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Hezekiah Seeks Isaiah's Help
1As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. 2And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. 3They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, ‘This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. 4It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’”
5When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, 6Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. 7Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”
8The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. 9Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush,11Probably Nubia “He has set out to fight against you.” And when he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, 10“Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? 12Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’”
Hezekiah's Prayer for Deliverance
14Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. 15And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 16“O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 17Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 18Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 19and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 20So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.”
21Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:
“‘She despises you, she scorns you—
the virgin daughter of Zion;
she wags her head behind you—
the daughter of Jerusalem.
23“‘Whom have you mocked and reviled?
Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes to the heights?
Against the Holy One of Israel!
24By your servants you have mocked the Lord,
and you have said, With my many chariots
I have gone up the heights of the mountains,
to the far recesses of Lebanon,
to cut down its tallest cedars,
its choicest cypresses,
to come to its remotest height,
its most fruitful forest.
25I dug wells
and drank waters,
to dry up with the sole of my foot
all the streams of Egypt.
26“‘Have you not heard
that I determined it long ago?
I planned from days of old
what now I bring to pass,
that you should make fortified cities
crash into heaps of ruins,
27while their inhabitants, shorn of strength,
are dismayed and confounded,
and have become like plants of the field
and like tender grass,
like grass on the housetops,
blighted22Some Hebrew manuscripts and 2 Kings 19:26; most Hebrew manuscripts like a field before it is grown.
28“‘I know your sitting down
and your going out and coming in,
and your raging against me.
29Because you have raged against me
and your complacency has come to my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
and my bit in your mouth,
and I will turn you back on the way
by which you came.’
30“And this shall be the sign for you: this year you shall eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs from that. Then in the third year sow and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. 31And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. 32For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
33“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 34By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 35For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”
36And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 37Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh. 38And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword. And after they escaped into the land of Ararat, Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.
1. And it came to pass. The Prophet declares that the only hope of safety that was left to the pious king was to bring his complaints before God as a righteous judge; as it is said in the Psalm, that
“in the same manner as servants or handmaids, when they are injured, look to the protection of their master or mistress, so the eyes of believers are fixed on the assistance of God.” —
Thus, when Jerusalem appears to be completely ruined, Hezekiah, being bereft of earthly assistance, betakes himself to the protection of God, and thus acknowledges that there is no other remedy for heavy distresses. Hence also the grace of God shone more brightly, so that it was evidently miraculous, when the pious king was rescued from the jaws of that lion. We ought, therefore, to observe this circumstance, that we may better understand the great excellence of the work of God. Here we are also taught what we ought to do in the most desperate circumstances, not to be indolent or sluggish in supplicating the assistance of God, who himself invites us to come to him. We must not tremble or despair, but, on the contrary, ought to be stimulated by the necessity which presses upon us to seek his aid; as we see what Hezekiah did, who immediately betook himself to the temple in the same manner as to a place of safety, that he and all his people might take refuge under the shadow of God.
That King Hezekiah rent his clothes. He likewise adds the outward expressions of repentance, the “rending of the clothes and wearing sackcloth,” sprinkling of ashes, and other things of the same kind; for these were the ordinary signs of repentance, when, under the weight of any calamity by which they were afflicted, they confessed their guilt before God and implored pardon from him. Wonderful is the modesty of the holy king, who, after having performed so many illustrious works, and after having been adorned by the excellence of so many virtues, does not hesitate to prostrate himself humbly before God; and, on the other hand, wonderful is his courage and the steadfastness of his faith, in not being hindered by the weight of so heavy a temptation from freely seeking God by whom he was so severely smitten. Scarcely do we find one man in a hundred who does not murmur if God treats him with any degree of severity, who does not bring forward his good deeds as a ground of complaint, and remonstrate that he has been unjustly rewarded. Other men, when God does not comply with their wishes, complain that their worship of God has served no good purpose.
We perceive nothing of this kind in Hezekiah, who, though he is conscious of possessing uncommon piety, does not shrink from a confession of guilt, and therefore if we desire to turn away God’s anger, and to experience his favor in adversity, we must testify our repentance and sincerely acknowledge our guilt; for adversity does not fall out to us by chance, but is the method by which God arouses us to repentance. True, indeed, sackcloth and ashes will be of little avail, if they be not preceded by the inward feelings of the heart; for we know that hypocrites are abundantly liberal in the use of ceremonies; but as we have formerly said, the Holy Spirit justly commends those exercises, when they are directed to their proper object. And indeed it was a proof of uncommon piety and modesty, that the pious king and the whole nation excited themselves in this manner to fear God, and that he made a voluntary acknowledgment of guilt in a form attended by wretched filthiness; for we know how unwilling kings are to let themselves down from their rank.
2. And he sent Eliakim. This message was not intended merely to invite Isaiah to join with him in lamentation, but to request some consolation from his doctrine. And indeed to no purpose shall prayers be poured into the air, if they do not rest on the word of God. Thus we see that unbelievers are exceedingly noisy in their prayers, and yet they flee from God by despising or disregarding his promises. It was therefore a proof of sincere piety in Hezekiah, that, while he was earnestly employed in prayer, he at the same time added a confirmation of his hope, that he might not yield to temptation.
To Isaiah, the son of Amos the Prophet. He follows the method appointed by God, when he wishes to hear God speaking by the mouth of “the Prophet.” (Deuteronomy 18:15; Malachi 2:7.) Though he relies on God alone, he does not reject the testimony of a mortal man; and therefore not without reason does he expressly add the designation Prophet; for he sends to Isaiah, that he may be confirmed by some new prediction, and names him, not as a private individual, but as the servant of God, whose duty it was to soothe the pious king by some consolation.
There are therefore two remedies that deserve our attention, by which we are soothed in affliction. First, we ought to call on God to deliver us; and, secondly, we ought to consult the prophets, at least, if we can obtain them, that they may bring us some comfort out of the word of God; for it is their duty to encourage and comfort the afflicted by promises, and if they fail to do so, still abundant consolation is communicated to us from the word. And we ought to consult the prophets, who were appointed, not only for their own age, but also for posterity and for every age; for although the men are dead, yet their books survive; their doctrine lives and shall never die. We shall never, therefore, be destitute of true remedies, if we do not reject them; but, in a word, we ought always to consult God.
It may be asked, “Was not Hezekiah abundantly supplied and fortified by the promises of God? Was it not a sign of distrust to seek new promises from the Prophet?” I reply, it ought not to be ascribed to unbelief or distrust, that he seeks a new promise; for, being conscious of his weakness, he does not scruple to ask new confirmations. The flesh always excites us to distrust, and therefore we ought not to despise additional aid; on the contrary, we ought always to seek every kind of assistance, by which we may resist various temptations; for on all sides Satan attacks and besieges us in such a manner that, if we are not strongly fortified, we shall scarcely be able to escape his snares and devices till the end. Although, therefore, we have been taught by the word of God that he will assist us in adversity, yet when we are engaged in any arduous contest, it is proper that we should again and again ask at the mouth of the Lord, and seek new confirmations for the purpose of strengthening our faith. There are indeed no prophecies of the same kind that are given to us in the present day; but we ought to apply to our use the general prophecies, which were also written for our benefit. (Romans 15:4.)
As to the reason why Hezekiah sent ambassadors, and did not himself go to Isaiah, it was obviously because he was praying in the Temple; for the circumstance, that all the elders and counsellors were clothed with sackcloth, shews clearly that the mourning was general; and it is probable that prayers were publicly offered by the command of the king. Yet it ought to be observed, that the Prophet did not remain at home for his own ease or pleasure, but by his absence God intended to try the faith of the pious king.
4. If perhaps Jehovah thy God will hear. Hezekiah appears to doubt whether, or not the Lord is willing to hear him; for the particle אולי (ulai) is translated perhaps, and this is the meaning which it frequently bears in Scripture. But it ought to be observed that believers, even though they know with certainty that the Lord will assist them, yet, in consequence of being perplexed by the difficulty of the case, often speak in this manner. Hezekiah had reasons for hesitating, if we look at the matter itself; but when he turns his eyes to the word, he is made certain as to the will of God, so that he ceases to tremble. But as it is impossible that the flesh should not retard believers by making them walk in a halting and staggering manner, 4646 “Tellement qu’ils ne marchent qu’en trainant les jambes ou a clochepied,” “So that they walk only by dragging their limbs or limping.” they sometimes accommodate their language to the present appearances of things.
It may also be observed, in other passages of Scripture, that the saints, even while speaking of what was certain, spoke in this manner; for Peter, in exhorting Simon, says,
“If perhaps this thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee.”
He does not advise Simon to tremble and hesitate in prayer; for such a supplication would have been vain; but he points out the heinousness of the offense; that he may strike his mind more forcibly, and may at length constrain him to rouse himself that he may approach God with true repentance. This word perhaps, therefore, does not imply doubt, but is equivalent to an expression which we commonly use, if it be possible, when we venture to hope and promise to ourselves something. And Hezekiah did not speak as if God were deaf to the words of the ungodly, or as if anything escaped his notice; but because it was a fixed principle in his heart that “God is near to all that truly call upon him,” (Psalm 145:18,) he determines to strive against despondency, and arms himself by prayer; and because he does not expect to gain the conquest without difficulty, he says, If perhaps. 4747 “Paraventure, ou possible.” “Perhaps, or possible.” Besides, he mentions two kinds of hearing, which in some measure removes the difficulty.
If perhaps Jehovah, thy God shall hear the words which Jehovah thy God hath heard. At first sight there is some apparent contradiction in these words; but the manner of speaking is highly appropriate, because Hezekiah was assuredly and beyond all controversy convinced that nothing is hidden from God; only he argues with himself on this point, whether or not, God determines to call in question the blasphemy of this filthy dog; because frequently he delays and conceals vengeance for a time, and thus seems to shut his eyes and overlook it. In short, taking for granted that
“all things are open and manifest to God,” (Hebrews 4:13,)
he only asks with earnestness whether or not God actually shews that he is so highly offended by the blasphemies of Rabshakeh that he determines not to allow them to remain unpunished. In a word, he wishes God to hear effectually, that is, by restoring those things which were scattered and confused, and shewing himself to be a judge; for then do we know that he actually sees and observes all things. In this manner Hezekiah asks, “Hath not the Lord heard the blasphemies of Rabshakeh, to take vengeance on them, and to shew that he hath a regard to the glory of his name?”
Jehovah thy God. By calling him “the God of Isaiah,” Hezekiah does not mean that there is only one man who worships God, nor does he exclude himself from the number of the godly; but because prayers flowed from doctrine, the pious king wished to speak in commendation of the ministry of the Prophet, and to testify that he was a true servant of God. That relation is somewhat more extensive; for all believers call on God, and, on the other hand, God reckons them among his people; but God is reckoned in a peculiar manner to be the God of Isaiah and Paul, because they have a special calling. In a word, these words expressly contain praise and commendation of Isaiah’s calling.
Thou wilt therefore lift up a prayer. This is the second reason why Hezekiah sent messengers to Isaiah; namely, that he also would pray along with others. Hence we learn that it is the duty of a prophet, not only to comfort the afflicted by the word of the Lord, but also to offer his prayers for their salvation. Let not pastors and ministers of the word, therefore, think that they have fully discharged their duty, when they have exhorted and taught, if they do not also add prayer. This indeed is what all ought to do; but Hezekiah sent to Isaiah in a particular manner, because he ought to lead the way to others by his example. Besides, “to lift up a prayer” is nothing else than “to pray,” but the mode of expression deserves attention; for it shews how our feelings ought to be regulated when we pray. Scripture everywhere enjoins us to “lift up our hearts to heaven,” (Lamentations 3:41;) for otherwise we would have no fear of God. Moreover, our stupidity is so great that we are immediately seized by gross imaginations of God; so that if he did not bid us look to heaven, we would choose rather to seek him at our feet. “To lift up a prayer,” therefore, is to pray in such a manner that our hearts may not grovel on the earth, or think anything earthly or gross about God, but may ascribe to him what is suitable to his majesty, and that our warm and earnest affections may take a lofty flight. In this sense it is said in the Psalm,
“Let my prayer come up before thee as incense,
and as the evening sacrifice.” (Psalm 141:2.)
For the remnant that is still left. When he desires that prayer should be offered “for the remnant of the people that was left,” this circumstance was fitted powerfully to move the Lord; not that he is moved after the manner of men, but he acts towards us in this manner, and accommodates himself to our weakness. Thus when our affairs are brought to such an extremity that we are not far from destruction, we ought to spread our misery before God, that our minds may receive some consolation; for God declares that he hath regard to “the poor and afflicted.” (Psalm 22:24.) And the nearer we appear to be to destruction, so much the more warmly and earnestly ought we to implore that he would render assistance to us, as we see here that Hezekiah did when matters were desperate.
5. And the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah. As the Prophet formerly related that the pious king had no other refuge than to consult the mouth of the Lord, so he now shews that he did not consult in vain; for he received the consolation which he desired. Instructed by this example, if we seek relief from him by pouring our cares and anxieties into the bosom of God, our hope shall never be disappointed; and although there will not always be prophets in the world, such as Isaiah was, yet he will come forth seasonably to render assistance in an appropriate manner.
6. Thus saith Jehovah. Isaiah begins by saying that he gives the reply in the name of God, and expressly declares that the oracle comes from God, both because prophets ought always to beware of bringing forward anything of their own, and because in so difficult a matter the authority of God was needful. In this manner also, the Prophet shewed that he met the prayers of the pious king. Even false prophets, indeed, boast of the name of God, but falsely. Isaiah was truly the organ of the Holy Spirit, and therefore he has a right to mention the holy name of Him that sent him.
Fear not. When he bids him “not fear,” he exhorts Hezekiah to be of a courageous or, at least, a calm disposition. Whenever we hear this word, let us be reminded that we are enjoined to cultivate that peace which faith produces in our hearts; for all who trust in God, and expect from him deliverance from their distresses, rise superior to all fears by the exercise of patience, so that even in the midst of affliction they have peace. Besides, in order that the pious king may continue cheerfully to expect a joyful issue, he plainly declares that God conducts his own cause which he has undertaken to defend, because he cannot permit wicked men unpunished to dishonor his name without making it appear at length that he is a righteous judge. 4848 “En les punissant.” “By punishing them.”
The servants of the king of Assyria. By calling them servants, he presents in a stronger light the baseness of the action; for although the king himself had spoken in this manner, still it would have been intolerable that the Lord should be despised and so shamefully attacked by a mortal man. Hence it might easily be concluded that much less would he endure to be so highly insulted by “servants,” 4949 “The word translated servants, is not the same with that in the preceding verse, but strictly means young men or boys, and is so translated in the Targ. and Vulg. Many interpreters regard it as a contemptuous description, and it is so translated by Hitzig, (knappen, attendants.) Umbreit, (buben, boys or lads,) Henderson, (striplings,) and in other modern versions.” — Alexander. and therefore the rank of the person increases the heinoushess of the attack.
7. Behold, I will bring a wind upon him. Others translate it, “I will put my Spirit in him,” as if the Prophet were speaking of a secret influence of the heart; but that is a forced interpretation. It is a highly appropriate metaphor that there is in the hand of God a wind or whirlwind to drive Sennacherib in another direction. To compare wicked men to “straw or chaff,’ (Psalm 1:4) is a mode of expression frequently employed in Scripture, because God easily drives them wherever he thinks proper, when they think that they are standing very firm. The commotion that arose in the kingdom of Sennacherib is compared by the Prophet to a “wind” or “storm” which drove him out of Judea, and then he shews that the Lord will find no more difficulty in repelling that enemy than if he wished to move straw or chaff; and the very same thing might be said of all tyrants, however powerful.
For he shall hear a report. The words “and he shall hear” are evidently added for the sake of explanation, and therefore I have chosen to interpret them as assigning a reason, “For he shall hear.” 5050 ἀκούσας ἀγγελίαν, “having heard a message.” “Havendo inteso un certo grido,” “having heard a certain noise.” — Ital. “Uno foll etmas heren,” “and shall hear something.” — Luth. Germ. This is the wind by the raising of which Sennacherib was suddenly driven away; for a report which he heard about the kings of Egypt and Ethiopia constrained him to return to his own country.
And I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land. This means as if he had said, “He now annoys and harasses others, and endeavors to extend widely the limits of his empire; but I will raise up enemies to him, in the very bosom of his own land, who shall discomfit him.” Some expound it to mean the land of Israel, but that is an excessively forced interpretation; for he speaks of the land of the king of Assyria himself, and there is an implied contrast, “He who subdued other men’s cities and kingdoms shall not be able to defend his own country, but shall be destroyed and perish in it.”
8. And Rabshakeh having returned. He now declares how Rabshakeh, without doing anything, returned to his king, not to the same place where he had left him; for he understood that he had raised the siege of Lachish, and had departed into Egypt for the purpose of attacking Libnah. Some think that this city is Pelusium, others choose rather to assign it to Judea. It is, indeed, probable that, in consequence of a report that reached him about the approach of enemies, he moved his camp towards Egypt, that by meeting them he might prevent them from advancing. Though God restrained the violence of the tyrant by a new war, in order to give some relief to the Jews, yet he did not wish to conquer the tyrant by the hand of man, but only to shew openly and, as it were, to display on a theater his unconquerable pride; because, even when he was in great danger, he did not cease to vomit out the same blasphemies, as we shall soon see.
9. And hearing concerning Tirhakah king of Ethiopia. From what follows we may conjecture the reason why the king of Assyria suddenly departed from Judea; for the kings of Egypt and Ethiopia had formed a league with each other against Sennacherib, because they saw that his power was becoming excessive, and that his invasion of other countries had no limit, and therefore they readily concluded that, unless they opposed his violence at an early period, they also would be in imminent danger from him. These kings did not intend to provide for the safety of Judea at their own loss, but looked to themselves; for so great power possessed by one individual is commonly and deservedly viewed with suspicion by other princes and nations. They therefore act wisely in joining their forces and meeting him early; for separately they would easily have been subdued and destroyed. For this reason these two kings took arms together, in order to repel the power and violence of that tyrant.
He sent messengers to Hezekiah. The king of Assyria, being involved in so hazardous a war, “sends messengers to Hezekiah,” to induce him by terrors and threatenings to surrender; for tyrants are maddened by ambition and by a false opinion of their own greatness, and therefore imagine that their words, the report of their name, and even their shadow, will strike terror into all men. Entangled in a hazardous war, he thinks of subduing Judea, from which he had been compelled to withdraw, ashamed of not having continued the siege, but perhaps thinking that he will gain in his absence what he could not accomplish by his presence. But the Lord miraculously assisted his people who appeared to be very near destruction. And, first, in order to restrain the violence of this tyrant, he presented hinderances and obstructions, from which he could not so speedily extricate himself; just as if one should “lay a bridle on the mouth or a hook on the nose” of a wild and savage beast, as the Prophet will afterwards say. (Isaiah 37:29.) His rage and cruelty, indeed, are not abated, but are restrained so that they can do no harm.
We see the same thing in the present day. How many cruel tyrants would wish that the Church of God were destroyed! What schemes are employed for the accomplishment of it! How diversified are the plans which they form! What forces do they assemble from every quarter! But when they think that they will accomplish anything, the Lord suddenly raises up enemies against them, sometimes even brings them to fight with each other, and turns against themselves that cruelty which they wished to exercise against the children of God. Yet they go on in their cruelty, and cease not to attempt this or that; as this Sennacherib, though he is surrounded by difficulties, ceases not to annoy Hezekiah, and addresses him from his royal throne, as if he were a despicable slave, and commands him as if he were his vassal, and even to God himself addresses insolent and opprobrious language, and goes beyond his agent Rabshakeh in arrogance; for, although Rabshakeh’s words had the same meaning, still this man, in a more impudent manner, and, as we may say, with more open mouth reviles God.
10. Let not thy God deceive thee. How shocking is this blasphemy, to speak of God the Author of truth, and to accuse him of falsehood and deceit, as if he actually imposed on his people! What is left to God when his truth is taken away, for nothing is more absolutely his own? God extorted this word from the wicked man, although he formerly pretended to revere some deity; for such impiety, as we have formerly said, God does not permit to remain any longer concealed.
Saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered. This quotation of the words uttered by God himself, that “Jerusalem would be preserved,” has led some to conjecture that Isaiah’s prediction had been disclosed to the king of Assyria by the traitor Shebna. But there is no need of such conjectures; for the Assyrian knew well that Hezekiah placed his hope in God, and was not ignorant of the promises which were made both to him and to David,
“This is my rest; here will I dwell for ever and ever.”
Not that he gave himself any trouble about heavenly oracles, but because every person knew and talked of them, and the Jews gloried in them wonderfully, and often boasted of the assistance and protection of God in opposition to their enemies.
These promises, therefore, the tyrant meets by this blasphemy, — “Let not thy God deceive thee.” And thus he exalts himself against God, as if God were not sufficiently powerful to defend Jerusalem, and as if his own power were greater, not only than all the power of men, but even than the power of God himself. He endeavors to prove this by examples, because he has vanquished nations which were under the protection of other gods, and draws an argument from the power of his ancestors, — “They conquered the gods of other nations, and I am far superior to my ancestors; therefore the God of Israel will not conquer me.”
Thus do wicked men commonly exalt themselves more and more in prosperity, so that at length they forget that they are men, and not only claim for themselves, but even think that they surpass, Divine Majesty. Setting aside all distinction between right and wrong, satisfied with the mere power of doing injury, they glory in their own crimes and those of their ancestors, and egregiously flatter themselves on the ground of their being descended from robbers and infamous men; for frequently the most powerful of monarchs is the best entitled to be called the rich son of a great robber. This tyrant does not consider whether it was in a right or a wrong manner that so many countries came into the power of his ancestors; for they have no regard to justice or injustice, when they aim at greatness; it is enough for them if in any way, either lawful or unlawful, they can bring others under their yoke. Thus they think that they are at liberty to do whatever they can. They hold by that proverb, (εἰ ἀδικητέον τυραννίδος περὶ ἀδικητέον) “if justice ought to be violated, it ought to be violated for the sake of reigning;” and this vice was not peculiar to a single age, but even now we feel it to be excessive.
11. Behold, thou hast heard. Here we ought to observe a twofold comparison; for he compares Hezekiah to other kings of Judah who preceded him, because he was inferior to them, and yet they were vanquished by the kings of Assyria; and Sennacherib, on the other hand, having obtained greater power than all the rest, is more daring and insolent. It followed, that Hezekiah could not resist him. The other comparison is that of the kings of Assyria, and Sennacherib himself, with the idols of the nations; for if the idols could not protect the nations that adored them, consequently neither will the God of Israel defend the nation by which he is adored.
When we thus read that singular assaults of temptations were directed against the faith of Hezekiah, let us prepare ourselves for the contest by being equipped with the same armor. Even while leisure is granted to us, let us endeavour to fortify ourselves early, in order that, when we come into such a field of battle, we may fight courageously. And if Satan taunt us with the destruction of many nations, we must attend to the difference of our condition; because, although we are liable to similar calamities, still we have assured hope of our salvation, of which they are destitute.
12. Gozan. This place is mentioned in 2 Kings 17:6, and 18:11. We may infer that it was a town in Media, though some think that it was situated elsewhere; but it is enough that, with regard to Jerusalem, it lay in an easterly direction. Haran is often mentioned in Scripture. Pliny places this town in Arabia; but it is more generally believed to have been in Mesopotamia, and this is confirmed by the journeyings of Abraham, who came to it along with his father, after having left his native country Chaldaea. (Acts 7:24; Genesis 11:31.) It is called Charrae, in the plural number, by heathen historians, who also mention that Crassus and his son were killed there.
14. Hezekiah took the letters. The Prophet now shews what kind of refuge Hezekiah had amidst so great calamities. He immediately went into the Temple, to lament before the Lord the calamity which: he could not remove, and to “cast upon him” (Psalm 55:22) his grief and his anxieties. 5151 “Et jetter au sein d’iceluy sa tristesse et soliciltude.” “And to pour into his bosom his grief and anxiety.” Nor was this a blind or confused lamentation, but the pious king wished to move God by his tears and complaints to render assistance. We are taught by his example that, when we are sore pressed, there is nothing better than to east our burden into the bosom of God. All other methods of relief will be of no avail, if this single method be wanting.
And spread them before Jehovah. In “spreading the letters before the Lord,” he does not do this as if the Lord did not know what was contained in the letters, but God allows us to act in this manner towards him in accommodation to our weakness Neither prayers, nor tears, nor complaints make known to God what we need; for he
“knows our wants and necessities before we ask anything
from him.” (Matthew 6:8.)
But here we ought rather to consider what is necessary for us, that is, that God should manifest that he knows the blasphemies of adversaries, and that they who have uttered them will not remain unpunished. The reason and design, therefore, why Hezekiah “spread before the Lord the letters” of the wicked tyrant was this, that he might excite his own earnestness, and inflame his own ardor, in prayer.
15. Then Hezekiah prayed to God, saying, O Jehovah of hosts. Because Sennacherib was the agent employed by Satan to shake the faith of Hezekiah, he defends himself by this rampart, that God possesses infinite power; for, by bestowing on God those lofty praises, he undoubtedly encourages himself to confidence in supplication. That out’ prayers may not be unsuccessful, we ought always to hold it as certain that God “is the rewarder of all who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6.) It was especially necessary for the pious king, that he might boldly and undauntedly remove the obstruction by which Satan had attempted to stop the progress of his confidence, to believe that although wicked men mock and undervalue the power of God, still it remains undiminished. The heroic, courage of the pious king appeared by not only contending with a wicked king in maintaining the power of God, but by exalting it in his own heart and appealing to God as the witness of his inward feelings. Accordingly, before forming any prayer, he overturns the delusions by which Satan had endeavored to shake his courage.
16. Thou alone art God over all the kingdoms of the earth. Not only does he assert God’s almighty power, but likewise maintains the authority which he exercises over the whole world. And these statements are made by the pious king for the purpose of strengthening himself in the faith which he entertained about the providence of God, by which he governs the world and every part of it. All believers ought above all to believe this, that they may not think that they pray in vain. Nor would the prayer of the king have had so much efficacy if he had only said, “Incline thine ear, O Lord,” or something of that sort, as when he believes that the Lord takes care of his works. He persuades himself that God will undertake that cause. If it belongs to God to rule and govern the whole world, he will not permit this tyrant to act in this insolent manner without restraining his insolence; for Sennacherib claims for himself what belonged to God, and at length would not pass unpunished.
The statement, that all the kingdoms of the earth are under the power and authority of God, applies especially to the present subject. Yet while this title always belongs to God alone, that he “rules over all kingdoms,” Still the Prophet does not deny that kings also, and princes, and magistrates hold their dominion, but so as to be subject to God, and to owe to him all their power and authority. In like manner, when Paul asserts that government belongs to God alone, (1 Timothy 6:15,) he does not overthrow princes and magistrates, but shews that all, how great and powerful soever they may be, depend on God alone, that they may not imagine themselves to be his equals or companions, but may acknowledge him as their Lord and Prince. Thus will kings, therefore, retain their authority, if they keep an intermediate position between God and men, and do not wish to rise higher.
Thou hast made heaven and earth. Hezekiah draws the same inference from creation itself; for it is impossible that God, who is the Creator of heaven and earth, should forsake his work; on the contrary, he governs by his providence the human race, which is the chief part of the world. It would be absurd to confine creation within such narrow boundaries as if it were a proof of a sudden and transitory exercise of the power of God; but we must extend it to perpetual government. Hence it is evident that tyrants who wish to rule at their pleasure rob God of his honor, and therefore are justly punished for their insolence.
O Jehovah of hosts, God of Israel, who dwellest between the Cherubim. Here are other titles employed by Hezekiah for the confirmation of his faith. And, first, by calling him “Jehovah of hosts,” he again extols his power. But when he adds “God of Israel,” he brings him near, and on familiar terms; for it was no ordinary token of love to take that nation under his protection. Such is also the import of “sitting between the cherubim;” as if he had said, “Thou hast here placed thy seat, and promised that thou wilt be the protector of those who call upon thee before the ark of the covenant. Relying on this promise, I flee to thee as my guardian.”
Hezekiah had in view, I have no doubt, the form of the ark, which was surrounded by two cherubim. Others interpret Cherubim to mean angels, as if it were said, that God reigneth in heaven and sitteth among the angels. But this interpretation is unsuitable; for he is said to “sit between the cherubim,” on account of the form of the ark, which was constructed in this manner. (Exodus 25:18.) We know that it was a symbol of the presence of God, though his power was not confined to it; and Hezekiah, by mentioning it, intended to express his firm belief that God was present with him, and had designed to gather a people to himself by spreading, so to speak, his wings over them. There being a wide distance between God and us, Hezekiah embraced that token of adoption. Yet there was nothing gross or earthly in his conceptions of God, as superstitious men would desire to bring him down from heaven, but, satisfied with the promise which he had received, he expresses his firm belief that we do not need to go far to seek the grace of God.
This mode of expression, therefore, deserves our attention, and teaches us, that while we gradually ascend to heaven by the light of the word which leads the way, still, in order to obtain assistance, we must not think of God as absent; for he has chosen his dwelling in the midst of us. Since his majesty far exceeds heaven and earth, we must not limit him within the capacity of our understanding; and yet, as he has revealed himself to us by the word, we may comprehend him in proportion to the small ability and measure of our understanding, not that we may bring him down from his heavenly throne, but that our understandings, which are naturally feeble and sluggish, may approach to him by degrees; for it is proper that we should strive to approach to his loftiness, since he invites us by the Word and sacraments. If we are skillful interpreters, the spiritual knowledge of God will always flourish among us; we shall not give the name of God to stones, or wood, or trees; there will be nothing earthly or gross in our conceptions of him; but the nearer he comes down to us, the more earnestly shall we labor to make a proper use of those aids which he holds out, that our minds may not grovel on the earth; since God accommodates himself to our weakness for no other reason than that the sacraments may serve to us the purpose of ladders, 5252 D’escheles. which superstition abuses for a contrary purpose.
17. incline thine ear, O Jehovah. From these words we conclude how great was the perplexity of Hezekiah; for the earnestness that pervades the prayer breathes an amazing power of anguish, so that it is easily seen that he had a struggle attended by uncommon difficulty to escape from the temptation. Though his warmth in prayer shews the strength and eminence of his faith, yet at the same time it exhibits, as in a mirror, the stormy passions. Whenever we shall be called to sustain such contests, let us learn by the example of the pious king to combat our passions by everything that is fitted to strengthen our faith, so that the very disturbance may conduct us to safety and peace, and that we may not be terrified by a conviction of our weakness, if at any time we shall be powerfully assailed by fear and perplexity. It is, indeed, the will of the Lord that we shall toil hard, and sweat and shiver; for we must not expect to gain the victory while we repose in indolence, but after diversified contests he promises to us a prosperous issue, which he will undoubtedly grant.
But why does Hezekiah demand that God should listen? Does he think float he is asleep or does not hear? By no means; but in a matter of such difficulty we frequently speak in such a manner as if we thought that God was absent or did not attend to our afflictions. He shews that he was oppressed by so great perplexity that he almost thought that God had forsaken him; that is, according to the eyes of the flesh; for if he had not by the eyes of faith beheld God as present, he would have lost courage.
Open thine eyes, O Jehovah, and see. It is as if Hezekiah had prayed that the assistance of God, which he had long kept in his heart committed to the guardianship of hope, would be actually and publicly manifested; and therefore he prays that Jehovah would “open his eyes and see;” that is, would shew that he cares about these matters. Hezekiah shews plainly what was the subject about which he was most anxious, namely, that God would revenge the insults offered to him; for although he was deeply affected by anxiety about his kingdom and people, yet he set a higher value on the glory of God than on all other sources of uneasiness. The advancement of that glory ought, indeed, above all things, to move and impress our hearts, and the more especially because we know that it is closely connected with our salvation.
Thus Hezekiah here represents this tyrant as an enemy of God, who dishonors him by reproaches and curses because Jerusalem glories in his name and protection, and concludes that God cannot forsake the city which he hath undertaken to defend, without at the same time abandoning his own name. Since, therefore, God in his infinite goodness chooses to connect our salvation with his glory, we ought to lay held on those promises for the purpose of strengthening our hearts, that although the wicked, while they reproach God and pour and vomit out the venom of their breast, harden themselves in the vain hope that they shall not be punished, still there will not be a syllable which the Lord does not hear, and which he does not at length call to account.
18. and 19. Truly, O Jehovah. Here Hezekiah begins to distinguish between the false gods and the true God, which we also ought to do very carefully. Wicked men, who have no light, indulge in some confused imaginations about God, which quickly pass away, so that they think that there is no God, or care nothing about him. 5353 “Encor qu’il y en air un.” “Though there be a God.” But God does not wish that his people shall be moved by a slight and passing opinion, but that he shall be acknowledged by them as the true God, who drives away all superstitions by the brightness of his power. 5454 “Dechassant par la splendeur de sa vertu toutes tenebres d’ignorance.” “Who drives away by the brightness of his power all the darkness of ignorance.” It is not; enough, therefore, that we believe in something which heathens imagine to be a deity, but we must believe in God in such a manner as to distinguish him from pretended gods, and to separate truth from falsehood; and, indeed, when he has once shone into our hearts, those false religions which formerly occupied our minds immediately give way.
This doctrine ought to be the more carefully held, because many persons rest satisfied with dark speculations, and think that it is enough if they acknowledge some deity. They evidently do not know whether they ought to worship the God of the Mahometans or of the Jews; and fly in the air, so that, as the saying is, they neither touch heaven nor earth. Nothing can be more destructive than this imagination; for it mingles and confounds idols with God, whose majesty does not hold its due rank if it does not reign in solitary grandeur over the ruins of all the false gods. Thus the beginning of true piety is, that from the whole multitude of false gods we shall wisely distinguish that one God to whom we ought to be entirely devoted.
For they are not gods, but the work of the hands of man, wood and stone. By two arguments Hezekiah shews that “they were not gods;” first, because they consisted of matter, 5555 “D’autant qu’ils estoyent de matire corruptible.” “Because they were of corruptible matter.” and secondly, because they were formed by the hands of men. Nothing can be more absurd than for a man to assume the right to create a god, not only because he had a beginning, while God is eternal, but because not even for a single moment does he subsist by his own power. Let the whole world collect all its strength into a single man, 5656 “En un seul homme.” he will not even be able to create a fica. What presumption is it, therefore, that every mortal man shall make for himself either one god or many! 5757 “Quel orgueil estce donc que le premier qui voudra mettre la main a la besogne se face autant de dieux que bon luy semblera!” “What presumption is it then that whoever shall first put his hand to the work shall make as many gods as he thinks proper!” Since, therefore, there is nothing in us but what is frail and fading, we shall never be able to produce a deity.
Besides, it is in the highest degree absurd to attempt, as an exercise of skill, to frame some deity out of matter which is corruptible and devoid of feeling, as if “wood or stone,” whenever it received a shape, began to be a god. In this manner, therefore, all the superstitions that men have ever invented are speedily overturned; for the existence of those gods can be found nowhere but in their own brains, and, indeed, all that they have of themselves contrived is condemned as empty and false.
20. And now, O Jehovah our God. At the conclusion of his prayer, the pious king now rises above that fear with which he had struggled; for the aids by which he had hitherto fortified himself undoubtedly encouraged him boldly to add this short clause. Although God does not always deliver his people from temporal evils, yet as he had promised that he would be the protector of the city, Hezekiah could firmly believe that all the efforts of that wicked tyrant, which were directed to the destruction of that city, would be fruitless.
May know that thou alone art Jehovah. When he pleads it as an argument with God that the deliverance of the city will be an occasion of promoting his glory, we conclude that nothing is more desirable than to make his name glorious in every possible way; and this is even the chief design of our salvation, from which we are not at liberty to depart, if we desire that God should be gracious to us. Hence we conelude that those men are unworthy of his assistance, who, satisfied with their own salvation, disregard or forget the reason why God chooses to preserve them. Not only do they dishonor God by this ingratitude, but they likewise inflict grievous injury on themselves, by separating those things which God had joined; for in saving his people he glorifies his name, which must be, as we have already said, our highest consolation. Besides, Hezekiah does not only desire that the God of Israel shall hold a certain rank, but that all idols shall be abolished, and that he shall reign alone; for at that time many idolaters would have allowed him to be worshipped along with others, but, since he does not admit companions, every deity framed by the hand of man must be destroyed, that He may hold the undivided sovereignty.
21. Then Isaiah sent to Hezekiah. This shews the result of the prayer; for, as soon as matters have come to an extremity, God suddenly holds out his hand to assist the pious king by the Prophet Isaiah. (2 Kings 19:20.) Not that he immediately stretches out his arm to drive away the enemies, but he promises deliverance by the mouth of the Prophet, and thus calls even now into exercise the faith of his servant. Isaiah undoubtedly could not of himself render any assistance, and therefore it would have been foolish for him to promise this or that, if Hezekiah had not been convinced that God had sent him. Thus, until God should give a manifestation of his power, he rested satisfied with this consolation.
Thus saith Jehovah the God of Israel. Here we are taught that we ought always to ask at the mouth of God, if we wish to obtain any alleviation in our anxieties and distresses; for if we reject the doctrine which he communicates to us by the hand of faithful teachers, we are utterly unworthy of receiving any consolation. Fed and nourished by it, we ought to make continual progress, and to seek from it new confirmations, that new remedies may be constantly found for new distresses, and that we may never be destitute of consolation even amidst the sharpest afflictions; for even they whose resources and means of defense are most extensive cannot be too abundantly supplied with this doctrine. In Hezekiah a striking instance of faith and steadfastness is here exhibited; and yet the Lord does not merely comfort him once or only by a single prophecy, but confirms him by many prophecies, in order that we, who are far removed from such steadfastness, may know that we need many and various aids, to give uninterrupted support to our faith.
Since thou hast prayed to me. In the sacred history (2 Kings 19:20) the word I have heard, is used; and consequently in that passage אשר (asher) is a relative pronoun; but here, as in many other passages, it is introduced either for the sake of explanation or in assigning a reason. 5858 That is, it means either since or because. — Ed. To supply the word I have heard, as some commentators do, is harsh and unnatural; and the sentence flows on in unbroken connection, when God declares that he grants it as an answer to the prayers of Hezekiah, that he will frustrate all the efforts of the tyrant, and restrain his violence and rage; as if he had said, that God’s answer corresponded to the prayers of the pious king. And, indeed, whoever addresses prayers to him will at length experience how ready he is to answer; but very frequently he is silent, and offers no consolation from his word, because amidst our distresses we are dumb.
Concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria. The prediction amounts to this, that there is no reason why Hezekiah, under a consciousness of destitution and weakness, should faint or despair, when he sees the insolence of this haughty tyrant; because God will interpose between them. Sennacherib having offered those insults to the wretched Jews, God declares that he takes this cause into his own hands, because the affront was directed against himself. By these words he shews that he will take vengeance, when his grace is despised by unbelievers; and he advises believers not to be greatly distressed on account of their being despised by the world, provided that their weakness finds assistance ready prepared in heaven.
22. The virgin daughter of Zion. There is greater emphasis in this address to the whole Church than if he had said the same tiring to Hezekiah as a private individual; for this circumstance heightens the baseness of treating with scorn the defencelessness of a wretched people, as if the aid of heaven had been of no avail. Thus he censures the blindness of Sennacherib, in disregarding God and haughtily despising an afflicted Church. Cities are frequently called daughters. (Psalm 9:14.) Sometimes also, as we have formerly seen, delicate cities are called virgins. (Isaiah 1:8, and 23:12.) But here he intended to express the weakness of the city of Jerusalem, because she was like an orphan and destitute virgin, who was insulted by this base ruffian and infamous robber; while God, as the father to whom this insult is offered, declares that he knows well what are the schemes of that wicked man, and what is the condition of the whole of Judea.
23. Whom hast thou reproached? In the former verse he describes the fact, such as it might be seen and beheld by all; but now he raises their minds higher, by shewing that this tyrant insults not only Jerusalem but God himself. Let this passage be brought to our remembrance, whenever we see ourselves exposed to the taunts and insolence of wicked men; for, though we have no armor, and though no one undertakes our defense, and though our weakness prompts our enemies to growing insolence, yet the Lord is near and will defend us as with an ample shield, for they who fight against us wage war with the living God. Nor were these words spoken merely for the sake of a single age, but on the contrary, as this promise is perpetual,
“I will be thy God and thy shield,”
(Genesis 15:1, and 17:7,)
so the less strength that is left to us, let us be more fully convinced that the power of God is close at hand. Since therefore the Lord hath entered into covenant with us on the condition of undertaking our cause, let us not doubt that he will actually fulfill it, and will shew that the insults which are offered to us are offered to himself. In a word, he is joined to us in such a manner that he wishes all that belongs to him and to us to be in common.
Besides, those reproaches which Sennacherib had thrown out against the Church God applies to himself, in order to shew that wicked men are greatly mistaken when they are proud of their greatness, as if they would escape punishment for treading on the Church, because she is lying at their feet. We know that they treat with contempt the providence of God; and especially when they see believers groaning under the yoke, they think them unworthy of receiving assistance from God, who therefore rises up and testifies that the contempt shewn to his poor flock grieves him as much as if his majesty were openly dishonored. Although, therefore, enemies think that we are forsaken by God when they see us destitute of earthly resources, and on that account commit grosser outrage, as if we were given to them for a prey, yet, on the other hand, God declares that our salvation is dear and precious to him.
Against whom hast thou raised thy voice? The Prophet employs a variety of terms in describing the disdain and insolence of this haughty man, as one who in speech, in face, in gesture, in his eyes, and, in short, in the whole attitude of his body, was absolutely intolerable; for tyrants, having such an opinion of themselves, assume such airs and look down on every one else as if they had fallen down from heaven.
Against the Holy One of Israel. At length he adds, that, although the affairs of the nation are at a low ebb, still God, under whose protection they are placed, remains in heaven as powerful as ever, he thus censures the madness of Sennacherib in judging of a nation from earthly appearances, and not considering that they were dedicated and consecrated to God. In order, therefore, that we may remain safe through the power of God: and that his arm may give us seasonable aid, we must be his Israel; which will be the case if, relying on his word, we
“recline under the shadow of his wings.” (Psalm 36:7.)
24. By the hand of thy servants. This also heightens the baseness and cruelty of the insult, for it is harder to bear reproaches from a servant than from his master, the insult being rendered more grievous by the meanness of the person. Renee also proud and insolent men, in order to render their threatenings more galling and offensive, boast that they will do this or that by one of their servants or footmen, for the purpose of testifying more strongly their contemptuous feelings towards those whom they hate. The Prophet therefore intended to represent more strongly the baseness of the blasphemy by this circumstance, that Sennacherib had not only vomited it out of his own mouth, but had employed “his servant” Rabshakeh to utter scornful language against the holy name of God.
I will ascend the heights of the mountains, the sides of Lebanon. What he now repeats as having been spoken by Sennacherib, some understand to relate generally to former victories which he had gained, and by which, as we have already said, he had vanquished many nations. But I choose rather to take a more simple view, and to interpret it as relating to the present siege. Perceiving almost the whole of Judea subjected to his power, having taken possession of the hills which surrounded that country on all sides, he swells with insolence as if he had gained a complete victory, and threatens that he will take within his grasp those battlemerits and Mount Lebanon, with its cedars and firs and ether attractions; as if he had said that nothing shall hinder him from taking possession of the bulwarks, castles, and best fortified places, and wielding the whole of Judea at his pleasure. Thus do tyrants, though they acknowledge that war is doubtful, still dream of having in their power the successful results of battles.
25. I shall dig and drink water. The tyrant still goes on to boast of his strength, and threatens that e will bring so powerful an army that by means of their numbers he will dry up all the fountains and rivers. Yet, when he says, “With the sole of my feet I shall dry up all the lakes of the siege,” by the lakes of the siege 5959 The rivers of besieged places. — (Eng. Ver.) some understand the fountain of Siloah, and the cisterns and pools of which the besieged Jews could not be deprived without being consumed by thirst. And, indeed, in the former clause he appears to say that, though the whole country were dry, still he does not dread a scarcity of water, because his vast military forces will be abundantly able to dig wells. In the second clause he adds, that he will have at his command the means of drying up all the waters of the city, so as to slay the Jews by thirst. In short, he means that Jerusalem will be unable to resist the siege, and will not be able to stand out any longer, but must immediately surrender. But while wicked men thus vaunt, God sits in heaven, from which he will at length execute judgment against them; for this narrative of the Prophet is intended to lead us to consider the stupendous judgment of God against that tyrant.
26. Hast thou not heard? The greater part of commentators explain this verse as if the Lord declared that nothing was now done, or had formerly been done by this tyrant, which he had not foretold by the mouth of the Prophet, and thus affirmed that he was the author of those things. But I explain it in a different manner, which is, that Jerusalem will be preserved by the assistance of God, because he is the protector of it.
That I made it long ago. For the sake of giving greater emphasis, he suppresses the name of the city, and employs the demonstrative pronoun it, as if all other cities had been of no value in the sight of God. 6060 “Comme si toutes les autres villes n’estoyent rien derant Dieu au pris de cesteci.” “As if all other cities were nothing before God in comparison of this.” Others view the pronoun it as referring to the deliverance which depended on the secret decree of God; but whoever examines judiciously the design and words of the Prophet, will acknowledge that it rather denotes Jerusalem. God had complained that he was dishonored by base reproaches; and yet, in repeating the words of Sennacherib, he mentioned only “Lebanon” and the adjacent country. In order now to shew that under the name “Lebanon” war has been declared against himself, he affirms, as in many other passages of Scripture, that Jerusalem was founded by his own hand and built by his direction, and therefore that, until he was conquered, Sennacherib could not overthrow it.
This doctrine is found everywhere, and frequently repeated in the Scriptures, (Psalm 48:8; 67:5; 78:69; Isaiah 14:32,) and contains a remarkable consolation, by which the godly may be sustained amidst the severest afflictions that can befall them; and that consolation is, that they will continually be under God’s protection, because he has elected them. He employs this argument, “I have founded the Church, and therefore the salvation of the Church shall always be my care; because I will not leave unfinished the work which I have begun, but will carry it forward to perfection.” In short, the Lord testifies that he defends and preserves his work, because it involves his honor and our salvation. Yet he is called “the maker of the Church,” in a different sense from that in which he is commonly called the Creator of heaven and earth; for we are his peculiar work, “his workmanship, (τὸ ποίημα,) created anew by his Spirit,” as Paul speaks, and as we have formerly explained on other passages. 6161 Commentary on Isaiah, vol. 2, pp. 26 and 83. This work is, therefore, more excellent than the whole creation of the world; that no one may ascribe it to his own exertions or power that he has been adopted into the Church of God; for it is not without good reason that we are called “his workmanship.”
It may be asked, “Why does the Lord say that he formed Jerusalem from ancient days? for there were other cities far more ancient.” I reply, this must not be viewed as referring to the outward form or structure of the city, but to that eternal decree by which he chose it to be his dwelling-place; for although it was declared, even when the ark was built, “This is my rest, here will I dwell,” (Psalm 132:14;) and again by Moses,
“Wherever I shall record my name, I will come to thee and will bless thee,” (Exodus 20:24;)
yet it had been ordained by God long before. “We were chosen,” as Paul also informs us,
“before the foundations of the world were laid,”
and James declares that
“we were begotten by the word of truth, that we might be as it were the first-fruits of all the creatures.” (James 1:18.)
He will, therefore, preserve us above all creatures, and will never allow us to perish; and indeed, for the same reason that Christ is called “the firstborn of every creature,” (Colossians 1:15) “the Church, which is his body,” (Ephesians 1:22, 23,) possesses the highest honor and dignity in the whole world. I leave to the Rabbins their dreams, that God created the Messiah and Jerusalem with a throne of glory before he created heaven and earth. But we must maintain this doctrine, that God will be the faithful guardian of his Church, because he has deigned to prefer her to the whole world.
And should I now bring it to be desolation? Others take these words in a different sense. I acknowledge that the Prophet’s words are in the past tense, Now have I brought and placed it; but as the change of tenses is frequent in the Hebrew language, the Prophet, after having said that God is the founder of his Church, and that it is the most illustrious of all his works, undoubtedly argues from it that it is impossible that he shall involve his Church in the same ruin as ordinary things. We must therefore read it as a question, “Shall I now bring it?” or, “Shall I now have brought it?” As if he had said, “Should I allow it to be ruined, like other cities that have been destroyed and razed?” 6262 “The marginal reading of the English version runs thus, “Hast thou not heard how I have made it long ago, and formed it of ancient times? Should I now bring it to be laid waste, and defenced cities to be ruinous heaps?” The coincidence with the version given by Calvin is striking. Was it accidental? — Ed. For he compares Jerusalem to other cities which had been overthrown by the king of Assyria, and subjected to his power, that no one may think that the tyrant can so easily overturn it; because it holds a different position from other cities which have been destroyed and levelled with the ground. It ought not therefore to be compared even to the best fortified cities, for they quickly fall with their earthly strength; but the Church, though small and feeble, has a firm and solid foundation.in the election of God, and cannot be overturned by any billows or tempests.
We see wonderful changes that have often taken place throughout the whole world, republics subverted, empires overthrown, very powerful nations subdued, their name extinguished, and their glory effaced. Where is now the majesty of the Roman Empire? Where is the grandeur of that nation which was mistress of the whole world? If there are any remains of it, (and they are few,) do they not aid the wretched bondage of that detestable monster, Antichrist, whose tyranny is exercised over the whole world? Where is now the liberty of Rome? Where is the beauty of that illustrious republic? May not Rome be justly called the workshop of iniquity, and the lodginghouse of every crime?
But amidst those frightful changes, the Lord declares that he will assist Jerusalem, that is, his Church, and that although amidst those changes she may be afflicted and tossed in various ways, yet she shall stand erect, or at least the shaking and oppression which she may suffer shall not hinder her from being renewed and multiplied from age to age by various resurrections. Although there are not always in the world the same members of the Church, yet it is the same body joined to the same head, that is, Christ. The Lord will therefore defend his city, and will cause
“the children of his servants to continue, that their seed may be established for ever.” (Psalm 102:28.)
27. For their inhabitants were maimed. 6363 “Their inhabitants were of small power. Heb., short of hand.” — (Eng. Ver.) “Their inhabitants are short of hand, that is, I have made them weak, they are ashamed and confounded. By these and the following expressions he shews how easily the nations were vanquished by the king of Assyria, when it had been so determined by Jehovah.” — Rosenmuller. Here the Prophet expresses more fully what he had formerly glanced at briefly, that we ought not to judge of the condition of the Church from the stability of this world; for although fortified cities are taken, and the strongest men lose courage and fall into the hands of their enemies, yet the Church shall stand and flourish, because it does not rest on its own strength, and has its foundation not on the earth but in heaven. There is thus an implied contrast between fortified cities, which alarmed and terrorstruck inhabitants are unable to defend, and the Church of God, which rests on his grace alone, and therefore resists every attack, so that it never fails; for the Church refers everything to God alone, from whom she receives the commencement of life, uninterrupted strength, perseverance, every part of salvation, and every blessing.
Hence we learn that all fortresses are of no avail, if the hand of the Lord do not assist. All human strength will be broken and decay, if it be not supported by his power; castles, bulwarks, and the most powerful armies will be of no use without him. This is expressed more fully by the following metaphors,
Like the grass of the field and the green herb. It is of importance that believers should be led to admire the wonderful grace which God exercises towards them, that they may not envy the earthly wealth possessed by irreligious men. Although their power be dazzling and magnificent, yet he shews that they are like “the green herb and the grass,” which indeed flourish for a time, but quickly wither. He dwarfs them still more by another metaphor which he adds,
The grass of the housetops. It is indeed lofty and seen by all, but the more elevated its position, it is the nearer to the heat, and withers more quickly, and is of no use whatever; and it is said also in the psalm, that
“they who pass by do not bless it.” (Psalm 129:8.)
Though the enemies of the Church 6464 Les ennemis de l’Eglise. are high, and as it were exalted to heaven, though they flourish and have abundant wealth, yet they quickly fall. In like manner, therefore, as the corn which lies on the ground at our feet is more valuable than the unfruitful herb that grows on the housetops; so the Lord shews that the low condition of his servants is far more desirable than that of those who, leaning on their own strength, vaunt themselves above others, and boast against God himself. 6565 “On the flat roofs of the east, if they be not carefully kept clean, herbage grows from seeds, which perhaps had been left there while they were in process of being dried, or had been brought thither by the wind. But in consequence of the want of soil it quickly withered.” — Rosenmuller.
Which withereth before it is ripe. Some think that this is a fourth comparison, but I think that the Prophet added it for the sake of exposition; as if he had said, that grass of this kind withers before it come into the stalk, that is, before it is fully ripe; in the same manner as it is said in the psalm, “Before it is grown up, it withereth.” (Psalm 129:6.)
28. I know thy sitting down and thy rising up. He returns to the insufferable pride of that tyrant, who claimed everything for himself, as if he had not been subject to any one, and dared to despise God as compared to himself, and to load him with reproaches. He rebukes that man’s pride and insolence, “But I know thy sitting down.” This being the cause of the fierceness of wicked men, that they think that no one is above them, and that they are not even subject to the providence of God, he shews that they can absolutely do nothing except so far as he permits them. By sitting down, and rising up, are here denoted deliberations, plans, and schemes. Wicked and irreligious men enter into various deliberations how they may be able to oppress and destroy the people of God; but to whatever hand they turn, and which way soever they pursue, they will accomplish nothing without the will of God. The providence of God restrains them, and drives them hither and thither, so that frequently, contrary to their intention, they are conducted to a very good end, as God thinks fit, to whom it peculiarly belongs to “direct the steps of men.” (Proverbs 16:9.)
And thy indignation against me. He warns Sennacherib that he is well aware of his rage, and declares that, while wicked men storm on the earth, he preserves calm silence, and laughs at their madness; and because Sennacherib was furious, and thought that he would not be punished for it, the Prophet expressly adds this, that believers may not think that this is new or unknown to God, or that he pays no attention to them.
29. Because thou wast angry against me. The more furiously wicked men rise up against God, and the more outrageous the violence by which they are actuated, so much the more is he wont eventually to set himself in opposition to them. For a time, indeed, he permits them to domineer and to have everything that they wish, but after long forbearance he restrains them, and, as it were, puts a bridle on their neck, that they may not imagine that they have everything in their power. Sennacherib was a remarkable instance of this, for in his rage against God, the more insolently he vaunted, the heavier did he find the wrath of God to be against him; which all wicked men ought also to expect.
Therefore will I put my hook (or, my ring) in thy nose. This is pleasant mockery of stupidity and wantonness; as if he had said, “I see how it is, by treating thee mildly and gently, I would gain nothing; for thy rage is insatiable. But since thou canst not be tamed, I will curb thee like a savage beast.” And in this manner he declares more plainly, that God not only sees and knows what is proposed or contrived by wicked men, but also subdues and restrains their fierceness in such a manner, that he drags them reluctantly where ever he pleases, as one would lead a wild beast held by a bridle or a ring. חח (chach) 6666 ”חה (chach) denotes a ring inserted in the nose pierced for that purpose, by means of which the Arabs and neighboring nations are wont to tame and guide buffaloes and camels, and which is so much the more powerful instrument in curbing the camel, that by drawing a rein which hangs from it on both sides, the obstinate and refractory animal is prevented from breathing.” — Rosenmuller. is translated by some a hook, but I have preferred to translate it a ring; because a hook is used for catching fishes, and would not so well apply to a beast.
Sennacherib was compelled to return by the way by which he came, because, while he was revolving the project of subduing every part of Judea and Egypt, he hastily, without having accomplished anything, took the speediest method of returning, which he would net have done of his own accord, if God had not drawn him back by unseen methods.
30. And this shall be a sign to thee. He now directs his discourse to Hezekiah and the whole nation; for he did not address Sennacherib as if he expected him to listen, but in order that, by contemptuously mocking at the absent tyrant, he might more powerfully stimulate the minds of believers to stronger confidence. If he had simply said, “Take courage, Hezekiah; though Sennacherib is insolent, yet in due time I will restrain him;” that discourse would have been less impressive, than when he addresses the tyrant, and, by thundering against him, encourages believers to despise his presumption. 6767 “A ne tenir conte des menaces d’iceluy.” “To pay no attention to his threatenings.” Accordingly, the speech directed to the tyrant is now followed by a seasonable address to Hezekiah and the nation, and a promise of deliverance to them; not only that he will rescue them from the jaws of a savage beast, but also that Hezekiah shall enjoy a peaceful reign, and that the rest of the people shall have everything necessary for leading a prosperous and happy life. Thus he enlarges on the benefit derived from the deliverance in such a manner as to shew that he intends, not in one way only, but in a variety of ways, to promote the interests of his people; for not only does he once and instantaneously rescue them from dangers, but largely and bountifully bestows his kindness upon them, so that the fruit is seen long afterwards.
But there is an apparent impropriety in putting as “a sign” an event which occurred later than the deliverance itself; for if he intended to encourage the besieged to entertain favorable hopes, he ought to have made some exhibition beforehand, instead of relating what he would do afterwards. 6868 “Il devoit (ce semble) monstrer la vertu de bonne heure, et non pas declarer ce qu’il feroit apres le siege leve.” “He ought (one would think) to have shewn his power at an early period, and not to have declared what he would do after the siege had been raised.” I reply, there are two kinds of signs. Some go before the event, and lead us to it as by the hand; while others follow for the purpose of confirming the event, that it may be more strongly impressed upon our minds, and may never be effaced from our remembrance. For instance, when the Lord brought back his people out of Egypt, he gave many signs to Moses beforehand; but he also appointed another that should be after the deliverance,
“You shall sacrifice to me three days afterwards.”
(Exodus 3:12, 18.)
The design was, that they should not forget so great a blessing, but should give thanks to God after having received this additional favor. It is a sign of this nature which Isaiah here describes; and certainly it tends greatly to confirm our faith, to place before our eyes the uninterrupted course of God’s favours towards us, that we may consider how various they are.
When the enemy had been repelled, there was danger from famine, which most commonly comes after war; for the wasting and pillaging of the fields must have been followed by great scarcity of provisions. Amidst so great scarcity as seemed likely to ensue, the Lord promises that there will be no lack of food, and holds out this as a very evident sign of deliverance, in order to convince them the more that he will be the author of the deliverance, or, at least, to fix it more deeply on their hearts. This was indeed incredible, and exceeded all expectation and belief; but it was necessary that the faith of Hezekiah and of the people should be excited in such a manner that, after having heard of so great kindness, they might be more ready to hope well, and next, that the event might shew that those illustrious works of God could not be ascribed to chance.
The meaning therefore is, “After having driven out the enemy, God will restrain him so that he cannot bring fresh troops, and thou shalt peacefully possess thy country; he will also supply thee with food and nourishment, so that thou shalt be in want of nothing.” But because, as usually happens, they had consumed a large portion of the crop, and destroyed a part of it, and because they who were besieged or fugitives had it not in their power to attend to agricultural labors, he promises that they shall have food without sowing till they sow on the third year.
31. And that which shall be preserved of the house of Judah. He follows out the former statement; for he declares that the Lord will deliver Jerusalem so as not to east away his care of her afterwards, but will be her savior to the end. And indeed all the blessings that the Lord bestows upon us are a sign and testimony of continued kindness towards us, that we may know that we shall never be forsaken by him. But here we ought chiefly to remember what we formerly remarked, that the defense of Jerusalem belonged to God, because he had chosen it to be his sanctuary, and because the Messiah would proceed from it.
And that which shall be left. פליטה (peletah) literally signifies deliverance; but here it is a collective noun for “men delivered,” in the same manner as in other passages, “captivity” is put for “captives.” (Psalm 14:7, and 53:6; Jeremiah 29:14.) And it is not without reason that he promises increase to a small remnant; for although the siege had been raised, still the people, being greatly diminished, had slight cause of joy, and full restoration could scarcely be expected by so small a number of persons. For the purpose of soothing this grief, therefore, he declares that the land will be full of inhabitants, as if a very abundant harvest would fill the granaries which had formerly been empty.
Nor was it merely the desolation of the land of Judah that might have discouraged the hearts of believers or pierced them with sorrow, but likewise that greater diminution which arose from the ten tribes being led into captivity. (2 Kings 15:29, and 17:6.) Although they have been thus cut down, Isaiah declares that the Lord will cause them to recover their former condition, and a vast multitude to spring up; for the Lord permits his people to be thus diminished and brought very low, that his glory may afterwards be illustriously displayed in their deliverance. What he accomplished at that time ought also to be expected in the present day; so that in proportion as we see the strength of the Church weakened and brought low, we may be more fully convinced that. God has in his power the means of multiplying a small number; for this restoration must not be measured by our powers of judging.
Shall strike root downward. He declares that there will be so great desolation that it shall seem as if the Church had been uprooted, and had utterly perished; and indeed the destruction of the kingdom of Israel was a very sad spectacle of cutting off. But the Prophet says, that there shall be such an increase that the tree which had been nearly torn up shall “strike its roots” deep; for although the Church does not make professions of towering greatness, as is commonly done by the rulers of this world, yet the Lord imparts a secret vigor which causes it to spring up and grow beyond human expectation. Let us not be terrifled, therefore, when no roots are seen, or when we think that they are dead; for he hath promised that he will cause it to “strike root downwards.”
And bear fruit upwards. This is added, because the Church does not only flourish like grass, (which was formerly said of the condition of the wicked, 6969 See verse 28. ) but brings forth abundant fruit; and thus the Lord completes in her what he hath once begun.
32. For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant. Formerly by the metaphor of a root and of fruits he foretold the deliverance of the Church; he now declares the same thing without a figure. He alludes to the siege by which a small number of people, who had been left in the city, were shut up as in a prison and reduced to very great straits; he says that they shall now go out, and that the whole country shall be open to them, and that they shall be at liberty to move wherever they please without fear. The going forth is thus contrasted with the narrow limits within which the trembling Jews had been forced by the dread of enemies to confine themselves. Yet by this word he expresses not only liberty to go out, but the increase of the nation, which had been reduced to a small number. When not only was Judea again covered by a multitude of men, but from the remnant there sprung vast multitudes who were spread over the various countries of the world, this could not have been done, unless out of that small number the Lord had created not merely a single nation, but many nations.
The zeal of Jehovah of hosts will do this. Not only does he contrast “the zeal of God” with the purposes of men, in order to extol the excellence of the work, but he states that it is sufficient for every purpose, that God may give an astonishing demonstration of his power. At first sight, as we have said, the thing was incredible; there were obstacles on every side, and no means of relief; and therefore he declares that God regards his Church with such fervent love, that he does not hesitate to work in an extraordinary manner for promoting her salvation. The same mode of expression was employed by him on a similar occasion. (Isaiah 9:7.)
33. Therefore thus saith Jehovah. He now returns to the deliverance of which he had formerly spoken; for God proraised, first, that he would drive out Sennacherib; secondly, that he would grant food and nourishment for the sustenance of the people, though the country had been wasted and pillaged; and, thirdly, that he would cause flint small number to grow into a vast multitude. Having made these declarations, he returns to the first, because without it all the rest might appear to be useless; that is, if the people were not rescued from the hands, of that tyrant.
He shall not enter into the city. God threatens that he will be as a fortress, to hinder him from “entering into the city,” and that he will even meet him, so as to hinder him from coming nearer or fighting against it; for he says that he shall not cast an arrow nor a balister. I think that in this passage סללה (solelah) denotes a balister, or some such machine for throwing darts, rather than a mound; for “mounds” are not thrown or poured.
34. By the way that he came shall he return. We have formerly explained what it is to return by the same way, that is, to depar without having accomplished anything, as we commonly say, (Il s’en est retourne comme il est venu,) “he returned as he came,” when nothing has been accomplished, and the efforts are unsuccessful. To confirm this, he adds, that “thus hath the Lord spoken;” for as soon as he “who cannot lie” (Titus 1:2) hath spoken, we ought to embrace and kiss his word, as if the result were rendered certain by the removal of every obstruction.
35. And I will be a protector. This is the reason of the preceding statement, why Sennacherib should not enter into the city; because the Lord will protect it. The Prophet therefore bids Hezekiah and the whole nation turn their eyes towards God, because the sight of that tyrant was so alarming that they might tremble at it. In like manner, if we now contemplate the power of our enemies, we shall be overpowered by fear, and there will scarcely be any room for hope; but we ought to look directly to God, and embrace his promises, by which we are defended as by a shield; and since God is sufficiently powerful to restrain a mortal man, to him ought we to turn our eyes; for this promise must not be limited to that time, but ought to be extended to all times. Yet the expression used by the Prophet is more extensive, and conveys fuller meaning; for God affirms that he will be the guardian and protector of the city; that is, because he had pledged himself to defend it. Hence he infers that it will be preserved, because God’s protection renders its preservation certain.
For my own sake. When he says that he will do this “for his own sake,” he calls on Hezekiah and all believers to remember his gracious covenant For the Jews, though often and severely chastised, had obstinately provoked the wrath of God against them, and therefore deserved not only that he should deprive them of all assistance, but that he should execute against them the highest examples of dreadful vengeance. In order therefore to prevent them from despairing, he shews that God will be their defender, not because he finds any cause in them, but rather because he looks to himself first, that he may adhere firmly to his purpose, not to cast away the posterity of Abraham which he adopted, not to abolish religious worship, not to blot out the remembrance of his name on the earth by destroying his sanctuary; and, secondly, not to expose his name to the jeers and blasphemies of the nations. And these words contain an implied reproof which that nation ought to have felt to be severe, and justly; because the good king had more difficulty in pacifying them than in repelling the enemy; for they distrusted, and stormed, and thought that no hope of safety was left for them. The Lord, therefore, did not look at the merits of the people or of any other person, but only had regard to his own glory; for the contrast which is expressed by Ezekiel must here be understood, “Not for your sakes, O house of Israel, will I do this, but for my own sake.” 7070 “Pour l’amour de mon sainct nom,” “For the love of my holy name.” (Ezekiel 36:22.) Now, since we have the same argument to plead in the present day, let us not hesitate to make use of this shield against our sins, “Though we most highly deserve a thousand deaths, yet it is enough for God to look to his goodness and faithfulness, that he may fulfill what he hath promised.” Though it is of no advantage to hypocrites that God is the continual protector of his Church, yet the elect will always have this as a very safe refuge, that although they bring nothing of their own to appease the wrath of God, yet since God, moved by nothing else than his infinite goodness, built his Church and determined to defend it, he will never suffer it to perish.
And for my servant David’s sake. This is highly worthy of observation; for although God needed not to seek in any one but in himself the reason why he embraced that nation with a gracious regard, yet it is not without good reason that he brings forward, as a very sure pledge of his love, David, by whose hand he had made a covenant, and to whom he, had promised to be a Father. (2 Samuel 7:12.) The Prophet does not speak of David as a private individual, but as a holy king whose throne was established by the hand of God, under whose guidance the Church would continue to be safe, and, in short, who would be the mediator between God and the Church; for in this capacity he surpassed even the angels themselves, so far as he represented the person of Christ. His throne was, indeed, soon afterwards cast down, and his crown torn in pieces, yet this was no unmeaning confirmation, that God intended to protect the city for a time, because he determined not to make void what he had testified to David concerning the eternity of his kingdom. And we know that the captivity of the people did not wholly set aside the kingly power in the posterity of David till at length Christ came, who on this account is called David in other passages. (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 37:24; Hosea 3:5.)
This shews the great absurdity of the Papists in alleging that it is through the merits of the saints that God pardons us; for here the case of David is widely different from that of other saints, on account of the promise which had been made to him. He might have named Abraham, or any other person, who possessed no small authority in the Church; but since he was now speaking of the preservation of the Church, and of the eternity of the kingdom of Christ, he named in a peculiar manner him who expressly, along with others, received that promise, “This is my rest, here will I dwell.” (Psalm 132:14.) Since therefore this passage has regard to the promise, and not to the person, the Papists are doubly foolish in thinking that it affords support to the intercession of the saints, which is of their own contrivance. On the contrary, what they plead in their own behalf absolutely contradicts their error; because David is here represented as the type of the only Mediator, who sets aside the intercessions which they have invented.
36. And the angel of Jehovah went out. The Prophet now relates what happened to the Assyrian, that we may not think that the Lord spoke in vain. He shews, therefore, that his prediction was proved by the event, that it might clearly appear that God had sent him, and that he had not uttered anything rashly. Yet we ought not to limit so remarkable a work of God to a single prediction; but the authority of the Prophet was sustained, and his calling sanctioned, as to the whole course of his doctrine. He has related a singular and wellknown event which had recently happened, in order to prove, by means of it, to the end of the world, that God had spoken by his mouth.
Where that slaughter was carried into effect by the angel is not very evident. The opinion generally entertained is, that it happened at the siege of Jerusalem; but it is also possible that it may have happened during the march of Sennacherib’s army; that is, while he was coming to besiege the city. I leave that matter uncertain, because it is of little importance. From the context, certainly, we may clearly learn that the tyrant did not approach so near as to be able to throw a dare into the city.
We must indeed reject that invention by which Satan, through profane historians, has attempted to obscure this extraordinary judgment of God, that, in consequence of a part of the army having been destroyed by a plague during the war in Egypt, Sennacherib returned into his own dominions. So great a number of persons dying in one night cannot be attributed to a plague; and the father of lies, with his wonted cunning, has turned aside into Egypt the blessing which God bestowed on his Church. The event itself cries aloud that Jerusalem was miraculously rescued, as it were, out of the midst of destruction; especially since Isaiah had already delivered that message by which God testified, in a manner which could not be mistaken, that God would bestow this deliverance on the Jews and not on the Egyptians.
And slew in the camp ofthe Assyrians. That no one may ascribe the miracle to natural causes, it is expressly added, that so great a multitude was slain by the hand of the angel. Nor is it a new thing for the Lord to make use of the ministractions of angels to promote the safety of believers, for whose advantage he appointed all the armies of heaven; and it tends greatly to confirm our faith when we learn that an infinite number of guardians keep watch over us. (Psalm 91:11.) The Lord alone, indeed, is of himself able, and undoubtedly he alone preserves us; for the angels may be regarded as his hand, and on that account they are called “principalities and powers.” (Romans 8:38; Ephesians 1:21.) But it contributes much to aid our weakness that he hath appointed heavenly messengers to be our defenders and guardians. Yet all the praise is due to God alone, of whom the angels are only instruments; and therefore we must beware of falling into the superstition of the Papists, who, by their absurd worship of angels, ascribe to them that power which belongs to God; an error with which we know that some very learned men in all ages have been chargeable. Whether it was done by the hand of one angel or of many angels, we cannot absolutely ascertain, nor is it a matter of great importance; for the Lord can do it as easily by one angel as by a thousand, and does not make use of their agency as if he needed the assistance of others, but rather, as we have formerly said, in order to support our weakness. Yet it is more probable, and agrees better with the words of the Prophet, that a single angel was commissioned to execute this judgment, as in the ancient redemption an angel passed through the whole of Egypt to slay the firstborn. (Exodus 12:29.) Although God sometimes executes his vengeance by means of evil angels, yet he chose one of his willing servants, that by means of him he might provide for the safety of the Church.
A hundred and eighty-five thousand. That the army was so vast need not make us wonder, as ignorant people do, who reckon it to be incredible and fabulous when they are told that so great a multitude went into the field of battle, because we are accustomed to carry on war with much smaller troops. But that the case was very different with eastern nations, is fully testified by historians and by wellknown transactions of the present day. Nor ought we to be astonished at the vast forces which they led into battle, for they are much more capable of enduring heat, and toil, and hunger, and are satisfied with a much smaller portion of food, and do not care about those luxuries by which our soldiers in the present day are corrupted.
As to the way and manner of the slaughter, this passage gives no definite statement. The Jews conjecture that the soldiers were struck by thunder, but they do so without any authority or probable evidence; for, being bold in contriving fables, they unwarrantably affirm as certain whatever comes into their mind, as if it were supported by some history.
Behold, they were all dead corpses. That the slaughter was not done so openly as the Jews allege is very evident from this narrative, which states that they were lying dead. Now, if they had been struck by a thunderbolt, every person must have known it, and it would not have been omitted by the Prophet. This might serve to refute the conjecture of the Jews, but I choose rather to leave the matter doubtful. It is enough that the Lord, having determined to save Jerusalem from the hand of the Assyrian, cut off his army by a sudden death, without any agency of man.
37. Then Sennacherib, king of Assyria, went away and returned. He now shows how disgraceful was the retreat of this haughty tyrant, who in the wishes of his heart had already devoured the whole of Judea, and formerly dared to pretend to be more powerful than God himself. By employing a variety of words to express his departure, the Prophet indirectly censures the shameful flight; for the repetition is not superfluous, “He set out, he went away, he returned.” The title of king is added for the sake of greater disgrace. “Lo, this is the great king of whose power Rabshakeh boasted so highly.”
And dwelt in Nineveh. He did not come into Judea, that: he might depart from it in that disgraceful manner; and therefore the hand of God throws him back, even as straw is driven by the wind. The circumstance of his dwelling in Nineveh reminds us also that he had lost his courage as well as his forces; for he would not willingly have remained at rest, if despair had not held him like a chain. This means, therefore, that he was satisfied with his ancient domains, of which Nineveh was the chief city and royal residence. At a later period, when the Assyrians were conquered by the Chaldeans, the seat of government was removed to Babylon, that is, ten years after the death of Sennacherib, and during the reign of Esarhaddon, his successor, who is here mentioned, for since parricides did not want defenders, a nation torn by factions was easily subdued and conquered by foreign enemies. Availing himself of this opportunity, Merodach invaded the Assyrians, and subjected them to his power.
38. While he was worshipping. Here the Jews allow themselves that liberty of conjecture in which they are always accustomed to indulge. They contrive a stow, that Sennacherib consulted an oracle, and asked why he could not conquer the Jews; that the answer was, that Abraham wished to sacrifice his son to God; that the tyrant, following that example, then determined to slay his son, in order to appease his god; and that his sons, enraged at the cruel design of their father, slew him in the temple of his idol. But it is unnecessary to spend time in such conjectures, in which the Jews display excessive impudence.
Here it is highly important to behold, as in a picture, the unhappy death of tyrants, whom the Lord destroys without the agency of men, when everything appears about to be overthrown by their violence, and whom he exposes with all their power to universal scorn. Sennacherib, who had come into Judea with a vast army, returns home with few soldiers, and is led in triumph, as it were, by God as a conqueror. But the matter does not end here; for in the very heart of his empire, in the metropolis, in the temple itself, the reverence for which defended the meanest persons from the mob, he is slain, not by a foreign enemy, not by a people in a state of sedition, not by traitors, and in a word, not by servants, but by his own sons, that the murder may be more disgraceful. It ought to be observed, that those insatiable gluttons, who freely wallow in the blood of others, are slain by their own followers, and are punished by those from whom above all others they ought to have been safe. This is more shocking than if they had been put to death by strangers; but God thus punishes the cruelty of those who, in their eagerness to enjoy power, did not even spare the innocent. Even in profane historians we find various examples of this kind, in which we may easily behold the judgments of the Lord.
Besides, the insatiable ambition of Sennacherib receives its just reward, because, while he is intent on the wide extension of his territories, he cannot secure the peace of his own family, by leading his children to live at peace; for out of his neglect of some, and undue attachment to others, the conspiracy arose. And not only was this tyrant slain, but his kingdom also was soon afterwards overthrown, as we have already said; and, in the meantime, that his successor might not dare to make any attempt against the Jews, God kept him also within the country by internal broils.