Chapter 39 is the last of four chapters in Isaiah’s writings called the “historical chapters” that describe a series of events that occurred during the lifetime of Isaiah. These events are of great importance to us; they serve as prophetic types for events that will occur in the latter days.1 This chapter also marks the end of the first major division in the Book of Isaiah, comprising chapters 2 through 39, in which Israel is described in her homeland in a state of wickedness.2
Events prophesied in Chapter 39 were fulfilled within 150 years after they were foretold by Isaiah. However, their ancient fulfillment does not end our latter-day interest in them. Fulfillment of prophecy more than once—first in ancient times and again in our own day—is the essence of these historical chapters.
The events of Chapter 39 were also recorded by the scribes of the king.3 A careful comparison reveals that differences in wording between the two accounts occur in nearly every verse without significantly altering the meaning.
Major events recorded in Chapter 39 are the visit of dignitaries from Babylon, Hezekiah showing his wealth to them, Isaiah’s visit to Hezekiah, and Isaiah’s prophecy of the Babylonian captivity. The events of Chapter 39 occurred shortly after those of the preceding chapter, as stated in the first verse.
Verse 1 begins the narrative: “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.” Emissaries were sent to represent the son of the king of Babylon, rather than his coming himself.
Verse 2 continues: “And Hezekiah was glad of them, and shewed 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 shewed them not.”4 The record of the scribes renders “And Hezekiah hearkened unto them….”5 Rashly, Hezekiah shows the visiting emissaries all his wealth. This act resulted in Jerusalem being considered a valuable prize for the conquering armies of Babylon, even generations later. It is notable that Hezekiah possessed great wealth even after having provided a vast ransom to the king of Assyria.6
In verse 3, Isaiah begins his questioning: “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.”
In verse 4, Isaiah continues: “Then 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 shewed them.” Isaiah’s question reveals his advance knowledge of what had taken place.
Verses 5 through 7 contain Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Babylonian captivity. Verse 5 begins: “Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD of hosts—”7
Verse 6 states: “Behold, 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.” Isaiah speaking in the context of the visit of Babylonian emissaries describes dire consequences for Hezekiah having shown them his wealth. In today’s global political situation, an analog would be the unwise sharing of military and technological secrets with actual or potential adversaries. Isaiah’s presenting this for latter-day readers may indicate that such imprudent divulging of national secrets would play a pivotal role in the final scenes of the world before the Second Coming of the Lord.
Verses 3 through 6 contain a chiasm:
(3) 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,
A: They are come from a far country unto me, even from Babylon.
B: (4) Then said he, What have they seen in thine house?
C: And Hezekiah answered, All that is in mine house
D: have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures
D: that I have not shewed them. (5) Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD of hosts:
C: (6) Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house,
B: and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day,
A: shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD.
“What have they seen in thine house?” complements “that which thy fathers have laid up in store….” The ascending side of the chiasm presents Isaiah’s questions and Hezekiah’s answers, and the descending side contains Isaiah’s prophetic response. The matching of elements in this chiasm suggests a cause-and-effect relationship in Hezekiah’s showing the Babylonian dignitaries his wealth and Babylon’s eventual conquest of Jerusalem.
Verse 7 concludes Isaiah’s prophetic statement: “And 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.”8 “Eunuch” comes from the Greek, meaning literally “guardian of the bed.”9 One meaning is an emasculated male, who logically could be trusted to guard the harem, or “bed,” of a king. A broader meaning, most likely intended here, is an official in the government of a king who has no real authority but must follow explicit instructions or policy.
In verse 8, the king sees some good in Isaiah’s dire prediction: “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.” The record of the scribes says: “…And he said, Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days?”10 Hezekiah takes comfort in knowing that these events will not happen until after he has departed.
1. See Isaiah 36, 37 and 38 and pertinent commentary.
2. Chapters 2 through 39 depict Israel in her homeland in a state of wickedness; chapters 40 through 54 describe Israel in exile in the world at large, interacting with people and events; and chapters 55 through 66 describe her glorious return to her homeland following repentance and cleansing.
3. See 2 Kings 20:12-19.
4. Verse 2 contains two overlapping chiasms : Hezekiah…shewed them/house/precious things/silver/gold/precious ointment/armour…treasures…house/Hezekiah shewed them. Shewed them/house/precious things/silver …gold/spices…precious ointment/treasures/house/shewed them.
5. 2 Kings 20:13.
6. 2 Kings 18:14-16; also Isaiah 36 and pertinent commentary.
7. Verses 2 through 5 contain a chiasm: Hezekiah/shewed them/house/Hezekiah/Isaiah the prophet/far country/ Babylon/he/Hezekiah/house/treasures/shewed them/Hezekiah.
8. Verses 6 and 7 contain a chiasm: Babylon/sons/issue/thee/thou/beget/eunuchs/Babylon.
9. Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language: Elsevier Publishing Company, New York, 1971, p. 261.
10. 2 Kings 20:19.