The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Isaiah 38

Isa 38:1

Isa 38; 39: The events in these chapters predate those in Isa 36; 37 by a short time. (Hezekiah's miraculous recovery, and God's saving of Jerusalem from the Assyrian, are closely linked: they are the personal AND the national salvation of Israel!) Isaiah placed them here, out of chronological order, to make them a historical prologue to Isa 40 -- 66, which focus on the suffering and finally triumphant Servant of Yahweh. (In like manner, this placement makes Isa 36; 37 the historical appendix to Isa 1-35, which focus on the history of Israel and Judah.)

This section opens with Hezekiah contemplating death (Isa 38:1a) and ends with him contemplating life (Isa 39:8). In between, Isaiah delivered two messages to the king (Isa 38:1b-7; 39:3-7). Hezekiah's dedication (Isa 38:8-22) followed the prophet's first message, and his defection (Isa 39:1,2) precipitated the second message.

PUT YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER: Setting one's life in order is a significant thing in the service of God: Gen 22:9; Exo 26:17; 39:37; 40;4,23; Lev 1:7,8,12; 6:12; 24:8; 1Ki 18:33; 2Ki 20:1; 2Ch 13:11; 29:35; Eze 41:6; Acts 18:23; 1Co 11:34; 14:40; Tit 1:5.

Do we just muddle through life, or is there some order and structure to our worship and devotion to the Father? For example, do we have a strategy to ensure that we read Scripture regularly and pray regularly?

YOU ARE GOING TO DIE; YOU WILL NOT RECOVER: But sometimes what God announced through His prophets seemed inevitable, but when His people prayed it became negotiable (cp Gen 32:26; Exo 32:7-14; Jam 4:2).

Isa 38:3

Hezekiah's prayer was answered immediately. Why was this? We know that God hears (and answers) prayers that are voiced "according to his will" (1Jo 5:14); we have to conclude, therefore, that what Hezekiah asked was according to God's will. Psa 102, for example, is a prayer of a man in dire straits. Maybe this is that prayer of Hezekiah. If so, it is instructive, because the Psalmist prays for the fulfilment of God's plan with Zion rather than seeking his own deliverance.

Isa 38:5

THE GOD OF YOUR FATHER DAVID: God sent His answer to Hezekiah's prayer back to him through Isaiah (cp 2Ki 20:4). The LORD identified Himself as the God of David, his forefather. Perhaps the reference to David helped Hezekiah remember God's promises to David about the perpetuity of his dynasty (2Sa 7). This reminded the king that God would remain faithful and care for His people.

Isa 38:6

AND I WILL DELIVER YOU AND THIS CITY FROM THE HAND OF THE KING OF ASSYRIA. I WILL DEFEND THIS CITY: This was, of course, the deliverance described in Isa 36; 37 -- which happened very shortly after the events of Isa 38.

Isa 38:7

Instances of signs that accompany healings: 2Ki 2:20-22; 4:41; 20:7.

Isa 38:8

The rare word used consistently for "steps" or "degrees" here is "ma'alah" -- also sw used in titles "Songs of DEGREES"!

THE STAIRWAY OF AHAZ: Evidently an exterior stairway that led to his upper room on the roof of the palace, where Ahaz had erected altars (2Ki 23:12). This stairway was probably not built as a sundial, but it served that purpose as the sun cast its shadow on more or fewer steps depending on the time of day. That stairway may have been constructed as a sundial, or a different stairway constructed for that purpose could be in view. Evidently Hezekiah could see it from his sickbed. The passing away of daylight on the stairway symbolized the passing away of Hezekiah's life, and the return of sunlight represented the restoration of life.

SO THE SUNLIGHT WENT BACK THE TEN STEPS IT HAD GONE DOWN: Was this miracle a local or a global phenomenon? Notice that what the LORD promised was the movement of the shadow, not the sun that cast the shadow. This opens the possibility for a local miracle in which the shadow moved backward while the earth continued to rotate as usual (cp 2Ch 32:31); such a change in the direction of the shadow's movement could have been caused by the temporary placement of a greater light than the sun -- ie, the Shekinah Glory of Almighty God.

