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b.c. 715-686479479   The first of these dates is highly uncertain, as is the entire chronology of this reign. I follow Kittel.

2 Kings xviii

"For Ezekias had done the thing that pleased the Lord, and was strong in the ways of David his father, as Esay the prophet, who was great and faithful in his vision, had commanded him,"—Ecclus. xlviii. 22.

The reign of Hezekiah was epoch-making in many respects, but especially for its religious reformation, and the relations of Judah with Assyria and with Babylon. It is also most closely interwoven with the annals of Hebrew prophecy, and acquires unwonted lustre from the magnificent activity and impassioned eloquence of the great prophet Isaiah, who merits in many ways the title of "the Evangelical Prophet," and who was the greatest of the prophets of the Old Dispensation.

According to the notice in 2 Kings xviii. 2, Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he began to reign in the third year of Hoshea of Israel. This, however, is practically impossible consistently with the dates that Ahaz reigned sixteen years and became king at the age of twenty, for it would then follow that Hezekiah was born when his father was a mere boy—and288 this, although Hezekiah does not seem to have been the eldest son; for Ahaz had burnt "his son," and, according to the Chronicler, more than one son, to propitiate Moloch. Probably Hezekiah was a boy of fifteen when he began to reign. The chronology of his reign of twenty-nine years is, unhappily, much confused.

The historian of the Kings agrees with the Chronicler, and the son of Sirach, in pronouncing upon him a high eulogy, and making him equal even to David in faithfulness. There is, however, much difference in the method of their descriptions of his doings. The historian devotes but one verse to his reformation—which probably began early in his reign, though it occupied many years. The Chronicler, on the other hand, in his three chapters manages to overlook, if not to suppress, the one incident of the reformation which is of the deepest interest. It is exactly one of those suppressions which help to create the deep misgiving as to the historic exactness of this biassed and late historian. It must be regarded as doubtful whether many of the Levitic details in which he revels are or are not intended to be literally historic. Imaginative additions to literal history became common among the Jews after the Exile, and leaders of that day instinctively drew the line between moral homiletics and literal history. It may be perfectly historical that, as the Chronicler says, Hezekiah opened and repaired the Temple; gathered the priests and the Levites together, and made them cleanse themselves; offered a solemn sacrifice; reappointed the musical services; and—though this can hardly have been till after the Fall of Samaria in 722—invited all the Israelites to a solemn, but in some respects irregular, passover of fourteen days. It may be true also that he broke up the289 idolatrous altars in Jerusalem, and tossed their débris into the Kidron; and (again after the deportation of Israel) destroyed some of the bamoth in Israel as well as in Judah. If he reinstituted the courses of the priests, the collection of tithes, and all else that he is said to have done,480480   2 Chron. xxxi. 2-21. he accomplished quite as much as was effected in the reign of his great-grandson Josiah. But while the Chronicler dwells on all this at such length, what induces him to omit the most significant fact of all—the destruction of the brazen serpent?

The historian tells us that Hezekiah "removed the bamoth"—the chapels on the high places, with their ephods and teraphim—whether dedicated to the worship of Jehovah or profaned by alien idolatry. That he did, or attempted, something of this kind seems certain; for the Rabshakeh, if we regard his speech as historical in its details, actually taunted him with impiety, and threatened him with the wrath of Jehovah on this very account. Yet here we are at once met with the many difficulties with which the history of Israel abounds, and which remind us at every turn that we know much less about the inner life and religious conditions of the Hebrews than we might infer from a superficial study of the historians who wrote so many centuries after the events which they describe. Over and over again their incidental notices reveal a condition of society and worship which violently collides with what seems to be their general estimate. Who, for instance, would not infer from this notice that in Judah, at any rate, the king's suppression of the "high places," and above all of those which were idolatrous, had been tolerably thorough? How much, then, are we amazed to find290 that Hezekiah had not effectually desecrated even the old shrines which Solomon had erected to Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Milcom481481   Josiah did this many years later (2 Kings xxiii. 13). "at the right hand of the mount of corruption"—in other words, on one of the peaks of the Mount of Olives, in full view of the walls of Jerusalem and of the Temple Hill!

