(Strength of Jehovah)
2 Kings 18—21; 2 Chron. 29—32; Isa. 38, 39.
Contemporary Prophets: Isaiah; Micah; Nahum; Hosea.
“The king by judgment establisheth the land: but he that receiveth gifts overthroweth it.”—Proverbs 29:4
“Hezekiah began to reign when he was five and twenty years old, and he reigned nine and twenty years in Jerusalem.” We are confronted here with what has been considered one of the greatest chronological difficulties of the Bible. In few words, it is this: Ahaz, Hezekiah’s father, began his reign, Scripture says, when he was twenty years of age, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And Hezekiah, it says, was twenty-five years old when he ascended the throne. This seems to teach that Ahaz was but eleven years old when Hezekiah his son was born, which is altogether unlikely, if not impossible. Josephus does not touch upon the difficulty; he possibly felt there was none. Modern commentators have suggested various solutions of the problem, none of which is satisfactory. Fausset says “twenty” in 2 Kings 16:2 is “a transcriber’s error” for “twenty-five”; citing the LXX, Syriac and Arabic of 2 Chron. 28:1. But, in reply to this, one pertinently writes: “We may observe, that it is never advisable to find any fault with the text except where there is no other tolerable solution, which is not the case here.” The LXX and other versions reading “twenty-five” for “twenty” in 2 Chron. 28:1 prove nothing, except, it may be, a tampering with the original text in order to get rid of a seemingly inexplicable difficulty.
Two legitimate explanations offer themselves. 1st, it is quite possible a break of some years may have occurred in king Ahaz’ reign, either when he went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser (2 Ki. 16:10); or, which seems more likely, when the king of Assyria came himself to Jerusalem (2 Kings 16:18; 2 Chron. 28:20, 21), and “distressed him.” It would not be at all unlike these Assyrian kings for Tiglath-pileser to temporarily depose the king of Judah during his sojourn in those parts. 2nd, Scripture does not say that Hezekiah began to reign
immediately after the death of his father. True, the usual form of words is used—”Ahaz slept with his fathers…and Hezekiah his son reigned in his stead” (2 Chron. 28:27). But similar words are used in 2 Kings 15:30: “And Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and smote him, and slew him,
and reigned in his stead”
when, in point of fact, he did not actually begin to reign until at least nine years later, as Scripture chronologists are generally agreed. (Compare 2 Kings 16:1 and 17:1.) So a number of years, Scripture permits us to believe, may have elapsed between the death of Ahaz (owing to the unsettled state of his kingdom) and the accession of Hezekiah. This would entirely do away with any difficulty as to Ahaz’ immature age at the birth of his first-born.
In support of the first explanation it must be borne in mind that it is nothing unusual in Scripture to take no note of interruptions or breaks in chronology (compare 1 Kings 6:1 and Acts 13:18-22; the first, 480 years; the second, 573—a difference of ninety-three years, just the number of years of Israel’s five servitudes of 8, 18, 20, 7, and 40, under Mesopotamia, Moab, Canaan, Midian, and Philistia, respectively. See Judges 3:8; 3:14; 4:3; 6:1; 13:1. The Ammonite oppression must be omitted, not being truly in the land, but “on the other side Jordan” (see Judges 10:8); just as several generations are frequently omitted in the genealogies. If it is urged against either of these solutions that it would interfere with the harmony of the table of dates in this volume, it is replied that there is absolutely no positive proof that the interregnum between the reigns of Pekah and Hoshea was of nine years’ duration. The calculation is based wholly on the figures used in reference to Ahaz and Hezekiah. As to any interference with late Old Testament chronology as a whole, it needs only to be said that chronologists are by no means agreed here, as in other portions of the Old Testament. Nor are the Hebrew, Septuagint and Samaritan texts in harmony as to dates. God seems purposely to have left the matter of dates somewhat undecided; nor is it for us “to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power.”
