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open measures and by insidious craft, to prevent the success of the king's patriotic and religious exertions. It appears to have been by their instigation that he was induced to throw off the tribute, to which his father had bound himself to the Assyrian monarch. Wicked as the origin of that yoke had been, disgraceful as was such a badge of servitude, and miserably oppressive as it was to the public resources, it is questionable whether Hezekiah acted rightly in attempting to free himself from it. To say the least, it was an act of political indiscretion; for he was in no condition to make a stand against Tiglath-pileser, or Shalmeneser, or Sargon, or Sennacherib. The heathenish faction urged him to this perilous step, relying upon aid from the sovereigns who reigned over parts of Egypt and Ethiopia. This course of policy was expressly contrary to the duty of the people and their king. That duty was to look to JEHOVAH alone as their Protector and Deliverer. As, in His holy name, Isaiah had before protested against the ungodly and ruinous application of Ahaz to Assyria; so did he now intreat and warn against this Egyptian alliance, as nugatory upon the principles of human calculation, and as exceedingly sinful in a religious view, because it was an additional distrust of the covenantpromises of the Most High, and a real treason against the peculiar relation which he had condescended to assume in constituting the Hebrew Theocracy. On every side, ruin now appeared inevitable. The enraged Sennacherib, as soon as he had freed himself from some other enemies, marched his apparently invincible army into Judah, took every forti. fied place, and reduced Hezekiah to such distress and humiliation, that he submitted to a fine the most enormous * for pacifying the conqueror. But, no sooner had the Assyrian king obtained this sum from his ruined vassal, than he openly defied all faith and decency, and summoned Jerusalem to an unconditional surrender.
Now appeared the grace and power of the God of Israel. Hezekiah, in the extremity of his distress, had recourse to .prayer : and, when human help seemed impossible, the
* Equal to more than 268,0001. sterling.
prophet was the messenger of glad tidings from Jehovah. In a most beautiful prophetic hymn, he assured the king and his desponding people of prompt deliverance and omnipotent protection. The promise was fulfilled. “An angel" messenger
of Jehovah" (a term sometimes applied to inanimate agents), probably a pestilential disease of singular virulence and rapidity, brought into the dust of death one hundred and eighty-five thousand of the army which had boasted itself invincible ; Hezekiah probably recovered the gold and silver which had been wrung from him; and the insolent tyrant, the model of treachery and cruelty, fled in fear and shame back to his capital, there to fall by a parricidal hand.
How great was the glory of Jehovah, and the honour conferred upon his faithful prophet, on this occasion !
But small and transient was its effect upon a disobedient and perverse generation.
A disease which appeared inevitably fatal, now attacked Hezekiah himself. It was probably the malignant plague received by infection from the Assyrian army. Isaiah was again honoured to announce from God the king's recovery and the prolongation of his life, and to confirm the prediction by a miraculous sign. But this good king was not prudent, and seems to have possessed but a small share of cautious foresight. A very ancient power was now rising into new importance among the Asiatic nations, and was soon to assert its independence of the Assyrian monarchy; the Babylonians, reinforced by the settlement in their territory of a fierce and warlike nation of northern mountaineers, the Chaldæans. From them an embassy came, probably with insidious intentions, but professedly to congratulate the king of Judah on his wondrous deliverance. The simple king, flattered by this attention, treated the foreigners with immoderate complaisance; and, as if he had determined to make them spies if they were not already such, he displayed to them his treasures of every kind, he led them through his palaces, bis offices of government, his arsenals, his fortifications, and he shewed them the magnificent temple which was the glory of his land. For this extreme folly and cri
minal vanity, the prophet bore to Hezekiah a message from God of a very mournful description. At the same time, it must be remembered that this sin of the sincere though imperfect man was not the sole, nor the principal, procuring cause of the predicted judgment. That cause lay in the vast multitude, the numerous aggravations, and the accumulation through centuries, of the disobedience, the abuse of divine privileges; the apostacies, idolatries, and manifold superstitions ; the unbridled licentiousness and the flagrant impieties of the whole nation. But Hezekiah's sin and folly furnished the immediate occasion of the judgment: his hand was weak, but it struck the spark which sprung the mine. A friendly relation with the Assyrio-Chaldæan government was indeed established; but one of its results was, that the excellent king Josiah, near ninety years afterwards, fell a sacrifice to the inauspicious connexion,-a loss irreparable to his falling country. In a few years more, the awful calamity arrived. Under the mighty Nebuchadnezzar, Judah was conquered and made a vassal-kingdom; a first, a second, and a third deportation took place of the unhappy Jews, from the beloved land of their fathers to the Babylonish gates of brass and bars of iron; and the terrible destruction was at last effected, of Jerusalem and the temple and all the glory of the land.
Throughout the whole period of his prophetic office, and particularly the reign of Hezekiah, Isaiah was actively engaged in the affairs which we have mentioned. Numerous were the messages which he brought from God; messages of mercy and of judgment; instructions, commands, reproof's, promises, invitations, and PROPHECIES. Those prophecies respected the history, near and remote, of not only Judah and Israel, but of the nations of Moab and Ammon, the Edomites, the Syrians, the Philistines, the Tyrians, the Egyptians and Ethiopians, the Assyrians, the Chaldæans, and the united nations of Media and Persia. In particular, the prophet predicts in the most lively colours the Chaldæan invasion, with all its dreadful consequences; the disconsolate state of the captives, wandering by the streams of Babylon, and weeping at the remembrance of Zion; the godly sorrow and deep repentance which were at length produced in the minds of many among them; the fulfilling of the destined time of their captivity; the creation of the Medo-Persian monarchy; the conquest of Babylon; the great deliver ance by the edict of Cyrus; the subsequent condition of the people; their never again relapsing into idolatry; the wide extension of their religion, conveying the knowledge of the true God very extensively in the regions all around, and making numerous proselytes from heathenism during the three or four then ensuing centuries; but, above all, he was enabled by the inspiration of God to intersperse the most glorious descriptions of the MESSIAH, his PERSON, incarnation, character, and doctrine; his sufferings and death as “a sacrifice for sin ;" his resurrection, and triumph over the idolatry and wickedness of the world; the dispensation of grace which he was to establish ; the conversion of the Gentiles, their union with the converted Jews, and the eventual diffusion of the true religion over the whole earth.*
Now, a little reflection will shew us that all these admonitions, instructions, and predictions, aróse, by a close and natural association of facts and ideas, out of the personal circumstances of Isaiah, his public relations, and the connexion of his prophetic office with both the near and the far distant futurity. It appears, therefore, to follow by a plain necessity, that one of the first steps to a just understanding of his writings, is to place ourselves, as much as possible, in the same position, to stand in his place, and to contemplate the whole circle of events, whether present or predicted, from his point of view.
The prophet Isaiah has been selected as an example, and it is the best and most complete in our power to adduce : but the principle applies to all the prophets; and therefore we must act upon the rule in every instance, so far as the writings of each prophet in particular, and the information to be derived from other parts of scripture, may bring the materials into our possessioni.
See Note E.
RULE II. It is important to distribute the matter con
tained in each prophetic book, with care and accuracy, into those portions which the nature of every subject
demands. With the exception of some of the smaller ones, each of the Books of the Prophets comprises a number of parts, complete in themselves, distinct from the others, delivered at different times, and connected with different circumstances of occasion or reference. These portions, some judicious critics have denominated Oracles : perbaps the term Declarations would be preferable. In our modern Bibles, however, they stand before us in a continuity which is often not broken by even the division into chapters and verses. That division is a comparatively modern work, and has unhappily been made with a frequent disregard to the propriety of sense and connexion. It happens not seldom that one Prophecy is arbitrarily cut into several chapters, though, in order to a comprehension of its meaning, it ought to be read at once : while, in other cases, the same chapter groups together several Prophecies or Declarations which are perfectly independent of each other. It is highly important, therefore, to ascertain, by careful perusal, the commencement and termination of every distinct portion, and to connect it with the events from which its occasion was derived, or to which its object had reference.
Rule III. We must use all the means that are proper,
for securing the just interpretation of the words and sentences in which the declarations of prophecy are
conveyed. This is, indeed, a rule of the very first importance with regard to EVERY part of the divine word. Its obligation arises out of the very nature of a revelation from God. If he has made known to us his will of wisdom, authority, and grace, it is surely our first duty to receive that notification in the sense and meaning really intended by its Blessed Author. This is what the Scriptures solemnly call “ The mind of the Spirit.” Is it not self-evident that, if we take