being moulded by the mingled influence of things evil and things good.

3. The comforting promises of God; which assure us of Divine overcomings and overrulings.

4. And the assurance of the abiding Divine presence, which is a constant sweet light that, falling on the very shadows, touches them with golden glowing, even as dark evening clouds are kindled into glory at the after-sunset.—R.T.

Isaiah 39:8

Our submissions may be selfish.

"He said moreover, For there shall be peace and truth in my days." "Hezekiah not only acquiesces in the will of Jehovah. like Eli (1 Samuel 3:18), but congratulates himself on his own personal safety. It would, no doubt, have been the nobler course to beg that he alone might bear the punishment, as he alone had sinned. But the principle of the solidarity of the forefather and his posterity, and of the king and his people, prevails almost throughout the Old Testament." Self-delusion is very common in the matter of submission.

I. SOME THINK THEY SUBMIT WHEN THEY HAVE ONLY CEASED TO CARE. The two things are quite distinct. A man only truly submits while he keeps his care, and has his personal desire and wish still vigorous. True submission is the voluntary giving up of one's own wish because we accept the wish of another. The glory of it is that it is hard. It is easy enough when we have ceased to care.

II. SOME THINK THEY SUBMIT WREN THEY ONLY LIE DOWN UNDER GOD. As dying people, if asked whether they submit, will often say, "Oh yes; there is nothing else I can do." God is too big for them—that is all. If he were not, they would still struggle against him. This is the Mohammedan form of submission. "Allah Akbar!"—"God is great!" "Islam"—"We must submit to him." The exaggeration of this kind of submission is found in the Eastern doseh. Men lie down on the ground side by side, and let the king ride on horseback over their shoulders. Our God asks for no such submission as that.

III. SOME THINK THEY SUBMIT WHEN THE BURDEN IS LIFTED FROM THEM TO REST ON OTHERS. A very comfortable, but very mean, sort of submission. A selfish submission that acquiesces in a will of God that shields ourselves, whatever others may have to suffer. This was Hezekiah's submission. "Good is the will of the Lord in judgment, for he has shifted it over to make things comfortable for me." It is impossible to give Hezekiah much credit for so poor a submission as that.

IV. TRUE HEARTS THINK THEY SUBMIT ONLY WHEN THEY LOVINGLY ACCEPT THE HOLY WILL, WHATEVER THAT WILL MAY INVOLVE. Submission is the expression of confidence, the breath of trust, the sign of perfect love. It is the uttered child-heart. It cannot make any qualifications. Its unceasing refrain is, "My Father knows." The one sublime example of submission is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, though the holy will involved bitterest personal suffering, could sincerely say, "Not as I will, but as thou wilt." After Christ the world's great figure of submission is the venerable Moses, ascending Nebo to receive the kiss of God and die, "with Canaan's goodly land in view."—R.T.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 39:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/isaiah-39.html. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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