But we proceed with Hezekiah: “His mother’s name was Abia, the daughter of Zechariah.” Her father was perhaps one of the two faithful witnesses of Isa. 8:2. Or, she may have been a descendant of the Zechariah who guided Uzziah during the earlier portion of his reign; or even of the martyr Zechariah, slain by order of king Joash. Anyway, she must have been a true “mother in Israel” to have raised so godly a son, with such a wicked father’s example before him. O ye mothers, what a responsibility is yours, and what a privilege as well, to have God, as it were, say to you, “Take this child, and nurse
it for Me, and I will give thee thy wages.” Abia had her “wages,” surely, when she saw her son renew and reform the desolated kingdom of his father David. Frequently, in truth, the hand that rocks the cradle rules the empire, whether it be for weal or for woe.
“And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did.” If, as has been remarked, Ahaz was an extraordinarily bad man to have come of so good a father, so here the reverse is true: Hezekiah was a remarkably good man, with so notably wicked a father. How truly, and widely, does the wise Preacher’s reflection as to one’s successors apply, whether it be in a kingdom or the narrower circle of the household, “Who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool?” (Eccl. 2:19.)
Hezekiah began to manifest immediately what manner of king he should be. “He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the Lord” (which Ahaz his father had shut up), “and repaired them. And he brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them together into the east street, and said unto them, Hear me, ye Levites; sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the Lord God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place. For our fathers have trespassed, and done that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord our God, and have forsaken Him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord, and turned their backs. Also they have shut up the doors of the porch, and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense nor offered burnt-offerings in the holy place unto the God of Israel. Wherefore the wrath of the Lord was upon Judah and Jerusalem, and He hath delivered them to trouble, to astonishment, and to hissing, as ye see with your eyes. For, lo, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this. Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that His fierce wrath may turn away from us. My sons, be not now negligent; for the Lord hath chosen you to stand before Him, to serve Him, and that ye should minister unto Him, and burn incense.” He begins at the only right place—the sanctuary; and at the right time—immediately—without delay, in the
first month of
the first year; and it was the
first day (2 Chron. 29:17)—New-year, in fact. Whatever reforms were needed elsewhere in the kingdom, this must have precedence of them all. Other things could not be really right if this were wrong. Revival, with God, is like His judgment; it must begin at His house. See Ezek. 9:6; 1 Pet. 4:17. “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them,” was Jehovah’s gracious command to them at the very beginning of their existence as a nation. Solomon said in his prayer, “That Thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which Thou hast said, My name shall be there.” The temple was to the kingdom as the heart to the body—when it ceased to pulsate with activity and life, the body politic, or nation, could not but languish, stagnate, and die. If God had chosen them as His own peculiar nation out of all the rest, He must have the central place among them; His authority and claims must be recognized if they wished to be prospered by Him. So is it in this day of Church dispensation.
“My sons,” he calls the priests and Levites, in true fatherly love to them, as every king should have toward his people. “The father of the coming [millennial] age,” is one of the titles of our Lord Christ, who, as God’s model King, shall reign over the happy inhabitants of the millennial earth in the glorious day now not far off. See Isa. 9:6, N. Tr.
“Then the Levites arose;…and they gathered their brethren, and sanctified themselves, and came, according to the commandment of the king, by the words of the Lord, to cleanse the house of the Lord. And the priests went into the inner part of the house of the Lord to cleanse it, and brought out all the un-cleanness that they found in the temple of the Lord into the court of the house of the Lord. And the Levites took it, to carry it out abroad into the brook Kidron.” On the eighth day the work was finished, the Sabbath, probably; and on the sixteenth day “they made an end.” They began at the inner sanctuary, and ended at the porch. God always works from within—not like man, from the outside. God looks on the heart, and is not, like man, satisfied with a fair external appearance.
“Moreover all the vessels, which king Ahaz in his reign did cast away in his transgressions,” they re-sanctified, and set them before the altar of burnt-offering, which they had also cleansed, with the shewbread table. “Then Hezekiah the king rose up early, and gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of the Lord.” There they offered “a sin-offering for the kingdom, and for the sanctuary, and for Judah.” Then an atonement was made
for all Israel:
“for the king commanded that the burnt-offering and the sin-offering should be made for all Israel.” His fatherly heart went out toward all the tribes. He loved and thought of them all, even though the bulk of them were divided from him, and subjects of the murderous conspirator Hoshea. He set Levites in the temple “with cymbals, and psalteries, and with harps,” and the priests stood with the trumpets. “And when the burnt-offering began, the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel.” It was a wonderful day for Jerusalem; the number of offerings brought by the people was so large that the priests could not flay them all, and had to be assisted by the Levites. “So,” we read, “the service of the house of God was set in order. And Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, that God had prepared the people:for the thing was done suddenly.”
