Major Prophets – Isaiah 38-39

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city.
“‘This is the Lord’s sign to you that the Lord will do what he has promised: I will make the shadow cast by the sun go back the ten steps it has gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.’” So the sunlight went back the ten steps it had gone down.
A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah after his illness and recovery:
I said, “In the prime of my life
    must I go through the gates of death
    and be robbed of the rest of my years?”
I said, “I will not again see the Lord himself
    in the land of the living;
no longer will I look on my fellow man,
    or be with those who now dwell in this world.
Like a shepherd’s tent my house
    has been pulled down and taken from me.
Like a weaver I have rolled up my life,
    and he has cut me off from the loom;
    day and night you made an end of me.
I waited patiently till dawn,
    but like a lion he broke all my bones;
    day and night you made an end of me.
I cried like a swift or thrush,
    I moaned like a mourning dove.
My eyes grew weak as I looked to the heavens.
    I am being threatened; Lord, come to my aid!”
But what can I say?
    He has spoken to me, and he himself has done this.
I will walk humbly all my years
    because of this anguish of my soul.
Lord, by such things people live;
    and my spirit finds life in them too.
You restored me to health
    and let me live.
Surely it was for my benefit
    that I suffered such anguish.
In your love you kept me
    from the pit of destruction;
you have put all my sins
    behind your back.
For the grave cannot praise you,
    death cannot sing your praise;
those who go down to the pit
    cannot hope for your faithfulness.
The living, the living—they praise you,
    as I am doing today;
parents tell their children
    about your faithfulness.
The Lord will save me,
    and we will sing with stringed instruments
all the days of our lives
    in the temple of the Lord.
Isaiah had said, “Prepare a poultice of figs and apply it to the boil, and he will recover.”
Hezekiah had asked, “What will be the sign that I will go up to the temple of the Lord?”

  • Isaiah 38:1-22

At that time Marduk-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, because he had heard of his illness and recovery. Hezekiah received the envoys gladly and showed them what was in his storehouses—the silver, the gold, the spices, the fine olive oil—his entire armory and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.
Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, “What did those men say, and where did they come from?”
“From a distant land,” Hezekiah replied. “They came to me from Babylon.”
The prophet asked, “What did they see in your palace?”
“They saw everything in my palace,” Hezekiah said. “There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.”
Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord Almighty: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
“The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my lifetime.”

  • Isaiah 39:1-8

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

Isaiah 36-39 ‘Historical Interlude’: “These four chapters duplicate, almost verbatim, 2 Kings 18:13-20:19 (cf. 2 Chr. 32:1-23). See notes on 2 Kings for amplification. Isaiah added this material to make the references to Assyria more understandable. It is most probable that Isaiah is the author of this section, since 2 Chronicles 32:32 says Isaiah also wrote the acts of Hezekiah. Isaiah’s record was incorporated into 2 Kings by the author of that record. These chapters form the transition that closes the first division of Isaiah’s prophecy. Chapters 36 and 37 are the historical consummation of chapters 1-35-Ierusalem’s deliverance from Assyria-and chapters 38 and 39 the historical basis for chapters 40-66-a preview of the Babylonian captivity.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 38-39 ‘Hezekiah’s Recovery and shortsightedness’: This chapter contains an initial prose section relating Hezekiah’s illness unto death (v.1), his prayer for healing, and his testament of devotion (vv.2-3). God’s response through Isaiah is a promise of deliverance for both Hezekiah and the city of Jerusalem (vv.4-6). The promise is confirmed by a sign, the meaning of which is not entirely clear (vv.7-8). The increasing shadow may have been viewed by the king as paralleling his own demise. To move the shadow backwards was in effect to lengthen the light of day for both himself and Jerusalem.
“The prose section is followed by a psalm of thanksgiving, which is not included in the 2 Kings account. It conveys Hezekiah’s trust that God will heal him. Vv.10-15 reflect on the illness as a past event, while vv.16-20 look to his restoration of health.
“The emphasis on the king’s faithfulness (v.3) and the call for a sign (v.22) heighten the contrast with Ahaz. It was the unfaithfulness and disobedience of Ahaz that led to his and Judah’s demise initially; now it is Hezekiah’s faithfulness and devotion that lead to his and Judah’s deliverance.
“Ch. 39 provides the transition to the Babylonian chapters that follow. Hezekiah’s unthinking disclosure of his country’s treasures to the Babylonian visitors leads Isaiah to predict the eventual Babylonian invasion and the removal of Jerusalem’s inhabitants to exile in Babylon, all of which is regarded as a reality in the opening verses of ch. 40.

