You Have Put All My Sins Behind Your Back

38: 9-22

   DIG: In this song of Hezekiah, what images does he use to talk about death? What aspect of death and dying do they each convey? To what does he credit his temporary deliverance from death? What part has divine forgiveness played in his healing? What resolve does he make in light of that deliverance? What does Hezekiah’s psalm here have in common with Psalm 88? What can be concluded from these poems about views concerning the afterlife in the TaNaKh?

   REFLECT: Hezekiah realized his illness and his deliverance were both from ADONAI. What does it mean to you that suffering is part of the LORD’s plan for you? What role does suffering serve in your life? Hezekiah viewed life as a gift from God to be used for his purposes. How will this affect how you will live out your numbered days?

    After he was healed, Hezekiah wrote a song to express his thankfulness to ADONAI. At that time, there was a great welling up of praise in his heart. His song of praise was evidently set to music and sung. This psalm of thanksgiving is outside the book of Psalms (although many believe that Hezekiah composed Psalm 116 at that time), and makes two important points. First, even the most powerful are helpless before death. And second, Hezekiah is not the promised Messiah. Chapters 40 to 66 will speak to that. Therefore, this psalm serves to emphasize Hezekiah’s humanness more than his deliverance. In a larger sense, the same can be true of Judah and Jerusalem. Saved, yes, but most certainly human.

    Hezekiah did not claim to be infallible or perfect. His mention of God’s putting away his sins (38:17) is evidence enough of that. But he is saying on a conscious, intentional level, that he has kept his promises to ADONAI. This is the meaning of walking faithfully with wholehearted devotion. He had not willingly deceived the LORD or others. He had been careful about what he promised and had found the grace of God to keep his promises. The Hebrew concept of the heart is the control panel of life, where thought, affection, and will come together. The Hebrews did not separate these three aspects of human personality, as if they each function independently of each other. Hezekiah said that as far as it was up to him, his heart had been focused on only one thing: serving, pleasing and obeying ADONAI.

    Every believer should aspire to have the same testimony on our deathbed that Hezekiah had. To be sure, we live in an increasingly broken and corrupt society, where it is not as easy to be faithful and to have an undivided hearts as it may have been for some of our ancestors. But if ever there was a broken and corrupt society, it was the one in which Hezekiah lived. Shall we today, the children of God, live below the standard of Hezekiah?146

    A writing of Hezekiah, king of Judah, after his illness and recovery (38:9). This sounds very familiar to the titles of many of the Psalms. This psalm might be headed A Michtam (NKJ) of Hezekiah since it has the characteristics of A Michtam of David in Psalm 16. It was composed after his illness as a psalm of thanksgiving. Like Psalms 88 and 89, it has words and phrases that sound like those in the book of Job.

    The first part of the psalm is a lament. Hezekiah said: In the prime of my life must I go through the gates of death and be robbed of the rest of my years? He thought to himself, "I will not again see the LORD, the LORD in the land of the living; no longer will I look on mankind or be with those who now dwell in this world" (38:10-11). He said his illness came in the prime of his life and he was facing death at the age of 39. Notice the expression the gates of Sh'ol or death. The gates of death is a figure of speech for physical death. That is what Christ meant when He said: and the gates of Hades (Matthew 16:18b). Hades is the Greek name for the place of departed spirits, generally equivalent to the Hebrew word Sh'ol. It is also found in Job 38:17 and Psalms 9:13, 107:18. When he says he would not see the LORD in the land of the living, he is expressing what he will miss at death. This expression has the meaning of not being able to appear before ADONAI in public worship at the Temple. It is a figure of speech used in Psalm 11:7 and 17:15.

    Like a shepherd’s tent my house, literally encampment, has been pulled down and taken from me. Like a weaver I have rolled up my life and He has cut me off from the loom; day and night you made an end to me (38:12). Here the poet uses two graphic similes that are both figures of death. One of these was the removal of a shepherd’s tent. Like a tent that was moved from one place to another, so his life was to be removed from one place to another. A second figure was a thread cut from a loom. When a fabric is finished, it is cut off from the loom, and so is Hezekiah’s life.

    Hoping to get well was in vain because he got nothing but worse. I waited patiently till dawn, but like a lion He broke all my bones; day and night you make an end of me. I cried like a swift or thrush, I moaned like a mourning dove. My eyes grew weak as I looked to the heavens. I am troubled; O LORD, come to my aide (38:13-14)! He groaned all night for help, but his illness was like a lion breaking all his bones between his powerful jaws (Job 3:23-26). At night there seemed no hope at all and he was afraid that he would not see the light of day. Step by step, his life was ebbing away. In some way his cries of pain sounded like a bird and his moaning like the cooing of a mourning dove (Isaiah 59:11 and Nahum 2:7). As the hours went by, he looked up to the heavens for help for so long that his eyes grew weak. Why continue to hope? Hezekiah knew, and we should know, that although God may be the One who sometimes crushes our bones, He is also the only One who cares enough to save us. Hezekiah looked to his “oppressor” to deliver him. Simon Peter knew this instinctively when he said: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68).

    The second part is a psalm of praise and its tone changes as Hezekiah looks forward to the joy of his recovery. God has spoken and answered his prayer. But what can I say? He Himself has spoken to me, and He Himself has done this. I will walk humbly in all my years because of the anguish of my soul (38:15). Here Hezekiah says he will be able to appear before the LORD in public worship. That was one of the things he said he was going to miss if he died. These things I remember as I pour out my soul; how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God (Psalm 42:4). That was the desire of his heart.

    ADONAI, by such things men live; and my spirit finds life in them, too. There is a lesson here for everyone. By such things, by suffering bathed in prayer, by the LORD’s answer to prayer, and by responding commitment. Here is a way of life that all should practice. Hezekiah could vouch for it in his own experience. His spirit found life and vigor as a result. He could say: When I called out in weakness for Your strength, You restored me to health and let me live (38:16).

    Hezekiah said: Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction (38:17). He was saying that he had been kept from the grave or physical death by a physical healing. The special mode of capture referred to in this text is by means of the pit. A hole is dug in the ground, and covered over with the branches of trees and with sod. The animal treading on this slight covering falls into the pit, where it is either taken out alive or killed by the hunters on their arrival.147 Hezekiah affirms that God is his strength and was grateful that ADONAI restored him to health. With hindsight, he could see that it was really for his benefit that it happened (Romans 8:28). During his illness he sensed God’s love, felt that the LORD was gracious to him by saving his life and not dealing with him as his sins deserved.

    He speaks of physical death when he says: For the grave cannot praise You, death cannot sing Your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness (38:18). Remember, under the Torah, long life was one of the promises for obedience. This isn’t necessarily true for the believer today. But to be cut short at a young age was, in the Old Covenant, a sign of divine displeasure. But progressive revelation tells us that we have more light than Hezekiah had concerning the abode of the dead. The statement death cannot sing your praise means walking in the solemn funeral procession. These verses do not teach soul sleep as the Seventh Day Adventists teach. Certainly the dead could not praise God here on earth. In heaven, yes. But not on the earth. This was one of the things he said he would miss at death.

    The living, the living – they praise you, as I am doing today; fathers tell their children about your faithfulness (38:19). In contrast to the dead, it is the living that praise Him. When he says fathers tell their children about Your faithfulness, he recognizes that now he will have sons. Manasseh, who was one of the worst kings in the history of Judah would be his son. Even for godly parents, sometimes the most fervent wishes and desires for our children do not come true. The world (First John 2:15-17), the flesh (Mark 14:38), and the devil (First Peter 5:8) are still at work. This was true, even for such a godly man as Hezekiah. But as for Hezekiah himself, God saved him. Now he hoped that he and his sons would praise ADONAI together. ADONAI will save me, and we will sing with stringed instruments all the days of our lives in the Temple of the LORD (38:20).

    Isaiah had said: Prepare a poultice of figs and apply it to the boil, and he will recover. Hezekiah had asked: What will be the sign that I will go up to the Temple of the LORD (38:21-22)? These verses are merely explanatory notes, giving background to what has already been presented in 38:7. An abbreviation, they were never intended to include earlier details given in Isaiah or in Second Kings 20:1-11. It should be noted that it was God who did the healing, but there was a human element to aid the process. Figs were placed upon the boil. According to Second Kings 20:5, Isaiah had promised Hezekiah that he would be in the Temple in three days’ time praising God. Hezekiah requested confirmation of that promise. What will be the sign that ADONAI will heal me and that I will go up to the Temple of the LORD three days from now? God’s response was the backward movement of the sun’s shadow, suggesting both reprieve from the darkness of death and increased time for life.148

    When Hezekiah asked for a sign, he was not “testing” God in a negative sense such as in Deuteronomy 6:16 or Matthew 4:7. He was not doubting God and, therefore, demanding proof. That kind of testing is forbidden (Malachi 3:15; Matthew 12:39; John 6:30). But it is not contrary to the will of God to ask for confirmation (Isaiah 10:7; Judges 6:36-40; Malachi 3:10). The LORD delights in revealing His will to those of faith, as He did to Hezekiah.

    It is interesting to note that in generations to come, Jacob Joseph Mordecai and others would compare Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. But even after fifteen additional years of life, the death of one-hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrian troops, and the death of Sennacherib, ultimately, Judah’s efforts to break free from Assyria failed. After Hezekiah’s death, his son (the wicked Manasseh 688-642 BC) returned to the pro-Assyrian policy (under Esarheddon 681-669 BC and Ashurbanipal 669-633 BC) of his grandfather Ahaz. No, Hezekiah was not the promised child of 7:14 and 9:56 (see Iy – The Death of the Suffering Servant).


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