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Isaiah 38

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Hezekiah Healed Hezekiah's Life Extended Hezekiah's Illness and Recovery King Hezekiah's Illness and Recovery The Illness and Cure of Hezekiah
38:1-3 38:1-3 38:1-3 38:1 38:1-3
      38:2-3  
38:4-6 38:4-8 38:4-6 38:4-6
(38:21-22)
38:4-6
(38:21-22 and 7-8)
38:7-8   38:7-8 38:7-8 The Canticle of Hezekiah
38:9-14
(10-14)
38:9-14
(10-14)
38:9-20
(10-15)
38:9-20
(10-15)
38:9-20
(10-15)
38:15-20
(15-20)
38:15-20
(15-19)
(20)
(16-20) (16-20) (16-20)
38:21-22 38:21-22 38:21-22    

READING CYCLE THREE (see introduction)

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. As chapters 36-37 related to the Assyrian period, chapters 38-39 point toward the Babylonian period of influence on God's people.

 

B. It must be remembered that there are two distinct "Babylons"

1. Merodach-baladan II (721-710, 703-702 b.c., cf. II Kgs. 20:12; Isa. 39:11) of Hezekiah's day (who I think is the one referred to in Isaiah 13-14).

2. Neo-Babylon under Nabopolassar (626-605 b.c.) and his son, Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 b.c.), who caused the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 b.c. He ordered several exiles of Judeans (605, 597, 586, 582 b.c.)

 

C. The Jewish Study Bible (p. 858) says, "the events described in chapters 38-39 preceded the events described in chapters 36-37 by at least ten years." This is because of Assyria's defeat of Merodach-baladan II.

 

D. Hezekiah's illness and healing are also recorded in II Kgs. 20:1-11. His psalm is similar to Psalm 6 and 118 or even Jonah 2. The psalm of Hezekiah does not appear in II Kings 20.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED)TEXT: 38:1-3
1In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, "Thus says the Lord, 'Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.'" 2Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3and said, "Remember now, O Lord, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in Your sight." And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

38:1-8 This is a good example of the fact that God is in control of history, yet history is also affected by our prayers (cf. 37:21). But also remember that it was during this "extra time" of Hezekiah's life that his evil son and successor, Manasseh, was born. In some ways God's answer to Hezekiah brought judgment on Judah. We must pray in God's will, for we never see the big picture.

38:3 "Remember" The verb (BDB 269, KB 269, Qal imperative) is an imperative of request. Hezekiah, like Nehemiah (cf. Neh. 13:14,22), is asking God to take note of his lifestyle faith. It is interesting that in the Bible humans pray for God to forget their sins, while God asks for them to remember His word.

God's memory is a way to plead with Him to be faithful to His word and promises lived out in an individual life.

Notice what Hezekiah asserts.

1. I have walked (BDB 229, KB 246, Hithpael perfect) before You in truth (lit. "faithfulness," BDB 54). "Walked" is a biblical metaphor of lifestyle faith (i.e., Ps. 26:3; 86:11).

2. I have done this with a whole heart, this is a biblical metaphor of total dedication.

3. I have done what is good in your sight.

 

▣ "with a whole heart" This is a statement which is usually related to the reign and life of David (cf. I Kgs. 3:6; 9:4; 11:4; I Chr. 28:9); the people (I Chr. 29:9); or Asa (cf. I Kgs. 15:14). Hezekiah is considered to be one of the godly kings of Judah (cf. II Kgs. 18:5-6).

▣ "wept bitterly" There is some question as to why Hezekiah was so upset at the thought of his death: (1) his fear of dying in middle age, based on v. 10 or (2) the fact that he had no heir (cf. v. 19; 39:7; II Kgs. 21:1). It is uncertain which, if either, of these is true because we do not have any psychological way to analyze the statements of people in history. The tragedy is that during this additional fifteen-year extended life span the birth of Manasseh occurred and he was the most evil king that Judah had and was greatly responsible for the Babylonian exile.

