Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I have heard your prayer concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria.
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. THAT PRAYER IS THE BELIEVER'S PRIVILEGE. Viewing the children of God as participating in the troubles of life in common with others, it is indeed a most important privilege. Prayer has been called "the outlet of trouble, and the inlet of comfort;" it serves as the open window to a heated room, to remove what is oppressive, and admit what is refreshing. Prayer is a duty — not a mere duty, however, but a precious privilege; indeed, all duties are privileges and blessings if rightly understood; God never assigns or commands anything which is not for the good of those on whom it is enjoined. Prayer is the choicest privilege of earth; it is the intercourse with heaven — the speaking to God as to a Father and a Friend; it is not only conformity to Christ's Spirit, but the joining in very act with Son and Spirit, at the very time and for the very object in which they are engaged. Christ not only prayed on earth, but is gone to pray in heaven, and has sent His Spirit to take His place below. Oh! let us look at Son and Spirit pleading; would they ever have assumed the office, but that they saw the helpless state of man, and volunteered to plead in and for him? They pray for man; it is their pleasure; and if man be permitted to conjoin with them in prayer, is it not a blessed privilege that he may so do?
i.e., the same things happen day after day, the same needs come, and therefore the same prayers are needed, yet occasional occurrences intervene, requiring special attention and immediate thought and help. Then we must seek instant succour. To delay may be fatal; to wait for our morning or evening prayer must be to wait till the special danger has gone by, or has fallen upon us. It becomes us, the moment the peril is recognised, to fall on our knees and call in the intervention of God Almighty. We have in the case of Hezekiah an admirable instance of the power and efficacy of prayer. But supposing the Assyrians had not been destroyed, but had carried on the siege and triumphed, would Hezekiah's prayer have received no answer? God graciously sent a complete answer for the encouragement of His people, and for the discomfiture of the vaunting Assyrians; but even if so direct an answer had not been given, the prayer of faith would not have been in vain. All that God promises is to answer — not to answer exactly as we wish. Suppose a danger imminent: sickness nigh unto death; a shipwreck; a fire; an invasion of our country; you would fain extricate yourself from the peril. There may be plenty to volunteer advice: first one and then another specific is suggested; various lines of policy, all conflicting, all perhaps hopeless to all appearance. Yet there is another resource: take your anxieties and spread them before the Lord, take them especially into the house of the Lord. Another form of perplexity arises from mental or spiritual difficulties: you fail to see the truth of some Christian doctrine; or you cannot discover what truth is; opposite opinions present themselves, and there is a temptation to cast off all belief because you cannot come to a decision in your own mind as to which is the true doctrine; some minds, for instance, have a difficulty in accepting the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, because it seems to be inconsistent with common sense that three should in any view be one — remember it is only above, not contrary to, reason. Take the matter quietly before your God, kneel before Him in secrecy, and in faith ask His guidance, and then spread out the conflicting passages before the light of His mercy-seat, and be assured that somehow you will find light to direct you, for "the meek shall He guide in judgment."
And Hezekiah prayed unto the Lord.
1. The first thing for us to look at is this, — A king in trouble. Troubled soul, do not think within yourself that your case is peculiar, — all men have their troubles. Do not go envying any man, for no position will bring escape from trouble. But further, here is a good man in trouble. Turn to the beginning of the previous chapter and read the record of this man. The worst thing that could befall us in this world would be for us to have in anything our own way.
3. Again, here was a very great trouble. Net for himself was it that Hezekiah thought only or even mostly, though this was quite enough to think about. A crown and throne and all the proud position of king is quite enough to lose at one blow. But that was swallowed up in his concern about his people and the perils that beset them.
4. And it was a trouble for which there seemed to be no help. Samaria had fallen, and they looked in vain towards the north.
(M. G. Pearse.)
(G. F. Prescott, M. A.)
II. LET US CONSIDER HEZEKIAH'S CONDUCT AND PRAYER AS A TEST OF THE REAL STATE OF THE HEART. We are told, in verse 1, what was his great resource. Prayer was his habit; not the mere exclamation, nor sudden feeling when danger threatened, which men have by instinct, no! we are told "Hezekiah trusted in the Lord," "he clave to the Lord"; such expressions imply the habit of prayer; when trouble came he had not to commence an acquaintance with God.
III. Let us consider Hezekiah's prayer AS AN EXAMPLE OF THE MANNER OF PRAYER. But let us take Hezekiah as a model for our imitation. How did he particularise? "he spreads the letter before the Lord"; he takes each part, and reasons on it; and if we compare the particulars of the letter with what is specified in the prayer, we shall see the meaning of his spreading the letter before the Lord. His was not a general prayer for deliverance, but a specifying of particulars; thus had he abundant matter for his petitions, thus by opening all his case, he disburdened his own heart, thus he put God in remembrance, and involved His glory with His people's safety. Such should be the manner of prayer, then there will not be wandering or coldness.
(B. Jacob, A. M.)
II. In the second place, my text affords us A SPECIMEN OF WISE DEMEANOUR IN THE PEOPLE OF GOD, WHEN THEY ARE ASSAILED BY PERSECUTIONS OR THREATENINGS FROM THE WORLD. No business whatever will detain us from the house and ordinances of God, if we have the fear and love of God in our hearts; because we need His blessing in all our transactions. And if at all other times, then especially we need it in seasons of affliction.
