A Striking Reformation, a Ruthless Despotism, and an Unprincipled Diplomacy
2 Kings 18:1-37
Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign.…

How it came to pass, etc. Amongst the incidents recorded and the characters mentioned in this chapter, there stand out in great prominence three subjects for practical contemplation:

(1) a striking reformation;

(2) a ruthless despotism; and

(3) an unprincipled diplomacy.

The many strange and somewhat revolting historic events that make up the bulk of this chapter will come out in the discussion of these three subjects.

I. A STRIKING REFORMATION. Hezekiah, who was now King of Judah, and continued such for about twenty-nine years, was a man of great excellence. The unknown historian here says that "he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did," etc. (vers. 3-8). This is high testimony, and his history shows that on the whole it was well deserved. Compared with most of his predecessors and contemporaries, he appears to have been an extraordinarily good man. He lived in a period of great national trial and moral corruption. Israel, Judah's sister-kingdom, was in its death-throes, and his own people had fallen into idolatry of the grossest kind. In the very dawn of his reign he sets himself to the work of reformation. We find in 2 Chronicles 29:2-36 a description of the desire for a thorough reformation which displayed itself. But the point of his reformative work, on which we would now fasten our attention, is that mentioned in ver. 4, "He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan." His method for extirpating idolatry from his country is detailed with minuteness in 2 Chronicles 29:3; 2 Chronicles 30:1-9. In this destruction of the brazen serpent we are struck with two things.

1. The perverting tendency of sin. The brazen serpent (we learn from Numbers 21:9) was a beneficent ordinance of God to heal those in the wilderness who had been bitten by the fiery serpents. But this Divine ordinance, designed for a good purpose, and which had accomplished good, was now, through the forces of human depravity, become a great evil. The Jews turned what was a special display of Divine goodness into a great evil. I am disposed to honor them for preserving it for upwards of seven hundred years, and thus handing it down from sire to son as a memorial of heavenly mercy; but their conduct in establishing it as an object for worship must be denounced without hesitancy or qualification. But is not this the great law of depravity? Has it not always perverted the good things of God, and thus converted blessings into curses? It has ever done so. It is doing so now. See how this perverting power acts in relation to such Divine blessings as

(1) health;

(2) riches;

(3) genius;

(4) knowledge;

(5) governments; and

(6) religious institutions.

2. The true attributes of a reformer. Here we observe:

(1) spiritual insight. Hezekiah (if our translation is correct) saw in this serpent, which appeared like a god to the people, nothing but a piece of brass - "Nehustan." What is grand to the vulgar is contemptible to the spiritually thoughtful. The true reformer peers into the heart of things, and finds that the gods of the people are but of common brass.

(2) Invincible honesty. He not only saw that it was brass, but said so - declared it in the ears of the people. How many there are who have eyes to see the vile and contemptible in the objects which popular feeling admires and adores, but who lack the honesty to express their convictions! A true man not only sees the wrong, but exposes it.

(3) Practical courage. This reformer not only had the insight to see, and the honesty to expose the worthlessness of the people's gods, but he had the courage to strike them from their pedestal. "He brake in pieces the brazen serpent." I have no hope of any man doing any real spiritual good who has not these three instincts. He must not only have an eye to penetrate the seeming and to descry the real, nor merely be honest enough to speak out his views, but he must have also the manly hand to "break in pieces" the false, in order to do the Divine work of reform. The man that has the three combined is the reformer. Almighty Love! multiply amongst us men of this threefold instinct - men which the age, the world demands!

3. The true soul of a reformer. What is that which gave him the true insight and attributes of a reformer - which in truth was the soul of the whole?

(1) Entire consecration to the right. "He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him. For he clave to the Lord, and departed not from following him but kept his commandments which the Lord commanded Moses. He trusted in and clave to the One true and living God, and kept his commandments. And this is right, and there is no right but this.

(2) Invincible antagonism to the wrong. "And he rebelled against the King of Assyria, and served him not." "The yearly tribute his father had stipulated to pay, he withheld. Pursuing the policy of a truly theocratic sovereign, be was, through the Divine blessing which rested on his government, raised to a position of great public and national strength. Shalmaneser was dead; and assuming, consequently, that full independent sovereignty which God had settled on the house of David, he both shook off the Assyrian yoke, and, by an energetic movement against the Philistines, recovered the credit which his father Ahaz had lost in his war with that people (2 Chronicles 28:18)."

II. A RUTHLESS DESPOTISM. There are two despots mentioned in this chapter - Shalmaneser and Sennacherib, both kings of Assyria. A brief description of the former we have in vers. 9, 10, 12. What is stated in these verses is but a repetition of what we have in the preceding chapter, and the remarks made on it in our last homily preclude the necessity of any observations here. This Shalmaneser was a tyrant of the worst kind. He invaded and ravaged the land of Israel, threw Hoshea into prison, laid siege to Samaria, carried the Israelites into Assyria, and located in their homes strangers from various parts of the Assyrian dominions. Thus he utterly destroyed the kingdom of Israel. The other despot is Sennacherib (vers. 13-16). Shalmaneser is gone, and this Sennacherib takes his place. The ruthlessness of this man's despotism appears in the following facts, recorded in the present chapter.

1. He had already invaded a country in which he had no right. "Sow in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah did Sennacherib King of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them." "The names of the principal of these cities are perhaps enumerated by Micah (Micah 1:11-16), viz. Saphir, lying between Ashdod and Eleutheropolis (Eusebius and Jerome, 'Onomast.,' Saphir; cf. Robinson, 'Bibl. Researches,' 2. p. 370); Zaanan or Zenan (Joshua 15:37), (Septuagint Χευναὰρ); Beth-Ezel or Azel (Zechariah 14:5), near Saphir and Zaanan; Maroth or Maarath (Joshua 15:59), between these towns and Jerusalem; Lachish (Um Lakis); Moresheth-Gath, situated in the direction of Gath; Achzib, between Keilah and Mareshah (Joshua 15:44); Mareshah, situated in the low country of Judah (Joshua 15:44); Adullam, near Mareshah (cf. Isaiah 24:1-12). Overrunning Palestine, Sennacherib laid siege to the fortress of Lachish, which lay seven Roman miles from Eleutheropolis, and, therefore, southwest of Jerusalem on the way to Egypt. Amongst the interesting illustrations of sacred history, furnished by the recent Assyrian excavations, is a series of bas-reliefs representing the siege of a town - a fenced town - among the uttermost cities of Judah (Joshua 15:39; Robinson's 'Biblical Researches')." Now mark, he now determines on another invasion, although:

2. He had received from the king most humble submission and large contributions to leave his country alone. Mark his humiliating appeal, "And Hezekiah King of Judah sent to the King of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear." Alas! herein is a yielding of this great man's courage. Why did he apologize, pay the tribute which his ancestor had immorally pledged? Up to this point he had been bold in withholding it. But here, in crouching fear, he makes an apology. And more than this, he unrighteously promises a large contribution in answer to the despot's demands. "And the King of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah King of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold." The sum that he promised was extravagant, amounting to three hundred and fifty thousand pounds; but what was worse, this sum was abstracted from the public funds, to which he had no right, and was also rifled from the temple, which was a desecration. "And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king's house. At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the pillars which Hezekiah King of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the King of Assyria" The conduct of Hezekiah in this matter cannot be justified. Inasmuch as Sennacherib accepted the offering, he was in honor bound to abandon all idea of another invasion. Albeit, contrary to every principle of justice and kindness, not to say honor, he dispatches his army again into Judaea. "And the King of Assyria sent Tartan," etc. (ver. 17). What monsters are such despots! and yet they are not rare. Is there a nation existing on the face of the earth to-day, whatever its form of government, that has not at one time or another played this part?

III. AN UNPRINCIPLED DIPLOMACY. On behalf of Hezekiah, "Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder," appeared before the invading soldiers, and they are thus addressed by Rabshakeh, one of the leaders of the invading host: "And Rahshakeh said unto them, Speak ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the King of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?" etc. He appears as the diplomatist of the Assyrian war-king, and what does he do? By an impassioned harangue, fraught with insolence, falsehood, and blasphemy, he urges Hezekiah and his country to surrender. In doing this:

1. He represents his master, the King of Assyria, to be far greater than he is. "Thus saith the great king, the King of Assyria." Great, indeed! A flashing meteor and a gorgeous bubble, nothing morel A diplomatist is ever tempted to make his own country fabulously great in the presence of the one with whom he seeks to negotiate.

2. He seeks to terrify them with a sense of their utter inability to resist the invading army. "What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?" - D.T.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign.

WEB: Now it happened in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign.

A Striking Reformation
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