Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. AN EVENT WHICH FREQUENTLY OCCURS.
1. Sometimes to the nation. We have a notable instance of this in the reaction from the Puritan strictness of the Commonwealth to the unbounded licence of the Restoration.
2. Sometimes to the Church. A sudden passing from the ardour of some fervent enthusiasm to the rigour of utter indifference and inactivity.
3. Sometimes to the family. When a godly, devoted, and useful parent is succeeded by a dissolute and mischief-working son (as in the text).
4. Sometimes in the individual. A man is led to the appearance (if not the reality) of piety and zeal; he worships regularly in the house of the Lord, and takes a prominent part in the activities of the Church; then with more or less of suddenness he declines; he abandons his religious convictions and his moral principles, and stands before society as a spiritual renegade, living to injure and destroy all he had appeared to love and had busied himself to promote.
II. ITS EXPLANATION.
1. Not in any law of human change. It may be contended that there is in the mind and in the history of man a constant ebb and flow as in the tides of the sea; that when a mental or moral movement has proceeded long and far in one direction, the time has come for a counter-movement in the opposite direction. But there is no reason, in the nature of things, why we should not move steadily on in the direction of wisdom and virtue. Such a tendency as this is not properly a law; it is only a generalization from a comparatively small number of particulars. Hence we also say:
2. Not in any inherent human fickleness. Man is more or less fickle; i.e. many men are very fickle, and some men are seriously so, and others slightly so. But other men are constant, faithful, loyal to the last. Man, as man, is under no necessity to change his course, to reverse his direction, to pursue what he has shunned, to pull down what he has built up. We find the explanation we seek:
3. Partly in the unwisdom of the good. Possibly Jotham may have been an unwise father in some material respects; he may have so acted, so ruled his royal household, as to present to his son an unattractive aspect of godliness; he may have failed to distinguish between the requirements of manhood and of youth. Certainly, if he did not, very many parents do, and this their folly is the account of the departure and defection of their sons. It is clear that the unwise austerity of the Puritans had much to do with the excesses of the following generation. Very often, indeed, the intemperate heats of some body of Christian or philanthropic men account, in a large degree, for the repugnance and retrogression of the community. Unwisdom in the good may be as mischievous in its results as the very transgressions of the wicked.
4. Partly in the shallowness of the piety or morality in question. When this is nothing more than mere habit, especially when that habit is of the body rather than of the mind, is fleshly rather than spiritual, it is not to be expected that loyalty will last; it is to be expected that the first strong wind of inclination, or of worldly interest, or of social pressure, will carry such a one away and bear him whithersoever it wills. The great lesson for parents, teachers, pastors, reformers, patriots, is this - dig deep if you would have your house stand. If you would not see your sons and daughters, your fellow-members or fellow-citizens swept round with the current, facing the wrong goal, exerting their influence for evil instead of for good, then do not be content with scattering seed anyhow and anywhere. Dig the deep furrow, sow the seed well; plant living convictions in the judgment and in the conscience of men. Get the whole nature on the side of truth and righteousness. If the man himself, and not only his external habits, not only his feelings and inclinations ? "if he himself, through his whole spiritual nature, gives himself to the service of Christ and of man, you need not fear the coming of an adverse tide; you need not fret about the fickleness of our kind; you will witness no painful and pitiable reaction; the path of those you serve will be one of continuous ascent; it will be "the path of the just, shining brighter and brighter unto the perfect day." - C.
I. A DEGENERATE SON. Aliaz, "Grasper" or "Possessor." In the Tigiath-Plleser inscriptions, which probably confounded him with the son of Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:17), he is called Jehoahaz, "Whom Jehovah grasps," though the Scripture writers may have dropped the prefix "Jeho-" on account of his wickedness (Schrader, 'Die Keillnschriften,' p. 264).
1. He possessed his father's nature. Of necessity, as his father's son (Genesis 5:3). Yet he improved not upon that nature, but rather deteriorated and corrupted it. Heredity in him took a downward direction. Some knowledge of who his mother was might shed important light upon the question of how he came by his peculiarities of character and disposition,
2. He enjoyed his father's example. Jotham "prepared his ways before the Lord his God" (2 Chronicles 27:6), yet his pious conduct seemingly exerted no beneficial influence upon his son. Ahaz followed not his father's footsteps, but carved out a path of his own. Example, especially when good, may be potent, but is not omnipotent.
3. He obtained his father's throne. Yet he rather tarnished it than added to its lustre. New dignities do not give new hearts or new powers. At the age of twenty - five years younger than his father (2 Chronicles 27:1), and only four years older than his grandfather (2 Chronicles 26:1) - he assumed the crown of Judah. If the reading "twenty-five "years (Vatican text of the LXX., Arabic, Syriac) be preferred (Ewald, Thenius, Bertheau, Keil, Bahr), on the ground that otherwise he must have married in his tenth or eleventh year, in order, after sixteen years, to be succeeded by a son as old as Hezekiah, who was twenty-five on ascending the throne (ch. 29:1), he was still but a youth when crowned, which may suggest that early promotion is not the same thing as early conversion.
