11/25/2015

(Isaiah 39)

Isaiah 39:1-8; 2 Kings 20:12-19

Merodach-Baladan (Isa 39:1) was twice able to make himself king of Babylon in defiance of the Assyrians (721-710 and 705-703). He was ousted by Sennacherib in 703 and escaped to Elam (modern Iran) where he continued to plot against the Assyrians until his death. That he heard about Hezekiah's illness and recovery suggests that he had a good intelligence system and that communication between various parts of the ancient world was good.

Hezekiah was glad to receive the envoys (Isa 39:2a), because a great world leader was paying attention to little Judah. Surely he felt flattered. What is dangerous about such notoriety is that one can easily succumb to the temptation to convince the important person that he is worthy of the attention given to him. Sadly, Hezekiah falls to this temptation.
This was a wonderful opportunity for Hezekiah to declare the glory of God to the nations. He could have used this visit to tell the story of what the sole God of the universe did for him. But instead of making God look good, Hezekiah, like Moses long before (Num 20:9-12), takes this opportunity to make himself look very good (Isa 39:2b). Hezekiah falls into the trap and fails God's test (2 Chron 32:31).

The dialogue between Hezekiah and Isaiah is uncomfortable (Isa 39:3-4). Isaiah asks what they saw in his palace. This suggests that he knows that Hezekiah has been showing off, just as Elisha knew what Gehazi had done to get something for himself from Naaman (2 Ki 5:25-27). To Hezekiah's credit, he does not lie.

Isaiah announces on the authority of the Lord Almighty (Isa 39:5) that everything the men saw in his palace will one day belong to the Babylonians (Isa 39:6) and that Hezekiah's descendants and family will be eunuchs in the Babylonian king's palace and will be carried off (Isa 39:7).

Hezekiah could be seen in a good light and be regarded as humbly submitting to God's judgment if he had only said "the word of the Lord ... is good" (Isa 39:8a). But when given the reason why he said it, there is no way to clear him. He says/regards that the Lord's word is good because the judgment is not going to fall on him (Isa 39:8b). How saw and how short-sighted. This is not how we would like to remember such a good man. Yet this is how Isaiah has chosen for us to remember him, rather than with Isaiah 36-37--which happened later--where Hezekiah rose above this point in his trust in God when he faced Sennacherib. Why? Isaiah wanted to show that Hezekiah is both mortal and fallible.

Isaiah wants to show that trust is intended to be a way of life (Isa 2:3, 5), not a one-time victorious experience. Also, Isaiah wants to show that there is no final salvation in a human being, no matter how good he might be (Isa 2:22). Our hope is not in the perfectibility of humanity. The Messiah we look for is better than that.

Oswalt, John N. Isaiah: The New Application Commentary. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2003. 435.