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THE HISTORY OF THE KINGDOM OF JUDAH AFTER THE FALL OF SAMARIA.
2 Kings 18:1
THE ACCESSION OF HEZEKIAH. HIS SUCCESSES. HIS WAR WITH SENNACHERIB.
2 Kings 18:1-8
THE EARLY YEARS Or HEZEKIAH. From his narrative of the destruction of the kingdom of Samaria, the writer turns, with evident relief, to the accession of the good king Hezekiah in Judah, and to a brief account of
(1) his religious reformation (2 Kings 18:3-6);
(2) his revolt from Assyria (2 Kings 18:7); and
(3) his war with the Philistines (2 Kings 18:8).
The narrative is still exceedingly brief, and has to be filled out from the Second Book of Chronicles, where the religious reformation of Hezekiah is treated with great fullness (2 Kings 29-31.).
2 Kings 18:1
Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah King of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz King of Judah began to reign. There can scarcely be any doubt of this synchronism, which is in close accordance with the dates in 2 Kings 18:9,2 Kings 18:10 of this chapter, and agrees well with the Assyrian inscriptions. Hezekiah's accession may be placed almost certainly in B.C. 727.
2 Kings 18:2
Twenty and five years old was he when he began to reign (on the difficulties connected with this statement, and the best mode of meeting them, see the comment upon 2 Kings 16:1); and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. So Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 10.3. § 1), and the author of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 29:1). He reigned fourteen years before his severe illness, and fifteen afterwards. His mother's name also was Abi. Abi, "my father," is scarcely a possible name. We must, therefore, correct Kings by Chronicles, and regard her true name as Abijah, which menus "Jehovah is my father" (compare "Abiel"). The daughter of Zachariah. Perhaps the Zechariah of Isaiah 8:2.
2 Kings 18:3
And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did. Such unqualified praise is only assigned to two other kings of Judah—Asa (1 Kings 15:11) and Josiah (2 Kings 22:2). It is curious that all three were the sons of wicked fathers. Hezekiah was probably, at an early age, Brought under the influence of Isaiah, who was on familiar terms with his father Ahaz (Isaiah 7:3-16), and would be likely to do all that lay in his power to turn Hezekiah from his father's evil ways, and to foster all the germs of good in his character.
2 Kings 18:4
He removed the high places. This was a comparatively late step in Hezekiah's religious reformation. He began, as we learn from Chronicles (2 Chronicles 29:3, 2 Chronicles 29:17), "in the first year of his reign, the first month, and the first day," by reopening the temple, which Ahaz had shut up, removing from it all the "filthiness" which Ahaz had allowed to accumulate (2 Chronicles 29:5), gathering together the priests and Levites and exhorting them (2 Chronicles 29:4-11), restoring and renewing the vessels which Ahaz had cut in pieces (2 Chronicles 29:19), and then re-establishing the temple-worship with all due solemnity (2 Chronicles 29:20-35). He next resolved on holding a grand Passover-festival, in the second month, as it had not been possible to keep it in the first (2 Chronicles 30:2, 2 Chronicles 30:3), and invited thereto, not only his own subjects, but the Israelites of the neighboring kingdom who were not yet carried off, but were still under the rule of Hoshea (2 Chronicles 30:10, 2 Chronicles 30:11, 2 Chronicles 30:18). It was not until this festival was over that the removal of the high places was taken in hand. Then, in a fit of zeal, which no doubt the king encouraged, a multitude of those who had kept the feast went forth from Jerusalem, first into the cities of Judah and Benjamin, and then into several of the cities of Israel, and "brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, and threw down the high places and the altars … and utterly destroyed them all" (see 2 Chronicles 31:1). And brake the images, and cut down the groves; literally, the grove, according to the present text; but, as all the versions have the plural, Thenius thinks אֲשֵׁרָה should be changed into אֲשֵׁרִים. Keil and Bahr, on the contrary, would retain the singular, but understand it "collectively." That idolatry was practiced at some of the high places seems clear from this place, as well as from 1 Kings 14:23. And brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made (see Numbers 21:9). Difficulties are raised with respect to this statement. Some argue that the serpent, having served its purpose, would have been left hanging at the place where it was set up in the wilderness; others, that Moses would have destroyed it, lest the Israelites should make it an idol; others, again, that it was not likely to have lasted seven hundred years from the Exodus, even if it was brought into Palestine and taken care of. It is supposed, therefore, that an imitation of the original serpent had been made by the Jews in the reign of Ahaz, had been called "the serpent Of Moses," and was now destroyed. But there is no sufficient reason for any of these suppositions. Considering what the serpent typified (John 3:14), it is not surprising that Moses should have been instructed to preserve it with the furniture of the tabernacle, or that, when once attached to that structure, it should have been preserved as a religious relic for seven hundred years. Many Egyptian figures in bronze now exist which are from three thousand to four thousand years old. The statement of the writer of Kings, that Hezekiah did now destroy "the serpent that Moses had made," is of more weight than a thousand speculations concerning what is likely, or not likely, to have happened. For unto these days the children of Israel did burn incense to it. Not, certainly, "from Moses' time to Hezekiah's," but from a date left vague and undetermined to the time when Hezekiah took his religious reformation in hand. Hezekiah found the practice continuing; the writer is not concerned to say—perhaps does net know—when it began. He implies, however, that it was of long standing. Serpent-worship was widely spread in the East, and there was more excuse for directing religious regard toward this serpent than toward any other. And he called it Nehushtan; rather, and it was called Nehushtan. יקרא is a singular with indefinite subject ("one called"), equivalent to "they called," or "it was called" (comp. Genesis 25:26; Genesis 38:29, Genesis 38:30). Nehushtan is not from נצשׁ "serpent," but from נצשׁת, "brass," and means "the little brass thing," ןbeing a diminutive, expression of tenderness.
2 Kings 18:5
He trusted in the Lord God of Israel. Unlike Hoshea (see homiletics on 2 Kings 17:1-4), unlike Ahaz (2 Kings 16:7-10), Hezekiah discarded trust in man, and—it may be after some hesitation—put his trust wholly in God. This was exactly what God required as the condition on which he would give his aid (Isaiah 30:1-7), and what no previous king since the Assyrian troubles began could bring himself to do. So that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him. It has been concluded from this statement that, "when the merits of the kings were summed up after the fall of the monarchy, Hezekiah was, by a deliberate judgment, put at the very top"; but, as exactly the same words are used of Josiah in 2 Kings 23:25, the true conclusion would seem to be rather that Hezekiah and Josiah were selected from the rest, and placed upon a par, above all the others. At first sight there may seem to be contradiction between the two passages, since absolute pre-eminence over all the other kings is ascribed to Hezekiah in one of them, to Josiah in the other; but the context shows that the pre-eminence is not the same in the two cases. To Hezekiah is ascribed pre-eminence in trust; to Josiah, pre-eminence in an exact observance of the Law: one excels in faith, the other in works; Josiah's whole life is one of activity, Hezekiah's great merit lies in his being content, in the crisis of his fate, to "stand still, and see the salvation of God."
2 Kings 18:6
For he clave to the Lord—rather, and he clave to the Lord; i.e. he persevered through the whole of his life; he did not fall into sins at the last, like Asa and Azariah (see 2 Chronicles 16:7-12; 2 Chronicles 26:1-23.' 16-21)—and departed not from following him. The writer probably considers "the princes of Judah" answerable for the embassy to Egypt mentioned in Isaiah 30:4, and excuses Hezekiah's ostentatious display of his treasures to the ambassadors of Merodach-Baladan (2 Kings 20:13) as a weakness, not an actual breach of obedience. But kept his commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses.
2 Kings 18:7
And the Lord was with him. Of no other King of Judah or Israel is this said, except only of David (2 Samuel 5:10). It was the promise made to Moses (Exodus 3:12), repeated to Joshua (Joshua 1:5, Joshua 1:7), and by implication given in them to all those who would rule his people faithfully. And he prospered whithersoever he went forth; rather, in all his goings—in cunctis ad quae procedebat (Vulgate). Hezekiah's prosperity is enlarged upon by the writer of Chronicles, who says (2 Chronicles 32:27-30), "And Hezekiah had exceeding much riches and honor: and he made himself treasuries for silver, and for gold, and for precious stones, and for spices, add for shields, and for all manner of pleasant jewels; storehouses also for the increase of corn, and wine, and oil; and stalls for all manner of beasts, and cotes for flocks. Moreover he provided him cities, and possessions of flocks and herds in abundance: for God had given him substance very much …. And Hezekiah prospered in all his works." Many brought presents to him to Jerusalem, and he was magnified in the sight of all the surrounding nations (see 2 Chronicles 32:23). And he rebelled against the King of Assyria, and served him not. Hezekiah's "rebellion" probably took place at the very commencement of his reign, B.C. 727, in the year that Shalmaneser ascended the throne. Most likely it consisted simply in his withholding his tribute, and neither going in person nor sending representatives to Nineveh, to congratulate the new monarch on his accession. This would be understood as an assertion of independence. That it was not at once resented must be ascribed to Shalmaneser's difficulties with Samaria and with Tyre, which were more pressing, as they lay nearer to Assyria. Before these were over, Sargon usurped the crown. There is reason to believe that he made at least one expedition against Hezekiah; but the date of it is uncertain. Rebellion met him on all sides, and had to be crushed near home before he could venture to deal with it on the remote outskirts of his empire. Meanwhile Hezekiah strengthened himself and built up a considerable power.
2 Kings 18:8
He smote the Philistines. Hezekiah's Philistine war seems to have followed on an attempt which Sargon made to bring the whole country under the Assyrian dominion. Sargon attacked Philistia in B.C. 720, made Gaza and the other towns subject, and committed the custody of them to tributary kings, in whom he had confidence. But opposition soon manifested itself. Sargon's creatures were expelled—Akhimiti from Ash-clod, Padi from Ekron. Hezekiah assisted in this war of independence, attacked Sargon's viceroys, and helped the cities to free themselves. About the year B.C. 711 Sargon speaks of a league against Assyria, to which the parties were Philistia, Judaea, Edom, and Moab. The Philistines, whom Hezekiah "smote," must be regarded as Assyrian partisans, whom he chastised in the interests of the national party. He did not seek conquests in Philistia for himself. Even unto Gaza. Gaza seems to have remained faithful to Assyria from its capture in B.C. 720. And the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchmen unto the fenced city. (On this expression, see the comment upon 2 Kings 17:9.)
2 Kings 18:9-12
THE PUNISHMENT OF SAMARIA FOR DISOBEDIENCE. In contrast with Hezekiah's piety and consequent prosperity, the author places the disobedience (2 Kings 18:12) and consequent extinction of the sister kingdom (2 Kings 18:9-11), which Belonged to Hezekiah's earlier years, and was an event of the greatest importance to him, since it made his dominions conterminous with those of Assyria, and exposed his northern frontier to attack at any moment from the Assyrian forces. According to all probable human calculation, the fall of Samaria should have been followed at once by an attack on Judaea; and but for the change of dynasty, and troubles on all sides which ensued thereupon, this would naturally have taken place. As it was, Judaea was allowed a Breathing-space, during which she strengthened her power in Philistia (see the comment on the preceding verse), and otherwise prepared herself to resist attack (see 2 Chronicles 33:3-6; Isaiah 22:8-11).
2 Kings 18:9
And it came to pass in the fourth year of King Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah King of Israel. Hezekiah Began to reign before Hoshea had completed his third year (2 Kings 18:1). His first year thus ran parallel with part of Hoshea's third and part of his fourth; his fourth with part of Hoshea's sixth and part of his seventh; his sixth with part of Hoshea's eighth and part of his ninth. That Shalmaneser King of Assyria came up against Samaria, and besieged it (see the comment on 2 Kings 17:4, 2 Kings 17:5).
2 Kings 18:10
And at the end of three years they took it. The expression, "at the end of three years," does not show that the three years were complete. On the contrary, as the siege Began in Hezekiah's fourth year, probably in the spring, and was over in his sixth, say, by the autumn, the entire duration was not more than two years and a half. The plural verb, יִלְכְּדֻהָ, "they took it," is remarkable, since it would have seemed more natural to write יִלְכְּדָהּ, "he took it"—and so the LXX; the Vulgate, and the Syriac—but the writer seems to have known that Shalmaneser did not take it, but died during the siege, the capture falling into the first year of Sargon. Even in the sixth year of Hezekiah, that is the ninth year of Hoshea King of Israel (see the comment on 2 Kings 18:9), Samaria was taken.
2 Kings 18:11
And the King of Assyria—i.e. Sargon—did carry away Israel unto Assyria—the empire, not the country—and put them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Modes (see the comment on 2 Kings 17:6).
2 Kings 18:12
Because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord their God, but transgressed his covenant, and all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and would not hear them, nor do them (compare the expanded version of this statement in 2 Kings 17:7-23). The sin of Samaria may be summed up under three heads:
(2) breach of the covenant; and
(3) disregard of Moses, and the other "servants of the Lord."
2 Kings 18:13-16
FIRST EXPEDITION OF SENNACHERIB AGAINST HEZEKIAH. The writer now, as is his manner, omitting as comparatively unimportant all Hezekiah's dealings with Sargon, which were without positive result, proceeds to give a brief account of Sennacherib's first expedition against him, and of its unfortunate, if not disgraceful, issue:
(1) the capture of all the important cities except Jerusalem;
(2) the submission of Hezekiah to any terms which Sennacherib chose to impose; and
(3) the purchase of peace by the payment of three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold out of the treasures of the temple and of the royal palace. The narrative obtains copious illustration from the inscriptions of Sennacherib.
2 Kings 18:13
Now in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah did Sennacherib King of Assyria come up. It is impossible to accept this note of time as genuine without rejecting altogether the authority of the Assyrian inscriptions. Sargon took Samaria in his first year, B.C. 722, and then had a reign of between seventeen and eighteen years, for fifteen of which we have his annals. He certainly did not associate Sennacherib with him on the throne, nor did the latter exercise any authority at all until B.C. 705, when, "on the 12th of Ab, he the throne ascended". Sennacherib places his first expedition against Hezekiah in his fourth year, B.C. 701. Thus, according to the Assyrian records, which are very ample, and of which we have the actual originals, twenty years intervened between the capture of Samaria and the attack of Sennacherib on Hezekiah; according to the present passage, compared with 2 Kings 18:9, 2 Kings 18:10, eight years only intervened. No contradiction can be more absolute. It has been proposed to alter the date from "the fourteenth year" to "the twenty-sixth year; ' but it seems most probable that the original writer inserted no date, but simply said, "And Sennacherib, King of Assyria, came up," etc; just as he had said, without a date, "Pul the King of Assyria came up against the land" (2 Kings 15:19); and "against him (Hoshea) came up Shalmaneser" (2 Kings 17:3); and, with a very vague date, if it may be called a date, "In the days of Pekah King of Israel came Tiglath-pileser King of Assyria" (2 Kings 15:29. Comp. also 2 Kings 24:1, 2 Kings 24:11). Later on, a redactor—perhaps the same who inserted the whole series of synchronisms—introduced the words, "In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah," having obtained the number from 2 Kings 20:6, which he assumed to belong to the time of Sennacherib's attack. Against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them. Sennacherib himself says, "And of Hezekiah of Judah, who did not submit to my yoke, forty-six strong cities, fortresses, and smaller cities round about them without number, by the march of my troops … by the force of battering-rams, mining, and missiles, I besieged, I captured".
2 Kings 18:14
And Hezekiah King of Judah sent to the King of Assyria to Lachish, saying. (On the position of Lachish, see the comment upon 2 Kings 14:19.) A bas-relief in the British Museum is thought to represent Sennacherib at the siege of Lachish. He is seated on a highly ornamented throne, and is engaged in receiving prisoners. The city is represented as strongly fortified, and as attacked with sealing-ladders and battering-rams. The surrender is taking place, and the captives of importance are being conducted from one of the tower-gates to the presence of the conqueror. An accompanying inscription is to the following effect: "Sennacherib, the great king, the King of Assyria, sitting on the throne of judgment before the city of Lakhisha (Lachish). I give permission for its destruction." It would seem that while Sennacherib was personally engaged in this siege, a portion of his army had invested Jerusalem, and were pressing the siege (see Isaiah 22:1-7). I have offended; return from me. The tone of the submission is abject. In vain had Isaiah counseled resistance, and promised deliverance if trust were placed in God (Isaiah 8:9-15; Isaiah 10:24-26; Isaiah 14:24, Isaiah 14:25). When the siege commenced, all was dismay within the walls—it was "a day of trouble, and of treading down, and of perplexity (Isaiah 22:5). Some of the rulers fled (Isaiah 22:3); others gave themselves up for lost, and resolved on "a short life and a merry one" (Isaiah 22:13). Hezekiah found no encouragement to resist in any of his counselors except Isaiah, and was therefore driven to despair—acknowledged himself in the wrong for rebelling, and besought Sennacherib to "return from him"—i.e. in retire and withdraw his troops. That which thou puttest on me will I bear. Whatever burden Sennacherib chooses to put upon him, Hezekiah says he will bear, be it tribute, be it cession of territory, be it indignity of any sort or kind. He makes no reservation; but of course he assumes that the terms about to be offered him will be such as, according in the usages of war at the time, would be regarded as reasonable. And the King of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah King of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. Sennacherib says that the payment made him by Hezekiah was thirty talents of gold and eight hundred talents of silver. He has, perhaps, exaggerated, or he may have counted in all the silver that he carried off from the whole of Judaea; or, possibly, the payment to purchase peace was eight hundred talents, the fixed tribute three hundred. We learn from Sennacherib's inscription that, besides making this money payment, Hezekiah had to consent to
(1) a cession of territory towards the south-west, which was apportioned between Gaza, Ekron, and Ash-deal;
(2) the surrender of an Assyrian vassal king, detained in Jerusalem; and
(3) the contribution to the harem at Nineveh of two if not more of his daughters.
2 Kings 18:15
And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king's house. Ahaz had exhausted both these stores of wealth about thirty years previously (2 Kings 16:8), and there could not have been very much accumulation since. Hence the stripping of the metal-plating from off the temple doors (see the next verse).
2 Kings 18:16
At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the pillars which Hezekiah King of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the King of Assyria. In the time of his great wealth and prosperity, Hezekiah, while engaged in restoring the temple (2 Chronicles 29:17-19), had adorned the pillars and doors of the sanctuary with a metal covering, which was probably gold, like Solomon's (1 Kings 6:20-22, 1 Kings 6:28, 1 Kings 6:30, 1 Kings 6:32). To make up the "thirty talents of gold" he was now obliged to undo his own work, and strip the doors and pillars bare. Sennacherib tells us that, besides the two large sums of gold and silver, Hezekiah sent him at this time "woven cloth, scarlet,' embroidered; precious stones of large size; couches of ivory; movable thrones of ivory; skins of buffaloes; horns of buffaloes; and two kinds of woods". It was customary to accompany the fixed tribute with the more precious products of each country.
2 Kings 18:17-37
SECOND EXPEDITION OF SENNACHERIB. This section and 2 Kings 19:1-37. form one continuous narrative, which can only have been divided on account of its great length (fifty-eight verses). The subject is one throughout, viz. Sennacherib's second expedition against Hezekiah. The narrative flows on without a break. It consists of
(1) an account of the embassy of Rabshakeh (2 Kings 18:17-37; 2 Kings 19:1-8);
(2) an account of an insulting letter written by Sennacherib to Hezekiah, and of Hezekiah's "spreading it before the Lord" (2 Kings 19:9-14);
(3) the prayer of Hezekiah, and God's answer to it by the mouth of Isaiah (2 Kings 19:15-34);
(4) the destruction of Sennacherib's host, his flight to Nineveh, and his murder by two of his sons. The Assyrian inscriptions are absolutely silent with respect to this expedition and its result—it being a fixed rule with the historiographers of Assyria to pass over without notice all defeats and disasters.
2 Kings 18:17
And the King of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah with a great host against Jerusalem. Sennacherib appears, by his great inscription, to have returned to Nineveh, with his Judaean captives (more than two hundred thousand in number) and his rich booty, towards the close of the year B.C. 701. In the following year he was called into Babylonia, where troubles had broken out, and Hezekiah, left to himself, seems to have made up his mind to revolt, and to have called in the assistance of Egypt (Isaiah 30:4; 2 Kings 18:21). Sabatok was probably the nominal sovereign, but Tirhakah, who held his court at Meres, was lord paramount. An alliance was made; and hopes held out that, if Sennacherib again marched into Judaea, Hezekiah would receive effectual aid, especially in chariots and horsemen (2 Kings 18:24). Under these circumstances, Sennacherib made his second expedition, probably in B.C. 699. Regarding Egypt as his main enemy, and Judaea as of small account, he led his army by the ordinary route into the Philistian plain, pressing southward, while he detached a moderato force to hold Jerusalem in check, to threaten it, and, if an opportunity offered, to seize it. At the head of this force were three commanders, who seem to have borne, all of them, official titles; viz. the Tartan, or "commander-in-chief;" the Rabsaris, or "chief eunuch;" and the Rabshakeh, or "chief cupbearer." The Tartan was the highest of all the officials of the empire, and ranked next to the king. Sennacherib detached this force from Lachish, which seems to have revolted, and to have been undergoing a second siege. And when they were come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool. It was, perhaps, this army which Isaiah saw in vision, advancing on Jerusalem from the pass of Michmash (Isaiah 10:28-32), and "shaking its hand" at the city from the northern plateau outside the walls—the traditional "camp of the Assyrians." At any rate, the "upper pool" and the" fuller's field" were in this direction (see the comment on Isaiah 7:3). Which is in the highway of the fuller's field.
2 Kings 18:18
And when they had called to the king—i.e; when they had announced that they had a message to deliver to the king—there came out to them; by Hezekiah's order, doubtless. Learning that they were three of Sennacherib's highest officials, he sent out to them three of the chief officers of his own court. Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, which was over the household. Recently promoted to that high position, instead of Shebna, according to the prophecy (Isaiah 22:19-22), and perhaps by the influence of Isaiah. And Shebna the scribe; or, secretary—the official employed to draw up documents, such as treaties, protocols, despatches, and the like. He had been removed to this inferior position, to make room for Eliakim, but had not yet suffered, the banishment with which Isaiah (Isaiah 22:18) had threatened him. And Joah the son of Asaph the recorder; or, remembrancer—the person whose chief duty it probably was to chronicle events as they occurred, and finally to draw up the memoir of each reign at its close. (For another view, see the comment on 1 Kings 4:3.)
2 Kings 18:19
And Rabshakeh said unto them. Although the third in order of dignity, Rabshakeh took the word, probably because he was familiar with the Hebrew language, and could speak it fluently (see 2 Kings 18:26). His being spokesman made him appear to be the chief ambassador, and made Isaiah, in the parallel passage (36.), pass over in silence the other two. Speak ye now to Hezekiah. It was a rude, almost an insulting commencement, to give Hezekiah no title—neither "the king," nor "King of Judah," nor even "your master," but to call him merely "Hezekiah." The same rudeness is persisted in throughout (verses 22, 29, 30, 31, 32), and it is emphasized by the employment of some title or other, generally a lofty title, when Sennacherib is spoken of. Sennacherib himself is less rude in his inscriptions. Thus saith the great king, the King of Assyria. The "great king"—sarru rabu—was the ordinary title assumed by Assyrian monarchs. It passed from them to the Babylonians and the Persians. Sennacherib calls himself, on Bellino's cylinder," the great king, the powerful king, the King of Assyria, the king unrivalled, the pious monarch, the worshipper of the great gods, the protector of the just, the lover of the righteous, the noble warrior, the valiant hero, the first of all kings, the great punisher of unbelievers". What confidence is this wherein thou trustest? We may assume that Hezekiah had, at the beginning of the year, withheld his tribute. He had certainly not gone out to meet the "great king" as he approached his territories, to do homage, and place the forces of Judah at his disposal. On the contrary, he had taken up an attitude of hostility. He had fortified his capital (2 Chronicles 32:2-5); he had collected arms and soldiers, and had shut himself up in Jerusalem, having made every preparation for a siege. Sennacherib inquires why he has dared to do all this—on what strength does he rely? What is the ground of his confidence?
