Isa. 36-39 form the next portion, the historical episode which severs the earlier half of the prophecy from its latter half. They are of importance not only for the weighty facts they present (for this is sufficiently done and in a twofold point of view in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles), but for their connection with the great sections of the Book of Isaiah. No doubt the incidents had their value, and so also the record of them, as the most conspicuous seal which could then be affixed on the prophet’s character; for the danger was extreme, the distress of the people intense, the antecedents of the king in opposition to the Assyrian by no means reassuring, the confidence of the enemy boundless. Yet was the word of Isaiah distinct, and soon most punctually verified.
But there are deeper grounds for the introduction of this historical matter into the midst of the prophecy. It was of moment that the believer should have the inspired and therefore sure means of discriminating between the part which was then accomplished and the part which yet awaits its fulfilment. The believer readily sees that the Shalmanesers and the Sennacheribs of the past have not exhausted the terms and scope of the prophecy; we can understand that enough has been done to form an adequate type, an historical basis, for that which is to come, and to make good every word that proceeds from Jehovah. Any mind can judge that the overthrow of the Assyrian — as the precursor of Babylon’s supremacy, of the captivity of Judah, and of the long times of the Gentiles — widely differs from the final judgement of the final foe, when Babylon in its last phase is itself destroyed, and the times of the Gentiles close in the glory of Jerusalem and Israel under the true David, the Beloved, their King, and the new covenant in the pleasant land.
No king since the days of David had shown such trust in Jehovah as Hezekiah. But his faith was much tried. With alacrity of heart he had made Jehovah his object from the day he ascended the throne. “He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of Jehovah and repaired them” (2 Chr. 29:3). He inspired the Levites and priests with somewhat of his own desire to renounce long indifference for loyalty to Jehovah. “Now they began on the first [day] of the first month to sanctify, and on the eighth day of the month came they to the porch of Jehovah: so they sanctified the house of Jehovah in eight days, and on the sixteenth day of the first month they made an end.” The vessels which were cast away in king Ahaz’s reign were once more prepared. “The king rose early and gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of Jehovah.” Atonement was made for all Israel; “for the king commanded that the burnt-offering and the sin-offering [should be made] for all Israel.” What governed all was “the commandment of Jehovah by His prophets.” He was the first king, since the rent of Ephraim under Rehoboam, whose heart sought that all Israel should come to the house of Jehovah at Jerusalem to keep the Passover to Jehovah, the God of Israel. Godly predecessors felt it too little if they thought of it, they certainly did nothing toward it ungodly predecessors would have desired nothing less, however much they would have seen all Israel re-united under their own sceptre. Hezekiah clave to Jehovah and sought for all Israel the same blessing. Though his overtures were laughed to scorn and mocked by most, “divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. Also in Judah the hand of God was to give them one heart to do the commandment of the king and of the princes, by the word of Jehovah.” The old altars to their false gods, at any rate unhallowed and unauthorised altars, were taken away and cast into the brook Kidron, the images were broken, the Asherahs were cut down, the high places disappeared. The due honour of the house and servants and service of Jehovah was provided for as written in His law. “And in every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God, and in the law and in the commandments, to seek his God, he ‘did it with all his heart, and prospered. “
“After these things and their faithfulness, Sennacherib king of Assyria entered into Judah, and encamped against the fortified cities, and thought to break into them” (2 Chr. 32:1). Was it not strange? A great work had been wrought in restoring the defaced lineaments of the worship of the true God throughout Judah: yet this was no sooner done, than the enemy came to swallow them up! Those who judged not by scripture but by providence would at once be stumbled: was it not plain that Hezekiah had done wrong in rejecting the traditions of his fathers? Was not, God now chastening him and them for his rash reformation? Had he not lifted up his sacrilegious hand to destroy the brazen serpent that Moses made, treating with contempt as a piece of brass the venerable sign of divine grace to their perishing fathers in the desert, to which the children of Israel had till his days burned incense? Was the Assyrian a judgement?
