Isaiah 38 Click here for Bible Verses
There are so many powerful lessons we can learn from today’s passage in Isaiah 38. Let’s go!
Isaiah 38:1-2 (NIV)
1 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD,
On verses 1-2: After receiving some grim news that he will soon die, Hezekiah turns his face to the wall and prays to the LORD. You may be facing a wall right now as well, but you can pray to the LORD who is greater than that wall you are facing.
Isaiah 38:3 (NIV)
3 “Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
On verse 3: Hezekiah appeals not to the mercy of God but to the memory of God. He doesn’t want to die right now. Scholars say that at this time Hezekiah is probably about 39 years old. Back then people associated a king’s long life with God’s blessing and associated a short life with sin. Of course, when you consider Stephen in Acts, Abel in Genesis, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ himself, these were some of the most God-honouring individuals whose lives were cut short, showing that how many years you have on this earth is hardly ever an indicator of how spiritual or good you are. Still, Hezekiah felt like it was sad and unfair that he would die so young, especially considering that he was a much more God-centered, God-honouring king than any king before him (2 Kings 18:5-6). His was an honest prayer to God.
Isaiah 38:4-5 (NIV)
4 Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah:
5 “Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life.
On verses 4-5: Once again we see the difference that prayer makes. God specifically wants Hezekiah to know that He has heard Hezekiah’s prayer and as a result will give him 15 more years.
What can we learn from this?
– God cares for people individually.
– God is not removed from our suffering. He hears your every prayer and sees your every tear.
– Did God change His mind? 1 Samuel 15:29 says that “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.” So what happened here? Why did God at first tell Hezekiah that he was going to die and then add 15 years to his life after he heard Hezekiah’s prayer? I believe it was always within God’s mind to let Hezekiah live longer. Some think God was testing Hezekiah, and likely so. Because God stands outside of time and space and sees things from every vantage point, I don’t believe God was necessarily reacting and unexpectedly changing course once He heard Hezekiah’s prayer. Rather, in God’s sovereignty God has chosen to create a universe where our choices matter. In other words, our choices do lead to real consequences and yet God is still able to incorporate our choices and their consequences into His plans such that His original purposes are always fulfilled. Though it is tough for finite humans like us to understand the mechanics of how that all works, the Bible teaches that God is sovereign (in control) and that we are also free to make our own choices. Mysteriously both of those things – God’s sovereignty and our free will – are real.
Isaiah 38:6 (NIV)
6 And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city.
On verse 6: This verse, combined with verse 1 of chapter 39, suggests that the events of this chapter 38 came before the events of chapters 36-37. Why does Isaiah put them in this order? Why describe the way God responded to Hezekiah’s prayer to deliver Jerusalem in chapters 36-37 and then flashback to an earlier time when God healed Hezekiah? We’ll look at that tomorrow when we unpack chapter 39.
Isaiah 38:7-8 (NIV)
7 “‘This is the LORD’s sign to you that the LORD will do what he has promised:
8 I will make the shadow cast by the sun go back the ten steps it has gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.'” So the sunlight went back the ten steps it had gone down.
On verses 7-8: Some scholars believe that the stairway of Ahaz was a staircase-like structure that was used to tell time, like a sundial. If that is the case, then the LORD miraculously causing the sun’s shadow to go back 10 steps on the stairway of Ahaz was likely God’s way of saying to Hezekiah: I’m going to turn back time and put an extra 15 years on your clock.
How exactly did God cause the sun’s shadow to go backwards? We don’t know. Some suggest that this was a matter of optical refraction which sometimes causes people to see, for example, two suns. However way it happened, we know that if anyone can do it, God can. If there is a good, rational basis to believe that God could make the greatest miracle of the Bible – i.e. the creation of this universe out of nothing – could happen, then it is not irrational to believe that God could make something smaller, like the sun’s shadow going back, happen as well.
Isaiah 38:9-14 (NIV)
9 A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah after his illness and recovery:
10 I said, “In the prime of my life must I go through the gates of death and be robbed of the rest of my years?”
11 I said, “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.
12 Like a shepherd’s tent my house 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 of me.
13 I waited patiently till dawn, but like a lion he broke all my bones; day and night you made an end of me.
14 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 aid!”
On verses 9-14: Back in Hezekiah’s time, Jews generally believed that after you die, at the end of time there will be a general resurrection of all believers. However, in the meantime between death and that end time resurrection, a dead person’s soul would be stuck in a place called Sheol. “Sheol” (which means “empty or hollow”) was thought to be this grey, weary, unappealing place lacking purpose and joy, a place where souls just wait like at a bus stop or a doctor’s office. So the idea of going immediately to “Sheol” or the idea of an end time resurrection that was so far away was little comfort for those who were facing death. That is why here in verses 9-14, Hezekiah, writing 7 centuries before Jesus, speaks of how desperate and hopeless he felt as he faced death. Unlike his ancestor King David (Psalm 16:10-11), King Hezekiah had no hope of eternal life (v11).
