Isaiah 38 – Hezekiah’s Sickness & The Sumerian Prayer Letter of King Sin-Iddinam

Finger Pointing UpThat’s way cool the king wrote You a thank you letter.  Not that he had to, I mean, You see everything (Heb 4:13) and You’re everywhere (Ps 139:7-12).  This is when the old saying is true, “It’s the thought that counts.”  The king really worshiped You, anyone with any sense does (Ps 34:1, 139:14; Eph 1:1-14).

1 Hezekiahs Pool
Hezekiah’s Pool
This is the view of what is called “Hezekiah’s Pool” but is thought to be a reservoir from the time of Herod that received water from aqueducts that are still visible outside the Jaffa Gate.

It also may have been a quarry outsidethe city where stones were cut for an Old Testament wall to the east of here. Some consider this to be the pool mentioned in Isaiah 36:2 and 2 Kings 18:17 where Sennacherib’s field commander met Hezekiah’s men “at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field.”.

It is located in the Christian Quarterand in this photo is viewed from the Petra Hotel which is just inside the Jaffa Gate across from the Citadel. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is not in the top left corner of the photo. At one time the courtyard around the reservoir was encircled with inns and rest stops for travels and royal couriers.

Today these buildings are workshops and up until recently the pool was used as a trash dump. The site has never been excavated but there are plans to do so in the future.

I remember when I wrote my testimony and I was going to mail it to my grandmother.  I had gotten the address from my mom, but I didn’t have the zip code so I wasn’t going to mail it.  And You said, “I know where she lives,” so I mailed it and sure enough, she got it.

1 In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.

“In those days” – sometime before Sennacherib’s invasion of 701 B.C. (see v. 6).

“Isaiah” – he is prominent in this historical interlude (chs. 36-39).

“Thou shalt die” – Elisha similarly predicted the death of Ban-Hadad (2 Kgs 8:9-10).

2 Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the LORD,

“Wall” – perhaps of the nearby temple.

“Prayed” – Hezekiah apparently had no son and successor to the throne yet.

3 And said, Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.

“Perfect heart” – a fully devoted heart.  Like David (1 Kgs 11:4).  Hezekiah was truly faithful.

4  Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying,

5 Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.

6 And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city.

7 And this shall be a sign unto thee from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that he hath spoken;

8 Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.

“Sun returned ten degrees” – the miracle of the shadow of the sun moving backward perhaps involved the refraction of light.

2 Hezekiahs Tunnel
Hezekiah’s Tunnel
Hezekiah’s Tunnel was cut through bedrock in 701 BC under the City of David, curving and weaving for 1750 feet. If the same tunnel were cut in a straight line, it
would be 40% shorter at only 1070 feet.

This tunnel was designed and cut to bring water from the Gihon Springs in the Kidron Valley located on the east side of the Eastern Hill outside the city’s walls, through the bedrock of the Eastern Hill to the west side, where Hezekiah’s city of Jerusalem was expanding and
protected by the new Broad Wall.

After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself. When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and that he intended to make war on Jerusalem, he consulted with his officials and military staff about blocking off the water from the springs outside the city, and they helped him.

A large force of men assembled, and they blocked all the springs and the stream that flowed through the land. ‘Why should the kings of Assyria come and find plenty of water?’ they said. 
Then he worked hard repairing all the broken sections of the wall and building towers on it. He built another wall outside that one and reinforced the supporting terraces (Millo) of the City of David.

He also made large numbers of weapons and shields. . . It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper
outlet of the Gihon spring and channeled the water down to the west side of the City of David. He succeeded in everything he undertook (2 Chronicles 32:1-5, 30).

9  The writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness:

10 I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years.

38:10-20 – a hymn of thanksgiving, in structure similar to many of the psalms.  Hezekiah was deeply interested in the psalms of David and Asaph (see Chr 29:30).

11 I said, I shall not see the LORD, even the LORD, in the land of the living: I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world.

12 Mine age is departed, and is removed from me as a shepherd’s tent: I have cut off like a weaver my life: he will cut me off with pining sickness: from day even to night wilt thou make an end of me.

“Mine age” – Hezekiah’s life span.