Moreover the pious king did what he could to fortify himself, sent the lowliest message to the proud Assyrian, gave him all the silver in Jehovah’s house, and stripped off for him the gold from its doors and pillars; but in vain. There was little of the simplicity, strength, or wisdom of faith in all this: no wonder that the blessing of God was not with him there, and that the enemy was emboldened to ask all. Rabshakeh is sent from Lachish to insult king Hezekiah, to blaspheme the God of Israel, and seduce the people to surrender at discretion to his master. Along with insolent, deceitful, and profane reproach of all kinds like this, truth is mingled; for there were those (not Hezekiah) who did look to Egypt for help. But the aim of all was to reduce the Jews to despair, and to accomplish the designs of Assyria. Hence the very piety of the king, his zeal for Jehovah in throwing down the altars of false gods, is cunningly perverted into a charge of robbing Jehovah of His honour, from Whom (he pretended) his master had received his charge to come up against Hezekiah. Thus the enemy knows how to give a religious gloss to his own wicked devices as easily as he can blacken the most faithful of God’s servants. What a mercy to have the unerring standard of His word to test and be tested by!
Thus the account stands in the prophecy. “And it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah [that] Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah, and took them. And the king of Assyria sent Rab-shakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem. to king Hezekiah with a strong force. And he stood by the aqueduct of the upper pool, on the highway of the fuller’s field” (vv. 1, 2). There it was where Ahaz despised the gracious word of Jehovah through Isaiah some thirty years before; there now the Assyrian rudely insulted Jehovah and the king.
“Then came forth to him Eliakim the son of Hilkijah, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe (or, secretary), and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder. And Rab-shakeh said to them, Say now to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence [is] this wherein thou trustest? I say [sayest thou], Counsel and strength for the war [are but] a word of the lips. Now on whom trustest thou that hast revolted against me? Behold, thou trustest on the staff of that broken reed, on Egypt, on which if a man lean it will go into his hand and pierce it: so [is] Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to all that trust in him. But if thou say to me, We trust in Jehovah our God: [is it] not he whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar? And now, I pray thee, engage with my master, the king of Assyria, and I will give thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them. How then wilt thou turn away the face of one captain of the least of my master’s servants? And thou trustest in Egypt for horses and chariots! And am I now come up without Jehovah against this land to destroy it? Jehovah said to me, Go up against this land and destroy it.
“And Eliakim and Shebna and Joah said to Rab-shakeh, Speak, we pray thee, to thy servants in Syriac (or, Aramean), for we understand [it]; and speak not to us in the Jewish [language] in the ears of the people that [are] on the wall. And Rab-shakeh said, [Is it] to thy master and to thee that my master sent me to speak these words? [Is it] not to the men that sit on the wall, to eat their own dung and drink their own urine with you? And Rab-shakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in the Jewish [language] and said, Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria. Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you, for he shall not be able to deliver you; neither let Hezekiah make you trust in Jehovah, saying, Jehovah will certainly deliver us: this city shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Hearken not to Hezekiah; for thus saith the king of Assyria, Make peace (lit. blessing) with me, and come out to me; and eat ye every one of his vine, and every one of his fig-tree, and drink ye every one of his cistern (or, well); until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards. Let not Hezekiah persuade you, saying, Jehovah will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where [are] the gods of Hamath and of Arpad? Where [are] the gods of Sepharvaim? And have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who [are they] among all the gods of these countries, that have delivered their country out of my hand, that Jehovah should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand? And they were silent and answered him not a word; for the king’s command was, saying, Answer him not.
“And Eliakim the son of Hilkijah, who [was] over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder, came to Hezekiah with clothes rent, and told him the words of Rab-shakeh” (vv. 3-22).
The entreaties of Eliakim and others that Aramean should be spoken rather than the Jewish tongue only drew out further and audacious insolence; for Rab-shakeh stood and cried in their own tongue to the people on the walls, warning them against their king and commending to them the hard terms of deportation to the east, in the face of the overthrow of the nations already broken by the Assyrian. Little did the blasphemer think that there listened to his taunting demand whether Jehovah should deliver Jerusalem, not Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah only, nor the men on the wall also, but Jehovah Himself. It was now His affair; and then at length begins to shine once more the faith of Hezekiah, whose commandment it was to answer him not.
