Isaiah 38 - Outline of Isaiah (Book Notes menu page)
II. Historic Interlude (prose), ch. 36-39
B. Captivity of Judah foretold, ch. 38, 39
  1. King Hezekiah's sickness, prayer, and healing, 38:1-22
  2. King Hezekiah's foolish pride and God's prophetic rebuke, 39:1-8
1. In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death.
And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him,
Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.
in those days...- ie., around the time of Assyria's siege of Jerusalem (recorded in ch.36-37),
Hezekiah became sick, with what God said would be a terminal illness.
2 Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the LORD,
3 And said, Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee,
how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart,
and have done [that which is] good in thy sight.
And Hezekiah wept sore.
Remember... I beseech thee...- This account of Hezekiah's 'sentence of death'
and his release from it, foreshadows the death and resurrection of the final King in David's line. Yet, Hezekiah's 'strong crying and tears' were unlike those of Christ (Heb 5:7-9), for Hezekiah prayed in opposition to God's revealed will, while Christ prayed in total submission to it (Luk 22:42).
I... have done that which is good in thy sight...-
God's Word records that he was a righteous king (2Kin 18:1-6), but not like the King of kings.
  • Hezekiah appealed for his own life on the basis of his own righteousness and merit.
  • Christ appealed for life for others on the basis of His righteousness and death, on their account. (cp. Rom 4:24,25; Gal 1:3,4; 1Pet 2:24; Titus 3:5-7)
4 Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying,
5 Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father,
I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears:
behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.
6 And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria:
and I will defend this city.
7 And this [shall be] a sign unto thee from the LORD,
that the LORD will do this thing that he hath spoken;
8 Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees,
which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward.
So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.
Thus saith the LORD, the God of David...-
The Lord graciously answered Hezekiah's prayer, not on the basis of Hezekiah's righteousness, "but for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake" (see 2Kin 20:6; Isa 37:35). The king's deliverance from death was linked to the LORD's deliverance of Jerusalem from Assyria.
     Hezekiah's deliverance from death (through cure of his deadly disease) foreshadows Christ's deliverance from death through resurrection on the third day, for He is the true Captain of God's people (see 2Kin 20:5; 1Cor 15:3,4; Heb 2:10).
I will add unto thy days fifteen years...-
  • Christ's reign, beyond death, will not be similarly limited (Psa 21:1-4).
  • Hezekiah reigned 29 years (2Kin 18:2). Therefore, this sickness occurred in the fourteenth year of his reign, which was also the year that Sennacherib threatened Jerusalem (Isa 36:1).
this shall be a sign... that the LORD will do this thing that he hath spoken...-
What had God spoken?
  1. that He would deliver Jerusalem from the king of Assyria (v.6; 37:33-35), and
  2. that He would add fifteen years to Hezekiah's life (v.5).
Hezekiah's healing was a further confirmation that Jerusalem would be spared. Thus, Hezekiah's faith was greatly strengthened. This is the probable explanation for the transformation in his prayer life, that we observed in the previous chapter. From being so spiritually weak that he could not pray, but asked Isaiah to pray to 'thy God' (37:1-4), he became fully confident in approaching the LORD, and had full assurance that the LORD would answer (37:14-20). Hezekiah gives testimony to the cause of his spiritual growth, in the remainder of this chapter (ch.38).
So, the sun returned ten degrees {or, ten steps} -
     The 'steps' of Ahaz may refer to a staircase along an outside wall, installed during the reign of Ahaz. The shadow of a nearby structure marked the passing hours as it moved up and down the steps. How did God cause the shadow to reverse by ten steps? We are not told the means, though many explanations have been conjectured by commentators. It was the LORD's doing, in response to the cry {ie., loud proclamation} of Isaiah (2Kin 20:9-11). (A similar miracle is recorded in Josh 10:12-14.) In his day, king Ahaz had refused a sign from the LORD (Isa 7:11-14). Here, the LORD gives another sign to the house of David, and He does so upon the legacy and handiwork of the unbelieving Ahaz.
     Fifteen of the Psalms bear the superscription: 'a song of degrees' (Psalms 120-134). These were probably sung by pilgrims as they ascended to Jerusalem from year to year. Might Hezekiah have recognized each of these Psalms as a step toward his heavenly home, since there was one for each of his remaining years? The following verses (v.9-20) are a psalm written by Hezekiah.
9. The writing of Hezekiah king of Judah,
when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness:
10 I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave:
I am deprived of the residue of my years.
Rather than reaching his 'threescore and ten' years (Psa 90:10), Hezekiah would have been only 39, if he had died during his fourteenth year of reign. With the added 15 years, he would attain the ripe old age of 54 (2Kin 18:2). cp. Psa 102:11,23,24
11 I said, I shall not see the LORD, [even] the LORD, in the land of the living:
I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world.