Isa 38:9

Vv 9-22: Most of this section is a psalm of lamentation and thanksgiving that Hezekiah composed after his recovery (vv 10-20). This psalm begins with reference to the gates of Sheol and sorrow at the prospect of shortened days (v 10), and it ends with reference to the house of the Lord and joy at the prospect of lengthened days (v 20). The king began by referring to the land of the living being exchanged for the departed (v 11), and he ended with reference to the land of the departed exchanged for the land of the living (vv 18,19). In the middle, he contrasted God's hostility (vv 12-14) with His restoration (vv 15-17). Hezekiah described his condition first (vv 9-14), and then he praised God for His mercy (vv 15-20).

Isa 38:12

A SHEPHERD'S TENT: The proverbial symbol of a temporary, fleeting abode. Here is graphically portrayed the shadowy uncertainty of this life; we are but pitching our tents for a short span in the "valley of the shadow of death". This body of death, the earthly "house" or "tabernacle" (2Co 5:1,4; 2Pe 1:13,14), is destined soon to vanish away. "The things which are seen are temporal." We all know we must die; we know technically what death means. But do we really comprehend the irresistible pull of death, which waits for each of us, to draw us inexorably into the grasp of the grave? If we could only keep in mind the pitiful little we have in this life, and the exceedingly brief time we have to enjoy it, we would have no trouble trusting in our Heavenly Father alone and "redeeming the time."

LIKE A WEAVER I HAVE ROLLED UP MY LIFE, AND HE HAS CUT ME OFF FROM THE LOOM: His life was like a weaver's finished piece of cloth that the weaver cuts off decisively and rolls up to take away. Cp Job 7:6: "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and they come to an end without hope".

Both images in this verse are of objects that suddenly disappear from their expected places.

DAY AND NIGHT YOU MADE AN END OF ME: The thought is that in the morning one did not expect anything untoward to occur, and by evening, when darkness had come, the event had already taken place (cp Job 4:20).

Isa 38:16

BY SUCH THINGS MEN LIVE, AND MY SPIRIT FINDS LIFE IN THEM TOO: He prayed that others would learn from his experiences, as he himself would, and that the LORD would indeed restore his health and his life.

Isa 38:17

The sins of God's people: "Covered" (Psa 32:1), "Removed" (Psa 103:12), "Cast behind God's back" (Isa 38:17), "Blotted out" (Psa 51:1; Isa 44:22), "Washed away" (Psa 51:2,7), "Remembered no more" (Jer 31:34), "Sought for but not found" (Jer 50:20), "Cast into the depths of the sea" (Mic 7:19).

Isa 38:18

Death as an unconscious state: Psa 104:33; 146:3,4; Isa 38:18; Ecc 9:5,6,10. Yet there is deliverance from Sheol for some: Psa 16:10; 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Isa 26:19; Dan 12:1-3. The OT does not have the word "resurrection", but the principle is plainly taught throughout.

See Lesson, Double negative, Hebrew.

Isa 38:20

Other songs of Isa and Hezekiah: Psa 120-134 (some compiled from other authors); Psa 77; 88; 102.

Isa 38:22

HEZEKIAH HAD ASKED, "WHAT WILL BE THE SIGN THAT I WILL GO UP TO THE TEMPLE OF THE LORD": Hezekiah asks for a sign that he will in fact go back to the temple in three days. Rather than an indication of unbelief, his request should be viewed against the background of his father Ahaz's refusal of a sign in Isa 7:12. Isaiah gladly offers Hezekiah a choice of signs (v 9).

I WILL GO UP TO THE TEMPLE OF THE LORD: This is consistent with Hezekiah's previously-shown zeal for the house of the LORD (2Ch 29:3; cp Psa 122:1,9; 134:1,2).

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