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2 Kings xvi

"Expediency is man's wisdom; doing right is God's."
George Meredith.

Isaiah was one of those men whom God provides for the need of kingdoms. He was not only a prophet, but a statesman, a reformer, a poet, a man of invincible faith and unequalled insight. If Ahaz had accepted his counsels and followed his moral guidance, the whole history of Judah might have been different.

But the position of things was indeed disastrous. Judah was attacked from every side. On the south-east the Edomites renewed their devastating raids, and swept off multitudes of captives, who were sold as slaves in the Western slave-markets. On the south-west the Philistines once more rose in revolt, and acquired permanent repossession of many parts of the Shephelah, mastering Beth-Shemesh, Ajalon, Gederoth, Shocho, Timnath, Gimzo, and all the adjacent districts. But this was nothing compared with the humiliation and destruction inflicted by Rezin and Pekah. They shut up Ahaz in Jerusalem; and though they could not storm its almost impregnable defences, which had recently been fortified by Uzziah and Jotham, they were undisputed masters of the rest of the land, so266 that Judah was "brought low and made naked."441441   2 Chron. xxviii. 19. Rezin, indeed, weary of a tedious siege, swept southwards to Elath, on the gulf of Akabah, seized it, and peopled it with an Edomite garrison, thereby destroying the commerce in which Solomon and Jehoshaphat had taken pride, and which Uzziah had recently re-established. Having thus left an effectual annoyance to Judah in his rear, he gave up the design of dethroning Ahaz and substituting in his place "the son of Tabeal," who would have been a tool in the hands of the confederate kings. He seized, however, a multitude of captives, and with them and with much booty he returned to Damascus. "The son of Tabeal"—a name which occurs nowhere else—has been found very puzzling.442442   It may mean "God is good" (Tabeel). I believe it to be simply an instance of the Rabbinic process of transposition, called Themourah. Some identify it with Itibi'alu of an inscription of Tiglath-Pileser. Others suppose that he was a Syrian, and that Tabeal stands for Tabrimnon. But by the application of Themourah (called the Albam) Tabeal simply gives us "Remaliah," and is either a scornful variation of the name of Pekah's father, or has arisen from the watchword of a secret conspiracy. Since in the text of Jeremiah (li. 41, xxv. 26) (by Atbash, another form of the secret transposition of letters of which the generic name was Gematria) we read Sheshach for Babel, the name Tabeal may have been dealt with in a similar method.443443   For further explanations I must refer to my paper on Rabbinic Exegesis (Expositor, First Series, v. 373). Pekah, according to the Chronicler, inflicted far deadlier injuries than Rezin. In one day he slew one hundred and twenty thousand "sons267 of valour," because they had forsaken Jehovah, God of their fathers. His general Zichri, a mighty Ephraimite, slew Maaseiah, the king's son;444444   2 Chron. xxviii. 7. and Azrikam, the chancellor; and Elkanah, "the second to the king." The army carried away two hundred thousand captives and much spoil to Samaria. But on their arrival, a prophet named Oded445445   Of Oded nothing else is known. reproved the Israelites for having massacred the Judæans "in a rage that reacheth to heaven." Aided by various princes, he succeeded in inducing the people to refuse to harbour the captives, and clothed, fed, and sent them back unharmed to Jericho, mounting the feeble on horses and asses. The story bears on the face of it the signs of enormous exaggeration.

In the crisis of their miseries, but just before the siege, Ahaz had gone outside the city walls "at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the causeway of the fuller's field," probably to look after the water-supply, which had always been a difficulty for Jerusalem, and on which depended her capacity to withstand a siege. Here he was met by the prophet Isaiah, who was leading by the hand the little son to whom he had given the name of "Shear-jashub" ("A remnant shall return"),446446   Some, however, interpret the name "A remnant repents" (LXX., ὁ καταλειφθεὶς Ἰασούβ; Vulg., Qui derelictus est Jaseb). as a witness to the truth of the prophecy which he had heard on the occasion of his call,—

"And if there should yet be a tenth in it, this shall be again consumed; yet as the terebinth and the oak, though cut down, have their stock remaining, even so a sacred seed shall be the stock thereof."447447   Isa. vi. 13.


The object of the prophet was to cheer up the fainting heart of the king, and to say to him first,—

"Take heed, and be quiet."

This mandate probably refers to rumours—which Isaiah must have heard—of the king's intention to follow the counsels of the party which urged him to seek foreign assistance. One of these parties advised him to throw himself into the arms of Egypt, and rely on her protection; the other gave the more perilous counsel of invoking the aid of Assyria. Isaiah's mandate to the king and to the nation was to take neither step, but to trust in the Lord, and to repent of individual and national misdoing. He summed up his message in the rule,—

"In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength."

The advice was emphasised by a promise of the most decisive and encouraging kind. When all looked so helpless, the prophet was bidden to say,—

"Fear not, neither be faint-hearted, for these two stumps of smoking torches, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of Remaliah's son. They have taken evil counsel against thee. But thus saith the Lord God, 'It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. For the head of Syria is only Rezin, and the head of Samaria is a mere Remaliah's son.'"448448   The words "And within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people" (Isa. vii. 8), are almost certainly an interpolation: for (1) the overthrow came within far less than sixty years; (2) the clause awkwardly breaks the context; (3) the "sixty years" is inconsistent with the promise (vii. 16) that it should be within very few years.

And then, to confirm the lesson of confidence in God, the brief assurance,—


"If ye will not confide,

Surely ye shall not abide."

Convinced of the certainty of this immediate deliverance, Isaiah bade the king to ask for a sign from Jehovah, either in the height above, or in the depth beneath.

But the timid and hypocritical king was not so to be influenced. He had on his side "the scornful men, who ruled Judah"; the mocking priests, who sneered and jeered at Isaiah's teaching as repetitive and commonplace, and only fit for children; and the princes and nobles, who formed the Court party, headed by Shebna the scribe. He probably looked on Isaiah as a mere unpractical faddist, an excited fanatic—all very well as a prophet, but not a man who ought to thrust himself into the plans of politicians. Ahaz had his own plans, and he had not the smallest intention of altering them in consequence of anything which Isaiah might say. He was far too timid and unfaithful to rely on anything so vague as Divine assurance. He was convinced that his only chance lay in the horses of Egypt or the fierce infantry of Assyria. So he said with sham piety, merely intended to put the prophet off, "I will not ask, neither will I tempt Jehovah."

That moment marks what may be called the birth-throe of Messianic prophecy in its most specific character. For then the prophet, after reproving the king for wearying Jehovah as well as His servants, adds, in words of far wider and deeper significance than their immediate bearing, that Jehovah Himself should give a sign; for the maiden should conceive and bear a Son, and call His name Immanuel ("God with us"). The child should grow up in a time of scarcity; for owing to the devastation of the land, he would only be able to be nurtured on curdled milk and honey. But270 before he had reached years of discretion—before he had arrived at the power of moral choice—the land whose two kings Ahaz abhorred should be a desert. Yet let not Ahaz exult too much in the immediate deliverance! Days of unexampled misery were at hand. Jehovah should hiss for the fly from the farthest canals of Egypt, and for the bee of Assyria, and they should settle in swarms in the valleys and pastures. Ahaz—he had not alluded to the design, but Isaiah knew it well—was about to hire a razor from beyond the Euphrates, but that razor should sweep away the hair and beard of Judah. Agriculture should languish, and the people should only be able to live in privation on whey and honey; and the vineyards should be full of briers and thorns, and should be mere places for hunting.449449   Isa. vii. 1-25.

This event, therefore, as Caspari says, stands at the turning-point of Old Testament History. It marks the beginning of that second period of the History of the Chosen People in which their hopes were granted as a counterpoise to their anguish and their humiliation. "It stood, therefore, at the point where a prospect offered itself to the eye of the prophet which reached out over the whole development of the people of God."

To all such prophecies Ahaz was utterly deaf: they did not for a moment induce him to swerve from his purpose. But to call still further attention to his promise as the Syrian Ephraimitish host pressed forward, Isaiah took a great piece of vellum, and inscribed on it, in the ordinary characters,—


He put it up in some conspicuous place, before his own house or in the Temple, and took the priest Urijah and271 Zechariah, the son of Jeberechiah, into his confidence as faithful witnesses. He told them the explanation of his sign, and they would satisfy the curiosity of the people on the subject. It meant that in nine months' time his wife should bear a son, and that he and his wife, the prophetess, would call the boy's name "Speed-plunder-haste-spoil," as a sign that before the child was able to say "Father" or "Mother" Rezin and Pekah should be extinguished. For the Assyrian should speed to the plunder and haste to the spoil, and the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria should be carried away by the King of Assyria. Since Judah despised "the soft flowing waters of Shiloah,"450450   Not improbably the water which afterwards flowed through Hezekiah's new tunnel between the Virgin's Tomb and the Pool of Siloam. It is referred to in 2 Chron. xxxii. 3, 30 (Isa. xxii. 9-11). See Appendix II. and preferred Rezin and Pekah,451451   This, if it be correct, can only mean that the son of Tabeal had a party in Jerusalem; but Hitzig renders it "dreadeth," not "rejoiceth in." they should be deluged by the Euphrates of Assyria, and Assyria's outspread wings should overshadow thy land, O Immanuel (viii. 1-8). How vain, then, of the people to try and meet the confederacy of Syria and Ephraim by new confederacy of Judah with Assyria! This, after all, is Immanuel's land. God is with us. We have but to fear God, we have but to be faithful to duty, and Jehovah shall be our sanctuary, though He be a stumbling-block to many in Israel, and a snare to many in Jerusalem.452452   The meaning is by no means clear. This is God's teaching and God's testimony, and Isaiah and his children are signs of it. For does not Isaiah mean "Salvation of Jehovah"; and Shear-jashub, "A remnant shall return"; and Maher-shalal-hash-baz, "Swift-spoil-speedy-prey"; and Immanuel,272 "God is with us"? What need, then, to seek wizards and necromancers? Seek God; confide, abide!453453   See Driver, Isaiah, p. 34. Trouble and darkness there should be; but all was not utterly hopeless. Northern Israel had been bedimmed and afflicted; but soon they should be exalted, and see light, and their yoke be broken as in the day of Midian, and the trampling boot and blood-stained mantle of the warrior shall be burned in the fire: for a Child is born, a Son is given unto us of David's line, who shall be a Mighty Deliverer, a Prince of Peace,—and Israel shall perish.

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