12 Mine age is departed, and is removed from me
as a shepherd's tent:
{like a temporary dwelling}
I have cut off like a weaver my life:
{ie., like a thread cut off from the loom}
he will cut me off with pining sickness:
from day [even] to night wilt thou make an end of me.
13 I reckoned till morning, [that], as a lion, so will he break all my bones:
from day [even] to night wilt thou make an end of me.
14 Like a crane [or] a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove:
mine eyes fail [with looking] upward:
O LORD, I am oppressed; undertake for me.
I said, I shall not see the LORD...-
Some readers think this statement suggests that Hezekiah did not believe in life beyond the grave. However, it is evident, from the context, that Hezekiah's perspective was distorted by the pain of his distress. While his attention was captured by the crisis within himself, he lost sight of God's purposes (cp. Psa 102:4-7). He goes on to tell us how the crisis was resolved (cp. Psa 31:22).
15 What shall I say? {cp. Joh 12:27}
he hath both spoken unto me, and himself hath done [it]:
I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul.
16 O Lord, by these [things men] live,
and in all these [things is] the life of my spirit:
so wilt thou recover me, and make me to live.
17 Behold, for peace I had great bitterness:
but thou hast in love to my soul [delivered it] from the pit of corruption:
for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.
18 For the grave cannot praise thee, death can [not] celebrate thee:
they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.
19 The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I [do] this day:
the father to the children shall make known thy truth.
20 The LORD [was ready] to save me:
therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments
all the days of our life in the house of the LORD.
the living... he shall praise thee...- When the sorrows of death were removed from him,
Hezekiah broke into a song of praise. Some scholars believe Hezekiah also wrote Psalm 116, following his close approach to death. That Psalm also provides a foreview of the Savior's sorrows and joys, in tasting death for every man, and in rising out of death to praise the LORD alongside His people for whom He drank the cup of salvation. (See the Book Notes on Psalm 116.)
     Here again, some misunderstand Hezekiah's words (in vs.18,19) as a statement that there is no life beyond the grave. However, Hezekiah sings as one who has made the transition from spiritual death to spiritual life. Those who are spiritually dead neither praise the Lord in this life, nor in the next. But those who have entered into spiritual life praise Him 'from this time forth and for evermore' (Psa 115:17,18; cp. Eph 2:1,4-7).
...thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back...-
In v.17, Hezekiah confesses the cause of his fear of death and tells us of the peace of knowing his sins are forgiven. (cp. Rom 5:1; 1Cor 15:56,57; Heb 2:14,15)
...the living, the living, shall praise thee...
...the father to the children {lit., sons} shall make known thy truth {ie., faithfulness}...
...the LORD was ready to save me... therefore will we sing...- cp. Psa 30:11,12; 107:1,2
Hezekiah sincerely worshipped the LORD and declared His truth and faithfulness, both publicly (in this psalm) and privately, to his children. Yet, following Hezekiah's death, his son Manasseh turned from the LORD, to become one of the most wicked of Judah's kings. 2Kin 20:20- 21:9
     The reference above indicates that Manasseh began his wicked reign, when he was only twelve years old. Therefore, he was born early in Hezekiah's fifteen year life extension. This raises questions, which though unanswerable in regard to the ancient king, nevertheless may be instructive when applied to ourselves: (A) Did good king Hezekiah contribute to the decline of the nation, by clinging to his physical life? (B) Did Hezekiah's self-focus contribute to his failure to convey God's truth to his son, despite his good intentions (v.19)?
21 For Isaiah had said, Let them take a lump of figs,
and lay [it] for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover.
22 Hezekiah also had said, What [is] the sign
that I shall go up to the house of the LORD?
Isaiah had said... take a lump of figs... upon the boil... he shall recover. (2Kin 20:6,7)-
The Lord, who is the Great Physician, prescribed the cure for Hezekiah's illness.
The 'prayer of faith' for healing does not exclude medical treatment. In James 5:14,15, prayer and 'anointing with oil' {ie., application of medicine} work together to accomplish healing in the 'name of the Lord.'
Hezekiah had said, What is the sign...? -
This verse explains the reason that God gave a sign in vs.7,8.
Notice that the sign had a dual purpose, although Hezekiah only mentions one, here. It confirmed God's promise of healing for the king, and also of deliverance for his city (vs.5,6). In Hezekiah's self-focus, he asked for confirmation that his personal health would be restored, and failed to mention the well-being of the city. However, as we have seen, following the LORD's intervention in his personal crisis, he became fully confident that the LORD would deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrians.
     Yet, as we will see in the next chapter, his confidence in the LORD, soon changed into self-confidence and pride (cp. 2Chr 32:24-26,31).

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