Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
he trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him" (ver. 5). What was the consequence? Just what the consequence will be to all who put their trust in the Lord and walk in his ways: "The Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth."
I. TRUST IN GOD LEADS TO PERSONAL RELIGION. Hezekiah's faith in God was not a mere idle profession. It did not consist in the mere belief of certain historical facts. It did not consist in the mere assent to certain doctrinal truths. It did not consist in the mere observance of certain outward forms and ceremonies. It was a real faith. It extended to his whole life. "He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did" (ver. 3). "He clave unto the Lord, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses" (ver. 6). Suck is true religion. Religion is the dedication of the heart and life to God. A man may differ from me in creed, and in the way he worships the same God; but if he loves the Lord Jesus Christ, and serves God in sincerity, he is a truly religious man. "In every nation he that feareth God, and. worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." How expressive and instructive are some of these quaint old phrases! "He clave unto the Lord." Hezekiah set before him one great aim at the commencement of his life, and that was to please God. Whatever it might cost, he made up his mind to keep close to God. It is a grand resolution for the young to make. It is a grand aim to keep before them in life. But Hezekiah had not merely a goal at which he aimed. He had certain well-defined lines along which he reached that goal. He knew that, to please God, he must keep his commandments. He did not set up his own will in opposition to the will of God, king though he was. He did not dispute the wisdom of God's commands. He felt that God knew much better than he did the path of wisdom and of duty. This is one of the best evidences of true faith - of real trust in God. We may not see the reason for a command of God, but let us obey it. A parent will give his child many commands, for which it is quite unnecessary, perhaps undesirable, that the child should know the reason. Obedience based on faith is one of the first principles of life. Here, then, was the beginning of Hezekiah's success in life. It began with the state of his own heart. He trusted in God. That trust in God molded his whole character, and character is the foundation of all that is permanent in life.
II. TRUST IN GOD LEADS TO PRACTICAL EFFORT. Hezekiah very soon showed by his conduct that he was determined to serve God. He did not leave the people long in doubt as to which side he was on. In the very first year of his reign, and in the first month of it, he opened the doors of the temple of the Lord, which his father had closed, and repaired them (2 Chronicles 29:3). As soon as the temple was set in proper order, he caused the priests and the Levites to commence at once the public service of God. Then, in the second month, he issued a proclamation throughout all the land of Israel and Judah, inviting the people to come to Jerusalem to keep the Passover in the house of the Lord. What a festival and time of rejoicing that was! For seven days they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread with great gladness, and the Levites and the priests praised the Lord day by day, singing with loud instruments unto the Lord. Peace offerings were offered; confession of sin was made, not to the priests, but to the Lord God of their fathers; and the presence of the Lord was so manifested among the large congregation, that when the seven days of the Passover were ended, the whole assembly unanimously agreed to keep seven days more. "So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David King of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem" The effect of the service was electrical When the Passover was finished, the people went out to all the cities of Judah, and brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, and threw down the high places and the altars until they had utterly destroyed them all. In all this work of destroying the symbols of idolatry, Hezekiah the king took a leading part. Even the brazen serpent which Moses had made did not escape the destroying hand. It was an interesting relic of Israel's journeying in the wilderness, and of their wonderful deliverance by God. But it had become a snare to the people. It had become an object of worship to some, as relics and images become to many professing Christians. They worshipped it and burnt incense to it. Hezekiah was not the man to destroy anything that was a help to true devotion. He encouraged the Levites to use the trumpets, the harp, and the psaltery, to stir up and stimulate the singing of the congregation, and to render to God a hearty and glorious service of praise. But he saw that the brazen serpent had become an idol in itself, and was leading the thoughts of the people away from the true Object of worship. So be broke it in pieces. All honor to the determined reformer, who destroyed everything that had become dishonoring to God! All honor to those stern reformers who from time to time have broken in pieces the symbols of idolatry in the Church of Christ! Would that in the Church of Rome today some such reformer would arise, who would denounce and overthrow its image-worship and Mariolatry! Such was the work of reformation which Hezekiah accomplished among his people. It shows how God honors those who are determined to serve him, and how he blesses immediate and decided action. Hezekiah might well have hesitated in this work. The whole country was given over to idolatry. He might have dreaded a rebellion. In some parts of the country he got little sympathy in his efforts to restore the ancient religion. When the messengers inviting the people to the Passover passed through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh and. Zebulon, the people there laughed them to scorn and mocked them. Such manifestations of popular feeling might have caused Hezekiah to falter in his decision. He might have thought that he would introduce his reforms gradually. But no! the idolatry was wrong, and it must be put down at once. The worship of the true God was right, and it must at once be resumed, Hezekiah was right. Had he waited, had he begun his reign by tolerating idolatry for a while, he would have found it much harder to overthrow afterwards. Is there not here a lesson for us all? If you see the right loath clearly pointed out to you, resolve to walk in it, though all men should be against you. Remember the brave words of Athanasius. He was mocked at for his zeal for the truth. Some one said to him, "Athanasius, all the world is against you; ' then said he, "Athanasius is against the world." Follow the light of conscience and of duty. What matter though you may incur danger or worldly loss by so doing?
"And because right is right, to follow right III. TRUST IN GOD LEADS TO SUCCESS IN LIFE. "And the Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth" (ver. 7). He was victorious over his enemies. He threw off the yoke of the King of Assyria, and drove back the Philistines, who had made great inroads during the previous reign. When the people honored God, their God honored them and gave them victories over their enemies. As a reward of Hezekiah's faith and faithfulness, God gave him much riches and honor. Hezekiah had trusted God at the beginning of his reign. He had done God's will, though he did not know what it might cost him, and before he was established on the throne. And God did not disappoint his trust, but made him greater and more honored than all the kings of Judah before or after his time. Even in a temporal point of view, no one ever loses by trusting God and doing what is right. Christ promises that every one who is willing to give up every earthly possession for his sake will receive an hundredfold more in this life, and in the world to come life everlasting. We saw, above, the dangers of prosperity. Hezekiah's career shows us what is the safeguard of prosperity. "The Lord was with him." Where that can be said, there is no danger in prosperity. In the godless man, prosperity is often a curse. It hardens his heart. He thinks that he is rich and increased in goods and has need of nothing. But the prosperity of the Christian may be a great blessing to himself and others. Take with you into your business, into your social relations, into every plan you make and every work you undertake, the presence of God, the fear of God, the commandments of God; and then there will be no fear of your success. Trust in the Lord. Put your eternal interests into the hands of Jesus. He is worthy of your trust. They that trust themselves to him shall never perish. Trust in the Lord, that it may lead you to personal religion, to practical effort, to success in life. "Set thou thy trust upon the Lord.
III. TRUST IN GOD LEADS TO SUCCESS IN LIFE. "And the Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth" (ver. 7). He was victorious over his enemies. He threw off the yoke of the King of Assyria, and drove back the Philistines, who had made great inroads during the previous reign. When the people honored God, their God honored them and gave them victories over their enemies. As a reward of Hezekiah's faith and faithfulness, God gave him much riches and honor. Hezekiah had trusted God at the beginning of his reign. He had done God's will, though he did not know what it might cost him, and before he was established on the throne. And God did not disappoint his trust, but made him greater and more honored than all the kings of Judah before or after his time. Even in a temporal point of view, no one ever loses by trusting God and doing what is right. Christ promises that every one who is willing to give up every earthly possession for his sake will receive an hundredfold more in this life, and in the world to come life everlasting. We saw, above, the dangers of prosperity. Hezekiah's career shows us what is the safeguard of prosperity. "The Lord was with him." Where that can be said, there is no danger in prosperity. In the godless man, prosperity is often a curse. It hardens his heart. He thinks that he is rich and increased in goods and has need of nothing. But the prosperity of the Christian may be a great blessing to himself and others. Take with you into your business, into your social relations, into every plan you make and every work you undertake, the presence of God, the fear of God, the commandments of God; and then there will be no fear of your success. Trust in the Lord. Put your eternal interests into the hands of Jesus. He is worthy of your trust. They that trust themselves to him shall never perish. Trust in the Lord, that it may lead you to personal religion, to practical effort, to success in life.
"Set thou thy trust upon the Lord.
(1) a striking reformation;
(2) a ruthless despotism; and
(3) an unprincipled diplomacy.
The many strange and somewhat revolting historic events that make up the bulk of this chapter will come out in the discussion of these three subjects.
I. A STRIKING REFORMATION. Hezekiah, who was now King of Judah, and continued such for about twenty-nine years, was a man of great excellence. The unknown historian here says that "he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did," etc. (vers. 3-8). This is high testimony, and his history shows that on the whole it was well deserved. Compared with most of his predecessors and contemporaries, he appears to have been an extraordinarily good man. He lived in a period of great national trial and moral corruption. Israel, Judah's sister-kingdom, was in its death-throes, and his own people had fallen into idolatry of the grossest kind. In the very dawn of his reign he sets himself to the work of reformation. We find in 2 Chronicles 29:2-36 a description of the desire for a thorough reformation which displayed itself. But the point of his reformative work, on which we would now fasten our attention, is that mentioned in ver. 4, "He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan." His method for extirpating idolatry from his country is detailed with minuteness in 2 Chronicles 29:3; 2 Chronicles 30:1-9. In this destruction of the brazen serpent we are struck with two things.
1. The perverting tendency of sin. The brazen serpent (we learn from Numbers 21:9) was a beneficent ordinance of God to heal those in the wilderness who had been bitten by the fiery serpents. But this Divine ordinance, designed for a good purpose, and which had accomplished good, was now, through the forces of human depravity, become a great evil. The Jews turned what was a special display of Divine goodness into a great evil. I am disposed to honor them for preserving it for upwards of seven hundred years, and thus handing it down from sire to son as a memorial of heavenly mercy; but their conduct in establishing it as an object for worship must be denounced without hesitancy or qualification. But is not this the great law of depravity? Has it not always perverted the good things of God, and thus converted blessings into curses? It has ever done so. It is doing so now. See how this perverting power acts in relation to such Divine blessings as
(5) governments; and
(6) religious institutions.
2. The true attributes of a reformer. Here we observe:
(1) spiritual insight. Hezekiah (if our translation is correct) saw in this serpent, which appeared like a god to the people, nothing but a piece of brass - "Nehustan." What is grand to the vulgar is contemptible to the spiritually thoughtful. The true reformer peers into the heart of things, and finds that the gods of the people are but of common brass.
(2) Invincible honesty. He not only saw that it was brass, but said so - declared it in the ears of the people. How many there are who have eyes to see the vile and contemptible in the objects which popular feeling admires and adores, but who lack the honesty to express their convictions! A true man not only sees the wrong, but exposes it.
(3) Practical courage. This reformer not only had the insight to see, and the honesty to expose the worthlessness of the people's gods, but he had the courage to strike them from their pedestal. "He brake in pieces the brazen serpent." I have no hope of any man doing any real spiritual good who has not these three instincts. He must not only have an eye to penetrate the seeming and to descry the real, nor merely be honest enough to speak out his views, but he must have also the manly hand to "break in pieces" the false, in order to do the Divine work of reform. The man that has the three combined is the reformer. Almighty Love! multiply amongst us men of this threefold instinct - men which the age, the world demands!
3. The true soul of a reformer. What is that which gave him the true insight and attributes of a reformer - which in truth was the soul of the whole?
(1) Entire consecration to the right. "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. He trusted in and clave to the One true and living God, and kept his commandments. And this is right, and there is no right but this.
(2) Invincible antagonism to the wrong. "And he rebelled against the King of Assyria, and served him not." "The yearly tribute his father had stipulated to pay, he withheld. Pursuing the policy of a truly theocratic sovereign, be was, through the Divine blessing which rested on his government, raised to a position of great public and national strength. Shalmaneser was dead; and assuming, consequently, that full independent sovereignty which God had settled on the house of David, he both shook off the Assyrian yoke, and, by an energetic movement against the Philistines, recovered the credit which his father Ahaz had lost in his war with that people (2 Chronicles 28:18)."
II. A RUTHLESS DESPOTISM. There are two despots mentioned in this chapter - Shalmaneser and Sennacherib, both kings of Assyria. A brief description of the former we have in vers. 9, 10, 12. What is stated in these verses is but a repetition of what we have in the preceding chapter, and the remarks made on it in our last homily preclude the necessity of any observations here. This Shalmaneser was a tyrant of the worst kind. He invaded and ravaged the land of Israel, threw Hoshea into prison, laid siege to Samaria, carried the Israelites into Assyria, and located in their homes strangers from various parts of the Assyrian dominions. Thus he utterly destroyed the kingdom of Israel. The other despot is Sennacherib (vers. 13-16). Shalmaneser is gone, and this Sennacherib takes his place. The ruthlessness of this man's despotism appears in the following facts, recorded in the present chapter.
1. He had already invaded a country in which he had no right. "Sow in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah did Sennacherib King of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them." "The names of the principal of these cities are perhaps enumerated by Micah (Micah 1:11-16), viz. Saphir, lying between Ashdod and Eleutheropolis (Eusebius and Jerome, 'Onomast.,' Saphir; cf. Robinson, 'Bibl. Researches,' 2. p. 370); Zaanan or Zenan (Joshua 15:37), (Septuagint Χευναὰρ); Beth-Ezel or Azel (Zechariah 14:5), near Saphir and Zaanan; Maroth or Maarath (Joshua 15:59), between these towns and Jerusalem; Lachish (Um Lakis); Moresheth-Gath, situated in the direction of Gath; Achzib, between Keilah and Mareshah (Joshua 15:44); Mareshah, situated in the low country of Judah (Joshua 15:44); Adullam, near Mareshah (cf. Isaiah 24:1-12). Overrunning Palestine, Sennacherib laid siege to the fortress of Lachish, which lay seven Roman miles from Eleutheropolis, and, therefore, southwest of Jerusalem on the way to Egypt. Amongst the interesting illustrations of sacred history, furnished by the recent Assyrian excavations, is a series of bas-reliefs representing the siege of a town - a fenced town - among the uttermost cities of Judah (Joshua 15:39; Robinson's 'Biblical Researches')." Now mark, he now determines on another invasion, although:
2. He had received from the king most humble submission and large contributions to leave his country alone. Mark his humiliating appeal, "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." Alas! herein is a yielding of this great man's courage. Why did he apologize, pay the tribute which his ancestor had immorally pledged? Up to this point he had been bold in withholding it. But here, in crouching fear, he makes an apology. And more than this, he unrighteously promises a large contribution in answer to the despot's demands. "And the King of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah King of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold." The sum that he promised was extravagant, amounting to three hundred and fifty thousand pounds; but what was worse, this sum was abstracted from the public funds, to which he had no right, and was also rifled from the temple, which was a desecration. "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" The conduct of Hezekiah in this matter cannot be justified. Inasmuch as Sennacherib accepted the offering, he was in honor bound to abandon all idea of another invasion. Albeit, contrary to every principle of justice and kindness, not to say honor, he dispatches his army again into Judaea. "And the King of Assyria sent Tartan," etc. (ver. 17). What monsters are such despots! and yet they are not rare. Is there a nation existing on the face of the earth to-day, whatever its form of government, that has not at one time or another played this part?
III. AN UNPRINCIPLED DIPLOMACY. On behalf of Hezekiah, "Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder," appeared before the invading soldiers, and they are thus addressed by Rabshakeh, one of the leaders of the invading host: "And Rahshakeh said unto them, Speak ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the King of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?" etc. He appears as the diplomatist of the Assyrian war-king, and what does he do? By an impassioned harangue, fraught with insolence, falsehood, and blasphemy, he urges Hezekiah and his country to surrender. In doing this:
1. He represents his master, the King of Assyria, to be far greater than he is. "Thus saith the great king, the King of Assyria." Great, indeed! A flashing meteor and a gorgeous bubble, nothing morel A diplomatist is ever tempted to make his own country fabulously great in the presence of the one with whom he seeks to negotiate.
2. He seeks to terrify them with a sense of their utter inability to resist the invading army. "What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?" - D.T.
2 Samuel 23:4) of a reign like that of Hezekiah. Once more Divine mercy gave Judah a king in whom the best traditions of the theocracy were revived.
I. RIGHT CONDUCT.
1. An evil upbringing belied. As if to set laws of heredity at defiance, the worst King of Judah hitherto is succeeded by one of the best - the best after David. It is difficult on human principles to account for such a phenomenon. Hezekiah had every disadvantage in inherited tendency, in evil example, and in adverse surrounding influences. But Divine grace triumphed over all, and made out of him "a chosen vessel" (Acts 9:15). Doubtless some human agency unknown to us was employed in molding the young prince's character. It may have been his mother, "Abi, the daughter of Zachariah;" or perhaps the Prophet Isaiah, who had afterwards so much to do with him.
2. A good example followed, Hezekiah took as his model, not his own father, but David, the founder of his line, of whom God had said, "I have found David the son of Jesse a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will" (Acts 13:22). Hezekiah is the new David. Of no other since the times of Asa is it affirmed that he did "according to all that David his father did;" and even of Asa the testimony is less emphatic than here (1 Kings 15:11). Hezekiah mounted to the original model. David was the model for the kings of Judah; we have a yet higher one - Christ. It is well in ordering our lives to go back to this ultimate standard, judging ourselves, not by the degree of likeness or unlikeness to our neighbors, but by the measure of conformity to him.
II. REFORMING ZEAL. Hezekiah evidenced the reality of his piety by his works. In carrying out his reforms Hezekiah would no doubt be strengthened and assisted by the prophets; and the people were perhaps prepared to acquiesce in them by their disgust at the extravagant idolatries of Ahaz (cf. 2 Chronicles 28:27).
1. Temptation removed. Hezekiah early took the step which had hitherto been neglected by even the best kings - he "removed the high places." This centralized the worship at Jerusalem, and did away with the temptations to idolatry which the local altars afforded. It was further important as an evidence of his thorough-going determination to carry out the provisions of God's Law. We may wonder how Hezekiah could venture on such a step without awakening widespread resistance and disaffection; but the Book of Chronicles shows that it happened while the wave of enthusiasm created by the great Passover was yet at its height - a sufficient explanation (2 Chronicles 31:1).
2. Destruction of monuments of idolatry. Hezekiah next proceeded to clear the land of those idols of which Isaiah, at an earlier period, had said that it was full (Isaiah 2:8). He brake the images, and cut down the asherah. These vigorous measures were indispensable if true religion was to be re-established. It is not otherwise with the individual heart. True repentance is a stripping the soul of its idols - love of money, fashion, gaiety, dress, etc. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew vi- 24). "Covetousness, which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5).
"The dearest idol I have known, 3. Breaking of the brazen serpent. Another noteworthy act of Hezekiah was his breaking in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made. This is the first and last glimpse we get of this venerable relic since the time when it was set up in the wilderness. Its preservation was natural; it had done a wonderful work in its day; it was the symbol of a great deliverance; it had clustered around it the associations of miracle; it was the type even of the salvation of Messiah. We cannot marvel that it was reverenced as a sacred object. Yet now it had become a snare to the people, who burnt incense to it, and Hezekiah ruthlessly destroyed it, calling it (or it was called) contemptuously Nehushtan - "a piece of brass." We see from this how things originally sacred may become a snare and a temptation. Superstition is a fungus of rank growth, and fastens on nothing more readily than on the objects which call forth a natural reverence. Cf. the story of Gideon's ephod (Judges 8:24 27). Thus from the veneration of martyrs in the Christian Church there grew the worship of relics. So with all other aids to devotion, conceptions that fitly invest religious feelings, which, as Carlyle says ('On Heroes') are eidola, things seen, symbols of the invisible. When the sense and spiritual meaning goes out of these, and they become objects of superstitious reverence in themselves, it is time for them to be broken up. Even an object so sacred as the serpent which Moses made sinks to the level of a mere "piece of brass." We are reminded of Knox's reply when a prisoner in the galleys, and the image of the Virgin was presented to him to kiss. "Mother? Mother of God?" he said. "This is no mother of God; this is a painted bread' - a piece of painted wood - and flung the thing into the river. III. PRE-EMINENT GODLINESS. 1. Hezekiah the best of his line. Additional emphasis is given to the commendation of Hezekiah by the statement, "After him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him." It is good to be preeminent, but most of all to be pre-eminent for godliness. When we remember that among the kings with whom Hezekiah is here compared are such as Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Uzziah before him, and Josiah after him, we see that the praise is very great. 2. The praise particularized. The general statement is expanded into its particulars. Hezekiah trusted in the Lord; he clave to the Lord; he departed not from following him; he kept his commandments, as given to Moses. Trust, fidelity, obedience, and perseverance, in all these were his distinctive characteristics. Some kings had trusted, but not with so entire a heart; some had been obedient, but not so fully; some had been faithful for a time, but had failed to persevere. Hezekiah had the better record. God puts special honor on whole-hearted service. We are to see, however, that, exceptional as his goodness was, Hezekiah was not perfect. He bad his flaws, his sins, his failures too. The intention of the text is not to represent him as sinless, but only as pre-eminently great and good. "There is not a just man on earth that doeth good, and sinneth not" (Ecclesiastes 7:20). IV. DIVINE REWARD. Hezekiah's piety won for him Divine favor, protection, and success. 1. Freedom from servitude. "He rebelled against the King of Assyria, and served him not." He thus rescued the kingdom from the humiliating dependence into which it had been brought by Ahaz. 2. Victory over enemies. Hezekiah had also important victories over the Philistines, and was prospered "whithersoever" he went forth. Spiritually, God gives to those who fear him deliverance from the power of sin within, and victory over the world, the devil, and the flesh. - J.O.
3. Breaking of the brazen serpent. Another noteworthy act of Hezekiah was his breaking in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made. This is the first and last glimpse we get of this venerable relic since the time when it was set up in the wilderness. Its preservation was natural; it had done a wonderful work in its day; it was the symbol of a great deliverance; it had clustered around it the associations of miracle; it was the type even of the salvation of Messiah. We cannot marvel that it was reverenced as a sacred object. Yet now it had become a snare to the people, who burnt incense to it, and Hezekiah ruthlessly destroyed it, calling it (or it was called) contemptuously Nehushtan - "a piece of brass." We see from this how things originally sacred may become a snare and a temptation. Superstition is a fungus of rank growth, and fastens on nothing more readily than on the objects which call forth a natural reverence. Cf. the story of Gideon's ephod (Judges 8:24 27). Thus from the veneration of martyrs in the Christian Church there grew the worship of relics. So with all other aids to devotion, conceptions that fitly invest religious feelings, which, as Carlyle says ('On Heroes') are eidola, things seen, symbols of the invisible. When the sense and spiritual meaning goes out of these, and they become objects of superstitious reverence in themselves, it is time for them to be broken up. Even an object so sacred as the serpent which Moses made sinks to the level of a mere "piece of brass." We are reminded of Knox's reply when a prisoner in the galleys, and the image of the Virgin was presented to him to kiss. "Mother? Mother of God?" he said. "This is no mother of God; this is a painted bread' - a piece of painted wood - and flung the thing into the river.
III. PRE-EMINENT GODLINESS.
1. Hezekiah the best of his line. Additional emphasis is given to the commendation of Hezekiah by the statement, "After him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him." It is good to be preeminent, but most of all to be pre-eminent for godliness. When we remember that among the kings with whom Hezekiah is here compared are such as Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Uzziah before him, and Josiah after him, we see that the praise is very great.
2. The praise particularized. The general statement is expanded into its particulars. Hezekiah trusted in the Lord; he clave to the Lord; he departed not from following him; he kept his commandments, as given to Moses. Trust, fidelity, obedience, and perseverance, in all these were his distinctive characteristics. Some kings had trusted, but not with so entire a heart; some had been obedient, but not so fully; some had been faithful for a time, but had failed to persevere. Hezekiah had the better record. God puts special honor on whole-hearted service. We are to see, however, that, exceptional as his goodness was, Hezekiah was not perfect. He bad his flaws, his sins, his failures too. The intention of the text is not to represent him as sinless, but only as pre-eminently great and good. "There is not a just man on earth that doeth good, and sinneth not" (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
IV. DIVINE REWARD. Hezekiah's piety won for him Divine favor, protection, and success.
1. Freedom from servitude. "He rebelled against the King of Assyria, and served him not." He thus rescued the kingdom from the humiliating dependence into which it had been brought by Ahaz.
2. Victory over enemies. Hezekiah had also important victories over the Philistines, and was prospered "whithersoever" he went forth. Spiritually, God gives to those who fear him deliverance from the power of sin within, and victory over the world, the devil, and the flesh. - J.O.
I. HOW WEAK EVEN A GOOD MAN IS WITHOUT THE HELP OF GOD. Hezekiah was a good man. He was a wise man. Yet when left to himself how weak he was! how foolishly he acted! "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." It becometh us all to walk humbly with our God. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."
II. THE EVIL RESULTS OF WANT OF FAITH. Hezekiah's faith in God failed him. When that went, he was helpless. Sennacherib, seeing his craven spirit, appointed him a tribute of "three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold" (ver. 14). Hezekiah was in a difficulty. He had no money to meet this demand. So he followed the very dangerous example set him by his father, and stripped the gold from the doors and pillars of the house of God, and sent it to the King of Assyria. Want of faith often leads men to use questionable methods. Men are in need of money, and they cannot trust God to provide for them in the way of honest industry, so they have recourse to speculation and fraud. If we are doing God's will, we may trust him to take care of us.
"It may not be my way;
Isaiah 10:4), hung over Jerusalem, showing how near destruction it was if God did not interpose. A mighty deliverance was vouchsafed, showing how inviolable was its security if only fleshly confidence was renounced, and the people put their trust in the living God.
I. SENNACHERIB'S EARLY SUCCESSES:
1. Connection with the moral state of the people. Despite the efforts of Hezekiah and Isaiah, the moral state of the people continued at bottom unchanged. The enthusiasm enkindled by Hezekiah's great Passover (2 Chronicles 30.) passed away, and things reverted very much to their former state. The idols which Hezekiah had destroyed were brought back (cf. Isaiah 10:10, 11). The nation is pointedly described as "an hypocritical nation," and pictures of the saddest kind are drawn of its wickedness (Isaiah 10:6; cf. 2 Kings 1:22.; Micah 3.). At one point, indeed, the Prophet Micah was sent with a direct announcement of judgment, and the fulfillment was only postponed by the earnest repentance of the king (Jeremiah 26:18, 19; cf. Micah 3:12). Hezekiah was not faultless, but had himself transgressed through pride on the occasion of the visit of the messengers from Babylon, which falls before this period (2 Kings 20:12-19; 2 Chronicles 32:31). He had besides been seeking to strengthen himself by political alliance with Egypt (Isaiah 30.). What wonder that chastisement should be allowed to descend on a "sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers" (Isaiah 1:4)! As we forget God, and abuse his favors, God withdraws from us.
2. Extent of his successes.
(1) Sennacherib took all the fenced cities of Judah. His own annals mention forty-six strong cities, and lesser cities without number. He claims to have taken also 200,150 prisoners. This was a fearful blow to the prosperity and resources of the kingdom.
(2) At this stage, moreover, Sennacherib invested Jerusalem. The text speaks only of Hezekiah paying tribute, and entreating Sennacherib to depart from him; but it is morally certain that at this time Jerusalem endured a severe siege, and was saved only by the submission referred to.
(a) In 2 Chronicles 32:1-8 we have an account of Hezekiah's vigorous preparations for the siege.
(b) Sennacherib, in his own annals, describes the siege.
(c) The prophecy in Isaiah 22., which belongs to this period, depicts the state of Jerusalem during the siege, and a fearful picture of demoralization it is. The theory that this prophecy refers to an earlier siege under Sargon seems to us to have little probability. The hand of God was thus lying heavily on the people. Only by leading men to feel their own weakness does God train them to rely upon his help. When Hezekiah's trust in man was shattered, and he was led to look to God alone, Sennacherib's campaign came to an ignominious end.
II. HEZEKIAH'S SUBMISSION.
1. The failure of the arm of flesh. Hezekiah had been seeking alliances with Egypt and Ethiopia, but no help reached him in his hour of extremity. Isaiah had warned him of this (Isaiah 30.). The act of seeking such an alliance implied a distrust of God. Astute politicians no doubt thought an alliance with Egypt a much more tangible affair than an alliance with the invisible Jehovah. So long, however, as Hezekiah looked in this quarter for aid he was doomed to disappointment. Neither the King of Egypt nor strongly fortified wails availed to save him. He had to learn the lesson: "In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength" (Isaiah 30:15).
2. The humiliating tribute. Despairing of help from his ally, and faltering in his faith in God, Hezekiah made an unworthy submission. It may be gathered from Isaiah 22. that affairs in the city had reached an awful height of wickedness. Pestilence was sweeping off the people in crowds; and Hezekiah may have felt that he could stand it no longer. The King of Assyria accepted his submission, and appointed him three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold as tribute. To obtain this large sum he had not only to empty once more the often-ransacked treasuries of the temple and the king's house, but had to cut off the gold from the very doors and pillars of the temple. It was himself who had overlaid these pillars with the precious metal, but now they had to be stripped of their adornment, and all given to the rapacious Assyrian. Truly it was "a day of trouble, and of treading down, and of perplexity" (Isaiah 22:5). What humiliations men are willing to endure rather than submit themselves heartily to the sway of the living God! After all, "willing" is not the word, for they would fain escape these humiliations, but find they cannot. Yet they do not return.
3. His submission no advantage. Sennacherib withdrew to Lachish, and Hezekiah was left to hope that by this great sacrifice he had got rid of him. He was soon to be undeceived. What happened we do not know; possibly some rumors reached the King of Assyria of the march of Tirhakah alluded to in 2 Kings 19:9, and he may have suspected further treachery on the part of Hezekiah. In any case, a new host was dispatched against Jerusalem, and fresh demands were made for surrender (ver. 17). Hezekiah's distress must have been unspeakable. He had paid his tribute, and was no better than before. Waters of a full cup were wrung out to him (Psalm 73:10). It is thus evermore till men turn from the help of man to the help of God. - J.O.
I. HE PRETENDS TO BE DOING GOD'S WORK.
1. He ridicules their confidence in Egypt. Isaiah himself could hardly have warned them more strongly against the vanity of alliance with other nations. "Thou trustest upon the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt" (ver. 21).
2. He censures Hezekiah for disrespect toward God. "If ye say unto me, We trust in the Lord God: is not this he whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away?" (ver. 22). So Satan sometimes appears as an angel of light. Men of sin and worldliness sometimes show a remarkable interest in the Church of God.
3. He represents himself as having a commission frown God. "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" (ver. 25). It is thus that sin constantly presents itself to men and women. It masks its real features. It presents itself in a religious garb. A debased theatre professes to be the teacher of morality. But for one whose life it has changed for the better, there are thousands whom it has changed for the worse. Perhaps we should be justified in going the length of Pollok, in his 'Course of Time,' and in saying, "It might do good, but never did." How many questionable practices defend themselves on the ground that they are sanctioned and encouraged by "religious" people?
II. HE MAKES LIGHT OF TRUST IN GOD. But soon the cloven foot appears. The tempter soon begins to wean the soul from that religion 'of whose interests he professes to be so jealous. See here the inconsistency of Rabshakeh's speech. He first of all made it appear that he was commissioned by God, and that therefore all their efforts to resist him would be futile. But now he proceeds to ridicule the idea of trusting to God's power. "Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, The Lord will surely deliver us" (ver. 30). "Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the King of Assyria?" (vers. 33-35). So it is in the progress of sin. He who is led away by the allurements of the world and pleasure, first begins with pleasures which lie on the herder-land between the bad and the good. These are the pleasures or pursuits about which men say, "Oh! there is no harm in that." "No harm" is a very dangerous phrase. When we hear it, we may generally doubt its truth. It usually refers to pursuits or pleasures which are the stepping-stones to worse sins. Many a man crosses the bridge of "no harm," and enters forever the land of "no good." Let us never be induced to waver in our trust in God and obedience to him. His way is the way of safety and peace. There are many whose work seems to be like that of Rabshakeh - to weaken the trust of others in God, to diminish the respect of others for the Law of God. "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven." Where God and conscience say to us, "You ought not," let not the tempter ever persuade us by saying, "You may."
III. HE MAKES FALSE PROMISES. How fair-spoken is Rabshakeh! How very alluring his promises! If the people of Jerusalem would only make an agreement with the King of Assyria by a present, then they would eat every man of his own vine and fig tree, until he would afterwards take them away to a land like their 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." In this specious way he held before them an attractive prospect. But it was as empty as the bubble in the summer breeze. It was the pleasant euphemism by which he sought to gloss over the prospect of conquest and captivity. So with the pleasures of sin. How bright and how attractive, to outward appearance, are the haunts of wickedness and vice! The bright lights of the gin-palace - how they allure its unhappy victims, often by the contrast with the dreariness and misery of their homes! What a pleasant prospect sin in various forms presents! But how terrible is the reality! How grim is the skeleton at the feast! "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not." Such are the tempter's methods still. The thirty-sixth verse contains a very good suggestion as to the way of meeting temptation. "But the people held their peace, and answered him not a word; for the king's commandment was, saying, Answer him not." It is a wise rule not to parley with the tempter. If we pray, "Lead us not into temptation," then we ought to be careful not to put ourselves in temptation's way. - C.H.I.
I. HIS ADDRESS TO THE ENVOYS. The question Rabshakeh had been sent by his master to ask of Hezekiah was - "What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?" He proceeds to demolish one by one Hezekiah's supposed confidences, and to show how vain it was for him to hope to carry on the war.
1. Hezekiah's confidence in Egypt. Rabshakeh answers his own question by declaring, first, that Hezekiah's confidence was placed in Egypt. This was true; and it was also true that, as the speaker next went on to say, this confidence was in a "bruised reed." The policy of relying on Egypt, instead of seeking help from God, was Hezekiah's great mistake. Rabshakeh did not denounce the worthlessness of this ground of confidence too scornfully. Pharaoh King of Egypt was indeed a bruised reed, on which, if a man leant, it would go into his hand, and pierce it. Isaiah's language had been not less strong (Isaiah 30.). The metaphor may be applied to any reliance on mere human wisdom, human power, or human help. Often it has proved so in individual experience and the history of nations. Through some overlooked factor in the calculations, some unexpected turn in providence, some treachery, self-interest, or delay on the part of allies, the best-laid schemes break down, the strongest combinations dissolve like smoke.
2. Hezekiah's confidence in Jehovah. Rabshakeh next deals with Hezekiah's trust in the Lord. He does not at this point urge the plea afterwards put forth, viz. that no gods can stand before the King of Assyria. Indeed, he claims (ver. 25) to be commissioned by Jehovah - either an idle boast or an allusion to what he had heard of Isaiah's prophecies (cf. Isaiah 7:17-25; Isaiah 10:5-19). But he skillfully makes use of Hezekiah's action in destroying the high places and altars. "Is not this 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?" This sweeping away of the high places is represented as an outrage on the religion of Jehovah, which that Deity might be expected to avenge. How, then, could Hezekiah expect any help from him? The argument was a skilful one as directed to the body of the people. The high places were of long-standing sanctity, and they at least were disposed to regard them with superstitious reverence. What if, after all, Hezekiah had displeased Jehovah by suppressing them? Calamity upon calamity was falling on the nation: was there not a cause? A reformer must ever lay his account with charges of this kind. Any political, social, or religious change is apt to be blamed for troubles that arise on the back of it. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. The early Christians were blamed for the calamities of the Roman empire; the Reformation was blamed for the civil convulsions that followed it; when drought or trouble falls on tribes which have been persuaded to abandon idolatry, they are apt to think the idols are angry, and to go back to their old worship. In this argument, however, Rabshakeh was as wrong as he was right in his first one. The fault was that the people did not trust God enough, and what he thought was a provocation of Jehovah was an act done in his honor, and in obedience to his will.
3. Hezekiah's confidence in his resources. Lastly, Rabshakeh ridicules the idea that Hezekiah can resist his master by force. Where are his chariots and horsemen? Or, if he had horses, where are the riders to put on them? He undertakes to give two thousand horses, if Hezekiah will furnish the men; and he knows he cannot. How, then, can he hope to put to flight even the least of Sennacherib's captains? Rabshakeh again was right in assuming that Hezekiah had not material forces wherewith to contend with Sennacherib, and Hezekiah himself was too well aware of the fact. He had not confidence in his forces, and therein the orator was wrong. But Rabshakeh's whole speech shows that he was himself committing the error he denounced in Hezekiah. If the question were retorted, "What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?" the answer could only be - In chariots and horses, in the proved might of the Assyrian arms. His speech breathes throughout the spirit of the man who has unbounded trust in armaments, provided only they are gigantic enough. Because Sennacherib has such immense armies, valiant soldiers, and such numbers of them, therefore he is invincible in war, and can defy God and man. The arm of flesh - "big battalions" - is everything here. Herein lay his profound mistake; and it was soon to be demonstrated. The might of the Invisible was to be declared against the power of the visible. Philistinism was to receive another overthrow - this time without even the sling and atones (1 Samuel 16:40-51).
II. ADDRESS TO THE JEWS. At this point Hezekiah's officers interposed, and requested Rabshakeh to speak, not in the Hebrew, but in the Syrian tongue, that his language might not be understood by the people on the wall. Rabshakeh had come on a mission of diplomacy, and it was proper that in the first instance only the king's representatives should be consulted with. The envoy, however, insolently broke through all customary bounds, and declared that it was the common people he wished to address. Taking up, therefore, a yet better position, he now spoke directly, and in louder tones, to the people, who by this time may be supposed to have crowded the battlements. Again declaring that he bears a message from "the great king, the King of Assyria," he bids them not let Hezekiah deceive them, and urges:
1. The advantages of submission. As it was, they were in evil ease. But if they surrendered to Sennacherib, they had nothing to fear. Here Rabshakeh touches on delicate ground. He cannot deny that they will lose their liberty, and be transported as captives to Assyria All he can do is to attempt to gild the pill. He tells them, first, that in the mean time they will be allowed the utmost freedom - to eat every man of his own vine and of his own fig tree, and to drink every man the waters of his own cistern. When the time does come that they must be removed - and he tries to represent this as a privilege - it will be to a land like their own, a land of corn and wine, of bread and vineyards, of oil and olives and honey; a land where they shall live, and not die. The promises were alluring only by contrast with the worse fate that awaited them if they did not submit to the Assyrian; but more than this, they were deceitful. They were promises which, if the people had trusted to them, would never have been fulfilled. Sennacherib was not in the habit of treating his captives tenderly. His good faith had just been tested by his perfidy towards Hezekiah. Is it not always so with the promises of the tempter? When a soul capitulates, and yields to sin, what becomes of the bright prospects that are opened up beforehand? Are they ever realized? There is a brief period of excitement, of giddy delight, then satiety, loathing, the sense of degradation, the dying out of all real joy. What, if by yielding to sin, some present evil be avoided, some immediate good gained? Is the good ever what was anticipated? or can it compensate for the exile from God and holiness which is its price? At all hazards the wise course is to adhere to God and duty. The visions of corn and wine, of bread and vineyards, of oil and olives, by which the soul is tempted from its allegiance, are illusions - as unsubstantial as the desert mirage.
2. The futility of resistance. To enforce his argument for submission, Rabshakeh returns to what is undeniably his strongest point, viz. the futility of resistance. Can they hope to be delivered? He had argued this before from the side of Hezekiah's weakness, showing the baselessness of his grounds of confidence; be now argues it from the side of Sennacherib's strength. Here undoubtedly he has a plausible case.
(1) From the military point of view. "Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand." Since the days of Tiglath-pileser the Assyrian arms had swept on in a tide of almost uninterrupted conquest. Not only Hamath and Arpad and Sepharvaim, but Babylon, Damascus, Israel, Phllistia, and Egypt, had felt the force of their resistless might. Judah had already severely suffered. What hope bad Hezekiah, with his little handful of men, caged like a bird in Jerusalem,.of rolling back this tide of conquest! The thing, on natural grounds, seemed an impossibility.
(2) From a religious point of view. "Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, The Lord will surely deliver us." Here the position of the Assyrian conqueror seemed - from the heathen standpoint, but of course only from that - equally strong. In heathen view, the contest was not only a contest of man with man, but of Asshur and the other Assyrian gods, with the gods of other nations. And how had that contest gone? The gods of Assyria had in every ease proved the stronger in the battle. Where were the gods of the conquered nations? What had they been able to do for their worshippers? What had even Jehovah been able to do for Samaria? Who among them all had delivered their country out of the hand of Sennacherib? What hope was there that Jerusalem would fare any better than Samaria had done? The validity of this conclusion depends entirely upon the soundness of the premises. If the gods of these nations had a real existence, and Jehovah was but one more local deity among the rest, it would be difficult to resist the inference that the chances were strongly in favor of Asshur. But the case was altered if these idol-gods were nullities, and Jehovah was the one Ruler of heaven and earth, in whose providence the movements even of Sennacherib and his all-conquering armies were embraced. And this, of course, was the faith of Isaiah and Hezekiah and the godly part of Judah. That is was the right one was shown by the result. We see from this example how a false view-point compels a false and mistaken reading of the whole facts of history and of human life. The view which history presents to one who denies the postulates of revelation will differ entirely from the view which it presents to a Christian believer. Belief in God is the right center for understanding everything.
III. THE ANSWER OF SILENCE. To these harangues of Rabshakeh the people "answered not a word." Hezekiah had given this instruction to his officers, and they, when the people gathered, doubtless spread among them the knowledge of the king's wish. Accordingly they "held their peace." There were many reasons why this answer of silence was a wise one.
1. Rabshakeh's words did not deserve an answer. His address to the people on the wall was a breach of all diplomatic courtesy; it had for its object to sow the seeds of mutiny, and set the people against their king; it was obviously insincere in its tone and promises, scrupling at nothing which would induce the people to surrender their liberties; in relation to Jehovah, it was profane and blasphemous. Speeches of that kind are best left unanswered. A tempter is fittingly met with silence. A man who makes insincere proposals does not deserve to be reasoned with. Profanity and blasphemy should be left without reply (Matthew 7:6).
2. From Rabshakeh's point of view no reply was possible. This has freely to be conceded. What would it have availed to point out to him that the gods of these other nations were no gods, and that Jehovah was the one living and true God? Such statements would have but provoked a new burst of mockery. It was better, therefore, to say nothing. In all reasoning with an opponent there must be a basis of common ground. When we reach a fundamental divergence of first principles, it is time to stop. At least, if argument is to proceed, it must go back on these first principles, and try to find a deeper unity. Failing in that, it must cease. Between the Christian and unchristian views of the world, e.g., there is no middle term.
3. Even from the Jewish point of view no reply was ready. God was to be trusted, but would he indeed save? What if the iniquities of the people had provoked him to deliver them up, as he had delivered up Samaria? Deliverance was conditional on repentance: did the state of morals in the city show much sign of repentance? Or, if God meant to deliver them, how would he do it? They seemed fast in the lion's jaws. The way of escape from their present predicament was not obvious, yea, no way seemed possible. What, then, should they answer? At most, their belief in Jehovah's interposition was an act of faith, for which no justification could be given in outward appearances. In such crises, when all rests on faith, nothing on sight, the best attitude of the soul, at least in presence of the worldly, is silence. "Be still, and know that I am God," is the counsel given in the psalm supposed to commemorate this deliverance (Psalm 46:10). - J.O.