God does not threaten, a threat is vulnerable to dissolution, God’s words are not: Mercy does not threaten, He warns.
Cf. 2 Kings 20:12-19; 2 Chronicles 32:24-31
Isa 39:1 At that time Merodach-bal-adan (Merodak, Marduk: “your rebellion”, a chief deity of Babylon. Bal, Bel, “lord”, a chief deity of Babylon. Adan, adon, “lord”), the son of Bal-adan (Bal, Bel, “lord”, a chief deity of Babylon. Adan, adon, “lord”), king of Bavel (Confusion, Babylon), sent letters and minchah an offering to Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy): for he had heard that he had been sick, ve’chezak and was strengthened, had become strong.
“Rebellion the lord of confusion, son of self-deification, king of confusion, sent letters and an offering to My strength is Mercy, for rebellion had heard that My strength is Mercy had been sick and had now become strong, powerful, self-assured.”
“At that time”: The chronology of these events falls sometime between 710 and 703 BCE. Isaiah 38:1 tells us that the events recorded there occurred in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign (715-686 BCE), however, as was the case with several Judean kings, the length of their reign is sometimes confused by the fact that they spent time as co-regents to their fathers: as is the case with Hezekiah.
Merodach-Baladan ruled the Aramean tribe Bit Yakim whose territory included the mouth of the Euphrates river. In 721 BCE he captured Babylon (Bavel) and reigned as king until 710 BCE, when he was defeated and driven out by Sargon II. Following Sargon’s death Merodach-Baladan returned to Babylon and reigned there for an additional nine months (704-703 BCE).
There is some debate concerning which of Merodach-Baladan’s two reigns these events refer to, however, it seems most likely that with reference to Hezekiah’s reign the best correlation can be made with Merodach-Baladan’s first reign (721-710 BCE). It is probable that Merodach-Baladan was seeking an alliance with Hezekiah in order to gain allies in an attempt to topple the Assyrians.
We note that spiritually speaking Merodach-Baladan represents the seat of satanic power in the east. Both names convey rebellion and the presumption of deity, specifically Merodack (Marduk [2 Kings account] and Bel, two of the chief deities of Babylon. Additionally, he is king of Confusion (Bavel: Babylon), born of the land which had been the sight of the tower of Bavel (Babel), a symbol of humanity’s rebellion against God.
“He sent letters and an offering to Hezekiah”: Many English translations render the Hebrew “minchah” as “gifts”, which, while technically correct in the sense that an offering can sometimes be considered a gift of free will, is not specific enough in this context. The literal meaning is “offering”, a specific type of gift or substitutionary sacrifice, one offered to God or gods. In this case Merodach-Baladan is attempting to gain Hezekiah’s support and therefore, sends an offering to the God of Hezekiah, HaShem.
Based on the context we can deduce that the letters are probably acknowledging Hezekiah’s famed healing and the Divine deliverance of Israel from her enemies (Assyria). All this in an attempt to flatter the Judean king and garner his favour in support of Merodach-Baladan’s political plans.
“he had been sick, and was strengthened, had become strong.”: We note that the Hebrew text does not say “he had been sick and had recovered” as some English versions mistranslate, but “he had been sick and was strengthened, mad strong.” This is more than a testament to Hezekiah’s healing, it is an affirmation of the strengthening of his position and power, and subsequently that of Judah. It also infers pride, which is affirmed by the 2 Chronicles account.
Isa 39:2 Vaiyismach And joyful toward them was Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy), and showed them the house of treasure, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and ha-shemen the oil ha-tov which is good, precious, and all the house of kelav his utensils, arms, and all that was found in his storehouse: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) did not show them.
It is important to understand verses 2-8 in correlation with the 2 Chronicles account of this portion of Hezekiah’s reign.
Cf. 2 Chronicles 20:24-31
24 “In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. He prayed to HaShem, Who answered him and gave him a miraculous sign. 25 But Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore HaShem’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem. 26 Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore Hashem’s wrath did not come on them during the days of Hezekiah. 27 Hezekiah had very great wealth and honour, and he made treasuries for his silver and gold and for his precious stones, spices, shields and all kinds of valuables.28 He also made buildings to store the harvest of grain, new wine and olive oil; and he made stalls for various kinds of cattle, and pens for the flocks. 29 He built villages and acquired great numbers of flocks and herds, for God had given him very great riches. 30 It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channelled the water down to the west side of the City of David. He succeeded in everything he undertook. 31 But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God proved him, that he might know all that was in his heart.”
From both a political and spiritual perspective Hezekiah’s actions seem strange at best, and at worst prideful. He did not merely show, but rather showed off all that was under his rule, including, as Yarchi suggests, “The book of the Torah”, and “the oil that was good” which probably alludes to the sacred oil of anointing reserved for the priesthood (Ex. 30:30-32). This is illuminated further by the 2 Chronicles account, which clearly indicates that Hezekiah had become prideful following his healing and the deliverance of Judah from the Assyrians. Thus, when we read that Hezekiah joyfully received the envoys of Babylon and showed them all the armaments, utensils and riches of Judah (A foolish act that made the nation vulnerable to a greater governmental power of the region), he was in fact acting out of pride rather than in the humility he had formerly acquired through illness.
Added to this is the possibility that the Hebrew “kelav” refers to utensils used in Temple worship rather than to weapons. Therefore, in showing these utensils to the envoys of Babylon he would have been guilty of defiling the sanctity of their use in accordance with the priestly service. All this was done in a contrary fashion to his former actions of devotion and repentance. Many of us find ourselves in a similar position when having been delivered from sickness and adversity by the hand of God, we become confident in our health and well-being and find ourselves indulging a form of self-idolatry, strengthened by our temporary circumstance. This being in opposition to our former reliance on God and the strength that comes from right relationship in Him.
It is important to understand the last clause of 2 Chronicles 20:31 properly: “God proved him, that he might know all that was in his heart.” The “him” does not refer to God but to Hezekiah, “God proved him”, thus, the subsequent masculine terms refer to the direct precedent, Hezekiah. In order to understand this text correctly we should read “God proved Hezekiah, that Hezekiah might know all that was in his (Hezekiah’s) heart”.
Isa 39:3 Then came Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah) the prophet unto king Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy), and said to him, “What did these men say? and from where have they come to you?” And Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) said, “They are come from a far country to me, from Bavel (Confusion, Babylon).
Isaiah’s prompt attention to these events and the questions he asks are proof at very least of his suspicions. In fact, it is likely that Isaiah knew exactly what had taken place, either by prophetic insight or via news from the upper city. Therefore, Isaiah’s questions are intended to cause Hezekiah to reflect on what he had done, rather than being queries for information.
In this context the fact that Isaiah had to come to Hezekiah after the fact indicates that Hezekiah had not sought the prophet’s counsel beforehand regarding the Babylonian envoys: something that he would have done had he been focused on the will of Hashem rather than on his own strength and prosperity. In the past Isaiah had always warned against relying on the strength of human allies rather than relying on the God of Israel. Hezekiah’s actions serve to expose his failure to continue in righteousness following his recovery from illness and the deliverance of Jerusalem and Judah.
Hezekiah’s reluctant answer to Isaiah’s questions reveals a great deal. Hezekiah completely avoids answering the first question regarding what was said by the envoys of Babylon. Why? What was it that they had said? Most likely they had come to Hezekiah with a proposal of alliance from king Merodach-Baladan. Thus, Hezekiah was afraid to tell Isaiah what they had said because he knew that Isaiah, speaking the word of God, had warned against relying on human strength rather than on the God of Israel. The answer that Hezekiah did give was at best reluctant. He doesn’t name the country of the envoys origin outright, rather her buffers the name with the phrase “from a far country”, why? Because he knew that Babylon was both politically (historically) and spiritually (perpetually) opposed to the God of Israel and His chosen people.
Were Hezekiah to have carefully considered the nature of his meeting with the envoys of Babylon he would have realised that he was literally entertaining the envoys of Confusion. This in direct opposition to the God of Israel Who is a God of Order.
Isa 39:4 Then said he (Isaiah), “What have they seen in your house?” And Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) answered, “They have seen all that is in my house: there is not a thing within my storehouse that I have not showed them.
Once again Isaiah asks a question in order to encourage Hezekiah to acknowledge the foolishness of what he has done. “My house” while specifically representative of the palace and lineage of Hezekiah, is also a figurative way of referring to all that Hezekiah has been given dominion over. Thus, he has shown the envoys of Babylon all the riches, arms and resources of Israel including her Temple utensils, sacred oil and ritual practises.
One hears the self-effacing incredulity in Hezekiah’s voice in the words “there is nothing within my storehouses that I have not shown them.” In other words “What have I done?”
