Isaiah 38:1-22

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38:1. Masoretic Text: In those days Hezekiah became sick unto death. And Isaiah, son of Amoz, the prophet, came to him and said to him, “Thus says YHWH, Set your house in order, for you will die and you will not live.”

Septuagint: But it occurred at that time that Hezekiah became sick unto death. And Isaiah, son of Amos, the prophet, came to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, Make arrangements concerning your house, for you will die and will not live.”


Hezekiah became seriously ill, with no hope of recovery. No then-existing medical intervention could have prevented his death. At divine direction, the prophet Isaiah went to him, letting him know the word of YHWH that he should make the needed preparations for the royal house before his life would end. As king with responsibilities for his subjects, he would have to outline plans for the proper functioning of the kingdom subsequent to his untimely death. The message conveyed through Isaiah made it clear to Hezekiah that his death was inevitable and that recovery from his sickness was not to be expected. At the same time, his having been informed about what lay ahead of him gave Hezekiah the opportunity to make his appeal to the only One who could help him in his time of illness.

38:2. Masoretic Text: And Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to YHWH,

Septuagint: And Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord,


In view of the serious sickness, Hezekiah must have been confined to bed. According to the Targum of Isaiah, he turned his face to the “wall of the sanctuary.” This interpretation appears to have some merit, considering that Solomon indicated that individuals would be praying in the direction of the temple, YHWH’s representative place of dwelling. (1 Kings 8:30) As Hezekiah evidently would have been too weak to go to the temple, he may have turned his face toward the wall of the sanctuary when praying. Another possibility is that, to be undistracted in his praying, he turned his face toward the wall of his room.

38:3. Masoretic Text: and said, “Please [’ánnah], O YHWH, remember now how I have walked before your face in truth and with a complete heart, and I have done good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept [with] great weeping.

Septuagint: saying, “Remember, O Lord, how I walked before you with truth, in a true heart, and did the things pleasing before you.” And Hezekiah wept [with] great weeping.


The Hebrew expression ’ánnah, here rendered “please,” is an interjection that can be translated “ah.” It is a particle that is associated with an intense entreaty or supplication.

Hezekiah made his fervent appeal to YHWH on the basis of the life that he had lived, imploring that this might be remembered or be given favorable consideration for being granted a lengthening of his life. He had walked or conducted himself before YHWH, or in his sight, “in truth” or in an upright manner with sincerity. He had not been hypocritical in his conduct, representing himself outwardly in a manner that did not reflect his real inner self. His heart, or his inner self, was fully devoted to YHWH and loyal adherence to his commands. Therefore, he could speak of having walked with a “complete heart.” With a clean conscience, he was able to say that he had done what was good, right, or pleasing in YHWH’s sight.

The intensity of Hezekiah’s weeping is evident from the repetition, “wept with great weeping.” While not stated in the account, one reason for his great sorrow may well have been that he did not have an heir. His son Manasseh began to rule at the age of 12 and so was born about three years after the time of the serious illness. (2 Kings 21:1) Therefore, to Hezekiah it may have seemed that the royal line of David would be broken, adding to his grief and making him wonder how the promise to David about the continuance of the kingdom in his line of descent would be fulfilled.

In his Antiquities (X, ii, 1), Josephus wrote that being able to father children was Hezekiah’s chief concern as a childless king. Hezekiah “entreated God that he would prolong his life for a little while till he had some children, and not allow him to depart this life before he had become a father. Hereupon God had mercy upon him, and accepted his supplication, because the trouble he was under at his supposed death was not because he was soon to leave the advantages he enjoyed in the kingdom; nor did he on that account pray that he might have a longer life afforded to him, but in order to have sons who might receive the government after him.”

38:4. Masoretic Text: And the word of YHWH came to Isaiah, saying,

Septuagint: And the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, saying,


In response to Hezekiah’s prayer and his profuse weeping, YHWH, by means of his spirit, provided Isaiah with a message of comfort for him.

38:5. Masoretic Text: Go, and say to Hezekiah, “Thus says YHWH, the God of David your father, I have heard your prayer. I have seen your tears. Look! I will add to your days fifteen years.”

Septuagint: “Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father, I have heard the sound of your prayer and have seen your tears. Look! I am adding to your time fifteen years.”

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the conjunction “and” follows the word for “prayer.”

The parallel passage in 2 Kings 20:5 adds, “Look! I will heal you. On the third day you will go up to the house of YHWH.”


Isaiah was directed personally to convey YHWH’s reassuring message to Hezekiah. This message identified YHWH as the God of Hezekiah’s forefather David, to whom the promise was made that kingship would remain in his royal line. (2 Samuel 7:12-16) The reference to David, therefore, could have reminded Hezekiah that the royal line would continue through him and that he would have an heir. YHWH had taken favorable notice of Hezekiah’s prayer and his intense weeping on account of the grievous loss that his untimely death would mean for him. Hezekiah would recover from his sickness and be able to live for an additional fifteen years.

38:6. Masoretic Text: And I will deliver you and this city from the palm of the king of Asshur [Assyria], and I will defend this city.

Septuagint: And I will deliver you from the hand of the king of the Assyrians, and I will shelter over this city.

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah adds “for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.” These words are also found in the parallel passage of 2 Kings 20:6.


In addition to the comforting message that he would recover from his illness, Hezekiah received the assurance that the Assyrians would not prove to be a threat for him nor for Jerusalem. YHWH would save both Hezekiah and the city from the palm or the power of Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, and would protect the city.

38:7. Masoretic Text: And this [is] the sign for you from YHWH, that YHWH will carry out this word that he has spoken.

Septuagint: But this [is] the sign for you from the Lord, that God will carry out this word.


To strengthen Hezekiah’s faith in the certain fulfillment of the message that had been conveyed to him, YHWH provided a miraculous sign for him. At this point, the parallel account in 2 Kings (20:7-9) includes specifics that are mentioned later in this chapter of Isaiah and also provides other details. Hezekiah had a boil, and the prophet Isaiah requested that a cake of figs be placed on the boil, whereupon the king recovered. The sign was given to Hezekiah after he had asked the prophet by what sign he would know that he would be healed and able to go to the house of YHWH on the third day. As a personal sign to Hezekiah, it constituted YHWH’s pledge to him that everything that had been said to him would take place.

38:8. Masoretic Text: Look! I will turn back the shadow [on] the steps that it has descended on the steps of Ahaz, ten steps backwards [with reference to] the sun. And the sun turned back ten steps by the steps that it had descended.

Septuagint: [As for] the shadow of the steps that the sun descended (the ten steps of the house of your father), I will turn back the sun the ten steps. And the sun ascended the ten steps that the shadow had descended.

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah refers to the “steps of Ahaz” as the “upper steps.”


The parallel account in 2 Kings 20:9-11 contains additional details. When conveying the word of YHWH to Hezekiah, Isaiah asked the king whether the sign should be that the sun would go forward ten steps or backward ten steps. Hezekiah chose the sign that he recognized would involve the greater difficulty, asking that the shadow go back ten steps. Isaiah then cried out to YHWH. In response, YHWH made the shadow ascend the ten steps that it had descended. According to 2 Chronicles 32:31, the sign appears to have been observed in distant Babylon on the Euphrates River. Nothing in the biblical accounts, however, reveals what natural factors were involved in effecting the change in the position of the shadow.

There is also no way definitively to identify the “steps of Ahaz.” Possibly it was a kind of sundial with specific “steps” or degree markings to indicate the passage of time. Hezekiah’s father Ahaz may have obtained such a sundial, as sundials are known to have existed at that time. Another possibility is that there was a stairway that Ahaz had commissioned to be built, and a column alongside this stairway cast a shadow in relation to the sun and served to indicate the passing of time. The Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities, X, ii, 1) identified the “steps” as being in Hezekiah’s house, which would lend support to the possibility that the reference is to a stairway.

38:9. Masoretic Text: A writing of Hezekiah, king of Judah, after he was sick and recovered from his sickness.

Septuagint: Prayer of Hezekiah, king of the Judea, when he was sick and got up from his sickness.


