The prophet gives no definite answer to the question just when Hezekiah’s sickness took place, before or after Sennacherib’s overthrow. In the prophet’s piece Sennacherib’s overthrow precedes Hezekiah’s sickness. One may say that this proves that such was also the order of these events in point of time. But would the prophet then not also have brought this clearly into view by some such statement as “and it came to pass after those days (of the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib, the enclosure of Jerusalem by Rabshakeh’s mighty army, and the overthrow of the Assyrian’s host) that Hezekiah was sick unto death,” instead of writing, “In those days (of the transportation of these events) Hezekiah was sick unto death?” It is at least probable, certainly.
In support of the position that Hezekiah’s sickness followed “Sennacherib’s overthrow one could come also with this reasoning: the coming of the embassy from the king of Babylon took place after Sennacherib’s overthrow. (This is, of course, highly probable. For it could not well be that their journey to Jerusalem was made when Judah was still being overrun by Assyrians). According to the text at 39:1 the embassy came “at that time,” that is, at the time of Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery shortly thereafter. From these considerations it follows that also Hezekiah’s sickness followed in point of time Sennacherib’s overthrow.
So also we could reason: But the reasoning would be valid only if the overthrow of Sennacherib and Hezekiah’s sickness followed each other in rather close succession. But we should realize that it must have taken considerable time for the report of Hezekiah’s sickness to penetrate to Babylon. Also to be taken into consideration is the time it took for the embassy to make the journey to Jerusalem. They had to come way from Babylon beyond the Euphrates. The significance of this is that though the coming of the embassy must have taken place after Sennacherib’s overthrow, Hezekiah’s sickness may nevertheless have preceded the overthrow of the Assyrian even for a considerable length of time. At any rate, the phrase “at that time” cannot mean, “during the time of Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery.” Nor can it hardly mean “shortly after Hezekiah’s recovery.” What is more, the phrase may refer to a time that includes besides Hezekiah’s sickness also the enclosure of Jerusalem by the Assyrians and the overthrow of Sennacherib’s army.
And so it is highly probable that the order of the events of this period of Hezekiah’s reign (the close of the 13th. the 14th and the beginning of the 15th year of his reign) was this: the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib. Hezekiah’s sickness and the wonder that was wrought in confirmation of the promise of his recovery and of the deliverance of the city (Jerusalem). The city enclosed by Rabsakeh’s mighty army, Rabshakeh’s blasphemies, and the prophecy that Sennacherib shall hear a report and return to his own place amounting to a renewal of the promise of the deliverance of the city. Rabshakeh’s return to his master and the second renewal of the promise of the deliverance of the city in connection with Sennacherib’s blasphemies. The destruction of Sennacherib’s host. The embassy from the king of Babylon.
There is sufficient scriptural ground for the position that Isaiah himself was the writer of the account of the events of which our chapter treats, that is, that the narrative owes its origin to him. That he completed the history of Sennacherib before narrating Hezekiah’s sickness was doubtless because the latter event was radically related to the event of the embassy from Babylon. But this in no wise impairs the integrity of the account, seeing that it plainly enough suggests that the arrangement of the events that it treats, is not strictly chronological.
According to the dates of Sennacherib’s campaign as fixed by on Assyrian “Inscription,” his attack upon the kingdom of Judah took place in the 28th and not, as Isaiah has it, in the 14th year of Hezekiah’s reign. Were this true then the temporal phrases “in those days,” Is. 37:1, and “at that time,” Is. 39:1, are also spurious. They who here side up with the “Inscription” must not imagine that they clear themselves of the charge of ascribing greater credibility to heathen annals than to God’s own word by saying that these errors (?) in the account of Isaiah owe their origin not to the prophet but to the editor or redactor of his piece. The Scriptures may not thus be silenced. “Textual criticism” is necessary. But the apparatus for the cultivation of this biblical science does not include, certainly, pagan inscriptions, annals and monuments.
Let us now turn to Isaiah’s account of the embassy from the king of Babylon. Isaiah 39:1-8
At that time Merodach-Baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon sent letters and a present to Hezekiah: for he had heard that he was sick and had recovered (Is. 39:9).
According to the “inscriptions,” this person as king of Babylon was living in open rebellion against the kings of Assyria, whose vassal he was. He was defeated and driven from the throne. The struggle was continued by his successors and the result was the independence of Babylon and its eventual rise to world-power.
