Tuesdays are for the Old Testament
Luther, Martin, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, translated by Herbert J.A. Bowman) Luther’s Works, Vol. 16, Lectures on Isaiah Chapters 1-39. St. Louis: Concordia, 1969. Logos Electronic Edition.
“Isaiah Chapter 38” pp. 332-345.
In his comments on the start of Isaiah 38, Luther speaks of the side-effects of pride and presumption. This self-deceit which eventually led to Hezekiah’s fall has entrapped many others. Luther mentions biblical examples and examples of people in his own time (LW 16, 332). The heart of the problem is a self-wisdom, which is in reality an empty kind of glory. It needs to be stamped out whenever it appears (LW 16, 333). When Hezekiah was confronted with an illness in Isaiah 38, he was told by the prophet that he would die. His response in verse 2 was to pray. Luther notes that King Hezekiah’s plea before God was based on what God had said, not on the specific ways Hezekiah had shown obedience or would show obedience in the future (LW 16, 334). This is an appeal to God’s mercy. Hezekiah’s life was “in harmony with the Word, although his life did not achieve it” (LW 16, 335). For that reason, he still asked for forgiveness.
In verse 5 God says that he has heard and will care for Hezekiah. This does not mean that Hezekiah had put his sin to death. It means that Hezekiah was forgiven. Luther continues to speak about how God shows mercy even to people who remain sinful by nature (LW 16, 336). Not content with healing Hezekiah and promising him life for years to come, God shows a miraculous sign as well. In verse 7 he makes time move backward briefly as a sign that he is able to accomplish whatever he needs to do.
In response to God’s promises, Hezekiah writes a poem recognizing God’s deliverance. He expresses his weakness and insecurity, then the joy of his recovery. “Both death and resurrection are in the song” (LW 16, 337). In preparation for death the Christian looks to Christ for forgiveness. He sees Christ as the one who conquers death. This is the primary means by which the Christian prepares for death. Luther considers Hezekiah to have done that very thing (LW 16, 338). In his prayer he sees that life is temporary. It can be cut off at any time by God (LW 16, 339). However, God is the one in whom he can trust (LW 16, 340). Luther further notes that Hezekiah confesses the change comes about in him through God’s Word, rather than through food and drink. This is something which natural philosophers of Luther’s time do not understand (LW 16, 342). While food and drink are fine, Luther concludes, “Use medicines, but do not rely on them; rely on God” (LW 16, 343). The security of every person in the world actually comes from God’s providence, not from anything we can do. In verse 19, it is the living, those trusting in God, who can give thanks to him. Hezekiah counts himself as among those who can trust in God and sing his praises. This will restore him to the house of the Lord (LW 16, 344).