Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. CHARACTER GIVES CONFIDENCE. Isaiah was known to live near to God. Therefore Hezekiah had confidence in him. Here is a good test of the character of your companions and associates. Would you go to them in time of trouble? Would you expect them to give you any comfort? Would you tell them the inner secrets of your heart? If not, is it not because you have no confidence in them? Their character does not command your respect. Choose the company, seek the counsel, of good. men.
II. CHARACTER GIVES POWER IN PRAYER. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." The man who expects an answer to his prayers is the man who habitually lives near to God. Mary Queen of Scots said she feared the prayers of John Knox more than an army of ten thousand men. Therefore:
1. Live near to God if you would influence others. Power for service comes from fellowship with God. Men like Isaiah have that quiet power that enables them to inspire others with confidence. "Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard" (ver. 6). So with St. Paul on his perilous voyage to Rome. "I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me."
2. Live near to God if you would have power in prayer. The man who prays most is the man who knows the power of prayer.
"Thrice blest whose lives are faithful prayers,
Isaiah 37. We have here for notice four subjects of thought - the exposure of a nation to an overwhelming calamity; the blessing to a nation of a ruler who looks to Heaven for help; the advantage to a nation of a truly wise counselor; and the strength of a nation that has the true God on its side.
I. THE EXPOSURE OF A NATION TO AN OVERWHELMING CALAMITY.
1. The nature of the threatened calamity. It was the invasion of the King of Assyria. This was announced in startling terms and in a haughty and ruthless spirit by the messengers of Sennacherib. "Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah King of Judah, saying, Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the King of Assyria. Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly: and shalt thou be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed?" (vers. 10-13). The danger was near at hand. Sennacherib was on his way with his hundred and four score and five thousand men. The tramplings of the war-horses and the rattling of the amour would soon be heard in Jerusalem. The utter destruction of the city was contemplated, and seemed rapidly approaching. In a far worse position was the kingdom of Judah at this moment than was England when the Spanish Armada was approaching our shores.
2. The influence of the threatened calamity.
(1) It struck the kingdom with a crushing terror. "And it came to pass, when King Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble" (vers. 1-3). The rending of the "clothes' and the arraying in "sackcloth" were symbols to express the horror of the heart.
(2) It struck the kingdom with a helpless feebleness. "This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth" (ver. 3). "The image is that of a parturient woman whose strength is exhausted, whose powers are paralyzed, at the moment when she required to put forth a vigorous effort. The expression in which the message was conveyed to the prophet described, by a strong figure, the desperate condition of the kingdom, together with the utter inability of the people to help themselves; and it intimated also a hope that the blasphemous defiance of Jehovah's power by the impious Assyrian might lead to some direct interposition for the vindication of his honor and supremacy to all heathen gods." Here is utter national helplessness in a terrible national calamity.
II. THE BLESSING TO A NATION OF A RULER WHO LOOKS TO HEAVEN FOR HELP. What, in the wretched condition of his country, does King Hezekiah do? He invokes the merciful interposition of Heaven. When the messengers came to Hezekiah with a threatening letter from the King of Assyria (see vers. 10-13), what did the monarch do? He took it into the house of the Lord, and there prayed. "And Hezekiah received the letter of the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up into the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said, O Lord God of Israel," etc. (vers. 14-19). In this wonderful prayer:
1. He adores the God whom Sennacherib had blasphemed. He addresses him as the "God of all the kingdoms of the earth," the Maker of "heaven and earth," the one and only Lord.
2. He implores the Almighty for his own sake to deliver the country. "Now therefore, O Lord our God, I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord God, even thou only." "The best pleas in prayer," says an old author, "am those that are taken from God's own honor; therefore the Lord's prayer begins with 'Hallowed be thy Name,' and concludes, 'Thine be the glory.'" Who is the greatest human king? Not the man who relies on his own power and skill to protect his nation from danger, and seeks to secure it in the possession and enjoyment of all its rights; nor the king who looks to his armies and navies in time of need; but he who practically realizes his dependence upon the "Lord" that made heaven and earth, Reverence for the Infinite is the soul of true royalty.
III. THE ADVANTAGE TO A NATION OF A TRULY WISE COUNSELLOR. Apart from his inspiration, Isaiah may be fairly taken in this case as the representative of a wise counselor, and that for two reasons.
1. He looked to heaven rather than to earth for his wisdom. "Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib King of Assyria I have heard. This is the word that the Lord hath spoken concerning him" (vers. 20, 21). The counsel which he had to give he here declares to have come from the Lord. God of Israel. How the wisdom was conveyed to him, whether by an outward voice or an inner vision, does not appear; he had it from heaven. He only is the true counselor of men who gets his wisdom from above. Whence do the advisers of sovereigns get their instructions? From hoary precedents or the fallible conclusions of their own feeble minds; and not directly from above. Hence the incessant blunders of cabinets, and the scandal in these days of one political party denouncing the blunders and professing to correct the mistakes of the other.
2. He received from heaven he communicated to men. In the communication:
(1) "Sennacherib is apostrophized in a highly poetic strain admirably descriptive of the turgid vanity, haughty pretensions, and heartless impiety of this despot. 'The virgin the daughter of Zion hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee,' etc. (vers. 21-28).
(2) Hezekiah himself is personally addressed, and a sign given him of coming deliverance. He is told that for two years the presence of the enemy would interrupt the peaceful pursuits of husbandry, but in the third year the people would be in circumstances to till the earth, plant the vineyards, and reap the fruits, as formerly. 'And this shall be a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat this year such things as grow of themselves, and in the second year that which springeth of the same; and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruits thereof,' etc. (vers. 29-31).
(3) The issue of Sennacherib's invasion is announced. 'Thus saith the Lord concerning the King of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return,' etc. (vers. 32-34) (Dr. Jamieson). Such was the communication which, in language passionate, poetic, and powerful, Isaiah made to this perplexed and terrified nation. It involves two things:
(a) the deliverance of his country;
(b) the ruin of the despot.
IV. THE STRENGTH OF A NATION THAT HAS GOD ON ITS SIDE. Who delivered the imperiled nation? Who overwhelmed the despot? "The zeal of the Lord of hosts." "And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred four score and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses," etc. (vers. 35-37). Who was the "angel of the Lord"? Was it some transcendent personality, or some tremendous force in nature, such as a pestiferous blast, or an electric bolt? It matters not; the "angel" was but the instrument in the hand of God.
1. How swiftly was the deliverance effected! "That night." What a night was that! - one of the most memorable nights of the world. Perhaps the whole was effected even in one single hour, or even in one instant of that night.
2. How terrible the ruin which that deliverance effected! "A hundred four score and five thousand men" destroyed. At night, a glittering array; in the morning, "dead corpses."
"Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green, " "God is his own Interpreter,
"God is his own Interpreter,
2 Kings 18:37), the king was plunged in unspeakable distress. We have now to observe his behavior in his trouble.
I. HEZEKIAH'S GRIEF.
1. He assumed the signs of deepest mourning. The messengers had come to him with their clothes rent. Hezekiah now rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth. His humiliation was sincere. The words he had heard had knocked from under him his last hope of help from man. He felt that God's "chastisement" (ver. 3) was upon him, and that God alone could deliver. This moment of the realization of his helplessness was also the moment of the return of God's favor to him. To this point it had been God's aim to bring him, and now that he threw himself in his utter weakness on God's strength, deliverance was assured.
2. He sought God in his sanctuary. He "went into the house of the Lord." Thither also Asaph had gone in his hour of trouble, and there his difficulties were removed (Psalm 73:17). Hezekiah no doubt sought the sanctuary for purposes of prayer. We see him do the same thing on receipt of Sennacherib's letter (ver. 14). We have every encouragement to come to God with our troubles (Psalm 91:15), and nothing soothes the heart like pouring out all our sorrows before him (Philippians 4:6, 7). Prayer is the soul's best resort in times of extremity.
II. THE DEPUTATION TO ISAIAH. In addition to praying himself to God, Hezekiah sent an honorable deputation to Isaiah, to request his intercession for the city.
1. He sends to God's prophet. Possibly for some time Hezekiah and Isaiah had not seen much of each other. The prophet's counsels had proved distasteful. His denunciations of the alliance with Egypt cannot have been received with favor (Isaiah 30.). His advice certainly had not been taken; nor can it have been with his approval that Hezekiah made his ill-fated submission to Sennacherib. Now, in the hour of trouble, Hezekiah sends once more to him. He sends his highest officers - the same who had conferred with Rabshakeh - and the elders of the priests. All went covered with sackcloth, in token of their grief, penitence, and humiliation of heart. This is what often happens. God's servants are not appreciated till the hour of real need comes; then men are glad to get their counsels and their prayers. It would be well if, in the conduct of state affairs, respect were paid to the counsels of religion earlier. It would save many a bitter hour afterwards.
2. He makes full confession of his sad estate. A crisis had come in which there was no ray of human hope. From Hezekiah's side it was a day of "trouble" - of deep distress and mortification; from God's side it was a day of "chastisement" (Hosea 5:2, "I am a Rebuker of them all "); from the side of the Assyrian, it was a day of "blasphemy" - of impious vaunting against Jehovah. And like a woman in pains of childbirth, without strength for delivery, they had no means of bringing themselves out of their perilous position. "The metaphor expresses in the most affecting manner, the ideas of extreme pain, imminent danger, critical emergency, utter weakness, and entire dependence on the aid of others" (Alexander). The spirit of self-trust is now utterly slain. In making this confession, Hezekiah owned that Isaiah was right, and he had all along been wrong.
3. He entreats the prophet's prayers. Hezekiah's one hope now was that, for his own glory's sake, Jehovah would "reprove" the blasphemous words which Rabshakeh had uttered, and he besought Isaiah to lift up his prayer for the remnant of Jews still left. It is a true instinct of the soul which leads us to seek the intercession on our behalf of those who stand nearer to God than ourselves. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous Than availeth much" (James 5:16). Thus Pharaoh besought Moses to intercede for him (Exodus 8:8, 28; Exodus 10:16); Moses on various occasions interceded for the people (Exodus 32:30-33; Deuteronomy 9:12-20); Elijah interceded for the land of Israel (1 Kings 18:11-45); the high priest interceded for the tribes; and Christ now intercedes for us (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1). We cannot lay too much stress on the power of prayer, nor be too anxious to get an interest in the prayers of the holy. Hezekiah did well in joining with his own prayers this request for the intercession of Isaiah.
III. THE PROPHET'S REPLY. We have already and frequently seen how ready God is to respond to the faintest movements of the soul towards him. The prophet did not send those who now sought him away without comfort. He gave them:
1. A word of encouragement. "Be not afraid," etc. In his own heroic trust Isaiah had never faltered. Such trust is contagious. The words Which Isaiah spoke would send a new thrill of hope to the hearts of the messengers. How marvelous a thing is faith in God! How it supports a man's own soul, lifts him above ordinary, and even extraordinary, discouragements, and makes him firm as a rock when others are trembling and despairing around (cf. Psalm 46.)!
2. An assurance of deliverance. In the name of God, Isaiah was able to give them, further, an assurance that 'Sennacherib would do them no hurt. God would put a spirit in him, and would cause him to hear tidings which would make him depart into his own laud, and there he would perish with the sword. Nothing is said as yet of the destruction of the army, unless, indeed, it is the tidings of that which Sennacherib was to hear. Another boasting message of Sennacherib and another prayer of Hezekiah come in between this promise and the final and fuller one. - J.O.
personal religion, to practical effort, and to prosperity in life. We see here how he acted when troubles came. Depend upon it, the man who makes his peace with God when all is going well with him - he will have peace within his spirit when the time of trouble comes. The man who does not allow the flowing tide of worldly prosperity or worldly pleasure to draw him away from God, he will find that God is near to him in the hour of danger and of need. It was certainly an hour of danger and anxiety with Hezekiah. With a vast army, Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, was threatening Jerusalem. The very name of Assyria was at that time a terror to the nations, just as for a long time the name of Napoleon was a terror to Europe. One by one, nation after nation had gone down before the triumphal progress of the Assyrian arms. Sennacherib, conscious of his past successes, conscious of the mighty host that accompanies him, looks down with contempt upon Hezekiah and his attempt at resistance. He sends him a letter, in which he points out how futile his efforts at resistance must prove. The gods of the other nations had not been able to deliver them, and let him not think that his God whom he served would deliver him. This letter and Hezekiah's action regarding it suggest to us some instructive lessons.
I. SENNACHERIB'S LETTER, AND THE TEMPTATION IT BROUGHT. (Vers. 9-13.) The drift of Sennacherib's letter was entirely to lead Hezekiah to distrust God. Sennacherib was confident of victory; but he wanted Hezekiah to surrender to him, so that he might obtain as much tribute as he could, and at the same time incur no loss of life in his own army. So he turns into ridicule Hezekiah's faith in his God. "Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the King of Assyria. Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly: and shalt thou be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed? Where is the King of Hamath, and the King of Arpad, and the King of the city of Sepharvaim, of Hens, and Ivah?" In a similar way Rabshakeh, one of Sennacherib's generals, had already spoken to the people of Jerusalem. He had sought to influence their fears. He had sought to tempt them by bribes. He had said, "Let not Hezekiah deceive you... neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord Hearken not to Hezekiah: for thus saith the King of Assyria, Make an agreement with me by a present, and come ye out to me, and then eat ye every man of his own vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his cistern: until I come and take you away into a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and. vineyards, a land of oil olive and of honey, that ye may live, and not die: and hearken not unto Hezekiah, when he persuadeth you, saying, The Lord will deliver us." It is easy to imagine the effect of such statements upon a people few in number compared with the Assyrian's mighty host. The horrors of a protracted siege were in prospect. The longer they continued their resistance, the more desolation and devastation would be committed by the Assyrian army in their fields and homesteads. Many of them doubtless were already murmuring at Hezekiah, and some of them perhaps ready to make an agreement with the enemy. It was a trying position for Hezekiah. Both the letter of Sennacherib, and the circumstances in which he was placed, were a strong temptation to him to distrust God. He might have said, "Is this the reward which my service of God has brought me? I have been faithful to God's commands. I have restored the temple; I have restored the service of God. I have thrown down the altars and high places, and broken the images in pieces. Even the brazen serpent, which the people valued so highly as a relic of the past, I have ground to powder, because their idolatry of it was dishonoring to God. And now is it thus that God rewards me?" This is just the temptation that our difficulties and troubles constantly bring to us. They tempt us to distrust God.
1. It is so in the growth of our own spiritual life. How often the young beginner in the Christian life is discouraged by the difficulties which arise, and which he did not calculate on! He finds that there is still an old nature within him which has to be grappled with and conquered. He meets, perhaps, with opposition and discouragements from the world without, and perhaps even from those from whom he expected sympathy and help. These difficulties tempt many a one to distrust God. Many there are still who, like the disciples when difficulties arose, "go back, and walk no more with" God. One of the common difficulties which tempts us to distrust God is the prosperity of the wicked. Everything seems to prosper with men who have no respect for the Law of God. The temptation is for us, in distrust of God's promises, to imitate their godless practices. We begin to say, "There is no use in our being too scrupulous." Ah! what a mistake that is! Supposing we had all their prosperity, would it compensate us for the loss of a quiet conscience? Prosperity is dearly bought, business is dearly bought, for which we have to sacrifice one commandment of God, or silence the still small voice of conscience that speaks within. "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Whenever this difficulty of the prosperity of godless men troubles you, and success which seems to be reached by questionable and unscrupulous means, remember the grand words of the thirty-seventh psalm, "Fret not thyself because of evil-doers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Commit thy way unto the Lord: trust also in him; and he will bring it to pass."
2. In the same way there are difficulties in Christian work. How common a thing it is for Christians, who make much profession of their faith in God, to be dismayed and discouraged by difficulties that arise! Very often they are hindered from engaging in Christian work at all just by the difficulties that exist. I do not mean to say every person will suit every kind of work. There may be many kinds of work in which a man should not engage, because he has no fitness for them. But every Christian ought to be engaged in some work. If you are doing nothing for the Master, may we ask you why? What is your reason? What difficulty is in your way? No difficulty an excuse for idleness. You may think yourself too young, or too inexperienced, or too humble; you may find others hard to work with; you may meet with discouragement and opposition; but no one of these things is any excuse for idleness. If difficulties were a reason for doing nothing, no Christian work would ever have been done - no churches built, no missionaries sent forth, no schools erected - for there never was a Christian work yet that had not its difficulties. Let us learn to take as our motto in Christian work, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Each one of you, no doubt, has his or her own difficulties to contend with - difficulties in your daily employment, difficulties from those you come in contact with, troubles and anxieties of spirit, cares and worries of various kinds. My message to you is this. Be not unduly cast down by your difficulties. Don't make too much of them. Just do with them as Hezekiah did, and you will see how soon they will disappear altogether, or at any rate they will be very considerably diminished.
II. HEZEKIAH'S PRAYER. (Vers. 14-19.) Hezekiah had learned by experience. As he grew older he became wiser. A short time before, when Sennacherib was capturing his cities, and had advanced upon Jerusalem, Hezekiah sent a message to him, saying, "I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear" Sennacherib appointed him the exorbitant tribute of three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. Hezekiah was in great straits for means to meet this demand. In his difficulty he imitated the foolish action of his own father Ahaz, and took the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, besides cutting off the gold from the doors and pillars of the temple, and then sent this as a peace offering to Sennacherib. But notwithstanding all this, Sennacherib did not give up his warlike intentions. He once more threatened Jerusalem. This time Hezekiah acts differently. He had learned now the mistake of rashly yielding to difficulties. It is a lesson we all need to learn. If we yield to our difficulties, they will return again, and with renewed force. One difficulty yielded to makes the next one harder to resist. One difficulty resisted makes the next one far easier to overcome.
1. Hezekiah's first act, after he had read Sennacherib's letter, was to go up into the house of the Lord. There he showed his wisdom. If we want advice in sickness, advice as to our bodily health, we go to the house of our physician. If we want to purchase food or clothing, we go where these necessaries of life are to be obtained. Hezekiah was now in a difficulty where human help could be of little or no use to him. So he goes to the one place where alone he might expect help - to the house of the Lord. The very act of going to the house of the Lord is a wise one. It reminds us that there is another world than that which is seen - the world of spirits, the world of the invisible. It reminds us that there is One in whose hand every human life is, One to whom in all ages human hearts have turned, in every time of sorrow, of difficulty, and of helplessness, and One whose power and whose goodness men have acknowledged by raising temples for his honor and for their own and others' good. Every true Christian must testify what a blessing the house of the Lord has been to him. How should we have fared without its precious privileges? How often have we felt, when the Sunday morning came round, and we joined in the song of praise, and approached the mercy-seat in company with other anxious, sinful, troubled, human hearts like our own; as we listened to the words of everlasting life; as we heard of him who is the "Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," as we heard him saying to us, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;" - how often have we felt that the difficulties of the week vanished; the burdens of the week were lightened; the cloud of sorrow that hung over us seemed suddenly to lift; we went forth again with new hope in our hearts, and with new strength in our lives; and upon our lips, perhaps, were such words as these -
"Goodness and mercy all my life 2. He spread the letter before the Lord. What a faith in God's presence that showed! - a real presence, indeed, not of body, but of that ever~ present Spirit, in whom we live and move and have our being! What a confidence it showed in God's interest in the affairs of all his people! What a lesson it is for us all! The best thing we can do with our difficulties is to spread them out before God. Perhaps when we begin to spread them out before him, some of them will seem hardly worth talking about hardly worth spreading, and the very act of doing so will bring us relief. But whatever it may be that gives us trouble, even though it be a small matter - something unkind that has been said about us, an unpleasant letter that we have received, an unexpected loss in business, let us spread it out before God. Your Sunday morning, before you go into God's house, would be well spent in thinking over the mercies you have to thank God for, the sins you have to confess, and the difficulties which trouble you, and then you would go into God's house asking just for what you need. I know a servant of God who told me that he always made it a rule to be in his place in church at least five minutes before the service began. That gave him Tame, he said, to calm his mind, and to look into his own heart. The good seed then fell on prepared ground, and he said that whenever he did not do so,-he did not get at all so much benefit from the service. "What a Friend we have in Jesus, Oh, what peace we often forfeit, (1) It encouraged others. He gathered the captains of war together in the street, and said to them, "Be strong and courageous, he not afraid nor dismayed for the King of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: with him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles" (2 Chronicles 32:7, 8). And so great was the confidence which the words of the king inspired, that we are told that all the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah King of Judah. What a power the quiet influence of one believing man can exercise! What a power it gives us to live near to God! (2) Their confidence was not misplaced. God's people never trust in him in vain. Hezekiah's prayer was answered. That very night the angel of the Lord went out and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and eighty-five thousand men. "Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green, "For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, "And the widows of Asshur are loud in their wail,
2. He spread the letter before the Lord. What a faith in God's presence that showed! - a real presence, indeed, not of body, but of that ever~ present Spirit, in whom we live and move and have our being! What a confidence it showed in God's interest in the affairs of all his people! What a lesson it is for us all! The best thing we can do with our difficulties is to spread them out before God. Perhaps when we begin to spread them out before him, some of them will seem hardly worth talking about hardly worth spreading, and the very act of doing so will bring us relief. But whatever it may be that gives us trouble, even though it be a small matter - something unkind that has been said about us, an unpleasant letter that we have received, an unexpected loss in business, let us spread it out before God. Your Sunday morning, before you go into God's house, would be well spent in thinking over the mercies you have to thank God for, the sins you have to confess, and the difficulties which trouble you, and then you would go into God's house asking just for what you need. I know a servant of God who told me that he always made it a rule to be in his place in church at least five minutes before the service began. That gave him Tame, he said, to calm his mind, and to look into his own heart. The good seed then fell on prepared ground, and he said that whenever he did not do so,-he did not get at all so much benefit from the service.
"What a Friend we have in Jesus, Oh, what peace we often forfeit, (1) It encouraged others. He gathered the captains of war together in the street, and said to them, "Be strong and courageous, he not afraid nor dismayed for the King of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: with him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles" (2 Chronicles 32:7, 8). And so great was the confidence which the words of the king inspired, that we are told that all the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah King of Judah. What a power the quiet influence of one believing man can exercise! What a power it gives us to live near to God! (2) Their confidence was not misplaced. God's people never trust in him in vain. Hezekiah's prayer was answered. That very night the angel of the Lord went out and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and eighty-five thousand men. "Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green, "For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, "And the widows of Asshur are loud in their wail,
Oh, what peace we often forfeit, (1) It encouraged others. He gathered the captains of war together in the street, and said to them, "Be strong and courageous, he not afraid nor dismayed for the King of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: with him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles" (2 Chronicles 32:7, 8). And so great was the confidence which the words of the king inspired, that we are told that all the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah King of Judah. What a power the quiet influence of one believing man can exercise! What a power it gives us to live near to God! (2) Their confidence was not misplaced. God's people never trust in him in vain. Hezekiah's prayer was answered. That very night the angel of the Lord went out and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and eighty-five thousand men. "Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green, "For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, "And the widows of Asshur are loud in their wail,
I. SENNACHERIB'S PROUD BOASTINGS. The letter is an echo of the speech of Rabshakeh, and is couched in the same boastful spirit.
1. He makes light of the power of Jehovah. "Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee," etc. Sennacherib assumes that Hezekiah may have received true oracles from his God, but he warns him not to trust them. In his arrogance, he defies all gods as well as men. To him Jehovah was but one god among many - the god of one small nation - not for a moment to be compared with the powerful Asshur. His idea of the morality of the gods is seen in the supposition that they practiced deceit upon their worshippers.
2. He extols his own prowess. He again recounts the victories which he and previous kings of Assyria had gained. Their conquests had extended to all lands; gods and kings had everywhere gone down before them: how should Hezekiah escape? As an induction, Sennacherib's argument seems very complete. The countries he names had been conquered; their gods had not availed to save them; their kings had been overthrown. Logic seemed on his side. Only faith could furnish a sufficient answer.
3. He is certain beforehand of victory. In his assurance that he would overcome Hezekiah, Sennacherib is the type of many boasters. Often has the voice of the adversary been raised in exultation at his prospective victory over the people of God. Paganism, Mohammedanism, and infidelity have each boasted that they would extinguish Christianity. Voltaire predicted that in a century from his time the Bible would be found only in antiquarian libraries. The same scoffer said that it took twelve men to found Christianity, but he would show that one man was sufficient to overthrow it. Modern unbelieving science sometimes speaks in the same strain. The argument per enumerationem is often employed, as it was by Sennacherib. All other religions show a tendency to collapse; their miracles are exploded, belief in witchcraft, etc., disappears before the march of enlightenment; therefore Christianity cannot hope to stand. But arrogance is a bad prophet. "Before honor is humility;" but "pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18; Proverbs 18:12). It was so with Sennacherib, and it will be found to be so by his modern imitators.
II. HEZEKIAH'S PRAYER. When Hezekiah received this insulting epistle, he went as before to the temple, and spread it out before the Lord. He did as we should all do with our troubles, carried it straight to the presence-chamber. God in truth knows all we have need of before we ask him; but that is no reason why we should not present our petitions. God knew all that was in this boastful letter; but that was no reason why Hezekiah should not place it before him, and make its contents the basis of his prayer. The prayer he offered contained:
1. An acknowledgment of God's supremacy. To Sennacherib's false idea of Jehovah, Hezekiah opposes the true one, The Lord God of Israel was no local deity, but the God of the whole earth.
(1) He is the God of revelation. "O Lord God of Israel, which sittest upon the cherubim." It was because God had revealed himself to Israel, and dwelt in glory above the mercy-seat whereon stood the cherubim, that Hezekiah had come to the temple to offer up this supplication. Communion with God rests on God's revelation of himself to man. Only as God has revealed his Being to us, and dwells among us in mercy, are we able to approach him. An unknown or unknowable God can call forth no trust.
(2) He is the God of providence. "Thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth." This is involved in the name Jehovah, which denotes God as the Being who is, and remains one with himself in all that he thinks, purposes, and does. His rule is unlimited; all events, great and small, are under his control; his counsel is the one stable factor in history. This conception of the supremacy of God in providence is involved in the knowledge he has given us of himself in grace.
(3) He is the God of nature. "Thou hast made heaven and earth." This again is involved in the truth of God's unlimited rule in providence, for only the Maker of the world can be its absolute Ruler. Reversing the order of thought - only because God is the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth, is he the Lord in providence; and because he is Lord in nature and providence, he can do all things for us in grace (Psalm 121:1, 2; Psalm 135:5, 6).
2. An exposure of Sennacherib's fallacy. Hezekiah does not dispute the facts recited by Sennacherib, nor does he attempt to belittle them in any way. "Of a truth, Lord," he says, "the kings of Assyria have destroyed the nations and their lands." No good can come of refusing to look facts in the face. It has often happened in apologetics that the attempt has been made to deny, explain away, or minimize the force of facts which were supposed to conflict with religious truth - facts of geology, e.g., or facts of history or human nature which did not square with religious doctrine. This procedure is unwise, and invariably recoils to the injury of religion. We are entitled to ask for proof of alleged facts, and to suspend our judgment till such proof is given; but when the facts are established, they should be frankly admitted, and our theories widened to find room for them. Truth in one department can never conflict with truth in another, and religion, resting on its own strong foundations, can afford to deal fairly with every class of evidence. Hezekiah did not dispute Sennacherib's facts; but he put his finger at once upon the fallacy of Sennacherib's argument. The Assyrians had indeed conquered these many nations, and cast their gods into the fire; but why? Because they were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they had destroyed them. It was different when they had to deal with the true God, the Maker of heaven and earth. The error of modern unbelief is distinguishable from, yet kindred with, the error of Sennacherib. Sennacherib attributed a reality to his gods; unbelief allows none. Yet it agrees with Sennacherib in denying to Jehovah his true character as the one living God of nature, providence, and grace. Faith, coming to God, believes "that he is, and that he is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). Denying this truth, unbelief scoffs at religion, at the Bible revelation, at prayer, providence, miracles, redemption. It treats the confidence of Christians in their God as illusory, anticipates the downfall of their system, and mocks at their hopes of immortality. Its arguments, often cogent enough if there is no living God, lose all force the moment faith in God reasserts itself.
3. An argument for God's interposition. Having shown his grounds for the belief that God can interpose, Hezekiah urges two reasons why he should interpose.
(1) The first is the honor of his own Name. The fact that Sennacherib had in his pride and ignorance thus "reproached the living God" was a reason why God should reveal himself in his true character for Sennacherib's discomfiture. The blasphemous pride of the creature exalting itself against the Creator should be brought low.
(2) A second reason was that, by saving his people from Sennacherib, Jehovah would give a grand lesson of his sole Deity to all the nations of the earth: "That all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord God, even thou only: It is God's glory which Hezekiah puts in the foreground. He had no plea of merit to urge, either his own or the nation's; therefore he can but ask God to be merciful to them for his own Name's sake. - J.O.
Daniel 9:20), while Hezekiah was still speaking, an answer was sent to him through Isaiah the prophet (cf. 2 Kings 20:4). Thus also answers to prayer were sent in the cases of Paul (Acts 9:10-18) and Cornelius (Acts 10:1-8). Isaiah was the one person whose faith had remained unshaken through all this crisis. But it is not merely Isaiah's confidence which speaks in this composition. He brought to the king a direct "word of God." His oracle is one of surpassing beauty, grand and sustained in style, and expressing the greatest truths.
I. ZION'S DERISION OF THE INVADER. The introductory picture is very striking. The city Jerusalem is represented as a maiden, standing on a height, derision imprinted on every feature, shaking her head, and sending out bursts of mocking laughter after the retreating Sennacherib. Is she insane? So to the world it might have seemed. Insane at least it might appear to draw such a picture at a time when the condition of the city seemed past salvation. But faith's manifestations often seem like madness to the worldly (Acts 26:24; 2 Corinthians 5:13). Faith triumphs beforehand over all the power of the enemy (Luke 10:19, 20). It does not need to wait to see their overthrow; it is assured of it as if it had already happened. The strength of faith is seen in the degree in which it enables its possessor to rise above adverse circumstances. In its higher reaches it cannot only hope and wait, but exults and treats the threats of the enemy with ridicule and scorn (cf. Psalm 2:4).
II. SENNACHERIB AS GLASSED IN HIS OWN EYES. Jehovah next asserts himself as "the Holy One of Israel," and takes Sennacherib to task for his blasphemies against him. He puts language into Sennacherib's lips poetically expressive of that monarch's lofty ideas of his own power. Alluding both to what he has done and to what he intends to do, Sennacherib boasts, "With the multitude of my chariots I am come up to the height of the mountains I have digged and drunk strange waters; and with the sole of my feet will I dry up all the rivers of Egypt." The meaning is that no obstacles of nature can prevent the accomplishment of his designs. Mountains like Lebanon cannot stop his march; he will find water even in the desert; Egypt's rivers will be trodden disdainfully underfoot. His chariots pass over all heights; cedar trees and fir trees fall before him; he penetrates to the farthest lodging-place and most fruitful region of the country. It is "I," Sennacherib says, "who do all this." Such boasting is:
1. Extravagant. In his inflated self-consciousness, Sennacherib sets no bounds to what he can accomplish. His language is exaggerated and hyperbolical. It is a man puffing himself up to the dimensions of a god (cf. Isaiah 10:13, 14; Isaiah 14:13, 14; Daniel 4:30). Napoleon was accustomed to use similar language to impress the minds of his ignorant enemies (Bahr's 'Commentary on 2 Kings,' p. 226). Only in part is this extravagant self-assertion delusion. Those who give vent to it know very well that much of it is theatrical and unreal - mere froth and foam. But it gratifies their pride to indulge in it.
2. Irrational This on two grounds:
(1) Even granting that these boastings rested on real exploits, such self-exaltation is unbecoming in any mortal. The mightiest conqueror has only to reflect how soon he will become weak as other men (Isaiah 14:10-17), to see how foolish is his self-glorying.
(2) The past is an unsafe ground for boasting as to the future. Because his arms had hitherto been so uniformly successful, Sennacherib imagined that it was impossible any reverse could now befall him. He had got into his head the idea of Ms own invincibility. Napoleon had the same confidence in the invincibility of his arms. Experience shows the baselessness of such confidence. A long run of victories, intoxicating the conqueror with his own success, is generally followed by a disastrous calamity. The castle gets built up too high, and in the end topples over. Napoleon learnt this at Moscow and Waterloo. Excess of pride usually ends in an overthrow.
3. Impious. Boastings, finally, were impious. It was the creature arrogating to himself the power of God. Any reference to Asshur Sennacherib may have made in his inscriptions was but a thin veil to cover his self-glorying. His particular blasphemies against the God of Israel arose from ignorance of Jehovah's true character. He thought he was contending against the petty god of a small tribe, whereas he had to deal with "the Holy One" who made heaven and earth. Men's mistakes as to God do not alter the realities of their relation to him. Because God is "the Holy One," he cannot overlook men's impieties. Holiness is the principle which guards the Divine honor. It "guards the eternal distinction between Creator and creature, between God and man, in the union effected between them; it preserves the Divine dignity and majesty from being infringed upon" (Martensen).
III. SENNACHERIB AS BEHELD BY GOD. Vastly different from Sennacherib's view of himself was the view taken of him by God his Maker.
1. Sennacherib a mere instrument in God's hands for the execution of his purposes. "Hast thou not heard how I have done it long ago, and formed it of ancient times? Now have I brought it to pass that thou shouldest be to lay waste," etc. Sennacherib was defying Jehovah, but it was this God who from everlasting had decreed the events that were taking place, and had assigned to Sennacherib the part he was to bear in them. Here was a strange reversal of Sennacherib's ideas! It was the axe boasting itself against him that heweth herewith, and the saw magnifying itself against him that shaketh it, and the rod shaking itself against them that lift it up (Isaiah 10:16). This is the truth which ungodly men constantly ignore. They exalt themselves against God, forgetful that, without God, they could not think a thought or move a finger; that it is he who gave them their being, and continually sustains them; that his providence girds them round, and uses them as executors of its purposes; and that they have only as much power as he chooses to give them.
2. His successes due to God. "Therefore their inhabitants were of small power," etc. Sennacherib ascribed all his victories to his own prowess, and founded on them an argument for despising Jehovah, whereas it was because Jehovah had prospered him that he had gained these victories. It is God who brings low, and lifts up (1 Samuel 2:7). When he is against a people, their strength is small, they are dismayed and confounded, they are like grass that withers, and blasted grain. Sennacherib did not understand this, and took all the glory to himself.
3. God prescribes the limits of his power. As the Assyrian was thus an instrument in God's hand, it was for God to say how far he would be permitted to go. The limit was reached when he began to rage and blaspheme against the power which controlled him. God had heard his words and seen his doings. "I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me." He had done enough. The curb was now to be applied. Drawing a metaphor from Sennacherib's own treatment of his captives, the oracle declared, "I will put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest. The prediction was soon to be fulfilled. No comfort can be greater, in times of "trouble, and rebuke, and blasphemy," than to know that the hostile powers are under absolute Divine control, and that they cannot take one step beyond what God allows. "Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain" (Psalm 76:10). When men turn against God in open blasphemy, their power is nearly at an end.
IV. A SIGN TO THE PEOPLE.
1. A pledge of God's favor. The immediate sign of the truth of this oracle would be the destruction of the invading army, which was to take place that very night. But as a further pledge of complete deliverance from the Assyrian - a token that he would not return - it was foretold that within three years the whole land would be again under cultivation. In the interval the people would be provided for by that which grew of itself. Material blessings are withdrawn when God frowns; restored when he smiles.
2. The remnant would take root and increase. The land had been deplorably thinned by invasion and captivity. Had the process gone on much longer, Judah would have disappeared, as Israel had done. A remnant, however, would be saved, and this, taking root downward, and bearing fruit upward, would by God's blessing so multiply and strengthen as speedily to renew the population.
3. God's zeal engaged for the fulfillment of his promises. They were great things which God had promised, but the "zeal" of the Lord of hosts - his jealousy for his own honor, and for his people and his land - would perform it. When God's "zeal" is engaged in any undertaking, can we doubt that it will prosper? "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:39). God's zeal is engaged in giving effect to all efforts for the extension of his gospel, the salvation of men, and the triumph of righteousness in the world.
V. THE SAFETY OF THE CITY. Finally, a definite assurance is given that, let Sennacherib rage as he may, the city would not be harmed. He should neither come into it, nor shoot an arrow into it, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it, as once before he had done. Instead, he would return by the way he came. This God would do
(1) for his own sake, i.e. for the vindication of his own honor from the reproaches of Sennacherib; and
(2) for his servant David's sake. Succeeding generations little know how much they owe to God's regard for his holy servants in days past. As was Jerusalem, so is the Church safe under God's protection (Matthew 16:18). For the higher David's sake, he will not let it perish. But for God's care and shielding power, it would long ere this have been destroyed. - J.O.
I. THE DESTRUCTION OF SENNACHERIB'S ARMY.
1. Its historic truth. On all hands, though Sennacherib's own annals pass over the event in silence, this seems to be admitted. "Thus," says Wellhausen, "it proved in the issue. By a still unexplained catastrophe, the main army of Sennacherib was annihilated on the frontier between Egypt and Palestine, and Jerusalem thereby freed from all danger. The Assyrian king had to save himself by a hurried retreat to Nineveh; Isaiah was triumphant."
2. Its miraculous character. Granting that the event happened, it seems impossible, in view of Isaiah's distinct prediction, to deny its supernatural character. God's hand is almost seen visibly stretched out for the deliverance of his city, and the bringing low of Sennacherib's pride. Allow that the sweeping off of this great army was in any way connected with Isaiah's faith, hope, and prayers, and a supernatural government of the world is established.
3. Its spiritual lessons.
(1) We see the end which commonly overtakes worldly boasters. Greek story delights to dwell on the Nemesis which overtakes inordinate pride. Napoleon, the modern Sennacherib, met with a discomfiture not dissimilar to that here recorded.
(2) We learn not to be afraid of spiritual boasters. The nations may rage, and the people imagine a vain thing; the kings of the earth may set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed. But "he that sits in the heavens will laugh; the Lord will have them in derision" (Psalm 2:4). Scientific and philosophic boasters have not prevailed against the Church yet, and are not likely to do so.
(3) We learn the advantage of entire reliance on God. While Hezekiah leaned on the help of man, he could accomplish nothing. When he cast himself on God's help, he was saved. God has all power in heaven and earth at his command, and is able to do all things for us.
II. THE END OF SENNACHERIB.
1. The great king's retreat. At this point "the great king," the King of Assyria, his boasting effectually silenced, disappears forever from Jewish history. He "departed, and went and returned, and dwelt in Nineveh." No more is heard of his exploits in these pages.
2. His miserable end. His end was a fitting satire on his boasts. Two of his own sons, Adrammelech and Sharezer, conspired against him, and slew him while he was worshipping in the house of his god. This is the god to whose power, it may be presumed, he attributed all his conquests. Poor god! that could not save his own worshipper. Sic transit gloria mundi. The sons who slew him could not keep the throne, which was taken by Esarhaddon. - J.O.