Isaiah 1-39 - Lesson 13

By Harold Shank

Isaiah 38-39

Keeping Faith in Difficult Circumstances


  1. The student will reflect on how illness and pride challenged the faith of Hezekiah and all who follow him.
  2. The student will reflect on what it means to rely on or trust in God.
  3. The student will reflect on the ways in which our impending death alters our ongoing life.


  1. A Bible for each student.
  2. Review the parallel passages in 2 Kings 20 and 2 Chron 32.
  3. Review the lesson on Isa 28-33.


Faith in God is challenged by illness and pride.

Setting the stage

  1. Consult the previous review sections as preparation for summarizing the past classes.
  2. Historical settings for the book of Isaiah.
    1. Isaiah 1-12 takes place during Syro-Ephraimite War. Events during the war are summarized in Isaiah 7-8.
    2. Isaiah 13-23 is a bridge between Isaiah 1-12 and 24-39 and represents a wide range of historical settings.
    3. Isaiah 24-39 takes place during the Assyrian siege of 701 B.C.
  3. Isa 36-37 narrates scenes from the Assyrian invasion in 701 B.C.
    1. Sennacherib (704-701 B.C.), the Assyrian ruler, invaded Judah in 701 B.C.
    2. He attacked and subdued 46 cities in the Judean countryside (according to the Sennacherib or Taylor Prism on which the king recorded his exploits).
    3. As the Assyrian army grew closer to Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, Sennacherib sent emissaries calling for the surrender of Jerusalem (Isaiah 36-37).
    4. During this time Isaiah called for trust in God.
  4. The final four chapters take up 3 crucial events, unfolding like a three act play:
    1. Act I-Siege of Jerusalem-36-37.
    2. Act II-Hezekiah's illness-38.
    3. Act III-Babylonian visit to Jerusalem-39.

Learning Experiences

  1. Introduction
    1. Based on the dates of Merodach-baladan, Hezekiah's illness is often set in 704 BC.
  2. Narrative
    1. Those who teach narrative should focus on these items.
      1. Read or retell the story. People remember story easier than most other material which may be why the Bible is largely story. No class is complete unless all hear the story.
      2. Note specific theological language used in the story. For example, in this story there is competition between the gods of the ancient Near East and the God of Israel, along with the question of "trust" or "rely."
      3. Note the repetitions. Hebrew narrative often uses repetition as a means of drawing attention to the critical elements.
      4. Generally it is not helpful to try to answer questions that the passage is not answering. This material prompts many such questions which are best handled by asking, what question is the passage answering that we might miss if we focus on the questions it is not answering?
    2. Hezekiah and Isaiah dialogue about Hezekiah's health-38:1-8.
      1. Read or retell the story.
      2. Discuss Hezekiah's self-evaluation. Is he correct? Why does Hezekiah make these claims in his prayer?
      3. What words from Isa 36-37 are repeated in this section? (deliver, defend, sign). Discuss the implications of the repetition. (Is the text pointing out that Hezekiah's personal issue will involve the same God and concerns as the siege of Jerusalem?)
  3. Hezekiah prayer and Isaiah's response-38:9-20.
    1. Read or retell the story.
    2. Discuss when the prayer was written and the time the prayer discusses.
    3. The prayer divides into these parts.
      1. 10-14a-lament over his impending death (fits the narrative of 38:1-4).
      2. 14b-petition to God.
      3. 15-confession.
      4. 16-17-deliverance.
      5. 18-20-thanksgiving.
    4. This chapter covers many topics of spiritual interest (death, prayer, healing, worship and faith). What is the point of the chapter?
  4. Babylon's envoys visit Hezekiah-39:1-4.
    1. Read or retell the story.
    2. Compare the story with 2 Chron 32:30-31.
    3. The story divides into two units.
      1. Visit from Babylon-1-2.
      2. Visit from Isaiah-3-8.
    4. Evaluate Hezekiah's actions with the Babylonians. Which proposal best fits the evidence.
      1. Hezekiah was naïve.
      2. Hezekiah was practicing routine courteously.
      3. Hezekiah was acting prideful.
      4. Hezekiah was turning from God to power and possessions.
      5. Hezekiah was clever politically by positively showing his assets to a potential ally.
    5. Evaluate Hezekiah's response in v8. Which of the following proposals best fits the passage?
      1. Hezekiah's comment reflects a self-centered response.
      2. Hezekiah's comment is a prayer asking for God to delay this future reality.
      3. Hezekiah's comment echoes what he already knew (38:4-5) about his own future which he now takes as another confirmation.
      4. Hezekiah's comment reflects an obedient king who accepts God's judgment in faith.


  1. Hezekiah is terminally ill in Isa 38. What issues does he face that ill people continue to face? What responses to impending death are not mentioned by Hezekiah? What is helpful in this passage to contemporary sick people? What is not helpful?
  2. Hezekiah's prayer in 38:10ff reflects on a premature death. Do his thoughts ring true? Share stories about other premature deaths and the reactions the people had to their early demise.
  3. Hezekiah is given an extended life. Explore how he responds to that extension. Identify people who have had a similar experience (cancer or accident survivors). What changes about life occur due to a near death experience? How long does it last?
  4. Isaiah holds up Hezekiah as a model of faith. Yet the last scenes about Hezekiah reveal his prideful shortsightedness and lack of trust in God. Are there other people who are pillars of faith that fail? Are there special ways in which people of great faith are especially challenged?

Additional Study.

Use this section if the class spends more than one week on Isaiah 38-39.

  1. There is considerable discussion in the commentaries about the events described in Isa 38-39 that revolve around two issues.
    1. Which came first? While there are parallels between Isa 38-39 and 2 Kings 20, 2 Kings 20 omits Isa 38:9-20 while Isaiah omits some of what is in the rest of 2 Kings 20. Many scholars think Isaiah borrowed from 2 Kings 20. Gary Smith [Isaiah 1-39, The New American Commentary, Nashville: B&H, 2007, pp. 637] surveys the issue. The final conclusion has little effect on the current study.
    2. What is the order? Much of Isaiah is not in chronological order (for example the oracles against the nations are arranged by nation not by chronology). Isa 38:6 refers to the events of 36-37 in the future. Perhaps the death of Sennacherib at the end of 37 prompted Isaiah to record the near death experience of Hezekiah after that event in his book. Isa 39 then anticipates the "near death experience" of exile that awaits Judah and is the background of Isa 40-55. It may be that the negative aspects of Hezekiah are placed after his shining faithfulness in 36-37 to remind the reader that Hezekiah was good, but not perfect. Note that both sections include the same line (compare 37:35 with 38:6) which contrasts with the conclusion in 39:7. See a discussion of the issue in Smith's commentary (pp. 635ff). The final conclusion has little effect on the current study. The likely correct order of events is as follows:
      1. Hezekiah and Isaiah dialogue about Hezekiah's health-38:1-8.
      2. Hezekiah prayer and Isaiah's response-38:9-20.
      3. Babylon's envoys visit Hezekiah-39:1-4.
      4. Isaiah and Hezekiah dialogue about Babylonian visit-39:5-8.
      5. Assyrian siege-36-37.
  2. Hezekiah and Isaiah dialogue about Hezekiah's health-38:1-8.
    1. This passage raises many unanswered questions that are better left unanswered, so that the point of the text is not missed.
      1. What kind of sickness plagued Hezekiah? In v21 Hezekiah has a boil which hardly seems fatal although some take it as a symptom of leprosy.
      2. Why must Hezekiah die? 2 Chron 32:25 indicates God's wrath on Hezekiah for his pride, but seems to be the result of his healing not the cause of his sickness.
      3. How did Isaiah know to come?
      4. Why is he given more years?
      5. Why 15 years?
      6. Why does God give Hezekiah a sign?
      7. What is the meaning of the sign about time in v8? Note that the Hebrew of this verse is difficult and each translation seeks to make sense of an obscure text.
    2. What other events in the Bible are similar to this story? See Elijah and Elisha who dealt with death-1 Kngs 17:17-224; 2Kngs 4:31-37; 5:1-14.
    3. Compare the two prayers of Hezekiah in 37:14-20 and 38:3-4.
      1. Which prayer seems more humble?
      2. What conclusions can be drawn from the God-focused nature of one prayer and the Hezekiah-focused nature of the second?
    4. Compare the signs in Isa 37:30 and 38:7. Compare with 2 Kings 20:7-11. Discuss the connections between this sign and the one in Isa 7 (neither king calls for a sign, the sign is a miracle, both signs involve Ahaz). This sign is a miracle (compare Josh 10:1-14). Note the common issue between the answer to the prayer and the sign (both involved more time).
  3. Hezekiah prayer and Isaiah's response-38:9-20.
    1. The prayer divides into these parts.
      1. 10-14a-lament over his impending death (fits the narrative of 38:1-4).
        1. These are Hezekiah's thoughts about his impending death.
        2. Identify Hezekiah's regrets (short life, can no longer worship, loss of relationships, pain, not existing).
        3. Explain how his metaphors describe dying (like taking down a tent, finishing a weaving task, being attacked by a lion).
