Larry Hunt's Bible Commentary

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Isaiah 39

Chapter Thirty-nine:

The same story is also found in 2nd Chronicles 32:25-26 and 2nd Kings 20:12-19.

v. 1:  Barnes writes that Sennacherib considered Babylon, like Judah, to be a conquered territory in the empire of Assyria.  He also points out that Merodach-Baladan was a usurper of the Babylonian throne and in rebellion against Assyria (43).  Both Barnes (43) and the Oxford commentary (1,030) agree that the Babylonians were seeking to make an alliance with Judah against Assyria through this visit.  I do not doubt that these things are true; however, I think it is interesting that the Bible does not mention them, nor does it mention God’s displeasure over such an alliance with Babylon (even though, doubtless, he would have been displeased with it, just as he was displeased with the Egyptian alliance).  What the narrative emphasizes is that the Babylonians came out of curiosity over the miracle of the sundial, and that Hezekiah was too proud of himself to give God credit for all the health and success he enjoyed.  I think Barnes is right to connect the Babylonians’ curiosity about the sundial with their general interest in astronomy (43).

v. 2:  In my chronology of Hezekiah’s reign[1] I place these events after the time Hezekiah came close to emptying  his coffers to pay off Sennacherib (2nd Kings 18:15-16).  However, my doing so requires an explanation for how Hezekiah went from that impoverished state to such affluence as is depicted here.  I believe the answer is found in 2nd Chronicles 32:23, which says, “Many brought gifts to the LORD in Jerusalem and precious things to king Hezekiah of Judah, so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations from that time [the time of Jerusalem’s deliverance from Sennacherib] onward.”  Indeed, the Babylonian envoys are doing the same thing themselves: they bring a gift for Hezekiah.

v. 4:  After being confronted, Hezekiah seems to acknowledge his sin and approve of the punishment (v.8), but I cannot tell from this verse (v.4) whether he recognized his behavior as sinful before Isaiah confronted him or not.  Since he confesses so freely here, he was either a very honest man or his pride had so blinded him that he was genuinely unaware of the sin into which he had fallen.  Both possibilities seem just as likely to me.

Vs. 5-8:  According to the Oxford Commentary, chapters 36-39 were inserted into the narrative after one phase of editing had already taken place.  Before this insertion, 35:8-10 served as a link between the end of chapter 35 and the beginning of chapter 40, but after the insertion of chapters 36-39, 35:8-10 could no longer serve as an effective link because three chapters then stood between it and the material it was supposed to link to.  Therefore, the later editors added vs. 5-8 of this chapter (39) to serve as the new link between chapter 40 and the material preceding it.

I am not sure whether or not I believe this theory.

v. 6: The phrase “that which your ancestors have stored up…” implies that Hezekiah did not completely empty his coffers when he paid off Sennacherib.  Perhaps he stripped the gold from the temple doors (2nd Kings 18:15-16) because that was preferable to handing over certain other more culturally and/or religiously significant golden items which his ancestors had stored up such as the temple furnishings, etc.  When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, they plundered even these items (Daniel 5:2-4).


[1] See notes on 2nd Kings 18.

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