2 Kings 18:20
Thou sayest (but they are but vain words); literally, words of lips; i.e. words which the lips speak, without the heart having any conviction of their truth. We must suppose that Sennacherib has either heard from his spies that Hezekiah is speaking to the people as he represents him to be speaking, or conjectures what he is likely to say. According to the writer of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 32:7, 2 Chronicles 32:8), what he did say was very different. He neither boasted of "counsel" nor of material "strength;" but simply said, "There be more with us than with him: with him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles." I have counsel and strength for the war. Sennacherib imagines that Hezekiah's real trust is in the "fleshly arm" of Egypt, and in the counselors who have advised and brought about the alliance. And perhaps he is not far wrong. Hezekiah, it would seem, "halted between two opinions." He hoped for aid from Egypt; but, if it failed, then he hoped for the Divine help promised by Isaiah. Now on whom dost thou trust, that thou rebellest against me?
2 Kings 18:21
Now, behold, thou trustest upon the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt. Sennacherib had good information. Hezekiah's embassy to Egypt (Isaiah 30:2-7) was known to him; and he rightly judged that Hezekiah was expecting aid from this quarter. This expectation he ridicules. What is Egypt but a "bruised reed"? The Nile bulrush (רצץ) has a goodly show; it rears itself aloft, and leeks strong and stately; but use it as a staff, lean upon it, and it snaps at once. Such is Pharaoh—nay, he is worse; he is a bruised reed, which can give no support at all, even for a moment. The Assyrian monarch was justified in his contempt. Egypt had never yet given any effectual support to the states attacked by Assyria Shebek gave no manner of aid to Hoshea, but allowed Samaria to be conquered in B.C. 722 without making the slightest effort on her behalf. In B.C. 720 he came to the aid of Gaza, but Gaza was captured notwithstanding. In B.C. 711 either he or Sabatok undertook the protection of Ashdod, but with the same lack of success. "Kings of Egypt" assisted the Ascalonites against Sennacherib himself in B.C. 701, and were again completely defeated. Sargon calls the King of Egypt, whoso aid was invited by the Ashdedites, "a monarch who could not save them." On which if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it; i.e. trust in Egypt will not only bring a country no advantage, but it will bring positive injury. The sharp siliceous casing of a reed might run into the hand and give an ugly wound. So is Pharaoh King of Egypt unto all that trust on him. Sargon in one place speaks of a King of Egypt under the title of "Pharaoh."
2 Kings 18:22
But if ye say unto me, We trust in the Lord our God. Sennacherib had also heard of this second ground of trust, which Hezekiah had certainly put forward with great openness (2 Chronicles 32:8). No doubt he thought it purely fantastical and illusory. But he was not unaware that it might inspire a determined resistance. He therefore condescended to argue against reliance on it. Is not that he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away? His counselors have suggested to Sennacherib a specious argument—How can Hezekiah confidently rely on the protection of the God of the land, Jehovah, when he has been employing himself for years in the destruction of this very God's high places and altars? Surely the God will not favor one who has been pulling down his places of worship! Putting out of sight the special requirements of the Jewish Law, the argument might well seem unanswerable. At any rate, it was calculated to have a certain effect on the minds of those who were attached to the high-place worship, and desired its continuance. And hath said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem. A weak argument, if addressed to Jews of Jerusalem only, but likely to have weight with the country Jews, if, as is probable, they had crowded into the city when the invasion began.
2 Kings 18:23
Now therefore, I pray thee, give pledges to my lord the King of Assyria, and I will deliver thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them. "Pledge thyself," i.e. "to find the men, and I will pledge myself to find the horses." It is a strong expression of contempt for the military power of the Jews. They have not only no trained cavalry, but, were any one to furnish them with two thousand horses, they could not find the men to ride them. The Jewish army does, in fact, appear to have consisted of infantry and chariots only.
2 Kings 18:24
How then wilt thou turn away the face of—i.e. "repulse, "cause to retreat"—one captain of the least of my master's servants; literally, one governor—the word used is that which in modern times takes the form of "pasha," or "pacha." It properly applies to the rulers of provinces; but as these were expected to collect and command, upon occasions, the troops of their province, it has a secondary sense of "commander" or "captain." And put thy trust; rather, and thou puttest thy trust—in this extremity of weakness, so far as thine own forces are concerned, thou art so foolish as to put thy trust in Egypt, and to expect that her strength will make up for thine own impotence. Vain hope! (see 2 Kings 18:21). On Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? or, chariots and chariot-men.
2 Kings 18:25
Am I now come up without the Lord against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it. The Assyrian monarchs constantly state that Asshur, their "great god," directs them to make war against this or that nation, but not that the god of the country to be attacked does so. It is difficult to account for Sennacherib's very exceptional boast, "Jehovah said to me. Go up against this laud." Perhaps he identifies "Jehovah" with "Asshur." Perhaps he has heard of prophecies, uttered in the name of Jehovah, by Jewish prophets, which threatened the land with desolation at the hand of the Assyrians (e.g. Isaiah 7:17-24; Isaiah 10:5-12; Joel 2:1-11, etc.). Or he may have made the statement in mere bravado, as one that might frighten some, and at any rate could not be contradicted.
2 Kings 18:26
Then said Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebna, and Joah, unto Rabshakeh, Speak, I pray thee, to thy servants in the Syrian language; literally, in the Aramaic language. Hebrew, Aramaic, and Assyrian were three cognate languages, closely allied, and very similar both in their grammatical forms and in their vocabularies, but still sufficiently different to be distinct languages, which were only intelligible to those who had learnt them. Rabshakeh had addressed the Jewish officials in Hebrew, probably as the language which they would best understand, if it were not even the only one that they would understand; not with the express "object of influencing the common people," as Bahr supposes. But the Jewish officials feared that the words uttered were influencing them. They proposed, therefore, that the further negotiations should be conducted in Aramaic, a tongue which they understood, and one which they supposed that Rabshakeh, as he knew Hebrew, would also know. Aramaic was spoken in most of the tract that lay between Assyria and Palestine, in Syria and Damascus certainly, in Upper Mesopotamia, along the line of the Euphrates, and perhaps as far as the Khabour river. For we understand it. It is not likely that the Jews of this time generally understood Aramaic; but high officials of the court, who might have to deal with embassies and negotiate treaties, found it necessary to understand it, just as such persons in our own country have to know French. And talk not with us in the Jews' language in the ears of the people that are on the wall. Besides the sentinels and other soldiers, there would probably be many idlers upon the wall, attracted by the unwonted spectacle of an ambassadorial cortege, and anxious to pick up intelligence. The loud voices of Orientals would be heard to a considerable distance.
2 Kings 18:27
But Rabshakeh said unto them, Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall? An intolerable speech on the part of an envoy, and one which might have justified an order to send an arrow through his head. Ambassadors are accredited by governments to governments, and the safe conduct granted to them is on the understanding that they will conduct themselves according to established usage. In no state of society can it have been allowable for envoys to intervene between the governors and the governed, and endeavor to stir up discontent among the latter. Yet this is what Rabshakeh did, and boasted of doing. Well might Isaiah say of such an arrogant and lawless aggressor, "He hath broken the covenant, he hath despised the cities, he regardeth no man" (see Isaiah 33:8). That they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you? Rabshakeh means to say that the effect of the men "sitting on the wall," and continuing the defense of the town, will be to bring them to the last extremity of hunger and thirst, when they will be forced even to consume their own excrement.
2 Kings 18:28
Then Rabshakeh stood and cried with aloud voice in the Jews' language, and spake, saying. Rabshakeh had probably been sitting before. He now stood up to attract attention, and raised his voice to be the better heard. Still speaking Hebrew, and not Aramaic, he addressed himself directly to the people on the wall, soldiers and others, doing the very opposite to what he had been requested to do, and outraging all propriety. History scarcely presents any other instance of such coarse and barefaced effrontery, unless the affronts put upon a Danubian principality by the envoy of a "great Power" may be regarded as constituting a parallel. Hear the word of the great king, the King of Assyria. It is scarcely likely that Sennacherib had anticipated his envoy's action, much less directed it, and told him exactly what he was to say. But Rabshakeh thinks his words will have more effect if he represents them as those of his master.
2 Kings 18:29
Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you. Rabshakeh and his master, no doubt, both of them thought Hezekiah's grounds of confidence would prove fallacious, and that all who should trust in them would find themselves "deceived." There were but two grounds that Hezekiah could possibly put forward:
(1) deliverance by human means—by his own armed strength and that of his allies;
(2) deliverance by supernatural means—by some great manifestation of miraculous power on the part of Jehovah. Rabshakeh thinks both equally impossible. The first, however, is too absurd for argument, and he therefore takes no further notice of it; but the second he proceeds to combat, in 2 Kings 18:33-35. For he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand. Correct grammar requires "out of my hand;" but Rabshakeh forgets that he is professing to report the words of Sennacherib.
2 Kings 18:30
Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord. Rabshakeh seems to be aware that this is the argument which Hezekiah is, in point of fact, mainly urging. If at one time he had trusted in Egypt, that trust was now quite or well-nigh gone. The tone of his exhortations was that recorded in Chronicles (2 Chronicles 32:6-8), "He set captains of war over the people, and gathered them together to him in the street of the gate of the city, and spake comfortably to them, saying, Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the King of Assyria, nor for all the multi-rude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him [see 2 Kings 6:16]; with him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah King of Judah." Saying, The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the King of Assyria. Hezekiah's was, in part, a general conviction that God would not forsake his people, who had recently turned to him, if not with absolute sincerity, yet at any rate with public confession of sin, and public acknowledgment of his mercies, and public profession of an intention to serve him; in part, probably, a special reliance on some definite prophecies of Isaiah, that the city should not be taken (see Isaiah 31:4-6; Isa 34:1-17 :20-22).
2 Kings 18:31
Hearken not to Hezekiah: for thus saith the King of Assyria. Rabshakeh, before concluding, tries the effect of blandishments. The King of Assyria is no harsh lord, as he has been represented to them. He will be a kinder master than Hezekiah. Hezekiah condemns them to all the hardships of a siege; and then, if they survive it, to a wasted land, ruined homes, broken cisterns. Sennacherib, if they will but yield to him, promises them peace and prosperity, a time of quiet enjoyment in their own land, and then removal to another equally good, where they will "live and not die," be happy and not miserable. It will be observed that none but material inducements are held out to them. They are expected to barter freedom, independence, religious privileges, country, home, for the sake of creature comforts—for ease, quiet, and security. Setting aside the question whether they could count on the performance of the promises made them, it will be felt that they did well not to be tempted. Better vigorous national life, with any amount of hardship, struggle, and suffering, than the gilded chains of the most peaceful servitude. Make an agreement with me by a present—rather, make peace with me, or "make terms with me" (Knobel, Thenius, Keil, Bahr); in other words, give in your submission—and come out to me; i.e. quit the town, surrender it (see 1 Samuel 11:3; Jeremiah 21:9; Jeremiah 38:17), place yourselves at my mercy, "and then" see what great things I will do for you." The tone, as Bahr says, is one of "wheedling" and cajolement. And then eat ye every man of his own vine, and every one of his fig tree. Proverbial expressions for a peaceful, happy time (see 1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4; Zechariah 3:10), when there are no inroads, no ravages, no disturbances. Rabshakeh promises, in the name of Sennacherib, that they shall rest in their own land for a term—an indefinite term—in a blissful state of peace and quietness before any new resolution is taken about them. And drink ye every one the waters of his cistern; rather, of his well (בר). Every man who had a field or a vineyard was sure to have a well in it. Cisterns for the storage of rain-water were comparatively uncommon.
2 Kings 18:32
Until I come and take you away to a land like your own land. Rabshakeh did not dissemble the fact that they must look for a transplantation. Probably he felt that, if he did, he would not be believed. The transplantations had been too numerous and too recent, the examples of Samaria, Damascus, Hamath, Ashdod, etc; were too notorious, for it to be worth his while to pretend that Judaea would have any other fate. He therefore set himself the task of persuading the Jews that transplantation had nothing about it displeasing or even disagreeable—that, in fact, they were to be envied rather than pitied for being about to experience it. The King of Assyria, in the goodness of his paternal breast, would select for them a land as nearly as possible "like their own land"—a land teeming with corn and wine and oil, full of rich arable tracts, of vineyards and of olive-grounds, which would yield them those fruits of the earth to which they were accustomed, in abundance. What security they had that these promises would be fulfilled, he did not attempt to show them; much less did he explain to them why, if they were to gain rather than lose, it was worth while transplanting them at all; how that transplanted nations lost all spirit and patriotism, sank into apathy, and gave no trouble to their masters. A land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil olive and of honey (comp. Deuteronomy 8:8, Deuteronomy 8:9, which has, no doubt, affected the language of the reporter, who gives the general tenor of Rabshakeh's speech, but could not have taken down or have remembered his exact words) that ye may live, and not die—as you win if you follow Hezekiah's advice—and [therefore] hearken not unto Hezekiah, when he persuadeth—i.e; seeketh to persuade—you, saying, The Lord will deliver us (see the comment on 2 Kings 18:30).
2 Kings 18:33
Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the King of Assyria? To Rabshakeh, and the Assyrians generally, this seemed a crushing and convincing, absolutely unanswerable, argument. It had all the force of what appeared to them a complete induction. As far back as they could remember, they had always been contending with different tribes and nations, each and all of whom had had gods in whom they trusted, and the result had been uniform—the gods had been unequal to the task of protecting their votaries against Assyria: how could it be imagined that Jehovah would prove an exception? If he was not exactly, as Knobel calls him, "the insignificant god of an insignificant people," yet how was he better or stronger than the others—than Chemosh, or Moloch, or Rim-moll, or Baal, or Ashima, or Khaldi, or Bel, or Merodach? What had he done for the Jews hitherto? Nothing remarkable, so far as the Assyrians knew; for their memories did not reach back so far as the time of Asa and the deliverance from Zerah, much less to the conquest of Canaan or the Exodus. He had not 'saved the trans-Jordanic tribes from Tiglath-pileser, or Samaria from his successors. Was it not madness to suppose that he would save Judaea from Sennacherib? A heathen reasoner could not see, could not be expected to see, the momentous difference; that the gods of the other countries were "no gods" (2 Kings 19:18), while Jehovah was "the Lord of the whole earth."
2 Kings 18:34
Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? Hamath and Arpad had been recently conquered by Sargon. Of the latter city but little is known, net even its site. We find it generally connected with Damascus and Hamath, and may conjecture that it lay between them, either in Coele-Syria or in the Anti-Libanus. (On Hamath, see the commentary upon 2 Kings 14:25; and for its special god, Ashima, see that on 2 Kings 17:30.) Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hens, and Ivah?, see the comment on 2 Kings 17:24 and 2 Kings 17:31.) "Hena," mentioned always with Sepharvaim and Ivah (2 Kings 19:13; Isaiah 38:13), is probably Allah on the Euphrates, about seventy miles above Hit (Ivah). Nothing is known of its gods. Probably Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah had rebelled in conjunction, and been re-conquered at no distant date. Sargon mentions in his annals that he besieged and took Sepharvaim (Sippara) in his twelfth year. Have they delivered Samaria out of mine hand? There is probably some compression of the original narrative here. The meaning is, "Have they delivered their several cities, or has the god of Samaria delivered his city out of my hand?" No god had hitherto delivered any city which the Assyrians had attacked.
2 Kings 18:35
Who are they among all the gods of the countries—i.e; the countries with which Assyria had been at war—that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand? Produce an example of deliverance," Rabshakeh means to say, "before you speak of deliverance as probable, or even possible. If you cannot, relinquish the hope, and submit yourselves." Rabshakeh cannot conceive the idea that Jehovah is anything but a local god, on a par with all the other gods of the countries.
2 Kings 18:36
But the people held their peace, and answered him not a word. All Rabshakeh's efforts to produce open disaffection failed. Whatever impression his arguments may have made, no indication was given that they had produced any. If, then, he had hoped to bring about a mutiny, or even to create a disturbance, he was disappointed. For the king's commandment was, saying, Answer him not. Hezekiah had either anticipated Rabshakeh's tactics, and given an order beforehand that no word should be uttered, or he had promptly met them by sending such an order, on learning Rabshakeh's proceedings, The latter is more probable, since such an outrageous course as that which Rabshakeh had pursued can scarcely have been expected.
2 Kings 18:37
Then came Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent. They had rent their clothes, not so much in grief or in alarm, as in horror at Rabshakeh's blasphemies. They were blasphemies, no doubt, arising from "invincible ignorance," and not intended as insults to the one Almighty Being who rules the earth, of whose existence Rabshakeh had probably no conception; but they struck on Jewish ears as insults to Jehovah, and therefore as dreadful and horrible (comp. Genesis 37:29; 1 Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 1:2; Ezra 9:3, etc.). And told him the words of Rabshakeh; reported to him, i.e. as nearly as they could, all that Rabshakeh had said. The three envoys would supplement, and perhaps correct, one another; and Hezekiah would have conveyed to him a full and, on the whole, exact account of the message sent to him through Rabshakeh by the Assyrian king, and of Rabshakeh's method of enforcing it. The crisis of Hezekiah's life was reached. As he acted under it would be fixed his own fate, his character in the judgment of all future time, and the fate of his own country.
2 Kings 18:4
Iconoclasm right or wrong, judicious or injudicious, according to circumstances.
The destruction of the brazen serpent of Moses by Hezekiah has always been a favorite argument with extreme iconoclasts for their extreme views. In the time of Henry VIII; and still more in that of Cromwell, statuary was destroyed or mutilated, precious pictures were burnt, priceless stained-glass windows were shivered to atoms, by those with whom a main justification of their conduct was the example of Hezekiah. Let that example, then, be considered, both in respect of what Hezekiah did, and of what he did not do.
I. WHAT HEZEKIAH DID.
1. He removed the high places, which were distinctly contrary to the Law, since the Law allowed sacrifice in one place only—before the ark of the covenant, in the tabernacle, or at Jerusalem.
2. He brake down the "images," or idolatrous emblems of Baal—mere pillars probably, which were the objects of an actual worship.
3. He cut down the groves, or idolatrous emblems of Ashtoreth—"sacred trees," also the objects of worship.
4. He brake in pieces the brazen serpent, to which the Israelites had for some time been in the habit of offering incense.
II. WHAT HEZEKIAH DID NOT DO. Hezekiah did not understand the second commandment in any other sense than Solomon. He allowed the ministry of art to religion. He left untouched the carved figures of cherubim and palm-trees and open flowers upon the walls of the temple (1 Kings 6:29). He left untouched the brazen lavers, on the borders of which were lions, oxen, and cherubim (1 Kings 7:29). He probably restored to their place, he certainly did not destroy, the twelve oxen (Jeremiah 52:20) which Solomon had made to support his "brazen sea" (1 Kings 7:25), and which Ahaz had removed from the temple (2 Kings 16:17). He himself added to the gold ornamentation of the doors and pillars (2 Kings 18:16). It is evident, therefore, that Hezekiah's iconoclasm was limited to those objects which were being actually abused to idolatrous uses at the time when he destroyed them. He did not spy around him, scenting peril of idolatry in every image or other representation of natural forms that had come down to him from former ages, even when they were employed in the service of religion. He was on the side of a rich and gorgeous and artistic ceremonial, of a musical service (2 Chronicles 29:25-27), a highly ornamented sanctuary, a "house" as "magnifical" as art could make it (1 Chronicles 22:5). He recognized that the preservation of artistic objects devoted to religion was the rule, destruction of them the rare exception, only justified
(1) where idolatrous abuse had actually crept in; and
(2) where such idolatrous abuse still continued. An observance of these wise limitations would have saved much that is now irrevocably lost in the past, and may be required to save what remains to us of religious art in the future.
2 Kings 18:5-7
God's service not really a hard service.
God's service is not the hard service that some suppose it to be. No doubt it involves a certain amount of pain and suffering. For, first, there is no true service of God without self-denial; and self-denial is painful. Secondly, it involves chastening at the hand of God; for "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" (Hebrews 12:6); and chastening is "not joyous, but grievous' (Hebrews 12:11). But there are to be set against these pains so many and so great compensations as leave a vast preponderance of advantage, and even enjoyment, to the godly over the ungodly.
I. THE SATISFACTION OF A GOOD CONSCIENCE. Just as there is nothing so painful, so depressing, so burdensome, as an evil conscience, the continually abiding sense of guiltiness and ill desert, so there is nothing which is a greater comfort to a man, more calculated to sustain him and maintain within him a perpetual quiet cheerfulness, than "the answer of a good conscience towards God" (1 Peter 3:21), the knowledge that one has striven and is striving to do God's will, and that by God's grace one has been kept from falling away from him. Notwithstanding their self-depreciation and self-distrust, good men have, on the whole, a self-approving conscience (Romans 2:15), which is a source of inward satisfaction and enjoyment.
II. THE ESTEEM AND APPROVAL OF GOOD MEN. There is implanted in man a love of approbation, the gratification of which is the source of a very positive pleasure. Godly men, good men, whatever amount of dislike they may arouse among those whose designs they thwart, or to whom their lives are a continual reproach, elicit from the better sort a much greater amount of very warm and cordial approval. This cannot but be a satisfaction to them. The praise of men is not what they seek; but when it comes to them unsought, as it will almost certainly come at last, it cannot fail to be grateful and acceptable.
III. TEMPORAL PROSPERITY ARISING FROM MAN'S RESPECT AND ESTEEM. The approval of our fellowmen naturally leads on to temporal advantages. Men place those whom they esteem in situations of trust, which are also, generally or frequently, situations of emolument. They make them presents or leave them legacies. They give them their custom, and recommend their friends to do the same. The worldly maxim, "Honesty is the best policy," witnesses to the worldly advantage which accrues, by mere natural causation, to the upright, honest man. "All things work together for good to them that love God;" and, generally speaking, even this world's goods seem to gather round them, and to cling to them, in spite of their slight esteem for earthly dross, and their proneness to scatter their riches on those around them.
IV. TEMPORAL PROSPERITY ARISING FROM THE DIRECT ACTION OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE. Of this we have in Hezekiah a notable example. He "clave to the Lord, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments … and the Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth." The Divine blessing rested on all that he did; God "prospered him in all his works." When he seemed at the point of death, he miraculously recovered from his sickness, and God added to his life fifteen years (2 Kings 20:6). When he provoked a judgment by indiscreet ostentation, the boon was granted him that the judgment should not fall in his days (2 Kings 20:19). When an overwhelming calamity seemed about to fall upon him, and to crush both him and his nation, the catastrophe was averted by a stupendous miracle—the Assyrian host was destroyed, and the peril escaped (2 Kings 19:35). "Riches and honor exceeding much" were given him (2 Chronicles 32:27), and he was "magnified in the sight of all the nations" (2 Chronicles 32:23). It may be said that all this was abnormal, and belonged to "the age of miracles;" but the principles of God's action do not change, and if we examine human life at the present day dispassionately, we shall find that still, as general rule, if men cleave to the Lord, and keep his commandments, and depart not from following him, he will be with them, and will, more or less, prosper them.
2 Kings 18:13-17
The danger of trusting to a purchased peace.
I. IN THE HISTORY OF NATIONS a purchased peace is seldom more enduring or more trustworthy than this peace which Hezekiah bought of Sennacherib. Once successful in extorting money by threats, why should an enemy refrain from repeating the process? Why should he stop till he has squeezed the sponge dry, and there is no more to be got from his victim? Even then, why should he not step in and execute his original threat of destruction and ruin? So Samaria found when she gave her thousand talents to the Assyrians (2 Kings 15:19). So Rome found when she bribed Attila and Alaric. So will all nations ever find who seek to prolong their lives a little bit by paying for being let alone. And so also—
II. IS THE HISTORY OF INDIVIDUALS. Persons frequently get themselves into some trouble or other, which they do not wish to be known, and their secret is discovered by some unscrupulous individual, who proceeds to trade upon it. What will they give him to remain silent? If they once consent to purchase a peace of their enemy, all peace in life is gone from them. A man's appetite is only whetted by the first bribe, and still more by the second. "Increase of appetite doth grow by what it feeds on." Demand follows demand, threat follows threat. The blood-sucker is insatiate. True wisdom consists in not yielding to the first threat, in declining to purchase peace, and defying the enemy. He may as well do his worst at once as at last. It will generally be found that his worst is not so very bad. Even if it is, it is the just penalty which has to be paid for our past transgression, and which must be paid in some way or other, and at some time, here or hereafter. It is best for us that it should be paid soon; for the penalty of sin, if not so paid, is apt to be demanded at last with a heavy accumulation of interest.
2 Kings 18:20, 2 Kings 18:21
It is astonishing what trust is still placed, by generation after generation of mankind, in "bruised reeds." Whatever may be the case with individuals, mankind, the human race, learns nothing from experience. Men still trust implicitly in such "bruised reeds" as these—
I. BIG BATTALIONS. They think they are safe if they have sufficient "strength for the war." They go on increasing their military establishments, adding regiment to regiment, and battery to battery, and corps d'armee to corps d'armee. They count the armies of their neighbors; they reckon up man against man, and gun against gun, and ship against ship; and calculate, and plan, and act, as if the "multitude of an host"—the number of troops capable of being brought at once into the field—was everything. They forget that "it is nothing to the Lord to help, whether with many or with them that have no power" (2 Chronicles 14:11). They forget, or misread, history, and fail to note how often "the race has not been to the swift, nor the battle to the strong" (Ecclesiastes 9:11).
II. POWERFUL ALLIES. Weak powers have always some "Egypt" to which they look for succor. Strong Powers count on "triple" or "quadruple" alliances to augment their strength, and render them irresistible. They forget how easily alliances are broken up, how sure they are to arouse discontents and jealousies, how little dependence can be placed on the promises of statesmen, or the persistence of a particular mood in a nation, or the view which a state may take of its interests. They forget that the friend of today may be the enemy of to-morrow, and may fail them at the moment of greatest need.
III. SAGACIOUS STATESMEN AND GENERALS. It is forgotten, or at any rate not borne steadily in mind, how intellect decays, how mental power lessens, as men grow old; how often under a prolonged strain the strongest intellect suddenly snaps and is no longer of any account. Nor is it generally felt and recognized how limited and imperfect even the greatest intellect always is—how incompetent to forecast all possibilities, or to deal with all emergencies. "The weakness of God is stronger than man, and the foolishness of God is wiser than man" (1 Corinthians 1:25). Man's wisdom is at best a poor purblind wisdom, apt to err, apt to fail when most needed—a very "bruised reed" to trust in.
IV. GOOD LUCK OR A FORTUNATE STAR. The trust of the first Napoleon in his "star" is well known. It is not so well known, but it is sufficiently attested, that the third Napoleon had nearly as implicit a trust. Thousands of persons deem themselves "lucky," and trust in their "good luck," as if it were an actual tangible possession. Otherwise there would be far less gambling than there is. The poor peasants of Italy and Germany would Waste less money in lotteries, and the simpletons of England less in bets upon horses. Persons "luck" is, on the whole, probably about equal, and if a man has been "lucky" hitherto, he should expect to be "unlucky" in the future.
V. SOMETHING TURNING UP. The phrase is a vulgar one, but it would need a long periphrasis to express the idea otherwise, and even then we might not make our meaning clear. Men who do not think themselves particularly lucky are still constantly waiting for "something to turn up," looking for it, trusting in it. The trust is made an excuse for idleness, for inaction, for waste of the best years of life, even for dissipated courses—for gambling, drinking, frequenting evil company. This "bruised reed" is more rotten even than most of the others. For the idler, the waster of his time, the haunter of smoking saloons, billiard-rooms, and race-courses, nothing ever does "turn up." He offers no temptation to steady business-like men to employ him. He does not seek work, and work is not very likely to seek him. He is an idler, and will remain an idler to the end of the chapter. There is no help for him, unless he gives up his silly trust, and betakes himself to a better one.
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
2 Kings 18:1-8
The secret of a successful fife; or, trust in God, and its results.
What a refreshing contrast to some of the lives we have been considering, is this description of the life of Hezekiah! How pleasant it is to read of such a life as his, after we have read of so many kings of Judah and Israel, that "they did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin"! It is a pleasant contrast even to the life of Hezekiah's own father Ahaz. It is a somewhat strange thing that, brought up amid such evil surroundings, Hezekiah should have turned out so well. The chances were all against him. His father's example was anything but favorable to the development of religion in his son. How careful parents should be as to the example they set their children! The best help parents can give their children to begin life with is godly training and a Christian example. I read lately, "that of the anarchists at Chicago, who were executed for their crimes some time ago, almost all had either been deprived of their parents when young, or had never received any home training; they had never been to a Sunday school; the influences surrounding them had been utterly godless." What a responsibility rests on parents to train their children well! Much of their future happiness depends upon the home life of childhood and youth. Perhaps Hezekiah had a good mother. Perhaps he had been entrusted to the care of some one of the priests who remained faithful to God amid the prevailing unfaithfulness, idolatry, and sin. Perhaps he was early brought under the influence of Isaiah. At any rate, we read of him that he did right in the sight of the Lord. He is singled out for special praise. It is said of him that "he trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him" (verse 5). What was the consequence? Just what the consequence will be to all who put their trust in the Lord and walk in his ways: "The Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth."
I. TRUST IN GOD LEADS TO PERSONAL RELIGION. Hezekiah's faith in God was not a mere idle profession. It did not consist in the mere belief of certain historical facts. It did not consist in the mere assent to certain doctrinal truths. It did not consist in the mere observance of certain outward forms and ceremonies. It was a real faith. It extended to his whole life. "He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did" (verse 3). "He clave unto the Lord, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses" (verse 6). Suck is true religion. Religion is the dedication of the heart and life to God. A man may differ from me in creed, and in the way he worships the same God; but if he loves the Lord Jesus Christ, and serves God in sincerity, he is a truly religious man. "In every nation he that feareth God, and. worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." How expressive and instructive are some of these quaint old phrases! "He clave unto the Lord." Hezekiah set before him one great aim at the commencement of his life, and that was to please God. Whatever it might cost, he made up his mind to keep close to God. It is a grand resolution for the young to make. It is a grand aim to keep before them in life. But Hezekiah had not merely a goal at which he aimed. He had certain well-defined lines along which he reached that goal. He knew that, to please God, he must keep his commandments. He did not set up his own will in opposition to the will of God, king though he was. He did not dispute the wisdom of God's commands. He felt that God knew much better than he did the path of wisdom and of duty. This is one of the best evidences of true faith—of real trust in God. We may not see the reason for a command of God, but let us obey it. A parent will give his child many commands, for which it is quite unnecessary, perhaps undesirable, that the child should know the reason. Obedience based on faith is one of the first principles of life. Here, then, was the beginning of Hezekiah's success in life. It began with the state of his own heart. He trusted in God. That trust in God molded his whole character, and character is the foundation of all that is permanent in life.
II. TRUST IN GOD LEADS TO PRACTICAL EFFORT. Hezekiah very soon showed by his conduct that he was determined to serve God. He did not leave the people long in doubt as to which side he was on. In the very first year of his reign, and in the first month of it, he opened the doors of the temple of the Lord, which his father had closed, and repaired them (2 Chronicles 29:3). As soon as the temple was set in proper order, he caused the priests and the Levites to commence at once the public service of God. Then, in the second month, he issued a proclamation throughout all the land of Israel and Judah, inviting the people to come to Jerusalem to keep the Passover in the house of the Lord. What a festival and time of rejoicing that was! For seven days they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread with great gladness, and the Levites and the priests praised the Lord day by day, singing with loud instruments unto the Lord. Peace offerings were offered; confession of sin was made, not to the priests, but to the Lord God of their fathers; and the presence of the Lord was so manifested among the large congregation, that when the seven days of the Passover were ended, the whole assembly unanimously agreed to keep seven days more. "So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David King of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem" The effect of the service was electrical When the Passover was finished, the people went out to all the cities of Judah, and brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, and threw down the high places and the altars until they had utterly destroyed them all. In all this work of destroying the symbols of idolatry, Hezekiah the king took a leading part. Even the brazen serpent which Moses had made did not escape the destroying hand. It was an interesting relic of Israel's journeying in the wilderness, and of their wonderful deliverance by God. But it had become a snare to the people. It had become an object of worship to some, as relics and images become to many professing Christians. They worshipped it and burnt incense to it. Hezekiah was not the man to destroy anything that was a help to true devotion. He encouraged the Levites to use the trumpets, the harp, and the psaltery, to stir up and stimulate the singing of the congregation, and to render to God a hearty and glorious service of praise. But he saw that the brazen serpent had become an idol in itself, and was leading the thoughts of the people away from the true Object of worship. So be broke it in pieces. All honor to the determined reformer, who destroyed everything that had become dishonoring to God! All honor to those stern reformers who from time to time have broken in pieces the symbols of idolatry in the Church of Christ! Would that in the Church of Rome today some such reformer would arise, who would denounce and overthrow its image-worship and Mariolatry! Such was the work of reformation which Hezekiah accomplished among his people. It shows how God honors those who are determined to serve him, and how he blesses immediate and decided action. Hezekiah might well have hesitated in this work. The whole country was given over to idolatry. He might have dreaded a rebellion. In some parts of the country he got little sympathy in his efforts to restore the ancient religion. When the messengers inviting the people to the Passover passed through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh and. Zebulon, the people there laughed them to scorn and mocked them. Such manifestations of popular feeling might have caused Hezekiah to falter in his decision. He might have thought that he would introduce his reforms gradually. But no! the idolatry was wrong, and it must be put down at once. The worship of the true God was right, and it must at once be resumed, Hezekiah was right. Had he waited, had he begun his reign by tolerating idolatry for a while, he would have found it much harder to overthrow afterwards. Is there not here a lesson for us all? If you see the right loath clearly pointed out to you, resolve to walk in it, though all men should be against you. Remember the brave words of Athanasius. He was mocked at for his zeal for the truth. Some one said to him, "Athanasius, all the world is against you; ' then said he, "Athanasius is against the world." Follow the light of conscience and of duty. What matter though you may incur danger or worldly loss by so doing?
"And because right is right, to follow right
Were reason in the scorn of consequence."
Furthermore, whatever work you see needs to be done, do it at once. Promptness and decision are two essential elements of success in life. Do you see that you need to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ if you are to be saved? Then come to him today. A more convenient season may never arrive. We know not what a day may bring forth. Do you hear God calling you by his Word to perform some act of kindness or forgiveness? Then do it at once. Do you hear God calling you to some work of usefulness in his Church? Begin at once to undertake it. If our trust in God is a real trust, it will lead us, not only to personal religion, but also to practical effort. We can trust him to take care of us when we are doing his work. "Therefore be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
III. TRUST IN GOD LEADS TO SUCCESS IN LIFE. "And the Lord was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth" (verse 7). He was victorious over his enemies. He threw off the yoke of the King of Assyria, and drove back the Philistines, who had made great inroads during the previous reign. When the people honored God, their God honored them and gave them victories over their enemies. As a reward of Hezekiah's faith and faithfulness, God gave him much riches and honor. Hezekiah had trusted God at the beginning of his reign. He had done God's will, though he did not know what it might cost him, and before he was established on the throne. And God did not disappoint his trust, but made him greater and more honored than all the kings of Judah before or after his time. Even in a temporal point of view, no one ever loses by trusting God and doing what is right. Christ promises that every one who is willing to give up every earthly possession for his sake will receive an hundredfold more in this life, and in the world to come life everlasting. We saw, above, the dangers of prosperity. Hezekiah's career shows us what is the safeguard of prosperity. "The Lord was with him." Where that can be said, there is no danger in prosperity. In the godless man, prosperity is often a curse. It hardens his heart. He thinks that he is rich and increased in goods and has need of nothing. But the prosperity of the Christian may be a great blessing to himself and others. Take with you into your business, into your social relations, into every plan you make and every work you undertake, the presence of God, the fear of God, the commandments of God; and then there will be no fear of your success. Trust in the Lord. Put your eternal interests into the hands of Jesus. He is worthy of your trust. They that trust themselves to him shall never perish. Trust in the Lord, that it may lead you to personal religion, to practical effort, to success in life.
"Set thou thy trust upon the Lord.
And be thou doing good,
And so thou in the land shalt dwell,
And verily have food."
2 Kings 18:9-12
Captivity and its cause.
(See homily on preceding chapter, 2 Kings 18:6-23.)—C.H.I.
2 Kings 18:13-16
Hezekiah had now been for some time on the throne. God had been with him hitherto, and had prospered him. Perhaps Hezekiah began to trust too much to his own strength. In the seventh verse we are told that he rebelled against the King of Assyria, and served him not. It does not appear that Hezekiah sought God's guidance before taking this bold step. Perhaps it would have been wiser if he had waited a little longer. At any rate, now, when he begins to feel the consequences of his action, he is disposed to shrink from them. The King of Assyria "came up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them." Hezekiah was panic-stricken. He trembled for his throne. He sent a submissive message, saying, "I have offended; return from me; that which thou puttest on me will I bear." We learn here—
I. HOW WEAK EVEN A GOOD MAN IS WITHOUT THE HELP OF GOD. Hezekiah was a good man. He was a wise man. Yet when left to himself how weak he was! how foolishly he acted! "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." It becometh us all to walk humbly with our God. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."
II. THE EVIL RESULTS OF WANT OF FAITH. Hezekiah's faith in God failed him. When that went, he was helpless. Sennacherib, seeing his craven spirit, appointed him a tribute of "three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold" (2 Kings 18:14). Hezekiah was in a difficulty. He had no money to meet this demand. So he followed the very dangerous example set him by his father, and stripped the gold from the doors and pillars of the house of God, and sent it to the King of Assyria. Want of faith often leads men to use questionable methods. Men are in need of money, and they cannot trust God to provide for them in the way of honest industry, so they have recourse to speculation and fraud. If we are doing God's will, we may trust him to take care of us.
"It may not be my way;
It may not be thy way;
But yet in his own way the Lord will provide."
2 Kings 18:17-37
The tempter and his methods: Rabshakeh's address to the leaders and people of Jerusalem.
Hezekiah's gift to the King of Assyria had not saved him. The weakness he showed was rather an encouragement to Sennacherib to continue his attacks upon Judaea. And now a detachment of Sennacherib's army, headed by three officers of rank, comes up to Jerusalem. Their first effort is to induce the people of Jerusalem to surrender. Rabshakeh is the spokesman. His speech is like the speech of a Mephistopheles. It may fairly be taken as an illustration of how the wily tempter himself proceeds in his desire to allure to sin and destruction the souls of men.
I. HE PRETENDS TO BE DOING GOD'S WORK.
1. He ridicules their confidence in Egypt. Isaiah himself could hardly have warned them more strongly against the vanity of alliance with other nations. "Thou trustest upon the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt" (verse 21).
2. He censures Hezekiah for disrespect toward God. "If ye say unto me, We trust in the Lord God: is not this he whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away?" (verse 22). So Satan sometimes appears as an angel of light. Men of sin and worldliness sometimes show a remarkable interest in the Church of God.
3. He represents himself as having a commission frown God. "Am I now come up without the Lord against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it" (verse 25). It is thus that sin constantly presents itself to men and women. It masks its real features. It presents itself in a religious garb. A debased theatre professes to be the teacher of morality. But for one whose life it has changed for the better, there are thousands whom it has changed for the worse. Perhaps we should be justified in going the length of Pollok, in his 'Course of Time,' and in saying, "It might do good, but never did." How many questionable practices defend themselves on the ground that they are sanctioned and encouraged by "religious" people?
II. HE MAKES LIGHT OF TRUST IN GOD. But soon the cloven foot appears. The tempter soon begins to wean the soul from that religion 'of whose interests he professes to be so jealous. See here the inconsistency of Rabshakeh's speech. He first of all made it appear that he was commissioned by God, and that therefore all their efforts to resist him would be futile. But now he proceeds to ridicule the idea of trusting to God's power. "Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, The Lord will surely deliver us" (verse 30). "Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the King of Assyria?" (verses 33-35). So it is in the progress of sin. He who is led away by the allurements of the world and pleasure, first begins with pleasures which lie on the herder-land between the bad and the good. These are the pleasures or pursuits about which men say, "Oh! there is no harm in that." "No harm" is a very dangerous phrase. When we hear it, we may generally doubt its truth. It usually refers to pursuits or pleasures which are the stepping-stones to worse sins. Many a man crosses the bridge of "no harm," and enters forever the land of "no good." Let us never be induced to waver in our trust in God and obedience to him. His way is the way of safety and peace. There are many whose work seems to be like that of Rabshakeh—to weaken the trust of others in God, to diminish the respect of others for the Law of God. "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven." Where God and conscience say to us, "You ought not," let not the tempter ever persuade us by saying, "You may."
III. HE MAKES FALSE PROMISES. How fair-spoken is Rabshakeh! How very alluring his promises! If the people of Jerusalem would only make an agreement with the King of Assyria by a present, then they would eat every man of his own vine and fig tree, until he would afterwards take them away to a land like their own land, "a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil olive and of honey, that ye may live and not die." In this specious way he held before them an attractive prospect. But it was as empty as the bubble in the summer breeze. It was the pleasant euphemism by which he sought to gloss over the prospect of conquest and captivity. So with the pleasures of sin. How bright and how attractive, to outward appearance, are the haunts of wickedness and vice! The bright lights of the gin-palace—how they allure its unhappy victims, often by the contrast with the dreariness and misery of their homes! What a pleasant prospect sin in various forms presents! But how terrible is the reality! How grim is the skeleton at the feast! "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not." Such are the tempter's methods still. The thirty-sixth verse contains a very good suggestion as to the way of meeting temptation. "But the people held their peace, and answered him not a word; for the king's commandment was, saying, Answer him not." It is a wise rule not to parley with the tempter. If we pray, "Lead us not into temptation," then we ought to be careful not to put ourselves in temptation's way.—C.H.I.
2 Kings 18:1-37
A striking reformation, a ruthless despotism, and an unprincipled diplomacy.
"How it came to pass," etc. Amongst the incidents recorded and the characters mentioned in this chapter, there stand out in great prominence three subjects for practical contemplation:
(1) a striking reformation;
(2) a ruthless despotism; and
(3) an unprincipled diplomacy.
The many strange and somewhat revolting historic events that make up the bulk of this chapter will come out in the discussion of these three subjects.
I. A STRIKING REFORMATION. Hezekiah, who was now King of Judah, and continued such for about twenty-nine years, was a man of great excellence. The unknown historian here says that "he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did," etc. (2 Kings 18:3-8). This is high testimony, and his history shows that on the whole it was well deserved. Compared with most of his predecessors and contemporaries, he appears to have been an extraordinarily good man. He lived in a period of great national trial and moral corruption. Israel, Judah's sister-kingdom, was in its death-throes, and his own people had fallen into idolatry of the grossest kind. In the very dawn of his reign he sets himself to the work of reformation. We find in 2 Chronicles 29:2-36 a description of the desire for a thorough reformation which displayed itself. But the point of his reformative work, on which we would now fasten our attention, is that mentioned in 2 Chronicles 29:4, "He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan." His method for extirpating idolatry from his country is detailed with minuteness in 2 Chronicles 29:3; 2 Chronicles 30:1-9. In this destruction of the brazen serpent we are struck with two things.
1. The perverting tendency of sin. The brazen serpent (we learn from Numbers 21:9) was a beneficent ordinance of God to heal those in the wilderness who had been bitten by the fiery serpents. 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. The Jews turned what was a special display of Divine goodness into a great evil. I am disposed to honor them for preserving it for upwards of seven hundred years, and thus handing it down from sire to son as a memorial of heavenly mercy; but their conduct in establishing it as an object for worship must be denounced without hesitancy or qualification. But is not this the great law of depravity? Has it not always perverted the good things of God, and thus converted blessings into curses? It has ever done so. It is doing so now. 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 (if our translation is correct) saw in this serpent, which appeared like a god to the people, nothing but a piece of brass—"Nehustan." What is grand to the vulgar is contemptible to the spiritually thoughtful. The true reformer peers into the heart of things, and finds that the gods of the people are but of common brass.
(2) Invincible honesty. He not only saw that it was brass, but said so—declared it in the ears of the people. How many there are who have eyes to see the vile and contemptible in the objects which popular feeling admires and adores, but who lack the honesty to express their convictions! A true man not only sees the wrong, but exposes it.
(3) Practical courage. This reformer not only had the insight to see, and the honesty to expose the worthlessness of the people's gods, but he had the courage to strike them from their pedestal. "He brake in pieces the brazen serpent." I have no hope of any man doing any real spiritual good who has not these three instincts. He must not only have an eye to penetrate the seeming and to descry the real, nor merely be honest enough to speak out his views, but he must have also the manly hand to "break in pieces" the false, in order to do the Divine work of reform. The man that has the three combined is the reformer. Almighty Love! multiply amongst us men of this threefold instinct—men which the age, the world demands! £
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. "He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him. For he clave to the Lord, and departed not from following him but kept his commandments which the Lord commanded Moses. He trusted in and clave to the One true and living God, and kept his commandments. And this is right, and there is no right but this.
(2) Invincible antagonism to the wrong. "And he rebelled against the King of Assyria, and served him not." "The yearly tribute his father had stipulated to pay, he withheld. Pursuing the policy of a truly theocratic sovereign, be was, through the Divine blessing which rested on his government, raised to a position of great public and national strength. Shalmaneser was dead; and assuming, consequently, that full independent sovereignty which God had settled on the house of David, he both shook off the Assyrian yoke, and, by an energetic movement against the Philistines, recovered the credit which his father Ahaz had lost in his war with that people (2 Chronicles 28:18)."
II. A RUTHLESS DESPOTISM. There are two despots mentioned in this chapter—Shalmaneser and Sennacherib, both kings of Assyria. A brief description of the former we have in 2Ch 30:9, 2 Chronicles 30:10, 2 Chronicles 30:12. What is stated in these verses is but a repetition of what we have in the preceding chapter, and the remarks made on it in our last homily preclude the necessity of any observations here. This Shalmaneser was a tyrant of the worst kind. He invaded and ravaged the land of Israel, threw Hoshea into prison, laid siege to Samaria, carried the Israelites into Assyria, and located in their homes strangers from various parts of the Assyrian dominions. Thus he utterly destroyed the kingdom of Israel. The other despot is Sennacherib (2 Chronicles 30:13-16). Shalmaneser is gone, and this Sennacherib takes his place. The ruthlessness of this man's despotism appears in the following facts, recorded in the present chapter.
1. He had already invaded a country in which he had no right. "Sow in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah did Sennacherib King of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them." "The names of the principal of these cities are perhaps enumerated by Micah (Micah 1:11-16), viz. Saphir, lying between Ashdod and Eleutheropolis; Zaanan or Zenan (Joshua 15:37),; Beth-Ezel or Azel (Zechariah 14:5), near Saphir and Zaanan; Maroth or Maarath (Joshua 15:59), between these towns and Jerusalem; Lachish (Um Lakis); Moresheth-Gath, situated in the direction of Gath; Achzib, between Keilah and Mareshah (Joshua 15:44); Mareshah, situated in the low country of Judah (Joshua 15:44); Adullam, near Mareshah (cf. Isaiah 24:1-12). Overrunning Palestine, Sennacherib laid siege to the fortress of Lachish, which lay seven Roman miles from Eleutheropolis, and, therefore, southwest of Jerusalem on the way to Egypt. Amongst the interesting illustrations of sacred history, furnished by the recent Assyrian excavations, is a series of bas-reliefs representing the siege of a town—a fenced town—among the uttermost cities of Judah (Joshua 15:39; Robinson's 'Biblical Researches')." Now mark, he now determines on another invasion, although:
2. He had received from the king most humble submission and large contributions to leave his country alone. Mark his humiliating appeal, "And Hezekiah King of Judah sent to the King of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear." Alas! herein is a yielding of this great man's courage. Why did he apologize, pay the tribute which his ancestor had immorally pledged? Up to this point he had been bold in withholding it. But here, in crouching fear, he makes an apology. And more than this, he unrighteously promises a large contribution in answer to the despot's demands. "And the King of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah King of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold." The sum that he promised was extravagant, amounting to three hundred and fifty thousand pounds; but what was worse, this sum was abstracted from the public funds, to which he had no right, and was also rifled from the temple, which was a desecration. "And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king's house. At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the pillars which Hezekiah King of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the King of Assyria" The conduct of Hezekiah in this matter cannot be justified. Inasmuch as Sennacherib accepted the offering, he was in honor bound to abandon all idea of another invasion. Albeit, contrary to every principle of justice and kindness, not to say honor, he dispatches his army again into Judaea. "And the King of Assyria sent Tartan," etc. (verse 17). What monsters are such despots! and yet they are not rare. Is there a nation existing on the face of the earth to-day, whatever its form of government, that has not at one time or another played this part?
III. AN UNPRINCIPLED DIPLOMACY. On behalf of Hezekiah, "Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder," appeared before the invading soldiers, and they are thus addressed by Rabshakeh, one of the leaders of the invading host: "And Rahshakeh said unto them, Speak ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the King of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?" etc. He appears as the diplomatist of the Assyrian war-king, and what does he do? By an impassioned harangue, fraught with insolence, falsehood, and blasphemy, he urges Hezekiah and his country to surrender. In doing this:
1. He represents his master, the King of Assyria, to be far greater than he is. "Thus saith the great king, the King of Assyria." Great, indeed! A flashing meteor and a gorgeous bubble, nothing morel A diplomatist is ever tempted to make his own country fabulously great in the presence of the one with whom he seeks to negotiate.
2. He seeks to terrify them with a sense of their utter inability to resist the invading army. "What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?"—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 18:1-8
Hezekiah the good. It is with a sense of relief that we emerge from the dark and oppressive atmosphere of the time of Ahaz into the "clear shining" (2 Samuel 23:4) of a reign like that of Hezekiah. Once more Divine mercy gave Judah a king in whom the best traditions of the theocracy were revived.
I. RIGHT CONDUCT.
1. An evil upbringing belied. As if to set laws of heredity at defiance, the worst King of Judah hitherto is succeeded by one of the best—the best after David. It is difficult on human principles to account for such a phenomenon. Hezekiah had every disadvantage in inherited tendency, in evil example, and in adverse surrounding influences. But Divine grace triumphed over all, and made out of him "a chosen vessel" (Acts 9:15). Doubtless some human agency unknown to us was employed in molding the young prince's character. It may have been his mother, "Abi, the daughter of Zachariah;" or perhaps the Prophet Isaiah, who had afterwards so much to do with him.
2. A good example followed, Hezekiah took as his model, not his own father, but David, the founder of his line, of whom God had said, "I have found David the son of Jesse a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will" (Acts 13:22). Hezekiah is the new David. Of no other since the times of Asa is it affirmed that he did "according to all that David his father did;" and even of Asa the testimony is less emphatic than here (1 Kings 15:11). Hezekiah mounted to the original model. David was the model for the kings of Judah; we have a yet higher one—Christ. It is well in ordering our lives to go back to this ultimate standard, judging ourselves, not by the degree of likeness or unlikeness to our neighbors, but by the measure of conformity to him.
II. REFORMING ZEAL. Hezekiah evidenced the reality of his piety by his works. In carrying out his reforms Hezekiah would no doubt be strengthened and assisted by the prophets; and the people were perhaps prepared to acquiesce in them by their disgust at the extravagant idolatries of Ahaz (cf. 2 Chronicles 28:27).
1. Temptation removed. Hezekiah early took the step which had hitherto been neglected by even the best kings—he "removed the high places." This centralized the worship at Jerusalem, and did away with the temptations to idolatry which the local altars afforded. It was further important as an evidence of his thorough-going determination to carry out the provisions of God's Law. We may wonder how Hezekiah could venture on such a step without awakening widespread resistance and disaffection; but the Book of Chronicles shows that it happened while the wave of enthusiasm created by the great Passover was yet at its height—a sufficient explanation (2 Chronicles 31:1).
2. Destruction of monuments of idolatry. Hezekiah next proceeded to clear the land of those idols of which Isaiah, at an earlier period, had said that it was full (Isaiah 2:8). He brake the images, and cut down the asherah. These vigorous measures were indispensable if true religion was to be re-established. It is not otherwise with the individual heart. True repentance is a stripping the soul of its idols—love of money, fashion, gaiety, dress, etc. "Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew vi- 24). "Covetousness, which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5).
"The dearest idol I have known,
Whate'er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee."
3. Breaking of the brazen serpent. Another noteworthy act of Hezekiah was his breaking in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made. This is the first and last glimpse we get of this venerable relic since the time when it was set up in the wilderness. Its preservation was natural; it had done a wonderful work in its day; it was the symbol of a great deliverance; it had clustered around it the associations of miracle; it was the type even of the salvation of Messiah. We cannot marvel that it was reverenced as a sacred object. Yet now it had become a snare to the people, who burnt incense to it, and Hezekiah ruthlessly destroyed it, calling it (or it was called) contemptuously Nehushtan—"a piece of brass." We see from this how things originally sacred may become a snare and a temptation. Superstition is a fungus of rank growth, and fastens on nothing more readily than on the objects which call forth a natural reverence. Cf. the story of Gideon's ephod (Judges 8:24 Judges 8:27). Thus from the veneration of martyrs in the Christian Church there grew the worship of relics. So with all other aids to devotion, conceptions that fitly invest religious feelings, which, as Carlyle says ('On Heroes') are eidola, things seen, symbols of the invisible. When the sense and spiritual meaning goes out of these, and they become objects of superstitious reverence in themselves, it is time for them to be broken up. Even an object so sacred as the serpent which Moses made sinks to the level of a mere "piece of brass." We are reminded of Knox's reply when a prisoner in the galleys, and the image of the Virgin was presented to him to kiss. "Mother? Mother of God?" he said. "This is no mother of God; this is a painted bread'—a piece of painted wood—and flung the thing into the river.
III. PRE-EMINENT GODLINESS.
1. Hezekiah the best of his line. Additional emphasis is given to the commendation of Hezekiah by the statement, "After him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him." It is good to be preeminent, but most of all to be pre-eminent for godliness. When we remember that among the kings with whom Hezekiah is here compared are such as Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Uzziah before him, and Josiah after him, we see that the praise is very great.
2. The praise particularized. The general statement is expanded into its particulars. Hezekiah trusted in the Lord; he clave to the Lord; he departed not from following him; he kept his commandments, as given to Moses. Trust, fidelity, obedience, and perseverance, in all these were his distinctive characteristics. Some kings had trusted, but not with so entire a heart; some had been obedient, but not so fully; some had been faithful for a time, but had failed to persevere. Hezekiah had the better record. God puts special honor on whole-hearted service. We are to see, however, that, exceptional as his goodness was, Hezekiah was not perfect. He bad his flaws, his sins, his failures too. The intention of the text is not to represent him as sinless, but only as pre-eminently great and good. "There is not a just man on earth that doeth good, and sinneth not" (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
IV. DIVINE REWARD. Hezekiah's piety won for him Divine favor, protection, and success.
1. Freedom from servitude. "He rebelled against the King of Assyria, and served him not." He thus rescued the kingdom from the humiliating dependence into which it had been brought by Ahaz.
2. Victory over enemies. Hezekiah had also important victories over the Philistines, and was prospered "whithersoever" he went forth. Spiritually, God gives to those who fear him deliverance from the power of sin within, and victory over the world, the devil, and the flesh.—J.O.
2 Kings 18:13-17
Sennacherib's first assault.
We enter in this passage on the consideration of one of the most memorable crises Judah ever passed through. The Assyrian, the rod of God's anger (Isaiah 10:4), hung over Jerusalem, showing how near destruction it was if God did not interpose. A mighty deliverance was vouchsafed, showing how inviolable was its security if only fleshly confidence was renounced, and the people put their trust in the living God.
I. SENNACHERIB'S EARLY SUCCESSES:
1. Connection with the moral state of the people. Despite the efforts of Hezekiah and Isaiah, the moral state of the people continued at bottom unchanged. The enthusiasm enkindled by Hezekiah's great Passover (2 Chronicles 30:1-27.) passed away, and things reverted very much to their former state. The idols which Hezekiah had destroyed were brought back (cf. Isaiah 10:10, Isaiah 10:11). The nation is pointedly described as "an hypocritical nation," and pictures of the saddest kind are drawn of its wickedness (Isaiah 10:6; cf. 2 Kings 1:1-22.; Micah 3:1-12.). At one point, indeed, the Prophet Micah was sent with a direct announcement of judgment, and the fulfillment was only postponed by the earnest repentance of the king (Jeremiah 26:18, Jeremiah 26:19; cf. Micah 3:12). Hezekiah was not faultless, but had himself transgressed through pride on the occasion of the visit of the messengers from Babylon, which falls before this period (2 Kings 20:12-19; 2 Chronicles 32:31). He had besides been seeking to strengthen himself by political alliance with Egypt (Isaiah 30:1-33.). What wonder that chastisement should be allowed to descend on a "sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers" (Isaiah 1:4)! As we forget God, and abuse his favors, God withdraws from us.
2. Extent of his successes.
(1) Sennacherib took all the fenced cities of Judah. His own annals mention forty-six strong cities, and lesser cities without number. He claims to have taken also 200,150 prisoners. This was a fearful blow to the prosperity and resources of the kingdom.
(2) At this stage, moreover, Sennacherib invested Jerusalem. The text speaks only of Hezekiah paying tribute, and entreating Sennacherib to depart from him; but it is morally certain that at this time Jerusalem endured a severe siege, and was saved only by the submission referred to.
(a) In 2 Chronicles 32:1-8 we have an account of Hezekiah's vigorous preparations for the siege.
(b) Sennacherib, in his own annals, describes the siege.
(c) The prophecy in Isaiah 22:1-25; which belongs to this period, depicts the state of Jerusalem during the siege, and a fearful picture of demoralization it is. The theory that this prophecy refers to an earlier siege under Sargon seems to us to have little probability. The hand of God was thus lying heavily on the people. Only by leading men to feel their own weakness does God train them to rely upon his help. When Hezekiah's trust in man was shattered, and he was led to look to God alone, Sennacherib s campaign came to an ignominious end.
II. HEZEKIAH'S SUBMISSION.
1. The failure of the arm of flesh. Hezekiah had been seeking alliances with Egypt and Ethiopia, but no help reached him in his hour of extremity. Isaiah had warned him of this (Isaiah 30:1-33.). The act of seeking such an alliance implied a distrust of God. Astute politicians no doubt thought an alliance with Egypt a much more tangible affair than an alliance with the invisible Jehovah. So long, however, as Hezekiah looked in this quarter for aid he was doomed to disappointment. Neither the King of Egypt nor strongly fortified wails availed to save him. He had to learn the lesson: "In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength" (Isaiah 30:15).
2. The humiliating tribute. Despairing of help from his ally, and faltering in his faith in God, Hezekiah made an unworthy submission. It may be gathered from Isaiah 22:1-25. that affairs in the city had reached an awful height of wickedness. Pestilence was sweeping off the people in crowds; and Hezekiah may have felt that he could stand it no longer. The King of Assyria accepted his submission, and appointed him three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold as tribute. To obtain this large sum he had not only to empty once more the often-ransacked treasuries of the temple and the king's house, but had to cut off the gold from the very doors and pillars of the temple. It was himself who had overlaid these pillars with the precious metal, but now they had to be stripped of their adornment, and all given to the rapacious Assyrian. Truly it was "a day of trouble, and of treading down, and of perplexity" (Isaiah 22:5). What humiliations men are willing to endure rather than submit themselves heartily to the sway of the living God! After all, "willing" is not the word, for they would fain escape these humiliations, but find they cannot. Yet they do not return.
3. His submission no advantage. Sennacherib withdrew to Lachish, and Hezekiah was left to hope that by this great sacrifice he had got rid of him. He was soon to be undeceived. What happened we do not know; possibly some rumors reached the King of Assyria of the march of Tirhakah alluded to in 2 Kings 19:9, and he may have suspected further treachery on the part of Hezekiah. In any case, a new host was dispatched against Jerusalem, and fresh demands were made for surrender (2 Kings 19:17). Hezekiah's distress must have been unspeakable. He had paid his tribute, and was no better than before. Waters of a full cup were wrung out to him (Psalms 73:10). It is thus evermore till men turn from the help of man to the help of God.—J.O.
2 Kings 18:17-37
From Lachish Sennacherib sent an army to Jerusalem, and with it some of his highest officers, the Tartan, Rabsaris, and Rabshakeh. Taking their stand by "the conduit of the upper pool," where they could be heard from the walls, they called for the king to come to them. Hezekiah did not come, but sent three envoys, Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah, to whom Rabshakeh, the orator of the party, addressed himself. His speech is a very skilful one from his own point of view, and fails into two parts. It is pervaded by the utmost arrogancy and contempt of the God of the Jews.
I. HIS ADDRESS TO THE ENVOYS. The question Rabshakeh had been sent by his master to ask of Hezekiah was—"What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?" He proceeds to demolish one by one Hezekiah's supposed confidences, and to show how vain it was for him to hope to carry on the war.
1. Hezekiah's confidence in Egypt. Rabshakeh answers his own question by declaring, first, that Hezekiah's confidence was placed in Egypt. This was true; and it was also true that, as the speaker next went on to say, this confidence was in a "bruised reed." The policy of relying on Egypt, instead of seeking help from God, was Hezekiah's great mistake. Rabshakeh did not denounce the worthlessness of this ground of confidence too scornfully. Pharaoh King of Egypt was indeed a bruised reed, on which, if a man leant, it would go into his hand, and pierce it. Isaiah's language had been not less strong (Isaiah 30:1-33.). The metaphor may be applied to any reliance on mere human wisdom, human power, or human help. Often it has proved so in individual experience and the history of nations. Through some overlooked factor in the calculations, some unexpected turn in providence, some treachery, self-interest, or delay on the part of allies, the best-laid schemes break down, the strongest combinations dissolve like smoke.
2. Hezekiah's confidence in Jehovah. Rabshakeh next deals with Hezekiah's trust in the Lord. He does not at this point urge the plea afterwards put forth, viz. that no gods can stand before the King of Assyria. Indeed, he claims (verse 25) to be commissioned by Jehovah—either an idle boast or an allusion to what he had heard of Isaiah's prophecies (cf. Isaiah 7:17-25; Isaiah 10:5-19). But he skillfully makes use of Hezekiah's action in destroying the high places and altars. "Is not this he whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and hath said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?" This sweeping away of the high places is represented as an outrage on the religion of Jehovah, which that Deity might be expected to avenge. How, then, could Hezekiah expect any help from him? The argument was a skilful one as directed to the body of the people. The high places were of long-standing sanctity, and they at least were disposed to regard them with superstitious reverence. What if, after all, Hezekiah had displeased Jehovah by suppressing them? Calamity upon calamity was falling on the nation: was there not a cause? A reformer must ever lay his account with charges of this kind. Any political, social, or religious change is apt to be blamed for troubles that arise on the back of it. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. The early Christians were blamed for the calamities of the Roman empire; the Reformation was blamed for the civil convulsions that followed it; when drought or trouble falls on tribes which have been persuaded to abandon idolatry, they are apt to think the idols are angry, and to go back to their old worship. In this argument, however, Rabshakeh was as wrong as he was right in his first one. The fault was that the people did not trust God enough, and what he thought was a provocation of Jehovah was an act done in his honor, and in obedience to his will.
3. Hezekiah's confidence in his resources. Lastly, Rabshakeh ridicules the idea that Hezekiah can resist his master by force. Where are his chariots and horsemen? Or, if he had horses, where are the riders to put on them? He undertakes to give two thousand horses, if Hezekiah will furnish the men; and he knows he cannot. How, then, can he hope to put to flight even the least of Sennacherib's captains? Rabshakeh again was right in assuming that Hezekiah had not material forces wherewith to contend with Sennacherib, and Hezekiah himself was too well aware of the fact. He had not confidence in his forces, and therein the orator was wrong. But Rabshakeh's whole speech shows that he was himself committing the error he denounced in Hezekiah. If the question were retorted, "What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?" the answer could only be—In chariots and horses, in the proved might of the Assyrian arms. His speech breathes throughout the spirit of the man who has unbounded trust in armaments, provided only they are gigantic enough. Because Sennacherib has such immense armies, valiant soldiers, and such numbers of them, therefore he is invincible in war, and can defy God and man. The arm of flesh—"big battalions"—is everything here. Herein lay his profound mistake; and it was soon to be demonstrated. The might of the Invisible was to be declared against the power of the visible. Philistinism was to receive another overthrow—this time without even the sling and atones (1Sa 16:1-23 :40-51).
II. ADDRESS TO THE JEWS. At this point Hezekiah's officers interposed, and requested Rabshakeh to speak, not in the Hebrew, but in the Syrian tongue, that his language might not be understood by the people on the wall. Rabshakeh had come on a mission of diplomacy, and it was proper that in the first instance only the king's representatives should be consulted with. The envoy, however, insolently broke through all customary bounds, and declared that it was the common people he wished to address. Taking up, therefore, a yet better position, he now spoke directly, and in louder tones, to the people, who by this time may be supposed to have crowded the battlements. Again declaring that he bears a message from "the great king, the King of Assyria," he bids them not let Hezekiah deceive them, and urges:
1. The advantages of submission. As it was, they were in evil ease. But if they surrendered to Sennacherib, they had nothing to fear. Here Rabshakeh touches on delicate ground. He cannot deny that they will lose their liberty, and be transported as captives to Assyria All he can do is to attempt to gild the pill. He tells them, first, that in the mean time they will be allowed the utmost freedom—to eat every man of his own vine and of his own fig tree, and to drink every man the waters of his own cistern. When the time does come that they must be removed—and he tries to represent this as a privilege—it will be to a land like their own, a land of corn and wine, of bread and vineyards, of oil and olives and honey; a land where they shall live, and not die. The promises were alluring only by contrast with the worse fate that awaited them if they did not submit to the Assyrian; but more than this, they were deceitful. They were promises which, if the people had trusted to them, would never have been fulfilled. Sennacherib was not in the habit of treating his captives tenderly. His good faith had just been tested by his perfidy towards Hezekiah. Is it not always so with the promises of the tempter? When a soul capitulates, and yields to sin, what becomes of the bright prospects that are opened up beforehand? Are they ever realized? There is a brief period of excitement, of giddy delight, then satiety, loathing, the sense of degradation, the dying out of all real joy. What, if by yielding to sin, some present evil be avoided, some immediate good gained? Is the good ever what was anticipated? or can it compensate for the exile from God and holiness which is its price? At all hazards the wise course is to adhere to God and duty. The visions of corn and wine, of bread and vineyards, of oil and olives, by which the soul is tempted from its allegiance, are illusions—as unsubstantial as the desert mirage.
2. The futility of resistance. To enforce his argument for submission, Rabshakeh returns to what is undeniably his strongest point, viz. the futility of resistance. Can they hope to be delivered? He had argued this before from the side of Hezekiah's weakness, showing the baselessness of his grounds of confidence; be now argues it from the side of Sennacherib's strength. Here undoubtedly he has a plausible case.
(1) From the military point of view. "Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand." Since the days of Tiglath-pileser the Assyrian arms had swept on in a tide of almost uninterrupted conquest. Not only Hamath and Arpad and Sepharvaim, but Babylon, Damascus, Israel, Phllistia, and Egypt, had felt the force of their resistless might. Judah had already severely suffered. What hope bad Hezekiah, with his little handful of men, caged like a bird in Jerusalem,.of rolling back this tide of conquest! The thing, on natural grounds, seemed an impossibility.
(2) From a religious point of view. "Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, The Lord will surely deliver us." Here the position of the Assyrian conqueror seemed—from the heathen standpoint, but of course only from that—equally strong. In heathen view, the contest was not only a contest of man with man, but of Asshur and the other Assyrian gods, with the gods of other nations. And how had that contest gone? The gods of Assyria had in every ease proved the stronger in the battle. Where were the gods of the conquered nations? What had they been able to do for their worshippers? What had even Jehovah been able to do for Samaria? Who among them all had delivered their country out of the hand of Sennacherib? What hope was there that Jerusalem would fare any better than Samaria had done? The validity of this conclusion depends entirely upon the soundness of the premises. If the gods of these nations had a real existence, and Jehovah was but one more local deity among the rest, it would be difficult to resist the inference that the chances were strongly in favor of Asshur. But the case was altered if these idol-gods were nullities, and Jehovah was the one Ruler of heaven and earth, in whose providence the movements even of Sennacherib and his all-conquering armies were embraced. And this, of course, was the faith of Isaiah and Hezekiah and the godly part of Judah. That is was the right one was shown by the result. We see from this example how a false view-point compels a false and mistaken reading of the whole facts of history and of human life. The view which history presents to one who denies the postulates of revelation will differ entirely from the view which it presents to a Christian believer. Belief in God is the right center for understanding everything.
III. THE ANSWER OF SILENCE. To these harangues of Rabshakeh the people "answered not a word." Hezekiah had given this instruction to his officers, and they, when the people gathered, doubtless spread among them the knowledge of the king's wish. Accordingly they "held their peace." There were many reasons why this answer of silence was a wise one.
1. Rabshakeh's words did not deserve an answer. His address to the people on the wall was a breach of all diplomatic courtesy; it had for its object to sow the seeds of mutiny, and set the people against their king; it was obviously insincere in its tone and promises, scrupling at nothing which would induce the people to surrender their liberties; in relation to Jehovah, it was profane and blasphemous. Speeches of that kind are best left unanswered. A tempter is fittingly met with silence. A man who makes insincere proposals does not deserve to be reasoned with. Profanity and blasphemy should be left without reply (Matthew 7:6).
2. From Rabshakeh's point of view no reply was possible. This has freely to be conceded. What would it have availed to point out to him that the gods of these other nations were no gods, and that Jehovah was the one living and true God? Such statements would have but provoked a new burst of mockery. It was better, therefore, to say nothing. In all reasoning with an opponent there must be a basis of common ground. When we reach a fundamental divergence of first principles, it is time to stop. At least, if argument is to proceed, it must go back on these first principles, and try to find a deeper unity. Failing in that, it must cease. Between the Christian and unchristian views of the world, e.g; there is no middle term.
3. Even from the Jewish point of view no reply was ready. God was to be trusted, but would he indeed save? What if the iniquities of the people had provoked him to deliver them up, as he had delivered up Samaria? Deliverance was conditional on repentance: did the state of morals in the city show much sign of repentance? Or, if God meant to deliver them, how would he do it? They seemed fast in the lion's jaws. The way of escape from their present predicament was not obvious, yea, no way seemed possible. What, then, should they answer? At most, their belief in Jehovah's interposition was an act of faith, for which no justification could be given in outward appearances. In such crises, when all rests on faith, nothing on sight, the best attitude of the soul, at least in presence of the worldly, is silence. "Be still, and know that I am God," is the counsel given in the psalm supposed to commemorate this deliverance (Psalms 46:10).—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 18". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany