Isaiah 38

The Word Made Fresh

1In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came to him and told him, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Put your affairs in order. You will die; you won’t recover.’”

2Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed, 3“LORD, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and whole-heartedness, and have done good things in your sight.” And he wept bitterly.

4Then the LORD’s word came to Isaiah: 5“Go back to Hezekiah and tell him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer, and have seen your tears. I will add fifteen more years to your life. 6And I will defend this city and rescue you and the people from the king of Assyria. 7This is the sign I will give you as assurance that I will do what I have promised: 8I will make the sun dial shadow turn back ten steps.’”

And the sun declined on the dial ten steps.

9Hezekiah wrote this after he had recovered from his illness:

10“I said: in the prime of my life must I depart?
Will the remainder of my years be given over to the gates of the dead?
11I shall not see the LORD while I am yet living,
but I shall look no longer upon those who live in the world.
12My house is gathered up and removed from me like a shepherd’s tent;
like a weaver’s cloth my life is rolled up;
I have been cut off from the loom.
Day and night my end appears.
13I cry out for help all night until dawn,
but my bones are broken like a lion’s;
day and night my end appears.
14I cast about like a sparrow and moan like a dove.
My eyes are tired from looking up.
I am oppressed, LORD; protect me!
15But what can I say? God has spoken and it is done.
I cannot sleep because of my soul’s bitterness.
16LORD, people live by these opinions,
and my life is wrapped up in them.
I beg you to restore my health and let me live!
17It must certainly have been for my own welfare
that I suffered such bitterness.
But you kept my life from destruction
and cast all my sins away.
18The grave cannot give you thanks,
nor can death praise you.
Those who are laid in the grave cannot hope for your faithfulness.
19Those who are yet alive raise their thanksgiving to you,
as I have this very day.
Fathers tell their children of your faithfulness.
20The LORD will rescue me and we will sing to the sound of strings
every day of our lives in the LORD’s house.”

21Isaiah had said, “Let them take a lump of figs and apply it to the boil, and he will recover.” 22And Hezekiah had said, “What sign will I be given that will allow me to go up to the LORD’s house?”


1-8: These verses repeat the story told in 2 Kings 20:1-11 but are an abbreviated version of it. Hezekiah is stricken with an illness (a boil, according to the earlier account). Isaiah, never one to break bad news gently, comes and tells him that God says he is going to die, then turns and leaves, not bothering to offer condolences to the poor man. Hezekiah prays that God will remember him for the good he has done and grieves his plight deeply. Isaiah, on his way out, receives another word from the LORD that Hezekiah’s prayer has been heard and he will not die but will live fifteen years more and that Assyria will not again threaten Jerusalem. There is in the king’s quarters a sun dial his father, King Ahaz, had apparently installed. Ahaz had worshiped pagan gods, likely including the sun and moon and planets (see 2 Kings 16). Although Hezekiah had undertaken sweeping religious reforms (2 Kings 18:3-6) he apparently left the sun dial in place. Isaiah announces that the LORD will cause the shadow on the sundial to retreat ten steps, and the shadow indeed goes backward by ten steps, although we do not know what passage of time the ten steps represent. Isaiah curiously skips the detail about the poultice of figs that he prescribed to apply to the boil causing Hezekiah’s distress, but we will hear of it later.

9-13: The text departs at this point from the 2 Kings account and inserts new material, a psalm written by King Hezekiah after the confrontation with Isaiah. It is a rather typical psalm of lament over dire circumstances and prayer for deliverance. He begins by describing his plight, using familiar images — a shepherd’s tent being taken down, a bolt of cloth on a weaver’s loom, and a lion devouring its prey.

14-15: He is jittery as a sparrow, mournful as a dove, but accepts that God has brought him to this pitiful state.

16-20: He prays to be restored. If God has brought him this suffering it must be for his own good, but the grave cannot yet rejoice. He gives thanks for God’s faithfulness and is confident that God will save him.

21-22: Now the text returns to the story of Isaiah’s visit to Hezekiah and fills in the details of Isaiah’s proposed treatment of figs that were left out of the account in verses 1-8.


Hezekiah was a good king, and God extended his life (and his reign) as a reward for his faithfulness. But the story is really about the prophet Isaiah and how God used him to guide the king and the people through threatening times. We need such a person in every generation. Could it be you?