Isaiah 39 is a hard chapter to read, isn’t it? We’ve seen God deliver Hezekiah from death - and in response, Hezekiah turns to put his trust in Babylon. Assyria and Babylon were both powerhouses in the Ancient Near East. Israel and Judah were small kingdoms in comparison to these large empires. Babylon was a subject of Assyria for many years but under their king, Merodach-baladan, they were looking to gain independence.So they sent embassies to the king of Judah, Hezekiah, perhaps to win him over and gain his loyalty. And, their envoys worked! When they came, the text tells us that “Hezekiah welcomed them gladly” (Isaiah 39:2).And rather than telling these foreigners all about how God delivered him from death, he chose to share hi sown personal glory and gave them the insider’s tour of his treasures (Isaiah 39:2).
Hezekiah’s sin isn’t just that he was friendly to Babylon - rather, it was that he saw trusting in God as a one time decision and not as a lifestyle (John N. Oswalt, Isaiah: NIV Application Commentary). Certainly there were times when Hezekiah trusted in God, but the allures of Babylon were tempting enough to turn his eyes from the Lord. Isaiah’s bold prediction in verses 5-7 is a foreshadowing of the day when Babylon will ransack Hezekiah’s storehouse, but Babylon will destroy more than just Hezekiah’s precious treasures - his children and grandchildren will be taken as slaves to Babylon. Isaiah prophesies the Babylonian exile which would take place under King Nebuchadnezzar roughly 100 years later. Hezekiah’s response is indicative of the condition of his heart. He declares that he is grateful for God’s word because at least there will be peace during his days (Isaiah 39:8). Has his brush with death (Isaiah 38) had any lasting impact on him at all?
It seems like Israel and Judah are always in need of being saved. These small kingdoms come up against giant empires and God delivers them. But that doesn’t fix the problem - because the problem is internal. Sometimes their kings are evil and lead them astray. And at best, we see that their kings, even if they are men after God’s own heart, are still men who are feeble and flawed. Israel and Judah need to be delivered from themselves. Their problem isn’t their opponents or just their kings. Their problem is their own sin and the fact that they continue to choose to walk in the ways of foreign nations rather than trust in God.
While we may not want this section of Isaiah to end this way, we have to sit in the mess and the yuck and realize Israel’s need for a savior. And, we have to see ourselves in the same kind of situation: as people whose hearts are prone to wander away from God just like Hezekiah. We need to feel the weight of despair in Isaiah 39 to really see the hope to come in Isaiah 40-66.
Isaiah 39 (ESV):
At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered. 2 And Hezekiah welcomed them gladly. And he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. 3 Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.” 4 He said, “What have they seen in your house?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”
5 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts:6 Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. 7 And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”8 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.”