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against the Philistines. He was probably encouraged to undertake their expulsion from his borders by a prediction of Isaiah, “in the year that king Ahaz died :” “Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod that smote thee is broken ; for out of the serpent's root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.” Isa. 14:29. Most commentators think that the allusion in this passage is to Hezekiah, and Uzziah his great-grandfather. The latter had invaded the country of the Philistines, and taken their principal cities. During the reign of Ahaz they recovered from their depression, and perhaps were meditating a fresh inroad upon Judah. They may have anticipated a weak, or at least unwarlike prince in Hezekiah, as the meekness and peaceableness of good men are often mistaken for want of spirit. But the prophet warns them not to rejoice, for a more terrible enemy was about to arise than any they had yet encountered. Whether this prediction relates specially to Hezekiah or is more general in its meaning, he not only drove the Philistines out of Judah, but pursued them into their own country, and “smote them even unto Gaza and the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchmen to the senced city.” Gaza was in the south-western extremity of their land ; so that throughout nearly its whole extent, not merely the fortified towns, but the most insignificant habitations—even the watch-towers in the lonely vine
yards and sheep-cotes—fell into his hands. The confidence of Hezekiah in God was not disappointed; " the Lord was with him, and he prospered whithersoever he went forth.”
We cannot suppose that Hezekiah was prompted by the love of glory or by a desire of conquest to exchange the calm scenes of devotion and religious observances in which he had been thus far so happily engaged, for the confusion and dangers of a camp. It was to him, probably, a sacrifice of
personal feelings which he was constrained to make, no less for the honor of Jehovah than for the inde. pendence of his kingdom. God had set apart the Israelites for his peculiar people, and commanded them not to suffer an idolater to dwell within their borders. Allegiance to their divine Head, therefore, demanded that they should expel the heathen by force from this sacred heritage.
Whatever construction may be given to the precepts of the gospel on the subject of peace, none can doubt that the Ruler of the world has a right to dispose of the lives of men as seemeth him good. He may commission the lightning, the earthquake, the pestilence, to execute sentence of deserved death on the guilty, or he may use voluntary instrumentality to accomplish the same purpose.
In the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness,” the terrific agents by which God now chastises nations for their sins, and works changes required for the
progress of the kingdom of Christ, will not be needed, and no place for them will be found. Already the signs of the times point to such a consummation. The prevalence of Christianity has stripped war of many of its horrors; and even in its modified form, Christian nations are growing reluctant to employ it for terminating their disputes with each other. The years are manifestly drawing nigh, whose light burst on prophetic vision in the days of Hezekiah, when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
The Hebrews were selected to preserve on the earth the knowledge of the one living and true God until the way was prepared for the manifestation of his Son in the flesh, and for a new dispensation which should embrace both Jews and Gentiles. Their territory, as originally described, was admirably fitted by its local position to separate them from the rest of the world. On the north were the lofty mountains of Lebanon, which, with their branches, served both to defend and seclude the Israelites from others. On the east, were the whole length of the Jordan and the Dead sea. On the south, was a waste and tedious desert, terminating in hills on the borders of the Holy Land, from which the Israelites, when they came out of Egypt, were driven back by their enemies. On the west, was the Great or Mediterranean sea. The surrounding countries could carry on commercial intercourse by passing through only a small portion of its limits, while the incommodious harbors would not tempt its occupants to carry on foreign traffic. In addition to this, Moses established a multitude of
regulations to make it difficult for the Hebrews to associate freely with other nations in their business, pleasures, or worship. These hedged them in, and daily proclaimed to the people their obligation to be “holiness unto the Lord.”
Notwithstanding these restrictions, the Hebrews, in the later periods of their history, were prone to form foreign political alliances, against which the prophets remonstrated, as tending to impair confidence in the protection of Jehovah. In an evil hour, Ahaz, pressed by the united forces of Israel and Syria, called in the aid of Tiglath-pilezer. As the result of this measure, he became himself tributary to the Assyrians, on whom he had relied for deliverance, and at his death left the country in subjection to a foreign power. After the successful campaign of Hezekiah against the Philistines, which is supposed to have been during the siege of Samaria, he cast off the Assyrian yoke. A war with that kingdom would have followed immediately, if Shalmaneser had not been engaged in other enterprises which diverted his attention fronı Judah.
A period of several years preceding the invasion of the country by Sennacherib now intervenes, respecting which the history is silent. It was probably a state of external peace; but there are indications in the sacred record that the high tone of religious feeling which so distinguished the early part of Hezekiah's reign, no longer existed. If the prince and people still maintained their zeal for the worship of Jehovah, it is difficult to believe that the Assyrians would have been permitted to inflict such calamities on the country. It is not analagous to the dealings of God with his ancient people, that they should be given up to the power of the
enemy while they were faithful in his service. The rewards of obedience, in their case, were manifest in the present life ; while disobedience and apostasy were followed by temporal punishment. God had specially promised that if they would “ observe and do all his commandments,” their enemies should be smitten before their face; but if they revolted from him, he threatened that they should be smitten before their enemies. The Bible contains many examples of the fulfilment both of the promise and the threatening.
If the faith of Hezekiah and the people was as vigorous at the time of the Assyrian invasion as in his early wars, we can scarcely believe he would have hired Sennacherib to withdraw from the land, with gold cut off from the doors of the temple and from the pillars which he had himself overlaid.