This person sent letters in which he congratulated Hezekiah on his recovery, (he had heard that he had been sick and was again strong) and inquired after the wonder that had been done in the land (the wonder of the sun-dial), II Chron. 32:31—”in the land,” that is, in the whole earth. This is the meaning, because the sun itself had been brought back ten degrees and not merely the shadow on the sun-dial, Isa. 38:8. Their inquiry afforded Hezekiah a priceless opportunity to explain this wonder to these heathen men, to set it forth, bring it into view as wrought by Israel’s wonderworking God in confirmation of His gracious promises to His people.
“And rejoiced over them,” Hezekiah, vs. 2a.
But his rejoicing is carnal. At bottom it was a glorying in self, as is evident from the description of his reaction to the overtures of Babylon’s king. Instead of explaining to these envoys the wonder of the sun-dial, he showed them the house of his spices, the silver and the gold and the spices and his precious ointment and assortments of war implements, and all that was found in his treasures; there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not (vs. 2)
Surely his purpose was to make impression. He wanted these envoys to return to their master with a glowing account of his greatness and magnificence. That this great one who reigned there in faraway Babylon should send messengers all that great distance to court his friendship!
According to the text at II Kings 22:13, Hezekiah “hearkened unto them,” namely to the envoys. It is therefore highly probable that the letter contained outright overtures of a political nature. Highly probable it is that what the king of Babylon aimed at was to gain Hezekiah and his wonder-working God as his allies in his war with Assyria: And he hearkened unto them. It may mean that their propositions fascinated him.
The Chronicler brings out that this whole matter was of the Lord.
Howbeit, regarding the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon who sent unto him to enquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God gave him up, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart (II Chron. 32:31).
Here the sacred writer speaks of God as though He were limited in His knowing like a man. As the Lord’s knowledge is determinative the idea is not that the Lord had to put Hezekiah to a test, as if otherwise He would have remained in the dark as to all that was in the king’s heart. The truth concealed in this manner of God’s speaking of Himself is this: What was in Hezekiah’s heart, the sinful pride, vanity and ambition that lurked in his bosom, had to be made manifest that God might be fully justified in afflicting his soul with the revelation of His judgment’s determined against king and people. And therefore God tried him through the overtures of the envoys and subjectively through the lusts of his own sinful flesh to which the Lord gave him over.
And so we cannot go along with the view that Hezekiah did not sin in dangling his riches and magnificence before the eyes of the envoys.
Now back to the account of Isaiah.
Then came, Isaiah, the prophet unto king Hezekiah and said unto him, What said these men? And from whence conic they unto thee? (vs. 3a)
Come, not came. The tense of the verb may indicate that the envoys were still in Jerusalem. It is not improbable, that they were present when the prophet interrogated the king and communicated to him his message.
When viewed in their context it will be seen that the questions were meant as a rebuke. They were not put for the purpose of obtaining information. For the prophet had the answers from the Lord. The interrogation aimed at bringing the king under the sense of the wrongness of his doing and to prepare him for the reception of the word of God.
And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country unto me, even from Babylon (vs. 3b).
Indeed, but what said the men? With what overtures or propositions had they come to the king? It is probable that he had failed to give answer purposely. The prophet did not press him. But he had one more question.
Then he said, What have they seen in thy house (vs. 4a). That was, a question that he did not mind answering. As he held back nothing perhaps he felt relieved that the prophet did not return to the matter of what, the men had said.
And Hezekiah answered, All that is in mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shewed them (4b).
Might this be taken as a full and whole-hearted confession of guilt? Or was the king defiant? Did he mean to be saying that he had behaved as it behooved him? The men were spokesmen of a king. And they had come from far. Whatever the posture of the king, the prophet now spake his message.
Then said Isaiah unto Hezekiah, Hear the word of the Lord of hosts; behold, the days come, that will be carried away all that is in thine house, and all that which thy fathers have treasured up until this day, to Babylon shall it be carried away; not shall be left a thing, saith the Lord. And of thy sons that shall go forth from thee which thou shalt beget shall they take away and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon (vss. 5-7).
Who should not be able to see that, being what it was—a reply to the king’s answers disclosing that what the future, according to the counsel and will of God, held in store for his posterity was exile and hard bondage in a strange land—the prophet’s message was condemnatory of Hezekiah’s whole doing regarding the embassy.
