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2 Kings 18:1-37
Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea.
A striking reformation, a ruthless despotism, and an unprincipled diplomacy
I. A striking reformation (2 Kings 18:3-8).
1. The perverting tendency of sin. The brazen serpent was a beneficent ordinance of God to heal those in the wilderness who had been bitten by the fiery serpent. But this Divine ordinance, designed for a good purpose, and which had accomplished good, was now, through the forces of human depravity, become a great evil. See how this perverting power acts in relation to such Divine blessings, as
(5) governments; and
(6) religious institutions.
2. The true attributes of a reformer. Here we observe
(1) Spiritual insight. Hezekiah saw in this serpent which appeared like a God to the people, nothing but a piece of brass--“Nehushtan.”
(2) Invincible honesty. He not only saw that it was brass, but said so,--thundered it into the ears of the people.
(3) Practical courage. “He brake in pieces the brasen serpent.”
3. The true soul of a reformer. What is that which gave him the true insight and attributes of a reformer, which in truth was the soul of the whole?
(1) Entire consecration to the right.
(2) Invincible antagonism to the wrong.
II. A ruthless despotism. There are two despots mentioned in this chapter--Shalmaneser and Sennacherib, both kings of Assyria.
1. He had already invaded a country in which he had no right.
2. He had received from the king most humble submission and large contributions to leave his country alone. Mark his humiliating appeal.
III. An unprincipled diplomacy,
1. He represents his master, the King of Assyria, to be far greater than he is.
2. He seeks to terrify them with a sense of their utter inability to resist the invading army. (David Thomas, D. D.)
Hezekiah’s good reign
The history of God’s ancient people is full of surprises. The whole course of their national life was marked by wonderful Divine interpositions. An public records, when carefully studied, disclose the fact that God, through His providence, is acting as master of affairs, and though statesmen and political economists refer the shifting events of national career to natural causes, it is evident to the clear thinker that God is an uncalculated factor, the explanation is meagre and faulty. But in the history of the elect people, the Divine element was unmistakably prominent. In these particulars the history of the Jews was unique, and sublime above that of any other nation. And yet the behaviour of the people was quite as surprising. With only the thinnest of veils separating them from God--their daily experience august with the manifestations of His presence--the penalties of sin and the rewards of righteousness, things tangible and perceptible, they went on in a mad career of impiety and wickedness as recklessly as though they had never heard of Jehovah. But there are lights as well as shadows to the picture. Now and then a man in authority rose to the level of his responsibility and ruled in the fear of God, and the nation, as nations commonly do, catching inspiration from their leader, entered upon an era of prosperity. Notable among these faithful few was Hezekiah, King of Judah.
1. Hezekiah “did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.” His theory of government was a simple one; to make it as far as possible a transcript of the Divine government. Statesmanship, in his conception of it, was no familiarity with human precedents, a mastery of the wiles and contrivances by which men in power manage to make all events subserve their purpose, a skilful sword-play in which some trick of fence is more highly esteemed than truth and righteousness. With that one purpose sovereign and constant, all details of administration grouped themselves about it, and in harmony with it, as the atoms of the gem aggregate themselves about the centre of crystallization, the value and lustre of the jewel, due to its unity. No government of contradictions this, whose worth was to be ascertained by averaging its failings and its merits, but an honest attempt on the part of the king to make his rule an answer to the prayer, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” It is the fatal defect in most forms of government that this overrule of God is ignored. Men are dull scholars, slow to learn that to do right is to do well, in public affairs as well as in private conduct. To do “that which is fight in the sight of the Lord” is the fundamental and unalterable principle in all policies of government that vindicate themselves in history. Treasuries and armies and the intrigues of cabinets may win temporary successes; but they are short-lived.
2. Hezekiah “trusted in the Lord God of Israel.” That gave him confidence and made him uncompromising in all his measures. He was no cautious strategist, trying experiments, uncertain of their issue, advancing so slowly that there would be opportunity to retrace his steps if the event seemed likely to disappoint his expectation a He did not trust in his own shrewdness and far-sightedness. He was not anxious about the signs of the times, a calculator of popular weather probabilities. No one more well aware than he of the unreliability of the tone and temper of public moods. He trusted in God, the eternal and the unchanging, “a personal God, the Lord God of Israel, doing His pleasure in the armies of heaven and among the children of men.” So he had no responsibility except for duty; consequences were in higher and wiser hands than his. Like a soldier under command, he had only to obey orders. And withal he had a serene and satisfying assurance that he should be contented with last results. The Divine wishes could not be thwarted, and whatever pleased God would please him. When the first Napoleon came to the throne, and saw how unbelief was destroying both the faith and the conscience of the French nation, he said to his advisers, “If there is no God, we must create one.” No man can prosperously direct the affairs of a great people without personal faith in God. There are crises in affairs when he loses heart and hope unless he “endures as seeing Him who is invisible.” There are hours when the policy of strict righteousness threatens immediate disaster, and the temptation to slight concessions for large apparent good is strong, and how can king or president resist it unless they are able to look up through the obscurity and confidently say, “Clouds and darkness are round about Him, but judgment and justice are the habitation of His throne?” Religion is too often depreciated as the superstition of the cloister and the Church, but all history shows that it has been the most practical and powerful force in the administration of government.
3. Hezekiah “clave to the Lord and departed not from following Him.” This religious faith was something more than an intellectual assent to certain general truths, more even than the recognition that Divine Providence is the operative factor in human history. His convictions had a personal force, and caused him to see that he ought to be, and led him to endeavour to be, himself a good man. Behind all the righteous measures he proposed, there was the weight and push of a righteous character. It was not enough that the service due to God had mention in public documents and on state occasions; he himself must render that service in his private capacity. The people must see, in his individual behaviour, the recognition of the sovereignty of those principles that were embedded in the statutes, and gave shape and colour to the national policy. Other things being equal, the better the character of king and governor and legislator, the stronger the presumption that their administration of affairs will be judicious, sound, and strong. The man who governs himself rightly has taken the first step towards knowing how to govern others for their good.
4. “And the Lord was with him, and he prospered whithersoever he went.” This is the brief but significant summing up of the history of Hezekiah’s reign. The account is notable for its omissions. There is no record of new territory added to the kingdom, of armies organised, of treasuries filled, of advance in industrial enterprise and business prosperity, the specifications that figure so largely in the common description of national growth. In the thought of the inspired writer, the enumeration of items like these was of small importance in comparison with the great overshadowing fact that the Divine presence was visible, and the Divine favour evident, in the whole course of the people’s history. That of itself was sufficient to ensure success and renown. Since God was for them, who or what could be against them? (Monday Club Sermons.)
Hezekiah’s good reign
Heredity is fickle, or wicked Ahaz would not have had a son like Hezekiah. The piety of the father does not necessarily involve the godliness of the son, nor does the iniquity of the parent make virtue impossible in his posterity. Judah had no worse king than Ahaz, and no better than Hezekiah. There are surprises of goodness in bad families, and of wickedness in families which bear an honoured name. There is also a sweet word of hope for the offspring of bad people. Hezekiah and Josiah were sons of such evil monsters as Ahaz and Amon. The surroundings and character of Hezekiah supply useful lessons.
I. An evil environment. Hezekiah’s life boldly challenged and denied the supremacy of circumstances, and emphasised the truth that real manhood rules circumstances, and is not ruled by them.
1. Evil in the home. Ahaz contributed in the fullest measure possible, both by precept and example, to the moral ruin of his family. Every form of heathenism he found in the land he strenuously supported, and introduced new varieties of sin from other lands. There is not a single virtuous thing recorded of him during his whole life. The kindest thing he ever did was to die, and even that service was performed involuntarily.
2. A corrupt nation. Evil was popular. The flowing tide of public sentiment was with Ahaz, idolatry, and vice. The nation had lost its conscience. The last restraints of decency and custom had been removed. There was not an institution in all the land for the protection of youth,, and the young prince, and any other virtuous youth, might say with literal truth, No man careth for my soul.
II. A splendid character. Untoward circumstances develop brave men. Battles and storms make heroes possible.
1. Unwavering decision. “In the first month of the first year of his reign,” he set about the work of reform (2 Chronicles 29:3). He was only twenty-five years of age. But his youth had been wisely spent, and when opportunity of great usefulness came, he was ready.
2. Religious enthusiasm. He restored the purity and dignity of Divine worship (verses 4-6). He went back to first principles; he dug down to the only sure foundation of national strength. No nation can be strong whose temple doors are closed.
3. Widespread success. His achievements were so great and complete, that he eclipsed all the kings who preceded and succeeded him (verse 5). His trust was in the Lord (verse 5), and his faith was honoured of God (verses 7, 8). Truly character is above circumstances, and the history of this Jewish prince is a lesson of hope for the young people of to-day. (R. W. Keighley.)
A just ruler a type of God
John Ruskin, in Stones of Venice, calls attention to the pleasing fact that in the year 813 the Doge of Venice devoted himself to putting up two great buildings--St. Mark’s, for the worship of God, and a palace for the administration of justice to man. Have you ever realised how much God has honoured law in the fact that all up and down the Bible He makes the Judge a type of Himself, and employs the scene of a court-room to set forth the grandeurs of the great judgment day? Book of Genesis: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Book of Deuteronomy: “The Lord shall judge His people.” Book of Psalms: “God is Judge Himself.” Book of the Acts: “Judge of quick and dead.” Book of Timothy: “The Lord the righteous Judge.” Never will it be understood how God honours judges and court-rooms until the thunderbolt of the last day shall sound the opening of the great assize--the day of trial, the day of clearance, the day of doom, the day of judgment. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The spiritual scores successes
Remember that flesh dies and spirit lives: in the long run, it is the spiritual that is mighty. Think of that insignificant-looking little black-eyed Jew clanking his chains in Rome, and writing to “the saints that are in Ephesus.” Think of Athanasius calmly facing the Arian rabble. Think of Leo the Great consolidating a spiritual empire when the old Roman civilisation was shattered and failing in ruins. Think of Augustine writing the City of God in 410 when the world was thrilled with dismay because Rome had been stormed by Alaric the Goth. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” To be spiritual is to be already victorious.
