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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Chapter 40
 
 
 
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ISAIAH 39

Here we have the conclusion of the historical section, relating Hezekiah's vanity in the display of his wealth to Merodach-Baladan's ambassadors, the Lord's rebuke through Isaiah, and the predictive prophecy that Babylon would be the power that would capture Jerusalem, loot the city, and deport the royal family to Babylon. The short chapter ends with the submissive resignation of Hezekiah to the fate of his beloved city and the personal rejoicing that he would not live to see the disastrous prophecy fulfilled. Also, he found great comfort in the assured time-lapse before the promised fulfillment of it.

The great thing in the chapter, of course, is the clear, graphic prediction of the Babylonian captivity, which in consideration of Isaiah's oft-repeated mention of "the remnant" that would return, conclusively shows that this prophecy of the Babylonian captivity had long been anticipated; but only here is it boldly and emphatically declared. To be sure, many critical writers refuse to admit that Isaiah wrote this; but as Rawlinson pointed out, this denial is caused, "Solely by their reluctance to admit that a prophet could predict the subjugation of Judah by Babylon more than a century before the event."F1 The judicial darkening of the human intelligence is clearly visible in such illogical unwillingness to see predictive prophecy here. The prophecy is wedged into the historical situation so skillfully, carries so many dramatic particulars, and so certainly belongs to the century preceding the events prophesied, that there cannot possibly be any reasons whatever for alleging that the prophecy is a "post eventum" prediction.

As Hailey suggested, the only difficult thing about this chapter is the problem of dating it. Rawlinson set it in the year 714 B.C.F2 Cheyne located it in the era of Sargon's invasion;F3 D. J. Wiseman placed it in the year 705 B.C.F4 We fully agree with Hailey who wrote that, "Determining dates for events in this chapter is beyond our ability."F5 Nevertheless, it is appropriate to ask, "What difference does it make"? We are certain of the approximate time, and the exact date makes no difference at all.

Despite the uncertainty regarding the exact dates involved here, there are a few facts which we believe shed light on exactly why this uncertainty persists. There is hardly any event in these historical chapters that can be nailed down chronologically with absolute certainty.


 
Verses 1, 2
At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah; for he heard that he had been sick, and was recovered. And Hezekiah was glad of them, and showed them the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious oil, and all the house of his armor, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not.
(Isaiah 39:1). Cheyne believed that there were two monarchs of this name, one ruling in the period of Sargon's invasions of Judah, and the other during the period of Sennacherib's invasions. Merodach-baladan was not an uncommon name of Babylonian kings.F6 Thus, there is the problem of just which Merodach-baladan sent this embassy to Hezekiah. Furthermore, Merodach-baladan's kingship of Babylon was ended in 710 B.C., when Sargon removed him.F7 It should be noted in this connection that our text flatly declares that Merodach-baladan was king of Babylon.

Now, take the reign of Hezekiah. Neither the beginning of it, nor the end of it, is actually dated in scripture. "It seems best to assume that Hezekiah was co-regent with Ahaz from circa 729 B.C., becoming sole king circa 716 B.C."F8

The end of Hezekiah's reign is just as uncertain. "His son Manasseh was probably, "Co-regent with him from 696 to 686 B.C."F9

Even the invasions of Judah are not at all certainly documented as to their dates. In fact, Sargon, in inscriptions claims to have conquered Judah, but the Bible makes no mention of such a conquest.

In view of all these facts, there is little wonder that scholars do not know exactly what date to assign to some given event in these chapters. For example, in the "sixth year of the reign" of some monarch means nothing at all unless the knowledge of just "when" that reign started is also available.

After all, the big thing here is not exactly when the events of this chapter occurred, but that they did occur; and that they precipitated the great prophecy of the Babylonian captivity of Israel. Here we turn our attention to the text itself.

Isa. 39:1-2

At that time Merodach-baladan, son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah; for he heard that he had been sick, and was recovered. And Hezekiah was glad of them, and showed them the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious oil, and all the house of his armor, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not…

The proper understanding of what happened here must be derived from what is recorded in 2 Chr. 32:25,26. After his illness, "Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefits done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem. Notwithstanding Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of Jehovah came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah."

Hailey's comment here is appropriate:

"Hezekiah's ancestor, David, had yielded to the lust of the flesh; and Solomon had yielded to vanity and pomp; and now Hezekiah, one of Judah's most admired kings, had yielded to flattery and pride. The flesh is terribly weak."F10

Human beings are simply not structured to be rulers. The old proverb that "Power corrupts; and total power corrupts totally" has grown out of the distilled experience of mankind throughout the ages.

The flourishing state of Hezekiah's treasury cannot help us with the problem of the date, because, his treasury was full, not only before Sennacherib exacted that huge tribute, but again after the recovery of all that loot and more upon the death of the Assyrian army.

Before leaving these two verses, it should be noted that the occasion of this visit from Babylon was the recovery of Hezekiah, also an inquiry into that astronomical miracle which had accompanied it (2 Chronicles 32:31). This strongly indicates that the miracle was not a worldwide event, but one localized in Jerusalem. Behind this, however, the scheme of the Babylonian monarch to form an alliance with Hezekiah looms as the principal reason for the visit.


 
Verses 3, 4
Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah, and said unto him, What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee? And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country unto me, even from Babylon. Then said he, What have they seen in thy house? And Hezekiah answered, All that is in my house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not showed them.

It seems nearly incredible that Hezekiah should have been so naive as to have turned his palace wrong-side out to display it to any foreign power, much less to one such as Babylon. There seems to be a very pleased vanity exhibited by Hezekiah here as he tells Isaiah that "This embassy has come all the way from Babylon to see me!" "Thus the faith of Hezekiah, proof against the heaviest blows, melts at the touch of flattery; and the world claims another victim by its friendship."F11


 
Verses 5, 6
Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of Jehovah of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in thy house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith Jehovah.

As Rawlinson observed that, "Concerning the exact times and seasons, the prophets generally knew nothing. They were mouth-pieces to deliver the Divine will. They were not keen-witted politicians, forecasting results by the exercise of sharpsightedness and sagacity."F12

No human wisdom could have supplied such information as this to Isaiah. Babylon, at the time of this prophecy, was a rebellious portion of the Assyrian Empire; and it would be only a few years until Esarhaddon, the son of Sennacherib, would be on the throne of Babylon. What an unlikely prophecy this must have appeared to be! Nevertheless, in about 120 years, all of this prophecy was completely fulfilled in Babylon's rape of Jerusalem and the deportation of the royal family first, and later, the whole population to Babylon.

As Jamieson pointed out this is "the very first place in the Bible where the place of Israel's punishment is announced."F13 It is particularly important, however, that this is by no means the first prophecy of Israel's being plucked off of `their land.' Moses prophesied, "Ye shall be plucked off the land; and Jehovah will scatter thee among all peoples" (Deuteronomy 28:63,64). Ahijah prophesied against Jeroboam: "Jehovah will root up Israel out of this good land which he gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the River, because they have made their Asherim, provoking Jehovah to anger" (1 Kings 14:15). "Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith Jehovah, whose name is the god of hosts" (Amos 5:27). Here, at last in the prophecy of Isaiah, God finally revealed the very city into which Israel would be carried captive. Although it had been known from the beginning by the Father that Babylon would be the place of Israel's captivity, it was only in this chapter that God at last revealed it through Isaiah. Yet, it is clear enough that "Babylon" was actually intended in those other prophecies.


 
Verse 7
And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, whom thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.

This is good news and bad news combined. The good news is that Hezekiah would not die childless as he had feared; but the bad news was the prophetic fate of his sons. The prospect of their being eunuchs in the place of the king of Babylon was indeed a terrible destination. Furthermore, Manasseh who would succeed him in the throne was indeed an evil son of the devil until near the very end of his life.

In the Book of Daniel, we read that, "Among the princes of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azaraiah; and the prince of the eunuchs gave names unto them (Daniel 1:6,7). It was usually true in that era that "eunuchs" were men who had been emasculated; and although it was also true that sometimes "eunuchs" were "officers of the king." This was by no means true of the princes of Judah in Babylon. They were not officers of the king, but captives; and here, they even endured the humiliation of having their names changed. We not only agree with Culver that, "There is a great possibility that Daniel and his friends were emasculated,"F14 but we, through the influence of Isaiah's prophecy here, believe that that is the only proper understanding of the fate of those princes of the royal household of Judah. Many agree with this interpretation. "The descendants of Hezekiah, rather than his actual sons, seem to be intended here; and the fulfillment of this prophecy is to be found in Dan. 1:3, where certain of `the king's seed' are mentioned among the Israelites who served as eunuchs in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar."F15


 
Verse 8
Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah, Good is the word of Jehovah which thou hast spoken. He said moreover, For there shall be peace and truth in my days.

In 2 Chr. 32:26, we learn that, "Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of Jehovah came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah." This information was also, in all probability, imparted to Hezekiah at the same time with the message here; and it was for this that Hezekiah was especially glad.

We deeply appreciate the discernment of Kidner who saw in this little chapter the explanation of the rest of the great Prophecy of Isaiah:

"To Hezekiah there was comfort in the postponement of the disaster awaiting Israel, but not to Isaiah. Evidently, he took this burden home with him, and so lived under its weight that when God spoke to him again it was to one who in spirit had already lived long years in Babylon (Isaiah 40:2), and who could speak "to the heart" of a generation of exiles yet to be born."F16

Here then, is the explanation of Isaiah's focus upon the problems of later generations featured in the next division of his prophecy.

Some have read a certain trait of selfishness into Hezekiah's words of thankfulness here; but we believe Dummelow was correct in the statement that, "On the contrary, his spirit at this time seemed rather to have been one of humble contrition."F17

(The end of Division V.)


Footnotes for Isaiah 39
1: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 10b, p. 56.
2: Ibid.
3: T. K. Cheyne's Commentary p. 235.
4: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 810B.C.
5: Homer Hailey, p. 321.
6: T. K. Cheyne's Commentary, p. 235.
7: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 810.
8: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 524.
9: Ibid., p. 729.
10: Homer Hailey, p. 322.
11: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 610.
12: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 10b, p. 58.
13: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 473.
14: Robert D. Culver, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), p. 773.
15: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 10b, p. 58.
16: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 611.
17: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 439.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 39". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=isa&chapter=039>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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