Isaiah 38:9
It is a song of peculiar sweetness - from a literary point of view, characterized by great elegance; from a spiritual point of view, unfolding some deepest elements of Hebrew and of human pathos.

I. THE CONTEMPLATION OF DEATH. It was in middle life, in the "noon-tide of his days," that he had to face the dark gates of Sheol. "Midway in life, as to Dante, came his peril of death." It has been said that there is a peculiar melancholy in middle life. Perhaps so; every age has its peculiar melancholy. It is the contrast between the "noon-tide of consciousness," and the sudden sunset which seems at hand, that shocks the imagination. It is the very acme of the lifelong struggle of will and necessity. Here, the glow of intellectual vigour, the full fruit of ripened knowledge, the educated and matured taste for life; yonder, pale nothingness, decay, disappointment. A sense of injustice seems here to shock the mind. The man feels as if he were being robbed of his property, "mulcted of the residue of his days." That life which nature has kindly nourished, which manifold experience has enriched and adorned, around which law has thrown its protection, for which all else has been willingly foregone, must now itself become a sacrifice to stern, unreasoning, unpitying destiny. Death appears to the natural man in the light of a bondage, an imprisonment. He is going down to the gates of Sheol (Psalm 9:13; Psalm 108:18; Job 38:19). In the lore of ancient nations similar ideas appear: the place of the departed is a strong fortress, a Tartaros, an Acheron, surrounded by strong walls and a moat; or an inaccessible island. In the house and folk lore of the peoples abundance of such ideas arc to be found. Everywhere the like pathos and the like ideas meet us; and death remains the "standing dire discouragement of human nature."

II. LIFE INSEPARABLE FROM THE GOODNESS OF GOD. To see Jehovah is to see Jehovah's goodness - it is, in the best and richest sense, to enjoy life (Psalm 27:13). And with this is connected the joy of society - the beholding of the face of one's fellow-man-communion with the inhabitants of the world. To die is to be uprooted from all these sweet associations, to have one's habitation plucked up, like the tent of the nomad shepherd (Job 4:21; Psalm 52:5; 2 Corinthians 5:1, 4; 2 Peter 1:13, 14). It is to depart into exile. It is to have the life-web cut and left unfinished. It is to be cut off and made an end of. These melancholy strains depict one side of human feeling. They are paralleled in the Psalms (Psalm 6:5; Psalm 30:9; Psalm 88:10-12; Psalm 94:17; Psalm 115:17) and Job (14.). Nevertheless, the representation of the effect of death, hopeless as it seems, does not exclude those vague hopes, those implicit beliefs, which mingle with such lamentations, in a better side to the future, which found not distinct expression in words. The connection is strong in Hebrew thought between life on the earth and the goodness of Jehovah. But the goodness of God, however lenient, is learned once for all; and it is impossible to believe in it as manifested in the gift of life without the rise of hope in the continuance of life. The belief in the continuance of life is here expressed; only the sensuous imaginations overpower the mind with sadness. Hope cannot conquer it upon its own ground; but hope nevertheless remains what it is - an anchor of the soul, and it enters, though gropingly, into that within the veil.

III. PRAYER AND HOPE. "The sick man appeals against the fate which threatens him to God - to God against himself; to the essential mercy against the apparent cruelty of Jehovah." It is "the characteristic irony of faith." He is in hourly expectation of death. His cries are like the plaintive notes of birds. He looks up with languid and half-despairing expression to the height where Jehovah dwells. He is like a debtor being carried to prison, and prays Jehovah to become Surety for him. But Jehovah is at the same time the Creditor. It is the "irony of the believer" (Cheyne). "The apparent doubt only expresses the more strongly the real faith - the protest against injustice and harshness, the sense of absolute goodness and ineffable mercy" (Mozley). Prayer may be, in moments of the sorest agony, nothing but a child's cry - which has "no language but a cry." Yet that cry must "knock against the heart" of the Father of all. It is God himself who wrings the cry from the distressed heart; God himself who loves to be called upon, and to make his children feel their need of him.

IV. THE ANSWER OF PEACE. It has come suddenly, swiftly, unexpectedly. And the restored one is at a loss how to render thanks. His night has been turned into morning; and against the dark background of remembered grief, the picture of a serene future shines. He looks forward to a "walk at case" through all his future years. And not in vain has he suffered, for lasting lessons have been wrought into his spirit. He has learned his need of God and of God's Word. By that Word men really live (Deuteronomy 8:3). Altogether in them is the life of his spirit. God is the Source of existence and of salvation. He brings to the gates of death; he recovers and makes alive. He has been brought near to God by the very experience which seemed to remove him so far. He has learned that affliction was for his good. The bitter medicine has been swallowed once for all. He has looked death in the face, has trembled at its terrors; but has seen that there is a greater fact than death, namely, the life and love of the eternal God. "The sting of death is sin," and this has been taken out. He has learned the secret of the Divine forgiveness, the immense possibilities in the heart of God. His sins have been flung behind the back of God - have been banished into oblivion. Lastly, he has learned anew, and in a deeper way, what the blessing of life is. All is contrast. And the contrast of death and the under-world, its pale and cold existence, throws into relief the consciousness of life, in its full conscious richness in body, soul, and spirit. "The dismay with which he contemplates departure from the world is a measure of the value he sets on personal communion with God." Life, then, should be one long act of praise. From father to child the pure tradition should go down: "God is good; his mercy endureth for ever." He is constant, faithful; and that constancy is revealed, not only in the course of nature's laws, but in the laws of human nature - the life of heart and conscience. And the music of each spirit shall swell into a magnificent harmony in the house of Jehovah. He is "ready to deliver" in the future as he has actually delivered in the past. "Glory to thee for all the grace I have not seen as yet." - J.







The writing of Hezekiah, king of Judah.
1. He was sick, and then he prayed.

2. He is recovered, and now he gives thanks.

(R. Harris, D. D.)

I. THE INSCRIPTION acquaints us —

1. With the author of the song.

2. With the nature of it — a poem written.

3. With the argument of it — a song of thanksgiving for the removal of sickness, and restoring of health.

II. THE DESCRIPTION presents unto us the parts of it.

1. An aggravation of Hezekiah's former misery.

2. An amplification of the present mercy.

(R. Harris, D. D.)

In the first part of this psalm, he describes the views and feelings which occupied his mind when he saw himself apparently on the brink of the grave.

1. Though he had been one of the best kings with which God ever blessed a nation, he viewed his sins as great and numerous, and felt that he was, on account of them, justly exposed to the Divine displeasure.

2. Hence death appeared dreadful to him, and his dread of it was increased by the darkness which, at that time, before Christ had brought life and immortality to light, hung over a future state.

3. Hence, too, he was assailed by fearful apprehensions of God's anger (ver. 13).

4. In consequence of these apprehensions he could neither look nor ask for help from God with confidence, as he had been accustomed to do. "My eyes," he exclaims, "fail upward;" that is, I cannot look upward, cannot look to heaven for relief and consolation, as I formerly could.

5. And when he endeavoured to pray, he found that he offered nothing which deserved the name of prayer; for unbelief and despondency prevailed. "Like a crane or a swallow," says he, "so did I chatter;" that is, my prayers were little better than the complaints of a bird entangled in the snare of the fowler.

6. Finally, he gave up all hope, and cried in bitterness of soul, "I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord in the land of the living."

7. But to the righteous there ariseth light in the darkness. There did in this case. And as soon as it began to dawn, faith revived, and he cried, though still with a feeble voice, "O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me;" that is, be my help and deliverer, make my cause Thine own, and do all that for me which Thou seest to be necessary.

(E. Payson, D. D.)

It is a strain most natural and pathetic. It is the simple expression of one who has found this life beautiful and desirable, and who would fain be permitted to remain till the limit of human existence has been reached. Its very simplicity, the very honesty with which it depicts the clinging to life and the shrinking from death, has been a stumbling-block to many — has been at complete variance with their preconceived notions as to the frame of mind in which a good man would meet such an hour. He appealed to the life which he had led, to the work which he had done, to the integrity of purpose with which he had done it. He also ventured to recall, as it were, to the Hearer of his prayer, that in his removal there would be one worshipper the less. "The grave cannot praise Thee," &c. There would be — such is the daring argument which he employs: — loss to God as well as to himself: if Hezekiah lost all that he had prized and hoped for, God would likewise be deprived of praise and honour which would have been His in days to come. It is a method of expostulation which we who have, through Christ, boldness to enter into the holiest, would hardly venture to employ. Then, on the other hand, the unfeigned alarm with which he contemplates the approaching change — the evident superiority which he assigns to the present life compared with what lies beyond the grave — is not in accordance with the language which would be used by one who cherished the glorious hope which Christ has enkindled. But, with all this admitted — it may even be on this very account — we find in this poem the expression of a human heart like our own, brooding over the great mystery of life and of death, uttering, without reserve, its sorrow and complaint; shrinking, yet trusting; resisting, yet submitting; delighting in life, but finding in God its only portion. The poem is but the record of what any human spirit would feel in being confronted with death, and in seeing death again withdraw.

(P. M. Muir.)

What are the main elements of this fear in the writing of Hezekiah? Why is his spirit oppressed and overwhelmed as the great change approaches? Some of the reasons are what we all have experienced; others of them may be only too strange to us.

I. One reason is that HE MUST BID FAREWELL TO THE JOYS OF LIFE. He was deprived of the residue of his years. Life had been to him full of interest and of beauty. In this respect there were even elements of weakness in his character. His love of case and of display showed itself in various ways.

II. Another and a nobler reason for the sadness of Hezekiah, is to be found in the fact that HE WAS ABOUT TO BE CUT OFF FROM THE WORK ON WHICH HIS HEART WAS SET. That is a sorrow which is apt to overcloud a lofty mind. The idolatry which he had sought to crush might again lift up its head. The ritual which he had restored might again be suffered to decay. The bondage from which he had kept his country might lay hold upon it. Because, after his day, the hand of the spoiler might seize the wealth which he had amassed for the good of the nation, he might well desire that his day should be prolonged.

III. He shrank from death as AN ENTRANCE ON AN UNKNOWN SPHERE. It is an exaggeration to say that kings and righteous men of the Old Testament had no conception of a future state. There are sayings which infer that the thought of life was not bounded by the grave, that there was a conviction of union with Him who is eternal. But the sayings are comparatively few: there is no greater difference between the Old Testament and the New than the difference of the way in which they speak of the life hereafter. So dim, so fluctuating, so uncertain are the allusions in the Old Testament, that the revelation of the New may well be called the bringing of life and immortality to light. Even with that revelation, "our knowledge of that life is small, the eye of faith is dim"; but, without it, the horror of a great darkness may naturally oppress the soul.

IV. The reason which, most of all, produced the regret of Hezekiah in the thought of quitting the visible world is to us the strangest of all. It was that HE SHOULD BE MORE DISTANT FROM GOD. "I said, I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord, in the land of the living." This is to us a strange contradiction, an evidence of marvellous ignorance. It was exactly in that world, to the confines of which he was drawing near, that he would find God. This is true, and there is ground for our astonishment. But might not Hezekiah, in his turn, be astonished at us? Does his lamentation convey to us no lesson, no reproach? He was mournful at the prospect of seeing God no more in the land of the living, of seeing Him no more in the glories of the world around, of seeing Him no more in the worship of His temple. Were we honest with ourselves and with one another, might we not confess that our talk of seeing God hereafter is all the more voluble because we have not seen Him here? We too much forget that He is here at all. And one element of terror in our imagination of the hereafter consists too often in the reflection that He is there.

(P. M. Muir.)

If we may learn something from Hezekiah even in his imperfect, hopeless mode of looking on impending death, much more may we learn from him in his joyous mode of welcoming returning health. That he should be glad is no cause for wonder.

1. There is perhaps no keener sense of enjoyment than that which attends convalescence, when simple pleasures, which may once have palled, are felt again in all their freshness, when strength is actually felt to be reanimating the enfeebled frame. For the man who has been tossing and turning in restlessness and pain, the restoration of peace and ease brings a pleasure before unknown

2. But it was not simply this delight in outward things which inspired Hezekiah. It was that the vision of God would again be granted, that the worship which he loved could again be offered, that the work which had been interrupted might again be taken up, that his recovery was a pledge of Divine favour, of sin forgiven and forgotten, and must awake the gratitude of his heart, the service of his whole life. Whatever has been our past, whatever is to be our future, the present is ours to use, to improve, to spend in the service of God and of man.

(P. M. Muir.)

I. THE AFFLICTION AND DANGER OF HEZEKIAH. This writing records his affliction. From his previous character, you perhaps expect to find that he will welcome the message which announces his release from suffering, or at least receive it with calmness and submission. But there are two principles on which we account for this emotion.

1. From that love of life which is the strongest instinct of our nature.

2. Hezekiah was engaged in a great and important work.

II. THE DELIVERANCE WROUGHT ON HIS BEHALF.

1. He traces his recovery to God.

2. He desires to retain the salutary impressions he had received (ver. 15).

3. He acknowledges the beneficial influence of affliction (ver. 16).

4. He gratefully commemorates the Divine goodness (ver. 17).

(H. J. Gamble.)

It is well, for the purpose of frequent review, to keep a record of the principal events of our lives, and of the thoughts which in trying circumstances have most deeply impressed us. This is the way both to multiply and prolong the advantages of experience. Such a record may be of great use also to our successors, and especially to our children. Of all the periods of life pregnant with materials for such an instructive memorial, that of sickness, for the supports attending it, the thoughts that arise out of it, and the influence to be exercised by them upon the subsequent course of our lives, seems to have a pre-eminent claim to notice. It is to a record of this kind, penned by the pious monarch of Judah, and which was probably- of great service to his son Manasseh, that our text refers; and the consideration of which may serve to remind us of what we should aspire after, and what we should cautiously avoid, in a similar situation.

(J. Leifchild, D. D.)

I. THE GENERAL CAUSES AND EFFECTS OF BODILY SICKNESS. Man is much more liable to attacks of this nature than the mere animals. The peculiar organisation of the human being, and the wearing effect of mental excitement upon the corporeal system, may m part account for this. But moral causes must also be taken into consideration. Sin is the great parent of our bodily maladies. Though some conditions of human society are more exposed to disease than others, yet no station in life forms any certain security against the interruption of health. Even piety itself, though a preservative against spiritual ills, and a preventive of many bodily ailments, is far from being a shield against the shafts of disease. We have a vivid picture, in Hezekiah's complaints, of the humiliating state both of body and mind to which sickness reduces us. While much importance should not be attached to what persons in sickness think of themselves, yet we may learn the desirableness of avoiding those dispositions and practices, while in health, which would furnish just and solid occasion for uneasiness in our duller hours. We may invite God to our sick chamber with confidence, when we have not driven Him away from us by impiety and neglect in our more joyous and prosperous seasons.

II. THE ANXIETIES OF A PIOUS MIND UNDER SICKNESS, AND THE GOOD EFFECTS OF PRAYER AND SUPPLICATION. The message of Isaiah to Hezekiah was indeed calculated to produce alarm and despondency as to his recovery. In this situation, his desire of life moved him to make the most earnest and passionate entreaties. The good men of that age felt a strong attachment to life, which was far more excusable in their case than in ours.

III. THE SPIRITUAL AND DIVINE MANIFESTATIONS WITH WHICH DELIVERANCE FROM SICKNESS MAY BE ACCOMPANIED IN THE CASE OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD. The removal of the bodily ill was the least part of his deliverance; it was accompanied and followed with a sweet sense of the removal of guilt from his soul, and with the presence of the gladdening beams of the Divine favour. It is sometimes one end of God, in the case of the affliction of His people, to prepare them for such manifestations, and to prove the power of Divine principles in conferring a sublime superiority to all the impressions of the surrounding scene.

IV. THE INFLUENCE WHICH THE VISITATION OF SICKNESS, THE SUPPORTS UNDER IT, AND DELIVERANCE OUT OF IT, IN THE CASE OF GOOD MEN, SHOULD HAVE UPON THEIR FUTURE CONDUCT. The beneficial effects of such visitation are too often confined to the hours of its endurance, or extended only to a short period after its termination. This arises from the influence of outward scenes and circumstances upon the mind, and the natural tendency of a change in the one to operate a similar change in the other. It is only to be prevented by a due resistance to such tendency, and a careful effort to preserve, by frequent meditation and review, the just discoveries made by us in our affliction, and the proper feelings then entertained, in reference to the character of human life, and the importance of religion. Probably the great cause of sinful relapses is to be found in a forgetfulness of our mercies. Application —

1. The subject may be useful to such as have not yet been afflicted. We see in the sufferings of others how precarious is the continuance of our comforts, and our vigour and health to enjoy them.

2. Such as have been afflicted in vain, may be furnished with a salutary remonstrance. Affliction is often amongst the last resources employed by infinite wisdom and mercy for our benefit.

3. Such as are labouring under the pressure of disease may, especially if Christians, learn how to turn it, while it lasts, to good account, as well as to gain a benefit from it for the future. There are many consoling and reconciling considerations. It is fraught with a benevolent design on the part of Him who permits or causes it.

(J. Leifchild, D. D.)

1. However death is feared and resisted, it is most by those who are in the midst of their days. The reasons for this are worth looking into.

2. Man's most solemn words are uttered when he stands face to face with death; then, if ever, he forms a right estimate of life, and of preparation for dying.

3. Prayer is a real power.

(W. Wheeler.)

The poem, or psalm, in which Hezekiah describes his experience, may be divided into two parts.

I. HOW DEATH LOOKED (vers. 10-15). There is a point in the sun's daily climb of the heavens when it seems to stand still, a pause before descending the western slope. Hezekiah felt he had reached just such a meridian of his life. In the tranquillity, or noontide, of his days, he was to enter the gates of the grave. Loss of God's presence, loss of human companionships and interests — this was what death meant for him. His age, his natural term of life, was to be carried away like a shepherd's tent that had been struck — his life rolled up like a piece of cloth cut from the thrums of the weaver's loom. The dreary night of his pain, when his very bones seemed broken, and he could only moan and mourn like some lonely, crying bird, how well he remembered it, what a bitter experience it was! His eyes failed with looking upward, but he did look upward; weighed down with pain and weakness, his soul still cried,. "Be Thou my surety." He knew not what to say, because God had done it all. Never, through all the respite of years allotted to him, could he forget his bitterness of soul. The memory of it would always chasten him. Some of us have never known what it is to spend hours of pain and weakness, with death apparently near at hand, and, in the absence of this experience, the sick king's account of his dreary night will be hard to understand. But anyone who has been in the shadowed valley will recognise the truthfulness of the picture, and the sincere piety of Hezekiah's looking upward to God.

II. HOW RESTORED LIFE LOOKED (vers. 16-20). First of all, he is sensible of the preciousness of his chastisement. He had learned in those dark and terrible hours lessons never learned before. It was in deep experiences of need and of God's present help given him then, that he had found the true life of his spirit. He had discovered God's love to his soul, and obtained an assurance of forgiveness which was a joy unspeakable. Blessed is he who, looking up to God in the face of Jesus Christ, can say, "Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back." Whoever went back of God? Life for him is an opportunity to praise God, to make known His truth, to testify before all the Lord's readiness to save. This story is a chapter out of an ancient biography, a story of a soul in close personal dealing with God. It reminds us that He is a very present help in trouble, and that none who turn to Him in trust and hope will ever be refused.

(E. W. Shalders, B. A.)

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