The written record is that of Hezekiah’s prayer. It expresses his distress during the time of his illness and his appreciation for what YHWH had done for him in effecting his recovery.

38:10. Masoretic Text: I said, In the half [demi] of my days, I will go into the gates of Sheol. I am deprived of the rest of my years.

Septuagint: I said, In the height of my days, I will leave behind the remaining years in the gates of Hades.

According to the Targum of Isaiah, Hezekiah thought that, “in the sorrow of [his] days” he would be going “into the gates of Sheol.” “Because of [his] memorial for good,” however, his years had been increased.


“Half” is one lexical definition for the Hebrew word demi, but the expression is also associated with “cessation,” “quiet,” “rest,” or “pause.” Translators have variously rendered the term as “noontime” (NAB), “prime” (NIV, REB), and “noon” (NJB). The Septuagint rendering “height” suggests that Hezekiah’s life was still at what would be considered the best part and not the decline associated with old age.

During his time of illness, Hezekiah felt that he was heading for the gates of Sheol, to enter the realm of the dead prematurely and long before someone’s death might commonly be expected. It seemed to him that, in view of how short his life would be, he had been deprived of what normally would have been the rest of the years of his life.

38:11. Masoretic Text: I said, I will not see Yah, [even] Yah, in the land of the living. I will no more look [upon] man [’adhám, the “earthling”] among the inhabitants of cessation [chédel].

Septuagint: I said, No longer will I see the deliverance of God on the earth; no longer will I see a man from my kinsfolk.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, “Yah” is not repeated, and the conjunction “and” follows the word for “living.”

In Rahlfs’ printed text, the words “from my kinsfolk” are in verse 12. They have been included here to complete the sentence, and will not be repeated in verse 12. (See verse 12 for a comment on “kinsfolk.”)

The Targum of Isaiah represents Hezekiah as saying that he would not appear again before YHWH “in the land where the Shekinah dwells, wherein is length of life.” He would “not serve before him again in the sanctuary, whence joy is about to come forth for all the inhabitants of the land.”


“Yah” is the abbreviated form of the divine name “YHWH.” For Hezekiah not to see YHWH any longer would mean that he would no more be aware of his presence, attention, care, and saving acts. The Septuagint rendering focuses on his no longer witnessing any divinely effected deliverances, and the Targum of Isaiah on the reality that he would no longer be able to serve YHWH in the sanctuary as his devoted worshiper. Death would deprive him of all his senses, and so he would no longer be able to see any man. The Hebrew expression “inhabitants of cessation” could mean those who have ceased to exist and find themselves in the realm of the deceased (which would then include Hezekiah) and are no more able to see any living earthling or mortal. Translators, however, commonly have chosen renderings that apply to the living on earth (“inhabitants of the world” [NRSV], “those who live on earth” [NJB], and “people who live on this earth” [CEV]), not those in the realm of the dead or in the place of cessation.

38:12. Masoretic Text: My dwelling place [dohr] has been pulled up and taken away from me like a tent of my shepherd. I have rolled up my life like a weaver. He cuts me off from the warp. From day to night you finish [shalám] me.

Septuagint: I have left behind the rest of my life. It has gone out and departed from me as [when] someone took down a tent that he had pitched. My spirit within me has come to be like a woman weaver’s web being approached to be cut off. In that day I was delivered up as to a lion until morning.

In Rahlfs’ printed text, the words “as to a lion until morning” are part of verse 13 but are included here to complete the sentence. They will not be repeated for verse 13.


If in this context “dwelling place” is the meaning of the Hebrew word dohr, it may be understood to apply to Hezekiah’s body. “My body is like a shepherd’s tent.” (NIRV) Upon his death, he would no longer have had his body as his habitation or tent. It was his temporary home or shelter, comparable to a shepherd’s tent that could easily be taken down after the tent pegs were pulled up and then taken away, with no evidence that it had ever been at the previous location. Hezekiah’s existence as a person would have ended without a functioning body. (Compare 2 Corinthians 5:1-4; 2 Peter 1:14.)

According to the Septuagint rendering, Hezekiah would have “left behind the rest of [his] life.” The “rest” would be the time he would normally have been expected to live without experiencing a premature death.

In the Septuagint, Hezekiah’s life is represented as having departed from him like a tent that is dismantled. Similarly, the Targum of Isaiah indicates that Hezekiah’s days would be “folded up like a shepherd’s tent.” Instead of making an application to the body, a number of modern translations likewise link “life” with the tent. “My life was taken from me like the tent that a shepherd pulls up and moves.” (CEV) “My life was cut off and ended, like a tent that is taken down.”(GNT)

The Hebrew word dohr can also mean “period,” “age,” or “generation.” In the Targum of Isaiah, the reference is to “generation.” “From the men of my generation my days have been removed.” J. P. Green, for his literal translation, chose the word “generation.” “My generation is plucked up and carried away from me, like a shepherd’s tent.” It appears that the Septuagint translator considered the word dohr to apply to “kinsfolk” (syngéneia, which term can be linked to the verb gennáo [“generate” or “bring forth”] and the noun geneá [“generation” or “offspring”]) and continued the sentence with the words “from my kinsfolk” (“no longer will I see a man from my kinsfolk”).

Hezekiah appears to have likened his completed life to a weaver’s finished cloth. In view of what he perceived to be his imminent death, his life’s record was complete and so he could roll it up like a weaver rolls up his finished product. In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, however, a form of the word saphár is found, which could mean that Hezekiah would make an accounting of his life. The Septuagint reference to the spirit could be to the life force that was about to be cut off like the web or the woven material in a loom.

Hezekiah recognized that his life was in God’s hands, and so he attributed the cutting off of his life to him, likening it to what a weaver does when cutting across the warp threads to remove the woven fabric from the loom.

The Hebrew word shalám can mean to finish or bring to an end, but it can also indicate that something has been made complete. This is reflected in the renderings of modern translations. “You make a wreck of me day and night.” (CEV) “Day and night you give me over to torment.” (NAB) “From dawn to dark, you have been making an end of me.” (NJB) These renderings suggest that Hezekiah felt that YHWH did not provide any relief for him from the distressing illness. Another possible meaning is that the worst time for Hezekiah was the night. “Only from daybreak to nightfall was I kept whole, then it was as though a lion were wrecking all my bones; I cried out until morning.” (Tanakh)

According to the Septuagint, Hezekiah felt as though he had been delivered up like prey to a lion.

38:13. Masoretic Text: I have soothed [shawáh] myself until morning. Like a lion, so he breaks all my bones. From day to night you finish me.”

Septuagint: Thus he crushed by bones; for from day until night I was delivered up.

For the Septuagint text, the part about the lion is included with verse 12 (which see).


In this context, the Hebrew word shawáh could mean “soothe” or “smooth.” This could signify that Hezekiah tried hard to calm himself during the time of his distressing sickness. The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, however, contains a different Hebrew word, which has been understood to mean “lay bare” (“I am laid bare”). Perhaps this signifies that unceasingly he was exposed to the painful effects of his illness. The Targum of Isaiah indicates that he “roared” or cried out until the morning, evidently doing so on account of his pain. A number of translators have chosen to render the verse according to a correction for the verb shawáh and read, “I cried out until morning” (Tanakh); “till daybreak, I cried for help” (NJB).

Hezekiah regarded the affliction that had befallen him as coming from YHWH. As YHWH had not relieved his suffering but it continued unabated, Hezekiah compared what YHWH was doing to him as crushing his bones, or his whole organism, as does a lion when breaking the bones of its prey.

The last phrase repeats the concluding words of verse 12 (which see for comments). In the case of the Septuagint rendering, “delivered up” does not have an object and so could refer to Hezekiah’s being handed over to affliction.

38:14. Masoretic Text: Like a swift [sus or sis], [like] a thrush [‘agúr], so I chirp. I coo [hagáh] like a dove. My eyes are weak from looking to the height. My Lord, I am in distress. Be my surety.