"And he brake the images," or, as the R.V. more correctly renders it, "the pillars," the matstseboth. Originally—that is, before the appearance of the Deuteronomic and the Priestly Codes—no objection seems to have been felt to the erection of a matstsebah. Jacob erected one of these baitulia or anointed stones at Bethel, with every sign of Divine approval.482482   Gen. xxxv. 14. See Spencer, De legg. Hebr., i. 444; Bochart, Canaan, ii. 2. Moses erected twelve round his altar at Sinai.483483   Exod. xxiv. 4. Comp. Deut. vii. 5, xii. 3, xvi. 22; Lev. xxvi. 1; 2 Chron. xiv. 3, xxxi. 1; Jer. xliii. 13; Hos. x. 2; Mic. v. 13 (where the A.V. often has "statue" or "image"). Comp. Clem. Alex., Strom., i. 24; Arnob., c. Gent., i. 39. Joshua erected them in Shechem and on Mount Ebal. Hosea, in one passage (iii. 4), seems to mention pillars, ephods, and teraphim as legitimate objects of desire. Whether they have any relation to obelisks, and what is their exact significance, is uncertain; but they had become objects of just suspicion in the universal tendency to idolatry, and in the deepening conviction that the second commandment required a far more rigid adherence than it had hitherto received.

"And cut down the groves"—or rather the Asherim, the wooden, and probably in some instances phallic, emblems of the nature-goddess Asherah, the goddess of fertility.484484   The rendering "grove" in the A.V. is borrowed from the ἄλσος of the LXX., and the lucus of the Vulgate. On the connection of the Asherah with the sacred tree of the Assyrian, see my article on "Grove" in Smith's Dict. of the Bible; and Fergusson, Nineveh and Persepolis Restored, 299-304. On the worship of Asherah, see 1 Kings xv. 13; 2 Kings xxi. 3-7, xxiii. 4; 2 Chron. xv. 16; Judg. iii. 5-7, vi. 25, xviii. 18. Baudissin in Herzog Realencykl., s.v. We may well be startled by the prevalence of idolatry in Jerusalem revealed in Isa. x. 11, xxvii. 9, xxix. 11, xxx. 9, 22, etc. She is sometimes identified with Astarte,291 the goddess of the moon and of love; but there is no sufficient ground for the identification. Some, indeed, doubt whether Asherah is the name of a goddess at all. They suppose that the word only means a consecrated pole or pillar, emblematic of the sacred tree.485485   See Wellhausen, Hist., 235; Stade, Gesch. d. V. I., 460; W. R. Smith, Religion of the Semites, 171; Cheyne, Isaiah, ii. 303; Renan, Hist. du Peuple d'Israel, i. 230 (Prof. Driver, Bibl. Dict., i. 258, 2nd edition).

Then comes the startling addition, "And brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it." This addition is all the more singular because the Hebrew tense implies habitual worship. The story of the brazen serpent of the wilderness is told in Num. xxi. 9; but not an allusion to it occurs anywhere, till now—some eight centuries later—we are told that up to this time the children of Israel had been in the habit of burning incense to it! Comparing Num. xxi. 4, with xxxiii. 42, we find that the scene of the serpent-plague of the Exodus was either Zalmonah ("the place of the image") or Punon, which Bochart connects with Phainoi, a place mentioned as famous for copper-mines.486486   Hierozoicon, ii. 3, § 13. Moses, for unknown reasons, chose it as an innocent and potent symbol; but obviously in later days it subserved, or was mingled with, the tendency to ophiolatry, which has been fatally common in all ages292 in many heathen lands. It is indeed most difficult to understand a state of things in which the children of Israel habitually burned incense to this venerable relic, nor can we imagine that this was done without the cognisance and connivance of the priests. Ewald makes the conjecture that the brazen Saraph had been left at Zalmonah, and was an occasional object of Israelite adoration in pilgrimage for the purpose. There is, however, nothing more extraordinary in the prevalence of serpent-worship among the Jews than in the fact that, "in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, we" (the Jews), "and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, burnt incense unto the Queen of Heaven."487487   Jer. xliv. 17. In the collection of antiquities of Baron Ustinoff at Jaffa are five or six dragon-headed serpents, with ears of copper and hollow inside. They are ancient, and were perhaps used as talismanic copies of Nehushtan. If this were the case, the serpent may have been brought to Jerusalem in the idolatrous reign of Ahaz. It shows an intensity of reforming zeal, and an inspired insight into the reality of things, that Hezekiah should not have hesitated to smash to pieces so interesting a relic of the oldest history of his people, rather than see it abused to idolatrous purposes.488488   If this was a genuine relic, it must have been nearly eight hundred years old. It is never mentioned elsewhere. Certainly, in conduct so heroic, and hatred of idolatry so strong, the Puritans might well find sufficient authority for removing from Westminster Abbey the images of the Virgin, which, in their opinion, had been worshipped, and before which lamps had been perpetually burned. If we can imagine an English king breaking to pieces the shrine of the Confessor in the Abbey, or a French king destroying the sacred293 ampulla of Rheims or the goupillon of St. Eligius, on the ground that many regarded them with superstitious reverence, we may measure the effect produced by this startling act of Puritan zeal on the part of Hezekiah.

"And he called it Nehushtan." If this rendering—in which our A.V. and R.V. follow the LXX. and the Vulgate—be correct, Hezekiah justified the iconoclasm by a brilliant play of words.489489   נְחֻשׁתָּן, "a brazen thing." The king certainly showed a horror of sacerdotal imposture and religious materialism. Yet Renan argues, from Isa. x. 11, xxvii. 9, xxx. 9, 22, that he must have had a certain amount of tolerance. See Hist. du Peuple d'Israel, iii. 30. The Hebrew words for "a serpent" (nachash) and for brass (nechosheth) are closely akin to each other; and the king showed his just estimate of the relic which had been so shamefully abused by contemptuously designating it—as it was in itself and apart from its sacred historic associations—"nehushtan," a thing of brass. The rendering, however, is uncertain, for the phrase may be impersonal—"one" or "they" called it Nehushtan490490   2 Kings xviii. 4. Vayyikra is like the English indefinite plural. The impersonal rendering (as in other passages) is adopted in the Targum of Jonathan, the Peshito, etc., and by Luther, Bunsen, Ewald, and most moderns.—in which case the assonance had lost any ironic connotation.491491   This relic is still shown in the Church of St. Ambrose at Milan. It used to be the popular notion that it would hiss at the end of the world. The history of the Milan "relic" is that a Milanese envoy to the court of the Emperor John Zimisces at Constantinople chose it from the imperial treasures, being assured that it was made of the same metal that Hezekiah had broken up (Sigonius, Hist. Regn. Ital., vii.). It is probably a symbol used by some ophite sect. See Dean Plumptre, Dict. of Bibl., s.v. "Serpent."

For this act of purity of worship, and for other reasons, the historian calls Hezekiah the best of all the kings of Judah, superior alike to all his predecessors and all his successors. He regarded him as coming up294 to the Deuteronomic ideal, and says that therefore "the Lord was with him, and he prospered whithersoever he went forth."

The date of this great reformation is rendered uncertain by the impossibility of ascertaining the exact order of Isaiah's prophecies. The most probable view is that it was gradual, and some of the king's most effective measures may not have been carried out till after the deliverance from Assyria. It is clear, however, that the wisdom of Hezekiah and his counsellors began from the first to uplift Judah from the degradation and decrepitude to which it had sunk under the reign of Ahaz. The boy-king found a wretched state of affairs at his accession. His father had bequeathed to him "an empty treasury, a ruined peasantry, an unprotected frontier, and a shattered army";492492   2 Kings xvi. 8; Driver, Isaiah, 68. but although he was still the vassal of Assyria, he reverted to the ideas of his great-grandfather Uzziah. He strengthened the city, and enabled it to stand a siege by improving the water-supply. Of these labours we have, in all probability, a most interesting confirmation in the inscription by Hezekiah's engineers, discovered in 1880, on the rocky walls of the subterranean tunnel (siloh) between the spring of Gihon and the Pool of Siloam.493493   The diverting of the water-courses enabled him to bring the water into the city by a subterranean tunnel. The Saracens took a similar precaution (Gul. Tyr., viii. 7). See Appendix II., where the inscription is given; and compare 2 Chron. xxxii. 30. Apparently it carried the water of Gihon to the south-east gate, where were the king's gardens. Ecclus. xlviii. 17: "Ezekias fortified his city, and brought in water into the midst thereof: he digged the hard rock with iron, and made wells for water." For "water" the MSS. read "Gog," a corruption probably for ἀγωγὸν, "a conduit" (Geiger) or "Gihon" (Fritzsche). He encouraged agriculture, the storage of295 produce, and the proper tendance of flocks and herds, so that he acquired wealth which dimly reminded men of the days of Solomon.

There is little doubt that he early meditated revolt from Assyria; for renewed faithfulness to Jehovah had elevated the moral tone, and therefore the courage and hopefulness, of the whole people. The Forty-Sixth Psalm, whatever may be its date, expresses the invincible spirit of a nation which in its penitence and self-purification began to feel itself irresistible, and could sing:—

"God is our hope and strength,

A very present help in trouble.

Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be moved,

Though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea.

There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God,

The Holy City where dwells the Most High.

God is in the midst of her; therefore shall she not be shaken:

God shall help her, and that right early.

Heathens raged and kingdoms trembled:

He lifted His voice—the earth melted away.

Jehovah of Hosts is with us;

Elohim of Jacob is our refuge."494494   Psalm xlvi. 1-11.

It was no doubt the spirit of renewed confidence which led Hezekiah to undertake his one military enterprise—the chastisement of the long-troublesome Philistines. He was entirely successful. He not only won back the cities which his father had lost,495495   2 Chron. xxviii. 18. but he also dispossessed them of their own cities, even unto Gaza, which was their southernmost possession—"from the tower of the watchman to the fenced city."496496   2 Kings xviii. 8: comp. xvii. 9. Josephus says that he failed to take Gath (Antt., IX. xiii. 3). There can be no doubt that this act involved an almost296 open defiance of the Assyrian King; but if Hezekiah dreamed of independence, it was essential for him to be free from the raids and the menace of a neighbour so dangerous as Philistia, and so inveterately hostile. It is not improbable that he may have devoted to this war the money which would otherwise have gone to pay the tribute to Shalmaneser or Sargon, which had been continued since the date of the appeal of Ahaz to Tiglath-Pileser II. When Sargon applied for the tribute Hezekiah refused it, and even omitted to send the customary present.

It is clear that in this line of conduct the king was following the exhortations of Isaiah. It showed no small firmness of character that he was able to choose a decided course amid the chaos of contending counsels. Nothing but a most heroic courage could have enabled him, at any period of his reign, to defy that dark cloud of Assyrian war which ever loomed on the horizon, and from which but little sufficed to elicit the destructive lightning-flash.

There were three permanent parties in the Court of Hezekiah, each incessantly trying to sway the king to its own counsels, and each representing those counsels as indispensable to the happiness, and even to the existence, of the State.

I. There was the Assyrian party, urging with natural vehemence that the fierce northern king was as irresistible in power as he was terrible in vengeance. The fearful cruelties which had been committed at Beth-Arbel, the devastation and misery of the Trans-Jordanic tribes, the obliteration and deportation of the heavily afflicted districts of Zebulon, Naphtali, and the way of the sea in Galilee of the nations, the already inevitable and imminent destruction of Samaria and her297 king and the whole Northern Kingdom, together with that certain deportation of its inhabitants of which the fatal policy had been established by Tiglath-Pileser, would constitute weighty arguments against resistance. Such considerations would appeal powerfully to the panic of the despondent section of the community, which was only actuated, as most men are, by considerations of ordinary political expediency. The foul apparition of the Ninevites, which for five centuries afflicted the nations, is now only visible to us in the bas-reliefs and inscriptions unearthed from their burnt palaces. There they live before us in their own sculptures, with their "thickset, sensual figures," and the expression of calm and settled ferocity on their faces, exhibiting a frightful nonchalance as they look on at the infliction of diabolical atrocities upon their vanquished enemies. But in the eighth century before Christ they were visible to all the eastern world in the exuberance of the most brutal parts of the nature of man. Men had heard how, a century earlier, Assurnazipal boasted that he had "dyed the mountains of the Nairi with blood like wool"; how he had flayed captive kings alive, and dressed pillars with their skins; how he had walled up others alive, or impaled them on stakes; how he had burnt boys and girls alive, put out eyes, cut off hands, feet, ears, and noses, pulled out the tongues of his enemies, and "at the command of Assur his god" had flung their limbs to vultures and eagles, to dogs and bears. The Jews, too, must have realised with a vividness which is to us impossible the cruel nature of the usurper Sargon. He is represented on his monuments as putting out with his own hands the eyes of his miserable captives; while, to prevent them from flinching when the spear which he holds in his hand298 is plunged into their eye-sockets, a hook is inserted through their nose and lips and held fast with a bridle. Can we not imagine the pathos with which this party would depict such horrors to the tremblers of Judah? Would they not bewail the fanaticism which led the prophets to seduce their king into the suicidal policy of defying such a power? To these men the sole path of national safety lay in continuing to be quiet vassals and faithful tributaries of these destroyers of cities and treaders-down of foes.

II. Then there was the Egyptian party, headed probably by the powerful Shebna, the chancellor.497497   A.V., "treasurer" (soken; lit., "deputy" or "associate": Isa. xxii. 15). He was "over the household." The Egyptian alliance had for Judah, as Renan points out, some of the fascination that a Russian alliance has often had for troubled spirits in France (Hist. du Peuple d'Israel, iii. 12). His foreign name, the fact that his father is not mentioned, and the question of Isaiah—"What hast thou here? and whom hast thou here, that thou hast hewed thee out a sepulchre here?"—seem to indicate that he was by birth a foreigner, perhaps a Syrian.498498   Renan says that he may have been a Sebennyite, and his name Sebent. The prophet, indignant at his powerful interference with domestic politics, threatens him, in words of tremendous energy, with exile and degradation.499499   Isa. xxii. 17, 18: "Behold, the Lord shall sling and sling, and pack and pack, and toss and toss thee away like a ball into a distant land; and there thou shalt die" (Stanley). The versions vary considerably. He lost his place of chancellor, and we next find him in the inferior, though still honourable, office of secretary (sopher, 2 Kings xviii. 18), while Eliakim had been promoted to his vacant place (Isa. xxii. 21). Perhaps he may have afterwards repented, and the doom have been299 lightened.500500   Isa. xxxvii. 2. There can be little doubt that there were not two Shebnas. Circumstances at any rate reduced him from the scornful spirit which seems to have marked his earlier opposition to the prophetic counsels, and perhaps the powerful warning and menace of Isaiah may have exercised an influence on his mind.

III. The third party, if it could even be called a party, was that of Isaiah and a few of the faithful, aided no doubt by the influence of the prophecies of Micah. Their attitude to both the other parties was antagonistic.

i. As regards the Assyrian, they did not attempt to minimise the danger. They represented the peril from the kingdom of Nineveh as God's appointed scourge for the transgressions of Judah, as it had been for the transgressions of Israel.

Thus Micah sees in imagination the terrible march of the invader by Gath, Akko, Beth-le-Aphrah, Maroth, Lachish, and Adullam. He plays with bitter anguish on the name of each town as an omen of humiliation and ruin, and calls on Zion to make herself bald for the children of her delight, and to enlarge her baldness as the vultures, because they are gone into captivity.501501   Mic. i. 10-16. See the writer's Minor Prophets ("Men of the Bible" Series), pp. 130-133, for an explanation of this enigmatic prophecy. He turns fiercely on the greedy grandees, the false prophets, the blood-stained princes, the hireling priests, the bribe-taking soothsayers, who were responsible for the guilt which should draw down the vengeance. He ends with the fearful prophecy—which struck a chill into men's hearts a century later, and had an important influence on Jewish history—"Therefore, because of you shall Zion be ploughed as a field,300 and Jerusalem become ruins, and the hill of the Temple as heights in the wood";—though there should be an ultimate deliverance from Migdal-Eder, and a remnant should be saved.502502   Jer. xxvi. 8-24. He tells us that the prophecy was delivered in the reign of Hezekiah. See my Minor Prophets, pp. 123-140.

Similar to Micah's, and possibly not uninfluenced by it, is Isaiah's imaginary picture of the march of Assyria, which must have been full of terror to the poor inhabitants of Jerusalem.503503   Isa. x. 28-32. It would involve a cross-country route over several deep ravines—e.g., the Wady Suweinit, near Michmash. In 1 Sam. xiv. 2, Thenius, for "Migron," reads "the Precipice." Some take Aiath for Ai, three miles south of Bethel. Renan says (Hist. du Peuple d'Israel, iii.): "Nom d'Anathoth, arrangé symboliquement."

"He is come to Aiath!

He is passed through Migron!

At Michmash he layeth up his baggage:

They are gone over the pass:

'Geba,' they cry, 'is our lodging.'

Ramah trembleth:

Gibeah of Saul is fled!

Raise thy shrill cries, O daughter of Gallim!

Hearken, O Laishah! Answer her, O Anathoth!

Madmenah is in wild flight (?).

The inhabitants of Gebim gather their stuff to flee.

This very day shall he halt at Nob.

He shaketh his hand at the mount of the daughter of Zion,

The hill of Jerusalem."

Yet Isaiah, and the little band of prophets, in spite of their perils, did not share the views of the Assyrian party or counsel submission. On the contrary, even as they contemplate in imagination this terrific march of Sargon, they threaten Assyria. The Assyrian might smite Judah, but God should smite the Assyrians. He boasts that he will rifle the riches of the people as one robs the eggs of a trembling bird, which does not dare301 to cheep or move the wing.504504   Isa. x. 14. The metaphor of a bird's nest occurs more than once in the boastful Assyrian records. But Isaiah tells him that he is but the axe boasting against the hewer, and the wooden staff lifting itself up against its wielder. Burning should be scattered over his glory. The Lord of hosts should lop his boughs with terror, and a mighty one should hew down the crashing forest of his haughty Lebanon.

ii. Still more indignant were the true prophets against those who trusted in an alliance with Egypt. From first to last Isaiah warned Ahaz, and warned Hezekiah, that no reliance was to be placed on Egyptian promises—that Egypt was but like the reed of his own Nile. He mocked the hopes placed on Egyptian intervention as being no less sure of disannulment than a covenant with death and an agreement with Sheol. This rebellious reliance on the shadow of Egypt was but the weaving of an unrighteous web, and the adding of sin to sin. It should lead to nothing but shame and confusion, and the Jewish ambassadors to Zoan and Egypt should only have to blush for a people that could neither help nor profit. And then branding Egypt with the old insulting name of Rahab, or "Blusterer," he says,—

"Egypt helpeth in vain, and to no purpose.

Therefore have I called her 'Rahab, that sitteth still.'"

Indolent braggart—that was the only designation which she deserved! Intrigue and braggadocio—smoke and lukewarm water,—this was all which could be expected from her!505505   Isa. xxx. 1-7. Rahab means "fierceness," "insolence." For the various uses of the word, see Job xxvi. 12; Isa. li. 9, 10, 15; Psalm lxxxix. 9, 10, lxxxvii. 4, 5.


Such teaching was eminently distasteful to the worldly politicians, who regarded faith in Jehovah's intervention as no better than ridiculous fanaticism, and forgot God's wisdom in the inflated self-satisfaction of their own. The priests—luxurious, drunken, scornful—were naturally with them. Men were fine and stylish, and in their religious criticisms could not express too lofty a contempt for any one who, like Isaiah, was too sincere to care for the mere polishing of phrases, and too much in earnest to shrink from reiteration. In their self-indulgent banquets these sleek, smug euphemists made themselves very merry over Isaiah's simplicity, reiteration, and directness of expression. With hiccoughing insolence they asked whether they were to be treated like weaned babes; and then wagging their heads, as their successors did at Christ upon the cross, they indulged themselves in a mimicry, which they regarded as witty, of Isaiah's style and manner. With him they said it is all,—

"Tsav-la-tsav, tsav-la-tsav,

Quav-la-quav, quav-la-quav,

Z'eir sham, Z'eir sham!"—

which may be imitated thus:—With him it is always "Bit and bit, bid and bid, for-bid and for-bid, forbid and forbid, a lit-tle bit here, a lit-tle bit there."506506   See Dr. S. Cox (Expositor, i. 98-104) on Isa. xxviii. 7-13. Monosyllable is heaped on monosyllable; and no doubt the speakers tipsily adopted the tones of fond mothers addressing their babes and weanlings. Using the Hebrew words, one of these shameless roysterers would say, "Tsav-la-tsav, tsav-la-tsav, quav-la-quav, quav-la-quav, Z'eir sham, Z'eir sham,—that is how that303 simpleton Isaiah speaks." And then doubtless a drunken laugh would go round the table, and half a dozen of them would be saying thus, "Tsav-la-tsav, tsav-la-tsav," at once. They derided Isaiah just as the philosophers of Athens derided St. Paul—as a mere spermologos, "a seed-pecker!"507507   Acts xvii. 18. or "picker-up of learning's crumbs." Is all this petty monosyllabism fit teaching for persons like us? Are we to be taught by copybooks? Do we need the censorship of this Old Morality?

On whom, full of the fire of God, Isaiah turned, and told these scornful tipsters, who lorded it over God's heritage in Jerusalem, that, since they disdained his stammerings, God would teach them by men of strange lips and alien tongue. They might mimic the style of the Assyrians also if they liked; but they should fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.508508   Isa. xxviii. 7-22.

It must not be forgotten that the struggle of the prophets against these parties was far more severe than we might suppose. The politicians of expediency had supporters among the leading princes. The priests—whom the prophets so constantly and sternly denounce—adhered to them; and, as usual, the women were all of the priestly party (comp. Isa. xxxii. 9-20). The king, indeed, was inclined to side with his prophet, but the king was terribly overshadowed by a powerful and worldly aristocracy, of which the influence was almost always on the side of luxury, idolatry, and oppression.

iii. But what had Isaiah to offer in the place of the policy of these worldly and sacerdotal advisers of the king? It was the simple command "Trust in the Lord." It was the threefold message "God is high; God is304 near; God is Love."509509   Professor Smith, Isaiah, i. 12. Had he not told Ahaz not to fear the "stumps of two smouldering torches," when Rezin and Pekah seemed awfully dangerous to Judah? So he tells them now that, though their sins had necessitated the rushing stroke of Assyrian judgment, Zion should not be utterly destroyed. In Isaiah "the calmness requisite for sagacity rose from faith." Mr. Bagehot might have appealed to Isaiah's whole policy in illustration of what he has so well described as the military and political benefits of religion. Monotheism is of advantage to men not only "by reason of the high concentration of steady feeling which it produces, but also for the mental calmness and sagacity which surely springs from a pure and vivid conviction that the Lord reigneth."510510   Bagehot, Physics and Politics, p. 73; Smith, Isaiah, 109. Isaiah's whole conviction might have been summed up in the name of the king himself: "Jehovah maketh strong."

King Hezekiah, apparently not a man of much personal force, though of sincere piety, was naturally distracted by the counsels of these three parties: and who can judge him severely if, beset with such terrific dangers, he occasionally wavered, now to one side, now to the other? On the whole, it is clear that he was wise and faithful, and deserves the high eulogy that his faith failed not. Naturally he had not within his soul that burning light of inspiration which made Isaiah so sure that, even though clouds and darkness might lower on every side, God was an eternal Sun, which flamed for ever in the zenith, even when not visible to any eye save that of Faith.

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