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Bible Commentaries

Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible

2 Kings 20

Verses 1-21

"And he sent Eliakim, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth to Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz" (2 Kings 19:1-37). He goes to Jehovah; they are sent to Jehovah's servant. This was right. He looks in prayer to God himself, and he expects an answer through His servant. "And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth. It may be Jehovah thy God will hear all the words of Rab-shakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God; and will reprove the words which Jehovah thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that are left. So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah." And the answer is immediate. "Thus shall ye say to your master, Thus saith Jehovah, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and shall return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land. "

What a humiliation, and yet how simple! First a rumour in his own land after the blast that Jehovah would send in His land, and last of all himself reserved for a fate incomparably more humiliating in presence of his own subjects in his own land. "So Rab-shakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish. And when he heard say of Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, Behold, he is come out to fight against thee: he sent messengers again unto Hezekiah, saying, Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah" a second, and, if possible, more insulting word. Hezekiah takes the letter and still goes to God. He "went up into the house of Jehovah and spread it before Jehovah. And Hezekiah prayed before Jehovah, and said, O Jehovah God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubim, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth. O Jehovah, bow down thine ear, and hear: open, O Jehovah, thine eyes, and see: and hear the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent him to reproach the living God."

And so the whole trial is cast into the bosom of Jehovah. Isaiah gives the answer: as before, so now. "Thus saith the Jehovah God of Israel, That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard." Trust in Jehovah is never in vain. Impossible to trust Him over much. "This is the word that Jehovah hath spoken concerning him: The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee." How blessed and yet what an extraordinary word it was for these trembling Jews to hear. "The virgin, the daughter of Zion." Was there not then fear? Was there not anguish of heart? How could it be truthfully said? Because God speaks according to His own thoughts. God looks at Zion as that which the Assyrian's foot had never defiled. It was a virgin daughter of Zion, and God never meant that the Assyrian should tread there. He had allowed him to ravage elsewhere, but Zion, even if Zion were ever so faithless, Zion was not reserved for the hand of the Assyrian. Zion might fall even under wars, but the Assyrian must fall himself.

Such was the decree of God, for even in the case of the enemies God is just as peremptory, and as thoroughly governs as among His friends. It is not man that governs in any case, but God. God is sovereign, and therefore does according to His own will. It is not a question of the party that has the most strength or the most wisdom. It is never so in the world, for God acts according to His own sovereignty. It was not because of their superior power that Babylon, or Persia, or Greece, or Rome achieved the empire of the world. Small beginnings in most of them. And in those too who made the longest and the most permanent conquest of the world, it was in no way a question of their own strength, but God was pleased so to work in His sovereignty. So here in this case this diminutive and reduced kingdom of Judah God meant to put honour upon, and now we may say Jerusalem scarcely had anything left. The fenced cities of Judah were taken, and here was Jerusalem, and it seemed as if a shovel of earth, so to speak, would be sufficient to bury Jerusalem in those days. But not so. The very fact that the Assyrian came full of his proud confidence was that which drew out the arm of Jehovah in defence of His despised city; but when He speaks by the prophet because of the Assyrian despising Zion, it is Zion that despises the Assyrian. For, as we have already observed, God speaks according to His thoughts.

"That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard. This is the word that Jehovah hath spoken concerning him: The virgin the daughter of Zion hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee." We know right well that the Assyrian shook his hand at Zion, and quite expected to have an easy conquest. But God retorts now for His despised city. "The daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee. Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even again the Holy One of Israel." The Assyrian little knew that. I do not doubt that there was a certain uneasiness. There always is: I care not how simple the Christian may be; I care not how great the man of the world may be; you will never find a man of the world, let him be ever so bold, or ever so great in the presence of a genuine trial of God without a certain anxiety, a certain uneasiness. He may despise; he may see things that draw out his scorn and contempt; but he is conscious, in spite of his will, of something strange, something that baffles him, something that he cannot understand. I have no doubt then that so it was with this great Assyrian, in presence of this contemptible city which stood out against him in a manner so unexampled. And so the Lord appears, and the prophet brings out, in the most grand and sublime terms, the manner in which He would deal with this haughty conqueror; and as he closes, he says, "For I will defend this city." Jehovah would take it upon Himself: "I will defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake." He must return by the way he came. "And he shall not come into this city, saith Jehovah."

Nor was the answer of God long delayed. "It came to pass that night, that the angel of Jehovah went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand; and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses." The consequence was that the king retreats in dismay returns and dwells in Nineveh but as Jehovah had sent a blast upon him in Palestine, so now he must fall in his own land. "And it came to pass as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Armenia. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead." Thus every word of Jehovah was accomplished.

But now (2 Kings 20:1-21) we have the dealings of God, not with the Assyrian in defence of Jerusalem, but with Hezekiah. "In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith Jehovah, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die and not live." So, as his manner was, he bows; he turns his face to the wall. What had he now to do with anything outside? "He turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto Jehovah, saying, I beseech, O Jehovah, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore." Up to this time it could not be said that death was conquered, for indeed it was not. Even to a believer death was not without its terrors. Now it is stripped of its terrors, and death is no longer the king of terrors to a Christian, and for this simple reason, that death is now compelled to be the servant of the Christian, compelled to usher the departing Christian into the presence of the Lord. This is not loss, but gain. Who would weep sore at a great gain? Indeed, there might be some, but certainly they are souls who do not understand their privileges. However, it was not so then, and this is one of the great changes now effected by the mighty work of redemption. Hezekiah then wept sore.

"And it came to pass afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of Jehovah came to him saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah, the captain of my people, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer." There again it was not long; it was immediate. If in the previous instance, it was that same night there came the destroying angel, so now I may say, that same minute came the prophet, or at any rate the word of Jehovah to the prophet. The answer was immediate. "I have heard thy prayer; I have seen thy tears" for God did not despise them. "Behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of Jehovah. And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake." And so a certain sign was given him a sign that Hezekiah takes in remarkable contrast with his father. When the same prophet asked Ahaz to search for a sign in heaven or earth, Ahaz pretended that he could not do such a thing that it was not for him to ask a sign. But there would have been far more real subjection of heart if he had asked. When God bids us ask; it is a serious thing to refuse. We ought to be bold in faith, and Hezekiah was; for whereas there was a double sign, either the dial going forward or going backward, he chooses the more difficult of the two. To advance the dial would be only, in a certain measure, natural, though it might be an extraordinary act of God, but to make the dial go back was a far more striking proof of the interference of Jehovah, and, accordingly, Hezekiah does ask; and Hezekiah was right. Hezekiah answers, "It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees; nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees." And so it was.

Immediately after this we find the Babylonian (ver. 12) "Berodach-baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present unto Hezekiah; for he had heard that Hezekiah had been sick." We know from elsewhere that it was not merely the sickness, but it was this very returning of the shadow ten degrees upon the dial that struck the Babylonians. They were great watchers of the heavens watchers of such a sign as this and they were quite right. It was traced to king Hezekiah; it was traced to a comparatively small kingdom and king, and this drew out the interest, more particularly as that king, it was well known, had resisted the proud king of Assyria, and in fact so effectually that he returned to his own land utterly frustrated in his purposes. Now, as the Babylonian wished to shake off the fetters of the king of Assyria, and in point of fact did did destroy the kingdom of Assyria by a junction with the Medes or Persians in early days, so we find that now this embassy comes to the king.

And it would be a great mistake to suppose that all these circumstances have only an historical aspect. This very part of the book is strongly typical. Anyone who is familiar with the prophets is aware that these two kingdoms which were then about to contend for the sovereignty of the world, will have their representatives in the last days. The Assyrian, strange as it may sound, will reappear. Not only will there be an Assyrian in the last days, but he is the last national enemy of the Jewish people. When God shall have accomplished His whole work in mount Zion and Jerusalem, He is to deal with the Assyrian. And Babylon too will have also its representative in the last days quite distinct. And it is of very great importance to distinguish; for Babylon was the beginning of the great imperial system. The Assyrian was the last leader of the national system. These are two distinct systems which we find in the word of God. As long as Israel was owned as a nation for God, the Assyrian had power. When Israel received its first great humiliation and Judah was about to be destroyed, Babylon was allowed to come into supremacy on the fall of Assyria. The Assyrian therefore was the last holder of the great national power of the Gentiles. The Babylonian was the first that was allowed to become the sovereign of the world to acquire an imperial authority. In the last days there will be the counterpart of these two powers, but in an inverse order. The Assyrian was before Babylon, viewed now in the manner which I have been describing. In the last days what answers to Babylon will be before the Assyrian. The reason is manifest. Babylon has to do with Judah, Assyrian with Israel. Now, in point of fact, Israel will only be brought back after God has dealt with Judah. It is the enemy of Judah that comes first in the last days, and the enemy of Israel will come up afterwards. That is the reason of the inverse order in the last days.

What then is the typical aspect of Hezekiah's sickness? And I answer, The great secret is that here we have, in type, the true Son of David, the One on whom depend the deliverance of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Assyrian. Who that will be in the last days I need not tell you. You know right well it is no mere king of man, but the true King, the great King, that is, the Lord Jesus; that it is the Messiah, that it is the true and ever-living Son of David not one that weeps sore to escape from death, but one who goes down into death and rises up again in power and glory, and that thus, and thus only, He will be the crusher of the Assyrian power after Babylon has been destroyed; for He, and He alone, will be the destroyer of what is represented by Babylon, as well as the destroyer of the Assyrian. It is the Lord Jesus, and His very first act when He comes from heaven, or in coming from heaven, is, He destroys antichrist. He has not come to the earth: it is a mere flash, so to speak, of lightning, and antichrist is destroyed cast into the lake of fire.

When dealing with the Assyrian it is different. He puts himself at the head of Israel. He is pleased to use them as his battleaxe. He comes as the head of the armies of Israel not as a mere human king, but nevertheless He is pleased to put honour upon them, and so He will fight for His people. So it is described in the fourteenth of Zechariah. There it is not the antichrist or the beast that is destroyed. It is not the Babylonish power, or the last holder of the Babylonish power. It is the Assyrian. The Assyrian is destroyed when the Lord is with Israel. The one that answers to Babylon is destroyed when the Lord is coming from heaven, before He is joined to His people Israel. It is then the inverse order. In the actual history the Assyrian was swept away first; but it will not be so when the Lord comes. The last holder of the image power of Babylon and that is the reason why I call it Babylon will be destroyed by the Lord Jesus coming from heaven; and then will remain the great Assyrian, the head of the nations who will make a conspiracy of the nations to destroy Israel, and the Lord will overthrow him for ever. Such is the order of events in the future, so that the dead and risen Son of David has a most important place in the last days as the instrument of the deliverance from both the power of Babylon and also from the power of Assyria.

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Bibliographical Information
Kelly, William. "Commentary on 2 Kings 20". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wkc/2-kings-20.html. 1860-1890.