Isaiah 39 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Isaiah 39
Pulpit Commentary
At that time Merodachbaladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah: for he had heard that he had been sick, and was recovered.
Verse 1. - At that time (comp. 2 Chronicles 32:31, where it appears that a part of the business of the ambassadors was to inquire concerning the astronomical marvel which had recently occurred in the land). The embassy probably followed the illness of Hezekiah within a year. Merodach-Baladan. This is a more correct form than the "Berodach-Baladan" of 2 Kings 20:12. The name is one common to several Babylonian kings, as to one who reigned about B.C. 1325, to a second who is placed about B.C. 900, and to a third who was contemporary with the Assyrian kings Sargon and Sennacherib. It is this last of whom we have a notice in the present passage. He appears first in the Assyrian inscriptions as a petty prince, ruling a small tract upon the seacoast, about the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates. Tiglath-Pileser takes tribute front him about B.C. 744. In B.C. 721 we find him advanced to a more prominent position. Taking advantage of the troubles of the time, he shakes off the Assyrians yoke, and makes himself King of Babylon, where he has a reign of twelve years - from B.C. 721 to B.C. 709. This reign is recognized by Sargon in his inscriptions ('Records of the Past,' vol. 9. p. 14), and by the Greek chronologist, Ptolemy, in his 'Canon.' In B.C. 709 Sargon leads an expedition against him, and drives him out of Babylonia into the coast-tract, Chaldea, where he besieges him in his ancestral town Bit-Yakin, takes the city, and makes him prisoner (ibid., p. 15). On the death of Sargon, in B.C. 705, Merodach-Baladan escapes from confinement, and hastens once more to Babylon, where he is acknowledged as king, and has a second reign, which lasts six months (Alex. Polyhist. ap. Euseb., 'Chronicles Can.,' 1. 5. § 1). He is then driven from the country by Sennacherib, and, after various vicissitudes, obliged to become a refugee in Elam (G. Smith, 'Hist. of Babylonia,' pp. 125-128). The name of Merodach-Baladau is composed of the three elements, Merodach (equivalent to "Mar-duk"), the god, bal or pal, "son," and iddina, "has given," and thus signifies "Merodach has given (me) a son." The son of Baladan. "Baladan" is scarcely a possible Babylonian name. "Beladan" would, however, be quite possible, being a name formed on the model of Ishtardddin ('Eponym Canon,' p. 30), Ninip-iddin (p. 35), Ilu-iddin (p. 57), etc. And the corruption of Beladan into Baladan would be easy. Merodach-Baladan III. is called by Sargon "the son of Yakin;" but this is perhaps a tribal or local rather than a personal name. Compare Jehu's appellation of "son of Omri" (ibid., p. 114). Sent letters and a present to Hezekiah. Hezekiah's fourteenth year was B.C. 714. Merodach-Baladan had then been King of Babylon for eight years, and, knowing that he might at any time be attacked by Sargon, was naturally looking out for alliances with other powers, which Assyria equally threatened. He had recently concluded a treaty with Khumbanigas, King of Elam ('Records of the Past,' vol. 9. p. 14), and had obtained the support of several of the Aramaean tribes on the Euphrates. He now apparently thought that Judaea, which Sargon was also threatening (ch. 38:6), might be induced to join him. Hezekiah's illness and "the wonder done in the land" (2 Chronicles 32:31) furnished him with pretexts for an embassy, which probably had more serious objects than either congratulation or scientific inquiry.
And Hezekiah was glad of them, and shewed them the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not.
Verse 2. - Hezekiah was glad of them. A more pregnant phrase than that which replaces it in 2 Kings, "hearkened unto them." Hezekiah, like Merodach-Baladan, was looking out for allies, and "was glad," thinking that in Babylon he had found one which might render him important service. Sargon's promptness, however, frustrated his hopes. In B.C. 709 that prince, regarding Merodach-Baladan's proceedings as constituting a real danger to his kingdom, made a great expedition into Babylonia, defeated Merodach-Baladan, and took him prisoner, after which he had himself crowned King of Babylon, and during the remainder of his life ( B.C. 709 to 705) ruled both countries. Showed them the house of his precious things; i.e. his treasury, or store-house. The treasuries of ancient monarchs were actual store-chambers, in which large quantities of the precious metals and valuable objects of various kinds were deposited (see Herod., 2:121; Arrian, 'Exp. Alex.,' 3:16, 18, etc.). The flourishing state of the treasury is an indication that the events here narrated are anterior to the great surrender of treasure to Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:15; 'Epenym Canon,' p. 135). All the house of his armour (comp. Isaiah 22:8). If a warlike alliance was contemplated, it was as important to show the possession of arms as of treasures. There was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not. We must allow for Oriental hyperbole. The meaning is, that, without any reserve, Hezekiah showed all that he could show.
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.
Verse 3. - Then came Isaiah the prophet. Isaiah comes, unsent for, to rebuke the king (comp. 2 Samuel 12:1-12; 2 Samuel 24:11-14; 1 Kings 12:22-24; 1 Kings 13:2-5; 2 Chronicles 12:5-8; 2 Chronicles 16:7-9; 2 Chronicles 19:2, 3, etc.). This bold attitude was one which prophets were entitled to take by virtue of their office, which called upon them to bear testimony, even before kings, and to have no respect of persons. A similar fearlessness is apparent in Isaiah 7:1-17, where the king with whom Isaiah has to deal was the wicked Ahaz. What said these men? "These men" is contemptuous. The demand to know what they said is almost without parallel. Diplomacy, if it is to be successful, must be secret; and Isaiah can scarcely have been surprised that his searching question received no answer. But he was zealous of God's honour, and anxious that Hezekiah should rely on no "arm of flesh," whether it were Egypt or Babylon. Such dependence would straiten God's arm, and prevent him from giving the aid that he was otherwise prepared to give. The desire of the prophet is to warn the king of the danger which he runs by coquetting with human helpers. From whence came they? Isaiah does not ask this question for the sake of information, Doubtless all Jerusalem was agog to see the strange envoys "from a far country," who had now for the first time penetrated to the city of David. All knew whence they had come, and suspected why. Isaiah asks, to force the king to a confession, on which he may base a prophecy and a warning. And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country. Embassies from distant lands to their courts are made a con-slant subject of boasting by the Assyrian monarchs (see 'Records of the Past,' vol. 1. pp. 28, 68, 95; vol. 7. pp. 49, 51, etc.). Hezekiah, perhaps, is "lifted up" (2 Chronicles 32:25) by the honour paid him, and intends to impress Isaiah with a sense of his greatness - "The men are come all the way from Babylon to see me!"
Then said he, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah answered, All that is in mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shewed them.
Verse 4. - What have they seen? Isaiah had, no doubt, heard of what Hezekiah had done (ver. 2); but he wished to have the confession of it from his own mouth before delivering his sentence. Hezekiah tells him the truth, since he is not ashamed of his act, but rather glories in it. He has shown the ambassadors everything, and has thereby made them eager to secure his alliance.
Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD of hosts:
Verse 5. - Hear the word of the Lord of hosts. Either the prophet had been specially charged with a Divine message to the king before he sought his presence, or the prophetic afflatus now came on him suddenly. The former is, on the whole, more probable.
Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD.
Verse 6. - Behold, the days come; literally, the days [are] coming, or [are] approaching. Of the exact "times and seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power" (Acts 1:7), the prophets generally knew nothing. They were mouth-pieces, to declare the Divine will, not keen-witted politicians, forecasting results by the exercise of sharp-sightedness and sagacity. To suppose that Isaiah foresaw by mere human wisdom the Babylonian conquest of Judaea, as Charles the Great did the ravages of the Northmen (R. Williams, 'Hebrew Prophets,' vol. 1. p. 429), is to give him credit for a sagacity quite unexampled and psychologically impossible. The kingdom of Babylon was one among many that were struggling hard to maintain independence against the grasping and encroaching Assyria. From the time of Tiglath-Pileser IX. she had been continually losing ground. Both Sargon and Sennacherib trampled her underfoot, overran her territory, captured her towns, and reduced her under direct Assyrian government. Till Assyria should be swept away, a Babylonian conquest of Palestine was impossible. To suppose it was like supposing a Russian conquest of Holland, while Germany bars the way. Nothing short of the true prophetic afflatus, which is God the Holy Ghost speaking by the mouth of his servants, could have made such an anticipation. And with Isaiah, as Mr. Cheyne says, it is "not a mere presentiment; it is a calm and settled conviction, based on a direct revelation, and confirmed by a deep insight into the laws of the Divine government." All that is in thine house. Not, of course, exactly all that was there when Isaiah spoke, but all the wealth that should be in the royal palace when the time of the Babylonian captivity arrived. (For the fulfilment, see 2 Chronicles 36:18.) That which thy fathers have laid up in store. A portion of this was carried off by Sennacherib in his first expedition (2 Kings 18:14-16); but the bulk of the temple treasures - the gifts of many kings - remained untouched until they were removed to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:2; Daniel 5:2; 2 Kings 24:13; 2 Kings 25:13-17).
And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.
Verse 7. - Of thy sons that shall issue from thee. Hezekiah had at the time, probably, no son, since Manasseh, who succeeded him upon the throne, was not born till two years later. Besides Manasseh, he appears to have had a son, Amariah, who was an ancestor of the Prophet Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1:1). He may, of course, have also had others. His descendants, rather than his actual sons, seem to be here intended; and the fulfilment of the prophecy is to be found in Daniel 1:3, where certain "of the king's seed" are mentioned among the Israelites who served as eunuchs in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar.
Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, Good is the word of the LORD which thou hast spoken. He said moreover, For there shall be peace and truth in my days.
Verse 8. - Good is the word. While there is resignation, there is no doubt something also of selfishness, in Hezekiah's acceptance of the situation. "Apres mot le deluge" is a saying attributed to a modern Frenchman. Hezekiah's egotism is less pronounced and less cynical. He thinks with gratitude of the "peace and steadfastness" which are to be "in his day;" he does not dwell in thought on the coming "deluge." The "word of the Lord" is "good" to him in more ways than one. It has assured him of coming male offspring - of sons to sit upon his throne, and save him from the curse of childlessness. And it has assured him of a rest for his nation - a respite, so that the Babylonian struggle shall not follow immediately upon the Assyrian; but there shall be a "breathing-space" (Ezra 9:8), a tranquil time, during which Israel may "dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places" (Isaiah 32:18).

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