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Isaiah 38:1 ‘In those days … sick’: “Hezekiah’s sickness occurred before the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem described in chapters 36 and 37. Isaiah placed the description of that illness here, along with chapter 39, to introduce chapters 40—66. See … 2 Kings 20:1. Set your house in order. An instruction telling Hezekiah to make his final will known to his family (cf. 2 Sam. 17:23; 1 Kin. 2:1-9). You shall die and not live. The prediction sounded final, but Hezekiah knew God was willing to hear his appeal (cf. Ex. 32:7-14).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 38:3 ‘loyal heart’: “Hezekiah based his implied request for an extension of his life on an undivided desire to please the Lord.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 38:5 ‘fifteen years’: “The Lord’s immediate (2 Kin. 20:4) response granted the king’s request. Having to reverse a prophecy so quickly did not alarm Isaiah, as it did Jonah later on (Ion. 4:2, 3). Isaiah resembled Nathan in this respect (2 Sam. 7:3-6).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 38:7 ‘a sign … ten degrees backwards’: “Here is the first biblical mention of any means of marking time. According to 2 Kings 20:8-10, Hezekiah requested this sign to confirm the Lord’s promise of healing.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 38:9 ‘writing of Hezekiah’: “In response to his healing, Hezekiah wrote the record of his helplessness when facing death (vv. 10-14) and told of God’s response to His condition (vv. 15-20). This poetry is missing from the parallel account in 2 Kings.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 38:17 ‘when sin was gone’: “Here we have the Lord’s promise of absolute pardon. King Hezekiah mentioned this as the cause of his restored peace and health. He could not be healed and cheered till the cause of disease was gone, and that was sin. Sin was the foreign element in his spiritual constitution, and as long as it was there, it caused fret and worry and spiritual disease. But when the sin was gone, health and peace came back. Sin is a heavy load and a weighty curse. Observe also the owner of this burden: King Hezekiah said not sins only but ‘my sins.’  We all must feel the weight and heaviness of our own sins. The next important word, which is a word of great number, refers to the comprehensiveness of that burden: ’all.’ He says, ‘All my sins.’ What a row of figures it would take to number them all! As to the record of them, surely it would reach around the sky—all my sins. In what balance will they be weighed? What must the wrath be that is due to me on account of them? Think long and humbly of those words—all my sins. Now see how the Lord deals with them. He takes them all, and what does he do? He casts them away. What a deed of omnipotence! None but the Lord Jesus himself could ever have lifted all my sins, but he did lift them and took the whole mass of my sins and cast them as far as the east is from the west. Even more, he cast them behind Jehovah’s back. God has cast all our sins away and effectively made an end of them. He treats us as though our sins had never existed as far as his justice is concerned. Through the vicarious sacrifice of Christ, the Lord looks at us as if we had never sinned at all.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Isaiah 38:18 ‘cannot hope’: “Hezekiah’s understanding of the resurrection of believers was incomplete. The same was true of others throughout much of the OT. But he was right in recognizing that death ended his opportunity for earthly praise and worship in the presence of men.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 38:19 ‘father … children’: “Word about God’s faithfulness passed from generation to generation (Deut. 4:9; 6:7; Ps. 78:3, 4). If Hezekiah at this point had no heir, he had another reason for frustration over dying in the prime of life.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 38:22 ‘sign’: “Hezekiah’s request explained why the Lord gave him a sign that he would be healed (v. 7; cf. 2 Kin. 20:8). the house of the LORD. Hezekiah went to the temple (v. 20) as Isaiah had instructed him to do (2 Kin. 20:5, 8).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 39:2 ‘Hezekiah was pleased’: “The text does not say whether it was because of flattery or a desire for help against the increasing Assyrian threat. Cf attentive in 2 Kings 20:13. treasures … treasures. Doubtless to try and impress his visitors (2 Chr. 32:25), Hezekiah showed all he could contribute in an alliance against the Assyrians.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 39:3 ‘Isaiah the prophet went’: “God’s spokesman showed up, without being invited, to confront the king, as often happened (e.g., 7:3; 2 Sam. 12:1; 1 Kin. 13:1; 18:16, 17).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 39:6 ‘nothing shall be left’: “Hezekiah’s sin of parading his wealth before the visitors backfired, though this sin was only symptomatic of the ultimate reason for the captivity. The major cause was the corrupt leadership of Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son (2 Kin. 21:11-15).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 39:7 ‘sons who will descend from you’: “To a king without an heir, this was good news (that he would have one some day) and bad news (that some of his sons must go into captivity). See 2 Kings 24:12-16; 2 Chronicles 33:11; Daniel 1:3, 4, 6 for the prophecy’s fulfillment.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Isaiah 39:8 ‘word of the Lord … good’: “This is a surprising response to the negative prophecy of verses 5-7! It perhaps acknowledged Isaiah as God’s faithful messenger. peace and truth in my days. Hezekiah might have reacted selfishly, or possibly he looked for a bright spot to lighten the gloomy fate of his descendants.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)


