Our reading opens today with a story of illness and prayer, like those from the days gone by. It is important to remember that while these great temporal and eternal waves pass by, people are giving birth, living, and dying. The tale of Hezekiah’s illness is a human story of divine intervention. His psalm of thanks is worth remembering.
Chapter 39, however, opens with a line that should immediately trigger suspicion: At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys and letters and a present to Hezekiah. You’ll remember that Babylon is in the foreground when the LORD promises to “…put an end to the pomp of the arrogant…” Hezekiah receives their envoys; Isaiah is piqued, and lets Hezekiah know how this will all end.
There is a lot of intrigue here. Babylon and Assyria were not friendly with each other. Babylon had chafed under Assyrian rule for centuries, and was perpetually looking for the upper hand. Sennacherib spent most of his reign trying to subdue them. Isaiah and Hezekiah both would have known this history. Judah had just survived its dalliance with Egypt, and now Babylon is hoping to befriend them? It’s possible that Isaiah smells a rat, and wishes that Hezekiah did too.
But be careful about drawing a moral conclusion about Hezekiah’s act. Was it profound carelessness with the LORD’s goodness? Was it pride? Was it testing Assyria’s patience? Isaiah doesn’t name Hezekiah’s error; in fact, what feels like a consequence might only be foresight. More important to the author is this insight into Hezekiah’s thoughts: At least “there will be peace and security in my days.”
Our verse for this week is 1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Isaiah 38 and 39. Now let’s read it!
Isaiah 38 - 39
38:1 In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, and said, “Please, O LORD, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city.
“This shall be the sign to you from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that he has promised: Behold, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps.” So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined.
A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, after he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness:
I said, In the middle of my days
I must depart;
I am consigned to the gates of Sheol
for the rest of my years.
I said, I shall not see the LORD,
the LORD in the land of the living;
I shall look on man no more
among the inhabitants of the world.
My dwelling is plucked up and removed from me
like a shepherd's tent;
like a weaver I have rolled up my life;
he cuts me off from the loom;
from day to night you bring me to an end;
I calmed myself until morning;
like a lion he breaks all my bones;
from day to night you bring me to an end.
Like a swallow or a crane I chirp;
I moan like a dove.
My eyes are weary with looking upward.
O Lord, I am oppressed; be my pledge of safety!
What shall I say? For he has spoken to me,
and he himself has done it.
I walk slowly all my years
because of the bitterness of my soul.
O Lord, by these things men live,
and in all these is the life of my spirit.
Oh restore me to health and make me live!
Behold, it was for my welfare
that I had great bitterness;
but in love you have delivered my life
from the pit of destruction,
for you have cast all my sins
behind your back.
For Sheol does not thank you;
death does not praise you;
those who go down to the pit do not hope
for your faithfulness.
The living, the living, he thanks you,
as I do this day;
the father makes known to the children
The LORD will save me,
and we will play my music on stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
at the house of the LORD.
Now Isaiah had said, “Let them take a cake of figs and apply it to the boil, that he may recover.” Hezekiah also had said, “What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the LORD?”
39:1 At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered. And Hezekiah welcomed them gladly. And he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.” He said, “What have they seen in your house?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”
Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.”