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Go to Bible: Isaiah 38
“sick to the point of death.” The record of Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery is in 2 Kings 20:1-11; 2 Chronicles 32:24-26; and Isaiah 38:1-22.(top)
|Isa 38:2||- (top)|
“wept; it was a great weeping.” The Hebrew text says that Hezekiah “wept a great weeping.” Although most English versions say “wept bitterly,” that is a bit of an assumption, because “bitterly” brings in an emotion that Hezekiah may not have felt. Rotherham takes “great weeping” to mean “out loud.” Hezekiah may have felt great sorrow or loss, or may have had some idea that Manasseh, his son who became king after him, would not make a good king, which was certainly true, Manasseh was a horrible king. In any case, Hezekiah wept greatly and prayed very humbly and honestly.(top)
|Isa 38:4||- (top)|
|Isa 38:5||- (top)|
|Isa 38:6||- (top)|
|Isa 38:7||- (top)|
“sundial.” The Hebrew can refer to a sundial or to steps. E. Fox has “step-dial” in 2 Kings 20:11 (The Schocken Bible).(top)
|Isa 38:9||- (top)|
“prime of my days.” The Hebrew word translated “prime” only occurs here and the meaning is uncertain. It seems to mean “half” or “middle” of my life, that is, at the prime of life, when I am still young.
“the gates of Sheol.” Sheol is the state of being dead, and there is no escape from it except by being raised from the dead by God. Because of that, Sheol is compared to a prison that has “gates” and from which no one can escape without God’s help. These “gates” are referred to as the “gates of Sheol” (Job 17:16; Isa. 38:10) and “the gates of death” (Job 38:17; Ps. 9:13; 107:18). Jesus Christ referred to the gates in Matthew 16:18 where in many versions they are translated as “the gates of Hell.” [For more on these gates, see commentary on Matt. 16:18. For more on Sheol, see commentary on Rev. 20:13. For more on dead people being dead, lifeless in every way, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead”].(top)
“I will not see Yah.” “Yah” is a shorter name for “Yahweh.” Isaiah 38:11-20 is one of the sections in the Word of God that shows that when a person dies they are dead in every way, not alive in heaven, “Hell,” or some other place. They are dead, lifeless, until they are raised from the dead at the resurrection. The great Judean king, Hezekiah, when facing death did not talk about going to heaven or to a good place. He said, “I will not see Yah...you [God] will make an end of me...you [God] will make an end of me” (Isa. 38:11-13). Because Hezekiah did not die but was healed, he exclaimed, “You have delivered my soul from the pit of oblivion” (Isa. 38:17). Then Hezekiah went on to say, “Those who go down into the pit [the grave] cannot have hope for your faithfulness” (Isa. 38:18). The reason that a dead person “cannot have hope for your [God’s] faithfulness” is that dead people are dead, totally lifeless, so they do not know anything and cannot have hope. [For more on people being lifeless when they die, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead”].(top)
“dwelling.” The Hebrew word translated “dwelling” is a hapax legomenon, meaning it only occurs this one time in the Hebrew Bible, and due to that fact, the English versions differ as to how to translate it. The English translations include: “dwelling” (ASV, CSB, ESV, NASB, NRSV, Rotherham, REV); “dwelling place” (NET), “house” (NIV); “home” (CJB, NJB); “lifetime” (CEB); “age” (DBY, KJV); “habitation” (JPS); “life span” (NKJ); “life” (NLT); and “generation” (DRA). The HALOT and Holladay Hebrew lexicons give “dwelling place” as the definition, while the Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew lexicon gives “period, generation, dwelling” as the definition. Here in Isaiah 38:12, Hezekiah is speaking about his death and that the “dwelling,” the “home,” that is his human body will be removed and gone like a shepherd’s tent: “My dwelling is pulled up and removed from me like a shepherd’s tent.” Although the illustration of a shepherd’s tent being taken away and moved is somewhat appropriate for one’s life ending, the illustration leaves us with a sad and heavyhearted feeling. But as much as we want our lives to leave a lasting impression, it is most often the case that people die and, relative to historic time, are quickly forgotten.
Horatio Hackett wrote about the tents in the Bible Lands, and how very quickly they left no trace of having been in any given place: “The tents of the East...seldom remain long in the same place. The traveler erects his temporary abode for the night, takes it down in the morning, and journeys onward. The shepherds of the country, also, are constantly moving from one place to another…‘There is something very melancholy,’ writes Lord Lindsay…‘The tent-pins are plucked up, and in a few minutes a dozen holes, a heap or two of ashes, and the marks of the camels’ knees in the sand, soon to be obliterated, are the only traces left of what has been, for a while, our home.’ Hence, this rapid change of situation, this removal from one spot to another, without being able to foresee today where the wanderer will rest tomorrow affords a striking image of man’s life—so brief, fleeting, uncertain” (Horatio B. Hackett, Illustrations of Scripture, Boston, Heath and Graves, 1855, Chapter 1, para “Frequent Removals,” accessed via Kindle).
Despite Hezekiah’s melancholy words, the people—including Hezekiah—who are saved can look forward to a joyful and wonderful everlasting life. The person and their works in this life may disappear from earth shortly after their death, but their resurrected life will go on forever.
[For more on everlasting life and how to get saved, see commentary on Rom. 10:9].
“From day to night you bring me to an end.” From “day” when things were good for Hezekiah, to “night,” when the darkness of death closes in, “you bring me to an end,” that is, you bring me to death, and death would be the end of him; he would be dead, totally lifeless and not alive in any form. See commentary on Isaiah 38:11.(top)
“I waited patiently until morning.” The meaning of the Hebrew text is debated. It could mean that Hezekiah waited patiently until morning hoping things would improve, or “waited patiently” could be more like “calmed myself.” But other scholars propose a translation like “I cried out until morning,” based on some difference in the Hebrew text. However, the Hebrew text can be understood without emendation and many translations go that way.
“he breaks all my bones like a lion.” Hezekiah was in pain, and like a lion, God was not showing him any relief or mercy.
“you will make an end of me.” Hezekiah's death would be the end of him; he would be dead, totally lifeless and not alive in any form. See commentary on Isaiah 38:11.(top)
“Support me.” The Hebrew is more like, “Be my support,” but we would say “Support me.”(top)
“What can I say? He has spoken to me, and he himself has done it.” Now Hezekiah changes from Isaiah 38:14 when he was sick, to Isaiah 38:15 when he is healed. And what can Hezekiah say about this? God spoke through the prophet Isaiah that Hezekiah would be healed, and he was. God spoke it and did it.
“I will walk carefully all my years.” Hezekiah says that he will walk before God “carefully,” meaning with humility and obedience, throughout the rest of his life because of his near-death experience and the bitterness of soul that he experienced when he was sick. Many people change their life quite drastically when they come close to death, and with good reason. Many people ignore Judgment Day as if it will never happen, but coming close to death reveals what is really important in life and what one has to do to be acceptable to God and receive a good judgment on Judgment Day. The idea of being “careful” before God is represented in the Hebrew as walking “slowly” or perhaps “quietly,” but it refers to being careful before God.
“because of the anguish my soul experienced.” The Hebrew text more literally reads “bitterness” instead of “anguish,” but that is likely to get misinterpreted by the English reader. We do not normally think of bitterness as something we experience, we think of it as something we feel—an emotion. But to Hezekiah, his sickness was a “bitter” (harsh, severe, stinging) experience. But if we read in the Bible that Hezekiah walked carefully “because of the bitterness of my soul,” we think that Hezekiah was bitter about his sickness, which is not what the text is saying. While it is true that when Hezekiah was sick he would have had some bitter feelings about dying at a young age, that is not what the Bible is saying in this verse. The Bible is saying that Hezekiah lived carefully before God because of the anguish of the experience he had in the past when he was sick. The reader is supposed to recognize that Hezekiah’s sickness was past and he was recovered when he spoke the words recorded in Isaiah 38:15, and that should be communicated in the translation. So the REV nuances the English translation from the more literal Hebrew “because of the bitterness of my soul” to “because of the anguish my soul experienced.”(top)
|Isa 38:16||- (top)|
“you have delivered my soul from the pit of oblivion.” Hezekiah was told he would die, but then prayed and God answered his prayer by saying he would live 15 more years. So Hezekiah said, “you have delivered my soul from the pit of oblivion.” This is one of the many verses of Scripture that shows that when a person dies they do not go to “heaven,” or “Hell” or to any other place, they are dead, lifeless. Hezekiah described it as “the pit [grave] of oblivion” because when a person dies they cease to exist as a person. They are dead in every way and form, and will not live again until the resurrection. The word “soul” here is equivalent to “self,” and thus the text means, “you have delivered me.” However, the way the text is worded it does also show that when a person dies, their “soul” is dead as well as their body.
The Hebrew word translated “oblivion” is beley (#01097 בְּלִי), and it typically is used of a negation, such as “un-” in “untouched” or “-less,” in “nameless.” It is used when something wears out to nothing, or ceases, or is destroyed. Although some versions translate the phrase as “pit of destruction” (CSB; ESV; NIV), that is not really accurate because the person was destroyed when they died, not destroyed while dead. The translation “pit of nothingness” (NASB; NJB; cp. CJB), is accurate but hard to grasp in English, whereas “the pit of oblivion” (NET; REV) catches the sense of the Hebrew and is easy to understand. Once dead, people know nothing and do nothing. If God did not know them and remember them and in the future resurrect them from the dead, they would be in, and remain in, nothingness, in oblivion, and what Paul said would be absolutely true: “if Christ has not been raised, your trust is pointless; you are still in your sins. Then also, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor 15:17-18).
[For information on the dead being dead until the resurrection, see Appendix 4: “The Dead are Dead.” For more on “Sheol” referring to the state of being dead, see commentary on Rev. 20:13. For more on the resurrections, see commentary on Acts 24:15. For more on the soul not being immortal but dying when the person dies, see Appendix 7, “Usages of ‘Soul’”].(top)
|Isa 38:18||- (top)|
|Isa 38:19||- (top)|
|Isa 38:20||- (top)|
|Isa 38:21||- (top)|
|Isa 38:22||- (top)|