And now comes what may be considered the crowning act of this excellent king’s life. “And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel. For the king had taken counsel, and his princes, and all the congregation in Jerusalem, to keep the passover in the second month. For they could not keep it at that time, because the priests had not sanctified themselves sufficiently, neither had the people gathered themselves together to Jerusalem. And the thing pleased the king and all the congregation.” There was beautiful harmony between king and people. All was done willingly by every one. It was not as with Abijah, who “
commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers” (2 Chron. 14:4). Instead of commanding, the king consults with the people here. “So
they” not he, the king only, “established a decree to make proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beer-sheba even to Dan, that they should come to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem.” “Because,” the New Translation reads, “they had not held it for a long time, as it was written” (2 Chron. 30:5). This may mean that before this the passover had been entirely neglected, or that it had been a long time since it was kept in the second month, “as it was written,” in Num. 9:10, 11.
If the first suggested meaning be the true one, what a condition the nation must have been in to have discontinued “for a long time,” this, the primary and most significant of all their yearly feasts.8 This revival in the very beginning of Hezekiah’s reign is all the more remarkable in that it immediately succeeded what was probably the darkest period the kingdom of Judah had ever known. “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity,” certainly; and it is very frequently, if not always, “darkest just before dawn.”
Posts carry these circular letters of invitation “throughout all Judah and Israel,” saying, “Ye children of Israel, turn again to the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and He will return to the remnant of you, that are escaped out of the hand of the kings of Assyria. And be ye not like your fathers, and like your brethren, which trespassed against the Lord God of their fathers, who therefore gave them up to desolation, as ye see. Now be ye not stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the Lord, and enter into His sanctuary, which He hath sanctified forever: and serve the Lord your God, that the fierceness of His wrath may turn away from you. For if ye turn again unto the Lord, your brethren and your children shall find compassion before them that led them captive,9 so that they shall come again into this land: for the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away His face from you, if ye return unto Him.” It was a beautiful message, holding out comfort and hope to the sorrowing remnant of Israel, who had seen so many of their loved ones led away in bondage to the land of the Assyrian.
“So the posts passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh even unto Zebulun: but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them. Nevertheless divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem. Also in Judah the hand of the Lord was to give them one heart to do the commandment of the king and of the princes, by the word of the Lord.” Some, as we see, were glad of the exhortation (those who had suffered most from the Assyrian, probably); Ephraim, the “cake not turned,” with others, impiously and impudently mocked, and made light of the messengers and their message. It is not the only occasion on which God’s message received this opposite treatment. Seven hundred years later, and seven hundred miles away, at Mars Hill in Athens, Paul delivered a more solemn message from his God but with like result: “some mocked,” while certain “clave unto him and believed”(Acts 17). And it is the same to-day. Hast thou, my reader, believed God’s gospel message, and, like some of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun, “humbled” thyself, and come to Jesus?—
“And there assembled at Jerusalem much people to keep the feast of unleavened bread in the second month, a very great congregation.” They removed the unlawful altars found in the city “and cast them into the brook Kidron.” They killed and ate the passover according to the law, as nearly as could be done under the circumstances. “For a multitude of the people, even many of Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet did they eat the passover otherwise than it was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.” He makes intercession for the people in the spirit of the future King who shall sit “a priest upon His throne.”(Zech. 6:13.) “And the Lord hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people.”
The feast was kept “with great gladness,” with praise to God day by day on “instruments of praise.” “And Hezekiah spake comfortably unto all the Levites that taught the good knowledge of the Lord.” As in all true revivals, the Scriptures had their place. And how much the poor recovered people needed the instruction given them by these Levites. Everyone rejoiced (as well they might) and it was unanimously agreed “to keep other seven days.” “So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Jerusalem there was not the like in Jerusalem. Then the priests the Levites arose and blessed the people (see Numb. 6:23-26): and their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to His holy dwelling-place, even unto heaven.”
And then appears the practical result of this wonderful fourteen days’ general meeting. “Now when all this was finished, all Israel that were present went out to the cities of Judah, and brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, and threw down the high places and the altars out of all Judah and Benjamin, in Ephraim also and Manasseh, until they had utterly destroyed them all. Then all the children of Israel returned every man to his possession, into their own cities.” Hezekiah then restores to order the priestly and Levitical services of the temple, “as it is written in the law of the Lord” (2 Chron. 31:3). “Moreover he commanded the people that dwelt in Jerusalem to give the portion of the priests and the Levites, that they might be encouraged in the law of the Lord.” There was an immediate and generous response to this thoughtful call of the king. “The children of Israel brought in abundance the first-fruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly.” This awakening to their responsibilities towards those who ministered in holy things was not confined to the inhabitants of Jerusalem; it extended itself to all the kingdom. “And concerning the children of Israel and Judah, that dwelt in the cities of Judah, they also brought in the tithe of oxen and sheep, and the tithe of holy things.” The offering continued from the third to the seventh month—all through their harvest and vintage—and were stored in heaps. “And when Hezekiah and the princes came and saw the heaps, they blessed the Lord and His people Israel.” And it was meet that they should do so; for here in these material fruits of the land they beheld the fruit of God’s Spirit in His people. When the king questioned the priests and Levites concerning the heaps, the chief priest “answered him and said, Since the people began to bring in the offerings into the house of the Lord, we have had enough to eat”—alas, that it should ever have been otherwise with them—”and have left plenty: for the Lord hath blessed His people; and that which is left is this great store.” Chambers were prepared in the temple, by Hezekiah’s command, to house this superabundant store. And they “brought in the offerings and the tithes and the dedicated things faithfully.” Arrangements were made and officers appointed for the proper distribution of this store. Everything was done in systematic order, according to the king’s commandment. “And thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah, and wrought that which was good and right and truth before the Lord his God. And in every work that he began 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”—the only way to do anything—”and prospered.” He was like the happy man of Psalm 1, of whom it is said, “Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” This was John’s highest wish for the beloved and hospitable Gaius (3 Jno. 2, N. Tr.) And it is written of the best Beloved of all, “The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.”
So, having set in order the spiritual matters of the kingdom, Hezekiah turned to the more material things in his dominion. “He smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchman to the fenced city” (2 Ki. 18:8). Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, in the year that king Ahaz died: “Rejoice not thou, Philistia, all of thee, because the rod that smote thee [Uzziah] is broken [in Ahaz’ death]; for out of the serpent’s root [as they regarded him] shall come forth a viper [Hezekiah], and his root shall be a fiery flying serpent,” etc. (Isa. 14:29, N. Tr.)
“And he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not.” It would seem that this attempt to throw off the yoke of Assyria was premature; or, perhaps, the good king went beyond his faith; for when Sennacherib invaded his kingdom, we are pained to read that he took all the fortified cities. And Hezekiah weakened and sent to him at Lachish his submission, saying, “I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear.” This was humiliating, though he does not grovel, like his worthless father saying, “I am thy son.” His desire was right, but he may, in his zeal for the prosperity and glory of his kingdom, have anticipated God’s time. Because of their former sins, Israel had become subject to the Assyrian, whom God had called “the rod of His anger,” and even though restored to righteousness under Hezekiah, God in His wise, yet gracious, government may have seen fit to allow them to suffer awhile for their past, that they might fully realize by bitter and humiliating experience what a serious thing it is for a people to turn from the living God to idols. So, poor Hezekiah (how we feel for the dear man!) pays the heavy fine imposed upon him—”three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.” To obtain this enormous amount, he had to almost strip bare the recently restored house of God and his palace of their treasures and utensils of silver and gold. He even had to strip from the temple doors and its pillars the gold that his own loving hand had but recently laid there. How it must have hurt his great and righteous heart to thus denude God’s dwelling place of its wealth of glory! And all because of his own hasty action, he might think.
