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excuse the good king from a just offence. It was a 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 as 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 now 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 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. Oh 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.
Oh, 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 shovelful 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 a 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 anointed servant !
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 most proper 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 aught 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 sulphureous flash, therefore, dies in its 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 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