        4. Explore how the translations render v 13a differently. What is Hezekiah expressing?
      2. 14b-petition to God.
        1. Hezekiah compares his weak plea to three different birds. What is his point?
        2. Describe Hezekiah's condition. (weak, helpless, out of options). "My security" is a legal metaphor in which he calls on God to represent him. Does Hezekiah imagine that God is an attorney?
        3. What does Hezekiah want God to do?
      3. 15-confession.
        1. Note the change in mood after God speaks to Hezekiah.
        2. Hezekiah, now realizing his extended life, begins to reflect on what it means. Note the differences in translation. They all suggest that he hopes to be more intentional about life.
      4. 16-17-deliverance.
        1. This section takes place after God gives Hezekiah 15 more years (fits the narrative of 38:5).
        2. The pronouns in this section are ambiguous. Perhaps the "these things" are God's extension of his life.
        3. Verse 16 seems to imply that Hezekiah acknowledges the work of God in extending his life.
        4. V17 reflects on what Hezekiah learned from the near death experience.
          1. It was a bitter experience.
          2. It brought deeper appreciation for life.
          3. It has changed him as a person.
          4. He now has greater faith.
          5. He has received forgiveness of sins. (Did his prayer of v3 include a "death bed repentance"?)
        5. 18-20-thanksgiving.
          1. Hezekiah identifies some entities that are not thankful about his extended life.
          2. He also notes those who are thankful and how he will be thankful.
    2. The episode of Hezekiah's illness closes with a short narrative-38:21-22.
      1. Some suggest that these verses fit better between 38:6 and 7 but have been placed here because the sign should follow the prayer as in 37:30-32. However, that view equates the sign of 38:7-8 with the action of v22 which may not be the case.
      2. Compare Isaiah's use of a fig cake and Jesus use of clay (John 9:1-12). Where is the miraculous healing?
      3. Those with skin diseases were not permitted to enter the temple (Lev 13:6-23) which connects the two signs of 21-22. The fig cake prompts the healing (sign 1). Another sign indicates healing is complete (sign 2) enough for him to go to the temple.
  4. Babylon's envoys visit Hezekiah-39:1-4.
    1. Note the lists in the story.
      1. What three things did Merodach-baladan send to Hezekiah? Discuss the possible motivations for such items.
      2. List the 9 items Hezekiah showed the Babylonians.
    2. Compare his humble attitude in 38 with his display of power and importance in 39. Compare 37:24-25 with 39:2-4. How are the repeated lists of royal accomplishments to be understood?
    3. Compare Isaiah's attitude toward foreign alliances in Isa 30-31 with the discussion in 39:3-4. What was Isaiah's theology of foreign entanglements?
    4. Read the following texts to understand what Hezekiah knew before Isaiah commented on his actions toward the Babylonians. Evaluate Hezekiah's actions based on what he already knew:
      1. Isa 30:15 (Hezekiah knew that he was to repent, rest, be quiet and trust God).
      2. Isa 32:1 (Hezekiah knew he should rule with justice and righteousness).
      3. Isa 38:4-5 (Hezekiah knew the earliest date he might die and that he would be delivered from the Assyrians).
    5. Evaluate Isaiah's response in v7.
      1. Hezekiah was seeking alliance with Babylon as a source of security, but God would use Babylon to dismantle his kingdom.
      2. Hezekiah depended on all the power and possessions he had amassed to save him, but God would have it all carted away to Babylon.
      3. Rather than making faithfulness to God known to his children (38:19) his own descendants (Jehoiachin in 598 would become a prisoner of the Babylonians) would go into exile.
    6. Gary Smith (p. 660) identifies several of Hezekiah's shortcomings
      1. He did not seek God's wisdom before responding to the Babylonians.
      2. He did not tell the Babylonians about the result of his personal faith in God and his extended life.
      3. Even innocent compromises have significant faith consequences.
      4. Note the role of David in Isa 36-39.
        1. Read Isa.37:35; 38:5.
          1. Isaiah portrays Hezekiah as the ideal Davidic king.
          2. Hezekiah was of the house of David who ironically exposes his house (note the 5 uses of house in 39:1-5) to the Babylonians resulting in the loss of his house (39:6) and the Davidic dynasty (39:7; compare Jer 22:28-30 [Coniah or Jehoiachin was Hezekiah's great, great, great grandson]).
        2. What is the overall point about Isaiah in 36-39?

Download Worksheets

Back to Isaiah 1-39

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.