However, you and I don’t need to face death with such despair the way that Hezekiah did. That is because Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave give us a new understanding and hope concerning what happens after we die. If you have trusted Jesus as your Saviour, when you die, you don’t go to a place called “Sheol” and just wait there for an indefinite period of time. Rather, when you die, your spirit and soul immediately go to heaven to be with Jesus, leaving your earthly body behind. (As Jesus said to his criminal who was crucified beside him, “Today you will be with me in paradise”.) One day, when Jesus comes again, He will give us new resurrection bodies to go along with our spirits and souls in heaven (1 Corinthians 15).
With that in mind, you could say that there are 3 stages in a Christian’s existence: (1) present in the body but away from the Lord (life on earth); (2) present with the Lord but away from the body (life in heaven before Jesus returns); (3) present with the Lord with a new resurrected body (life in God’s kingdom after Jesus returns). Pastor David Pawson would say about these 3 stages, “It is good here, it is better there, it is best then,” while for the unbeliever, the experience is the opposite: “it’s bad here, worse there and worst then.”
Isaiah 38:15-20 (NIV)
15 But what can I say? He has spoken to me, and he himself has done this. I will walk humbly all my years because of this anguish of my soul.
16 Lord, by such things men live; and my spirit finds life in them too. You restored me to health and let me live.
17 Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.
18 For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness.
19 The living, the living–they praise you, as I am doing today; fathers tell their children about your faithfulness.
20 The LORD will save me, and we will sing with stringed instruments all the days of our lives in the temple of the LORD.
On verses 15-20: Having experienced God’s healing, Hezekiah responds by saying “I will walk humbly [literally, walk slowly] all my years because of this anguish of my soul”. In other words, after going through this ordeal, Hezekiah would cherish every day of his life so much more. In these verses Hezekiah expresses how the pain he went through (“anguish” as he calls it in verse 15 and 17) actually had its benefits.
What can we learn from this? God always has a purpose in the pain we experience, and He will ultimately use it to benefit us rather than to harm us, if we would have a teachable, humble attitude toward Him.
Isaiah 38:21 (NIV)
21 Isaiah had said, “Prepare a poultice of figs and apply it to the boil, and he will recover.”
On verse 21: While we don’t know the exact disease that Hezekiah suffered from, we do know that his sickness had something to do with a boil. Most likely it was an infected boil that had caused sepsis throughout his entire body. To bring about Hezekiah’s healing, God uses a “poultice of figs”, which is a mushy fig mixture that would be applied to the boil on Hezekiah’s skin. Some scholars believe that this poultice of fix was a common medical compound used to extract infections.
What can we learn from this? There are times when God will use natural means to accomplish a supernatural end. As Pastor Gary Hamrick says, if God could use a fig newton to heal Hezekiah, then we should not shun doctors or medicine. God is always the ultimate healer, and He can use various means as He chooses to bring about that healing.
Isaiah 38:22 (NIV)
22 Hezekiah had asked, “What will be the sign that I will go up to the temple of the LORD?”
On verse 22: Some find that verse 22 is awkwardly placed here, since Isaiah already talked about God giving Hezekiah a sign in verses 7-8. Thus they conclude that verse 22 must have been added later. However, in verse 22 Hezekiah is quite possibly asking about a different sign than verses 7-8. In verses 7-8 God tells Hezekiah about a sign to show that he will live another 15 years. In verse 22 Hezekiah is asking about a sign to show that he will not only recover and live, but also worship in the temple again. That is because even after being healed of his skin disease, Hezekiah would still need to wait for a priest to declare him to be clean and ready to rejoin the assembly of worshippers (Leviticus 13:6-28). So Hezekiah is wondering if there will be a sign to signify that later event. Notice that Hezekiah didn’t just want to be healed physically of his disease; he wanted to be restored to his worship community, his “church”.
What can we learn from this? The full restoration God wants to bring you isn’t just about your body healing; even more it is about your spirit being able to worship God with others again. You’re not fully alive until you’re worshiping God with others. For God made you for more than just a healthy body. He made you for healthy relationships with God and people.
Father, thank You that because of Jesus I have the hope of eternal life with You and hope of heaven right after I die. Since real life is not just about having a healthy body but about worshiping You with others, I pray I would never take for granted the time You give me to worship You with my church family. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!