At that time Merodach-baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent letters and a gift to Hezekiah, for he had heard about Hezekiah's illness.
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
Berodach-baladan... sent letters and a present unto Hezekiah.
I. In order to bring out what Hezekiah's offence was, it will be best for me to begin by describing his CIRCUMSTANCES AND STATE AT THE TIME OF THE TRANSACTION.
1. We may remark that he had received very singular favours. Sennacherib had invaded the land with a host reckoned to be invincible, and probably it was invincible by all the known means of warfare of that age: but when he came near Jerusalem he was not able even so much as to cast a mound against it. This was a memorable deliverance from a foe so gigantic as to be compared to Leviathan, into whose jaw the Lord thrust a hook, and led him back to the place from whence he came. Beside this, the king had been restored from a sickness pronounced to be mortal.
2. In addition to all this the Lord gave Hezekiah an unusual run of prosperity. Hezekiah was in all respects a prosperous monarch; the man whom the King of kings delighted to honour. This great prosperity was a great temptation, far more difficult to endure than Rabshakeh's letter, and all the ills which invasion brought upon the land. Many serpents lurk among the flowers of prosperity; high places are dangerous places; it is not easy to carry a full cup with a steady hand.
3. We must not forget that Hezekiah, at this time, had become singularly conspicuous. To be favoured as he was might have been endurable, if he could have lived in retirement; but he was set as upon a pinnacle, since all the nations round about must have heard of the destruction of Sennacherib's host.
4. Hezekiah had remarkable opportunities for usefulness. How much he might have done to honour the God of Israel! He ought to have made the courts of princes ring with the name of Jehovah. He should have placed himself in the rear of the picture, and have filled the earth with his testimony to the glory of his God. How well he might have exclaimed, in the language of triumphant exultation, "Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah?" Which of these delivered the nations from Sennacherib? Which of these could raise up their, votaries from mortal sickness? Which of these could say to the sun's shadow, Go thou back upon the dial of Ahaz? But Jehovah ruleth over all; He is King in heaven above, and in the earth beneath.
5. He, above all men, was under obligation to have loved his God and to have devoted himself wholly to Him. All life is sacred to the Giver of Life, and should be devoted to Him; but life supernaturally prolonged should have been in an especial manner dedicated to God. We must not too hastily condemn Hezekiah. It is for God to condemn but not for us, for I am persuaded had we been in Hezekiah's place we should have done the same. Observe now wherein his loftiness would find food. Here he might have said to himself, "Within my dominions the greatest of armies has been destroyed and the mightiest of princes has been humbled. He whose name was a sound of terror in every land came into my country, and he melted away like the snow before the sun. Great art thou, O Hezekiah! great is thy land, for thy land has devoured Sennacherib, and put an end to the havoc of the destroyer." Remember also that he had this to try him above everything else — he had the certainty of living fifteen years. I have already given you a hint of the danger of such certainty. Mortals as we are, in danger of dying at any moment, yet we grow secure; but give us fifteen years certain, and I know not that heaven above would be high enough for our heads, or whether the whole world would be large enough to contain the swellings of our pride. We should be sure to grow vaingloriously great if the check of constant mortality were removed. Then when Hezekiah surveyed his stores, he would see much to puff him up, for worldly possessions are to men what gas is to a balloon. Ah, those who know anything about possessions, about broad acres, gold and silver, and works of art, and precious things, and so on, know what a tendency there is to puff up the owners thereof,
6. To complete our description of the circumstances, it appears that at this time God left His servant in a measure, to try him. "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."
II. We must now turn to consider THE OCCURRENCE. ITSELF AND THE SIN WHICH AROSE OUT OF IT. Babylon, a province of Assyria, had thrown off the Assyrian yoke, and Berodach-baladan was naturally anxious to obtain allies in order that his little kingdom might grow strong enough to preserve itself from the Assyrians. He had seen with great pleasure that the Assyrian army had been destroyed in Hezekiah's country, and very probably, not recognising the miracle, he thought that Hezekiah had defeated the host, and so he sent his ambassadors with a view to make a treaty of alliance with so great a prince. The ambassadors arrived. Now in this case the duty of Hezekiah was very clear. He ought to have received the ambassadors with due courtesy as becomes their office, and he should have regarded their coming as an opportunity to bear testimony to the idolatrous Babylonians of the true God of Israel. He should have explained to them that the wonders which had been wrought were wrought by the only living and true God, and then he might have said, in answer to Isaiah's question, "What have they seen in thine house?" "I have told them of the mighty acts of Jehovah, I have published abroad His great fame, and I have sent them back to their country to tell abroad that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth." He should have been very cautious with these men. They were idolaters, and therefore not fit company for the worshippers of Jehovah. We may perceive wherein his sin was found. I think it lay in five particulars.
1. It is evident from the passage in Isaiah 39, that he was greatly delighted with their company. It is said, "Hezekiah was glad of them." In this chapter it is said, "He hearkened unto them." He was very pleased to see them. It is an ill sign when a Christian takes great solace in the company of the worldling, more especially when that worldling is profane. The Babylonians were wicked idolaters, it was ill for the lover of Jehovah to press them to his bosom. He should have felt towards them, "As for your gods, I loathe them, for I worship the God that made heaven and earth, neither can I receive you into close familiarity, because you are no lovers of the Lord my God." Courtesy is due from the Christian to all men, but the unholy intimacy which allows a believer to receive an unregenerate person as his bosom friend is a sin.
2. The next sin which he committed was that he evidently leaned to their alliance. Now Hezekiah was the king of a little territory, almost as insignificant as a German principality, and his true strength would have been to have leaned upon his God, and to have made no show whatever of military power. It was by God that he had been defended, why should not he still rest upon the invisible Jehovah? But no, he thinks, "If I could associate with the Babylonians, they are a rising people, it will be well for me." Mark this — God takes it hard of His people when they leave His arm for an arm of flesh.
3. His next sin was, his unholy silence concerning his God. He does not appear to have said a word to them about Jehovah. Would it have been polite? Etiquette, nowadays, often demands of a Christian that he should not intrude his religion upon company. Out on such etiquette! But nowadays, if one cares about fashion, one must be gagged in all companies. You must not intrude, nor be positive in your opinions, if you would have the good word of fashionable people. Meanwhile, mark that Hezekiah sadly made up for his silence about his God by loudly boasting about himself. If he had little to say of his God, he had much to say about his spices, his armour, and his gold and silver; and I dare say he took them to see the conduit and the pool which he had made, and the various other wonders of engineering which he had carried out. Ah, etiquette lets us talk of men, but about our God we must be silent.
4. Surely also his sin lay in his putting himself on a level with these Babylonians. Suppose he had gone to see them, what would they have shown him? Why, they would have shown him their spicery, their armoury, their gold and their silver. Now, they come to see him, and he is a worshipper of the invisible God, and he glories in just the same treasures as those in which they also trusted. May you and I shun this sin of Hezekiah, and not try to match ourselves with sinners as to the joys of this present life. If they say, "Here are my treasures," let us tell them about the "city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God," and say, "Our treasure is above." Let us imitate the noble Roman lady who, when her friend showed her all her trinkets, waited till her two fair boys came home from school, and then pointed to them, and said, "These are my jewels." Do you, when you hear the worldling vaunting his happiness, drop in a gentle word, and say, "I too have my earthly comforts, for which I am grateful; but my best delights are not here; they spring neither from corn, nor wine, nor oil; nor could spices, and gold, and music render them to be. My heart is in heaven, my heart is not here; 1 have set my soul upon things above; Jesus is my joy, and His love is my delight. You tell me of what you love; permit me to tell you of what I love." The Lord takes it hard on the part of His people if they are ashamed of the blessings which He gives them, and if they never boast in the Cross of Christ they have good cause to be ashamed of themselves.
III. The third matter, THE PUNISHMENT AND THE PARDON. We may generally find a man's sin written in his punishment. We sow the thorns, and then God flogs us with them. Our sins are the mothers of our sorrows. Judgments being therefore threatened, Hezekiah and the people humbled themselves. If you and I would escape chastisement, we must humble ourselves. Yet although God removed the punishment as far as Hezekiah was concerned, He did not remove the consequences. You see the consequences of showing the Babylonians the treasures were just these: they would be sure to go back and tell their king, "That little prince has a vast store of spice and armour, and all sorts of precious things; we must before long pick a quarrel with him, and despoil his rich hive. We must bring these choice treasures to Babylon; they will repay us for the toils of war." That was the certain result of Hezekiah's folly; and though God did forget the sin and promise to remove the punishment from Hezekiah, yet He did not avert the consequences from another generation. So with us. Many a sin which the believer has committed God has pardoned, but the consequences come all the same. You may have the guilt forgiven, but you cannot undo the sin; there it remains, and our children and our children's children may have to smart for sins which God has forgiven to us. A spendthrift may be forgiven for his profligacy, but he sends a stream of poverty down to. the next generation.
IV. GATHER UP THE LESSONS OF THIS NARRATIVE. The lessons which come uppermost are just these.
1. See, then, what is in every man's heart. O God, teach us to know our hearts, and help us, while we remember how black they are, never to be proud.
2. In the next place, tremble at anything that is likely to bring out this evil of your heart. Riches and worldly company are the two cankers that eat out the very life of godliness. Christian, be aware of them!
3. Should we not be taught by this narrative to cry out every day against vainglory! Ah, it is not those standing in prominent spheres who are alone in danger of it, but all others.
