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is not for us sinners of the Gentiles to be high-minded, but awful.
The Israelites are carried captive into Assyria. These goodly cities of the ten tribes may not lie waste and unpeopled the wisdom of the victor finds it fit to transplant his own colonies thither, that so he may raise profit thence, with security. From Babylon therefore, and Cuthah, and Ava, and Hainath, and Sepharvaim, doth he send of his own subjects, to possess and inhabit the cities of Samaria. The land doth not brook her new tenants: "they feared not the Lord;" how should they? they knew him not. "Therefore the Lord sent lions amongst them, which slew some of them." Not the veriest pagan can be excused for his ignorance of God: even the depravedst nature might teach us to tremble at a Deity. It is just with the Almighty not to put up with neglect, where he hath bestowed reason.
The brute creatures are sent to revenge the quarrel of their Maker, upon worse beasts than themselves. Still hath God left himself champions in Israel: lions tear the Assyrians in pieces, and put them in mind, that, had it not been for wickedness, that land needed not to have changed masters. The great Lord of the world cannot want means to plague offenders if the mca be gone, yet the beasts are there; and if the beasts had been gone, yet, so long as there were stones in the walls, in the quarries, God would be sure of avengers. There is no security but in being at peace with God.
The king of Assyria is sued to for remedy. Even these pagans have learned to know that these lions were sent from a God; that this punishment is for sin: "They know not the manner of the God of the land, therefore he hath sent lions among them. These blind heathens, that think every land hath a several god, yet hold that god worthy of his own worship; yet hold, that worship must be grounded upon knowledge, the want of that knowledge punishable, the punishment of that want just and divine. How much worse than Assyrians are they that are ready to ascribe all calamities to nature, to chance! that, acknowledging but one God of all the world, are yet careless to know him, to serve him!
One of the priests of Israel is appointed to be carried back to Samaria, to teach the Assyrian colony the fashions of the god of the land; not for devotion, but for impunity. Vain politicians think to satisfy God by patching up religions: any
forms are good enough for an unknown deity. The Assyrian priests teach, and practise the worship of their own gods. The Israelitish priest prescribes the worship of the true God. The people will follow both; the one out of liking, the other out of fear. What a prodigious mixture was here of religions! true with false, Jewish with Paganish, divine with devilish; every division of these transplanted Assyrians had their several deities, high places, sacrifices; this high priest of Israel intercommunes with every of them: so that now these fathers of Samaritanism are in at all; "They fear the Lord, and serve their idols." No beggar's cloak is more pieced than the religion of these new inhabitants of Israel. I know not how their bodies sped for the lions; I am sure their souls fared the worse for this medley. Above all things, God hates a mongrel devotion; if we be not all Israel, it were better to be all Ashur: it cannot so much displease God to be unknown or neglected, as to be consorted with idols.
Hezekiah and Sennacherib.
ISRAEL is gone, Judah is left standing; or rather some few sprigs of those two tribes: so we have seen, in the shredding of some large timber-tree, one or two boughs left at the top to hold up the sap. Who can but lament the poor remainders of that languishing kingdom of David!
Take out of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin one hundred and twenty thousand, whom Pekah the king of Israel slew in one day; take out two hundred thousand that were carried away captive to Samaria; take out those that were transported into the bondage of the Edomites, and those that were subdued in the south parts by the Philistines: alas! what an handful was left to the king of Judah; scarce worth the name of a dominion! yet, even now, out of the gleeds of Judah, doth God raise up a glorious light to his forlorn church; yea, from the wretched loins of Ahaz, doth God fetch an holy Hezekiah. It had been hard to conceive the state of Judah worse than it was; neither was it more miserable than sinful, and, in regard of both, desperate; when beyond hope, God revives this dying stock of David, and, out of very ruins, builds up his own house. Ahaz was not more
the ill son of a good father, than he was the ill father of a good son. He was the ill son of good Jotham, the ill father of good Hezekiah; good Hezekiah makes amends for his father's impiety, and puts a new life into the heartless remnant of God's people.
The wisdom of our good God knows when his aid will be most seasonable, most welcome, which he then loves to give, when he finds us left of all our hopes. That merciful hand is reserved for a dead lift; then he fails us not.
Now, ye might have seen this pious prince busily bestirring himself, in so late and needful a reformation, removing the high places, battering and burning the idols, demolishing their temples, cutting down their groves, opening the temple, purging the altars and vessels, sanctifying the priests, rekindling the lamps, renewing the incense, reinstituting the sacrifices, establishing the order of God's service, appointing the courses, settling the maintenance of the ministers, publishing the decrees of the long-neglected passover, celebrating it, and the other feasts, with due solemnity, encouraging the people, contributing bountifully to the offerings; and, in one word, so ordering all the affairs of God, as if he had been sent down from heaven to restore religion, as if David himself had been alive again in this blessed heir, not so much of his crown, as of his piety. O Judah! happy in thy Hezekiah; O Hezekiah! happy in the gracious restoration of thy Judah. Ahaz shall have no thanks for such a son: the God, that is able of the very stones to raise children to Abraham, raises a true seed of David, out of the corrupt loins of an idolater. That infinite mercy is not tied to the terms of an immediate propagation : for the space of three hundred years, the man after God's own heart had no perfect heir till now. Till now did the high places stand: the devotions of the best princes of Judah were blemished with some weak omissions. Now, the zeal of good Hezekiah clears all those defects, and works an entire change.
How seasonably hath the providence of God kept the best man for the worst times! When God hath a great work to do, he knows to fit himself with instruments.
No marvel, if the paganish idols go to wreck, when even the brazen serpent, that Moses had made by God's own appointment, is broken in pieces. The Israelites were stung with fiery serpents; this brazen serpent healed them, which
they did no sooner see than they recovered. But now, such was the venom of the Israelitish idolatry, that this serpent of brass stung worse than the fiery; that which first cured by the eye, now by the eye poisoned the soul; that which was at first the type of a Saviour, is now the deadly engine of the enemy while it helped, it stood; it stood while it hurt not: but when once wicked abuse had turned it into an idol, what was it but Nehushtan?
The holiness of the first institution, cannot privilege ought from the danger of a future profanation; nor, as the case may stand, from an utter abolition. What antiquity, what authority, what primary service might this serpent have pleaded?" all that cannot keep it out of the dust. Those things which are necessary in their being, beneficial in their continuance, may still remain when their abuse is purged: but those things whose use is but temporary, and whose duration is needless and unprofitable, may cease with the occasion, and much more perish with an inseparable abuse. Hezekiah willingly forgets who made the serpent, when he sees the Israelites make it an idol. It is no less intolerable for God to have a
rival of his own making.
Since Hezekiah was thus above all his ancestors, upright with the Lord, it is no marvel, if the Lord were with him, if he prospered whithersoever he went; the same God, that would have his justice magnified in the confusion of the wicked princes of Israel and Judah, would have his mercy no less acknowledged in the blessings of faithful Hezekiah.
The great king of Assyria had, in a sort, swallowed up both the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, yet not with an equal cruelty he made Israel captive; Judah, upon a willing composition, tributary. Israel is vanished in a transportation; Judah continues under the homage wherein Ahaz left it. Hezekiah had reigned but six years, when he saw his neighbours of Israel packing into a miserable captivity, and the proud Assyrians lording in their cities; yet, even then, when he stood alone, in a corner of Judah, durst Hezekiah draw his neck out of the yoke of the great and victorious monarch of Assyria; and, as if one enemy had not been enough, at the same time he falls upon the encroaching Philistines, and prevails. It is not to be asked what powers a man can make, but in what terms he stands with heaven. The unworthy father of Hezekiah had clogged Judah with this servile fealty
to the Assyrian; what the conditions of that subjection were, it is too late, and needless for us to inquire. If this payment were limited to a period of time, the expiration acquitted him; if, upon covenants of aid, the cessation thereof acquitted him; if the reforming of religion, and banishment of idolatry, ran under the censure of rebellion, the quarrel on Hezekiah's part was holy, on Sennacherib's unjust: but if the restipulation were absolute, and the withdrawing of this homage upon none but civil grounds, I cannot excuse the good king from a just offence. It was an human frailty in an obliged prince, by force, to effect a free and independent sovereignty.
What, do we mince that fact, which holy Hezekiah himself censures? "I have offended, return from me; what thou puttest on me will I bear." The comfort of liberty may not be had with an unwarranted violence. Holiness cannot free us from infirmity. It was a weakness to do that act, which must be soon undone with much repentance, and more loss; this revolt shall cost Hezekiah, besides much humiliation, three hundred yearly talents of silver, thirty talents of gold. How much better had it been for the cities of Judah to have purchased their peace with an easy tribute, than war with intolerable taxation.
Fourteen years had good Hezekiah fed upon a sweet peace, sauced only with a set pension; now he must prepare his palate for the bitter morsels of war. The king of Assyria is come up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and hath taken them. Hezekiah is fain to buy him out with too many talents; the poor kingdom of Judah is exhausted with so deep a payment, insomuch that the king is forced to borrow of God himself, for "Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord; yea, at that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the pillars which he had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria." How hard was good Hezekiah driven, ere he would be thus bold with his God! Surely if the mines or coffers of Judah could have yielded any supply, this shift had been hateful; to fetch back for an enemy that which he had given to his Maker. Only necessity excuses that from sacrilege in the son, which will make sacrilege in the father that which is once devoted to a sacred use, may not be called back to a profane. But he, whose the earth is, and the fulness of it, is not so taken with our metals, that he