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mothers of such men; for the Bible and observation both show that the character of children generally resembles that of their parents. Nor is it an idle inquiry, who were the companions of the early years of such men, and what examples of virtue or vice, so apt to be followed, were first set before their minds. If we would form a right estimate of character, we must also consider the state of the times in which men begin life. It was much harder for young Abijah to keep from idolatry, when his own father and nearly all Israel sacrificed to the golden calves, than for a child who often went up with his parents to worship at Jerusalem.
Hezekiah, whose character we shall attempt to sketch in this book, was the son of Ahaz king of Judah, and Abi the daughter of Zechariah. He was born about 750 years before Christ. The first notice we find of him in the Bible is in connection with the death and burial of his predecessor on the throne : “And Ahaz slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city, even in Jerusalem; but they brought him not into the sepulchres of the kings of Israel: and Hezekiah his son reigned in his stead.” 2 Chron. 28:27. Hezekiah was now twenty-five years old; and from his acts in the first year of his reign, it is manifest that he had already chosen the service of the God of Israel. By what process or by what instruments his character was formed we know not, but its existence is a striking
proof of the renewing and restraining influences of the divine Spirit. We can scarcely conceive of a situation more unfitted than that of Hezekiah for the cultivation of piety.
He was the son of a king and heir to a throne. In the most favored state of society and religious feeling, young men find it difficult to resist the temptations of wealth and power; but the inhabitants of Judah were now sunk deep in idolatry. Isaiah, who lived at this period, describes them as “a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers.” Of the “princes” with whom Hezekiah, from his station, must have been in constant intercourse, the same prophet says, they “ are rebellious and companions of thieves; every one loveth gifts and followeth after rewards; they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.” Such was the prevailing licentiousness, that Isaiah cries out in tones of severe rebuke, “Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.” And Micah, in bitter irony, says that if a man would prophesy “ of wine and of strong drink,” he would be a fit prophet for the nation. In the midst of such a court and people, young Hezekiah could find little else than incentives to laxity and vice.
But worse still, his father Ahaz was a gross idolater, outdoing in acts of impiety all that went
before him in Judah. “ He walked in the
of · the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim. Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his chil. dren in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen.”
In the valley of Hinnom, which lies south of Jerusalem, under mount Zion, the Jews, in the later periods of their kingdom, sacrificed their chil. dren to Moloch. A practice so abhorrent to parental feeling, one would think need never to be prohibited; but the inspired lawgiver Moses well knew how easily his countrymen would slide into the cruelties of idol-worship, and he forbade them to imitate the Canaanites, who “burnt even their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.” Moloch, to whom the Phenicians and Carthaginians also offered children in sacrifice, was represented by a statue of brass, with arms extended, and bending downwards towards the earth. The children were placed on the arms of the god, from which they easily rolled off into a furnace glowing with fire, while drums were beaten to prevent their groans and cries from being heard.
Even at this day, heathen parents in some parts of the world put their infant offspring to death, to get rid of taking care of them. Children in Christian lands should be thankful that they were not born where such cruelties are practised, and do all
they can to send to idolatrous nations the gospel, which softens and purifies the human heart.
When Ahaz was severely punished for his sins, he became no better, but “ did trespass yet more against the Lord.” He even went so far in his insane zeal for idolatry, as to cut up the vessels used in the service of the temple, and shut up its doors. In a word, Ahaz “respected neither Jehovah, the law, nor the prophets; he broke all the restraints imposed on the Hebrew kings, and regarded nothing but his own depraved inclinations." So vile was his conduct that the people, though wedded to idolatry, would not suffer his body to be deposited in the royal cemetery, but as a mark of disgrace buried it in some other part of the city.
Thus, while Hezekiah was deprived of the public services of religion, the sacrifices and songs of praise in the sanctuary, at home he was constantly exposed to his father's corrupt example, and was often forced to hear scoffs at the worship of Jehovah from one whom nature taught him to reverence. What but the grace of God could save Hezekiah from this deadly influence, and raise up a distinguished champion for the truth from the bosom of such a family? A missionary at the West lately found, in one of his visits, an infidel boy fourteen years old. He tried to convince him that the Scriptures are the word of God, but without effect. That boy's father was intemperate, and probably taught him to raise his
puny arm against the Bible. A depraved heart prompts us all to evil, and divine power alone can break the chain by which an abandoned father draws his child downwards to perdition.
As Hezekiah was born several years before Ahaz began to reign, if not present when his brothers were sacrificed in the valley of Hinnom, he was of an age to understand and be deeply affected by that appalling scene. It might well disgust him with the rites of idolatry, and make his heart cleave more closely to the religion of his ancestors. Especially would this be the case, if, as some suppose, Hezekiah was himself the “son” whom Ahaz made “ to pass through the fire.” These writers think that in the worship of Moloch, children were only made to pass through the flames, or between two fires, where they were not entirely consumed; but there is no proof that Hezekiah is intended in the passage quoted, nor is it probable that Ahaz would subject his destined successor to this cruel and disgusting ceremony.
The only certain information which the Bible contains respecting the mother of Hezekiah, is her own name and that of her father. Whether she early taught her son to fear the God of Israel and reverence his institutions, or whether she encouraged him to burn incense to idols “in the high places and on the hills and under every green tree,” we can only conjecture. Maternal counsels and