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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
2 Kings 20

 

 

Verses 1-19

2 Kings 20:1-19

In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death.

The blessing of sickness

A Christian man of intense business enterprise and activity was laid aside by sickness. He who never would intermit his labours was compelled to a dead halt. His restless limbs were stretched motionless on the bed. He was so weak that he could scarcely lift his hand. Speaking to a friend of the contrast between his condition now and when he had been driving his immense business he said, “Now I am growing. I have been running my soul thin by my activity. Now I am growing in the knowledge of myself and of some things which most intimately concern me.” Blessed, then, is sickness, or sorrow, or any experience that compels us to stop, that takes the work out of our hands for a little season, that empties our hearts of their thousand cares, and turns them toward God to be taught of Him. Death:--The account leads us to consider death in three aspects.

I. As consciously approaching. Mark here three things--

1. When he became conscious of its approach.

2. How he become conscious of its approach. It needs no Isaiah, or any other prophet, to deliver this message to man. It comes to him from all history, from every graveyard, from every funeral procession, as well as from the inexorable law of decay working ever in his constitution.

3. How he felt in the consciousness of its approach.

II. As temporarily arrested. Five things are to be observed here--

1. The primary Author of its arrest.

2. The secondary means of its arrest.

3. The extraordinary sign of its arrest.

4. The exact extension of its arrest.

5. The mental inefficiency of its arrest.

What spiritual good did these additional fifteen years accomplish for the king? They might have done much, they ought to have done much.

III. As ultimately triumphant. “And Hezekiah slept with his fathers.” The end of the fifteen years came, and he meets with the common destiny of all. The unconquered conqueror is not to be defrauded of his prey, however long delayed. (David Thomas, D. D.)
.

Hezekiah’s prayer answered

The prayer of Hezekiah thus signally answered gives us instruction upon several points, of which this is--

1. To love life is a duty. Of course, Hezekiah’s anxiety to live does not prove this. Good men are not so good that we can be sure of the rectitude of all their desires. They may be over-anxious to live, as they may be too ready to die. Luther and Whitefield erred upon the side of over-willingness to die. But the fact that God respected Hezekiah’s wish to live proves that his wish was dutiful and right. His love of life was not weakness; it was not self-will; it was not the mere wish for a longer experience of accustomed pleasure. Had it been any of these, his prayer would have been unheard. He sought for life because life was worth living; he had a motive for life. It was for him a great opportunity. Nothing in the New Testament reverses or modifies the teaching of the Old Testament, that long life is a blessing, a gift of God, a mark of Divine favour. It is said of the godly man: “Because he hath set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him. With long life will I satisfy him, and show him My salvation.” When queenly Wisdom stretches forth her hands to give rewards to her loving and loyal subjects, “Length of days is in her right hand,” as her most excellent gift. There is in the Bible no pessimistic philosophy of life. It is true that the Bible dwells much upon the shortness of life. Death is a fact which it will not let us forget. But Scriptural reflections upon the littleness of life and the nearness of its end are not intended to lessen our love of life, or to make us look upon it as unimportant. Their purpose is to counteract such views. They teach us to “number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Long life is not too long for the full accomplishment of life’s great end. There is nothing in the approach of age which ought to lessen the love of life, if life’s powers remain. The good workman glances now and then at the sun sinking in the west as day declines, only that he may set a higher value upon the remaining minutes, because they are few. He wishes for a full day, and the lengthening shadows set him the more zealously about remaining tasks. The biographers of Lyman Beecher have said of him: “He was so hungry to do the work of Him that sent him that he really seemed sometimes to have little appetite for heaven. Thus, after he was seventy years old, one of his children congratulated him that his labours were nearly over, and that he would soon be at rest. To his son’s surprise the old man replied quickly, ‘I don’t thank my children for sending me to heaven till God does.’” In the lecture-room of Plymouth Church, when very near the end of his life, he said, “If God should tell me that I might choose . . . that is, if God said it was His will that I should choose, whether to die and go to heaven, or to begin my life over again, I would enlist again in a minute.” We are not called upon to love life less because power fails, and we must lay aside accustomed tasks. Let us not measure life by the strength with which we pursue an earthly career. The refining of character may go on better when life’s active powers decline. As we ponder the prayer of Hezekiah, a second thought arises:

II. Submission to the will of God in regard to the term of life is a moderate wish to live as long as we can. It is easy to mistake the true nature of resignation, and to give it a meaning which it should not have. Submission to God’s will is not the suspension of personal will-power. It is not the absence of choice or preference. Holiness is not passivity. Richard Baxter once wrote:--

Lord it belongs not to my care

Whether I live or die.

Perhaps an utterance which is poetic, or at least metrical, ought not to be judged by prosaic rules; but as an unguarded statement its sentiment is false. It ought to have been a part of his care to live long and well. In so doing he would have been submissive to the will of God. There are means to be used to keep life and health. We ought to use them not unconcernedly, but with a strong wish to live. This is resignation to God’s will. In “desiring life,” and “loving” many days that he might see good, Hezekiah did not feel that he was disobedient or un-submissive.

III. Hezekiah’s plea that he had lived a good life was an argument that prevailed with God. It is worthy of remark that the prayers recorded in the Old Testament are full of argument. Men approach God with reasons. They tell Him why He should grant their requests. Evidently they think Divine wisdom “easy to be entreated.” They recount mercies past as a reason for expecting renewed favours. They speak of His goodness. Of their great needs they make a plea. By the littleness and brevity of life they lay claim to mercy. So Hezekiah did not hesitate to find in his past life reasons for its continuance. Evidently he did not think that goodness makes the term of life shorter, or more uncertain. “Whom the gods love die young,” is not a Christian proverb, but its sentiment is to be found in many sayings current among us. Now there are saintly souls living upon the earth “of whom the world” is “not worthy.” But so much the greater the world’s need of their saintly lives. And God has great consideration for the world’s need. The answer to Hezekiah’s prayer suggests a fourth consideration:

IV. The good physician has no controversy with the earthly physician in the wise use of means. Isaiah practised the art of healing. He followed the best medical knowledge of his time. He caused the attendants to take a lump of figs and place it upon the sore, and Hezekiah recovered. He applied a well-known and useful remedy. No doubt there are persons who would be better satisfied with the record of this case of healing if the lump of figs had been left out. They fear that every case of healing claimed by science must be surrendered by religion, and that, when other means are efficacious, prayer is obviously of no avail. They make haste to conclude that, if the lump of figs healed Hezekiah, then God did not. The inspired record is not solicitous about entrenching religion against the attacks of science. If religion should say that prayer worked the healing, and that means were of no use: and if science should say that the lump of figs wrought the cure, and that prayer was of no avail--both would be right in what they asserted, and no less would both be wrong in what they refused to admit. Had Isaiah known that the remedy would have cured without prayer, his delay in using it would have been inexcusable. Had he known that prayer would have been as efficacious without the remedy, he had no sufficient reason for making use of the lump of figs at last. The healing was wrought by the Lord of Life; and not less by Him that He chose to work through the ordinary appointed means.

V. The best results of Hezekiah’s prayer are unrecorded. We find a hint of them in the broken sentences of Isaiah’s page. “What shall I say: He hath both spoken unto me and Himself hath done it. I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul. The Lord was ready to save me; therefore will we sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the Lord.” He walked before the Lord in solemn gladness. In those remaining years God was nearer to him than before. He knew the tenderness of God, who had heard his prayers and had seen his tears. He knew the grace of God, for by His favour he walked in newness of life. He knew the power of God, whose high prerogative it was to turn backward or forward at His will the dial of his life. How great, the power of prayer, which still appeals to the heart of God and persuades Him to make known His way “upon earth,” His “saving health among all nations.” And how infinite the grace of God, who in time past for this chosen servant turned backward for an hour the shadow of the sun, but who, in these last days, has set for ever in the spiritual heavens, above the horizon and within the field of vision for those who look in faith, the blessed “sign of the Son of Man.” (Monday Club Sermons.)

Attachment to life

The young man, till thirty, never feels practically that he is mortal. He knows it, indeed, and, if need were, he could preach a homily on the fragility of life; but he brings it not home to himself, any more than in a hot June we can appropriate to our imagination the freezing days of December. But now, shall I confess a truth? I feel these audits but too powerfully; I begin to count the probabilities of my duration, and to grudge at the expenditure of moments and shortest periods like miser’s farthings. In proportion as the years both lessen and shorten I set more count upon their periods, and would fain lay my ineffectual finger upon the spoke of the great wheel. I am not content to pass away “like a weaver’s shuttle.” Those metaphors solace me not, nor sweeten the unpalatable draught of mortality. I care not to be carried with the tide that smoothly bears human life to eternity, and rebel at the inevitable course of destiny. I am in love with this green earth, the face of town and country, the unspeakable rural solitudes, and the sweet security of streets. I would set up my tabernacle here; I am content to stand still at the age to which I am arrived, to be no younger, no richer, no handsomer. I do not want to be weaned by age, or drop, like mellow fruit, as they say, into the grave! Any alteration on this earth of mine, in diet or in lodging, puzzles and discomposes me. My household goods plant a terribly fixed foot, and are not rooted up without blood. They do not willingly seek Lavinian shores. A new state of being staggers me; sun and sky, and breezes and solitary walks, and summer holidays, and the greenness of fields, and the juices of meats and fishes, and society, and the cheerful glass, and candlelight, and firelight conversations, and jests and irony--do not these things go out with life? Can a ghost laugh, or shake his gaunt sides when you are pleasant with him? (Charles Lamb.)

Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.

A house and a soul compared: or the Christian’s preparation for death

Hezekiah was in the meridian of life, and probably as yet had made no arrangement in regard to the succession to the throne. This message was to this effect--“Give charge concerning thine house. If you have any direction to give in regard to the succession to the crown, or in regard to domestic and private arrangements, let it be done soon” I shall, however, take this message in the secondary or more Important sense, and then, I need not remind you, that by the expression “thine house” we are to understand his inner man--the state of his soul before God. I think that this object is most likely to be attained by drawing the analogy.

I. I would observe that it is necessary for the preservation of a house, that it be built upon a good foundation, and not upon a sandy soil; so is it equally necessary that the foundation upon which the believer places the eternal interest of his soul be built upon the best of all foundations, even Jesus Christ; “for other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Consider what it is to build upon Him. To have our foundation on Jesus Christ is not to hope that we may attain heaven and happiness by a partial conformity with the will of the Saviour, whilst we are at the same time devoting ourselves to the pleasures of the world; it is to feel that we are vile, worthless, and polluted creatures of the earth, whose very best action in itself has the nature of sin; it is to be so assured that our works can have no part in obtaining salvation as to strip us of all self-confidence and conceit, and lead us to place our whole dependence on the finished work, and the all-sufficient righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.

II. But I observe, that after a house is erected, however well and costly it may be built, it requires to be kept in good order, and in constant repair. So it is with the soul, wonderful in its origin, for it was made by God; and majestic even in its ruins, through the fall of man.: “redeemed not with corruptible things, such as with silver and gold, but with the precious blood of the adorable Saviour.”

III. I observe, that light is essential to a house. The clearer the glass of which the windows are composed, and the less obstruction there is, the sooner will be discovered the slightest particle of dust, and every flaw in the dwelling. So it is with the soul; the clearer the light of the Holy Spirit shines into the conscience the more accurately will sin be detected; that which was thought a trifling and innocent thing before, through the illumination of the Holy Spirit will appear in its true light, as defiled and destructive.

IV. No habitation would be complete unless supplied with water; to cleanse and purify it, as also to refresh its inhabitants, and to administer to their comforts. And how can the soul thirsting after the water of life be satisfied without a fresh and daily supply from the Fountain of living waters, even that water which Christ has given him--a well springing up unto everlasting life.

V. I would observe that much of the comfort of a household depends on everything being regulated by judicious and careful management. So it is with the soul. “Let everything be done decently and in order,” is the apostle’s injunction; and of how much more importance is it, that the spiritual exercises of the child of God should be under the control of a wise and well directed judgment.

VI. I would observe that in the ancient mansions of the great, the hall was appropriated to the armoury, which was kept clean, bright, and ready for the master’s use. This reminds us of the Christian’s armour: his weapons are not carnal, but spiritual; not weak, but mighty through God to the pulling down the strongholds of Satan; nevertheless, they must not only be keep bright, but constantly worn. VII. I would remark that in a house there is a necessity for fire. In the same manner in the soul there ought to be a flame of holy love, a zeal for God’s truth. (J. R. Starey.)

Set thy house in order-A New Year’s sermon

There are two points which it is here proper to consider.

1. What views and feelings naturally possess a man who is conscious that his end is near. If his mind has an ordinary share of sensibility, he will dismiss his worldly cares and turn his thoughts to the contemplation of eternity. He is no longer interested in a world he is so soon to leave. The calculations and pursuits of men, their joys, their griefs, their disappointments, their success, their hurry, their hopes, their fears, an appear as idle as the sports of children. The world is lighter to him than a feather. Neither losses nor disappointments nor prosperity has power to affect him. You see him not pressing from business, to business in a rage to be rich. You see him not stretching after preferment. His pride is reduced. You see him no longer assuming haughty airs, no longer fretted at every supposed neglect. Meekness and gentleness mark his deportment. No longer can unbelief or the world hide a prospect of death or seduce his thoughts from God. He looks death in the face. He turns his anxious eye to explore eternal objects. He raises an earnest look to heaven. He ardently betakes himself to prayer and to reading his Bible. All his anxiety is to prepare for his approaching fate. You all perceive that these are rational exercises for a dying man; why then not for you? It is to dying men that I am speaking. I can say to you all, “As the Lord liveth,” and “as your soul liveth, there is but a step between you and death.”

II. Let us consider what measures a man will naturally take to set his house in order, who, with proper views, is conscious that his end is near.

1. It would be natural for him, as an honest man, to wish to settle all his accounts. This might be necessary to secure his creditors and to prevent insolvency.

2. A dying man, in setting his house in order, would be desirous to dispatch all important, unfinished business, which could not be accomplished by others after his death. So do you.

3. It is common for dying Christians to call their families around them and impart to them their final counsel. Thus do ye.

4. It is customary for men, when setting their house in order, to make their wills. I have no advice to give as to the dispositon of your worldly estate. But I solemnly charge you to bequeath to God your immortal souls with all their faculties, and your bodies, to sleep in His arms, in expectation of a joyful resurrection.

5. It is not uncommon for people, when they view their end approaching, to prepare their shroud, and make every provision for their funeral obsequies, that nothing may be left to be done in the distress and confusion of the mournful day. (E. D. Griffin, D. D.)

The house in order

I would like to know that your Christian work is in order, that you would leave things so that others could carry them on. Have I ever told you about the obituary notice--though it was only a sort of passing paragraph in the newspaper--of a fisherman on the New Zealand coast? They told of how his body had been found in the bush; how his boat, drawn up to the shore, was near to him. This significant sentence followed, “His nets were set.” I remember the thrill that went through me when I read it first. “His nets were set.” He had gone out to his daily duty, put his nets in order--not left them in a tangled heap on the shore, needing washing or mending or both. They were set, and his successor had but to draw them in presently and secure the spoil of the sea. Are your nets set? If you were to pass away during this week, would it be your fault that the work could not be continued? Do your duty to the last. Do it thoroughly, do it patiently, do it perfectly, that it may be said of you, as of Whitefield, Wesley, M’Cheyne, and a thousand others, that you virtually died in harness.

All that remains for me

Is but to love and sing,

And wait until the angels come

To bear me to their King.

I want your house to be in order, your business to be in order, your church and Christian work to be in order, and I want most of all for all my hearers that their hearts shall be in order. (Thomas Spurgeon.)


Verses 1-19

2 Kings 20:1-19

In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death.

The blessing of sickness

A Christian man of intense business enterprise and activity was laid aside by sickness. He who never would intermit his labours was compelled to a dead halt. His restless limbs were stretched motionless on the bed. He was so weak that he could scarcely lift his hand. Speaking to a friend of the contrast between his condition now and when he had been driving his immense business he said, “Now I am growing. I have been running my soul thin by my activity. Now I am growing in the knowledge of myself and of some things which most intimately concern me.” Blessed, then, is sickness, or sorrow, or any experience that compels us to stop, that takes the work out of our hands for a little season, that empties our hearts of their thousand cares, and turns them toward God to be taught of Him. Death:--The account leads us to consider death in three aspects.

I. As consciously approaching. Mark here three things--

1. When he became conscious of its approach.

2. How he become conscious of its approach. It needs no Isaiah, or any other prophet, to deliver this message to man. It comes to him from all history, from every graveyard, from every funeral procession, as well as from the inexorable law of decay working ever in his constitution.

3. How he felt in the consciousness of its approach.

II. As temporarily arrested. Five things are to be observed here--

1. The primary Author of its arrest.

2. The secondary means of its arrest.

3. The extraordinary sign of its arrest.

4. The exact extension of its arrest.

5. The mental inefficiency of its arrest.

What spiritual good did these additional fifteen years accomplish for the king? They might have done much, they ought to have done much.

III. As ultimately triumphant. “And Hezekiah slept with his fathers.” The end of the fifteen years came, and he meets with the common destiny of all. The unconquered conqueror is not to be defrauded of his prey, however long delayed. (David Thomas, D. D.)
.

Hezekiah’s prayer answered

The prayer of Hezekiah thus signally answered gives us instruction upon several points, of which this is--

1. To love life is a duty. Of course, Hezekiah’s anxiety to live does not prove this. Good men are not so good that we can be sure of the rectitude of all their desires. They may be over-anxious to live, as they may be too ready to die. Luther and Whitefield erred upon the side of over-willingness to die. But the fact that God respected Hezekiah’s wish to live proves that his wish was dutiful and right. His love of life was not weakness; it was not self-will; it was not the mere wish for a longer experience of accustomed pleasure. Had it been any of these, his prayer would have been unheard. He sought for life because life was worth living; he had a motive for life. It was for him a great opportunity. Nothing in the New Testament reverses or modifies the teaching of the Old Testament, that long life is a blessing, a gift of God, a mark of Divine favour. It is said of the godly man: “Because he hath set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him. With long life will I satisfy him, and show him My salvation.” When queenly Wisdom stretches forth her hands to give rewards to her loving and loyal subjects, “Length of days is in her right hand,” as her most excellent gift. There is in the Bible no pessimistic philosophy of life. It is true that the Bible dwells much upon the shortness of life. Death is a fact which it will not let us forget. But Scriptural reflections upon the littleness of life and the nearness of its end are not intended to lessen our love of life, or to make us look upon it as unimportant. Their purpose is to counteract such views. They teach us to “number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Long life is not too long for the full accomplishment of life’s great end. There is nothing in the approach of age which ought to lessen the love of life, if life’s powers remain. The good workman glances now and then at the sun sinking in the west as day declines, only that he may set a higher value upon the remaining minutes, because they are few. He wishes for a full day, and the lengthening shadows set him the more zealously about remaining tasks. The biographers of Lyman Beecher have said of him: “He was so hungry to do the work of Him that sent him that he really seemed sometimes to have little appetite for heaven. Thus, after he was seventy years old, one of his children congratulated him that his labours were nearly over, and that he would soon be at rest. To his son’s surprise the old man replied quickly, ‘I don’t thank my children for sending me to heaven till God does.’” In the lecture-room of Plymouth Church, when very near the end of his life, he said, “If God should tell me that I might choose . . . that is, if God said it was His will that I should choose, whether to die and go to heaven, or to begin my life over again, I would enlist again in a minute.” We are not called upon to love life less because power fails, and we must lay aside accustomed tasks. Let us not measure life by the strength with which we pursue an earthly career. The refining of character may go on better when life’s active powers decline. As we ponder the prayer of Hezekiah, a second thought arises:

II. Submission to the will of God in regard to the term of life is a moderate wish to live as long as we can. It is easy to mistake the true nature of resignation, and to give it a meaning which it should not have. Submission to God’s will is not the suspension of personal will-power. It is not the absence of choice or preference. Holiness is not passivity. Richard Baxter once wrote:--

Lord it belongs not to my care

Whether I live or die.

Perhaps an utterance which is poetic, or at least metrical, ought not to be judged by prosaic rules; but as an unguarded statement its sentiment is false. It ought to have been a part of his care to live long and well. In so doing he would have been submissive to the will of God. There are means to be used to keep life and health. We ought to use them not unconcernedly, but with a strong wish to live. This is resignation to God’s will. In “desiring life,” and “loving” many days that he might see good, Hezekiah did not feel that he was disobedient or un-submissive.

III. Hezekiah’s plea that he had lived a good life was an argument that prevailed with God. It is worthy of remark that the prayers recorded in the Old Testament are full of argument. Men approach God with reasons. They tell Him why He should grant their requests. Evidently they think Divine wisdom “easy to be entreated.” They recount mercies past as a reason for expecting renewed favours. They speak of His goodness. Of their great needs they make a plea. By the littleness and brevity of life they lay claim to mercy. So Hezekiah did not hesitate to find in his past life reasons for its continuance. Evidently he did not think that goodness makes the term of life shorter, or more uncertain. “Whom the gods love die young,” is not a Christian proverb, but its sentiment is to be found in many sayings current among us. Now there are saintly souls living upon the earth “of whom the world” is “not worthy.” But so much the greater the world’s need of their saintly lives. And God has great consideration for the world’s need. The answer to Hezekiah’s prayer suggests a fourth consideration:

IV. The good physician has no controversy with the earthly physician in the wise use of means. Isaiah practised the art of healing. He followed the best medical knowledge of his time. He caused the attendants to take a lump of figs and place it upon the sore, and Hezekiah recovered. He applied a well-known and useful remedy. No doubt there are persons who would be better satisfied with the record of this case of healing if the lump of figs had been left out. They fear that every case of healing claimed by science must be surrendered by religion, and that, when other means are efficacious, prayer is obviously of no avail. They make haste to conclude that, if the lump of figs healed Hezekiah, then God did not. The inspired record is not solicitous about entrenching religion against the attacks of science. If religion should say that prayer worked the healing, and that means were of no use: and if science should say that the lump of figs wrought the cure, and that prayer was of no avail--both would be right in what they asserted, and no less would both be wrong in what they refused to admit. Had Isaiah known that the remedy would have cured without prayer, his delay in using it would have been inexcusable. Had he known that prayer would have been as efficacious without the remedy, he had no sufficient reason for making use of the lump of figs at last. The healing was wrought by the Lord of Life; and not less by Him that He chose to work through the ordinary appointed means.

V. The best results of Hezekiah’s prayer are unrecorded. We find a hint of them in the broken sentences of Isaiah’s page. “What shall I say: He hath both spoken unto me and Himself hath done it. I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul. The Lord was ready to save me; therefore will we sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the Lord.” He walked before the Lord in solemn gladness. In those remaining years God was nearer to him than before. He knew the tenderness of God, who had heard his prayers and had seen his tears. He knew the grace of God, for by His favour he walked in newness of life. He knew the power of God, whose high prerogative it was to turn backward or forward at His will the dial of his life. How great, the power of prayer, which still appeals to the heart of God and persuades Him to make known His way “upon earth,” His “saving health among all nations.” And how infinite the grace of God, who in time past for this chosen servant turned backward for an hour the shadow of the sun, but who, in these last days, has set for ever in the spiritual heavens, above the horizon and within the field of vision for those who look in faith, the blessed “sign of the Son of Man.” (Monday Club Sermons.)

Attachment to life

The young man, till thirty, never feels practically that he is mortal. He knows it, indeed, and, if need were, he could preach a homily on the fragility of life; but he brings it not home to himself, any more than in a hot June we can appropriate to our imagination the freezing days of December. But now, shall I confess a truth? I feel these audits but too powerfully; I begin to count the probabilities of my duration, and to grudge at the expenditure of moments and shortest periods like miser’s farthings. In proportion as the years both lessen and shorten I set more count upon their periods, and would fain lay my ineffectual finger upon the spoke of the great wheel. I am not content to pass away “like a weaver’s shuttle.” Those metaphors solace me not, nor sweeten the unpalatable draught of mortality. I care not to be carried with the tide that smoothly bears human life to eternity, and rebel at the inevitable course of destiny. I am in love with this green earth, the face of town and country, the unspeakable rural solitudes, and the sweet security of streets. I would set up my tabernacle here; I am content to stand still at the age to which I am arrived, to be no younger, no richer, no handsomer. I do not want to be weaned by age, or drop, like mellow fruit, as they say, into the grave! Any alteration on this earth of mine, in diet or in lodging, puzzles and discomposes me. My household goods plant a terribly fixed foot, and are not rooted up without blood. They do not willingly seek Lavinian shores. A new state of being staggers me; sun and sky, and breezes and solitary walks, and summer holidays, and the greenness of fields, and the juices of meats and fishes, and society, and the cheerful glass, and candlelight, and firelight conversations, and jests and irony--do not these things go out with life? Can a ghost laugh, or shake his gaunt sides when you are pleasant with him? (Charles Lamb.)

Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.

A house and a soul compared: or the Christian’s preparation for death

Hezekiah was in the meridian of life, and probably as yet had made no arrangement in regard to the succession to the throne. This message was to this effect--“Give charge concerning thine house. If you have any direction to give in regard to the succession to the crown, or in regard to domestic and private arrangements, let it be done soon” I shall, however, take this message in the secondary or more Important sense, and then, I need not remind you, that by the expression “thine house” we are to understand his inner man--the state of his soul before God. I think that this object is most likely to be attained by drawing the analogy.

I. I would observe that it is necessary for the preservation of a house, that it be built upon a good foundation, and not upon a sandy soil; so is it equally necessary that the foundation upon which the believer places the eternal interest of his soul be built upon the best of all foundations, even Jesus Christ; “for other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Consider what it is to build upon Him. To have our foundation on Jesus Christ is not to hope that we may attain heaven and happiness by a partial conformity with the will of the Saviour, whilst we are at the same time devoting ourselves to the pleasures of the world; it is to feel that we are vile, worthless, and polluted creatures of the earth, whose very best action in itself has the nature of sin; it is to be so assured that our works can have no part in obtaining salvation as to strip us of all self-confidence and conceit, and lead us to place our whole dependence on the finished work, and the all-sufficient righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.