The religious-the greatest of reforms
In his History of the Eighteenth Century, Mr. Lecky said: “Although the career of the elder Pitt and the splendid victories by land and sea that were won during his ministry formed unquestionably the most dazzling episodes in the reign of George II., they must yield in real importance to that religious revolution which shortly before had begun in England by the preaching of the Wesleys and Whitefield.” Methodism was the least result of Wesley’s efforts, for, as Green the historian had said, “the noblest result of the religious revival was the steady attempt which had never ceased from that day to this to remedy the guilt, the ignorance, the physical suffering, and the social degradations of the profligate and the poor.” Wesley preached and taught in his class-meetings and in his journals the true application of the great saying of burke, that “whatever is morally wrong can never be politically right.”--
2 Kings 18:3-7
And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.
Goodness and prosperity
It is impossible to read these words without some surprise. First of all, we are surprised at the fact of a good king reigning over either of the kingdoms of the Israelites, and secondly we are surprised at the assertion made in the latter part of this verse, when the conclusion of the chapter appears to give it a direct and absolute contradiction. So far from Hezekiah prospering whithersoever he went, he is described as being assailed most bitterly by his enemies, insulted and besieged, and, in fact, all but utterly destroyed. We may, however, reconcile the statement with the recorded facts by remembering that, after all, the Almighty did not allow him to be utterly destroyed or entirely cast down. And not only so--the afflictions which came upon him and the straits into which he was led were really the results of his own folly, and only came to him when he forgot to trust in the Lord his God, and relied on his own strength. And these thoughts lead us back again to the fact brought before us in the text. We are taught thereby--
I. That there is an intimate connection between goodness and prosperity. When Hezekiah served God he prospered, when he leaned on his own strength he did not. Real prosperity is only to be obtained in the service of God. A false tinsel may, for a moment, gild the course of the sinful. A momentary glamour of unholy light may flicker on their actions, but it soon will fade away. True stable advantage is only for the righteous. This is shown us--
1. In history. What has become of the long list of mighty kings and conquerors who have held the world in unrighteous sway? Their bodies have faded and the kingdoms crumbled to dust. But those who have been servants of God are now reigning in kingdoms of a brightness far exceeding any worldly kingdom. This is shown us--
2. In the lessons and examples of Scripture. So numerous are these that they will occur to all. Joseph is a striking instance of good, Ahab of evil. In the history of the kings we find that whenever any king turned away from his evil courses the kingdom prospered, to sink again to his lowest ebb when an evil ruler ascended the throne. David is ever repeating the same important truth. Our Lord tells us the same. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” This is shown us--
3. By our own personal experience. What does David say? “I have been young and now am old, yet saw I the righteous never forsaken or his seed begging bread.” The longer we live the more we may discover that those who love God are no losers even in a worldly point of view. They not only have the promise of good things to come, but also have the blessings of the life that now is, far more often than is generally supposed.
II. That this connection between good and prosperity is owing to the presence and influence of God. God was with Hezekiah, and it was God who made him to prosper in all that he did. We shall see the reasonableness of this fact if we remember--
1. That God is the only source of prosperity. He maketh rich and He alone. The cattle upon a thousand hills are His. All the gold and silver in the world are His. He can and will bestow them upon whom He will.
2. That God is the only source of protection. His knowledge and power and resources can and will be bestowed by Him in the protection of His people. It was so in the case of Hezekiah. How powerless were all the mighty hosts of his enemies to injure even a hair of his head so long as the shield of the Almighty was his protection!
3. That God is the only source of happiness. Even prosperity does not always bring happiness. It may if it is sanctified. It is God alone who can sanctify. And He can give happiness in this world and joy in the next. Thus, as God Himself is good, He bestows rewards upon those who partake of His nature. Righteousness itself is the highest form of prosperity, and the noblest attainment of human nature, because it enlists infinite power on our behalf. Conclusion.
What a blessed lot is that of him who has the Lord for his God through Jesus Christ our Saviour! May we all strive to do that which is right in His sight, and so we shall reap the promised reward. (Homilist.)
The good son of a bad father
Ahaz, King of Judah, is dead. At his death no tear was shed, except some down-trodden one wept for joy that the king was gone. Destitute of true courage, of piety, of noble or elevating thoughts, he has fallen all covered with shame and irreligion.
I. The worst of fathers have sometimes left behind them the best of sons. It was so with Ahaz. But no thanks are due to him. His influence, example, and life were all such as seemed likely to fill the mind of his son with that which was not good. Yet the son was one of the best of kings, and a good man.
II. The sons of bad fathers suffer some loss through paternal wickedness and folly. This does not need much illustration, for, unfortunately, we have too many instances before our eyes almost daily. It is patent to us all that the iniquity of the father is visited upon the children. This is true both in body, estate, and character. We suffer for what our parents were and did, and can’t help it. I dare say many of you have lived long enough to believe that many of your weaknesses and much of your poverty are the result, not of your own profligacy and extravagance, but of those who have preceded you. Few of you will question the soundness of my conclusions on these two. You may be disposed to do a little when I say that the son suffers in character because of the bad father.
III. In the case of Ahaz, we see how God sometimes sets aside the notions of men and selects from unlikely schools the instruments with which He will accomplish great reforms and bring great blessings. Hezekiah, reared in the house of Ahaz, became a reformer of the abuses of his nation, restored prosperity to it, and brought the people back to the neglected Temple and the all but forgotten God. The son of an idolatrous king, he became the champion of true religion. Here we get a principle of widest application and illustration. The Bible abounds with it, and our experience too.
IV. I Notice that here we have a lesson of the mother’s influence. Did you notice with what care the sacred writer tells us the name of the mother of Hezekiah, and whose daughter she was? “Abi,” or Abijah, “the daughter of Zachariah.” It is not often you find it so stated in the Scriptures. Are we to conclude that Hezekiah was the good son mainly because he was the son of a good woman? Be that as it may in this case, the mother’s influence is unbounded. It begins with the babe, and never ends. Beecher said, “A babe is a mother’s anchor. She cannot swing far from her moorings.” And, we may add, the babe cannot swing far from its mother. Her heart is a schoolroom. (C. Leach, D. D.)
After a long journey underground we seem to have come suddenly upon a sweet garden, and the sight of it is as heaven. The charm is always in the contrast. If things are not quite so good as we supposed them to be, they are all the better by reason of circumstances through which we have passed, which have made us ill at ease, and have impoverished or disheartened us; then very little of the other kind goes a long way. A man comes up out of the underground railway and says when he emerges into the light, How fresh the air is here! What a healthy locality! How well to live in this neighbourhood! Why does he speak so kindly of his surroundings? Not because of those surroundings intrinsically, but because of the contrast which they present to the circumstances through which he has just passed. Hezekiah was no perfect man. We shall see how noble he was, and how rich in many high qualities, yet how now and again we see the crutch of the cripple under the purple of the king. It is well for us that he was occasionally and temporarily weak, or he would have been like a star we cannot touch, and at which we cannot light our own torch. Perhaps it is well for him that we approach his case after such an experience. He thus gets advantages which otherwise might not have been accorded to him: he looks the higher for the dwarfs that are round about him, the whiter because of the black population amidst which he stands, at once a contrast and a rebuke. But from Hezekiah’s point of view the case was different. Behind him were traditions of the corruptest sort. He was as a speckled bird in the line of his own family. It is hard to be good amidst so much that is really bad. (J. Parker, D. D.)
2 Kings 18:4
He removed the high places, and brake the images.
The First Commandment instructs us that there is but one God, who alone is to be worshipped; and the Second Commandment teaches that no attempt is to be made to represent the Lord, neither are we to bow down before any form of sacred similitude. The two commandments thus make a full sweep of idolatry.
I. We have much idol-breaking for Christians to do. There is much to be done in the Church of God, there is much more to be done in our own hearts.
1. There is much idol-breaking to be done in the Church of God. When God gives a man to the Church, fitted for her enlargement, for her establishment, and her confirmation, he gives to her one of the richest blessings of the covenant of grace; but the danger is lest we place the man in the wrong position, and look to him not only with the respect which is due to him as God’s ambassador, but with some degree of--I must call it so--superstitious reliance upon his authority and ability. In the Christian Church there is, I am afraid, at this moment too much exaltation of talent and dependence upon education, I mean especially in reference to ministers. Just the same also may be said of human eloquence. Continuing still our remarks with regard to the Christian Church, I will further remark that much superstition may require to be broken down amongst us in reference to a rigid adhesion to certain modes of Christian service. We have tried to propagate the truth in a certain way, and the Lord has blessed us in it, and therefore we venerate the mode and the plan, and forget that the Holy Spirit is a free Spirit. There are persons in our churches who object very seriously to any attempt to do good in a way which they have not seen tried before.
2. Now let us turn to the temple of our own hearts, and we shall find much work to be done there.
II. Those who are seekers of Jesus. There is some idol-breaking to be done for them. I pray God the Holy Spirit to do it. The way of salvation lies in coming to Christ, in trusting in Jesus Christ alone. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Hezekiah will now go to work and prove himself to be an energetic reformer, He must have been a strong man. He had no colleague, no ally; no one to say to him, Be brave, be true. He went straight against the hardest wall that ever war built by the stubbornness and perversity Of man. It is not easy to begin life by a destructive process of reformation. Who would not rather plant a tree than throw down a wall? Who would not rather plant flowers, and enjoy their beauty and fragrance, than give himself the severe toil, the incessant trouble, of destroying corrupt and evil institutions? Whoever attempts this kind of destructive work, or even a constructive work which involves preliminary destructiveness, will have a hard time of it: criticism will be very sharp, selfishness will be developed in an extraordinary degree. If a man be more than politician--if he be a real born statesman, looking at whole empires at once and not at mere parishes, and if in his thought and purpose he should base his whole policy upon fundamental right, he will not have an easy life of it even in a Christian country. In proportion as he bases his whole policy on righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, he will be pelted with hard names and struck at with unfriendly hands. This holds good in all departments of life, in all great reformations, in all assaults made upon ignorance, selfishness, tyranny, and wrong of every name. (J. Parker, D. D.)
A Jewish Iconoclast
Hezekiah was a very Iconoclast--a breaker of images. And in this respect he develops three rare qualities that lift him a great distance above his time and nation. He was clear-sighted--outspoken--prompt in action. He saw it was nothing but a piece of brass, he said it was brass, and he brake it in pieces.
I. Then Hezekiah had the seeing eye. Let us mark that as a primary quality, essential both to Hezekiah and all else who seek to free the people from slavish or debasing customs. He saw clearly that what they accounted a god, and worshipped as such, was only a lifeless, senseless piece of brass--that, and nothing more. This quality lifted the king an immeasurable distance above the people. They did more than treasure it as a precious relic, a memento of Divine compassion in a case of pressing need, or hand it down from sire to son as an heirloom of priceless worth because of its associations and teaching--“they burned incense to it.” So to-day, if a man would be a reformer, and stand out as a hero for the truth, he must have this essential quality--broad and sweeping vision. He must be able to see things in their true nature and tendency, to see correctly and beneath the surface of things. Men look at things in different ways, and many from peculiar standpoints. Some, for instance, never bring the object of vision near, but contemplate it as through an inverted telescope, while others look at things through tinted mediums, and all appear of uniform colour; some, again, never see only through another’s eye, and are incapable of independent vision; a few are cross-eyed, and all things appear to them in an oblique form; many are purblind, and men appear as trees walling; whilst a few will persist in looking at all things through some distorted medium, which always gives the wrong size, and a false shade of colouring; and others are stone blind to the weightiest things in life, and can see nothing that needs touching, helping, renewing, or reforming. Such men can never be heroes, and do noble work in the people’s cause. Others again, from motives of personal interest, love of ease, prejudice, ambition, or blind adherence to party, will wilfully close their eyes; they will not see. And some, though they see clearly enough, yet are so politic, or quiescent, or have become such slaves to popular opinion and usage, that they will not, or, what is worse, dare not, declare the vision. See the next rare quality Hezekiah displayed in this transaction.
II. He was outspoken. “Nehushtan”--a piece of brass. What a hard name to give to a god! and what a frank and fearless honesty is here displayed! Might he not have toned it down a little, and led them to the truth by degrees? “Nehushtan” tells it all, fully, clearly, so at that it must stand. There were some very polite people in that day who felt themselves shocked, and their feelings outraged by hearing their darling god called a name so base. To-day, in some of the high places of the land, when men venture upon what has come to be regarded as an unfashionable and undesirable thing--calling things by their right names--what pious horror! And what bitter invectives and scathing denunciations are hurled against the poor delinquent who dares to use such speech! And yet, for all this, we might not have far to seek to-day, and in the Church even, for things quite as senseless as this serpent of brass--nay, worse, because devoid of its precious memories and suggestive teachings, and yet held with as firm a faith and regarded with as profound a reverence. Two or three thoughts are suggested by this plain speaking of Hezekiah we shall do well to observe.
1. Here is honest candour. You will remember some passages in the life of Luther not unlike the one under consideration. Take that historic circumstance of the hawking through Germany of the famous certificate of indulgence by Tetzel. Very wide and expressive that indulgence, promising to remit the pains and penalties of purgatory, and grant to the purchaser an easy access to paradise; an indulgence, too, that not only atoned for the past, but provided for the future, by shifting from the culprit all the penal consequences of sin, and granting a paradise to the most depraved--if only money enough should be handed over for the sacred paper. All this the Pope guaranteed in the parchment, in virtue of the power given to him as God’s vicegerent on earth. How Luther met this infamous pretence all the world knows. As Hezekiah looked upon the serpent-god, and found for it a name, so Luther at once saw through the whole trick of this monstrous paper, and, holding it up before the world, brands it as the “Pope’s emparchmented lie.”
2. That this announcement of Hezekiah’s assailed an established article of Jewish faith, and overturned an ancient rite. That serpent-god was blended with their religious life. Their fathers had worshipped it down through the ages, and for seven centuries it had held a conspicuous place in their services. Was it not now late in the day to call its divinity in question? To a less bold and energetic man, these considerations would have had weight and influence, but not so here. Now it is just here where the work of a reformer becomes most stubborn, and where his valour will be tested most severely. It is not nearly so difficult to set up a new god as to throw down an old one. People are tenacious of old customs. The established order of things is difficult to move, and in time comes to be regarded as existing by Divine right. There is nothing that men are more sensitive about than of matters touching religious usages.
3. This would provoke murmurs and secret opposition, if not open dissent, and render him for the time unpopular among many. His “Nehushtan” would ring in their ears as a most unpleasant sound; the word was very unpalatable, and altogether too degrading. “What a thing to say of so good a god! Only a piece of brass! Why, we and our fathers have burned incense to it all these years, and we have had wise and good men among us who never disputed its claims as a god! Brass only! it cannot be, it is a god notwithstanding his statement!” But Hezekiah is unmoved, nothing daunts or turns him aside from his purpose, it is Nehushtan still, just that, and nothing more. Let them murmur, oppose, reproach; let his popularity be jeopardised by throwing him into conflict with priest and leader, all is nothing to him compared with the truth; and here is truth touching the people’s highest interests; it will help to lift them to freer, purer regions, and the people must have it at any cost.
III. Prompt and energetic action. He “brake it in pieces.” What a thoroughness there is in this determined encounter with popular error. Many can see, and do not hesitate to give things their right names, but stop short of this third and grander step--they raise no smiting hand to break in pieces anal destroy.
1. An act of determined prowess. He brake it. How short the history of the transaction, but how eloquent of meaning! What a wide field of human interest it covers, and how complete is the act! Like a true and trusty knight of lordly chivalry, he smites with unerring aim, and the well-struck blow shivers to atoms the brasen god. He brake it in pieces. Let us mark that. He did not bury it, nor have it removed to some secluded spot, nor content himself by passing a law forbidding the people under pains and penalties to worship it.
2. This was an act of prompt decision. No waiting, or parleying with the enemy; no deferring of the matter to a more opportune time, when the deed might be done with less risk, or with greater ease.
3. Hezekiah had strong faith. Faith in what? Faith in God, faith in the revelation, and faith in the truth. Doubt would have paralysed; faith made him heroic. May the God of Hezekiah anoint our eyes that we may see clearly, and inspire us with a holy courage to speak the vision, and to strike boldly for truth and freedom. One question of supreme importance presses upon us.
1. To what are we burning incense?
2. The subject suggests an admonition. The blessings of the Divine Father should be used, and not abused by us. (J. T. Higgins.)
Destroying idols by royal command
The last of the persecuting monarchs of madagascar, Queen Ranavalona I., died on 16th July 1861, to the very last breathing out threatenings and slaughter in her bitter hatred of the Christians. She was succeeded by a king and a queen, both of whom, during their short reigns, allowed their subjects perfect liberty of conscience in religious matters. After the death of these monarchs, Queen Ranavalona II. ascended the throne, the public recognition of her sovereignty taking place on 3rd September 1868. As she took her seat on that memorable occasion, there were two tables placed before her--on the one was the crown of Madagascar, and on the other the Bible which had been sent to her predecessor by the British and Foreign Bible Society. She had resolved to wear the crown in accordance with the teaching of the Bible. In the following year the queen resolved that all the remaining idols should be destroyed. Accordingly, she despatched officers on horseback to the sacred village where was the great national idol, Kelimalaza. Great though he was he was nothing more than a wooden insect wrapped about with red cloth. As the officers rode up to the temple where the idol was, the priests became greatly concerned, and their consternation was unbounded when these officers demanded to see the idol. They demurred. “Is it yours or the queen’s?” asked the officers. To this the only true answer was that it was the queen’s. “Very well,” said the officers, “the queen has determined to make a bonfire of it.” The priests insisted that it would not burn, but the officers showed a determination to try the experiment. The priests then said they possessed charms which would render the idol invisible, so that it could not be found. Kelimalaza carried a scarlet umbrella in token of his rank, which alone would have betrayed him. The officers, proof against the priests’ professed charms, went in, seized the god, with all its silver chains and trappings, and submitted him to the fiery ordeal, which he never survived. Immediately orders were issued that all idols in every temple throughout the island should be destroyed. In every village and town idols were burned. Superstition received a shock, for none of the feared disasters overtook the people, who after a while rejoiced in being freed from baseless fears, such as they and their forefathers for centuries back had been subject to.
And he called it Nehushtan.--
“Nehushtan”--a mere “piece of brass”; thus Hezekiah named the brasen serpent. What! this sacred relic of bygone times, the very sight of which once saved so many from death; this image made by Moses at the bidding of Jehovah Himself; this to be broken in pieces! this to be called a mere “thing of brass”! Did it not rather become a pious king to preserve such an heirloom amongst the treasures of the nation, as an abiding remembrancer of God’s care for Israel in the olden time? Not so thought King Hezekiah. He was bent on the work of national reformation. He saw that incense was being burnt to this brasen serpent: that was enough for him. Whatever it may have been in the past, it was clearly a curse to the people now.
