What does Isaiah mean by these things in Isaiah 38:16?                                 by Jack Kettler


In this study, the meaning of “these things men shall live” will be considered.  


“O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit: so, wilt thou recover me, and make me to live.” (Isaiah 38:16)


The reader will notice that the words things and men are italicized, meaning that the two are not in the Hebrew text.


Consulting the Strong’s Lexicon:


“by [such things]

עֲלֵיהֶ֣ם (‘ă·lê·hem)

Preposition | third person masculine plural

Strong's Hebrew 5921: prep 1) upon, on the ground of, according to, on account of, on behalf of, concerning, beside, in addition to, together with, beyond, above, over, by, on to, towards, to, against 1a) upon, on the ground of, on the basis of, on account of, because of, therefore, on behalf of, for the sake of, for, with, in spite of, notwithstanding, concerning, in the matter of, as regards 1b) above, beyond, over (of excess) 1c) above, over (of elevation or pre-eminence) 1d) upon, to, over to, unto, in addition to, together with, with (of addition) 1e) over (of suspension or extension) 1f) by, adjoining, next, at, over, around (of contiguity or proximity) 1g) down upon, upon, on, from, up upon, up to, towards, over towards, to, against (with verbs of motion) 1h) to (as a dative) conj 2) because that, because, notwithstanding, although”


The Strong's Concordance:



chayah: live

Original Word: חָיָה

Part of Speech: Verb

Transliteration: chayah

Phonetic Spelling: (khaw-yaw')

Definition: to live”


While not in the original, things and men are certainly implied in the Hebrew text.


Since these two words are implied, consider how the English Standard Version (ESV) renders the text in Isaiah 38:16:


“O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these is the life of my spirit. Oh, restore me to health and make me live!” (ESV)


How does one understand the context of Isaiah 38:16?


The context is addressed in Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary:


“38:9-22 We have here Hezekiah's thanksgiving. It is well for us to remember the mercies we receive in sickness. Hezekiah records the condition he was in. He dwells upon this; I shall no more see the Lord. A good man wishes not to live for any other end than that he may serve God, and have communion with him. Our present residence is like that of a shepherd in his hut, a poor, mean, and cold lodging, and with a trust committed to our charge, as the shepherd has. Our days are compared to the weaver's shuttle, Job 7:6, passing and repassing very swiftly, every throw leaving a thread behind it; and when finished, the piece is cut off, taken out of the loom, and showed to our Master to be judged of. A good man, when his life is cut off, his cares and fatigues are cut off with it, and he rests from his labours. But our times are in God's hand; he has appointed what shall be the length of the piece. When sick, we are very apt to calculate our time, but are still at uncertainty. It should be more our care how we shall get safe to another world. And the more we taste of the loving-kindness of God, the more will our hearts love him, and live to him. It was in love to our poor perishing souls that Christ delivered them. The pardon does not make the sin not to have been sin, but not to be punished as it deserves. It is pleasant to think of our recoveries from sickness, when we see them flowing from the pardon of sin. Hezekiah's opportunity to glorify God in this world, he made the business, and pleasure, and end of life. Being recovered, he resolves to abound in praising and serving God. God's promises are not to do away, but to quicken and encourage the use of means. Life and health are given that we may glorify God and do good.” (1)


From Matthew Henry, one learns about King Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery and his praise to God. 


The following commentary entry provides a short synopsis of the passage from Isaiah.  


Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on Isaiah 38:16:


“16. by these—namely, by God's benefits, which are implied in the context (Isa 38:15, “He hath Himself done it” “unto me”). All “men live by these” benefits (Ps 104:27-30), “and in all these is the life of my spirit,” that is, I also live by them (De 8:3).


and (wilt) make me to live—The Hebrew is imperative, “make me to live.” In this view, he adds a prayer to the confident hope founded on his comparative convalescence, which he expressed, “Thou wilt recover me” [Maurer].” (2)


In closing:


Answering the starting question, Isaiah, when saying by these things, was referring to God’s gracious benefits. So, like Hezekiah, the believer prays that God is praised for His daily benefits that are the result of divine providential care.   


“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)




1.      Matthew Henry, Concise Commentary, Psalms, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p. 1164.

2.      Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 556.


Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at www. JackKettler .com