This was in the fourteenth year of his reign (2 Ki. 18:13). Fausset says “fourteenth” is a copyist’s error for “twenty-seventh.” But we hear too much about these “copyist’s errors.” “Fourteenth” agrees with Isa. 36:1; and it is the only number that will harmonize with Isa. 38:5. It may be for lack of faith that men try hard to make Scripture square with profane history, or what purports to be history. Just because a date in the Bible does not come out even with Babylonian or Assyrian chronology, or disagrees with some untrustworthy heathen inscription, commentators cry “Transcriber’s error”; as if imperfectly deciphered monuments and clay tablets must correct the word of God! “Fourteen” agrees with other portions and dates contained in Scripture; so, to faith, it is perfectly satisfactory, whatever Assyriologists, or commentators influenced by them, may say.
Sennacherib for some reason or other, did not depart from Hezekiah, as he had hoped. Perhaps it was impossible for Hezekiah to obtain the sum demanded by the king of Assyria; or that villainous plunderer, after receiving the required amount, may have changed his mind (if he ever really meant to let the king of Jerusalem buy him off), and determined, before he quitted the country, to possess himself of Hezekiah’s capital. His intention became known to Hezekiah, “and he took counsel with his princes and mighty men.” They were agreed to resist his capture of the city, and extensive preparations were made for the threatened siege. When all had been done that man could do, Hezekiah gathered the people “together to him in the street of the gate of the city,” and addressed them with words of faith and courage: “Be strong and courageous,” he said, “be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles.” Fine words, these, and very different from his saying a short time before to Sennacherib, “I have offended,” etc. His faith, though faint, had not altogether failed; and here it rises to its full height, and, like the restored Simon Peter, he is able, by his words and example, to “strengthen his brethren.” “And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.”
“After this did Sennacherib king of Assyria send his servants to Jerusalem,…unto Hezekiah king of Judah, and unto all Judah that were at Jerusalem, saying,” etc.: then follows a harangue that for insolence and craftiness has never been exceeded. “Rab-shakeh” (a title, not a name), Sennacherib’s commander-in-chief, was the speaker. He was an accomplished diplomat, evidently, and delivered his artful speech in “the Jews’ language.” He, with his fellow-officers, “stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller’s field”—on an eminence, probably. Hezekiah’s cabinet ministers interrupt him in his discourse, saying, “Speak, I pray thee, to thy servants in the Syrian language; for we understand it: and talk not with us in the Jews’ language in the ears of the people that are on the wall.” They little knew the wily Rab-shakeh, who, gaining an advantage by their fear, answers: “Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall?…Then Rab-shakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in the
Jews’ language, and spake, saying,” etc. He does his best to frighten the populace, “shut up like a bird in a cage,” as Sennacherib’s own inscription states. He hoped to incite sedition in the city, in order to get possession without laying siege to it. But he labored in vain; “the people held their peace, and answered him not a word: for the king’s commandment was, saying, Answer him not.”
His speech produced distress, however, and the king’s officers came to Hezekiah “with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rab-shakeh.” And Hezekiah “rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord.” He turns to the true source of comfort in the dark hour; and also sent to Isaiah the prophet, saying, “Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and blasphemy” (for Sennacherib’s servants had spoken against the Lord God, against the God of Jerusalem, as against the gods of the people of the earth, which were the work of men’s hands); “for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth. It may be the Lord thy God will hear all the words of Rab-shakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God; and will reprove the words which the Lord thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that are left.”
The prophet’s reply is brief and decisive: “And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say to your master, Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a. rumor, and shall return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.”
Sennacherib, anxious to leave the country, yet unwilling to let such a stronghold as Jerusalem remain untaken, despatched a letter to the king, hoping against hope to frighten him into capitulation. “And Hezekiah received the letter of the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up into the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord.” How beautiful his childlike trust in the God of Israel! And there in the temple he prays as only a saint in his hour of distress can pray. (Read 2 Kings 19:15-19.) God answers him through a message from Isaiah, in which full deliverance is assured him. “Therefore,” it concludes, “thus saith the Lord concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the Lord. For I will defend this city, to save it, for Mine own sake, and for My servant David’s sake. And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they [or, ‘men’] arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshiping 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 Armenia.”
“So let all Thine enemies perish, O Lord; But let them that love Him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.”
“Thus the Lord saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria, and from the hand of all other, and guided [lit., protected] them on every side. And many brought gifts unto the Lord to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah: so that he was magnified in the sight of all nations from thenceforth.”
“In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death.” “Those days” must refer to the time of the Assyrian invasion, or immediately after Sennacherib came up, in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign; as fifteen years, the prophet said, should be added to his life. As he reigned twenty-nine years, there is no difficulty whatever in fixing the exact time of his sickness. Men make difficulties for themselves (where there really are none) by giving heed to uncertain monumental records, instead of abiding by the simple and sure statements of Holy Scripture.
“And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Set thy house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.” Isaiah “came to him,” it says. He had not gone personally to him, but sent word by a messenger, at the time of Sennacherib’s investment of the city. Some have thought from this, and from certain passages in his prophecy, that there was a coolness, or even estrangement, between the prophet and the king, over his rebellion against Assyria. More likely it was the prophet’s age (he must have been near eighty) that prevented him from going to the king. We can understand too how, when Hezekiah lay at the point of death, he would make a special effort to see him face to face. He was sent with heavy tidings to the childless king; and little wonder it was that the announcement of his death distressed him. True to his habit and faith in God, Hezekiah turns to Him in distress; and almost before he called, God answered. The prophet had not yet reached the middle court when God said to him, “Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of My people, Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up to the house of the Lord. And I will add unto 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 for Mine own sake, and for My servant David’s sake.” His full recovery was on the “third day.” It is the day of resurrection (see Hos. 6:2); and on that day Judah received her king as it were, in figure, from the dead. His cure was in answer to prayer, though means were used—”a lump of figs.” It is often more humble, and more according to God, to use means than not to use them. If the incident is typical, and the king’s recovery on the third day (answering to the passage in Hosea) foreshadows Israel’s national restoration, or resurrection, as in Dan. 12:2, we would naturally connect the lump of figs with Matt. 21:19-21 and 24:32—figure of Israel, now under death and the curse of God, but yet to revive and bear fruit. This is not pressed, but only suggested. But as “God’s commandment is exceeding broad,” so is His blessed Word very full; and it is “not of any private (or separate) interpretation.”
Hezekiah quite properly asks for a sign to assure himself of his recovery. His hypocritical father, in mock modesty, refused to ask for a sign. He used a pious phrase in his refusal, saying, “I will not tempt the Lord.” But he was not asked to “tempt God.” God Himself had told him to ask for a sign. Unbelief and self-will were at the bottom of his blank refusal, though covered under this pious phrase. And he was not the last of religious unbelievers to use the same expression, and for a like purpose. (See Isa. 7.)
God gives the anxious king a sign; and a wonderful sign it was. The shadow turned back on the dial of Ahaz ten degrees, in answer to the prophet’s prayer. It was a miracle, whatever way we take it. God could have reversed the revolution of the earth, had He seen fit to do so—for he is a poor clockmaker even, who cannot turn the hands of his own workmanship backward; or He could have caused the phenomenon by the ordinary law of refraction, or even by volcanic pressure from beneath have altered the inclination of the dial’s
gnomon for the time being. In any case it was a miracle, whatever the rationalist or skeptical astronomer may say to the contrary.
The news of this miracle reached Chaldea, and a deputation was sent from Babylon “to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land.” And it was in “the business” of these “ambassadors” that the recovered king was ensnared with pride. The “letter “and the “present” from the king of Babylon were too much for his latent vanity—native to us all. What Sennacherib’s letter and deputation of offensive diplomats could not effect (for they drove him to his knees), the letter and friendly commission from Merodach-baladan accomplished—to his ruin almost, and that of his kingdom. How like the Christian and this world! Its
frown is comparatively powerless; it is its subtle
favor that we have most to fear. “Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up”—not, as with Jehoshaphat, “in the ways of the Lord” (see 2 Chron. 17:6): “therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem. Notwithstanding Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the Lord came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah.” t was not
spiritual pride, as with his great-grandfather Uzziah; but
worldly pride—”the pride of life,” he might say. It was
his precious things,
his dominion, etc., that he showed the ambassadors from Babylon. When the prophet came to reprove him, he significantly asked, “What have they seen in
thy house?” “All that is in
my house have they seen,” Hezekiah answered; “there is nothing among
my treasures that I have not showed them.” Why did he not show these learned heathen
God’s house? “every whit” of which showeth “
His glory”(Ps. 29:9, marg.). There he could have explained to them the meaning of the brazen altar, and the sacrifices offered thereon; and who can tell what the result might not have been in the souls of these idolaters? They were brought to Hezekiah’s very doors by one of God’s wonders in creation; why did he not embrace the opportunity of showing them of His higher wonders of redemption? But no; they were shown what displayed the glory of the poor pride-filled king. The “benefit done to him” was apparently forgotten. He did not ask, like his great father David, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” and who also said, “
Forget not all His benefits.” And we Christians, in a very much higher sense, have been made “partakers of the benefit.” May we, in return, render unto God the glory due unto His name.
“God left him,” it is said of Hezekiah, “to try him, that he might know what was in his heart.” (See Deut. 8:2.) He learned, to his shame and sorrow, that there was a vast amount of
ego there. It was well to know it, that it might be judged and put away before he should be betrayed by it into deeper and more serious sin. But when he hears the judgment pronounced by the prophet on his posterity, he meekly submits, and says, “Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken. He said moreover, For there shall be peace and truth in my days.” Of this last, one aptly remarks: “Not the language of mere selfishness, but of one feeling that the national corruption must at last lead to the threatened judgment; and thanking God for the stroke being deferred yet for a time.”
“And Hezekiah had exceeding much riches and honor.” “God had given him substance very much.” “And Hezekiah prospered in all his works.” His scribes “copied out” a selection of Solomon’s proverbs (Prov. 25:1). Isaiah and other chroniclers recorded “the rest of his acts and goodness” (Heb., good works).
“And Hezekiah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the chiefest of the sepulchres of the sons of David: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem did him honor at his death. And Manasseh his son reigned in his stead.”
Of all the kings of Judah since the days of Solomon, Hezekiah is the “burning and shining light.” It was left to him to break in pieces the brazen serpent made by Moses in the wilderness. It had become a snare to the nation; for up to Hezekiah’s day they had burned incense unto it. “And he called it Nehushtan”—
a piece of brass (2 Kings 18:4). His reforming predecessors had lacked either the discernment to see the element of idolatry in the superstitious reverence shown it, or lacked the holy courage to destroy it in the face of popular opposition, probably. It had been used by God in the wilderness as a type of Christ “made sin” for our salvation, but the nation h ad degraded it (and themselves) by regarding it with a semi-idolatrous spirit, like Rome and its pretended relics of “the true cross,” “the holy sepulchre,” and what not. Hezekiah, to his honor be it said, did not hesitate to remove this occasion of offence, calling it what it really was—a [mere] piece of brass.
“And the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and all his might, and how he made a pool, and a conduit, and brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?”
8 It is not likely that the Passover-feast, in which Jehovah’s claims were especially remembered, would be kept during the reign of the apostate king Ahaz, at least. And has the characteristic Christian institution, “the Lord’s supper,” fared any better? In a large part of Christendom—that which arrogantly calls itself “
The Church”—this precious remembrance of our Lord in His sufferings and death, has been prostituted to “the Mass,” in which a little dough baked as a wafer is, by a Romish priest’s magic words, turned into “the very flesh and blood of the Lord”; and this little wafer is worshiped as “the Host”!! [Ed.
9 A large part of Israel (from the ten tribes) had already been carried away captive by the king of Assyria. (See 2 Kings chap. 17.) [Ed.