His clothes rent, the king covered in sackcloth repairs to the house of Jehovah, and enquires of the prophet, who returns Jehovah’s answer that they were not to fear the words of blasphemy; for Jehovah would undertake the matter and send back the Assyrian to perish in his own land. “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 Jehovah. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. And they said to him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day [is] a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of contumely (or, rejection): for the children are come to the birth, and [there is] not strength to bring forth. It may be Jehovah thy God will hear the words of Rab-shakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God, and will rebuke the words which Jehovah thy God hath heard. Therefore lift up [thy] prayer for the remnant that is left. And the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah. And Isaiah said to them, Thus shall ye say to your master, Thus saith Jehovah, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will put a spirit into him, and he shall hear a rumour, and shall return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land” (vv. 1-7).
Still confident, Sennacherib from Libnah sends a letter of similar import to Hezekiah, who spreads it before Jehovah with earnest prayer for His intervention. “And Rab-shakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish. And he heard say concerning Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, He is come out to fight against thee. And when he heard [it], he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly; and shalt thou be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them, which my fathers have destroyed, Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden that [were] in Thelassar? Where [is] the king of Hamath, and the king of Arpad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, of Hena, and Ivvah? And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up into the house of Jehovah, and spread it before Jehovah. And Hezekiah prayed unto Jehovah saying, Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, that sittest [upon] the cherubim, thou [art] He, even thou alone, the God of all the kingdoms of the earth, thou hast made heaven and earth. Incline thine ear, Jehovah, and hear; open thine eyes, Jehovah, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, who hath sent to reproach the living God. Of a truth, Jehovah, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the countries and their land, and have cast their gods into the fire; for they [were] no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone; and they have destroyed them. Now therefore, Jehovah our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art Jehovah, thou only” (vv. 8-20).
Isaiah again returns the answer of the only living God. “And Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith Jehovah the God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, this [is] the word which Jehovah hath spoken against him. The virgin-daughter of Zion hath despised thee, [and] laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee. Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted the voice? Against the Holy One of Israel hast thou lifted up thine eyes on high. By thy servants hast thou reproached the Lord, and hast said, With the multitude of my chariots am I come up to the height of the mountains, to the recesses of Lebanon; and I will cut down its tall cedars, its choice cypresses: and I will enter into the height of its border, the forest of its fruitful field. I have digged, and drunk water; and with the sole of my feet have I dried up all the rivers of Matsor” (or, Egypt) (vv. 21-25).
Insult as he might, himself or his servants, the great king, the Assyrian, must learn that God knew all about him, making him but the instrument of His own dealing with the nations. This work done, he must go back humbled and smitten, for he had exceeded his commission; and would God sanction his rage against Himself? “Hast thou not heard long ago I have done it, how of ancient days I purposed it? Now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest waste fortified cities [to] ruinous heaps. And their inhabitants [were] powerless, they were dismayed and put to shame; they were [as] the grass of the field, the green herb, the grass on the housetops, and [corn] blighted before it be grown up. But I know thy sitting down, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy raging against me. Because thy raging against me and thine arrogance is come up into mine ears, I will put my ring in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will make thee go-back by the way by which thou camest” (vv.26-29). After a sign of coming to Judah (vv. 30-32), Jehovah pronounces His decree (vv. 33-35). “And this [shall be] the sign unto thee; ye shall eat this year that which groweth of itself, and in the second year that which springeth of the same; and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof. And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and out of mount Zion they that shall escape; the zeal of Jehovah of hosts shall perform this. Therefore thus saith Jehovah concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come unto this city, nor shoot an arrow there, neither shall he come before it with shield, nor cast a mount against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and he shall not come unto this city, saith Jehovah. For I will defend this city to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake. And the angel of Jehovah went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when men arose early in the morning, behold, they [were] all dead corpses. And Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat (or, Armenia): and Esar-haddon his son reigned in his stead” (vv. 30-38).
The total fall of the haughty Assyrian’s kingdom followed a few years after. Those that walk in pride God is able to abase. How blessed to hear His voice and know His love! Real as it was however, it was no more than a shadow of the great chief of the eastern nations in the latter day; even as Judah’s deliverance and blessedness under the son of David of that day was but the witness of a brighter era and a more enduring glory, when Jehovah shall exalt him that was low and abase the high one. “I will overturn, overturn, overturn: and it shall be no more, until he cometh whose right it [the diadem] is; and I will give it him” (Ezek. 21:27).
The history we have seen in the preceding chapters is but a testimony to the total destruction which awaits the final Assyrian as well as his hosts, in the latter day and upon the mountains of Israel. This will be the more striking because he will, first of all, be allowed to capture Jerusalem, and slay a portion of the men and treat with indignity some of their women. Jerusalem must pay the penalty of its sins. The Assyrian, or king of the north of Daniel, will then retire southwards for other projects of ambition; and coming up again, when Jehovah meanwhile has owned His people Israel, he will be for ever put down and destroyed.
This being so, it is evident that the mention of these historical circumstances, and no other, in the midst of our prophecy, is a remarkable sign, not only that their character is typical, but also that God would make plain to His people how far the prophecies already given had been accomplished. They might thus be encouraged to take what was already verified as an earnest of what was to come in full delivering power and glory. Nothing since that day has in the slightest degree resembled these intimations of the prophets. The past Assyrian, after having lost an immense part of his army, returned to his own land, and there was killed by his sons. The future Assyrian, after a partial success, is to come up a second time, and there and then be overwhelmed. The difference is made particularly manifest by the introduction of the past history here; typical of yet greater things, as we know from direct prophecy in Isa. 28.-29, not to speak of other scriptures.
But now in chapter 38. we see another lesson: Hezekiah is sick, and apparently unto death. “In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith Jehovah, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live. Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto Jehovah, and said, Remember now, Jehovah, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done [that which is] good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept much” (vv. 1-3). The king in this shadows forth the spiritual work God will by-and-by accomplish in His people. For Israel is destined in that day not only to furnish a grand external display of His power, but to experience a deep internal change — the great practical lesson of death and resurrection. This we learn not in our souls alone, but still more profoundly according to the full scope of grace and truth in our Lord Jesus Himself.
Hezekiah then is given up to die; but he humbles himself before Jehovah, Who sends word by the prophet that he was to live. And here we have exercise of spirit; at first, exceeding sorrow, not unmingled with fear, with regrets at leaving the land of the living, and a certain shrinking from God. “And the word of Jehovah came to Isaiah, saying, Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add to thy days fifteen years. And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city. And this [shall be] the sign unto thee from Jehovah that Jehovah will do this thing that he hath spoken: behold, I will cause the shadow on the steps, which is gone down with the sun on the dial (or, steps) of Ahaz, to return ten steps backward. So the sun returned on the dial ten steps whereby it was gone down” (vv. 4-8).
Is it possible that any professing to know and teach the truth do not perceive that this is not life and incorruption brought to light by the gospel — not what we should look for in a Christian now, though Hezekiah was as truly a saint of God as any Christian? The working of the Holy Spirit in a godly Jew was necessarily modified in both depth and height for the Christian because of accomplished redemption. When believers, Jews or Gentiles after the flesh, are brought to the knowledge of Christ now, they are entitled to the same high privileges. If they see or enjoy them not, it is because the flesh is not judged; they are merely following in this respect their own thoughts, instead of entering into the new revelations of God founded on a dead, risen, and ascended Christ, made known by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. The natural thought and hope converted Jew then was to live long upon the earth. not say “to depart and be with Christ is far better.” the land of the living he desired to praise Jah, as he living, the living shall praise thee.”
Israelites looked not within the veil; they saw not the Forerunner for them entered in. No such precious sight was revealed to their faith, though they did most truly expect, by God’s teaching, a coming Messiah to deliver and bless them. But they could not yet know death vanquished, nor raise the song of resurrection, nor look on a known Saviour theirs through the opened heavens. Hezekiah goes through the sign of death; he was sentenced however to it, and shrank from it; earnestly pleading, he hears the sentence reprieved. This is the token of the spiritual work God will effect in Israel — not only deliverance from foes without but deliverance from the power of death working in them. But the millennial kingdom will not furnish to Israel or any other on earth, the faith or experience of the Christian, properly speaking nor will they be raised from the dead or changed to go through that reign, but after it for eternity. The valley of dry bones is merely the symbol of their resurrection from death, when they are as a nation caused once more to live, though doubtless there will be a real spiritual work within. But still theirs will be a very different thing from our portion either now or when we are caught up to meet the Lord.
“The writing of Hezekiah, king of Judah, when he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness. I said, In the still noon (or, cutting off) of my days I shall go to the gates of Sheol I am deprived of the residue of my years. I said, I shall not see Jah, Jah in the land of the living. I shall not behold man longer with the inhabitants of the world Mine age (or, dwelling) is departed, and is removed from me as a shepherd’s tent. I have rolled off like a weaver my life; from the thrum he cutteth me off; from day to night wilt thou make an end of me. I kept still till morning: as a lion he breaketh all my bones; from day to night he will make an end of me. Like a swallow, a crane, so did I chatter; I mourned as a dove; mine eyes failed [with looking] upward. Jehovah, I am oppressed: undertake for me. What shall I say? He hath both spoken to me, and himself hath done [it]: I shall go softly all my years for the bitterness of my soul. Lord, by these things [men] live, and wholly in them [is] the life of my spirit; and thou recoverest me and makest me to live Behold, for peace I had bitterness on bitterness; but thou hast in love delivered my soul from the pit of destruction, for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back. For Sheol doth not praise thee, [nor] death celebrate thee; they that go down into the pit do not hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I this day; the father to the children shall make known thy truth. Jehovah — to save me! My song too we will sing to stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of Jehovah” (vv. 9-20).
Death was to him the most painful prospect. What can more pointedly differ from this than the triumphant language of 2 Cor. 5:1-8 for instance? There the apostle says, “In this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon.” “We are always confident, willing rather to be absent from the body [the very thing good Hezekiah was not] and to be present with the Lord.” Living here “we are absent from the Lord.” You, no doubt, find the king turning his face to the wall; but who could imagine such a thing of dying Stephen? If a Christian were in the spirit beholding Christ, it could not be so. It is not for any of us to say what chastening might fall on self-confidence, on negligence of walk, or anything else unjudged: God might smite the pride of heart which looked down upon a person thus tried. In Old Testament times there could not be the rest and peace and joy of heart created by the revelation of Christ’s work and glorified person.
In Hezekiah’s case God made him, as thus manifesting the feelings of a godly Jew, to be the sign of the quickening of the Jews, who will by-and-by go, as a nation, through a spiritual process which is likened to death and resurrection. In the future however, one gathers from other scriptures that their outward and inward deliverances will be in the inverse order of that which appears in the history given here. The quickening of at least the remnant will precede their external triumph. Ere the antitypical Babylon has been smitten, the Jew will go through no small spiritual sifting with God, and then the mighty outward deliverance will follow when the last Assyrian is broken and disappears. Thus distinctly is the future marked off from that which has been already accomplished. God will work in them first, and then display His power in their behalf. He gives us now in Christ that in which we shall be displayed at His appearing. Thus we know death and resurrection, because we are taught everything in Christ. Therefore, the apostle asks, having died with Christ, “why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?” (Col. 2:20). They will be like men living in the world; and so they will have their splendid temple, and their venerable priesthood, and their impressive ordinances, “Touch not, taste not, handle not.” The seventh or sabbath day will be resumed. In the millennium it will not be the Lord’s day but the sabbath-day. God will renew His sabbaths, instead of continuing the first day of the week, the Christian’s memorial of redemption. The sabbath-day occurs once more enforced beyond doubt, as we read in the prophecy of Ezekiel.
Thus God will have prepared His people Israel for their future glory, not by what we know now in the gospel, but by what we have seen represented by Hezekiah’s sickness. He prays that he may not be brought to the gates of hell. “I said, I shall not see Jah, Jah in the land of the living.” To see the Lord in the heavenly country among the glorified is far better than to see Him in the land of Israel. Our joy is that we are to be with Him in heavenly blessing, as we know ourselves in Him in heavenly places even now. Such thoughts never entered the king’s mind. He desired as a Jew that his life might be prolonged to see Jah in the land of the living. So Israel will see Him in the land of the living, and be themselves brought under the shadow of His wing, spite of all their mighty foes. The pure in heart shall see God. We shall be with the Saviour and see Him as He is (not as He was, but as He is), and be with Himself above in the Father’s house, in the presence of God.
But here, on the contrary, the king mourns over his failing strength. “Mine age is departed.” “He will cut me off as from a [weaver’s] thrum.” “As a lion, He breaketh all my bones.” He repines at God’s will, not having a dead and risen Christ to interpret all by. He views death in itself, or its bearing on himself here. How deeply even saints needed a revealed Saviour and a known redemption! “Like a swallow, a crane, so did I chatter. . . . What shall I say? He hath both spoken to me, and himself hath done [it].” Now light begins to dawn somewhat more. He has asked Jehovah to undertake for him: “He hath both spoken to me,” etc. He began to appreciate better the blessed truth that it is not what we say to Jehovah which is the great matter, but what Jehovah says to us, and, more than that, what Jehovah does for us. “I shall go softly all my years.” All this trial was just the needed discipline, and good for him. “And thou recoverest me.” He anticipates his sure deliverance, as Israel will know “in that day,” and surely be brought out of their distresses.
However blessed it all may be, as showing us the working of God in the heart of a real saint of old and the type of the future ways of God to be made good in the hearts of the Jewish remnant, need I repeat that God does not give this as the full standard we ought to apply now? It is a serious thing, this misappropriation of scripture, through attempting to lump together all its testimonies, old and new, as if all must be about one and the same object. Thus what is of earth for the Jew is jumbled up with what is of heaven for the Christian: the result is a mere waste of uncertainty. Of course the Spirit of God never allows the real children of God to suffer all the consequences of their folly. There is a merciful preservative from going through with their mistakes. But still the loss is great indeed. How much we have to desire, that we may be enabled to feel, serve, walk, and worship as Christians entering into all the will of Jehovah concerning us, not foolish but as wise! All depends on a better knowledge of Christ, for this is the only sure and holy way for every need.
God’s will as regards His people on the earth depends on His counsels and ways at any given time in His Son. Where is Christ now? He is at the right hand of God, cast out of the earth, as He said, “I go to My Father.” That is, He has total rejection here but all glory there, as may be seen in John 13.-17. He is thus separated to heaven, as He says, “For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:19). Not of course that there ever was anything impure in or of Him: such a thought of Christ would be blasphemy. It was taking a separate place from the earth, setting Himself apart from all here below as the heavenly Model-man, so to speak. This is the key to Christianity. It is the power of the Holy Ghost working in the hearts of God’s children upon earth and forming them after the fashion of Christ in heaven, on the basis of His death and resurrection, which has justified them by faith. Thus it necessarily supposes Christ’s cross, resurrection, and ascension, and that we know ourselves in Him there (John 14:20). We become heavenly because related to Him there. “As is the Heavenly, such are they also who are heavenly.”
When Christ comes in glory by-and-by, and takes the earth under His government, and in the truest sense fills the throne of Jehovah over it, the saints here below (not those risen and glorified) will be earthly. They will be born anew; but it will be for the earthly things of the kingdom of God. So the Lord says, “If I have told you earthly things . . .” (John 3:12). There is the earthly department of His kingdom no less than the heavenly. To confound them, or the scriptures that relate to them, is to ruin the distinctness of revealed truth, and to sink into half-Jews, half-Christians. The new age, or dispensation, will accordingly, as far as earth is concerned, be the forming man here below according to the character in which Christ is then displayed and will deal. It will be no longer the Spirit making us heavenly, because of uniting us to the Head on high. Christ will then govern the earth and its inhabitants as King, instead of gathering believers out from the world into one as His body. This may serve to show what a wonderful place is ours: in the midst of all the ruin of the outward framework of Christendom there is one body and one Spirit, even as also we were called in one hope of our calling.
“Now Isaiah had said, Let them take a cake of figs, and lay it for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover. Hezekiah also had said, What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of Jehovah?” (vv. 21, 22).
If this addition seems trivial or spurious to the natural mind, it was not to the inspiring Spirit. God shows His interest in His own, whatever their infirmity, and explains the means employed, and why the sign was given. To unbelief such a detail has no value; for literary criticism knows as little of divine love or of the soul’s need, as man’s philosophy.
