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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 38". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ isaiah-38.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 38". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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SECTION II.—HEZEKIAH'S ILLNESS, AND THE EMBASSY OF MERODACH-BALADAN (Isaiah 38:1-22; Isaiah 39:1-8.).
The present chapter is parallel with 2 Kings 20:1-11, but contains some marked differences from that passage, both in what it omits and in what it inserts. The general narrative (2 Kings 20:1-8, and 2 Kings 20:21, 22) is greatly condensed, and in part disarranged, 2 Kings 20:21, 22 being added, as it would seem, by an after-thought. On the other hand, the psalm of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:9-20) is additional, having nothing corresponding to it in the Book of Kings. There is every appearance of 2 Kings 20:1-11 having been composed previously to the present chapter, and of the present chapter having been, in its narrative portion, abridged from 2 Kings.
In those days. The illness of Hezekiah is fixed by Isaiah 38:5 (and 2 Kings 20:6) to the fourteenth year of his reign, or b.c. 714. The entire narrative of this chapter and the next is therefore thirteen or fourteen years earlier than that of Isaiah 36:1-22; Isaiah 37:1-38; which belongs to Hezekiah's closing years, b.c. 701-698 (see the comment on Isaiah 26:1, Isaiah 26:2). Sick unto death; i.e. attacked by a malady which, if it had run its natural course, would have been fatal. Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. This double designation of Isaiah, by his office and by his descent, marks the original independence of this narrative, which was not intended for a continuation of Isaiah 37:1-38. Thou shalt die, and not live. Prophecies were often threats, and, when such, were conditional, announcing results which would follow unless averted by prayer or repentance (compare Jonah's prophecy, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown," Jonah 3:4).
Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall. The action resembles that of Ahab (1 Kings 21:4); but the spirit is wholly different. Ahab turned away in sullenness, Hezekiah that he might pray undisturbed. Beds seem to have been placed in the corners of rooms, with the head against one wall of the room, and one side against another.
Remember now, O Lord. Hezekiah was in the full vigour of life—thirty-nine years old only. He had probably as yet no son, since Manasseh, who succeeded him, was but twelve (2 Kings 21:1, 2 Chronicles 33:1) when Hezekiah died at the age of fifty-four. It was a grievous thing to a Jew to leave no male offspring: it was viewed as a mark of the Divine displeasure to be cut off in the midst of one's days (Job 15:32; Job 22:15, Job 22:16 : Psalms 55:23; Proverbs 10:27; Ecclesiastes 7:17). Hezekiah asked himself—Had he deserved such a sentence? He thought that he had not. He knew that, with whatever shortcomings, he had endeavoured to serve God, had trusted in him (2 Kings 18:5), cleaved to him (2 Kings 18:6), "departed not from following him, but kept his commandments" (2 Kings 18:6) He therefore ventured upon an expostulation and an earnest prayer; and God was pleased to hear the prayer and to grant it. I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart. Compare the unbiased testimony of the authors of Kings and Chronicles (2 Kings 18:3-6; 2 Chronicles 29:2; 2 Chronicles 31:20, 2 Chronicles 31:21). Under the old dispensation, there was nothing to prevent men from pleading their righteousness before God (comp. Job 31:4-40; Psalms 7:3; Psalms 18:20-24; Psalms 26:1-8, etc.). Hezekiah, however, does not really regard himself as sinless (comp. verse 17). And Hezekiah wept sore. In the East feelings are but little restrained. Joy shows itself in laughter and shouting, grief in tears and shrill cries. Xerxes wept when he thought of the shortness of human life (Herod; 7.46); the Persians rent the air with load cries at the funeral of Masistius (ibid; 9.24); on the news of the defeat at Salamis all Susa "cried aloud, and wept and wailed without stint" (ibid; 8.99). So David wept for Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:12) and again for Absalom (2 Samuel 19:1); Joash wept when he heard the words of the Law (2 Kings 22:19); Nehemiah wept at the desolation of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:4); the ambassadors of Hezekiah, when disappointed of the object of their embassy, "wept bitterly" (Isaiah 33:7). No king in the East puts himself under any restraint, if he has an inclination for either tears or laughter.
Then came the word of the Lord to Isaiah, saying. The author of Kings describes graphically how Isaiah, after delivering his message, had gone out, but had not reached the middle court of the palace, when his footsteps were arrested, and the Divine voice bade him "turn again and relieve Hezekiah's fears by a fresh announcement" (2 Kings 20:4). So swiftly does God answer "the prayer of faith."
Thus saith the Lord,… I have heard thy prayer. According to the author of Kings, the full message sent to Hezekiah was, "I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the Lord. And I will add unto thy clays fifteen years; and I will deliver time and this city out of the hand of the King of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake" (2 Kings 20:5, 2 Kings 20:6). The words in italics are additional to those here reported by Isaiah. Fifteen years. This was doubling, or rather more than doubling, the length of Hezekiah's reign, and allowing him a length of life exceeding that of the great majority of the kings of Judah, who seldom attained the age of fifty. Hezekiah lived to be fifty-four.
And this shall be a sign unto thee from the Lord. It was the day of the free offering of "signs" by God to those whom his providence had placed at the head of his people. Ahaz had been offered a sign (Isaiah 7:11), but had refused the offer made him (Isaiah 7:12); the Lord had then "himself" given him a sign." Hezekiah received a sign to assure him of the complete discomfiture of Sennacherib (Isaiah 37:30); an offer was here made him of a sign of a peculiar kind, and it was offered under peculiar conditions. We learn from 2 Kings that a choice was submitted to him—he was to determine whether time, as measured by a certain timepiece or clock, which was known as "the dial of Ahaz," should make a sudden leap forward—the shadow advancing ten degrees upon the dial (2 Kings 20:9), or whether it should retire backwards, the shadow upon the same dial receding ten degrees. Hezekiah determined in favour of the latter sign, from its appearing to him the more difficult of accomplishment; and on his declaring his decision, the shadow receded to the prescribed distance. Time was rolled backward, or at any rate appeared to be rolled backward; and the king, seeing so great a miracle, accepted without hesitation the further predictions that had been made to him. The Lord will do this thing that he hath spoken. By the nexus of this verse with the preceding, it would naturally be concluded that "the thing" to be done was the defence of Jerusalem; but verse 22, which belongs properly to this part of the narrative, shows the contrary. Hezekiah had asked for a sign" that he should go up to the house of the Lord."
The sun-dial of Ahaz. We are informed by Herodotus that the sun-dial was an invention of the Babylonians (Herod; 2.109), from whom it would readily pass to the Assyrians. Ahaz may have obtained a knowledge of it, or an actual specimen, when he visited Tiglath-Pileser at Damascus (2 Kings 16:10), and, on his return to his capital, have caused one to be erected there. Sun-dials are of several kinds. The one here spoken of seems to have consisted of a set of steps, with a perpendicular gnomon or pole at the top, the shadow of which receded up the steps as the sun rose in the heavens, and descended down them as the sun declined. We must suppose that the sign was given in the forenoon, when the shadow was gradually creeping up the steps. Hezekiah thought that a sudden jump in the same direction would be as nothing compared with a reversal of the motion, and therefore required that the shadow should go back, which it did. How the effect was produced, whether by an eclipse as argued by Mr. Bosanquet, or by refraction, or by an actual alteration of the earth's motion, we are not told; but there is reason to believe that the cause, whatever it was, was local, not general, since the King of Babylon subsequently sent ambassadors, to inquire concerning "the wonder that was done in the land" (2 Chronicles 32:31). The sun returned ten degrees. We must not press this expression as indicating a real alteration of the sun's place in the heavens. The meaning is that the shadow cast by the sun returned.
The writing of Hezekiah; rather, a writing. After he had recovered from his illness, Hezekiah, it would seem, retraced his feelings as he lay upon his sick-bed, and embodied them in this monody. It has been well termed, "a peculiarly sweet and plaintive specimen of Hebrew psalmody" (Cheyne). Four stanzas or strophes of unequal length are thought to be discernible:
(1) from the beginning of Isaiah 38:10 to the end of Isaiah 38:12;
(2) from the beginning of Isaiah 38:13 to the end of Isaiah 38:14;
(3) from the beginning of Isaiah 38:15 to the end of Isaiah 38:17;
(4) from the beginning of Isaiah 38:18 to the end of Isaiah 38:20.
In the first two the monarch is looking forward to death, and his strain is mournful; in the last two he has received the promise of recovery, and pours out his thankfulness.
In the cutting off of my days; literally, in the pausing of my days—which is taken by some to mean "the noon-tide of my life"—when my sun had reached its zenith, and might have been expected to begin to decline; by others to signify "the still tranquillity of my life," when it was gliding quietly and peacefully along without anything to disturb it. Isaiah 38:6 is against this latter view. I shall go to the gates of the grave; rather, I shall enter in at the gates of hell (or, Çáäåò)—the place of departed spirits (see the comment on Isaiah 14:9). Hezekiah bewails his fate somewhat as Antigone: ̓Αλλ ἔμ ὁ παγκοίτας Αἴδης ζῶσαν ἄγει τὰν ̓Αχέροντος ἀκτάν.
