Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign.2 Kings 18:4
I. Turning to Hezekiah's mode of dealing with the brazen serpent, we see that he acted on the principle, common to all genuine reformers, that idolatry is a disease which requires heroic treatment. The only effectual way of getting rid of the superstition was to cut the roots of it. Without hesitation, therefore, he broke the image in pieces.
Something would have been wanting to the thoroughness of his action if he had simply destroyed the serpent without giving any reason for doing so. To call things what they really are is the most convincing way of exposing error. 'It is a piece of brass,' said the king, as he broke the serpent in pieces. And when, quite obviously, it had no power to resent the deed, no skill to protect itself from outrage, or to punish the doer of it, then the people could not but allow that the king was right.
II. Images of brass or wood, no doubt, have lost very much of the fascination that they once exercised over rude minds in semi-barbarous ages. But 'the essence of idolatry consists in the mind worshipping its own fancies and notions,' or (to express the same thing in another form) in interposing between the soul and God a false, inadequate, partial image or representation of the Divine nature.
In the Divine Son of God we have given us the highest image of the Invisible God—the human embodiment of His moral perfections. There is no idolatry in worshipping Him, for conscience owns Him, and the reasonable soul claims Him as its rightful Lord.
III. Has idolatry, then, become an impossible sin for a Christian? Are we in no danger of framing for ourselves false and partial images of the truth and tenderness of God?
Alas, no! for human nature remains pretty much the same in all ages. Man never knows how idolatrous he is. The same tendencies which impelled the Israelites of old to worship the brazen serpent and the golden calves—the same which led the leaders of the Jewish nation to reject the word spoken by Christ for the sake of their own tradition—are alive among us, though in a more subtle and dangerous form. The Jews of our Lord's day had their idols, and it was part of Christ's mission on earth to destroy them. Like Hezekiah, He, too, appeared among men as a reformer and an image-breaker.
And still the need exists for clearing away the false in order to disengage the true. Still it is the struggle of earnest men to extricate the Divine figure of the Gospels from the encumbrances of human systems, and to set Him clearly before us in the light of His own revelation of the Father.
—J. W. Shepard, Light and Life, p. 166.
References.—XVIII. 4.—R. H. Fisher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 346. C. Simeon, Works, vol. iii. p. 537. Joseph Milner, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 454. Charles Marriott, Sermons, vol. i. p. 125. T. R. Stevenson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi. p. 236. W. Walters, 'The Fiery Serpents and the Serpent of Brass' (with Numbers 21:9 and John 3:14; John 3:16), Christian World Pulpit, xx. p. 237. Hall's Contemplations, Book xx. 'Contemplation ix.' Stanley's Jewish Church, vol. ii. p. 395. XVIII. 4, 5.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi. No. 960.
2 Kings 18:5
First note some of the grounds upon which this confidence in God is based; and, secondly, mark some of its features.
I. Some Grounds upon which Trust in God is Based.
1. The first is the Goodness of God. Moral theology places trust in God in connexion with hope, and not directly with faith. Of course, faith must be at the root of all virtues. A belief in a Personal God is necessary; and further, a belief in His Providence, that He has not let the strings of His government out of His hands, and is not the captive of what we call natural law—that He continues to preside over the world which He has made, and the men who are in it. All this belongs to faith; but above and beyond it reaches the grace of hope, for it lays hold of the Divine goodness. Confidence in the Divine goodness is, according to Aquinas and many others, principium impetrandi, giving special force to prayer.
2. Another ground of trust in God is His faithfulness to His promises. Goodness, when combined with almightiness and fidelity, affords a triple basis upon which to rest.
3. Experience may be added to the former. Hezekiah had experienced the Divine help in effecting the difficult religious reforms in which he had been engaged, and he feared not now that the 'Lord God of Israel' would forsake His people in the hour of extreme need.
II. Some Features of this Confidence. 1. To be confidence in God, it must be entire. In foul weather as well as fair, in the storm, when Christ is asleep, as well as on the land when He is awake. Christ tested this confidence in the case of His disciples, and He does so still. This confidence in Divine help must extend both to temporal as well as spiritual things. Such trust, it need hardly be said, must not be a cause of idleness, "but a stimulant to effort: 'God helps those who help themselves'. Hezekiah knew that; and so went into the house of the Lord, and spread 'the letter before the Lord' which the Assyrian foe had sent him, and prayed earnestly to the Lord.
2. Trust, too, must be prompt. To ask for Divine help when all things have been tried in vain savours rather of despair than of confidence.
1. All must have some object in which to confide. Our trust must be, not in self, not in others, but in God. It was to Him Hezekiah at once turned in his terrible need.
2. To kindle this spirit of confidence let us meditate upon the Divine goodness, the fidelity of God to His promises, and call up remembrances of His past mercies.
3. Let this trust extend to all circumstances and difficulties whether of soul or body; and we shall find, like the good king, that 'the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord,' and that 'He is their strength in the time of trouble'.
—W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 246.
References.—XVIII. 5.—A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part iv. p. 219. XVIII. 6, 6.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—2 Kings from chap. viii. p. 47. XVIII. 19.—H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Old Testament Subjects, p. 335; see also Outlines of Sermons on the Old Testament, p. 80.
Twenty and five years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name also was Abi, the daughter of Zachariah.
And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did.
He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.
He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.
For he clave to the LORD, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses.
And the LORD was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth: and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not.
He smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city.
And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria, and besieged it.
And at the end of three years they took it: even in the sixth year of Hezekiah, that is the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken.
And the king of Assyria did carry away Israel unto Assyria, and put them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes:
Because they obeyed not the voice of the LORD their God, but transgressed his covenant, and all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded, and would not hear them, nor do them.
Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them.
And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear. And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.
And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasures of the king's house.
At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.
And the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great host against Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they were come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller's field.
And when they had called to the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder.
And Rabshakeh said unto them, Speak ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?
Thou sayest, (but they are but vain words,) I have counsel and strength for the war. Now on whom dost thou trust, that thou rebellest against me?
Now, behold, thou trustest upon the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt, on which if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt unto all that trust on him.
But if ye say unto me, We trust in the LORD our God: is not that he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and hath said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?
Now therefore, I pray thee, give pledges to my lord the king of Assyria, and I will deliver thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them.
How then wilt thou turn away the face of one captain of the least of my master's servants, and put thy trust on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen?
Am I now come up without the LORD against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.
Then said Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebna, and Joah, unto Rabshakeh, Speak, I pray thee, to thy servants in the Syrian language; for we understand it: and talk not with us in the Jews' language in the ears of the people that are on the wall.
But Rabshakeh said unto them, Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?
Then Rabshakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in the Jews' language, and spake, saying, Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria:
Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand:
Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria.
Hearken not to Hezekiah: for thus saith the king of Assyria, Make an agreement with me by a present, and come out to me, and then eat ye every man of his own vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his cistern:
Until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil olive and of honey, that ye may live, and not die: and hearken not unto Hezekiah, when he persuadeth you, saying, The LORD will deliver us.
Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?
Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? have they delivered Samaria out of mine hand?
Who are they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand?
But the people held their peace, and answered him not a word: for the king's commandment was, saying, Answer him not.
Then came Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rabshakeh.