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HELP FROM THE SANCTUARY
‘When king Hezekiah heard it … he … went into the house of the Lord.’
2 Kings 19:1
The first thing is that we should accept the Mastery of Jesus. It is to His disciples that He brings peace. Are we disciples?
And the second thing is the resolution to live one day at a time. ‘Be not anxious for the morrow,’ for, after all, it is only to-day that we have to live. We look forward and try and think out how we will act, and to-morrow it is all so different, and meanwhile we have exhausted the nerve and we have used the energy which God intended to give us anew for the fresh day’s work. There was no gathering of the manna for more than one day at a time. The Word of Christ comes back to the disciple, and it is a question whether we will be loyal. It comes echoing down to us from the Eucharist, ‘Lift up your hearts’ from the burden and the heat, from the misery and the uncertainty of trusting in your own selves. Let us have courage to answer: ‘We lift them up unto the Lord.’
I. The reign of Hezekiah falls like a bright beam of light across the darkest path of Jewish history.—Now Hezekiah was a type of Christ. Look, first, at the destruction of the brazen serpent, as told us in this morning’s lesson. Try to realise all that it meant. This serpent had a wonderful history and sacred associations. For many generations it had been one of the objects which most stirred the hearts of the Jews. But it had lost its power completely; it had become an object of superstitious worship, and so Hezekiah broke it in pieces. I wonder what the scribes and Pharisees of that day thought of this act? Hezekiah was a type of Him Who centuries later scandalised the scribes and Pharisees by breaking the Sabbath. When the trial moment comes, when temptation is strong and help seems far away, the question will be, not whether we have learnt to hold the tenets of Christianity as historical facts, but whether they have taught us the power of prayer, and the evil hold dropped, and the call of duty accepted. Whether, in one word, we have learnt to live our faith, so that Christ lives in our hearts and through our lives.
II. Let us turn to another scene in Hezekiah’s life: the revival of the Passover, as narrated in the Second Book of Chronicles. It was not confined to Judah. Again Hezekiah’s greatness is seen. He had grasped the idea of the Passover—that it set forth the unity of the nation. There was nothing political in his aim. There was no thought of the winning back of Judah. His aim was to teach the people that, wherever their lot was cast, they were all one people, and doubtless this, too, scandalised the scribes and Pharisees of the day. And, says the chronicler, many of those that accepted the invitation came without having undergone the purification ordained by the Lord. Now mark Hezekiah on that occasion. He prayed the Lord to pardon every one who had prepared his heart to seek the Lord God of his fathers. One more type of Him Who centuries after welcomed the outcasts. Is there not a lesson here for us? Think of all those well meaning, religious people who cannot see the deeper unity which underlies differences of creed between us. But let us beware of confounding the idea of unity and uniformity. The Divine ideal seems to be not uniformity, but a grand symphony played on a thousand instruments.
III. Let us look at one more scene in Hezekiah’s life—his bearing towards the King of Assyria, as told in the lesson of this morning and this evening. Hezekiah was lying helpless before the power of the King of Assyria, but in him we see no bravado and no fear, only a simple faith and trust in God. He met the insulting messages of Sennacherib in silence; the king’s command was, ‘Answer him not.’ Once more he is a type of Him Who, centuries later, when He was accused of the chief priests and elders, answered nothing, and when He received the blasphemous message was silent. Hezekiah’s first thought was God. He went to the Temple and spread his trouble before the Lord. It is in this instant reference, this turning to God at once, without fear and without hesitation, that Hezekiah is so valuable an example to ourselves. For we, too, like Hezekiah, are besieged with enemies. Which of us has not some sin of temper, it may be, or selfishness, or pride, or lust—some sin which he is tempted to commit frequently, and we have learned its power, and we long to cast it off and be rid of it for ever, but again and again the temptation comes? We fight against it, but we finally yield to it, and we feel as though this sin were poisoning our whole life. Have we said, ‘My help cometh from the Lord’?
‘Here is a good man’s victory in anticipation and advance over his enemies.
I do not think that Hezekiah needed to wait for his assurance of triumph, until
The might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Had melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.
When he came out of God’s Temple, it was with a look of calmness and confidence on his face. He had shaken off his care and sorrow. He had laid his necessities in God’s mighty hands, and he left them there. If I do really make over my distresses to Him, the poison goes out of them. If I share my tasks with Him, their irksomeness disappears. If I breathe my trouble into His strong and tranquil heart, He gives me the tranquillity and the strength instead. The moment of actual deliverance may not arrive for days or weeks. But it is as if it had arrived. I am persuaded that it is coming. I look forward to it undoubtingly. I wait for it. Nay, it is better than if it had arrived. There is something supernatural, unearthly, Divine, in being sustained, kept in peace, filled with joy, when tribulations abound, and when the Assyrians are still at Libnah.’
‘Shalt thou be delivered?’
2 Kings 19:11
We can descry the vast army, with its multitudinous brown tents, environing the city of God, and the fierce people, whose deep guttural speech was unintelligible to the Jew, counting the towers and making preparation for the assault.
I. The challenge of Sennacherib’s general.—(1) By speech.—In 2 Kings 18:17-18, the names of the officers are given and the precise position they occupied; also the officers of the king’s household whom they specially addressed. They seem to have used the Assyrian language, speaking probably by interpretation, so that all who stood on the wall were able to overhear what transpired ( 2 Kings 18:26).
The principal argument adduced was the futility of trusting in Jehovah. Evidently the God of Israel had achieved great renown. There were things in history, like the crossing of the Red Sea, that could only be accounted for by His mighty interposition. How good it is when outsiders bear witness to the greatness and glory of our God! Surely we ought so to love and speak of Him as to enhance His power. But the contention of Sennacherib’s ambassadors was that Israel had no further right to claim the intervention of Jehovah, because Hezekiah had destroyed His altars and introduced drastic religious reforms.
Hezekiah, of course, was one of the greatest religious reformers of Hebrew story. It was the story of Hezekiah’s great reforms which had filled Sennacherib and his officers with hope. They supposed that Hezekiah had definitely broken with Jehovah, and that the alliance which had been so potent was now at an end. They did not realise that what Hezekiah had done was rather a tightening and strengthening of that sacred covenant. When Sennacherib spoke so boastfully, how little he realised that he was but an axe or rod in the hands of God, useful for the fulfilment of judgment and then to be cast aside!
(2) By letter.—He wrote letters. The purport of these letters is given in Isaiah 37:9-14. Everything was done, apparently, that could be done by threat and appeal to intimidate the Jews and induce them to surrender their city without an effort at its defence.
Are there not times when it seems as though the enemies of the faith were allied against the holy city of God, predicting her speedy overthrow? How often have agnostics and infidels boasted that they were confident of their success! In the story of the inner life also, there are days when it seems as though we must succumb before the dark and evil spirits who mock at our faith. At such times either the Church or the individual soul experiences the precise counterpart of this fierce attack upon Jerusalem.
II. The secret trust of God’s servants.—Hezekiah the king and the prophet Isaiah ‘prayed and cried to heaven.’ What a touching announcement! We have the account and burden of Hezekiah’s prayer in Isaiah 37:14-20. The letter which he had just received lay open and transparent before the Divine eyes, and over it the good king poured forth a perfect litany of intercession which it is still well to appropriate. It would be wise if we were quicker to follow his example! When annoying, trying, and offensive letters come to hand we are too apt to sit hastily down at our writing tables and dip our pens in vitriol. How often these replies of ours aggravate the situation! How often it would have been better to have attempted no reply, but to have let God deal with it all. So at least Hezekiah found it.
The king had hardly returned to his palace when a messenger from Isaiah brought him God’s answer to his prayer. He had the petition which he had desired, not actually in possession, but as good as if it were. This is the beauty and glory of faith, that we receive from the hand of God His good and perfect gifts and rejoice in them before they actually come to hand.
Thus in all ages faith has hidden in God whilst dreaded evils have passed over. What a blessed result of this lesson it would be if multitudes would learn to put God between themselves and their Sennacheribs!
III. The result.—Sennacherib’s army was withered by the breath of God. The boaster’s pride was humiliated, his proud tongue silenced. There is a Divine justice in national assassinations and revolutions which does not take away the evil of them, though they accomplish the Divine purpose. Let us live in fellowship with God, leaving Him to save and defend us, trusting Him to guide us on every side, and accepting any honour which comes from our fellows as His gift.
(1) ‘It is a wonderful quality of Divine love that it puts itself in the place of those it loves. He who harms a child of God smites God in the face. He who taunts a Christian for righteousness taunts God. He who does any unkindness to one who belongs to Christ treats God Himself unkindly. We have this taught very beautifully in the New Testament in the Master’s parable of the judgment, where we learn that he who gives food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, and who shows pity and mercy to the sick, the stranger, the prisoner, is showing the same kindness to Christ Himself; while he who passes by the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the stranger without helping him, is passing by the Lord Christ Himself.’
(2) ‘God says to the proud, insulting Assyrian, that the treatment he gave to his captives should be given to himself in turn. He would become God’s captive, and God would put a hook in his nose and would lead him back to his own land in chains. It is a statement of that infallible law, that with what measure we mete it shall be measured to us again. He who treats others mercilessly will find no mercy in judgment.’
