“With the exception of Hezekiah's psalm of thanksgiving, most of the material in Isaiah 38 and 39 is also recorded in 2 Kings 20. Some additional phrases are in the 2 Kings account, and a brief evaluation of Hezekiah and the Babylonian visit is also found in 2 Chronicles 32.” (Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982], 329)
Isaiah 38:1 Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die
What a message to get from the prophet! Can you imagine getting a letter from the President of the Church saying, “I have received a revelation and you are going to die soon so put your affairs in order”? Hezekiah can’t understand why. Things have been going so well. The city of Jerusalem was recently saved from the Assyrian Army in a most miraculous way. He may have thought to himself, “there hasn’t been this big a miracle in Israel since Moses and the armies of Pharaoh. I wonder if I will go down in history as a leader like Moses.” Not only that, but the money has been rolling in. He has been blessed with gold and silver, presents from surrounding nations. Things are going well.
The scribe writing 2 Chronicles suggests that there was a reason for this message of doom to Hezekiah. He says the king’s “heart was lifted up: therefore there was wrath upon him.” (2 Chron. 32:25) Now Hezekiah had been a remarkably righteous king, especially in comparison to his forefathers. That doesn’t justify him taking too much credit, but he had been righteous. Sometimes we might fall into the same trap. Things are going well. We feel comfortable with our righteousness, or we are called to a prestigious calling, and the next thing you know a little pride sneaks in.
Give Hezekiah credit, “Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah.” (2 Chron 32:26)
Isaiah 38:3 I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart
I tell you, [righteous] men are able to move the heavens, to bring down blessings for the children of men. Regard the case of Hezekiah, king of Judah, a most illustrious example of this glorious principle…
Tell me, what would an unrighteous king be able to do in such a crisis as this? Could he exercise faith to call down the blessings of God? No; but this man could marshal in support of his petition his righteous life, and the heavens could not withhold their blessing. There was strength, there was power born of righteousness. (Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses, 5 vols. [Burbank, Calif., and Woodland Hills, Ut.: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992], vol. 5, Dec. 12, 1897)
Isaiah 38:5 Go, and say to Hezekiah… I will add unto thy days fifteen years
Can prayer and supplication change the decreed time of one’s death? What about priesthood blessings? Can they preserve life beyond the set time?
“Although man does not fully understand how the time of his death is fixed, yet it is clear that mortals have such a time set for them. The author of Ecclesiastes taught that man has ‘a time to be born, and a time to die.’ A significant passage concerning the healing of the sick, found in the Doctrine and Covenants, also speaks of the set time of death of an individual:
It shall come to pass that he that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed. (D&C 42:48)
“The righteous man, who gives due care to his physical being and fulfills his obligations to the Lord, may expect the privilege of remaining on earth to fulfill his life’s mission and course and living the full extent of his appointed years…
“There is evidence that the fixed time of death is not unalterable and that a number of factors can occasion a change in one’s appointed death date. Apparently the requests of the righteous may prevail with the Lord to gain an extension of life in some instances. Witness the case of Hezekiah, king of Judah, who was told of his approaching death and then granted an extension of life: quotes Isa. 38:1-8
“John the Revelator was another who asked that the time fixed for his death be altered. His request, ‘Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee,’ gained him the privilege of remaining on the earth till the coming of the Savior in the last days…
“In the latter days there have been numerous occasions when the faithful prayers and administration of priesthood bearers have altered the time of death of the afflicted. In many instances faithful Saints have sought and received the restoration to health of their loved ones and have snatched the sick from the bonds of death.” (Life Everlasting, Duane Crowther, [SLC: Bookcraft, 1967], 42-48)
Isaiah 38:7-8 this shall be a sign unto thee… I will bring again the shadow of the degrees
For God to turn the sun back 10 degrees is an amazing sign. Who knows how God performs these miracles! He could have manipulated the shadow by bending light, or He could have altered the rotation of the earth. We will never know, but if the rotation of the earth was altered, this special day lasted 24 hours and 40 minutes. (10/360 degrees X 24 hours=0.666 hours)
Isaiah 38:9-22 Hezekiah’s Psalm
You have to love Hezekiah’s attitude. The book of Psalms has been written, mostly by king David, the great king of Jewish history. Hezekiah believes he is up to the task spiritually. He writes his own psalm. We should all try the same thing.
Isaiah 38:12-14 a shepherd’s tent… a weaver… a crane or a swallow
Hezekiah isn’t exactly Shakespeare of the Jews like Isaiah, but he does a pretty good job with his psalm. The imagery he evokes addresses the fleeting nature of human life and his wailing petitions before the Lord. Abraham used to refer to himself as a stranger in a strange land (because he was). But the idea of mortality as a pilgrimage in a strange land is the idea. We come down here, live out our existence, but our home is really with God. A shepherd takes his tent places is in the wilderness for a while, then takes it down and moves on. Taking down the tent is representative of death in the “shepherd in a strange land” motif.
