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judgments; while they are plotting their deepest designs, the over-ruling 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 a 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 over-rules ; 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 arose 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 the gods of Hamath and Arpad, and Sepharvaim, and Henah, 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 couldst 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, “O love the Lord, all ye saints; for the Lord preserveth the faithful, and plenteously rewardeth the proud doer.”
HEZEKIAH SICK, RECOVERED, VISITED. 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
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 a 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 meet 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, Oman, 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 sick beds may not complain of their 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 threaten the bearer ; but he meekly turns his face to the wall, and weeps, and prays. Why to the wall? Was it for the greater secrecy 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, if it could once have harboured so proud a thought. This perfection of thine was no other, than an honest soundness of heart and life, which thou knewest God had promised to reward. It was the mercy of the covenant that thou pleadedst, not the merit of thine obedience.