HEZEKIAH’S SICKNESS AND RECOVERY. THE BABYLONIAN EMBASSY. CONCLUSION.
Parallel accounts may be read in Isaiah 38, 39.; 2 Chronicles 32:24-33.
Set thine house in order.—The margin is right (Comp. 2 Samuel 17:23.)
On the third day.—Comp. Hosea 6:2. Here, however, there is no ground for understanding the expression other than literally. The precise nature of Hezekiah’s malady cannot be ascertained.
And I will deliver thee . . .—So that the Assyrians had not yet retired from the West. For the rest of the verse see 2 Kings 19:34.
Take a lump of figs.—Figs pressed into a cake (1 Samuel 25:18). “Many commentators suppose the figs to be mentioned as a remedy current at the time. But surely so simple and unscientific a medicine would have been thought of, without applying to the prophet by those about Hezekiah. The plaster of figs is rather a sign or symbol of the cure, like the water of the Jordan in the narrative of Naaman (2 Kings 5:10)” (Cheyne). That in antiquity figs were a usual remedy for boils of various kinds appears from the testimony of Dioscorides and Pliny.
Laid it on the boil.—It is not to be supposed that Hezekiah was suffering from the plague and, in fact, the very plague which destroyed the army of Sennacherib. (See Note on 2 Kings 20:1). The word “boil” (shĕhîn) denotes leprous and other similar ulcers (Exodus 9:9; Job 2:7), but not plague, which moreover, would not have attacked Hezekiah alone, and would have produced not one swelling, but many.
And he recovered.—Heb., lived. The result is mentioned here by natural anticipation.
It is very probable that the Hebrew text is corrupt. We might read the first word as an infinitive instead of a perfect, after the analogy of 2 Kings 19:29 (“ye shall eat”). Or we might read “shall it march?” as a question (hă-yēlēk); or better still, “shall it go up” (hă-yēlēk), after the hint afforded by the Vulgate: “Vis ut ascendat umbra . . . Et ait Ezeehias, Facile est umbram crescere,” &c. It is obvious that a kind of sun-dial is meant, though what kind is not so clear. The word “degrees” (ma‘ălôth) means “steps” or “stairs” wherever it occurs. (See Exodus 20:26; Ezekiel 40:6; Ezekiel 40:22; Ezekiel 40:26; Ezekiel 40:31, &c; 1 Kings 10:20; Nehemiah 3:15.) There is probability, therefore, in Knobel’s conjecture that “the dial of Ahaz” consisted of a column rising from a circular flight of steps, so as to throw the shadow of its top on the top step at noon, and morning and evening on the bottom step. This, or some similar device, was set up in the palace court, and was probably visible to Hezekiah lying on his sick bed and facing the window. Herodotus (ii. 9) ascribes the invention of the gnomon to the Babylonians. From the inscriptions we know that they divided time into periods of two hours, each called in Sumerian kasbumi, and in Assyrian asli. Each kasbu or aslu was subdivided into sixty equal parts.
To go down.—Rather, to spread. The LXX. has κλῖναι, another use of the Hebrew verb. The Targum, Syriac, and Arabic render “to go forward” (march).
He brought . . . Ahaz.—Literally, and he (i.e., Jehovah) made the shadow return on the steps, which it had descended in the steps of Ahaz, backward ten steps. On the question of how it was done, a good many opinions have been expressed, e.g., by means of a mock sun, a cloud of vapour, an earthquake, a contrivance applied by Isaiah (!) to the sun-dial, &c.
Ephrem Syrus, and other church fathers, believed that the sun receded in his celestial path; but it is not said that the sun went back, but the shadow. (Isaiah 38:8 says “the sun returned,” by a perfectly natural usus loquendi.) Keil assumes “a wondrous refraction of the sun’s rays effected by God at the prayer of Isaiah.” Professor Birks and Mr. Cheyne agree with this, assuming, further, that the refraction was local only. (See 2 Chronicles 32:31.) Thenius, after arguing at length in favour of an eclipse (that of September 26th. 713 B.C. , which, however, will not harmonise with the Assyrian chronology), says: “Notwithstanding all this, I do not insist upon the suggested explanation, but I attach myself, with Knobel and Hitzig, to the mythical conception of the narrative.” “That the sign was granted, and that it was due to the direct agency of Him who ordereth all things according to His Divine will, is certain. How it was effected the narrative does not in any way disclose” (the Editor). Ewald and others wish to see in the retrogression of the shadow a token that “Hezekiah’s life-limit was to go back many years;” but the prophet gave the king is choice whether the shadow should go forward or backward.
(2 Kings 20:12-19).
(12) At that time Berodach-baladan.—As to the name, Berodach is a transcriber’s error for Merodach (Jeremiah 1:2). Some MSS. of Kings, and the LXX., Syriac, and Arabic, as well as Isaiah 39:1, and the Talmud, spell the name with m, a letter easily confused with b in Hebrew. Above all, the cuneiform inscriptions present Marduk (or, Maruduk)-abla-iddina (“Me-rodaeh gave a son”). A king of this name occupied the throne of Chaldea at intervals, during the reigns of the four Assyrian sovereigns Tiglath Pileser, Shalma-neser, Sargon, and Sennacherib. He is called in the inscriptions “son of Yâkin,” an expression which, like “Jehu son of Omri,” is territorial rather than genealogical. Bît- Yâkin was the name of the tribal domain of the “sons of Yâkin,” just as Bît-Humria was that of the territory of which Jehu was king. He is further designated as king of “the land of the sea” (mât tihâmtim), i.e., the country at the head of the Persian Gulf, and of “the land of Chaldea” (mât Kaldi). He did homage to Tiglath Pileser in 731 B.C. In the first year of Sargon, Merodach-baladan established himself as king of Babylon, and was eventually recognised as such by the Assyrian sovereign. He reigned about twelve years contemporaneously with Sargon, who in 710 and 709 B.C. defeated and captured him, and burnt his stronghold Dûr-Yâkin. On the death of Sargon, Merodach-baladan once more gained possession of the throne of Babylon; and perhaps it was at this time (so Schrader) that he sent his famous embassy to seek the alliance of Hezekiah and other western princes. After a brief reign of six months, he was defeated by Sennacherib, and driven back to his old refuge in the morasses of South Chaldea. Belibus was made Assyrian viceroy of Babylon. These events belong to the beginning of Sennacherib’s reign. (He says, ina ris sarrutiya, “in the beginning of my sovereignty.”) There was yet another outbreak before Merodach-bala-dan was finally disheartened; and later still Esarhaddon mentions that he slew Nabu-zir-napisti-sutesir, son of Mardak-abla-iddina, and made his brother Na’id-Maruduk king of “the land of the sea” in his stead.
Son of Baladan.—The name of Merodach-baladan’s father is not mentioned in the cuneiform inscriptions.
He had heard that Hezekiah had been sick.—The ostensible business of the embassy was to congratulate Hezekiah on his recovery, and to inquire about the sign that had been vouchsafed him (sec 2 Chronicles 32:31, and Note); but the Assyrian records make it pretty clear that the real object was to ascertain the extent of Hezekiah’s resources, and to secure his alliance against the common enemy.
The silver, and the gold.—This, as well as the phrase in 2 Kings 20:17, “that which thy fathers have laid up,” appears to contradict 2 Kings 18:15-16. Schrader regards this as an indication that Hezekiah’s illness and the embassy of Merodach-baladan belong to the time preceding Sennacherib’s invasion. Thenius, however, supposes that Hezekiah simply gave all the money in his treasury to Sennacherib’s envoys, and stripped off the gold plating of the Temple before them that they might suppose his resources exhausted, when, in fact, he had not touched his real treasures, which were concealed in subterranean chambers. Thenius also refers to the “credible” statement of the chronicler, that presents were made to Hezekiah from all quarters after the retreat of Sennacherib (2 Chronicles 32:23). Professor Robertson Smith agrees with Schrader in referring the embassy of Merodach-baladan to the years 704-703 B.C.
The precious ointment.—The fine oil (Cheyne). Perfumed oil used for anointing.
All that was found in his treasures.—See 2 Chronicles 32:27-28. Storehouses beyond the precincts of the palace, and beyond Jerusalem. (Comp. the phrase “in all his dominion,” which alludes to the resources of Hezekiah in the country, statistics of which he might show to the envoys.)
From a far country.—So the Assyrian kings describe Palestine as “a far off land,” using the same adjective (rûqu).
Eunuchs.—Rather, courtiers, palace attendants (so Josephus). Cheyne, “chamberlains” (so Thenius: kämmerer).
Is it not good, if peace . . .—This rendering appears to be right. Severe as is the prophetic word of judgment, it contains an element of mercy, in that Hezekiah himself is spared. The words are introduced by and he said, to indicate that they were spoken after a pause.
Peace and truth.—Rather, peace and permanence (or, security, stability; Jeremiah 33:6). Ewald, Thenius, and Bähr render: “Yea, only may there be peace, &c, in my days.” (Comp. the prayer of the church: “Give peace in our time, O Lord.”)
A pool . . . a conduit . . . water.—Rather, the pool . . . the conduit . . . the water. The pool of Hezekiah is now the Birket-Hammâm-el-Batrak. (See Notes on 2 Chronicles 32:4; 2 Chronicles 32:30, and Isaiah 7:3.)
2 Kings 20:21And Hezekiah slept with his fathers: and Manasseh his son reigned in his stead.