II. But I observe, that after a house is erected, however well and costly it may be built, it requires to be kept in good order, and in constant repair. So it is with the soul, wonderful in its origin, for it was made by God; and majestic even in its ruins, through the fall of man.: “redeemed not with corruptible things, such as with silver and gold, but with the precious blood of the adorable Saviour.”

III. I observe, that light is essential to a house. The clearer the glass of which the windows are composed, and the less obstruction there is, the sooner will be discovered the slightest particle of dust, and every flaw in the dwelling. So it is with the soul; the clearer the light of the Holy Spirit shines into the conscience the more accurately will sin be detected; that which was thought a trifling and innocent thing before, through the illumination of the Holy Spirit will appear in its true light, as defiled and destructive.

IV. No habitation would be complete unless supplied with water; to cleanse and purify it, as also to refresh its inhabitants, and to administer to their comforts. And how can the soul thirsting after the water of life be satisfied without a fresh and daily supply from the Fountain of living waters, even that water which Christ has given him--a well springing up unto everlasting life.

V. I would observe that much of the comfort of a household depends on everything being regulated by judicious and careful management. So it is with the soul. “Let everything be done decently and in order,” is the apostle’s injunction; and of how much more importance is it, that the spiritual exercises of the child of God should be under the control of a wise and well directed judgment.

VI. I would observe that in the ancient mansions of the great, the hall was appropriated to the armoury, which was kept clean, bright, and ready for the master’s use. This reminds us of the Christian’s armour: his weapons are not carnal, but spiritual; not weak, but mighty through God to the pulling down the strongholds of Satan; nevertheless, they must not only be keep bright, but constantly worn. VII. I would remark that in a house there is a necessity for fire. In the same manner in the soul there ought to be a flame of holy love, a zeal for God’s truth. (J. R. Starey.)

Set thy house in order-A New Year’s sermon

There are two points which it is here proper to consider.

1. What views and feelings naturally possess a man who is conscious that his end is near. If his mind has an ordinary share of sensibility, he will dismiss his worldly cares and turn his thoughts to the contemplation of eternity. He is no longer interested in a world he is so soon to leave. The calculations and pursuits of men, their joys, their griefs, their disappointments, their success, their hurry, their hopes, their fears, an appear as idle as the sports of children. The world is lighter to him than a feather. Neither losses nor disappointments nor prosperity has power to affect him. You see him not pressing from business, to business in a rage to be rich. You see him not stretching after preferment. His pride is reduced. You see him no longer assuming haughty airs, no longer fretted at every supposed neglect. Meekness and gentleness mark his deportment. No longer can unbelief or the world hide a prospect of death or seduce his thoughts from God. He looks death in the face. He turns his anxious eye to explore eternal objects. He raises an earnest look to heaven. He ardently betakes himself to prayer and to reading his Bible. All his anxiety is to prepare for his approaching fate. You all perceive that these are rational exercises for a dying man; why then not for you? It is to dying men that I am speaking. I can say to you all, “As the Lord liveth,” and “as your soul liveth, there is but a step between you and death.”

II. Let us consider what measures a man will naturally take to set his house in order, who, with proper views, is conscious that his end is near.

1. It would be natural for him, as an honest man, to wish to settle all his accounts. This might be necessary to secure his creditors and to prevent insolvency.

2. A dying man, in setting his house in order, would be desirous to dispatch all important, unfinished business, which could not be accomplished by others after his death. So do you.

3. It is common for dying Christians to call their families around them and impart to them their final counsel. Thus do ye.

4. It is customary for men, when setting their house in order, to make their wills. I have no advice to give as to the dispositon of your worldly estate. But I solemnly charge you to bequeath to God your immortal souls with all their faculties, and your bodies, to sleep in His arms, in expectation of a joyful resurrection.

5. It is not uncommon for people, when they view their end approaching, to prepare their shroud, and make every provision for their funeral obsequies, that nothing may be left to be done in the distress and confusion of the mournful day. (E. D. Griffin, D. D.)

The house in order

I would like to know that your Christian work is in order, that you would leave things so that others could carry them on. Have I ever told you about the obituary notice--though it was only a sort of passing paragraph in the newspaper--of a fisherman on the New Zealand coast? They told of how his body had been found in the bush; how his boat, drawn up to the shore, was near to him. This significant sentence followed, “His nets were set.” I remember the thrill that went through me when I read it first. “His nets were set.” He had gone out to his daily duty, put his nets in order--not left them in a tangled heap on the shore, needing washing or mending or both. They were set, and his successor had but to draw them in presently and secure the spoil of the sea. Are your nets set? If you were to pass away during this week, would it be your fault that the work could not be continued? Do your duty to the last. Do it thoroughly, do it patiently, do it perfectly, that it may be said of you, as of Whitefield, Wesley, M’Cheyne, and a thousand others, that you virtually died in harness.

All that remains for me

Is but to love and sing,

And wait until the angels come

To bear me to their King.

I want your house to be in order, your business to be in order, your church and Christian work to be in order, and I want most of all for all my hearers that their hearts shall be in order. (Thomas Spurgeon.)


Verse 11

2 Kings 20:11

He brought the shadow ten degrees backward.

The sundial of Ahaz

Here is the first timepiece of which the world has any knowledge. But it was a watch that did not tick and a clock that did not strike. It was a sundial. Ahaz the king invented it. Between the hours given to statecraft and the cares of office he invented something by which he could tell the time of day. This sundial may have been a great column, and when the shadow of that column reached one point it was nine o’clock a.m., and when it reached another point it was three o’clock p.m., and all the hours and half-hours were so measured. Or it may have been a flight of stairs such as may now be found in Hindustan and other old countries, and when the shadow reached one step it was ten o’clock a.m., or another step it was four o’clock p.m., and likewise other hours may have been indicated. We are told that Hezekiah the king was dying of a boil. It must have been one of the worst kind of carbuncles, a boil without any central core and sometimes deathful. A fig was put upon it as a poultice. Hezekiah did not want to die then. His son, who was to take the kingdom, had not yet been born, and Hezekiah’s death would have been the death of the nation. So he prays for recovery, and is told he will get well. But he wants some miraculous sign to make him sure of it. He has the choice of having the shadow on the sundial of Ahaz advance or retreat. He replied it would not be so wonderful to have the sun go down, for it always does go down sooner or later. He asks that it go backward. In other words, let the day, instead of going on toward sundown, turn and go toward sunrise. While looking at the sundial of Hezekiah, and we find the shadow retreating, we ought to learn that God controls the shadows. We are all ready to acknowledge His management of the sunshine. We stand in the glow of a bright morning and we say in our feelings, if not with so many words, “This life is from God, this warmth is from God.” But suppose the day is dark? You have to light the gas at noon. The sun does not show himself all day long. There is nothing but shadow. How slow we are to realise that the storm is from God and the darkness from God and the chill from God. I cannot look for one moment on that retrograde shadow on Ahaz’s dial without learning that God controls the shadows, and that lesson we need all to learn. But I want to show you how the shadows might be turned back.

1. First, by going much among the young people. Remain young. Better than arnica for your stiff joints and catnip tea for your sleepless nights will be a large dose of youthful companionship. Set back the clock of human life. Make the shadow of the sundial of Ahaz retreat ten degrees. People make themselves old by always talking about being old and wishing for the good old days, which were never as good as these days.

2. Set back your clocks also by entering on new and absorbing Christian work. In our desire to inspire the young we have in our essays had much to say about what has been accomplished by the young: of Romulus, who founded Rome when he was twenty years of age; of Cortes, who had conquered Mexico at thirty years; of Pitt, who was Prime Minister of England at twenty-four years; of Raphael, who died at thirty-seven years; of Calvin, who wrote his Institutes at twenty-six; of Melancthon, who took a learned professor’s chair at twenty-one years; of Luther, who had conquered Germany for the Reformation by the time he was thirty-five years. And it is all very well for us to show how early in life one can do very great things for God and the welfare of the world, but some of the mightiest work for God has been done by septuagenarians and octogenarians and nonagenarians Indeed, there is work which none but such can do. They preserve the equipoise of Senates, of religious denominations, of reformatory movements. Young men for action, old men for counsel. Instead of any of you beginning to fold up your energies, arouse anew your energies.

3. But while looking at this sundial of Ahaz, and I see the shadow of it move, I notice that it went back toward the sunrise instead of forward toward the sunset--toward the morning instead of toward the night. I have seen day break over Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn, over the heights of Lebanon, over Mount Washington, over the Sierra Nevadas, and mid-Atlantic, the morning after a departed storm when the billows were liquid Alps and liquid Sierra Nevadas, but the sunrise of the soul is more effulgent and more transporting. It bathes all the heights of the soul and illumines all the depths of the soul and whelms all the faculties, all the aspirations, all the ambitions, all the hopes with a light that sickness cannot eclipse or death extinguish or eternity do anything but augment and magnify. I preach the sunrise. As I look at that retrograde movement of the shadow on Ahaz’s dial, I remember that it was a sign that Hezekiah was going to get well, and he got well. So I have to tell all you who are, by the grace of God, having your day turned from decline toward night to ascend toward morning, that you are going to get well, well of all your sins, well of all your sorrows, well of all your earthly distresses. Sunrise! Sunrise! But not like one of those mornings after you have gone to bed late, or did not sleep well, and you get up chilled and yawning, and the morning bath is a repulsion, and you feel like saying to the morning sun shining into your window: “I do not see what you find to smile about; your brightness is to me a mockery.” But the inrush of the next world will be a morning after a sound sleep, a sleep that nothing can disturb, and you will rise, the sunshine in your faces, and in your first morning in heaven you will wade down into the sea of glass mingled with fire, the foam on fire with a splendour you never saw on earth, and the rolling waves are doxologies, and the rocks of that shore are golden and the pebbles of that beach are pearl, and the skies that arch the scene are a commingling of all the colours that St. John saw on the wall of heaven, the crimson and the blue and the saffron and the orange and the purple and the gold and the green wrought on those skies in shape of garlands, of banners, of ladders, of chariots, of crowns, of thrones. What a sunrise! Do you not feel its warmth on your faces? Scoville M’Collum, the dying boy of our Sunday school, uttered what shall be the peroration of this sermon, “Throw back the shutters and let the sun in!” And so the shadow of Ahaz’s sundial turns from sunset to sunrise. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)

Fifteen years extension of life

In the autumn of 1799, when the well-known Rev. T. Charles, of Bala, was dangerously ill, and his life was despaired of, very earnest prayers for his recovery were offered up in his chapel. Several members prayed on the occasion; and one member was much noticed at the time for the very urgent and importunate manner with which he prayed. Alluding to the fifteen years added to Hezekiah’s life, he, with unusual fervency, entreated the Almighty to spare his pastor’s life for at least fifteen years. He several times repeated the following words, with such melting importunity that all present were greatly affected:--“Fifteen years more, O Lord; we beseech Thee to add fifteen years more to the life of Thy servant. And wilt Thou not, O our God, give fifteen years more for the sake of Thy Church and Thy cause?” Mr. Charles was restored to health. He heard of this prayer, and it made a deep impression on his mind. He was more than ever industrious in every good work, establishing Sabbath schools, originating the Bible Society, and doing great good, not only in Wales, but in Scotland and Ireland as well. The last time he was in South Wales he was asked when he would be back again. His answer was, “Probably never. My fifteen years are nearly up.” And it is remarkable that his death occurred just at the termination of the fifteen years.

Making more of life

If you have a bar of gold and want to double its value, you may do so, no doubt, by doubling its length, but you may also do so by doubling its thickness, and in certain circumstances this may be more serviceable. Now life, in the same way, may be increased in value, not by being prolonged, but by being deepened. If two men live a year, but one of them puts into every day twice as much work and enjoyment and usefulness as the other, his life is of course far more valuable than the other. This is what Christ does. He deepens our lives. I well remember a friend of my own who had gone a great length, living what is called a fast life, and exploring, as he thought at the time, all the heights and depths of existence, but on whom God had mercy. I remember him saying to me with great earnestness, on one occasion, that he would not give one day of his changed life for all the years of pleasure that he had previously enjoyed. And that is the tone in which all true Christians are disposed to talk when they are contrasting their old lives with the new. Among men of the world it is a common enough question whether life is worth living, but among true and hearty Christians there is no such question possible. God makes their life golden, He deepens it, and that is what He means when in our text He says, “I am come to give life, and to give more abundantly. (Stalker.)


Verse 12-13

2 Kings 20:12-13

Berodach-baladan . . . sent letters and a present unto Hezekiah.

Hezekiah and the ambassadors, or vainglory rebuked

Who among us would not have shown the strangers over our house, and our garden, and our library, and have pointed out to them any little treasures and curiosities which we might happen to possess? And what if Hezekiah was somewhat proud of his wealth? Was it not a most natural pride that he who was a monarch of so small a territory should nevertheless be able, by economy and good government, to accumulate so large and varied a treasure? Did it not show that he was prudent and thrifty; and might he not commend himself as an example to the Babylonian ambassadors, as showing what these virtues had done for him? Exactly so; this is just as man seeth; but God seeth after another sort: “Man looketh at the outward appearance, but God looketh at the heart.” Things are not to God as they seem to us. Actions which apparently and upon the surface, and even, so far as human judgment can go, may appear to be either indifferent or even laudable, may seem to God to be so hateful that His anger may burn against them. We look upon a needle, and to our naked eye it is as smooth as glass, but when we put it under the microscope it appears at once to be as rough as an unmanufactured bar of iron. It is much after this manner with our actions. Yet another reflection which strikes one at the very first blush of this affair, namely, that God has a different rule for judging His children’s doings from that which He applies to the actions of strangers. I can believe that if Hezekiah had sent his ambassadors to Berodach-baladan, that heathen monarch might have shown the Jewish ambassadors over all his treasures without any sort of sin; God would not have been provoked to anger, nor would a prophet have uttered so much as a word of remonstrance or of threatening: but Hezekiah is not like Berodach-baladan, and must not do as the Babylonians may do. Baladan is but a serf in God’s kingdom, and Hezekiah is a prince; the one is an alien, and the other is a dear and much cherished child. We have all different modes of dealing with men according to their relation to us. If a stranger should speak against you in the street you Would not feel it, you would scarce be angry even though the statement might be libellous; but if it were the wife of your bosom it would sting you to the heart, or if your child should slander you it would cut you to the quick. We remark then that the act of Hezekiah here recorded is not upon the surface a sinful one, but that the sin is to be found, not so much in the action itself as in his motives, of which we cannot be judges, but which God very accurately judged, and very strictly condemned: and, again, we remark that this sin of Hezekiah might not have been sin in others at all, that even with the same motive is done by others it might not have so provoked God; but seeing that Hezekiah, above even most of the scriptural saints, was favoured with singular interpositions of providence, and distinguished honours from God’s hand, he should have been more careful. His sin, if little in others, became great in him, because of his being so beloved of God.

I. In order to bring out what Hezekiah’s offence was, it will be best for me to begin by describing his circumstances and state at the time of the transaction.

1. We may remark that he had received very singular favours. Sennacherib had invaded the land with a host reckoned to be invincible, and probably it was invincible by all the known means of warfare of that age: but when he came near Jerusalem he was not able even so much as to cast a mound against it. This was a memorable deliverance from a foe so gigantic as to be compared to Leviathan, into whose jaw the Lord thrust a hook, and led him back to the place from whence he came. Beside this, the king had been restored from a sickness pronounced to be mortal.

2. In addition to all this the Lord gave Hezekiah an unusual run of prosperity. Hezekiah was in all respects a prosperous monarch; the man whom the King of kings delighted to honour. This great prosperity was a great temptation, far more difficult to endure than Rabshakeh’s letter, and all the ills which invasion brought upon the land. Many serpents lurk among the flowers of prosperity; high places are dangerous places; it is not easy to carry a full cup with a steady hand.

3. We must not forget that Hezekiah, at this time, had become singularly conspicuous. To be favoured as he was might have been endurable, if he could have lived in retirement; but he was set as upon a pinnacle, since all the nations round about must have heard of the destruction of Sennacherib’s host.

4. Hezekiah had remarkable opportunities for usefulness. How much he might have done to honour the God of Israel! He ought to have made the courts of princes ring with the name of Jehovah. He should have placed himself in the rear of the picture, and have filled the earth with his testimony to the glory of his God. How well he might have exclaimed, in the language of triumphant exultation, “Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah?” Which of these delivered the nations from Sennacherib? Which of these could raise up their, votaries from mortal sickness? Which of these could say to the sun’s shadow, Go thou back upon the dial of Ahaz? But Jehovah ruleth over all; He is King in heaven above, and in the earth beneath.

5. He, above all men, was under obligation to have loved his God and to have devoted himself wholly to Him. All life is sacred to the Giver of Life, and should be devoted to Him; but life supernaturally prolonged should have been in an especial manner dedicated to God. We must not too hastily condemn Hezekiah. It is for God to condemn but not for us, for I am persuaded had we been in Hezekiah’s place we should have done the same. Observe now wherein his loftiness would find food. Here he might have said to himself, “Within my dominions the greatest of armies has been destroyed and the mightiest of princes has been humbled. He whose name was a sound of terror in every land came into my country, and he melted away like the snow before the sun. Great art thou, O Hezekiah! great is thy land, for thy land has devoured Sennacherib, and put an end to the havoc of the destroyer.” Remember also that he had this to try him above everything else--he had the certainty of living fifteen years. I have already given you a hint of the danger of such certainty. Mortals as we are, in danger of dying at any moment, yet we grow secure; but give us fifteen years certain, and I know not that heaven above would be high enough for our heads, or whether the whole world would be large enough to contain the swellings of our pride. We should be sure to grow vaingloriously great if the check of constant mortality were removed. Then when Hezekiah surveyed his stores, he would see much to puff him up, for worldly possessions are to men what gas is to a balloon. Ah, those who know anything about possessions, about broad acres, gold and silver, and works of art, and precious things, and so on, know what a tendency there is to puff up the owners thereof,

6. To complete our description of the circumstances, it appears that at this time God left His servant in a measure, to try him. “Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that He might know all that was in his heart.”

II. We must now turn to consider the occurrence itself and the sin which arose out of it. Babylon, a province of Assyria, had thrown off the Assyrian yoke, and Berodach-baladan was naturally anxious to obtain allies in order that his little kingdom might grow strong enough to preserve itself from the Assyrians. He had seen with great pleasure that the Assyrian army had been destroyed in Hezekiah’s country, and very probably, not recognising the miracle, he thought that Hezekiah had defeated the host, and so he sent his ambassadors with a view to make a treaty of alliance with so great a prince. The ambassadors arrived. Now in this case the duty of Hezekiah was very clear. He ought to have received the ambassadors with due courtesy as becomes their office, and he should have regarded their coming as an opportunity to bear testimony to the idolatrous Babylonians of the true God of Israel. He should have explained to them that the wonders which had been wrought were wrought by the only living and true God, and then he might have said, in answer to Isaiah’s question, “What have they seen in thine house?” “I have told them of the mighty acts of Jehovah, I have published abroad His great fame, and I have sent them back to their country to tell abroad that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” He should have been very cautious with these men. They were idolaters, and therefore not fit company for the worshippers of Jehovah. We may perceive wherein his sin was found. I think it lay in five particulars.

1. It is evident from the passage in Isaiah 39:1-8, that he was greatly delighted with their company. It is said, “Hezekiah was glad of them.” In this chapter it is said, “He hearkened unto them.” He was very pleased to see them. It is an ill sign when a Christian takes great solace in the company of the worldling, more especially when that worldling is profane. The Babylonians were wicked idolaters, it was ill for the lover of Jehovah to press them to his bosom. He should have felt towards them, “As for your gods, I loathe them, for I worship the God that made heaven and earth, neither can I receive you into close familiarity, because you are no lovers of the Lord my God.” Courtesy is due from the Christian to all men, but the unholy intimacy which allows a believer to receive an unregenerate person as his bosom friend is a sin.

2. The next sin which he committed was that he evidently leaned to their alliance. Now Hezekiah was the king of a little territory, almost as insignificant as a German principality, and his true strength would have been to have leaned upon his God, and to have made no show whatever of military power. It was by God that he had been defended, why should not he still rest upon the invisible Jehovah? But no, he thinks, “If I could associate with the Babylonians, they are a rising people, it will be well for me.” Mark this--God takes it hard of His people when they leave His arm for an arm of flesh.

3. His next sin was, his unholy silence concerning his God. He does not appear to have said a word to them about Jehovah. Would it have been polite? Etiquette, nowadays, often demands of a Christian that he should not intrude his religion upon company. Out on such etiquette! But nowadays, if one cares about fashion, one must be gagged in all companies. You must not intrude, nor be positive in your opinions, if you would have the good word of fashionable people. Meanwhile, mark that Hezekiah sadly made up for his silence about his God by loudly boasting about himself. If he had little to say of his God, he had much to say about his spices, his armour, and his gold and silver; and I dare say he took them to see the conduit and the pool which he had made, and the various other wonders of engineering which he had carried out. Ah, etiquette lets us talk of men, but about our God we must be silent.

4. Surely also his sin lay in his putting himself on a level with these Babylonians. Suppose he had gone to see them, what would they have shown him? Why, they would have shown him their spicery, their armoury, their gold and their silver. Now, they come to see him, and he is a worshipper of the invisible God, and he glories in just the same treasures as those in which they also trusted. May you and I shun this sin of Hezekiah, and not try to match ourselves with sinners as to the joys of this present life. If they say, “Here are my treasures,” let us tell them about the “city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God,” and say, “Our treasure is above.” Let us imitate the noble Roman lady who, when her friend showed her all her trinkets, waited till her two fair boys came home from school, and then pointed to them, and said, “These are my jewels.” Do you, when you hear the worldling vaunting his happiness, drop in a gentle word, and say, “I too have my earthly comforts, for which I am grateful; but my best delights are not here; they spring neither from corn, nor wine, nor oil; nor could spices, and gold, and music render them to be. My heart is in heaven, my heart is not here; 1 have set my soul upon things above; Jesus is my joy, and His love is my delight. You tell me of what you love; permit me to tell you of what I love.” The Lord takes it hard on the part of His people if they are ashamed of the blessings which He gives them, and if they never boast in the Cross of Christ they have good cause to be ashamed of themselves.

III. The third matter, the punishment and the pardon. We may generally find a man’s sin written in his punishment. We sow the thorns, and then God flogs us with them. Our sins are the mothers of our sorrows. Judgments being therefore threatened, Hezekiah and the people humbled themselves. If you and I would escape chastisement, we must humble ourselves. Yet although God removed the punishment as far as Hezekiah was concerned, He did not remove the consequences. You see the consequences of showing the Babylonians the treasures were just these: they would be sure to go back and tell their king, “That little prince has a vast store of spice and armour, and all sorts of precious things; we must before long pick a quarrel with him, and despoil his rich hive. We must bring these choice treasures to Babylon; they will repay us for the toils of war.” That was the certain result of Hezekiah’s folly; and though God did forget the sin and promise to remove the punishment from Hezekiah, yet He did not avert the consequences from another generation. So with us. Many a sin which the believer has committed God has pardoned, but the consequences come all the same. You may have the guilt forgiven, but you cannot undo the sin; there it remains, and our children and our children’s children may have to smart for sins which God has forgiven to us. A spendthrift may be forgiven for his profligacy, but he sends a stream of poverty down to the next generation.

IV. Gather up the lessons of this narrative. The lessons which come uppermost are just these.

1. See, then, what is in every man’s heart. O God, teach us to know our hearts, and help us, while we remember how black they are, never to be proud.

2. In the next place, tremble at anything that is likely to bring out this evil of your heart. Riches and worldly company are the two cankers that eat out the very life of godliness. Christian, be aware of them!

3. Should we not be taught by this narrative to cry out every day against vainglory! Ah, it is not those standing in prominent spheres who are alone in danger of it, but all others.

4. And then supposing that you should have given way to it, see the sorrow which it will bring you; and if you would escape that sorrow, imitate Hezekiah, and humble yourself.

5. Lastly, let us cry to God never to leave us. “Lord, take not Thy Holy Spirit from us! withdraw not from us Thy restraining grace!” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Royal congratulations and national ostentation

Hezekiah at one time had trouble on trouble. In the days when his capital was besieged he was stricken down, not by the weapons of the enemy, but by the hand of disease. He felt it a great denial to be unable to go forth and lead his people. The prophet told him that he would have to die. Life was sweet. Usefulness was sweeter still. He prayed and wept. His prayer was heard. As an assurance of the Divine working a sign was given; time was recalled, and the shadow of the dial was put back. Hezekiah recovered. The Assyrian army raised the siege. The king went up to the temple to show his gratitude, and then life went on smoothly until we hear of a royal congratulating embassage being sent to him from Berodach-baladan. Those of kingly rank often show a ceremonial courtesy when there is little real kindliness. It looks well before the people. Still, courtesy helps to smooth the wheels of state as well as of life. Unmeaning courtesy should not obtain among Christians. A warm recognition after a service will often deepen the impression of a sermon, but a cold and off-hand salute can easily help to erase it. In Some circles the repressive is exercised with such effect that it would need the force of a Vesuvius to break through it. In such circles the minutiae of etiquette will be watched, but the loving and hearty confidence will be wanting. Berodach-baladan sent a present to back up kingly congratulations. This was in conformity with the practice of the East. The King of Babylon wished really to bribe Hezekiah into forming an affiance with him. He wanted to strengthen himself against Sargon, the Assyrian king. He did not despise the help which a small kingdom and insignificant army could give in case of the breaking out of hostilities. Judah had been as a bulwark to check the advance of Sennacherib, and might serve the same purpose against his successor. Judah was a sort of Switzerland in Asia Minor. Moreover, Judah was evidently under the protection of the God of heaven. In all this Berodach-baladan may have been honestly desirous to testify his regard; and although after events showed that Babylon was not to be trusted, it was under another king, who arose and knew not the man whom his predecessor had honoured. The embassy sent was one that must have cost Babylon a considerable amount, but it was able to accomplish its purpose. It might have been repulsed by the king of these strange people who sought to keep themselves from association with other nations; but, instead, the special embassy was welcomed. Hezekiah welcomed the men from Chaldea. He was delighted that a king who was accounted as one of the mightiest of the Gentile monarchs had recognised him. Moreover, he saw himself growing in importance. He was gaining prestige, and that is close akin to power. His little nation was beginning to rank with extensive empires. When vanity is appealed to, we are easily led away in a wrong direction. Men are more easily led wrong by these whom they suppose to be above them in rank. The proud lead to pride.

1. See how flattered vanity betrayed a man into foolish openness and ostentation. Hezekiah showed the ambassadors “all his treasures.” He had little to show immediately after the tribute levied by the Assyrian king had been paid, but somehow he had great treasures to exhibit to the Babylonians. His regalia, his armoury, his magazine, his stables, his treasures of gold in safe keeping, his spicery and unguents for luxury, everything he laid open. Had he had a great army or fleet he would have had a grand review. He only showed his treasures. Eyes feasted. Minds meditated. Greed was fostered. Folly was sneered at. Glances full of meaning must have passed from prince to prince. Interpret those glances. They mean: How well these things would look in Babylon; how they would help to swell the revenues of our master; how they would pay the cost of some war. Into what evil will pride betray us! It is a spring-board at one time and a stumbling-mock at another, we are a subject to its assaults. Our possessions, our powers, our position, our acquirements, our friends, our nationality, may all lead to pride. We must be watchful. We must not be ostentatious. At the same time, we are not to withhold showing friends that which may interest them, or which may help to cultivate in them a love of the beautiful, or gratify an exquisite taste. If we have pictures or albums, coins and curios, we may show them, but to display and point out evidences of wealth is as despicable as it is foolish. In much ostentation there is a hidden contempt for those who cannot succeed in gaining that which we have acquired. We worship our own skill and power. We forget that “time and chance happeneth to all.” Pride makes us idolaters of self on the one hand, and despisers of our fellows on the other. The proudest of the proud are often those who have least to be proud of, but who are the “accident of an accident.”

2. Further, we see that pride led Hezekiah to miss a grand opportunity of glorifying God. Here were heathens in his presence. He might have spoken of what wonders God had wrought for him: of the deliverance effected, of the health restored. He might have led them up to the temple to see the purity of the Divine worship. He might have told them of the laws of Moses and of their beneficent tendencies; of the traditions, history, and sacred proverbs his scribes had copied out. Nothing of the kind did he. He let slip a chance that came but seldom, and thus neglected to glorify his God. Alas! many have imitated him.

3. Searching questions as to proud action were soon put. The prophet comes. With what authority he speaks. How faithfully he probes the king’s conscience. The royal sinner winces. He is not pleased at the prophet’s interference in state affairs. What could Isaiah know of state and diplomatic reasons? Those who carry on all sorts of subtle arrangements and negotiations are not always pleased to have to “place the papers on the table,” or to submit the results and the processes to the critical eye of the public. Isaiah was one of the public. He represented the public and God. He questioned boldly the king. He has no fear to check him, and he has no favour to ask. Noble Isaiah! Welt is it for the king that he has thee to speak boldly to him, to lead him back to God and right principles when most in danger of wandering therefrom! Thou wert a greater treasure than all he had exhibited to his Babylonish visitors, hut he had not brought thee forth to view.

4. Retribution was threatened. A Nemesis must follow pride. We are sure to have vexation from that through which the heart has been unduly lifted up. The very nation with which Judah, in the person of its king, had been dallying would be the cause of its overthrow. Babylon must always ruin those who bask in the delights of Babylon. The love of the world must bring bitter regret to those who neglect God. Years go over. Another king is reigning. There is terror on the walls, in the streets, and houses of Jerusalem. The tents of an enemy were whitening the hills around. Babylonian battering-rams were drawing near to the walls. Fires were being made at the gates to destroy them. Hosts like locusts were swarming all over the surrounding country. The land could not bear them. Famine stared the people in the face. They looked around for help. None came. Egypt was a “broken reed piercing the hand.” Weeks dragged slowly by, and the sufferings of the besieged were daily intensified. At length a breach was made in the wall. Armed men innumerable rushed through. The people were butchered. The king was taken. His sons were seized and slain before his eyes. Then his own organs of vision were wantonly put out. The temple was desecrated and the palaces destroyed. Sacred vessels were piled in heaps and then fastened on camels and horses for transit to Babylon. The weapons in which he had trusted were broken up, and the objects of his pride were made the sign of his humiliation. The prophet foretold all this. Hezekiah shuddered, but was compelled to confess the justice of his retribution. He could only say, “Good is the word which the Lord hath spoken.” God’s justice must be praised as well as His mercy. Hezekiah did not imagine retribution would come so surely and swiftly. Individuals make up the nation, therefore let us watch against pride--the pride that drove our first parents from Paradise, that drove a Pharaoh to be engulfed by the waves of the sea, that drove a Saul from his kingdom. (F. Hastings.)

Dangerous love of display

A visitor to London during the Queen’s Jubilee testified that the diamonds worn by the women of the American colonies outblazed those of the royal family and the wealthiest of the English nobility. This growing love of display is one of the danger-signals of our time. To provide these women with such diamonds many a man stakes his soul in desperate gambling transactions in and out of Wall Street. The feverish desire which men often show for great and sudden riches is not infrequently at the bottom of the desire of some foolish women to outshine other women. If he succeeds, she wears the diamonds; if he fails, there is another account of a suicide in the morning paper. (L. A. Banks.)


Verse 19-20

2 Kings 20:19-20

Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken.

The peace

The text is susceptible of two propositions. First, that peace is a blessing only on a basis of truth. “He said, Is it not good if peace and truth be in my days?” Secondly, that the godliest celebration of peace is to resume the social and religious benefactions interrupted by war. Hezekiah’s “might” was diverted to the construction of “the pool and the conduit of water” for the relief of his people.

I. That peace without truth is not the peace of God is capable of abundant evidence and illustration. As in a religious sense there may be “a cry of Peace, peace, where there is no peace,” except the unnatural stillness of a moral stupefaction, a stifling of the voice of conscience, and a compromise of principle with “the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience,” and under whose influence, when the “strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace,” such as it is--but it is at the best only the torpor of sordid subjection to spiritual bondage, the tranquillity of a dungeon, or the quiescence of a corpse, dead in its trespasses and sins--so in the political moralities of nations there may be a peace that has no truth in it, neither in the reality of its foundation, the assurance of its continuance, nor the uprightness of its conditions. That is a peace at the expense of truth which is not true to the eternal and inalienable principles of international rights--which is bought by the ignoble subsidy of subjection to wrong and injustice, or which consents to spare itself the possible cost and sacrifice of a generous intervention on behalf of the weak against the strong--which ignores the great plea of national brotherhoods, and asks with the first fratricide, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and which entails upon itself the malediction written against those who were “not grieved with the afflictions of Joseph.” That is a peace without truth which “looks every man to his own things, and not every man to the things of others also”; and if this maxim be a canon binding on any one man in reference to any other man, it is equally binding on any one nation in reference to any other nation.

II. Our second deduction from the text is, that the godliest celebration of peace is to resume the social and religious benefactions interrupted by the war. Hezekiah so improved even a period of respite. “He made a pool, and a conduit, and brought water into the city.” If God condescended to put twice on record the mere municipal zeal of this pious prince; if, the pool, the conduit and the water are counted worthy of a place in the compendious annals of Inspiration, we may be sure the activities of Christian benevolence in the same direction will meet with His gracious approval. It is a miserable mistake to suppose, that Christianity has nothing to do with the common tenements, the daily vulgar wants and homespun miseries of our fellow-men. It stirs our sympathy to listen to the recital of the far-off dark places of the earth and their habitations of cruelty; but it is not so easy to extort a sigh over the dark back lanes and more noisome and cruel abodes in the next street behind us. There are no Hezekiah’s pools, except in fever-brewing abominations of the cesspool, nor other conduit except the constant exhalations of disease and death from the sluggish gutter, nor better homes than the vile hovels where in guilt and penury alike seek a covert to sin, and suffer and die. If the bitter mass of gratuitous suffering and mortality arising from a defective commissariat in the Crimea should drag into reluctant notice the amount of misery dally endured from a similar neglect of sanitary provisions in the crowded courts and alleys of the metropolis, the poor battalions will not have perished in vain. They will have incidentally achieved an involuntary victory on behalf of their fellow-citizens, attended perhaps with more comfort than glory, but none the less precious for the public welfare. Oh! there is more hope of the Gospel gaining audience of the wild Indian in the cheerful freedom of his native forests, than of its penetrating the gross darkness of the denizens alongside the Thames, or the purlieus of the city. If we would speak with any hope of evangelising effect of “the pool of Siloam,” and of “the Fountain of living waters,” we must first tread in Hezekiah’s footsteps, provide the pool and the conduit of sanitary necessities, the possibilities of popular decency and comfort, the practicableness of a family hearth and home, the humble means of health and cleanliness, of light and air and water, freely as God bestows them, and fully as a seasonable adoption of remedial agents would supply them. Such a celebration of the peace abroad would afford the happiest prospect of more peace at home, and co-operate with city missionaries and ministers of religion with the most hopeful pledges of success, in their more directly spiritual efforts for the evangelisation of our fellow-citizens. (J. B. Owen, M. A.)

Submission

“Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him: therefore there was wrath upon him and upon Judah and Jerusalem.” The prophet was sent to say to him, “Behold the days come that all that is in thy house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord. And of thy sons which shall issue from thee--shall they take away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” This was the humiliating and distressing message to which the penitent king made the reply in our text, “Good is the word of the Lord which thou bass spoken.” Shall I call your attention to the holiness and happiness of such a temper, and to the universal obligation on mankind to offer this homage to their God and King? In doing this I will,

I. Explain precisely what the temper is. It is a temper of universal and absolute submission to the will of God. There is a forced submission--a yielding because we cannot help it; but this is not the thing required. There is an acquiescence in the will of God when that will sends prosperity; but this is only a consenting that another should make us happy. The only true submission is that hearty acquiescence in the will of God which arises from supreme love to him. The reason why the wicked do not submit, is that they love themselves and their own enjoyments most. While such a temper continues, they must of course value their own gratification more than the Divine pleasure, and approve of the will of God only so far as that will is tributary to them. This selfishness is the root and core of all rebellion. When our own wishes and interests are less dear to us than that universal interest which is wrapt up in the Divine will, what can tempt us to unsubmission? what is there for us to oppose to that will? what interest have we to maintain against the wishes of God? But so certain as we love another interest better than that which the Divine will protects, we shall set up that interest against God, and resist whenever he lays his finger upon it. True submission then is the necessary effect of supreme love to God, and can arise from no other principle. This submission is to be distinguished from that morbid inactivity and aversion to care which, retiring from exertion, leaves God to be the only agent in the universe--which puts off burdens upon Him just as the indolent shift them off upon each other--which, instead of exerting a dependent agency with an eye fixed upon an overruling providence, leaves God to perform both His part and ours. That may be called submission to a providential dispensation, which really is indolence shrinking from an effort to change the posture of affairs. It is an essential part of God’s plan, and for His glory, that creatures should obtain good by their own activity; otherwise there would be no use for their immortal powers. This activity He has therefore enjoined. “Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord,” is the Christian’s motto.

II. I am to dwell a little on the holiness and happiness of such a temper, and the universal obligation on mankind to exercise it. To love the righteous will of God, in which are balanced all the interests of the universe--which is perfectly wise and benevolent and right--to love that will better than our own interests, and to subject our interests and wishes to that; must be holy if any thing is holy--must be pure and sublime benevolence. How generous and noble is the temper. How infinitely superior to the littleness and meanness of a selfish spirit. And it is precisely what God commands. If then holiness consists in obeying God, it consists in rendering him that supreme love which will produce the submission in question. What can be holiness, what can be goodness, if it is not subjection to the will of eternal wisdom and benevolence? This submission to the will of God, so far as it operates, necessarily excludes all evil passions and conduct. For instance, it excludes all discontent. For one who knows that the providence of God is universal, and extends to the most minute events, and who is willing that the will of the Lord in all things should be done, and delights in that will more than in anything which that will can take away; what ground can there be for discontentment? If events are crossing to his feelings, still His supreme desire is gratified, for the will of the Lord is done; and though He may suffer he would by no means change a single circumstance about which the Divine will has been clearly expressed. But when the pleasure of God is known, a particle of discontentment evinces a want of submission. With proper resignation, we shall feel, under any cross event, that we have nothing to do, in mind or body, but to use the means which God has appointed to remove or support the evil. In looking forward into the wide expanse of futurity, or in contemplating the issue of any particular event, the Christian knows that nothing can happen but what the will of God appoints. While that will engages his supreme regard, how can he be anxious? It follows of course that submission will exclude every complaining word, every, angry, or bitter word, every impatient word. Submission will cure every inordinate desire after wealth, honour, pleasure, friends, ease, or whatever else we regard. An inordinate desire is an unsubmissive desire. Submission is an effectual cure of all envious feelings towards our neighbour. It follows of course that submission will exclude every falsehood, and I may add, every transgression. The temptation to transgress is a desire for some object which we cannot obtain without going counter to a Divine precept. Where the object is placed in this predicament by the providence of God, it is plain that submission to providence take away all motives to transgress. I add finally, that submission, so far as it extends, must quench every evil passion, and thus extinguish the inward fire from which all outward eruptions proceed. If it suppresses every inordinate desire, every feeling of discontent, all distrust of God, every motion of impatience. Thus the holiness of this temper appears. And its happiness is no less evident. Submission to God, as we have seen, excludes all those uncomfortable passions which make the wicked like the troubled sea when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. It clears away everything that can agitate or corrode the mind. And as its very life-blood consists in supreme delight in the will of God, it has always the happiness of knowing that its dearest object is safe--that the ground of its highest exultation and joy is secure--that the will of infinite wisdom and benevolence will in all things be done. And in respect to the universal obligation, who can doubt that this is precisely the temper in which all moral agents ought to unite? The very definition of moral agents is, that they are under obligation to feel and do right and to avoid wrong. But in the temper under consideration, all the right feelings in the universe are involved, and by it all the wrong feelings in the universe are excluded. If you revolt from these conclusions, you must go back to the full admission that all men are under indispensable obligations to yield unlimited submission to God. Is he not our rightful King, and are we not His subjects? Is not His will perfect? Has not the Creator and Proprietor of all things a right to govern His own world according to His own pleasure? This is the religion Of the Old Testament and the New. Under the severest trials this resignation has all along been exemplified in the history of the Church. “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” said Job when all his children and possessions were destroyed. “Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?” was his language when covered with one tormenting ulcer from head to foot. In more general and common matters, the same acknowledgment of God and the same resignation to His will have all along been exemplified. A general acquiescence and joy in His government have always distinguished His true servants. All down the ages they have sung, “The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.” (E. D. Griffith, D. D.)

Resignation in affliction

The Fram, which went in search of the North Pole, escaped many of the perils that injured other expeditionary vessels, because her commander built her wide at the decks and narrowing her down to the keel, so that she did not withstand the ice, but yielded to its pressure. The cruel masses could not get a grip of the wisely constructed craft. The pressure, so far from crushing her, lifted her clean out of the ice, and she rode triumphantly on the floes. How many of our life troubles which if faced resentfully, sullenly, proudly, threaten to grind us to powder; but meet them meekly, resignedly, recognising in them God’s wiser will for us than we for ourselves, and they will in the end lift us upward and bear us onward towards the eternal Light. (H. O. Mackey.)

Unshaken faith

The Rev. Dr. Campbell Morgan tells the following pathetic story concerning Commander Booth-Tucker, who lost his wife in a railway accident last autumn. “A few weeks ago,” he, says, “in a city of Nebraska, I was holding meetings. There came to that city my dear friend Commander Booth-Tucker. It was the city of Omaha. I shall never forget my talk with him there. I said to him, ‘Commander, the passing of your beloved wife was one of the things that I freely confess I cannot understand.’ He looked at me across the breakfast table, his eyes wet with tears, and yet his face radiant with that light which never shone on sea or land, and he said to me, ‘Dear man, do you not know that the Cross can only be preached by tragedy?’ Then he told me this incident: ‘When I and my wife were last in Chicago I was trying to lead a sceptic to Christ in a meeting. At last the sceptic said, with a cold glittering eye and a sarcastic voice, ‘It is all very well. You mean well; but I lost my faith in God when my wife was taken out of my home. It is all very well; but if that beautiful woman at your side lay dead and cold by you, how would you believe in God?’ Within one month she had been taken through the awful tragedy of a railway accident, and the Commander went back to Chicago, and, in the hearing of a vast multitude, said, ‘Here, in the midst of the crowd, standing by the side of my dead wife as I take her to burial, I want to say that I still believe in Him, and love Him, and know Him.’” (C. L. M’Cleery.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Kings 20:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/2-kings-20.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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