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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 atheistic 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 affrontedst 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 hushed. 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 flask, therefore, dies in his own smoke; only leaving a 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.
Oh 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 otherwise 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 Syria 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 army 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 a 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.
Oh the trophies of divine justice! That very night, the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a 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 strength of Assyria, for compost to the Jewish fields.
Well were it for thee, O Sennacherib, if thou couldest escape thus. Vengeance waits for thee at home, and welcomes thee into thy place. While thou art worshipping in the house of Nisroch thy god, two of thine own sons shall be thine executioners. See now if that false deity of thine can preserve thee from that stroke, which the true God sends thee, by the hand of thine own flesh. He, that slew thy host by his angels, slays thee by thy sons. The same angel, that killed all those thousands, could as easily have smitten thee; but he rather reserves thee, for the further torment of an unnatural stroke, that thou mayest see too late, how easy it is for him, in spite of thy god, to arm thine own loins against thee.
Thou art avenged, O God, thou art avenged plentifully of thine enemies. Whosoever strives with thee is sure to gain nothing but loss, but shame, but death, but hell. The Assyrians are slain; Sennacherib is rewarded for his blasphemy; Jerusalem is rescued; Hezekiah rejoices; the nations wonder and tremble. Oh love the Lord, all ye saints, for the Lord preserveth the faithful, and plenteously rewardeth the proud doer.
CONTEMPLATION X.-HEZEKIAH SICK, RECOVERED, VISITED.
2 KINGS XX., 2 CHRON. XXXII., ISAIAH XXXVIII.
HEZEKIAH was freed from the siege of the Assyrians, but he is surprised with a disease. He, that delivered him from the hand of his enemies, smites him with sickness. God doth not let us loose from all afflictions, when he redeems us from one.
To think that Hezekiah was either not thankful enough for his deliverance, or too much lifted up with glory of so miraculous a favour, were an injurious misconstruction of the hand of God, and an uncharitable censure of a holy prince; for, though no flesh and blood can avoid the just desert of bodily punishment, yet God doth not always strike with an intuition of sin: sometimes he regards the benefit of our trial; sometimes, the glory of his mercy in our cure.
It was no slight distemper, that seized upon Hezekiah; but a disease, both painful and fierce, and in nature deadly. O God, how thou lashest even those, whom thou lovest! Hadst thou ever any such darling in the throne of Judah, as Hezekiah? Yet,
he no sooner breatheth from a miserable siege, than he panteth under a mortal sickness.
When, as yet, he had not so much as the comfort of a child to succeed him, thy prophet is sent to him, with the heavy message of his death; Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live. It is no small mercy of God, that he gives us warning of our end. We shall make an ill use of so gracious a premonition, if we make not a meek preparation for our passage. Even those, that have not a house, yet have a soul. No soul can want important affairs, to be ordered for a final dissolution. The neglect of this best thrift is desperate. Set thy soul in order, O man; for thou shalt die, and not live.
If God had given Hezekiah a son, nature had bequeathed his estate: now, he must study to find heirs. Even these outward things, though in themselves worthless, require our careful disposition, to those we leave behind us; and if we have delayed these thoughts till then, our sickbeds may not complain of thei importunity. We cannot leave to our families a better legacy than peace.
Never was the prophet Isaiah unwelcome to this good king, until now. Even sad tidings must be carried by those messengers, which would be faithful; neither may we regard so much, how they will be taken, as by whom they are sent.
It was a bold and harsh word to say to a king, Thou shalt die, and not live. I do not hear Hezekiah rage and fret at the message, or threat the bearer; but he meekly turns his face to the wall, and weeps, and prays.
Why to the wall? Was it for the greater secresy of his devotion? Was it for the more freedom from all distraction? Was it that the passion, which accompanied his prayer, might have no witnesses? Or, was it for that this wall looked towards the temple, which his heart and eyes still moved unto, though his feet could not?
Howsoever; the patient soul of good Hezekiah turns itself to that Holy God, from whom he smarts and bleeds, and pours out itself into a fervent deprecation; I beseech thee, O Lord, 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.
Couldst thou fear, O Hezekiah, that God had forgotten thine integrity; The grace, that was in thee, was his own work: could he in thee neglect himself? Or dost thou therefore doubt of his remembrance of thy faithfulness, because he summons thee to receive the crown of thy faithfulness, glory, and immortality? Wherein canst thou be remembered, if this be to forget thee? What challenge is this? Is God a debtor to thy perfection? Hath thy holy carriage merited any thing, from that infinite justice? Far, far were these presumptuous conceits, from that humble and mortified soul. Thou hadst hated thine own breast,