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Lowell Brueckner

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Hezekiah’s Illness and Error


36. An expository study of Isaiah, chapters 38 and 39

Chapter 38

Please open your Bible to Isaiah 38, so that you can follow the text, as I try to comment on it. We run into a difficulty in this chapter, but it only serves to teach us the ways of God. It is our purpose in the study of Scriptures, not to look for support for pet doctrines, but to open our hearts to learn the character of God and His dealings with mankind.

When we contemplate the sovereignty of God, we must take the relationship between God and man into account. Abraham was His friend and He spoke and communed with him.  This is a most wonderful thing in God’s personality: “The Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do’” (Ge.18:17). God was also very intimate with Moses and spoke with him, “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex.33:11). I have always been amazed at the following passage, when God intended to destroy the Israelites, after they made a golden calf to worship. He exclaimed to Moses, Let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against your people” (Ex.32:10). Moses actually detained the hand of the Almighty.

There are multiple times in the Bible, when we see the Lord withholding judgment, which He had declared upon people. The case of Jonah, prophesying destruction to the people of Nineveh, is a classic example, when the grace and mercy of God entered into the picture. Here is another interesting prophecy from the life of Paul, in which the disciples in Tyre prophesied: “Through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (Ac.21:4). Agabus also prophesied concerning this in Caesaria, and all the Christians tried to persuade him not to go on, but finally resigned to “let the will of the Lord be done” (21:14). We must conclude that, in the end in every case, the sovereign, unchangeable will of God is done.

These, however, are prophecies, which are not absolute, but conditional, predictions and are dependent on the reaction of the subjects, to which they are addressed. We might say that there is an unspoken dependent clause attached to them. The people, who knew God, including King Hezekiah, were aware of this divine principle.   

The chapter begins with the words, “In those days…”, that is, in the days of the Assyrian attempt against Jerusalem. It occurred in the 14th year of the reign of Hezekiah (Is.36:1). He received 15 more years of life and he reigned a total of 29 years. He was 25 years old when he began to reign (2 Kgs.18:2), so he was 39 years old at the time of his sickness. Isaiah prophesied, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover” (v.1).

There is an important matter to consider in this whole affair, as to the sovereign will of God. Apparently there is no heir to the throne, when Hezekiah takes sick. Manasseh was not yet born; his birth took place three years later, because he was twelve years old, when he began to reign. Please notice that Isaiah, in verse 5, refers to “the God of David your father” and in the account in 2 Kings 20:6, God said that He would heal Hezekiah and save Jerusalem “for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake”. When Solomon dedicated the temple he reminded the Lord of His promise to David, “You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel” (1 Kgs.8:25). This promise did not fail throughout the generations of the kings of Judah and the lineage continued until the time of the Messiah’s birth. Therefore, in the sovereign will of God and because of Christ, Hezekiah could not die without an heir.

We turn to the details of the account. The Lord instructs the king to put his house in order, to prepare himself, his family and, in general, all his affairs for his upcoming death. We must assume that we are to apply this command, as much as we are able, to our lives, as well. We have just mentioned a large hole in Hezekiah’s case, a most important issue left undone, that is, the fact that he has no son to set on the throne.

At 39 years of age, this would be a hard blow for anyone and the king is no exception. He simply rolled over in his bed and faced the wall (v.2). He went to the only One that can intervene, where man can offer no cure. It is the God, who has showered His blessing and love upon this man from his earliest days, and his prayer carried as much weight, as that which was sent from two sisters many centuries later: “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (Jn.11:3). Not always is the petition granted, but it is always heard and treated with the greatest affection and care.  
“‘Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.’ And Hezekiah wept bitterly” (v.3). It was a tender-hearted, simple prayer of a child, reaching out to a concerned father, uttered with tears from a wounded heart. Immediately, there was a response (v.4).

God comforted the king through the powerfully gifted prophet: “Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father.” He was reminded of his place in the center of God’s eternal purposes in the line of Christ. No son or daughter of God today is in any less of a position than his, each one having been individually chosen, called and conceived to be conformed to the image of His Son. “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears.” It is wonderful to be able to approach God’s throne and be heard. It is much to our advantage to pray with an intensity that moves our emotions, because He not only hears prayer, but sees tears. The Lord granted the request, adding 15 years to the king’s life (v.5).

The greatest problem in the king’s administration was also resolved as the Lord, according to His nature, does “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph.3:20), and no Assyrian, then or ever after, set foot in Jerusalem (v.6). In addition, as a believer, Hezekiah received a sign. Ahaz, his father, refused to ask for a sign to help him learn to trust God. Hezekiah gladly seizes the opportunity and asks for the more difficult of two signs. In the case of an unbeliever, a sign might be given to bring him to faith; in that of a believer, signs follow faith, and a unique sign was given in confirmation of Hezekiah’s faith. He witnessed the only time in the history of planet earth that the sun, not only stopped, but retreated towards the east! (v.7-8)

Afterwards, the king wrote his testimony, humbly confessing his thoughts during the time of crisis and giving glory to the Lord for His miraculous intervention. He had lamented his early departure from the earth, spending part of what would be a normal life span in the grave. His earthly walk with the Lord and the fellowship of earthly friends would be cut short. He saw the temporal nature of life on earth like that of a shepherd’s tent, picked up easily and moved. For this reason, the Psalmist also gave us an example to measure our days (Ps.39:4).

Hezekiah illustrates his life, as being cut from a weaver’s loom quickly after he weaves a piece of material. Twice he writes of the shortness of life, comparing it to the span of a fraction of a day, the time in which a weaver might start and finish a piece of material. The night hours complicate spiritual oppression, and the sufferer, crushed body and soul, as if attacked by a lion, anxiously awaits daylight. He moans pitifully as a dove and weakly chirps as a bird, looking upward towards heaven for help, until his eyes grow weary. In this way, he pleads for the Lord to undertake for him (v.9-14).   

Suddenly, the Lord speaks to him and works a miraculous healing. He is left without words to describe the experience. He determines however to walk much more softly and slowly, certainly more humbly, in the future. These are the lessons learned through suffering. It is surely for that purpose that God allowed the sickness, which Hezekiah calls the bitterness of soul (v.15).

While the king waits for total restoration, he reflects on the fact that God’s people live by His Word and His supernatural work in their lives (v.16). Earlier we contemplated God’s loving care for Hezekiah; now read his enlightened statement about it: “Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back” (v.17). This statement is too rich for us to make just a brief comment and then go on. I bring in some commentators to help us appreciate it.

We begin with the JFB commentary: “Thou hast been lovingly attached to me from the pit”; pregnant phrase for, Thy love has gone down to the pit, and drawn me out from it. Realized in its fullness only in reference to the soul’s redemption from hell by Jesus Christ.” Matthew Henry states: “The word here signifies a very affectionate love: Thou hast loved my soul from the pit of corruptions; so it runs in the original. This is applicable to our redemption by Christ.” Barnes adds: “Margin, ‘Loved my soul from the pit.’ The Word which occurs here denotes properly to join or fasten together; to be united tenderly; to embrace. Here it means that God had loved him, and had thus delivered his soul from death.” Finally, we will have Clarke finish these comments: “‘Thou hast lovingly embraced’ or kissed ‘my soul out of the pit of corruption.’”  It seems that here God opened Hezekiah’s eyes and he caught a glimpse far beyond healing from a fatal disease, to the cross, where God cast all his sins upon Christ and then they were tossed into the depths of a bottomless sea. This is an absolutely amazing and beautiful revelation! Take all the time you need to contemplate it.

Hezekiah shows three qualities that should be expressed by the living: gratefulness, praise and hope in God’s faithfulness. The dead, death and the grave are incapable of such action. Let’s join ourselves, then, to those whom Christ has given life. Let us be overwhelmed by thanksgiving, let us be filled with praise, and let us rejoice in the hope that is secured by His faithfulness! (v.18)

Hezekiah is certainly basking in the sunshine of his deliverance: “The living, the living, he thanks you, as I do this day” and is he hinting to God his desire for an heir, when he adds, “the father makes known to the children your faithfulness”? (v.19). All the good things that happen to us must transform into praise and song “all the days of our lives, at the house of the Lord” (v.20).

Isaiah prescribes the anointed remedy, straight from the heavenly apothecary, a cake of figs to be applied to the king’s boil, and three days later, in light of the miraculous sign of the sun’s reverse motion, Hezekiah goes in faith to the house of the Lord (see 2 Kgs.20:5 along with v.21-22).

Isaiah 39

Unfortunately, there is another matter to report, which also happened “at that time”. Hezekiah was taken up with the present Assyrian threat. He had watched the advances of their army on all sides and had withstood, with God’s intervention, a direct confrontation with high Assyrian officials and their army outside Jerusalem. He could not see a greater threat on the way, one that would topple Jerusalem and carry its dignitaries and many of its prominent citizens into captivity.

An ancient depiction
Merodach-baladan of Babylon was named after the god of war, Merodach. He had some affinity with the king of Judah, because, as Hezekiah, he had held off the Assyrians and maintained independence for about 10 years. Upon hearing of Hezekiah’s illness, the king of Babylon “sent envoys with letters and a present” (v.1). Hezekiah welcomed them as belonging to a potential political ally and, willing to show his friendship and trust, he gave them a tour of his house and his kingdom, but especially of his treasuries of silver, gold, precious oil, and armory (v.2). Probably, this demonstration was never forgotten in Babylon.

As one of the best kings of Judah, Hezekiah had achieved many reforms and had been highly successful in advancing his kingdom. It seems that no human being can handle success and power and this king became proud for a time. Regarding the visit from Babylon, in 2 Chronicles 32:31 it states very suggestively, “God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart.” (Read from 2 Chron.32:24-33 for a summary). The king was left to the limitations of human knowledge and devoid of the godly discernment, which is essential in leading His people. He saw only the political situation in his time and was not aware of what would take place about 100 years later.

This prompted the prophet Isaiah to come to the king and he had several questions regarding the Babylonian visit. Hezekiah assured Isaiah that they came from Babylon, a distant country, and therefore, he thought, were no danger to Judah. He told him that he had hid nothing from them (v.3-4). Ah, but the man of God had looked to heaven and could see a century into the future!

Isaiah knew the answers to his questions, before he asked them. His was the voice of God (v.5) He saw the rise of the “head of gold” (, the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar, and the conquest of the Assyrians. He saw them becoming a force to be reckoned with on the world scene and an important part of world history. He saw their siege of Jerusalem and its fall, the Babylonians achieving, what God did not allow the Assyrians to attain. He saw them ransacking the sacred treasures, some of them stored for generations: “Nothing shall be left” (v.6), he said. He saw the birth of Manasseh and that his descendants in generations to follow would “be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (v.7). Hezekiah had entertained and befriended the greater enemy.

The word of God reveals what Hezekiah said and also what he thought. To God, the thoughts and the meditations in men’s heart are as clearly read, as are his words and deeds, and He will judge them accordingly. “Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, ‘The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.’ For he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my days’” (v.8). The passage in 2 Chronicles, mentioned earlier, states that, not only did Hezekiah become proud, but he humbled himself (2 Chron.32:25-26). Hezekiah recognizes that the sentence, caused by his sin, is good and also merciful. A truly humbled and repentant person will always recognize that his punishment is less than he deserves.


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