Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
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.
Jerusalem’s great distress we read of in the foregoing chapter, and left it besieged, insulted, threatened, terrified, and just ready to be swallowed up by the Assyrian army. But in this chapter we have an account of its glorious deliverance, not by sword or bow, but by prayer and prophecy, and by the hand of an angel. I. Hezekiah, in great concern, sent to the prophet Isaiah, to desire his prayers (v. 1-5) and received from him an answer of peace (v. 6, 7). II. Sennacherib sent a letter to Hezekiah to fright him into a surrender (v. 8–13). III. Hezekiah thereupon, by a very solemn prayer, recommended his case to God, the righteous Judge, and begged help from him (v. 14–19). IV. God, by Isaiah, sent him a very comfortable message, assuring him of deliverance (v. 20–34). V. The army of the Assyrians was all cut off by an angel and Sennacherib himself slain by his own sons (v. 35–37). And so God glorified himself and saved his people.
The contents of Rabshakeh’s speech being brought to Hezekiah, one would have expected (and it is likely Rabshakeh did expect) that he would call a council of war and it would be debated whether it was best to capitulate or no. Before the siege, he had taken counsel with his princes and his mighty men, 2 Chr. 32:3. But that would not do now; his greatest relief is that he has a God to go to, and what passed between him and his God on this occasion we have here an account of.
I. Hezekiah discovered a deep concern at the dishonour done to God by Rabshakeh’s blasphemy. When he heard it, though at second hand, he rent his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth, v. 1. Good men were wont to do so when they heard of any reproach cast on God’s name; and great men must not think it any disparagement to them to sympathize with the injured honour of the great God. Royal robes are not too good to be rent, nor royal flesh too good to be clothed with sackcloth, in humiliation for indignities done to God and for the perils and terrors of his Jerusalem. To this God now called, and was displeased with those who were not thus affected. Isa. 22:12–14, Behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, though it was a day of trouble and perplexity in the valley of vision (v. 5), which refers to this very event. The king was in sackcloth, but many of his subjects were in soft clothing.
II. He went up to the house of the Lord, according to the example of the psalmist, who, when he was grieved at the pride and prosperity of the wicked, went into the sanctuary of God and there understood their end, Ps. 73:17. He went to the house of God, to meditate and pray, and get his spirit into a sedate composed frame, after this agitation. He was not considering what answer to return to Rabshakeh, but refers the matter to God. "Thou shalt answer, Lord, for me."—Herbert. In the house of the Lord he found a place both of rest and refuge, a treasury, a magazine, a council-chamber, and all he needed, all in God. Note, When the church’s enemies are very daring and threatening it is the wisdom and duty of the church’s friends to apply to God, appeal to him, and leave their cause with him.
III. He sent to the prophet Isaiah, by honourable messengers, in token of the great respect he had for him, to desire his prayers, v. 2-4. Eliakim and Shebna were two of those that had heard the words of Rabshakeh and were the better able both to acquaint and to affect Isaiah with the case. The elders of the priests were themselves to pray for the people in time of trouble (Joel 2:17); but they must go to engage Isaiah’s prayers, because he could pray better and had a better interest in heaven. The messengers were to go in sackcloth, because they were to represent the king, who was so clothed.
1. Their errand to Isaiah was, "Lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left, that is, for Judah, which is but a remnant now that the ten tribes are gone—for Jerusalem, which is but a remnant now that the defenced cities of Judah are taken." Note, (1.) It is very desirable, and what we should be desirous of when we are in trouble, to have the prayers of our friends for us. In begging to have them we honour God, we honour prayer, and we honour our brethren. (2.) When we desire the prayers of others for us we must not think we are excused from praying for ourselves. When Hezekiah sent to Isaiah to pray for him he himself went into the house of the Lord to offer up his own prayers. (3.) Those who speak from God to us we should in a particular manner desire to speak to God for us. He is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, Gen. 20:7. The great prophet is the great intercessor. (4.) Those are likely to prevail with God that lift up their prayers, that is, that lift up their hearts in prayer. (5.) When the interests of God’s church are brought very low, so that there is but a remnant left, few friends, and those weak and at a loss, then it is time to lift up our prayer for that remnant.
2. Two things are urged to Isaiah, to engage his prayers for them:—(1.) Their fears of the enemy (v. 3): "He is insolent and haughty; it is a day of rebuke and blasphemy. We are despised. God is dishonoured. Upon this account it is a day of trouble. Never were such a king and kingdom so trampled on and abused as we are: our soul is exceedingly filled with the contempt of the proud, and it is a sword in our bones to hear them reproach our confidence in God, and say, Where is now your God? and, which is worst of all, we see not which way we can help ourselves and get clear of the reproach. Our cause is good, our people are faithful; but we are quite overpowered with numbers. The children are brought to the birth; now is the time, the critical moment, when, if ever, we must be relieved. One successful blow given to the enemy would accomplish our wishes. But, alas! we are not able to give it: There is not strength to bring forth. Our case is as deplorable, and calls for as speedy help, as that of a woman in travail, that is quite spent with her throes, so that she has not strength to bear the child. Compare with this Hos. 13:13. We are ready to perish; if thou canst do any thing, have compassion upon us and help us." (2.) Their hopes in God. To him they look, on him they depend, to appear for them. One word from him will turn the scale, and save the sinking remnant. If he but reprove the words of Rabshakeh (that is, disprove them, v. 4)—if he undertake to convince and confound the blasphemer—all will be well. And this they trust he will do, not for their merit’s sake, but for his own honour’s sake, because he has reproached the living God, by levelling him with deaf and dumb idols. They have reason to think the issue will be good, for they can interest God in the quarrel. Ps. 74:22, Arise O God! plead thy own cause. "He is the Lord thy God," say they to Isaiah—"thine, whose glory thou art concerned for, and whose favour thou art interested in. He has heard and known the blasphemous words of Rabshakeh, and therefore, it may be, he will hear and rebuke them. We hope he will. Help us with thy prayers to bring the cause before him, and then we are content to leave it with him."
IV. God, by Isaiah, sent to Hezekiah, to assure him that he would glorify himself in the ruin of the Assyrians. Hezekiah sent to Isaiah, not to enquire concerning the event, as many did that sent to the prophets (Shall I recover? or the like), but to desire his assistance in his duty. It was this that he was solicitous about; and therefore God let him know what the event should be, in recompence of his care to do his duty, v. 6, 7. 1. God interested himself in the cause: They have blasphemed me. 2. He encouraged Hezekiah, who was much dismayed: Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard; they are but words (though swelling and fiery words), and words are but wind. 3. He promised to frighten the king of Assyria worse than Rabshakeh had frightened him: "I will send a blast upon him (that pestilential breath which killed his army), upon which terrors shall seize him and drive him into his own country, where death shall meet him." This short threatening from the mouth of God would do execution, when all the impotent menaces that came from Rabshakeh’s mouth would vanish into air.
The historian, having shown us blaspheming Sennacherib destroyed in the midst of the prospects of life, here shows us praying Hezekiah delivered in the midst of the prospects of death—the days of the former shortened, of the latter prolonged.
I. Here is Hezekiah’s sickness. In those days, that is, in the same year in which the king of Assyria besieged Jerusalem; for he reigning reigned? in all twenty-nine years, and surviving this fifteen years, this must be in his fourteenth year, and so was that, ch. 18:13. Some think it was at the time that the Assyrian army was besieging the city or preparing for it, because God promises (v. 6): I will defend the city, which promise was afterwards repeated, when the danger came to be most imminent, ch. 19:34. Others think it was soon after the defeat of Sennacherib; and then it shows us the uncertainty of all our comforts in this world. Hezekiah, in the midst of his triumphs in the favour of God, and over the forces of his enemies, is seized with sickness, and under the arrest of death. We must therefore always rejoice with trembling. It should seem he was sick of the plague, for we read of the boil or plague-sore, v. 7. The same disease which was killing to the Assyrians was trying to him; God took it from him, and put it upon his enemies. Neither greatness nor goodness can exempt us from sickness, from sore and mortal sicknesses. Hezekiah, lately favoured of heaven above most men, yet is sick unto death—in the midst of his days (under forty) and yet sick and dying; and perhaps he was the more apprehensive of its being fatal to him because his father died when he was about his age, two or three years younger. "In the midst of life we are in death."
II. Warning brought him to prepare for death. It is brought by Isaiah, who had been twice, as stated in the former chapter, a messenger of good tidings to him. We cannot expect to receive from God’s prophets any other than what they have received from the Lord, and we must welcome that, be it pleasing or unpleasing. The prophet tells him, 1. That his disease is mortal, and, if he be not recovered by a miracle of mercy, will certainly be fatal: Thou shalt die, and not live. 2. That therefore he must, with all speed, get ready for death: Set thy house in order. This we should feel highly concerned to do when we are in health, but are most loudly called to do when we come to be sick. Set the heart in order by renewed acts of repentance, and faith, and resignation to God, with cheerful farewells to this world and welcomes to another; and, if not done before (which is the best and wisest course), set the house in order, make thy will, settle thy estate, put thy affairs in the best posture thou canst, for the ease of those that shall come after thee. Isaiah speaks not to Hezekiah of his kingdom, only of his house. David, being a prophet, had authority to appoint who should reign after him, but other kings did not pretend to bequeath their crowns as part of their goods and chattels.
III. His prayer hereupon: He prayed unto the Lord, v. 2. Is any sick? Let him be prayed for, let him be prayed with, and let him pray. Hezekiah had found, as recorded in the foregoing chapter, that it was not in vain to wait upon God, but that the prayers of faith bring in answers of peace; therefore will he call upon God as long as he lives. Happy experiences of the prevalency of prayer are engagements and encouragements to continue instant in prayer. He had now received the sentence of death within himself, and, if it was reversible, it must be reversed by prayer. When God purposes mercy he will, for this, be enquired of, Eze. 36:37. We have not if we ask not, or ask amiss. If the sentence was irreversible, yet prayer is one of the best preparations for death, because by it we fetch in strength and grace from God to enable us to finish well. Observe,
1. The circumstances of this prayer. (1.) He turned his face to the wall, probably as he lay in his bed. This he did perhaps for privacy; he could not retire to his closet as he used to do, but he retired as well as he could, turned from the company that were about him, to converse with God. When we cannot be so private as we would be in our devotions, nor perform them with the usual outward expressions of reverence and solemnity, yet we must not therefore omit them, but compose ourselves to them as well as we can. Or, as some think, he turned his face towards the temple, to show how willingly he would have gone up thither, to pray this prayer (as he did, ch. 19:1, 14), if he had been able, and remembering what encouragements were given to all the prayers that should be made in or towards that house. Christ is our temple; to him we must have an eye in all our prayers, for no man, no service, comes to the Father but by him. (2.) He wept sorely. Some gather from this that he was unwilling to die. It is in the nature of man to have some dread of the separation of soul and body, and it was not strange if the Old-Testament saints, to whom another world was but darkly revealed, were not so willing to leave this as Paul and other New-Testament saints were. There was also something peculiar in Hezekiah’s case: he was now in the midst of his usefulness, had begun a good work of reformation, which he feared would, through the corruption of the people, fall to the ground, if he should die. If this was before the defeat of the Assyrian army, as some think, he might therefore be loth to die, because his kingdom was in imminent danger of being ruined. However, it does not appear that he had now any son: Manasseh, that succeeded him, was not born till three years after; and, if he should die childless, both the peace of his kingdom and the promise to David would be in danger. But perhaps these were only tears of importunity, and expressions of a lively affection in prayer. Jacob wept and made supplication; and our blessed Saviour, though most willing to die, yet offered up strong cries, with tears, to him whom he knew to be able to save him, Heb. 5:7. Let Hezekiah’s prayer interpret his tears, and in that we find nothing that intimates him to have been under any of that fear of death which has either bondage or torment.
2. The prayer itself: "Remember now, O Lord! how I have walked before thee in truth; and either spare me to live, that I may continue thus to walk, if, if my work be done, receive me to that glory which thou hast prepared for those that have thus walked." Observe here, (1.) The description of Hezekiah’s piety. He had had his conversation in the world with right intentions ("I have walked before thee, as under thy eye and with an eye ever towards thee"), from a right principle ("in truth, and with an upright heart"), and by a right rule—"I have done that which is good in thy sight." (2.) The comfort he now had in reflecting upon it; it made his sick-bed easy. Note, The testimony of conscience for us that we have walked with God in our integrity will be much our support and rejoicing when we come to look death in the face, 2 Co. 1:12. (3.) The humble mention he makes of it to God. Lord, remember it now; not as if God needed to be put in mind of any thing by us (he is greater than our hearts, and knows all things), or as if the reward were of debt, and might be demanded as due (it is Christ’s righteousness only that is the purchase of mercy and grace); but our own sincerity may be pleaded as the condition of the covenant which God has wrought in us: "It is the work of thy own hands. Lord, own it." Hezekiah does not pray, "Lord, spare me," or, "Lord, take me; God’s will be done;" but, Lord, remember me; whether I live or die, let me be thine.
IV. The answer which God immediately gave to this prayer of Hezekiah. The prophet had got but to the middle court when he was sent back with another message to Hezekiah (v. 4, 5), to tell him that he should recover; not that there is with God yea and nay, or that he ever says and unsays; but upon Hezekiah’s prayer, which he foresaw and which his Spirit inclined him to, God did that for him which otherwise he would not have done. God here calls Hezekiah the captain of his people, to intimate that he would reprieve him for his people’s sake, because, in this time of war, they could ill spare such a captain: he calls himself the God of David, to intimate that he would reprieve him out of a regard to the covenant made with David and the promise that he would always ordain a lamp for him. In this answer, 1. God honours his prayers by the notice he takes of them and the reference he has to them in this message: I have heard thy prayers, I have seen thy tears. Prayers that have much life and affection in them are in a special manner pleasing to God. 2. God exceeds his prayers; he only begged that God would remember his integrity, but God here promises (1.) To restore him from his illness: I will heal thee. Diseases are his servants; as they go where he sends them, so they come when he remands them. Mt. 8:8, 9. I am the Lord that healeth thee, Ex. 15:26. (2.) To restore him to such a degree of health that on the third day he should go up to the house of the Lord, to return thanks. God knew Hezekiah’s heart, how dearly he loved the habitation of God’s house and the place where his honour dwelt, and that as soon as he was well he would go to attend on public ordinances; thitherward he turned his face when he was sick, and thitherward he would turn his feet when he was recovered; and therefore, because nothing would please him better, he promises him this, Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee. The man whom Christ healed was soon after found in the temple, Jn. 5:14. (3.) To add fifteen years to his life. This would not bring him to be an old man; it would reach but to fifty-four or fifty-five; yet that was longer than he had lately expected to live. His lease was renewed, which he thought was expiring. We have not the instance of any other that was told before-hand just how long he should live; that good man no doubt made a good use of it; but God has wisely kept us at uncertainties, that we may be always ready. (4.) To deliver Jerusalem from the king of Assyria, v. 6. This was the thing which Hezekiah’s heart was upon a much as his own recovery, and therefore the promise of this is here repeated. If this was after the raising of the siege, yet there was cause to fear Sennacherib’s rallying again. "No," says God, "I will defend this city."
V. The means which were to be used for his recovery, v. 7. Isaiah was his physician. He ordered an outward application, a very cheap and common thing: "Lay a lump of figs to the boil, to ripen it and bring it to a head, that the matter of the disease may be discharged that way." This might contribute something to the cure, and yet, considering to what a height the disease had come, and how suddenly it was checked, the cure was no less than miraculous. Note, 1. It is our duty, when we are sick, to make use of such means as are proper to help nature, else we do not trust God, but tempt him. 2. Plain and ordinary medicines must not be despised, for many such God has graciously made serviceable to man, in consideration of the poor. 3. What God appoints he will bless and make effectual.
