Hezekiah’s prayer of thanksgiving. Isaiah 37:9-20
The writing of Hezekiah, king of Judah, when he had been sick and was recovered from his sickness (vs. 9).
As an expression of his gratitude Hezekiah wrote this: prayer for the instruction and edification of all God’s believing people. The first section leads us into his great anguish of soul that he experienced at receiving the tiding that he must die (vss. 10-15).
I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the rest of my years (vs. 10).
Meaning: “When of a sudden I became dreadfully ill and I was told of the prophet that the sickness was unto, death and that I must die, then I said, though I shall go down . . .” The form of the verb in the Hebrew (cohortative) expresses the direction of the will, so that there is this in the statement, “God declared that I must die. So be it. His will be done.” Though bewailing his lot, the king was submissive. His attitude was that of a saint, for a saint he was. And therefore also the consideration of his lot caused him unutterable grief. Why this was so we learn from the next few lines of his prayer.
I said, I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord, in the land of the living (vs. 11a).
He shall not seek the Lord—His glories—anymore as reflected by the shadows of the temple. As of all of them Christ is the body, the underlying meaning of this fine is: I shall not see the Lord any more in the face of Christ.
In the land of the living, i.e., in the land of the spiritually living. The reference is to Canaan. As was said, it was to the saints of that day “heaven.” For here was the church. Here was the temple. Here was God’s throne. Here burnt the fire of God’s altars. Here the saints shouted for joy. I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world (vs. 2b). Inhabitants of the world—better translated: inhabitants of frailty. The reference is to the realm he should have to do without the companionship of men. i.e., of God’s believing people.
This lamentation of Hezekiah raises the question whether in his distress he was not believing in the resurrection of the saints unto life everlasting. Said David in one of his moments of spiritual elation, “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hades (the realm of the dead); neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life . . .” (Ps. 16:10, 11). That too was Hezekiah’s faith which he had in common with all the saints of that day. Only, for the moment he could derive no comfort from it, seeing that, in cutting off his years, the Lord, so it seemed to him, was dealing with him as though he were wicked. Although his faith was not gone, though he still clave to God as trusting in His mercy, as was evidenced by his tears, yet at the same time he was being tortured by the thought that he was about to perish forever with the wicked and that his prospects of again seeing God in His holy temple were gone forever. This explains his grief. His imperfect knowledge of the state of the believers after this life does not explain it. All the saints of that day were as ignorant as he in this respect. Yet they could say with the dying Jacob, “I have waited for thy salvation Lord (Gen. 49:17). But that is what Hezekiah was not saying in that moment in full assurance of faith.
He goes on to compare the body and the life lived in it to a shepherd’s tent, that after a while is pulled up, so his life he regarded as, broken up and removed (vs. 12a).
The imagery changes. He next compares his life to the web or carpet that the weaver cuts off from the thrums or threads that bind it to the beam. He contemplates both himself and the Lord as doing the cutting. It amounts to a confusion that it is on account of his sins that he was smitten. From day to night and from then on till morning he was troubled in his heart by the thought that at any moment the Lord might make an end of him, as a lion, crush all his bones. His voice came in weak and slight sounds that resembled the peeping of cranes and swallows and the mourning of doves. His eyes languished upward: O Lord I am oppressed, he sighed. Be thou my surety (vss. 12b-14).
Thus he prayed and sighed in the moment of his great despondency. However perplexed and confused, he could not let go of God but continued to trust Him. Though God’s hand was upon him, his only hope was still God.
His gratitude and joy at hearing that the Lord had mercy on him (vss. 15-20).
What now shall he say? For the Lord has spoken unto him, and he heath done it, i.e., kept Him to His promise and healed him. He vows that he shall walk softly, submissively, all the rest of his years for the bitterness of his soul (vs. 15).
Some regard these words as forming a part of Hezekiah’s lamentation by which he let it be known that he regarded his tears as fruitless, and his prayer for healing vain. God had pronounced the death sentence over him, and who can hinder Him? Who will say to him, What doest thou? (See Job 9:12, 32).
But it is plain that the lamentation of the king ends with verse 14. This is proved by his saying that he will go softly all the rest of his days. It implies the promise of healing.
For the bitterness of his soul, that is, for the bitter experience through which he had passed on account of his sins, he will go softly, walk humbly before the face of his God henceforth.
He goes on to declare that by these men live—by these, i.e., by the power of God’s gracious promises. Men live, i.e., God’s believing people. In all these is the life of his spirit—true life that consists in knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. So will the Lord recover him and make him to live (vs. 16).
He recalls, how that instead of peace he had great bitterness, but he simultaneously rejoices in the knowledge that the Lord in love to his soul delivered itfrom the pit of destruction,—Hebrew: “For thou didst cleaves to my soul and didst deliver it from the consumption of corruption. For thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back” (vs. 17).
It is lines such as these that show how the saints of old lived by the promise of the immortality of the elect. What comfort and joy could the king have derived from the promise of the prolongation of his natural life, had he not been aware that in the final analysis it was a promise to the effect that though after his skin worms destroy his body, he in his flesh should yet see God. (Job 19:26)? They knew by revelation that such must necessarily be the thrust of the promise. The grave, he knew, cannot thank God, death cannot praise Him. They that go down into the pit cannot hope for His truth (vs. 19).
This can have reference only to such whose years God in His anger shortens and for whom, accordingly, the grave is the corridor to eternal perdition. The word “pit” is a correct translation of the original. The pit must be identified with perdition. Only the wicked go down into it. According to the king, the token of God’s favor is to be delivered from it.
The living, now exclaims the king, the living, he shall praise God, as he, himself, was doing that day (vs. 19a).
“The living” does not comprehend all men indiscriminately but such who have life in Christ. That the king had understanding of this is plain from the final lines of his prayer.
The father to the children shall make known God’s truth (vs. 19b). The father, the god-fearing father, to be sure, and not the others. What it means is that the words “living” and “father” signify the same people.
The Lord was ready to: save him (vs. 20a).
Identifying himself with all the “living,” the king concludes his prayer with this vow, “Songs we shall play all the days of our life in the house of the Lord (vs. 20).
Certainly the king was looking forward to something more than the privilege of praising God in His house, for the remaining fifteen years of his natural life. His exclaiming, “the living shall praise God,” was his way of saying that “we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (II Cor. 5:1). That he did not present the idea in this language is because the land of Canaan was the only heaven whereof he knew.
Hezekiah’s preparation for the defense of Jerusalem.II Chron. 32:1-8.
In the meantime Sennacherib, who had invaded Judah, was laying siege to all the fortified cities of the southern kingdom. Soon he would be fighting against Jerusalem. But Hezekiah had nothing to fear from the Assyrians. For in reply to his tears the Lord had promised to defend the city. But this assurance did not result in the king’s sitting still. On the contrary, he did all that was humanly possible to defend the city and to make the siege difficult.
He counseled with his princes and his mighty men, laying before them his plan to stop the waters of the fountains that were without the city. All were for it, of course, and promised to co-operate (vs. 3). Word went out to the people. They saw the wisdom of the plan. They said, “Why should the kings of Assyria come, and find much water?” And so they responded as one man, and soon the task was completed (vs. 4).
The king did more. He built up the wall that was broken and built up the towers on it. Still another wall he repaired perhaps the one enclosing the lower city. Third, he repaired Milo, a strong tower, or castle, situated probably on the northwest corner of Zion. Forth, he made spears and many shields. (vs. 5). Fifth, he set captains of war over the people (vs. 6).
The king did one more thing. As commander-in-chief of God’s army, as captain of the Lord’s host, he gathered the people together in the broad open space of the gate of the city and spake according to their hearts, i.e., as God’s believing people had need of hearing in order that their hearts might not be troubled in the present crisis. He addressed to them this word, “Be strong and courage, be not afraid nor terrified for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for more there be with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles” (6b-8a).
Just how the Lord was to fight Israel’s battles at this time, whether through the agency of Hezekiah’s forces that were present in Jerusalem, or wholly apart from this agency. The king did not know. But fight their battles; that the Lord would: For it was His battles, His warfare, that they were fighting. And He will war His own warfare for His name’s sake. And therefore the victory will also be solely His as His gift to them His people. Of this the king was certain. In that faith he stood. Hence, he must not be accused of making flesh his arm because he made preparations for the coming battle. It might be that in defending the city, the Lord might want to make use of spears and shields as He had often done in the past.
And the people leaned upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah (vs. 8b).
As Sennacherib was at the time occupied with the siege of Lachish (II Chron. 32:9), he did not advance in person to Jerusalem. The task of destroying the holy city he assigned to this general Rabshakeh, with two other high officers. They came with a great host. When they were come up, they made the channel of the upper pool, which was outside of the city, on the west side, their headquarters (II Kings 18:17; Isa. 36:2).
Rabshakeh, the spokesman of the three, called to the king, i.e., sent a message that he should come out to transact with him. Not wishing to appear in person, the king sent three representatives, Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, Shebna the secretary, and Joash the son of Asaph the recorder (Isa. 36:3).
Rabshakeh, who perhaps could converse in the Hebrew language better than either of the others, said unto them, Say now unto Hezekiah: Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest (vs. 4).
Rabshakeh calls his king “the great king,” because of the extent of his empire. He had kings for his vassals. It astonished this heathen that anyone could be so foolish as to imagine that he could defend himself against a monarch thus powerful. Humanly speaking, his astonishment was justified. For from a human standpoint Hezekiah’s plight was hopeless.
Thou sayest, But words of lips, counsel and strength for war (vs. 5a). Meaning doubtless: Thou sayest, but they are vain words, I have counsel and strength for war.
Others but not so likely: Thou sayest, I have the words of my lips to cry for help to my God and to encourage my people, and besides counsel and might for war. I have all that is needful for my defense.
Now on whom dost thou trust, that thou rebellest against me (vs. 5b)?
Lo, thou trustest in the staff of this bruised reed, on Egypt, whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all that trust in him (vs. 6).
The meaning of this imagery is that Egypt is the undoing of all that lean upon him. The characterization is true. Isaiah, himself says the same Isaiah 30:3, 5, 7 in his own words. But Rabshakeh fails to make it general as the prophets do. What is true of Egypt is just as true of any other world powers. The price they asked for their favors was just as ruinous as defeat in war. Besides, they failed to live up to their agreements, once they had their victims in their power. This, as experience had taught, was eminently true of Assyria.
But, the Assyrian continues, if Hezekiah and his people say to him that they trust in the Lord their God, they should consider that it is the Lord whose high places and altars Hezekiah took away in order that Judah and Jerusalem might worship at this altar (vs. 7).
He refers to the altar of burnt offering that stood in the outer court of the temple. As is well known, Zedekiah had taken away all the high places in Judah and had said to his people that they must worship at “this altar” (II Kings 18:4). He had thus carried out the will of God that there be the one and only sanctuary (Deut. 12:11-14). But to Rabshakeh, who was ignorant of Israel’s law, this conduct appeared as a curtailment of the Lord’s service. This was proof that He could not be expected to help.
Next Rabshakeh holds up for ridicule Hezekiah’s military might by proposing that they make an agreement with his master the king of Assyria by which he will give them two thousand horses, if they on their part can set horsemen thereon, a thing that they are unable to do, he means to be telling them.
Doubtless he was right. For Hezekiah had no horsemen and war chariots. How then, the Assyrian asks, will they turn away the face of one captain of the least of his master’s servants as relying on treacherous Egypt to supply the horsemen and the chariots (vss. 8, 9). Doubtless this is the point that Rabshakeh here argues, namely the abundance of Assyria’s horsemen and chariots and the poverty of Hezekiah in this respect. He has no such war equipment of his own, and he must not imagine that the Egyptians are going to come to his aid with theirs. So in every point of view Hezekiah’s case is hopeless. He should surrender without delay and allow Assyria’s great king to take over the city. Such is the Assyrian’s reasoning. Heathen that he was, he was putting all his confidence in chariots and horses.
To clinch his argument he asks whether they suppose that Sennacherib came up against Jehovah’s land to destroy it without Jehovah going with him. If so, they are wrong. Jehovah said to him, Go against the land to destroy it (vs. 10).
Doubtless the king of Assyria was acquainted with Isaiah’s prophecy that Assyria was to be in the hand of the Lord the scourge of Judah (see Isaiah 7:17 sqq., Isaiah 10:5 sqq.). But it is not true that he had received from the Lord the command, Scourge my people. And even if he had, he still would have been walking in great sin, seeing that he was activated solely by personal ambition (see Chapter 10).