2 Kings 20

CHAPTER XX

Hezekiah's sickness, and the message of the prophet to him, to

prepare for death, 1.

His distress and prayer to God, 2, 3.

The Lord hears, and promises to add fifteen years to his life,

and Isaiah prescribes a means of cure, 4-7.

Hezekiah seeks a sign; and to assure him of the truth of God's

promise, the shadow on the dial of Ahaz goes back ten degrees,

8-11.

The King of Babylon sends a friendly message to Hezekiah, to

congratulate him on his recovery; and to these messengers he

ostentatiously shows all his treasures, 12, 13.

Isaiah reproves him, and foretells that the Babylonians will

come and take away all those treasures, and take the people

into captivity; and degrade the royal family of Judah, 14-18.

Hezekiah bows to the Divine judgment, 19.

His acts and death, 20, 21.

NOTES ON CHAP. XX

Verse 1. Set thine house in order] It appears from the text that

he was smitten with such a disorder as must terminate in death,

without the miraculous interposition of God: and he is now

commanded to set his house in order, or to give charge concerning

his house; to dispose of his affairs, or in other words, to make

his will; because his death was at hand. "This sickness," says

Jarchi, "took place three days before the defeat of

Sennacherib." That it must have been before this defeat, is

evident. Hezekiah reigned only twenty-nine years, 2Ki 18:2. He

had reigned fourteen years when the war with Sennacherib began,

2Ki 18:13, and he reigned

fifteen years after this sickness, 2Ki 20:6; therefore

14+15=29, the term of his reign. Nothing can be clearer than this,

that Hezekiah had reigned fourteen years before this time; and

that he did live the fifteen years here promised. That Hezekiah's

sickness happened before the destruction of Sennacherib's army, is

asserted by the text itself: see 2Ki 20:6.

Verse 3. I beseech thee, O Lord] Hezekiah knew that, although

the words of Isaiah were delivered to him in an absolute form, yet

they were to be conditionally understood, else he could not have

prayed to God to reverse a purpose which he knew to be

irrevocable. Even this passage is a key to many prophecies and

Divine declarations: see chap. 18 of Jeremiah.

Hezekiah pleads his uprightness and holy conduct in his own

behalf. Was it impious to do so? No; but it certainly did not

savour much either of humility or of a due sense of his own

weakness. If he had a perfect heart, who made it such?-God. If he

did good in God's sights who enabled him to do so?-God. Could he

therefore plead in his behalf dispositions and actions which he

could neither have felt nor practiced but by the power of the

grace of God? I trow not. But the times of this ignorance God

winked at. The Gospel teaches us a different lesson.

Wept sore.] How clouded must his prospects of another world have

been! But it is said that, as he saw the nation in danger from the

Assyrian army, which was then invading it, and threatened to

destroy the religion of the true God, he was greatly affected at

the news of his death, as he wished to live to see the enemies of

God overthrown. And therefore God promises that he will deliver

the city out of the hands of the king of Assyria, at the same time

that he promises him a respite of fifteen years, 2Ki 20:6. His

lamentation on this occasion may be seen in Isaiah, Isa 38:9-22.

Verse 4. Into the middle court] hatstser, the court. This

is the reading of the Masoretic Keri: haair, "of the city,"

is the reading of the text, and of most MSS.; but the versions

follow the Keri.

Verse 6. I will add unto thy days fifteen years] This is the

first and only man who was ever informed of the term of his

life. And was this a privilege! Surely no. If Hezekiah was

attached to life, as he appears to have been, how must his mind be

affected to mark the sinking years! He knew he was to die at the

end of fifteen years; and how must he feel at the end of every

year, when he saw that so much was cut off from life? He must

necessarily feel a thousand deaths in fearing one. I believe there

would be nothing wanting to complete the misery of men, except the

place of torment, were they informed of the precise time in which

their lives must terminate. God, in his abundant mercy, has hidden

this from their eyes.

Verse 7. Take a lump of figs-and laid it on the boil] We cannot

exactly say in what Hezekiah's malady consisted. shechin

signifies any inflammatory tumour, boil, abscess, &c. The versions

translate it sore, wound, and such like. Some think it was a

pleurisy; others, that it was the plague; others, the

elephantiasis; and others, that it was a quinsey. A poultice of

figs might be very proper to maturate a boil, or to discuss any

obstinate inflammatory swelling. This Pliny remarks, Omnibus quae

maturanda ant discutienda sunt imponuntur. But we cannot pronounce

on the propriety of the application, unless we were certain of the

nature of the malady. This, however was the natural means which

God chose to bless to the recovery of Hezekiah's health; and

without this interposition he must have died.

Verse 8. What shall be the sign] He wished to be fully convinced

that his cure was to be entirely supernatural; and, in order to

this, he seeks one miracle to prove the truth of the other, that

nothing might remain equivocal.

Verse 11. He brought the shadow ten degrees backward] We cannot

suppose that these ten degrees meant ten hours; there were ten

divisions of time on this dial: and perhaps it would not be right

to suppose that the sun went ten degrees back in the heavens, or

that the earth turned back upon its axis from east to west, in a

contrary direction to its natural course. But the miracle might be

effected by means of refraction, for a ray of light we know can be

varied or refracted from a right line by passing through a dense

medium; and we know also, by means of the refracting power of the

atmosphere, the sun, when near rising and setting, seems to be

higher above the horizon than he really is, and, by horizontal

refraction, we find that the sun appears above the horizon when he

is actually below it, and literally out of sight: therefore, by

using dense clouds or vapours, the rays of light in that place

might be refracted from their direct course ten, or any other

number of degrees; so that the miracle might have been wrought by

occasioning this extraordinary refraction, rather than by

disturbing the course of the earth, or any other of the celestial

bodies.

The dial of Ahaz.] See Clarke on 2Ki 9:13, and the

observations and diagram at the end of this chapter.

See Clarke on 2Ki 20:20.

Verse 12. At that time Berodach-baladan] He is called

Merodach-Baladan, Isa 39:1, and by the

Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions, and by several of

Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS.; and also by the Babylonian and

Jerusalem Talmuds. The true reading seems to be Merodach; the

mem and beth might be easily interchanged, and so produce the

mistake.

Sent letters and a present] It appears that there was friendship

between the king of Babylon and Hezekiah, when the latter and the

Assyrians were engaged in a destructive war. The king of Babylon

had not only heard of his sickness, but he had heard of the

miracle; as we learn from 2Ch 32:31.

Verse 13. Hezekiah hearkened unto them] Instead of

vaiyishma, he hearkened, vaiyismach, he rejoiced or was

glad, is the reading of twelve of Kennicott's and De Rossi's

MSS., the parallel place, Isa 39:2, the

Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate, Arabic, some copies of the Targum,

and the Babylonian Talmud.

All the house of his precious things] Interpreters are not well

agreed about the meaning of the original nechothoh, which we

here translate precious things, and in the margin spicery or

jewels. I suppose the last to be meant.

There was nothing in his house] He showed them through a spirit

of folly and exultation, all his treasures, and no doubt those in

the house of the Lord. And it is said, 2Ch 32:31, that in this

business God left him to try him, that he might know all that was

in his heart; and this trial proved that in his heart there was

little else than pride and folly.

Verse 17. Behold, the days come] This was fulfilled in the days

of the latter Jewish kings, when the Babylonians had led the

people away into captivity, and stripped the land, the temple,

&c., of all their riches. See Da 1:1-3.

Verse 18. They shall be eunuchs] Perhaps this means no more than

that they should become household servants to the kings of

Babylon. See the fulfillment, 2Ki 24:13-15, and Da 1:1-3.

Verse 19. Good is the word of the Lord] He has spoken right,

I have done foolishly. I submit to his judgments.

Is it not good if peace and truth be in my days?] I believe

Hezekiah inquires whether there shall be peace and truth in his

days. And the question seems to be rather of an interested nature.

He does not appear to deplore the calamities that were coming on

the land, provided peace and truth might prevail in his days.

Verse 20. The rest of the acts of Hezekiah] See the parallel

places in Isaiah and in 2 Chronicles. In this latter book,

2Ch 32:24-33, we find several particulars that are not inserted

here; especially concerning his pride, the increase of his riches,

his storehouses of corn, wine, and oil; his stalls for all manner

of beasts; his cities, flocks, and herds, in abundance; and the

bringing the upper water course of Gihon to the west side of the

city of David, by which he brought a plentiful supply of water

into that city, &c., &c., &c.

ON the subject of the Babylonian embassy I may say a few words.

However we may endeavour to excuse Hezekiah, it is certain that he

made an exhibition of his riches and power in a spirit of great

vanity; and that this did displease the Lord. It was also ruinous

to Judea: when those foreigners had seen such a profusion of

wealth, such princely establishments, and such a fruitful land, it

was natural for them to conceive the wish that they had such

treasures, and from that to covet the very treasures they saw.

They made their report to their king and countrymen, and the

desire to possess the Jewish wealth became general; and in

consequence of this there is little doubt that the conquest of

Jerusalem was projected. History is not barren in such instances:

the same kind of cause has produced similar effects. Take two or

three notable instances.

When the barbarous Goth and Vandal nations saw the pleasant and

fruitful plains and hills of Italy, and the vast treasures of the

Roman people, the abundance of the necessaries, conveniences,

comforts, and luxuries of life, which met their eyes in every

direction; they were never at rest till their swords put them in

possession of the whole, and brought the mistress of the world to

irretrievable ruin.

Vortigern, a British king, unhappily invited the Saxons, in 445,

to assist him against his rebellious subjects: they came, saw the

land that it was good, and in the end took possession of it,

having driven out, or into the mountains of Wales, all the

original Britons.

The Danes, in the ninth century, made some inroads into England,

found the land better than their own, and never rested till they

established themselves in this country, and, after having ruled it

for a considerable time, were at last, with the utmost difficulty,

driven out.

These nations had only to see a better land in order to covet

it, and their exertions were not wanting in order to possess it.

How far other nations, since those times, have imitated the most

foolish and impolitic conduct of the Jewish king, and how far

their conduct may have been or may yet be marked with the same

consequences, the pages of impartial history have shown and will

show: God's ways are all equal, and the judge of all the earth

will do right. But we need not wonder, after this, that the Jews

fell into the hands of the Babylonians, for this was the political

consequence of their own conduct: nor could it be otherwise, the

circumstances of both nations considered, unless God, by a

miraculous interposition, had saved them; and this it was

inconsistent with his justice to do, because they had, in their

pride and vanity, offended against him. To be lifted up with pride

and vain glory in the possession of any blessings, is the most

direct way to lose them; as it induces God, who dispensed them for

our benefit, to resume them, because that which was designed for

our good, through our own perversity becomes our bane.

1. I have intimated, in the note on 2Ki 20:11, that the shadow

was brought back on the dial of Ahaz by means of refraction. On

this subject some farther observations may not be improper.

2. Any person may easily convince himself of the effect of

refraction by this simple experiment: Place a vessel on the

floor, and put a piece of coin on the bottom, close to that part

of the vessel which is farthest off from yourself; then move back

till you find that the edge of the vessel next to yourself fairly

covers the coin, and that it is now entirely out of sight. Stand

exactly in that position, and let a person pour water gently into

the vessel, and you will soon find the coin to reappear, and to be

entirely in sight when the vessel is full, though neither it nor

you have changed your positions in the least.

By the refracting power of the atmosphere we have several

minutes more of the solar light each day than we should otherwise

have. "The atmosphere refracts the sun's rays so as to bring him

in sight every clear day, before he rises in the horizon, and to

keep him in view for some minutes after he is really set below it.

For at some times of the year we see the sun ten minutes longer

above the horizon than he would be if there were no refractions,

and above six minutes every day at a mean rate."-Ferguson.

And it is entirely owing to refraction that we have any morning

or evening twilight; without this power in the atmosphere, the

heavens would be as black as ebony in the absence of the sun; and

at his rising we should pass in a moment from the deepest darkness

into the brightest light; and at his setting, from the most

intense light to the most profound darkness, which in a few days

would be sufficient to destroy the visual organs of all the

animals in air, earth, or sea.

That the rays of light can be supernaturally refracted, and the

sun appear to be where he actually is not, we have a most

remarkable instance in Kepler. Some Hollanders, who wintered in

Nova Zembla in the year 1596, were surprised to find that after

a continual night of three months, the sun began to rise seventeen

days sooner than (according to computation deduced from the

altitude of the pole, observed to be seventy-six degrees) he

should have done; which can only be accounted for by a miracle, or

by an extraordinary refraction of the sun's rays passing through

the cold dense air in that climate. At that time the sun, as

Kepler computes, was almost five degrees below the horizon when

he appeared; and consequently the refraction of his rays was about

nine times stronger than it is with us.

3. Now this might be all purely natural, though it was

extraordinary, and it proves the possibility of what I have

conjectured, even on natural principles; but the foretelling of

this, and leaving the going back or forward to the choice of the

king, and the thing occurring in the place and time when and where

it was predicted, shows that it was supernatural and miraculous,

though the means were purely natural. Yet in that climate, (LAT.

thirty-one degrees fifty minutes north, and LONG. thirty-five

degrees twenty-five minutes east,) where vapours to produce an

extraordinary refraction of the solar rays could not be expected,

the collecting or producing them heightens and ascertains

the miracle. "But why contend that the thing was done by

refraction? Could not God as easily have caused the sun, or

rather the earth, to turn back, as to have produced this

extraordinary and miraculous refraction?" I answer, Yes. But it is

much more consistent with the wisdom and perfections of God to

perform a work or accomplish an end by simple means, than by those

that are complex; and had it been done in the other way, it would

have required a miracle to invert and a miracle to restore; and a

strong convulsion on the earth's surface to bring it ten degrees

suddenly back, and to take it the same suddenly forward. The

miracle, according to my supposition, was performed on the

atmosphere, and without in the least disturbing even that;

whereas, on the other supposition, it could not have been done

without suspending or interrupting the laws of the solar system,

and this without gaining a hair's breadth in credulity or

conviction more by such stupendous interpositions than might be

effected by the agency of clouds and vapours. The point to be

gained was the bringing back the shadow on the dial ten degrees:

this might have been gained by the means I have here described, as

well as by the other; and these means being much more simple, were

more worthy the Divine choice than those which are more complex,

and could not have been used without producing the necessity of

working at least double or treble miracles.

4. Before I proceed to the immediate object of inquiry, I shall

beg leave to make some observations on the invention and

construction of DIALS in general.

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