“As a shepherd’s tent” – his life ends suddenly like a tent that it folded up and put away.

“I have cut off…my life” – Lit. “I have rolled up…my life”; cf. the rolling up of the sky like a scroll in 34:4 (see also Heb 1:12).

13 I reckoned till morning, that, as a lion, so will he break all my bones: from day even to night wilt thou make an end of me.

“Break all my bones” – physical or spiritual distress is often described in terms of aching or broken bones (see Ps 6:2, 32:3).

14 Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward: O LORD, I am oppressed; undertake for me.

15 What shall I say?  He hath both spoken unto me, and himself hath done it: I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul.

Hezekiah offers praise for God’s healing.

“What shall I say?” – See 2 Sam 7:20.  Hezekiah wonders how he can praise God.

16 O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit: so wilt thou recover me, and make me to live.

“By these things” – perhaps referring to God’s promise and gracious acts, though His gracious acts can include such experiences as sickness and peril.

17 Behold, for peace I had great bitterness: but thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.

“Pit of corruption” – the grave (see Ps 55:23).

“All my sins” – physical and spiritual healing are sometimes linked together.

“Sins behind thy back” – God not only puts our sins out of sight; He also puts them out of reach (Mic 7:19; Ps 103:12), out of mind (Jerusalem 31:34) and out of existence (Isa 43:25, 44:22; Ps 51:1, 9; Acts 3:19).

18 For the grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.

“Cannot hope” – knowledge about the afterlife was limited in the Old Testament period, but the gospel of Christ has “brought…immortality to light: (2 Tim 1:10).

3 The Siloam Inscription and Hezekiah’s Tunnel
The Siloam Inscription and Hezekiah’s Tunnel
The Siloam Tunnel Inscription, discovered in 1880, narrates a dramatic moment in Jerusalem’s history. Fearing that the city would soon be under siege, residents thousands of years ago undertook a project that would bring water from a source outside the city walls into the city.

The inscription, chiseled into the wall of a tunnel (called Hezekiah’s Tunnel) tells how two crews of workmen tunneled through bedrock. One started at the Gihon spring outside of the city; the other crew started from inside the city walls. Sometimes following natural fissures in the rock rather than always hewing through the stone (which accounts for the somewhat winding nature of the tunnel), the two crews finally met. It is this moment that the inscription, six lines of Old Hebrew, narrates:
(1) [. . .] the tunneling. And this is the narrative of the tunneling: While [the stone-cutters were wielding]
(2) the picks, each toward his co-worker,the picks, each toward his coworker, and while there were still three cubits to tunnel through, the voice of a man was heard calling out
(3) to his co-worker, because there was a fissure in the rock, running from south [to north]. And on the (final) day of
(4) tunneling, each of the stonecutters was striking (the stone) forcefully so as to meet his co-worker, pick after pick. And
(5) then the water began to flow from the source to the pool, a distance of 1200 cubits. And 100
(6) cubits was the height of the rock above the head of the stone-cutters.

Biblical texts describing the reign of Hezekiah suggest the reason for this engineering feat. The Gihon spring is the source for the water that flowed through the Siloam Tunnel (2Kgs 20:20; 2Chr 32:30; Sir 48:17-18). King Hezekiah of Judah (reigned 715–687 B.C.E.) believed that the Neo-Assyrian king Sennacherib (reigned 704–681 B.C.E.) would soon besiege Jerusalem. After all, Hezekiah had recently revolted against Assyria’s control.

Although most scholars accept this as the most likely context, some think that the Siloam Tunnel Inscription dates to the Hasmonean period (second century B.C.E.), others to an even later time (early eighth or late ninth century C.E.)

According to the inscription, the total length of the tunnel was around 1200 cubits. At about 18 inches per cubit, the total length was nearly 1800 feet. Modern measurements confirm that the tunnel is indeed almost 1800 feet long. At one point, the inscription states that the height of the ceiling is about 100 cubits (or 150 feet).

Although there are places where the ceiling is about this high, there are also many places where it is less than six feet high. The inscription does not mention the breadth of the tunnel, but it is usually at least shoulder width.

