Today we have the second of two narrative accounts in Isaiah (the other was chapters 6-8). Much of this portion parallels what we read in 2 Kings chapters 18-20. With only slight word variation, chapter 36, 37, and 39 have no additional information. Where we get the only addition is in 38:9-20, where we have a poem that Hezekiah wrote after his miraculous healing. In verse 10, we saw that Hezekiah considered himself too young to die (he was 39 at the time of his healing). He lamented that he would no longer have the fellowship with either YHWH or man in the place of the dead. This gives us insight into the beliefs of Israel about the afterlife, and points to the progressive nature of both revelation and salvation. While Jews believed in God’s omnipresence (see Ps 139:7-8), personal fellowship with God was not for everyone, even in this life. Mediation was required to get to God (through the priesthood). The prophets were called by God to mediate His messages to the people. As we saw by Isaiah’s reaction to seeing God in heaven (Isa 6:5), it was believed that no one could enter into the direct presence of God because of sin.
On this side of the cross, we know that while Israel needed the priests and the prophets to mediate for them, we have Christ. He mediates between us and the Father, and His Holy Spirit mediates between us and God in this life, allowing us to hear Him speak (primarily through His Word). We also know that no one can enter into God’s presence because of sin, but we know God made a way to remove that sin through Christ’s sacrifice. Personal fellowship is still not for everyone, but it is for all who have by His grace been made into new creations, sinless in Christ.
In verse 12, we see that Hezekiah believed that God was sovereign over his impending death. Man only temporarily dwells in this world (a shepherd’s tent was small and quick to tear down). God’s power over our lives is like the weaver – he can effortlessly cut the line at will when His creation is “finished”. God is said to be a lion (v. 13), while man is like a helpless bird before that lion (v. 14). Hezekiah prayed ceaselessly to God to save him (v. 14), knowing that God does as He wills (v. 15).
In verse 16, we see what Hezekiah’s prayer was: knowing God is sovereign over life, he asked for life. Hezekiah knows that God allowed him to fall so sick for a reason, but praises Him for His love that saved him (v. 17). Note that Hezekiah knows, in a sense, that to live God had to remove his sin. In verse 18, we again see the idea he had of the afterlife. So while he lives, Hezekiah will thank God and make His faithfulness known to the next generation (v. 19). He believes that God will yet save him, and will praise Him in the Temple all his days (v. 20). Hezekiah is like David in many ways…
We know from 1 Kings 20 that the next event recorded about Hezekiah is his death. We know from Isaiah 1:1 that Isaiah’s prophetic ministry ended with the end of the reign of Hezekiah. What we have seen in Isaiah chapters 1-39 (with the two narrative portions) are the prophecies that Isaiah made into particular historical and political situations. The warnings, the promises of judgment and salvation, the calls to repentance – these were all spoken to the people of the nations in these situations.
Now the tenor of the book changes somewhat – so much so that many have said chapters 40-66 were written by another person (in fact, some believe there are three writers, the one who wrote 1-39, one who wrote 40-55, and one who wrote 56-66). Most of these people come to this conclusion because they believe some of the predictions in the rest of the book are too precise to not have been written after the fact (like the prediction of Cyrus in 45:1). I have no problem believing God’s prophets could reveal the future with pin-point accuracy. I also think the difference between the two sections of the book can be credited to an editing decision by whomever collected the book in its final form (presumably a disciple or many disciples of Isaiah).
What we will see in the final 27 chapters of the book, more than anything else, are descriptions of Christ. His suffering and salvation are evident throughout, including the four famous “Servant Songs.” We will see pictures of the church as the inaugurated new creation, as well as the consummated new creation of the New Heaven and the New Earth. We will see why the Messianic hope of Israel was what it was in Jesus’s day.