Containing The Interval Of One Hundred And Eighty-Two Years And A Half.
From The Captivity Of The Ten Tribes To The First Year Of Cyrus.
How Hezekiah Was Sick, And Ready To Die; And How God Bestowed Upon Him Fifteen Years Longer Life, [And Secured That Promise] By The Going Back Of The Shadow Ten Degrees.
1. NOW king Hezekiah being thus delivered, after a surprising manner, from the dread he was in, offered thank-offerings to God, with all his people, because nothing else had destroyed some of their enemies, and made the rest so fearful of undergoing the same fate that they departed from Jerusalem, but that Divine assistance. Yet, while he was very zealous and diligent about the worship of God, did he soon afterwards fall into a severe distemper, insomuch that the physicians despaired of him, and expected no good issue of his sickness, as neither did his friends: and besides the distemper (5) itself, there was a very melancholy circumstance that disordered the king, which was the consideration that he was childless, and was going to die, and leave his house and his government without a successor of his own body; so he was troubled at the thoughts of this his condition, and lamented himself, and entreated of God that he would prolong his life for a little while till he had some children, and not suffer him to depart this life before he was become a father.
Hereupon God had mercy upon him, and accepted of 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 him, but in order to have sons, that might receive the government after him. And God sent Isaiah the prophet, and commanded him to inform Hezekiah, that within three days' time he should get clear of his distemper, and should survive it fifteen years, and that he should have children also.
Now, upon the prophet's saying this, as God had commanded him, he could hardly believe it, both on account of the distemper he was under, which was very sore, and by reason of the surprising nature of what was told him; so he desired that Isaiah would give him some sign or wonder, that he might believe him in what he had said, and be sensible that he came from God; for things that are beyond expectation, and greater than our hopes, are made credible by actions of the like nature. And when Isaiah had asked him what sign he desired to be exhibited, he desired that he would make the shadow of the sun, which he had already made to go down ten steps [or degrees] in his house, to return again to the same place, (6) and to make it as it was before. And when the prophet prayed to God to exhibit this sign to the king, he saw what he desired to see, and was freed from his distemper, and went up to the temple, where he worshipped God, and made vows to him.
2. At this time it was that the dominion of the Assyrians was overthrown by the Medes; (7) but of these things I shall treat elsewhere. But the king of Babylon, whose name was Baladan, sent ambassadors to Hezekiah, with presents, and desired he would be his ally and his friend. So he received the ambassadors gladly, and made them a feast, and showed them his treasures, and his armory, and the other wealth he was possessed of, in precious stones and in gold, and gave them presents to be carried to Baladan, and sent them back to him. Upon which the prophet Isaiah came to him, and inquired of him whence those ambassadors came; to which he replied, that they came from Babylon, from the king; and that he had showed them all he had, that by the sight of his riches and forces he might thereby guess at [the plenty he was in], and be able to inform the king of it.
But the prophet rejoined, and said,
"Know thou, that, after a little while, these riches of thine shall be carried away to Babylon, and thy posterity shall be made eunuchs there, and lose their manhood, and be servants to the king of Babylon; for that God foretold such things would come to pass."
Upon which words Hezekiah was troubled, and said that he was himself unwilling that his nation should fall into such calamities; yet since it is not possible to alter what God had determined, he prayed that there might be peace while he lived. Berosus also makes mention of this Baladan, king of Babylon. Now as to this prophet [Isaiah], he was by the confession of all, a divine and wonderful man in speaking truth; and out of the assurance that he had never written what was false, he wrote down all his prophecies, and left them behind him in books, that their accomplishment might be judged of from the events by posterity: nor did this prophet do so alone, but the others, which were twelve in number, did the same. And whatsoever is done among us, Whether it be good, or whether it be bad, comes to pass according to their prophecies; but of every one of these we shall speak hereafter.
(5) Josephus, and all our copies, place the sickness of Hezekiah after the destruction of Sennacherib's army, because it appears to have been after his first assault, as he was going into Arabia and Egypt, where he pushed his conquests as far as they would go, and in order to despatch his story altogether; yet does no copy but this of Josephus say it was after that destruction, but only that it happened in those days, or about that time of Hezekiah's life. Nor will the fifteen years' prolongation of his life after his sickness, allow that sickness to have been later than the former part of the fifteenth year of his reign, since chronology does not allow him in all above twenty-nine years and a few months; whereas the first assault of Sennacherib was on the fourteenth year of Hezekiah, but the destruction of Sennacherib's army was not till his eighteenth year.
(6) As to this regress of the shadow, either upon a sun-dial, or the steps of the royal palace built by Ahaz, whether it were physically done by the real miraculous revolution of the earth in its diurnal motion backward from east to west for a while, and its return again to its old natural revolution from west to east; or whether it were not apparent only, and performed by an aerial phosphorus, which imitated the sun's motion backward, while a cloud hid the real sun; cannot now be determined. Philosophers and astronomers will naturally incline to the latter hypothesis. However, it must be noted, that Josephus seems to have understood it otherwise than we generally do, that the shadow was accelerated as much at first forward as it was made to go backward afterward, and so the day was neither longer nor shorter than usual; which, it must be confessed agrees best of all to astronomy, whose eclipses, older than the time were observed at the same times of the day as if this miracle had never happened. After all, this wonderful signal was not, it seems, peculiar to Judea, but either seen, or at least heard of, at Babylon also, as appears by 2 Chronicles 32:31, where we learn that the Babylonian ambassadors were sent to Hezekiah, among other things, to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land.
(7) This expression of Josephus, that the Medes, upon this destruction of the Assyrian army, "overthrew" the Assyrian empire, seems to be too strong; for although they immediately cast off the Assrian yoke, and set up Deioces, a king of their own, yet it was some time before the Medes and Babylonians overthrew Nineveh, and some generations ere the Medes and Persians under Cyaxares and Cyrus overthrew the Assyrian or Babylonian empire, and took Babylon.