I shall not see the Lord (comp. Psalms 6:5, "In death there is no remembrance of thee; in the grave (Sheol) who shall give thee thanks?" and see also Psalms 30:9; Psalms 88:10-12; Psalms 115:17). The Jews had not yet attained the conception of a blissful region in Hades, where God manifested himself, and the saints, who were awaiting the resurrection, saw him and praised him. Even the Lord. (For examples of repetition for the sake of emphasis, see Isaiah 29:1; Isaiah 33:22; Isaiah 38:19; Isaiah 40:1; Isaiah 51:17, etc.) In the land of the living; i.e. "as I do now in the land of the living" (comp. Psalms 27:13; Psalms 116:9).
Mine age is departed; rather, my dwelling is plucked up. The body seems to be viewed as the dwelling-place of the soul. Hezekiah's is to be taken from him, and carried far away, like a shepherd's tent, while he, his true self, i.e. his soul, is left bare and naked. I have cut off like a weaver my life; rather, I have rolled up, like a weaver, my life. The careful weaver rolls up the web, as it advances, to keep it clean and free from dust. Hezekiah had been equally careful of his life; he had about half finished it, when lo! "Jehovah takes up the fatal scissors" (Cheyne), and severs the unfinished cloth from the loom (compare the Greek myth of Clotho, Laehesis, and Atropos). With pining sickness; rather, as in the margin, from the thrum. The "thrum" is the portion of the warp which adjoins the upper bar of the loom.
I reckoned till morning, etc.; i.e. "I lay thinking till the morning, that God would crush me as a lion crushes his prey—I expected him all day long to make an end of me."
Like a crane or a swallow. The sus, here translated "crane," is probably "the swift," which has a loud, shrill note. The, agur is, perhaps, "the crane;" but this is very uncertain. The two words occur as the names of birds only here and in Jeremiah 8:7. So did I chatter; rather, so did I scream (Cheyne). I did mourn; rather, I did moan. Mine eyes fail with looking upward; rather, mine eyes are weak to look upward; i.e. I have scarcely the courage or the strength to look to Jehovah; yet still I do look to him falteringly, and make my appeal: O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me (comp. Job 17:3); literally, be Surety for me. "The image," as Mr. Cheyne says, "is that of a debtor, who is being dragged to prison" at the suit of an exacting creditor, and for whom there is but one hope of relief; viz. if he can obtain a sufficient surety. Hezekiah calls on God to be the Surety; but God is the Creditor! Still, there is an appeal from God's justice to God's mercy—from Jehovah who punishes to Jehovah who forgives sin; and this appeal Hezekiah seems to intend to make when he beseeches God to "undertake for him."
What shall I say? The strain is suddenly changed. Hezekiah's prayer has been answered, and he has received the answer (Isaiah 38:5-8). He is "at a loss to express his wonder and his gratitude" (Cheyne); comp. 2 Samuel 7:20. God has both spoken unto him—i.e; given him a promise of recovery—and also himself hath done it; i.e. has performed his promise. Already he feels in himself the beginnings of amendment—he is conscious that the worst is past, and that the malady has taken a turn for the better. I shall go softly all my years. Delitzsch renders, "I shall walk quietly;" Mr. Cheyne, "I shall walk at ease;" both apparently understanding the expression of a quiet, easy life, made the more pleasant by contrast with past pain. But it seems better to understand the "soft going," with Dr. Kay, of a hushed and subdued spirit, consequent upon the crisis past, and thenceforth continuing—the king walking, as it were, perpetually in God's presence. In the bitterness; rather, after the bitterness (Delitzsch), when it has departed; and "because of it" (Nagelsbach), through its remembrance.
By these things; i.e. "the things which thou speakest and doest" (Isaiah 38:15). Man does not "live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 8:3). And in all these things. This rendering is against the laws of grammar. Translate, and wholly in them.
Behold, for peace I had great bitterness; rather, behold, it was for my peace that I had such bitterness, such bitterness. The pain that I underwent was for the true peace and comfort of my soul (comp. Psalms 94:12; Psalms 119:75; Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:5-11). Thou hast in love, etc.; literally, thou hast loved my soul back from the pit of destruction—as if God's love, beaming on the monarch's soul, had drawn it back from the edge of the pit (comp. Hosea 11:4, "I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love"). For thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back. Where they could be no more seen, and therefore would be no more remembered (comp. Micah 7:19; Psalms 25:7; Psalms 79:8; Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 64:9, etc.). Hezekiah, though lately he protested his integrity (Isaiah 38:3). did not mean to say that he was sinless, lie knew that he had sinned; he regarded his sins as having brought down upon him the sentence of death; as God has revoked the sentence, he knows that he has pardoned his sins and put them away from his remembrance.
The grave cannot praise thee (cormpare the comment on Isaiah 38:11). It is avoiding the plain force of these passages to say that Hezekiah only means that those who go to Hades in a state of condemnation cannot be expected there to praise God (Kay). He speaks broadly and generally of all: "The living, the living, shall praise thee; Sheol cannot praise thee; Death cannot celebrate thee." Manifestly, though he believes in a future state, it is one in which there is either no energy at all, or at any rate no devotional energy. He may think, with Isaiah. that "the righteous man," when he is "taken away," will "enter into peace" (Isaiah 57:1, Isaiah 57:2); but absolute "peace" precludes energy (see Arist; 'Eth. Nit.,' 1. 10. § 2). Hezekiah shrinks from losing all his activities, including his sense of personal communion with God. He does not, perhaps, "look on the condition of the faithful departed as one of comfortless gloom;" but he views it as one of deprivation, and is unwilling to enter into it. It was by the coming of Christ and the preaching of his gospel that "life and immortality" were first truly "brought to light" (2 Timothy 1:10).
The living. Those who still enjoy the light of day. The repetition is emphatic, and has the force of "the living, and the living only." The father to the children. Hezekiah may, or may not, have had children himself at the time. Manasseh was not born; but he may have had daughters, or even other sons, who did not survive him. He is not, however, perhaps, thinking of his own ease.
The Lord was ready to save me; rather, came to my rescue; came and saved me. Therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments; rather, therefore will we play my stringed instruments. Hezekiah calls the stringed instruments his, because he had recalled their use, and re-established them as a part of the temple service after the suspension of that service by Ahaz (2 Chronicles 29:30). His intention now is to take continual part with the Levites in
. Upon the boil. The term hero translated "boil" is used in Exodus (Exodus 9:9-11) for the affliction which constituted the sixth plague, in Leviticus (Le Leviticus 13:18-23) for an ulcer accompanying one of the worst forms of leprosy, in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 28:27, Deuteronomy 28:35) for "the botch of Egypt," and in Job (Job 2:7) for the last of the visitations from which he suffered. It is not unlikely that it was of a leprous character.
Hezekiah also had said; literally, and Hezekiah said. Our translators, both in this verse and at the commencement of Isaiah 38:21, have endeavoured to conceal the awkwardness of the nexus, or rather want of nexus, with what precedes, by a modification of the rendering. The true sense is brought out by the proceeding, which is, however, a little arbitrary.
The duty of men, in view of death, to set their house in order.
Nothing is more manifest than the duty of all men, in view of that departure which they know to impend over them as an absolute certainty, only doubtful in respect of its date, to arrange their worldly affairs as prudence requires, and not leave them in confusion. In complicated societies, and in states where civilization is advanced, the duty presses more especially, since the greatest care constantly requires to be taken lest, if affairs are not arranged, the most undesirable results should arise.
I. IT IS MOST CONVENIENT THAT THE HOUSE SHOULD RE SET IN ORDER BEFORE ANY IMMEDIATE PROSPECT OF DEATH APPEARS. The circumstances of a dangerous illness are generally such as to render it extremely inexpedient that the arrangement of a man's worldly affairs should be put off to such a time. The time is, for the most part, all too short for the consideration of a man's spiritual affairs—for repentance, confession, restitution, exchange of forgiveness, and the like, which often occupy a considerable space, and need much thought and attention. Worldly affairs distract the mind from the things which most vitally concern it, and, if they are not arranged until the last illness sets in, the result too commonly is that "to the mercy of a moment" are left "the vast concerns of an eternal scene." Further, in sickness the mind is far less fit to make judicious arrangements than in health; it is soon fatigued, often not clear, sometimes altogether confused and incapable of sound judgment—not to mention that it may wholly fail, or be quite unequal to any exertion. Men need to he reminded continually, while they are in health, of the duty of arranging their worldly affairs at once, and not waiting till the fiat has gone forth—till their hours are numbered, and whatever has to be done must be done in haste.
II. STILL, IF THE DUTY HAS BEEN NEGLECTED IN HEALTH, THE IMMEDIATE PROSPECT OF DEATH IS A PEREMPTORY CALL ON US TO DISCHARGE IT. "Set thine house in order," is Isaiah's first, nay, his sole, charge to Hezekiah, when he warns him that he is to die shortly. The interests of others are involved; and our neglect of them hitherto gives them a claim on us which is more binding than any interests of our own. "If a man provide not for … those of his own house,… he is worse than an Infidel" (1 Timothy 5:8). The neglected duty must first be attended to; the rights, interests, fair claims of others must be considered, and, so far as possible, secured; and then our own advantage may occupy us, but not before. No man, we may be sure, will be made to suffer in another world for having postponed his own advantage to that of others in this.
The power of prayer.
The story of these chapters (36-38.) is remarkably illustrative of the power of "effectual fervent prayer." Four points may be noted.