I. That a blind veneration for the past is always an obstacle in the path of progress. An intelligent regard for the past is, of course, a help and not a hindrance in the direction of all true advance. But a clinging to customs, institutions, modes of thought and worship, and a refusal to surrender them for no other reason than that they have existed for centuries--this is an unintelligent attachment to the past, and has often obstructed progress. Right across the path of Hezekiah, in his endeavours to purify the religious life of Ins people, stood this blind veneration for the brasen serpent. They could have given no intelligent account of their burning incense to this image; only, it had long ago been a medium of healing influence; and as, doubtless, their fathers had burnt incense to it, why should not they? But Hezekiah rose above the superstition which blinded his countrymen. A similar attitude was taken up by Oliver Cromwell against the blind veneration which existed in his day for the institution of monarchy. The doctrine of “the divine right of kings” was then imperilling the liberties of England. We may not, perhaps, justify the execution of Charles; and yet we may feel that the time had come when it was necessary to strike a decisive blow at the root of this superstitious doctrine. Sacred associations might surround the person of the “Lord’s anointed”; it might be reckoned “sacrilege “ to touch a hair of his head; but Cromwell’s resolve was taken, that the liberties of the country should not be sacrificed on the attar of this king-worship; he was sure that (all sacred associations notwithstanding) the king was, after all, just a man like other men. Cromwell had the courage to say “Nehushtan.”
II. Even that which has been ordained by God Himself for a blessing, may be so misused as to become a curse. This brasen serpent was not merely a relic of antiquity. It had originally been made by Divine appointment. By Divine appointment also it had once been the means of saving many lives. And yet this very thing which had been so great a blessing when used as Jehovah had directed, became a curse when it was misused. It is thus that even a God-ordained help may be perverted into a hindrance. Many similar illustrations might be given of this misuse of things Divinely ordained. Art and science, for example, are intended by God to be handmaids of true progress; but the worship of science tends only to materialism, and the worship of beauty tends ultimately to sensuality. The weekly day of rest: that, too, is a gift of God, and fitted to be a source of blessing, But it may be so misused as to become a hindrance rather than a help. It may be spent in an idleness or debauchery, which turns it into a source of weariness or exhaustion. But it may also be misused by being idolised. See how the Pharisees burnt incense to the Sabbath I And this is only a typical instance of the manner in which the Pharisees misused the whole law. That law was appointed by God as a blessing; but by their worship of the mere letter they changed it into, a hindrance. The Bible, again;--what a blessed boon it is--containing, as it does, a revelation of the character and will of God. But the Bible will not bring us all the good which it is fitted to impart, if we begin to worship itself instead of Him whom it reveals. The Bible is to be used--not worshipped.
III. Every symbol loses its significance and value, in proportion as it is converted into an idol. The significance of a symbol lies in its pointing to something more precious than itself, which it expresses or enshrines. And the practical value of any symbol depends, not only on the importance of that which it symbolises, but also on the extent to which its significance is apprehended and realised. Now, the brasen serpent, when it was lifted up in the wilderness, was not only the means of bodily healing, but also a symbol of spiritual facts. It was a material token of the pitying mercy of God.
1. Every creed is a symbol. It is an attempt to express the truth of God in the words of man. Such words are valuable, only as pointing to that which is more precious than themselves. And a creed or confession of faith--thus regarded and thus used--may prove most helpful to the student of theology, It may put him on his guard against many an error; it may often serve as a finger post, directing him in the way of truth. But the moment a creed begins to be worshipped, that moment its value is diminished.
2. The sacraments are also symbols. Our simple Christian feast of the Supper is a most expressive emblem of the nourishment and enjoyment which are to be found in our communion with Christ, and with one another in Christ. And the sacrament of Baptism--symbolical of the cleansing power of the Gospel--is a most fitting initiatory rite of the “new covenant.” Using these simply as symbols--and looking through them to those spiritual facts to which they point--our faith is strengthened and our spiritual life deepened, But, whenever the sacraments begin to be in any way idolised, they lose much of their significance and value.
3. Finally: the cross is the grandest symbol in all history. Jesus Christ suffering and dying on Calvary: here is an actual event of the past which, by an exercise of the imagination, we can bring before “the mind’s eye.” But it is not intended that we should rest in the outward circumstances of the Crucifixion. It is God’s purpose that we should use the cross as a symbol, not worship it as an idol. (T. C. Finlayson.)
The fiery serpents and the serpent of brass
I. First of all, consider this serpent of brass as made by Moses.
II. Consider this serpent of brass as worshipped by the Jews. We have no mention of it, after the circumstances at which we have briefly glanced, for nearly eight hundred years. We then come upon this passage, in the record of the life of King Hezekiah: “He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.” Though no mention is made of the fact, yet it is evident that the Israelites treasured up this brasen serpent as a sacred memorial or relic, kept it, perhaps, as a monument of God’s goodness, to awaken their gratitude, and help them in future troubles to remember His Name. They carried it with them during their subsequent journeyings in the wilderness; and in after times, when they became a settled and great nation, it appears to have been preserved with other memorials of historical and national interest in Jerusalem. The fact that this serpent of brass became an object of worship to the Jews is instructive in two or three ways. It suggests to us the danger attendant on going beyond the Divine command in religious duty. God ordered the serpent to be made, and to be used for the purpose and in the way He named; but, so far as we have any record, He gave no command for its preservation. As it was, the temptation was ever present; and in due time it brought forth sin. Other memorials were preserved--“the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant”--but these were preserved by Divine command. In all religious observances and duties it is wise and safe to keep close to the Word of God. This serpent-worship of the Jews shows us how forms may be abused. In its proper place, and for its proper use, the place and use assigned it by God, this symbol was useful. But when the invention of man stepped in, and began to employ it for another purpose, it became hurtful. In all ages of the Christian Church we see illustrations of the use and misuse, the helpfulness and mischief of forms. The conduct of the Jews in relation to this brasen serpent is also an illustration of the growth and development of evil. Possibly the persons who first began to worship the relic reasoned thus: “Here we have an object made by Divine command. Our fathers were delivered by it from a sore trouble. It represents to us the power and the goodness of our God. Surely we may offer incense to it as the representative of the unseen power and goodness.” This, perhaps, was the modified form which their idolatry took in the first instance, before at a later stage it became more gross and positive. This worship of the brasen serpent teaches us yet another lesson we shall do well to remember; that is, the corrupting influence of sinful associations and example. “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” In the conduct of the Jews we see the influence of their neighbouring nations, the Egyptians and Phoenicians. They were continually imitating the heathen around them, and importing into their midst the various forms of surrounding idolatry.
III. Let us now mark the destruction of this serpent of brass by Hezekiah. No sooner was this monarch established on the throne of Judah than he began a great work of national reformation. Idolatry covered the land. Ahaz, his father, was one of the worst kings that had sat upon the throne, and, under his influence, the nation had become utterly corrupt. Hezekiah knew the history of this serpent--how it was made at first by Divine command, and for a most beneficent purpose; and he, no doubt, could appreciate all proper feelings of veneration for so sacred a relic. But he saw the evil use to which the idolatrous tendencies of the nation had put it; and, therefore, without any hesitation, he determined on its destruction. The monarch’s conduct furnishes us with an example worthy of imitation. Its principles should be our law in relation to the evils of social and national life. We are surrounded by crying iniquities--iniquities that affect not only individuals, but the life and interests of the nation at large. Instead of sitting down in a spirit of indifference as to the existence and tendencies of prevailing vices, we should resolve, in the strength of God, to seek their destruction.
IV. We come, in the last place, to consider the brasen serpent as employed in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Nearly fifteen hundred years after it was made by Moses, and seven hundred after it was destroyed by Hezekiah, Christ used it as a theme of instruction. Our Lord here recognises the sinful and lost state of mankind. It was the poisonous bite of the fiery serpent that made the brasen serpent necessary; so it was the ruined character and condition of men that constrained God to appoint Jesus Christ as their Saviour. (W. Walters.)
