William Kelly Major Works Commentary
In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.Isaiah Chapter 38
The history we have seen in the preceding chapters is but a testimony to the total destruction which awaits the final Assyrian as well as his hosts, in the latter day and upon the mountains of Israel. This will be the more striking because he will, first of all, be allowed to capture Jerusalem, and slay a portion of the men and treat with indignity some of their women. Jerusalem must pay the penalty of its sins. The Assyrian, or king of the north of Daniel, will then retire southwards for other projects of ambition; and coming up again, when Jehovah meanwhile has owned His people Israel, he will be for ever put down and destroyed.
This being so, it is evident that the mention of these historical circumstances, and no other, in the midst of our prophecy, is a remarkable sign, not only that their character is typical, but also that God would make plain to His people how far the prophecies already given had been accomplished. They might thus be encouraged to take what was already verified as an earnest of what was to come in full delivering power and glory. Nothing since that day has in the slightest degree resembled these intimations of the prophets. The past Assyrian, after having lost an immense part of his army, returned to his own land, and there was killed by his sons. The future Assyrian, after a partial success, is to come up a second time, and there and then be overwhelmed. The difference is made particularly manifest by the introduction of the past history here; typical of yet greater things, as we know from direct prophecy in Isa 28:-29, not to speak of other scriptures.
But now in chapter 38. we see another lesson: Hezekiah is sick, and apparently unto death. "In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith Jehovah, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live. Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto Jehovah, and said, Remember now, Jehovah, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done [that which is] good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept much" (vv. 1-3). The king in this shadows forth the spiritual work God will by-and-by accomplish in His people. For Israel is destined in that day not only to furnish a grand external display of His power, but to experience a deep internal change - the great practical lesson of death and resurrection. This we learn not in our souls alone, but still more profoundly according to the full scope of grace and truth in our Lord Jesus Himself.
Hezekiah then is given up to die; but he humbles himself before Jehovah, Who sends word by the prophet that he was to live. And here we have exercise of spirit; at first, exceeding sorrow, not unmingled with fear, with regrets at leaving the land of the living, and a certain shrinking from God. "And the word of Jehovah came to Isaiah, saying, Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add to thy days fifteen years. And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city. And this [shall be] the sign unto thee from Jehovah that Jehovah will do this thing that he hath spoken: behold, I will cause the shadow on the steps, which is gone down with the sun on the dial (or, steps) of Ahaz, to return ten steps backward. So the sun returned on the dial ten steps whereby it was gone down" (vv. 4-8).
Is it possible that any professing to know and teach the truth do not perceive that this is not life and incorruption brought to light by the gospel - not what we should look for in a Christian now, though Hezekiah was as truly a saint of God as any Christian? The working of the Holy Spirit in a godly Jew was necessarily modified in both depth and height for the Christian because of accomplished redemption. When believers, Jews or Gentiles after the flesh, are brought to the knowledge of Christ now, they are entitled to the same high privileges. If they see or enjoy them not, it is because the flesh is not judged; they are merely following in this respect their own thoughts, instead of entering into the new revelations of God founded on a dead, risen, and ascended Christ, made known by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. The natural thought and hope converted Jew then was to live long upon the earth. not say "to depart and be with Christ is far better." the land of the living he desired to praise Jah, as he living, the living shall praise thee."
Israelites looked not within the veil; they saw not the Forerunner for them entered in. No such precious sight was revealed to their faith, though they did most truly expect, by God's teaching, a coming Messiah to deliver and bless them. But they could not yet know death vanquished, nor raise the song of resurrection, nor look on a known Saviour theirs through the opened heavens. Hezekiah goes through the sign of death; he was sentenced however to it, and shrank from it; earnestly pleading, he hears the sentence reprieved. This is the token of the spiritual work God will effect in Israel - not only deliverance from foes without but deliverance from the power of death working in them. But the millennial kingdom will not furnish to Israel or any other on earth, the faith or experience of the Christian, properly speaking nor will they be raised from the dead or changed to go through that reign, but after it for eternity. The valley of dry bones is merely the symbol of their resurrection from death, when they are as a nation caused once more to live, though doubtless there will be a real spiritual work within. But still theirs will be a very different thing from our portion either now or when we are caught up to meet the Lord.
