Posted 09 October 2011 - 06:22 AM
First Edition. June 1988
Biblia, 130 Hednesford Road, Cannock, Staffordshire, United Kingdom.
North West Print Ltd., Booth Road, Sale, Cheshire, United Kingdom.
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Posted 09 October 2011 - 06:23 AM
For convenience of reference, here is an outline of the main events of Hezekiah's reign which are explicitly described in the histories (Isaiah 36-39; 2 Kings 18-20; 2 Chronicles 29-32) or which are implied in those narratives or mentioned in contemporary archaeological records:
Reformation and a great Passover affecting many throughout the twelve tribes of Israel.
Assyrian invasion devastating the entire Land.
Great numbers of Jews taken into captivity.
The king's desperate sickness.
Direction of affairs taken over by unworthy men.
Futile attempts to secure military aid from Egypt.
Rough Assyrian challenge to the supremacy of Jehovah.
Egyptian defeat by the Assyrians.
The destruction of the Assyrian army at Jerusalem.
The happy return of the multitude of Jewish captives and refugees.
Unexampled prosperity of the Land in a Year of Jubilee.
The cities of Judah re-built.
A great wave of enthusiasm among surrounding nations for friendship with Israel.
The Babylonian treaty — a grievous lapse, denounced by Isaiah.
The king and his people saved by repentance.
Queen Hephzibah gives birth to an heir to the throne.
LXX: Septuagint (Greek) Version of the OT.
T.E: The Time of the End
NIV: New International Version
B.S: Bible Studies
s.w: same word
Gospels: Studies in the Gospels
Books by H.A.W.
Rev: Revelation: a Biblical approach
H.Gt: Hezekiah the Great
J.A.B.P: Jews, Arabs, and Bible prophecy
An approximate chronology of Assyrian Kings contemporary with Isaiah
745 — 727 Tiglath-pileser III
727 — 722 Shalmaneser V
722 — 705 Sargon II
705 — 681 Sennacherib
The chronology of the kings of Israel and Judah contemporary with the above is too tricky a minefield for a wise man to venture into, except with much trepidation. It may be taken as highly probable that the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah all involved regencies of indeterminate length. Hezekiah's regnal dates were probably 715 — 687(6), with the siege of Jerusalem in 701.
Posted 09 October 2011 - 06:25 AM
1. A bad inheritance
2. Reformation and a real Passover
3. The Temple defiled and cleansed
4. Reformation and ensuing decline
5. Panic defence measures
6. Hezekiah's sickness
7. "He bore the sin of many"
11. The Land desolated
13. Double dealing
14. Salvation from Egypt
15. Hezekiah's prayers
16. Hezekiah, healed and thankful
17. Panic in Jerusalem
18. The faithful remnant
19. Safety assured in Jerusalem
20. Jerusalem invested
21. "All nations"
23. Rabshakeh versus Jehovah
24. Israel's ancient Passover experience
25. Jerusalem delivered at Passover
26. The destruction of Sennacherib's army
28. The destroyer destroyed
29. The no-gods
30. Rejoicing and thanksgiving
31. Gentile friendship
33. The return of the captives
34. Fruitfulness and prosperity
35. Queen Hephzibah
36. The state of the nation
Posted 09 October 2011 - 06:27 AM
Isaiah Ch. 1
Isaiah Ch. 2
Isaiah Ch. 3
Isaiah Ch. 4
Isaiah Ch. 5
Isaiah Ch. 6
Isaiah Ch. 7
Isaiah Ch. 8
Isaiah Ch. 9
Isaiah Ch. 10
Isaiah Ch. 11
Isaiah Ch. 12
Isaiah Ch. 13
Isaiah Ch. 14
Isaiah Ch. 15
Isaiah Ch. 16
Isaiah Ch. 17
Isaiah Ch. 18
Isaiah Ch. 19
Isaiah Ch. 20
Isaiah Ch. 21
Isaiah Ch. 22
Isaiah Ch. 23
Isaiah Ch. 24
Isaiah Ch. 25
Isaiah Ch. 26
Isaiah Ch. 27
Isaiah Ch. 28
Isaiah Ch. 29 (1) v1-14
Isaiah Ch. 29 (2) v15-24
Isaiah Ch. 30
Isaiah Ch. 31
Isaiah Ch. 32
Isaiah Ch. 33
Isaiah Ch. 34
Isaiah Ch. 35
Isaiah 40 (1) History and Prophecy
Isaiah 40 (2) "Comfort ye" (v1 -8)
Isaiah 40 (3) Good tidings to Zion (v9-11)
Isaiah 40 (4) The Mighty One of Israel (v12-17)
Isaiah 40 (5) God and god (v18-26)
Posted 09 October 2011 - 06:32 AM
Isaiah 40 (6) "They that wait upon the Lord" (v27-31)
Isaiah 41 (1) The man from the east (v1-9)
Isaiah 41 (2) "I will uphold thee" (v10-20)
Isaiah 41 (3) On trial (v21-29)
Isaiah 42 (1) "Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth" (v1-9)
Isaiah 42 (2) Tribulation and deliverance (v10-25)
Isaiah 43 (1) "Ye are my witnesses" (v1-21)
Isaiah 43 (2) The servant and the blind deaf witnesses (v1-20)
Isaiah 43 (3) Free forgiveness or the curse (v22-28)
Isaiah 44 (1) The New Israel (v1-5)
Isaiah 44 (2) Idols cut down to size (v6-20)
Isaiah 44 (3) The Cyrus problem (v28)
Isaiah 44 (4) A greater than Cyrus is here (v21-28)
Isaiah 45 (1) The Lord's Anointed (v1-7)
Isaiah 45 (2) Righteousness —for Jew and Gentile (v8-17)
Isaiah 45 (3) "Unto me every knee shall bow" (v18-25)
Isaiah 46 (1) Bel, bow down! (v1-13)
Isaiah 47 (1) Babylon or Assyria?
Isaiah 47 (2) The Queen City
Isaiah 48 (1) Saving an unworthy people
Isaiah 48 (2) "The Lord God, and His Spirit, hath sent me"
Isaiah 49 (1) Failure and Success (v1-7)
Isaiah 49 (2) The return of the captives (v8-26)
Isaiah 49 (3) Labour in vain? (v1-7)
Isaiah 49 (4) Zion's new family (v8-26)
Isaiah 50 (-) "Not rebellious"
Isaiah 51 (1) "Hearken unto me" (v1-8)
Isaiah 51 (2) "Awake, awake" (51v9—52v12)
Isaiah 51 (3) Deliverance, as from Egypt (v9-23)
Isaiah 52 (1) "Good tidings of good" (v1-12)
Isaiah 52 (2) "Thy God reigneth" (v1-12)
Isaiah 53 (1) The shadow of substance (52v13—53v12)
Isaiah 53 (2) Who is the Suffering Servant?
Isaiah 53 (3) The Suffering Servant of the New Testament
Isaiah 52 (3) "Behold my servant" (v13-15)
Isaiah 53 (4) "Who hath believed our report?" (v1-3)
Isaiah 53 (5) "He hath borne our griefs" (v4-6)
Isaiah 53 (6) "Oppressed and afflicted" (v7-9)
Isaiah 53 (7) "It pleased the Lord" (v10-12)
Isaiah 54 (1) Comfort for the forsaken
Isaiah 54 (2) "Widowhood" ended (v1-8)
Isaiah 54 (3) "The waters of Noah" (v9-17)
Posted 09 October 2011 - 06:35 AM
Isaiah 55 (1) "Ho, everyone that thirsteth!" (v1-5)
Isaiah 55 (2) "Seek ye the Lord" (v6-13)
Isaiah 56 (1) Eunuchs and strangers (v1-8)
Isaiah 56 (2) Watchmen, Shepherds, Dogs (v9-12)
Isaiah 57 (1) "Their whorish idolatry" (v1-13a)
Isaiah 57 (2) "A contrite and humble spirit" (v13b-21)
Isaiah 58 (1) Fasting to the Lord (v1-7)
Isaiah 58 (2) Repentance, then blessing (v8-14)
Isaiah 59 (1) A searing denunciation (v1-8)
Isaiah 59 (2) Confession and repentance at last (v9-15)
Isaiah 59 (3) Rescue operation (v16-21)
Isaiah 60 (1) Zion exalted
Isaiah 60 (2) The Gospel era
Isaiah 60 (3) The Messianic kingdom
Isaiah 61 (1) The Blessings of Jubilee (v1-6)
Isaiah 61 (2) "Everlasting joy" (v7-11)
Isaiah 62 (-) Hephzibah—Beulah
Isaiah 63 (1) The winepress (v1-6)
Isaiah 63 (2) The great intercession (v7-19)
Isaiah 64 (-) "Rend the heavens!" (v1-12)
Isaiah 65 (1) The faithful remnant — and the rest (v1-16)
Isaiah 65 (2) New heavens and earth (v17-66v2)
Isaiah 66 (1) The holocaust — and after (v3-24)
Isaiah 66 (2) Theophany (v3-24)
Posted 09 October 2011 - 06:39 AM
Good king Hezekiah is not to be allowed to rest in peace. In an earlier study, "Hezekiah the Great", the exciting story of his reign was put together from three histories, and with occasional aid from outstanding passages in Isaiah.
It is the interdependence of Isaiah's prophecy and the Hezekiah story which this book now seeks to develop at much greater length. I am satisfied, to the point of dogmatism such as I normally decry, that Hezekiah and Isaiah (all 66 chapters) lean on each other considerably. The Hezekiah story serves to explain a vast amount of detail in Isaiah which is otherwise obscure. And Isaiah comes to the rescue magnificently time after time, filling out the picture of Hezekiah's reign.
Readers who are enthusiastic about the Messianic message in Isaiah (and I hope sincerely that they all are) will find the Messianic motif completely neglected in Part 1. But it is hoped that Parts 2 and 3 make some amends, by showing how, over and over again, Hezekiah proves to be as fine a type of Christ as Joseph and David ever were. But — one thing at a time!
It is vitally important to recognize that the basic principle of interpretation of Old Testament prophecy is to look first for the appropriate meaning of the message with reference to the period when the prophecy was given; and then to extend one's horizon to the first and second advents of Jesus the Messiah, making every possible use of the by-no-means-meagre hints supplied by the New Testament. Far too many students pick and choose between these two approaches according to which strikes them as the easier.
The modernist approach to the Book of Isaiah receives neither sympathy nor support here. It is taken as basic that after the first few chapters the entire book belongs to the time of Hezekiah. Apart from anything else, the shape of the book: 1-35/36-39/40-66 (Prophecy/History/Prophecy) should tell us that those four historical chapters are the clue to what goes before and to what follows.
Ancient Jewish tradition says that in the evil years of Manasseh, a persecuted Isaiah took refuge in a hollow tree and was sawn asunder (Heb. 11:37) when the tree itself was sawn asunder. W.A. Wordsworth has scornfully commented that modern critics quite mesmerised by the misleading mention of Cyrus (44:28) and Babylon (46:1; 47:1) have resumed the persection, taking pleasure in sawing Isaiah's book asunder and dogmatically assigning 27 chapters (or more) to the post-exilic period. I have yet to find any modernist commentary that can make really worthwhile sense of "deutero-lsaiah" from that hypothesis.
On the other hand, J.W. Thirtle (an early Christadelphian, who should be more respected today than he was in his own time) wrote a very reverent and scholarly book which showed how well Isaiah 40-66 fits the Hezekiah period. He went further than that, suggesting that many of the Psalms belong to that time. His view that the book of Psalms took its final shape in Hezekiah's reign is here received with thankful admiration and agreement. This is specially true of the Song of Degrees (see Geo. Booker on this), and the Asaph and Korah psalms.
It is now possible to go further and see that amazing reign as the greatest period of prophetic activity in pre-Christian history. Let students begin to recognize that besides Isaiah and many Psalms, Joel, Micah, Nahum, Obadiah, Habakkuk and (to some extent) Hosea and Amos all need to be studied against this historical background. The increasing understanding from such an approach will be a fineadditional dividend. And there may be other parts of the Old Testament calling for the same sympathetic approach.
Regarding the Book of Psalms it now becomes more and more evident that even the Psalms of David were, many of them, included in the collection because they were also astonishingly relevant to the complex events of Hezekiah's reign (59 is a good example). But all that is another story.
Those readers who are already familiar with "Hezekiah the Great, and Songs of Degrees" (H.A.W. and G.B.) will find the same ideas coming up here again and again. There is no apology for this, for who can be the loser from reading more, and in greater detail, about this fine man? The repetitions are, of course, inevitable, since so much of the same ground is being covered. Does not Isaiah himself make constant repetition of fundamental ideas, but never ad nauseum.
This present volume, then, consists of three sections, which were written at widely spaced intervals; hence the different styles of presentation; present disabilities make a re-write out of question.
Part 1: Hezekiah and Isaiah.
This was done last of all. It is easygoing, and will, I trust, be found informative and even exhilarating at times by its substantial reinforcement of the Bible history with neglected passages out of Isaiah and the Hezekiah Psalms (Psalms have been used sparingly; there is a lot more of the same sort in my Commentary on the Book of Psalms). Even those who have already worked their way through "Hezekiah the Great, and Songs of Degrees" (H.A.W. and G.B.) will come across a fair amount of additional material.
Part 2: Isaiah 1-35
is straight commentary on the text, not verse by verse in a way that often becomes almost unreadable, but taking a paragraph or a chapter at a time, not infrequently twice over. Technicalities have been avoided as much as possible, but even so the going is not easy. Courage, reader! You may not know just how incomprehensible some Isaiah commentaries are! So here (with apologies) is my excuse.
is not, as might be expected, Isaiah 36-39, for this has already been covered in "Hezekiah the Great". Instead, then, Part 3 is Isaiah 40-66. In the profundities of this prophecy, commentator and reader are alike right out of their depth. Can anyone honestly claim real clarity of insight here? This is probably the most concentrated Bible Study I have ever attempted. Alas! At the time when this was written I was suffering from an acute attack of footnotes. I ask the reader's indulgence.
I am more blessed with good friends than I deserve to be. The help from some of these: The assiduous labours of Winifred Taunton have left their mark on every page. Elsie Bramhill typed diligently for many an hour, and never kept me waiting. Arthur and Joan Sheppard cast eagle eyes over every paragraph. Mary Eyre checked hundreds of references without a murmur. Raymond Wiggin persuaded the genius of Michelangelo's impression of Isaiah and his two sons, to grace the front cover of this volume. The back cover shows the Dead Sea Scroll version of Isaiah, chapter 1.
Posted 12 December 2011 - 03:47 AM
1. A Bad Inheritance
When Hezekiah at last came to full authority over his nation, after being for some years a young co-regent with his decadent father, he knew right well the appalling character of his inheritance.
The reign of Uzziah had been a sustained period of high prosperity. The nation had never had it so good. But affluence has never been a blessing to any nation. So when Ahaz, a weak feckless spiritual pervert, came to the throne, even while the old leprous architect of prosperity was still shut away in his lazar house, decay had already set in throughout the nation. Ahaz, the poor fool, promptly set himself to accelerate the process. Never did the nation have such an eloquent example of spineless politics and dedicated perversity in ungodliness.
The early chapters of Isaiah are one sustained reprobation of king and aristocracy. And it may be taken for granted that the common people did their best to emulate the worthy examples now being set them. The nation's Father in heaven shook his head sadly:
"I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: But Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters...they are gone away backward...The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores" (1:2-6).
The leprosy of the old king, such a fine able man in his time, was an apt figure of the rottenness which was now the nation's norm.
Of course, it was in the worship of their God where decay was most evident. They were become "a people of unclean lips" (6:5). What had been a nation well-instructed in godliness was now, in the prophet's parable, a vineyard which brought no satisfaction whatever to its owner:
"He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes (literally, stinkers!)" (5:2).
There is something almost pathetic about the expostulation of heaven:
"What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done?" (5:4).
The women, "the daughters of Zion" who were intended to be specially consecrated to the service of the temple (see B.S., ch. 10.05) were shameless in their dedication to vanity and beauty culture, and Isaiah tutored in the technicalities by his prophetess wife, hurled at them a searing catalogue of their indulgences in such futility (3:16ff).
Posted 12 December 2011 - 03:51 AM
"They declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not" (3:9).
"O my people", Isaiah lamented, "they which lead thee cause thee to err"
So a sequence of woes, unmatched in their caustic penetration until the days of Jesus (Mt. 23) was unleashed against them:
"Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning (not for worship or diligent usefulness, but), that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them! Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine" (5:11,22).
And their self-indulgence is made the more uplifting by an enthusiasm for classical music (very respectable!):
"The harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord" (5:12).
"Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope" (5:18).
— they had public processions in which they proclaimed themselves devotees of the current fashionable deity by drawing through the streets his image enthroned on an imitation of the cherubim-chariot of the Lord. Thus, shameless, as they pulled on a cart rope they declared their sin.
Posted 12 December 2011 - 04:28 AM
With these distortions of heavenly truth, there had come in a cynical perversion of all moral standards. Twenty-seven centuries ahead of modern cleverness, they had become experts in double-speak:
"Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (5:20).
There was no penetrating their blithe self-assurance:
"Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!" (5:21).
The king himself was a fair sample. In a time of acute national crisis Ahaz was bidden:
"Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the depth (of the Kidron valley), or in the height (of the temple) above".
Yet the only response the king's non-faith could muster was a pseudo-pious:
"I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord" (7:11,12)
Others, with more blatant cynicism openly challenged the Lord's prophet: "Let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it!" (5:19) — as who should say: 'Haven't we been waiting long enough for the doom and destruction you hurl at us? Your prophecies are as slow as the second coming of Christ!'
Not only religious apostasy but also social abuses were rampant: "Woe unto them that join house to house" (5:8)
— the wealthy took pride in the acquisition of impressive estates. And all this at the expense of the poor:
"What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor?" (3:15).
"The Lord looked for judgment (mishpat) but behold oppression (mishpach); for righteousness (tz'daqah), but behold a cry (tz'aqah)" (5:7).
"Woe unto them...which justify the wicked for reward (a bribe)...to them that decree unrighteous decrees...to turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!" (5:23; 10:1,2).
The same element of chicanery came into their religious life:
"They are soothsayers like the Philistines...seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep and that mutter" (2:6; 8:19).
What hope for a nation that wants to be taken in with the spoofery of spiritualism? They were in a parlous condition:
"Hear ye indeed, but understand not: and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed" (6:9,10).
Hard words, these, but well deserved, it was "a hypocritical nation...the people of my wrath" (10:6).
Hezekiah, what a task lies before you!
Posted 12 December 2011 - 05:45 AM
When Hezekiah came to the throne as a young man of twenty-five, thanks to the influence of a godly mother or of the even more godly Isaiah, he forthwith set about the task of lifting his temple and people out of the spiritual degradation which had been inevitable during the reign of his decadent father. Never did a son pass a more public vote of no confidence in his father.
First, then, a mighty spring-cleaning and re-organisation of the temple, as in 2 Chronicles 30. Isaiah had foretold that this would come about:
"And it shall come to pass that he that is left in Zion (i.e. in the temple), and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem" (Isaiah 4:3).
The gross abuses in religious practice which Ahaz had not only tolerated but actively encouraged were swept away. The pagan altar and its cult imported from Assyria, via Damascus, was got rid of. That altar had been set up directly before the sanctuary entrance, and the former altar of burnt-offering had been shifted to a remote corner of the temple court (2 Kings 16:10-16); and the rock foundation of the original altar (Al Sakrah?), which Ahaz had found an eyesore, had been to some extent disguised by having the brazen laver set up there (for fuller details, see "The Stone of Stumbling", Bible Studies, HAW, ch. 4.09).
The Davidic tradition re-established
Isaiah foretold that very soon these irreligious innovations would be reprobated and the old familiar pattern of worship re-instituted. The prophet bade his faithful remnant give their loyalty to the worship of Jehovah and to all the appointments which had come down from the time of David:
"Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your Fear, and let him be your Dread. And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling (like the rock protruding above the level of the rest of the temple area) and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel (faithful and unfaithful alike found something offensive about the situation), for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken" (Isaiah 8:13-15).
— that rock platform was literally something to stumble over!
In later years, when the Assyrian grip was tightening on Jerusalem, crude Rabshakeh tried to make propaganda out of Hezekiah's efforts at reformation which, until the time of his illness, were still vigorous:
"If thou say to me, We trust in the Lord our God, is it not he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar?" (Isaiah 36:7).
Posted 12 December 2011 - 05:54 AM
When the king found himself struck down with incurable sickness, his chief lament was that he was now prevented from participation in the worship of Jehovah, nor could he lead his people in these wholesome devotions:
"When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me; for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holy day" (Psalm 42:4).
Here "holy day" describes a feast of the Lord, almost certainly Passover which Hezekiah had revived with such enthusiasm.
Consequently, in a later psalm of trouble he could declare with all honesty (concerning the godly section of the nation, at any rate):
"All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant. Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way" (Psalm 44:17,18).
Psalm 132, a Song of Degrees, has a long reminiscence of the intense zeal David had shown for bringing the ark to Zion (v. 1 -10). Hezekiah incorporated this psalm in the psalter because it expressed precisely his own unquenchable eagerness for a similar religious revival in his own time. And as David's fervour brought him a rich divine Promise about a scion of his line who would sit on his throne for ever, so also childless Hezekiah looked wistfully to the day when God would bless him with a son to continue his royal line:
"The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it, Of the fruit of thy body (literally: bowels — virgin birth!) will I set upon thy throne. If thy children will keep my covenant and my testimony that I shall teach them, their children shall also sit upon thy throne for evermore" (Psalm 132:11,12).
Posted 12 December 2011 - 05:54 AM
Hezekiah was specially eager to unify the entire nation, north and south, in the worship of Jehovah at Jerusalem and in a devoted observance of the Feasts. In the words of contemporary Hosea: "Turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually" (Hosea 12:6).
His appeal to the northern tribes, only partially successful, was also anticipated in Isaiah's prophecy of light springing up in the Galilean darkness, an area much ravaged by Assyrian inroads:
"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined" (Isaiah 9:2).
This desirable development is most beautifully, if briefly, set out in another Song of Degrees:
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity (the brethren of Israel and Judah who for centuries had kept severely apart)".
This delightful prospect, of North and South coming together in godly fellowship, is likened to "the dew of Hermon (in the far north), and as the dew that descended on the mountains of Zion (the temple), for there the Lord commanded the blessing" which only God's high priest could impart to the people (Psalm 133).
A worthy High Priest
It was appropriate for such a great occasion that the new high priest should be inducted into office. Instead of the timid and sycophantic Urijah (2 Kings 16:11), there was Eliakim the son of Hilkiah (Isaiah 22:20):
"It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that came down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard, that went down to the skirts of his garments".
That copious anointing oil flowed down upon the shoulder ornaments of the high priest (Exodus 28:7-12) and over the twelve stones set in the breastplate and upon all his garments, thus symbolically uniting all the twelve tribes in the blessing of that moving occasion.
"I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together; whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the Lord" (Psalm 122:1-4).
Bible readers often fail to realise what a sensational development, what a big step forward in godliness, this reformation of Hezekiah's was. Even though it was only partially successful, it proved to be the saving of the nation in the dire times which soon followed. But it was still necessary for the prophets to castigate the hypocrisy and self-indulgence and cynicism which characterised much of the nation. There are plenty of indications of this dichotomy.
Posted 12 December 2011 - 05:55 AM
It is useful at this stage to enquire how Ahaz managed to avoid serious trouble with the rough aggressive Assyrian empire-builders, whereas his son was called on to endure an irresistible and destructive invasion which was designed to wipe the small kingdom of Judah off the map.
First, then, it needs to be recognized that in the early part of his reign Ahaz came under serious pressure from the alliance which Syria and Israel (the northern kingdom) formed against him. This was their defensive measure against the rising tide of Assyrian power. These two kingdoms did not like the prospect of fighting two wars simultaneously against Assyria in the north-east and Judah in the south. So, since they failed to persuade Ahaz to join in their defensive struggle against Tiglath-pileser III, they decided to remove the southern danger altogether by an invasion of Judah before the Assyrian threat became more urgent (2 Kings 16:6,7; Isaiah 7:1). The nation's defences, which Uzziah had brought to a high pitch of perfection, were now in a sorry state of dilapidation. So, in a panic Ahaz promptly sent to Nineveh, pleading with the Assyrian monarch to come to his rescue:
"I am thy servant and thy son: come up and save me..." (2 Kings 16:7).
The plea was reinforced by a substantial persuader gathered together from the temple and palace treasuries. It was an open acknowledgment that an annual payment of tribute to Assyria was deemed preferable to the widespread wreck and ruin which Syrian invasion would inflict on its unprepared neighbour. Also Ahaz reasoned that it was better to continue as semi-independent king of a weakened country rather than lose his throne altogether (Is. 7:6).
Subservience to Assyria
Tiglath-pileser, seeing here the opportunity of three quick strides towards an invasion of Egypt, was willing enough to oblige.
Very soon Damascus was occupied by his forces. Thither he called his vassal Ahaz that he might dictate to him further conditions for the continuance of the treaty of "friendship". These new terms included the introduction of the worship of Ashur in the temple of Jehovah (2 Kings 16:1 Off), and also the installation in the temple and palace area of a permanent Assyrian garrison:
"Ahaz took away a portion of the house of the Lord, and out of the house of the king and of the princes, and gave it unto the king of Assyria: but he helped him not" (2 Chr. 28:21).
Both politically and religiously Judah was at a desperately low ebb.
But time wrought changes. Ahaz died, and even the mighty Tiglath-pileser proved to be mortal, as also was his successor Shalmanezer V, who died at the siege of Samaria. Sargon II inherited an empire which included not a few vassal states already restless under Assyrian dominion. So the whole of his reign resolved itself into a series of wars most of which were designed to re-assert his challenged authority.
Posted 12 December 2011 - 05:56 AM
Hezekiah, chafing under the Assyrian presence in Jerusalem and resenting the false worship established in the temple, seized his opportunity:
"He rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not" (2 Kgs. 18:7).
The Assyrian garrison was sent packing, and drastic measures were undertaken to cleanse the temple and to restore its services to the honour of Jehovah.
Of course, this new spirit of independence meant that Judah was also on Sargon's hit list, but its remoteness and relative unimportance politically ensured a period of tolerable tranquillity enabling Hezekiah to push through his reformation. In fact Sargon never did get round to organising the punitive campaign which Hezekiah's bold spirit had "asked for".
The restoration of the temple went ahead vigorously. The Assyrian altar was one of the monstrosities which the reformers smashed to pieces (2 Kgs. 18:4), and Solomon's brazen altar of burnt offering was restored to its rightful place. Also:
"the priests...brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the Lord...and the Levites took it, to carry it out abroad into the brook Kidron" (2 Chr. 29:16),
precisely as Moses had dealt with the abomination of the golden calf (Dt. 9:21). There seems to be a reminiscence of this temple defilement by the Assyrians in one of the Asaph Psalms, all of which clearly belong to the time of Hezekiah:
"Lift up thine eyes unto...all that the enemy hath done wickedly in the sanctuary. Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations: they set up their ensigns for signs...now they break down the carved work thereof at once with axes and hammers (the departing soldiery expressing their contempt and bad temper?). They have defiled the dwelling place of thy name even to the ground" (Ps. 74:3-7).
An end to foreign influence
In the light of the thesis of this chapter several other Scriptures are seen to take on a more precise meaning:
"The remnant of the house of Israel and such as are escaped of the house of Judah shall no more again stay upon him that smote them (as Ahaz had done); but shall stay upon the Lord the Holy One of Israel, in truth" (Is. 10:20).
"...O Jerusalem, the holy city, henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean" (52:1).
"Then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no stranger pass through her any more" (Joel 3:17).
Posted 12 December 2011 - 05:57 AM
It is a strange phenomenon, surely, that although the reign of Hezekiah began with such a roaring reformation, within a few years the nation was apparently paying for its new-found godliness with as traumatic an experience as any people has ever been called upon to endure. Why this horror of Assyrian invasion? Could not the Almighty be counted on to keep immune from such frightfulness His people who had lately turned to Him again in penitence for their sin and with a zealous renewing of His holy feasts? Then why should their gracious God now appear so completely out of character?
It is possible to make guesses about this enigma, and it is then satisfying to find both of them stamped as correct by the imprimatur of Holy Writ — first, that, in spite of the swing and zeal with which reformation and Passover are described in 2 Chronicles 30,31, in truth the king's appeal that the people "turn again" found a response in the hearts of only a fraction of the nation; also within a few years that reformation lost its momentum in the lives of most of those who had been carried away at first by the earnest quality of the king's appeal and by the enthusiasm and warm fellowship generated at that phenomenal Passover.
Human nature is like that. It is reluctant to be prised out of its spiritual somnolence, in the first place, and having been successfully disturbed it very readily sinks back into its former spiritual lassitude and indifference to religious duty. A plentiful assemblage of prophetic lamentations can be put together from the pages of Isaiah's later chapters (after 14:28; "the year that king Ahaz died"), illuminating the dark corners of this falling away again.
"Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? did not the Lord, he against whom we have sinned? for they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his law. Therefore he hath poured upon them the fury of his anger, and the strength of battle: and it hath set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart" (42:24,25).
Before the rebuke of this renewed indifference was felt in bitter national experience, Isaiah spoke the warning in vivid rhetoric:
"The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled: for the Lord hath spoken this word...The land also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof, because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore the curse hath devoured the land, and they that dwell therein are desolate. Therefore the inhabitants of the land are burned, and few men left..." (24:3-6).
"Judah hath multiplied fenced cities" — readiness to depend upon military defences rather than the God of their fathers — "but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof" (Hosea 8:14).
In the contemporary Scriptures the heading "The Burden of Damascus", encourages the reader to contemplate the whole of Isaiah 17 as a prophecy of the downfall of Syria. But more careful examination reveals that this Damascus "burden" fills only the first three verses. Verse 4 makes a fresh start about "the glory of Jacob made thin" and how good beginnings in Judah were now come to a sorry end:
"In that day shall his strong cities be as a forsaken bough...and there shall be desolation, Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the Rock of thy strength, therefore...in the day shalt thou make thy plant to grow, and in the morning shalt thou make thy seed to flourish (figures for the early reformation Hezekiah brought in): but the harvest shall be a (mere) heap in the day of grief and desperate sorrow" (17:9-11).
In the next chapter a similar figure emphasises the same lugubrious truth about imminent judgment:
"For so the Lord said unto me, I will take my rest, and I will consider in my dwelling place (a deliberate withdrawal of aid from his people)...For afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect...he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut down the branches. They shall be left together unto the fowls of the mountains, and to the beasts of the earth" (18:4-7).
The foregoing are samples only of a fairly copious list. They provide pointed indications that, just as Josiah's comparable reformation was taken seriously by only a godly minority supporting the zeal of the king, later to be followed by deplorable declension, so also in Hezekiah's time. A later chapter will assemble evidence to show that worthy standards of godliness truly were maintained by the king and a fine school of prophets and the disciples they assembled round them. At the most crucial period of the nation's experience there was only a faithful remnant. It was for their sake that the deliverance from Assyrian brute force came in such startling fashion, to be followed forthwith by years of unexampled blessing and prosperity.
Posted 12 December 2011 - 05:59 AM
No sooner was the Assyrian campaign begun than it became immediately evident that with the exception of the fortresses — the "fenced cities" — there was no hope of withstanding the surge of the invasion. There was no army of an appreciable size to put in the field against these experienced, well-trained, and utterly ruthless warriors. Perhaps a few of the stronger centres of resistance — places like Lachish and Libnah — might hold out. But there was little hope for the rest.
What hope for Jerusalem itself? The shattering earthquake in Uzziah's reign had brought many of his elaborate fortifications (2 Chr. 26:9) to ruin, and in the reign of feckless Ahaz there had been neither the will nor the resources to restore them — and in any case the presence of an Assyrian garrison through most of his reign had effectively discouraged any activity which might make Jerusalem difficult to capture, if occasion for such an operation should arise.
But now the present crisis made it imperative that drastic last minute efforts be made to save the holy city from the devastation of war.
A special conference of cabinet and army "top brass" decided on intensive measures (2 Chr. 32:3-5). Water supply for the city in time of siege was all-important. It was almost equally urgent to ensure that the enemy, when he came, would find himself without access to water supplies for men and animals. So Hezekiah
"took counsel.. .to stop the waters of the fountains which were without the city: and they did help him" (2 Chr. 32:3).
Also, an additional wall ("another wall without"; 2 Chr. 32:5) was built on the southern side of the city to effectively enclose within the defences the new reservoir at Siloam. This pool was to be the main water supply for the inhabitants when they found themselves besieged.
Two other measures reinforced this forward-looking scheme. Uzziah's great earthquake had brought about such a mighty rock-fall in the vicinity of the Virgin's Fountain in the Kidron valley (Jos. Ant. 9.10.4) that now the complete sealing up of that spring was a practical proposition, thus denying to any besieging army the best local supply of drinking water outside the city wall.
More than this, those waters were now diverted inside the city by the driving of a superbly-engineered underground rock tunnel. Thus the external waters of the Kidron were brought through the hill to the pool of Siloam. All this was done at breakneck speed without the aid of bulldozers or power-driven tools:
"There was gathered much people together (Hezekiah readily commanded the unanimity of the people), who stopped the fountains, and the brook (Kidron) that ran through the midst of the land, (Hezekiah) saying, Why should the kings of Assyria come, and find much water?" (2 Chr. 32:4)
"All my springs are IN thee (Jerusalem)" (Ps. 87:7).
"There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High" (Ps. 46:4; the rest of the psalm is about the destruction of Sennacherib's army).
"Ye gathered together the waters of the lower pool" (Is. 22:9).
"Ye made also a ditch (NIV: reservoir) between the two walls for the water of the old pool: but ye (the rulers) have not looked unto the maker thereof (as Hezekiah himself did)" (Is. 22:11). Compare Isaiah's later words:
"Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, even he that hath no money" (55:1).
Posted 12 December 2011 - 06:06 AM
There was also massive repair work of the city wall, various segments of which were in a sorry state. Also, for general effectiveness, its overall height was increased,
"The breaches of the city of David were many" (Is. 22:9).
But the threat from the north grew more serious; and there was much to be done. So, to save time and the considerable labour in the fashioning of well-trimmed building blocks, ancient and less desirable structures in the oldest part of the city were demolished, and their materials re-used for defence work. Thus, 27 centuries ago, the policy was: Guns instead of butter.
"Ye numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses ye broke down to fortify the wall" (Is. 22:10).
Indeed, the patching up of the city wall was so hastily done as to be almost useless:
"This iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant" (Is. 30:13).
And no doubt the Assyrian KGB reported such occurrences, to the amusement and satisfaction of their superiors. However:
"he (the king) strengthened himself (Hebrew: hezeklahed himself), and built up all the wall that was broken, and raised it up to (beside?) the towers...and he hezekiahed in the city of David the Millo (the filling), and made darts and shields in abundance" (2 Chr. 32:5).
As the last phrase here indicates, there was also a frantic beating of ploughshares into swords and pruninghooks into spears (as Joel 3:10 also indicates). The national armoury was found to be woefully inadequate for the present emergency — that Assyrian garrison had seen to that!
"Thou didst look in that day to the armour of the House of the Forest (of Lebanon)" (Is. 22:8; cp. 2 Chr. 9:15,16).
Posted 12 December 2011 - 06:12 AM
Alas, the people generally were more disposed to put confidence in their desperate, but inadequate, preparations for war than in the protecting care of the God of their fathers. The exhortations of faithful Hezekiah had relatively little effect: "Who is he among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God. Behold, all ye that kindle a fire (for the beating of ploughshares into swords), that compass yourselves about with sparks:
walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand: ye shall lie down in sorrow" (Is. 50:10,11).
Earlier, a political measure of a different character was attempted, apparently with good success:
"He (Hezekiah) smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof" (2 Kgs. 18:8).
Ashkelon was given a new king, — one Sidqa (i.e. Tzadiq, the righteous one — the name has a distinctly Hebrew flavour). And Padi, the king of Ekron, a friend of Assyria, was taken off to Jerusalem as a prisoner, and a Jewish nominee was installed in his place.
However, one of the first strokes of Sennacherib's campaign was to overrun the Philistine land and to restore to their cities men who could be depended upon. Sidqa and all his officers were sent off in slavery, and an exchange of prisoners got Padi out of his "iron fetters" and back on the throne in Ekron (Taylor prism). Meantime, the best army that could be mustered was brought together in "the 'street' of the gate of the city" (the temple court), there to be exhorted by their king:
"Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him (a tremendous contribution of fighting men from all the various peoples now dominated by the Assyrian empire): for there be more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh: but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves on the words of Hezekiah" (2 Chr. 32:7,8).
A poor-spirited populace
Those last words were true only for the faithful remnant who knew the power of faith. But amongst a big segment of the population there was only consternation and panic:
"I will weep bitterly, labour not to comfort me because of the (imminent) spoiling of the daughter of my people. For it is a day of trouble and of treading down, and of perplexity by the Lord God of hosts in the valley of vision (even the prophets were at a loss), breaking down the walls, and crying to the mountains (i.e. to gods worshipped in the high places)...thy choicest valleys shall be full of chariots, and the horsemen shall set themselves in array at the gate. And he (Sennacherib) discovered the covering of Judah (NIV: the defences of Judah are stripped away — a reference to the 'fenced cities' which the Assyrians captured and burned)...And in that day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to girding with sackcloth" (22:4-12).
Here Joel came in with his exhortation to the chicken-hearted:
"Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach (the reproach of Rabshakeh), that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God? — (which is precisely what Rabshakeh did say; see chapter 22)".
Posted 12 December 2011 - 06:13 AM
In "Hezekiah the Great" ch,10, it has been shown that the King was struck down by the onset and rapid progress of some virulent disease, which the Bible calls leprosy: and that this desperate experience happened just when the Assyrian invasion was nearing its most critical phase.
All at once the nation found itself bereft of godly leadership. The prospect, already bleak, now verged on hopelessness.
"Now, why dost thou (Zion) cry out aloud? is there no king in thee? is thy counsellor perished?" (Mic. 4:9).
"There is none to guide her (Zion) among all the sons whom she hath brought forth: neither is there any that taketh her by the hand of all the sons that she hath brought up" (Is. 51:18).
In the earlier volume referred to, the details of the king's suffering, of his prayer for restoration, and of the sign given him and the dramatic recovery with which he was blessed are all considered in detail. The present chapter sets out to show that even if Isaiah, chapter 38, had been lost, it would still be possible to infer from other Scriptures the main truth about the king's malady. A copious sequence of passages is clearly relevant to this crisis. In one place after another the words take on fuller meaning in the light of this royal affliction.
The stricken king
"The days of his youth (God's anointed) hast thou shortened: thou hast covered him with shame" (Ps. 89:45).
"My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass" (Ps. 102:11; cp. also Ps. 130).
These words give added point to the sign granted to Hezekiah. The shadow on the sun-dial went back. No longer were his days "as a shadow that declineth." Hezekiah, reared in godliness by a godly mother, was most distressed because his disease and its uncleanness cut him off from the temple and from the worship of his God:
"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God (the God of the living creatures; Is. 37:16): when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my meat night and day, while they (such as Rabshakeh; Is. 36,37) continually say unto me, Where is thy God? When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me..." (Ps. 42:1-4).
"My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh (mind and body) crieth out for the living God (yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself), even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God" (Ps. 84:2,3).
There is more than one vivid picture of the extreme of suffering this righteous king was called on to endure:
"Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto thee. Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: in the day when I call, answer me speedily. For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth. My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread. By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin. I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the housetop" (Ps. 102:1-7; the next verse speaks of Rabshakeh's campaign of reviling). "He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him there is no beauty that we should desire him" (Is. 53:2; the next chapter will show that the whole of this familiar Scripture has its basis in the suffering of Hezekiah).
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