Nehushtan; or the idols of the Church
Seven centuries and a quarter--as long an interval, save a hundred years, as that between our time and the time of the Norman Conquest--have passed since the serpent was made and used for the healing of the people; and now incense is burned to it, and has been for a long time; bow long we cannot tell. Who first put that piece of brass away as a curiosity or an object of reverence we do not know; Eleazar, I should think, or one of his family. It was quite a natural and inoffensive thing to do. And so, we may suppose, it passed into the possession of the High Priest’s family, and was retained among their vestments and sacred vessels. In their keeping it performed all the wilderness journey; crossed the Jordan; located itself at Shiloh; was kept safe through the troubled times of the Judges; escaped capture when the ark went down into Philistia; remained untouched during the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon; was secure when the kingdom was rent in twain in the time of Rehoboam, and right on through corn fusions and wars until Hezekiah determined to break it in pieces. How long the piece of rubbish lasted! How safe oftentimes is the thing that a man and a nation could best part with! Perhaps when Eleazar stowed it away in his chest, if he did it, he thought very feelingly of “the much people” who had turned eagerly to it for relief from pain and deliverance from death, and thought that it was a pity to break it up. He had done better if he had remembered the golden calf and the mischief which it had wrought among the people. When the brazen serpent was put away, it was probably preserved with an idea that it might prove useful on some future occasion; for tile journey was long, and there might be fresh plagues of a kind similar to the present one. A wonderful power is there to some persons in the economical aspect of life. They heap up old things until they have a very museum about them; but there is no life in it all, no fitness for present times and circumstances. These people can see what has been done, and are great on old methods and ways, but have no perception of present needs, nor of how God’s wisdom, power, and love can as easily meet them as they met the needs of earlier times. But whoever put away the brazen serpent, and preserved it, and for whatever reason, it had grown to be a snare; “the children of Israel did burn incense to it.” A curious interest, a kindly affection, a forecasting care had become perverted, corrupted into a superstitious reverence and an unholy trust. Reasoning and threatening and promising would do nothing; the short sharp remedy was to destroy a thing which had once and for ever done its work, and since then had been a too strong temptation. To call and to treat things as they deserve is the safest way to set all judgments right about them. To have called the serpent a “piece of brass,” just like any other piece of brass, would have done no good had Hezekiah allowed it to remain; for then it would have appeared as if he retained some lurking respect for it, or feared to stand by his judgment in the teeth of the prevailing feeling. Nor would it have been a complete rebuke had he broken the serpent and added no reason for doing so. The true epithet applied to things will often complete our labours. A folly or a superstition can often be destroyed with a word when all our serious efforts against it have failed. And yet the word would be only our own reproach, if we did not link it with corresponding action. “‘Tis a piece of brass,” said the king, as he broke the serpent in pieces; and when it could not resent the sacrilege, if sacrilege it was, the people could not but allow that he was right. Among things that are outgrown by men, or that, having served one or two generations well, fail to be of any further use, nothing is more curious and instructive than the popularity and the decline of books. To one age they are like the brasen serpent--channels of life; to another they become almost sacred, and to succeeding ages they are no more than a piece of common brass. In the history of the religious life it is instructive to notice how institutions, missions, and agencies of one kind and another spring up, do their work, die, and pass away. Institutions are created to meet a contemporary need, and as long as the need lasts they should last, but when it is gone they too should go. It is enough either for a man or a thing to serve its own generation; to do that is to do well. But you sometimes see an unwise and unhealthy attempt to prolong the existence and operations of an agency which, having done its work, only serves now to cumber the ground. The important matter is that we should intelligently understand that the Church is a living body; that its forms should suit its life at every stage of development; and that its agencies should be adapted by it to the work it has to do. It is the life that must be held sacred, and not the forms through which it expresses itself and the agencies by which it operates upon the world around. (J. P. Gledstone.)
I. Look at things in their right light. Thus the king acted. He regarded “the brasen serpent” from the true standpoint. Others beheld in it a god; he recognised nothing but brass. To them it was supernatural; to him idolatrous. How true it is that what we are we behold. The scene is in the seer. To no small extent the spectacle is in the spectator. Nothing can be more accurate than the lines of the Poet Laureate--
But any man that walks the mead,
In bud, or blade, or bloom may find,
According as his humours lead,
A meaning suited to his mind.
Cowper puts the same thought in another aspect--
And as the mind is pitch’d, the ear is pleased
With melting airs or martial, brisk or grave;
Some chord in unison with what we hear
Is touched within us.
A blacksmith hammers a piece of iron on his anvil “with measured beat and slow.” Ordinary people hear in it only an ordinary sound. Not so the great Handel. He listens, and it inspires him with one of the sweetest tunes in existence. The sun is setting, and as it sinks the whole western horizon is irradiated. Let three different men be called to witness it, and what diversified effects it will have on them! The meteorologist sees in those clouds before him signs of the weather, and confirmations of his theories touching certain natural laws. The agriculturist sees in them the premise of a good harvest or warning of a poor one. But the artist sees in them gorgeous tints and graceful forms, which he seeks to impress on his memory that he may reproduce them on the glowing convas.
II. Call things by their right names. Hezekiah did so. He “called it Nehushtan,” which means brass. Brass it was, and brass he called it. He spoke of it as he found it. A rare virtue! Thorough honesty of speech is not by any means too common Dr. South preached four fine discourses on The. Fatal Imposture and Force of Words.” The title is a sermon in itself. There is, indeed, a “fatal imposture” in some words. They are used to disguise sin and conceal the truth. No wonder that the inspired seer should exclaim, “Woe unto them that call darkness light, and light darkness; that put good for evil, and evil for good.” The practice is still a popular one. A prodigal is spoken of as “gay” or “fast.” A drunkard is “the worse for liquor.” A dishonest tradesman is “unable to meet his engagements.” The bad-tempered have “nervous irritability.” Notorious gambling is “financiering.” An army that lays hold of all that it can pilfer is said to “requisition.” An aggressive war is termed the “rectification of frontier.” A rude and inquisitive intrusion on the privacy of a distinguished man is “interviewing” him. A silly and wicked duel is “an affair of honour.” Slavery is alluded to as “a domestic institution.” We repeat it, therefore--call things by their right names. The common, colloquial caution is one which we may well lay to heart. “Mind what you say.” It is wise to ask, “Let the words of my mouth be acceptable in Thy sight.”
III. Give things their right treatment. When John Knox was remonstrated with for sanctioning the abolition of the monasteries he said, “While the rookeries stand the rooks will return.” Hezekiah was evidently of the same opinion. He was not content with condemning “the brazen serpent.” He first denounced, then destroyed it. He “ brake in pieces.” While the idol remained there was danger of a relapse into idolatry. Its preservation could not be beneficial, and might be extremely injurious, therefore he demolished it. His conduct is the more justifiable when we recollect a certain fact. Serpent-worship has, from early times, been a favourite practice in the East. Both Africa and Asia bear witness to it. Whence this singular custom arose it is not altogether easy to say, It is contrary to what might have been antecedently expected. Possibly it grew out of the well-known tendency in human nature to propitiate and coax a power which is felt to be dangerous. Men often fawn on what they fear. Whatever the correct explanation may be, however, there is the indisputable fact of serpent-worship. The writer has himself seen Buddhists present their offerings of money before a hideous image of a cobra di capello, the most poisonous snake in India and Ceylon. The application of Hezekiah’s conduct to ourselves is clear enough. We also must be iconoclasts. No idol is to be tolerated by us. What is your idol? To which of the many false gods are you tempted to do homage? Break it in pieces, as the king did the serpent. Let not any person, pursuit, or pleasure come between you and your Maker. Whether your “brasen serpent” be Mammon or friendship, or influence whatsoever it be, banish it from the temple of the soul, “and the King of Glory, shall come in.” (T. R. Stevenson.)
“Nehushtan,” or means and ends in our spiritual life
The temple at Jerusalem was the national museum of the Jews. It was fitting that it should be so, for the treasures of that God-governed nation were all of a sacred kind. Among the most prized of all the objects contained in that great sanctuary, there was the brazen serpent, that image which belonged to the pilgrim-passage of their history, and which was connected with a very striking incident in the experience of their fathers. The fact that it was so long preserved, proves of itself that no slight feeling was entertained about it. One generation handed it down to another through several centuries. It might well have served the people of God as a kindly beacon, warning them against rebellious murmurings, and also as a friendly token, attesting the readiness and power of Jehovah to redeem them in the time of their calamity and distress. But between what might have been and what was, how wide and deep the gulf! That image of brass, instead of rendering an important spiritual service, became the occasion of idolatrous homage. Instead of leading the thoughts of men’s minds to God, it drew them from Him; and instead of reverencing Him, they worshipped it. So the brave and wise king brake it up before the eyes of the people, and, in the act of destruction, called it “Nehushtan,” i.e. a bit of brass. The principle which lies at the root of this somewhat dating and very decisive act, is this--that no good thing, however good it be, must be allowed to come between our souls and God, to rob Him of His service; that, if anything does so come, a strong hand must be used--if need be, a destructive one--to take it away: or, to put the truth in a more positive form, that whatever means we use for worship or instruction, must not be turned into an end, but must be resolutely and determinedly employed as a means to bring the mind into the presence of God’s truth and the heart into communion with Himself. Let us apply our principle to--
I. Our treatment of the Bible. Wherein resides its virtue? There is nothing in the words which are employed more sacred than in those which are found in any book of devotion. There is no virtue or charm in the mere sound of the sentences which it contains. If we suppose that we are any better for having a Bible on our shelves, or on our tables, or in our hands, apart from the use we make of it; or if we think that we are any better before God because we go regularly and perhaps slavishly through an allotted portion of it, casting our eyes over it, or uttering in regular sequence the sounds for which the letters stand, whether or not we take its truth into our minds, then are we making the same kind of mistake which the children of Israel made in burning incense to the brasen serpent: we are making an end of that which is only valuable as a means. We are putting our trust in an outward observance, we are “having confidence in the flesh,” we are assuring our hearts vainly, mistakenly, dangerously. This principle will apply to--
II. The employment of approved evangelical phraseology. Much might be said of--
III. Our attitude toward the ministry of the Gospel. Open to a like abuse is--
IV. Our profession of personal piety. Only too often is this regarded as the attainment of an end, rather than the employment of a means of good. Men are apt, having reached that stage, to settle down into a slumberous state of spiritual complacency, instead of feeling that, by taking this step, they have entered into a wider realm of privilege and opportunity, where their noblest powers may engage in fullest exercise. It becomes a haven of indolent and treacherous security, instead of a sanctuary for intelligent devotion, a field for active Christian work, and thus it is perverted from a blessing to a bane. (W. Clarkson, B. A.)
We shall look at this instance of Hezekiah’s strict regard to principle as one of those fine lessons which are continually found in the exhaustless word of God; and shall remark--
I. That the reverence and affections of the Jewish people towards the old brasen serpent is very easily accounted for. In those days the people had few instructors, and fewer books. As a nation the Jews were in a state of childhood, scarcely capable of furnishing any materials for history. In such states of society there is a natural and strong clinging to the past. So there was this serpent of brass, which had been preserved from the days of Moses.
II. That the burning incense to this serpent of brass was an indication of the people’s forgetfulness of God’s purpose in its preservation.
III. That this destruction of the brasen serpent derives much of its significance from the fact that it was done by Hezekiah in his youth. Hezekiah came to the throne at the age of twenty-five; and this appears to have been one of the first acts of his reign. Lessons herein for young men.
1. None but young men know how hard it is to be religious. The other sex are mercifully spared many of man’s perils, difficulties, and temptations.
2. On many things young men when they become religious will have to write “Nehushtan”: on bad books; bad company; frivolous pursuits; and old associations of evil.
3. Only a high order of principle will enable young men thus to act independently of the world’s suffrage.
4. Only the resources of Almighty love and power will carry a religious young man through the perils and temptations of his career. God will always tell young men what Nehushtan to break in pieces, and He will give them strength to do it. (W. G. Barrett.)
Truth’s old clothes
I. Truth itself never wears out; but its dress does. Carlyle, in his never-to-be-forgotten Sartor Resartus, has shown us how all truth takes to itself some form, or dress, or skin. Life craves manifestation. Truth without a body is powerless. Facts need words to describe them, and make them live and act. It is through the words, or the expression, or the dress or body, that we come to get our ideas of the truth or life these contain. The world itself is but God’s thought put into form; the movements of the stars are the expressions of God’s delight in the orderly; the flowers, His thoughts of beauty; the waves, the expression of His might and gentleness; music, one of love’s voices, the expression of the affections and emotions, as words express reasoning and intellectual processes. Christ Himself is the completest expression in form of the invisible and otherwise unknowable. Truth, thought, spirit, deity we cannot know apart from form. All must clothe themselves before we can recognise them and make them our friends and helpers. The Incarnation of Christ is only the highest expression of a universal series of similar experiences. This being so, it is easy to see how important form, clothing, may be. Mr. Ruskin, “in” the Ethics, boldly says: “You can always stand by form against force. The philosophers say there is as much heat, motion, or energy in a tea-kettle as in a sier-eagle. Very good; it is so. It requires just as much heat as will boil the kettle to take the eagle up to his nest. The kettle has a spout, the eagle a beak. The kettle a lid, and the eagle wings. But the kettle cannot but choose sit on the hob, whilst the eagle can choose to recline on the air, sail over the highest cliffs, and stare with undimmed eye at the full glory of the sun.” The eagle’s glory is her form; the steam kettle’s force. Here we see the beauty and use of form. The truth to be remembered about form is--that it dies, that it is often defective at the best, and that as it grows old it loses its force. The body of the old eagle is not equal to the flights of its youth. Words which are truth’s body are at best often a poor body, an inadequate garment; and words grow old and lose their force.
II. At times we need give truth a new dress. The very beauty of some forms is their danger. We love them so much we keep on using them, until familiarity robs them of their full force, and we treat them as we should not--that is, with much less respect and attention than we treat stranger sounds and forms. Splendid words, like grace, glory, blessing, mercy, faith, pardon, come to be tripped so lightly with the tongues and so often, that hundreds never get to know their real meaning at all. Hence it is that dear old tunes and texts may become idols. When we use words in song or in prayer, and only use them because they have been so often used, and are the correct thing, or were the correct thing, to say, then our worship is a farce and a delusion, and the time for a change has come. It is impossible not to know that we all often ask for blessing and grace with no clear definite thought or purpose of what blessing and grace mean or involve; and when we do so, then the words grace and blessing are become as the serpent of brass--a delusion and danger, a mere Nehushtan. God Himself has had regard to this very need in man; and for man’s sake He has condescended to use variety in giving and expressing truth.
III. This need of realness leads me to observe that we are prone to set an endue value on the old, and we must guard against that danger. What history is the history of the conflict which has raged ever when change has had to be made! If Galileo said the world was not a fiat surface; if Walton said the Hebrew vowel points were not inspired; if geology said the world was not made in six times twenty-four hours; if ever a new view of the method of inspiration were suggested--nay, if the Church itself undertook to revise the Bible translation--what a Babel of contention and conflict arises; what gloomy prophecies of ruin and disaster are indulged in!
IV. This brings me to notice our duty--that it may be wise and right sometimes to sacrifice the clothing for the truth’s sake. The Bible, specially the New Testament, is a wonderful example of this duty. It is said that there is only one spot in all Palestine of which we can say, with absolute confidence, It was on this very spot Christ must have been (so carefully have the New Testament writers guarded against the worship of localities); except in the solitary case of Jacob’s well.
V. Our last point is this--in Christ alone (the truth) the clothing never wears out. That is a marvellous statement about Christ--that “He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” He never needs revise His truth; He never has more experience or wisdom. We should not think it a compliment to a man to say be thought at sixty just what he did at thirty. We expect riper experience, larger views, and sounder judgments. But Christ never needs thus grow; He is for ever perfect in form and spirit. The Gospels are a wonderful illustration--in fact, the whole Bible is a wonderful illustration--of this truth. The Book never grows old; it is always young and in the front of life’s race and battle. (R. H. Lovell.)
Ceremonies stand long after the thought which they express has fled, as s dead king may sit on his throne stiff and stark in his golden mantle, and no one come near enough to see that the light is gone out of his eyes, and the will departed from the hand that still clutches the sceptre. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
2 Kings 18:5-6
He trusted in the Lord God of Israel.
Three stages in the devout life
This is the writer’s summing up of the character of Hezekiah, before he enters on the details of his reign. It is a lofty and unconditioned eulogium, making no reference to faults. There are no shadows in the picture, and, of course, in so far it may be taken to be a too favourable likeness. But that is the way that God judges, about men, by the general, drift of their lives, and He does not grudge to praise them.
1. He “trusted in the Lord.” Now, people sometimes say that there is nothing about faith in the Old Testament, and that it is only in the New that we find such strong emphasis laid upon it, as the root and measure of all kinds of goodness. But that is a pure delusion. There never has been but one way to God, and the man that wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews, whoever he was, had seen a great deal deeper into the genius of the Old Testament religion than some very wise men of modern times, when he had not the smallest hesitation in pointing his finger to all that army of witnesses in the past and saying, “These all died in faith.” One other remark may be made about this “trust,” which is the basement story of Hezekiah’s character, and that is that the word which is here employed, like all the Old Testament expressions for spiritual and mental acts and things, has a very distinct material signification, and is in itself a lesson and a picture. For the word employed, and rightly employed here, for trusting in the Lord means, literally, leaning upon something, as one might do upon a strong stay. We may also note that the Old Testament sometimes speaks of trusting to, sometimes of trusting on, sometimes of trusting in, the Lord, and sometimes simply of trusting the Lord, just as the New has a similar variety of expression in reference to the act of faith. These variations indicate varying aspects of that act, considered as a going forth of heart and will towards their object, or a repose of heart and will upon, or an abiding of heart and will in, God or Christ, which would prove profitable to dwell upon, but which I can only indicate here. If you will duly ponder the metaphor which is inherent in the word of some feeble or lame man leaning upon a strong staff, or some tottering one leaning his hand upon a rock, and resting all his weight upon that, I think you will understand a great deal more about faith, and what it means, than if you had read a whole library of theological discussion. It is not believing, but it is the act of leaning on what we believe in. It is not your head but your heart and your will that trust. There must be, of course, knowledge before there can be faith, but there was never a greater or more disastrous mistake in Christendom than that which says that the essential part of Christian faith is correct belief. That is the beginning of it no doubt, but there may be plenty of incorrectness in the belief, and yet if there is the earnest reality in the leaning then that trust is fight. Only lean hard. A lame man does not lay a light arm on his crutch. You are weak enough to need a very strong support. Let us learn from Hezekiah when it is the time to lean hardest. When Sennacherib’s insulting letter came to him he was sore troubled, but he did not content himself with unavailing sorrow. He turned to his counsellors, but he did not content himself with bespeaking human advice and human help. He had built the walls of Jerusalem anew, and made extensive and wise arrangement in prospect of a siege, but he did not rely on these things. What did he do with the letter? He went and spread it before the Lord. Is that what you do with the disagreeable letters that come to yon, with the difficulties and annoyances, great or small, with the perplexities and the burdens, whether they be burdens of sorrow or of work that come to you? Take them into God’s house, and spread them out before Him. Sennacherib’s letter does not look half so bad when it is spread out before the cherubim as it does when we read it in some corner away from God. If a man will lean on God, the unseen Helper, he must make up his mind to have plenty of scoffs and ridicule from people that have no notion of a Helper that is not visible and material. Do you remember how the messenger of the King of Assyria came to Hezekiah, or, rather, to his servants, and taunted them with the very fact that they were trusting? “Speak ye now to Hezekiah, thus saith the great King, the King of Assyria. What confidence is this wherein thou trustest? On whom dost thou trust that thou rebellest against me? Now, behold! thou trustest on the staff of this bruised reed but if ye say to me, We trust in the Lord our God . . . hath any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the King of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath?” and so on, and so on. Yes; and then “it came to pass that night that the angel of the Lord went out . . . and when they arose early in the morning, behold they were all dead corpses.” So was vindicated the faith that looked so foolish, so presumptuous, with so little to build upon, and so little to warrant it. Did you ever notice the contrast between what came to Hezekiah when he prayed in the house of his God, and what came to Sennacherib when he prayed in the house of his God? “Hezekiah spread the letter before the Lord,” and he received the triumphant answer from Isaiah’s lips which was the flash of the lightning, followed by the roll of the thunder in the death of the host. That was what faith got when it prayed in the house of the Lord. What did the other man get when he prayed in the house of his God? “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.” That is what the man gets that bows down to idols, and puts his trust in a refuge of lies.
