The King of Babylon Sent Hezekiah a Gift

39: 1-8

   DIG: What treasure was Hezekiah showing off? Why was he strutting his stuff (see Second Chronicles 32:22-25)? How does this puffed up Hezekiah compare with the Hezekiah in 37:20 and 38:15-19? What happened in the meantime?

   REFLECT: What hero (religious or political) have you idolized? How has seeing his or her faults forced you to look again to Yeshua as the model for your life? Is it harder for you to be faithful during times of hardship, or times of success? Why?

    While the previous chapter presented Hezekiah in both a positive and negative light, Chapter 39 is entirely negative. Hezekiah, like Jerusalem, is too easily seduced by the world. Trust, faith, and belief in ADONAI is a way of life, not a one-time affair. The source of our hope cannot lie in sinful humanity. Well intentioned, but entirely human. No, if there is hope for us it must come from Someone greater. Given that God may be trusted, what then? Given that one-time trust is not enough, how is a life of continuous trust possible? Given that the best of God’s people fail, where is our hope?149

    Chapters 38 and 39 form a suitable introduction to Chapters 40 to 66, which largely describe Judah’s future relationship with the Babylonians. But more than that, these chapters point us to the blessed Hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ the Messiah (Titus 3:13). Here Hezekiah receives a Babylonian embassy with gifts. Isaiah announces that all that he and his royal ancestors had accumulated, and his children, would be carried off by the king of Babylon. This section is written in prose. A parallel passage for this is Second Kings 20:12-19 and Second Chronicles 32:24-31.

    At that time Merodach-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters (probably encouraging Hezekiah to join Babylon in rebellion against Assyria) and a gift, because he had heard of his illness and recovery (Second Kings 20:12; Isaiah 39:1). Merodach means a rebel, and Baladan means not the LORD. Behind that king, of course, was Nimrod (see my commentary on Genesis Di – The Line of Ham), and Satan, who is the archrebel of ADONAI and who is the god of this world (Second Corinthians 4:4). Merodach-Baladan heard that Hezekiah was ill and sent him a gift. Wasn’t that nice of him? But he had ulterior motives with the delegation that came to visit Hezekiah. Meradach-Baladan had captured Babylon and had ruled from the year 721 BC to 710 BC. But then Sargon II drove him out. Meradach-Baladan later recaptured Babylon and reigned for nine months from the years 704 BC to 703 BC. Then Sennacherib drove him out again.

    This delegation takes place when he is ruling Babylon for the second time from 704 BC to 703 BC. He was also getting ready to revolt against Assyria and the delegation was sent to involve Hezekiah and Judah in the plot against Sennacherib. This made Hezekiah’s lack of discretion all the worse because of Isaiah’s prophecy that God was using Assyria to punish Judah. It will lead to the crisis in Chapters 36 and 37. So in that sense Chapters 38 and 39 lead up to the events of Chapters 36 and 37. Merodach-Baladan’s visit preceded Sennacherib’s planned attack of Jerusalem in 701. Therefore, these three events happened in this order: Hezekiah’s illness, then Merodach-Baladan’s visit, and finally Sennacherib’s planned attack.

    After Hezekiah was restored to health (Gy – Hezekiah Became Ill and Was at the Point of Death), he became rather proud and arrogant. In the book of Chronicles, which describes God’s viewpoint of history, we are told: But Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore, the LORD’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem (Second Chronicles 32:25).

    Instead of reading the letter that Merodach-Baladan had sent him, and spreading it out before ADONAI like he had done with Sennacherib (37:14), he put it aside. The Babylonians had flattered him and so he gave them the VIP treatment. He took them on a tour of the grounds of Jerusalem. His pride got in the way of his discernment. He had a perfect opportunity to glorify the LORD before the pagan Babylonians, to tell of His greatness and of His grace. Instead, he gave in to the temptation to glorify himself and prove to the Babylonians that he would be a worthy ally in their rebellion against Assyria.

    Hezekiah received the envoys gladly and showed them what was in his storehouses – the silver, the gold, the spices, the fine oil, his entire armory and everything found among his treasures. At this time, Hezekiah still had the riches that David and Solomon had gathered. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show him (39:2). He be been glad to have the support of Babylon against the looming Assyrian threat. Instead of trusting God, Hezekiah trusted in Babylon and all the wealth of Judah. This was exactly what the first half of the book is warning against. The Gentile nations could not and should not be trusted. However, in pride, Hezekiah showed the Babylonian envoys everything of value in his storehouses, palace, and kingdom (Second Chronicles 32:27-30). It was as if he thought those riches belonged to him instead of ADONAI. The scene was very humiliating. It depicts Hezekiah running around showing off the wealth of God before the politely approving Babylonians, who in fact had wealth many more times over in their own storehouses back in Babylon. Trusting in the riches of the LORD will deliver us from making fools of ourselves in the eyes of the world.

    Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah. The prophets of God needed no invitation to address the king, and here Isaiah arrives unannounced. When Isaiah heard of the foreigners’ visit, he asked Hezekiah what they said and where they came from (38:3a). Hezekiah answered the second of Isaiah’s questions but evaded the first, apparently conscious of the prophet’s objection to any flirting with the Babylonian king. Hezekiah's only defense was to make it appear that he was being hospitable to these travelers and said: From a distant land, they came to me from Babylon (38:3b). A rabbinic tradition classifies Hezekiah among three persons, the others being Cain and Balaam, whom God tested and found wanting. When the prophet came and asked him: What did those men say, and where did they come from? He should have replied, “You are a prophet of the LORD to whom all secrets are known.” Instead, he made a show of his supposed greatness saying: They came to me from a distant land. He boasted that they had traveled all that distance to pay honor to him and court his friendship. On account of his arrogance and lack of faith in God, he was punished and the prophet then delivered to him an ominous message.

    But Isaiah is not taken in by Hezekiah’s deception. He moves quickly to the ominous question: What did they see in your palace? Hezekiah’s answer had a defiant ring to it: They saw everything in my palace. There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them (38:4). Along with Hezekiah’s lack of discernment there was pride. It seemed to have slipped his mind that the treasure in the Temple was God’s and not his. He was a good man and a godly king (Second Chronicles 31:20-21), but here he was painfully mortal. He needed to learn that prayer is not a last resort, but a first defense, that faith, trust, and belief are not a once-in-a-while practice, but a daily habit.

    With deadly calm the prophet announced that the possessions of Hezekiah’s pride will be taken to Babylon (Second Kings 24:13, 25:13-17; Second Chronicles 36:7-8 and Daniel 1:2). Hear the word of the LORD of heaven’s angelic army (CJB): The time will come when everything in your palace, and all that your father’s have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left (39:5-6). This sin of self-sufficiency that characterized Hezekiah and the people of Judah would eventually result in their captivity about one hundred and fifty years from the time of this prophecy. Yes, later Hezekiah would trust in the LORD and the nation would be spared destruction by the Assyrian army. But, as Isaiah could see by the inspiration of God, that attitude would only be temporary. Although Hezekiah was the ideal representative of the people, there would still be the Babylonian captivity. Although God had delivered Judah from the Assyrians, they were not delivered from Babylon. Ironically, the Babylonians, who were seducing Judah as her friend, would eventually destroy her.

    In addition to the treasure, some of Hezekiah’s children would also be taken to Babylon. (Second Kings 24:12-16; Second Chronicles 36:9-10 and Daniel 1:2). And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon (39:7). Because Hezekiah would recover, he would have sons and the unconditional divine promise of God to provide Israel forever with a godly king like David would be kept (Second Samuel 7:5-16). But some would be captives in Babylon and become the king’s eunuchs. Eunuchs were castrated men who were also employed in various offices of the court. They often became the confidential advisers of the monarch, were frequently men of great influence, and sometimes had high military office (Jeremiah 34:3). That was especially the case in Persia, where they acquired great political power, and filled positions of great prominence and sometimes engaged in conspiracy against the life of the king (Esther 2:21). The Hebrew kings had them in their courts (First Samuel 7:15; First Kings 7:9; Second Kings 8:6, 9:32, 25:19; First Chronicles 28:1; Jeremiah 29:2, 34:19, 38:7 and 52:25). Though it was the barbarous custom of eastern sovereigns to mutilate many of their young prisoners in this manner, there is not evidence that the Hebrew kings ever did this. The eunuchs employed by them are supposed to have been imported. The most famous of the Hebrew eunuch was Daniel (Daniel 1:3-7), in fulfillment of the prediction of the judgment on the house of David in Second Kings 20:17-18.150 Hezekiah’s descendants would not have any thoughts of their own line and authority, but would merely be content to serve the king of Babylon. This would be the result of generation after generation of refusal to trust in God.

    The Babylonian captivity did not occur because of Hezekiah’s failure to seize an opportunity to glorify God before the Babylonians. To be sure, it is intriguing to think of how history may have been different if he had, but that is not the point Isaiah is making. Hezekiah’s behavior is illustrative, not contributory. Why did the Babylonian captivity occur? Because the nation, like Hezekiah, saw trust as a one-time affair rather than a way of life. So Hezekiah’s reign, perhaps the best overall in Judah’s history (after the split of the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah), was followed by Manasseh’s, unquestionably the worst (Second Kings 21:10-15).

    A similar action occurs with Manasseh’s grandson Josiah. For reasons the text does not specify, Josiah had a heart for God and led his nation in a remarkable revival (Second Kings 23:1-3). Yet after his untimely death, the revival seems to have disappeared overnight, and his son Jehoiakim (after the short reign of only three months by Jehoahaz) led as cynical a regime as one could imagine. It was the people who failed to trust the LORD. They saw trust only as a means of getting their needs met. But that reduces trust into a device for manipulation. When it is used in that way, it is bound to fail, for God cannot be manipulated. The result is the same today as it was in Judah and Israel. People today merely turn to other means of manipulation to supply their needs; in Israel’s and Judah’s case it was spiritual adultery or the worship of other gods.

    Idolatry is merely an attempt to manipulate our environment in such a way as to meet our needs. Because of our sin nature, this idolatrous instinct is embedded within us. And as soon as we abandon trust in ADONAI, idolatry in one form or another is waiting in the wings. This is even more likely if we evaluate our successes in life, as Hezekiah seems to have done, by our possessions. We keep confusing the ends and means. The intended end of our lives is abundant life, the life in which the LORD's fullness is poured into ours. A by-product of that fullness is material blessing. But that is only a by-product. When we make it an end and put it forward as the evidence of our success in life, manipulation of God in order to secure that end is almost always inescapable. Manipulation and trust are incompatible.151

    The reason that Hezekiah’s heart was pure was that when he was rebuked he repented on the spot, saying: The word of the LORD you have spoken is good. Then he thought: There will be peace and security in my lifetime (39:8). Some have questioned the sincerity of this statement. But Second Chronicles 31:20-21 gives us God’s estimation of his servant. After purifying the Temple, reestablishing the celebration of the Passover and the worship of ADONAI in the kingdom, God the Holy Spirit inspired the author of the Chronicles to write this: This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God. In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered. For an evaluation of Hezekiah’s illness, turn to Second Chronicles 32:24-26 and 31.

    Because of God’s estimation of Hezekiah we must not then be cynical and think that he was merely relieved that he was not going to be destroyed when responding to Isaiah in this verse. No, we must conclude that although Hezekiah desired prosperity for his descendants it would have been disingenuous of him to begrudge the mercy of the LORD in delaying judgment. ADONAI is merciful in that He is postponing the calamity until after Hezekiah’s death. Hezekiah acknowledges his error and submits to God’s will, but see in the deferment of the punishment evidence of His mercy to him.

    Therefore, on the one hand, Hezekiah submits with humility to the word of the LORD through His prophet Isaiah, and feels that he has been mercifully spared inasmuch as God’s blessing of peace and stability would continue. But on the other hand, the same fate that hung over the northern kingdom of Israel eight years earlier by Assyria, was now hanging over the southern kingdom of Judah by Babylon. As a result, the end of the kingdom of Israel and the beginning of the end of the kingdom of Judah coincided during the reign of Hezekiah.

    The message of Isaiah does not end here. Several questions have been answered. Yes, ADONAI is sovereign over the nations. Yes, the LORD's counsel and wisdom is superior to human leaders. Yes, the LORD delivered Jerusalem from Assyria. Yes, God is a Promise Keeper and can be trusted. But there are still questions to be answered. How can a sinful people become the servants of God? It is clear that He is trustworthy, but getting sinful humans to trust him is another matter altogether, as Chapter 39 makes clear. What will motivate us to trust Him? How can our sinfulness and His holiness be reconciled? How can sinful and rebellious Jacob become holy, and Israel submissive (Genesis 32:28)? Trust God? Yes, but how? Chapters 40 to 66 provide that answer.

 

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