Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. A SOLEMN MESSAGE. "Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live."
1. It was a solemn message for Hezekiah. His kingdom seemed now to be securely established. God had helped him against the Philistines, and had overthrown them. He was doubtless looking forward to many years of rest and quietness, when he might enjoy for himself the benefits of peace, and develop the resources of the nation, so long desolated by invading armies. How startling, then, the announcement of his approaching death!
2. It is a solemn message for every one. It is a solemn thing for a human soul to pass from time into eternity, to enter into the immediate presence of the Eternal, to stand before God.
3. It is a message which may be truly spoken to every one. "Thou shalt die, and not live," There is an hour of death in store for every one of us. Somewhere in the unknown future there waits for us -
"The shadow feared of man." We know not what a day may bring forth. "In such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." 4. The certainty of death suggests the necessity for immediate preparation. "Set thine house in order." Can you say that you are prepared to meet your God? Is your heart right with God? Have you set your house in order? The time for preparation is "now." Scripture is very clear on that point. It is nowhere said, "See that you make ready when death comes." It is nowhere said," Look forward to being prepared for death" No; that would only be deceiving us, because death might come before we were prepared, though we might intend to be prepared, if we knew that death was near. No; but it is said, "Be ready." It is said, "Prepare to meet thy God." "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation." II. A SORROWFUL KING. "Hezekiah wept sore." 1. He was not sorrowful because of a guilty conscience. He had endeavored to serve God faithfully. No doubt he had made mistakes. But his heart was right with God. "I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight." It is well to have a good conscience when the hour of death draws nigh. It is well when we can say with St. Paul, "Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men." Such a man is always "ready to depart." 2. He was sorrowful only because of the shortening of his life. How little we know what is best for us! It was after this that Hezekiah was led astray, as we shall see, by the pride of his heart. Though God lengthened Hezekiah's life in answer to his piteous request, perhaps it would have been better for him if he had been content to go when God first sent for him. There is often a great mystery to us when good men seem prematurely taken away. But God knows the reason why, and he doeth all things well. Let us leave the time of our own departure, and the departure of our friends, contentedly in God's hands. III. A SPARED LIFE. The life was spared in answer to prayer; and yet this ease gives no encouragement to what is commonly known as "healing by faith." Isaiah directed the attendants to take a lump of figs and lay it for a plaster on the boil, and Hezekiah recovered (ver. 7; Isaiah 38:21). We believe in the power of faith and prayer to heal the sick, and yet we believe in using the means. We use food to preserve and sustain our life from day to day. There is no lack of faith in that. And it shows no lack of faith if we use means to restore our life, asking all the time that God's blessing may accompany the means we use. How many of our lives has God spared? How many of us has he brought back again from the gates of death? Let the goodness of God lead us to repentance. Let the lives that he has spared be dedicated to him - C.H.I.
4. The certainty of death suggests the necessity for immediate preparation. "Set thine house in order." Can you say that you are prepared to meet your God? Is your heart right with God? Have you set your house in order? The time for preparation is "now." Scripture is very clear on that point. It is nowhere said, "See that you make ready when death comes." It is nowhere said," Look forward to being prepared for death" No; that would only be deceiving us, because death might come before we were prepared, though we might intend to be prepared, if we knew that death was near. No; but it is said, "Be ready." It is said, "Prepare to meet thy God." "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation."
II. A SORROWFUL KING. "Hezekiah wept sore."
1. He was not sorrowful because of a guilty conscience. He had endeavored to serve God faithfully. No doubt he had made mistakes. But his heart was right with God. "I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight." It is well to have a good conscience when the hour of death draws nigh. It is well when we can say with St. Paul, "Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men." Such a man is always "ready to depart."
2. He was sorrowful only because of the shortening of his life. How little we know what is best for us! It was after this that Hezekiah was led astray, as we shall see, by the pride of his heart. Though God lengthened Hezekiah's life in answer to his piteous request, perhaps it would have been better for him if he had been content to go when God first sent for him. There is often a great mystery to us when good men seem prematurely taken away. But God knows the reason why, and he doeth all things well. Let us leave the time of our own departure, and the departure of our friends, contentedly in God's hands.
III. A SPARED LIFE. The life was spared in answer to prayer; and yet this ease gives no encouragement to what is commonly known as "healing by faith." Isaiah directed the attendants to take a lump of figs and lay it for a plaster on the boil, and Hezekiah recovered (ver. 7; Isaiah 38:21). We believe in the power of faith and prayer to heal the sick, and yet we believe in using the means. We use food to preserve and sustain our life from day to day. There is no lack of faith in that. And it shows no lack of faith if we use means to restore our life, asking all the time that God's blessing may accompany the means we use. How many of our lives has God spared? How many of us has he brought back again from the gates of death? Let the goodness of God lead us to repentance. Let the lives that he has spared be dedicated to him - C.H.I.
(1) consciously approaching; as
(2) temporarily arrested; and as
(3) ultimately triumphant.
I. As CONSCIOUSLY APPROACHING. "In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the Prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live." Mark here three things.
1. When he became conscious of its approach. "In those days." "By this expression," says Dr. Keil, "the illness of Hezekiah is merely assigned in a general manner to the same time as the events previously described. That it did not occur after the departure of the Assyrians... is evident from the sixth verse, both from the fact that, in answer to his prayer, fifteen years more of life were promised him, and that he, nevertheless, reigned only twenty-nine years (2 Kings 18:2); and also from the fact that God promised to deliver him out of the hand of the Assyrians, and to defend Jerusalem."
2. How he became conscious of its approach. "Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live." It needs no Isaiah, or any other prophet, to deliver this message to man. It comes to him from all history, from every graveyard, from every funeral procession, as well as from the inexorable law of decay working ever in his constitution. Yes; and not merely the announcement, but the duty: "Set thine house in order."
(1) Men have much to do in this life. The "house" is out of order.
(2) Unless the work is done here, it will not be done yonder. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might," etc.
3. How he felt in the consciousness of its approach. "Then he turned his face to the wall."
(1) He seems to have been overwhelmingly distressed. "He wept sore." He turned away from the world, with all its multiplex concerns, from all his regal pomp, and peered into the invisible and the infinite.
(2) He cried earnestly to heaven. "He prayed unto the Lord, saying, I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight." In his prayer we note the cry of nature. All men, even those who are atheistic in theory, are urged by the law of their spiritual nature to cry to heaven in great and conscious danger. In his prayer we also note something of self-righteousness. "Remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight." Though he had been free from most sins, and had displayed some virtues, he had not done this. Perhaps no man that ever appeared on this earth, save the "Son of man," could say, "I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart," Moral self-deception is one of the most prevalent sins of the human heart. Like the Pharisee in the temple, we exult in virtues we have not. Now, death is approaching all men, whether we are conscious of the fact or not. The decree has gone forth, "Thou shalt die, and not live." Death is ever coming with stealthy steps, yet with resistless force. He is coming always, whether we are at home or abroad, on ocean or on land, in society or in solitude; asleep or awake, he, the king of terrors, is coming.
II. AS TEMPORARILY ARRESTED. Five things are to be observed here.
1. The primary Author of its arrest. "And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee." How came Isaiah into possession of this knowledge, this "word of the Lord," concerning Hezekiah's restoration? Was it by a dream, or through some other supernatural communication? On this point I confess my utter ignorance. The grand practical idea is that God can arrest death, and he only. Our times are in his hands. His constant visitation preserveth us. He is the absolute Master of death. At his bidding the most fragile creature may live forever, the most robust expire.
2. The secondary means of its arrest. "Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs. And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered." It would seem that the ancients, in the case of boils, abscesses, and such like, frequently applied figs to the affected parts, and no doubt there was remedial virtue in the figs. For aught we know, there may be an antidote sleeping in plants and minerals for all our physical complaints. The man who lives by the medical art is untrue to his mission, and unfaithful to his patient, unless he, with an independent mind and a devoted heart, searches Nature for those remedial elements with which she is charged.
3. The extraodinary sign of its arrest. "And Hezekiah said unto Isaiah, What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up into the house of the Lord the third day? And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees? And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees. And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the Lord: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz." Perhaps it was natural for a man, who when he felt himself on the brink of eternity was told he would recover, to desire some assurance of the fact so unexpected and yet so acceptable. Hezekiah desired a sign, and he had it. But what was the sign? We are told that the shadow on the dial-plate "returned ten degrees backwards." How was this? Did the sun recede, or, in other words, was the rotation of the earth reversed? I know not; neither does it matter. It is sufficient to know that, whether it was an illusion, or a natural eclipse of the sun, which some astronomers say did actually take place at this time ( B.C. 689), or a physical miracle, it seems to have satisfied the king. it seems to be a law of mind, that phenomena which it earnestly expects often occur. "Be it to thee according to thy faith."
4. The exact extension of its arrest. "I will add unto thy days fifteen years." The addition of fifteen years to man's brief existence in this life is a considerable item, and the more so when that fifteen years is added at a period when the man has fully reached middle life, and passed through the chief training experiences. He who can add fifteen years to a man's life can add eternity. "Our times are in his hands."
5. The mental inefficiency of its arrest. What spiritual good did these additional fifteen years accomplish for the king? They might have done much; they ought to have done much. But did they make him a morally better man, or an intellectually wiser man? Not the former, I trow, for mark his vanity. The letters which the King of Babylon, Mero-dach-Baladan, dispatched to him, together with a present, so excited his egotism that he "hearkened [or, as Isaiah puts it, 'was glad'] unto them," that is, the Babylonian deputies; and "showed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armor, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not." At this time he had enormous possessions. We find from 2 Chronicles 32:23 that presents were brought to Hezekiah from various quarters. "He had," says the Chronicler, "exceeding much riches and honor: and he made himself treasuries for silver, and for gold, and for precious stones, and for spices, and for shields, and for all manner of pleasant jewels; storehouses also for the increase of corn, and wine, and oil; and stalls for all manner of beasts, and cotes for flocks" (2 Chronicles 32:27, 28). All this, with an elated vanity, he exposed to the Babylonian magnates. Vanity, for many reasons, is one of the worst of all the bad elements of depravity; it is a species 'of moral evil, hideous to all beholders, and damnable to its possessor. Did these fifteen years added to his life make Hezekiah an intellectually wiser man? No; his judgment was not improved. In sooth, he seems to have lost that penetration, that insight into things and men, which he had previously possessed. Bow blind was he not to see that, by exposing his treasures, he was exciting the avarice of the Babylonians, tempting them to make an invasion of his country! This Isaiah told him: "Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried into Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord." Affliction does not always improve men, either morally or intellectually. Ah me! how many have I known who, when they have "turned their face to the wall," writhing in agony, with grim death before them, have solemnly vowed improvement should they ever recover? They have recovered, and become worse in every respect than before. What boots a term of fifteen years, or even a thousand years, added to our existence, if our souls are not improved thereby?
III. As ULTIMATELY TRIUMPHANT. "And Hezekiah slept with his fathers." The end of the fifteen years came, and he meets with the common destiny of all. The unconquered conqueror is not to be defrauded of his prey, however long delayed. Since death cannot be escaped by any, whether young or old, it has been asked, is there any advantage in longevity? Rather, would it not be better to die in the first dawn of infancy, than in any subsequent period? "Whom the gods love die young," was said of yore. We may go a step further, and say, "Why live at all?" - D.T.
2 Kings 18:1-13).
I. WARNING OF DEATH.
1. Unexplained sickness. "In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death." His disease was some ulcerous growth, called in the narrative "a boil." We have been accustomed in this history to see troubles of body, and calamities in the state, connected with sin, as part of its temporal punishment. But there is no reason to believe that Hezekiah was guilty of any special transgression which led to his being visited with this sickness. His own conscience was clear, and there is no indication of blame in the narrative. Affliction is sent for other reasons than the punishment of sin, and we grievously err, and do great injustice to the sufferers, if we insist on always interpreting it in this light. Job's friends committed this error (Job 42:7, 8; cf. Luke 13:1-5; John 9:1-3). In Hezekiah's case affliction was no doubt sent as a purificatory and strengthening discipline, intended to try his faith, and lead him to new experience of the grace of God.
2. The announcement of death. It was while Hezekiah's mind was troubled about his sickness that the Prophet Isaiah came to him, and brought the message, "Thus saith the Lord... thou shalt die, and not live." In its natural course the sickness would have had a fatal issue. The fact of our mortality is one we should often have before us. Every ache, pain, and trouble of body, reminds us that we are here but for a time - that this is not our rest. They are prophetic of the end. A time, however, comes when the near approach of the end is unmistakable, if not to the individual himself, yet to others. If a man is dying, it is the truest kindness to let him know it. Isaiah might have withheld this information from Hezekiah on the ground that it would agitate him, might hasten his death, could do no good, etc., - the usual pleas for keeping back from a patient the news of his hopeless condition. We have only to put the matter to ourselves: would we like to be within a few weeks or days of our death, and not be made aware of the fact? Would we in such circumstances like to be buoyed up by false hopes? Then why buoy up others? By acquainting a patient with his real state, we give him opportunity for setting his house in order; for prayer to God that might, as in Hezekiah's case, lead to his recovery; in any case, for suitably preparing his mind in view of departure.
3. The duty of preparation. "Set thine house in order" said Isaiah; "for thou shalt die." It is a duty incumbent on us, even in health, to have our worldly affairs so arranged that, if we should be unexpectedly removed, they would be found in order. The neglect of this simple duty - the putting it off under the idea that there is still plenty of time - leads in numberless cases to confusion, heartburning, strife, and loss. If the putting the house in order has not been attended to, the approach of death is a solemn call to do it. In any case, there wilt be final arrangements, last words, loving directions which belong peculiarly to the dying hour. If it is important to set our worldly affairs in order in view of death, how much more to have every spiritual preparation made!
II. PRAYER FOR LIFE.
1. Hezekiah's distress. The announcement that he was soon to die filled Hezekiah with deep grief. He turned his face to the wall, prayed earnestly to God, and wept sore. The grounds of his distress may be inferred from the hymn composed by him after his recovery (Isaiah 38:9-20).
(1) The natural love of life. This is implanted in every one. It has its root in a true instinct, for death in the case of the human being is unnatural. It was not a part of the primal order. Man as made by God was destined for immortality, not immortality of the soul only, but immortality of the whole person. Death is the violent wrenching asunder of two parts of his personality which were meant to be inseparable. It is the fruit of sin, and abnormal (Romans 5:12).
(2) The want of a clear hope of immortality. The experience of the Old Testament saints teaches us to distinguish between a mere idea of future existence, and such a hope of immortality as is now possessed by Christians. The Hebrew believed in the after-existence of the soul. But this of itself brought no comfort to them. Sheol was uniformly pictured as a region of gloom, silence, and inaction. Its shadowy life was no compensation for the loss of the rich, substantial joys of earthly existence. In hours of depression this was the view of Sheol that prevailed. Only in moments of strong faith did the believer rise to the confidence that God would be with him even in Sheol, and would deliver his soul out of these gloomy abodes. The Hebrew hope of immortality was really a hope of resurrection (Psalm 16:10; Psalm 49:14, 15). It is Jesus Christ who, in the full sense of the words, has brought life and immortality to light (2 Timothy 1:10).
(3) The thought that death would cut him off from the comforts of God's presence, and the privilege of waiting on God and serving him. This is implied in his view of Sheol, and is expressed in his song (Isaiah 38:11). It was, therefore, no unmanly fear of death which Hezekiah showed, but one resting on good and substantial reasons.
2. Hezekiah's prayer. Cut off from earthly help, Hezekiah betook himself in earnest prayer to God. The fact that he did pray, and that his prayer was answered, is an encouragement to us to pray for recovery from sickness. The New Testament also holds out this encouragement (James 5:13-16). In his pleadings with God, Hezekiah adopted a tone which may seem to us to savor too much of self-righteousness. "I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart," etc. It was not, however, in a spirit of self-righteousness that he urged this plea. He was conscious of many sins (cf. Isaiah 38:17). His meaning was that he had endeavored to serve God faithfully, and with an undivided heart, and had the claim which God's own promises gave him of life and blessing to those who acted thus. A good conscience is a great encouragement in prayer to God, though, with the deeper views of sin which the gospel gives, there is rightly a greater shrinking from pleading anything that might seem like one's own merit (see Perowne's 'Introduction to the Book of Psalms,' 2 Kings 3. sect. 3, "Assertions of innocence in the Psalms").
III. RECOVERY FROM SICKNESS.
1. The promptitude of God's answer. Scarcely had the prayer left Hezekiah's lips than the answer was communicated to Isaiah. The prophet had not yet left the palace, but was still within its precincts, "in the middle court," when word came to him to return to Hezekiah, and assure him of recovery. God in this ease, as always, was "waiting to be gracious" (Isaiah 30:18). The answer was given
(1) out of regard to Hezekiah himself, "Tell Hezekiah the captain of my people;"
(2) in answer to his supplication, "I have heard thy prayer;"
(3) for the sake of David, "The Lord, the God of David thy father" (and cf. ver. 6). This recovery was one of "the sure mercies of David' (Isaiah 55:3). For similar examples of prompt answer to prayer, see on 2 Kings 19:20.
2. The promise of lengthened life. The message which Isaiah was to carry to Hezekiah contained three parts:
(1) a promise that he would be healed, and able to go up to the house of the Lord on the third day. "A striking instance of the conditionalness of prophecy" (Cheyne). Hezekiah's first use of his recovered health is assumed to be a visit to God's house.
(2) A promise of fifteen years more added to his life. God thus exceeds his servants' askings. The king sought only healing; God assures him of a prolonged term of life (cf. Ephesians 3:20).
(3) A promise that the city would be defended against the Assyrians. This was another word to Hezekiah through which God caused him to hope (Psalm 119:49). Yet he nearly forfeited it by his subsequent worldly policy (see previous chapters).
3. The king's recovery. Isaiah's word was fulfilled, and the king recovered. Whether "the lump of figs" was a simple remedy or a mere sign need not be discussed. In our case the duty of using means in connection with prayer is plain.
IV. THE SIGN OF THE SUN-DIAL.
1. The request for a sign. When Isaiah communicated his message to Hezekiah, the king said, "What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me," etc.? One wonders that to so good a man the prophet's word should not have been sufficient, and that he should have asked for this additional confirmation. But
(2) The thing promised was very wonderful and hard to believe, especially after the announcement, "Thou shalt die, and not live," made a few minutes before. There is no doubt a greater blessing on those that have not seen, and yet have believed (John 20:29); but weak faith too has its rights, and God shows his condescension in stooping to give it the needed supports.
2. The sign given. Isaiah had offered Ahaz a sign, either "in the depth, or in the height above" (Isaiah 7:11). Hezekiah had now proposed to him a sign in the height. The shadow on the steps of Ahaz's sun-dial would be made either to go forward ten degrees or go back ten degrees, according as Hezekiah should desire. As the more wonderful phenomenon of the two, Hezekiah asked that it might go back ten degrees, and at Isaiah's prayer it was done. We inquire in vain as to how the wonder was produced. The fact that it seems to have been a local sign, though widely noised abroad, suggests a miracle connected with the laws of refraction. - J.O.
I. FOOLISH PRIDE. Hezekiah's prosperity for once led him astray.
1. He gave not glory to God. It was God who had prospered him, and crowned all his labors with success. But there is no word of this to the ambassadors. He takes all the honor and glory to himself. He might have, perhaps, excused himself, as many do, by saying that there is no use in obtruding our religion upon strangers. But why should he have been ashamed to acknowledge God's bountiful hand, if he was not ashamed to take his bounties? Why should any of us be ashamed to confess Christ? To be ashamed of Christ is not only weak and cowardly; it is unreasonable.
2. We see also how foolish Hezekiah's pride was, when we remember his recent sickness. It was not so long since Hezekiah, now so vain and boastful, turned his face to the wall, and wept sore. The memory of that should have humbled him. Not only so, but when he was recovered of his sickness, he made special promises of praise to God and humility of spirit. "The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day." Where was Hezekiah's praise of God's goodness when these Babylonish ambassadors came to him? "I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul" (Isaiah 38:15). Where now is Hezekiah's humility? On the contrary, as it is said in 2 Chronicles 32:25, "Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up."
3. We see here how watchful we need to be over our own hearts. We read in 2 Chronicles 32:31, "Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart." We cannot tell how we may act until the temptation comes. Such a crisis as this may come to each of us. Let us watch and pray, that we enter not into temptation. "Above all treasure guard thy heart, for out of it are the fountains of life."
II. A FAITHFUL PROPHET. Isaiah did not delay in the path of duty. Hezekiah had humbled himself and his nation, and he had dishonored God, before these heathen ambassadors. Isaiah at once proceeds to the king's presence, and rebukes him for his folly and pride (vers. 14 -18). Not only so, but he foretells that Babylon, whose avarice had thus been aroused, would one day take advantage of this act of weakness, and take possession of the treasures of Jerusalem. Hezekiah's answer was wise and humble. He was a God-fearing, if mistaken, man. "Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken." So let us receive God's judgments, in humility, submission, and patience, and not in rebellion and defiance. What a blessing to a king to have a faithful and wise counselor! What a blessing to a nation and to a Church to have faithful ministers! They who fear God need not fear the face of man. - C.H.I
Isaiah 39:1), at this time held possession of the throne of Babylon, and was everywhere casting about for alliances to strengthen him against Assyria. We have here the account of his embassy to Hezekiah.
I. RECEPTION OF THE BABYLONIAN MESSENGERS.
1. Hezekiah's visitors. In the streets of Jerusalem were seen strange men, in princely robes, with servants bearing costly presents. They were the envoys of the King of Babylon, ostensibly come to congratulate Hezekiah on his recovery from sickness, and to inquire into the wonder that had been done in the land (2 Chronicles 32:31). This, however, was, it is probable, only a pretext to cover their real object, which was to establish an offensive and defensive alliance with Hezekiah against Assyria Professions of friendship veiled the designs of a merely selfish policy. Does not much of what is called diplomacy consist of deceit, insincere profession, intrigue, subtle designs, covered by fair appearances?
2. Hezekiah's vanity. Hezekiah seems to have been completely imposed on by the fair words of his visitors. He felt flattered at being singled out for notice by this king of "a far country; and spared no pains to impress the ambassadors with ideas of his own greatness. He showed them all his treasures, all the resources of his kingdom, his silver, his gold, his precious things, everything he had. This love of display, this vain desire to stand well in the estimation of a foreign potentate, this boasting of mere worldly wealth as the distinction of his kingdom, shows a weakness we should not have expected in this good king. No man is perfect. The best character has its side of weakness, and men are singularly apt to be led astray when skilful appeals are made to their vanity.
3. Hezekiah's sin. It was not a mere weakness of human nature that Hezekiah was guilty of when he "hearkened" unto the ambassadors, and showed them all his precious things. It was not for a mere yielding to vanity that Isaiah afterwards so severely rebuked him. His offence was of a graver kind. The ambassadors had come with proposals for an alliance, and in hearkening to them on this subject Hezekiah had really been unfaithful to his position as a theocratic king. He was departing from the example set him by David. As king of the holy nation, it was his duty to keep himself free from entangling worldly alliances, to make God his boast, to rely on him for defense and help, and to resist solicitations to worldly pride and vanity. From this ideal he had fallen. Flattered by the attention of his visitors, deceived by their specious proposals, and led away with the idea of figuring as an important political personage, he consented, or was disposed to consent, to the alliance sought. In displaying his treasures, he was practically placing them before God, as the glory and defense of his kingdom. In reciprocating the friendship of the foreigners, accepting their gifts, and encouraging their advances, he was taking a first step in that direction of forming worldly alliances, which afterwards brought such trouble on the state. It was this policy, indeed, which ultimately led to the Captivity, as already a similar policy had wrought the ruin of Israel. The lessons for the Christian are obvious. "The friendship of the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4). It is his duty to avoid worldly display, to guard against being ruled by worldly motives and ambitious, and to avoid ensnaring worldly alliances. He who gives way to these things is laying the foundations of his own spiritual overthrow.
II. PREDICTION OF THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY.
1. The prophet confronts the king. In the theocracy the prophet stood beside the king, to be his friend, guide, and counselor if he did right, and his accusing conscience if he did wrong. Thus Nathan confronted David (2 Samuel 12:1-14), Elijah confronted Ahab (1 Kings 18:17; 1 Kings 21:17-24), Zechariah confronted Joash (2 Chronicles 24:20). Here Isaiah confronts Hezekiah, and calls him to account for his transgression. The king did not seem aware of his wrong-doing, for he answered the prophet's questions with the utmost frankness.
(1) The questions Isaiah asked were searching ones. He made Hezekiah tell out of his own mouth who the men were that had come to him, whence they came, and how he had received them. The object of these interrogations was to make Hezekiah aware of his sin. Many a thing is done, of which we do not at first perceive the criminality, but the sin of which is obvious enough when we have had the deed set objectively before us.
(2) Hezekiah's answers revealed the folly he had committed. In the very stating of what he had done, Hezekiah must have perceived the magnitude of his error. It is God's design in his questioning of us to bring us to conviction. He would have us judge ourselves. It does not follow, that because we are unconscious of sin, therefore we have no sin. The object of Divine discipline is to make us conscious. Every sinner will at the last be convicted out of his own mouth.
2. The prophet predicts the Captivity. If doubt remained in Hezekiah's mind as to his wrong-doing, it was speedily dispelled by Isaiah's stern answer to him. The prophet, without further parley, announced God's punishment for the sin committed. The penalty answered, as so many of God's penalties do, to the nature of the transgression. The messengers had come from Babylon; into Babylon should Hezekiah's sons (descendants) be carried away. He had displayed his treasures; these treasures would be carried to Babylon. He desired union with Babylon; he should have it in a way he did not look for. A prophecy of this nature implied a collapse of the kingdom of Judah as complete as that which had overtaken Israel. Such a collapse was, of course, the product of many causes, most of them already in operation. But not the least potent was the species of worldly policy of which Hezekiah's action was a typical example. As an outstanding and contributory cause, God fixes on it as the point of connection for the prophecy. We must take our share of the responsibility of every event which our actions have contributed to produce.
3. The king's reply. Hezekiah was no doubt shocked and startled by Isaiah's message. The only ray of consolation he derived was in the thought that the predicted evil was not to fall in his days, but in that of his descendants. His language on this point, "Is it not good, if peace and truth shall be in my days?" may seem selfish and even cynical. It is doubtful, however, if there is much room for blame. Hezekiah gathered that a period of respite was granted, and that the fulfillment of the threatening was somewhat remote. He rightly took this as an act of mercy to himself. There are probably few who would not feel relieved to know that, though calamities were to fall upon their land in future days, there would be peace and truth in their own lifetime. With lapse of time, too, opportunity was given for repentance; and who knew but that the sentence of doom might be reversed? - J.O.