Wednesday, February 14, 2024

And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs (Isaiah 38)

Isaiah chapter 38 is a pretty simple one, I think, but it has a few notes that need to be addressed. King Hezekiah's sick, and Isaiah tells him that he is going to die, so Hezekiah prays to God to let him live. God speaks to Isaiah and tells him that Hezekiah is so good that he's going to get another 15 years and defend Jerusalem from Assyria. This brings up the issue of whether or not God repents, which I largely addressed back in Genesis chapter six, but here it deserves another look. Although the word "repent" is not here, the SAB is quite right to question this passage, because it seems appropriate; did God say Hezekiah was going to die right away and the change his mind? I think what's going on here is something that mught actually be considered more problematic: God had Isaiah tell Hezekiah what was either a lie or at best a misleading prophecy. I mean, Hezekiah is still going to die, it's just going to happen in 15 years! I think for whatever reason, God wanted to goad Hezekiah into praying what he prayed, and write what he wrote later in the chapter, and always intended to let Hezekiah live because he knew this was in Hezekiah's character.

God gives a sign that this will happen: the shadow on the sundial will move backwards ten degrees; and it happens. The SAB marks this with absurdity and science, and while I get the science one (generally sundials don't move backwards) I think it's far from absurd, specifically because it's so outlandish; this is a clear and obvious miracle, because it just goes against the laws of physics! It's an interesting thing to me personally that I see miracles happen in two classes: miracles that are something incredibly unlikely happening, and miracles that are something that shouldn't even happen at all. I think both kinds can be effective as signs, but the former type are easier for a skeptic to deny in a way (although skeptics will likely deny both, of course) because one can say it was just a coincidence. I once walked away unscratched from an auto accident in which my car flipped over twice, and a lot of people told me it was a miracle, but I don't think any atheist would change their beliefs based on that story. If an atheist saw someone walking on water, it would probably make them question, if only for a moment.

The rest of the chapter is mostly a little poem written by Hezekiah about his feelings in facing death. Verse 18 raises a couple questions, such as "Is death final?" which I answered in Joshua chapter 23, and "Does Hell exist?" which I answered in John chapter five. The SAB lastly makes an observation that the last two verses would fit better between verses six and seven, which is true. There probably was some bad editing of this book at some point in time, admittedly.

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