Isaiah 39 – “A Babylonian Visit to Jerusalem”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Babylonian messengers visit Jerusalem, Hezekiah shows them his treasures, and Isaiah predicts a Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem.

II. Photo
Hezekiah shows the Babylonians his treasures: “Hezekiah was pleased by their coming, and he showed them his treasure house — the silver, the gold, the spices, and the fragrant oil — and all his armory, and everything that was to be found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his palace or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.” (v. 2)

III. Important Verses
1-2: At that time, Merodach-baladan son of Baladan, the king of Babylon, sent [envoys with] a letter and a gift to Hezekiah, for he had heard about his illness and recovery. Hezekiah was pleased by their coming, and he showed them his treasure house — the silver, the gold, the spices, and the fragrant oil — and all his armory, and everything that was to be found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his palace or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.
5-7: Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD of Hosts: A time is coming when everything in your palace, which your ancestors have stored up to this day, will be carried off to Babylon; nothing will be left behind, said the LORD. And some of your sons, your own issue, whom you will have fathered, will be taken to serve as eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
8: Hezekiah declared to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “It means that safety is assured for my time.”

IV. Outline
1. Merodach-baladan sends a gift to Hezekiah
2. Hezekiah shows the messengers his treasures
3-4. Hezekiah tells Isaiah what he has done
5-7. Isaiah predicts a Babylonian invasion
8. Hezekiah’s selfish agreement

V. Comment
Chapter 39 describes a visit by the messengers of Merodach-baladan and its repercussions. Who was Merodach-baladan? Ronald H. Sack writes: “During a career that spanned nearly 60 years, Merodach-baladan (Akk Marduk-apla-iddina) brought Chaldean and Aramean tribes together in opposition to Assyrian expansion in S Babylonia. Unfortunately, most of the surviving sources for Merodach-baladan’s career are Assyrian. Like the Verse Account of Nabonidus, they paint a picture of an ‘outsider’ who not only seized power by force, but also took prisoners and removed divine images from their temples. In his own accounts, he claims to have been a descendant of Eriba-Marduk, a king responsible for expansion and consolidation in Babylonia before 760 B.C. Brinkman’s observation, that Merodach-baladan was Eriba-Marduk’s grandson, is probably correct. During the reign of Tiglath-pileser III (745–727 B.C.), he sent tribute to the Assyrian capital. However, after the accession of Sargon II (722–705 B.C.) he attempted, with Elamite assistance, to thwart Assyrian intervention in S Babylonian affairs by seizing power himself. Under his leadership, after 721 B.C., both Chaldean and Aramean tribes constituted a formidable threat to the stability of the Assyrian Empire not only in Babylonia, but in Elam, Arabia, and Judah as well.” (Ronald H. Sack, “Merodach-baladan” in Anchor Bible Dictionary v. 4 p. 704-5)

Although most of chapters 1-39 deal with the events of the 8th century BCE (Isaiah was an 8th century prophet), the chapters that follow deal with events of the 6th century. While many traditional commentators (e.g. Amos Hakham in “Da’at Miqra’”) view the entire book to have been written by Isaiah, many modern scholars disagree. Collins writes: “Only a small part of the book of Isaiah, however, can be associated with the prophet of the eighth century. Chapters 40-66 clearly relate to the Babylonian exile and its aftermath. Cyrus of Persia, who lived in teh sixth century B.C.E., is mentioned by name in Isa 44:28 ad 45:1. With the rise of critical scholarship in the late eighteenth centur, sholars were unwilling to believe that a prophet who lived in the eighth century would have prophesied so specifically about the sixth. (Some conservatives still fight a rearguard action on this question.) It was more reasonable to assume that these oracles were composed by an anonymous prophet who lived in the sixth century. This prophet was dubbed ‘Second Isaiah’ or ‘Deutero-Isaiah,’ although there is no evidence that he spoke in the name of Isaiah. At the end of the nineteenth century, the German scholar Bernhard Duhm argued that chapters 56-66 should be distinguished as the work of a third prophet, dubbed ‘Third Isaiah’ or ‘Trito-Isaiah.’ For the last century or so it has been customary to refer to chapters 1-39 as ‘First Isaiah.’” (308)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Blenkinsopp, Joseph. “Isaiah 1-39” The Anchor Bible vol. 19 (New York: Doubleday, 2000).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Sweeney, Marvin A. “Isaiah 1-39 with an Introduction to Prophetic Literature” The Forms of Old Testament Literature vol. 16 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1996).
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