Septuagint: Like a swallow, so will I make a sound; and like a dove, so will I mutter [meletáo]. For my eyes have failed from looking into the height of heaven to the Lord, who has rescued me

The Hebrew word for “meditate” is hagáh, and the corresponding Greek word is meletáo. In this context, hagáh and meletáo apply to making indistinct, audible sounds comparable to moaning, muttering, cooing, or growling.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the conjunction “and” precedes the words “be my surety.”

In the Septuagint, the sentence is completed in the next verse.

The Targum of Isaiah presents as the reason for the sound of the swallow to be its having been captured.


The Hebrew word sus or sis may refer either to the swallow or the swift. According to one view, the Hebrew name sis is derived from the sound a swift makes (si-si-si). Although resembling the swallow, the swift is classified in a different family (Apodiformes). Other birds that have been suggested are the crane and the wryneck (a small woodpecker). Chirping, however, does not fit the call of a crane, and so this identification is questionable. Wracked with pain, Hezekiah spoke of himself as “chirping” like birds, or muttering. His mournful sounds or moaning would have been comparable to the cooing of a dove.

He had looked to the height, to YHWH, the God whom he acknowledged as his Lord (the One to whom he owed loyal obedience). In view of his thus looking without letup, he referred to his eyes as having become weak or having failed. Hezekiah desperately wanted relief from his distressing affliction. For YHWH to be surety for Hezekiah would mean that his God would be a pledge, assuring his recovery and well-being. The rendering of the Septuagint identifies Hezekiah’s Lord as being the One who had rescued him.

38:15. Masoretic Text: What can I say? He has also spoken to me and has done it. I will walk [slowly] all of my years because of the bitterness of my soul.

Septuagint: and removed the pain of my soul.

The Septuagint rendering is completely different, indicating that God brought relief to Hezekiah. The “pain” of his “soul” denotes the pain that he himself experienced on account of his affliction, and God freed him from this pain.

The Targum of Isaiah likewise refers to positive developments. In response to the abundant goodness YHWH had shown to him, Hezekiah asked, “What praise shall I utter and declare before him? How shall I serve, and repay him all the years that he has added to my life and delivered my soul from bitterness?”

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah represents Hezekiah as asking himself what he could say because of what YHWH had done to him.


The Hebrew text appears to suggest that Hezekiah could say nothing in response to what YHWH had said to him and what he had done (or permitted to befall him). All that he could do was to “walk slowly,” or humbly as one reduced to a weak state, on account of the “bitterness” of his “soul,” or the grievous distress that he had to endure. A number of translations interpretively make this sense explicit. “But what could I say? For he himself had sent this sickness. Now I will walk humbly throughout my years because of this anguish I have felt.” (NLT) “How can I complain, what can I say to the LORD when he himself has done this? I shall wander to and fro all my life long in bitterness of soul.” (REB) “There’s nothing I can say in answer to you, since you are the one who has done this to me. My life has turned sour; I will limp until I die.” (CEV)

The words could also be understood as applying to the promise that Hezekiah would recover, and that God fulfilled his word. Viewed in that light, the question about what he could say would mean how he could express his appreciation. A number of translations are specific in conveying a positive message. “But what can I say? You have promised to heal me. And you yourself have done it. Once I was proud and bitter. But now I will live the rest of my life free of pride.” (NIRV) “And so — what shall I now say since he fulfilled the promise he gave to me? Despite worries, I will walk my life’s course serenely all the remaining years.” (Und nun — was soll ich jetzt sagen, da er sein Versprechen, das er mir gab, eingelöst hat? Ich will trotz Sorgen meinen Lebensweg alle weiteren Jahre gelassen gehen. [German, Neues Leben])

38:16. Masoretic Text: My Lord, by these things they live, and in all these [is] the life of my spirit. And restore me to health and cause me to live.

Septuagint: Lord, concerning it [the pain of my soul], it was indeed declared to you, and you revived my breath; and being comforted, I came to life.

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah reads, “and all of them who live have his spirit.” In this context, the “spirit” would be the life breath that is considered to have God as the ultimate source and is, therefore, called “his spirit.”

In the Targum of Isaiah, the reference is to YHWH’s declaration that he would bring the dead to life. He, however, had caused Hezekiah’s spirit to live before them all and preserved him alive.


Based on the previous verse of the Hebrew text, the things by which men or people live are what YHWH has said or expressed and what he has done. Likewise, Hezekiah’s spirit or life breath depended on YHWH’s word and activity. Therefore, he prayed to YHWH to cure him and make it possible for him to continue living.

The Septuagint reading could be understood to mean that Hezekiah had made known to God the distress of his soul, or the grievous affliction that he had been experiencing. In response, God had revived Hezekiah’s breath or infused him with a freshness of life. Comforted by God’s favorable attention, Hezekiah was restored to a state of well-being and thus came alive.

38:17. Masoretic Text: Look! For peace, bitter upon bitter; and you became attached to my soul, [preserving it] from the pit of cessation. For you have cast all my sins behind your back.

Septuagint: For you chose my soul, that it may not be destroyed, and you have cast all my sins behind me.

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) does not repeat the word for “bitter,” and it links the “pit” to a word that has been understood to denote “confinement.”

According to the Targum of Isaiah, those who obey the law have much peace, whereas YHWH brings bitterness upon the wicked. When Hezekiah knew the day of his death, he poured out his tears in prayer to YHWH. He was then in “great bitterness,” but YHWH took pleasure in his life and did not destroy his soul.


The introductory elliptical expression of the Hebrew text may indicate that, instead of a state of “peace” or well-being, Hezekiah had experienced great bitterness. Another possible meaning is that Hezekiah was in a state of great bitterness prior to his coming to have peace upon being healed from his affliction. On account of the elliptical nature of the text, the interpretive renderings of translators vary considerably. “Bitterness, not prosperity, had indeed been my lot.” (REB) “You have given me health and life; thus is my bitterness transformed into peace.” (NAB) “At once, my bitterness turns to well-being.” (NJB) “Truly, it was for my own good that I had such great bitterness.” (Tanakh)

YHWH’s attachment to Hezekiah’s soul apparently refers to his love for Hezekiah, which became tangibly manifest to him when he was healed. He did not descend into the pit that would have meant the cessation or the end of his life. Apparently Hezekiah believed that YHWH did not consider his sins as then meriting death, and so spoke of these sins as having been tossed out of sight, as if coming to be behind YHWH’s back or, according to the Septuagint, behind Hezekiah.

The Septuagint rendering concerning God’s choice of Hezekiah’s soul may be understood of his choice not to let Hezekiah die.

38:18. Masoretic Text: For Sheol cannot give thanks to you; death cannot praise you. Those going down into the pit cannot hope for your truth.

Septuagint: For those in Hades will not praise you, nor will the dead bless you, nor will those in Hades hope for your mercy.

In the Hebrew text, the negative sense (“cannot praise”) is implied, but in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah (the Great Isaiah Scroll) it is expressed. This scroll also precedes the concluding thought about going down into the pit with the conjunction “and.”


The Hebrew word Sheol and the corresponding Greek word Hades are the terms that designate the realm of the dead. No one in the realm of the dead can thank, praise, or bless YHWH. So neither from that realm of the dead nor from those who find themselves there can there be expressions of any kind. The dead are the ones who go down into the “pit,” the place of burial. Not conscious of anything, the dead do not have the capacity to hope for God’s “truth,” faithfulness, trustworthiness, or trueness with reference to the fulfillment of his promises. According to the Septuagint rendering, they would not be able to hope for God’s mercy, being completely unaware of all feelings.

38:19. Masoretic Text: The living, the living, he can give thanks to you, as I can this day. A father makes known your truth to his sons.

Septuagint: The living will bless you in the manner as I [do]. For from today I will produce children who will declare your righteousness, O Lord of my salvation.

In Rahlfs’ printed text, the words “O Lord of my salvation” are part of verse 20. They are included here to complete the sentence, and they will repeated for verse 21.

According to the Targum of Isaiah, fathers will declare YHWH’s might to their children and give thanks to him, saying, “All these things are truth.”


Only the living have conscious existence and, therefore, only they can give thanks to, bless, or praise YHWH for all that he had done. Because Hezekiah had been healed of his affliction, he could speak of being able to give thanks to or to praise YHWH that day. God’s “truth,” faithfulness, trustworthiness, or trueness relates to his dependability in fulfilling his word. A father who has personally witnessed the repeated evidence of YHWH’s faithfulness is able to relate this to his sons or children.

According to the Septuagint rendering, Hezekiah would become father to children, and these children would be able to declare God’s righteousness or the rightness of everything that he does. The implication is that they could base their words on what their father had experienced and which made it possible for them to come into existence. Historically, however, Manasseh who succeeded his father as king proved to be one of the worst rulers, engaging in idolatry and shedding much innocent blood during the course of most of his reign. (2 Kings 21:1-17; 2 Chronicles 33:1-16)

38:20. Masoretic Text: YHWH, [act] to save me, and [with] my stringed instruments we will make music all the days of our life at the house of YHWH.

Septuagint: Lord of my salvation. And I will not cease blessing you with psaltery all the days of my life before the house of God.

According to the Targum of Isaiah, the thoughts are expressed in the first person plural. “YHWH has promised to deliver us, and we will play the melodies of his songs all the days of our life at the sanctuary of YHWH.”

A measure of confusion exists in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah. The copyist ended with the words here rendered “to save me.” At this point, the style of the letters changes. Another copyist basically repeated the words of verse 19 and the beginning of verse 20 and then continued with the rest of the words in this verse.


For the initial part of the Hebrew text, a word needs to be supplied to complete the thought. Translators vary in the manner they have rendered these words. “The LORD will save me.” (NIV, NRSV) “[It has pleased] the LORD to deliver us.” (Tanakh) “The LORD is our savior.” (NAB) “The LORD is at hand to save me.” (REB) “Yahweh, come to my help.” (NJB) The basic thought is that YHWH is the source of salvation or deliverance. In the Septuagint, the expression “Lord of my salvation” denotes the Lord who effected deliverance for Hezekiah, liberating him from his affliction and other distress.

In appreciation for what YHWH did for him, Hezekiah determined to praise him for the rest of his life at the temple in Jerusalem. Possibly the plural in the Hebrew text could be taken to mean that, in association with others, he would sing compositions played on stringed instruments.

The Septuagint rendering keeps the focus on Hezekiah, indicating that he would not stop blessing or praising God all the days of his life. With a psaltery or a stringed instrument, he would praise God before his “house,” the temple of YHWH in Jerusalem.

38:21. Masoretic Text: And Isaiah said, “Let them take a cake of figs and apply [it] to the boil, and he will live.”

Septuagint: And Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Take a cake [made] from figs and mash [it] and apply [it] as a poultice, and you will recover.”

This verse and verse 22 are not in chronological order. For this reason a number of translations (NAB, NJB, REB) have inserted them between verses 6 and 7, which would agree with the reading of 2 Kings 20:6-9. Confusion in the Hebrew text of this part of Isaiah 38 is evident from the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah. The writing style changes after verse 20. Another copyist then wrote the words of verse 21, completing the text of this verse and that of verse 22 by writing the words vertically along the left margin of the main text.


Whereas the Hebrew text directs the instructions about the cake of figs to others, the Septuagint represents them as being given to Hezekiah. The Septuagint rendering is more detailed, indicating that the cake was to be mashed and made into a plaster or poultice. Although the medicinal poultice was applied to Hezekiah’s boil (the nature of which cannot be determined from the account), the real healing came about because YHWH had given his promise through Isaiah. This is evident from the fact that the divine promise included the extension of Hezekiah’s life by 15 years, which could not have been accomplished by means of the poultice.

38:22. Masoretic Text: And Hezekiah said, “What [is] the sign that I will go up to the house of YHWH?”

Septuagint: And Hezekiah said, “This [is] the sign that I will go up to the house of the Lord God.”

Concerning the text in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, see verse 21.


According to 2 Kings 20:8-11, the sign Hezekiah received, based on his request, was that the shadow on the “steps of Ahaz” went backward ten steps. This confirmatory sign assured Hezekiah that he would get well and be able to go to the temple on the third day. (For details regarding the sign, see the comments on verses 7 and 8.)