Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
4 Kings (2 Kings) 20:1
Hezekiah's Illness and Recovery. - Compare the parallel account in Isa 38 with Hezekiah's psalm of thanksgiving for his recovery (Isa 38:9-20 of Isaiah).
"In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death." By the expression "in those days" the illness of Hezekiah is merely assigned in a general manner to the same time as the events previously described. That it did not occur after the departure of the Assyrians, but at the commencement of the invasion of Sennacherib, i.e., in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah's reign, is evident from Kg2 20:6, namely, both from the fact that in answer to his prayer fifteen years more of life were promised him, and that he nevertheless reigned only twenty-nine years (Kg2 18:2), and also from the fact that God promised to deliver him out of the hand of the Assyrians and to defend Jerusalem. The widespread notion that his sickness was an attack of plague, and was connected with the pestilence which had broken out in the Assyrian camp, is thereby deprived of its chief support, apart from the fact that the epithet (שׁחין (Kg2 20:7), which is applied to the sickness, does not indicate pestilence. Isaiah then called upon him to set his house in order. לביתך צו: set thy house in order, lit., command or order with regard to thy house, not declare thy (last) will to thy family (Ges., Knob.), for צוּה is construed with the accus. pers. in the sense of commanding anything, whereas here ל is synonymous with אל (Sa2 17:23). "For thou wilt die and not live;" i.e., thy sickness is to death, namely, without the miraculous help of God. Sickness to death in the very prime of life (Hezekiah was then in the fortieth year of his age) appeared to the godly men of the Old Testament a sign of divine displeasure. Hezekiah was therefore greatly agitated by this announcement, and sought for consolation and help in prayer. He turned his face to the wall, sc. of the room, not of the temple (Chald.), i.e., away from those who were standing round, to be able to pray more collectedly.
In his prayer he appealed to his walking before the Lord in truth and with a thoroughly devoted heart, and to his acting in a manner that was well-pleasing to God, in perfect accordance with the legal standpoint of the Old Testament, which demanded of the godly righteousness of life according to the law. This did not imply by any means a self-righteous trust in his own virtue; for walking before God with a thoroughly devoted heart was impossible without faith. "And Hezekiah wept violently," not merely at the fact that he was to die without having an heir to the throne, since Manasseh was not born till three years afterwards (Joseph., Ephr. Syr., etc.), but also because he was to die in the very midst of his life, since God had promised long life to the righteous.
This prayer of the godly king was answered immediately. Isaiah had not gone out of the midst of the city, when the word of the Lord came to him to return to the king, and tell him that the Lord would cure him in three days and add fifteen years to his life, and that He would also deliver him from the power of the Assyrians and defend Jerusalem. התּיּכנה העיר, the middle city, i.e., the central portion of the city, namely, the Zion city, in which the royal citadel stood. The Keri הת חצר, the central court, not of the temple, but of the royal citadel, which is adopted in all the ancient versions, is nothing more than an interpretation of the עיר as denoting the royal castle, after the analogy of Kg2 10:25. The distinct assurance added to the promise "I will heal thee," viz., "on the third day thou wilt go into the house of the Lord," was intended as a pledge to the king of the promised cure. The announcement that God would add fifteen years to his life is not put into the prophet's mouth ex eventu (Knobel and others); for the opinion that distinct statements as to time are at variance with the nature of prophecy is merely based upon an a priori denial of the supernatural character of prophecy. The words, "and I will deliver thee out of the hand of the Assyrians," imply most distinctly that the Assyrian had only occupied the land and threatened Jerusalem, and had not yet withdrawn. The explanation given by Vitringa and others, that the words contain simply a promise of deliverance out of the hand of the oppressor for the next fifteen years, puts a meaning into them which they do not contain, as is clearly shown by Isa 37:20, where this thought is expressed in a totally different manner. וגו על־העיר וגנּותי ע: as in Kg2 19:34, where the prophet repeated this divine promise in consequence of the attempt of Sennacherib to get Jerusalem into his power.
Isaiah ordered a lump of figs to be laid upon the boil, and Hezekiah recovered (ויּחי: he revived again). It is of course assumed as self-evident, that Isaiah returned to the king in consequence of a divine revelation, and communicated to him the word of the Lord which he had received.
(Note: The account is still more abridged in the text of Isaiah. In Kg2 20:4 the precise time of the prayer is omitted; in Kg2 20:5 the words, "behold, I will cure thee, on the third day thou shalt go into the house of the Lord;" and in Kg2 20:6 the words, "for mine own sake and my servant David's sake." The four Kg2 20:8-11, which treat of the miraculous signs, are also very much contracted in Isaiah (Isa 38:7 and Isa 38:8); and Kg2 20:7 and Kg2 20:8 of our text are only given at the close of Hezekiah's psalm of praise in that of Isaiah (Isa 38:21 and Isa 38:22).)
תּאנים דּבלת is a mass consisting of compressed figs, which the ancients were in the habit of applying, according to many testimonies (see Celsii Hierob. ii. p. 373), in the case of plague-boils and abscesses of other kinds, because the fig διαφορεῖ σκληρίας (Dioscor.) and ulcera aperit (Plin.), and which is still used for softening ulcers. שׁחין, an abscess, is never used in connection with plague or plague-boils, but only to denote the abscesses caused by leprosy (Job 2:7-8), and other abscesses of an inflammatory kind (Exo 9:9.). In the case of Hezekiah it is probably a carbuncle that is intended.
After the allusion to the cure and recovery of Hezekiah, we have an account in Kg2 20:8. of the sign by which Isaiah confirmed the promise given to the king of the prolongation of his life. In the order of time the contents of Kg2 20:7 follow Kg2 20:11, since the prophet in all probability first of all disclosed the divine promise to the king, and then gave him the sign, and after that appointed the remedy and had it applied. At the same time, it is also quite possible that he first of all directed the lump of figs to be laid upon the boil, and then made known to him the divine promise, and guaranteed it by the sign. In this case ויּחי merely anticipates the order of events. The sign which Isaiah gave to the king, at his request, consisted in the miraculous movement of the shadow backward upon the sundial of Ahaz.
הצּל הלך: "the shadow is gone ten degrees, if it should go back ten degrees?" The rendering, visne umbram solarii decem gradibus progredi an ... regredi, which Maurer still gives after the Vulgate, vis an ut ascendat ... an ut revertatur, cannot be grammatically reconciled with the perfect הלך, and is merely a conjecture founded upon the answer of Hezekiah.
(Note: Hitzig and Knobel would therefore read הלך, though without furnishing any proofs that the inf. abs. is used for the future in the first clause of a double question, especially if the ה interrog. is wanting, and there is no special emphasis upon the verbal idea.)
According to this answer, "it is easy for the shadow to decline (i.e., to go farther down) ten degrees; no (sc., that shall not be a sign to me), but if the shadow turn ten degrees backwards," Isaiah seems to have given the king a choice as to the sign, namely, whether the shadow should go ten degrees forward or backward. But this does not necessarily follow from the words quoted. Hezekiah may have understood the prophet's words וגו הצּל הלך hypothetically: "has the shadow gone (advanced) ten degrees, whether it should," etc.; and may have replied, the advance of the shadow would not be a sure sign to him, but only its going back.
Isaiah then prayed to the Lord, and the Lord "turned back the shadow (caused it to go back) upon the sun-dial, where it had gone down, on the sundial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward." אחז מעלות cannot be understood, as it has been by the lxx, Joseph., Syr., as referring to a flight of steps at the palace of Ahaz, which was so arranged that the shadow of an object standing near indicated the hours, but is no doubt a gnomon, a sun-dial which Ahaz may have received from Babylonia, where sun-dials were discovered (Herod. ii. 109). Nothing further can be inferred from the words with regard to its construction, since the ancients had different kinds of sun-dials (cf. Martini Abhandlung von den Sonnenuhren der Alten, Lpz. 1777). The word מעלות steps in the literal sense, is transferred to the scala, which the shadow had to traverse both up and down upon the disk of the sun-dial, and is used both to denote the separate degrees of this scala, and also for the sum-total of these scala, i.e., for the sun-dial itself, without there being any necessity to assume that it was an obelisk-like pillar erected upon an elevated place with steps running round it (Knobel), or a long portable scale of twice ten steps with a gnomon (Gumpach, Alttestl. Studien, pp. 181ff.). All that follows from the descent of the shadow is that the dial of the gnomon was placed in a vertical direction; and the fact that the shadow went ten degrees down or backward, simply presupposes that the gnomon had at least twenty degrees, and therefore that the degrees indicated smaller portions of time than hours. If, then, it is stated in Kg2 20:8 of Isaiah that the sun went back ten degrees, whereas the going back of the shadow had been previously mentioned in agreement with our text, it is self-evident that the sun stands for the shining of the sun which was visible upon the dial-plate, and which made the shadow recede. We are not, of course, to suppose that the sun in the sky and the shadow on the sun-dial went back at the same time, as Knobel assumes. So far as the miracle is concerned, the words of the text do not require that we should assume that the sun receded, or the rotation of the earth was reversed, as Eph. Syr. and others supposed, but simply affirm that there was a miraculous movement backward of the shadow upon the dial, which might be accounted for from a miraculous refraction of the rays of the sun, effected by God at the prophet's prayer, of which slight analoga are met with in the ordinary course of nature.
(Note: As, for example, the phenomenon quoted by several commentators, which was observed at Metz in Lothringen in the year 1703 by the prior of the convent there, P. Romuald, and other persons, viz., that the shadow of a sun-dial went back an hour and a half. - The natural explanation of the miracle which is given by Thenius, who attributes it to an eclipse of the sun, needs no refutation. - For the different opinions of the earlier theologians, see Carpzov, Apparat. crit. p. 351ff.)
This miraculous sign was selected as a significant one in itself, to confirm the promise of a fresh extension of life which had been given to Hezekiah by the grace of God in opposition to the natural course of things. The retrograde movement of the shadow upon the sun-dial indicated that Hezekiah's life, which had already arrived at its close by natural means, was to be put back by a miracle of divine omnipotence, so that it might continue for another series of years.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 20:12
The Babylonian embassy, and Hezekiah's imprudence (cf. Isa 39:1-8). - Kg2 20:12. "At that time Berodach Baladan, king of Babel, sent a letter and a present to Hezekiah, because he had heard that Hezekiah was sick." By ההיא בּעת the arrival of these ambassadors is merely assigned in the most general manner to the period following Hezekiah's recovery. But from the object of their mission, it is evident that they did not arrive in Jerusalem till after the overthrow and departure of Sennacherib, and therefore at least half a year after Hezekiah's recovery. The ostensible reason given is, that Berodach Baladan had heard of Hezekiah's illness, and therefore sent to congratulate him on his recovery; but in Ch2 32:31 the further reason is mentioned, that he wished to inquire concerning the miracle upon the sun-dial. But, as Josephus has shown, the true object, no doubt, was to make sure of Hezekiah's friendship in anticipation of his intended revolt from the Assyrian rule. Berodach Baladan, for Merodach Baladan (Isa.), with the labial changed, is the same person as the Marodach Baladan who reigned in Babylon for six months, according to Alex. Polyhistor, or rather Berosus (Euseb. Chr. armen. i. pp. 42, 43), and was slain by Elibus, and also the same as the Mardokempad who reigned, according to the Can. Ptol., from 26 to 38 aer. Nab., i.e., from 721 to 709 b.c. The first part of the name, מרדך, occurs in Jer 50:2 in connection with Bel as the name of a Babylonian idol; and the whole name is found on a cylinder (in the British Museum) which contains the first expeditions of Sennacherib against Babylon and Media, and upon the inscriptions at Khorsabad spelt either Merodak-pal-dsana (according to Brandis, Ueber der Gewinn, pp. 44 and 53) or Marduk bal iddin (according to Oppert).
(Note: Compare M. v. Niebuhr, Gesch. Ass. p. 40; and with regard to the chronological differences, on account of which many have called in question the identity of Merodach Baladan either with the Marudach-Baladan of Berosus or with the Mardokempad of the Can. Ptol., see the discussion of this point at pp. 75ff.)
Instead of שׁמע כּי we have ויּשׁמע in Isaiah, which is not so clear, though it is probably more original; whereas the clause in Isaiah, ויּחזק חלה כּי, "that he had been sick and had become strengthened, i.e., well again," is simply an elucidation of the הזקיּהוּ חלה כּי of our text, in which the recovery is implied in the pluperfect "had been sick."
In Kg2 20:13 ויּשׁמע is apparently a copyist's error for ויּשׂמח of Isaiah, which many of the codd. and ancient versions have even in our text. At the same time, the construction of שׁמע with על is also found in Kg2 22:13. - עליהם, concerning them, i.e., the ambassadors who had brought the letter and the present. In his delight at the honour paid to him by this embassy, Hezekiah showed the ambassadors all his treasure-house, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the costly oil, and all his arsenal, etc. The literal meaning of נכת בּית is probably spice-house (Aquila, Symm., Vulg.), נכת being a contraction of נכאת in Gen 37:25, whereas the derivation suggested from the Arabic kayyata, farsit, implevit locum, is much more wide of the mark. The house received its name from the spices for the storing of which it was really intended, although it was also used for the storing of silver and gold. הטּוב שׁמן is not fine olive oil, but, according to the Rabbins and Movers (Phniz. iii. p. 227), the valuable balsam oil which was obtained in the royal gardens; for olive oil, which was obtained in all Judaea, was not stored in the treasure-chambers along with gold, silver, and perfumes, but in special storehouses (Ch1 27:28). בּכל־ממשׁלתּו, in all his dominion, i.e., in all the district which he was able to govern or control. - The existence of such treasures, of which, according to Kg2 20:17, the ancestors of Hezekiah had collected a very large store, at so short a period after the departure of the Assyrians, is not at variance with Kg2 18:15-16, according to which Hezekiah had sent to Sennacherib all the silver in his treasuries, and even the gold plate upon the temple doors. For, in the first place, it is not stated that there was much silver and gold in the treasure-house, but the silver and gold are simply mentioned along with the spices; and, secondly, Hezekiah may have kept back from Sennacherib many a valuable piece of silver or gold, and have taken off the gold plate from the temple doors, to show the ambassadors of Sennacherib, who came to receive the money demanded as compensation, that he was not in a condition to give anything more. Moreover a great deal may have flowed into the treasuries since the payment of that tribute, partly from the presents which Hezekiah received from many quarters after the overthrow of Sennacherib (Ch2 32:23), and partly from the booty that had been collected in the camp of the Assyrians after their hurried departure. And again, the treasures which the ancestors of Hezekiah had collected (Kg2 20:17) may not have consisted of gold and silver exactly, but of different jewels and objects of art, which could not be applied to the payment of the tribute demanded by Sennacherib. And, lastly, "we must not overlook the fact, that it answered the purpose of the reporter to crowd together as much as possible, in order to show how anxious Hezekiah was to bring out and exhibit everything whatever that could contribute to the folly" (Drechsler). Hezekiah evidently wanted to show all his glory, because the arrival of the Babylonian ambassadors had flattered his vanity.
Isaiah therefore announced to him the word of the Lord, that all his treasures would one day be carried to Babel, and some even of his sons would serve as chamberlains in the palace of the king of Babel. The sin of vanity was to be punished by the carrying away of that of which his heart was proud. Isaiah did not go to Hezekiah by his own impulse, but by the direction of God. His inquiries: "What have these men said, and whence do they come to thee?" were simply intended to lead the king to give expression to the thoughts of his heart. In the answer, "From a distant land have they come, from Babel," his vanity at the great honour that had been paid him comes clearly to light.
The words, "of thy sons, which shall proceed from thee, which thou shalt beget," do not necessarily refer to the actual sons, but only to lineal descendants. The Chethb יקּח, "will one take," is to be preferred to the יקּחוּ of Isaiah and the Keri, as being the more difficult reading. סריסים, chamberlains, courtiers, not necessarily eunuchs, as in Sa1 8:15, etc. - For the fulfilment of this threat see Dan 1:2.
The first part of Hezekiah's reply, "Good is the word of Jehovah, which thou hast spoken," is an expression of submission to the will of the Lord, like Eli's answer in Sa1 3:18 (cf. Kg1 2:38, Kg1 2:42);
(Note: "He calls that good in which it is right to acquiesce, as having proceeded from Him who does nothing but what is not only most just, but tempered with the greatest goodness, even when He inflicts punishment." - Clericus.)
the second part, which the repetition of ויּאמר shows to have been spoken after a pause, and which was not addressed directly to Isaiah, "Is it not so (i.e., is it not purely goodness), if there are to be peace and truth in my days (during my life)?" is a candid acknowledgment of the grace and truth of the Lord.
(Note: "He praises the moderation of the divine decree, because when God, in accordance with His justice, might have brought this calamity upon him in his own person, for His mercy's sake He was willing to spare him and to put off the evil to a future day." - Vitringa.)
הלוא is used, as is frequently the case, in the sense of a lively affirmation. Instead of אם הלוא we have in Isaiah כּי, "for there will be peace and truth," by which this clause is attached more clearly to the first declaration as a reason for it: the word of the Lord is good, for the Lord proves His goodness and truth in the fact, that He will not inflict the merited punishment in my lifetime. "Peace and truth" are connected as in Jer 33:6. אמת does not mean continuance (Ges.), security (Knobel), but fides, faithfulness-not human faithfulness, however, which preserves peace, and observes a tacit treaty (Hitzig), but the faithfulness of God, which preserves the promised grace to the humble.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 20:20
Close of Hezekiah's reign. - On the basin (בּרכח) and the aqueduct constructed by him, see at Kg2 18:17.