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yet both Hezekiah and Jerusalem shall fare the better for David's sake, above three hundred years after.
To that man after his own heart, had God engaged himself, by his gracious promise, to preserve his throne, his seed. God loves to remember his ancient mercies. How happy a thing is it to be faithful with God! This is the way to oblige those which are yet unborn; and to entail blessings upon the successions of future generations.
It seems it was some pestilent ulcer that thus endangered the life of Hezekiah. Isaiah is not a prophet only, but a physician. And Isaiah said, Take a lump of figs." He that gave an assurance of recovery, gives a receipt for the recovery. The decree of God includes the means: neither can the medicine work without a word; neither will the word work without the medicine, both of them must meet in the cure. If we so trust the promise, that we neglect the prescript, we presume to no purpose. Happy is that soul, that so regards the promise of God's prophets, as that withal he receives their counsels.
Nothing could be more proper for the ripening of hard and purulent tumours, than dry figs. tumours, than dry figs. Herein Isaiah's direction was according to nature; wherefore should we baulk the ordinary road, where it is both fair and near?
The sudden contradiction of the message causes a just difficulty in the assent. Hezekiah therefore craves a sign;
not for that he distrusted, but that he might trust the more; we can never take too fast hold of those promises of God, which have not more comfort in the application, than natural impossibility in the performance. "We believe, Lord! help our unbelief."
The sick king hath his option; his father was offered a sign, and refused it; he sues for one, and obtains it: "Shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or back ten degrees?"As if heaven itself lay open to his choice, and were ready either to mend his pace, or retire for his confirmation. What creature is not cheerfully forward to obey the faith of God's servants?
Hezekiah fastens rather upon that sign which is more hard, more disagreeing from the course of nature; not without good reason; every proof must be clearer than the thing to be proved, neither may there want a meet proportion betwixt both now, the going forward of the shadow was a motion,
no other than natural, the recovery of that pestilent disease was against the stream of nature; the more difficult sign therefore, the surer evidence.
Whether shall we more wonder at the measure of the love of God to Hezekiah, or at the power of Isaiah's faith in God? Out of both, either the sun goes back in heaven, that his shadow may go back on earth, or the shadow no less miraculously goes back on earth, while the sun goes forward in heaven. It is true that the prophet speaks of the shadow, not of the sun; except perhaps because the motion of the sun is best discerned by the shadow, and the motion of the shadow is led by the course of the sun: besides that the demonstration of this miracle is reported to be local in the dial of Ahaz, not universal, in the sensible length of the day; withal, the retreat of the sun had made a public and noted change in the frame of nature; this particular alteration of the shadow, in places limited, might satisfy no less without a confusive mutation in the face of the world. Whether
soever, to draw the sun back together with the shadow, or to draw the shadow back without the sun, was the proof of a divine omnipotence, able therefore to draw back the life of Hezekiah fifteen degrees from the night of death, towards which it was hastening.
O God, thou wilt rather alter the course of heaven and earth, than the faith of thy children shall sink for want of supportation.
It should seem, the Babylonians, finding the Assyrian power abated by the revengeful hand of God's angel, and their own discord, took this advantage of a revolt; and now, to strengthen their part, fall in with Hezekiah king of Judah, whom they found the old enemy to the Assyrians, and the great favourite of heaven: him they woo with gifts, him they congratulate with embassages. The fame of Hezekiah's sickness, recovery, form, and assurance of cure, have drawn thither messengers and presents from Berodach-baladan king of Babylon.
The Chaldees were curious searchers into the secrets of nature, especially into the motions of the celestial bodies; though there had been no politic relations, this very astronomical miracle had been enough to fetch them to Jerusalem, that they might see the man, for whose sake the sun forsook his place, or the shadow forsook the sun.
How easily have we seen those holy men miscarried by prosperity, against whom no miseries could prevail! He that stood out stoutly against all the Assyrian onsets, clinging the faster to his God, by how much he was harder assaulted by Sennacherib, melteth now with these Babylonian favours, and runs abroad into offensive weaknesses.
The Babylonian ambassadors are too welcome to Hezekiah : as a man transported with the honour of their respective and costly visitations, he forgets his tears, and his turning to the wall; he forgets their incompatible idolatry, so hugging them in his bosom, as if there had been no cause of strangeness: all his doors fly open to them; and, in a vain-glorious ostentation, all his new-gathered treasures, all his strong armories entertain their eyes; nothing in his house, nothing in his dominion is hid from them.
O Hezekiah, what means this impotent ambition? it is not long since thou taredst off the very plates of the temple doors, to give unto Sennacherib; and can thy treasures be suddenly so multiplied, that they can be so worthy to astonish foreign beholders? or, if thy storehouse were as rich as the earth, can thy heart be so vain as to be lifted up with these heavy metals? Didst thou not see, that heaven itself was at thy beck, whilst thou wert humbled? and shall a little earthly dross have power over thy soul? Can the flattering applause of strangers let thee loose into a proud joy, whom the late message of God's prophet resolved into tears? O God, if thou do not keep us, as well in our sunshine as in our storm, we are sure to perish as in all time of our tribulation, so in all time of our wealth, good Lord deliver us.
Alas! how slight doth this weakness seem in our eyes, to rejoice in the abundance of God's blessings, to call in foreign friends to be witnesses of our plenty; to raise our conceits some little, upon the acclamations of others, upon the value of our own abilities!
Lay thy hand upon thy mouth, O foolish flesh and blood, when thou seest the censure of thy Maker.
Isaiah the prophet is sent speedily to Hezekiah, with a sharp and heart-breaking message: " Behold, the days come that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried into Babylon; nothing shall be left, saith the Lord; and of thy sons, that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away,
and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon."
No sin can be light in Hezekiah: the holiness of the person adds to the unholiness of the act; eminency of profession doubles both the offence and the judginent. This glory shall end in an ignominious loss.
The great and holy God will not digest pride in any, much less in his own. That which was the subject of Hezekiah's sin, shall be the matter of his punishment; those with whom he sinned, shall be his avengers; it was his treasure and munition, wherein he prides himself to these men of Babylon. The men of Babylon shall carry away his treasure and munition. What now doth Hezekiah but tempt them with a glorious booty, as some fond traveller that would show his gold
to a thief?
These worldly things are furthest off from the heart; perhaps Hezekiah might not be much troubled with their loss. Lo! God comes closer to him yet.
As yet was Hezekiah childless; how much better had it been to continue so still, than to be plagued in his issue! He shall now beget children to servitude, his loins shall yield pages to the court of Babylon: while he sees them born princes, he shall foresee them made eunuchs in a foreign palace. What comfort can he take in the wishes and hopes of sons, when, ere they be born, he hears them destined to captivity and bondage!
This rod was smart, yet good Hezekiah kisses it his heart struck him no less, than the mouth of the prophet; meekly therefore doth he yield to this divine correction; "Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken." Thou hast spoken this word, but from the Lord; it is not thine, but his ; and, being his, it must needs be, like himself, good; good, because it is just, for I have deserved more, and worse; good, because merciful, for I suffer not according to my deserts. "Is it not good, if there be peace and truth in my days?' I have deserved a present payment; O God, thou deferrest it : I have deserved it in person, thou reservest it for those whom I cannot yet so feel, because they are not. I have deserved war and tumult, thou favourest me with peace; I have deserved to be overrun with superstition and idolatry, thou blessest me with truth: shouldst thou continue truth unto me, though upon the most unquiet terms, the blessing
were too good for me; but now thou hast promised, and will not reverse it, that both truth and peace shall be in my days. Lord, I adore thy justice, I bless thy mercy.
God's children are neither waspish nor sullen, when they are chid or beaten, but patiently hold their backs to the stripes of a displeased mercy; knowing how much more God is to be magnified, for what he might have done, than repined at for what he hath done; resigning themselves over into the hand of that gracious justice, which in their smart seeks their reformation and glory.
Ar last, some three years after his recovery, Hezekiah hath a son; but such a one as, if he could have foreseen, orbity had been a blessing.
Still in the throne of Judah there is a succession, and interchange of good and evil. Good Jotham is succeeded by wicked Ahaz; wicked Ahaz is succeeded by good Hezekiah; good Hezekiah is succeeded by wicked Manasseh. Evil princes succeed to good, for the exercise of the church; and good succeed to evil, for the comfort of the church.
The young years of Manasseh gave advantage to his miscarriage; even while he might have been under the ferule, he swayed the sceptre. Whither may not a child be drawn, especially to a gairish and puppet-like superstition? As infancy is capable of all impressions, so most of the worst.
Neither did Manasseh begin more early than he held out long; he reigned more years than his good father lived, notwithstanding the miraculous addition to his age, more than ever any king of Judah besides could reach. Length of days is no true rule of God's favour: as plants last longer than sensitive creatures, and brute creatures outlive the reasonable; so amongst the reasonable, it is no news for the wickedly great to inherit these earthly glories, longer than the best. There wants not apparent reason for this difference. Good princes are fetcht away to a better crown: they cannot be losers, that exchange a weak and fading honour for a perfection and eternity of blessedness. Wicked men live long to their own disadvantage; they do but carry so many more