11/24/2015

(Isaiah 38)

Isaiah 36-39 stand in relation to Isaiah 7-12 as a kind of mirror image. Ch.7-12 show the consequences of Ahaz's refusal to trust God and instead trusting the nations, in particular Assyria. The result was near destruction at the hands of the very nation he trusted. But these chapters (7-12) conclude on a hopeful note because God will not break his promise either to his people or to the house of David. God will send a Davidic Messiah to restore his people and rule them in peace and justice (Isa 7:14; 9:6-7; 11:1-16; 12:1-6). But ch.36-37 reverse the picture. Isaiah's prophecy has come true, and Judah has been devastated by Assyria. However, Hezekiah, Ahaz's son, does put his trust in God and does not surrender to Assyria. As a result God proves his trustworthiness by keeping his word and delivering Judah from Sennacherib.

The mirror image effect continues. Whereas ch.7-12 began badly and ends well, ch.36-39 begin well and end badly. Ch.38-39 depict a Hezekiah who is both mortal and fallible. It ends with the prediction of the Exile under Babylon, with Hezekiah's descendants in the Davidic dynasty serving the Babylonian king as eunuchs. Also the events in at least ch.38 took place before the deliverance in 701 BC. These chapters (36-39) have thus been pulled out of chronological order. Why?

Many commentators suggest that this was done to put the prediction of the Babylonian exile at the end of the segment and thus to provide a transition from the Assyrian section of the book (ch.1-39) to the Babylonian one (ch.40-66). A more complex reason is that it is not just to provide a chronological transition, but also a theological one.

Who is this promised Davidic Messiah? Is it not Hezekiah? He is the one whose faithfulness secured continued life for the nation and the one who manifested te kind of spirit that makes true leadership possible. Both Kings and Chronicles tell how he restored both justice and religious faithfulness in the land during his reign. Is he then not the child of Isaiah 9, the stump of Jesse in Isaiah 11, the man of the throne in Isaiah 16 and the righteous beautiful king in Isaiah 32-33?

Isaiah 38-39 tell us that this is not the case. However good a man Hezekiah may have been, he is just that, a man. Even if he receives extended life (ch.38), death is still his fate, as emphasized in Psalm 38:9-20. He is not the one who can usher in an eternal kingdom. Nor is he the almighty God (Isa 9:6). His behavior, however commendable, is not infallible (39:1-8). Instead of using the opportunity to glorify the God who delivered him from death, Hezekiah tries to impress the Babylonian envoys with his wealth and armaments.

Trust is a way of life, not an affair of the moment. So ch.38-39 not only prepare us for the coming Babylonian exile, they also prepare us for a further revelation of the nature and character of the promised Messiah. If not Hezekiah, then who is it? Ch.4-66 address the question, and ch.38-39 prepare the reader for it.
  1. Hezekiah's Prayer (38:1-8).
  2. Hezekiah's Lament (38:9-20, 21-22).