《The Pulpit Commentaries – Isaiah (Vol. 4)》(Joseph S. Exell)
39 Chapter 39
This chapter is parallel with 2 Kings 20:12-19, and scarcely differs from it at all. Verse I has the additional words, "and was recovered;" 2 Kings 20:2, the phrase, "was glad of them," for "hearkened unto them;" 2 Kings 20:5, "Lord of hosts," for "Lord" simply; and 2 Kings 20:8 makes Hezekiah's last utterance an observation instead of a question. Otherwise the two accounts are almost word for word the same. Both relate the novel and important fact of ambassadors being sent to Hezekiah by the King of Babylon, shortly after his illness, and tell of the reception which he gave them, of the message which Isaiah was commissioned to deliver to him from God in consequence, and of Hezekiah's acquiescence in the terms of the message when it was conveyed to him. The Isaianic authorship of the chapter is much disputed, but solely from reluctance to admit that a prophet could predict the subjugation of Judaea by Babylon more than a century before the event.
At that time. The embassy probably followed the illness of Hezekiah within a year. Merodach-Baladan. This is a more correct form than the "Berodach-Baladan" of 2 Kings 20:12. The name is one common to several Babylonian kings, as to one who reigned about b.c. 1325, to a second who is placed about b.c. 900, and to a third who was contemporary with the Assyrian kings Sargon and Sennacherib. It is this last of whom we have a notice in the present passage. He appears first in the Assyrian inscriptions as a petty prince, ruling a small tract upon the seacoast, about the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates. Tiglath-Pileser takes tribute front him about b.c. 744. In b.c. 721 we find him advanced to a more prominent position. Taking advantage of the troubles of the time, he shakes off the Assyrians yoke, and makes himself King of Babylon, where he has a reign of twelve years—from b.c. 721 to b.c. 709. This reign is recognized by Sargon in his inscriptions, and by the Greek chronologist, Ptolemy, in his 'Canon.' In b.c. 709 Sargon leads an expedition against him, and drives him out of Babylonia into the coast-tract, Chaldea, where he besieges him in his ancestral town Bit-Yakin, takes the city, and makes him prisoner. On the death of Sargon, in b.c. 705, Merodach-Baladan escapes from confinement, and hastens once more to Babylon, where he is acknowledged as king, and has a second reign, which lasts six months (Alex. Polyhist. ap. Euseb; 'Chronicles Can.,' 1. 5. § 1). He is then driven from the country by Sennacherib, and, after various vicissitudes, obliged to become a refugee in Elam. The name of Merodach-Baladau is composed of the three elements, Merodach (equivalent to "Marduk"), the god, bal or pal, "son," and iddina, "has given," and thus signifies "Merodach has given (me) a son." The son of Baladan. "Baladan" is scarcely a possible Babylonian name. "Beladan" would, however, be quite possible, being a name formed on the model of Ishtardddin, Ninip-iddin, Ilu-iddin, etc. And the corruption of Beladan into Baladan would be easy. Merodach-Baladan III. is called by Sargon "the son of Yakin;" but this is perhaps a tribal or local rather than a personal name. Compare Jehu's appellation of "son of Omri". Sent letters and a present to Hezekiah. Hezekiah's fourteenth year was b.c. 714. Merodach-Baladan had then been King of Babylon for eight years, and, knowing that he might at any time be attacked by Sargon, was naturally looking out for alliances with other powers, which Assyria equally threatened. He had recently concluded a treaty with Khumbanigas, King of Elam, and had obtained the support of several of the Aramaean tribes on the Euphrates. He now apparently thought that Judaea, which Sargon was also threatening (ch. 38:6), might be induced to join him. Hezekiah's illness and "the wonder done in the land" (2 Chronicles 32:31) furnished him with pretexts for an embassy, which probably had more serious objects than either congratulation or scientific inquiry.
Hezekiah was glad of them. A more pregnant phrase than that which replaces it in 2 Kings, "hearkened unto them." Hezekiah, like Merodach-Baladan, was looking out for allies, and "was glad," thinking that in Babylon he had found one which might render him important service. Sargon's promptness, however, frustrated his hopes. In b.c. 709 that prince, regarding Merodach-Baladan's proceedings as constituting a real danger to his kingdom, made a great expedition into Babylonia, defeated Merodach-Baladan, and took him prisoner, after which he had himself crowned King of Babylon, and during the remainder of his life ruled both countries. Showed them the house of his precious things; i.e. his treasury, or store-house. The treasuries of ancient monarchs were actual store-chambers, in which large quantities of the precious metals and valuable objects of various kinds were deposited (see Herod; 2:121; Arrian, 'Exp. Alex.,' 2 Kings 3:16, 2 Kings 3:18, etc.). The flourishing state of the treasury is an indication that the events here narrated are anterior to the great surrender of treasure to Sennacherib. All the house of his armour (comp. Isaiah 22:8). If a warlike alliance was contemplated, it was as important to show the possession of arms as of treasures. There was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not. We must allow for Oriental hyperbole. The meaning is, that, without any reserve, Hezekiah showed all that he could show.
Then came Isaiah the prophet. Isaiah comes, unsent for, to rebuke the king. This bold attitude was one which prophets were entitled to take by virtue of their office, which called upon them to bear testimony, even before kings, and to have no respect of persons. A similar fearlessness is apparent in Isaiah 7:1-17, where the king with whom Isaiah has to deal was the wicked Ahaz. What said these men? "These men" is contemptuous. The demand to know what they said is almost without parallel. Diplomacy, if it is to be successful, must be secret; and Isaiah can scarcely have been surprised that his searching question received no answer. But he was zealous of God's honour, and anxious that Hezekiah should rely on no "arm of flesh," whether it were Egypt or Babylon. Such dependence would straiten God's arm, and prevent him from giving the aid that he was otherwise prepared to give. The desire of the prophet is to warn the king of the danger which he runs by coquetting with human helpers. From whence came they? Isaiah does not ask this question for the sake of information, Doubtless all Jerusalem was agog to see the strange envoys "from a far country," who had now for the first time penetrated to the city of David. All knew whence they had come, and suspected why. Isaiah asks, to force the king to a confession, on which he may base a prophecy and a warning. And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country. Embassies from distant lands to their courts are made a con-slant subject of boasting by the Assyrian monarchs. Hezekiah, perhaps, is "lifted up" (2 Chronicles 32:25) by the honour paid him, and intends to impress Isaiah with a sense of his greatness—"The men are come all the way from Babylon to see me!"
What have they seen? Isaiah had, no doubt, heard of what Hezekiah had done (verse 2); but he wished to have the confession of it from his own mouth before delivering his sentence. Hezekiah tells him the truth, since he is not ashamed of his act, but rather glories in it. He has shown the ambassadors everything, and has thereby made them eager to secure his alliance.
Hear the word of the Lord of hosts. Either the prophet had been specially charged with a Divine message to the king before he sought his presence, or the prophetic afflatus now came on him suddenly. The former is, on the whole, more probable.
Behold, the days come; literally, the days [are] coming, or [are] approaching. Of the exact "times and seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power" (Acts 1:7), the prophets generally knew nothing. They were mouth-pieces, to declare the Divine will, not keen-witted politicians, forecasting results by the exercise of sharp-sightedness and sagacity. To suppose that Isaiah foresaw by mere human wisdom the Babylonian conquest of Judaea, as Charles the Great did the ravages of the Northmen, is to give him credit for a sagacity quite unexampled and psychologically impossible. The kingdom of Babylon was one among many that were struggling hard to maintain independence against the grasping and encroaching Assyria. From the time of Tiglath-Pileser IX. she had been continually losing ground. Both Sargon and Sennacherib trampled her underfoot, overran her territory, captured her towns, and reduced her under direct Assyrian government. Till Assyria should be swept away, a Babylonian conquest of Palestine was impossible. To suppose it was like supposing a Russian conquest of Holland, while Germany bars the way. Nothing short of the true prophetic afflatus, which is God the Holy Ghost speaking by the mouth of his servants, could have made such an anticipation. And with Isaiah, as Mr. Cheyne says, it is "not a mere presentiment; it is a calm and settled conviction, based on a direct revelation, and confirmed by a deep insight into the laws of the Divine government." All that is in thine house. Not, of course, exactly all that was there when Isaiah spoke, but all the wealth that should be in the royal palace when the time of the Babylonian captivity arrived. (For the fulfilment, see 2 Chronicles 36:18.) That which thy fathers have laid up in store. A portion of this was carried off by Sennacherib in his first expedition (2 Kings 18:14-16); but the bulk of the temple treasures—the gifts of many kings—remained untouched until they were removed to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:2; Daniel 5:2; 2 Kings 24:13; 2 Kings 25:13-17).
Of thy sons that shall issue from thee. Hezekiah had at the time, probably, no son, since Manasseh, who succeeded him upon the throne, was not born till two years later. Besides Manasseh, he appears to have had a son, Amariah, who was an ancestor of the Prophet Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1:1). He may, of course, have also had others. His descendants, rather than his actual sons, seem to be here intended; and the fulfilment of the prophecy is to be found in Daniel 1:3, where certain "of the king's seed" are mentioned among the Israelites who served as eunuchs in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar.
Good is the word. While there is resignation, there is no doubt something also of selfishness, in Hezekiah's acceptance of the situation. "Apres mot le deluge" is a saying attributed to a modern Frenchman. Hezekiah's egotism is less pronounced and less cynical. He thinks with gratitude of the "peace and steadfastness" which are to be "in his day;" he does not dwell in thought on the coming "deluge." The "word of the Lord" is "good" to him in more ways than one. It has assured him of coming male offspring—of sons to sit upon his throne, and save him from the curse of childlessness. And it has assured him of a rest for his nation—a respite, so that the Babylonian struggle shall not follow immediately upon the Assyrian; but there shall be a "breathing-space" (Ezra 9:8), a tranquil time, during which Israel may "dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places" (Isaiah 32:18).
Carnal joy the prelude to spiritual sorrow.
The Babylonian embassy, a grand affair doubtless, comprising envoys in their rich clothing and with their jewelled arms, camels bearing valuable gifts, prancing steeds, and a vast train of slaves and attendants, was to Hezekiah an inspiriting fact, a circumstance that gladdened and excited him. With his imperfect knowledge of geography, the embassy seemed to him to come from the furthest limits of the earth's circuit—from a remote, almost from an unknown, region (Isaiah 39:3). He had hitherto not thought of attempting negotiations with any power further distant than Egypt. If the far-off Babylon courted his alliance, where might he not expect to find friends? from what remote quarter might he not look for overtures? What wonder that "his heart was lifted up" (2 Chronicles 32:25)? that he rejoiced, though with a carnal joy, that had no substantial spiritual basis? Isaiah had warned him against all "arms of flesh." Isaiah had bidden him "trust in the Lord Jehovah," and in Jehovah only. No doubt he had been especially warned against Egypt; but all the reasons that were valid against Egypt were valid against Babylon also. Babylon was as idolatrous as Egypt; Babylon was as licentious as Egypt; Babylon was as selfish in her aims as Egypt. Hezekiah's joy was thus a purely carnal joy, a rejoicing in his own honour, and in the prospect of material aid from a tainted source. In the midst of his joy the prophet announces himself. "What said those men?" he sternly asks. "Whence came they? What have they seen? Ah! they have seen thy treasures, have they? All of them? Thou thinkest those treasures will make them thy friends. Nay; they will make them thy bitterest enemies. It will not be forgotten at Babylon that thy temple and thy treasure-house are worth plundering. The days will come when all the wealth of thy house, and of the temple, and of the holy city will be carried off to enrich that city. The days will come when thou wilt have disgrace from Babylon instead of honour. Thy descendants—they that have issued from thy loins—will serve the King of Babylon, will be eunuchs, doing the menial offices in his palace." In a moment the king's joy is gone, and replaced by sorrow. It is with a saddened spirit that he submits, and acquiesces in his punishment. "Good is the word of the Lord"—he spares, even when he punishes; he chastens me with a milder chastening than I deserved at his hands—"in his wrath he remembereth mercy" (Habakkuk 3:2).
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The dangers of prosperity.
I. THE OSTENTATION OF HEZEKIAH. The Chronicler passes a censure upon him. After his recovery he "rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore was there wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem" (2 Chronicles 32:25). He gives a picture of his treasuries, and store-houses, his cities, his flocks and herds. An embassy comes from Babylon, partly to congratulate him on his recovery, partly to inquire concerning the portent of the sun-dial or step-clock. Under these pretexts political views were doubtless concealed. And Hezekiah delighted to receive the embassy, and displayed to them the whole of his treasures and the resources of his armoury, his palaces and his kingdom.
II. THE REBUKE OF THE PROPHET. The prophet, in virtue of his Divine call and his insight into the heart of things, assumes an authority over the monarch, and, coming to him, inquires, "What have these men said? and whence came they to thee?" "He challenges the king to explain his conduct. Jehovah's will is opposed to all coquetting with foreign powers." It is "weaving a web without his Spirit" (Isaiah 30:1). The answer of the king is indirect, perhaps evasive: "They have come from a far country, from Babylon"—as if hinting that hospitality to them was a duty. A second stem question follows: "What have they seen in the house of the king?" And the king replies that he has shown them all his treasures. There is that in the very manner and questions of the prophet which implies censure. What he sees in the act of the king is an uplifting of the heart; not merely pride in his resources and wealth as such, but reliance on worldly resources—a desire to match himself with the great Eastern power on its own ground. And this is an affront to the Divine King in Zion, who had founded it that the afflicted of his people might find refuge therein (Isaiah 14:32). "Not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord of hosts" is ever the word, the principle, on which the kingdom must stand. If Hezekiah has violated this, there must be retribution, either in his person or in the persons of those he represents.
III. THE PUNISHMENT. It was to correspond to his sin. "He thought to subscribe his quota to a profane coalition, and his treasures should be violently laid hold of by wolves in sheep's clothing." Babylon had solicited friendship; she would end by enforcing slavery. Calm and dispassionate is the tone in which the prophet speaks. Charles the Great could not help weeping at the sight of the Northmen's vessels, thinking of the calamities which those fell pirates would bring on the flourishing coasts of the Franks. Jeremiah weeps at the thought of the cruelty of the Babylonians. In Isaiah contentment with the patent will of God overcomes his emotional susceptibility. All the boasted treasures of the king are to be carried away to Babylon, and his descendants are to become servants in the palace there. The king bows before the authority of the prophet, recognizing his word as the word of Jehovah, and as good. And further, he is thankful for the respite granted—for the promise that peace and steadfastness shall remain in his days. The chronicler says that he humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of Jehovah came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah. The picture of Hezekiah is that of a king who prospered in all his works. But the incident clearly teaches the danger prosperity brings to character and principle. It is but a "bad nurse to virtue; a nurse who is like to starve it in its infancy, and to spoil it in its growth." "The corrupt affection which has lain dead and frozen in the midst of distracting business or under adversity, when the sun of prosperity has shined upon it, then, like a snake, it presently recovers its former strength and venom. When the channels of plenty run high, and every appetite is plied with abundance and variety, so that satisfaction is a mean word to express its enjoyment, then the inbred corruption of the heart shows itself pampered and insolent, too unruly for discipline and too big for correction. Prosperity, by fomenting a man's pride, lays a certain train for his ruin; Scripture and experience teach what a spite Providence constantly owes to the proud person. He is the very eyesore of Heaven; and God even looks upon his own supremacy as concerned to abase him. Prosperity attracts the malice and envy of the world; and it is impossible for a man in a wealthy and flourishing condition not to feel the stroke of men's tongues, and of their hands too, if occasion serves. Stones are only thrown at the fruit-laden tree. What made the King of Babylon invade Judaea but the royal stores and treasures displayed and boasted of by Hezekiah before the ambassadors, to the supplanting of his crown and the miserable captivity of his prosperity?" (South). In the day of prosperity consider! Let