THE SPREAD LETTER
‘And Hezekiah received the letter … and spread it before the Lord.’
2 Kings 19:14
I. Here is a good man whose first thought in trouble is to carry the distress to God.—The Temple and the altar are Hezekiah’s natural and inevitable refuge; he never thinks of going anywhere else. I would be like him. I would flee to God before consulting with any human helper, and before sitting down to ponder the matter in my own mind.
II. Here is a good man who does not presume to dictate to God how He is to act.—Hezekiah spreads the insulting letter of the Assyrian prince before the heavenly King; he explains his own sorrow and need; and there he stops. He does not prescribe to One so much wiser than himself. Thus, having told my Father everything, let me leave Him to decide what to do. He makes no mistakes. He will choose the right path.
III. Here is a good man who feels that God’s honour and glory are bound up with his deliverance.—And if I am joined with Christ, God’s dear Son, the same conviction should be mine. He cannot suffer me to perish. His own character demands that I shall be more than a conqueror.
‘No one of us knows how soon he may have occasion to practise this lesson. No one of us knows how soon some distressing letter, some heavy tidings, may come suddenly upon him, and the only thing he can do with it will be to go and spread it before the Lord: no relief, no consolation, but to betake himself to our Lord Jesus Christ, tell Him the whole grief, cast all the burden upon Him. If such a moment should come, and come it will sooner or later, should we live any long time in the world, to every one of us; what a blessing will it prove, should we have been trained beforehand to seek the Lord, to commit all to Him in regular prayer! What a help, what a privilege at such a time to be conscious that you are not in the agony of the moment setting about something which you have never been used to before! you are not resorting in your extremity to an untried physician, but to Him Whose healing power you have known by happy experience all your life long unto this day!’
‘And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord.’
2 Kings 19:15
I. Observe the one plea upon which Hezekiah rests his cause.—He says nothing of himself, and of the services which he had wrought, and the reformation which he had promoted throughout the land. It was but a small matter that Hezekiah and his people should perish: there might be reasons why God would be pleased to suffer the threatened danger to overwhelm them. But God’s own honour was at stake. Hezekiah hoped that He would not suffer the nations of the earth to conclude that He was of no more power and might than the worthless idols, which of course had been unable to deliver their votaries from the hand of their enemies. He pleaded with Him to vindicate His own greatness, and deliver those who trusted in Him.
II. Thus Hezekiah sought and found relief in his anxiety, and the account of it is detailed with such fullness in Scripture, not only that we may admire Hezekiah’s assured trust and hope in God, but may ourselves go and do likewise.—What have we to do, when any danger, affliction, or perplexity befall us, but lay our case before God, as Hezekiah did? Who can tell what a blessing this history would be to us, if the very next time that any bad news was brought to us, whether it concerned ourselves personally, or our family, or our country, or the Church of God, we would go at once, without allowing ourselves to brood over our trouble, and perhaps grow fretful, desponding, and uncharitable, and lay it with all our fear and sorrow before our merciful Father, whether in His own House, to which Hezekiah repaired, or in the retirement of our own chamber? Who can tell how it would soothe and strengthen our hearts, and enable us to bear the impending blow? Even if it should still please God that the blow should fall, the act of communing with Him as our friend, and pouring out our hearts before Him, would be a stay and comfort, according to those precious words of the Apostle: ‘Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God; and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’
(1) ‘This Lesson shows us a good man in a great trial. Hezekiah was king of Judah. The king of Assyria was threatening him, and in a human sense there seemed no possibility of being able to defend himself against the great host of the Assyrians. He took the matter to the Lord, and here we have the result. The Lord took the king’s trouble into His own hands, and brought about the destruction of the host of Assyrians.’
(2) ‘Prayer is heard—that is one great lesson. We may safely lay all the interests of our life, all our dangers, sorrows, and losses before God in prayer. The surest weapon we can use against any one who is trying to hurt us is to pray against him—not bitterly nor with resentment, but by laying all the hurt and danger before God, that He may take care of our interests for His own name’s sake.’
(3) ‘God is ready always to help us with our troubles and dangers. He told Hezekiah that He had heard his prayer against Sennacherib. We are not likely to be in such condition as Hezekiah was in, but there are other enemies than Assyrians. When temptation besieges us and we have no power against it, we may take the matter to God and tell Him about it, and He will hear us. Whatever danger or trouble we are in, if we go to God with it He will hear us and answer us.’
THE DEATH OF SENNACHERIB
‘As he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god … his sons smote him with the sword.’
2 Kings 19:37
If we consider (1) the character of Sennacherib’s life, and compare with that (2) the character of his death, we shall discover both the reason and the instruction of the text.
