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PART II. HISTORICAL SKETCH OF EVENTS IN THE REIGN OF HEZEKIAH (CH. 36-39.).
SECTION I. SENNACHERIB'S ATTEMPTS TO REDUCE JUDAEA, AND HIS OVERTHROW (Isaiah 36:1-22; Isaiah 37:1-38.).
IF the Book of Isaiah be regarded as the result of a gradual accretion (see the General Introduction), whether that accretion is to be ascribed to the action of the prophet himself or to that of later editors, we may equally consider the present chapters (ch. 36-39.) to have been originally an "Appendix," attached, as furnishing illustration to the preceding prophecies, and at one time terminating the book. They will thus stand to the preceding chapters in much the same relation as that in which the last chapter of Jeremiah stands to the rest of that prophet's work, differing only in the fact that they are almost entirely the prophet's own composition. Isaiah wrote the history of the reign of Hezekiah for the general "Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah" (2 Chronicles 32:32). From this "book" the account of the reign which we have in 2 Kings (18-20.) is almost certainly taken (2 Kings 20:20). The close verbal resemblance between the present chapters and those in Kings, and the differences, which are chiefly omissions, are best accounted for by supposing that both are abbreviations of a more extensive narrative. such as that composed for the original "Book of the Chronicles" probably was. The abbreviation here inserted may have been made either by the prophet himself, or by a "co-editor." The point is one which is not very important, and which it is quite impossible to determine, unless arbitrarily.
It came to pass in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah. There is an irreconcilable difference between this note of time, in the passage as it stands, and the Assyrian inscriptions. The fourteenth year of Hezekiah was b.c. 714 or 713. Sargon was then King of Assyria, and continued king till b.c. 705. Sennacherib did not ascend the throne till that year, and he did not lead an expedition into Palestine till b.c. 701. Thus the date, as it stands, is cloven or twelve years too early. It is now the common opinion of critics that the chronology of the Books of Kings, speaking generally, is "a later addition to the Hebrew narrative". It is uncertain when the dates were added; but it would not be long from the time when the addition was made before "Isaiah" would be brought into accord with "Kings." Another view is that the date belongs to the original writings, but that it has suffered corruption, "fourteenth" having been substituted for "twenty-sixth," from an overstrict rendering of the expression, "in those days," which introduces the narrative of Isaiah 38:1-22. That narrative undoubtedly belongs to Hezekiah's fourteenth year. A third view is that of Dr. Hincks, who suggests a derangement of the text, which has attached to an expedition of Sennacherib a date originally belonging to an attack by Sargon. He supposes the original text to have run thus: "And it came to pass in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah that the King of Assyria came up (against him). In those days was King Hezekiah sick unto death, etc. (Isaiah 38:1-22; Isaiah 39:1-8.). And Sennacherib, King of Assyria, came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them," etc. (Isaiah 36:1-22; Isaiah 37:1-38.). The subject has been treated at considerable length by Mr. Cheyne, who has accidentally ascribed to Sir H. Rawlinson the second of the above theories, which really originated with the present writer. Sennacherib, King of Assyria. The Hebrew rendering of the name is Sankherib, the Greek Sanacharibus or Senacheribus. In the Assyrian the literation is Sin-akhi-irib—and the meaning" Sin (the moon-god) multiplies brothers." Sin-akhi-irib was the son and successor of Sargon. His father was murdered, and he ascended the throne in b.c. 705. Came up against all the defenced cities; rather, all the fenced cities, as in 2 Kings 18:13,or "all the fortified cities" (Cheyne). And took them. Sennacberib tells us that, in the campaign of his fourth year, he "captured forty-six of the strong cities" belonging to Hezekiah, King of Judah, while of the "fortresses and small cities" he took "a countless number". (On the causes of the war and its general course, see the Introduction to the book.)
And the King of Assyria sent Rabshakeh … with a great army. It is inconceivable that, immediately after the grant of terms of peace and their acceptance, Sennacherib should have renewed the war; there must have been an interval, and a fresh provocation. The interval can have been only a short one, since Hezekiah died in b.c. 697. It may have been a couple of years, or perhaps no more than a year, or possibly only a few months. The fresh provocation probably consisted in an application for aid, made by Hezekiah to Tir-hakah, or to the subordinate Egyptian kings, which is glanced at in Isaiah 36:6. The Assyrian annals, which never record any reverse or defeat, are wholly silent as to this second expedition. The only profane confirmation of it is to be found in Herodotus (2.141). From Lackish. Laehish, an ancient city of the Amorites (Joshua 10:5), was assigned by Joshua to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:39), and seems to have been still a Jewish possession (2 Kings 14:19). It occupied "a low round swell or knoll" in the Shefelch, or low tract between the Judaean highland and the Mediterranean, and lay near, if not directly on, the direct route which armies commonly followed in their march from Syria into Egypt. The site is now known as Um-Lakis; it lies between Gaza and Ajlan (Eglon), about two miles west of the hitter. Sennacherib represents himself as engaged in its siege on a bas-relief in the British Museum (see Layard, 'Monuments of Nineveh," second series, pl. 21). The conduit of the upper pool (see the comment on Joshua 7:3). The spot was that at which Isaiah had been commanded to meet Ahaz some forty years previously. It was probably on the north side of Jerusalem, not tar from the Damascus gate.
Eliakim: Hilkiah's son (see above, Isaiah 22:20). Eliakim had now taken the place of the Shebna who was "over the house" when Isaiah prophesied his downfall (Isaiah 22:19) and Eliakim's advancement (Isaiah 22:21-23). Shebna the scribe. It is not quite certain that this is the same "Shebna" as the former prefect of the palace, but the uncommonness of the name is a strong argument for the identity. The post of "scribe" or "secretary "(marginal rendering) was one of some importance (see 1 Kings 4:3), though inferior to that of palace prefect. Joah … the recorder. We learn from Kings that Sennacherib sent in reality three envoys (2 Kings 18:17) to Hezekiah—the Tartan, or "commander-in-chief;" the Rabsaris, or "chief eunuch;" and the Rabshakeh, or "rab-sak," the "chief captain," the second in command after the tartan. Hezekiah thought it right to appoint an equal number of officials to meet and confer with them.
And Rabshakeh said. Of the three Assyrian envoys Rabshakeh alone obtains mention in Isaiah, probably because he was the spokesman. He was probably chosen for spokesman because he could speak Hebrew fluently (infra, verses 11, 13). The great king. "The great king" (sarru rabbu) is the most common title assumed by the Assyrian monarchs in their inscriptions. It is found as early as b.c. 1120.
I say. In 2 Kings 18:20 we read, "Thou sayest" for "I say," which gives a better sense. Dr. Kay holds the two forms to be "complementary." I have counsel and strength for war. Either the words of Hezekiah had been reported to Sennacherib, or he rightly divined Hezekiah's thoughts. It was, no doubt, in reliance on the "counsel" of Eliakim and the "strength" of Egypt that the Jewish monarch had a second time provoked his suzerain.
This broken reed; rather, as in 2 Kings 18:21, this bruised reed (comp. Isaiah 42:3). A reed may be "bruised," and wholly untrustworthy as a support, while it appears sound. A "broken" reed no one would lean on. Egypt. There had been times when Egypt was a strong power, feared and respected by her neighbours, and a terror even to Assyria. But these times were long past. For the last fifty years the country had been divided against itself (see the comment on Isaiah 19:2), split up into a number of petty principalities, Recently the neighbouring kingdom of Ethiopia had claimed and exercised a species of sovereignty over the entire Nile valley, while allowing tributary princes to govern different portions of it. Of these princes the most important at the time of Rabshakeh's embassy seems to have been Shabatok, who reigned in Memphis, probably from b.c. 712 to b.c. 698. Egypt is likened to a "bruised reed" on account of her untrustworthincss. "So" (Sabaco) had given no substantial help to Hashes. Shabatok was little likely to imperil himself in order to assist Hezekiah. Even Tirhakah would probably avoid, as long as he could, a conflict with the full power of Assyria. Pharaoh, King of Egypt. Sennacherib uses the generic term, "Pharaoh," instead of mentioning any of the petty princes by name, because he means to speak generally. The King of Egypt, under present circumstances, whoever he may be, is no better than a bruised reed. In his own inscriptions, Sennacherib about this time uses the expression, "the kings of Egypt".
If thou say to me, We trust in the Lord. "The Assyrians," it has been observed, "had a good intelligence department" (Cheyne). It was known to Sennacherib that Hezekiah had a confident trust, which seemed to him wholly irrational, in Jehovah—the special God of his people. It was also known to him that Hezekiah, in the earlier portion of his reign (2 Kings 18:4), had "removed the high places" and broken down the altars, where Jehovah had for centuries been worshipped throughout the length and breadth of the land. He concludes that, in so doing, he must have offended Jehovah. He is probably ignorant of the peculiar proviso of the Jewish Law, that sacrifice should be offered in one place only, and conceives that Hezekiah has been actuated by some narrow motive, and has acted in the interests of one city only, not of the whole people. Ye shall worship before this altar. The parallel passage of 2 Kings (2 Kings 18:22) has "this altar in Jerusalem." The brazen altar in the great court of the temple is, of course, meant. Hezekiah had cleansed it front the pollutions of the time of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 29:18), and had insisted on sacrifice being offered nowhere else (2 Chronicles 29:21-35; 2 Chronicles 30:15-24; 2 Chronicles 31:1, etc.). Such a concentration of worship was unknown to any of the heathen nations, and may well have been unintelligible to them.
Now therefore give pledges; i.e. "bind yourselves under s-me penalty." Rabshakeh here interrupts his message' to introduce an offer of his own. Intent on ridiculing the absurdity of Hezekiah's resistance of Assyria, he promises to make him a present of two thousand horses, if he (Hezekiah) can find two thousand trained riders to mount them. It is quite likely that he was safe in making this promise, and that, notwithstanding the abundant use of chariots and horses by the Jews of the time for purposes of luxury (Isaiah 2:7), they were destitute of a cavalry force and unaccustomed to the management of war-horses.
How then wilt thou turn away the face, etc.? i.e. "How wilt thou be able to defeat, and cause to retreat, a single Assyrian captain at the head of his squadron?" And put thy trust on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen; rather, but thou trustest in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen. Consciousness of the weakness, with which Rabshakeh had just reproached them, had led to their application to Egypt for a chariot and a cavalry force. Egypt was well able to furnish both, and had sent a large force of both to the help of Ekron a short time previously. That force had, however, suffered defeat at the hands of Sennacherib.
The Lord said unto me, Go up against this land, and destroy it; literally, Jehovah said unto me, Go up, etc.. The heathen monarchs frequently represented themselves as directed to make war on a nation by God, or by some particular god. Piankhi Mer-amman says, "I am born of the loins. created from the egg, of the Deity … I have not acted without his knowing; he ordained that I should act". Mesha, King of Moab, declares, "Chemosh said to me, Go and take Nebo [in war] against Israel". Asshur is generally represented as commanding the expeditions of the Assyrian kings. Still, it is surprising that Sennacherib should mention "Jehovah" as the God from whom he had received the order to attack Hezekiah, and we may suspect that the term which he actually employed was Ilu, "God," and that either Rahshakeh, or the reporter of the speech, substituted "Jehovah" as more intelligible to the Jews.
Speak … unto thy servants in the Syrian language; literally, in the Aramaic language. Aramaeans were widely spread over the entire region between the Lower Tigris and the Mediterranean; and their language seems to have been in general use, as a language of commerce. "Private contract tablets in Aramaic and Assyrian have been found in the remains of ancient Nineveh" (Cheyne). Rabshakeh had, perhaps, spoken "in the Jews' language " without any ill intent, thinking that it was the only tongue which Jewish envoys would understand; but his so doing was calculated to affect the minds of the common people, and to shake their allegiance to Hezekiah. The envoys, therefore, requested him to employ a foreign tongue, and suggested Aramaic as one which was familiar to them, and which they supposed that he would understand. His employment of Hebrew had shown them that he was a linguist. In the Jews' language. There was no language peculiar to the Jews as Jews, that is to say, different from the ordinary speech of the Israelites. Both alike spoke Hebrew. In the Old Testament, however, this corn-men language is never called "Hebrew," but either "the tongue of Canaan" (Isaiah 19:18) or "the Jewish language" (2 Kings 18:26, 2Ki 18:28; 2 Chronicles 32:18; Nehemiah 13:24). Similarly, our own tongue is called "English," though spoken also in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, America, and Australia. In the ears of the people that are on the wall; i.e. of the soldiers placed on the wall to defend it. We must suppose that the conference took place immediately outside the fortifications, so that some of those on the wall could hear.
Hath he not sent me to the men that sit upon the wall? Rabshakeh was contravening all diplomatic usage, and no doubt was conscious of it. But the pride and arrogance of the Assyrians rendered them as careless of diplomatic etiquette as, at a later date, were the Romans (see Polybius, 29:11, § 6; Liv; 45:12). That they may eat, etc.; rather, to eat. That is, with no other result than that of being reduced, together with you, to the last extremity of famine, when the siege comes.
Then Rabshakeh stood; i.e. "rose from a sitting or reclining posture"—to attract attention, and the better to make himself heard. He continued his speech in Hebrew, and at the same time purposely raised his voice to a loud pitch. The envoys would have been justified in ordering the archers to shoot him from the wall. But they seem to have been struck of a heap, as Epiphanes was by the audacity of Popillius (see the comment on the preceding verse).
Thus saith the king. It is scarcely probable that Sennacherib had expressly empowered Rabshakeh to make a speech to the Jewish people, much less that he had dictated its words. But the envoy regards himself as having plenary powers to declare the king's mind. Let not Hezekiah deceive you. By vain hopes of resisting the Assyrian arms successfully (comp. Isaiah 36:5-7).
Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in Jehovah. There is nothing improbable in Rabshakeh's having thus spoken. Isaiah had long been encouraging Hezekiah to resist Sennacherib by promises of Divine aid (Isaiah 30:31; Isaiah 31:4-9). Hezekiah would naturally repeat these premises to the people, and could not give their effect in simpler words than by saying, "Jehovah will surely deliver us: this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the King of Assyria." Spies and deserters would naturally tell the Assyrian envoys what he had said.
Make an agreement with me by a present; literally, make a blessing with me. Delitzsch paraphrases, "Enter into a connection of mutual good wishes with me." Vance Smith translates boldly, "Make peace with me;" and Mr. Cheyne, "Make a treaty with me." There seems to be no doubt that b'rakah, besides its primary sense of "blessing," had two secondary senses, "present" and "treaty." Here "treaty" is no doubt intended. Come out to me; i.e. "come out of Jerusalem, and surrender yourselves" (comp1 Samuel 11:3; 1 Samuel 11:3; Jeremiah 38:17). And eat ye … drink ye. Peace being made, the Jews could leave the protection of their walled cities, and disperse themselves over their lands, where they could live in plenty and security, at any rate for a time. They would be safe front the terrible extremities hinted at in Isaiah 36:12, and might confidently await the great king's ultimate disposal of them, which would be determined widen the war in these parts was over. The waters of his own cistern; rather, of his own well. All cultivators had wells in their plots of ground. Cisterns, or reservoirs, in which the rain-water was stored, were comparatively uncommon.
Until I come and take you away. It was so much thee usual policy of Assyria to remove to a new locality a conquered people, which had given them trouble, that Rabshakeh felt safe in assuming that the fate in store for the Jews, if they submitted themselves, was a transplantation. Sargon had transported the Israelites to Gozan and Media (2 Kings 18:11), the Tibarcni to Assyria, the Commageni to Susiana. Sennacherib himself had transported into Assyria more than two hundred thousand Aramaeans. It might be confidently predicted that, if he conquered them, he would transplant the Jews. Rabshakeh tries to soften down the hardship of the lot before them by promises of a removal to a land equal in all respects to Palestine. To a land like your own land. This was certainly not a general principle of Assyrian administration. Nations were removed from the far north to the extreme south, and vice versa, from arid to marshy tracts, from fertile regions to comparative deserts. The security of the empire, not the gratification of the transported slaves, was the ruling and guiding principle of all such changes. A land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards. The writer of Kings adds, "a land of oil olive and of honey." (On the productiveness of Palestine, see Numbers 13:27; Numbers 14:7; Deuteronomy 1:23; Deuteronomy 8:7-9; Deuteronomy 11:11, Deuteronomy 11:12.)
Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you; rather, seduce you (comp. Deuteronomy 13:6; 1 Kings 21:25). Sennacherib claims to be entitled to the people's allegiance, and represents Hezekiah as a rebel, who seeks to draw them away from their duty. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land? The successes of the Assyrians, and the religious character of their wars, justified this boast. The pervading idea of the inscriptions is that wars arc undertaken for the glory of the Assyrian deities, particularly of Asshur, for the chastisement of his enemies, and with the object of establishing in each country, as it is brought under subjection, the laws and worship of Asshur. The nations fight under the protection of their own gods, and thus each war is a struggle between the Assyrian deities and those of the nation with which they arc contending. Hitherto, undoubtedly, Assyria had met with almost uniform success (see Isaiah 10:5-14).
Where are the gods of Hamath? (comp. Isaiah 10:9). Sargon had reduced Hamath in his third year, b.c. 720. He had "swept the whole land of Hamath to its extreme limit," taken the king prisoner, and carried him away captive to Assyria, where he flayed and burned him; removed most of the inhabitants, and replaced them by Assyrians; plundered the city of its chief treasures, and placed an Assyrian governor over it. Among the treasures taken were, no doubt, the images of the Hamathite gods, which were uniformly carried off by the Assyrians from a conquered city. And Arphad. Arphad, or Arpad (Isaiah 10:9), had joined with Hamath in the war against Assyria, and was taken by Sargon in the same year. Of Sepharvaim. Scpharvaim, or Sippara, was besieged and captured by Sargon in his twelfth year, b.c. 710. A severe example was made of the inhabitants. A discovery made by Mr. Hormuzd Rassam, in 1881, is thought to prove that Sippara was situated at Abu-Habbah, between Baghdad and the site of Babylon, about sixteen miles from the former city. "Hena" and "Ivah," joined with Sepharvaim by the author of Kings (2 Kings 18:31), seem to be omitted by Isaiah as unimportant. They are thought to have been towns upon the Euphrates, not very distant from Babylon, and have been identified respectively with Anah and Hit. But the identification is in both cases uncertain. Have they delivered Samaria? Delitzsch and Mr. Cheyne translate, "How much less have they delivered Samaria?" Kay, "Verily have they delivered," regarding the sentence as ironical. Sennacherib can see no distinction between the cities where Jehovah was worshipped, and those which acknowledged any other tutelary god. As Samaria fell, why should not Jerusalem fall?
They (i.e. the people, as in 2 Kings 18:36) held their peace. Rabshakeh's attempt to shake their fidelity had, at any rate, no manifest effect. For the king's commandment was, saying, Answer him not. Hezekiah can scarcely have anticipated that Rabshakeh would so far depart from ordinary usage as to make a speech to "the men on the wall." But he may have been in the immediate neighbourhood, and, when apprised of the envoy's proceedings, may have sent the order. We are not to suppose that the Jewish king was at a loss for an answer. He did not choose to bandy words with an envoy who had behaved himself so outrageously.
With their clothes rent. Garments were "rent," not only as a sign of mourning, but whenever persons were shocked or horrified (see Genesis 37:29; 1Sa 4:12; 2 Samuel 1:2; Ezr 9:3; 2 Chronicles 34:19; Matthew 26:65). The Jewish officials meant to mark their horror at Rabshakeh's blasphemies.
Wise and foolish trust.
Rabshakeh laughed to scorn equally all the grounds of trust which he regarded Hezekiah as entertaining. His ridicule was just with respect to two of them, wholly unjust and misplaced, with respect to the third.
I. IT IS A FOOLISH TRUST TO PUT CONFIDENCE IN WISE COUNSELLORS. Princes, no doubt, do well to seek advice from the wisest among their subjects, and, speaking generally, cannot do better than follow such advice when it has been deliberately given. But to place absolute confidence in the wisest of human counsellors is sheer folly. "The wisdom of the wise is foolishness with God" (1 Corinthians 3:19); "God casteth out the counsel of princes." The wisest of men are liable to err, to misinterpret the past, to misconceive the future. The best of counsellors are "blind guides," and are liable to "fall into the pit" with those who are guided by them. It is the truest wisdom to mistrust all human advisers, and to look elsewhere for an infallible guidance.
II. IT IS A FOOLISH TRUST TO PUT CONFIDENCE IN AN ARMED FORCE, however strong it may seem to be. "It is nothing to the Lord to help, whether with ninny, or with them that have no power" (2 Chronicles 14:11). "It is no hard matter" with him "for many to be shut up in the hands of a few; and with Heaven it is all one, to deliver with a great multitude, or a small company: for the victory of battle standeth not in the multitude of an host; but strength cometh from heaven" (1 Macc. 3:18, 19). Even a heathen could remark that "ofttimes a mighty host is discomfited by a few men, when God in his anger sends fear or storm from heaven, and they perish in a way unworthy of them" (Herod; Isaiah 7:10, § 6). The children of this world put their trust in "big battalions;" but the entire course of history testifies to the frequent triumph of the weak over the strong, of small over large armies—Plataea, Cunaxa, Issus, Arbela, Magnesia, in the ancient; Soissons, Mortgarten, Cressy, Poitiers, Waterloo, Inkerman, in the modern world, are cases in point. "The race is not to the swift, neither the battle to the strong." At any rate, it is foolish to trust implicitly in "strength for the war" (Isaiah 36:5), since such trust is often the forerunner of a dire calamity.
III. BUT IT IS A WISE TRUST TO HAVE CONFIDENCE IN THE LORD GOD. Rabshakeh ridicules this trust no less than the others (Isaiah 36:7, Isaiah 36:15-20); but wholly without reason. He imagines, indeed, that Jehovah is only a god—one of many. He has no conception of one Supreme God, "Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things, visible and invisible." For want of this fundamental idea his whole reasoning is confused and mistaken. Theists know that, while all other trust is vain, absolute reliance may be placed on God
(1) to perform his promises;
(2) to succour all them that flee to him for aid with faith and penitence;
(3) to abase those that proudly lift themselves up against him, if not immediately, at any rate in his own good time. Hezekiah's trust was based on all three grounds: God had promised to deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrians (Isaiah 31:5-8); Hezekiah had given up his trust in Egypt, and turned to God (Isaiah 36:18) in sincerity; and Rabshakeh's own boastings had placed both himself and his master in the category of God's open enemies, on whom judgment was almost sure to fall.
The false boastings of the wicked confuted by the event.
The Goliaths and Sennacheribs of the world are rarely content with silent endeavours to accomplish the ends that they set before them. They delight in boasting beforehand of their coming achievements, and are not very scrupulous as to the language they employ, so that it seems to exalt them above their fellows. "Come to me," said the Philistine champion to David, "and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field" (1 Samuel 17:44). "With the multitude of my chariots," said Sennacherib, "I am come up to the height of the mountains, to the sides of Lebanon, and will cut down the tall cedar trees thereof, and the choice fir trees thereof: and I will enter into the lodgings of his borders, and into the forest of his Carmel" (2 Kings 19:23); and again, "Shall I not, as I have done to Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?" (Isaiah 10:11). It was of a piece with these boasts to give the Jews to understand that the voice of God had ordered the expedition, which, therefore, was certain to be successful. In all probability this boast was a purely gratuitous one, not grounded upon any even supposed oracle or announcement. It was hoped that it might alarm some of the Jews, and induce them to go over to the enemy, or at least stand aloof from the contest. A few weeks—perhaps a few days—showed the baselessness of the assertion. Had God ordered the expedition, he would have prospered it; had he "given the Assyrians a charge," he would have caused them "to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread Judah down like the mire of the streets" (Isaiah 10:6). But the boast was wholly false. God had, in fact, declared himself against the expedition (Isaiah 31:8), and had promised his protection to Jerusalem (Isaiah 31:5). The event was in the fullest accord with these announcements, and put to shame the Assyrian, with his vain boasts (Isaiah 37:36). In all ages, boasters have declared that they would destroy the Church. Epiphanes, Galerius, Julian, Mohammed, designed and attempted the extirpation of true religion. They boasted beforehand that they would succeed. In the event they egregiously failed. So, in our own day, pseudo-science declares that it is just about to sweep away Christianity front the earth. The wretched effete religion is, the scientists maintain, on its last legs, dwindling, dying, just about to disappear. But year by year, month by month, day by day, facts give their predictions the lie. The Church remains firm upon its Rock, against which the gates of hell will never prevail. Christianity declines to disappear at the scientist's bidding, and, as time goes on, seems continually to obtain a firmer grasp upon the mind of the age. Scientific extravagance provokes a religious reaction, and these are signs in various quarters of a real "Nemesis of Faith." If the tree has contracted its shadow, it has struck its roots more deeply; and is more capable of resisting storms and tempests than of yore. Christians may calmly await the verdict which events will pronounce, and meanwhile will do well not to let themselves be greatly alarmed by the proud boasts and confident predictions of their adversaries. Sennachcrib's boasts had an unsatisfactory issue.
Silence the best answer to many an argument.
"Speech is silvern," it has been said; "but silence is golden." "Answer not a fool according to his folly," says the wise king (Proverbs 26:4)—an injunction no doubt balanced to some extent by the counter-phrase, "Answer a fool according to his folly"—which immediately follows (Proverbs 26:5). into universal rule can be given. "There is a time to speak, and a time to keep silence" (Ecclesiastes 3:7); and the wisdom of the wise is shown in few things more strikingly than in their faculty of discerning the right time for each. But the tendency to err is on the side of speech, and the practical want with most men is to know when they should refrain from uttering the words which rush so readily to their lips; and keep silence, "though it be pain and grief to them" (Psalms 39:2, Prayer-book version). A few suggestions on this point may be serviceable.
I. SILENCE IS TO BE PREFERRED TO SPEECH WHEN THE "FOOL" IS ALONE, AND IS EVIDENTLY AWARE OF THE WORTHLESSNESS OF HIS OWN ARGUMENTS. Great numbers of persons argue merely for the sake of arguing, having no care for truth, and no belief in the validity of their own reasonings. It is a waste of time to argue with such; they have no real convictions, no seriousness; and it is impossible to impress them, however clearly we prove them to be in the wrong.
II. SILENCE IS TO RE PREFERRED TO SPEECH WHEN WE HAVE REASON TO BELIEVE THAT SPEECH ON OUR PART WILL ONLY DRAW FORTH IMPIETY AND BLASPHEMY FROM OUR OPPONENTS. The principle here is that involved in our Lord's injunction: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine" (Matthew 7:6). The truth is desecrated by being put before persons wholly unfit for it, as avowed infidels and blasphemers. They are provoked by opposition to further sins, which are an offence to God, injurious to themselves, and shocking to others.
III. SILENCE IS TO BE PREFERRED TO SPEECH WHEN WE FEEL OURSELVES ILL EQUIPPED FOR CONTROVERSY, AND KNOW THE GAINSAYER TO BE WELL EQUIPPED. It is difficult to estimate the injury done to the cause of truth by well-meaning persons, of little natural ability and less acquired learning, who attempt to answer the attacks of well-read and clever sceptics. The best cause may be not only injured, but lost, so far as the immediate occasion goes, by the unskilfulness of its advocates. Ordinary unlearned persons should decline to argue with educated unbelievers, and refer them to those skilled defenders of the truth, who have never been lacking in any age, and who are numerous in the present. In a court of justice a man is regarded as a fool who pleads his cause in person against a professional lawyer. He should equally decline to plead the cause of religion against a professional impugner of it.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Hezekiah and the Assyrian.
The Assyrian king made a campaign against Judah, Lachish was taken, and the event was commemorated on bas-reliefs in Sennacherib's palace. The place commanded the direct road from Egypt to Judah. Hence the Rabshakeh, one of the chief officers of the Assyrians, was sent against Hezekiah, and by the "conduit of the upper pool"—the very spot where Ahaz had spoken with Isaiah (Isaiah 7:3)—he took up his quarters. "Unbelief was then represented by an Israelite, now more naturally by an Assyrian" (Cheyne). To meet him there go forth Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, disciple of Isaiah; Shebna, the secretary (cf. Isaiah 22:15-25); and Joah, the annalist.
I. THE PRIDE AND POWER OF THE ASSYRIAN. It seems to be the very type of worldly pride and power.
1. His title. He is the sarru rabu, the great king, or the strong king, or the king of hosts. The ruler of Judah is no king at all in his thought, but a name and shadow, or a mere puppet in the hands of a giant.
2. His contemptuous trust in force. Hezekiah trusts in a "mere word of the lips," according to the insolent conqueror. What of the alliance of Egypt? On the banks of the Nile grow abundance of reeds; a "cracked reed" is the symbol of that alliance, and of the Pharaoh's help (cf. Ezekiel 29:6, Ezekiel 29:7). The Assyrian predicts that the alliance will be broken asunder, and that crushing defeat will follow. But what of the protection of Jehovah? The Assyrian taunts Hezekiah with inconsistency, and turns his own conduct as a reformer against himself. The latter had abolished the "high places" (2 Kings 18:4; 2 Chronicles 31:1), and had centred worship at Jerusalem. To a superficial observer it looked as if the God of Israel had been robbed of his altars and a part of his due rites. How, then, could Judah expect the countenance of Jehovah? A reformation is always attended by evils, and it is a weapon in the hands of the enemy to charge these evils upon the reformation itself, instead of upon the human passions stirred up in the course of any great change. So the heathen charged the calamities of the Roman empire on Christianity, and the disorders attending the great Reformation of the sixteenth century were laid at the door of the reformers. Against these weaknesses in the position of Hezekiah, as the Assyrian deems them, he himself opposes brute force. He is strong in cavalry, and Judah is weak. Judah may have two thousand horses if she can find riders for them. How can she resist the attack of a single Assyrian satrap? She may well look to Egypt for chariots and horsemen.
II. HIS APPEAL TO THE WEAKNESS OF DOUBTFUL MINDS.
1. The Assyrian pretends that he has even an oracle from Jehovah himself to destroy the land of Judah, because of the violation of the high places. Our spiritual enemies would not be so mighty if we were not so weak. In times of trial, it is the doubtful conscience which makes us weak; the self-betraying heart. The reaction and revival even from righteous efforts may be felt by good men. What if when they thought to serve God they have been displeasing him? And now, when danger and opposition have to be encountered, suppose that these assume the aspect, not of obstacles to be overcome in his strength, but of judgments sent in his wrath, to be withstood? There is, after all, no enemy to be feared like the traitor in our bosom, no force against us so formidable as that which is cloudily projected from an uneasy imagination; no bulwark so strong as a conscience void of offence toward God.
2. He endeavours to undermine the source of spiritual confidence. Hezekiah had encouraged the people, as he himself was encouraged by Isaiah—by pointing to the Divine Saviour of the nation: "Jehovah will surely deliver us, and the city shall not fall into the Assyrian's hands" (cf. Isaiah 37:35). How typical this of spiritual temptation! If the devil can get men to question the words of God, his victory is assured. It is not so much the open warfare, the battles about the outposts and fortifications of the faith, that we have to dread, as the sapping and mining operations directed at the very principle and seat of faith itself. Is this world governed? Has it a righteous constitution and administration? Does all repose upon the mind and will of a just and holy Being? Then faith may live, and the weakest may be strong. Or is all the effect of chance? and are we at the mercy of some blind and fatal power, which neither loves nor knows? Then the stoutest knees will be loosened, anti the bravest heart will quail.
3. He holds out enticing promises. Let the people make a treaty with the Assyrian. Let them surrender to him, and he will secure them a happy future. They will be removed from their own land, it is true; but they shall find another home in a land equally goodly, abounding in corn and grapes, in bread-corn and orchards. There each family shall possess its vine and its fig tree and its cistern. Here, again, worldly hopes are made to take the field against the instincts of religious faith. Why cling to Judah? Because it was sacred soil—the land of the fathers, the land whose holy centre was Jerusalem, the altar Of God, the meeting-place of the tribes, the earthly mirror of heaven. But was not this mere charm of imagination? Were not other lands as fair and as fertile? Could not a peaceful and a happy home be found in distant lands? Perhaps they are clinging to a pleasing illusion, a vain dream, and are blind to the good which lies at their feet. Perhaps they are defending themselves against their own happiness.
4. He appeals to seeming facts of history. The "gods of the nations" appear to have gone down before the victorious Assyrian. They, in the struggle, had not manifested a power to save. In ancient thought, religion and political power were closely connected. If a city or a nation stood, it was because of the protecting presence of the national god; its wanderings were his wanderings, its victories the effect of his prowess, its failures the signs of his defeat. Now, the gods of Hamath were captive in Assyrian shrines. And what probability was there, from a heathen point of view, that it would be otherwise with Jehovah, the national God of Israel? Such a rivalry between the long-vanished, power and religion of the Assyrian, and that of the living God, whom we at this day own, not only as national God of Israel, but as the Eternal himself—may seem strange. To the eve of the heathen, and from the heathen view of politics and history, it was not so. Time alone can discover the short-sightedness of human calculation, and expose the superficiality of worldly views of history.
III. THE ANSWER OF SILENCE. It was by Hezekiah's command that no answer was returned. "For they had nothing that would seem, from an Assyrian point of view, a satisfactory answer." And the rent clothes of the Jewish officials confess the last extreme of helpless grief. And may not the facts of this situation remind us of spiritual situations? There are hours of perplexed thought when the mind turns its own weapons against itself. All circumstances conspire against us, or seem to do so. We seek for the "bright side" of the situation, but there is no bright side to look upon. We turn to the east, hoping for a ray of light: all is darkness. The known is distinct and threatening; the unknown veiled and, to the depressed imagination, more threatening still. We are cowed by our own reason, quelled by the pressure of our most fixed habits of thinking. Tim problem is without solution to the intelligence. But there is a secret sympathy of our being with the Unseen. There is a secret channel by which we may communicate with the Unseen, and pierce behind the veil. When temptations close around us like the serried ranks of the Assyrian host, shutting out from view every possible way of escape, we may, nevertheless, believe that there is such a way—a passage into the clear light, which Jehovah has made, and which he will presently reveal.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
The broken staff.
"Lo, thou trustest in the staff of this broken reed, in Egypt; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it." Man must lean. He is constituted to rest on some object outside himself, and it would be a wise though painful study to review the false resting-places of the human heart. Egypt stands in the Scripture for the world outside God—its pleasure, its skill, its science, its entire wealth of means and appliances. For Egypt was once the repository of the world's wealth, and skill, and science, and beauty, and glory.
I. THIS IS HISTORICAL TRUTH. How eagerly the Jews turned from the true God to idols! Their life was dishonoured during a long part of their history by idolatry, for which they were punished by captivities, and against which they were warned by prophets. Still they rebelled against God, and vexed and grieved his Holy Spirit. Delivered from Egypt and its slaveries and wrongs, as their fathers were, they yet turned in heart to all that was represented by Egypt.
II. THIS IS SYMOBLIC TRUTH. Men lean still on reeds, that in time become broken reeds. They trust in wealth, friendship, fortune; and these at last give way, and the reed pierces them to the heart. This is the story often told of the world's disappointed conditions—broken health and lost fortunes. Having no God to turn to, men are left desolate and deserted in the hour when heart and flesh faint and fail. We see all this in Byron and Shelley, and in the "Midases" of the world, who love wealth and all that wealth can bring. Nothing in the world answers to the deep necessities of man's immortal nature, and the "rest under the shadow of Egypt" is not broad and deep enough for the soul of man.
III. THIS IS SURPRISING TRUTH. "Lo!" we may well exclaim. Is this world a lunatic asylum, alter all, full of men and women who have lost the fine balances of judgment? or is it a blind asylum, where they have lost the clear vision of truth? After all the records of observation and of history, has it come to this—that each succeeding generation takes up the old lie and forsakes the living God? Even now and here, where the Saviour says, "Come unto me and rest," how many seek "rest" out of God! Some find human love itself a broken reed, and in their hours of sad discovery turn cynical and despairing, whilst to others friendship itself has proved superficial and fickle. There are many who have drawn out the broken reed, and dressed the wound as well as they may; but it remains unhealed. What they really want is the balm of Gilead and. the great Physician of souls.—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
An air of intolerable arrogance breathes in almost every sentence of this "railing Rabshakeh." It comes out in insolent characterization (Isaiah 36:5, Isaiah 36:6), in disdainful challenge (Isaiah 36:8), in haughty self-confidence (Isaiah 36:9), in contemptuous disregard of the conventionalities of war (Isaiah 36:12), in a reprehensible vulgarity (Isaiah 36:12), etc. From this incident, or from other parts of Scripture, we conclude respecting it—
1. THAT IT IS APT TO DE VERY IGNORANT. Rabshakeh made a large and even ludicrous mistake respecting the action of Hezekiah in his iconoclastic policy. He thought the Jewish king was doing that which would excite the anger of Jehovah, when he was really securing his Divine favour (Isaiah 36:7). Contemptuous men are often found to be ignorant: and, naturally, if not necessarily, so; for they imagine themselves to be above the necessity to inquire and ascertain, and their assumptions are soon discovered to be false. Those who are too proud to learn must be content to be numbered with the foolish.
II. THAT IT SINKS INTO IMPIETY. Rabshakeh held up to derision the idea that Jehovah could preserve Jerusalem (Isaiah 36:15), and classed the Lord of heaven with the helpless deities of Syria (Isaiah 36:18-20). The arrogant spirit is essentially an irreverent one. Men that look with scorn upon the human soon come to regard themselves as independent of the Divine. They are not deified in the daring and presumptuous form which was once known; but they assume to themselves a power, a control, a providence, which belongs only to the Lord of our hearts and lives. Hence we find—
III. THAT IT MAKES FATAL BLUNDERS. The king for whom Rabshakeh was speaking and whose haughty determination he was announcing never did "come and take away" to his own land these despised Jews who were on the walls of Jerusalem. He returned with haste and humiliation into his own land. The scornful will find that events do not fill up their bold outlines; on the contrary, they will entirely traverse them: their pretensions will be overthrown, and their promises and their threats left unfulfilled.
Expel the contemptuous spirit from the heart: it is an evil thing in itself, and it works evil to him that cherishes it.
1. It is exceedingly unlovely; it is utterly unbecoming in any child of man who, be he what he may, stands on the same level of fallibility on which his fellows stand.
2. It meets with the deep displeasure, and will bring down the strong rebuke, of God. He resists the proud and humiliates them.
3. It is only worthy of the disregard of man; all wise people, when they are treated with arrogance, return a rebuking silence, like these sensible sons of Jerusalem (Isaiah 36:21).—C.
The arrogant language of Rabshakeh was full enough of falsehood, but it had one grain of truth. Egypt was but a broken reed on which to lean, and any trust reposed in its aid would be attended with disaster and humiliation. The imagery which is here used is forcible enough, and it admirably describes the character and the consequences of an ill-founded confidence. Of these treacherous trusts are—
I. OUR OWN UNDERSTANDING.
1. We are expressly warned of God not to lean on this (Proverbs 3:5).
2. Our known weakness, our incapacity to penetrate the hearts of men and to foresee the issue of events, our liability to make deplorable and ruinous mistakes,—this should teach us to forbear.
3. And the many lamentable instances, recorded in histories and witnessed by our own eyes, of the evil consequences of men trusting to their own sagacity, should also dissuade and deter us.
II. HUMAN FRIENDSHIPS. The language of Scripture on this subject is remarkably, is significantly, strong (Jeremiah 17:5). When we consider how often it has happened, as the consequence of human insufficiency, not only that men have failed to secure what they were expecting, but that they have been thereby plunged into the deepest distress and even into irremediable ruin; that—to use the image of Rabshakeh—the staff has not only broken under them, but pierced the hand that leant on it;—we may well feel that this scriptural language is not a whir too strong. Human friendship breaks down and wounds us by its fracture,
(1) through the limitations of our faculty;
(2) through inconstancy, and even treachery;
(3) through moral or spiritual shipwreck.
III. TEMPORAL ADVANTAGES. Riches, rank, official position and the power it confers,—these are things on which we are prone to place reliance. But woe unto the man who has no firmer ground on which to build! In the day of his calamity, in the hour of bereavement, in the time of desolation, in the hour of death, those things will fail him; and to have trusted in any or in all of them, to the negligence of a hope that is surer than they, will add unspeakable bitterness to the sense of failure and of need. The broken reed will pierce the hand that holds it.
Only in a Divine Saviour, whose wisdom will never be found wanting, whose faithfulness will never fail, whose power to succour and befriend in the saddest sorrows and darkest hours will continually suffice—only in him will be round the support which "cannot be broken." "Our God is a Rock;" and blessed is the man who rests all the weight of his joy and of his hope on his inviolable word, on his irrefragable power.—C.
Isaiah 36:16, Isaiah 36:17
The invitation of the enemy.
The King of Assyria, by the mouth of his general, appeals to the citizens of Jerusalem to abandon their allegiance to Hezekiah. and "go out to him," promising them great advantages for their disloyalty. It is closely analogous to the invitation of our spiritual enemy to go over to him and receive the wages of sin which he offers to our souls.
I. IT IS A VERY PLAUSIBLE OFFER.
1. Under the circumstances in which they then were, loyalty was threatened with decided disadvantage:
(1) with privation, for there was the probability of a long siege and its attendant scarcities;
(2) with suffering, or even death, for attacks would be made and missiles would be hurled against the city.
2. On the other hand, surrender promised material good:
(1) present exemption from exigency and assault (Isaiah 36:16); and
(2) abundance of comfort in future days (Isaiah 36:17). So is it in the spiritual realm. Our great Adversary seeks to allure us from the true citizenship, and he has a plausible proposal to make. He says
(1) that to serve God is to suffer loss; is to be shut out from many sources of wealth and joy; is to be starved and beggared; is to be exposed to the dislike, the derision, the hostile action of those who are the strongest and most numerous among men. He says also
(2) that to be on the side of evil is to be in the way of prosperity; that its land is "a land of corn and wine," of strength and joy, of material prosperity and sensual enjoyment: be selfish and unscrupulous, and the prizes of life and the pleasures of sense are yours. But in regard to each of these proposals, the historical and the existing, it must be considered that—
II. IT IS ESSENTIALLY FALSE.
1. Rabshakeh and his royal master were both mistaken in their calculations. Jerusalem was not to be reduced to the severe straits of a protracted siege, was not to be taken by assault; neither want nor sword was to devastate the city. And they left the most important consideration out of their account; for even if their military projects had succeeded, and if the Jews had been defeated and ]lad found the plains of the Tigris as fruitful as the valley of the Jordan, yet would they have missed and mourned the liberty, the sacred services, the natural independence of their own beloved country,—they would have hung their harps upon the willows, instead of making them sound the joyous strains of patriotism and piety.
2. Our spiritual enemy is also essentially wrong in his representations; he, too, leaves the principal considerations out of his reckoning.
(1) All that we lose by our loyalty to God is that which no wise man would accept—iniquitous gain, injurious friendship, demoralizing pleasure, etc.; it is well, indeed, to be without these.
(2) All that we could gain by subservience to his unholy will would leave us unblessed with the true riches—with the favour and friendship of God, with a sense of moral and spiritual integrity, with the power of rendering holy service to our kind, with the joy of sacred intercourse with a Divine Redeemer and with like-minded fellow-servants, with the elevating and sustaining hopes that "enter within the veil."—C.
Right attitude in times of threatening.
This general of the Assyrian army seems to have been a rude, violent, boastful man, who thought to do his work by means of great swelling words. He was big in threatening; and it is not often that such men prove big in deeds. Dean Plumptre says that "his words, in their brutal coarseness, have hardly a parallel in history, till we come to Bismarck's telling the Parisians that they may 'stew in their own gravy.'" The Rabshakeh, it should be observed, stood in the position, while he thus threatened, which intimated his power to destroy the aqueduct which supplied the city with water. Times of threatening are to be clearly distinguished from times of actual calamity. Trouble threatened is apt to relax our natures and weaken us with fears. Trouble actually come calls out our powers of endurance, and braces us for bearing and battling. And so, sometimes, trouble threatened, taking bigger shape in appearance than it ever can take in reality, has a special work of testing to do. He must be well centred in God who holds fast his calmness and trust, even in times of fright. Society is peculiarly liable—more especially highly civilized society—to sudden fears, which very easily become helpless panic. A few criminals in a great city get an hour's licence, and loot the shops in one district, and the whole city goes into a panic, stops its business, and pours its wealth into a fund to quiet the people who had little or nothing to do with the looting. So it has been again and again in the world's history. Threatenings have been more morally mischievous than actual calamity. The godly man should be easily master even of such circumstances.
I. HE KNOWS WELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BOAST AND PERFORMANCE, Observation teaches him that the man who threatens much accomplishes little; the man who swears and yields to passion is always weak in action. There is "sound, and nothing more." There is always room for this good advice, "Let not him that putteth on his armour boast as he that putteth it off."
II. HE KNOWS THAT THIS CONDITION APPLIES TO ALL THREATENINGS AND ALARMS: "IF THE LORD WILL." Men cannot, any more than tidal waves, go beyond their appointed bounds. Threats may do the Lord's will, but they can do nothing beyond the Lord's will. The godly man, therefore, waits to read God's will behind the threats or the fears, and can afford to be quite calm, and master of all circumstances.
III. HE KNOWS THAT GOD IS ALWAYS ON THE SIDE OF THE PERMANENTLY GOOD, AND IS ALWAYS WORKING TOWARDS IT. The way to the good is often like the twisting and winding of the stream of Jordan; but the godly man does not make too much of the rushes and rapids in the twists and falls—he knows Jordan moves steadily on to the sea, and life, however ruffled may be its surface, moves on to fulfil the good purpose of God. We may do as did the apostolic company when its leaders were threatened—we may bend before our God, and pray, "Now, Lord, behold their threatenings" (Acts 4:29, Acts 4:30).—R.T.
Satire on our human confidences.
Evidently the Rabshakeh was informed concerning the parties that divided the people of Jerusalem at this time. Hezekiah seems to have been so far persuaded as to give his reluctant assent to sending the embassy to Egypt. The complaints which Sennacherib had to make against Hezekiah were
(1) that he had refused tribute (2 Kings 18:14);
(2) that he had opened negotiations with Babylon and Egypt (2 Kings 18:24), with a view to an alliance against Assyria;
(3) that he had helped the Philistines of Ekron to rise against their king. The second of these is dealt with in this verse. The Rabshakeh satirizes the helplessness of Egypt, likening that nation to a cracked, not broken, reed, which breaks suddenly, and pierces the hand of him who leans hard on it as a supporting staff. The keenness of the satire lies in the truth of it. Of the hopelessness of leaning on Egypt Isaiah had already warned the people (Isaiah 30:7, see the true reading). Egypt, in relation to Israel, is the type of the human confidences to which men turn so readily in their distress, forgetful of the Divine confidence in which alone they can be secure.
I. THE SATIRE OF GOD'S MINISTERS. Illustrate from the Prophet Isaiah, who dealt so vigorously with this trusting to Egypt. Sometimes he gave serious and solemn warnings; sometimes grave reproaches; and sometimes keen criticism and biting satire, as if he would shame them into giving up the foolish and hopeless scheme. He put the character of Egypt into a word, almost an offensive word. Cheyne suggests that he wrote this word Rahab, "utter indolence," "helpless inaction," in large characters, and set it up in a public place. That was his idea of Egypt. So, still, Christian ministers must not hesitate to wither up men's self-trusting and man-trusting with the keenest satire. It is a fair weapon for destroying self-confidences.
II. THE SATIRE OF RIVALS. Such was the satire of Assyria, through its Rabshakeh. At this time Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt were each seeking the alliance of Judah, and the jealousy of the one that did not succeed found expression in descriptions of the one that did. We can often get some self-knowledge through the things our rivals say of us in the bitterness of their disappointment. It is often surprising, it should be always helpful, to "see oursel's as ithers see us."
III. THE SATIRE OF EVENTS. Ridiculous indeed was the help Egypt afforded to Judah. The strength of Egypt at this time was one of appearance only. Egypt never has been a country that could be relied on. It did not save Judah. Its alliance only hurried on the fate of Judah. The cracked reed broke, and pierced the hand. "Experience is a dear school, but fools will learn in no other." The logic of events soon shows up the folly of all confidences in man. Impress, in conclusion, from the figures of the very striking passage, Jeremiah 17:5-8.—R.T.
Mistakes concerning him whom we trust.
The explanation of this taunt is well given by Sayce and Cheyne. "Sennacherib had heard of the reformation of worship undertaken by Hezekiah. This, from his heathen point of view, was an act of gross impiety towards Jehovah; for had not Jehovah from time immemorial been worshipped at most, if not all, of the 'high places'? The local sanctuaries designated by the latter phrase appear from the inscriptions to have been known in Assyria and Babylonia, as well as Palestine; indeed, they go back to Accadian—that is, pre-Semitic times." As he had passed through the country, the Rabshakeh had found the "high places" desecrated; so he assumed that the God of the country must he offended with Hezekiah. One of our gravest difficulties in witnessing for God in the world arises from men's mistakes concerning him. They do not understand us, or feel the force of our pleadings, because they do not apprehend God as we do. This subject may be very practically illustrated and enforced from three spheres of modern religious activity and service—missions, apologetics, preaching.
I. THE MISTAKES OF THE HEATHEN CONCERNING OUR GOD HINDER MISSIONS. They have notions of God, or the gods, and attach them to the God we reveal to them. Much missionary labour is necessarily expended in correcting the mistakes which prevent the acceptance of the way of salvation by Christ Jesus. God pure, God love, God hating sin, God a Spirit, God our Father, God in sacrifice that he might save,—these are all most strange and confusing to men who must think amidst heathen associations. It is eternal life to know the only true God.
II. THE MISTAKES OF THE OPPONENTS OF REVELATION HINDER OUR ARGUMENTS FROM PRODUCING DUE CONVICTIONS. The atheist, infidel, agnostic, sceptic, make as grave mistakes about our God as the Rabshakeh did about Jehovah. They have created figures and representations of him which we can join them in declaring make him unworthy of trust. Only those figures do not represent our God. We cannot acknowledge them. If the mistakes could but be corrected, and our God be known as he is, they would "preach the faith" who now "seek to destroy it." Grave, indeed, is the sin of those who, professing to believe in God, nevertheless misrepresent him, and so give occasion to the enemy to blaspheme.
III. THE MISTAKES OF SECTS AND CREEDS HINDER RELIGIOUS WORK AMONG PROFESSORS. There is the Calvinistic God, and the Arminian God, the God who is exacting Judge, Moral Governor, august King. There are vague, repellent notions cherished in ignorant minds; and the preacher often speaks of a God who is really to the people an "unknown God." The Lord Jesus Christ came to earth to bring the full, last, all-satisfying revelation of God to men. We are still making hindering mistakes about God, because we will not receive his revelation. He taught men to lift up holy hands, and say, "Our Father, which art in heaven."—R.T.
Claims to speak for God.
"The Lord said unto me, Go up against this land, and destroy it." The inscriptions of Sennacherib are remarkable for similar assertions to this. He delights, apparently, to claim a Divine sanction for the wars in which he was engaged. Some think that he may have heard of Isaiah's declaration, that Jehovah was using the King of Assyria as his instrument (see Isaiah 7:17, Isaiah 7:18). We are bound to receive the messages of God, in whatsoever form they may come to us; but we are bound also to test the credentials of every messenger who brings them. For testing the messengers, adequate provisions have been made. We can "prove all things, and hold fast that which is good." A suggestive illustration may be found in the narrative of the disobedient prophet (1 Kings 13:1-34.). The old prophet claimed to speak in the name of God, and so over-persuaded the younger man. But that young man might reasonably have argued thus: "I have my instructions direct from God; they are definite and, clear, and I must have the most convincing evidence before I turn aside from fulfilling the instructions given me." It was right to doubt even Christ so far as to require satisfactory signs and proofs that he had come from God. Men may make claims, as fanatics and enthusiasts do in every age; we shall not heed until they prove the claim. Illustrate by Johanna Southcote, Swedenborg, Irving, etc. We suggest some tests for judging claims to speak for God.
I. REASONABLE PROBABILITY. We suspect many things because they are not likely. It was very suspicious to assume that Jehovah had given direct and audible commands to Sennacherib. Many of the visions and mysteries of Swedenborg are judged by their unreasonableness and improbability. God's ways may be beyond reason, but they are not foolish to the view of reason. The test of reason is carried too far when a full and accurate understanding is demanded, but it may fairly be applied to decide what is probable.
II. BOOK OF THE LAW. The Israelites were required to test all who claimed to be prophets by the harmony between their spoken word and the existing written Word. "To the Law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them." The Scriptures have a tone and character which is even more important than their precise details. Apply these to claimants, and they will test, as do chemical solvents. All who know and love God's Word become sensitive to that which is in harmony with it.
III. RESPONSE OF CONSCIENCE. This test may be illustrated by Jonah's mission to Nineveh. Jonah had no credentials. He might have been treated as an impostor. But the conscience of Nineveh responded to his message, and conscience guaranteed faith. All messages from God that come as warnings, reproaches, awakenings, threatenings, can be tried by conscience, and its "accusings and excusings." So none of us need be uncertain whom to believe.—R.T.
Security of stable government.
"The fig tree affords a thick shade, and is, on this account, a favourite resort of the family, where they may often be seen seated on mats, partaking of a meal or entertaining friends. The expression, 'to sit under one's own vine and fig tree,' denotes at once security, domestic enjoyment, and competence." The expression is either a common Eastern, proverb, or the Rabshakeh takes up the language of the people he addresses, in his chaffing, taunting, satirical way. The sentence and figure are found also in 1 Kings 4:25; Zec 3:1-10 :50. Mr. Thomas Jenner, writing of a dwelling just outside Jerusalem, says, "Mr. Azam's house is approached through a gateway of considerable width, from which to the door a broad path leads through the garden. This path is spanned by a wooden trellis, upon which a vine is trained, and at the time of our visit delicious grapes were hanging from it. As I contemplated this scene from within doors, or took the morning and evening air, sauntering between gate and door, I could but recall this striking figure of security and peace." The point before us is, that the Rabshakeh promises the people that safety which comes from the rule of a strong and stable government. He scarcely veils his taunts at the parties and political commotions which were destroying the sense of security, and making foreign complications, for the people of Judah. We too seldom realize the importance of strong, stable government in a country. It may be illustrated in the following directions.
I. STABLE GOVERNMENT CHECKS PARTY FEELING. If the government be weak, its enemies are active, public opinion is kept agitated, demagogues appear and exaggerate public disabilities and public claims. Men are diverted from their proper pursuits to engage in political wrangle; the relationships of life are embittered by party divisions; and valuable national time is lost in unprofitable contentions. If the government be strong, the anarchical forces subside. Blessed is the land that is generally free from political strife.
II. STABLE GOVERNMENT VIGOROUSLY REPRESSES EVIL-DOERS. And on this the security and prosperity of a country most directly depends. Business can only be carried on where there is security for property and security for rights. Illustrate from the condition of Israel when "there was no king in the land, and every one did that which was right in his own eyes."
III. STABLE GOVERNMENT CAN ENCOURAGE THE ARTS OF PEACE AND ACCOMPLISH JUDICIOUS REFORMS. It holds foreign relations with firm band, and so preserves peace. It can crush the agitator and heed the reformer. Spared from contention, it has time and means for aiding internal development. And it can stand by and preserve the liberties of those who, in a thousand ways, would spread among the people the knowledge of the true God and the eternal life. Therefore every good Christian and good citizen should strengthen the government of his day. "The powers that be are ordained of God."—R.T.
Insult offered to our God.
It is an insult to class Jehovah with the idol-gods created by heathen imaginations and presented in heathen symbolic figures. Jehovah is like none else; he is God alone. The impertinence of this Rabshakeb is seen in that he sets Jehovah among the petty and inferior gods of small nations, and assumes that Asshur and Ishtar, the gods of Assyria, were supreme above them all. Cheyne says, "The Assyrian is inconsistent. In his first speech he had stated himself to be the obedient instrument of Jehovah. Here he represents the wars of the Assyrians as inspired by a religious hostility to all the gods of the nations." The point which may be illustrated is—What should be our attitude in the presence of such insults? For they are offered now. The scoffer still lives. The sceptic still flings over God the dark shadow of his doubtings. Literature, too, often thinly veils its insults. We should variously meet the occasions, adapting our response to the nature of the insult and the character of him who offers it. Three forms of response may be considered.
I. CALM INDIFFERENCE. Very many of the bravely uttered scepticisms of our time are only designed to draw attention to those who utter them. They are in the nature of personal advertisements. Leave them alone. They are nothing; we must take care not to swell them into something by directing attention to them. Sometimes these insults are petty and nagging, but continuous. Again, indifference is the best treatment. Those who have faith in God make grave mistakes when they too vigorously defend God against the arrows of mere children. To noisy antagonism we may calmly say, "It doesn't matter."
II. NOBLE TESTIMONY. There is a time to speak. When insults have grown to such power that the faith of the young, or the work of grace in the world, is imperilled, we must speak out. The Christian apologist has his time and his sphere, especially when a kind of mania of unbelief seems to seize upon a people. Illustrate from the three Hebrew youths; the apostles before the Sanhedrini; Paul before Agrippa; Luther at the Diet of Worms, etc. Firm testimony of our personal convictions will often silence the scoffer.
III. ACTIVE VINDICATION. By reasonable judgments on those who offer the insult. Blasphemy ought to he a crime. By withdrawal from association with those who thus walk disorderly. The man who has no reverence for God has no basis of character which makes friendship with him safe. And by using all available means for clearing the outraged name, and upholding the imperilled honour of him who is our "All and in all."—R.T.
The strength of silence.
"They held their peace, and answered him not a word." The readiest thing is to meet taunt with taunt, and rouse each other's worst passions with mutual recriminations. The noblest thing is to meet undeserved and unworthy reproach and insult with the dignified silence which is born of trust in God as our Vindicator. But worthy silence must be carefully distinguished from the dumbness of the sulky temperament, which is a sign of the uncultured and ungoverned nature. We should never confuse the silence of stupidity with the silence of self-restraint. Matthew Henry quaintly and wisely says, "It is sometimes prudent" not to answer a fool according to his folly. "These Jews had reason enough on their side, but it would be hard to speak it to such an unreasonable adversary without a mixture of passion; and, if they should fall a-railing like him, Rabshakeh would be much too hard for them at that weapon." Fixing attention on the two facts—that the people kept silence, and that they did so in obedience to Hezekiah, we get the following two points for illustration.
I. SILENCE IN AN EVIL TIME INDICATES SELF-MASTERY. Remember what the Apostle James says of the unruliness of the tongue. Observe how readily we are excited to answer again. Recall the anxiety of the psalmist about keeping the door of his lips. Notice how speakers are carried to the utterance of imprudent things by the heat of discussion. Estimate the mischief done by careless, cruel, or passionate words. And see the sublime example of our Lord when on his trial. "He answered nothing" "He held his peace." This last expression suggests that silence is a sign of strength of will; the man who can keep silence is master of his actions, and master of himself Silence is oftentimes, in its effect, the truest and most powerful speech. It shames men; it quiets men; it reproaches men; it conquers the opposition of men; it shows the right to all bystanders and onlookers. It has been said that there is such a thing as a "Divine dumbness;" and Carlyle calls "speech silvern, silence golden." The sublime self-mastery of Heaven is suggested in the declaration that "there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour."
II. SILENCE IN A PUBLIC EVIL TIME SHOWS POWER OF COMMAND OVER OTHERS. It was a great thing for Hezekiah to keep silence himself; anti it was a great thing also for him to command silence in the people. Only the man who can control himself can ever have the power to control others. Illustrations of the importance of this power of checking speech in others may be taken from family life and Church life. It is of special value in excited, irritating, quarrelsome times.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 36". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14