Isaiah 38:1-8, 39:1-8.
 The Folly of Human Choice

Copyright © 2009, American Journal of Biblical Theology
www.biblicaltheology.com   Scripture quotes from KJV


Have you ever gotten yourself in trouble by doing things that are simply unwise?  Ok, so much for formal writing:  have you ever done anything that is just, plain stoopid?  We can all look back and be reminded of circumstances where we reacted or responded without an understanding or knowledge of all of the contexts of our decision, and came out of the experience having made the wrong choice, or exhibited the wrong behavior.  The consequences of those decisions can be dramatic.

·        When we react without thinking we can often hurt and insult others, damaging relationships.

·        When we react without considering the consequences we can find ourselves immersed in those unexpected consequences.

·        When we react without considering financial impact we can find ourselves inappropriately indebted.

·        When we react without considering the context of the situation we can find ourselves missing out on what may have been a blessing.

It would seem that the forming of decisions has far more factors that would move us in the wrong direction than would lead us to a correct choice. 

For most of us, the bulk of the choices we make have an impact on those around us, bringing change only to those in our close circle of relationships.  However, there are some choices that we make that can change future generations until the end of the age.  For example, in 1992 I moved my family from our Upstate New York home to the state of North Carolina following an employment opportunity after being laid off from my work.  This was done while my children were in middle and high school.  Consequently, both of my children have found spouses in North Carolina, and by so made North Carolina our home.  The generations that follow are not the same generations that would have formed had we stayed in New York.

We often pay little notice to the significance of our decisions as we go through our daily routine.  The Bible passage for this study draws from experience of Judah under the leadership of King Hezekiah around 704-703 B.C.  Hezekiah, like the faithful today, had a true desire to follow the LORD.  He brought worship back to the Jerusalem temple, worked to destroy the pagan worship centers in the region, and attempted to lead the nation under the authority of God. 

However, Hezekiah was also a king, one who has a worldly position of authority with all of the riches and power that it brings.  It was easy for Hezekiah to fall into self-sufficiency and consider the LORD only when circumstances were beyond his own control.  This is probably similar to what leads the faithful today to make wrong choices.  We tend to call on God only when circumstances are outside of our own control, as if we do not need God until all else fails.

1.  GOD-DEPENDENCE IN THE TOUGH TIMES.

Isaiah 38:1.  In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.

The scripture does not specifically identify Hezekiah’s illness, though verse 21 indicates that his skin was affected.  Such a visible sickness would have dramatic consequences for the king.  The word leprosy was used in ancient times to refer to a collection of visible diseases, where today we tend to consider leprosy another name for Hansen’s Disease, a treatable bacterial infection that destroys peripheral nerves and appears as scaly lesions on the skin.  Such a disease would prevent the king from entering the temple, since the disease would render him unclean according to their religious tradition. 

As the king, Hezekiah would have the power to respond to most situations with power and authority.  However, he was powerless when faced with this disease, one that had the potential of taking his life.  Though Hezekiah attempted to be a godly king, he tended to depend upon the prophet Isaiah to serve as his religious advisor rather than seek the LORD himself.  However, this was one occasion where his power and authority meant nothing.  Hezekiah sought the LORD.

Isaiah 38:2-3.  Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, 3And said, Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.

We might note that Hezekiah did not go to the temple to pray, again indicating the visible nature of his ailment.  The ancients equated sickness with sin, considering sickness to be a punishment from the gods for their unrighteous behavior.  Consequently, it is no surprise that Hezekiah defends his position based upon his own impression of his righteousness.  He tries to “remind” God of how good a person he is, and based upon his goodness he does not deserve the punishment he is receiving.  He states that he has “walked in truth” with “a perfect heart.”  This is a testimony that many Christians might repeat, but we must always remember that no person is perfect; we all fall short of God’s glory.[1]  Hezekiah may have tried to walk in truth but his claim of goodness and perfection is certainly overstated.  We find that Hezekiah, accustomed to the authority he has on the throne of Judah has transferred much of that authority into his own life, judging himself to be better than he truly is. 

Hezekiah’s sincerity is certainly evident by his passion as he is considering the possibility of dying.  It may be interesting to note that the LORD, through Isaiah, did not give Hezekiah a time frame, and though the sense of the message might be immediate, God’s timing is not necessarily our own.  The instruction is for Hezekiah to put his house in order.  At the time of this event Hezekiah has no heir, and his demise would end the Davidic line of kings, conceptually nullifying the promise that God made to David to preserve the line.

