IN VOLUME 1 (MEDITATION FOR NOVEMBER 7) I commented on the near-fatal illness of King Hezekiah, and on his recovery and subsequent folly with the Babylonian emissaries (an account similar to Isa. 39-40 is found in 2 Kings 20). Death is not the thing most to be feared. Had Hezekiah died from his illness, instead of living for fifteen additional years, he would not have succumbed to some of his worst sins of pride and callousness (Isa. 39:5-8). But here I shall focus on something more prosaic: the chronology of the events. For there are lessons to be learned.
There is considerable dispute over the dating of Hezekiah's reign. What is reasonably clear is that Sennacherib's invasion (Isa. 36:1) occurred in 701 B.C. This was in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah's reign, which means he came to the throne in 715 (701 + 14). But 2 Kings 18:1 insists that Hezekiah's accession took place in the third year of King Hoshea of Israel (the northern kingdom), i.e., approximately 727. Probably Hezekiah was co-regent with his father Ahaz from 727 to 715, when Ahaz died, and thereafter ruled alone. (Co-regencies were common among the kings of Judah and Israel.) So the invasion of 701 occurred in either the fourteenth or the twenty-sixth year of Hezekiah's reign, depending on whether or not one includes the co-regency years. But 2 Kings 18:1 also specifies that Hezekiah reigned for twenty-nine years from the onset of his co-regency, which places his death in 698. If his illness occurred fifteen years earlier (Isa. 38:5), it happened in 713. The visit of Babylon's emissaries was apparently shortly after this, in 712 or 711---more than a decade before the Assyrian invasion under Sennacherib. The phrase "In those days" (Isa. 38:1) must then be a general reference to the time of Hezekiah's life and reign rather than something more specific.
What this means is that we should not interpret the events of Isaiah 38-39 as taking place after Sennacherib's invasion, as if this is a relapse following the heroic and faithful intercession and obedience described in chapters 36-37. The situation is more complex. Following fruitful years of administration (2 Kings 18), Hezekiah falls ill and is miraculously restored. His boasting to Babylon's emissaries follows (Isa. 39), and may well have been part of Hezekiah's plan to rebel against Assyria. Hezekiah only learns to trust the Lord a decade later, when Assyria almost crushes him. He dies three years after that invasion. If this chronology is correct, Hezekiah's extraordinarily selfish and calloused stance in Isaiah 39:8 accurately reflects his ambivalence toward God and toward God's prophet---until driven by desperation.
When and how do we learn to trust the Lord?