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The kingdom of Israel, or Samaria, was now closed, not for ever, but for a season, and a season protracted long, even unto this day. There has been no restoration save in individuals. We know that Jehovah will set His hand a second time, and will recover them and bring them back with unexampled power and blessedness into their own land, for theirs was ever a sorrowful history. It was humiliating to think of them as the people of God from the very beginning of their separate existence unto its close. It began in self-will, and it ended in shame and sorrow. Truly, they; "lay down in sorrow." It must ever be so when men endeavour to kindle a fire of their own sparks. But not only this. The peculiar state of things that followed Israel in that land which they had vacated is brought before us the mongrel population that the king of Assyria brought from the east and established in Samaria mere pretenders to the name of Israel, who served their own gods but incorporated nominal allegiance to the Jehovah of Israel. This we have seen, and the Spirit of God leaves the matter before us without comment.
But now the grace of God works remarkably in Judah, for it was a serious time that was at hand. The same power of Assyria that destroyed Israel threatened the last portion of the people of God, and Judah at this time was extremely low never so low. They had been weakened by the kingdom of Israel; one king having slain no fewer than one hundred and twenty thousand men. The Moabites had gained great advantages. So in Edom and in other ways, not to speak of internal dissolution, and all those influences which corrupt and destroy a nation's strength. For never does a nation fall by external power until it is undermined within. And so it was with Judah. But God, of His grace, saw fit in that dark and desolate day, to raise up a blessed man not in the figure of David neither so illustrious, on the one hand, nor stained with such sad spots of shame one therefore of whom the Holy Ghost could say, "He trusted in Jehovah the God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him" (2 Kings 18:5). I do not think that by that it was meant to compare Hezekiah, the one here spoken of, with David, although in a certain sense that might be true, taking the evil as well as the good into account; but you observe He says, "The kings of Judah," not "of Israel." The Holy Ghost is not comparing him, therefore, with the day when the kingdom was unbroken, but with the times when Judah had a separate existence from the ten tribes, and in that case we can readily see how perfectly and accurately true it is. And it is a good thing to accustom our minds to see the perfect accuracy of the word of God.
Hezekiah was remarkable not merely for his fidelity in this respect. Indeed he had a goodly place in the roll of the kings of Judah, for he removed the high places, he brake the images, he cut down the groves, he broke even the brazen serpent which up to this time had become an object of idolatry to the children of Israel; so shamefully degraded were the people of the Lord. And it is very humbling to find that this is only discovered now. Had there not been kings pious, devoted, faithful? What had Jehoshaphat been about? What had Asa? The truth is that there is nothing that more strikes us than the way in which we pass over either the good of scripture or the evil of practice. The children of God suddenly wake up to find that they have been doing something that will not bear the light of God. They have never seen it before. How dependent upon the word of God! Yet there it was; and when once the light is brought to bear upon it, it is indefensible nevertheless. God thus shows us that it is not only that we need the word, but we need God. We need Himself to apply and give force to His own word. As the apostle says, "Now I commend you" not merely, "to the word of His grace" "I commend you to God and to the word of his grace. "
So now Hezekiah proved. God had raised him up, and it was not only that he continued in the path of faithfulness as others before him, removing these unsightly abominations that were ever rising up afresh in Israel, and repeating themselves from generation to generation, so inveterate is the heart even among God's people in what is bad; but further, the superior light of Hezekiah's soul, granted by the Spirit of God, detected the offence in the idolatry that was paid to what was once a most signal sign of divine power and blessing. For we know well that there was in the wilderness no way in which God marked His healing power more gloriously than in this very serpent of brass the type of Christ made sin. This is the reason why it was a serpent of brass. It was not only Christ a sacrifice, but it was Christ made sin, and therefore He is shown under this emblem of the power of evil, not that there was any evil in our blessed Lord, but that He must come under all the consequences of it in judgment upon the cross, in order to deliver us from the effects of evil.
So this "piece of brass" for so the pious king contemptuously calls it must now be destroyed. Antiquity it had, but what was antiquity? The fact is that almost all the departures that we see around us now are far from novelties. They are ancient enough. The second century and the third saw most of the evil things that are now floating about in Christendom. They can therefore boast of antiquity; but what the Christian feasts on is apostolicity, not merely antiquity. Anything that is short of the apostles is too new for a Christian, and ought to be considered so. That is, we are built not merely upon the ancient church; we are built upon the foundation of Christ's holy apostles and prophets, and there is no stable foundation since then. It is in vain therefore to tell me that such a thing came in since the apostles. That is the very reason why I will not hear of it. It would be a little more to the purpose to show me what was during the apostles, or rather, to show me what was sanctioned by the apostles, for I do not doubt that even when they were on earth there were evil things to be found, as indeed the New Testament largely shows.
Well, then, Hezekiah shows us this great principle that we must go back to first principles, and that we must judge everything even if it can boast of the most hoary head of antiquity, by the light of God by God's word. So judged, the serpent of brass must perish! It might be ever so interesting as a relic, but Satan having turned it to an evil account, there must be no sparing. It is destroyed. "He brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made." It was a bold act, and not more bold than faithful, and all this because "he trusted in the Jehovah God of Israel." There is nothing that describes more accurately and powerfully the spiritual character of Hezekiah than trust in God. And trust in God is the root of all that is blessed, I may say, in a believing man. There may be other qualities. We shall find, if we look at Josiah, for instance, that there might be even greater energy against what was wrong, but nothing can make up for lack of trust, for trust is essentially what magnifies God and what keeps us in lowliness before God. It is the great expression of dependence, and for a man there is nothing more lovely than dependence upon God.
Hence, therefore, we find in Hezekiah the way in which this trust shows itself in all the practical details of his life. I shall note some of them as they come before us in the history that the Holy Ghost gives, but I now pursue the scripture before me. He was therefore more signalized by his trust in Jehovah than any of the kings of Judah either before or after. This was his distinguishing spiritual property. "For he clave to Jehovah and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments which Jehovah commanded Moses." This is a very important thing to observe, for it is not the commandments that produce trust, but it is trust that enables the man to keep the commandments. The only persons who ever did the law in Israel were those who had faith in God, who hung upon Him. It was not looking at the law, or merely deferring to it. Of course they did, but even unconverted persons may defer to the law and be afraid of the consequences. But what produces obedience is always trust. No doubt love does the same thing, only trust is rather that which produces love, because even supposing I do not yet know all God's love, yet I can trust Him; I can confide in Him. As Job said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust" a low condition it is true, a feeble apprehension of the great grace of God, but it was a very real and a holy one; a very holy one. That is, "At all costs I can trust Him." But then as one learns Him more, so the trust grows, for we perceive His love more. And the result is this unhesitating obedience to God's word.
Hezekiah "smote the Philistines," we are told. Also, "he prospered whithersoever he went forth; and he rebelled against the king of Assyria." Not only did he smite the Philistines, but, as if there were not enough upon his hands with his kingdom attenuated to so small a degree for, as I have said, Judah was very low yet this. little kingdom, with its lowly, pious king, ventured to dispute the rights of the king of Assyria over him. He had been drawn into this position of subjection by his ungodly father. He had a deep sense that Judah ought not to be in subjection to Assyria. I do not pretend to say that he was quite right. There was a holy feeling at the bottom of it, but whether there was an intelligent perception of the chastening that God had put upon Judah is another thing. At any rate he came into no small trouble through his rebelling against the king of Assyria, though God showed Himself marvelously on his behalf, but not without great humiliation.
We shall see, therefore, that it had a mingled character, and I judge that it was mingled because the intervention of God, while it was real, was not without a permitted and a deep humiliation. And I think you will always find that where a soul is faithful, but where there is flesh mixed with it, God will honour that faithfulness, but He will rebuke the flesh. And this is too common a feature. It is a rare thing, beloved brethren, where we are enabled both to be faithful and be lowly, but very often in the desire to be faithful we lose a little our balance, and the very energy of faith that goes forward is sometimes connected with a little forgetfulness of our own proper place. I think that there was this mixture in Hezekiah, because of the way of God's dealing with it. There are two ways of judging, first the looking at a person's conduct, and secondly observing how God deals with it; and both, in my judgment, answer to each other in this case. However that may be, we have now the connection of Assyria not simply with Judah the conqueror of Israel comes up against Jerusalem. God had permitted Assyria to sweep away the ten tribes. Was there not enough wickedness in Judah for God to deal with now? We shall see how God acts. We shall see how God answers fidelity of heart and trust in Himself.
"So it came to pass in the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, came up against Samaria, and besieged it. And at the end of three years they took it, even in the sixth year of Hezekiah (that is, the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel) Samaria was taken." We have just a little connection with the destruction of the other kingdom before we find the attack upon Jerusalem. "And the king of Assyria did carry away Israel into Assyria, and put them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes: because they obeyed not the voice of Jehovah their God, but transgressed his covenant and all that Moses the servant of Jehovah commanded, and would not hear them, nor do them."
Well now, his son, or at any rate his successor Sennacherib, came up against the fenced cities of Judah and took them. There was a permitted humiliation thus far. "Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended." I judge, therefore, that we have his own confession to show that whatever might be the piety of the king, there was a mixture of offence along with it. I do not think that if Hezekiah had been thoroughly guided of God he would have said, "I have offended." "I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear." It looks like the sense that he had made a mistake, and that he had accepted his humiliation. "And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold." This was a very heavy tax; this was a war tax; this was a compensation for the trouble and expense to which the king of Judah had put him in compelling him to bring his army in order to reduce him to subjection. It was not the old tribute, but a great deal more. Such is the effect of an immature action even from a faithful man.
We never gain, beloved brethren, by hasty acts. We cannot deliver ourselves; we are not intended to do so. We have God to look to, and God will hold us to it. We need the guidance of God. Hezekiah, having acted before the Lord, that is, inopportunely, now meets with His rebuke and His chastening. "And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of Jehovah." This was a sore trial to a pious man. It was not only that Hezekiah suffered, but God's house suffered a grievous thing in his eyes. The treasures of the king's house were but small compared with Jehovah's house, I am sure, to Hezekiah. "At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of Jehovah, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid." More hardly because it was he that had sought to bring them back to something like their pristine splendour, and now all was reversed.
Evidently, therefore, Hezekiah had acted in a measure without the Lord. The truest saint, then, the man most remarkable for trust, may fail in that very particular, and indeed it is precisely in whatever God gives us grace to be remarkable for, that we have to watch, for Satan has a spite against us, and will endeavour to break us down in the very thing in which God has given us grace. Take, for instance, a remarkably truthful person. Well, I am not altogether surprised when I hear that there has been a little failure in that very respect, and for this simple reason, that the effect of a character for truthfulness is apt to make a person off his guard, and the truth is, that the power of it is not human character in a saint. For I care not how truthful a man may be naturally, this will not enable him to be truthful spiritually. There is a higher and a deeper measure, and then he needs the direct power of God to keep him truthful. God will break him down in the very point of his pride if he is proud of it, and it is a hard thing in fact, we know impossible to the flesh not to be. So with anything else. Take a man remarkable for humility. Take a person striking for his grace. Well, you must not be surprised if there be a failure in these very particulars.
So with David. Who would have expected that David would ever find himself in the army of the Philistines? Why there never was such a man for putting down the Philistines. It was the very thing that made him such a man. I may say, as far as the public knowledge of Israel was concerned, he was the choice champion of Jehovah against the vaunting Philistines, and yet that is the very man who, if he began his career against the Philistines, afterwards finds himself through want of faith ranged with the Philistines, and it was only the Philistines' jealousy and distrust of David that hindered him from fighting against Israel instead of being their champion! Such was the painful reverse in the very point in which David was so conspicuous.
And the same thing you will find now if you take the New Testament. Was there one of the disciples more bold for confessing the Lord? Who was it that said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God"? And who was it that was afraid of a servant girl, and stood to it, and swore to it, that he did not know the man? Such is man such is even a saint when he ceases to be dependent.
Returning, however, to the chapter before us, we find the king of Assyria was not to be put off. He liked his three hundred talents of silver and his thirty talents of gold well enough, and he saw that the stripping of the temple, too, was only an encouragement to make greater demands. He therefore pushes his advantages. He found lowliness, for there never was a man that told his faults out so plainly as Hezekiah. "I have offended." It was a sort of encouragement for him to see whether he would not bear a little more pressure. "That which thou puttest on me will I bear." And so he determines to try. "And the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and Rab-shakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great host"; not now against the fenced cities, but against Jerusalem. "And they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they were come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fullers' field. And when they had called to the king there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah." Rab-shakeh tells him to speak to the king. "Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest? Thou sayest (but they are but vain words), I have counsel and strength for the war."
How little does the natural man understand the ground of the trust of faith! "And have counsel and strength for the war." Nothing of the sort. It was God that had counsel; it was God that had strength for the Assyrian. "Now on whom dost thou trust?" says this proud servant of a proud king, "that thou rebellest against me. Now, behold, thou trustest upon the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt, on which if a man lean it will go into his hand and pierce it; so is Pharaoh king of Egypt unto all that trust on him." There is a great deal of truth in the world's talk. So far Rab-shakeh was very right. The king of Egypt was but a reed; and the Assyrian could see very well the vanity of trusting to Egypt, but the Assyrian could not see the wisdom of trusting in Jehovah. "But if ye say unto me, We trust in Jehovah our God" now you see how the world's wisdom is folly whenever it draws near to God. Wise enough about Egypt: that was plain. But the moment that he thinks of God foolishness.
"Is not that he whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and hath said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?" Rab-shakeh could not distinguish between the idols and Jehovah. Jehovah to him was only an idol one out of many idols, and inasmuch as Hezekiah had broken down all the idols, he fancied that they were different forms of Jehovah's worship, because that was the heathen idea of God the philosophic idea the idea of the higher classes. The lower classes, perhaps, regarded them as so many gods, but there were men a little above that who thought that it was God displaying himself in his various attributes. That was the philosophy of heathenism any way. And Rab-shakeh seems to have been a bit of a philosopher, and so he taunts the ministers of king Hezekiah with having destroyed the worship of Jehovah. "Now, therefore, I pray thee, give pledges to my lord the king of Assyria, and I will deliver thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them. How then wilt thou turn away the face of one captain of the least of my master's servants, and put thy trust on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen?"
Now he takes another ground. He takes first the folly of trusting in Egypt, and there he was right; and secondly, the fact that they had only to look for Jehovah's vengeance inasmuch as they had been destroying Jehovah's altars; thirdly, that he was come up as a servant of Jehovah to accomplish His will and to avenge Himself upon Jerusalem. "Am I now come up without Jehovah against this place to destroy it? Jehovah said to me, Go up against this land and destroy it." But it was not merely Eliakim and Shebna and Joah that heard; it was Jehovah. Little did Rab-shakeh believe that the Lord God was listening, and that the Lord God would speedily answer, for now he had dared to use that name for deliberate blasphemy. He had dared the authority of Jehovah where it was known. He had dared God! and God, as He dealt most severely with this in His church, so now He would deal with this boastful servant of the Assyrian.
It is true the servants of Hezekiah were rather feeble. Nothing was to be won by deprecating the enemies of the Lord. It is always well to remember that they are enemies. Ask no favours of them, and expect none. But these three men were alarmed; they were afraid of the effect upon the Jewish people, and therefore they begged him not to talk in the Jews' language in the ears of the people. And what could that do but call out from Rab-shakeh a more vehement appeal and more vaunting than ever. "But Rab-shakeh said unto them, Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words?" His object was to excite rebellion among the people of Jerusalem and Judah. "Then Rab-shakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in the Jews' language, and spake, saying, Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria: Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you." It suggested an idea. It exactly gave him a new weapon, a new argument, a new ground of appealing to the people, which he might not have thought of if the fears of Hezekiah's servants had not put it into his head. The very thing which they feared and asked him not to do gave him the idea of doing it. At all events he acts upon it at once. "For he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand. Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in Jehovah, saying, Jehovah will surely deliver us, and this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria. Hearken not to Hezekiah." And so he asked him to come out and surrender to the king, and the king would give them a good land like their own, and then he spreads before them all the destruction of other cities and people greater than they, and how powerless their gods were against Assyria.
But now at last we find wisdom. If the ministers of the king were foolish, the people at least were wise, and the people were wise because the king was wise. The people held their peace. It was very provoking: it was exactly the time when nature would have led them to cry out for the king, and to answer the insults of Rab-shakeh with the strongest and the most vehement protestations of their loyalty to Jehovah and to Hezekiah. But no, "the people held their peace, and answered him not a word, for the king's commandment was, saying, Answer him not." They then come to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and tell him the words of Rab-shakeh, and Hezekiah bows as a man that trusts in Jehovah. He heard it, and he rent his clothes, not because of the loss of his three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold, not because even of the stripping of the house of Jehovah; but now that Jehovah was insulted, now that there Were the appeals to the people in the Jews' tongue to weaken their confidence in Jehovah this touches his heart and he rent his clothes and he went as a sorrowful suppliant before the Lord.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on 2 Kings 18". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany