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should more regard our gold than our welfare: his goodness cannot grudge any outward thing for the price of our peace. To rob God, out of covetousness, or wantonness, or neglect, is justly damnable; we cannot rob him out of our need; for then he gives us all we take, and bids us ransom our lives, our liberties; the treasures of God's house were precious, for his sake, to whom they were consecrated; but more precious in the sight of the Lord was the life of any one of his saints.
Every true Israelite was the spiritual house of God; why should not the door of the material temple be willingly stripped, to save the whole frame of the spiritual temple? Take therefore, O Hezekiah, what thou hast given; no gold is too holy to redeem thy vexation. It matters not so much how bare the doors of the temple be, in a case of necessity, as how well the insides be furnished with sincere devotion. O the cruel hard-heartedness of those men, which will rather suffer the living temples of God to be ruined, than they will ransom their life with farthings.
It could not be, but that the store of needy Judah must soon be drawn dry with so deep an exaction; that sum cannot be sent, because it cannot be raised. The cruel tyrant calls for his bricks, while he allows no straw: his anger is kindled, because Hezekiah's coffers have a bottom; with a mighty host doth he come up against Jerusalem, therefore shall that city be destroyed by him, because by him it hath been impoverished: the inhabitants must be slaves because they are beggars.
Ŏ lamentable, and, in sight, desperate condition, of distressed Jerusalem! wealth it had none; strength it had but a little; all the country round about was subdued to the Assyrian; that proud victor hath begirt the walls of it with an innumerable army, scorning that such a shovel-full of earth should stand out but one day. Poor Jerusalem stands alone, blocked up with a world of enemies, helpless, friendless, comfortless, looking for the worst of an hostile fury, when Tartan, and Rabsaris, and Rabshakeh, the great captains of the Assyrians, call to a parley; Hezekiah sends to them three of his prime officers, his steward, his secretary, his recorder. Lord, what insolent blasphemies doth that foul mouth of Rabshakeh belch out against the living God, against his
How plausibly doth he discourage the subjects of Hezekiah!
how proudly doth he insult upon their impotency! how doth he brave them with base offers of advantage; and, lastly, how cunningly doth he forelay their confidence, which was only left them, in the Almighty, protesting not to be come up thither without the Lord! "The Lord said to me, Go up to this land, and destroy it.' How fearful a word was this! the rest were but vain cracks; this was a thunderbolt to strike dead the heart of Hezekiah: if Rabshakeh could have been believed, Jerusalem could not but have flown open; how could it think to stand out no less against God than men? Even thus doth the great enemy of mankind; if he can dishearten the soul from a dependence upon the God of mercies, the day is his. Lewd miscreants care not how they belie God, for their own purposes.
Eliakim, the steward of Hezekiah, well knew how much the people must needs be affected with this pernicious suggestion; and fain would, therefore, if not stop that wicked mouth, yet divert these blasphemies into a foreign expression. I wonder that any wise man should look for favour from an enemy: "Speak, I pray thee, to thy servants in the Syrian language." What was this, but to teach an adversary how to do mischief? Wherefore came Rabshakeh thither, but to gall Hezekiah, to withdraw his subjects? That tongue is properest for him which may hurt most. Deprecations of evil to a malicious. man, are no better than advices. An unknown idiom is fit to keep counsel; they are familiar words that must convey ought to the understanding. Lewd men are the worse for admonitions.
Rabshakeh had not so strained his throat, to corrupt the citizens of Jerusalem, had it not been for the humble obtestation of Eliakim. Now he rears up his voice, and holds his sides, and roars out his double blasphemies; one while affrighting the people with the great power of the mighty king of Assyria, another while debasing the contemptible force of Hezekiah; now smoothly alluring them with the assurances of a safe and successful yieldance, then discouraging them with the impossibility of their deliverance; laying before them the fearful examples of greater nations vanquished by that sword, which was now shaken over them, triumphing in the impotency and miscarriage of their gods. "Who are they, among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out
of mine hand? where are the gods of Arpad, and of Hamath ?” Where, but in that hellish darkness, that is ordained both for them and for thee, barbarous Assyrian, that darest thus open thy mouth against thy Maker: and can those atheous eyes of thine see no difference of gods? Is there no distance betwixt a stock, or stone, and that infinite Deity that made heaven and earth? It is enough that thou now feelest it; thy torments have taught thee too late, that thou affrontest a living God.
How did the fingers and tongues of those Jewish peers and people itch to be at Rabshakeh, in a revengeful answer to those impieties: all is husht, not a word sounds from those walls. I do not more wonder at Hezekiah's wisdom, in commanding silence, than at the subjects' obedience in keeping it. This railer could not be more spited, than with no answer; and if he might be exasperated, he could not be reformed; besides, the rebounding of those multiplied blasphemies might leave some ill impressions in the multitude; this sulphurous flash, therefore, dies in its own smoke, only leaving an hateful stench behind it.
Good Hezekiah cannot easily pass over this devilish oratory; no sooner doth he hear of it, than he rends his clothes, and covers himself with sackcloth, and betakes himself to the house of the Lord, and sends his officers, and the gravest of the priests, clad in sackcloth, to Isaiah, the prophet of God, with a doleful and querulous message.
O the noble piety of Hezekiah! Notwithstanding all the straits of the siege, and the danger of so powerful an enemy, I find not the garments of this good king, any otherways than whole, and unchanged; but now, so soon as ever a blasphemy is uttered against the majesty of his God, though by a pagan dog, his clothes are torn, and turned into sackcloth. There can be no better argument of an upright heart, than to be more sensible of the indignities offered to God, than of our own dangers. Even these desperate reproaches send Hezekiah to the temple. The more we see God's name profaned, the more shall we, if we be truly religious, love and honour it.
Whither should Hezekiah run, but to the temple, to the prophet? there, there is the refuge of all faithful ones, where they may speak with God, where they may be spoken to from God, and fetch comfort from both. It is not possible, that a believing heart should be disappointed. Isaiah sends that message
to the good king, that may dry up his tears, and cheer his countenance, and change his suit: "Thus saith the Lord, 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."
Lo, even while Sennacherib was in the height of his jollity and assurance, God's prophet foresees his ruin, and gives him for dead, while that tyrant thought of nothing but life and victory. Proud and secure worldlings little dream of the near approach of their judgments: while they are plotting their deepest designs, the overruling justice of the Almighty hath contrived their sudden confusion, and sees, and sets them their day.
Rabshakeh returns, and, finding the king of Assyria warring against Libnah, reports to him the silent, and therein contemptuous, answer, and firm resolutions of Hezekiah: in the mean time God pulls Sennacherib by the ear, with the news of the approaching arm of Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia, which was coming up to raise the siege, and to succour his confederates. That dreadful power will not allow the Assyrian king, in person, to lead his other forces up against Jerusalem, nor to continue his former leaguer long before those walls. But now he writes big words to Hezekiah, and thinks, with his thundering menaces, to beat open the gates, and level the bulwarks of Jerusalem. Like the true master of Rabshakeh, he reviles the God of heaven, and basely parallels him with the dunghill deities of the heathen.
Good Hezekiah gets him into his sanctuary, there he spreads the letter before the Lord; and calls to the God that dwells between the cherubims, to revenge the blasphemies of Sennacherib, to protect and rescue himself and his people. Every one of those words pierced heaven, which was no less open to mercy unto Hezekiah, than vengeance to Sennacherib. Now is Isaiah addressed with a second message of comfort to him, who doubtless distrusted not the first: only the reiteration of that furious blasphemy made him take faster hold, by his faithful devotion. Now, the jealous God, in a disdain of so blasphemous a contestation, rises up in a style of majesty, and gloriously tramples upon this saucy insolency; "Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult is come up into mine ears, therefore I will put my hook into thy nose, and my bridle into
thy lips, and will turn thee back by the way thou camest." Lo, Sennacherib, the God of heaven makes a beast of thee, who hast so brutishly spurned at his name. If thou be a ravenous bear, he hath an hook for thy nostrils: if thou be a resty horse, he hath a bridle for thy mouth; in spite of thee, thou shalt follow his hook, or his bridle, and shalt be led to thy just shame by either.
It is not for us to be the lords of our own actions: "Thus saith the Lord concerning the king of Assyria, he shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it; by the way that he came, shall he return, &c." Impotent men, what are we in the hands of the Almighty! we purpose, he overrules; we talk of great matters, and think to do wonders; he blows upon our projects, and they vanish with ourselves. He that hath set bounds to the sea, hath appointed limits to the rage of the proudest enemies; yea, even the devils themselves are confined. Why boast ye yourselves, O ye tyrants, that ye can do mischief! ye are stinted, and even within those lists is confusion.
O the trophies of divine justice! "That very night the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians, an hundred fourscore and five thousand, and when they rose early in the morning, behold they were all dead corpses.
How speedy an execution was this! how miraculous! no human arm shall have the glory of this victory! It was God that was defied by that presumptuous Assyrian; it is God that shall right his own wrongs. Had the Egyptian, or Ethiopian forces been come up, though the same God had done this work by them, yet some praise of this slaughter had, perhaps, cleaved to their fingers: now an invisible hand sheds all this blood, that his very enemies may clear him from all partnership of revenge. Go now, wicked Sennacherib, and tell of the gods of Hamath, and Arpad, and Sepharvaim, and Hena, and Ivah, which thou hast destroyed, and say, that Hezekiah's God is but as one of these. Go, and add this deity to the number of thy conquests: now, say that Hezekiah's God, in whom he trusted, hath deceived him, and graced thy triumphs.
With shame and grief enough, is that sheeped tyrant returned to his Nineveh, having left behind him all the pride and