Shortly after its discovery, the inscription was chiseled out and removed, with some resulting damage. Because its discovery and removal occurred during the Ottoman period, it was sent to Istanbul. It remains in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

19 The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth.

20 The LORD was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the LORD.

“Sing…to the stringed instruments” – instruments music and hyms of praise were closely linked in worship (cf. Ps 33:1-3).

“All…all our life in the house of the LORD” – Hezekiah, like David (Ps 23:6), loved God’s house.

21 For Isaiah had said, Let them take a lump of figs, and lay it for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover.

“Take…lay it” – the verbs are plural (probably addressed to the court physicians).

“Lump of figs” – figs were used for medical purposes in ancient Ugarit.

“He shall recover” – Contrast v. 1.  God answered Hezekiah’s [prayer for healing.  This instruction also demonstrates that there is nothing inconsistent with a person praying for healing from God and receiving the best possible care from human physicians.

22 Hezekiah also had said, What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the LORD?

“Sign” – perhaps the healing of the boil. 

I don’ understand why people can’t believe the Bible because a lot of people mentioned in the Bible are also written about in historical books and they believe them.  Like Sargon II, Sennacherib, Tiglah-Pileser III, Merodach-Balandan, King Hezekiah, and a lot of others are all in the Bible and history books.  Plus there are people, like Alexander the Great, that aren’t written in the Bible but in the history books they talk about them have encounters with people that are mentioned in the Bible.

Maybe they don’t believe the Bible because it only tells parts of events?  Or maybe they don’t believe the Bible because a lot of bizarre things happen that are not of the norm?  But if people would stop and think and realize that You are the cornerstone here, these bizarre things happen because you want it to happen.  I mean come on now, I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but compared to us, You are really weird.

May be people don’t realize that the Bible was not written for entertainment or to educate us on the past.  The Bible is all about You, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost.

The Sumerian Prayer Letter
of King Sin-Iddinam

4 The Sumerian Prayer Letter of King Sin Iddinam
The Sumerian Prayer Letter of King Sin-Iddinam

The modern reader may be surprised that in Isaiah 38:9-20 Hezekiah’s prayer is recorded as a “writing” or letter.  The genre of the “prayer letter,” is well attested in Sumerian and Akkadian literature.

It is first known from the libraries of private individuals, but later developed as a common means for royal figures to petition the gods.

An example of this form of communication is the Sumerian prayer letter of King Sin-Iddinam of Larsa, c. mid-19th century B.C.

Sin-Iddinam wrote to Nin-Isina, the patron goddess of the city of Isin (the rival city of Larsa), complaining that although he had been a faithful shepherd of the nation under his care, the city of Isin continued to raid his territory.

Furthermore, he had been cursed an incurable disease that defied diagnosis.  Appealing to the goddess as though she were his own tru mother, Sin-Iddinam begged Nin-Isina to petition her divine son Damu (the god of healing) on his behalf.

The letter ends with the king on the brink of death, crying for Nin-Isina to have mercy and call upon Damu.  A subsequent letter in the name of Nin-Isina to her divine son on behalf of King Sin-Iddinam appears to be the answer to the king’s prayer.

5 Sumerian Tablet Uruk
Sumerian Tablet Uruk
ca. 3,200 BCE. Sumerian Tablet, Uruk. an intermediate form of writing with pictographs, a grid and wedges for numbers which later developed into cuneiform in Mesopotamia.

Another prayer letter, this one an Akkadian missive written by a military officer, is addressed to the god Shamash.  In it the officer asked for an oracle on the success of a planned campaign.

In Isaiah 38 King Hezekiah of Judah used the prayer letter genre to address Yahweh.  Having been inflicted with a near-fatal illness, Hezekiah pleaded for healing while recounting his obedience and devotion to God.

When the Lord heard his prayer and granted him 15 additional years of life (Isa 38:5), the king wrote another prayer letter, detailing the extent of his sickness and praising God for his healing restoration and loving faithfulness.

In so doing Hezekiah demonstrated true loyalty: He didn’t call upon God only when experiencing life-threatening difficulty but remembered also to thank and praise him after his full recovery.

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