4. He lacked, i.e. did not possess, his father's goodness. Grace runs not in the blood (John 1:13), though corruption does (Job 14:4; Psalm 51:5). A man may communicate to his son wealth, learning, fame, power; be cannot, certainly, impart either grace or goodness.
5. He attained not to his father's grave. When he died his people buried him in Jerusalem, but not in the sepulchres of the kings of Israel. He who in his lifetime had been no true Israelite, though he wore a crown, must not in his death be laid among the sovereigns who were Israelites indeed. Death, which destroys all time's distinctions between man and man (Joshua 33:14; Job 3:19; Ecclesiastes 8:8), nevertheless effectually distinguishes between the righteous and the wicked (Proverbs 14:32; Luke 16:22; Revelation 14:13).
II. AN APOSTATE KING. Immediately he reached the crown, Ahaz discovered what manner of spirit he was of. With a perfect passion for idolatry - "a mania for foreign religious practices" (Stanley) - he soon outstripped his people, if not the heathen themselves, in his misdevotion, becoming their Coryphaeus in superstitious rites, showing himself to be the idolater par excellence in Judah, and by his regal example leading his subjects down into unknown depths of infamy (ver. 19).
1. He renounced the true religion of Jehovah. Not merely as it had been practised by David (ver. 1), Asa (2 Chronicles 15:17), and Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 17:3), but as it had been observed by his immediate predecessors, Jotham, Uzziah, and Amaziah. If not discontinued at once as to outward form, it was kept up for a season merely as a form; it was from the first abandoned in heart. He began his reign by practising the arts of a hypocrite.
2. He adopted the false worship of Baal, which had long held sway in the northern kingdom (ver. 2). Whether he introduced the calf-worship of Jeroboam (Keil), or restricted himself to the manufacture of images of Baal (Bahr), in either case he followed in the way of the Israelitish kings (1 Kings 12:28; 1 Kings 16:32; 2 Kings 3:2). "It is hard not to be infected by a contagious neighbourhood: whoever read that the kingdom of Israel was seasoned with the vicinity of the true religion of Judah?" (Bishop Hall).
3. He utilized all the idol-sanctuaries already existing in the land. "He sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree" (ver. 4). In so doing he copied bad masters, reproducing the slate of matters which had existed in Judah under Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:23), and at the moment flourished in Samaria under Hoshea (2 Kings 17:10) - a state of matters which from the first had prevailed among the heathen inhabitants of the land (Deuteronomy 12:2), but which they had been commanded ruthlessly to destroy. On the nature of this worship consult the Exposition.
4. He introduced the worship of Moloch, "the savage god of the Ammonites" (Stanley), as Solomon had done before him (1 Kings 11:7), in open defiance of Divine Law (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 18:10), setting up an image of that idol - a human figure with a bull's head and outstretched arms - in the valley of Hinnom, a "narrow waterless ravine bounding the site of Jerusalem, and commencing on the west as a shallow dell" (Conder, 'Handbook to the Bible,' p. 330), and even sacrificing to it one (2 Kings 16:3) or more (2 Chronicles 28:3) of his own sons, as Manasseh afterwards did (2 Chronicles 33:6). "The image of metal was made hot by a fire kindled within it, and the children, laid in its arms, rolled from thence into the fiery lap below. Voluntary offering on the part of the parents was essential to the success of the sacrifice. Even the firstborn, nay, the only child of the family, was given up. The parents stopped the cries of their children by fondling and kissing them, for the victim ought not to weep, and the sound of complaint was drowned in the din of flutes and kettledrums" (Dr. Dollinger, 'Heidenthum und Judenthum,' quoted by Rawlinson, 'Story of Phoenicia,' pp. 112-114). That the children were not merely passed through the fire as an act of purgation, but actually burned, seems indisputable; it is not certain that the children were thrown alive into the idol's glowing arms, the opinion that they were first slain (Keil, Bahr, Schurer) appearing to be warranted by certain passages in Scripture (Ezekiel 16:20, 21; Ezekiel 23:39; Isaiah 57:5; Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5; cf. 2 Kings 3:27).
5. He sacrificed to the gods of Damascus.
(1) He did this when the Syrians were inflicting on him military reverses, i.e. in the time of his distress (Keil), not after it (Bertheau). Strange that just then, when men most need the help of God, in the hour of affliction and season of calamity, they usually manifest a tendency to run from him, looking for assistance from every quarter blot the right one (Jeremiah 3:23) - exemplified in Ahaziah (2 Kings 1:2, 3).
(2) The reason of his doing this was that he imagined his ill success upon the field of battle had been due, not at all to the hand of God who thereby punished his wickedness, but to the assistance derived by the Syrians from their divinities (ver. 23), and conceived that, by paying them respect in sacrificing to them, he would win their favour to himself instead of them (2 Chronicles 25:14). Wicked men seldom ascribe their misfortunes or adversities to the right cause, their own ill deserts and God's hand in punishing the same, but mostly attribute them to the "scientific idols," called "chance," "circumstances," "ill luck," etc., which deities they hope to propitiate in a manner hardly less foolish than that of Ahaz, by sacrificing at their unhallowed shrines.
(3) The specific mode in which he served the Syrian gods is not stated, as the divinities themselves are not named, and indeed in Scripture never are (Judges 10:6). The incident of the altar seen by Ahaz at Damascus, and reproduced in Jerusalem (2 Kings 16:10-16), is not referred to by the Chronicler. The altar incident occurred when Ahaz was attending Tiglath-Pileser's durbar at Damascus; "the sacrifices" were performed while Ahaz was fighting with the Syrians.
(4) The result of his appeal to the gods of Syria was ruin to himself and to all Israel. So all that forsake God shall be ashamed (Jeremiah 17:13), while "their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after other gods" (Psalm 16:4), and "they that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercies" (Jonah if. 8); for "idolaters shall have their part in the lake," etc. (Revelation 21:8).
6. He shut up the doors of the house of the Lord. (Ver. 24.) It was high time. The man who could displace the brazen altar made by Solomon after patterns furnished by Jehovah (Exodus 25:40; Exodus 26:30; Exodus 27:1; 1 Chronicles 28:19), to make room for a new shrine, no matter of what costly material, copied from a heathen temple at Damascus, and fashioned by a servile priest in Jerusalem; the monster who could erect an image of Moloch in his capital and sacrifice to it his own child; the devotee who was so mad upon foreign gods, that the very sight of a heathen temple, altar, or idol caused him to fall a-worshipping; - had obviously no excuse for longer affecting to be a worshipper of Jehovah. Accordingly, he smashed up the vessels and closed the doors of the temple. There should be no more worshipping of Jehovah, if he could help it. It was horrible sacrilege, but it was at least honest.
7. He did his utmost to provoke Jehovah to anger. Building altars in every corner of Jerusalem, till, like Athens in the days of Paul, it was wholly given to idolatry, literally stuffed full of idols (Acts 17:16), and erecting besides in every city of Judah high places to burn incense unto other gods (vers. 24, 25); he did his best to pour contempt upon the God of his fathers; in his outrageous, fanatical, and senseless idolatry eclipsing all his predecessors, leaving behind him in the race to perdition experts in heathen worship like Rehoboam and Jehoram in Judah, like Jeroboam and Ahab in Israel. It was no wonder that Jehovah at length bestirred himself to take vengeance on this nonpareil idolater.
III. AN UNSUCCESSFUL WARNING. For the wickedness of himself and people, he and they were "brought low," diminished in numbers, weakened in power, humbled in spirit, by Jehovah, who raised up against them three foreign foes.
1. The Syrians and Israelites. (Vers. 5-7.)
(1) The leaders of the allied forces were - of the Syrians, Rezin, or Rezon - in the inscriptions, Razinu, King of Syria, whose capital was Damascus; of the Israelites, Pekah, the son of Remaliah - in the inscriptions, Pakaha, a usurper; whose metropolis was Samaria ('Records,' etc., 5:48-52).
(2) The time selected for their assault upon Judah was the beginning of the reign of Ahaz, although for some years previous to Jotham's death similar attacks had not been wanting (2 Kings 15:37).
(3) The object contemplated by the expedition was to overturn the Davidie dynasty, and place upon the throne of Judah "a vassal king, whose father's name, Tabeel, shows that he must have been a Syrian" (Sayce); the Hauran inscriptions exhibiting several names, like Tab'el, compounded with el, and the Syrian Tab'-rimmon forming an exact parallel (Delitzsch, on Isaiah 7:6). It is supposed that a party in Jerusalem favoured the contemplated revolution (Isaiah 8:6).
(4) The plan of campaign appears to have been that Rezin should invade Judah from the south, capturing Eloth on the Red Sea, which Uzziah had restored to Judah (2 Chronicles 26:2), that Pekah should send a force directly from the north across the borders of the southern kingdom, and that both armies should meet in front of Jerusalem, to reduce it, if possible, by a siege.
(5) The result of the invasion, so far as Ahaz and his people were concerned, was disastrous in the extreme. The capital, as Isaiah had predicted, was not taken. It may be questioned if the programme was carried out to the extent of besieging the city. There is ground for thinking this was prevented by the appearance upon the scene of Tiglath-Pileser II. of Assyria (ver. 16; 2 Kings 16:7). But
(a) Rezin of Damascus, besides recovering Eloth (2 Kings 16:6), defeated Ahaz m a pitched battle, and carried away a multitude of his subjects captive to Damascus.
(b) Pekah also routed him with great slaughter in one day's fight, slaying a hundred and twenty thousand of his veteran troops. In particular, Zichri, an Ephraimite hero, struck down three warriors closely related to Ahaz - Maaseiah the king's son, i.e. cousin or uncle, as in 2 Chronicles 18:25 and 2 Chronicles 22:11, since Ahaz could hardly at the commencement of his reign have had a son capable of bearing arms; Azrikam, the ruler of the house, not of the temple (2 Chronicles 31:13; 1 Chronicles 9:11), but of the palace, hence a high official in the royal household; and Elkanah, that was next or second to the king, i.e. his prime minister. In addition, two hundred thousand women, sons and daughters, with much spoil, were carried captive to Samaria. The great number of the slain and of the captives may be accounted for by remembering that it was practically a war for the existence of the southern kingdom, which would require Ahaz to call out all his able- bodied population; that the Israelites were accustomed to act with great cruelty in war (2 Kings 15:16), and probably did so on this occasion (ver. 9); and that Jehovah had delivered Ahaz and his people into the hands of their enemies on account of their apostasy, as by the lips of Moses (Leviticus 26:17, 37) he had threatened he would in such cases do.
2. The Edomites. These, whom Uzziah had reduced to subjection (2 Chronicles 26:2), were probably emboldened by Rezin's successful attack upon Eloth (2 Kings 16:6) to throw off the yoke of Judah, and even attempt reprisals in the shape of an invasion of Judaean territory. This they executed with such military skill, that they carried off, as the Syrians and Israelites had done, a number of prisoners.
3. The Philistines. During the previous reign these also had been conquered, and their country occupied by garrisons of Judaean soldiers (2 Chronicles 26:6); but, embracing the opportunity afforded by the simultaneous attacks directed upon their ancient enemy and present suzerain, they asserted their independence, made an irruption into the low land and south country of Judah, captured and occupied a number of cities, with their dependent villages: Beth-shemesh (see on 2 Chronicles 25:21); Ajalon, the modern Jalo (2 Chronicles 11:10); Gederoth, in the hill country of Judah (Joshua 15:36); "the Gedor of the 'Onomasticon,' ten miles from Eleutheropolis, on the road to Diospolis, now the ruin Jedireh (Conder, 'Handbook,' p. 411); Shocho (2 Chronicles 11:7), the Shuweike of to-day; Timnah, the present Tibneh, on the frontier of Judah three quarters of an hour from Ain-shems; Gimzo, now Jimsu, a large village between Lydda and Jerusalem. LESSONS.
1. The degeneracy of human nature - a good Jotham begets a wicked Ahaz.
2. The madness of idolatry, exemplified in the career of Ahaz.
3. The certainty of retribution, illustrated by the bringing low" of Judah. - W.
I. THE WARRIORS OF ISRAEL AND THE CAPTIVES OF JUDAH. (Ver. 8.)
1. The number of the captives. Two hundred thousand persons.
(1) This, following upon a slaughter of one hundred and twenty thousand soldiers, showed the crushing nature of the blow which had fallen upon Judah.
(2) It exemplified the horrors of war, especially amongst ancient peoples, with whom the deportation of vast hordes of a country's population was a familiar phenomenon. Cf. among the Jews the twenty thousand footmen taken by David from Hadadezer of Zobah (2 Samuel 8:4; 1 Chronicles 18:4), and the ten thousand Edomites captured by Amaziah (ch. 25:12); amongst the Assyrians the carrying away of the inhabitants of Samaria to Assyria by Tiglath-Pileser II. (2 Kings 15:29; cf. 'Records,' etc., 5:52) - "the population, the goods of its people (and the furniture)to the land of Assyria I sent," and the removal by Sargon II. of 27,280 of the leading inhabitants of Samaria to Gozan and Media ('Records,' etc., 7:28); and amongst the Egyptians the number of foreign peoples transported to the Nile valley as the result of successful campaigns, a number so great as with their descendants to compose in the time of Rameses Sesostris "a third, aud probably still more, of all the families of Egypt" (Brugsch, ' Egypt under the Pharaohs,' 2:104).
2. The persons of the captives.
(1) The brethren of the Israelites, i.e. their kinsmen; hence the wickedness of their conduct in enslaving not merely human beings, which was bad, but their own flesh and blood, which was worse, yea, was unnatural; and
(2) of these, not the men who had fought against them, which might have been in some sort excusable, but, which was wholly indefensible, the women, with their sons and daughters, who were all alike innocent of offence in either causing or sustaining the war, and therefore should have been exempted from experiencing its miseries.
3. The destination of the captives. Samaria, in the Assyrian monuments Sa-mir-i-na (Schrader, 'Die Keilinschriften,' p. 191), the capital of the northern kingdom, built by Omri (1 Kings 16:24).
II. THE WARRIORS OF ISRAEL AND THE PROPHET OF JEHOVAH. (Vers. 9-11.)
1. The prophet's name. Oded, "Setting up." The name of the father of Azariah who went out to meet Asa (2 Chronicles 15:2).
2. The prophet's designation. A prophet of Jehovah, not of the false Jehovah worshipped in Samaria under the image of a calf (Hosea 8:5, 6), but of the true Jehovah, which shows that, apostate as the northern kingdom had become, it was not entirely destitute of true religion-even there Jehovah having at least prophets who witnessed for him, like Hosea (Hosea 1:1) and Oded, if not also adherents who worshipped him.
3. The prophet's courage. He went out to meet the hosts of Israel as they returned from their successful campaign, and warned them of the wickedness of which they had been guilty; as Jehu, the son of Hanani, had met Jehoshaphat returning from Ramoth-Gilead (2 Chronicles 19:2), and a prophet of Jehovah had confronted Amaziah coming from the slaughter of the Edomites (2 Chronicles 25:15).
4. The prophet's address.
(1) A reminder that the victory they had obtained had been due not so much (if at all) to their superior military skill or bravery, as to the fact that Jehovah had been angry with Judah, and had delivered her armies into their hands (ver. 9; of. Nehemiah 9:27).
(2) A rebuke for the want of pity they had shown towards their brethren upon whom the anger of God had fallen - a circumstance which should have moved their hearts to clemency (Job 19:21), but which had rather lent intensity to their rage.
(3) An accusation that they purposed to make bondmen and bondwomen of the sons and daughters of Judah and Jerusalem - which, besides being an act of cruelty, was likewise an act of folly, since it could not be supposed Jehovah's favour was finally withdrawn from Judah; and an act of presumption, inasmuch as they themselves had not been blameless in the matter of apostatizing from Jehovah, and, if the truth were told, were as much deserving to be punished as their southern brethren and sisters.
(4) An appeal to their conscience to say whether what he now affirmed was not correct: "Are there not with you, even with you, sins against the Lord your God?" Their idolatry was as great as that of Judah had been. Their pitiless butchery of their brethren was crying up against them to heaven. Their bringing away of these innocent women and children was an iniquity which filled up the measure of their guilt (ver. 10).
(5) An exhortation to desist from their criminal intention to enslave their brethren, and to send back the captives they had brought, with all convenient speed and with due expressions of reset (ver. 11).
(6) An argument to quicken their movements in the path of duty; if they did not, the fierce wrath of Jehovah, which was already on them, would engulf them. The speech, which was a model in respect of compact brevity, lofty eloquence, clear statement, pathetic appeal, resistless logic, and which must have been delivered with combined boldness and persuasiveness, made a deep impression.
III. THE WARRIORS OF ISRAEL AND THE PRINCES OF EPHRAIM, (Vers. 12-14.)
1. The names of the princes. Azariah (2 Chronicles 15:2; 2 Chronicles 22:6), the son of Johanan, "Jehovah is gracious;" Berechiah, "Whom Jehovah hath blessed" (1 Chronicles 6:39), son of Meshillemoth, "Retribution;" Jehizkiah, the same as Hezekiah, "The might of Jehovah," son of Shallum, "Retribution" (2 Kings 15:10); and Amasa, "Burden," the name of one of Absalom's captains (2 Samuel 17:25), the son of Hadlai, "Rest." These princes were obviously at the head of the Israelitish congregation (ver. 14).
2. The action of the princes. They joined the Prophet Oded in resisting the introduction by the soldiers of the captives into the city. That people is fortunate whose leaders are courageous to oppose them in evil-doing, and to point out to them the path of duty.
3. The speech of the princes.
(1) A refusal to admit the captives into the city (ver. 13);
(2) a confession that already they, as a people, had transgressed against Jehovah, and incurred his wrath; and
(3) an intimation that the course the soldiers were pursuing was such as would increase their sin and trespass, and expose them to a heavier charge of guilt.
4. The success of the princes. "The armed men left the captives and the spoil before the princes and all the congregation" (ver. 14). Happy is that community in which the wise and good counsels of its leaders prevail.
IV. THE PRINCES OF ISRAEL AND THE CAPTIVES OF JUDAH. (Ver. 15.)
1. The kindness of the princes. The above-named (ver. 12), with other famous and distinguished leaders, to whom a similar designation was customarily applied (1 Chronicles 12:31; 1 Chronicles 16:41; 2 Chronicles 31:19), rose up from their seats of honour in the midst of the assembly, stood forth as the representatives of the people and received at the hands of the soldiers the crowd of captives; out of the spoil, which, as usual, consisted in garments, flocks, and herds, with other articles of value (2 Chronicles 15:14, 15; 2 Chronicles 20:25), clothed and shod all amongst them who were naked, giving them to eat and drink (2 Kings 6:22, 23); anointed with oil such of them as had wounds (Luke 10:34); set the feeble upon asses, of which animals there was a plentiful supply (1 Chronicles 27:30; Ezra 2:67) - a lively picture of the pity and compassion which should ever be shown towards the unfortunate, suffering, and miserable, especially by the people of God (Isaiah 58:6, 7; Job 30:25; Luke 10:37; Luke 14:12; 1 Timothy 5:10; 1 John 3:17).
2. The return of the captives. Thus generously treated by the princes, they were sent back, those able to travel by themselves, those requiring to ride accompanied by conductors, who journeyed with them as far as Jericho, the city of palm trees (Judges 3:13), distant from Jerusalem about five and a half hours walk, situated in the tribe of Benjamin, and belonging to the kingdom of Judah. Arrived thither, they were handed over to their brethren, after which their conductors returned to Samaria.
1. The sin of slavery.
2. The function of prophecy.
3. The beauty of charity. - W.
I. DIVINE PITY IN THE MIDST OF DIVINE PENALTY. It is clear that the people of Judah owed their defeat entirely to the fact that they had grievously sinned against the Lord (see ver. 9). But there was a point beyond which justice did not demand that penalty should go. And at that point Divine pity might appear. There it did appear, and it arrested the hand of the cruel smiter. God sends judgment, but in wrath he "remembers mercy" (Habakkuk 3:2). He sends the serious sickness which brings pain and weakness, but at a certain point he sends the remedy and restoration. He brings down upon the guilty the strong indignation of their kind, but he raises up the compassionate and the considerate who visit the prisoner or the lonely with words of friendly sympathy and cheer. He brings the strong but rebellious kingdom to defeat and humiliation, but he causes it to grow up again to competence and power. He bruises, but he does not shatter; he lays low, but he raises up.
II. OFFICIAL FAITHFULNESS. Oded had a difficult and dangerous part to play on this occasion, but he bore himself right nobly (vers. 9-11). He did not flinch from words of energetic condemnation (vers. 9, 10), or from words of unpalatable advice (ver. 11). If God puts us into any responsible position, whether in the family, or in the Church, or in the city, or in the councils of the nation, we are most sacredly bound to play our part courageously. No man is fitted to occupy a post of trust and honour unless he is prepared, at times, to say and do that which is likely to be resented. Though we may not be called upon to face a triumphant army with words of remonstrance and command, as Oded did now, yet we are sure to be under obligation to say that which is unacceptable and to confront the dislike and disapproval of men. If we are not prepared to do that, we had better stand down at once, and take a lower place. Certainly we are not qualified to speak for God.
III. HUMAN INFLUENCE. We have two instances of human influence being exercised with remarkable success. The outspoken prophet persuades the princes, and they in their turn persuade the soldiers to release the captives and to abandon the spoil which they had taken. This was a truly remarkable success. To induce men who are flushed with victory to forego the advantages they have won with the sword is to accomplish a great feat. It shows what man can do with man; what influence a strong voice can exert upon the human heart.
1. It is always well worth while to interpose between men and the wrong they are meditating; we may save them from great guilt and others from great suffering.
2. We must be in downright earnest, and speak with entire fearlessness and frankness, as both prophet and princes did now, or we shall not succeed. We must speak as those who are perfectly convinced, as those who know what is right, and have no hesitation at all as to the course which should be taken.
IV. HUMAN PITY. Instead of slaughtering their prisoners, which in that age might have been done without pity or remorse, we have these soldiers of Israel showing all possible kindness to them (ver. 15). It is a common thing now for men to show a magnanimous kindness to their fallen enemy even on the battle-field. But the teaching of the Lord of love has done its work to some considerable extent, and has mercifully modified the cruelties of war. The scene of the text was something of an anticipation of the injunction, "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink." It is for us to illustrate the spirit then shown, on every opportunity. We should spare those who are in our power; it may be in the domain of business; it may be in the social circle; it may be round the domestic table; it may be in something so simple as a debate, so common as an ordinary argument. But wherever or whatever it be, to spare our opponent when he is down, to save him from the miseries Of defeat, to put him in the way of return to self-respect and honour, to "take back our captives to Jericho," is to do no more than these Israelites did on this particular occasion; it is to do no less than our Master requires of us at all times and under every circumstance (Matthew 5:43-48). - C.
I. THE PERSON APPROACHED. Tiglath-Pilneser (ver. 20), Tiglath-Pileser (2 Kings 16:7); in Assyrian, Takul-u-(Tukeal)-habal-i-sar-ra, meaning "He who puts his trust in Adar," or, "Adar is my confidence;" in the LXX. Θαλγαθ(φελασσάρ; the same person as Pal King of Assyria (Schrader, 'Die Keilinschriften,' pp. 223-240), to whom Menahem of Israel gave a thousand talents of silver as a bribe for aid to keep the throne he had usurped (2 Kings 15:17). Originally a gardener (according to Greek tradition), Pal rose to eminence as a soldier, and eventually seized the crown of Assyria in B.C. 745, as Tiglath-Pileser II.
II. THE INVITATION GIVEN. To assist Ahaz against Rezin of Damascus and Pekah of Israel. Already the power of Tiglath-Pileser II. had been felt in numerous expeditions towards the West. Syria, Palestine, and Phoenicia had each resounded at the tread of his conquering legions. In particular, Rezin ('Records,' etc., 5:48), and Menahem, one of Pekah's predecessors on the throne of Israel, had acknowledged his supremacy by paying him tribute (2 Kings 15:29; 'Records,' etc., 5:48). Accordingly, Ahaz had no doubt that the mighty Assyrian could by a word call off the two royal bandits that, like terriers, had sprung at his throat. Despatching ambassadors to Tiglath-Pileser, he requested aid against his foes from the north and east. To render his application successful, he sent with his plenipotentiaries a heavy largess, in the shape of presents of gold and silver taken from the temple, the palace, and the princes' mansions (2 Kings 16:7, 8). An inscription, composed in the last or year before last year of Tiglath-Pileser's reign, speaks of the Assyrian monarch as having received tribute from Mitinti of Askalon, Joachaz of Juda, and Kosmalak of Edom (Schrader, 'Die Keilinschriften,' p. 263). Though this tribute was probably that which Ahaz paid on visiting Tiglath-Pileser at Damascus (2 Kings 16:10), it will serve to illustrate and confirm the fact here mentioned, that Ahaz sent a present with his plenipotentiaries when they went to solicit Tiglath-Pileser's assistance.
III. THE ANSWER RETURNED. Tiglath-Pileser came unto him.
1. He marched against Rezin. (2 Kings 16:9.) The King of Syria was defeated in a pitched battle, and retreated to his capital. "He, to save his life, fled away alone and like a deer, and into the great gate of his city he entered. His generals alive in hand I captured, and on crosses I raised them. His country I subdued" (Inscription of Tiglath-Pileser, No. 10). "Damascus was closely invested; the trees in its neighbourhood were cut down; the districts dependent on it were ravaged, and forces were despatched to punish the Israelites, Ammonites, Moabites, and Philistines, who had been the allies of Resort.... At last, in B.C. 732, after a siege of two years, Damascus was forced by famine to surrender. Reson was slain, Damascus given over to plunder and ruin, and its inhabitants transported to Kip" (Sayce, 'Assyria, its Princes,' etc., pp. 36, 37; cf. Smith, ' Assyrian Discoveries,' p. 282; Schrader, ' Die Keilinschriften,' pp. 258, 259).
2. He turned upon Israel. (2 Kings 15:29.) As above stated, this occurred while the siege of Damascus was being pressed forward. The towns of Ijon, Abel-beth-maachah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazer, with the districts of Gilead, Galilee, and all the land of Naphtali, were captured, and their populations carried away to Syria, while Pekah, their sovereign, perished at the hands of a conspirator, Hoshea, who forthwith seized upon the throne. These details likewise receive confirmation from the monuments. Frame, sent No. 2 of Tiglath-Pileser's inscription, narrating his war in Palestine, mentions "the city Gaul... [probably Gilead] and Abil [Abel-beth-maachah]... with the land of Humri throughout its whole extent as having been joined to the borders of Assyria; the entire population of the district as having been sent to Assyria, and their king, Pakaha, as having been slain" (Smith, 'Assyrian Discoveries,' pp. 284, 285; 'Records,' etc., 5:51, 52; Schrader, 'Die Keilinschriften,' pp, 255, 256).
3. He subjected Judah. This the obvious meaning of the Chronicler's statement, that Tiglath-Pileser "distressed Ahaz, but strengthened him not." Instead of helping him to become an independent sovereign, Tiglath-Pileser made him a tributary to the Assyrian crown; and exactly in harmony with this, Joachaz of Juda appears, along with Mitinti of Askalon, Kosmalak of Edom, and Hanno of Gasa, among the tributary princes who, in the seventeenth or eighteenth year of his reign, did homage to the great king (see above). - W.
I. THE ACCUMULATING PENALTY WHICH SIN ALWAYS PAYS.
1. This often comes in the form of obvious and apparent losses. The trangressor who "fears not God, neither regards man," finds himself subjected to a series of adversities, which he regards as misfortunes, but which we recognize as penalties. He loses the confidence and esteem of his worthier neighbours; then he loses custom, trade, support, and then and thus he loses money; then he loses his substance by extravagance and, it may be, by one or more expensive vices - and vice is a very expensive thing; then he loses health and spirit and hope; then he loses the regard of his neighbours generally. So, step by step, he goes down, until "the Lord brings Judah low," until he has "made the land naked."
2. Or penalty may come in the way of inward and spiritual deterioration. We cannot pretend to say in what order this proceeds; it varies with individual souls; but blow upon blow descends; bruise upon bruise is suffered by the soul; one defence after another is taken away from the citadel until the land is "naked." It may be that the fine sense of truthfulness goes first; then, perhaps, the spirit of reverence; then the loss of thorough rectitude; then the loss of purity; then may come an indifference to the judgment of the good and wise; then the decay of self-respect; - and what then is left? Let the man who, like Ahaz, hardens himself against God understand this, that as he goes on his guilty way, even if outward prosperity remains to him, there is descending upon his spiritual nature, upon himself if not upon his circumstances, blow upon blow of righteous penalty - blows which are bruising and slaying him, beneath which he is surely perishing.
II. THE MULTIPLIED SORROWS WHICH RIGHTEOUSNESS SOMETIMES ENDURES. "Many are the afflictions (even) of the righteous" (Psalm 34:19). To the patient Job, to the faithful Jeremiah, to the devoted Paul, they come in large number and in great strength. Even to the purest and loveliest of the sons and daughters of God there sometimes falls a sad succession of trials; it may be in the heart and on the lips of the most worthy to say, "All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me." Blow upon blow descends upon their head. What does it mean? It simply means that the branch which is bearing fruit the Lord of the vineyard is pruning, "that it may bring forth more fruit;" it means that "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth," in order that he may make them to be "partakers of his holiness;' it means that the Divine Master is refining and cultivating his servant, to prepare him for a far broader and nobler sphere and for higher and heavenlier,work hereafter; it means that affliction is working out an "exceeding weight of glory." - C.
I. INFATUATION. He robbed the palace and even plundered the temple in order to bribe the King of Assyria to help him, instead of going to the house of the Lord as a servant and suppliant of Jehovah, to seek and find his help. That is to say, he committed robbery and sacrilege in order to secure the succour of a man who afterwards deceived and defrauded him (ver. 21), when, by simple piety and integrity, he might have secured the aid of Omnipotence, the help of One that never fails his people. His course was one of utter infatuation. He neglected the one way that was quite open to him, and that would certainly have succeeded; he adopted a measure that was full of iniquity, and that was likely to end, as it did, in failure. He put the finishing stroke to his fatuity when he worshipped "the gods which smote him" (ver. 23). Sin does lead down to infatuation, it leads men to seek their joy and their heritage in the poorest and most unsatisfying springs, to pursue wisdom and wealth in directions where emptiness and poverty are alone to be obtained; it leads men to neglect the Fountain of living waters, the Source of all truth and wisdom, of all excellency and joy. It strews the path of the guilty with melancholy failures.
II. DEFIANCE. Ahaz could hardly go further in defying the Lord God of his fathers, the Divine One whom he was taught and trained to worship, than he did by his conduct as here described (vers. 24, 25). It was an act of unholy hardihood, of almost desperate defiance, that could only be the outcome of a guilty obduracy of spirit. He must have resented the action of Jehovah and determined to go all possible lengths in defying his authority. Well might the spirit of Isaiah be aroused as he witnessed this profanation, this open and daring rebellion against the living God. When men have long given way to their folly and to their sinful inclinations they do sometimes go to this awful length. They defy the God that made them, in whose power they stand. They may deny his existence; they may mock at his judgments, and at his final condemnation of their course; they may speak arrogantly and impiously of his power and of his rule: "How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High?" (Psalm 73:11).
III. DEATH. Ahaz went down to an early and a dishonoured death (ver. 27). We do not wonder that he died before he reached the age of forty. The disasters he brought upon his country, and the mental strain which he must have undergone to proceed to such lengths of impiety, are enough to account for a premature decline and death. And all the better instincts of that instructed people led them to refuse the funereal honour they usually paid to their kings. "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." The issue of all sin is death - physical, spiritual, eternal. This is its wages. Let those who are moving down its sad decline take note of the end to which they move. But let us realize that to all who will turn from its enticements and break from its evil power, to all who will accept the supreme gift of God in Jesus Christ, "eternal life" is open (Romans 6:23). - C.