"The writing of Hezekiah, king of Judah, when he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness. I said, In the still noon (or, cutting off) of my days I shall go to the gates of Sheol I am deprived of the residue of my years. I said, I shall not see Jah, Jah in the land of the living. I shall not behold man longer with the inhabitants of the world Mine age (or, dwelling) is departed, and is removed from me as a shepherd's tent. I have rolled off like a weaver my life; from the thrum he cutteth me off; from day to night wilt thou make an end of me. I kept still till morning: as a lion he breaketh all my bones; from day to night he will make an end of me. Like a swallow, a crane, so did I chatter; I mourned as a dove; mine eyes failed [with looking] upward. Jehovah, I am oppressed: undertake for me. What shall I say? He hath both spoken to me, and himself hath done [it]: I shall go softly all my years for the bitterness of my soul. Lord, by these things [men] live, and wholly in them [is] the life of my spirit; and thou recoverest me and makest me to live Behold, for peace I had bitterness on bitterness; but thou hast in love delivered my soul from the pit of destruction, for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back. For Sheol doth not praise thee, [nor] death celebrate thee; they that go down into the pit do not hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I this day; the father to the children shall make known thy truth. Jehovah - to save me! My song too we will sing to stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of Jehovah" (vv. 9-20).
Death was to him the most painful prospect. What can more pointedly differ from this than the triumphant language of 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 for instance? There the apostle says, "In this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon." "We are always confident, willing rather to be absent from the body [the very thing good Hezekiah was not] and to be present with the Lord." Living here "we are absent from the Lord." You, no doubt, find the king turning his face to the wall; but who could imagine such a thing of dying Stephen? If a Christian were in the spirit beholding Christ, it could not be so. It is not for any of us to say what chastening might fall on self-confidence, on negligence of walk, or anything else unjudged: God might smite the pride of heart which looked down upon a person thus tried. In Old Testament times there could not be the rest and peace and joy of heart created by the revelation of Christ's work and glorified person.
In Hezekiah's case God made him, as thus manifesting the feelings of a godly Jew, to be the sign of the quickening of the Jews, who will by-and-by go, as a nation, through a spiritual process which is likened to death and resurrection. In the future however, one gathers from other scriptures that their outward and inward deliverances will be in the inverse order of that which appears in the history given here. The quickening of at least the remnant will precede their external triumph. Ere the antitypical Babylon has been smitten, the Jew will go through no small spiritual sifting with God, and then the mighty outward deliverance will follow when the last Assyrian is broken and disappears. Thus distinctly is the future marked off from that which has been already accomplished. God will work in them first, and then display His power in their behalf. He gives us now in Christ that in which we shall be displayed at His appearing. Thus we know death and resurrection, because we are taught everything in Christ. Therefore, the apostle asks, having died with Christ, "why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?" (Colossians 2:20). They will be like men living in the world; and so they will have their splendid temple, and their venerable priesthood, and their impressive ordinances, "Touch not, taste not, handle not." The seventh or sabbath day will be resumed. In the millennium it will not be the Lord's day but the sabbath-day. God will renew His sabbaths, instead of continuing the first day of the week, the Christian's memorial of redemption. The sabbath-day occurs once more enforced beyond doubt, as we read in the prophecy of Ezekiel.
Thus God will have prepared His people Israel for their future glory, not by what we know now in the gospel, but by what we have seen represented by Hezekiah's sickness. He prays that he may not be brought to the gates of hell. "I said, I shall not see Jah, Jah in the land of the living." To see the Lord in the heavenly country among the glorified is far better than to see Him in the land of Israel. Our joy is that we are to be with Him in heavenly blessing, as we know ourselves in Him in heavenly places even now. Such thoughts never entered the king's mind. He desired as a Jew that his life might be prolonged to see Jah in the land of the living. So Israel will see Him in the land of the living, and be themselves brought under the shadow of His wing, spite of all their mighty foes. The pure in heart shall see God. We shall be with the Saviour and see Him as He is (not as He was, but as He is), and be with Himself above in the Father's house, in the presence of God.
But here, on the contrary, the king mourns over his failing strength. "Mine age is departed." "He will cut me off as from a [weaver's] thrum." "As a lion, He breaketh all my bones." He repines at God's will, not having a dead and risen Christ to interpret all by. He views death in itself, or its bearing on himself here. How deeply even saints needed a revealed Saviour and a known redemption! "Like a swallow, a crane, so did I chatter. . . . What shall I say? He hath both spoken to me, and himself hath done [it]." Now light begins to dawn somewhat more. He has asked Jehovah to undertake for him: "He hath both spoken to me," etc. He began to appreciate better the blessed truth that it is not what we say to Jehovah which is the great matter, but what Jehovah says to us, and, more than that, what Jehovah does for us. "I shall go softly all my years." All this trial was just the needed discipline, and good for him. "And thou recoverest me." He anticipates his sure deliverance, as Israel will know "in that day," and surely be brought out of their distresses.
However blessed it all may be, as showing us the working of God in the heart of a real saint of old and the type of the future ways of God to be made good in the hearts of the Jewish remnant, need I repeat that God does not give this as the full standard we ought to apply now? It is a serious thing, this misappropriation of scripture, through attempting to lump together all its testimonies, old and new, as if all must be about one and the same object. Thus what is of earth for the Jew is jumbled up with what is of heaven for the Christian: the result is a mere waste of uncertainty. Of course the Spirit of God never allows the real children of God to suffer all the consequences of their folly. There is a merciful preservative from going through with their mistakes. But still the loss is great indeed. How much we have to desire, that we may be enabled to feel, serve, walk, and worship as Christians entering into all the will of Jehovah concerning us, not foolish but as wise! All depends on a better knowledge of Christ, for this is the only sure and holy way for every need.
God's will as regards His people on the earth depends on His counsels and ways at any given time in His Son. Where is Christ now? He is at the right hand of God, cast out of the earth, as He said, "I go to My Father." That is, He has total rejection here but all glory there, as may be seen in Joh 13:-17. He is thus separated to heaven, as He says, "For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth" (John 17:19). Not of course that there ever was anything impure in or of Him: such a thought of Christ would be blasphemy. It was taking a separate place from the earth, setting Himself apart from all here below as the heavenly Model-man, so to speak. This is the key to Christianity. It is the power of the Holy Ghost working in the hearts of God's children upon earth and forming them after the fashion of Christ in heaven, on the basis of His death and resurrection, which has justified them by faith. Thus it necessarily supposes Christ's cross, resurrection, and ascension, and that we know ourselves in Him there (John 14:20). We become heavenly because related to Him there. "As is the Heavenly, such are they also who are heavenly."
When Christ comes in glory by-and-by, and takes the earth under His government, and in the truest sense fills the throne of Jehovah over it, the saints here below (not those risen and glorified) will be earthly. They will be born anew; but it will be for the earthly things of the kingdom of God. So the Lord says, "If I have told you earthly things . . ." (John 3:12). There is the earthly department of His kingdom no less than the heavenly. To confound them, or the scriptures that relate to them, is to ruin the distinctness of revealed truth, and to sink into half-Jews, half-Christians. The new age, or dispensation, will accordingly, as far as earth is concerned, be the forming man here below according to the character in which Christ is then displayed and will deal. It will be no longer the Spirit making us heavenly, because of uniting us to the Head on high. Christ will then govern the earth and its inhabitants as King, instead of gathering believers out from the world into one as His body. This may serve to show what a wonderful place is ours: in the midst of all the ruin of the outward framework of Christendom there is one body and one Spirit, even as also we were called in one hope of our calling.
"Now Isaiah had said, Let them take a cake of figs, and lay it for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover. Hezekiah also had said, What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of Jehovah?" (vv. 21, 22).
If this addition seems trivial or spurious to the natural mind, it was not to the inspiring Spirit. God shows His interest in His own, whatever their infirmity, and explains the means employed, and why the sign was given. To unbelief such a detail has no value; for literary criticism knows as little of divine love or of the soul's need, as man's philosophy.
Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the LORD,
And said, Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.
Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying,
Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.
And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city.
And this shall be a sign unto thee from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that he hath spoken;
Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.
The writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness:
I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years.
I said, I shall not see the LORD, even the LORD, in the land of the living: I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world.
Mine age is departed, and is removed from me as a shepherd's tent: I have cut off like a weaver my life: he will cut me off with pining sickness: from day even to night wilt thou make an end of me.
I reckoned till morning, that, as a lion, so will he break all my bones: from day even to night wilt thou make an end of me.
Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward: O LORD, I am oppressed; undertake for me.
What shall I say? he hath both spoken unto me, and himself hath done it: I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul.
O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit: so wilt thou recover me, and make me to live.
Behold, for peace I had great bitterness: but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.
For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.
The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth.
The LORD was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the LORD.
For Isaiah had said, Let them take a lump of figs, and lay it for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover.
Hezekiah also had said, What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the LORD?