When a weaver works on a loom and gets to the very end, he takes scissors and cuts off the remaining threads and yards separating the finished product from the loom. It is the end for the tapestry of life woven by the hand of the Lord. Hence, “I have cut off like a weaver my life.”
Hezekiah describes a lion breaking his bones. Ouch! Lastly, the crane and the swallow are the chatterboxes he refers to last. Since he has continually petitioned the Lord for an extension of his life, he compares his petitions to the crane, swallow, and dove.
Isaiah 38:17 thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back
The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. My talk is intended for all this society; if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another. (Teachings, 241)
Isaiah 38:18 for the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee
Now Hezekiah gets on shaky ground. He is trying to make the case that the living praise God while the dead are silent. That is not the truth. The prayers of the disembodied likely show more gratitude and love than ours. It is a weak argument to God saying, “Let me live so I can praise thy name.” Where does this idea come from? Well, Hezekiah has been reading his scriptures. He has read the psalms and decides to write one. He has been reading in Ecclesiastes where the preacher says, “the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten” (Eccl. 9:5). This idea has been misunderstood. Their mortal reward is gone; mortal’s memory of them is forgotten. But the dead know many things; many things they want to tell us (Lu. 16:19-31), but their message is the same as we have heard from the prophets regarding salvation of the dead.
Isaiah 38:20 stringed instruments… in the house of the Lord
Not fair! We don’t have stringed instruments in the house of the Lord. We do have some strings in the soundtrack, however.
Isaiah 38:21 Let them take a lump of figs
The Lord is the Master Physician and Master Surgeon. While we praise the advances of medicine in our day, He knows that we have merely scratched the surface. We learn from the Book of Mormon that there are medicinal properties in plants that have been specifically prepared for our benefit; many were saved from death by febrile illnesses “because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were subject by nature of the climate” (Alma 46:40). When God’s knowledge is combined with faith, the combination is nothing more than miraculous. Such a combination prolonged Hezekiah’s life. Consider a latter-day example.
James E. Faust
At Haun’s Mill, a heroic pioneer woman, Amanda Smith, learned by faith how to do something beyond her abilities and the scientific knowledge of her time. On that terrible day in 1838, as the firing ceased and the mobsters left, she returned to the mill and saw her eldest son, Willard, carrying his seven-year-old brother, Alma. She cried, “Oh! my Alma is dead!”
“No, mother,” he said, “I think Alma is not dead. But father and brother Sardius are [dead]!” But there was no time for tears now. Alma’s entire hipbone was shot away. Amanda later recalled:
“Flesh, hip bone, joint and all had been ploughed out. … We laid little Alma on a bed in our tent and I examined the wound. It was a ghastly sight. I knew not what to do. … Yet was I there, all that long, dreadful night, with my dead and my wounded, and none but God as our physician and help. ‘Oh my Heavenly Father,’ I cried, ‘what shall I do? Thou seest my poor wounded boy and knowest my inexperience. Oh, Heavenly Father, direct me what to do!’ And then I was directed as by a voice speaking to me.
“… Our fire was still smouldering. … I was directed to take … ashes and make a lye and put a cloth saturated with it right into the wound. … Again and again I saturated the cloth and put it into the hole …, and each time mashed flesh and splinters of bone came away with the cloth; and the wound became as white as chicken’s flesh.
“Having done as directed I again prayed to the Lord and was again instructed as distinctly as though a physician had been standing by speaking to me. Near by was a slippery-elm tree. From this I was told to make a … poultice and fill the wound with it. … The poultice was made, and the wound, which took fully a quarter of a yard of linen to cover, … was properly dressed. …
“I removed the wounded boy to a house … and dressed his hip; the Lord directing me as before. I was reminded that in my husband’s trunk there was a bottle of balsam. This I poured into the wound, greatly soothing Alma’s pain.
“‘Alma my child,’ I said, ‘you believe that the Lord made your hip?’
“‘Well, the Lord can make something there in the place of your hip, don’t you believe he can, Alma?’
“‘Do you think that the Lord can, mother?’ inquired the child, in his simplicity.
“‘Yes, my son,’ I replied, ‘he has showed it all to me in a vision.’
“Then I laid him comfortably on his face, and said: ‘Now you lay like that, and don’t move, and the Lord will make you another hip.’
“So Alma laid on his face for five weeks, until he was entirely recovered—a flexible gristle having grown in place of the missing joint and socket, which remains to this day a marvel to physicians. …
“It is now nearly forty years ago, but Alma has never been the least crippled during his life, and he has traveled quite a long period of the time as a missionary of the gospel and [is] a living miracle of the power of God.”