(1) In those days.—On any supposition, the narrative of Hezekiah’s illness throws us back to a time fifteen years before his death, and therefore to an earlier date than the destruction of the Assyrian army, which it here follows. So in Isaiah 38:6, the deliverance of the city is spoken of as still future. Assuming the rectified chronology given above, we are carried to a time ten or eleven years before the invasion, which was probably in part caused by the ambitious schemes indicated in Isaiah 39. It follows from either view that we have no ground for assuming, as some commentators have done, (1) that the illness was an attack of the plague that destroyed the Assyrian army, or (2) that the treasures which Hezekiah showed to the Babylonian ambassadors were in part the spoil of that army.
Set thine house in order.—Literally, Give orders to thy house, euphemistic for “make thy will.” The words are a striking illustration, like Jonah’s announcement that Nineveh should be destroyed in three days (Jonah 3:4), of the conditional character of prophecy. It would seem as if Isaiah had been consulted half as prophet and half as physician as to the nature of the disease. It seemed to him fatal; it was necessary to prepare for death. The words may possibly imply a certain sense of disappointment at the result of Hezekiah’s reign. In the midst of the king’s magnificence and prosperity there was that in the inner house of the soul, as well as in that of the outer life, which required ordering.
The gates of the grave.—The image is what we should call Dantesque. Sheol, the Hades of the Hebrews, is, as in the Assyrian representations of the unseen world, and as in the Inferno of Dante (iii. 11, vii. 2, x. 22), a great city, and, therefore, it has its gates, which again become, as with other cities, the symbol of its power. So we have “gates of death” in Job 38:17; Psalm 9:18; Psalm 107:18.
The residue . . .—The words assume a normal duration, say of seventy years, on which the sufferer, who had, as he thought, done nothing to deserve punishment, might have legitimately counted.
I have cut off like a weaver my life . . .—The words express the feeling of one who had been weaving the web of his life with varied plans and counsels (comp. Isaiah 30:1), and now had to roll it up, as finished before its time, because Jehovah had taken up the “abhorred shears” to cut it from the thrum, which takes the place of “with pining sickness.” There is, perhaps, a tone of reverence in the impersonal form of the statement. The sufferer will not name Jehovah as the author of his trouble.
From day even to night.—The words speak of the rapidity rather than of the prolongation of suffering. The sick man expects that death will come before the morrow’s dawn.
Undertake for me—i.e., as in Genesis 43:9; Genesis 44:32; Job 17:3, Be surety for me. The idea is that of Death, who, yet in another sense, is but the minister of Jehovah, as being the creditor pressing for immediate payment. The words involve (as Cheyne points out) something like an appeal to the judge, who is also the accuser, to be bail for the accused.
I shall go softly . . .—Better, That I should walk at ease upon (i.e., because of, or, as others take it, in spite of) the trouble of my soul. The verb is used in Psalm 42:4 of a festal procession to the Temple, but here refers simply to the journey of life, and implies that it is to be carried on to the end as with calm and considerate steps. The Authorised Version suggests wrongly the thought of a life-long bitterness.
Thou hast in love to my soul . . .—The italics show that the verbs “delivered it “are not in the present Hebrew text. A slight change, such as might be made to correct an error of transcription, would give that meaning, but as it stands, we have the singularly suggestive phrase, Thou hast loved me out of the pit of corruption. The very love of Jehovah is thought of as ipso facto a deliverance.
Thou hast cast all my sins . . .—As in our Lord’s miracles, the bodily healing was the pledge and earnest of the spiritual. “Arise and walk” guaranteed, “Thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matthew 9:2-5). (For the symbols of that forgiveness, comp. Micah 7:19.)
We will sing.—The king identifies himself with the great congregation, perhaps even yet more closely with the Levite minstrels of the Temple whom he had done so much to train and re-organise.
Isaiah 38:22Hezekiah also had said, What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the LORD?