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God’s Word for You

Isaiah 38:9-14

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, May 6, 2008

9 A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah after his illness and recovery:

The word for “writing” is almost identical to the word miktam, common enough in the Psalms (see the headings of Psalm 16 and of Psalms 56-60). The content of Hezekiah’s prayer also resembles those psalms in its structure and content: a prayer of confidence in God in a desperate, deadly situation. Judging from the language of the song, it seems pretty clear that Hezekiah was a student of the books of Job, Psalms and Proverbs (see also Proverbs 25:1).

10 I said, “In the prime of my life
     must I go through the gates of death
     and be robbed of the rest of my years?”

The phrase “gates of death” is common only to Job (Job 17:16, etc.) and some of the Psalms.

11 I said, “I will not again see the LORD,
     the LORD, in the land of the living;
no longer will I look on mankind,
     or be with those who now dwell in this world.

The “land of the living” is also a phrase common to Job (Job 28:13) and the Psalms (Psalm 27:13; Psalm 142:5).

12 Like a shepherd’s tent my house
     has been pulled down and taken from me.
Like a weaver I have rolled up my life,
     and he has cut me off from the loom;
     day and night you made an end of me.
13 I waited patiently till dawn,
     but like a lion he broke all my bones;
     day and night you made an end of me.

“Like a lion” is a comparison that happens over and over in Job (Job 10:16) and the Psalms (Psalm 7:2 and others).

Notice the strange refrain: “Day and night you made an end of me.” This most closely resembles Psalm 32, “Day and night your hand was heavy upon me” (Psalm 32:4). Hezekiah has taken the normally comforting word shalom, “peace, rest,” and used the only form of the word that means something else. Here the word means “to be ended,” as in Nehemiah 6:15, “the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth day…”

When God chooses to test us and permit troubles to come into our lives, those troubles don’t punch a clock. They come day and night, night and day.

14 I cried like a swift or thrush,
     I moaned like a mourning dove.
My eyes grew weak as I looked to the heavens.
     I am troubled; O Lord, come to my aid!” (NIV)

The identities of the three birds in this verse are not absolutely certain. The mourning dove is simply jonah (“dove”) in Hebrew, but the identification as a mourning dove is likely based on context (mourning doves are a North American species). Common rock doves (pigeons) are known all over the world, but mourning doves have a distinctive cooo cooo cooo call.

Although the King James Version translated the Hebrew word ’aghur with “crane” (which is also the modern Hebrew translation as well), the huge cranes of Palestine (the largest birds of the region) are neither migratory (as the ’aghur is said to be in Jeremiah 8:7) nor is their shrill trumpeting keroo! particularly mournful. On the other hand, the more common thrush seems to fit the description much better (the most familiar thrushes in our continent are the robin and the bluebird).

The swift and the thrush are both migratory, which matches the description in Jeremiah 8:7.  Some species like the hermit thrush can have a wide variety of songs with an “ethereal, flutelike” song (Roger Tory Peterson field guide), and the flute is sometimes the instrument of mourning in the Bible (Job 30:31; also “my heart laments like a flute” in Jeremiah 48:36 and the title of Psalm 5).

The migratory swift of Palestine (Hebrew sus, indistinguishable from the word for horse except in context) has a song “very much like a piercing human scream.”1

This verse reflects Psalms 6:7 and Psalm 31:9 (“my eyes grow weak”) and, although the verb is different, Psalm 119 verses 82 and 123 (“my eyes fail”). Psalm 35:2 also cries out, “Come to my aid!”

The king is trying to put together his thoughts as carefully as he can, and because he is also a student of the Psalms, he falls into their language with a sincere heart. When we pray, we mustn’t be afraid to fall into the language of the Bible. Just because someone else has said it before doesn’t mean that the same words can’t reflect our own thoughts.

Lord, teach us to pray, and teach us to say exactly what we mean.
But when words fail us, listen to our hearts and know that we are
sorry for our sin, and we look to our Savior Jesus for forgiveness,
mercy and peace.

1 Fauna and Flora of the Bible, United Bible Society’s Help for Translators Vol XI,  p. 80.

Whenever birds are encountered in Scripture, I must thank my brother Daniel E. Smith of Pardeeville, Wisconsin for his willingness to be consulted and his patience with my oddball notions about species. My brother’s devotion to his Savior is matched only by his passion and expertise of birds. Thanks also to my son Benjamin for locating our bird book for me last night.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.