My Thoughts

Hezekiah became ill.  He was going to die.  Even Isaiah foretold it.  But Hezekiah prayed.  God promised him fifteen more years.  He even received a sign in that the shadow went backwards on the steps of Ahaz.

How this miracle occurred is roughly the same argument that I gave for Joshua’s extra day to fight the enemy (Joshua 9-10).  The scientist would say if the earth spun backwards, even a little, there would be more destruction than one hundred earthquakes at the same time.  The sun moving in the sky would have the same effect to the entire galaxy.  But neither had to occur.  God, who is Light, could appear, so much brighter than the sun, the shadows would follow God.  By whatever means it happened, it was a sign.

My wife had open-heart surgery about five years ago.  I was waiting to say good night to her before going home, but she had difficulty coming out of the anesthesia.  She was intubated and could not talk.  When she awoke, she saw double.  The nurses only saw her trying to talk.  They asked all the wrong questions.  She got frustrated and closed her eyes, drifting back to sleep.  They finally asked me to go home.  No sooner than I got home, the nurse called to say she was awake and doing well.  I never got to talk to her that day.

The next morning, I walked into her recovery room and she was smiling.  She said, “I have fifteen more years.”  I looked at her puzzled.  “I prayed like Hezekiah did and I will have fifteen more years just like he had.”

Recently, with her on-going kidney failure, two-month plus bout with Shingles, pneumonia, GI bleed, etc., she said that this past month might be our last anniversary.  I reminded her about Hezekiah and she tried to deny that she said anything.  The toll of constant illness and constant pain is too much, but for now, she is stronger.  That would be my answer to all the suffering in life.  Death is the ultimate gain in life, but until we get there, suffering prepares us for that end, making us and our faith stronger.

Us stronger?  Yes, while our body may be falling apart, with each bit of suffering, we realize that we can handle the next bit.  As C. S. Lewis said something about the exact moment of the present time is not that bad and even tolerable.  It’s the past and the future that makes us anxious, but God tells us to trust in Him.  Thus, I feel strong in the present.

It is very ironic that in the latter half of Isaiah 38, Hezekiah’s writing says that he will walk humbly for the rest of his days, but then in Isaiah 39, he does his worst blunder of his reign as king, showing the Babylon envoy everything.

I agree with Rev. MacArthur on this one.  Isaiah 36-37 should be after Isaiah 38-39 chronologically.  Thus you do not get the sense that Hezekiah was allying with Babylon and showing them what he could offer to defend against the Assyrians.  What he did was show Babylon his defenses and the fact that Jerusalem was a target of great opportunity, a lot of riches.  A diplomatic blunder that would send his people into exile.  But Isaiah prophesied that the blunder would cost his descendants.

Hezekiah had just been given a death sentence for the kingdom of Judah, and he replies that the Word of the Lord was good.  Was he doing as the scholars suggest and praising God for this not happening in his lifetime, or was he praising God because God’s judgment is just?  The latter show more of that humble walking that he talked about in the previous chapter.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“Isaiah 38: 1. Wicked people often live easy lives, or long lives, whereas those serving God often experience great hardships. How do you deal with the seeming unfairness? What might be God’s perspective on the matter?
“2. What do you fear about death? What hope does the gospel give you that was unknown to Hezekiah?
“3. Hezekiah realized his illness and his deliverance were both from God (vv.15-17). What does it mean to you that suffering is part of God’s plan for you? What role does suffering serve in your life?
“4. Hezekiah viewed life as a gift from God to be used for his purposes. How would this affect how you will live out your numbered days?
39: 1. What hero (religious or political) have you idolized? How has seeing his or her faults forced you to look again to Jesus as the model for your life?
“2. ls it harder for you to be faithful during times of hardship, or times of success? Why?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There is one set of questions for each chapter.

Substitute whatever group for any reference to a small group or ask who could come to your aid.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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