This chapter, it would seem, owes its place here chiefly as a basis for the very weighty place which Babylon (whither Judah was going into captivity) holds in the controversy which Jehovah had with His people. Hezekiah had not walked softly, when the ambassadors of Merodach-baladan came to congratulate him, but had sunk to their level. Wherefore Jehovah sent the threat of sure judgement. All that David’s son in his vanity had spread before the eyes of the strangers should be swept into the city of confusion, the chastiser of Jerusalem’s idolatry; only it should not fall in the days of the pious king, notwithstanding his failure.
“At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent a letter and a present to Hezekiah; for he heard that he had been sick, and was recovered. And Hezekiah was glad of them, and showed them the house of his precious things, the silver and the gold and the spices and the precious oil, and all the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not. Then came Isaiah the prophet unto king Hezekiah, and said unto him, What said these men? And from whence came they to thee? And Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country to me, from Babylon. Then said he, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah answered, All that [is] in my house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shown them. Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of Jehovah of hosts. Behold, days come, when all that [is] in thy house, and [that] which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith Jehovah. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, whom thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah, Good [is] the word of Jehovah which thou hast spoken. And he said, For there shall be peace and truth in my days” (vv. 1-8).
The chapter is of special interest as the first plain indication in later times of a power destined to overthrow the mighty kingdom of Assyria, to be then set up by the God of heaven, after the conquest of Jerusalem, in the imperial seat of the world as thenceforward an unrivalled king of kings. It was as yet the struggle of a province to be independent. This very man, whose name has been recognised in the Assyrian inscriptions, as well as in a fragment of Polyhistor (Euseb. Chron. Can. i. v. 1), and in Ptolemy’s Canon, “sustained two contests with the power of Assyria, was twice defeated, and twice compelled to fly his country. His sons, supported by the king of Elam or Susiana, continued the struggle, and are found among the adversaries of Esar-Haddon, Sennacherib’s son and successor. His grandsons contend against Asshurbani-pal, the son of Esar-Haddon. It is not till the fourth generation that the family seems to become extinct; and the Babylonians, having no champion to maintain their cause, contentedly acquiesce in the yoke of the stranger” (Canon Rawlinson in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, ii. 332).
This outline by a competent hand may serve to show what an enormous gap of circumstances yet more than of time severed the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar from him who sent his envoys to Hezekiah, still more from that Babylon whose downfall from the haughtiest seat on earth was announced long before by Isaiah in two of his most remarkable “burdens” (Isa. 13 - 14 and Isa. 21). But all was proved the more to be before God, Who deigned to disclose the end from the beginning. On every ground Hezekiah should have known better; whereas he forgot even the lessons of his sickness, as well as of God’s dealing with Sennacherib’s hosts, indulged in the things of men, and sunk to the level of a worldly politician. But at least the solemn rebuke of Jehovah through Isaiah recalled him humbly to accept the divine word with his wonted piety and thanksgiving, of which rationalism has no experience, and so with evil eye sees nothing but despicable egotism in a soul that judged self and bowed to God.
Reviewing the parenthetic history of Isa. 36-39 the believer can but acknowledge the divine wisdom of their place between the first great division of the prophecy and the last. None could be so suited to the work of introducing them at this point than the inspired waiter of the entire book. Although strictly historical, they are very much more, for they are instinct with prophecy, and, on the judicial check given to Assyria, prepare for the prominence given ere long to Babylon, little as this was then expected, as the agent for sweeping Judah and the house of David into captivity. But they adumbrate also the Son of David and David’s Lord, Who, instead of being sick and healed would go down, for God’s glory and in His grace beyond all thought of man, Into death most real as an offering for sin, yet rise again and make good an everlasting covenant for the blessing of Israel and all the earth, when kings shall stop their mouths at Him, once marred more than any, then exalted and high exceedingly Striking it is to read in Isa. 35:4, “Behold, your God! vengeance cometh” (which in no way characterises the gospel but the future kingdom fully), “the recompense of God. He will come himself and save you”; and in Isa. 40:9, 10, “Behold your God! Behold, the Lord Jehovah will come with might, and his arm shall rule for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” The same Spirit, the same hand wrote both passages.