I. PRAYER IS POTENT TO DESTROY THE ADVERSARIES OF GOD AT THE GREATEST HEIGHT OF THEIR GLORY AND BOASTING. Assyria had reached the acme of her might. She had destroyed nation after nation; she had "gone up and overflowed." All Western Asia was hers, and now she threatened to effect a lodgment in Northern Africa, and to add the rich lands of the Nile valley to the productive regions along the Tigris and the Euphrates. She had measured her strength against that of every military power existing at that day, and in all her struggles had come off victorious. What was to stop her, or prevent her colossal form from dominating the whole earth? A short prayer offered by a petty potentate in a distant city. It is the prayer of Hezekiah "against Sennacherib" that overthrows him. "Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib, King of Assyria: this is the word which the Lord hath spoken concerning him: The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn" (Isaiah 37:21, Isaiah 37:22).
II. PRAYER IS POTENT TO SAVE A NATION AT THE LAST EXTREMITY. It may well have seemed to Sennacherib ridiculous that the Jews should think to withstand him. He or his predecessors had conquered every other country of Western Asia—Babylonia and Media, Armenia and Gozan, Syria, Phoenicia, Damascus, Samaria, Philistia, Edom; they had contended with the hosts of Egypt and overcome them; how should a petty nation, forty-six of whose towns they had taken in one campaign, and two hundred thousand of whose inhabitants they had carried into captivity, conceive it possible to resist for long an enemy so vastly superior to them? They were open to invasion on every side. Tiglath-Pileser had subdued the trans-Jordanic region, Sargon had reduced Philistia and Samaria, Sennacherib himself had for tributaries the kings of Zidon, Arvad, Gebal, Ashdod, Ammon, Moab, and Edom. How was Hezekiah, cooped up in Jerusalem "as a bird in a cage"—how were his people, a mere "remnant" (Isaiah 37:4)—to escape the subjection that had come on all their neighbours? The last extremity seemed to be reached. Humanly speaking, there was no prospect of deliverance; the jaws of the monster that had swallowed all the other countries must crush Judaea also. There was, however, still the resort to prayer. Hezekiah, Isaiah, doubtless the faithful Israelites generally, betook themselves to God, besought his aid, besieged him with their supplications, and the nation was saved—saved from extinction—saved, for a long term, even from invasion—allowed a century more of independent life and. a recovery under Josiah of almost pristine glory. Such power has prayer at the extremity of a nation's need—a power the force of which, measured against ordinary mundane forces, is quite incalculable.
III. PRAYER IS POTENT TO OBTAIN FROM GOD LENGTH OF DAYS AND EVERY TEMPORAL BLESSING. Hezekiah's prayer for himself prolonged his life for fifteen years. Christians, under sentence of death, given up by their physicians and their friends, are entitled to pray, if they so choose, for an extension of the term of their probation, a respite from the doom pronounced on them. In God's hands, and in his hands only, are the issues of life and death. He can, if he will, prolong our life, and restore us to health, even when we seem at the last gasp. It may not be often suitable that we should ask this boon for ourselves; we have not the reasons to wish for long life that the Jews had. But for others we do well to ask, when they are in danger, that God will spare them to us; and "the prayer of faith" will often "save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up" (James 5:15), and give them back to us, as from the very edge of the pit, if our prayer be faithful and fervent.
IV. PRAYER IS POTENT TO OBTAIN FORGIVENESS OF SINS, AND REMISSION OF THE PENALTIES OF SIN. Hezekiah felt that, in revoking the sentence of death which he had passed upon him, God had also forgiven the sins which had provoked that sentence (verse 17). He had been sensible of those sins, even while he had pleaded his general faithfulness (verse 3). He had doubtless begged to be forgiven them. Such prayer God will in no wise cast out. It is his high prerogative to pardon sin (Mark 2:7), and it is also his delight. He bids us ask his forgiveness daily (Matthew 6:12); he promises his forgiveness to all but the unforgiving; he assures us that, if we will return to him, he will "abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 4:1-7). And his pardon includes within it remission of the true penalty of sin, which is his displeasure, his alienation, and its consequence—eternal death. The pardoned sinner has his sins "blotted out." He "enters into the joy of his Lord."
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Sickness and recovery of Hezekiah.
All pathos ultimately turns upon contrast, and the greatest of all contrasts is that between death and life. All who have passed through a dangerous illness, and have been brought nigh unto the gates of death, will feel touched by this narrative, which hints meanings that lie below the surface.
I. THE WARNING. The king falls into deadly sickness; and the prophet's voice assures him that his days are numbered. "Thou shalt die, and not live." The king, under the weight of his grief, turns his face to the wall. So Ahab, under the influence of another consuming passion (1 Kings 21:4). It is a sign of sorrow that admits not of society. How seldom do men receive such a warning with calmness! How true is it—
"Oh our life's sweetness!
That we the pain of death would hourly die
Rather than die at once"!
"What are pains and aches, and the torments of the gout and the stone, which lie pulling at our earthly tabernacle, but so many ministers and under-agents of death? What are catarrhs and ulcers, coughs and dropsies, but so many mementoes of a hastening dissolution, so many foretastes of the grave? Add to these the consuming cares and troubles of the mind; the toil and labour and racking intention of the brain, which as really, though not as sensibly, impair and exhaust the vitals as the most visible bodily diseases can do, and let death into the body, though by another door." But there is an instinct within us which refuses to listen to these argumentations. Some noted lines of the Roman noble Maecenas have come down to us, in which he depicts himself as shaken with palsy, attacked from head to foot with disease, still Vita dum superest, bone est. Such experiences put to rout the fallacies of the pessimist, and convince us of the love we bear to life.
"Whatever crazy sorrow saith,
No soul that breathes with human breath
Hath ever truly longed for death.
'Tis life whereof our nerves are scant;
For life, and not for death, we pant;
More life and fuller that we want."
The experience of such a deadly sickness may be the needed lesson to teach us the worth of our days, to stir us up to the useful employment of them.
II. THE PRAYER. We must bear in mind that in antiquity generally death is viewed as the effect of Divine visitation, especially sudden and untimely death. The belief was that the days of the good would be prolonged, the years of the wicked would be shortened (Proverbs 10:27); that men of deceit and blood would not live out half their days (Psa 11:1-7 :23). Hezekiah, conscious of his integrity and faithfulness, appeals to the justice of God. His heart had been "perfect" with Jehovah, in the sense in which David's had been, and Solomon's had not been (1 Kings 11:4). He had not divided his affections with the gods of idolaters. He had been a reformer—he had done what was good in the eyes of Jehovah. After the manner of Oriental lamentation, he loudly weeps (cf. Judges 20:23; 1 Samuel 13:16). There is a childlike simplicity in the scene. What are we all but children in the great hours of life's trials? But we see here that calm conscience which is the result of a pious life, and which gives confidence in prayer. "Conscience is the great repository and magazine of all those pleasures that can afford any solid refreshment to the soul;" and of that solace which is needed in the moments of weakness. "When this is calm and serene and absolving, then properly a man enjoys all things, and, what is more, himself; for that he must do before he can enjoy anything else. It is only a pious life, led by the rules of religion, that can authorize a man's conscience to speak comfortably to him; it is this that must word the sentence before the conscience can pronounce it, and then it will do it with majesty and authority; it will not whisper, but proclaim, a jubilee to the mind; it will not drop, but pour in, oil upon the wounded heart. The pleasure of conscience is not only greater than all other pleasures, but may also serve instead of them. They only please and affect the mind in transitu, in the pitiful narrow compass of actual fruition; whereas that of conscience entertains and feeds it a long time after with durable, lasting reflections" (South).
III. THE DEATH-WARRANT CANCELLED. "And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, Turn again" (2 Kings 20:4). The doom of death is recalled; a respite of fifteen years granted. Deliverance is promised from the Assyrian, and Jehovah will throw his protecting shield over the city; and a physical phenomenon is to occur as a sign or guarantee of the fulfilment. Prophecy, then, is conditional; Divine judgments are conditional. "It does not always follow," says Jerome, "that because the prophet predicts, that which he has predicted shall come to pass. For he predicted, not that it should come to pass, but that it might not come to pass." Here repentance or prayer may "avail much." We should hesitate, therefore, to speak of absolute decrees, and of irreversible judgments, in connection with human life. Always there is an "if" or an "unless" to break the fall of the severest sentence; and, in fact, the dealings of the merciful God with men are more lenient than they can ever be represented in words. How often has the opinion of the physician doomed the invalid, who has nevertheless recovered! And the like disappointment of expectations occurs in spiritual things. All combine to remind us of the cheering saying, "While there is life, there is hope!" So long as we entrust ourselves in the hands of a gracious God, we need never despair.—J.
The song of Hezekiah.
It is a song of peculiar sweetness—from a literary point of view, characterized by great elegance; from a spiritual point of view, unfolding some deepest elements of Hebrew and of human pathos.
I. THE CONTEMPLATION OF DEATH. It was in middle life, in the "noon-tide of his days," that he had to face the dark gates of Sheol. "Midway in life, as to Dante, came his peril of death." It has been said that there is a peculiar melancholy in middle life. Perhaps so; every age has its peculiar melancholy. It is the contrast between the "noon-tide of consciousness," and the sudden sunset which seems at hand, that shocks the imagination. It is the very acme of the lifelong struggle of will and necessity. Here, the glow of intellectual vigour, the full fruit of ripened knowledge, the educated and matured taste for life; yonder, pale nothingness, decay, disappointment. A sense of injustice seems here to shock the mind. The man feels as if he were being robbed of his property, "mulcted of the residue of his days." That life which nature has kindly nourished, which manifold experience has enriched and adorned, around which law has thrown its protection, for which all else has been willingly foregone, must now itself become a sacrifice to stern, unreasoning, unpitying destiny. Death appears to the natural man in the light of a bondage, an imprisonment. He is going down to the gates of Sheol (Psalms 9:13; Psa 108:1-13 :18; Job 38:19). In the lore of ancient nations similar ideas appear: the place of the departed is a strong fortress, a Tartaros, an Acheron, surrounded by strong walls and a moat; or an inaccessible island. In the house and folk lore of the peoples abundance of such ideas arc to be found. Everywhere the like pathos and the like ideas meet us; and death remains the "standing dire discouragement of human nature."
II. LIFE INSEPARABLE FROM THE GOODNESS OF GOD. To see Jehovah is to see Jehovah's goodness—it is, in the best and richest sense, to enjoy life (Psalms 27:13). And with this is connected the joy of society—the beholding of the face of one's fellow-man-communion with the inhabitants of the world. To die is to be uprooted from all these sweet associations, to have one's habitation plucked up, like the tent of the nomad shepherd (Job 4:21; Psa 52:5; 2 Corinthians 5:1, 2Co 5:4; 2 Peter 1:13, 2 Peter 1:14). It is to depart into exile. It is to have the life-web cut and left unfinished. It is to be cut off and made an end of. These melancholy strains depict one side of human feeling. They are paralleled in the Psalms (Psalms 6:5; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 88:10-12; Psalms 94:17; Psalms 115:17) and Job (14.). Nevertheless, the representation of the effect of death, hopeless as it seems, does not exclude those vague hopes, those implicit beliefs, which mingle with such lamentations, in a better side to the future, which found not distinct expression in words. The connection is strong in Hebrew thought between life on the earth and the goodness of Jehovah. But the goodness of God, however lenient, is learned once for all; and it is impossible to believe in it as manifested in the gift of life without the rise of hope in the continuance of life. The belief in the continuance of life is here expressed; only the sensuous imaginations overpower the mind with sadness. Hope cannot conquer it upon its own ground; but hope nevertheless remains what it is—an anchor of the soul, and it enters, though gropingly, into that within the veil.
III. PRAYER AND HOPE. "The sick man appeals against the fate which threatens him to God—to God against himself; to the essential mercy against the apparent cruelty of Jehovah." It is "the characteristic irony of faith." He is in hourly expectation of death. His cries are like the plaintive notes of birds. He looks up with languid and half-despairing expression to the height where Jehovah dwells. He is like a debtor being carried to prison, and prays Jehovah to become Surety for him. But Jehovah is at the same time the Creditor. It is the "irony of the believer" (Cheyne). "The apparent doubt only expresses the more strongly the real faith—the protest against injustice and harshness, the sense of absolute goodness and ineffable mercy" (Mozley). Prayer may be, in moments of the sorest agony, nothing but a child's cry—which has "no language but a cry." Yet that cry must "knock against the heart" of the Father of all. It is God himself who wrings the cry from the distressed heart; God himself who loves to be called upon, and to make his children feel their need of him.
IV. THE ANSWER OF PEACE. It has come suddenly, swiftly, unexpectedly. And the restored one is at a loss how to render thanks. His night has been turned into morning; and against the dark background of remembered grief, the picture of a serene future shines. He looks forward to a "walk at case" through all his future years. And not in vain has he suffered, for lasting lessons have been wrought into his spirit. He has learned his need of God and of God's Word. By that Word men really live (Deuteronomy 8:3). Altogether in them is the life of his spirit. God is the Source of existence and of salvation. He brings to the gates of death; he recovers and makes alive. He has been brought near to God by the very experience which seemed to remove him so far. He has learned that affliction was for his good. The bitter medicine has been swallowed once for all. He has looked death in the face, has trembled at its terrors; but has seen that there is a greater fact than death, namely, the life and love of the eternal God. "The sting of death is sin," and this has been taken out. He has learned the secret of the Divine forgiveness, the immense possibilities in the heart of God. His sins have been flung behind the back of God—have been banished into oblivion. Lastly, he has learned anew, and in a deeper way, what the blessing of life is. All is contrast. And the contrast of death and the under-world, its pale and cold existence, throws into relief the consciousness of life, in its full conscious richness in body, soul, and spirit. "The dismay with which he contemplates departure from the world is a measure of the value he sets on personal communion with God." Life, then, should be one long act of praise. From father to child the pure tradition should go down: "God is good; his mercy endureth for ever." He is constant, faithful; and that constancy is revealed, not only in the course of nature's laws, but in the laws of human nature—the life of heart and conscience. And the music of each spirit shall swell into a magnificent harmony in the house of Jehovah. He is "ready to deliver" in the future as he has actually delivered in the past. "Glory to thee for all the grace I have not seen as yet."—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
Hezekiah's prayer heard.
"Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears." These words were spoken to a heart riven with grief, and a life seemingly "sick unto death." At such times this man wants, above all else, to feel that he has been sincere. He says, not boastingly at all, but with real humility, "Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight." Words must be judged by the circumstances of the life. There is no self righteousness in them, but simple, guileless heart-speech.
I. GOD'S SPEEDY CONSOLATION. "Go, and say to Hezekiah." For the Divine heart meets the human heart according to its moods. And there was no need to intensify Hezekiah's sorrow or to test its sincerity. Just as our Saviour, remembering Peter's fears after his denial, and knowing that the memory of his unfaithfulness and falsehood was a burning shame in his heart, said immediately after his resurrection, by the mouth of the angel, "Go your way, tell his disciples, and Peter" (Mark 16:7), that Peter might know that the "look" which struck out the fountain of tears, was turned into the look of forgiving grace and mercy. So here God would comfort Hezekiah at once in his true-hearted contrition.
II. GOD'S TENDER REMEMBRANCE. "Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father." What music is that! Then there is something in a pious ancestry—more than we think of at times. Your father was a man of God, perhaps. Then there are prayers treasured up for you in the greater Father's memory. When we think of our Saviour, we "member his own words," For my sake." So God remembers also the sake of others: "For Zion's sake;" "For Jerusalem's sake." And as concerning Solomon God says, "Notwithstanding in thy days I will not rend the kingdom from thee, for David thy father's sake." We read also in Genesis, "The Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake." This is as touching as it is comforting. "The God of David thy father."
III. GOD'S GRACIOUS SPEECH. "I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears." The prayer that is heard is the prayer that is heartfelt. None need be ashamed of tears. They are not unmanly. "Jesus wept" When a man weeps we are accustomed to wonder, nay, sometimes to scorn. The world prefers the sternness of endurance and the courage of despair. God hears heavenly eloquence in sighs, and beautiful liturgies in tears. "A broken and a contrite heart, O Go
he would go down into the pit. The light on immortality burned dimly then. Here and there we trace it, like light that lingers on the higher mountains, in David and Isaiah; but to the mass of minds it was not, to say the least, a very potent influence or a very living faith. "Christ has brought light and immortality to light" by the gospel, and we need never say, "Mine age is departed;" but rather, "Mine age is transmuted" into immortal youth, and unending revelation of the Redeemer's power and glory.—W.M.S.
Music in the heart.
"The Lord was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the Lord." The graver question is—Are we ready to be saved? God's arm is not shortened, that he cannot save. And his love to us is the same through all the long centuries. Christ touched the real cause of distance: "Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life."
I. THE READINESS OF GOD. "All things are now ready," said Christ; and in view of the Redeemer's great work in all the ages, God was a Saviour. God makes affirmation concerning this. "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezekiel 33:11). This reveals the gracious disposition of God. We must ever remember that it is the beautiful nature of God that is revealed in the parables and in the passion of our Lord. Like the fountain ever ready to leap forth, he is ready to forgive.
II. THE MINSTRELSY OF THE CHURCH. Music has accompanied devotion in all ages. It awakens the slumbering sensibilities of the soul. It is not only an expression of feeling, it is a quickener of it. "Therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments." These songs are the glorious heritage of the Church. They are heard every sabbath day in cathedral and church, in city, village, and hamlet. The great revelation of God is one, alike in the old and the new dispensations. In all ages God is a Saviour. Therefore there is nothing out of date in the inspired psalms. They belong to all ages of history, all eras of time. When we have passed away, our children will still lift up to God their praises and thanksgivings in the strains of the sweet singers of Israel.
III. THE PERPETUITY OF PRAISE. "All the days of our life." For that would be a strange day on which there was nothing to praise God for—no new mercy, no fresh deliverance, no special bounty. "Every day will I bless thee, and praise thy Name for ever and ever." Yes; on life's last day it may be like the venerable Dr. Guthrie, as he lay a-dying, we shall say, "Sing me a bairn's hymn." The days of our life may be few or many, but in them all we shall have occasion to realize the fatherhood of God, and the redemption which is in Jesus Christ.
IV. THE PLACE OF DEVOTION. "In the house of the Lord." This will ever be sacred to the true Christian. What memories of sacred vision and of spiritual emotion are connected with the sanctuary! What fellowship we have had there with each other and with God! The best part of our nature has been developed there—the part which, like God himself, "no man hath seen at any time, or indeed can see." For, apart from the associations of place, there is the inspiration of mutual faith, mutual hope, mutual service, and mutual love. Thus we meet and mingle in the house of the Lord, till, clothed with white robes and with palms in our hands, we join the victors who utter their hallelujahs around the throne of the Lamb, in the "house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
A vision of death.
The scene is one of true pathos; it is one of those touches of nature which" make the whole world kin." We have—
I. DEATH SUDDENLY PRESENTING ITSELF TO MAN IN HIS PRIME. (Isaiah 38:1.) Death is very common in infancy; it must be near in old age. It occasions no surprise, and brings comparatively little pain or grief when it occurs at either of these extremes. Infancy does not understand it, and age accepts or even welcomes it. But occasionally, man in the prime of his powers, woman m the glory of her days, is called upon to look death in the face when life seems to stretch out far into the future. The outbreaking of latent disease, the mysterious and totally unanticipated collapse, the fearful and fatal accident,—these or ether things are at work, saying in stern tones to one and another of our race, "Thou shall die, and not live."
II. THE PROFOUND HUMAN REGRET WHICH IT THEN OCCASIONS. "Hezekiah wept sore." We differ, according to our individual temperament and our national habits, as to the exhibition of our feelings. The Jewish king gave vent to his sorrow in hot tears and sore lamentation. An Englishman will probably command both voice and feature when he learns that he must die, and may not live. But no one, suddenly taken away from the midst of beloved relations and friends, unexpectedly torn from the activities and enjoyments on which he has set his heart and spent his energy and centred his hopes, can be unmoved, untroubled. It is a transcendently solemn moment when the human heart first learns that, instead of blessed communion and of joyous activity, there must be hopeless separation and the silence of the grave. Sudden death in prime is a wrench sorer and sadder than any which life has known.
III. THE REFUGE OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT IN THE LAST RESORT, "Then Hezekiah … prayed unto the Lord." There are some things which, when everything else fails, lead us to God—the extremities of joy and sorrow, a crisis in our career, the near presence of death. When human art has failed, and man can do no more for us, then we turn our thought to Heaven—we lift up our face unto God. God can intervene, we know, in the very greatest exigency; it may be that he will; we will "pray unto the Lord." And if we do so reverently and resignedly, we do so rightly; for who can tell how or when he may be pleased to act on our behalf, to "see our tears, to hear our prayers," and to "add unto our days" (Isaiah 38:5)? Or, if we do not have recourse to God in prayer for deliverance, we can fall back on that which may be better still—on a cheerful submission to his holy will.
IV. A CONSOLATION AT THE CLOSE OF LIFE. If we do not make it a plea with God, as Hezekiah thought it right to do, viz. that we "have walked before God in truth and with a perfect heart," etc. (Isaiah 38:3), we may find in such a fact a very precious consolation to our own spirit. To have to look back from the dying hour on a course of folly, guilt, and mischief, must be bitterness itself. To be able to survey, from that last scene, a life of sincere devotion to God and faithful service of mankind, must be a source of unspeakable thankfulness and serenity.
V. A DUTY IN DEATH WHICH IT IS THE DUTY OF LIFE TO REDUCE TO ITS LOWEST POINT. "Set thine house in order" (Isaiah 38:1); do the necessary things that remain undone—that which is unfinished in the sanctuary of the soul, in the inner circle of the family, in the relationships which are outside. But how excellent it is to live with all these things preserved in such order that, when the end comes, there will be the least possible left to do, and the mind can turn, untroubled, to rest in the presence of the Saviour, and to look for the rest that is so soon to be enjoyed!—C.
Human life; the kindness of God and the wisdom of man.
In the providential ordering and in the human direction of this our mortal life, we see—
I. THE KINDNESS OF GOD.
1. The strong links by which God has connected us together. "The God of David thy father;" for David's sake, in part, he would render deliverance. Human life is so ordered that we are all of us immeasurably the better for the piety, the virtue, the patient and faithful labours of those who came before us.
2. His sensitiveness to our suffering. "I have seen thy tears." "Like as a father pitieth his children," etc.; "When he saw the multitude, he was moved with compassion."
3. His attention to our appeal. "I have heard thy prayer." God's ear is open, not only to the prayers of "the great congregation," but to the faintest breath of one believing soul; though he may sometimes seem to be deaf, yet is he always "inclining his ear" unto us.
4. His multiplication of our days. "I will add unto thy days." With the morning light, as it continually returns, we should say, "This is the day which the Lord hath made," etc.; it is a new gift from his gracious hand. We take it too much for granted, as if he were under some obligation to add it to those he has given us before. But it is all "of grace "—so much more than we deserve or have any right to expect at his hand. To the
"Lord of our time, whose hand has set
New time upon our score,"
we should render heartfelt praise for his daily gift.
5. His compounding our cup of hope and of uncertainty. God told Hezekiah he would add to his "days fifteen years." Is it not a yet kinder act of our Father that he holds out to us the hope of future years, without letting us know how far he will fulfil our wishes! Without the hope, we should lose all the inspiration which urges us to fruitful action; without the uncertainty, we should presume on the continuance of our life, and be bereft of one of the mast potent checks on folly and on sin. A strong hope, with an element of uncertainty, is the most favourable condition for the cultivation of wisdom and virtue.
II. THE WISDOM OF MAN. Our wisdom, under those conditions in which we find ourselves, is:
1. To prepare for length of days. By patient diligence, by prudent forethought, to be ready for long life, in case God should give us that blessing.
2. To prepare for sudden death and the long future. By faith in Jesus Christ and by fidelity in the "few things" of time, to be ready at any hour to stand at the judgment-seat, to pass to the "many things" of eternity.—C.
Health and sickness.
This touching psalm of Hezekiah, written in the day of returning strength, when mental effort became possible and perhaps enjoyable to him, may teach us many things.
I. THAT OUR HEALTH IS NOT IN OUR OWN HANDS. There is a distinct note of disappointment here. The king had evidently set his heart on a long life, and was hurt in his soul that his days were cut in twain. It seemed an abrupt, unnatural termination. He was deprived of that which he might have expected to enjoy (Isaiah 38:10, Isaiah 38:12). Though we know well it is not so, yet we harbour the thought that we can measure our days—can reckon on a large period of time in which to work out our plans; we are apt to be surprised and even hurt in our heart if our health be removed and our life be threatened. But we ought to learn that God is the length of our days (Deuteronomy 30:20), and that it rests with him to say when our strength shall decline and when our spirit shall return.
II. THAT THE TIME MAY COME WHEN LIFE WILL BE WITHOUT VALUE TO US; when we shall be ready to speak in the strain of the king (Isaiah 38:14, Isaiah 38:17). Instead of song is silence or complaint; for peace is bitterness of soul. Among the living, at any time, there will be found a large proportion of those to whom life is without any value, and who would gladly lay it down.
1. Do we appreciate the value of our health while we have it?
2. Are we laying up resources on which we can draw when the enjoyments of life will be gone, and the season of privation and infirmity has arrived?
III. THAT IT IS RIGHT TO ASK GOD FOR RESTORATION FROM SICKNESS. "O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me" (see 2 Corinthians 12:8; James 5:14). We should do so,
(1) believing that God hears our prayer, and that, if it be to our real and highest interest, he will grant our request;
(2) leaving it with him to determine how much of bodily evil it is good for us to suffer. Distrust of God's promise and dictation to his will are the two opposite evils we should avoid. A living faith and a filial submission are the two perfectly consistent graces we should exhibit.
IV. THAT THE PERIOD OF CONVALESCENCE IS A TIME FOR THANKFULNESS AND CONSECRATION.
1. Thankfulness. "Himself hath done it" (Isaiah 38:15). Whatever the number or the nature of the measures we adopt (Isaiah 38:21), we trace the happy issue ultimately to the hand of the Lord. All remedial agencies are of him.
2. Consecration. "I shall go softly [reverently] all my years, [remembering] the bitterness of my soul." When God gives back his life to any one of his children, it is surely a time when that soul should form a profound and prayerful resolution that, if past days have been godless, future years shall be devout; that, whatever has been the measure of piety in the time that has been spent, there shall be deeper devotedness and more faithful service m the span that may remain.—C.
Isaiah 38:11, Isaiah 38:18, Isaiah 38:19
The great disclosure.
"If a man die, shall he live again?" asks the anxious, hopeful, human spirit. This composition of Hezekiah either indicates or suggests—
I. THE LIGHT WHICH THE HEBREW SAINTS POSSESSED. They believed that death did not terminate man's existence; that, after death, he dwelt in Sheol with the spirits of the departed, with "the inhabitants of the land of stillness;" in a region, deep, dark, shut up within impassable gates through which they that have entered may never more return (Isaiah 38:10).
II. THE PAINFUL FEEBLENESS OF THEIR LIGHT. This abode of the dead was dismal in a high degree to their imagination; it was "the pit of corruption" (Isaiah 38:17); it was the place where God was unapproachable (Isaiah 38:11), where his praises were untold and unsung (Isaiah 38:18), where the delights of human fellowship were unknown (Isaiah 38:11), where the opportunities of gaining the highest wisdom were closed against the soul, where men "cannot hope for thy truth" (Isaiah 38:18). Such life as there was in those sepulchral region, s would hardly be worth having, where privations like these prevailed.
III. THE GREAT DISCLOSURE BY JESUS CHRIST. He did not, indeed, for the first time announce that there was a life beyond death for men. But he did reveal such a life of blessedness and glory as gave a new meaning to immortality. As his disciples, we look for a life which will be characterized, not by the removal, but by the renewal and the immeasurable enlargement, of all the higher blessings of the present time. As exactly opposed to the privations here lamented, we look for:
1. The near presence of God. (Isaiah 38:11.) To depart is to "be with Christ," is to "be with him that we may behold his glory," is to be at home in "the Father's house."
2. A life of holiest, happiest worship. (Isaiah 38:18.) Where the praises of God will never tire the tongue. Heaven is, to our hope, the very home of praise: "The living, they that live indeed,"—they will praise God in accents to which our fainter and feebler life is unequal now.
3. Communion with the perfected spirits of men. (Isaiah 38:11.) We hope to behold and to have ennobling fellowship with men at their very best, when they and we shall be purged of all that hinders or lowers our intercourse on earth.
4. Access to Divine truth. (Isaiah 38:18.) "Then shall we know even as also we are known" (1 Corinthians 13:12); then shall we look "face to face" on many truths which here we have only dimly espied; then shall we grasp with firm, rejoicing hold what now we can but delicately touch, or are ineffectually pursuing.
5. Life in its large and blessed fulness. (Isaiah 38:19.) It is they who dwell in the light of God of whom we rightly speak as "the living, the living;" it is they who "have life more abundantly." We conclude that:
(1) This language of lamentation does not suit Christian lips.
(2) We have no need to think of death as Hezekiah thought.
(3) We who have such high hopes in us as these should live lives of purity, and so of preparation (1 John 3:3).—C.
The life of our life.
This verse is pregnant with suggestive truth, and finds fulfilment in Christian as well as in Jewish experience.
I. THAT THE LIFE OF OUR SPIRIT IS THE VERY LIFE OF OURSELVES. It is no uncommon thing for ungodly men, when they are pressed to give attention to the claims of their spirit, to excuse their negligence by contending that "they must live." By this they mean that the necessities of the body will excuse their want of concern for the state of their spirit. On what a hollow and vain assumption do these thus build! "As if to breathe were life!" As if to eat, and drink, and sleep, and clothe the body and minister to its cravings constituted the life of man! No; "man does not live by bread alone," and, when he has supplied himself with abundance of such things, he has not begun to live. The life of man is in the life of his spirit; it is that life in which he
(1) apprehends and appreciates Divine truth;
(2) approaches unto and communes wish the Divine Father;
(3) engages voluntarily and happily in his holy service;
(4) grows into his likeness as he manifests his spirit and illustrates his principles;
(5) serves the creatures he has made and the children he has fashioned in his own image. By these things, and in such things as these, does the life of his life consist.
II. THAT DIVINE ACTS AND WORDS ARE THE SUSTENANCE OF OUR SPIRIT'S LIFE. "These things" refer primarily to the promise and the providential agency of God (see Isaiah 38:15); the Divine word and deed. For us, we find this in:
1. The truth spoken by Jesus Christ. All that he has told us concerning God, ourselves, human life, the way back to the heavenly Father and the heavenly home.
2. The life and death of the Saviour. His life devout, courageous, generous, sympathetic; his sorrows borne in patience and resignation; his death undergone for us. "In all these things," in their apprehension, in their study, in their appropriation, is the life of our spirit.—C.
"The father to the children shall make known thy truth."
I. THAT TRUTH IS THE COMMON HERITAGE OF THE RACE. Of all open and common things truth is that to which our right is most indisputable. The air, the light, the sea, the sky, the beauty of the landscape, etc; are open to us all; but truth, above all these things, is common property.
II. THAT REVEALED TRUTH IS PECULIARLY PRECIOUS TO MANKIND. All truth may be said to be "thine"—to be God's. For it would never find illustration or apprehension without his action. But the truth which he has specially revealed is more peculiarly his—the truth which is contained in his Word, and, most especially, that which was revealed in (and by) his Son. This is the truth which is our very life (Isaiah 38:16), raising the fallen, bringing peace to the penitent, calling man into fellowship with God, comforting the afflicted, arming against temptation, preparing for the battle of life and for the hour of. death and the requirements of the eternal world.
III. THAT IT IS THE PART OF EVERY PARENT TO COMMUNICATE AND TO ENFORCE THIS TRUTH OF GOD. "The father to the children shall make known," etc.
1. To communicate Divine truth to the young is the parent's work; for
(1) he has access to his children which no one else can gain, in the time when they are docile and responsive;
(2) he can exert an influence upon them which no one else can acquire;
(3) he has a responsibility laid upon him by God of which no one else can relieve him;
(4) he has an interest in their well-being which no one else possesses,—the joy or the sorrow of his later years will depend very largely on the choices they make and the courses they pursue.
2. To instil Divine truth into their minds should be his daily effort. This is to be effected by instruction, by example, by prayer.—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The strain of notice to die.
Satan is represented in the Book of Job as poetically describing man's clinging to life thus: "Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life." Usually death creeps on us with so slow and silent a tread that we grow familiar with it; our powers fade, and passing becomes easy. But sometimes the arrest comes in the very midst of life, when hope smiles, when the future makes large promises, and the claims upon us seem so great that we cannot be spared. Then death is at his worst; and it is beyond man's power, it is the triumph of Divine grace, to say, "Thy will be done." This is seen in the case of Hezekiah, to whom death seemed an expression of Divine dissatisfaction; a terrible family affliction, seeing he had as yet no heir; and nothing short of a national calamity. Compare the announcement of approaching death made to Aaron and to Moses. But in their cases life-work was done. The strain on Hezekiah was that "his purposes were broken off." We think this to be the severest test under which God puts his people. We are searched through and through by the questions, "Can you die?" "Can you die now?" Physicians' work is often, nowadays, most difficult and trying. They must break, as it is called, to their patients the news of the hopeless character of their disease. What makes this strain?
I. NATURAL DREAD OF DEATH. For all creatures on his earth God has made life to be the supreme treasure which they dread to lose. The incentive to all enterprise is our love of life, and passionate clinging to life. The fear of death is the common instinct of humanity. The Christian cannot fix his thoughts quietly on dying; he shrinks as much as any one from putting his foot down into the cold stream. Divine grace alone can overcome this natural fear, which is implanted for the sake of the due preservation of the race.
II. DISAPPOINTMENT OF OUR HOPES. It is so hard for death to come just as we have "Canaan's goodly land in view." It may be that we have tolled, denied ourselves, persevered, overcome difficulties, and see life's ambition just within reach, when the message comes that we must die. We have pulled down our barns and built greater; we are just ready for the harvest; and "this night we must die."
III. UNCERTAINITY OF THE FUTURE. For the disclosures and revelations concerning it are made in such large poetical figures, rather than in such plain statements, that even in the best men faith and fear mingle; and often they hardly know whether faith or fear prevails. From the future, the other world, no traveller has ever returned with a report. It is to us all a terra incognita, a step into the dark.
IV. WANT OF FULL SUBMISSION TO GOD. We may think we have this, but news of speedy death searches us, and shows our submission to have been only good, but weak, sentiment. Many a man finds that the true submission has to be won when he stands face to face with death.—R.T.
Private and personal prayer.
It should be noticed that Hezekiah was a man who so believed in prayer as to immediately resort to it in every new emergency of life. It was his first way of relief. He sought God at once. In a time of great national distress, he went into the house of the Lord, and spread the insulting letter of his enemies before the Lord. In a time of personal peril, when disease was gaining ground and vitality was failing, and it was made evident that he must die, he sought privacy that he might pray, wrestling with God, if so be he could win restoring mercies. Too ill to go to the sanctuary, he could make a secret place of the corner of the room where his royal couch was laid, turn his face to the wall, and pray to the "Father who seeth in secret, and rewardeth openly." Only certain points of so large a subject as "private prayer" can be dealt with in one discourse. The points suggested by this action of Hezekiah are—
I. WHAT ARE ITS APPROPRIATE CONDITIONS? Absolutely necessary are privacy, the sense of privacy, quiet-mindedness, and continuance in the prayer-exercise. It is the most serious evil affecting modern religious life, that household arrangements and business claims make privacy, quietness, and continuance for personal devotions so nearly impossible. The only hopeful revival will begin with the home place of prayer. Christian parents, by example and skilful management of family life, must make private prayer possible for all members of the family. They cannot make others prayerful; hut they can make suitable prayer-conditions. Christ says we must "shut to the door."
III. WHAT SHOULD IT CONCERN? Everything, small or great, that is of direct personal interest, whether it concerns body, mind, or soul. Efforts are made to limit the spheres of prayer to matters of religious life and feeling. The godly man cannot be so limited. Fathers care for children's bodies and minds and relations, as well as for their characters. And our heavenly Father surely concerns himself about our sicknesses, our anxieties, our material circumstances. We may pray for life, restored bodily life and health; then we may pray for everything less than that, but included in it.
III. WHAT SHOULD BE ITS SPIRIT? We may specially dwell on:
1. Openness; frankness; removal of reserve; tone that convinces of sincerity. Most grieving to God is our "keeping back anything." Worthy parents gladly listen to both the bad and the good in their children's requests.
2. Trustfulness; the spirit of confidence in God as Hearer and Answerer.
3. Importunity; the sign of really earnest desire. Parents often delay answering children's requests because they have asked half-heartedly, as if answering did not much matter.
IV. WHAT WILL BE THE RESPONSE? Something always. No sincere cry ever rose to God unheeded or unanswered. The answer may be:
2. The call to wait.
3. The gift of what is asked.
4. The gift of something better.
5. The quieting down of our desire for the thing.—R.T.
Man's fair estimate of his own life.
Hezekiah ventures to say before God, "Ah, Jehovah, remember, I pray, how I have walked before thee in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done that which is good in thine eyes." Can a good man rightly appeal to his conscious integrity? David did. Hezekiah may. It is not pious work to get up a case against ourselves. Confessions are too often utterly insincere things. It is right to keenly criticize self, and to recognize, and humble ourselves before God on account of, our sins and frailties; but it magnifies the grace of God to recognize the good in our lives, the established will, the earnest purpose, the persistent endeavour. We must be true to see the good, as well as the evil, and seek to appraise our life as God appraises it. David may speak of his "integrity." Hezekiah may speak of his "perfect walk," his firm resolve to obey and please God. But can such terms as "righteousness" be properly applied to any man? It has been pressed upon us from our childhood, as if it were a self-evident truth, and needed no argument or proof, and contained the whole of the truth, that man has no righteousness of his own. The best things in man are bad. "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and we are all as an unclean thing." Yet there must be some sense in which man has a personal righteousness. We have known men and women of integrity, right-hearted, sincere, and righteous. David may say, before the heart-searching God, "Judge me according to my righteousness that is in me;" and our Lord distinctly assumed that there is a sense in which man can have a righteousness, when he said, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees." Such a term will not stiffen into one rigid meaning. Sometimes it means right-heartedness, sincerity, and describes the man who is at heart centred on God and virtue. A man may be right at heart, though there may be twists and stains in the conduct. We have a way of speaking of men as being "good at bottom." If we say that as any excuse for men's sins, we are miserably and shamefully wrong. If we say it in recognition of human frailty, and with discernment of life as the conflict of the human will over the weakness of our bodies, and the disabilities of our circumstances, then it is a true and worthy speech. Many men around us, and even we ourselves, are like David, "good at bottom." The desire of our soul is to the Divine Name. We are pilgrims, indeed, though men may find us wandered away into By-path Meadows, sleeping in arbours, and losing our rolls. Illustrate by the difference between King Saul and King David. Saul failed utterly, because his were sins of will. David failed only temporarily, because his were sins of frailty. David failed in the body-sphere, but Saul in the soul-sphere. Learn to judge your life fairly, and be willing to see, to rejoice in, and to thank God for, what has been and is good.—R.T.
Isaiah 38:7, Isaiah 38:8
Signs for the help of faith.
In this case, as in that of Gideon, God granted signs. For the people of Palestine, and for his disciples, our Lord wrought miracles, which were signs; but he utterly refused to meet the demand of the Pharisees. "There shall no sign be given you." Our Lord, however, reproved the desire for signs as showing some weakness of character in those who desired them. "Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe." Exactly what the sign granted to Hezekiah was cannot certainly be ascertained. The shadow passing back on the dial may have suggested God's putting back the death-angel for a while. Probably a shadow cast on a staircase by a column showed the height of the sun in the heavens. This shadow would travel upward as the day advanced, and its return down ten steps, beheld from Hezekiah's sick-chamber, would be the most impressive emblem of the new lease of life bestowed. Miracles are never spoken of as mere wonders; they are signs, and have for their object to manifest forth God's glory. They have been wrought in every age of the world. They would cease to do their work if they became ordinary Divine operations. We note that—
I. DIVINE SIGNS ARE NOT FOR THE CONVINCEMENT OF SCEPTICS. This our Lord declared in his refusal to do mighty works for the Pharisees, and illustrated in the parable of Dives and Lazarus. Dives wanted one from the dead to go and warn his brethren. Christ plainly intimated that the man who can put away ordinary influences wilt find out how to resist special ones. No miracle could be wrought which a man of sceptical disposition could not explain away. We should speak very guardedly of miracles as Christian evidences. They are to those in right moods of mind.
II. DIVINE SIGNS ARE FOR THE PERSUASION OF THE WILLING AND OBEDIENT. "If a man is willing, he shall know of the doctrine." In some places our Lord "could not do many mighty works because of the unbelief." There are proper relations in which creatures should stand to their Creator, children to their parents, and men to God. Out of relations man's wilfulness may resist anything and everything. The teacher demands a teachable spirit in the scholars; the master expects a willingness to learn in his apprentice; and God asks for "willingness and obedience," proper attitudes of mind and feeling, in those to whom he reveals himself. There is a proper "receptive mood."
III. DIVINE SIGNS ARE FOR THE STRENGTHENING AND CHEERING OF GOD'S PEOPLE. They are the Divine response to those who unite firmness of will with frailty of body and mind, who are set on God, but battle hard with flesh and blood. "To will is present with them, but how to perform they find not." Gideon wanted to trust God and serve him, but circumstances made the commission entrusted to him most perilous; therefore God encouraged him with a sign. Hezekiah wanted to accept the Divine assurance, but the pain and depression of disease made trust nearly impossible, so God strengthened him with a sign.—R.T.
Figures of life and death.
Some of the Scripture figures of death are full of the sweetest poetry for sensitive souls. Illustrating Hezekiah's figure, an Eastern traveller says, "It was in the bleak season of a cold autumn, by the side of a large moor, that I one day saw a shepherd's tent. It was composed of straw and fern, and secured under the warmer side of a hedge, with a few briars and stakes. Thither for about a week, he took shelter, until the herbage failed his flock, and he removed I knew not whither. His tent was, however, left behind. A few days after I rode that way, and looked for the shepherd's tent, but it was all gone. The stormy winds had scattered its frail materials, and only a few fragments strewed the ground, to mark out that once, for a brief day, the tent had its residence, and the shepherd his solace, there. And such is this life, and such are all the airy expectations, and imaginary felicities, and hoped-for ports and places beneath the sun. Time scatters them, as the storm did the fern and straw of the shepherd's tent" "What is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away; … My days are swifter than the post;" "They are passed away as the swift ships, as the eagle hasting to the prey;" "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle;" "Oh, remember, that my life is wind." With what exquisite pathos it is said of wrestling, crafty, managing Jacob, "He gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people"! In view of his long and passionate affection for Rachel the beautiful, how tender is that last expression! Death for us is but passing from the fellowship of one company of beloved ones to join the other company that has gone on before. David speaks of the dead as "going down into silence." Is not that also most expressive? The man who has been so full of anxious cares and worldly troubles just steps aside to rest—passes from the bustle of life to the stillness, the silence, of death. The Apostle Paul says, "If our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved," broken up, the pins removed, the ropes loosened, the canvas folded, "we have a building of God," no mere tent, a substantial building," a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." So the decay of our body is only our removal to a new house, built for us, fitted for us, and, as we pass into it, the old tent-body is taken down, folded up, and put away. Dr. A. Raleigh dwells very beautifully on one of the most familiar figures of the grave, "There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest." "This is man's long home. Other homes are but calling-places, in which a wayfaring man tarries for a few days and nights in pursuing a great journey; but in this long home 'man lieth down and riseth not, till the heavens be no more.' There is no earth quite so profound as that of a quiet country churchyard. The hills stand in silence watching. The river, as it flows by, seems to hush its waters in passing; and the trees make soft and melancholy music with the evening wind, or stand in calm, voiceless grief, lest they should disturb the sleepers. Quiet is the dust below—quiet the scarcely moving grass of the graves—quiet the shadows of the tombstones—quiet the overarching sky. It is, indeed, a quiet resting-place, where we may lie in stillness for a while, until Christ shall bring us to another home, the last, the best of all—in heaven, the quietest restingplace of all." And Jesus our Lord said," Our friend Lazarus sleepeth." That is all. Death is only the sleep of God's beloved ones; over it he watches with more than motherly care, and, one wondrous day, the sweet morning light of the great glory shall stream in at the windows, and wake the sleeping children. After showing thus the mingling of sadness with hope in the Bible figures of hurrying life and masterful death, illustrate the things which help to make dying and death seem to us a foe so greatly to be dreaded. It is a foe—
I. BECAUSE OF THE BREAKING DOWN AND CORRUPTION OF THE BODY WHICH IT INVOLVES. There is something humiliating and revolting even in the change through which our bodies must pass. We turn away from the sight of the dead, and cannot bear to think that we must be even as they.
II. BECAUSE IT INVOLVES THE ENDING OF ALL OUR EARTHLY PLEASURES. And there are pleasures and friendships and scenes which make life very dear to us all—rightly dear. It is no way of honouring God to call this earth and life that he has given us a "desert land, which yields us no supplies." But death takes the cup right away from our lips, and bids us leave all the playthings on the board, and come away.
III. BECAUSE OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES ATTENDING IT. As Bacon long ago reminded us, it is the suffering body, the darkened chamber, the weeping friends, the pangs of separation, the trappings of woe, that make so much of the bitterness of death.
IV. BECAUSE OF THE UNTIMELINESS OF ITS COMING. And it is almost always untimely; oftentimes painfully so. He plucks young buds. He takes opening flowers. tie cuts down bearded grain. He delays until the grain is shed, and the straw is trembling to its winter fall. Always coming; almost never wanted. Yet, for true and trustful hearts, changed into an angel of light, the Father's messenger calling his children home. They are quiet even from the fear of death who can pray with McCheyne—
"In whatsoever form death comes to me—
In midnight storm, whelming my bark, or in my nest
Gently dismissing me to rest;
Oh, give me in thy Word to see
A risen Saviour beckoning me.
My Lamp and Light
In the dark night."
Life a burden.
"Jehovah, I am hard pressed; be Surety for me" (Cheyne). Life has its shadow as well as its sunshine; and in our depressed times we fancy that the shadow almost blots out the shine. There is a poem which, with the touch of genius, pictures the shadow that, since the failure of our race-parents in Eden, lies close against everything for man. Go where he may, do what he will, man cannot get away from his shadow. It tracks his feet. This side or that it is found, whichever way he may stand to the light. It lies down with him; it rises with him; it goes forth with him; it comes back with him; until he even gets to fear it, and, seeing it flung everywhere, says, "Life is dark, and life is hard." This sentence of the text is an utterance of genuine feeling. It is Old Testament feeling rather than Christian feeling; but the poetical form of it gives it largeness enough to cover and include the very best Christian thoughts. Hezekiah expresses what he felt when he lay on the "border-land." His idea is that death is his creditor, and pressing for immediate payment, and he calls on God to be Surety for him, and release him from the clutch of this death. Some, oppressed, cry against advancing death. Others, as Tennyson's "Mariana," cry for it, saying—
"I'm aweary, I'm aweary,
I would that I were dead!"
Can it be profitable for us to dwell on this despairing mood of Hezekiah? Perhaps, as we meditate, the clouds may part a little, and glints of glory may break through. Our soul may take wing and fly to God, and find rest in him.
I. LIFE A BURDEN It is such
(1) in view of the responsibilities under which we come; it is
(2) as a matter of feeling and sentiment oftentimes.
No man, indeed, ever comes to use life aright until he regards it as a sacred burden. It will be heavy or light, it will crush or it will ennoble, according to the spirit in which we accept it, and deal with it. Too readily we say that life always looks bright to youth and maiden. Is it so? We could find some of the saddest poetry ever written which had been composed by the young. Every right-hearted youth loosens the home ties, stands free, and stoops to lift up his own life-burden with a great sigh of anxiety and fear. What does the man of middle age say? However brightly and bravely a man may take up his daily care, still he feels that each new child, and each lengthening year with its new claims, adds to his burden. Business life, in modern times, seems a heavier burden than it ever was—a daily bearing and struggling to win daily bread, because we, and those related to us, want so much more than bread. Ask the old men what they think of life. The very best among them will reply, "I thank God for life, but he only knows what a burden it has been to me. His grace has enabled me to carry it, but sometimes—oftentimes—it has crushed me down on my knees." Or take the faculties with which we are endowed, and the spheres in which those faculties find expression and operation. This body: what a constant care to keep it in health, and to get it fed, clothed, and wisely ruled! And sometimes it lies like a heavy log upon our souls, and from under it we can scarcely get our breath! This mind. The infinite realms of knowledge stretch out on either side, and it is our agony that life will only let us touch, with a passing foot, the mere skirts and edges of one or two of them. The soul—our very selves—what a prison-house for us this body is! Wherever we go we must carry the body. Our souls can "neither fly nor go." Quaintly, but effectively, our fathers drew an emblem. The skeleton was represented as the cage within which the living man was imprisoned. At some time in our lives we all have thanked God for the Book of Ecclesiastes, which is precisely this—a man who felt life as a burden, letting his heart out. But turn to consider—
II. GOD IS THE ONLY TRUE BURDEN-BEARER. If the three words, "Undertake for me," could be put into a Christian form of speech, they would be found to express that "full surrender," that "perfect submission," that "rest of faith," which is the secret of the "higher life," the true beginning and proper foundation of Scripture holiness. But, practically, how can the man who feels life to be a burden commit that burden to the Lord? It' you do not believe in a living God, in the living Christ-God, actually present, ruling and overruling, you will never find out how. If God is away in the heavens, and Christ back in the centuries, our text has no real meaning; it is a vague sentiment. But if God is here, and Christ is with us—in us; if the Father does see in secret, and the Son abide with us always;—then it will be easy to unfold the secret of the rolled burden. One idea at least we can give. If we have a heart-sorrow we can relieve it by making a confidant. Robert Alfred Vaughan had long been ill, but one morning his wife saw signs which struck her with hopelessness. In her grief she thought of going to unbosom her trouble to her friend Mrs. George Dawson. Ere she could leave her house, that friend came in, she had come to open a new sorrow to her friend—her only girl had been seized with fits of a kind which put in peril intellect and life. Those women lifted each others' burdens by opening them in the confidences of friendship. We lose our burdens by freely telling God all about them. There is another way of rolling burdens on God, which is less easy to put into words—which is a matter of soul-feeling. We can give up the self-management of our lives. It can become a conscious ruling thought with us that we live, not for self, but for God; we can inwardly realize that God takes our life-rule into his hands; we go where he sends, we do what he bids. Come to the simplicities of life. How does a wearied child roll his burden on his mother? How does the husband lighten his life-care by rolling it upon a loving wife? Verily, the little things of man will help us to understand the great things of God.—R.T.
Isaiah 38:15, Isaiah 38:16
Going softly after sickness.
We usually notice in persons who have passed through serious illness which has brought them to the "border-land," and made the things of the other and eternal world familiar, a gracious loosening from this world, a maturing of character, a mellowness, a sacred seriousness, which may well gain poetical form in the expression of Hezekiah, "going softly." We ought to regard all life as a gift, a trust, from God; but in a very special sense it comes home to us that the years of renewed life, after a severe illness, are a gracious permission, a special favour, of our God. His hand has been upon us; we have felt it, and the touch makes us other men, new men. The Rev. James Hervey wrote to a friend shortly before his death in this way: "Were I to enjoy Hezekiah's grant, and had fifteen years added to my life, I would be most frequent in my application to the throne of grace; for we sustain a mighty loss by reading too much, and praying too little: were I to renew my studies, I would take my leave of those accomplished triflers, the historians, the orators, the Poets of antiquity, and devote my attention to the Scriptures of truth; I would sit with much greater assiduity at my Divine Master's feet, and desire to know nothing but 'Jesus Christ and him crucified.' To have this wisdom, whose fruit is everlasting salvation, after death, I would explore through the spacious and delightful field of the Old and New Testaments." The verse may be mere precisely read, "That I should walk at case in spite of the trouble of my soul." It implies that Hezekiah was resolved to walk the rest of the journey of life with calm and considerate steps. The several meanings that can attach to "going softly" may be illustrated.
I. I WILL GO SOFTLY, AS ONE WHO REMEMBERS THE DISTRUST AND SINFUL REPININGS OF MY TIME OF AFFLICTION. It must always be a regret to the good man, a shadow on his life, that even suffering made him doubt God.
II. I WILL GO SOFTLY, AS ONE WHO CHERISHES THE MEMORY OF GOD'S RESTORING MERCY. God's special grace to the good man deepens his humility.
III. I WILL GO SOFTLY, AS ONE WHO HAS LEARNT A NEW LESSON OF THE BREVITY AND SERIOUSNESS OF LIFE. Hezekiah's sickness was a warning.
IV. I WILL GO SOFTLY, OR PLEASANTLY, AS ONE WHO HAS BEEN BROUGHT SO NEAR To GOD THAT HE CANNOT FIND REST AWAY FROM HIM. Walking with God in all holy' conversation, as having tasted that he is gracious.
V. I WILL GO SOFTLY, AS ONE WHO, AFTER A TIME OF TROUBLE, STRIVES TO RETAIN THE IMPRESSION OF IT, AND TO CARRY OUT THE RESOLVES THEN MADE, AND SHOW THAT HE HAS WELL LEARNED THE LESSONS OF AFFLICTION. Compare "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now will I keep thy Word."—R.T.
God's way with sin.
"For thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back." To cast behind one's back, in Hebrew and Arabic, is a figure of speech meaning "to forget, to lose sight of, to exclude from view." Roberts, writing of Hindoo life, says, "This metaphor is in common use, and has sometimes a very offensive signification. The expression is used to denote the most complete and contemptuous rejection of a person or thing. 'The king has cast his minister behind his back,' that is, fully removed him, treated him with sovereign contempt. 'Yes, man, I have forgiven you; all your crimes are behind my back; but take care not to offend me again.'" What Hezekiah realized was that, in responding to his prayer for renewed life, God had graciously removed from consideration the just judgments for which transgressions called. He put them aside, out of sight. Matthew Henry sententiously says, "When we cast our sins behind our back, and take no care to repent of them, God sets them before his face, and is ready to reckon for them; but when we set them before our face, in true repentance, as David did when his sin was ever before him, God casts them behind his back." Two other very striking figures of God's ways with sin may be recalled.
1. He casts them into the depths of the sea, where they are lost, out of sight, and out of reach, for ever. Lost, as a jewel dropped in mid-ocean.
2. He puts them from us far as east is from west—a figure whose fulness of suggestion only unfolds to meditation. There is a north pole and a south pole, giving limits to our conception of north and south. There is no east pole or west pole. East is on everywhere one way, and west is on everywhere the other way. God's way with sin is—
I. TO KEEP STRICTEST ACCOUNT OF IT. God "besets us behind and before." "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do." There is a record. Illustrate by the idea that all our actions are photographed on the waves of air, and wafted on to God's keeping, against the judgment-day. This is sure—God is never indifferent to sin. He is strict to behold iniquity.
II. TO APPORTION DUE, CORRECTIVE PUNISHMENTS OF IT. Some coming in the way of ordinary and natural results, and some as special Divine judgments. Thank God, his judgments wait close on our sins.
III. TO PARDON. In a royal, gracious way, whensoever the sinner humbles himself, and with penitence and confession seeks grace. "Though your sins be as … crimson, they shall be whiter than snow."
IV. TO PUT IT FROM CONSIDERATION IN MEETING THE DESIRES AND PRAYERS OF HIS PEOPLE. This is the case before us. This is the marvel of grace. God treats his people as if they were not sinners. He treats them as if standing in the goodness and the rights of his ever-obedient and acceptable Son, Christ Jesus.—R.T.