III. In the third place, A SPECIMEN OF SIMPLE FAITH IS ALSO HERE PRESENTED; to which the spiritually-minded among you will do well to take heed, as to that plan whereby we may most effectually remove our anxious cares off our own shoulders, and honour that word of grace and truth, given to every adopted child of God: "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee" (Psalm 55:22). That phraseology is very remarkable, in the superabundance of the promise above the matter involved in the exhortation — "Cast thy burden upon the Lord"; the answer to that would be — "And He shall sustain it, He will bear it for thee"; but the answer is more — "He shall sustain thee," thee and thy burden too.
1. Simplicity of faith is shown in the act under contemplation. It is left on record for the instruction of those who in after ages would glorify God in a troublesome world.
2. Faith suggests the efficacy of prayer. The Lord's people are thereby enabled to judge Him faithful, "who hath promised."
3. Finally, this faith may be exercised, and prayer presented, and that with good success, in the most apparently perilous circumstances.
(W. Borrows, M. A.)
Homiletic Quarterly.Prayers have their histories. Their ancestry is trouble, struggle with circumstances, and helplessness. They mark epochs in our lives, They are born in those hours which leave an indelible impression upon us. The sublimest strains which men have uttered have been towards God in moments of agony,
I. HEZEKIAH PRAYED TO JEHOVAH AS THE GOD OF HIS NATION. "O Lord God of Israel."
1. The nation bore the name of one of its progenitors that "as a prince had prevailed with God." Names and events around which cluster Divine deliverances may encourage us in prayer. Past manifestations of God's power may enlarge our faith. What God has been to our forefathers, our churches, our nations in times of trouble, He will be to us amid the perils of our day. History is a handmaid in the service of Faith.
2. His nation was Jehovah's peculiar dwelling-place — "which dwellest between the cherubims." The Skekinah, the holy light, as a symbol of the Divine presence, ever shone forth from between those weird and colossal figures which Solomon had carved and placed on either side of the mercy-seat. God will protect where He dwells. While He remains, there is perfect safety. When He departs, there is ruin.(1) God dwelling in a nation saves it. God now manifests Himself, not by a material brightness, but by righteousness, purity, and truth.(2) God dwelling in a man saves him. Every Christian is a temple of God. The true cherubim and Shekinah are in the soul.(3) God dwelling in a Church saves it. No enemies can overthrow a Church that has the Divine glory shining in the midst of it.(4) We can appeal to the manifestations of the Divine presence to increase our confidence in God in times of danger.
II. HEZEKIAH RECOGNISES, IN HIS PRAYER, THE SOLE SUPREMACY OF JEHOVAH. "Thou art the God," etc.; "and have cast their gods into the fire," etc. Each nation had its gods. Polytheistic ideas and customs prevailed in the nations surrounding Jordan. The gods were often destroyed when the nations fell which they were supposed to protect. The Jews alone asserted the existence of one supreme God.
1. Hezekiah asserted that Jehovah was the only true God. Polytheism was a foolish delusion. It probably arose from men's innate propensity to materialise spiritual things, from the worship of natural objects as the manifestation of the Divine power, from the sinful and insatiate imagination of men's hearts, from the deification of departed heroes, or from the attempt to give visible shape to applauded virtues. But there can be but one infinite and eternal God.
2. That He exercised supreme control over all the kingdoms of the earth. He was not only the God of Israel, but of all nations.
III. HE APPEALED TO JEHOVAH AS THE MAKER OF "HEAVEN AND EARTH." Heaven and earth to the Jewish mind included all things. In this sublime idea of God is involved —
1. That He is eternal. He existed before all things; delighting in the glory of His own nature before the worlds were made; no material form nor spiritual existence sharing that eternity with Him.
2. That He is separate from His works. The universe is not He, as the ancient pantheists taught, and as some teach now. He is immanent in all His creations, but independent of them. The maker is not His work. God transcends all beings and worlds.
3. That He is omnipotent. He who made the universe must be Almighty. Its greatness is inconceivable, and the power that produced it must be infinite.
4. That He has an absolute right to control an things. The maker has indefeasible rights in His productions.
5. That He has all things under His direct control. As He has created all forces, an laws, an agencies, all worlds, all angels, all men, He has them under His immediate direction, and can turn them "whithersoever He will." This conception of God afforded solid ground for Hezekiah's faith.
IV. HEZEKIAH PRAYED WITH GREAT EARNESTNESS. Earnestness is needed, not to lead God to observe our condition, or to create a disposition in Him to help us, but —
1. That the strength of our desires may be revealed.
2. That we may be raised from the low condition of formal devotion.
3. That we may have all the spiritual culture which the outcries of real need may impart.
4. That we may be prepared to receive Divine deliverances thankfully. Hezekiah was stirred with the most powerful emotions as he prayed. His trouble heated his soul as a fire.
V. HEZEKIAH RECOGNISED THE GREATNESS OF THE DELIVERANCE WHICH HE SOUGHT. "Of a truth, Lord," etc. To recognise the greatness of the deliverance we need will —
1. Deepen our sense of helplessness in ourselves
2. Stimulate the exercise of great faith.
3. Prepare us for the manifestation of God's great delivering hand.
VI. HEZEKIAH ASSOCIATED THE GLORY OF JEHOVAH WITH THE DELIVERANCE WHICH HE SOUGHT. The reproaches which had been cast upon him had been cast upon God. But it was God's delivering arm put forth in answer to Hezekiah's faith and prayer —(1) that His people might learn to put their trust in Him, and(2) that all the earth might know that none could defy His power and prosper.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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