Isaiah 38
Matthew Poole's 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.
Hezekiah in his sickness receiveth from Isaiah a message of death, Isaiah 38:1. By prayer, Isaiah 38:2,3, hath his life lengthened: the sun goeth backward for a sign thereof, Isaiah 38:4-8. His song of praise to God, Isaiah 38:9-20.

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Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the LORD,
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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.
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Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying,
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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.
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And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city.
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And this shall be a sign unto thee from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that he hath spoken;
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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.
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The writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness:
Hezekiah was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, and inspired by him to write this, both as a testimony of his own gratitude to God, and for the instruction of after-ages.

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, to and within myself, I concluded it.

In the cutting off of my days; when my days were cut off by the sentence of God, related here, Isaiah 38:1.

I shall go to the gates of the grave; I perceive that I must die without any hopes of prevention. The grave is called a man’s long home, Ecclesiastes 12:5, and the house appointed for all living men, Job 30:23, and death opens the gates of this house. We read also of the gates of death, Psalm 9:13 107:18.

I am deprived of the residue of my years; which I might have lived, according to the common course of nature, and of God’s dispensations; and which I expected and hoped to live, for the service of God and of my generation.

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.
I shall not see the Lord; I shall not enjoy him; for seeing is put for enjoying, as hath been frequently noted.

In the land of the living; in this world, which is so called, Psalm 27:13 116:9 Isaiah 53:8; in his sanctuary: which limitation is prudently added, to intimate that he expected to see God in another place and manner, even in heaven, face to face.

I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world; I shall have no more society with men upon earth.

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.
Mine age is departed; the time of my life is expired.

As a shepherd’s tent, which is easily and speedily removed.

I have cut off, to wit, by my sins, provoking God to do it. Or, I do declare, and have concluded, that my life is or will be suddenly cut off; for men are oft said in Scripture to do those things which they only declare and pronounce to be done; as men are said to pollute, and to remit and retain sins, and the like, when they only declare men and things to be polluted, and sins to be remitted or retained by God.

Like a weaver, who cutteth off the web from the loom, either when it is finished, or before, according to his pleasure.

He; the Lord, who pronounced this sentence against him.

With pining sickness; with a consuming disease, wasting my spirits and life. Some render this word, from the thrum; from those threads at the end of the web, which are fastened to the beam. So the similitude of a weaver is continued.

From day even to night wilt thou make an end of me: the sense is either,

1. This sickness will kill me in the space of one day. Or rather,

2. Thou dost pursue me night and day with continual pains, and wilt not desist till thou hast made a full end of me; so that I expect that every day will be my last day.

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.
When I was filled with pain, and could not rest all the night long, even till morning, my thoughts were working and presaging that God would instantly break me to pieces, and that every moment would be my last; and the like restless and dismal thoughts followed me from morning till evening. But he mentions only the time before morning, to aggravate his misery, that he was so grievously tormented, when others had sweet rest and repose.

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.
Like a crane or a swallow; or, a crane and a swallow; the conjunction and being here, as it is Habakkuk 3:11, and elsewhere, understood, as is manifest from Jeremiah 8:7, where it is expressed with these very words.

So did I chatter; my complaint and cry was like to the noise of a swallow, quick and frequent; and like that of a crane, loud and frightful. And this very comparison is used of mourners, not only in Scripture, but in other authors; concerning which the learned reader may consult my Latin Synopsis.

I did mourn as a dove; whose mournful tone is observed Isaiah 59:11 Ezekiel 7:16, and elsewhere.

Mine eyes fail with looking upward; whilst I lift up mine eyes and heart to God for relief, but in vain.

I am oppressed by my disease, which like a serjeant hath seized upon me, and is haling me to the prison of the grave.

Undertake for me; stop the execution, and rescue me out of his hands.

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.
What shall I say I want words sufficient to express my deep sense of God’s dealings with me.

He hath both spoken unto me, and himself hath done it; he did foretell it by his word, and effect it by his hand. This clause and verse is either,

1. A continuance of his complaint hitherto described: God hath passed this sentence upon me, and hath also put it in execution, and to him I must submit myself. Or,

2. A transition or entrance into the thanksgiving, which is undoubtedly contained in the following verses. So the sense is, God hath sent a gracious message to me by his prophet, concerning the prolongation of my life; and he, I doubt not, will make good his word therein. And this sense seems the more probable,

1. Because here is mention of his years to come, whereas in his sickness he expected not to live to the end of a day.

2. Because the Chaldee paraphrast, and the LXX., and Syriac, and Arabic interpreters expound it so in their versions.

3. Because this suits best with the context and coherence of this verse, both with the former and with the following verse. For as he endeth the foregoing verse with a prayer to God for longer life, so in this verse he relates God’s gracious answer to his prayer. And if this verse be thus understood, the next verse hath a very convenient connexion with this; whereas it seems to be very abrupt and incoherent, if the thanksgiving begin there.

I shall go softly; I shall walk in the course of my life, either,

1. Humbly, with all humble thankfulness to God for conferring so great a favour upon so unworthy a person; or,

2. Easily and peaceably, with leisure, not like one affrighted, or running away from his enemy; or,

3. By slow and gentle paces, as men commonly spin out their days by degrees unto a just length, which is not unfitly opposed to his former state and time of sickness, wherein his days were swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and than a post, as Job complained upon the same occasion, Job 7:6 9:25, and were cut off like a weaver’s web, as he complained, Isaiah 38:12.

In the bitterness of my soul; arising from the remembrance of that desperate condition from which God had delivered me; for great dangers, though past, are ofttimes very terrible to those that reflect upon them. But the words may be rendered, upon or after (as this particle is rendered, Isaiah 18:4) the bitterness of my soul; after the deliverance from this bitter and dangerous disease; which may be compared with Isaiah 38:17, where he saith, for or after peace I had great bitterness, as here he presageth and assureth himself of the contrary, that he should have peace after his great bitterness. The Chaldee paraphrast renders the words, because of my deliverance from bitterness of soul; bitterness being put for deliverance from bitterness, as five is put for lack of five, as we render it, Genesis 18:28, and fat for want of fat, Psalm 109:24, and fruits for want of fruits, Lamentations 4:9. And other such-like defects there are in the Hebrew, which is a very concise language.

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.
By these things; by virtue of thy gracious word or promise, and powerful work; by thy promises, and thy performances of them, mentioned in the foregoing verse. This place may be explained by comparing it with Deu 8:3, Man doth not live by bread, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord. The sense is, Not I only, but all men, do receive and recover, and hold their lives by thy favour, and the word of thy power; and therefore it is not strange that one word of God hath brought me back from the very jaws of death.

In all these things is the life of my spirit; and as it is with other men, so hath it been with me in a special manner; for in these above all other things is the life of my spirit or soul, i.e. either the comfort (which is sometimes called life) of my spirit; or rather, that life which is in my body, from my spirit or soul united to it.

So wilt thou recover me, and make me to live; or, and or for thou hast recovered me, &c., to wit, by these things.

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 peace I had great bitterness; my health and prosperity was quickly changed into bitter sickness and affliction. Or, as others render it, my great bitterness was unto peace; was turned into prosperity, or became the occasion of my safety and further advantages; for that drove me to my prayers, and prayers prevailed with God for a gracious answer, and the prolonging of my life. In love to my soul; in kindness to me, the soul being oft put for the man. This is an emphatical circumstance; for sometimes God prolongs men’s days in anger, and in Order to their greater misery.

Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back; thou hast forgiven those sins which brought this evil upon me, and upon that account hast removed the punishment of them; which showeth that thou didst this in love to me. The phrase is borrowed from the custom of men, who when they would accurately see and observe any thing, set it before their faces; and when they desire and resolve not to look upon any thing, turn their backs upon it, or cast it behind them.

For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.
In this and the following verse, he declares God’s design in delivering him, that he might praise him in his church, which if he had died he could not have done.

The grave cannot praise thee; the dead are not capable of glorifying thy name among men upon earth; which I desire and determine to do. See the like expressions, Psalm 6:5 30:9 88:10, &c. The grave is put for the persons lodged in it by a metonymy.

Cannot hope for thy truth; they cannot expect nor receive the accomplishment of thy promised goodness in the land of the living.

The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth.
He shall praise thee; they are especially obliged to it, and they only have this privilege.

The father to the children shall make known thy truth; they shall not only praise thee whilst they live, but take care to propagate and perpetuate thy praise and glory to all succeeding generations.

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.
Was ready to save me; was a present help to me, ready to hear and succour me upon my prayer in my great extremity.

We; both I and my people, who are concerned in me, and for me will sing forth those songs of praise which are due especially from me, for God’s great mercy to me.

Will sing my songs to the stringed instruments, according to the custom of those times.

For Isaiah had said, Let them take a lump of figs, and lay it for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover.
This was rather a sign appointed by God, than a natural means of the cure; for if it had a natural faculty to ripen a sore, yet it could never cure such a dangerous and pestilential disease, at least in so little time.

Hezekiah also had said, What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the LORD?
Hezekiah also had said; or, For Hezekiah had said; had asked a sign, which is here added as the reason why Isaiah said what is related in the foregoing verse, to wit, in answer to Hezekiah’s question.

That I shall go up, within three days, as is more fully related, 2 Kings 20:5,8,

to the house of the Lord; for thither he designed in the first place to go, partly that he might pay his vow and thanksgiving. to God, and partly that he might engage the people to praise God with him, and for him.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

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