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
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.