3. “He clave unto the Lord;” that is the stage that follows on faith. Now, that is another picturesque expression. Let me just run over in a sentence or two, three connections in which it is employed in Scripture in order that you may see what it means. It is the same word which is used to express the adherence of the bone to the skin, or to express the way in which a tightly-braced girdle sticks to the loins of a man, or to express the way in which, when one is burning with thirst, the tongue adheres to the roof of the mouth. And when you come into the region of its reference to men’s relation to men, it is the word which is used for the closest, sweetest, sacredest of all human relationships. “For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife.” It is the word that is employed to express the loyalty of obedient subjects to their king. It is the word which is used in that tenderest of all stories to contrast the clinging love of the one daughter-in-law with the less self-abandoning affection of the other. “Orphah kissed her . . . Ruth clave unto her.” Now, that is what faith should lead us to do. Loyalty as of subjects to a king; love as of husband and wife; as of Ruth and Naomi, the close adherence as of the girdle braced round the loins of a man. For in the words there lie, not only these thoughts of close adhesion by mind and will and heart, but also the thought of a vigorous resistance to all the separating agencies, which are so busy in the lives of every one of us, and find their allies in the hearts of us all. Now, lastly, the top-stone of the whole fabric is obedience, which will follow upon such close communion with, and trust in, God. There are two great corruptions of Christianity; the one which attaches all importance to the initial act of trust, and to the inward experience of the devout soul, is strong in spiritual emotions and very Weak in daily righteousness. There is a strange connection between fervent emotion of a spiritual kind and a shady life in regard to common virtues. So do you take care to avoid a Christianity which is all faith and fellowship, and not obedience. And, on the other hand, do not try to begin at the roof of the house, and build garrets and top-floor first--to have a righteous life without the substratum, the faith which is the basement and the fellowship with God which comes between faith and obedience. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Trust in God
1. Hezekiah was one of Judah’s best kings. He is classed with David and Josiah. “All, except David and Ezekias and Josias, were defective” (Sir 49:4). In his zeal for God he “brake in pieces the brasen serpent” which had become an object of superstition, and sought to carry into effect the Mosaic prohibition of heathen sanctuaries (Exodus 23:24; Exodus 34:13). Moreover, “he removed the high places,” thus showing the sweeping nature of his reformation. These “high places” were “local sanctuaries,” which some good kings had tolerated, contenting themselves with uprooting the worship of false gods; for at these local shrines there was, it is supposed, some sort of worship of Jehovah carried on, which was to satisfy the religious instinct without going up to Jerusalem. It shows Hezekiah’s thoroughness and determination.
2. But Hezekiah’s greatness shines out still more vividly in the hour of trial. Jerusalem was threatened by Assyrian forces. Their generals were at the gates, demanding submission. He stood alone, and yet not alone, for God was his “Refuge and Strength, a very present Help in trouble”; “He trusted in the Lord God of Israel,” and he did not trust in vain. Let us first note some of the grounds upon which this confidence in God is based; and, secondly, mark some of its features.
I. Some grounds upon which trust in God is based.
1. The first is the goodness of God. Thus moral theology places trust in God in connection with hope, and not directly with faith.
2. Another ground of trust in God is His faithfulness to His promises. “He is faithful that promised” (Hebrews 10:23). In order to impress upon us this truth, God confirmed His word “by an oath,” as men when they bind themselves more strictly to a compact (Hebrews 6:1-20.). Goodness, when combined with almightiness and fidelity, affords a triple basis upon which to rest.
3. Experience may be added to the former. Thus David, when he drew near to the giant, recollected past deliverances. “The Lord,” he said, “that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear,” etc. (1 Samuel 17:37).
II. Some features of this confidence must now be noted.
1. To have confidence in God, it must be entire. In foul weather as well as fair, in the storm when Christ is asleep, as well as on the land when He is awake. Christ tested this confidence in the case of His disciples, and He does so still. It must extend both to temporal as well as spiritual things, as we are reminded in to-day’s Gospel--to the necessaries of life, as well as to graces and gifts from heaven. This was laid down clearly in the definition of trust at the beginning. Such trust, it need hardly be said, must not be a cause of idleness, but a stimulant of effort: “God helps those who help themselves.” Hezekiah knew that; and so went into the house of the Lord, and spread “the letter before the Lord” which the Assyrian foe had sent him, and prayed earnestly to the Lord.
2. Trust, too, must be prompt. To ask for Divine help when all things have been tried in vain, savours rather of despair than of confidence. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” in point of time as well as order, and turn to all else as means which are only of avail when they have the Divine blessing.
1. The whole subject is so eminently practical that the lessons are obvious. All must have some object in which to confide. Our trust must be, not in self, not in others, but in God. It was to Him Hezekiah at once turned in his terrible need.
2. To kindle this spirit of confidence, let us meditate upon the Divine goodness, the fidelity of God to His promises, and call up remembrances of His past mercies.
3. Finally, let this trust extend to all circumstances and difficulties whether of soul or body; and we shall find, like the good king, that “the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord,” and “He is their strength in the time of trouble” (Psalms 37:39).
1. To grasp still more firmly the fundamental truth of Christianity--the union of the human nature with the Divine nature in the One person of the Word, or Son of God, who for our sakes “became poor.”
2. To learn the lesson of detachment from all external possessions, after the pattern of His life on earth.
3. To seek by every means in our power to obtain the “true riches” which Christ, “through His poverty,” has purchased for us.
4. So to use “the mammon of unrighteousness,” if we have it, as to lay up “treasure in heaven”; for “where your treasure is there win your heart be also” (Matthew 7:20-21). (W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)
The foundation of a true life
The reign of Hezekiah was a halo of sacred glory to relieve the gloom of the darkest period in Jewish history. So estimable a character was Hezekiah’s that the sacred penman assigns to him the highest place among the worthies of the covenant, “so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.” Of such a charactor we ask, What was the secret of its power? What was the basis of its operation? Is such a character possible to us? Our text is the answer: “He trusted in the Lord God of Israel.”--Herein is the foundation; everything noble in life springs from trust in God. This, we observe, is the source of all virtue, the correct inspiration of every act, the unerring guide in moments of perplexity, and the only satisfactory finality to human life.
I. Trust in God is the virtuous source of character. A character of such sterling worth and paramount influence, which, after the lapse of ages, is so immortal, drew its vital force from the Divine source. The first trait in his life, and one which claims the preeminence, is virtue. It is the undying element which gave stability, vitality, and nobility to his deportment. Moral purity can only flow from one source--trust in God. The language of that trust is, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” His thoughts, his motives, his desires, and his acts were pure, because he communed with God. You cannot build a character without virtue, and virtue is impossible without faith. The brightest intellect without virtue is only a meteor that will be lost in the darkness of its own sin-clouds. The most loving heart without virtue is only an electric spark which kills where it intended to give life. The highest endowments of life--birth, education, society, wealth, and friends--like the branches of a tree, will soon wither if the worm of impurity is at the root. Lives, otherwise noble, have come to the ground with a crash because there was no holiness in thought. The first act of trust is to give our own hearts to God, to be washed from sin. The experience which arises from this act leads us to seek, not a momentary discharge from guilt, but a life of perpetual purity. The only character worth having is that built on God.
II. Trust in God is the true inspiration of character. When Hezekiah came to the throne the people had no fixed religious views. Their hold upon the land was precarious, for they owed a stricter allegiance to a foreign king than to their own, The court was disorganised, the priesthood was neglected, and the people were intellectually and morally degraded. Reform was difficult; to bring back the hearts of the people to the God of their fathers was a great task. Trust in God as a source of action is the universal experience of the Church. That faith is a receptive medium of grace and power is evident, but it is power to be set forth in action. As rest resuscitates the strength of the body, so faith derives fresh supplies of grace from Christ Jesus. This state of comparative passivity, however, is but a link which unites the inner energies of the spiritual life to the corresponding outward activities. Soul-refreshing meditation and prayer result in wisdom and power; those who trust in God are partakers of the Divine nature. Faith lifts them up into participation of infinite wisdom and strength.
III. Trust in God is the soul’s stay in trial. Trials bear either directly on our persons or on our circumstances.
IV. Trust in God is the finality of character. Hezekiah slept with his fathers after he had fulfilled his mission and finished the work the Lord had given him to do. His life, like a graceful sentence, ended with a full stop. On what foundation are you building? The best materials will not make a safe building if built on the sand; your most sincere desires and efforts will not stand unless built on the Rock. The rock is Christ. Character is everything, and Christ is everything to character. Trust in God. (T. Davies, M. A.)
Trust in God
The late Rev. Hugh Stowell Brown of Manchester, at a public meeting, related an incident which very touchingly illustrates this hymn of Cowper’s: “God moves in a mysterious way.” One of the Lancashire mill-owners, who had struggled to keep his hands employed during the cotton famine, arising from the American war in 1865, at last found it impossible to proceed; and calling his workpeople together, told them he would be compelled, after the usual notice, to close his mills. The news was received with sadness and sympathy. To them it meant privation and suffering, to him it might be ruin. None cared to speak in reply; when suddenly rose the voice of song from one of the girls, who was a Sunday school teacher, and who, feeling it to be an occasion requiring Divine help and guidance, gave out the verse of Cowper’s hymn:
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
All the mill hands joined in singing the verse, amidst deep emotion.
The secret of a successful life
Matthew Arnold’s description of God used to be “A power not ourselves which makes for righteousness.” We need not have so vague a thought of God as that, but God is a Power, not ourselves, making for righteousness; and he who heartily thrusts himself into the sweep of this current will be surely borne on by it, as a river bears a ship, into the success of righteousness.
I. Hezekiah availed himself of the force of the divine righteousness working in the world, and so struck the secret of a successful life, by a distinct choice of God. “But he clave unto the Lord.” And he did it notwithstanding all sorts of oppositions. His father, Ahaz, was one of the worst kings who ever sat upon the throne of Judah. Hezekiah’s heredity was against him. Oriental and degrading idolatry was the atmosphere enwrapping his earlier years. His father’s court was abominably corrupt. But “he clave unto the Lord.” The first step in a genuinely successful life is Hezekiah’s step--a distinct, self-surrendering, irreversible choice of God in the face of whatever oppositions.
II. Hezekiah carried out his decision. Having decided to cleave to the Lord, he kept cleaving to Him by constant action according to his decision (2 Chronicles 29:30.). Having come to the throne, he immediately begins to rule in the fashion a man cleaving to the Lord should. In every way he ranged his influence on the Lord’s side. There was no waiting in Hezekiah; no putting off to a more politic or convenient season. What action his decision for God called for, that action got quickly begun.
III. Hezekiah maintained unwavering trust in the Lord to whom he clave. Read the account of Hezekiah’s trust in the crisis of the Sennacherib invasion (Isaiah 36:1-22; Isaiah 37:1-38.). And the Lord to whom he clave honoured his trust. To be sure Hezekiah made some slips. But it is no wonder the Lord to whom he clave brought him to such shiningly successful end as this. (W. Hoyt, D. D.)
Cleave unto the Lord
We may follow out the metaphor of the word in many illustrations. For instance, here is a strong prop, and here is the trailing, lithe feebleness of the vine. Gather up the leaves that are creeping all along the ground, and coil them around that support, and up they go straight towards the heavens. Here is a limpet, in some pond or other, left by the tide, and it has relaxed its grasp a little. Touch it with your finger, and it grips fast to the rock, and you will want a hammer before you can dislodge it. There is a traveller groping along some narrow, broken path, where the chamois would tread cautiously, his guide in front of him. His head reels, and his limbs tremble, and he is all but over, but he grasps the strong hand of the man in front of him, or lashes himself to him by the rope, and he can walk steadily. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I have seen a heavy piece of solid iron hanging on another not welded, not linked, not glued to the spot; and yet it cleaved with such tenacity as to bear not only its own weight, but mine, too, if I chose to seize and hang upon it. A wire charged with an electric current is in contact with its mass, and hence its adhesion. But cut that wire through, or remove it by a hair’s-breadth, and the piece drops dead to the ground, like any other unsupported weight. A stream of life from the Lord, brought into contact with a human spirit, keeps the spirit cleaving to the Lord so firmly, that no power on earth or hell can wrench the two asunder. From Christ the mysterious life-stream flows, through the being of a disciple it spreads, and to the Lord it returns again. In that circle the feeblest Christian is held safely; but if the circle be broken the dependent spirit instantly drops off. (W. Arnot.)
Weakness linked to power
The Rev. F. B. Meyer remarked that he wanted to be merely their bigger brother--no shadow of “D.D.’s” between--only a little older, for he was within a week of his 57th year. He continued: “We who live in this part of London are very proud of our electric tramcars. They run heavily and swiftly. When in my own massive church (Christ Church, Westminster) I feel a tremor as they pass. I was riding in one with great composure the other day. It was five o’clock in the afternoon, and, looking out, I noticed on the left-hand side a young working-man, evidently on his way back from his day’s toil, his kit on his shoulder, riding on a bicycle of a very antiquated character, without tyres, and wobbling backwards and forwards. Presently the ticketcollector went on top, and the young fellow saw his chance. He sidled his bicycle against the swift, steady tram, caught the iron rail, and at once began to move along with a velocity and smoothness that startled the bicycle itself. It was beautiful to see how the massive strength of that huge tram was connected with the bicycle by a touch. Presently we came to a curve and the man swept with it. As the tram went round the curve the bicycle went too. And I said in my heart, to Christ, ‘Lord, I have had a good deal of the wobbling motion about my life, but from to-day I want to link myself for evermore with Thy mighty redemptive movement, that Thou and I may sweep on together’”
Nearness produces resemblance
The eye by gazing into the day becomes more recipient of more light; the spirit cleaves closer to a Christ, more fully apprehended and more deeply loved; the whole being, like a plant reaching up to the sunlight, grows by its yearning towards the light, and by the light towards which it strains--lifts a stronger stem, and spreads a broader leaf, and opens into immortal flowers, tinted by the sunlight with its own colours. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
2 Kings 18:7
The Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went.
The secret of well-being
That is a grand summing-up of a life. It is Hezekiah’s experience which is thus gathered together in a couple of clauses. It may be ours if we like. Hezekiah fought his way to it, for his father was one of the worst kings that ever sat on the throne of Judah; and he himself began to reign at a time of national decadence and degradation. He struggled up from darkness that covered the people into the clear light of fellowship with God. So may we.
I. The Divine Companionship, “The Lord was with him.” Of course, He is not far from any of us; for “in Him we live and move and have our being,” as said Paul. But two people may be very near each other and yet be infinitely far from one another. And it is possible--and, alas! it is the experience of hosts of us--to be in fact all compassed about, like a frond of seaweed in the sea, with that ocean of the Divine presence, and yet to be at an infinite distance from God. His presence with us does not depend upon our consciousness of it, thank Him for that; but the blessing of His presence does depend on our being aware of it. But how many of us go through life, day in and day out, and never feel that tie stands by our side. God’s presence is not interrupted by any secularities of our vocation; but our consciousness of it is interrupted by the secularisation of our spirits. He may be with us in all daily duty.
II. What brings God. I have remarked that my text, by the “and” at the beginning of it, is hooked on, as being their consequence, to the previous words. These are very instructive if we note their sequence as analysing for us the steps in what the mystical teachers call the “practice of the presence of God.” They give three stages. First comes “he trusted”--faith brings God. Then follows “he clave” to Him-persistent adherence and desire bring God. Nature abhors a vacuum; God abhors it more. When a man opens his heart, God rushes in to fill it, as surely as when you dip an empty, pitcher into the sea you bring it up filled with water; Whereas, if you put a bit of bladder over it you might dip it in a million times, and bring it up as empty as when you let it down. Desire brings God. Last of all, and consequences of the faith and persistent adherence, comes he obeyed.
III. What the presence of the Divine companion brings. “And the Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went.” Christianity, real religion, which is nothing more than this continuous consciousness of the Divine Presence, has a direct tendency to promote even the lower kinds of prosperity which the world seeks after. It is better, on the lowest grounds, to be good than to be bad. It is better, on the lowest grounds, to carry the thought of God into life than to live ungodly amidst the whirl of external events and duties. And we all know that, though with many exceptions, as necessary for our discipline, still, on the whole, the dispositions which are cultivated in the man who is ever aware of God with him, are such as in the main, and on the general, and in the long run, do contribute to the material well-being of individuals and of nations. But, as we have to get rid of mere sensuous ideas when we talk about God being with us, so we have to get rid of mere sensuous ideas when we talk about the prosperity that comes from His Presence. Hezekiah had his own share of what people call disasters. He was not always prosperous. There was once the Assyrian camp outside the walls of Jerusalem, and he was reduced almost to desperation. He had that great sickness, where he behaved in a very cowardly and effeminate and selfish fashion. And yet, on the whole, “God was with him, and he prospered!” Yes; for the invasion drove him nearer to God, and he then felt more of the Divine Presence. If we have God on board, and let Him take the helm into His own hands, depend upon it, adverse winds will bear us to our haven. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
2 Kings 18:10
At the end of three years they took it.
The gains of perseverance
I do admire the perseverance of Shalmaneser and his successor. For three years they battered at its doors and waited patiently for success. Preaching the other night at Portsmouth, an unknown Christian came up to me after the service with sad face and tearful eye and said, “I wanted a word with you, Mr. Spurgeon. I have been working for two years in the London lodging-houses and I have seen no result.” The people were crowding around me; I wanted to have a word with this one and the other, and yet others were pressing for a handshake, so I could not say much, but I hope that the message that was so casually delivered somewhat encouraged him. “For two years,” I said, “you have been working and seen no result! Well, it does seem discouraging, but you must keep on” “But,” he said, “there is not a solitary sign.” “Well,” said I in parting with him, “perhaps they will all come in a lump.” Well, that was just an off-hand and unpremeditated way of answering him, but I think I saw a sparkle in his eye, and I hope he went away encouraged to believe that God was saving up a blessing for him, and that when it did rain it would pour. God grant it may be so here. “At the end of three years they took it.” If I had thought of “this text when the friend greeted me at Portsmouth, I think I should have spoken it.” ‘At the end of three years they took it.’ You have only been labouring two; go on for at least another twelve months and then, if not before, the hard hearts of men will open and the brazen gates may yield.” (Thomas Spurgeon.)
2 Kings 18:13-16
Now in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah.
The folly of defying God
As you stood some stormy day upon a sea-cliff, and marked the giant billow rise from the deep, to rush on with foaming crest, and throw itself thundering on the trembling shore, did you ever fancy that you could stay its course, and hurl it back to the depths of ocean! Did you ever stand beneath the laden, lowering cloud, and mark the lightning’s leap, as it shot and flashed dazzling athwart the gloom, and think that you could grasp the bolt and change its path! Still more foolish and vain his thought who fancies that he can arrest or turn aside the purpose of God, saying: “What is the Almighty that we should serve Him? Let us break His bands asunder, and cast away His cords from us!” Break His bands asunder! How He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh! (Guthrie.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Kings 18". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany