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This chapter is the sequel of the preceding, and is so closely connected with it that the two really constitute but one narrative. Isaiah 37:22 of Isaiah 36:1-23.36.22. is more closely connected with Isaiah 37:1-23.37.38, than with the position of the narrative to which it is attached.
When King Hezekiah heard it; rather, heard them; i.e. the "words of Rabshakeh," which his officials reported to him. He rent his clothes. He did as they had done (Isaiah 36:22; see the comment on that verse). But he went further, showing a deeper sense of horror and affliction than the officials had shown by being covered with sackcloth (on the combination of the two modes of showing grief or horror, see Genesis 37:34; 2Sa 3:31; 1 Kings 21:27; Esther 4:1, etc.). And went into the house of the Lord. The temple was not only a place for offering praise and sacrifice, but also a "house of prayer". Hezekiah can, on this occasion, have gone up to the house of the Lord only to pray.
He sent Eliakim … and Shebna … and the elders of the priests. A dignified embassy, showing how much Isaiah was held in honour. The prophets, as representatives of Jehovah, were entitled to respect and observance even from kings.
A day … of rebuke; rather, of reproof, or punishment (comp. Psalms 149:7 and Hosea 5:9). That God should have allowed such an insulting embassy to come and go in safety was a mode of reproving his people, and to some extent punishing them for their sins. Even Hezekiah himself deserved reproof for having so long placed his reliance upon Egypt (Isaiah 20:5, Isaiah 20:6; Isaiah 30:1-23.30.4; Isaiah 36:6, Isaiah 36:9), though now apparently he had turned to Jehovah, and relied on him only (Isaiah 36:7, Isaiah 36:15). Blasphemy. So Delitzsch. Mr. Cheyne suggests "contumely," and Dr. Kay "contempt." But the meaning "blasphemy," which Mr. Cheyne confesses to "suit the context," is required in all the other passages where (substantially) the same word occurs (Nehemiah 9:18, Nehemiah 9:26; Ezekiel 35:12). Hezekiah calls the day one "of blasphemy," on account of Rabshakeh's impious utterances (Isaiah 36:15, Isaiah 36:18, Isaiah 36:20). The children are come to the birth, etc. This was a proverbial phrase for a time of extreme difficulty (see Hosea 13:13), and is not to be pressed as embodying at all a close analogy. Judah was in sore trouble, and was expecting deliverance. It seemed now as if she would not have strength to go through the crisis, but would perish through weakness.
It may be the Lord … will hear; i.e. "will notice," or "will punish." If Isaiah laid the matter before God, and prayed earnestly, it was possible that God would intervene to save Judah, and punish the blapshemous words uttered. The living God. In opposition to the dead idols of the heathen, which had neither life, nor breath, nor perception (see Psalms 115:4-19.115.8; Psalms 135:15-19.135.18). The remnant that is left. It is usual to explain this of Judah generally, which still survived, although Israel had been carried away captive. But perhaps the contrast is rather between the numerous Judaean captives who had been taken and conveyed to Assyria by Sennacherib when he took the "fenced cities" (Isaiah 36:1), and the portion of the nation which still remained in the land. Sennacherib says, in his annals, that he took "forty-six" cities, and carried captive to Assyria above two hundred thousand persons.
The servants of the King of Assyria. Mr. Cheyne translates, "the minions of the King of Assyria," remarking truly that the word used is not the ordinary one for "servants," but "a disparaging expression." Perhaps the best translation would be lackeys.
Behold, I will send a blast upon him; rather, I will put a spirit within him; i.e. I will take away from him the spirit of pride and arrogance by which he has been hitherto actuated, and I will infuse into his heart, instead, a spirit of hesitation and fear. He shall hear a rumour; literally, as Delitzsch translates, he shall hear a hearsay; i.e. "a report," or "tidings." It is uncertain what "tidings" are intended. Some suppose "tidings of the movements of Tirhakah;" others, "tidings of the destruction of his host;" a few, "tidings of an insurrection in some other part of the Assyrian empire." This last supposition is wholly gratuitous, since we have no indication, either in Scripture or in the inscriptions, of any such insurrection. The choice lies between the other two, or between one or other of them, and the two combined. The vagueness is owing, not to the time at which the present narrative took shape, but to the fact that a vague promise—quite sufficient for its purpose—was given at first, the filling in of the details being reserved for a later period (see Isaiah 37:22-23.37.35). I will cause him to fall by the sword (see Isaiah 37:38).
Rabshakeh … found the King of Assyria warring against Libnah. Libnah was a town at no great distance from Lachish (Joshua 10:31; Joshua 15:39-6.15.42). It was also near Mareshah (Joshua 15:42-6.15.44), and must therefore have belonged to the more southern portion of the Shefeleh, and probably to the eastern region, where the hills sink down into the plain. The exact site is very uncertain, and still remains to be discovered. Sennacherib's object in moving upon Libnah is doubtful; hut it would seem, from his monuments, that he had captured Lachish, and had gone on to Libnah, as the next stronghold on the way to Egypt.
Tirhakah, King of Ethopia. Tirhakah is among the most famous of the monarchs belonging to this period. The Greeks called him "Tearchon," the Assyrians "Tarku" or "Tarqu." His name, as represented on his own monuments, is "Tahark" or "Tahrak." According to the Egyptian remains, he had a reign of at least twenty-six years in Egypt—from b.c. 693 to b.c. 667. He would seem, however, to have been King of Ethiopia, and lord paramount of the lower valley of the Nile, from about b.c. 700, Shabatok for some years ruling Egypt, or a portion of it, as his deputy. Hezekiah's negotiations had, it is probable, been with Tirhakah (Isaiah 19:13; Isaiah 20:5; Isaiah 30:1-23.30.6). This monarch, having engaged to help him, now put his forces in motion, and began to descend the Nile valley to his relief. His movement rather provoked than alarmed Sennacherib, who, having defeated one Egyptian army in b.c. 701, was confident of success against another. He sent messengers. It is not very clear what advantage Sennacherib expected from this second embassy. He had no fresh argument to bring forward, unless it were a suggestion that Hezekiah's God was endeavouring to deceive him. In the main, Isaiah 37:10-23.37.13 are a mere expansion of Isaiah 36:18-23.36.20.
Let not thy God, in whom thou trustest, deceive thee. Sennacherib recognized Jehovah as a god, the God of the Jews, but put him on a par with the other "gods of the nations" (Isaiah 37:11), and
. Tiglath-Pileser I. calls himself " the conquering hero, the terror of whose name has overwhelmed all regions"; Asshur-izir-pal, "the king who subdued all the races of men"; Shalmaneser II; "the marcher over the whole world"; Shamas-Vul, "the trampler on the world" (ibid; vol. 1.12). Sargon says that "the gods had granted him the exercise of his sovereignty over all kings", and that he "reigned from the two beginnings to the two ends of the four celestial points", i.e. from the furthest north to the furthest south, and from the extreme cast to the extreme west. Sennacherib himself says, "Aashur, father of the gods, among all kings firmly has raised me, and over all that dwell in the countries he caused to increase my weapons". From first to last, in their inscriptions, the monarchs claim a universal dominion.
My fathers. The Assyrian monarchs call all those who have preceded them upon the throne their "fathers," without intending to claim any blood-relation-ship. Sargon, Sennacherib's father, though a usurper and the first king of a new dynasty, frequently speaks of "the kings his fathers". Gozan … Haran … Rezeph … Telassar. "Gozan" is, beyond all doubt, the region known to the Greeks as Gauzanitis, which was the eastern portion of Upper Mesopotamia, or the country about the sources of the Khabour river. The Assyrian conquest of this tract is indicated by the settlement of the Israelites in the region (2 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 18:11; 1 Chronicles 5:26). "Harsh" is the well-known "city of Nahor" (Genesis 24:10), called in Acts 7:2 "Charran," and by the Greeks and Romans, Carrhae. It has now recovered its old designation, and is known as Hurrah. "Rezeph" was in the neighborhood of Haran, and is mentioned as belonging to Assyria as early as b.c. 775. It had probably revolted and been reduced at a later date. "Telassar," "the Hill of Asshur," is not mentioned in the Assyrian inscriptions, but was probably the Assyrian name of a town on or near the Euphrates, in the country of the Bent-Eden, which was not far from Carche-mish. The children of Eden. The Assyrian inscriptions mention a "Bit-Adini" (comp. Amos 1:5), and a chief who is called "the son of Adini;" both belonging to the Middle Euphrates region. The "children of Eden" (Beni-Eden) were probably the people of the tract about Bit-Adini.
Hamath … Arphad … Sepharvaim (see the comment upon Isaiah 36:19).
Hezekiah received the letter. Sennacherib sent his present message in a written form. The communications between kings were often carried on in this way (see 2 Kings 5:5; 2 Kings 20:12). The Hebrews use the same word for "letter" and "book;" but, when a letter is intended, employ generally the plural number (compare the Greek ἐπιστολαὶ and the Latin litterae). And spread it before the Lord. Not that God might see it and read it, in a material sense, but still that he might take note of it, and, if he saw fit, punish it. Compare the exhibition of the Books of the Law, painted with idolatrous emblems, at Maspha, "over against" the temple, by Judas Maccabaeus and his companions (1 Macc. 3:46-48). The act in both cases implied the referring of the whole matter to God for his consideration. It was, as Delitzsch, says, a sort of "prayer without words."
O Lord … that dwellest between the cherubims; literally, that sittest upon the cherubim. The allusion is scarcely to the poetic imagery of God riding on the cherubim in the heavens (Psalms 18:10), as Mr. Cheyne suggests; but rather to his dwelling between the two cherubic forms in the holy of holies, and there manifesting himself (camp. Numbers 7:89; 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 1 Chronicles 13:6; Psalms 80:1; Psalms 99:1). Thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. It has been questioned whether Hezekiah was really as pronounced a monotheist as these expressions would imply, and suggested that his actual words received "a colouring" from a later writer. Hezekiah's contemporaries, it is said, Isaiah and Micah, make no such strong statements of their belief in one only God as this (Kuenen, Cheyne). But it is difficult to see what can be a clearer revelation of monotheism than Isaiah 6:1-23.6.5, or what truth more absolutely underlies the whole of Isaiah's teaching than the unity of the Supreme Being. The same under-current is observable in Micah (Micah 1:2, Micah 1:3; Micah 4:5; Micah 6:6-33.6.9; Micah 7:17, Micah 7:18). Sennacherib's belief, that each country has its own god (Isaiah 36:18-23.36.20), is not shared by the religious Jews of his time. They are well aware that the heathen gods are "vanity" (Isaiah 46:3; Hosea 4:15; Amos 1:5; Jonah 2:8), "wind" and "confusion" (Isaiah 41:29, etc.). Thou hast made heaven and earth (comp. Genesis 1:1; Psalms 102:25; Isaiah 40:26-23.40.28; Isaiah 42:5, etc.).
Incline thine ear … open thine eyes. This is a conscious pleading of the promise made to Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:15).
Of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations. This was a stubborn fact, which it was impossible to deny. From the time of Asshur-izir-pal at any rate, about b.c. 880, Assyria had pursued for nearly two centuries a steady career of conquest, reducing the nations which were her neighbors, almost without exception, and gradually spreading her power from the tract immediately about Nineveh to the Persian Gulf on the south, the great plateau of Iran on the east, the Armenian Mountains (Niphates and Taurus) on the north, and on the west to Cilicia and the Mediterranean. Her progress towards the west alone is marked in Scripture, since there alone she came in contact with God's people. Under Pul she attacked Samaria (2 Kings 15:19); under Tiglath-Pileser II. she carried off a portion of the ten tribes (2 Kings 15:29); under the same monarch she subjugated Damascus (2 Kings 16:9); under Shalmaneser she besieged (2 Kings 17:5), and under Sargon took, Samaria (2 Kings 17:6); under Sargon also she invaded Philistia and captured Ashdod (Isaiah 20:1). Now she was bent on subduing Judaea, and so preparing the way for the reduction of Egypt. Humanly speaking, it was most unlikely that the small and weak state of Judaea would be able to resist her. But God was all-powerful, and might be pleased to cast down, as he had been pleased to exalt (Isaiah 10:5-23.10.19). Hence Hezekiah's appeal.
And have cast their gods into the fire. The more valuable of the foreign idols were usually carried off by the Assyrians, and placed in the shrines of their own gods as trophies of victory; but no doubt great numbers of the inferior idols. which were of wood, not even coated with metal—the ξόανα of the Greeks—were burnt. For they were no gods (temp. Jeremiah 2:11; Jeremiah 5:7; Jeremiah 16:20, etc.). Isaiah's favourite word for "idols" is elilim, which is, etymologically, "not-gods" (Isaiah 2:8, Isaiah 2:18, Isaiah 2:20; Isaiah 10:10, Isaiah 10:11; Isaiah 19:1, Isaiah 19:3; Isaiah 31:7). The work of men's hands (see Isaiah 2:8; Isaiah 40:19; Isaiah 41:7, etc.). The absurdity of men's worshipping as gods what their own hands had made is ever increasingly ridiculed by the religious Jews (comp. Psalms 115:4-19.115.8; Isaiah 44:9-23.44.20; Jeremiah 10:3-24.10.15; 'Ep of Jeremy,' 8-73).
Save us … that all the kingdoms … may know, etc. God's true servants desire deliverance and triumph over enemies, not alone for their own sakes, not even for the sake of the country or people whose fate is bound up with their own, but for the glory of God, that his honour may be vindicated in the sight of the world at large. It is a large part of the satisfaction of Moses at the passage of the Red Sea, that "the peoples would hear … the dukes of Edom be amazed … the mighty men of Moab tremble," etc. (Exodus 15:14, Exodus 15:15). David would have his foes "consumed" in order that they might know that "God ruled in Jacob, and unto the cads of the earth" (Psalms 59:13), and again, in order "that men may know that thou, whose Name alone is Jehovah, art the Most High over all the earth" (Psalms 83:18). It has been well said that "the object of all the judgments which the true prophet desires is to bring all nations into subjection to God."
Then Isaiah … sent to Hezekiah, saying. It seems most natural to understand that the prophet was at once supernaturally informed of Hezekiah's prayer, as Ananias was of Saul's (Acts 9:11), and instructed what reply to make to it. But still, it is no doubt possible that some of the facts have been omitted for the sake of brevity.
The virgin the daughter of Zion; i.e. Jerusalem (comp. Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 10:32; Isaiah 16:1; Isaiah 52:2; Isaiah 62:11). The expression, "virgin daughter," is used also by Isaiah of Zidon (Isaiah 23:12) and of Babylon (Isaiah 47:1). The personification here is very effective. since it represents Jerusalem as a tender maiden, weak and delicate, yet still bold enough to stand up against Sennacherib and all his host, and bid him defiance. Confident in Jehovah, her Protector, she despises him, and laughs him to scorn; nay, "shakes her head at him," or rather. "after him," pursuing him with scornful gestures as In. retreats before her. (On shaking the head as a gesture of scorn, see Psalms 22:7; Psalms 109:25; Matthew 27:39.)
Even against the Holy One of Israel. A specially Isaiah phrase, employed by Isaiah twenty-eight times, and only five times in all the rest of Scripture. A strong proof, if any proof beyond the unmistakable Isaiah spirit of the entire prophecy were needed, of the genuineness of the present passage.
By thy servants hast thou reproached the Lord (see Isaiah 36:15-23.36.20). And hast said. Sennacherib had not actually uttered these words with his mouth; but the prophet clothes in his own highly poetic language the thoughts which the Assyrian king had cherished in his heart. He had regarded "the multitude of his chariots" as irresistible; he had considered that the mountains which guarded Palestine would be no obstacle to his advance; he had contemplated ravaging and despoiling of its timber the entire country; he had meant to penetrate into every region that was lovely and fertile. The emphatic "I" of the original—ani—twice repeated, marks the proud egotism of the monarch. By the multitude of my chariots am I come up to the height of the mountains; rather, with the multitude; or, according to another reading, with chariots upon chariots. The Assyrian kings contrived to cross with their chariots mountain chains of great difficulty, and frequently boast of the achievement. Tiglath-Pileser I. says, "I assembled my chariots and warriors. I betook myself to carts of iron in order to overcome the rough mountains and their difficult marches. I made the wilderness thus practicable for the passage of my chariots and warriors". Asshur-izir-pal, "The rugged hill country, unfitted for the passage of chariots and armies, with instruments of iron I cut through, and with metal rollers I beat down the chariots and troops I brought over". Shalmaneser II; "Trackless paths, difficult mountains, which like the point of an iron sword stood pointed to the sky, on wheels of iron and bronze I penetrated. My chariots and armies I transported over them". In the less rough parts, while the warders dismounted, tire horses drew the chariots, which were assisted over obstacles by attendants; but, in regions of greater difficulty, they were conveyed across the mountain ranges in waggons of rude and strong construction The chariot-force was regarded as so important that the Assyrians never made any distant expedition without it. To the sides of Lebanon. It was not necessary to cross either Libanus or Anti-Libanus in order to invade Judaea, since the natural route was along the Coele-Syrian valley and across the spurs of Hermon to the Jordan; but an Assyrian army was intent on plunder and devastation, no less than upon conquest, and would ascend mountain regions that did not lie on its direct line of march for either or both of these objects. It was customary for the soldiers to cut clown the tall cedars and choice fir trees of Lebanon on their Syrian campaigns, in order to transport the timber to Nineveh and other great cities, where it was used for building. It was also customary to destroy the trees in an enemy's country, simply in order to inflict injury upon the foe. I will enter into the height of his border; rather, I will enter into its uttermost height; i.e. I will penetrate through the entire mountain region of Palestine, called roughly "Lebanon," to the furthest height of any importance—that on which Jerusalem stood—and thus occupy the whole land. The parallel passage of 2 Kings has "lodging" for "height," in apparent allusion to the palace of Hezekiah. And the forest of his Carmel; or, the forest of its pleasure-garden; i.e. the rich plantation tracts, covered with vines, olives, and fig trees, which formed the special glory of Judaea (see Isaiah 36:16, Isaiah 36:17).
I have digged, and drunk water. Sennacherib notes three natural obstacles to his advance—the forces of his opponents he does not appear to account an obstacle—viz. mountains, deserts, rivers. Mountains do not stop him—he crosses them even with his chariot-force (Isaiah 37:24). Deserts do not stop him—he digs wells there, and drinks their waters. Rivers will not stop him—he will dry them up, trample them into puddles. Note the contrast between the past tenses, "I have come up," "I have digged," "I have drunk," and the future, "I will dry up." He had crossed the mountain ranges Sinjar, Amanus, Lebanon; he had passed waterless tracts, where he had had to dig wells, in Mesopotamia and Northern Syria. He was about to find his chief obstacle, rivers, when he invaded Lower Egypt. The rivers of the besieged places; rather, the rivers of Egypt. Mazor, the singular form (compare Assyrian Muzr, and modern Arabic Misr), is used here (as in Micah 7:12, and perhaps in Isaiah 19:6), instead of the ordinary dual term, Mizraim, probably because Lower Egypt is especially intended. Sennacherib was looking especially to the invasion of Lower Egypt,where the Nile had "seven branches" (Herod;Isaiah 2:17; Isaiah 2:17), and the country was also cut up by numerous canals, which would naturally constitute a great difficulty to a force depending mainly on its chariots. He believed, however, in his heart, that he would find a way of "drying up" these "rivers."
Hast thou not heard, etc.? An abrupt transition, such as is common in Isaiah. From speaking in the person of Sennacherib, the prophet without warning breaks off, and returns to speaking in the person of Jehovah, as his mouthpiece. "Hast thou not heard," he says, long ago; or rather, "that from long ago! have done this?" Art thou so ignorant, so devoid of that light of nature, which should "lighten every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9), as not to know God's method of governing the world? How that "from long ago," in his eternal counsels, he designs the rise and fall of nations, and the mode in which their destruction is to be brought about? Art thou not aware that conquerors are mere instruments in God's hands—"the rods of his anger" (Isaiah 10:5)—to work his will, and then to have his will worked upon them in turn (see Isaiah 10:6-23.10.19)? Sennacherib seems to be really reproached for not knowing what he ought to have known, and might have known, if he had listened to the voice of conscience and reason. Now have brought it to pass, etc. All that Sennacherib had done, he had done as God's instrument, by his permission—nay, by his aid. He had been the axe in the hand of the hewer (Isaiah 10:15), the saw, the rod, the staff, of God's indignation (Isaiah 10:5), the executor of his vengeance. The very purpose of his being was that he should "lay waste (certain) defenced cities into ruinous heaps."
Therefore. The original is not so emphatic, but still contains the idea, not merely of sequence, but of consequence. God, having decreed the successes of the Assyrians, effected them (in part) by infusing weakness into the nations that were their adversaries. They were as the grass of the field (comp. Isaiah 40:6, Isaiah 40:7). The comparison is one constantly used by the Hebrew psalmists (Psalms 37:2; Psalms 90:5; Psalms 92:7; Psalms 103:15), and was not unknown to the Assyrians. The delicate grass of spring in the East withers within a few weeks, and the fresh and tender herbage becomes yellow, parched, and sapless. The grass that springs upon the earthen roofs of houses fails even more rapidly (comp. Psalms 129:6). As corn blasted before it be grown up; literally, like a field before the stalk. Our translators seem to have rightly preferred the reading of 2 Kings 19:26 (sh'dephah, equivalent to "blasting") to that of Isaiah (sh'demah, equivalent to "field") in this place. Their rendering brings out the true sense.
I know thy abode; literally, thy down-sitting (comp. Psalms 139:2). The meaning is that God has, and has had, his eye on Sennacherib throughout all his career, seeing to and watching over his performance of his will. The phrase, going out, and coming in, is a Hebrew idiom for a man's doings (see Numbers 27:17; Deuteronomy 28:6; Deuteronomy 31:2; 1 Samuel 18:13, 1Sa 18:16; 2 Samuel 3:25; 1 Kings 3:7, etc.). Thy rage against me. As shown in the message sent by Rab-shakeh (Isaiah 36:7), in Rabshakeh's speech to the "men on the wall" (Isaiah 36:15-23.36.20), and in the letter sent to Hezekiah from Lachish (Isaiah 37:10).
Therefore will I put my hook in thy nose (comp. Ezekiel 29:4; Ezekiel 38:4; 2 Chronicles 33:11). The Assyrians were in the habit of passing "hooks" or "rings" through the noses or lips of their more distinguished prisoners, and attaching a thong to the hook or ring, by which they led the prisoners into the royal presence. The expressions used derive their force from these practices, but are not in the present place to be understood literally. God "turned Sennacherib back" and reconducted him to Nineveh. not with an actual "hook" or "thong," but by the "bridle" of necessity.
This shall be a sign unto thee; rather, the sign. The prophet now turns to Hezekiah, and makes an address to him. "This," he says, "shall be the sign unto thee of Sennachcrib's being effectually 'bridled,' and the danger from Assyria over. In the third year from the present the land shall have returned to its normal condition, and you shall enjoy its fruits as formerly. Meanwhile you shall obtain sufficient nourishment from the grain which has sown itself." The "third year," according to Hebrew reckoning, might be little more than one year from the date of the delivery of the prophecy. The entire withdrawal of all the Assyrian garrisons from the country, which no doubt followed on Sennacherib's retreat, might well have occupied the greater part of a year. Till they were withdrawn, the Jews could not venture to till their territory. Plant vineyards. The Assyrians had, no doubt, cut down the vines.
The remnant that is escaped (see the comment on Isaiah 37:4). Take root downward, and bear fruit upward; i.e. "spread over the land, and became firmly rooted in it, and flourish as in the former time." We must conceive of the Assyrians having, in their two recent invasions, completely depopulated the country districts. Numbers had, no doubt, been slain; more than two hundred thousand had been carried into captivity; a portion had found refuge in the capital On the withdrawal of the Assyrians, these last "went forth," reoccupied their lands, and rebuilt their towns and villages. The blessing of God was upon them, and in a short time Judaea recovered her ancient vigour, so that, under Josiah, she was able to extend her dominion over almost the whole of the old Israelite territory (2 Chronicles 34:6, 2 Chronicles 34:18).
The zeal, etc. (comp. Isaiah 9:7). The phrase is very emphatic, marking the greatness of the thing to be done, and at the same time bringing the strophe to an end with an asseveration beyond which nothing could go.
Therefore, etc. A new clause is commenced—the concluding clause of the prophecy. For Hezekiah's satisfaction and consolation something more definite is needed than the vague assurances that "the daughter of Jerusalem shook her head at Sennacherib" (Isaiah 37:22), and that God would "put a bridle in Sennacherib's mouth" (Isaiah 37:29). Accordingly, it is now declared, in the plainest terms, that he shall not even lay siege to the city, but shall return by the way by which he came—the coast route—leaving Jerusalem untouched, nay, unattempted. He shall not come into this city; rather, unto the city. He was at Libnah, in the Shefeleh, thirty or forty miles from Jerusalem, when we last heard of him (Isaiah 37:8); and, having then been just informed of the advance of Tirhakah, he is likely to have proceeded on towards Egypt. There is, at any rate, not the slightest intimation of his having made a retrograde movement towards the Jewish capital. Nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it. The main points of an Assyrian siege are happily seized. The first assailants were the archers. They boldly approached in large bodies, and strove to clear the battlements of the defenders. Then shields were brought into play. Under their cover the archers drew nearer; the scaling parties brought up their ladders; the miners attacked the foundations of the walls; and the torch-bearers endeavoured to fire the gates. Finally, if these tactics did not avail, banks were raised against the walls, which were then assailed with battering-rams till they were breached and the assailants could cuter. God promises that Jerusalem shall experience none of these things at Sennacherib's hands.
By the way that he came. It is clear that Sennacherib on this occasion had marched by the usual coast route, through Sharon and the Shefeleh, upon Lachish, leaving Jerusalem far to his left. From Laehish he sent Rabshakeh to Hezekiah with a threatening message, and (as our version has it) "with a great army;" rather, "with a strong force." Rabshakeh, having delivered his message, returned to his master (Isaiah 37:8), doubtless with his escort. Sennacherib then sent a letter by messengers, but without an army, so far as we are told, to renew his threats. Meanwhile from Lachish he went to Libnah, after which we know nothing of his movements, unless we accept the Egyptian account, which was, that he advanced to Pelusium. The declaration, "By the way that he came, by the same shall he return" (comp. Isaiah 37:29) was the most comforting that Hezekiah could possibly receive. It assured him that he would not even be confronted with his enemy. Into this city; rather, unto this city (as in Isaiah 37:32).
I will defend this city … for mine own sake; literally, I will cover over this city, as a bird covers its young with its wings (comp. Isaiah 31:5; Matthew 23:37). God would do this "for his own sake;" i.e. because his own honour was concerned in the defence of his people. He would also do it for his servant David's sake; i.e. because of the promises made to David, that his children should sit upon his throne (2 Samuel 7:16; Psalms 89:29-19.89.37; Psalms 132:11-19.132.14, etc.), which involved the continued independence of Judaea and Jerusalem.
Then the angel of the Lord went forth. The parallel passage of Kings (2 Kings 19:35) has, "It came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out." The word of Isaiah had its accomplishment within a few hours. On the camp of the Assyrians, wherever it was, whether at Libnah, or at Pelusium (Herod; 2:141), or between the two, in the dead of night, the destroying angel swooped down, and silently, without disturbance, took the lives of a hundred and eighty-five thousand' men. The camp was no doubt that in which Sennacherib commanded. It is contrary to the whole tenor of the Assyrian inscriptions to imagine that a mere corps d'armee, detached to threaten, not to besiege, Jerusalem, could have been one-half, or one-quarter, so numerous. It was Sennacherib's host, not the Tartan's, that was visited. So the Egyptian tradition; so verse 37, by implication. That in later times the Jews should have transferred the scene of the slaughter to the vicinity of their own capital, as Josephus does ('Ant. Jud.,' 10.2. § 5), is not surprising, especially as the Egyptians claimed the glory of the discomfiture for their own gods, and the completion of the victory for their own soldiers. The nature of the destruction is not, perhaps, very important, if it be allowed to have been supernatural; but the "simoom" of Prideaux and Milman, the "storm" of Vitringa and Stanley, the "nocturnal attack by Tirhakah" of Usher, Preiss, and Michaelis, and the "pestilence" of most other commentators, seem to be alike precluded by the terms of the narrative, which imply the silent death in one night of a hundred and eighty-five thousand persons by what English juries call "the visitation of God." The nearest parallel which Holy Scripture offers is the destruction of the firstborn in Egypt; but that was not, as this, without disturbance (see Exodus 12:30). There a "great cry" broke the silence of the night; here it was not till morning, when men woke from their peaceful slumbers, that the discovery was made that "they were all dead corpses."
So Sennacherib … departed; rather, broke up his camp. The word used for all the removals of the children of Israel in the wilderness (Numbers 33:3-4.33.48). The loss of even an entire corps d'armeee would not have caused an Assyrian king, at the head of an intact main army, to break up his camp and abandon his enterprise. And dwelt at Nineveh. Sennacherib lived some eighteen or twenty years from the probable date of his discomfiture, dying in b.c. 681. His ordinary residence was at Nineveh, which he greatly adorned and beautified. His father, Sargon, on the contrary, dwelt commonly at Khorsabad (Dur-Sargina), and his son, Esarhaddon, dwelt, during the latter part of his reign, at Babylon. We must not suppose, however, that Sennacherib was shut up in Nineveh during the remainder of his life. On the contrary, he made frequent expeditions towards the south, the east, and the north. But he made no farther expedition to the south-west, no further attack on Jerusalem, or attempt on Egypt. The Jews had peace, so far as the Assyrians were concerned, from the event related in Isaiah 37:36 to a late date in the reign of Esarhaddon.
Nisroch his god. The name Nisroch has not been found in the Assyrian inscriptions, and is, in fact, read only in this place and the parallel passage of Kings (2 Kings 19:37). It has been supposed to represent Nusku, an Assyrian god of a somewhat low position, who, however, does not obtain mention in the historical inscriptions until the time of Asshur-bani-pal. Probably the name has suffered corruption. Asshur was, in fact, Sennacherib's favourite deity, and it is remarkable that the LXX. give in this place, not Nisroch, but Asarach. "Asarach" would seem to be "Asshur" with a guttural suffix. Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him. The murder of Sennacherib by a son, whom he called "Ardumazanes," was related by Polyhistor (ap. Euseb; 'Chronicles Can.,' Isaiah 1:5, § l). Esar-haddon's annals are imperfect at the commencement, but show that his authority was at first contested, and that he had to establish it by force of arms. Adrammelech seems to have assumed the title of king (Abyden. up. Euscb; 'Chronicles Can.,' 1.9, § 1), and to have been put to death by his brother. Sharezer is not elsewhere mentioned. The name is Assyrian, as far as it goes, but is incomplete. Its full form was probably Nabu-sar-uzur or Nergal-sar-uzur. And escaped into the land of Armenia. So Moses of Chorene ('Hist. Armen.,' Isaiah 1:22). The Hebrew word is Ararat (Assyrian Urardu or Urartu), which was the more eastern portion of Armenia, and lay beyond the sphere of Assyrian influence. Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead. Esarhaddon (Asshur-akh iddiua) appears to have ascended the throne in b.c. 681. It is highly improbable that Isaiah was then living, and therefore the verse can scarcely be from his pen. It has probably been transferred from 2 Kings (2 Kings 19:37) in order to finish off the narrative. Esarhaddon outlived Hezekiah many years, and was brought into contact with Manasseh, whom he reckoned among his tributaries.
Spiritual advice in, time of need not to be despised even by great kings.
The great of the earth—kings, princes, nobles, statesmen, generals—are too apt to rest upon their own internal gifts of wisdom, talent, sagacity, cleverness, and to place little reliance upon others. Especially are they apt to feel a jealousy towards "the spiritualty," and to hold themselves above the necessity of seeking aid from persons whom they view as unpractical, ignorant of worldly business, flighty, enthusiastic, fanatical. Ahab, when he determined to renew the Syrian war, and to attempt the recovery of Ramoth-Gilead, took no counsel, so far as appears, with any one but himself, and certainly neglected to ask the advice of the only true prophet of Jehovah living within reach (1 Kings 22:3-11.22.8). Josiah failed to take the advice of Jeremiah before going out to meet Necho (2 Chronicles 35:20-14.35.24); Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah went against his advice in resisting Nebuchadnezzar. It has become almost a principle of modern politics that the spiritualty are not to advise except on matters closely connected with religion or morals, and even on such matters their advice is looked upon with suspicion. The cuckoo-cry of "priestcraft" is raised, and the spiritualty is bidden to confine its, If strictly to its own sphere, and not to intermeddle in the ordinary politics of a nation. Hezekiah's conduct suggests a contrary lesson, seeming to teach—
I. THAT THE SPIRITUALTY ARE THE BEST ADVISERS EVEN IN TEMPORAL MATTERS. For, first, they have a less direct interest in such matters, and so are likely to give more unbiased counsel. Secondly, they are accustomed to take into account remoter eventualities, as well as immediate results, and are therefore likely to entertain broader views than others. Thirdly, they are more keenly alive than laics to the moral aspect of political questions, which is often a most important aspect, and one that deserves to have a preponderating weight in determining action.
II. THAT IN CONSULTING THEM IT IS WELL TO SHOW THEM DUE RESPECT. Disrespect is the ordinary rule when the politicians of the world condescend to make any reference at all to the spiritualty. "Hasten hither Micaiah, the son of Imlah," strikes the keynote of their utterances (1 Kings 22:9). It is not uncommon for them even to dictate what the spiritualty shall say (1 Kings 22:13). Hezekiah was more respectful, and more wise. He sent his highest officers of state to the house of the prophet, and humbly asked his prayers and his advice. No doubt there is a wide difference between such a prophet as Isaiah and a modern bishop, or archbishop, or conclave of bishops. Still, if there is to be consultation of these last, a show of respect for them should at least be maintained. It cannot be expected that otherwise they will regard their advice as of importance, or apply their minds very carefully to give the best advice in their power.
III. THAT IN THE WORST STRAITS THEY CAN GIVE VALUABLE HELP, IF NOT BY ADVICE, YET BY PRAYER. "Wherefore lift up thy prayer," said Hezekiah, "for the remnant that is left" (verse 4). God might not have thought fit to "reprove the words of Sennacherib." His patience might have been exhausted, and he might have been about to allow the conquest of Judaea by Sennacherib, as he afterwards allowed its conquest by Nebuchadnezzar. Hezekiah could not be sure that there was any escape. But in the worst case, "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man would avail much." It would avail to mitigate, if not to prevent, the sufferings of the people, to support them under misfortune, it not to save them from it. In times of national Deed and distress, wise kings and governments do well to ask the prayers of the Church, not that God will not hear them if they address themselves directly to him, but that he may be besieged, as it were, on all sides by prayer, and so prevailed upon to have mercy. The force of prayer is greatly augmented by the prayer being multiplied. "Where two," or more, "agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 18:19).
Taking our cross to God, and casting all our care upon him.
Deep afflictions seem to pass beyond the reach of human aid. Whether it be bereavement, or sense of sin, or coming trouble of any heavy kind, the profoundly afflicted soul for the most part feels human hell) vain, human sympathy impertinent, and finds no refuge, no consolation, except in pouring itself out before God. We know that "he careth for us" (1 Peter 6:7); we know that he can understand us. It is true wisdom to fly to him, and put our griefs before him. Only let us be sure that, like Hezekiah, we "spread" the whole before the Lord (Isaiah 37:14), that we keep nothing back—no dark corner of our heart, no "secret place" of our complex nature, no hidden act of our life. Unless we be honest with God, we have no claim to his help. He hates such as "dissemble in their hearts" (Jeremiah 42:20) before him. The best human counsellor can give us little aid unless we "make a clean breast" of our difficulties to him. So God will have us "make a clean breast"—not for his information, since he "understandeth our thoughts long before" (Psalms 139:2), but that we may be fit recipients of his grace—that his healing balms may have power to work on us and comfort us and effect our cure.
Isaiah 37:18, Isaiah 37:19
Faith neither blind to seemingly adverse facts, nor chary of admitting them.
Sennacherib thought to destroy Hezekiah's trust in Jehovah by an array of facts which he regarded as having the force of an induction. Hezekiah fully admitted the facts ("Of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries"), but did not suffer his faith to be shaken by them. His faith rested upon another distinct set of facts, which Sennacherib's did not and could not invalidate. The truth is that inductions, being never complete, are never demonstrative—they do but establish a probability, and the first adverse fact that can be adduced against them upsets them, or rather upsets the general conclusion that has been drawn from them. Faith, therefore, has no need to be afraid of any amount of seemingly adverse facts, drawn from the region of the sensible. For faith's facts lie mainly in a different sphere, and are untouched by the facts of sense, however numerous. The miracle of our Lord's resurrection rests, for instance, first upon prophecy, secondly upon testimony, thirdly upon vision (Revelation 1:18). No amount of ascertained facts that others have not risen, can touch the sufficiently established fact that our Lord did rise. There is no even seeming clashing or contradiction, until the physicist proceeds to draw from his army of facts the general conclusion: "Therefore no men rise." But this conclusion is one that he has no right to draw; it is illogical; the data do not entitle him to infer more than that" Most men do not rise," or rather, "have not yet risen." And so generally with the facts that are adduced against the dicta of faith. They are no disproof of that which they are alleged to disprove. Faith, real faith, is always ready to admit the facts, when once they are established as facts. It disputes the illogical conclusions drawn from the facts, and the ingenious hypotheses projected from the brains of scientists to account for them.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The conduct of the king on hearing the haughty message of the Assyrian is that of a man of habitually religious mind and religious practice.
1. He rends his garments and covers himself with sackcloth. This was significant of sorrow and of self-humiliation: "Humble yourselves beneath the mighty hand of God, and he will exalt you in due time." Instead of searching far and wide for the causes of our distress, it were well to look first into our own hearts, and that closely. There, where the mischief has begun, the remedy and the hope may be revealed.
2. He sends a deputation to the minister of God; also clothed in sackcloth. They give the king's message to Isaiah, "This day is a day of trouble, punishment, and contumely." The outward forms and shows of grief could not denote them truly. They had
"That within which passed show,
Beneath the trappings and the suits of woe."
The mourning garb expresses the need of the rending of the heart, and the bowing down of its pride before the judgments of God. Human extremity is confessed: "There is no strength to bring forth." The toil over insoluble problems—the matching of one's strength against a superhuman enterprise, the comparison of one's idea of what should be with one's sense of the absence of resources for its accomplishment, brings utter exhaustion. It is under such conditions that men learn that whatever strength they had at any time is from God, that whatever help is needed must come from him now. In the house of God, in the attitude of humility and penitence, in communion with men of God, let us be found in the day of distress.
I. THE HUMAN INTERCESSOR. In common life we recognize the principle of intercession. We shelter ourselves behind the worth of another; we seek to gain interest with the powerful and the good. To carry things by personal interest and partiality doubtless opens the door to abuses; but alter all it is founded itself upon love. Logic says," Let every case be judged by its merits, every man stand or fall by merit or demerit of his person." Love, softening down the hard lines of logical principle, or concealing them with flowing ornament, says, "Let fellow-feeling and pity, kinship of blood or of mind, have their influence on the decision." The great truth of the mediation of Christ is reflected in a weaker but still emphatic way in the office of an Abraham, a Moses, a Samuel. Scripture expressly recognizes: "The prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (cf. Jeremiah 15:1). Our objection to the Romish doctrine of the intercession of saints should not carry us too far. It might lead us to a cold denial of the influence of loving thought upon one another's weal. What limit is there to the far-reaching influences of love? Because some assume to know too much of those influences and the manner in which they may be secured, that is no reason why we should ignore them. "An interest in the prayers of good men," it is natural to seek, and blessed to have secured. The belief in the intercession of good men rests on the belief that some men stand nearer to God than others. They have a firmer faith, a steadier insight into the methods of Providence, and therefore a clearer outlook into the future, and a courage which is inspiring to others. On this occasion Isaiah is found to be calm and undisturbed by the revilings of the Assyrian. He can speak of his officers with contempt as the "minions of the King of Assyria." He can foretell that a "spirit" will be put in the enemy—an impulse quite contrary to that now animating him; he will hear ill news, will return to his own land, and will fall by the sword. The prophet sustains the king; Hezekiah leans on Isaiah; true policy finds its inspiration in religion. The ministers of state, if wise, will own the worth of the service of the ministers of God.
II. BUSINESS LAID BEFORE GOD. The threat of the Assyrian, the taunting arguments on which he had before relied, are repeated. Let Hezekiah beware of trusting in Jehovah, for he may prove no better resource than the "gods of the nations" which have been subdued by the Assyrians. Hezekiah takes the letter, goes up into the house of Jehovah, and spreads it open before Jehovah. We may be reminded, as we read, of the prayer-machines of the Buddhists; or of the waxen tablets hung upon the statues of the gods by the Romans. inscribed with prayers, as alluded to by Juvenal in his tenth Satire. But where the outward act is similar, the intention may be widely different. If we look to the essence of the act, there is nothing in itself more superstitious in laying open a written letter before God, than in addressing him orally on its contents. If the spreading out is a "prayer without words," the prayer with words follows. There is no external form which we may not fill out with the life of our spirit and make vital and real; none from which we may not withdraw that life, and so leave dead and cold. It is idle to suppose that the mere abandonment of certain forms will remove the foundations of superstition, which is certain to spring up in a mechanical and lifeless state of mind.
III. HEZEKIAH'S PRAYER. His thoughts of God. He is revealed in nature and in human life. He is enthroned upon the cherubim—those mysterious creatures of poetic and plastic fancy, representing spiritual power revealed in strong wind and cloud, and figured in the ark. Analogous figures are common in Oriental art. Jehovah is the God of nature, the Creator of heavens and earth. He is the only true Ruler of the kingdoms of the earth. The heathen believed that their gods swayed in the sphere both of nature and of human life—that their glory and power was revealed, not only in sun, and moon, and stars, and wind, but in the might of warriors and the ascendency of kings. But the contrast is that these pretensions were unreal, that of Jehovah alone. founded on truth and facts. Those "gods of the nations" who had been put into the fire by the Assyrian were no genuine gods, as the result has proved. When the idol was destroyed, the visible image of the god, the faith of the worshipper lost its visible support, and his hope fled. There was no Saviour here. True faith is not dependent on such visible props; they may fail—it remains. The symbols of religion may change; old sanctuaries may fall into decay; Jerusalem may be taken; the Shechinah-glory may fade from the hallowed spot; but Jehovah remains. In superstition, when the idols are broken, the false faith dies; in true religion, when the idols are broken, the true faith rises into new life. Adversity, fatal to imposture, brings the genuine tradition to light. The true God is bound by his very nature to be the Saviour, the Deliverer of men. The cry for salvation must sooner or later, in one or another way, be answered from him. If the cry be not answered, it is a proof that we have not directed it to the true Object—not to Jehovah, the Alone, the Eternal, but to some creature, the fabrication, if not of our hands, of our sensuous and unspiritual fancy.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
Caution against fear.
"Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard." We are often afraid of whispers; we often suffer severely through words. It is not surprising. Words are winged, and fly across oceans. Words are penetrating, and enter into the secret places of the heart. Words are indestructible, and, once uttered, who but God can restrain their power?
I. THESE WERE WORDS AGAINST GOD. Alas! there have been many such in every age. This is part of the perils of moral government, which leaves the creature "free." But God has set in order a universe of men, and not of machines, and he is too wise not to have ordered all things wisely and well. Man is evidently a being born to the perils which beset all freedom. Thus he can speak against the Most High. "I am equal to the sad occasion," says in effect Jehovah to Isaiah. "The servants of the King of Assyria have blasphemed me, but I will send a blast upon them." No more solemn thought can occupy our minds than the consideration how every day blasphemous, false, and base words are spoken against our Father in heaven.
II. THESE WORDS ARE OFTEN DESIGNED TO HURT HIS CHILDREN. "Fear them not," says God; "they cannot hurt you." We are thankful for this revelation of the impotence of evil. If your character is falsely traduced, God can "bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday." If your influence is injured for a time, God has so ordered the world that evil men reveal their true character. They are not good, and they know it; "and they that be otherwise cannot be hid." Let not the friends of God tremble in the presence of infidel insinuation or sceptical scorn. God's nature has been revealed. His wonderful works attest his power and goodness. Christ and the cross are the revelation of his love.
III. THESE WORDS ARE SURE TO BE HEARD. We cannot at times help the entrance of evil, but we can help the entertainment of it. We must treat all the evil surmises of wicked men with the disdain that they deserve. We can, as Solomon suggests, "turn from it and pass away." Besides, just as there is in love what Dr. Chalmers calls "the expulsive power of a new affection," so there is in love to God a power to banish all that old love of the world which makes men mingle with the irreverent and undevout. The syren voice of evil whisperings will have no charm for us when we hide God's Word in our heart. The great lesson is not to be afraid of the wickedness of the wicked, or to make their words of account by taking too great note of them. Many malignant words would have perished at their birth if they had not been made much of by argument and reply. The best answer is to trust in God and do the right.—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Our highest solicitude.
A very graphic scene is here sketched. The highest personages in the realm are moved to the strongest feelings of indignation and concern. Dignity is entirely forgotten; the profound agitations which have stirred their souls are expressed in actions which, to less excitable and imaginative people, seem violent and unbecoming. But the rent garments and the coarse sackcloth best uttered, for them, the distracted heart and a deep sense of shame. It was eloquence in action, and was more forcible than the most impassioned speech. Doubtless many feelings mingled in this strong emotion, but we prefer to think (and by the fourth verse are justified in thinking) that what most kindled the indignation of king,' of statesman, and of priest, was the "blasphemy" which had been spoken against the Lord; the earnest solicitude on their part that the Name of Jehovah should not be shamefully dishonoured among men. There are—
I. SOLICITUDES WHICH ARE GOOD, BUT NOT HIGH. We do well to be solicitous to discharge our pecuniary obligations, to take and to hold an honourable position among our fellows, to enjoy a good reputation among men, to see that which is most beautiful, to hear that which is most harmonious, and to read that which is most delightful. But this appeals to those instincts and ambitions which are common to all but the lowest among men; they are desires or anxieties which are good but not high.
II. SOLICITUDES WHICH ARE HIGH, BUT NOT THE HIGHEST. It is in a very high degree desirable, it is indeed urgent, that we should show a patient, practical solicitude
(1) to gain the forgiveness of our sin, and acceptance with God;
(2) to maintain our Christian consistency and conformity of conduct to the will of Christ;
(3) to attain to the nobler ranges of Christian excellency, to reach the goal which is set before us;
(4) to serve our generation to the height of our ability and opportunity;
(5) to be ready for the last hour of life and the first hour of immortality. These are high and worthy aspirations, but they are not—
III. THE SOLICITUDE WHICH IS THE HIGHEST OF ALL. It is that commanding and consuming desire for the glory of God which filled the hearts of Hezekiah and his people, and which called forth such powerful and even passionate emotion when his Name was blasphemed.
1. The evidence that this is the highest solicitude is found in:
(1) The fact that it is our supreme obligation. We are bound, first and most of all things, to be concerned for the honour of our heavenly Father, for the glory of our Divine Redeemer: theft he is revered, and that his will is done on earth should be our first consideration.
(2) The fact that it is an unselfish, and therefore pre-eminently Christian and Divine inspiration.
(3) The fact that it is an enlarging and ennobling sentiment. They whose hearts are filled and whose lives are fashioned by this pure and holy solicitude will be lifted up in soul by its elevating influence; they will rise above all that is mean and small; they will attain to loftiness of view and dignity of character.
2. The manifestations which it will assume are
(1) great pain and shame when the Name of God is dishonoured (text);
(2) great joy when his kingdom is seen to be advancing and himself being honoured in the world;
(3) earnest and lifelong effort to bear witness to his presence, his power, his holiness, his love, and the blessedness of his great salvation.—C.
The God in whom we trust.
To trust in God—
I. OUGHT TO SEEM TO US THE MOST SIMPLE AND NATURAL THING.
1. All power is his. We shrink from weakness as a support, but we lean our whole weight on strength with perfect willingness and readiness: and it is Almighty God; it is he to whom "all power is given in heaven and on earth," who invites our confidence.
2. All wisdom is his. Power without wisdom may lead astray, may work more harm than help: it is the only wise God "who asks us to put our trust in him.
3. All kindness is his. Power with wisdom but without love might be arrayed against us, might overwhelm us with confusion: it is the God whose "new, best Name is love," that offers us the shelter of his wing.