Isa 39:5 Then said Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah) to Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy), “Shema, Hear, listen, receive, comprehend, understand devar-HaShem a word of the LORD (YHVH: Mercy) Tzevaot Who goes warring (of hosts):
Isaiah instructs Hezekiah not only to hear but to listen, receive, comprehend and act accordingly, from a position of understanding. The Hebrew “Shema” embodies all these things.
This challenge is imparted to Hezekiah in the Name of Mercy, Who goes warring. Hezekiah had called on these attributes of God during his time of sickness and vulnerability: now God is coming to Hezekiah in the manifestation of these same attributes. Hezekiah must decide whether he will stand before Mercy, Who goes to war, or in humility, repent and follow behind HaShem Elohiym, the Merciful Judge.
Isa 39:6 Hineih Behold, now, pay attention, the days are coming, that all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have laid up in store until this day, will be carried to Bavel (Confusion, Babylon): nothing will be left,” says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD).
“Listen up, pay attention, the days are approaching when all that you have dominion over, including that which you received from your forebears, will be given over to confusion so that nothing remains: It is I, Mercy Himself, your God, Who says this to you.”
Some foolishly perceive these words as a threat. God does not threaten, a threat is vulnerable to dissolution, God’s words are not: Mercy does not threaten, He warns. A lion named Mercy, HaShem is fierce and ever ready to act graciously: we must chose between being mauled by Mercy or protected by Him? It’s up to us to decide between pride and humility. Pride is the lie that deceives and destroys, humility is the truth that reveals the strength in weakness.
This warning concerns the beit (household and lineage, past and future) of Hezekiah. Thus, it is the line of David and the tribe of Judah that is singled out for this particular exile.
This prophecy is exceptional: Babylon was then struggling for independence against the might of the Assyrian Empire, and yet Isaiah, prophesying by God’s Spirit (The testimony of Yeshua is the Spirit of Prophecy [Rev. 19:10]) reveals that Babylon will be the heiress to the Assyrian Empire, and that it was not from Assyria, that Judah’s destruction would come, but from Babylon, who was yet to rise to a position of power over the known world.
It is thought by some that based on the inferences made in Isaiah 38:19 and 39:7, and the fulfilment of them alluded to in Daniel 1:3, that Hezekiah had not yet produced children at the time of this prophecy. This is a reasonable conclusion given that 2 Kings 21:1 notes that Manasseh was 12 years old when he came to power as son and heir to Hezekiah.
“the days are coming”: In fact, the days referred to came only a few reigns later during Jehoiakim's time.
“all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have laid up in store until this day, will be carried to Bavel”: During Jehoiakim’s reign as king of Judah, his mother, servants, princes, and officials, were carried away captive by the king of Babylon, along with all the treasures of the king's house, and also all the treasures of the house of the Lord [The Temple] (2 Kings 24:12).
“Nothing will be left”: The Jewish commentator Yarchi notes that this was a just punishment, measure for measure. All was shown to the Babylonian envoys through the sin of Hezekiah, thus, all would be taken away. By this we can determine the accuracy of Yarchi’s former allusion to the Torah being shown to the Babylonian envoys (See note on 39:6). This also supports the reading of “utensils” (kelav) in place of “armaments” (39:2): Those utensils being the sacred utensils of the Temple service.
Isa 39:7 “Umibaneicha And of your sons, progeny that will issue from you, which you will bring forth, they will take away; and they will be sariysiym princes in the palace of the king of Bavel (Confusion, Babylon).”
Manasseh, Hezekiah’s immediate son (ben) was taken to Babylon, but was subsequently released. The greater fulfilment of this prophetic word is found in Jeconiah and his children, and in others that were of the royal seed (b’naiyim: children, ancestors, progeny etc.). The Jewish sages and commentators apply this prophecy to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
The Hebrew sariysiym, a plural form of the root sar (prince), while it might be applied to a eunuch (as many translate), is better translated here as princes. There is no Scriptural evidence to suggest that Manasseh, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael or Azariah were made eunuchs, and given the more common meaning of the Hebrew root, “princes” is the most logical choice. This is supported by both Ben Melekh and Kimchi, who understand sariysiym to mean princes.
Isa 39:8 Then Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) said to Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah), “Good is the devar-HaShem word of the (YHVH: Mercy) LORD which you have spoken.” He also said, “For there will be peace and truth in my days.”
“Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore the Lord’s wrath did not come on them during the days of Hezekiah.” -2 Chronicles 32:26
The 2 Chronicles account seems to indicate that Hezekiah repented from his prideful actions and puts the statement “Good is the word of HaShem” in a context of repentance and humble reflection. Thus, Hezekiah acknowledges his sin and understands the delay in the fulfilment of the prophetic word as an impartation of God’s mercy toward him and his generation. To assume arrogance in the response of Hezekiah, is to deny the clear evidence to the contrary within the text of the 2 Chronicles account.
© 2018 Yaakov Brown
The purpose of God’s healing is to invoke salvation and wholeness. Thus, Yeshua says “Go, your faith has made you whole.” And not “Go, your faith has healed you” as some intellectually dishonest English versions suggest (Luke 19:17; Mark 5:34; 10:52 etc.)
Cf. 2 Kings 20:1-11
The events described in chapters 38 - 39 preceded the events of chapters 36 and 37 by a period of approximately 10 years. We’re able to deduce this because chapter 39 ends with a prediction of the Babylonian exile. However, the scribes who transmitted the scroll of Isaiah placed these events after chapters 36 and 37 in order to form a bridge, giving the meta-narrative a greater sense of continuity. Thus, the prediction of the Babylonian exile (Chap. 39) precedes chapter 40, the subject of which is Israel’s return from the Babylonian exile.
The events of chapter 38 are recorded in a parallel passage in 2 Kings 20:1-11 with only slight variations, and of course the omission of Hezekiah’s psalm/meditation (Isaiah 38:9-20). It seems fitting that the scribes include the mikhtav of Hezekiah in the present chapter of Isaiah’s poetic, prophetic scroll and exclude it in the more historically styled record of the Kings.
What follows conveys the ancient rhythm of God inspired relationship: a relationship strengthened rather than weakened by illness and despair.
Isa 38:1 In those days Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) became chalah sick, weak, grieved, sorry, diseased lamot to the point of death. And Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah) the prophet the son of Amotz (Strength, courage) came to him, and said to him, Thus says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), “tzav order, command lebeitecha your house: for met die you shall, and not tichyeh live.”
Cf. 2 Kings 20:1
“In those days” as discussed above, refers to that time approximately 10 years prior to the events of chapters 36-37. Hezekiah assumed the throne of Judah at the age of 25 and reigned for 29 years (2 Kings 18:2), living to the age of 54: given that 15 years are added to his life in the present text, he was therefore, 39 years of age at the time of the events recorded in Isaiah chapter 38. However, Yarchi and a number of other Jewish commentators suggest that these events took place three days before the ruin of Sennacherib's army (placing them at the end of the aforementioned ten year period); and that it was on the third day that Hezekiah recovered, and went up to the temple, that the destruction of the Assyrian army occurred, that evening being the first day of Pesach the Passover (Seder Olam Rabba, c. 23. p. 65).
It is noteworthy that Isaiah came to Hezekiah during his time of personal illness, whereas on occasions when Hezekiah was in health he had sent messengers to Isaiah. This shows compassion on the part of Isaiah. Although he had been tasked with giving bad news to Hezekiah, he performed that duty in person as a friend to the King rather than sending a messenger to deliver the news.
Some have suggested that the Hezekiah’s illness was brought on by the stress that he experienced in response to the speed and force of the invading Assyrian army, and his inability to gain adequate protection from Egypt. We find out later in this chapter that the sickness is somehow connected to a boil that had grown on Hezekiah’s body which may have become infected, thus, causing blood poisoning; a life threatening condition.
“order, command your house” is a way of saying “Make your last will and testament, leave instructions for your household regarding what is to be done after your passing.”
“for die you shall, and not live.” Makes death certain but is not specific enough to infer immediate death. None the less, Hezekiah’s illness was terminal.
Isa 38:2 Then Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) turned his face toward ha-kiyr the wall, and prayed to HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD),
Cf. 2 Kings 20:2
“The wall” could be understood in a plain sense to simply refer to the wall of the room in which Hezekiah was bedridden. Turning in toward the wall would have been his only means of finding some privacy and solace with the palace representatives and staff constantly present to care for the king.
As a remez I see the act of Hezekiah’s turning as being a turning toward God in his distress. Further to this although the Hebrew kiyr is a generic term for a flat surface, wall etc. it can also be used to describe the wall surrounding the Temple complex of Solomon. I can’t help but see a comparrison to ha-kotel, the western wall of the Temple of Herod, yet future at the time of Hezekiah, and certainly present in its Solomonic form during Hezekiah’s time . To turn toward it is to turn toward the Temple and the Holy of holies. As I’m writing this we are in that time of repentance and preparation in the month of Elul, when, davening selichot (prayers of contrition), thousands of Jews are turned toward ha-kotel and the Temple mount as a symbolic physical act representing our desire to turn toward God in our distress.
I’m not alone in my supposition, regarding Hezekiah potentially turning toward the wall surrounding the Temple complex of his time: the second century Targum writers understood ha-kiyr to refer to the outer wall of the Temple complex of Hezekiah’s day:
“Then Hezekiah turned his face towards the wall of the house of the sanctuary, and prayed before the Lord,” -Targum Yonatan
Turning toward the Temple to pray is advocated for by king Solomon (1 Kings 8:29-61) and is elsewhere commonplace within traditional Jewish prayer practice throughout the world.
Hezekiah’s first instinct as a human being and as a Jew upon whom God had placed His Name, was to turn to God in an intimate gesture of vulnerability and cry out in prayer: his prayer being a response to the conversation God had already begun. One could say that the general nature of Isaiah’s warning (which doesn’t say when Hezekiah will die, just that his death is certain) was God’s way of allowing Hezekiah the opportunity for repentance and healing.
Isa 38:3 And said, “Anah I beseech you, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), zechor-na remember, recall, call to mind now, how I have walked before You be-emet in truth uveleiv and with a heart (core being) of shaleim wholeness, safety, completeness, peacefulness, and have done that which is ha-tov good in Your sight.” And Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) bechiy bewailed gadol greatly.
Cf. 2 Kings 20:3
Hezekiah does not presume to be perfect in his walk before God, he is simply asking that God acknowledge the sincerity with which he has sought to follow the commandments and restore the centrality of the Temple cult to Judah and Israel. After all, Hezekiah was responsible for removing the high places and tearing down the heathen altars, and for bringing the focus of Israel’s worship back to the God appointed Temple mount and the altar of sacrifice therein (2 Kings 18:4).
Hezekiah does not think that God has forgotten him, rather he is in a sense, reminding himself that God is aware of every intimate part of Hezekiah’s life. Thus, feeling abandoned within time and space, he calls out to God, Who is outside of Time and space and in control of all things.
Hezekiah’s “bewailing greatly” denotes not only his concern for himself and his potential loss of life but also for the state of the nation and the added vulnerability that would ensue were he to die with the invading Assyrian army at the doorstep of Jerusalem.
Isa 38:4 Then came a devar-YHVH word of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) to Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah), saying,
“And it came to pass, before Isaiah was gone out (chatzeir) of the city centre, that a word of the Lord came to him, saying,” -2 Kings 20:4
The account of 2 Kings 20 illuminates further the immediacy of God’s response to Hezekiah. Isaiah was still in the centre of the upper city of Jerusalem and probably had gone no further than the middle court of the king’s residence, and or had progressed via the Temple pausing at the middle court (court of Israel) to pray.
Isa 38:5 “Go, and say to Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy), ‘Thus says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), Eloheiy the God of David aviycha your father, I have shamatiy heard, listened to your prayer, I have raiytiy seen, considered your tears: Hineni Now, behold, pay attention, I will yosif add to your days fifteen years.’”
Cf. 2 Kings 20:5-6
“Thus says HaShem the God of David your father”. This is said to affirm the covenant God had made with the house of David (2 Sam. 7:4-17). It is for the sake of the King Messiah Who will come out of the line of David and for the subsequent redemption of those who receive Him that God calls Himself “Eloheiy Daveed”.
Neither a prayer said in vain nor the superficial tears of the unrepentant invoke the mercy of God. Hezekiah’s request is acknowledged as genuine and moving (Yaakov [James] 5:16). God now demands that Hezekiah pay attention, that is, “act righteously in response to the extension of life that I am giving you”.
15 years is representative of two terms of completion (2 x 7) plus a year of new beginning (+1). 2 sevens are an allusion to eternity (completion perfected) and the added single year an allusion to the beginning of that eternity. Thus, the added years promise far more than earthly life, something that Isaiah already understands but Hezekiah has yet to fully grasp.
Isa 38:6 And I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Ashur (A step, Assyria): ve’ganotiy and I will defend, cover, surround this city.
Cf. 2 Kings 20:6
This verse suggests that while these events occurred as many as 10 years prior to Sennacherib’s move against Jerusalem, it is also possible that they occurred closer to the end of that 10 year period and therefore, align with the Jewish Sages’ tradition more closely than some scholars suspect.
The wording of God’s comforting response to Hezekiah seeks to calm his concerns both for himself and for Jerusalem and its inhabitants: “I will defend, cover, surround this city.”
The 2 Kings 20 account places the entire conversation concerning the sign and the healing of Hezekiah by means of a pressed fig rub at this point in the narrative, giving the dialogue a more natural continuity. Thus, 2 Kings 20:7-8 correspond to the seemingly ill-placed verses of Isaiah 38:21-22, which bare no connection to the following chapter but rather refer back to a point in the narrative prior to the giving of the sign and the healing of Hezekiah.
“And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered. And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up into the house of the Lord the third day?” -2 Kings 20:7-8
Isa 38:7 And this to you ha-ot the miraculous sign from HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), that HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) will ya’aseh fashion, do ha-devar this thing, word, essence that He has dibeir spoken;
“And Isaiah said, This sign you will have of the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that He has spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps? And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten steps: no, but let the shadow return backward ten steps.” 2 Kings 20:9-10
The sign is to be a miraculous one. While some seek to provide a practical reason for the adjustment of the shadow, the plain meaning of the text denotes a supernatural event that directly affects the sun itself. In the 2 Kings 20 account the recorded request of Hezekiah shows either his true belief in the miraculous power of God or his desperate need to witness that power made manifest as a promise of even greater deliverance to come. Thus, his request relates to both his own healing and the protection of Jerusalem and her inhabitants.
“Do this thing which He has spoken” refers to the healing and longevity of Hezekiah, for which the sign is offered.
It is of note that Hezekiah acted in contradiction to his wicked father Ahaz, who hypocritically refused to ask for a sign from God (Isaiah 7:12).
Isa 38:8 Hineni Now, behold, pay attention, I will bring again the shadow of ha-ma’alot the steps, which yaredah descends bema’alot on the steps of Achaz (grasped), ten ma’alot steps backward. Ve’tashav And returned ha-shemesh the sun, the ten ma’alot steps, bama’alot on the steps it yaradah had descended.
“And Isaiah the prophet cried to the Lord: and He brought the shadow ten steps backward, by which it had gone down in the steps of Ahaz.” -2 Kings 20:11
Although some suggest a momentary refraction of light as the mechanism behind the sign, we notice that it is the sun itself that is the subject of the returning in the latter clause of verse 38, and not it’s light, the steps or the shadow it casts. In laymen’s terms, the sun itself went backward; a stumbling block for both the modern scientist and the desperately rational theologian. This is one of the many reasons we must become like children in order to enter the Kingdom of God (Matt. 18:3).
Isa 38:9 The writing of Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) king of Yehudah (Praise, Judah), bachaloto in his sickness, vaychi and in restored life from out of his sickness:
This psalm-like piece of writing (mikhtav) while present here, is not included in the 2 Kings 20 account. As I said in my introduction to the chapter, it seems fitting that the scribes include the mikhtav of Hezekiah in the present chapter of Isaiah’s poetic, prophetic scroll and exclude it in the more historically styled record of the Kings.
This psalm/meditation was written both during (in) Hezekiah’s illness and following (in) his restoration to health. Thus, it probably covers Hezekiah’s progression of feelings throughout the entire experience. Therefore, we should look for a progression of Hezekiah’s understanding of God and his relationship in Him as we journey through the thoughts, emotions, desperate cries and ecstatic relief of Hezekiah’s psalm/meditation.
Hezekiah’s mikhtav is typical of psalms of supplication and thanksgiving. Similar elements appear in psalm 118 and in the psalm of Jonah 2. In fact, Hezekiah’s mikhtav follows the basic structure of this type of psalm:
Isa 38:10 “I said bidmi in the cessation, silence, quiet, pause of my days, I will walk to the gates of Sheol (Holding place of departed humans, divided into Gan-Eden and Gehinnom): I am deprived of the yeter remainder, residue, excellence of my years.
Ibn Ezra explains that “bidmi” means “cut off” according to its comparable use in Hosea 10:15. This makes sense as an allusion to the weavers analogy of Isaiah 38:12. Others interpret it to convey a quiet part of the day, that being the middle of the eastern day and a time for rest from the heat. Both readings have relevance here: the theme being that Hezekiah is to be cut off (die) in the prime of his life, the middle of his days.
Hezekiah’s reference to Sheol does not denote a cessation of consciousness but a cessation of earthly life. As I have stated in previous articles, Sheol is not the grave (kever), and the ancient (Biblical) Hebrew grave was above ground, a tomb, cave, and or stones piled over the remains.
Isa 38:11 I said, I will not see HaShem (Yah: Mercy, the LORD), HaShem (Yah: Mercy, the LORD), be’eretz in the land of ha-chayim the living: I will behold humanity no more with the inhabitants chadel at rest.
The repetition of “Yah”, the shortened form of YHVH, denotes the permanence of Mercy. We note that while Hezekiah says “I will not see Yah, Yah” the qualifying phrase is “in the land of the living”, the living being the temporal living of humanity within the sin affected creation. Thus, the final clause in this verse alludes to the cessation of Hezekiah’s days spent with humanity (humanity within the context of the sin affected creation and not in regard to consciousness of the spirit).
Ibn Ezra suggests that “I will not see” means, “I shall not see any longer the works of the Almighty:” in the land of the living. He explains further that this is the reason for the latter clause “I will behold humanity no more”, because part of the witness of God’s works is manifest in human beings.
Many translate the Hebrew “chadel” as “World, life” following the comparative use in Psalm 39:5-6. However, the plain meaning of this word is “rest, cessation” and as such conveys a much different meaning from that of the traditional English translations. In short, the latter part of this verse “I will behold humanity no more with the inhabitants chadel at rest.” Is conveying the idea that Hezekiah is mourning the beholding of humanity in this (temporary) life alone, while at the same time showing that his understanding of Sheol includes the idea that he will share this inability to behold humanity in the land of the living, with those others who are departed and present with him in Sheol “with the inhabitants chadel at rest.”
The Jewish sage Ben Melekh, in keeping with the writers of the 2nd Century Targum, observes, that seeing or appearing before the Creator signifies confession and praise. Thus the Targum of Yonatan’s allusion to the Temple cult and the manifest feminine presence of the Shekhinah, which is a manifestation of the Kevod HaShem (Glory of God).
“I shall no more appear before the face of the Lord in the land of the house of his Shekhinah, in which is length of life; and I shall no more serve him in the house of the sanctuary.'” -Targum Yonatan (2nd Century CE)
Isa 38:12 Doriy My generation, time, age is nesa pulled up, departed, veniglah and is removed, uncovered from me like keohel roiy my shepherd's tent: kipadtiy I am gathered together, rolled up by a weaver is chayay my life: midalah from threads he will cut me off: from day until night ta-shlim-eini You will make a covenant of peace with me.
Contrary to common interpretation I do not believe “Doriy” (from dor: generation) should be understood as describing the so called “Tent of the body”, which is in fact a Gnostic idea drenched in heresy. Rather, as is suggested by the plain meaning of the Hebrew “Dor”, it is the temporal nature of existence in general within the sin affected creation, that is intended. Thus, “Generation” and not “Tent, dwelling”.
That which is being lifted up and put away like a tent is the temporal existence (generation of a life) within the sin affected creation. The body on the other hand is yet to be restored and renewed as a metaphysical entity at the resurrection of the dead, and not done away with completely as many theologians suggest. To the contrary, we believe in the physical resurrection, or did Messiah rise a ghost? A curse on that idea! Thomas touched His physical body post resurrection. It is high time we did away with these Gnostic lies.
“veniglah and is removed, uncovered from me like keohel roiy my shepherd's tent”. So much is to be uncovered ahead of the dying man: the veil of temporal existence gives way to eternal rest for those, who like Hezekiah have placed their hope in HaShem. A shepherds tent is pulled up to make way for a journey, an adventure into the new grazing lands of the future. Thus, following death the believer receives a fuller understanding of the eternal present.
The Hebrew “Roiy” can be understood as “My shepherd” or, “The Shepherd to Whom I belong”. Both denote God and His King Messiah Yeshua. Think carefully on this: “uncovered from me like my shepherd's tent (generational existence)”. God, Who is Hezekiah’s Shepherd, is attributed a temporal tent, even though He is unmistakably eternal. Therefore, Whoever Hezekiah is referring to must be that manifestation of God as Shepherd Whom Isaiah has been prophesying as the King Messiah Imanu (with us) El (God). Messiah is yet to come in the context of Hezekiah’s historical prayer, and yet is alluded to as being one Who will experience death, the cessation of His time (dor) on earth (albeit temporarily).
“I am gathered together, rolled up by a weaver is my life: from threads He will cut me off: from day until night You will make a covenant of peace with me.”
The weaving analogy infers God as the weaver (Job 6:9). It also reveals the threads of life woven together to bring Hezekiah to this point. The phrase “from day to night” is a Hebrew idiom expressing the outworking of something within a short period of time. Thus, prior to God’s response and promise of additional years Hezekiah believed his death was imminent.
“You will make a covenant of peace with me.” Notice that in spite of his distress and the realization that he is soon to die Hezekiah none the less acknowledges his belief that beyond death the covenant of peace God will make with Hezekiah will sustain him.
Isa 38:13 It is made plain to me until morning, as a lion, so will He break all my bones: from day until night ta-shlim-eini You will make a covenant of peace with me.
Simply put, Hezekiah has come to terms with his imminent death. He has concluded that regardless of the distress caused by his anticipation of death and the pain of the illness along with its fast approaching end, that he is certain (repeating the phrase for the second time) that God “will make a covenant of peace” with him. That covenant, whether Hezekiah fully understood it or not, would be made in the shed blood of the coming Messiah (historically speaking), a covenant that had already been made outside of time and space (Rev. 13:8).
Notice that Hezekiah acknowledges God’s control over both the illness and the covenant of peace.
Isa 38:14 Like a swallow or a crane, so I did chirp: ehgeh moaning, muttering, meditating as a dove: my low eyes fail to look up: Adonaiy Lord I am oppressed; areveini make an exchange, become surety, mortgage (death pledge), become a ransom for me.
Hezekiah explains the din of his expressions of pain. The cacophony of cries that issue from his suffering body and soul. He likens his suffering to oppression, an allusion to the oppression of Israel, particularly with regard to her time in Egypt. The sickness is the Tyrant that is oppressing Hezekiah and is a figure for sin, which oppresses his soul.
“my low eyes fail to look up”. The plain meaning is that Hezekiah is so weak and sick that he lacks the physical and emotional energy to look up, either for food or in a spiritual sense to make proper supplication before God. The Targum Yonatan conveys this in the spiritual sense by alluding to the manifest glory of the Shekhinah:
“I lifted up mine eyes, that refreshing might come to me from (before) Him whose Shekhinah is in the highest heavens: Lord, hear my prayer; grant my petition.” -Targum Yonatan
“Lord I am oppressed make an exchange for me.” This shows, at least in part Hezekiah’s understanding that his suffering can only be overcome through a redemptive ransom. The title Adonaiy is used rather than the Holy Name YHVH: while Adonaiy can refer to any lord, YHVH refers only to Hashem. Thus, in petitioning Hashem Hezekiah has chosen a title that might also be used of Messiah, a man Who is God with us. “Make an exchange for me” equates to “take my place”, or “Bail me out”. Thus, whether Hezekiah fully understand what he is asking for or not, he is essentially requesting that God take his place and bear the suffering for him. This is of course, the very nature and mechanism of the Gospel: Messiah (Imanu-El, with us-God) becomes the ransom that atones for our sin and makes us whole.
Isaiah will later prophecy the greater answer to Hezekiah’s request:
“Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to His own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” -Isaiah 53:4-6
Isa 38:15 What will I say? Now speaking to me Himself He has fashioned, made, done it: I will go softly all my years upon the bitterness of nafshiy my soul.
Hezekiah acknowledges that in when faced with God’s authority, mercy and redemption there is nothing more a man can say.
Ibn Ezra suggests that this verse refers to the answer of God and the promise of an additional 15 years. This view would mean that the final clause refers to the way Hezekiah intends to address bitterness in the years ahead, be it through illness or political intrigue. However, it is equally possible that this verse is referring to the first words of the Lord spoken through Isaiah concerning Hezekiah’s certain death. If this is the correct understanding then the present verse shows that Hezekiah has concluded that he should exhibit a contrite state of heart before God in the face of his imminent death.
Isa 38:16 Adonaiy Lord, according to this life are all these things, and in the life of ruchiy my spirit ve-ta-chalimein-iy so You will recover me (chalam as from a dream), ve-ha-chayeiniy and cause me to live.
“according to this life are all these things”. What things? All those things aforementioned in Hezekiah’s mikhtav: pain, sorrow, despair, distress, oppression are all part of a man’s life on earth in a sin affected world.
“These things” might also refer to the things fashioned by God for the sake of Hezekiah, however, this is less likely. What is certain is that all things exist according to God’s word and that “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3 Matt. 4:4). Therefore, we can understand this verse to convey the idea that relying on the things of God is the foundation for the recovery the human spirit.
“In the life of my spirit, so You will recover me and cause me to live.” Hezekiah has just prior to this named those things that are common to life on earth in a sin affected body: now he makes a distinction between the sin affected body and the everlasting nature of the spirit ruach, that part of the person that continues to exist in Sheol after death awaiting the resurrection and restoration of the physical in the perfect world to come. Therefore, contrary to the protestation of many modern scholars, Hezekiah is clearly showing an understanding of the afterlife that includes the conscious state of the spirit within Sheol, be it in Gan-Eden or Gehinnom. After all, the Hebrew chalam is used as a descriptor that invokes the idea of waking from a dream. What is this life if not the dream that acts as a prelude to the reality of eternity. Thus, “In the life of my spirit, so You will recover me and cause me to live” takes on an ambiguous meaning that illuminates both the physical healing of Hezekiah and the post death reality of his spirit when the 15 years are concluded.
The Targum also interprets this verse as referring to the resurrection:
“O Lord, You have said concerning all the dead, that You will quicken them, and You have quickened my spirit before any of them: You have quickened, You have made me to live.” -Targum Yonatan
Isa 38:17 Hineih Behold, now, le-shalom for peace I had great bitterness: but You have chashakta in longing for nafshiy my soul delivered it mishachat from the pit of wearing out: for You have cast behind Your back all my sins.
One cannot dispute the fact that Hezekiah understands his deliverance to be both physical and spiritual. It is deliverance from sin that he is alluding to here, something that can only be purchased by a substitutionary sacrifice of shed blood. Therefore, he understands at least in part the redemptive process of God through Messiah, even though at that time in history Messiah was yet to enter time and space. Thus, we understand that the transcendent nature of the resurrected Messiah is inferred by Hezekiah’s words.
“now, for peace I had great bitterness”. Is understood by Ibn Ezra to refer to Hezekiah’s life being at the middle point of his days and the bitterness refers to his illness. Thus, at 39 years old he was considered to be in the relatively peaceful middle time of life rather than at one end or the other. It was therefore, in the peaceful time of his life that he received the dreadful news of his imminent death and was thus embittered. However, Yosef Kimchi interprets this phrase to mean that peace had replaced the bitterness: “Now my life is for peace, though I had great bitterness”. This I believe is the correct interpretation.
“but You have in longing for my soul delivered it from the pit of wearing out: for You have cast behind Your back all my sins.” Hezekiah recognizes that God has longed for him in love and mercy and will both deliver him from the physical wearing out of his body in the immediate sense, and from the just punishment for his sins in the eternal sense.
Isa 38:18 For Sheol (Holding place of departed humans, divided into Gan-Eden and Gehinnom) cannot praise You, nor can death yahaleka celebrate (shine light on) You: there is no hope for those who descend into bor a pit, well, cistern, to come into amitecha Your truth.
It is true that the holding place Sheol cannot praise God, nor can death, which is not a person but a state resulting from sin. This of course does not negate the ability of the departed to engage with God (Rev. 6:9-11), Who is not bound by time and space, nor is He deaf to the conscious departed (Though it is true that they have no means of communicating with those who remain living in the sin affected world of the present reality).
The latter clause “there is no hope for those who descend into a pit, to come into Your truth” is best summed up by the Scripture “It is appointed unto human beings to die once and then the judgement” (Hebrews 9:27). In other words, there is no dispensation for salvation following death: a person must accept God’s redemptive offer during life and or in the moments of transition between life and death.
Isa 38:19 Chay Life, chay life, he yodecha shall throw praise to You, kamoni as I do ha-yom this day: Av Father levaniym to the children You make known amitecha Your truth.
“Chay, chay” The living, both those corporeally and spiritually alive will always praise God.
“As I do this day” refers first to the day that Hezekiah receives his healing and in general to every day on which Hezekiah’s voice gives praise to Hashem.
The Father mentioned is of course Hashem and the children (plural) are Israel, ethnic, religious and subsequently all those who through Israel’s Messiah receive the truth that the Father makes known. “Your truth made known” is the redemption of human beings and of all sin affected creation through the shed blood of the Son and King Messiah Yeshua.
Isa 38:20 HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) is for saving me: u-neginotay therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life at beiyt the house of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD).”
The singular grammar of the first clause is beautiful: “Mercy is for saving me”. Take time to pause and consider this, HaShem is for saving you, are you for accepting that salvation?
Notice that following the singular phrasing of the first clause that the Hebrew uses the plural to describe the songs of praise. Why? Because Hezekiah is referring to something more than physical healing and salvation from certain death in his personal immediate context. He is also referring to the deliverance of Judah from the Assyrians: further still and most importantly he is alluding to that salvation which places our sin behind the back of God (as it were). Thus, in the likeness of the psalmist we (all Israel and those from other nations who find redemption through her Messiah) sing praises “all the days of our life at the house of HaShem”, both physical atop the Temple mount and eternal, being in God and the Lamb, Who reside in place of the Temple in the New Jerusalem, a city which has no need of a Temple (Rev. 21:22).
Isa 38:21 For Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah) had said, “Let them take a cake of pressed figs, and use it as a medicinal rub upon the boil, and he will recover.”
These verses are retrospective in that they refer back to the process of healing that occurred over the period of time that Hezekiah was recording his mikhtav.
The mechanism for the healing reminds us that God heals in many and varied ways and not always instantaneously. The goal of the miraculous is to point people to salvation. Healing is of little value if it only extends life unto eternal death. The purpose of God’s healing is to invoke salvation and wholeness. Thus, Yeshua says “Go, your faith has made you whole.” And not “Go, your faith has healed you” as some intellectually dishonest English versions suggest (Luke 19:17; Mark 5:34; 10:52 etc.)
Isa 38:22 Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) also had said, What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD)?
Once again this verse should be understood retrospectively and refers to the sign of the shadow reversing up the stars of Ahaz, which has occurred chronologically speaking prior to this point in the narrative. As explained earlier, these verses are included directly prior to the healing of Hezekiah in the 2 Kings 20 account.
© 2018 Yaakov Brown
How often we miss out on the comfort that might be afforded us in simply calling on the various attributes and character traits of God. We rush into our petitions with desperate cries for help when much of that help begins in the knowledge of Who we’re petitioning.
Isa 37:1 And it came to pass, when king Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) heard, he tore his clothes, vayitkas and covered, concealed, hid himself with sackcloth, vayavo and went to the beit house of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD).
Hezekiah tore his cloths in union with his court and the people of Judah. He tore them in mourning at their predicament and in sorrow over both his personal sin and disbelief, and over that of his people. This is the first step in his symbolic repentance. Second, he put on or “covered” himself with sackcloth. The Hebrew root “kasah” translated “covered” also means to conceal, hide and in a figurative sense to overwhelm. Thus, Hezekiah is overwhelmed by the consequences of both his own sin and that of Judah. While tearing garments is an instantaneous response to the revelation of sin and turmoil, it is none the less over in moments. Putting on sackcloth adds an intentional and ongoing component to repentance by constantly reminding the wearer of the discomfort and distress that sin and its consequences have brought upon him.
These acts of repentance do nothing to convince God of a man’s true state of heart, He knows all that is in a man’s heart. Rather, these symbolic actions are a means by which a man might remind himself of his true state before God and his need for the redemption that only God can provide him. Prayerful supplication and practiced repentance are for our benefit, yet another affirmation of God’s grace and mercy toward us. He is all knowing and yet in love He has selflessly engaged us in eternal conversation.
Hezekiah went “to” not “into” the house of HaShem. Only priests were allowed to enter the Temple (Court of priests, holy place) and only the High priest, the Holy of holies. The Hebrew reads “vayavo beit YHVH” literally “and he went house YHVH”. If the text were meant to be understood as “and he went into the house of HaShem” it would need to read “vayavo babeit YHVH”.
Were we to read the text as most English translations render it “he went into the house of the Lord”, we would also need to presume sin upon Hezekiah for breaking the Temple cult protocol (a sin committed by king Uzziah, who was struck with leprosy as a result [2 Chron. 26:16-22]): this is clearly not what the context conveys. Hezekiah is in no way punished for his genuine pleas to HaShem and is therefore not guilty of breaching Temple protocol or presuming upon himself the role of priest. To the contrary, Hezekiah is shown here as a respecter of protocol and one who honours the God given roles of others. This is one of his noblest traits as king.
Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord (v.14) and certainly entered the court of Israel (men’s courtyard) approaching the court of priests (For priests only) but went no further than the opening to the court of priests.
There is much for us to learn from Hezekiah’s actions. At this point in his story he did not presume to take things into his own hands as he had done. Instead he chose to rely on God and the systems set in place for orderly worship and petition. Hezekiah honoured the roles of the priest Eliyakiym, the Torah scribe Shevna and the priests who were fulfilling their allocated period of service in the Temple proper at the time of these events. His patient attention to detail in these matters shows both humility and trust on his part. A trusting man may act promptly but he need not act presumptuously as a result of panic and apprehension.
Isa 37:2 And he sent Eleyakiym (God raises, arises), who was over ha-beit the house (Temple), and Shevna (vigour, tender youth) ha-sofeir the scribe, and the ziknei elders (older ones) of ha-cohanim the priests, mitkasiym covered, concealed (overwhelmed) with sackcloth, to Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah) the prophet the son of Amotz (Strong, alert, courageous).
We note that Yoach the recorder/historian is missing from the religious retinue sent to Isaiah. The petitioning of God through the prophet is pursued devoid of concern for contemporary secular record. This group of the king’s representatives are those responsible for the spiritual care of Judah and Israel. Thus, it is the elders among the priesthood who go in addition to Eliyakiym and Shevna, as representatives of the entire priesthood and of Judah’s Temple cult practitioners.
Isa 37:3 And they said to him, “Thus says Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy), ‘This day is a day of tzarah distress, and of tochechah correction, and of ne’atzah blasphemy (contempt): for the baniym children are come to the birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth.
Hezekiah calls this day a day of “tzarah” distress, and of “tochechah” correction, and of “ne’atzah” blasphemy (contempt)”:
By using these three specific terms Hezekiah is soberly acknowledging the truth of Judah’s situation. She is being oppressed as God’s people, she is guilty of sinning against God and is deserving of His rebuke and correction, and she is appalled at the blasphemy being levelled against the God of Israel as a result of both Israel’s sin and the arrogance of her enemies, who are ultimately the enemies of God.
The idiom “for the children are come to the birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth” (ref. Isa. 66:9) conveys a great deal. In its colloquial form it was probably used in the singular, however, here it is plural “children”. Thus, as Yarchi rightly interprets it refers to Israel (God’s chosen children) and the matriarchs of Israel, her human mothers. In the process of birthing there is sometimes a point at which neither the mother’s contractions nor the child’s movements are able to bring about the final coming forth from the womb. In such cases both mother and child are helpless to deliver themselves, they’re utterly reliant on help received from another, such as a midwife or physician. Thus Hezekiah is making an admission on Judah’s (Israel’s) behalf, confessing her helplessness and complete reliance on deliverance at God’s hand.
Isa 37:4 It may be that HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) Eloheiycha your God (Judge) will yishma hear, listen to the words of Rav-shakeih (The great cupbearer), whom the king of Ashur (a step: Assyria) his adonav master has sent to taunt the Elohiym Chai living God, and will decide against the words which HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) Eloheiycha your God (Judge) has heard: wherefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.”
Hezekiah is not necessarily showing his lack of relational understanding of God with the phrase “Your God”. This phrase is often used by Hebrew speakers to challenge the hearer to take ownership of their common bond. Yeshua (Jesus) uses it in this way when he says “Your Torah” (John 8:17; 10:34; 18:31): He does not mean to say that it is not His Torah, rather He means to stir in them a sense of right identity and ownership with regard to the Spirit of the Torah and the bond shared in it by every Jew. Therefore, we may understand the phrase “Your God” in one of two ways: either Hezekiah is yet to enter into personal relationship with God or, he is reminding himself that his God is also the God of Isaiah, and reminding Isaiah that the prophet shares his God with his people Israel.
By saying “Maybe Hashem will hear” means, maybe the sin of Assyria will make a louder din in the ears of God than that of our own sin. Hezekiah knows that God has witnessed the blasphemy of Assyria, his question is one of action: Will God act for His own Name’s sake and subsequently for the sake of His people Judah?
The phrase “lechareif Elohiym chai” to taunt the living God, seems to be an allusion to the mocking display of Goliath (1 Sam. 17:26; 17:36). Thus, the mocking display of Rav-Shakeih is seen as being an affront to God of similar nature.
With regard to the phrase “Your prayer” as it applies to Isaiah. It is true to say that “The prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective”, not because of a man’s righteousness but because the Righteous One lives in him. Thus, with regard to salvation God has no favourites but with regard to right action God favours the obedient.
Isa 37:5 So the servants of king Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) came to Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah). Isa 37:6 And Yeshayahu (YHVH, he is salvation: Isaiah) said to them, “Thus will you say to adoneichem your master, Thus says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), ‘Al-tiyra Be not afraid mipenei of the face (appearance) of ha-devariym the words that you have heard, with which the na’arei young boys of the king of Ashur (a step: Assyria) have blasphemed Me.
Isaiah turns Hezekiah’s phrasing toward the servants of the king for much the same reason for which Hezekiah had addressed Isaiah. “Thus will you say to your master/lord…” As priests and keeper of Torah responsible for the mechanisms of worship practice they are being tasked by the prophet to honour the Lord’s chosen king over Judah and to act in a messianic role as communicators to the king. They are both receiving and giving the Word of the Lord.
To Hezekiah the message of HaShem begins as it often does with the comforting words “Al-tiyra” no fear! Specifically “Don’t be afraid of the appearance of the words that you’ve heard”. So often we are afraid of how things appear to be because we have lost sight of the unseen and the present work of God in our midst. God calls Hezekiah to return to Him and receive insight so that he might be delivered from appearances and understand the reality of God’s work.
There is a beautiful irony in the name Ashur (a step). It’s as if the step had hurled curses at those who will step on it as they ascend to the mountain of the Lord.
The prophet uses the Hebrew “na’arei” boys, young men, as a subtle insult toward the messengers of Sennacherib. They are not even wise enough in years to qualify as seasoned servants and are instead called novice children by the prophet Isaiah.
Isa 37:7 Hinni Behold, pay attention, I will send a ruach spirit (wind) upon him, and he will hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.’”
It is a spirit from HaShem that is to come upon Sennacherib. This can be understood as both an angelic messenger that will disquiet him and or a spirit of dread, fear etc. An ill wind as it were.
“He will hear a rumour” most likely refers to the rumour of verse 9 concerning the king of Ethiopia. It may also be alluding to the news of the destruction of the Assyrian army which will soon (Within a year’s time) reach Sennacherib, though this is less likely given the seeming immediacy of the qualifying events pursuant to this verse.
Isa 37:8 So Rav-shakeih (The great cupbearer) returned, and found the king of Ashur (Assyria: a step) warring against Livnah (white): for he had heard that he was departed from Lachiysh (invincible: south of Jerusalem in the territory of Judah).
Rav-Shakeih had heard of Sennacherib’s movements and had journeyed from Lachiysh to Livnah (possibly the Egyptian city but more likely the city of the same name in the territory of Judah [Joshua 10:29]).
Isa 37:9 And he heard it said concerning Tirhakah (searched out the pious) king of Ethiopia, “He is come forth to make war with you.” And when he heard it, he sent messengers to Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy), saying,
The nearest precedent subject is Sennacherib, thus, it is Sennacherib who receives the news concerning Tirhakah and in desperation sends messengers back to Hezekiah to repeat and expand on the threats and intimidations of the previous chapter.
Tirhakah was king of both Ethiopia and Egypt at this time.
Isa 37:10 “Thus will you speak to Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) king of Yehudah (Judah: praise), saying, ‘Don’t let Eloheicha your God, in Whom you trust, deceive you, saying, “Yerushalayim (Flood of peace: Jerusalem) will not be given into the hand of the king of Ashur (Assyria: a step).”
These are the words Sennacherib instructed his messengers to say to Hezekiah. The prophet Isaiah juxtaposes the arrogant actions of the king of Assyria and his messengers against the righteous actions of God and His prophet, messenger to the children of Israel.
Sennacherib’s accusation exceeds the blasphemous words previously spoken by Rav-Shakeih. To claim that HaShem (Who cannot lie) has deceived Hezekiah and Israel amounts to likening HaShem’s character to that of the father of lies the Satan.
Isa 37:11 Hinei Behold, pay attention, you have heard what the kings of Ashur (Assyria: a step) have done to all lands by destroying them utterly; and will you be delivered? Isa 37:12 Have the elohoheiy gods of the nations delivered those who my fathers have destroyed, Gozan (cutting off), and Charan (Mountaineer), and Rezeph (Hot stone), and the children of Eden (Pleasure, delight) which were in Tel-assar (Hill of Ashur)? Isa 37:13 Where is the king of Chamat (fortress), and the king of Arphad (I will be spread out), and the king of the city of Sepharvaim (two sipparas), Hena (troubling), and Ivah (ruin)?’”
It is interesting to note that here Sennacherib attributes to his fathers’ (Sargon and the previous kings of the Derketade dynasty which he had overthrown) that which Rav-shakeih had given Sennacherib himself credit for. This serves to strengthen the indictment against Sennacherib’s generational pride and the pride seeded in the very soil of Assyria and her precedent empires.
While many of the cities mentioned are identifiable a number of them can’t be placed geographically with certainty do to insufficient historical and archaeological information. The Targum understands the last two nouns as a description of Sennacherib’s actions:
"has he not removed them, and carried them captive?'' -Targum Yonatan
The Jewish commentator Yarchi agrees with this interpretation:
"the king of Assyria has moved and overthrown them, and destroyed them, and removed them out of their place;''
What is certain is that Sennacherib was boasting of his prowess and wilfully impugning the character of the God of Israel.
Isa 37:14 And Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH) received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) went up to ha-beit the house of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), and spread it before HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD).
Like the tearing of his cloths and the wearing of sackcloth, the spreading out of the letter before the Lord was a symbolic act done before the people to show that the king was petitioning the God of Israel alone for deliverance. This act is in itself a prayer practice.
Hezekiah went up to the Temple and as far as the court of Israel in order to lay out the letter at the opening to the entry to the court of the priests.
Isa 37:15 And Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy) prayed to the HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), saying, Isa 37:16 “HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) Tzevaot (Who goes warring, of hosts), Eloheiy God of Yisrael (Israel: overcomes in God), that sits between the ha-kerubim (Angelic beings), You are ha-Elohiym the God, You alone, to all the kingdoms of the earth: You have made ha-shamayim the heavens and ve’et ha-aretz the earth.
Having presented his unspoken prayer to God in the form of the letter, Hezekiah now calls on God using a very specific and significant title “YHVH Tzevaot, Eloheiy Yisrael” Mercy Who goes Warring, God/Judge of Israel (Overcome in God). There are many other names for God that Hezekiah could have used, however, the situation called for the God Who arises to battle, the King over all Who rules the host of the heavens. One does not call on the Prince of Peace when war is needed. Of course, it is one of the mysterious ironies of God’s character, that it is Mercy (YHVH) Who goes warring.
Hezekiah adds to the first title by acknowledging God’s intrinsic link to His people Israel “Eloheiy Yisrael” those who overcome in God’s judgement. Ethnic, religious, spiritual: HaShem has placed His Name on the people of Israel.
Hezekiah is not done with his identifying of the attributes and person of his God: “Who sits between the Cherubim” is a reference to the Mercy Seat atop the Ark of the Covenant which resides between the fierce Cherubim (Anthropomorphic Angelic beings) and dwells in the Holy of holies (Psa. 18:10; 80:1). This is a description of both the attribute of God’s mercy and the literal manifest (feminine) presence of God known to the rabbis of the Talmud as the Shekhinah.
Still Hezekiah continues, the entire prayer thus far being a calling out of some of the many titles and attributes of God. He concludes with two fundamentally important descriptors: Elohiym (Intense God) over all the kingdoms of the earth (A direct affront to the foolish claims of Sennacherib), and Creator of both the heavens (All that exists above and beyond) and the earth (the location of the present crisis).
How often we miss out on the comfort that might be afforded us in simply calling on the various attributes and character traits of God. We rush into our petitions with desperate cries for help when much of that help begins in the knowledge of Who we’re petitioning. Hezekiah reminds himself and his people that all prayer is a response to the Greatest of Persons. He calls out to:
It is in the comfort of reminding himself of Who God is that Hezekiah gains the spiritual strength to continue his petition in hope.
Isa 37:17 Incline Your ear, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), and hear; open Your eyes, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib (Sin [moon deity] sends many brothers), which he has sent to taunt the Elohiym Chaiy living God.
God is invisible, immutable, unseen, He has no ears. The poetic language is used to bridge the gap between the seen and the unseen. God has heard, He is all knowing, thus, Hezekiah is asking God to listen and act. God has seen, He is all seeing, thus, Hezekiah is asking God to look with mercy and act.
Hezekiah identifies the blasphemous words of Sennacherib not for God’s sake, God has heard them and decided Sennacherib’s fate from before the foundation of the world. Hezekiah is reminding himself of the insult to God and acknowledging to himself and all Israel, that unlike the gods that Sennacherib has alluded to in their defeat, the God of Israel is living, in fact He is the very reason that life exists “Elohiym Chaiy”.
Isa 37:18 Amenam Surely, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), the kings of Ashur (Assyria) have laid waste all the nations, and their countries, Isa 37:19 And have naton given their elohiym gods (judges) ba-eish into the fire: for they were not gods, but the work of human hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them.
Hezekiah acknowledges before God the truth of what Sennacherib has said while at the same time discerning the key difference between the defeated non-gods and the God of Creation.
Isa 37:20 Now therefore, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) Eloheiynu our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD), You only.”
Hezekiah ends his prayer by acknowledging the ultimate reason for God’s acting in these circumstances. It is God’s Name and reputation that must be honoured and maintained before all the kingdoms. Why? Because the salvation of humanity is reliant on Him. God is not a narcissist, He lifts Himself up before humanity in order to raise us up from eternal death. His exaltation is our redemption.
Hezekiah ends his prayer by acknowledging that Gods Mercy YHVH is firmly established (He uses the Holy Name twice), that YHVH is Eloheiynu is “Our God” (Israel’s God), and that God alone holds the title of Merciful Judge over all things.
Isa 37:21 Then Yeshayahu (YHVH, Mercy, He is salvation: Isaiah) the son of Amotz (Strength) sent to Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah: my strength is YHVH, Mercy), saying, “Thus says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) Eloheiy God of Yisrael (Israel: overcomes in God), ‘Whereas You have prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Ashur (Assyria):
It is “Mercy He is Salvation” the son of “Strength” who is tasked with sending God’s answer to “My strength is Mercy”. What beauty there is in the names of God’s servants, what majesty there is in the narrative of God’s Word, and what unparalleled mystery is held in the fact that it is the sum of history and eternity woven together.
Notice that Isaiah identifies (his God) as YHVH Eloheiy Yisrael. He does this in truth and in solidarity with his Israeli brother Hezekiah. As if to say, “We have called on Him together my brother, and it is He Whom we have called on, the very person Who imparts our identity, Who responds to us”.
Isa 37:22 This is ha-d’var the word which HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) has spoken concerning him; The virgin, the daughter of Tziyon (Parched land), has despised you, and laughed you to scorn; the daughter of Yerushalayim (Flood of peace) has shaken her head at you.
“This is ha-d’var the word” is both literal and literary. It is also transcendent in that this word (essence) is not simply true in the moment or even according to the circumstance but rather it is perpetually true because the Devar Word is Yeshua Himself.
We could read “This is the Yeshua Whom Mercy has sent out in response to the taunts of His enemies.”
Note that what follows is a future prophetic statement at the time that Hezekiah receives it. After all, Judah the virgin daughter had not yet laughed Sennacherib to scorn, nor had the residents of Jerusalem mocked him with shaking heads. To the contrary, Judah was terrified of him. Thus, HaShem speaks into time and space that which is already complete, though yet future.
Isa 37:23 Whom have you taunted and blasphemed? and against Whom have you raised your voice, and lifted up your eyes on high (gazed at with haughty eyes)? Against the kedosh Holy One (holiness) of Yisrael (Israel).
The true nature of the subject of Sennacherib’s taunt is revealed “Kedosh Yisrael” Holy One of Israel. “The tribal God of Israel is God over all, tremble you piss-ant!”
Isa 37:24 Via your servants you have taunted adonaiy a lord (Hezekiah), and have said, ‘By the multitude of my chariots I have come up to the highest mountains, to the sides of Levanon (witnesses); and I will cut down the tall cedars there, and the choice fir trees there: and I will enter into the height of his border, and the forest of his Carmel (orchard, plantation). Isa 37:25 I have dug, and drunk water; and with the sole of my feet I have dried up all the rivers of the besieged places.’
The English reader should be careful not to read “adonaiy” master/lord in this context as referring to God, it does not. It is used here to refer to the king of Judah adonaiy melekh Yehudah, the earthly king Hezekiah.
The message from God to Sennacherib is a fundamental challenge to the world view of the heathen king. The indictment cites Sennacherib’s taunting of Hezekiah (God’s chosen king over Judah at this point in history). The boasts of Sennacherib are acknowledged and the truth of at least some of them is affirmed. God does not deny that Sennacherib has had power to do these things, what He does is challenge him by revealing the true source of that power.
Isa 37:26 Haven’t you heard long ago, I have asah fashioned it; and of ancient times, that I have yatzar framed it? Now I have brought it to pass, that you should be allowed to lay waste defenced cities turning them into ruinous heaps.
God being outside of time and space, knowing the end from the beginning, has seen these events complete and has been in control of the outcome from before the birth of Sennacherib.
“Haven’t you heard?” Sennacherib had all the resources of the known world available to him regarding ancient histories and the words of the prophets of many nations. He had heard of the God of Israel and what had been done for the ancient Israelites. The Targum Yonatan adds,
"what I did to Pharaoh king of Egypt;''
Thus king Sennacherib is without excuse. He cannot say “I didn’t realise that the God of Israel was not to be trifled with…”
Isa 37:27 Therefore their inhabitants were of short yad hand (strength), they were shattered and put to shame: they were as the plants of the field, and as the green herb, as the leeks on the housetops, and as crop blasted before it was grown up.
God allowed the inhabitants of the cities defeated by Sennacherib to be caught by surprise and made weak in military terms so that the greater purpose of God, the redemption of His people and subsequently of the nations, might come to fruition.
Isa 37:28 But I know your abode, your going out, and your coming in, and your rage against Me.
This is an interesting turn of phrase. To the Hebrew reader it is a phrase all too familiar, prayed over the mezuzah as we leave and enter our homes “Blessed are you HaShem our God Who guards our going out and our coming in… Who guards our coming in and our going out.” It is a phrase connected to Shaddai (The Shin on the mezuzah) the All Sufficient Protector of Israel. It is a phrase that comforts Israel while at the same time terrifying her enemies.
“You say you are King of kings Sennacherib, and that your god is above all others. Wake from your delusion you fool, I know the intimate details of every aspect of your existence and hold your fate in My hands.”
Isa 37:29 Because you rage against Me, and your storming, has come up into My ears, therefore I will put my hook in your nose, and my bridle in your lips, and I will turn you back by the way in which you came.
The idea that Sennacherib’s rage and boasting has come up into God’s ears is a slight against Sennacherib and his gods. Their taunts and boasts concern a small dominion, one allowed them by God, Who is high above them.
The Assyrians were known to lead their captives away with hooks in their noses and pull them along from piercings in their lips. Thus, they are punished according to their own actions.
Isa 37:30 And this will be a sign to you, You will eat this year that which grows of itself; and the second year that which springs up on its own: and in the third year you will sow, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.
Verse 30 begins an inserted word of hope spoken to Judah (Israel). Here the children of Judah are addressed, the sign being one that reveals Judah’s coming deliverance. Notice that the sign will unfold over the course of Judah’s deliverance from Assyria. It will not happen all at once but it will happen.
Isa 37:31 And the remnant that has escaped of the house of Yehudah (Praise: Judah) shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward:
“as a tree which sends forth its roots below, and lifts up its branches above.” -Targum Yonatan (2nd Century CE)
This remnant is not a “type” as some foolishly suggest, so as to deny ethnic Israel’s identity. To the contrary, the remnant is literal ethnic Judah (Israel): it is literally qualified as such by the words “of the house of Judah”, an ethnic distinction. These are those in Jerusalem joined with those that had escaped out of the cities of Judah, during Sennacherib's invasion of the land, and besieging and taking of the fortified cities. By God’s grace they will again thrive like a tree that takes root downward feeding on the deep mayim chayim living waters of God and bears fruit upward providing healing for the nations.
Isa 37:32 For out of Yerushalayim (Flood of peace: Jerusalem) will go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Tziyon (Parched land): the kinat zeal, jealousy of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) Tzevaot (Who goes warring, of hosts) will do this.’
“For the remnant of the righteous shall go forth from Jerusalem, and the escaped of them that establish the law from mount Zion: by the Word of the Lord of hosts shall this be done.” -Targum Yonatan
It is the “kinat” fervour, zeal, jealousy of the Lord of Mercy Who goes warring, that will do this. It is God in action, arisen, fierce, Who comes to deliver His loved ones.
They will go out from Jerusalem to return to their allotted towns and villages within the territory of Judah. They will escape captivity in the mount and be free to go out and come in.
The added clause of the Targum rightly concludes that this remnant will (for a time at least historically speaking) be devote in their faith practice and love for HaShem.
Nothing either Hezekiah or Judah has done will bring these things about. This will happened based entirely on the “Zeal of The Lord Who goes Warring”!
Isa 37:33 Therefore thus says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) concerning the king of Ashur (Assyria), “He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a siege ramp against it.
“Therefore” means, “because I am zealous for My people and My own great Name, and have already established Judah’s deliverance”.
God has determined that Sennacherib will not even get the opportunity to approach the city of Jerusalem or plan even the minutest detail of a campaign to proceed against her.
Isa 37:34 By the way that he came, by the same he will return, and will not come into this city,’ says HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD). Isa 37:35 ‘For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake, and for my servant David's sake.’”
Nothing is so soul destroying to the man of great conquest as a defeat that forces him to return in the way that he came. All ground gained is lost with each step back, every boast is swallowed, and like the poison of pride it sits festering in the belly. To die in battle is the glory of a warrior, and to return in defeat is his greatest shame. This would be god Sennacherib will suffer the greatest humiliation because he failed to humble himself.
“Will not come in to this city” says YHVH. There is a day coming when Hashem will speak these same words to the enemies of Israel and to the great adversary of humanity the Satan “You will not come into this city!”
Why does God defend and save the city of Jerusalem (Flood of Peace)? Is it for Judah’s sake? Is it for Israel’s sake? Is it because He wants to build a castle on the hill? Hashem defends and saves Jerusalem “for My own sake, and for my servant David's sake.” “For My Own sake” because without the knowledge of the Glory of the Lord no one can be saved, and “For My servant David’s sake” because the greater son of David the King Messiah brings redemption to Israel and to all humanity.
Isa 37:36 Then malakh an angel of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy, the LORD) went forth, and struck in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and eighty five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all pegariym corpses meitiym dead on mass.
These events are also recorded in 2 Chronicles 32:21-23 and 2 Kings 19:35-37.
“Then” seems to infer that these events happened on the same night that Hezekiah had received the correspondence from Isaiah (2 Kings 19:35). However, this is probably not the case, given that the prophecy of 37:30 requires at least a year gap between it and the events of Assyria’s defeat. What took place during that year? Sennacherib was engaged in a conflict with Ethiopia/Egypt. We know this because Isaiah 37:8-9 explains that when he made his second attempt to bring Jerusalem under his power, he had received intelligence of the advance of Tirhakah, and therefore had withdrawn the centre of his army from Lakhiysh, and encamped before Livnah.
The seemingly redundant language “they were all corpses dead” is a Hebrew poetic formula that denotes utter defeat.
This work of an angel (messenger) of Hashem draws a correlation with Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. It is miraculous, instantaneous, performed at night and beyond the mechanisms of humanity.
“And the Lord sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he was come into the house of his god, they that came forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword. Thus the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all other, and guided them on every side. And many brought gifts unto the Lord to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah: so that he was magnified in the sight of all nations from thenceforth.” -2 Chronicles 32:21-23
The first of Isaiah’s histories concerning Assyria closes here with a short account of the result of the Assyrian drama, in which Isaiah's prophecies were fulfilled: not only the prophecies immediately preceding, but all the prophecies of the Assyrian era since the time of Ahaz, which pointed to the destruction of the Assyrian forces (e.g. Isa. 10:33-34), and to the flight and death of the king of Assyria (Isa. 31:9; 30:33).
If we look further forward to chapters 38-39, we see from Isa. 38:6 that it is only by anticipation that the account of these closing events is finished here.
Isa 37:37 So Sennacherib king of Ashur (Assyria) departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh (Abode of Ninus [possibly Nimrod]).
Nineveh was built by the ancient man Ashur of Genesis 10:11. It became synonymous with those who served the sensual gods of created things in opposition to the One true God of Israel. The same spirit is in that land and its people till this very day.
Isa 37:38 And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch (the great eagle) his god, that Adrammelekh (Majestic king) and Sharetzer (Prince of treasure) his sons struck him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat (Armenia: curse reversed): and Eisar-chaddon (Ashur has given a brother) his son reigned in his stead.
A period of approximately 20 years passed between Sennacherib’s return to Nineveh from Judea and his death (701 – 681 BCE).
“Nisroch” is a deity whose exact identity is debated. The Jewish sage Yarchi says, that the name Nisroch is related to "netser", a Hebrew noun referring to a branch or shoot and in Talmudic terms a plank, which may have been from the ark of Noah. This however, is pure conjecture.
“Adrammelekh” was also the name of an idol (2 Kings 17:31) to whom children were sacrificed in fire.
It is not known for certain what moved Sennacherib’s sons to commit this patricide. Yarchi says that Sennacherib prayed to his god, and vowed, if he would deliver him, that he might not be slain, he would offer up his two sons to him. Apparently his sons had been within hearing of him, therefore they killed him to prevent their own deaths. Again, this is conjecture.
© 2018 Yaakov Brown
Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,