In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.
In those days - Hezekiah seems to have died 697 B.C.; and his illness must belong to 713 or 714 B.C. (compare 2 Kings 20:6), a date which falls early in the reign of Sargon. The true chronological place of this narrative is therefore prior to all the other facts related of Hezekiah except his religious reforms.
The prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz - This full description of Isaiah (compare 2 Kings 19:2), by the addition of his father's name and of his office, marks the original independence of this narrative. The writer of Kings may have found it altogether separate from the other records of Hezekiah, and added it in the state in which he found it.
This history (compare Jonah 3:4-10) shows that the prophetic denunciations were often not absolute predictions of what was certainly about to happen, but designed primarily to prove, or to lead to repentance, those against whom they were uttered, and only obtaining accomplishment if this primary design failed.
Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying,
He turned his face to the wall - Contrast 1 Kings 21:4. Ahab turned in sullenness, because he was too angry to converse; Hezekiah in devotion, because he wished to pray undisturbed.
I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.
Remember now - The old covenant promised temporal prosperity, including length of days, to the righteous. Hezekiah, conscious of his faithfulness and integrity 2 Kings 18:3-6, ventures to expostulate (compare also 2 Kings 21:1 note). According to the highest standard of morality revealed up to this time, there was nothing unseemly in the self vindication of the monarch, which has many parallels in the Psalms of David (Psalm 7:3-10; Psalm 18:19-26; Psalm 26:1-8, etc.).
And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying,
The middle court - i. e., of the royal palace. This is preferable to the marginal reading.
Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD.
The captain of my people - This phrase (which does not occur elsewhere in Kings) is remarkable, and speaks for the authenticity of this full report of the actual words of the prophet's message (abbreviated in Isaiah 38:1, etc.). The title, "Captain נגיד nāgı̂yd of God's people," commonly used of David, is applied to Hezekiah, as David's true follower 2 Kings 18:3.
And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.
The king of Assyria in 714 and 713 B.C. was Sargon (B.C. 721-705). If then the Biblical and Assyrian chronologies which agree exactly in the year of the taking of Samaria (721 B.C.), are to be depended on, the king of Assyria here must have been Sargon. It may be conjectured that he had taken offence at something in the conduct of Hezekiah, and have threatened Jerusalem about this time (compare Isaiah 20:6). There is, however, no evidence of actual hostilities between Judaea and Assyria in Sargon's reign.
And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered.
A lump of figs - The usual remedy in the East, even at the present day, for ordinary boils. But such a remedy would not naturally cure the dangerous tumor or carbuncle from which Hezekiah suffered. Thus the means used in this miracle were means having a tendency toward the result performed by them, but insufficient of themselves to produce that result (compare 2 Kings 4:34 note).
And Hezekiah said unto 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?
And Hezekiah said - Previous to the actual recovery, Hezekiah, who at first may have felt himself no better, asked for a "sign" that he would indeed be restored to health.
Asking for a sign is a pious or a wicked act according to the spirit in which it is done. No blame is attached to the requests of Gideon Judges 6:17, Judges 6:37, Judges 6:39, or to this of Hezekiah, because they were real wishes of the heart expressed humbly. The "evil generation" that "sought for a sign" in our Lord's days did not really want one, but made the demand captiously, neither expecting nor wishing that it should be granted.
And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the LORD, that the LORD will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?
Ten degrees - literally, "ten steps." It is not, perhaps, altogether certain whether the "dial of Ahaz" 2 Kings 20:11 was really a dial with a gnomon in the center, and "degrees" marked round it, or a construction fur marking time by means of "steps." Sundials proper had been invented by the Babylonians before the time of Herodotus; but the instrument here was probably an instrument consisting of a set of steps, or stairs, with an obelisk at the top, the shadow of which descended or ascended the steps according as the sun rose higher in the heavens or declined.
The question as to the mode whereby the return of the shadow was produced is one on which many opinions have been held. Recently, it has been urged that the true cause of the phenomenon was a solar eclipse, in which the moon obscured the entire upper limb of the sun; and it has been clearly shown that if such an occurrence took place a little before mid-day, it would have had the effect described as having taken place - i. e., during the obscuration of the sun's upper limb shadows would be sensibly lengthened, and that of the obelisk would descend the stairs; as the obscuration passed off the reverse would take place, shadows would shorten, and that of the obelisk would once more retire up the steps. If this be the true account, the miracle would consist in Isaiah's supernatural foreknowledge of an event which the astronomy of the age was quite incapable of predicting, and in the providential guidance of Hezekiah's will, so that he chose the "sign" which in the natural course of things was about to be manifested.
And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees.
It is a light thing - It seemed to Hezekiah comparatively easy that the shadow, which had already begun to lengthen, should merely make a sudden jump in the same direction; but, wholly contrary to all experience that it should change its direction, advancing up the steps again when it had once begun to descend them.
And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the LORD: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz.
At that time Berodachbaladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present unto Hezekiah: for he had heard that Hezekiah had been sick.
Berodach-baladan - The correct form of this name, Merodach-baladan, is given in Isaiah Isa 39:1. It is a name composed of three elements, Merodach, the well-known Babylonian god Jeremiah 50:2, but (pal) "a son;" and iddin, or iddina, "has given;" or Baladan may be a form of Beliddin. This king of Babylon is mentioned frequently in the Assyrian inscriptions, and he was not unknown to the Greeks. He had two reigns in Babylon. First of all, he seized the throne in the same year in which Sargon became king of Assyria, 721 B.C., and held it for 12 years, from 721 B.C. to 709 B.C., when Sargon defeated him, and took him prisoner. Secondly, on the death of Sargon and the accession of Sennacherib, when troubles once more arose in Babylonia, be returned there, and had another reign, which lasted six months, during a part of the year 703 B.C. As the embassy of Merodach-Baladan followed closely on the illness of Hezekiah, it would probably be in 713 B.C.
The son of Baladan - In the inscriptions Merodach-Baladan is repeatedly called the son of Yakin or Yagin. This, however, is a discrepancy which admits of easy explanation. The Assyrians are not accurate in their accounts of the parentage of foreign kings. With them Jehu is "the son of Omri." Yakin was a prince of some repute, to whose dominions Merodach-baladan had succeeded. The Assyrians would call him Yakin's son, though he might have been his son-in-law, or his grandson.
The embassy was not merely one of congratulation. Its chief object was to inquire with respect to the going back of the shadow, an astronomical marvel in which the Chaldaeans of Babylon would feel a keen interest 2 Chronicles 32:31. A political purpose is moreover implied in the next verse. Merodach-baladan was probably desirous of strengthening himself against Assyria by an alliance with Judaea and with Egypt.
And Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and shewed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not.
Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and shewed them - The Jewish king lent a favorable ear to the proposals of the ambassadors, and exhibited to them the resources which he possessed, in order to induce them to report well of him to their master.
All the house of his precious things - literally, the "spice-house;" the phrase had acquired the more generic sense of "treasure-house" from the fact that the gold, the silver, and the spices were all stored together.
Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah, and said unto him, What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee? And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country, even from Babylon.
Hezekiah did not answer Isaiah's first question, "What said these men?" but only his second. Probably he knew that Isaiah would oppose reliance on an "arm of flesh."
Babylon now for the first time became revealed to the Jews as an actual power in the world, which might effect them politically. As yet even the prophets had spoken but little of the great southern city; up to this time she had been little more to them than Tyre, or Tarshish, or any other rich and powerful idolatrous city. Henceforth, all this was wholly changed. The prophetic utterance of Isaiah on this occasion 2 Kings 20:16-18 never was, never could be, forgotten. He followed it up with a burst of prophecy Isaiah 40-66, in which Babylon usurps altogether the place of Assyria as Israel's enemy, and the captivity being assumed as a matter of certainty, the hopes of the people are directed onward beyond it to the Return. Other prophets took up the strain and repeated it Habakkuk 1:6-11; Habakkuk 2:5-8; Micah 4:10. Babylon thus became henceforth, in lieu of Assyria, the great object of the nation's fear and hatred.
And he said, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah answered, All the things that are in mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shewed them.
And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD.
Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried into Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD.
And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.
This prophecy had two fulfillments, each complementary to the other. Manasseh, Hezekiah's actual son, was "carried to Babylon" 2 Chronicles 33:11, but did not become a eunuch in the palace. Daniel and others, not his actual sons, but of the royal seed Daniel 1:3, and therefore Hezekiah's descendants, are thought by some to have literally fulfilled the latter part of the prophecy, being eunuchs in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar.
Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah, Good is the word of the LORD which thou hast spoken. And he said, Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days?
Good is the word ... - The language is, according to some, that of a true spirit of resignation and humility; according to others, that of a feeling of relief and satisfaction that the evil was not to come in his day. Such a feeling would be but natural, and though not according to the standard of Christian perfectness, would imply no very great defect of character in one who lived under the old Dispensation.
Peace and truth - Rather, "peace and continuance." The evils threatened were war and the dissolution of the kingdom.
And the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and all his might, and how he made a pool, and a conduit, and brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?
Consult the marginal references.
And Hezekiah slept with his fathers: and Manasseh his son reigned in his stead.