me-ro'-dak-bal'-a-dan, mer'-o-dak-b. (mero'dhakh bal'adhan; Marodach Baladan): The son of Baladan, is mentioned in Isa 39:1, as a king of Babylon who sent an embassy to Hezekiah, king of Judah, apparently shortly after the latter's illness, in order to congratulate him on his recovery of health, and to make with him an offensive and defensive alliance. This Merodach-baladan was a king of the Chaldeans of the house of Yakin, and was the most dangerous and inveterate foe of Sargon and his son Sennacherib, kings of Assyria, with whom he long and bitterly contested the possession of Babylon and the surrounding provinces. Merodach-Baladan seems to have seized Babylon immediately after the death of Shalmaneser in 721 BC; and it was not till the 12th year of his reign that Sargon succeeded in ousting him. From that time down to the 8th campaign of Sennacherib, Sargon and his son pursued with relentless animosity Merodach-Baladan and his family until at last his son Nabushumishkun was captured and the whole family of Merodach-Baladan was apparently destroyed. According to the monuments, therefore, it was from a worldly point of view good politics for Hezekiah and his western allies to come to an understanding with Merodach-Baladan and the Arameans, Elamites, and others, who were confederated with him. From a strategical point of view, the weakness of the allied powers consisted in the fact that the Arabian desert lay between the eastern and western members of the confederacy, so that the Assyrian kings were able to attack their enemies when they pleased and to defeat them in detail.
R. Dick Wilson
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia edited by James Orr, John Nuelsen, Edgar Mullins, Morris Evans, and Melvin Grove Kyle and was published complete in 1939
Isaiah 38-39 introductory comments.
... To the Assyrians Merodach-Baladan was a terrorist; to himself he was a freedom-fighter with his life devoted to the liberation of his beloved Babylon from Assyrian tyranny. He was remarkably successful. For twelve years from 722 BC he secured Babylonian independence and reigned as king, and the loss of his kingdom at the hands of Sargon did not cool his ardour in his great cause. The conglomerate empires of the ancient world held together only while the emperor himself kept a firm grip on government. In consequence, the death of the emperor signalled a relaxing of central control and an opportunity to break free. Just as Merodach-Baladan had capitalized on the death of Shalmaneser in 722 BC, so he was ready for the death of Sargon, which happened in 705.’1 Thanks to Merodach-Baladan’s careful planning, both east and west of the Assyrian empire rebelled.
Hezekiah was part of this great scheme. Taking opportunity from the king’s recovery, Merodach-Baladan sent ‘sick visitors’ with a gift—and a letter (39:1). We are not told what the letter contained, but we do know how Hezekiah reacted, giving the envoys a conducted tour of his storerooms, money and arsenals (2). The letter was manifestly an invitation to become a partner in a rebellion, and Hezekiah fell for it.
Isaiah 36–37 has already recounted the historical consequences: the tragic suffering of Judah and the eleventh-hour triumph of grace. Isaiah 39:3–7 explores the spiritual significance of Hezekiah’s act, the far-reaching consequences of a single decision. For we must ask, ‘What should Hezekiah have said to the envoys?’ The answer is plain: ‘Thank you for coming and thank Merodach for his gift and invitation, but the fact is I have a divine promise to lean on; it has been confirmed personally in my return to health and cosmically in the sign of the sun. I cannot turn from faith in the promises of God.’ But he did turn—and Isaiah responded with impeccable logic: you want to commit all you have to Babylon, therefore all you have will go to Babylon (3–7); Rom. 6:16).
The ‘shape’ of the section helps us to see its meaning:
A1----(38:1a) Hezekiah faces death
B1---- (38:1b) Isaiah … went … said … the Lord says …
C1---- (38:8–22) Hezekiah’s dedication
C2---- (39:1–2) Hezekiah’s defection
B2---- (39:3–7) Isaiah … went … said … the word of the Lord …
A2---- (39:8) Hezekiah faces life
There is nothing in all this to warrant any scepticism about the historicity of the events. Merodach-Baladan figures precisely in the character revealed outside the Bible; Isaiah acts and reacts exactly as the rest of his book would lead us to expect and as a prophet, in the most up-to-date understanding of a prophet's role, should; and Hezekiah is still the good-hearted, human person trying to handle a job that is above his ability.
Motyer, J. A. Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity, 2009.