Isaiah 38:4-5.  Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying, 5Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.

Can the circumstances of our lives change supernaturally through our obedience to prayer?  Though some would argue that God’s sovereignty disables Him from changing the unfolding of world events, the scriptural evidence testifies otherwise.  The simplest example is the dramatic change that comes into one’s life when they turn to God in faith.  Their future that was doomed to separation from God is dramatically changed as the Holy Spirit works in their life to empower a relationship with God.  God encouraged Hezekiah, through Isaiah, that He is quite aware of Hezekiah’s circumstance and hears his prayers.  the LORD assured Hezekiah that he would not immediately die from this disease.  God would “add” fifteen years to his life.  If God was telling Hezekiah that he would live another fifteen years after this event, then his son, Manasseh would be born three years later since the son took the throne at the age of twelve.  Manasseh would be one of the most godless and brutal kings of Judah, having learned nothing of the faith of Hezekiah.

Isaiah 38:6-8.  And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city.

Sennecherib was currently the king of Assyria and was threatening the city.  Though Isaiah presents the chronology in a different order, the book of 2 Kings illustrates that the deliverance spoken of refers to the siege of Jerusalem that would take place under Sennecherib.  The siege is described in chapter 37.  Sennecherib sent his Rabshakeh (chief cupbearer) to Hezekiah, mocking the king, Judah, and Judah’s God, and demanding surrender.  While Sennecherib was still dealing with an uprising at Cush, he sent a letter to Hezekiah with a similar message.  When Sennecherib finally brought his army to siege, the angel of the LORD swept through the army and in one night 186,000 soldiers died.  Sennecherib returned to Assyria where he would later be killed by his sons.

2.  SELF-DEPENDENCE IN THE GOOD TIMES.

Isaiah 39:1.  At that time Merodach-baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah: for he had heard that he had been sick, and was recovered.

Hezekiah had just experienced a series of miracles, given to Him by the LORD to encourage him and remind him of his dependency upon God and the power of God to do as He wills.  This experience would have been a spiritual high, a seminal moment in his life where he experienced the voice and work of God first-hand.  One might expect that Hezekiah would have a renewed commitment and would continue to seek God as he ruled over Judah.

Upon hearing of his sickness the king of Babylon sent emissaries to Hezekiah.  The region of Babylon had broken away from the grip of Assyria and would continue to grow in power as the power of Assyria would decline.  Judah offered two opportunities to Merodach-baladan.  Merodach had the desire to conquer Judah, and his sending emissaries was a part of his plan to bring Judah under his own control.  Also, the presence of the temple treasury was common knowledge.  Merodach sought to know the actual content of the treasury and how the treasury was defended.

Isaiah 39:2.  And Hezekiah was glad of them, and showed them the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not.

One can learn a little bit about Hezekiah’s true heart by the way he treated the group from Babylon.  Having just experienced a miracle in his life, he went immediately back to the worldly context of a king.  Hezekiah passed up an opportunity to testify to the greatness, mercy, and compassion of the LORD that he had just experienced.  Had he simply given the ambassadors this message, the Babylonians would be reminded of the great God who has delivered them in the past, and consider the peril of attacking Judah.  However, Hezekiah reacted to the visit like a proud head of state.  He was “glad of them.”  He liked being treated as the king, and as the king of Judah Hezekiah had a lot to brag about.  Because of his pride, he tried to show his greatness by the greatness of his wealth.  The scripture reveals that Hezekiah gave Meredoch-baladan everything that he would need to plan his invasion. 

What was the motivation behind Hezekiah’s foolishness?  We can see that Hezekiah’s pride outweighed his sense of responsibility and the future consequences of his behavior.  This seemingly innocent expression of pride would contribute greatly to the fall of Judah.

Isaiah 39:3-4.  Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah, and said unto him, What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee? And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country unto me, even from Babylon. 4Then said he, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah answered, All that is in mine house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not showed them.

At the time of this event Babylon was not a major power in the region, so Hezekiah’s prideful indiscretion seemed to him to be innocent enough.  One can look into the heart of Hezekiah and feel the pride he felt in this visit from this “far country.”  He saw nothing wrong with his showing the treasuries to these visitors.

When we are faced with decisions it is easy to make the same mistake that Hezekiah made.  Babylon was no threat to Hezekiah at this time, and he had no way of knowing what the future would bring.  He did not consider the possibility that Babylon would be the next aggressor in the region.  Their common enemy was Assyria, and Hezekiah sought to develop good relations with Babylon because of their plight.  He was clearly placing his confidence in his treasury, and his confidence in an alliance with Babylon as an appropriate way to respond to the Assyrian threat.  Hezekiah was trusting in the things of this world rather than the LORD for his protection.

3.  OUR CHOICES REVEAL OUR TRUE HEART.

Isaiah 39:5-7.  Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: 6Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD.  7And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.

It would seem that this prophecy would come as a shock to Hezekiah.  Isaiah uses the name, “Lord of Hosts,” or “LORD Almighty,” a name that refers to the infinite resources that God has to draw from in order to accomplish His purposes, purposes that include the defense of a godly nation.  Where Hezekiah was proud of the resources of his treasury and his alliance with Babylon, he did not consider the far vaster resources that God would bring to bear to protect Judah if they would simply rely on Him.

Our foolish choices can have dramatic consequences.  Hezekiah underestimated the ability or interest of Babylon to be a threat to him or the nation, giving them crucial information as they prepare their invasion.  Isaiah revealed to Hezekiah some of the details of the consequence of his prideful actions.  As Hezekiah had thought, Merodach-baladin would not invade Judah during his campaign against Assyria.  However, Merodach’s successor was the far more aggressive Nebuchadnezzar, and under his leadership he would invade Judah taking away all that is of value, including all of the treasures that Hezekiah had shown to the Babylonians.  Furthermore, his own sons would be taken prisoner and castrated so that the Davidic line of kings would end.  These are the devastating consequences of Hezekiah’s prideful behavior: the fall of Judah, the nation that God called upon him to lead and protect.

One would think that Hezekiah would be as broken by this news as he was when he learned of the critical nature of his sickness.  When the circumstance involved his own survival he wept bitterly and went to the LORD in prayer for help.  One would expect that, now healed from his disease, Hezekiah would go immediately to the temple to pray to the LORD for his protection.  He would announce to the people their need to repent and honor God who will deliver them from the Babylonian threat.

Isaiah 39:8.  Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, Good is the word of the LORD which thou hast spoken. He said moreover, For there shall be peace and truth in my days.

Rather than show concern for the nation, Hezekiah was gladdened by Isaiah’s prophecy.   Abdicating any responsibility for the future of Judah, Hezekiah showed great pleasure that Judah would remain at peace during his lifetime.  His lack of care for the future of the nation, or even the future of his own sons, who are not yet conceived, is amazing. 

Hezekiah serves as a great example of one who lacks faith in God, but attempts to project it.  He is expected, as the king of Judah, to lead the nation under the authority of God, so Hezekiah attempted to do so.  He fully believed that he was righteous and perfect (verse 3), and believed that he was faithful.  However, when we see the true heart of Hezekiah, we find a quite faithless individual.

Hezekiah believed in God, and had seen the miracles that God can do.  Hezekiah believed the scriptures, and believed the words of Isaiah to be true.  Hezekiah believed that God could extend his own life, and extend the life of the nation of Judah.  The problem we find with Hezekiah’s choices lie in one particular truth:  Hezekiah believed in God, but did not place his faith and trust in Him.  Much of our Christian culture today is made up of Hezekiahs – those who profess to be Christian but have never taken the necessary step of submitting fully to Him as both Saviour and LORD.  Hezekiah had the Savior part down quite well.  However, Hezekiah did not turn to God as his own LORD, submitting his life and his throne to the throne of God.  He kept for himself those parts of his life that met his own needs for gratification and success. 

We can learn from Hezekiah the perils of a profession of faith that lacks true commitment to the LORD.  It is only when we profess God as our LORD will we experience the saving power of God.  Without Him our choices are worldly, logical, and corruptible.  Without Him we face a future and eternity that is devoid of His power and presence.  Why would one choose to live the vain life of one as Hezekiah?

This passage gives to each of us an opportunity to look at the nature of our faith.  Do we live for ourselves and seek God only when we “need” Him?  Or, do we have a prayer-based relationship with Him that characterizes every moment of every day?  If our testimony is the former, we have not turned our life over to God and may not have made the commitment to God that we profess.  Let us never be satisfied to be a Hezekiah, but rather copy the character of Isaiah who had an open prayer life with God.  Christians are called to imitate Jesus.  Let us not imitate Hezekiah.


[1] Romans 3:23.