Isaiah 38-39

Isaiah 38‑39  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 10
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And then, “In those days”, just when Hezekiah had been so marvelously lifted up by this Divinely-wrought deliverance, he was smitten with an illness that brought him face to face with death. Through Isaiah, who just before had given him the message of deliverance for his city and people, he was told to prepare for his end. Unlike Asa, one of his predecessors, who when diseased “sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians”, he did go straight to the Lord and with tears besought for his life. He was heard and 15 further years were granted to him.
He asked for a sign that he should recover, as the last verse of the chapter tells us, and a remarkable sign was given. That the shadow on the sun dial should go ten degrees backward was entirely contrary to nature, but it was a sign befitting the fact that God was about to reverse Hezekiah’s sickness, so that contrary to the nature of his disease, it should end in life and not death. A plaster of figs does not usually cure a virulently septic boil, but it did in this case as an act of God.
Unbelievers may of course refuse this story of the sun dial incident, just as they do the incident of the long day, recorded in Joshua 10:1313And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. (Joshua 10:13), when the apparent course of the sun was arrested. It is worthy of note that in Joshua the sun, “hasted not to go down about a whole day.” The ten degrees of Hezekiah’s time may have completed a whole day. He who established the course of the solar system can accelerate or retard it, if it pleases Him so to do.
The Apostle Paul has told us, in Romans 5:3-53And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; 4And patience, experience; and experience, hope: 5And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. (Romans 5:3‑5), what excellent results in the hearts and lives of saints are produced by tribulation, since it leads to the in-shining of the love of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. A faint foreshadowing of this we find in the writing of Hezekiah after he was recovered which writing is preserved for us in verses 10-20.
It begins on notes of great mournfulness, occupying five verses, but it ends on songs which are to fill the rest of his life. The change of tone begins when he recognized the affliction as coming from the hand of God. Moreover he discovered, as verse 16 shows, that what threatened death to his body brought life to his spirit, which is more important than the body.
Verse 17 too is full of instruction. It expresses what unconverted folk have sometimes found, as well as saints, when deeply tried or near to death. Hezekiah did not then concern himself with “my kingdom”, or “my wealth”, but “my soul”. He also become conscious of “my sins”, and that there was a “pit of corruption” into which his sins threatened to cast his soul. This must have been a very acute spiritual experience for him; and so it is equally for us.
But on the other hand he made some very joyous discoveries. First, he discovered that on God’s part there was “love to my soul”, though he could not have known that with the fullness that has only been revealed in Christ. Yet it led to the further discovery that God had dealt with his sins, though he could not have known that with the finality that the Gospel brings to us. In his day there was “the remission [i.e. passing over] of sins that are past” (Rom. 3:2525Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (Romans 3:25)); that is, the sins of saints who lived before full atonement was made by Christ on the cross. Still he knew that God had cast all his sins behind His back; and since God does not move in circles but rather straight forward through the eternal ages, what He casts behind His back is there forever, and not as He said to Ephraim in Hosea 7:22And they consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness: now their own doings have beset them about; they are before my face. (Hosea 7:2), “before My face.”
Consequently he had the happy assurance that his soul was delivered from the doom that threatened it. The pit of corruption he would never see. What a wonderful experience was brought to Hezekiah by this violent sickness! Since his day many a saint has found a period of sickness, or of loss in other ways, to be an occasion of rich spiritual gain; many a sinner has been laid low to be broken in spirit and humbled for eternal blessing.
But, before we leave this chapter, there is another sobering reflection; for 2 Kings 21:11Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Hephzi-bah. (2 Kings 21:1) reveals that his son Manasseh, who succeeded him, was only 12 years old when he began to reign; that is, he was born after Hezekiah’s recovery, as the result of his added 15 years of life. And this Manasseh reigned for 55 years and did such evil in and with the nation that the Babylonian captivity had to be inflicted upon them, as is shown so plainly in 2 Kings 21:10-1610And the Lord spake by his servants the prophets, saying, 11Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done these abominations, and hath done wickedly above all that the Amorites did, which were before him, and hath made Judah also to sin with his idols: 12Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle. 13And I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab: and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down. 14And I will forsake the remnant of mine inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies; 15Because they have done that which was evil in my sight, and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came forth out of Egypt, even unto this day. 16Moreover Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; beside his sin wherewith he made Judah to sin, in doing that which was evil in the sight of the Lord. (2 Kings 21:10‑16). Let us learn from this that we may earnestly beseech God for something that we regard as a favor, and it may be granted us, and yet we may have subsequently to discover that the “favor” we demanded carried with it consequences that were by no means favorable.
And this reflection is deepened when we read chapter 39. The Assyrian having been smitten of God, the revived city of Babylon began to lift up its head, though more than a century had to pass before it became the predominant power. Hezekiah had been magnified in the sight of surrounding peoples by the miraculous destruction of the Assyrian army, and also by his own miraculous recovery; hence the complimentary embassage from Merodachbaladan, which pleased him much and led to a display of his pride.
We are told quite definitely in 2 Chronicles 32:25, 2625But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem. 26Notwithstanding 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. (2 Chronicles 32:25‑26), and 31 That God’s kind deliverances led to the heart of Hezekiah being lifted up with pride, and that God permitted the testing of these men from Babylon to “try him”, and to “know all that was in his heart.” The Babylonians, whether they knew it or not, set a trap, and into it he fell, displaying for his own glory all that God had permitted him to acquire. Hence the solemn message Isaiah had to bring him, of coming judgment from Babylon on his sons and people.
Nor does the last verse of our chapter present Hezekiah to us in a very favorable light. He evidently cared much more for his own personal success and comfort than for the welfare of his posterity or of his nation. He had been favored of God, but he passes from our view too much wrapped up in his own blessings, too little concerned for others on whom the judgment was to fall.
Thus these four historical chapters, whilst recording God’s merciful intervention both for the nation and for Hezekiah personally, show us quite plainly that there was nothing in the people nor in the best of their kings that would avert the more immediate judgment on Jerusalem, that in the earlier chapters Isaiah had foretold.