4. And then supposing that you should have given way to it, see the sorrow which it will bring you; and if you would escape that sorrow, imitate Hezekiah, and humble yourself.
5. Lastly, let us cry to God never to leave us. "Lord, take not Thy Holy Spirit from us! withdraw not from us Thy restraining grace!"
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. See how flattered vanity betrayed a man into foolish openness and ostentation. Hezekiah showed the ambassadors "all his treasures." He had little to show immediately after the tribute levied by the Assyrian king had been paid, but somehow he had great treasures to exhibit to the Babylonians. His regalia, his armoury, his magazine, his stables, his treasures of gold in safe keeping, his spicery and unguents for luxury, everything he laid open. Had he had a great army or fleet he would have had a grand review. He only showed his treasures. Eyes feasted. Minds meditated. Greed was fostered. Folly was sneered at. Glances full of meaning must have passed from prince to prince. Interpret those glances. They mean: How well these things would look in Babylon; how they would help to swell the revenues of our master; how they would pay the cost of some war. Into what evil will pride betray us! It is a spring-board at one time and a stumbling-mock at another, we are a subject to its assaults. Our possessions, our powers, our position, our acquirements, our friends, our nationality, may all lead to pride. We must be watchful. We must not be ostentatious. At the same time, we are not to withhold showing friends that which may interest them, or which may help to cultivate in them a love of the beautiful, or gratify an exquisite taste. If we have pictures or albums, coins and curios, we may show them, but to display and point out evidences of wealth is as despicable as it is foolish. In much ostentation there is a hidden contempt for those who cannot succeed in gaining that which we have acquired. We worship our own skill and power. We forget that "time and chance happeneth to all." Pride makes us idolaters of self on the one hand, and despisers of our fellows on the other. The proudest of the proud are often those who have least to be proud of, but who are the "accident of an accident."
2. Further, we see that pride led Hezekiah to miss a grand opportunity of glorifying God. Here were heathens in his presence. He might have spoken of what wonders God had wrought for him: of the deliverance effected, of the health restored. He might have led them up to the temple to see the purity of the Divine worship. He might have told them of the laws of Moses and of their beneficent tendencies; of the traditions, history, and sacred proverbs his scribes had copied out. Nothing of the kind did he. He let slip a chance that came but seldom, and thus neglected to glorify his God. Alas! many have imitated him.
3. Searching questions as to proud action were soon put. The prophet comes. With what authority he speaks. How faithfully he probes the king's conscience. The royal sinner winces. He is not pleased at the prophet's interference in state affairs. What could Isaiah know of state and diplomatic reasons? Those who carry on all sorts of subtle arrangements and negotiations are not always pleased to have to "place the papers on the table," or to submit the results and the processes to the critical eye of the public. Isaiah was one of the public. He represented the public and God. He questioned boldly the king. He has no fear to check him, and he has no favour to ask. Noble Isaiah! Welt is it for the king that he has thee to speak boldly to him, to lead him back to God and right principles when most in danger of wandering therefrom! Thou wert a greater treasure than all he had exhibited to his Babylonish visitors, hut he had not brought thee forth to view.
4. Retribution was threatened. A Nemesis must follow pride. We are sure to have vexation from that through which the heart has been unduly lifted up. The very nation with which Judah, in the person of its king, had been dallying would be the cause of its overthrow. Babylon must always ruin those who bask in the delights of Babylon. The love of the world must bring bitter regret to those who neglect God. Years go over. Another king is reigning. There is terror on the walls, in the streets, and houses of Jerusalem. The tents of an enemy were whitening the hills around. Babylonian battering-rams were drawing near to the walls. Fires were being made at the gates to destroy them. Hosts like locusts were swarming all over the surrounding country. The land could not bear them. Famine stared the people in the face. They looked around for help. None came. Egypt was a "broken reed piercing the hand." Weeks dragged slowly by, and the sufferings of the besieged were daily intensified. At length a breach was made in the wall. Armed men innumerable rushed through. The people were butchered. The king was taken. His sons were seized and slain before his eyes. Then his own organs of vision were wantonly put out. The temple was desecrated and the palaces destroyed. Sacred vessels were piled in heaps and then fastened on camels and horses for transit to Babylon. The weapons in which he had trusted were broken up, and the objects of his pride were made the sign of his humiliation. The prophet foretold all this. Hezekiah shuddered, but was compelled to confess the justice of his retribution. He could only say, "Good is the word which the Lord hath spoken." God's justice must be praised as well as His mercy. Hezekiah did not imagine retribution would come so surely and swiftly. Individuals make up the nation, therefore let us watch against pride — the pride that drove our first parents from Paradise, that drove a Pharaoh to be engulfed by the waves of the sea, that drove a Saul from his kingdom.
(L. A. Banks.)
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