4. All faithfulness is his. Love that might last but a little while is of little worth; it might change into indifference or even into hatred and hostility: it is the "Father of lights with whom is no variableness," it is "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever," who says to us, "Come unto me," "Trust in me," "Abide in me," "Cast all your care on me." Surely it should be the simplest, the most natural, thing to yield instant and eager response to the Divine invitation, and to put our heart's whole trust in "the Lord our God." Yet to trust in him—
II. IS MUCH MORE RARE THAT IT SHOULD BE. Do we find men leaning on God, and so leaning on him that their hearts are full of peace, of spiritual rest, of hope, of heavenly joy? Is "the God in whom we trust" a phrase that has as large and lull a meaning to our minds as it should have? Is not a living, sustaining, rejoicing trust in God a comparatively rare, rather than a constant and universal thing, even in Christian hearts? And why is it so, if so it be? Is it not because we allow ourselves to be so sadly imposed upon by the temporal and the superficial? We persist in representing to ourselves that the visible, the audible, the tangible, the material, is the real, the, true, and the substantial. We, who walk by faith and not by sight, whose life is spiritual, who are citizens of heaven, ought to understand that it is this which is illusive, evanescent, unreal, and that the invisible, the intangible, the eternal, is the real and the reliable; we ought to know and to realize that he, whom not having seen we love, the invisible but ever-present, the almighty and never-failing, Saviour, is the One who is worthy of our confidence, and in the deepest and fullest sense it should be true that it is the Lord in whom we trust.
III. IS A PRIVILEGE OF WHICH WE NEED TO AVAIL OURSELVES CONTINUALLY.
1. In prosperity, for God's sake. For God wills that we should be ever trusting in him, "in whom are all our springs," and from whom we derive everything we enjoy. To trace our well-being to ourselves, and to trust in the arm of flesh instead of referring all to the living God, brings down his deep displeasure (see Deuteronomy 10:8-5.10.18).
2. In adversity, for our own sake. For then God alone can help and save us. We ourselves shall have failed; misfortune, disaster, will have baffled and beaten us; our friends will fail us; human sympathy and succour will avail somewhat, but it will leave much more undone than it will do. Divine interposition alone will supply our need—the pity of the Divine Friend; the help of the heavenly Father; the ministry of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter and the Sanctifier of the hearts of men.—C.
Righteousness in prayer.
Hezekiah's was the effectual prayer of a righteous man. It was effectual because it was right-minded. Had he gone to the Lord in an unacceptable spirit, he would have met with a very different response. Our prayers may be unexceptionable, so far as time, place, demeanour, and even language are concerned, and yet they may be fruitless, because our mind is not attuned to the true spirit of devotion. We have here five features which should always characterize our approach to God.
I. A DEEP SENSE OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE. "That dwellest between the cherubim;" i.e. the God that has come down and has taken up his abode in the midst of us—a God at hand and not afar off. Hezekiah spread the letter before the Lord (Isaiah 37:14), before the Present One. It is a point of the first importance that we should feel, in prayer, that God is with us in very deed and truth; that we stand in his near presence; that the angels who inhabit the heavenly kingdom are not more truly, though they may be more consciously, before him than are we as we take his Name on our lips and breathe our petitions into his ear.
II. A REVERENTIAL REMEMBRANCE OF HIS MAJESTY. "Thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth." Our boldness in prayer (Hebrews 4:16) must stop short of anything like irreverence. Our Lord himself was "heard in that he feared" (Hebrews 5:7); much more does it become us to think and to speak with holy awe when we address the Majesty of heaven; we must ever have in mind that it is the one only God, the Lord of hosts, the Infinite and Eternal One, to whom we are addressing ourselves (see Genesis 18:23-1.18.32).
III. FULL CONFIDENCE IN HIS DIVINE POWER. "Thou hast made heaven and earth." To doubt God's power to interpose on our behalf, by whatever restraints we imagine that power to be limited, must be painful to him, and must invalidate our prayer. To have a firm assurance that God is able to sustain, to supply, to deliver us; to feel that no obstacles of any kind can prevent his interposition on our behalf, if he only sees it to be wise and right to intervene, is to be right-minded in devotion.
IV. A HOLY CONFIDENCE IN HIS DIVINE INTEREST IN US. Hezekiah addressed Jehovah as the "God of Israel" (Isaiah 37:16); i.e. the God who had a peculiar interest in Israel, "the chosen people," his own "inheritance," "a people near unto him" (Psalms 148:14). We place ourselves in accord with God's will concerning us, not when we presuppose that the most urgent entreaties have to be made to secure his interest in us and in our affairs, but rather when we assume the fact that we are the objects of his deep solicitude, that we are near to his heart, and that he is disposed to do all that is needful for our present well-being and future blessedness.
V. UNSELFISHNESS OF SPIRIT. Hezekiah pleaded with the Lord, not his own and his people's extremities, but the dishonour which had been cast o,, the Name of Jehovah, and the need there was for that Name to be glorified before the nations (Isaiah 37:17-23.37.20). We may plead with God our own necessities, both temporal and spiritual; but we are in the tree mood, in the right spirit, when we rise above all selfish considerations.
1. We do well to pray for our suffering and necessitous friends.
2. We do better to pray for our lost and perishing race.
3. We do best to pray for the extension of our Saviour's kingdom and the exaltation of his holy Name. The prayer which the Lord taught his disciples may teach us the "order of merit" in regard to our desires when we bow down at the throne of grace.—C.
The intoxication of success, etc.
The first thing of which this passage speaks, and of that it speaks very forcibly, is—
I. THE INTOXICATION OF UNHOLY SUCCESS. The tone of this Assyrian monarch was one of insolent arrogance. His military achievements had implanted in his mind the notion that he had done much greater things than he had actually accomplished, and had exerted the idea that he could achieve other things which were wholly out of his power. He magnifies his victories and over-estimates his capacity (Isaiah 37:23-23.37.25). This is the common consequence of success—even of success which is not unholy, which is not obtained regardless of the power and will of God; it is sometimes the unhappy result of success in sacred ministries; how much more so must it be, and is it found to be, the result in the case of those who "fear not God, nor regard man"! Unholy success intoxicates. It makes men imagine that they have done far greater things than they have achieved, and that they have become far greater people than they are. It often rears its head so high that, as with Sennacherib, arrogance passes into blasphemy (Isaiah 37:23) or into presumptuous impiety.
1. Shrink from all success that is not gained by righteous means and in the fear of the Lord.
2. Take earnest heed that honourable and even sacred success does not delude and corrupt the soul.
II. THE ATTITUDE OF GOD TOWARDS ARROGANT MEN.
1. Continual regard. (Isaiah 37:28.) "I know thy abode," etc. God's presence, his observant eye, is in the dwelling, is in the chamber of the guilty; it follows their steps whithersoever they go; it witnesses their actions with whatsoever cunning they may be hidden from human eyes.
2. Keen displeasure. The entire passage, particularly Isaiah 37:23, is indicative of stern disapproval. Undevout and godless men, still more impious and flagrantly wicked men, should be made to understand that, though they may be congratulating themselves, and though like-minded neighbours may be approving and even applauding them, the God in whose hand their breath is, and to whom they are accountable for everything they do, regards them with deep, Divine displeasure. His awful anger rests upon them—that righteous resentment which the Divine Ruler must feel towards those who are spoiling and. degrading the subjects of his rule.
3. The infliction of appropriate penalty. (Isaiah 37:29.) Jehovah would make the arrogant conqueror "go back by the way by which he came." God always visits those whom he has to punish with penalties suited to their sins. The haughty are humbled to the dust; those who partake of unlawful pleasure will suffer corresponding pain; they who rob others of their reputation will fall into utter disrepute; the rogue that preys on society will be impoverished, etc.
4. A Divine use of their lives and actions. (Isaiah 37:26, Isaiah 37:27.) Little as it imagined it, the Assyrian power was an instrument in Jehovah's hand. God will make sinful men's lives serve as beacons to warn others if they cannot be used in a worthier and more acceptable way.
III. THE TRIUMPH OF HOLY TRUSTFULNESS. The virgin daughter of Jerusalem had been greatly despised, but she trusted in the Divine Deliverer, and her hour of rescue and of triumph was at hand (Isaiah 37:22). The children of God may have to pass through a period of sore trial, of bitter anguish; their redemption may be long delayed; it may seem as if God's hand were shortened (Isaiah 50:2; Revelation 6:10); but the time of deliverance will certainly arrive: whether it be from distracting anxieties, or consuming doubt, or protracted pain, or weary loneliness, or cruel oppression, or the shadow of death, the days of darkness are numbered, ,and the hour of triumph is drawing near.—C.
Root and fruit, or character in its completeness.
The text speaks of two necessities for the plant in its perfection—root and fruit; it may speak to us of the complete human character.
I. CHARACTER IS OFTEN FOUND IN MANIFEST INCOMPLETENESS.
1. We have character deficient in fruitfulness. Some men are intelligent, acquisitive, contemplative; they have solid knowledge; they have reached clear and strong convictions; they have formed admirable private and domestic habits. But they bring forth very little fruit; they exert very little influence; they are incommunicative; they have nothing to say when something needs to be said; they have no tact or courage for action when something demands to be done. These men contribute little, or nothing appreciable, to the advancement of truth and righteousness; they are not the forcible factors they have had the means of becoming in the society in which they move.
2. We have, also, character deficient in root. Some men are exuberant in expression; they communicate. freely; they are forward to speak and to act on every possible occasion; they are constantly efflorescent. But they lack knowledge, judgment, wisdom; they have not trained their minds; they have not compared their thoughts with those of others, and come to sound and settled conclusions; they have not acquired fixed habits of mind and of life; they are uncertain and unreliable quantities, on whom you cannot safely reckon in the day of trial. Of these two orders of human character neither is without excellency, but both are manifestly incomplete.
II. INCOMPLETENESS OF CHARACTER IS REGRETTABLE IN GOD'S SIGHT AND IN OURS.
1. It is unbeautiful. For it lacks symmetry; it is one-sided, and therefore offensive to the spiritual eye.
2. It is a state of insecurity. The man that has root without fruit, knowledge and experience without action and influence, is a man who "has not" his own possessions (see Matthew 25:29), for he is making no serious practical use of them, and from him who "hath not" will be taken away, by the constant penalty which attends neglect, "even that which he hath"—viz, his unused capacity. And the mart who has fruit without corresponding root wilt find that his influence will soon wane, his power soon wither away. Speech without knowledge, action without thought, outward activity without inward growth, will soon reach its limit and disappear.
3. It leaves a large part of sacred duty undone.
(1) To the meditative man who has exhausted his time and strength in self-culture, and left his brethren's state uncared for, will be presented the solemn and startling question—What have you done? And he will have to confess that he has hidden his talent in the earth.
(2) Of the man who allowed his powers of usefulness to run out and be lost in precocious activities, or exhausting excitements, it will be required—Why did you neglect yourself? And he will have to lament that he was content with being a short-lived gourd instead of a long-lived tree in the garden of the Lord.
III. COMPLETENESS OF CHARACTER MAY BE AND SHOULD BE ATTAINED. Assuming that we are bound to employ our powers in the direction in which our own preferences lead us, and granting that it is well for human character to partake of much variety, it remains true that we should make an earnest effort to attain to some completeness of character by attention to those elements which we are tempted to neglect. In every department of human action we recognize the duty of bestowing special care on the weakest point—the candidate for literary honours on the subject with which he is least familiar; the builder on that part of the ground where the foundation is least substantial; the general on that outpost which is least defensible, etc. The defects of character are subject to repair; earnest effort is sure to be rewarded. They who have "the root of the matter in them" can bring forth fruits of usefulness by patient, prayerful endeavour. They who are quick to bear fruit upward can strike their root downward and enrich their spiritual resources by study, by thought, by painstaking acquisition, by prayer.—C.
Returning on our way.
"By the way that he came, by the same shall he return."
I. THE RETURN WHICH IS IMPOSSIBLE. Our departure from this world is often spoken of as a return. We "return to the grave." We ascend and descend the hill of life; but we go down that hill on the other side. Old age is indeed "a second childhood;" but how different a childhood it is!—with the experience, and the carefulness, and the sad consciousness of failure which childhood has not, but without the eager-heartedness, buoyancy, simplicity, trustfulness, which childhood has. It may be said of every part and passage of our human experience, "Thou hast not gone this way heretofore." We never live over again even a single day of our life.
II. THE RETURN WITH WHICH WE ARE THREATENED. God, in his holy and wise providence, may defeat our purpose, as he did that of Sennacherib, and in this sense may cause us to return on our way. Again and again is this the case with:
1. Unrighteous aggression, or some other design which is positively sinful.
2. Unhallowed ambition; when men set themselves to achieve some great thing for their own enrichment or aggrandizement, and God breaks their schemes. He sends them back to the starting-point of emptiness or poverty from which they set out. When God thus interposes, men may well ask what it is that he me, his them to learn.
3. Unwise endeavour; as when men offer themselves for the work of teaching, or preaching, or labouring in the field of foreign missions, when they are unfitted lop the post.
III. THE RETURN WHICH IS OUR DUTY.
1. That which awaits the Christian man,
(1) when he has entered on a business which he finds he cannot conduct with a clear conscience;
(2) when he has adopted a course of training his family or directing his establishment which he finds inefficient and disappointing;
(3) when he has associated himself with a company of men, or with a Church of Christ, which he finds ungenial and unsatisfactory.
2. That which belongs to the unchristian man. To him, in the "far country" of estrangement, comes ever the commanding, but yet. the entreating voice of the heavenly Father, saying, "Return unto me, and I will return unto you." Well is it, indeed, when the heart's response is found in the heaven-gladdening words, "I will arise, and go to my Father."—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Carrying troubles to God.
The silence which Hezekiah kept, and commanded, represents only the negative side of his dealing with the Assyrian insults and threatenings. The earnest man can seldom be satisfied with the weak policy of "doing nothing." It may be one side of meeting difficulty, but it needs to be matched with another and a positive side. The earnest man wants to do something. Yet his circumstances may make personal action questionable and almost impossible; but this, at least, he can always do, and this he would be wise always to do first—he can carry his trouble to God; he can "cast his care on God." There is a positiveness and a definiteness of action about so doing, which meets the anxiety of the earnest man; there is a sense of propriety in so doing which satisfies the higher feeling of the pious man. From the conduct of Hezekiah on this occasion we learn four ways in which our troubles may be carried to God.
I. BY CHERISHED MOODS OF MIND. There is a thought of God; a dependence on God; a heart-appeal to God; a purposed meditating on the Divine relations with the troubled; a recalling of God's ways in past experience; and an assuring of the heart,—which are all voiceless cryings after God, which he knows and heeds. Tennyson gives this view exquisite expression when, describing Mary of Bethany, he says—
"Her eyes were homes of silent prayer."
There are times when we are "so troubled that we cannot speak," but at such times the trouble speaks, the afflicted soul lies open to God.
II. BY ATTITUDES AND BODILY STATES. The appearance of a man may be a prayer. This is more developed in Eastern than in Western lands. Rent clothes, neglected hair and beard, rough sackcloth, ashes cast on the person,—were signs of distress, and mute appeals for comfort and help. But we often say of persons, "His face was a prayer;" "The miserable neglected state was an appeal." The widow's crape is a casting of trouble on God. Attitudes of body naturally express moods of mind; and dress follows suit. Even thus we can pray.
III. BY SEEKING AUDIENCE OF GOD. Hezekiah made the effort to go to the place where God revealed himself. It is carrying our trouble to God simply to resolve that we will go to God's house. A psalmist, with a burdened heart, says, "I went into the sanctuary of God." The worshippers are really this—companies of men and women who are rolling their burdens off upon God.
IV. BY UNBURDENING THE SOUL. It is often thought strange, and called foolish, for men to tell God in prayer what he well knows. But the free unburdening is the best, and often the only, relief a soul can find. Child to mother, friend to friend, creature to God,—nothing helps us so much as being permitted to tell out all that is in our souls, bad and good, worthy and unworthy.—R.T.
Responsibility of prayer-leaders.
The message sent to Isaiah, the prophet of God, was this: "Pray for us; be our leader, our intercessor." "Wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left." Scripture singles out Samuel and Moses as great prayer-leaders, or intercessors, but we can add Joshua, David, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Apostle Paul, drawing further illustrations from each of these. The Prophet Jeremiah has a very striking sentence, which indicates the power that prayer-leaders have with God: "Then said the Lord unto me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people" (Jeremiah 15:1). Isaiah, in our text, was sought by Hezekiah in his trouble, because he was a prayer-leader, an intercessor. We note that the things about men which are really most important are not the things which most readily attract attention. We need to get the view of men which God takes, if we would get the true view. Some of the best gifts bestowed on the Christian Church are undervalued; the endowments which give men public prominence are thought much more of than those spiritual powers which are men's best possessions. To some men God gives, in unusual measure, the power of prayer. There is a remarkable difference between good men in this gift and power of prayer. We see the difference in our children. Some of them are able to move and persuade us so that we find it most difficult to refuse them anything. And men and women seem to have a like power in their relations with God—a most responsible power. ,Some of us can never rise above the orderly habit of prayer, and treat it as a matter of duty; but others have such praying frames of mind that, at any moment, they seem able to go in to God. There are men among us who are true prayer-leaders—whose utterance is full of petition, who are able to seize the souls of their fellow-worshippers, be their mouthpiece, and carry their desires within the veil; while other good men can only pray before us, and fail to awaken responsive prayer-feelings in our hearts.
I. THE GREATNESS OF PRAYER THAT RISES TO BE INTERCESSION. Man's power of prayer is a faculty full of high possibilities. It may rise even to this—it may go beyond all self-spheres, and become intercessory. While prayer keeps in the self-sphere there is a certain narrowness and even meanness about it. It is all concerned with what we want, and what we feel, and we are greatly comforted if we have any fervour of emotion in such prayer. But we feel that a course of daily prayer from which the interceding element is removed would be most injurious to the spiritual life. It lacks the generous, sympathetic, unselfish element, and it will very soon lack fervour and faith. No one can long keep up a prayerful life, and persist in praying altogether about himself. Power comes, love grows, when prayer includes intercession. Limitations of earnestness and importunity pass away; the soul is free to urge its pleas with persevering instancy; we can ask for another what we dare not fashion into a prayer for ourselves. The prayers of Scripture are, for the most part, intercessory. Illustrate—Abraham's for Sodom; Moses', Joshua's, Samuel's, for the people of Israel in their distresses. Daniel prays with his window open towards desolate Jerusalem, that he may be reminded of the captive people. Our last sight of Job finds him in the attitude of the mediator, praying for God's mercy on his mistaken and cruel friends. And the Apostle Paul writes again and again of the constancy of his intercessions. We may learn the secret of the poverty and formality of much Christian praying. It has so little intercession in it. When some beloved friend is smitten down with imperilling sickness, our prayer suddenly gains strength, and becomes a thing full of fervour and pathos. All our souls then go out in strong crying and tears. But this power might be in our praying always. We might be not only prayerful men, but also prayer-leaders, carrying the burdens of others to the throne of grace, and ourselves sanctified through the carrying.
II. THE POWER OF INTERCESSION THAT MAY BE IN A SINGLE INDIVIDUAL. Any one of us may have the gift of intercession. One man, one woman, even one child, may bring down the Divine benedictions as refreshing rains upon us. We may kneel for others before God. We may win the blessing, prevailing with God, for men. Illustrate from the life of Moses. Note three great interceding-times:
(1) at Rephidim;
(2) matter of golden calf;
(3) return of spies.
Or from the life of Samuel, who may be regarded as the most consistently beautiful character in the Bible. Note two cases:
(1) battle with Philistines;
(2) matter of asking for a king.
But what responsibilities rest on such men! On such men living amongst us now! Who can tell what the Church of God would become, if interceders would but intercede? Plead that, in these times, we need to be often recalled to the power of prayer. "We have not, because we ask not." The Prophet Isaiah has a wonderful conception. He represents God as looking out upon men in their sin and sorrow and shame, and saying, "I saw that there was no man, and I wondered that there was no intercessor." It may be so still God may look into our family lives, and wonder that there is no intercessor. He may look at our Churches, and wonder that there is no intercessor. Oh for a multiplying of men and women who say, "I can pray. I can intercede. I can plead for Jerusalem"!—R.T.
Isaiah 37:6, Isaiah 37:7
God's message to the troubled.
"Thus saith Jehovah, Be not afraid." We have here the Divine response, through Isaiah, as the national intercessor. The circumstances, the boastings, the threatenings, were eminently calculated to produce fear, both in Isaiah and in the people. There was such a show of material strength as Elisha's servant saw at Dothan, which sent him to his master full of fears. The answer is such as Elisha gave when he made the servant see what it was to have God on their side. God in the city was abundant security against Assyria outside the city, and Hezekiah need not be afraid. God's message to those who seek him in their troubles is always this: "Be not afraid;" "I am with you." Our fears only stay with us when our eyes are so dim that we cannot see God. Fear goes when he "lifts the light of his countenance upon us." Matthew Henry says, "Those who have made God their enemy we have no reason to be afraid of, for they are marked for ruin; and though they may hiss, they cannot hurt." Dr. A. Raleigh remarks that every creature is liable to fear; there can only be one Being in the universe absolutely and for ever free from that liability—he who knows everything and controls everything.
1. The great mysteries of existence have a tendency to produce fear. There am few thoughtful persons who do not feel the shadow of them on their path. They are such things as the existence of evil, sin, misery in the universe, under the government of an infinitely powerful and infinitely benevolent Being. There is great mystery about the plan of Divine providence in the world. Job, David, Jeremiah, were all perplexed and appalled by the sight of the afflictions of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked.
2. There are certain possibilities, the thought of which has a tendency to darken the spirit with fear. The most sanguine and cheerful can hardly ever imagine, far less expect, a wholly uncheckered future. The worst of all earthly calamities is the possibility of spiritual failure, ending in a final exclusion from the presence of God and the joys of the blessed. Whatsoever form our fear may take, whatsoever may be the trouble or the alarm out of which it grows, if the fear drives us to God, we shall always be sure of getting this response, "Be not afraid." The one answer to all mysteries is this: "God is, God lives; and I can trust him." The one strength with which to meet all the possibilities, and bear all the calamities, of life is this, "He maketh all things work together for good." Fully unfolded, the response of God is given in Isaiah 41:10. "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God."—R.T.
The God of all kingdoms.
This expression indicates Hezekiah's conviction of the uniqueness of God. He is the one great Over-Lord. He cannot be classed with other gods or other kings. But Hezekiah surely went beyond himself in this hour of pressure and anxiety. The Jewish idea of the supremacy of Jehovah included the speciality of his relation to the Abrahamic race, and the Jew was in danger of making God to be a mere local deity. And we, in these latter days, find it difficult to admit that God's rule over all kingdoms involves the moral training arid even the redemption of all the races. We limit all the best of God to ourselves, in just the spirit of exclusive Jews. Only our great thought-leaders seem able to see what is involved in recognizing God as the God of all the kingdoms of the earth.
I. IF GOD IS GOD OF ALL KINGDOMS, HE HAS SUPREME CLAIMS ON US. Most distressing to men who can create an ideal, and want to put trust in one who is absolutely good, must be the division of their confidences among gods many and lords many. The unrest of pagan intellect and heart was unspeakably painful. With gods in every street, Athenians pined for something more, and more satisfying; so raised an altar to the "Unknown God." Here is rest from all rival claims—we yield to one will; all who would command us must express that will.
II. IF GOD IS GOD OF ALL KINGDOMS, HE MUST REVEAL HIMSELF TO ALL. To be unrevealed, in adapted relations to each kingdom, is not to be so far as each kingdom is concerned. St. Paul is firm in declaring God has revealed himself to all, at least in "rain from heaven and fruitful seasons." And we have yet to recognize that he has spoken in gracious adaptations, differing, it may be, from the voices that we have heard, in every age and every clime. Very probably on this point there is "yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word."
III. IF GOD IS GOD OF ALL KINGDOMS, HE OVERRULES THEM. Their magistracies, and their so-called divinities, when they do not rival him, are his agencies, everywhere they are the "powers that be ordained of God"—under-rulers practically carrying out the will of the great Over-Ruler, who fits in together man's obediences and wilfulnesses, guiding all towards the fulfilment of his gracious ends for the whole race.
IV. IF GOD IS GOD OF ALL KINGDOMS, HE ]PRESIDES OVER THE RELATIONS OF THE NATIONS TO EACH OTHER. This brings us to the case of Hezekiah. If God is the God of Assyria, he knows all the schemings and the ambitions of that nation. Assyria is not acting in any self-strength, or in the inspirations of any rival god. Jehovah presides over the relations between Israel and Assyria. For nations, as for individuals, it is true, but it is most perplexing truth, difficult to grasp; our God is working alike in what we call evil and what we call good.—R.T.
Holy One of Israel.
It is singular to find the holiness of God introduced here rather than his majesty or his power. Yet it is significant. The sublime greatness of God is his character, and this is expressed in the word "Holy One." The insults of Assyria are not levelled so much against God's throne, or God's rule, as against God himself. It is the insult offered to the Divine Name. The contrast between Jehovah and the gods created by heathen imaginations is very striking in this particular—they are embodiments of powers; he is a moral Being. They imply force; his Name involves character. Our security lies in this. The possibility of a reasonable trust lies in this. Our conviction of Jehovah's sensitiveness to what troubles us lies in this. The full suggestions of this most suggestive name for God may be drawn out under these divisions.
I. THE GOD WHO ALWAYS DOES THE MORALLY RIGHT.
II. THE GOD WHO ALWAYS RESPONDS TO TRUST.
III. THE GOD WHO IS EVER FAITHFUL TO HIS PROMISE.
IV. THE GOD WHO IS JEALOUS OF HIS PERSONAL HONOUR.
V. THE GOD WHO REQUIRES TO BE SERVED WITH OUR GOODNESS.
On the jealousy of the Divine Name, see Ezekiel 36:22, Ezekiel 36:23; and show how the views of God, thus unfolded, become the basis for the great atonement, whereby the world is redeemed. The "just God" is also the "Saviour."—R.T.
Isaiah 37:28, Isaiah 37:29
God s agents are never beyond his restrainings.
He used Assyria, but he holds Assyria in with bit and bridle. The horse may plunge, and rear, and trample, and seem to be beyond all restraint; but God never looses the rein, and draws it in when he pleases. The figures used are even more striking. He puts "a hook in the nose," which Michaelis explains in this way: "The Orientals make use of a contrivance for curbing their work-beasts, which is not adopted among us. They bore the nose through both sides, and put a ring through it, to which they fasten two cords. When a beast becomes unruly, they have only to draw the cord on one side, which, by stopping his breath, punishes him so effectually that, after a few repetitions, he fails not to become quite tractable, whenever he begins to feel it. To this contrivance the Arabian poets often allude." It illustrates two points.
I. THE ANXIETIES WE SUFFER WHEN WE FIX OUR GAZE ON SECOND CAUSES.
II. THE RESTFULNESS WE GAIN WHEN WE LOOK, BEHIND AND WITHIN, TO THE GREAT, OVERRULING FIRST CAUSE.—R.T.
The zeal of the Lord.
Cheyne renders, "The jealousy of Jehovah-Sabaoth shall perform this;" and he suggestively says, "'Jealousy,' being the affectional manifestation of the Divine holiness, is a 'two-edged word,' implying the destruction of all that opposes the Divine covenant, and the furtherance of all that promotes it." Zeal also expresses "earnest desire," and that vigorous and persistent activity in which such desire finds expression. In this sense we may treat Jehu's boast of his "zeal for the Lord." This word seems a favorite one with Isaiah, as applied to Jehovah. He employs it in Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 59:17; Isaiah 63:15 (see also Ezekiel 5:13). The two sides of it may be illustrated from the narrative of the chapter.
I. THE ZEAL OF THE LORD REGARDED AS A SACRED JEALOUSY OF THE DIVINE NAME. AND HONOUR.
II. THE ZEAL OF THE LORD REGARDED AS AN EARNESTNESS OF PURPOSE AND ENDEAVOUR, WHICH ASSURES THE DISCOMFITURE OF THE ENEMIES OF HIS PEOPLE.
It is an incentive to trust that we are thus assured that our God wants no rousing to action on our behalf, as does the heathen Baal on Mount Carmel This is our confidence—he is jealous for himself and his Word, and therefore is ever working for us.—R.T.
After such boastings and threatenings as the Rabshakeh had uttered, it was utterly humiliating to lose his army without fighting a battle, to be compelled to take a miserable remnant home, as a circumvented, disgraced general. It was all the more humiliating if Sennacherib himself headed the army at the later stage. "The greatest men cannot stand before God. The great King of Assyria looks very little when he is forced to return, not only with shame, because he cannot accomplish what he had projected with so much assurance, but with terror and fear, lest the angel that had destroyed his army should destroy him; yet he is made to look still less when his own sons, who should have guarded him, killed him."
I. GOD'S JUDGMENTS OFTEN TAKE SURPRISING FORMS. Anything so overwhelming as this even his people, with all their experience, could not have imagined. God's ways of judgment are never exhausted.
II. GOD'S JUDGMENTS ALWAYS HAVE A PRECISE FITNESS. This humiliation was exactly the thing for a people so proud, boastful, and over-confident as the Assyrians. The high looks of the proud God will abase.
III. GOD'S JUDGMENTS CARRY SOLEMN WARNINGS TO THOSE WHO HEAR OF THEM. They say, "Who art thou that repliest against God?" "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 37". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent