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CONTEMPLATION VII.-AHAZ WITH HIS NEW ALTAR.
2 KINGS XVI.; 2 CHRONICLES XXVIII.
AFTER many unhappy changes of the two thrones, Ahaz succeeds Jotham in the kingdom of Judah: an ill son of a good father; not more the heir of David's seat than of Jeroboam's sin.
Though Israel play the harlot, yet who can abide that Judah should sin? It is hard, not to be infected with a contagious neighbourhood. Who ever read, that the kingdom of Israel was seasoned, with the vicinity of the true religion of Judah? Goodness, (such as our nature is,) is not so apt to spread. A tainted air doth more easily affect a sound body, than a wholesome air can clear the sick.
Superstition hath ever been more successful, than truth. The young years of Ahaz are soon misled, to a plausible misdevotion.
A man, that is once fallen from truth, knows not where he shall stay. From the calves of Jeroboam, is Ahaz drawn to the gods of the heathen; yea, now, bulls and goats are too little for those new deities: his own flesh and blood is but dear enough; He made his son to pass through their fire.
Where do we find any religious Israelite, thus zealous for God? Neither doth the holiness, and mercy, of our God require so cruel a sacrifice: neither is our dull and niggardly hand ready to gratify him, with more easy obediences. O God, how gladly should we offer unto thee our souls and bodies, which we may enjoy so much the more, when they are thine; since zealous Pagans stick not to lose their own flesh and blood in an idol's fire!
He that hath thus shamefully cast off the God of his fathers, cannot be long without a fearful revenge. The king of Israel galls him on the one side; the king of Syria, on the other. To avoid the shock of both, Ahaz doth not betake himself to the God whom he had offended, who was able to make his enemies at peace with him; but to Tiglath Pileser king of Ashur. Him doth he woo with suits, with gifts; and robs God of those presents, which may endear so strong a helper. He, that thought not his son too dear for an idol, thinks not God's silver and gold too dear for an idolatrous abettor.
Oh the infinite patience of the Almighty! God gives success, awhile, to so offensive a rivalry. This Assyrian king prevails against the king of Syria; kills him; and takes his chief city, Damascus. The quarrel of the king of Judah hath enlarged the territories of his assistant, beyond hope. And now, while this Assyrian victor is enjoying the possession of his new-won
Damascus, Ahaz goes up thither to meet him; to congratulate the victory; to add unto those triumphs, which were drawn on by his solicitation.
There he sees a new-fashioned altar, that pleases his eye. That old form of Solomon's which was made by the pattern showed to Moses in the Mount, is now grown stale and despicable. A model of this more exquisite frame is sent to Urijah, the priest; and must be sampled in Jerusalem. It is a dangerous presumption, to make innovations, if but in the circumstances of God's worship. Those human additions, which would seem to grace the institution of God, deprave it. That infinite wisdom knows best what will please itself, and prescribes accordingly. The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. Idolatry, and falsehood, are commonly more gaudy and plausible, than truth. That heart, which can for the outward homeliness despise the ordinances of God, is already aliened from true religion, and lies open to the grossest superstition.
Never any prince was so foully idolatrous, as that he wanted a priest to second him. A Urijah is fit to humour an Ahaz. Greatness could never command any thing, which some servile wits were not ready, both to applaud and justify.
Ere the king can be returned from Damascus, the altar is finished. It were happy, if true godliness could be so forward, in the prosecutions of good.
Neither is this strange pile reared only, but thrust up betwixt God's altar and the temple; in an apparent precedency; as if he had said, "Let the God of Judah come behind the deities of Syria.
And now, to make up the full measure of his impiety, this idolatrous king will himself be sacrificing upon his new altar, to his new gods; the gods of Damascus. A usurped priesthood well becomes a false deity. Because, saith he, the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me.
Ŏ blind superstition! How did the gods of Syria help their kings, when both those kings and their gods were vanquished and taken by the king of Assyria? Even this Damascus and this altar were the spoil of a foreign enemy. How then did the gods of Syria help their kings, any other than to their ruin? What dotage is this, to make choice of a foiled protection? But had the Syrians prospered, must their gods have the thanks? Are there no authors of good, but blocks or devils? or is an outward prosperity the only argument of truth, the only motive of devotion? O foolish Ahaz, it is the God thou hast forsaken that plagues thee, under whose only arm thou mightest have prevailed. His power beats those Pagan stocks, one against another; so, as one while, one seems victorious, another vanquished; and at last he confounds both, together with their proudest clients. Thyself shall be the best instance.
Of all the kings of Judah hitherto, there is no one so dreadful an example, either of sin or judgment, as this son of good Jotham. I abhor to think, that such a monster should descend from the loins of David. Where should be the period of this wickedness? He began with the high places: thence he descends to the calves of Dan and Bethel: from thence he falls to a Syrian altar; to the Syrian god: then, from a partnership, he falls to an utter exclusion of the true God, and blocking up his temple: and then, to the sacrifice of his own son: and at last, as if hell were broken loose upon God's inheritance, every several city, every high place of Judah hath a new god. No marvel if he be branded by the Spirit of God, with, This is that king Ahaz.
What a fearful plague did this noisome deluge of sin leave behind it, in the land of Judah! Who can express the horror of God's revenge, upon a people that should have been his? Pekah, the king of Israel, slew a hundred and twenty thousand of them, in one day amongst whom was Maaseiah, the son of Ahaz. O just judgment of the Almighty! Ahaz sheds the blood of one son, to an idol: the true God sheds the blood of another of his sons, in revenge.
Yet, the hand of the Lord is stretched out still. Two hundred thousand of them were carried away by the Israelites captive, to Samaria. The Edomites came, and carried away another part of them for bond slaves, to their country.
The Philistines came up, and shared the cities of the south of Judah, and the villages thereof. Shortly, what other is miserable Judah, than the prey and spoil of all the neighbouring nations? For the Lord brought Judah low, because of Ahaz king of israel, for he made Judah naked, and transgressed sore against the
As for the great king of Ashur, whom Ahaz purchased with the sacrilegious pillage of the house of God, instead of an aid, he proves a burden. However he sped in his first onsets, now, he distressed Judah, but strengthened it not. The charge was as great, as the benefit small: sooner shall he eat them out, than rescue them. No arm of flesh can shelter Ahaz from a venge
Be wise, O ye kings; be instructed, O ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.
His subjects complain, that he died so late; and, as repenting that he ever was, deny him a room in the sepulchres of kings: as if they said; "The common earth of Jerusalem is too good for him, that degenerated from his progenitors, marred his kingdom, depraved his people, forsook his God."
CONTEMPLATION VIII. THE UTTER DESTRUCTION OF THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL.
2 KINGS XVII.
JUDAH was at a sore heave; yet Israel shall miscarry before it. Such are the sins of both, that they strive whether shall fall first; but this lot must light upon the ten tribes. Though the late king of Judah were personally worse than the most of Jeroboam's successors, yet the people were generally less evil; upon whom the encroachments of idolatry were more by obtrusion, than by consent: besides that, the thrones of Judah had some interchanges of good princes; Israel, none at all. The same justice, therefore, that made Israel a scourge to Judah, made Assyria a scorpion to Israel.
It was the quarrel of Judah, that first engaged the king of Ashur in this war against Israel: now he is not so easily fetched off: so we have seen some eager mastiff, that hath been set on by the least clap of the hand, but could not be loosened by the force of staves.
Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, comes up against Hoshea, king of Israel; and subdues him, and puts him to his tribute. This yoke was uncouth and unpleasing. The vanquished prince was neither able to resist, nor willing to yield: secretly, therefore, he treats with the king of Egypt, for assistance; as desiring rather to hazard his liberty by the hand of an equal, than to enjoy a quiet subjection under the hand of an overruling power. We cannot blame princes, to be jealous of their sovereignties.
The detaining of his yearly tribute, and the whisperings with new confederates, have drawn up the king of Ashur to perfect his own victories. He returns therefore with a strong power; and, after three years' siege, takes Samaria, imprisons Hoshea; and, in the exchange of a woeful captivity, he peoples Israel with Assyrians, and Assyria with Israelites.
Now, that abused soil hath, upon a surfeit of wickedness, cast out her perfidious owners; and will try how it can fare with heathenish strangers. Now, the Assyrian gallants triumph in the palaces of Samaria and Jezreel; while the peers and captains of Israel are driven manacled through the Assyrian streets, and billetted to the several places of their perpetual servitude. Shortly, now, the flourishing kingdom of the ten tribes is come to a final and shameful end; and so vanished in this last dissipation, that, since that day, no man could ever say, This was Israel."
Oh terrible example of vengeance, upon that peculiar people, whom God hath chosen for himself, out of all the world! All the world were witnesses, of the favours of their miraculous
deliverances and protections: all the world shall be witnesses, of their just confusion.
It is not in the power of slight errors, to set off that infinite mercy. What was it, O God, what was it, that caused thee to cast off thine own inheritance? What, but the same that made thee to cast the angels out of heaven? even their rebellious sins. Those sins dared to emulate the greatness of thy mercies, no less than they forced the severity of thy judgments: they left all the commandments of the Lord their God; and made them molten images, even two calves; and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven; and served Baal; and caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire; and used divination and enchantments; and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger.
Neither were these slips of frailty, or ignorant mistakings, but wilful crimes, obstinate impieties, in spite of the doctrines, reproofs, menaces, miraculous convictions of the holy prophets, which God sent amongst them. Thy destruction is of thyself, O Israel. What could the just hand of the Almighty do less, than consume a nation so incorrigibly flagitious? a nation so unthankful for mercies, so impatient of remedies, so incapable of repentance; so obliged, so warned; so shamelessly, so lawlessly wicked?
What nation under heaven can now challenge an indefeasible interest in God, when Israel itself is cast off? What Church in the world can show such dear love-tokens from the Almighty as this, now abhorred and adulterous spouse? He, that spared not the natural olive, shall he spare the wild? It is not for us, sinners of the Gentiles, to be high-minded, but awful.
The Israelites are carried captive into Assyria. Those 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 Hamath, 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 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