VI. The sign which was given for the encouragement of his faith. 1. He begged it, not in any distrust of the power or promise of God, or as if he staggered at that, but because he looked upon the things promised to be very great things and worthy to be so confirmed, and because it had been usual with God thus to glorify himself and favour his people; and he remembered how much Gos was displeased with his father for refusing to ask a sign, Isa. 7:10–12. Observe, Hezekiah asked What is the sign, not that I shall go up to the thrones of judgment or up to the gate, but up to the house of the Lord? He desired to recover that he might glorify God in the gates of the daughter of Zion. It is not worth while to live for any other purpose than to serve God. 2. It was put to his choice whether the sun should go back or go forward; for it was equal to Omnipotence, and it would be the more likely to confirm his faith if he chose that which he thought the more difficult of the two. Perhaps to this that of this prophet may refer (Isa. 45:11), Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command you me. It is supposed that the degrees were half hours, and that it was just noon when the proposal was made, and the question is, "Shall the sun go back to its place at seven in the morning or forward to its place at five in the evening?" 3. He humbly desired the sun might go back ten degrees, because, though either would be a great miracle, yet, it being the natural course of the sun to go forward, its going back would seem more strange, and would be more significant of Hezekiah’s returning to the days of his youth (Job 33:25) and the lengthening out of the day of his life. It was accordingly done, upon the prayer of Isaiah (v. 11): He cried unto the Lord by special warrant and direction, and God brought the sun back ten degrees, which appeared to Hezekiah (for the sign was intended for him) by the going back of the shadow upon the dial of Ahaz, which, it is likely, he could see through his chamber-window; and the same was observed upon all other dials, even in Babylon, 2 Chr. 32:31. Whether this retrograde motion of the sun was gradual or per saltum—suddenly—whether it went back at the same pace that it used to go forward, which would make the day ten hours longer than usual—or whether it darted back on a sudden, and, after continuing a little while, was restored again to its usual place, so that no change was made in the state of the heavenly bodies (as the learned bishop Patrick thinks)—we are not told; but this work of wonder shows the power of God in heaven as well as on earth, the great notice he takes of prayer, and the great favour he bears to his chosen. The most plausible idolatry of the heathen was theirs that worshipped the sun; yet that was hereby convicted of the most egregious folly and absurdity, for by this it appeared that their god was under the check of the God of Israel. Dr. Lightfoot suggests that the fifteen songs of degrees (Ps. 120, etc.) might perhaps be so called because selected by Hezekiah to be sung to his stringed instruments (Isa. 38:20) in remembrance of the degrees on the dial which the sun went back and the fifteen years added to his life; and he observes how much of these psalms is applicable to Jerusalem’s distress and deliverance and Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery.
So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish.
Rabshakeh, having delivered his message and received no answer (whether he took this silence for a consent or a slight does not appear), left his army before Jerusalem, under the command of the other generals, and went himself to attend the king his master for further orders. He found him besieging Libnah, a city that had revolted from Judah, ch. 8:22. Whether he had taken Lachish or no is not certain; some think he departed from it because he found the taking of it impracticable, v. 8. However, he was now alarmed with the rumour that the king of the Cushites, who bordered upon the Arabians, was coming out against him with a great army, v. 9. This made him very desirous to gain Jerusalem with all speed. To take it by force would cost him more time and men than he could well spare, and therefore he renewed his attack upon Hezekiah to persuade him tamely to surrender it. Having found him an easy man once (ch. 18:14), when he said, That which thou puttest on me I will bear, he hoped again to frighten him into a submission, but in vain. Here,
I. Sennacherib sent a letter to Hezekiah, a railing letter, a blaspheming letter, to persuade him to surrender Jerusalem, because it would be to no purpose for him to think of standing it out. His letter is to the same purport with Rabshakeh’s speech; there is nothing new offered in it. Rabshakeh had said to the people, Let not Hezekiah deceive you, ch. 18:29. Sennacherib writes to Hezekiah, Let not thy God deceive thee, v. 10. Those that have the God of Jacob for their help, and whose hope is in the Lord their God, need not fear being deceived by him, as the heathen were by their gods. To terrify Hezekiah, and drive him from his anchor, he magnifies himself and his own achievements. See how proudly he boasts, 1. Of the lands he had conquered (v. 11): All lands, and destroyed utterly! How are the mole-hills of his victories swelled to mountains! So far was he from destroying all lands that at this time the land of Cush, and Tirhakah its king, were a terror to him. What vast hyperboles may one expect in proud men’s praises of themselves! 2. Of the gods he had conquered, v. 12. "Each vanquished nation and its gods, which were so far from being able to deliver them that they fell with them: and shall thy God deliver thee?" 3. Of the kings he had conquered (v. 13), the king of Hamath and the king of Arpad. Whether he means the prince or the idol, he means to make himself appear greater than either, and therefore very formidable, and the terror of the mighty in the land of the living.
II. Hezekiah encloses this in another letter, a praying letter, a believing letter, and sends it to the King of kings, who judges among the gods. Hezekiah was not so haughty as not to receive the letter, though we may suppose the superscription did not give him his due titles; when he had received it he was not so careless as not to read it; when he had read it he was not in such a passion as to write an answer to it in the same provoking language; but he immediately went up to the temple, presented himself, and then spread the letter before the Lord (v. 14), not as if God needed to have the letter shown to him (he knew what was in it before Hezekiah did), but hereby he signified that he acknowledged God in all his ways,—that he desired not to aggravate the injuries his enemies did him nor to make them appear worse than they were, but desired they might be set in a true light,—and that he referred himself to God, and his righteous judgment, upon the whole matter. Hereby likewise he would affect himself in the prayer he came to the temple to make; and we have need of all possible helps to quicken us in that duty. In the prayer which Hezekiah prayed over this letter, 1. He adores the God whom Sennacherib had blasphemed (v. 15), calls him the God of Israel, because Israel was his peculiar people, and the God that dwelt between the cherubim, because there was the peculiar residence of his glory upon earth; but he gives glory to him as the God of the whole earth, and not, as Sennacherib fancied him to be, the God of Israel only, and confined to the temple. "Let them say what they will, thou art sovereign Lord, for thou art the God, the God of gods, sole Lord, even thou alone, universal Lord of all the kingdoms of the earth, and rightful Lord, for thou hast made heaven and earth. Being Creator of all, by an incontestable title thou art owner and ruler of all." 2. He appeals to God concerning the insolence and profaneness of Sennacherib (v. 16): "Lord, hear; Lord, see. Here it is under his own hand; here it is in black and white." Had Hezekiah only been abused, he would have passed it by; but it is God, the living God, that is reproached, the jealous God. Lord, what wilt thou do for thy great name? 3. He owns Sennacherib’s triumphs over the gods of the heathen, but distinguishes between them and the God of Israel (v. 17, 18): He has indeed cast their gods into the fire; for they were no gods, unable to help either themselves or their worshipers, and therefore no wonder that he has destroyed them; and, in destroying them, though he knew it not, he really served the justice and jealousy of the God of Israel, who has determined to extirpate all the gods of the heathen. But those are deceived who think they can therefore be too hard for him. He is none of the gods whom men’s hands have made, but he has himself made all things, Ps. 115:3, 4. 4. He prays that God will now glorify himself in the defeat of Sennacherib and the deliverance of Jerusalem out of his hands (v. 19): "Now therefore save us; for if we be conquered, as other lands are, they will say that thou art conquered, as the gods of those lands were: but, Lord, distinguish thyself, by distinguishing us, and let all the world know, and be made to confess, that thou art the Lord God, the self-existent sovereign God, even thou only, and that all pretenders are vanity and a lie." Note, The best pleas in prayer are those which are taken from God’s honour; and therefore the Lord’s prayer begins with Hallowed be thy name, and concludes with Thine is the glory.
Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed; as Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden which were in Thelasar?
Here is, I. An embassy sent to Hezekiah by the king of Babylon, to congratulate him on his recovery, v. 12. The kings of Babylon had hitherto been only deputies and tributaries to the kings of Assyria, and Nineveh was the royal city. We find Babylon subject to the king of Assyria, ch. 17:24. But this king of Babylon began to set up for himself, and by degrees things were so changed that Assyria became subject to the kings of Babylon. This king of Babylon sent to compliment Hezekiah, and ingratiate himself with him upon a double account. 1. Upon the account of religion. The Babylonians worshipped the sun, and, perceiving what honour their god had done to Hezekiah, in going back for his sake, they thought themselves obliged to do honour to him likewise. It is good having those our friends whom we perceive to be the favourites of heaven. 2. Upon the account of civil interest. If the king of Babylon was now mediating a revolt from the king of Assyria, it was policy to get Hezekiah into his interest, in answer to whose prayers, and for whose protection, heaven had given that fatal blow to the king of Assyria. He found himself obliged to Hezekiah, and his God, for the weakening of the Assyrian forces, and had reason to think he could not have a more powerful and valuable ally than one that had so good an interest in the upper world. He therefore made his court to him with all possible respect by ambassadors, letters, and a present.
II. The kind entertainment Hezekiah gave to these ambassadors, v. 13. It was his duty to be civil to them, and receive them with the respect due to ambassadors; but he exceeded, and was courteous to a fault. 1. He was too fond of them. He hearkened unto them. Though they were idolaters, yet he became intimate with them, was forward to come into a confederacy with the king their master, and granted them all they came for. He was more open and free than he should have been, and stood not so much upon his guard. What reason had he that was in covenant with God so eagerly to catch at an alliance with a heathen prince, or to value himself at all upon his respectful notice? What honour could this embassy add to one whom God had so highly favoured, that he should please himself so much with it? 2. He was too fond of showing them his palace, his treasures, and his magazines, that they might see, and might report to their master, what a great king he was, and how well worthy of the honour their master did him. It is not said that he showed them the temple, the book of the law, and the manner of his worship, that he might proselyte them to the true religion, which he had now a fair opportunity of doing; but in compliment to them, lest he should affront them, he waived that, and showed them the rich furniture of his closet, that house of his precious things, the wealth he had heaped up since the king of Assyria had emptied his coffers, his silver, and gold, and spices. All the valuable things he had he showed them, either himself or by his officers. And what harm was there in this? What is more commonly, and (as we think) more innocently, done, than to show strangers the riches and rarities of a country—to show our friends our houses and their furniture, our gardens, stables, and libraries? But if we do this in the pride of our hearts, as Hezekiah did, to gain applause from men, and not giving praise to God, it turns into sin to us, as it did to him.
III. The examination of Hezekiah concerning this matter, v. 14, 15. Isaiah, who had often been his comforter, is now his reprover. The blessed Spirit is both, Jn. 16:7, 8. Ministers must be both, as there is occasion. Isaiah spoke in God’s name, and therefore called him to account as one having authority: "Who are these? Whence come they? What is their business? What have they seen?" Hezekiah not only submitted to the examination (did not ask him, "Why should you concern yourself and question me about this affair?"), but made an ingenuous confession: There is nothing among my treasures that I have not shown them. Why then did he not bring them to Isaiah, and show him to them who was without doubt the best treasure he had in his dominions, and who by his prayers and prophecies had been instrumental in all those wonders which these ambassadors came to enquire into? I hope Hezekiah had the same value for Isaiah now that he had in his distress; but it would have become him to show it by bringing these ambassadors to him in the first place, which might have prevented the false step he took.
IV. The sentence passed upon him for his pride and vanity, and the too great relish he had of the things of the world, after that intimate acquaintance he had so lately been admitted into with divine things. The sentence is (v. 17, 18), 1. That the treasures he was so proud of should hereafter become a prey, and his family should be robbed of them all. It is just with God to take that from us which we make the matter of our pride and in which we put our confidence. 2. That the king of Babylon, with whom he was so fond of an alliance, should be the enemy that should make a prey of them. Not that it was for this sin that that judgment should be brought upon them: the sins of Manasseh, his idolatries and murders, were the cause of that calamity; but it is now foretold to Hezekiah, to convince him of the folly of his pride and of the value he had for the king of Babylon, and to make him ashamed of it. Hezekiah was fond of assisting the king of Babylon to rise, and to reduce the exorbitant power of the kings of Assyria; but he is told that the snake he is cherishing will ere long sting the bosom that cherishes it, and that his royal seed shall become the king of Babylon’s slave (which was fulfilled, Dan. 1:1, etc.), than which there could not be any thing more mortifying to Hezekiah to think of. Babylon will be the ruin of those that are fond of Babylon. Wise therefore and happy are those that come out from her, Rev. 18:4.
V. Hezekiah’s humble and patient submission to this sentence, v. 19. Observe how he argues himself into this submission. 1. He lays it down for a truth that "good is the word of the Lord, even this word, though a threatening; for every word of his is so. It is not only just, but good; for, as he does no wrong to any, so he means no hurt to good men. It is good; for he will bring good out of it, and do me good by the foresight of it." We should believe this concerning every providence, that it is good, is working for good. 2. He takes notice of that in this word which was good, that he should not live to see this evil, much less to share in it. He makes the best of the bad: "Is it not good? Yes, certainly it is, and better than I deserve." Note, (1.) True penitents, when they are under divine rebukes, call them not only just, but good; not only submit to the punishment of their iniquity, but accept of it. So Hezekiah did, and by this it appeared that he was indeed humbled for the pride of his heart. (2.) When at any time we are under dark dispensations, or have dark prospects, public or personal, we must take notice of what is for us as well as what is against us, that we may by thanksgiving honour God, and may in our patience possess our own souls. (3.) As to public affairs, it is good, and we are bound to think it so, if peace and truth be in our days. That is, [1.] Whatever else we want, it is good if we have peace and truth, if we have the true religion professed and protected, Bibles and ministers, and enjoy these in peace, not terrified with the alarms of war or persecution. [2.] Whatever trouble may come when we are gone, it is good if all be well in our days. Not that we should be unconcerned for posterity; it is a grief to foresee evils: but we should own that the deferring of judgments is a great favour in general, and to have them deferred so long as what we may die in peace is a particular favour to us, for charity begins at home. We know not how we shall bear the trial, and therefore have reason to think it well if we may but get safely to heaven before it comes.
Lastly, Here is the conclusion of Hezekiah’s life and story, v. 20, 21. In 2 Chr. ch. 29–32 much more is recorded of Hezekiah’s work of reformation than in this book of Kings; and it seems that in the civil chronicles, not now extant, there were many things recorded of his might and the good offices he did for Jerusalem, particularly his bringing water by pipes into the city. To have water in plenty, without striving for it and without being terrified with the noise of archers in the drawing of it, to have it at hand and convenient for us, is to be reckoned a great mercy; for the want of water would be a great calamity. But here this historian leaves him asleep with his fathers, and a son in his throne that proved very untoward; for parents cannot give grace to their children. Wicked Ahaz was the son of a godly father and the father of a godly son; holy Hezekiah was the son of a wicked father and the father of a wicked son. When the land was not reformed, as it should have been, by a good reign, it was plagued and ripened for ruin by a bad one; yet then tried again with a good one, that it might appear how loth God was to cut off his people.
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.
We have here the gracious copious answer which God gave to Hezekiah’s prayer. The message which he sent him by the same hand (v. 6, 7), one would think, was an answer sufficient to his prayer; but, that he might have strong consolation, he was encouraged by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, Heb. 6:18. In general, God assured him that his prayer was heard, his prayer against Sennacherib, v. 20. Note, The case of those that have the prayers of God’s people against them is miserable. For, if the oppressed cry to God against the oppressor, he will hear, Ex. 22:23. God hears and answers, hears with the saving strength of his right hand, Ps. 20:6.
This message bespeaks two things:—
I. Confusion and shame to Sennacherib and his forces. It is here foretold that he should be humbled and broken. The prophet elegantly directs his speech to him, as he does, Isa. 10:5. O Assyrian! the rod of my anger. Not that this message was sent to him, but what is here said to him he was made to know by the event. Providence spoke it to him with a witness; and perhaps his own heart was made to whisper this to him: for God has more ways than one of speaking to sinners in his wrath, so as to vex them in his sore displeasure, Ps. 2:5. Sennacherib is here represented,
1. As the scorn of Jerusalem, v. 21. He thought himself the terror of the daughter of Zion, that chaste and beautiful virgin, and that by his threats he could force her to submit to him: "But, being a virgin in her Father’s house and under his protection, she defies thee, despises thee, laughs thee to scorn. Thy impotent malice is ridiculous; he that sits in heaven laughs at thee, and therefore so do those that abide under his shadow." By this word God intended to silence the fears of Hezekiah and his people. Though to an eye of sense the enemy looked formidable, to an eye of faith he looked despicable.
2. As an enemy to God; and that was enough to make him miserable. Hezekiah pleaded this: "Lord, he has reproached thee," v. 16. "He has," saith God, "and I take it as against myself (v. 22): Whom hast thou reproached? Is it not the Holy One of Israel, whose honour is dear to him, and who has power to vindicate it, which the gods of the heathen have not?" Meno me impune lacesset—No one shall provoke me with impunity.
3. As a proud vainglorious fool, that spoke great swelling words of vanity, and boasted of a false gift, by his boasts, as well as by his threats, reproaching the Lord. For, (1.) He magnified his own achievements out of measure and quite above what really they were (v. 23, 24): Thou hast said so and so. This was not in the letter he wrote, but God let Hezekiah know that he not only saw what was written there, but heard what he said elsewhere, probably in the speeches he made to his councils or armies. Note, God takes notice of the boasts of proud men, and will call them to an account, that he may look upon them and abuse them, Job 40:11. What a mighty figure does Sennacherib think he makes! Driving his chariots to the tops of the highest mountains, forcing his way through woods and rivers, breaking through all difficulties, making himself master of all he had a mind to. Nothing could stand before him or be withheld from him; no hills too high for him to climb, no trees too strong for him to fell, no waters too deep for him to dry up; as if he had the power of a God, to speak and it is done. (2.) He took to himself the glory of doing these great things, whereas they were all the Lord’s doing, v. 25, 26. Sennacherib, in his letter, had appealed to what Hezekiah had heard (v. 11): Thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done; but, in answer to that, he is reminded of what God has done for Israel of old, drying up the Red Sea, leading them through the wilderness, planting them in Canaan. "What are all thy doings to these? And as for the desolations thou hast made in the earth, and particularly in Judah, thou art but the instrument in God’s hand, a mere tool: it is I that have brought it to pass. I gave thee thy power, gave thee thy success, and made thee what thou art, raised thee up to lay waste fenced cities and so to punish them for their wickedness, and therefore their inhabitants were of small power." What a foolish insolent thing was it for him to exalt himself above God, and against God, upon that which he had done by him and under him. Sennacherib’s boasts here are expounded in Isa. 10:13, 14, By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, etc.; and they are answered (v. 15), Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? It is surely absurd for the fly upon the wheel to say, What a dust do I make! or for the sword in the hand to say, What execution I do! If God be the principal agent in all that is done, boasting is for ever excluded.
4. As under the check and rebuke of that God whom he blasphemed. All his motions were, (1.) Under the divine cognizance (v. 27): "I have thy abode, and what thou dost secretly devise and design, thy going out and coming in, marches and counter-marches, and thy rage against me and my people, the tumult of thy passions, the tumult of thy preparations, the noise and bluster thou makest: I know it all." That was more than Hezekiah did, who wished for intelligence of the enemy’s motions; but what need was there for this when the eye of God was a constant spy upon him? 2 Chr. 16:9. (2.) Under the divine control (v. 28): "I will put my hook in thy nose, thou great Leviathan (Job 41:1, 2), my bridle in thy jaws, thou great Behemoth. I will restrain thee, manage thee, turn thee where I please, send thee home like a fool as thou camest, re infecta—disappointed of thy aim." Note, It is a great comfort to all the church’s friends that God has a hook in the nose and a bridle in the jaws of all her enemies, can make even their wrath to serve and praise him and then restrain the remainder of it. Here shall its proud waves be stayed.
II. Salvation and joy to Hezekiah and his people. This shall be a sign to them of God’s favour, and that he is reconciled to them, and his anger is turned away (Isa. 12:1), a wonder in their eyes (for so a sign sometimes signifies), a token for good, and an earnest of the further mercy God has in store for them, that a good issue shall be put to their present distress in every respect.
1. Provisions were scarce and dear; and what should they do for food? The fruits of the earth were devoured by the Assyrian army, Isa. 32:9, 10, etc. Why, they shall not only dwell in the land, but verily they shall be fed. If God save them, he will not starve them, nor let them die by famine, when they have escaped the sword: "Eat you this year that which groweth of itself, and you shall find enough of that. Did the Assyrians reap what you sowed? You shall reap what you did not sow." But the next year was the sabbatical year, when the land was to rest, and they must neither sow nor reap. What must they do that year? Why, Jehovah-jireh—The Lord will provide. God’s blessing shall save them seed and labour, and, that year too, the voluntary productions of the earth shall serve to maintain them, to remind them that the earth brought forth before there was a man to till it, Gen. 1:11. And then, the third year, their husbandry should return into its former channel, and they should sow and reap as they used to do. 2. The country was laid waste, families were broken up and scattered, and all was in confusion; how should it be otherwise when it was over-run by such an army? As to this, it is promised that the remnant that has escaped of the house of Judah (that is, of the country people) shall yet again be planted in their own habitations, upon their own estates, shall take root there, shall increase and grow rich, v. 30. See how their prosperity is described: it is taking root downwards, and bearing fruit upwards, being well fixed and well provided for themselves, and then doing good to others. Such is the prosperity of the soul: it is taking root downwards by faith in Christ, and then being fruitful in fruits of righteousness. 3. The city was shut up, none went out or came in; but now the remnant in Jerusalem and Zion shall go forth freely, and there shall be none to hinder them, or make them afraid, v. 31. Great destruction had been made both in city and country, bit in both there was a remnant that escaped, which typified the saved remnant of Israelites indeed (as appears by comparing Isa. 10:22, 23, which speaks of this very event, with Rom. 9:27, 28), and they shall go forth into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 4. The Assyrians were advancing towards Jerusalem, and would in a little time besiege it in form, and it was in great danger of falling into their hands. But it is here promised that the siege they feared should be prevented,—that, though the enemy had now (as it should seem) encamped before the city, yet they should never come into the city, no, nor so much as shoot an arrow into it (v. 32, 33),—that he should be forced to retire with shame, and a thousand times to repent his undertaking. God himself undertakes to defend the city (v. 34), and that person, that place, cannot but be safe, the protection of which he undertakes. 5. The honour and truth of God are engaged for the doing of all this. These are great things, but how will they be effected? Why, the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this, v. 31. He is Lord of hosts, has all creatures at his beck, therefore he is able to do it; he is jealous for Jerusalem with great jealousy (Zec. 1:14); having espoused her a chaste virgin to himself, he will not suffer he to be abused, v. 21. "You have reason to think yourselves unworthy that such great things should be done for you; but God’s own zeal will do it." His zeal, (1.) For his own honour (v. 34): "I will do it for my own sake, to make myself an everlasting name." God’s reasons of mercy are fetched from within himself. (2.) For his own truth: "I will do it for my servant David’s sake; not for the sake of his merit, but the promise made to him and the covenant made with him, those sure mercies of David." Thus all the deliverances of the church are wrought for the sake of Christ, the Son of David.
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 fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.
Sometimes it was long ere prophecies were accomplished and promises performed; but here the word was no sooner spoken than the work was done.
I. The army of Assyria was entirely routed. That night which immediately followed the sending of this message to Hezekiah, when the enemy had just set down before the city and were preparing (as we now say) to open the trenches, that night was the main body of their army slain upon the spot by an angel, v. 35. Hezekiah had not force sufficient to sally out upon them and attack their camp, nor would God do it by sword or bow; but he sent his angel, a destroying angel, in the dead of the night, to make an assault upon them, which their sentinels, though ever so wakeful, could neither discover nor resist. It was not by the sword of a mighty man or of a mean man, that is, not of any man at all, but of an angel, that the Assyrians army was to fall (Isa. 31:8), such an angel as slew the first-born of Egypt. Josephus says it was done by a pestilential disease, which was instant death to them. The number slain was very great, 185,000 men, and Rabshakeh, it is likely, among the rest. When the besieged arose, early in the morning, behold they were all dead corpses, scarcely a living man among them. Some think the 76th Psalm was penned on this occasion, where we read that the stout-hearted were spoiled and slept their sleep, their last, their long sleep, v. 5. See how great, in power and might, the holy angels are, when one angel, in one night, could make so great a slaughter. See how weak the mightiest of men are before almighty God: who ever hardened himself against him and prospered? The pride and blasphemy of the king are punished by the destruction of his army. All these lives are sacrificed to God’s glory and Zion’s safety. The prophet shows that therefore God suffered this vast rendezvous to be made, that they might be gathered as sheaves into the floor, Mic. 4:12, 13.
II. The king of Assyria was hereby put into the utmost confusion. Ashamed to see himself, after all his proud boasts, thus defeated and disabled to pursue his conquests and secure what he had (for this, we may suppose, was the flower of his army), and continually afraid of falling under the like stroke himself, He departed, and went, and returned; the manner of the expression intimates the great disorder and distraction of mind he was in, v. 36. And it was not long before God cut him off too, by the hands of two of his own sons, v. 37. 1. Those that did it were very wicked, to kill their own father (whom they were bound to protect) and in the act of his devotion; monstrous villany! But, 2. God was righteous in it. Justly are the sons suffered to rebel against their father that begat them, when he was in rebellion against the God that made him. Those whose children are undutiful to them ought to consider whether they have not been so to their Father in heaven. The God of Israel had done enough to convince him that he was the only true God, whom therefore he ought to worship; yet he persists in his idolatry, and seeks to his false god for protection against a God of irresistible power. Justly is his blood mingled with his sacrifices, since he will not be convinced by such a plain and dear-bought demonstration of his folly in worshipping idols. His sons that murdered him were suffered to escape, and no pursuit was made after them, his subjects perhaps being weary of the government of so proud a man and thinking themselves well rid of him. And his sons would be looked upon as the more excusable in what they had done if it be true (as bishop Patrick suggested) that he was now vowing to sacrifice them to his god, so that it was for their own preservation that they sacrificed him. His successor was another son, Esarhaddon, who (as it should seem) did not aim, like his father, to enlarge his conquests, but rather to improve them; for he it was that first sent colonies of Assyrians to inhabit the country of Samaria, though it is mentioned before (ch. 17:24), as appears, Ezra 4:2, where the Samaritans say it was Esarhaddon that brought them thither.
In this chapter we have, I. Hezekiah’s sickness, and his recovery from that, in answer to prayer, in performance of a promise, in the use of means, and confirmed with a sign (v. 1–11). II. Hezekiah’s sin, and his recovery from that (v. 12–19). In both of these, Isaiah was God’s messenger to him. III. The conclusion of his reign (v. 20, 21).