I. The character of his life.—Two things had distinguished it towards man—excessive violence and much pride. This King Sennacherib, perhaps, of all the Assyrian sovereigns, was the most successful, and so, the worst. Probably, therefore, it is his portrait which one sees most frequently on the slabs. At any rate, they help to furnish us with a true idea of his life. Take a succession of those causeless conflicts, those captured cities, those butchered prisoners, those blinded sovereigns, those streaming executions, and you have the deeds of his reign. Take, next, the triumphant pride with which he exults over them, and you have the full criminality of those deeds.
The tide of his oppression came at last to the land of Judea—especially dangerous ground. For here he came in contact with a ‘peculiar people,’ the family which God was educating for the benefit of mankind. This added both to the enormity and to the importance of the crime. How to the enormity, if he did not know what he was doing? Because he knew sufficient to know more. Sennacherib was well aware that he was fighting not against Hezekiah, but Jehovah. This ought to have led him to inquire. Instead of this, he says in effect, ‘Be the Lord Jehovah Who He may, I am not to be checked.’
Consider, also, the effect of his language and conduct on the Jews. How did his sin appear in their eyes? Considering their position and destiny, this was of importance to the world. And, in their eyes, it is clear that his offence involved the most direct and daring challenge to all they adored. Would the Lord’s House be overthrown, or the waves be driven back? Would this great conqueror conquer Jehovah, or would he, instead, and at last, himself he subdued? All the faith of Judah stood by, and all the unborn faith of Christianity stood behind it, to observe the result.
II. The character of Sennacherib’s death.—Having seen the nature of his challenge, we have now to notice how it was taken up. God replied, first, to his pride. ‘Who can stand,’ the king had said, ‘before me?’ God answered this wicked boast, not in battle, not by spoken rebuke, but, as it was prophesied, by a ‘blast.’ In the morning the once mighty sovereign is in a camp of dead men. Where is the terrible army which he had previously relied on? What has he now left to be proud of? What can he do now, except return home, humiliated and alone?
God replied, next, to his violence and bloodshed. After the king had returned to his own kingdom and city, the weapon which he had so often employed on others was employed on himself. As the prophet had foretold, he died by the ‘sword.’ This man of unnatural cruelty, with a horrible kind of fitness, died by unnatural hands. He was slain by his sons, who, brothers in hatred and cruelty, and worthy inheritors of his nature, consented together in this deed, and so doubled the guilt upon each. How often we see this! The instruments of the sinner’s punishment brought into being by himself!
Lastly, Jehovah answered the man’s blasphemy and profaneness. The challenge had been delivered certainly within sight of God’s House, in the ears and language of the people who sat on the wall. No answer came at the time. God, Who sometimes waits to be gracious, often delays to destroy. But the answer, when it did come, was most conclusive. In the king’s own city, in the temple of his own idol, while engaged in the very act of worship, the blow descended upon him. If safe anywhere, he thought, it was there; but there it was, on the contrary, just there, that he died. ‘Where is the God’ he had boasted, ‘who can deliver from me?’ ‘Can thine own god protect thyself?’ replied the silent stroke of God’s hand.
It is unnecessary to point out the importance of such a lesson to the Jews. So significant an incident was well worthy of being commemorated among them. And, if the story was all this to them, not less of course, is it to us, who are taught by their experience, and are the inheritors of their faith. ‘Evil shall hunt the wicked to overthrow him.’ We see (just as they did) the conclusion of such a ‘hunt’ in our text—we see how God and the impenitent sinner must come face to face at the last—how such a man prepares his own torments, and creates his own executioners, and sends up against heaven the very bolts which come down again perforce on himself. These are truths much forgotten, and, therefore, to be often insisted on, in these days. There is a way of preaching the Saviour as though there was nothing from which to be saved. This grand Old Testament history, rising up out of those distant Assyrian ruins, may help to deliver us from such a delusion. Doubtless there is a Saviour; but there is a need for Him, too; there is such an awful reality as ‘the wrath to come.’ Doubtless there is a ‘City of Refuge’; but that is not all. The ‘avenger of blood’ is behind us; and if we do not flee to it, we are lost.
Rev. W. S. Lewis.
‘Contrast the two kings, Sennacherib and Hezekiah—the godless and the just. Sennacherib, who sees himself in peril and obliged to retreat by the approach of Tirhakah, does not on that account become more modest or more humble, but only more obstinate and arrogant. That is the way with godless and depraved men. In distress and peril, instead of bending their will and yielding to the will of God, they only become more stubborn, insolent, and assuming. Hezekiah, on the contrary, who was in unprecedented trouble and peril, was thereby drawn into more earnest prayer. He humbled himself under the hand of God, and sought refuge in the Lord alone. He went into the House of God and poured out his soul in prayer.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Kings 19". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13