NASB (UPDATED)TEXT: 38:4-6
4Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, saying, 5"Go and say to Hezekiah, 'Thus says the Lord , the God of your father David, "I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. 6I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city."'

38:4-6 Inspiration is a difficult concept to describe. The doctrine is crucial for our faith, but how it works is undefined.

1. visions

2. dreams

3. symbolic acts

4. verbal statements

5. editors' work

6. even a translation (i.e., LXX used by the early church, i.e., Isa. 7:14)

I believe the Bible is a unique book. A book of divine revelation. In this verse, as so often in the Prophets, the message is a specific verbal statement from YHWH. The eternal God has revealed Himself to His highest creation, mankind.

38:5 "the God of your father David" This statement links back to 37:35 and forward to 55:3. David represented the ideal king and YHWH made special promises to him and his family, II Samuel 7; I Kgs. 8:24-26. A future ideal Davidic king is mentioned in 9:7; 16:5; 55:3.

38:6 Not only will God spare Hezekiah's life, but He will spare Jerusalem's life also! The phrase "I will defend" is Holy War terminology. The covenant God acts on behalf of His covenant people!

NASB (UPDATED)TEXT: 38:7-8
7"This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that He has spoken: 8Behold, I will cause the shadow on the stairway, which has gone down with the sun on the stairway of Ahaz, to go back ten steps." So the sun's shadow went back ten steps on the stairway on which it had gone down.

38:7-8 "be a sign to you from the Lord" Here again, this was a physical sign to encourage Hezekiah that God was going to spare his life (II Kgs. 20:9 is a fuller account). It seems to be related to

1. a sun dial designed to use the steps leading to the king's private chamber

2. the term "steps" means "degrees" of a sun dial (cf. II Kgs. 20:9-11, JPSOA translation, see James Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, p. 183)

3. some type of astronomical phenomenon

We must be very careful in being dogmatic about exactly how God accomplished this. A supernatural God can do anything He desires within the laws of nature. However, this could equally be done by some natural phenomenon such as high humidity in a cloud layer. It is obvious that the other solar miracle in Joshua 10:12-13 is primarily more poetic than physical. We who believe in the miraculous must be careful that we do not attribute everything that we do not understand to the miraculous. Many times God used natural means to accomplish supernatural things (i.e., the plagues of Egypt). In the ancient world there was no distinction between the natural and supernatural (see John L. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis 1).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 38:9-14
9A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah after his illness and recovery:
10I said, "In the middle of my life
I am to enter the gates of Sheol;
I am to be deprived of the rest of my years."
11I said, "I will not see the Lord,
The Lord in the land of the living;
I will look on man no more among the inhabitants of the world.
12Like a shepherd's tent my dwelling is pulled up and removed from me;
As a weaver I rolled up my life.
He cuts me off from the loom;
From day until night You make an end of me.
13I composed my soul until morning.
Like a lion - so He breaks all my bones,
From day until night You make an end of me.
14Like a swallow, like a crane, so I twitter;
I moan like a dove;
My eyes look wistfully to the heights;
O Lord, I am oppressed, be my security.

38:10-20 This is a psalm written by Hezekiah. He was well aware of wisdom literature and he promoted the use of Psalms (cf. II Chr. 29:25-30). However, it does not appear in the parallel of II Kgs. 20:1-11.

38:10

NASB"In the middle of my life"
NKJV, TEV,
REB"in the prime of my life"
NRSV"in the noontide of my days"
NJB"in the noon of my life"
LXX"in the height of my days"
Peshitta"in the midst of my days"

The MT has דמי (BDB 198, KB 226 II), which means "cessation," "pause," "rest," or "quiet." Some scholars see this as referring to a mid-day time of rest. KB 226 I asserts there is another form of the same root that means "half" (NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 972). The LXX translates it as "height of my days," which assumes a similar reading.

▣ "the gates of Sheol" See Special Topic: Where Are the Dead? at 5:14.

The "gates of death" are mentioned in Job 38:17; Ps. 9:13; 107:18; and Matt. 16:18 (where "Sheol" is called "hades"). This is metaphorical of death as a prison.

▣ "deprived of the rest of my years" The age of one's life was seen as a marker of God's approval (i.e., Moses, cf. Deut. 34:7; Joshua, cf. Josh 24:29). For one to die before having a child would be seen as a judgment of God (cf. Ps. 55:23; 89:45,46-48; Pro. 10:27).

38:11 The ancient Hebrews did not see death as a reunion and fellowship with God, but a separation from life and the God of life. The OT has little light to shine on the afterlife. Even the NT is somewhat veiled in this area, though it does give more information.

▣ "Lord. . .Lord" The MT has Yah (יה, cf. 12:2; 26:4) twice, which should probably be just one YHWH (יהוה). The scroll of Isaiah in the DSS has one Yah.

▣ "among the inhabitants of the world" This translation is found in most English translations. The MT has the word "cessation" (i.e., "the land of the dead," BDB 293 I, הדל); the change to "world" (BDB 317, הלד, comes from some Hebrew MSS and the Aramaic Targums). USB's Hebrew Text Project thinks it is a purposeful play on the terms (p. 93), not a textual confusion. The phrase "inhabitants of the world" also occurs in Ps. 49:1.

38:12 Hezekiah uses two metaphors to describe the end of his earthly life.

1. the taking down of a tent (cf. II Cor. 5:1; II Pet. 1:13,14)

2. cloth cut from a loom

There is a question of how to translate the first word in the MT, דור (BDB 189, KB 217).

1. dwelling, form found only here (BDB 190, #4, KB 217 I), NASB, NRSV, NJB, JPSOA, REB

2. generation, life-span, common meaning of the root (BDB 189, KB 217 II), LXX, Peshitta, NKJV, TEV

There is also a question about the verb (גלה, BDB 162, KB 191). It could mean

1. "rolled up" from גלל, BDB 164 II, Niphal perfect, cf. 34:4 (used in this sense only here)

2. "removed" from גלה, Niphal perfect, a unique meaning here, usually it means either

a. uncover, reveal

b. to go away, send away

Most English translations use option #2, following the MT, but #1 fits the context well.

▣ "From day until night You make an end of me" This is idiomatic language (cf. Job 4:20; Ps. 73:14) of a complete action.

38:13

NASB"I composed my soul"
NKJV"I considered"
NRSV, NJB"I cry for help"
TEV"I cried out with pain"
REB"I am racked with pain"

The MT has "I have smoothed" (i.e., "stilled my soul"), שׁוה, BDB 1000, KB 1436, Piel perfect, but many translators assume a change to שׁוע, BDB 1002, KB 1443 I, which means "to call out for help," cf. 58:9, which seems to fit best.

▣ "Like a lion - so He breaks all my bones" Hezekiah's death is seen as an action of the sovereign Lord. The OT monotheism attributed all causes to the one God. The ancients did not recognize secondary causes.

The Hebrew uses strong metaphors to describe God's actions, here a lion.

38:14 As v. 13 describes the Lord's power, v. 14 describes Hezekiah's weakness.

1. NASB, NJB, REB - "twitter"

NKJV - "chatter"

NRSV - "clamor"

TEV - "my voice was thin and weak"

This verb (BDB 861, KB 1050, Pilpel imperfect) means "to chirp," "to peep." It is used of birds here and 10:14, but in other places, of mediums (cf. 8:19; 29:4).

2. "moan" - BDB 211, KB 237, Qal imperfect, cf. 16:7; 59:11; Ezek. 7:16; Nah. 2:7. It denotes sorrow for a current situation.

3. eyes look wistfully to the heights

a. "look wistfully" - BDB 195, KB 223, Qal perfect, used of prayer to God in Ps. 79:8; 116:6; 142:6 (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 951)

b. "heights" - BDB 928, would be a metaphor for heaven (cf. 32:15; 57:15; 58:4)

4. oppressed - BDB 799, this form is found only here. The Pual verbal form in 23:12 means "crushed." Maybe Hezekiah was thinking of Ps. 103:6 or 146:7.

 

▣ "O Lord" The MT has adon (BDB 10), as in v. 16, not YHWH, as in vv. 3,4,5,7,11,20 (twice), 22.

▣ "be my security" This imperative (BDB 786, KB 876, Qal imperative) expresses Hezekiah's request based on his weakness. The verb means a pledge (cf. Job 17:3; Ps. 119:122). YHWH Himself was Hezekiah's hope and guarantee!

NASB (UPDATED)TEXT: 38:15-20
15"What shall I say?
For He has spoken to me, and He Himself has done it;
I will wander about all my years because of the bitterness of my soul.
16O Lord, by these things men live,
And in all these is the life of my spirit;
O restore me to health and let me live!
17Lo, for my own welfare I had great bitterness;
It is You who has kept my soul from the pit of nothingness,
For You have cast all my sins behind Your back.
18For Sheol cannot thank You,
Death cannot praise You;
Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness.
19It is the living who give thanks to You, as I do today;
A father tells his sons about Your faithfulness.
20The Lord will surely save me;
So we will play my songs on stringed instruments
All the days of our life at the house of the Lord."

38:15-20 This strophe reveals the OT theology of Sheol. The afterlife was not a desirable place.

38:15 "He has spoken. . .He Himself has done it" This reflects the sovereignty of the monotheistic God of Israel. He speaks, it happens (cf. 55:11)!

38:16 The second line is difficult in the MT. The LXX translates it as "and you revived my breath"; JPSOA translates it as "my life-breath is revived."

38:17

NASB"You who has kept my soul"
NKJV"You have lovingly delivered my soul"
NRSV"You have held back my life"
NJB"you have preserved my life"
REB, Peshitta"you have saved me"

The MT has the verb "loved" (חשׁק, BDB 365 I, KB 362, Qal perfect), but it does not seem to fit well in this line of poetry, so some scholars assume "hold back," חשׁך, BDB 362, cf. 14:6; 54:2; 58:1.

▣ "For You have cast all my sins behind Your back" This psalm is related to Hezekiah's relief that he has been delivered from Sheol. Yet, somehow in Jewish mentality, disaster is always linked to sin. It is not certain how any of Hezekiah's actions were seen by YHWH to deserve early death. However, it is a wonderful statement that God forgives and forgets. Please compare Psalm 103:11-14; Isaiah 1:18; 43:2-5; 44:22; Jeremiah 31:34; and Micah 7:19.

This is such an important truth-when God forgives, God forgets! Many believers claim God's forgiveness based on Bible promises, but have not yet experienced the complete joy of God's forgetfulness!

SPECIAL TOPIC: WORDS FOR FORGIVENESS

38:20 "The Lord will surely save me" See SPECIAL TOPIC: SALVATION (OLD TESTAMENT TERM) at 33:2.

Notice the "salvation" here involved physical deliverance from death allowing future worship in the temple, cf. v. 22; II Kgs. 20:5, much like Ps. 23:6.

NASB (UPDATED)TEXT: 38:21-22
21Now Isaiah had said, "Let them take a cake of figs and apply it to the boil, that he may recover." 22Then Hezekiah had said, "What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the Lord?"

38:21-22 These verses are absent in the DSS of Isaiah, but they are in the LXX. A form of them is found earlier in the account in II Kgs. 20:7. The NJB puts them in their translation after v. 6.

38:21 "Let them take a cake of figs, and apply it to the boil, that he may recover" We know from other ancient Israeli documents that figs were used as a medicine (also in Ugarit). Here we have the exact nature of Hezekiah's illness (i.e., a boil). Whether it was some kind of cancerous growth or a boil at a vulnerable place is uncertain.

Notice it is YHWH who heals, but court physicians who apply medicine (i.e., figs). Again the ancients did not differentiate between the divine cause and a natural cause. All causation is attributed to God. He is intimately involved in His world, His covenant people, and individuals!

This verse has three jussives.

1. Let them take - BDB 669, KB 724, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

2. Let them apply it (lit. rub) - BDB 598, KB 634, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

3. Let him live - BDB 310, KB 309, Qal jussive