Being a God-fearing man, he received the grace to say, “good is the word of the Lord that thou hast spoken.” Yet: it must not be supposed that the impact of the tiding left his spirit unshaken.
But we must attend more closely to Hezekiah’s reasoning.
And he said . . . good is the word of the Lord . . . Moreover he said, For there shall be peace and truth in my days. (vs. 8).
This response may not be taken to indicate that the sole concern of Hezekiah was his own well-being so that the judgments that were to overtake Israel’s posterity including the king’s own children left him cold and that this explains the acceptance of and submission to the word of the Lord. Such could not have been his attitude, seeing that he was a saint. He loved God and his people. There is more in Hezekiah’s response than meets the eye at first glance. I believe its meaning to be this: good is the word of the Lord. For it is a true and faithful word and powerful, effecting the salvation of His people through pain, sorrow exile, banishment and death and the destruction of the adversary. I know, for I have tasted the goodness of His word, I and my people. The enemy oppressed. Our plight was hopeless. But the Lord saved us. There is peace and truth in all my days by His word and according to it. Surely the word of the Lord is good, all His word, now and always. For don’t we see, there is peace in the land in all my days presaging a peace Andy rest that will never end.
If this is not the thrust of Hezekiah’s words on that occasion he spake as a profligate. These Old Testament saints had far deeper insight into the purpose of God than they are usually given credit for.
It should now be plain that Hezekiah’s hospitality was sinful. This view has the strong support also of a passage contained in II Chron. 32:24-26.
Here we read, “In those days Hezekiah was sick to the death, and prayed unto the Lord: and he spake unto him and gave him a sign. But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him for his heart was lifted up: therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem.
Notwithstanding Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah.”
According to the benefit done unto him.—The reference is to the wonder that was wrought in the land, to the healing of Hezekiah and to the overthrow of Sennacherib.
But Hezekiah did not render again according to this benefit. He was not thankful. And the reason? His heart was lifted up. Then wrath fell upon Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The Lord afflicted. Hezekiah’s soul with the revelation of the judgments determined against king and people, the prophecy of the exile. But Hezekiah humbled himself, and likewise the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And therefore the wrath of the Lord came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah, that is, the prophecy of the exile was not realized in Hezekiah’s days.
What could be plainer than that the chronicler is here occupied with the same series of events in the life of Hezekiah that we find treated in the last two chapters of the historical section, of Isaiah’s prophecy.
It is true that in the above-cited passage the chronicler makes no mention of Hezekiah’s hospitality to the envoys. But that in penning these, verses he nevertheless had this hospitality before his mind and was denouncing it as sinful as to its motive is clear from the sequel. Here we come upon a passage that reads: And there was to Hezekiah riches and honor much exceedingly. And treasures he made for himself for silver and for gold and for stones precious and for spices, and for shields and for all kinds of desirable implements and store-houses for the increase of corn and wine and oil and stables for all kinds of undomesticated’ animals and stables for cattle and flocks. And cities he made for himself and possessions of flocks and herds in abundance; for gave him God substance abundantly. This same Hezekiah also stopped the upper water courses of Gihon and brought it straight down to the arid open country of the city of David.
And now follows the verse already quoted and explained: And so (not as the versions have it, howbeit) regarding the envoys from the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to enquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God gave him up, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart (II Chron. 32:27-31).
The thrust of this whole passage is clear. Hezekiah had grown immensely rich. It had to be made manifest (for Hezekiah’s sake and for our sake and also in the sense explained for the Lord’s sake) whether he was thankful or whether under all that prosperity he had grown proud and vain. So the Lord tested him. He sent to him the envoys from Babylon to enquire after the wonder of the sun-dial. The expression “and the Lord gave him up” shows that he: did not endure the temptation which in turn revealed that in his prosperous days he had indeed forgotten the Lord, though, of course, not essentially as he was a saint.
He did not endure the temptation to which he was exposed by the overtures of the envoys, but his faith faltered, which must have consisted in his hospitality to these men.
It is probable that Hezekiah accumulated his great riches during the first thirteen years of his reign, thus before the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib. This prosperity together with Hezekiah’s sickness and Sennacherib’s overthrow are the benefit according to which the king did not render unto the Lord.