Turning Back Time

As I have surveyed the life of Hezekiah, I have drawn details from 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Isaiah. To have the most complete understanding of Hezekiah’s life, using all three sources is necessary. Though at times, trying to get a handle on how the details are presented in the three sources can be confusing.

For example, when we look at Isaiah 38-39, it might be natural to assume that chronologically, chapters 38 and 39 occur after chapters 36 and 37. After all, that’s how it’s written, right? Well, there are a few indicators in those chapters, 38 and 39, that suggest that the correct chronology of Isaiah is 38, 39, 36, 37.

Here is the best one: 38:6 – “I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria.” This promise of protection and deliverance clearly occurred before the angel of the LORD defeated the Assyrian army and before Sennacherib broke camp and returned to Nineveh, both of which were already detailed in Isaiah chapter 37.

So, let’s “turn back time” and review Isaiah 38-39, which actually took place before the things we have already discussed. As you will see, these chapters actually give some explanation of why chapters 36 and 37 occurred.

All three records – 2 Kings 20, 2 Chronicles 32, and Isaiah 38 – say that Hezekiah was ill and at the point of death. And they all record Hezekiah’s prayer, which resulted in the LORD mercifully restoring Hezekiah’s health. In response to Hezekiah’s prayer the LORD said three things would occur:
1. Hezekiah would go up to the Temple three days later,
2. The LORD would add 15 years to Hezekiah’s life, and
3. The LORD would deliver Hezekiah and the city of Jerusalem from Assyria.

In contrast to his father’s rejection of a sign from the LORD (Isa. 7:11-12), upon hearing of his restoration and 15-year life extension, Hezekiah asked for a sign. Isaiah inquired as to which Hezekiah would prefer as a sign from the LORD, that the sun would move forward or backward.

Hezekiah realized that the shadow of the sun moving forward may not be a clear sign. After all, the sun naturally moves forward. So, he asked for the shadow of the sun to move backward. In other words, he asked for time to be turned back.

Here is the LORD‘s response: “I will make the shadow cast by the sun go back the ten steps it has gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.” It isn’t clear how this was done, but God, who put all things in motion, is able to reverse things and still keep all things in order. Don’t forget, during the days of Joshua the sun had already stood still over Gibeon (Joshua 10:13). It’s not something that happens every day, or even often, but God, as it pleases Him, does what appears to be impossible to us. “So the sunlight went back the ten steps it had gone down (Isa. 38:8).”

Interestingly, the account of Hezekiah’s punitive illness in 2 Chronicles is abbreviated, apparently for the purpose of highlighting the reason for both his condition and the perilous situation of Jerusalem – his pride.

Once again, the chronology can be confusing. By the order of presentation in 2 Chronicles 32:24-25, one may get the impression that the LORD healed Hezekiah and still his heart was proud. However, like we did in sorting out chapters 36-38 of Isaiah, we need to examine the complete presentation. In doing this we will see that as a result of Hezekiah’s pride, the LORD‘s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem (2 Chr 32:26), which clearly occurred before the LORD restored Hezekiah. As was pointed out above, one of the elements of Hezekiah’s restoration was that the LORD would deliver Hezekiah and Jerusalem from Assyria.

It shouldn’t surprise the reader that Hezekiah struggled with pride. The elements were clearly in place for pride to be a potential problem: In addition to being the king, he had very great riches, built many buildings and villages, and acquired great numbers of flocks and herds. “He succeeded in everything he undertook (2 Chron 32:30).” Hezekiah started out well, restoring Passover and removing the high places, but his wealth and success created a proud heart in him.

Thankfully, the LORD knows how to bring about humility. And in Hezekiah’s case, a punitive illness and potential destruction of Jerusalem were the LORD‘s instruments of merciful correction in Hezekiah’s life.

That is the back story to the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem.

The order of events as I understand it is:
1. Hezekiah was proud
2. God sent Assyria and a punitive illness as a form of discipline
3. Hezekiah repented
4. God restored Hezekiah
5. God delivered Hezekiah and Jerusalem from the Assyrian threat.

Isaiah Brings A Welcome Word

According to both biblical and Assyrian accounts, Sennacherib was intent on punishing Hezekiah for not adequately submitting to the Assyrian’s demands. And, according to both sides’ accounts, the prospects for Jerusalem’s survival weren’t very good.

However, one must take a step back, and look at the greater picture. Where is God, the master planner, in this scenario? How is God working here? Those questions serve to introduce the prophet Isaiah.

In my last entry, Hezekiah’s Motivation, I discussed the nature of Hezekiah’s prayer; namely, that it was spoken for God’s glory. God’s response to that prayer was to send a word through Isaiah to Hezekiah against Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:20-34).

A careful reading of the word against Sennacherib reveals some interesting things: First, we see that Sennacherib’s insults weren’t primarily against Hezekiah. Rather, from God’s perspective, they were against, “the Holy One of Israel (vs 19).”

Second, we also see that pride was the cause of this insult and blasphemy (vs 19).

Here is Sennacherib’s list of accomplishments (2 Kings 19:23-24 NIV):

“And you have said,
1) ‘With many Chariots I have ascended the heights of the mountains,
the utmost heights of Lebanon.
2) I have cut down its tallest cedars, the choicest of it pines.
3) I have reached its remotest parts, the finest of its forests.
4) I have dug wells in foreign lands and drunk the water there.
5) With the soles of my feet I have dried up all the streams of Egypt.”

After examining his list of accomplishments, many might say, “After all he’s done, he deserved to brag a little.” But such an assessment discounts the third thing we see in the word delivered by Isaiah: God’s sovereignty.

“Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone (2 Kings 19:25 NIV).”

God clearly says here that Sennacherib conquered the fortified cities in Judah because God ordained, planned and brought it to pass. Sennacherib was a tool designed by God. Why should that provide encouragement for Hezekiah? Because, the sovereign God who raised up this wrecking machine, knows exactly how to disable it.

And, that’s what Isaiah goes on to say: “But I know where you stay and when you come and go and how you rage against me. Because you rage against me and your insolence has reached my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came (2 Kings 19:27-28 NIV).”

The next day, the Assyrian army awakened to a great surprise: During the night, the angel of the LORD put to death 185,000 of their troops, which resulted in Sennacherib breaking camp and returning to Assyria (2 Kings 19:35-36).

Let’s not forget Isaiah’s previous word regarding Sennacherib’s personal future: “This is what the LORD says, . . . he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword (2 Kings 19:7 NIV).”

Sennacherib’s end was just as Isaiah had said it would be: “One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword, . . . (2 Kings 19:37 NIV).” By the way, this occurred after Hezekiah’s death, which means that Hezekiah had to rest securely in the fact that God brings about His will in His own timing.

The LORD knows how to raise up and take down. And He does so to demonstrate His sovereignty and supremecy.

Like Father, Like Son?

It is not uncommon to hear someone say, “like father, like son.” And by that, they are saying that they aren’t surprised in the behavior of the son because it is assumed he will behave like his father. Usually, this is meant in a negative sense, though it is possible to intend something positive.

Another way of saying the same thing is, “fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Sometimes an additional caveat is offered: “…unless it’s planted on a hill.” But that caveat is generally intended as dry humor or a very rare exception.

Clearly every colloquial saying can’t be measured for its accuracy in all situations – after all, they are simply intended as general truths – but this particular one gives me concern because it dismisses the sovereign work of God in any of our lives.

Here’s a biblical example:

I’ve prepared a chart comparing/contrasting the lives of Ahaz and Hezekiah, both kings of Judah. While there are many more points that could be compared, I have limited this to 10 points.

1. Ahaz became king at 20 years of age and reigned 16 years in Jerusalem (2 Kgs 16:2, 2 Chr 28:1).
Hezekiah became king at 25 years of age and reigned 29 years in Jerusalem (2 Kgs 18:2, 2 Chr 29:1).

2. Ahaz: “Unlike David, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God ( 2Kgs 16:2, 2 Chr 28:1).
Hezekiah: Like David, “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD (2 Kgs 18:3, 2 Chr 29:2).

3. Ahaz’s wickedness is compared to the Kings of Israel (2 Kgs 16:3, 2 Chr 28:2).
Hezekiah’s righteousness is contrasted with the Kings of Judah (2 Kgs 18:5).

4. Ahaz’s Wicked Actions Described:
A. Sacrificed his sons in the fire [to Molech] (2 Kgs 16:3, 2 Chr 28:3);
B. Spread idolatry throughout Judah (2 Kgs 16:4, 2 Chr 28:4, 24-25);
C. Pilfered and rearranged the Temple furnishings (2 Chr 28:10-18).
Hezekiah’s Righteous Actions Described:
A. Removed the high places (2 Kgs 18:4);
B. Broke the pillars (2 Kgs 18:4);
C. Cut down the Asherah (2 Kgs 18:4);
D. Broke in pieces the bronze serpent (2 Kgs 18:4).

5. Ahaz’s Enemies:
A. Rezin, King of Aram [Damascus] (2 Kgs 16:5, 2 Chr 28:5-8);
B. Pekah, King of Israel (2 Kgs 16:5, 2 Chr 28:5-8);
C. Philistines (2 Chr 28:18).
Hezekiah’s Enemies:
A. Assyria ( 2 Kgs 18:7, 2 Chr 32:1);
B. Philistines (2 Kgs 18:8).

6. Prophet in the Story of Ahaz: Oded (2 Chr 28:9).
Prophet in the Story of Hezekiah: Isaiah (2 Kgs 19:5-7, 20-34; 2 Chr 32:20-21).

7. Assyrian Leader During Ahaz’s Life: Tiglath-Pileser (2 Kgs 16:7, 2 Chr 28:20).
Assyrian Leader During Hezekiah’s Life: Sennacherib (2 Kgs 18:13, 2 Chr 32:1).

8. Ahaz’s View Toward Assyria: “I am your vassal, come and save me… (2 Kgs 16:7)”.
Hezekiah’s View Toward Assyria: “He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him (2 Kgs 18:7).”

9. Ahaz was buried in the City of David (2 Kgs 16:20), but not in the tombs of the kings of Israel (2 Chr 28:27).
Hezekiah “was buried on the hill where the tombs of David’s descendants are (2 Chr 32:33).”

10. Summary of Ahaz’s Life: “In his time of trouble, King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the LORD (2 Chr 28:22).”
Summary of Hezekiah’s Life: “In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly (2 Chr 31:21).”

A father and son could not have been more different than Ahaz and Hezekiah. Perhaps Ahaz was planted on a hill, or better, let’s recognize God’s sovereign work in Hezekiah’s life and pray for the same in our own lives.

I Wonder Why

UPDATE: Reader Doug Tygar has pointed out that the JPS translation that I provide below in my essay is from the 1917 edition [republished in 1955], and is different from the updated JPS (1985/1999), which reads, “For a child has been born to us, A son has been given us. And authority has settled on his shoulders. He has been named “The Mighty God is planning grace; The Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler.”

UPDATE #2: The Jerusalem Bible (Koren Publishers Jerusalem LTD., Jerusalem, Israel ©1992) [Hebrew/English version p. 487] maintains a transliteration policy similar to the JPS (©1917, 1945, 1955) at this particular passage.

UPDATE #3: In this essay, all references to the JPS Tanakh are specifically limited to the JPS Tanakh (©1917, 1945, 1955). I have not seen the JPS Tanakh (1985/1999) and, therefore, cannot comment on its contents.

“For a child is born unto us, A son is given unto us; And the government is upon his shoulder; And his name is called Pele-joez-el-gibbor-Abi-ad-sar-shalom;” (Isaiah 9:5, Jewish Publication Society)*

I recently pointed out in the comments section of a friend’s blog that the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) failed to translate a portion of Isaiah 9:6 (verse 5 in the JPS and the Hebrew)* in their English version of The Holy Scriptures (Old Testament). Rather, they chose to transliterate it. Having offered a rather minimal comment about this topic there, I thought it might be worth a slightly more detailed offering here at Pardon the Interruption.

This particular editorial decision is strange enough that it warrants the question of why it was made. Why did the editors decide to transliterate this particular verse, rather than translate it?

The words in the verse above that look strange to most of my readers are easily translated into English. For example, “Pele” is commonly translated as wonderful, while “joez” is most commonly translated as counselor. In fact, every other time “Pele” or “joez” occur in the Old Testament, the JPS chose translation over transliteration and translated the words as “wonderful” or “marvelous” (for example, Is. 25:1 and 29:14) and “counselor.” Why not translate the same words in Isaiah 9:6 (vs. 5 in JPS and in Hebrew)* rather than leave them in an undiscernible format for most English speakers? The objective, I thought, of an English translation is to put the Hebrew into understandable English. In this case, the JPS failed their readers, unless they felt obligated to confuse their readers.

What I think is even more striking is the fact that in chapter 9 the JPS chose not to translate “el-gibbor” (usually translated as “mighty God”), but did translate it in chapter 10. If you read Isaiah 10:21 in the JPS edition, you will read the following: “A remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto God the Mighty (emphasis added).” The exact same Hebrew words: transliterated in chapter 9; translated in chapter 10. Why?

Given the fact that the Hebrew of Isaiah 9:6 (vs. 5 JPS and in Hebrew)* is easily translated into English and the JPS chose to translate the same words booth in Isaiah and the rest of the Bible, I can only conclude that something deceptive is in the works? Some have asked me why I believe in such a conspiracy theory. “Surely, you don’t think the JPS would handle the Bible in a dishonest way,” they enquire. Well, actually, given the evidence cited here, I do think something dishonest is going on. And the reason is that Isaiah 9:6-7 is one of the most well-known Old Testament passages commonly suggested to reference Jesus:

And unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His Kingdom
To order it and establish it with judgment
and justice
From that time forward, even forever,
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

If there is no intentional effort by the JPS to hide this wonderful messianic passage from their Jewish readers, the irony is dramatic. I’m open to be persuaded otherwise, but until a convincing argument for the editorial decision to transliterate Isaiah 9:6 (vs. 5 in JPS and in Hebrew)* is presented, I will contend that the JPS has been dishonest with their offering.

* In most English translations of the Old Testament, Isaiah 9:6 corresponds to Isaiah 9:5 in the Hebrew chapter/verse designation. However, the JPS edition of The Holy Scriptures (Old Testament) follows the Hebrew chapter/verse designation. Therefore, what is rendered as Isaiah 9:5 in the JPS is generally 9:6 in most other English versions of the Old Testament.

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