Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
B.—Hezekiah’s Illness and Recovery; his Reception of the Babylonian Embassy, and his End
2 KINGS 20:1–21. (ISAI. 38)
1IN 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. 2Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the Lord, saying, 3I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth [fidelity] and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore. 4And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court,1 that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 5Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain [prince] 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 unto the house of the Lord. 6And 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 [protect] this city for my own sake, and for my servant David’s sake. 7And Isaiah said, Take [Bring] a lump of figs. And they took [brought] and laid it on the boil, and he recovered. 8And Hezekiah said unto Isaiah, What shall be [is] the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up into the house of the Lord the third day? 9And 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? [the shadow is gone forward ten degrees,—if it go back ten degrees?] 10And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees. 11And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the Lord: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in [on] the dial [stairs] of Ahaz.
12At that time Berodach-baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present unto Hezekiah: for he had heard that Hezekiah had been 13[was] sick. And Hezekiah hearkened unto them [rejoiced because of them],2 and shewed them all the house of his precious things [treasury], the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour [armory], and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not.
14Then 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. 15And 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. 16And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah, Hear the word of the Lord. 17Behold, 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 unto Babylon: 18nothing shall be left, saith the Lord. And [some] 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. 19Then 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? [And he said: Verily; may there only be peace and security in my days.]
20And 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? 21And Hezekiah slept with his fathers: and Manasseh his son reigned in his stead.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
2 Kings 20:1. In those days. By these words Hezekiah’s illness is referred to the time of the last-mentioned events, but only as a general designation of the time of its occurrence (Keil). It fell, like those events, in the middle of his reign. The expositors are not agreed, however, whether it took place before or after Sennacherib’s retreat. The majority of the modern scholars adopt the opinion that it was before that event, founding their opinion on 2 Kings 20:6. There he is promised fifteen years more of life, and Sennacherib’s retreat is spoken of as something which has not yet come to pass. Now, as Hezekiah, according to 2 Kings 18:2, reigned twenty-nine years, and Sennacherib invaded Judah in his fourteenth year (18:13), this illness must have befallen him, it is argued, in his fourteenth year, either “at the beginning of Sennacherib’s invasion” (Keil), or “while the Assyrians were still besieging Jerusalem” (Thenius). It is further alleged in support of this view that Hezekiah showed to the Babylonian embassy, which came to congratulate him, treasures of gold and silver (20:13), but that he had given up everything of this kind which he had (18:15) to Sennacherib, so that his illness and recovery must have taken place before the retreat of the Assyrians (Delitsch and Hahn). These may appear to be very forcible arguments, but there are opposing considerations of the highest importance. In the first place, both narratives put the story of Hezekiah’s illness after the account of the Assyrian invasion, and as Calmet observes: Neque ego libenter desero seriem et ordinem rerum in libris sacris deductam, nisi valida id argumenta suadeant. It has indeed been urged that the historian placed the story of Sennacherib’s retreat (19:35 sq.) first, because “he desired to finish up the story of the Assyrian invasion, so as not to be obliged to return to it” (Knobel). But the Chronicler makes this hypothesis, which is in itself improbable, entirely inadmissible, for he says that Hezekiah was highly honored by all nations on account of this deliverance, and that many sent presents to him, and then he proceeds to give the story of his illness (2 Chron. 32:22–31). Josephus also asserts very positively that Hezekiah and all the people offered thank-offerings to God, and showed great religious zeal, but that then (μετ’ οὐ πολύ) he was afflicted by a severe illness. Secondly, the Babylonian embassy cannot be assigned to the period before the retreat of Sennacherib, nor to any time during the Assyrian invasion, for the king of Babylon, who was a vassal of the king of Assyria, would not have dared to congratulate Hezekiah at that time when he was in revolt against the suzerain of both, and he would have had no grounds for seeking an alliance with Hezekiah when he was in distress and peril. Thirdly, Hezekiah’s hymn of thanksgiving (Isai. 38:10) begins with the words: “I said (that is, I thought) in the cutting off (interruption, period of tranquillity) of my days,” &c.; i.e., “when a period of rest had come in my life, a pause in the midst of the ceaseless toil and care and danger of life” (Drechsler); when I believed that I was relieved from all danger by Sennacherib’s retreat, and that I could live on in peace and security, then came a new trouble and danger, and it seemed that I must go down to the grave. Against all these important considerations, which are taken from history, it cannot be argued that “the former story [of the peril of Jerusalem] is placed first because it is most important” (Von Gerlach), for what would become of the art of writing history, if historians should narrate later events before they did earlier ones, because the former were more important? As for 2 Kings 20:6, the number “fifteen” cannot be arithmetically accurate, for if it were so, then not only Sennacherib’s invasion and Hezekiah’s illness, but also the journey of the army of at least 185,000 men through the desert el Tih to Egypt, the siege of Pelusium, the return to Judah, the siege and conquest of the “fenced cities,” the devastation of the country, and finally, the destruction of Sennacherib’s army and his retreat, and even the embassy from Babylon, must all have taken place in one year,—Hezekiah’s fourteenth, and this appears impossible, considering that they had no railways. Isaiah’s words in 2 Kings 20:5 and 6 are not an historical allusion, but a prophetic oracle. In the prophetic style numbers have not always their strict, arithmetical value, but are clothed with a significance of another character. The number 15, in this case, is not, indeed, as Knobel thinks, “contributed by the redactor, exeventu, and put in the mouth of the prophet, who could not know how many years longer Hezekiah was to live,” but still we ask why should he have just fifteen years longer, and not one more or one less? Fifteen is not what is commonly called a round number. It will not do to answer this by the anticipatory statement (18:2) that Hezekiah reigned twenty-nine years. Not because he was to reign twenty-nine years in all were fifteen years more assigned to him, but because he was spared for fifteen years more his whole reign amounted to twenty-nine years. When he was taken ill he had finished his fourteenth year and begun his fifteenth. He was then thirty-nine years old, in the prime of life. Suddenly he stood on the brink of the grave, and it was all the more painful to him to quit life at this moment, because he had just been delivered from his most powerful enemy, and had hopes of being able to reign now in peace and quiet. It was regarded as a very great misfortune to be called away in the prime of life, hence his earnest prayer (2 Kings 20:3), which had no other sense than this: “O my God! take me not away in the midst of my days” (Ps. 102:24, cf. 55:23). The prophet promises him the fulfilment of this prayer, and that he shall reign as much longer as he had already reigned. The words which follow: I will deliver thee out of the hand of the king of Assyria, then refer to the remainder of his reign. In the new lease of life which was to be given him, he should fear nothing from the great and mighty enemy; he should reign in peace. This promise was of the greatest importance, for, although Sennacherib had fled in disgrace, yet he was still very powerful and very dangerous, and his wrath against Judah was fiercer than ever (Tobias 1:18). He might collect his forces and make another expedition against Judah. In fact, he did immediately collect an army and march against Babylon which had revolted. Thus the words are understood by Vitringa, Clericus, Gesenius, Rosenmüller, and Drechsler, and the latter adds the pertinent remark that, if 2 Kings 20:6 had been spoken before the events narrated in chaps. 18 and 19 took place, then 19:34 would be only a repetition of the promise in that verse.
2 Kings 20:1. Thus saith the Lord: Set thine house in order; literally: Give commands in regard to thine house, i.e., take the necessary measures for the management of thine affairs (cf. 2 Sam. 17:23, where אֶל stands for לְ). It does not mean “make known thy (last) will” (Knobel, Gesenius), nor, “give commands in regard to the succession to the throne”(Hess).—To the wall (2 Kings 20:2), not in dissatisfaction as Ahab did, 1 Kings 21:4 (Hitzig), but away from those who were present, in order that he might pray more freely and collectedly.—O Lord! remember now (2 Kings 20:3). To fall a victim of disease in the midst of his days seemed to the king, in view of proverbs like Prov. 10:27: “The fear of the Lord prolongeth days, but the years of the wicked shall be shortened,” to be a proof of having displeased God, that is, to be a punishment. He therefore prays God to remember also the good which he has striven to do, and “takes refuge in the promises which God had given in the Old Testament that good works should be rewarded by length of days” (Starke). For the rest, his words are not to be taken as referring in a general way to moral purity, but, as the expressions “with a perfect heart,” and “good in thy sight” show, as referring especially to his zeal for the pure worship of Jehovah, and his earnestness against every form of idolatry. (On שָׁלֵם see notes on 1 Kings 11:4 and 6.)—And Hezekiah wept sore. Josephus declares that, in addition to the disease, there was now great ἀθυμία, because he was to die childless and leave the kingdom without an heir, and that, in this difficulty, he prayed to God with tears, that He would allow him to live a little longer until he had become a father. The Church fathers and many other ancient expositors adopt this conception of the circumstances, and point, in its support, to the fact that the son and successor of Hezekiah, Manasseh, was only twelve years old when his father died (2 Kings 21:1), that is, he was born three years after this illness. Ewald calls this a “fiction” and appeals to Isai. 38:19 and 39:7. It certainly is hardly credible that Hezekiah was childless at the age of thirty-nine; it is not necessary to assume that Manasseh was the oldest son (see note on 1 Kings 1:5); and it is possible that the older sons had died before Hezekiah did. The only reason for his tears is the one which he gives in his hymn of thanksgiving, Isai. 38:10 sq.
2 Kings 20:4. Afore Isaiah had gone out into the middle city. The middle city is “the central part of the city, i.e., of Mt. Zion where the royal castle was situated.” The keri חָצֵר (“the middle court” [E. V.], not of the temple but of the castle), is presented by all the ancient versions, but it is only an interpretation of עִיר as referring to the castle after the analogy of 10:25 (Keil). תִּיכֹנָה does not mean the “inner” city, in contrast with the houses which lay outside of the wall of Mt. Zion (Knobel), but only, the middle one.—The words in 2 Kings 20:5 from “behold” to “house of the Lord” are wanting in Isaiah 38:5, but are brought in in 38:22. At this point it is quite evident that the account in Isaiah is very much abbreviated. The words on the third day (2 Kings 20:5) need not be taken literally, but they certainly do not mean “within a few weeks” (Hitzig). The phrase, prince of my people, which is added, indicates the ground for assisting him.—On 2 Kings 20:6 see notes on 2 Kings 20:1. The closing words: For mine own sake, &c., are wanting in Isaiah because they already occur in 19:34 (Isai. 37:35). They have here the same force as there. They are not, therefore, to be understood as containing any special reference to the circumstance that Hezekiah had no son, but that, nevertheless, the house of David should not become extinct, as the old expositors understood.—דְּבֶלֶת תְּאֵנִים, 2 Kings 20:7, means properly a pressed mass of figs. דְּבֶלֶת without תְּאֵנִים means a cake of figs (1 Sam. 25:18; 30:12). This was laid upon הַשְּׁחִין, strictly, the inflammation, hence, the fester, or boil (Job 2:1; Ex. 9:9). It is ordinarily understood to refer to a plague-sore, and it is inferred that Hezekiah was afflicted with “the plague which had carried off the Assyrian army” (Knobel), “the contagion of which had been transmitted to the king” (Winer and others); but this is utterly false. For, in the first place, שְׁחִין never occurs in reference to a plague, and then again, only one sore is here spoken of, whereas the plague produced several on different parts of the body. Moreover a plague or pestilence never occurs in isolated cases, but as an epidemic. There is not the slightest hint that any such disease raged in Jerusalem either before, or during, or after the Assyrian invasion. Still further, figs are not applied as a specific remedy for plague-sores. In pestilence “no medicines are administered except at the commencement of the disease, something to produce perspiration” (Winer, R.-W.-B. II. s. 233). Figs were the usual remedy for boils. Dioscorides says of them: διαφορεῖ σκληρίας; Pliny: Ulcera aperit; and Jerome remarks on Isai. 38: Juxta artem medicorum omnis sanies siccioribus ficis atque contusis in cutis superficiem provocatur (cf. Celsius, Hierobot. II. p. 373). We cannot define more nearly what sort of a boil it was. Ewald thinks it was “a fever-boil;” according to Thenius “a single carbuncle formed under the back of the head,” but this is a pure guess. [The ground for Thenius’ idea, which goes as far as is possible towards defining more nearly the character of the disease, is, that there was a single sore, and that it was about to prove fatal. A carbuncle, particularly in such a place, would answer this description.—W. G. S.]
2 Kings 20:8. And Hezekiah said unto Isaiah, What is the sign, &c? In his deep anxiety the sick man desires an external sign to strengthen his faith in the prophet’s words. Such signs usually attended a prophet’s promises (Isai. 7:11, 14; 2 Kings 19:29). This demand of the king is not at all astonishing in view of the words addressed to Ahaz in Isai. 7:11: “Ask a sign,” &c. There also the prophet allowed the king to choose what the sign should be. 2 Kings 20:9, 10, and 11 are condensed in Isaiah into one verse. In 2 Kings 20:9 Drechsler rejects the ordinary translation [that of the E. V.] which makes of the last part an alternative question. He asserts that that translation is “simply impossible.” He translates: “The shadow shall advance ten degrees, or shall it recede ten degrees?” taking הלך as a command. “The prophet determines, in the first place, that it shall advance, then he interrupts himself, corrects himself, and leaves the king to determine which it shall do.” But it is only in disjunctive questions that אִם means or, and the prophet does not “correct himself” in such a solemn expression. Keil also, in his new commentary, translates: “The shadow has advanced ten degrees—if it should recede ten degrees? “He takes the second clause hypothetically: “Whether it may indeed,” &c., which is not only forced but also unclear. Hezekiah’s answer presupposes a disjunctive question. As in Isai. 7:11, the prophet asks the king whether he will ask a sign in the depth or in the height, so here he asks Hezekiah whether the sign of the shadow shall be that it shall go forward or backward. It cannot be objected that הֲ is wanting: with הָלַךְ, for this is often the case, and the question is designated only by the tone of the voice (Gen. 27:24; 2 Sam. 18:29. Gesen. Gramm. § 153. 1). [The argument for reading 2 Kings 20:9 as a disjunctive question resolves itself into an inference from Hezekiah’s answer. Regarding simply the grammar of 2 Kings 20:9 there are two obstacles to this rendering; first, the omission of הֲ, which is never omitted in a disjunctive question, and secondly, the perfect tense הָלַךְ. Keil’s translation is therefore better. “The shadow has advanced ten degrees—if it should recede ten degrees? “would that be a satisfactory sign? It is true that the answer of Hezekiah does not seem to fit well to this question. The only other and more satisfactory solution of the difficulty is that which involves an alteration of the text. Knobel and Hitzig read הָלִיךְ. It seems necessary to supply also הֲ as having fallen out before הָלַךְ. The reading would then be: What sign shall there be? The shadow’s advancing? or shall the shadow recede? Keil’s objection (Comm. s. 344 note 2), that the inf. abs. would, in that case, be used for the future, would not apply. The inf. abs. must be understood in its most ordinary use to express directly and simply the verbal idea.—See Gramm. and also Exeg. notes on אָכֹל, 2 Kings 19:29.—W. G. S.].—The words צֵל and מַעֲלוֹת refer to the instrument which we call a sundial, and which the ancients called a shadow-measurer (Plin. 36:15), because the hour of the day was estimated by the length of the shadow. It is evident from this that these instruments were not arranged by them as they are by us (see Martini, Von den Sonnenuhren der Alten, Leipzig, 1777, s. 35). The מַעֲלוֹת served to indicate the time. It is generally supposed that they were the degrees or lines (Vulg. lineœ) of the scale on the indicator of the sun-dial. But מַעֲלָה means a going up, an ascent, or that which ascends, hence a step (1 Kings 10:19; 2 Kings 9:13), never a grade, a degree, or a line (see Knobel on Isai. 38:8). The Sept. always render it by ἀναβαθμοί. The shadow-measurer must, therefore, have had steps like a pair of stairs. As it is called in 2 Kings 20:10: “the steps of Ahaz;” it has often been supposed that it consisted of the stairs to the royal palace. Stairs, however, as distinguished from steps, were called עוֹלָה (Ezek. 40:26), and why should the stairs of the royal palace, which had long been in their place, be called the stairs of Ahaz? It is evident that the shadow-measurer was an instrument by itself and not a part of the royal palace. It was “an arrangement contrived especially to measure the length of the shadow as a means of learning the hour” (Thenius). It is not possible now to say how it was contrived. Among the numerous guesses which have been made as to the mode of its construction (Winer, R.-W.-B. I. s. 498 sq.) the simplest and most natural seems to us to be that it was a column with circular steps surrounding it. “This column cast the shadow of its top at noon upon its uppermost, and morning and evening upon the lowest step, and thus designated the hour of the day” (Knobel). The prophet’s question gives rise to the supposition that there were twenty of these steps, so that the shadow could go forward or backward ten degrees. “If the sign was given an hour before sunset then the shadow, returning ten degrees of a half-hour each, came back to the point at which it stood at noon” (Delitsch). It is impossible to draw any inference from this as to the division of hours among the Jews, for it is probable that they did not have any such division before the captivity (Winer, I. c. II. s. 560). The fact that the sun-dial was named after Ahaz is doubtless due to its having been first set up by him in the court of the palace. According to Herodotus (2:109) it was a Babylonian invention, and as the Babylonians were then in continual intercourse with the Assyrians, Ahaz may have become acquainted with it through the latter, just as he borrowed from them the plan of the new altar (16:10). [“To them (the Assyrians) also is to be attributed the institution of the week of seven days, dedicated to the seven planetary bodies worshipped by them as divine beings, and the order assigned by them to the days has not been changed from time immemorial. Having invented the gnomon, they were the first to divide the day into twenty-four hours, the hours into sixty minutes, and the minutes into sixty seconds” (Lenormant I. 449). They had a sexagesimal system of notation (Chevallier, ibid.).]
2 Kings 20:10. And Hezekiah answered: It is a light thing. Clericus thinks that Hezekiah answered the prophet’s question non satis prudenter, for that it would be as difficult for the shadow to advance as to recede. But Starke observes correctly: “As the shadow, in the ordinary course of things, always advances and never recedes, the king chooses that which appears to be the more difficult in order that the proof may be the clearer.” Full of his ardent wish that the shadow of death (Matt. 4:16) may not extend any further, but may become shorter, he naturally chooses the latter movement for the shadow on the dial. And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the Lord, &c., 2 Kings 20:11. Thenius arbitrarily asserts that “these words do not belong to history, but express the mode of conception prevalent at the time the history was written” [in other words, that Isaiah did not, as an actual matter of history, at this point in his conversation with the king, “cry to the Lord,” but that the historian’s idea of what a prophet would do under such circumstances was, that he would at this point cry to God, and that he accordingly inserted here a mention of Isaiah’s having done so]. The prophets were accustomed, before giving a sign to confirm their utterances, to call upon God, because they knew, and every one else was to be taught, that the sign did not come from them but from God (1 Kings 17:20; 18:36; 2 Kings 4:33; 6:17; cf. John 11:41). As in 2 Kings 20:9 so also here in 2 Kings 20:11, a movement forwards and backwards is ascribed, not to the sun but to the shadow. In this sign, all turned upon the shadow, not upon the sun. Thenius thinks that הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ must be supplied as a subject to יָרְדָה, because it is a feminine form, while צֵל is masculine, but, in view of the variableness of the Hebrew genders, we cannot draw an inference from this feminine form which shall contradict the clear sense of the words (see Drechsler on Isai. 38:8). The account in Isaiah has instead of this verse: “Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun-dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down;” but here also צֵל must be understood as the subject of the first יָרְדָה, and, in the case of the second יָרְדָה, we must understand that the reference is not to any movement of the sun, but to a movement of the shadow caused by the sun. Drechsler correctly observes on the words: “And the sun turned backward:” “that is to say, of course, that the sunshine moved backwards on the indicator [better, the steps] on which it fell.” (Cf. also Delitsch on Isai. 38:8.) The account in Kings is more detailed and more accurate than that in Isaiah, for the latter omits 2 Kings 20:10 and 11, and mentions briefly, in 2 Kings 20:21 and 22, after the thanksgiving of Hezekiah (38:9–20), that which is here given in 2 Kings 20:7 and 8, as if the figs had not been applied until after the מִכְתָּב of Hezekiah.
[The story of the incident is complete without 2 Kings 20:7–11. Hezekiah’s recovery is mentioned in 2 Kings 20:7, and it is a surprise to read in 2 Kings 20:8 a request from him to be assured by a sign that he shall be healed. This lack of unity in the story seems to point to the fact that two independent traditions in regard to Hezekiah’s illness are here combined. Unfortunately the account in Isaiah is also somewhat disjointed. Isai. 38:21 and 22 brings in the account of the king’s recovery as a sort of supplement, or after thought. He there asks for a sign that he shall go to the temple on the third day, not, that he shall recover.—See further the bracketed addition to Histor. § 4.—W. G. S.]
2 Kings 20:12. At that time Berodach-baladan, &c. This took place “certainly not very soon after what is narrated above, for, at that time, news travelled slowly, and journeys took time” (Thenius), but it certainly was not as late as 703 [See Supplem. Note after the Exeg. section on chaps. 18 and 19, and the similar Note after the present Exeg. section], as Knobel thinks, that is ten years after, for the ostensible object of the embassy was to congratulate the king on his recovery. בְּרֹאדַךְ stands for מְרֹאדַךְ Isai. 39:1. It is not an error, but simply an interchange of the labials, as in בָּרִיא and מָרִיא. Merodach is really the name of the Babylonian Mars (Jerem. 50:2). [See Exeg. notes on 16:3; 17:16; 30 and 31.—Merodach belonged to the third rank of gods in the Babylonian Pantheon. This rank consisted of five gods representing the five planets. Merodach was equivalent to Jupiter, and was identified with the planet which we call by that name. He was one of the chief gods at Babylon and had two shrines (one mystic) in the great pyramid there. Nebuchadnezzar speaks of having adorned this pyramid and these shrines. Merodach was a secondary form or emanation of Bel (Baal). “He was called ‘the ancient one of the gods, the supreme judge, the master of the horoscope;’ he was represented as a man erect and walking, and with a naked sword in his hand.” (Lenormant, I. 454 sq.)] It was the custom of the Babylonians and Assyrians to give their kings the names of divinities. Baladan is, according to the Aramaic, equivalent to בַּעַל אָדוֹן. On the question whether this king was the Μαρδοκέμπαδος in the Canon Ptol., who reigned twelve years, or the Merodach-baladan in the Chron. Armen. of Eusebius (Berosus), who only reigned six months, see Niebuhr, Gesch. Assyr. s. 40 and 75 sq., and Delitsch on Isai. 38:1. [See Supplem. Note at the end of this section.]—According to 2 Chron. 32:31, the object of the embassy was, not only to congratulate Hezekiah on his recovery, but also to get information about the miracle, that is about the “sign” of the prophet. Evidently this was only the ostensible object; consequently Josephus does not mention it at all (Ant. x. 2, 2), but only gives the true one: σύμμαχόν τε αὐτὸν εἶναι παρεκάλει καὶ φίλον. The kings of Babylon, who at that time were under the Assyrian supremacy, sought to free themselves from it. The present time, when Sennacherib had suffered a severe calamity, seemed to them to be the best opportunity. “The object of the embassy was to form an alliance with a king who had successfully resisted the Assyrian power” (Von Gerlach). Hence it follows that Hezekiah’s illness fell in the time after and not before the Assyrian invasion. His recovery gave the king of Babylon the pretext he desired for sending an embassy. He did not care much to offer an empty congratulation. His object was, to “find out the strength of the kingdom of Judah” (Ewald). The ambassadors succeeded in inducing Hezekiah himself to give them full information in regard to this.
2 Kings 20:13. And Hezekiah rejoiced on account of them, certainly not merely on account of their civility in coming to see him, and congratulate him, but also on account of the real object of their visit, which he easily perceived, even if they did not expressly make it known to him. An alliance with the Babylonians, whose power was then on the increase, seemed to him to be very advantageous to his kingdom, and to assure him against further danger from the Assyrians. He therefore showed them his treasury, his armory, &c, in order to show them that his means were not so entirely exhausted as might be expected after the Assyrian invasion. Drechsler justly remarks upon the enumeration of the different objects which follows, that “it lay in the interest of the narrator to enumerate as many as possible of these objects, in order to show that Hezekiah exerted himself to bring out and show everything which could set off his military strength and resources.” First the treasury is mentioned, in which silver and gold were stored. נְכֹת is not to be connected with נְכֹאת (Gen. 37:25; 43:11) i.e., spice, especially the gum of the tragacanth which grows in Syria (why should the “spice-house” be mentioned first of all, before the silver and gold?). The word comes rather from the unused root כּוּת, equivalent to כּוּם: conceal, cover, preserve (see Fürst, s. v.), so that it means “treasure-house,” or “store-house.” The assumption that it was first used for storing spices, but then for storing gold and silver (Gesenius), is at least unnecessary. [The etymology suggested by Fürst and adopted by Bähr is very uncertain and improbable. It does not appear that כּוּם has the sense attributed to it. Gesenius’ explanation is the best, and is the one almost universally adopted. נְכֹאת = נְכֹת spice. The spice-house is the one used for storing spices—which were always reckoned as precious articles. The name then passed over to a store-house, or treasury, for precious articles of all sorts.—W. G. S.]. בְּשָׂמִים, perfume, the general expression for all objects which have a pleasant smell, which were used either for incense or for ointment, and which were highly esteemed. “At courts it was considered highly important to have a good stock of these” (Winer II. s. 495 sq.). The rabbis, whom Movers and Keil follow, say that שֶׁמֶן הַטּוֹב is not fine olive-oil, but balsam-oil manufactured from the products of the royal gardens. The armory which here stands in contrast with the treasury is without doubt the house of the forest of Lebanon (see notes on 1 Kings 7:2). In all his dominion, i.e., “throughout the extent of his authority; not only in the royal castle, but throughout his kingdom” (Drechsler). It has been asked whence all these treasures came, since Hezekiah had to give up all his gold and silver to Sennacherib, and even to take off the gold coverings to the doorposts of the temple, which he had himself given in order to satisfy Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:14–16). The answer is not difficult. Sennacherib had only demanded gold and silver, not perfume, nor oil, nor even arms, and with these last Hezekiah had abundantly supplied himself at the approach of the Assyrians (2 Chron. 32:5). The armory was therefore full, and the spices all remained. As for the silver and gold, it is evident from 2 Kings 20:17 (“and that which thy fathers have laid up in store”) that Hezekiah had not given up all, but still retained some of the ancient articles which had been handed down. He preferred to take the temple adornments which he himself had given, rather than to give up these articles which perhaps were hidden away in subterranean places of security. “The Chronicler also relates (II. 32:23), in a credible manner, that, after the retreat of the Assyrians, many kings sent presents to Hezekiah” (Thenius). Finally, a great deal of booty may have been obtained from the camp of the Assyrians after their sudden flight, as Vitringa, Ewald, and Drechsler suggest [See Supplem. Note after Exeg. on chaps, 18 and 19. The tribute given by Hezekiah is there mentioned in detail, from the inscriptions.]
2 Kings 20:14. Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah. Isaiah perceived the real object of the Babylonian embassy. He saw that the object was not merely to congratulate the king on his recovery and to satisfy their curiosity, but that they also desired to draw Hezekiah into an alliance, and he saw that the king was disposed to enter into one. He therefore felt himself impelled to go to the king and to call him to account. This he does by a question which, however, involves a strong affirmation: I know what has been done, but why hast thou done it? He desired a confession from the mouth of the king himself. As he had zealously protested before against any alliance with Egypt and Assyria, so he now warned the king against Babylon, and showed him what was to be apprehended from that quarter. Hezekiah’s unembarrassed reply (2 Kings 20:15) shows that he supposed that he was doing right. “Hear,” the prophet rejoins, “Jehovah’s word” (2 Kings 20:16); thou hopest for help and deliverance from Babylon, but this very Babylon shall bring to thy kingdom and people ruin and destruction. These, to whom thou hast shown all that thou hast, will take away all this and more besides; they will take away even thy children and make them servants at their court. 2 Kings 20:18. That shall issue out of thee, that thou shalt beget—not his own sons, strictly speaking, but his descendants, a sense in which בֵּן is so often used. Although סָרִיסִים really means cunuchs, and although “the proper sting of the assertion in this verse is not to be unnecessarily blunted” (Drechsler), nevertheless we must not insist upon the literal force of the word, as Gesenius does, but understand by it footmen, or court attendants (1 Sam. 8:15), as we see from the example of Daniel (Dan. 1:8), who was not a eunuch. There was humiliation enough in this prospect.
2 Kings 20:19. Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah.— He subjects himself in humility, and in submission to the will of God, and to the prophet’s words, as Eli did, 1 Sam. 3:18, cf. the same expression 1 Kings 2:38, 42. טוֹב cannot here mean kind (Umbreit), for the words in 2 Kings 20:17 and 18 were not “kind;” nevertheless they were good in the fullest sense of the word, inasmuch as they were the words of God.—“They were such that there was no fault to be found with them” (Lange). Clericus remarks on the word; Bonum vocatur id, in quo acquiescere par est, quipped ab eo profectum, qui nihil facit, quod non tantum justissimum, sed quod summa bonitate non sit temperatum, etiam cum pœnas sumit. The second וַיֹּאמֶר shows that after the first part of the answer there was a pause, and that the following words were not addressed directly to Isaiah, although they were spoken before he went away; not, as Knobel thinks, after he was gone. הֲלֹא is strictly nonne? “The interrogative force is often lost, and it does not differ from הֵן or הִנֵּה. See 1 Sam. 20:37; 2 Sam. 15:35; Job 22:12” (Gesenius). אִם is a particle of wishing (Ps. 81:8; 139:18). Calmet renders the sense thus: Justa sunt omnia, quœcunque Deus sancivit, sed utinam coërceat ultionis suæ cursum, quamdiu vivo. This seems simpler and more natural than Keil’s translation: “Is it not so, i.e., is it not pure goodness if peace and security are to last through my days (as long as I live)?” Instead of הֲלֹא אִם we find in Isai. 39:8, כִּי, which is by no means to be preferred, for the translation: “For there will be peace” does not join on well to what precedes. According to Knobel כִּי simply introduces the direct discourse. It is an error to translate, as is often done: “Very well! so long as there may only be peace and security in my time,” and to take the words as an expression of “naive” (Gesenius), or “easy” (Knobel), or “genuine oriental” (Hitzig) egotism, as if, as some of the rabbis indeed understand it (see Jerome on Isai. 39.), he did not trouble himself about his people. On the contrary, it is out of love for them that he does not wish to survive or see their destruction. His words are an expression of pain (Josephus: λυπηθείς), and not of easy selfishness. Drechsler and Keil understand אֶמֶת to refer to the “faithfulness of God, who keeps the covenant of grace which He has made with the humble,” and Hitzig understands it of the faithfulness of men, “who keep the peace and observe treaties.” But, as there is no reference here to peace with God (see 2 Kings 20:17 and 18), so it cannot refer to His faithfulness, much less to that of the Babylonians, who, as yet, had made no treaty. אֶמֶת is rather a synonym of שָׁלוֹם, and signifies permanence, security. It cannot be understood otherwise in Jer. 33:6, where it stands in the same connection (cf. Jerem. 14:13). Vitringa: status rerum stabilis.
2 Kings 20:20. And the rest of the acts, &c. In the notice of the close of Hezekiah’s reign, 2 Kings 20:20 and 21, we find inserted in the ordinary formula especial mention of his גְּבוּרָה (see Exeg. on 1 Kings 15:23), and also of the aqueduct which he built, and which was of permanent utility to the city. The panegyric of Hezekiah in Sir. 48:17, makes especial mention of the same. The reference is, of course, to the aqueduct which Hezekiah caused to be built at the approach of the Assyrians, and not to the one which is mentioned 2 Kings 18:17 and Isai. 7:3. According to 2 Chron. 32:3 sq. all the fountains outside of the city walls, also Gihon and its pools, were covered over, in order, in case of siege, to deprive the besiegers of the use of the water. Then the water was all collected and led under-ground into the city, where it flowed into the pool called after Hezekiah, now more generally known as the Birket el Hamman. (See Thenius, in the appendix to his Commentar, s. 18. Winer, R.-W.-B. II. s. 568. Keil on 2 Kings 18:17.)—According to 2 Chron. 32:33, Hezekiah was buried “on the hill-slope [E. V. is incorrect] of the graves of the sons [descendants] of David,” i.e., he was not buried in the royal sepulchres. The additional remark: “And all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem did him honor at his death,” shows that he was not buried elsewhere than in the royal sepulchres through lack of respect, but probably through lack of room, or because he himself had chosen this place.
[SUPPLEMENTARY NOTE incorporating those results of Assyrian and Babylonian investigations which bear on the elucidation of chap. 20. As we saw in the Note at the end of the Exeg. section on chaps. 18 and 19, Rawlinson thinks that Sennacherib made two expeditions into Judah (or, at least, sent a second), in the year 700 or 698. Lenormant supposes that all the events mentioned occurred in one campaign, in 701–699. Hezekiah’s sickness was of such a character (2 Kings 20:7) as to suggest a plague, the result of the Assyrian occupation. It occurred in 699 or 698. He, however, recovered. There can be no question that Hezekiah was in imminent danger of this kind at one time in his life, soon after the Assyrian invasion. As we shall see, below, the statement that his life was prolonged for fifteen years thereafter presents great difficulty. Rawlinson, although he puts Sennacherib’s invasion in 700–698, puts Hezekiah’s illness, and the visit of the Babylonians, in 713, on account of the biblical data. We must, however, accept the results of the investigations, and put the visit of the Babylonian ambassadors in 698–7. The sickness of the king was not an event of such a character as to be recorded in the history, if it were not for Isaiah’s connection with it. On this account it was included at a later time, and, if it contains chronological statements which conflict with those which we find elsewhere, it is rather they than the others which must be disregarded. It is noticeable that the sickness is said to have occurred just in the middle of the king’s reign, and, if the date were not well-known, and an arbitrary date had to be fixed upon by tradition, this is the one of all others which would be most likely to be chosen. Let us therefore disregard this statement rather than others, and put the king’s illness in 698–7.
The world is always ready to worship success, without stopping to analyze it, and see on what it rests. Little Judah alone of the nations of Western Asia had escaped the Assyrians. It had not done so by virtue of its own strength, but by virtue of what must have appeared to the neighboring nations to be an accident. Nevertheless we find that an embassy came immediately afterwards, from Babylon, to form an alliance.
There was a king on the throne of Chaldea in 709 who is called Merodach Baladan, (Marduk-baliddin) in the inscription called the “Acts of Sargon.” Lenormant identifies him with the Kinzirus of Ptolemy’s canon; but that king reigned earlier, and the identification with Mardocempalus (721–709), which Rawlinson adopts, seems better. In 709 Sargon totally defeated this king at Dur-Yakin, a town on the Euphrates below Babylon. Babylon became subject to Assyria. (It had been free since 760. Supp. Note. on chap. 15). The defeated king either escaped in disguise or was taken prisoner; the inscription says one thing in one place and another in another. When we next meet with the same name, it is, therefore, doubtful whether it is the same person or his son. Merodach Baladan at any rate proved himself a patriotic Babylonian, and a determined foe of the Assyrians. Immediately after Sargon’s assassination, in 704, Babylon revolted under Agises, but Merodach Baladan killed him, and himself took command (Lenormant). Sennacherib mentions, in his inscription, that his first campaign was against Merodach Baladan, and the armies of Elam, which were allied with him. He defeated and plundered them, spoiled Chaldea, and put a vassal king over it (703). While Sennacherib was engaged in Syria, Philistia, and Judah (see Supp. Notes on chaps. 16, 17, 18 and 19) Merodach Baladan escaped from prison, raised another revolt, and expelled the vassal king. Sennacherib, after his disaster in Judah, turned once more against Chaldea. It was now that Merodach Baladan sent to Hezekiah to try to form an alliance. Hezekiah was flattered by this and made a show of his treasures. He probably did not want the Babylonians to think that, after all, he was not an ally worth having. The result proved the justice of the prophet’s warning. Merodach Baladan was again defeated. He died in exile soon after, and Chaldea was once more subjugated. Sennacherib set his son Asshur-nadin on the throne.
Some years of peace followed, during which Sennacherib was rebuilding Nineveh, which he did with great magnificence. But in 693, on the death of Asshur-nadin, Babylon once more revolted. For the next ten years Sennacherib was occupied in suppressing a series of fierce but unsuccessful revolts in Babylon, and in prosecuting wars in Elam and Susiana to punish the allies of the rebels. In 682 he made his son Esarhaddon viceroy of Babylon, having chastised the city with such severity as to leave it half-ruined. He was assassinated in 680 (Lenormant).
To return to Hezekiah. If he lived fifteen years after his illness, he died in 685, and reigned forty-two (not twenty-nine) years. Lenormant adopts this opinion, and adjusts other data to it thus: Manasseh was born in 797. He was recognized as king from his birth. The twenty-nine years of Hezekiah are reckoned to this time, and the fifty-five of Manasseh from it. Hezekiah died in 685, when Manasseh was twelve years old. Aside from the violence of this theory, it encounters numerous specific objections, and cannot be adopted. It is more reasonable to hold fast the twenty-nine years for Hezekiah’s reign, and sacrifice the fifteen years stated as his new lease of life. See the first paragraph above. Hezekiah died in 698–7, and Manasseh was twelve years old at that time.—See Note 30 on the Chronolog. Table at the end of the volume.—W. G. S.]
HISTORICAL AND ETHICAL
1. The story of the illness of Hezekiah “withdraws our attention from the external history of the kingdom, which is narrated in the foregoing chapters, and reveals to us the soul of the king. It leads us out of the city into the royal palace” (Umbreit). The announcement of his approaching death shocked him deeply; he turned away from those who surrounded him, and “wept sore,” as if death were the end of all. What has become of his firm faith? Where is the fearless confidence with which a pious man faces death? Does this not seem like unmanly weakness, and like anything but submission to the will of God? But there are two things to be considered in explanation. Hezekiah had passed his whole life up to this point in anxiety and trouble; he had only just escaped a danger which threatened his kingdom and his life; he was now, for the first time, in a position to look forward with courage and hope to a period of peace, rest, and prosperity, and to the opportunity of doing more for his country than he had hitherto been able to do. At this time, now, in the very prime of life, he was suddenly called to die and to give up all. He had succeeded to the throne in a time of deep decay, and had sought in every way to restore prosperity and strength, and now, when he was in a position to labor for this end with some success, he must leave all. Nothing could be more natural than that he, a man of warm and earnest feelings, from whom no stoical apathy was to be expected, should be terrified and shocked when he heard the prophet’s words: Thou shalt die! He does not murmur or complain, still less does he, like Ahaziah (2 Kings 1:4–9), burst out in anger against the messenger of death. Neither does he simply resign himself; he bows humbly and pours out his grief in prayer to Him in whom he believed. Therefore his prayer finds an answer, which it never would have done if it had been made in womanish weakness or in that love of life which is displeasing to God. The fulfilment of his prayer is a proof that it was offered in a right spirit. The prayer came from a faithful, noble, and pious heart, as we see from his hymn of thanksgiving, Isai. 38:9–20. He had in mind the words, Ps. 145:18 and 19. In the second place it is to be remembered that Hezekiah belonged to the pious men of the Old Testament, who had not that hope and confidence which belongs to those who know Him who has conquered death; that he had never heard the words: “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). The promises in the Old Testament economy all refer to this life and to the bliss of communion with the living God. Death had not yet lost its sting. Hence the terror with which even the pious men of the Old Testament looked forward to it, while the pious men of the New Covenant look up in full confidence to Him who has robbed death of its power, and in Whom all promises are yea and amen.
2. Hezekiah’s prayer has been interpreted as “self praise,” on account of the appeal which it contains to his righteous life (Thenius), and the ridiculous assertion has been made that “the Church, at least the Protestant Church, must, according to its standards, class him among the self-righteous” (Menzel). It is entirely left out of view, in this judgment, that Hezekiah stood in the economy of the Old Testament, that is, in the economy of legal righteousness; that the entire revelation of the Old Testament is concentrated in the Law of Moses, as that of the New Testament is concentrated in the Gospel; and that to walk according to this Law is not to be virtuous, morally pure, and free from sin, but to serve. Jehovah as the only God, to fear Him, to trust Him, and to love Him with all the heart (Deut. 6:1–5). Hezekiah did not know any more about the modern doctrine that a man should practise virtue simply for the sake of virtue, than he did about the evangelical doctrine that faith alone, without works, ensures salvation. He considered that death, which was announced to him, was a penalty inflicted by God, and he did not know how he had incurred it, since he had always endeavored to serve God to the best of his knowledge and conscience, and never had departed from Him. He comes before the judge of life and death and begs Him not to remember his sins alone, but also to remember that he has feared and worshipped Him. He could say all this without Pharisaical “self-praise” (Luke 18:9–12), just as well as St. Paul could say, without self-righteousness: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). The whole thanksgiving hymn, Isai. 38, breathes humility before the Almighty and Holy One; there is not a hint of self-praise or of holiness by works in it. “Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption; for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back” (Isai. 38:17). His greatest cause for grief was that he must go thither where he could no longer praise the Lord. Would that all who consider themselves virtuous and holy would show themselves as humble and penitent in the face of death as Hezekiah did.
[It cannot be denied that there is a great deal of special pleading in this criticism of Hezekiah’s words. We have to be on our guard against setting out with a determination to see nothing but good in certain of these characters, and nothing but evil in certain others, and against warping facts to suit this foregone judgment, most of all, if “good” or “evil” are to be measured by modern standards. When Hezekiah says that he has walked before God with a perfect heart, and in fidelity, he refers to the requirements of the Mosaic Law, but when he says: “I have done good in thy sight,” he means moral good—righteousness. He claims, in perfect honesty and simplicity, that lie has done what is right. The answer to those who accuse him of self-praise is not to be found in twisting the words. Two things may be urged in answer, both of which are true as general principles, and are not suggested by the desire of establishing the saintliness of Hezekiah’s character. The first is that, if he had really done what was right as far as he knew, and if his theology taught him that this calamity was a punishment which indicated that he had been doing wrong, then he had a full right to appeal to his conduct against this theological inference (cf. the argument of Eliphaz, Job 4:5, particularly 2 Kings 4:7, and Job’s answer, in which he justifies himself. See 2 Kings 13:15, 23). Secondly: the naive expression of Hezekiah, who thinks that he has done right and says so, is not to be judged by the modern mock-humility which often thinks that it has done right, and says that it has not; which assents to the doctrine that all have sinned, as a general theological proposition, while the individual who repeats it does not see, in his heart, that he has sinned after all. The Jewish theology taught that temporal calamities were judgments of God inflicted in punishment for sin. Hence it was inferred that a man who suffered misfortune must have sinned (Isai. 53:4). Hezekiah had attempted to do right to the best of his ability. His conscience told him that he had been faithful to this effort, and in all truth and simplicity he expressed this conviction. It is evident that it is impertinent to judge any such naïve and truthful expression by our conventional modern standards of how much a man may be allowed to express of the sincere convictions of his heart, when they bear upon his own merits or abilities.—W. G. S.]
3. The prophet Isaiah here “meets us once more in all the glory of the prophetical dignity” (Umbreit). His conduct is based upon the premise of his prophetical character, without which it would be obscure and enigmatical. What he does and says, he does and says not in his own power, but as one who “stands before Jehovah” (1 Kings 17:1), and who is set “over nations and kingdoms to root out and to pull down and to destroy, to throw down, to build and to plant” (Jerem. 1:10). Mighty in word and deed, without fear of men or anxiety to please them, he threatens, and warns, and exhorts, and helps. He undertakes without hesitation the duty, heavy for him no doubt, of going into the palace to announce to his sovereign the terrible command: “Set thine house in order.” Then he retires, leaving the king to the effects of this command, but soon returns and declares to the crushed monarch, who is absorbed in anxious prayer, the fulfilment of that prayer, the promise of complete and speedy recovery, nay even of a reign prolonged for as many years more as it had already lasted, and the protection of God throughout this time. What would become of the prophet if he did all this in obedience to his mere human judgment? According to the ordinary custom of the prophets (see 1 Kings 17. Hist. § 6; Pt. II. pp. 17, 47, 58) he combines with the promise of recovery the use of an external means of healing. The cluster of figs here had just the same function as the means used by our Lord (John 9:6, 14). It was not the cluster of figs which helped the man at the point of death, but the Almighty Lord of life and death. The ordinary means of healing was here a sign und pledge of the promised cure. As the Berleburger Bibel says: “Since this means could not have the power of curing in itself, it was used as a sign of the divine superhuman power.” Isaiah did not employ the ordinary, natural means until he was sure of the divine help. It was just because this means of cure was the ordinary natural one, that Hezekiah wanted a “sign” that Jehovah would heal him (2 Kings 20:8), and did not have complete confidence in this remedy. It is, therefore, utterly erroneous to ascribe Hezekiah’s cure to the cluster of figs, to talk about Isaiah’s knowledge of medicine, and to draw the inference that the prophets were accustomed to act as “physicians” (Knobel, Der Prophet. der Hebr. I. s. 55. Winer, R.-W.-B II. s. 280). If the prophet had, as a physician, been sure of the efficacy of this remedy, he would have behaved in the most reprehensible manner in not applying it at once, and in beginning by announcing certain death.
4. The sign, which was granted to Hezekiah at his request, has intimate analogy with the prophetic declaration which it was intended to confirm. There could hardly be a more significant sign than one presented on the shadow-measurer, that is, the time-measurer, which was “arranged in the court of the palace before the king’s windows” (Thenius). Every human life is like a days—it has its morning, its noon, and its evening, (Eccl. 11:6; 12:1, 2; Job 11:17; Matt. 20:3, sq.). The advance of the shadow shows the approach of evening (Jer. 6:4; Job 7:1, 2), which will be followed by darkness and night. Hezekiah’s life-day was on the decline; the night of death was approaching; then it was promised him this day should stand once more at its noon, that the shadow of death should recede, and that the evening should once more become mid-day. The sign is not therefore “a mere pledge of the fulfilment of the promise in 2 Kings 20:5 and 6,” in which “there is no analogy to be traced with the fact of the prolongation of his life” (Thenius). On the contrary, its significance is so apparent that it is difficult not to see it at once. This is not a mere trick of art or power, in place of which any other one might just as well have been chosen, any more than any of the other prophetic signs.—As for the physical features of the sign, many, starting from the supposition that a “violation of the order of the solar system” (Menzel), a miracle which involved the revolution of the earth on its axis in a direction contrary to its regular one, is here recorded, have been shocked and repelled, and have either sought to explain it naturally, or have characterized it as a myth. The old naturalistic explanations by a second-sun, a vapor cloud, or an earthquake (see Winer, R.-W.-B. I. s. 499), may all be passed over as antiquated. We need only take notice here of the two most recent attempts. According to Gumpach (Alttestam. Studien, I. s. 195 sq.), Isaiah turned about the foot of the index, which before was towards the East, so that the shadow, instead of running down, as before, would descend [ascend?]. In that case, however, the sign would be nothing but “a very simple trick” (Oehler), and the greatest prophet of the Old Testament would be nothing but a common juggler. This trivial hypothesis falls to the ground with the erroneous, at least unproven assumption, that the shadow-measurer had a gnomon with a foot-piece. According to Thenius, we have to understand that there was “a partial eclipse of the sun, unnoticed by most men.” Such an one occurred, according to Prof. Seyffarth’s communication to Thenius, oh the 26th of Sept., 713, B.C., “which date is in perfect consistency with all the other chronological statements of the Book of Kings.” He adds that during such an eclipse “a slight advance and recession of the shadow takes place.” “Isaiah made use of his astronomical knowledge to give the king, in his despair, a sign which should re-arouse his courage.” This explanation, which no one else has yet adopted,—[Stanley (II. 537) says it is the only thing which could “illustrate” the cause of the phenomenon. He adds that he is informed that the variation would be almost imperceptible except to a scientific observer.]—rests upon the very doubtful assumption [?] that there was a partial eclipse of the sun in the year 713, and upon the still more doubtful assumption that Isaiah had great astronomical knowledge, and knew how to make shrewd use of it upon occasion. It is, therefore, a most unfortunate attempt. Let us have done with attempts to explain facts and events, which the historian distinctly declares to be miracles, by naturalistic hypotheses. Modern criticism does not indeed any longer deny that a miracle is here recorded, but disposes of it as a myth, and asserts either that a natural event was at a later time exaggerated and embellished with miraculous details, or that this story grew up through tradition out of the simple promise of the prophet, that, as the sun, after going down, returns and repeats its course, so Hezekiah’s life should, though it had reached its limit, take a new start, and go on for a time longer (Knobel, Hitzig). Ewald’s notion amounts to the same thing. He says: “It must not be overlooked that this story was not written down, in its present form, until twenty years or more after the event, and after the death of Hezekiah and of Isaiah. Isaiah’s good influence in this incident, even on the domestic life of the good prince, stands firm as an historical fact, and his words of trust and consolation no doubt miraculously (!) encouraged the king.” In this way, it is true, we glide most easily over all difficulties. But it is a purely self-willed assumption, which has no foundation save dislike for everything miraculous, that this story was not recorded in its present form until twenty years after the event, and that it is a product of tradition. The two records of it are, in the main points, identical. Both are taken, as was shown above, from an older authority, with which we are not acquainted, and of which we cannot assert that it was first written years after the death of Hezekiah and Isaiah, at a time when tradition had already converted the history of this incident into a myth. The Chronicler also, although his record is very brief, speaks of a מוֹפֵת (2 Chron. 32:24). Critical science first exaggerates the miracle, and makes of it an event which would produce a cataclysm on earth, in order to have so much more ground for declaring it a myth. But there is no hint of any such event in the text. The miracle “was not visible everywhere, but only in Jerusalem,” and “since it is a case of a sign which was to serve as a pledge, and did not need to be supernatural, it was accomplished by a phenomenon of refraction in the rays of light” (Keil), “for it is sufficient that the shadow, which in the afternoon was below, by a sudden refraction should be bent upwards” (Delitsch). There are “certain weak analogies in the natural course of nature, as, for instance, the phenomenon cited by many expositors, which occurred in the year 1703, at Metz, in Lothringia, and which was observed by the prior of the Monastery there, P. Romuald, and many others, that the shadow on a sun-dial receded an hour and a half” (Keil).
[Bosanquet, in an Essay published in the Jour. of the Royal Asiatic Soc., Vol. XV., offers a solution of this phenomenon from the features of an eclipse. This eclipse took place in the year 689, on the 11th of January. He founds upon this an argument that that must have been the year of Hezekiah’s sickness, but this argument has not been considered conclusive as against other data. We mention it here only as a proffered explanation of the manner in which such a phenomenon might have been perceived, without involving a reversed motion of the earth. For a few days before and after the winter solstice, the sun’s altitude at noon at Jerusalem is about 34°. If the “steps of Ahaz” were a flight of steps in the palace court mounting from north to south, at an angle of about 34°, then the sun would throw a shadow down them at noon which would just tip the top step. The upper limb of the sun would alone rise above the object (a roof, for instance) which threw the shadow. If the upper limb were eclipsed, the moon, in passing over the sun’s disk, would cut off the sunlight, and the shadow would once more descend the stairs. As the moon passed away the sunlight would once more pass below it and above the roof, and once more light the whole stair. The same explanation would apply to the dial if it were a small stair-like instrument, used for measuring time. An eclipse, to accomplish what is here supposed, must be nearly total, must be on the upper limb of the sun, must occur within twenty days of the winter solstice, and at noon of the day. Any contribution, in the way of explanation, ought to be carefully considered, but there are grave objections to this one. (a) The date of the eclipse, which is found to satisfy the conditions tolerably well, is irreconcilable with other data. (b) The phenomenon would be very slight, and only noticeable to careful observation, or under the most marvellous concatenation of circumstances. (c) It can hardly be believed, after reading the text, that the king had seen the shadow abnormally recede, and that the “miracle” consisted in its returning to its regular and proper place and motion.—W. G. S.]
5. The narrative of the embassy of the king of Babylon to Hezekiah hinges upon the prophecy of Isaiah, in which, for the first time, the downfall of the kingdom of Judah and the Babylonian captivity are foretold. This incident, like the two previous ones, is recorded in the book of Isaiah on account of his prophecies, which form the kernel of each. Hezekiah’s behavior, it is true, occasioned the prophecy, but the prophecy is the main thing, and it throws the proper light upon his conduct. Drechsler: “Evidently the arrival of these ambassadors flattered Hezekiah’s vanity so much that he forgot the rules of ordinary prudence.” Umbreit: “Hardly has the king escaped death and won a new lease of life, and found the treasure in heaven, before his heart is once more set upon the treasure of earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt. Instead of making known to the ambassadors the glory of God, he shows them, boastfully, the perishable riches of his palace.” Hezekiah, according to the prevailing opinion of the commentators, shows his treasures out of boastfulness and love of display, and hence the “bold moral preacher” (Köster), the prophet, pronounced to him the fitting rebuke, and announced the coming punishment. But this conception is certainly erroneous. There is no sign of love of display or of vanity in anything which is recorded of Hezekiah. Drechsler himself exclaims: “What a contrast to the tone of Isai. 38!” This very contrast is an argument against the above conception of the disposition in which Hezekiah acted. A proud and vain man would have answered the prophet, when he called him to account, in a very different manner, and would not have expressed himself so openly and unembarrassedly as Hezekiah does in 2 Kings 20:15. His further reply in 2 Kings 20:18 bears witness to anything but a haughty and vain character. But even supposing that he had been influenced by vanity on this occasion, this momentaneous weakness would be terribly punished by the threat of the loss of his kingdom. This threatened punishment would be out of all proportion to the fault, and would be tyrannical and oppressive. Thenius justly says: “Hezekiah’s conduct towards the ambassadors did not proceed from vanity or love of display (Knobel).… He accepted with joy the offered alliance of the Babylonians in the hope of avenging (?) himself, and he showed them the extent of his resources in order to convince them that he would be no contemptible ally (Clericus).” In this, however, he had, on the one hand, departed from complete trust in God alone; and, on the other hand, he had lost sight of the ordinary dictates of prudence to an extent which must ultimately be ruinous to Judah and Jerusalem. The prophet’s rebuke was meant to make him see this, and that must also be the sense of the Chronicler’s brief notice (II., 32:25), that Hezekiah “trusted too much to his own power.” The occasion of the prophet’s rebuke, and the thing which called for punishment, was not the personal vanity of Hezekiah, but the fact that he, who had experienced such signal instances of Jehovah’s power and willingness to save, and who had been so often warned against all complications with heathen nations, should enter with joy into an alliance with Babylon. This was a sin which was not to be expected in him, a sin against the theocratic and soteriological destiny of Israel.
6. The prophet Isaiah appears here also in all his prophetical majesty, although seen from a different side from before. There he appeared as a consoler, here as a messenger of the divine judgment. The latter, as well as the former, character belongs to the prophetical calling. The message announces the destruction, in the first place, of Hezekiah and his family, but then, by implication, that of the entire nation. “Not that the exile was inflicted as a punishment for this fault of Hezekiah.” (Delitsch), but because the whole nation had incurred, though in a far higher degree, the same guilt as Hezekiah against the theocratic relationship to God, and was about to incur it still further, so that the measure would become full, and then the punishment threatened in the Law (Levit. 26:33; Deut. 4:27; 28:36, 64) must fall. “The Babylonian Captivity,” observes Starke on Isai. 39:6, “would have taken place, even if Hezekiah had never committed this sin, but it would not have been foretold at this time, if this incident of the ambassadors had not occurred. It was meant, at the same time, to be a humiliation of Hezekiah on account of his fault.” He received the prophet’s announcement as such a humiliation, and hence he was spared the trial of himself experiencing the exile.
On account of the definiteness of the prediction, modern critical scholars have asserted that it is an oraculum post eventum, which originated with the historian (Knobel), or, at least, that the actual fulfilment determined “the light in which the prediction is set before us” (Ewald). [What he means is, that this historian, who had lived through, and been an eye-witness of, the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, lends sharpness of outline and accuracy of detail to the picture, when he tells us how Isaiah had once foretold all this.] This, however, takes away the point from the whole story. It is true that “political sagacity might foresee the unfortunate consequences of Hezekiah’s thoughtless conduct, but without prophetical inspiration it was impossible to foresee that Babylon, which was just struggling for independence, would supplant Assyria as the great world-monarchy, and that Babylon, and not Assyria, which was then threatening rebellious Judah, would really inflict the extremest woes upon her” (Delitsch). The definite reference to Babel, which is the thing that offends critical science, forms the point of prophecy. It was occasioned by the embassy from Babylon, and it is intended to signify to Hezekiah: This very Babylon, from which thou hopest to obtain help and support, will ruin thy nation and people. Isaiah does not appear here as a sagacious statesman any more than he appeared in the former incident as a skilful physician, or a learned astronomer. His words have not the form of wise advice, but of a divine sentence of condemnation. Their form, therefore, would be inexcusable, if the prophet was only expressing his personal misgivings and his human anticipations. Why shall he be made out to be everything possible, physician, astronomer, statesman, only not that which he claimed to be, and which he was, viz., a prophet, who spake as he was “inspired by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21)?
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
2 Kings 20:1–11. Hezekiah’s Illness “unto Death” and his Recovery from the same.—WÜRT. SUMM.: God sends illness upon the good, not in punishment for sins past, but as a trial of their faith and patience (Rom. 5:3) … or for His own glory (John 9:3; 11:4). By observing this we may the better possess our souls in patience (Luke 21:19).—CRAMER: Bodily illnesses are the forerunners of death, and God’s means for fostering the health of the soul.—STARKE: God lays upon his children first one evil and then another. Hezekiah is first delivered from Sennacherib and the hands of man, and then he falls into the hands of God, who had before delivered him.
2 Kings 20:1. HALL: Teachers and preachers must not conceal disagreeable truths from men, but make them known, whether they will be pleasant or not.—STARKE: We see, from the example of Isaiah, what is the duty of physicians and preachers towards the sick, viz., not to encourage them by false hopes of recovery, but at the right time to point out to them the duty of setting their house in order, and preparing themselves for death.—THE SAME: The rich and great should also be warned to prepare for death.—It is a great mercy of God to allow us to foresee our approaching end (Deut. 32:48 sq.).—Every illness, even though it does not seem likely to be fatal, is a warning to prepare for death, a memento mori, which can harm no one, whereas it is very harmful if all thoughts of death and eternity are held far away. He who, in his days of health, thinks upon death, and faithfully believes in Him who has overcome death, is not terrified when he is commanded to set his house in order.—KYBURZ: Set thy house in order, O man! If thou hast no house, thou hast at least a soul. Prepare it as best thou mayst for death, for thou knowest not whether to-day or to-morrow thou wilt be called upon to quit this tabernacle. It is vain, however, to attempt to fit a soul for death by a sacrament, if it has not during its time of health and labor sanctified itself by holy deeds and by communion with God. How peacefully one may die, in spite of shrinking nature, if one can only say to God, as Hezekiah did: Thou knowest that I have walked faithfully before Thee.—As it is wise, in time of health and strength, to set one’s house in order in a worldly sense, that is, to make one’s will and arrange one’s affairs, so is it still more wise to set one’s house in order in a spiritual sense, and not to put off making one’s peace with God until one stands on the brink of the grave.
2 Kings 20:2 and 3. Hezekiah’s Behavior at the Announcement of his Approaching Death. (a) He turned his face to the wall, that is, he turned away from all things earthly and temporal, to collect his thoughts. (b) He prayed to the Lord, that is, he sought refuge in Him alone. That is what we also should do in every illness.—STARKE: It promotes devotion to make one’s prayers in secret and alone.—THE SAME: Children of God should not murmur when they are scourged of God, but kiss the rod (Micah. 7:9; 1 Sam. 3:18).—Fear of Death, its Cause, and how it may he overcome.—The wish of a dying man to live longer is not wicked, if it comes from the sentiment: si diutius vivam, Deo vivam, and has not its origin in the desire to enjoy the world and life a little longer. Paul desired to depart and be with Christ, but he admits that longer life enables one to bear more fruit (Phil. 1:21 and 22). “Let me live that I may serve thee; let me die that I may possess thee.” Hezekiah’s prayer in view of death did not come from a proud and self-righteous heart, but from a humble and penitent one. He based his prayer upon the promise which God had given to the faithful under the old covenant: Do this and thou shalt live (Luke 10:28; Levit. 18:5; Prov. 10:27). Therefore he was heard by God, Who resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. So should we also, in the face of death, not console ourselves with our own righteousness and virtue, but build our hopes upon the promises which He has given us in the New Testament, and upon Him through whom our sins are forgiven. He that believeth in Him, though he were dead yet shall he live (Rom. 10:4; John 11:25 sq.).
2 Kings 20:4–6. The prayer of the righteous is very effectual when it is earnest (James 5:16; Ps. 145:18; Sir. 35:21; Isai. 65:24; 30:19).—The word of consolation to all who cry to the Lord with tears in sorrow and distress: “I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears.”—How consoling to think that the length or the shortness of our days is in God’s hand (Sir. 11:14). “From sudden death, good Lord, deliver us.”—CRAMER: The Lord always gives more than we pray for; the king prays for life, and He gives him long life (Ps. 21:5). Moreover, He promises him protection against Assyria, for He can do far more (Eph. 3:20).—”Thou shalt go up into the house of the Lord.” This was not a command, but a fulfilment of a wish and prayer, and it shows that Hezekiah loved the place where God’s honor dwelt (Ps. 26:8; 27:4).—The first steps after recovery should be to the house of God, to thank Him for restored health (Ps. 66:12–14).
2 Kings 20:7. The fact that God connected the healing of the king with the use of a certain remedy shows that we should not despise the means of healing, which are His gift, but should join the use of them with our prayers to Him (Sir. 38:1–4).—The Lord is the true physician, for it is He who either gives or denies efficacy to human remedies. One is relieved by the slightest remedy; for another the best and strongest is of no avail.
2 Kings 20:8. CRAMER: God treats us like a good physician, not only as regards our bodies, but also as regards our souls. As the physician puts a staff in the hands of a yet feeble convalescent, so God grants to Hezekiah a “sign” as a staff for his faith (Isai. 42:3). So nowadays God grants the sacraments as means of strengthening our faith.—In the Old Covenant God gave many signs, in the New Covenant only one—Christ, the Sign of all signs. Therefore we should ask no other. When the Pharisees demanded a sign, Our Lord said: “O wicked and adulterous generation,” &c. (Matt. 12:38 sq.). The sign for all time is that He was dead and liveth again to all eternity, and holds the keys of death and hell. All signs, as well as all promises, are in Him yea and amen.
2 Kings 20:9–11. God alone controls the index on the dial of life; to turn it forwards or backwards is the prerogative of His might and grace. Therefore, submit to His will, and say: “It is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth Him good” (1 Sam. 3:18).
2 Kings 20:12–19. The Embassy of the King of Babylon to Isaiah. (a) Hezekiah’s conduct towards it; (b) what Isaiah declared to him on account of his reception of it (see Histor. § 6).—STARKE: The most grievous calamities are not as ruinous as the flatteries of the children of the world.—KYBURZ: In the storm Hezekiah was preserved; in the sunshine he was lost.—J. LANGE: It may well come to pass that a man who has bravely withstood a great trial falls under a slight one. Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall. The world nowadays often behaves as the king of Babylon did, for he did not care so much to make known by his embassy and gifts his sincere respect for Hezekiah, as he did to secure his alliance for his own advantage, and so secure his own ends (cf. Sir. 6:6–9).
2 Kings 20:13. PFAFF. BIBEL: We should not be too friendly with the enemies of the Lord, especially when they may misuse our friendship to our disadvantage. Friendship with the world is enmity to God; he who wishes to be a friend to the world becomes an enemy to God (James 4:4).—The desire of making a display, and of infusing a high opinion of one’s self into others, is often found even in those who are true Christians, and who have borne hard tests with success. Thus vanity clings to us and is the first thing and the last which we have to conquer in following Our Lord. Therefore watch and pray. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak. The Saviour said: “He that will follow me,” &c. (Luke 14:33).—KYBURZ: We still show our spiritual treasures to the friends from Babylon, especially when we admire our own gifts, and like to have others admire them. As soon as strangers arrive we hasten to show our gifts, and powers, and accomplishments, in order to win respect. This is just the way to lose all those things. If one collects treasures let him store them up in heaven, where no spies will come to see them.
2 Kings 20:14. It is a proof that He who watches over our souls is a good shepherd that he sees when we are about to depart from Him, or to transgress, and sends one of His faithful servants, or some faithful friend, to warn us, and to say: “Hear the word of the Lord!” Is such a friend always welcome to thee?
2 Kings 20:15. He who denies his fault will never succeed in concealing it; he who confesses it will find pity (Prov. 28:13; cf. 1 Chron. 30:17).
2 Kings 20:17–19. Roos: Worldly people, with whom a child of God thoughtlessly mingles, do him great harm. Happy is he who is set right again after every transgression by a word from God, as Hezekiah was! It is the just sentence of God that the staff in which we trusted becomes a rod for our punishment.
2 Kings 20:19. From the example of Hezekiah we learn, when the word of God rebukes our vanity and love of display, our vacillation and our want of faith, to bow in submission and to say: “Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken;” when we have shown true penitence, then we may also pray: Da pacem, Domine, in diebus nostris!
2 Kings 20:4.—[On the keri see Exeg. The E. V. follows it as do Thenius and Ewald. The chetib reads “the middle city.” It Is adopted by Keil, Bunsen, and Bähr.—W. G. S.]
2 Kings 20:13. That וַיִּשְׁמַע is not the original reading, but וַיִּשְׁמַח, which we find in Isai. 39:2, is evident from עליהם which follows. The latter reading is also supported by all the ancient versions.—Bähr.
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.