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Such a contrast in the conduct of Hezekiah, and in the state of the country, seems to imply a change in its religious condition. If there were no evidences of declining piety during this period to be found in the scriptures or in profane history, it would be necessary to suppose such a declension to account for facts.
By a comparison of Jeremiah 26 : 18 with Micah 3:12, it appears that the latter chapter was spoken in the time of Hezekiah. But it could not relate to the period before the reformation in the first months of his reign, for the circumstances mentioned in the prophecy are inconsistent with the condition of Judah at the death of Ahaz. At that time the temple was shut, the priests were scat. tered, idolatry was triumphant. Now, says the prophet, “ The priests teach for hire, and the prophets divine for money; yet will they lean upon the Lord and say, Is not the Lord among us? none evil shall come upon us." This is manifestly a state of external religion, of professed service of Jehovah. It is formality, hypocrisy, worship separated from practice; not idolatry. Nor could the prediction relate to a period subsequent to the reign of Hezekiah, for the woe is denounced as a consequence of the state of things existing at that time. “Therefore shall Zion for your sake be ploughed as a field.” Hezekiah manifestly regarded the threat
” ening as aimed against himself and his people, for
he “besought the Lord” to remove it; " and the Lord repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them.” The threatening was for the time averted.
It seems evident, then, that the description refers to Hezekiah's reign, and to a period later than the religious movement which we have described. It indicates a falling away both among the princes and the people, which, however much we may deplore it, the history of religion in other ages would prepare us to expect. How far Hezekiah shared in this declension, or what were its immediate causes, we have no means of ascertaining The war against the Philistines, and the agitations connected with the revolt from Assyria, may have contributed to the result.
In the time of Hezekiah, two great empires divided between them the sovereignty of most of the countries of Western Asia. These were the kingdom of Assyria on the north-east of Judah, and the kingdom of Egypt on the south-west. The true policy of the Hebrews was to keep aloof from both these rival powers, as the prophets recommended ; for an alliance with one of them would be sure to provoke the hostility of the other, and nothing could be gained from the friendship of either. Whether they came to aid the Hebrews, or with openly hostile designs, the result was uniformly pernicious. Their hostility was even less to be dreaded than their alliance; for the former might be averted at the expense of tribute or territory, while the latter involved the additional sacrifice of national morality and of the divine favor.
When Hezekiah threw off the Assyrian yoke, he doubtless expected that he should be obliged to maintain the independence of his kingdom by force. He must have known that he had not resources enough to contend with the mighty empire whose power he had defied; but his confidence was in the arm of the Lord who had wrought a victory for him
over the Philistines. He was taught by the history of the nation, that it is equally easy for the Lord to save by many or by few; and that if it was right to refuse the tribute demanded by the Assyrian king, he need not fear the consequences.
Had Shalmaneser invaded Judah at once, Hezekiah might have met the attack successfully, not by the valor of his forces or by his own military skill, but in the name of the God of Jacob. No attempt, however, seems to have been made by the Assyrians for several years to enforce the payment of tribute; and during that time, as we attempted to show in the previous chapter, the people of Judah had become weak by departing from the fountain of their strength.
When therefore it was known that Sennacherib was preparing an expedition against Egypt, anticipating that he would invade their own country on his march, they urged an alliance with the Egyptians. There is no certain proof, however, that Hezekiah formed such an alliance. Isaiah, it is true, utters a woe against them that “go down to Egypt for help, and strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh ;” but he may rather refer to the general disposition of the people to rely on foreign aid, than to this particular occasion. Still, the confidence of Hezekiah in the guardian care of Jehovah seems to have wavered, when at length, in the fourteenth year of his reign, the Assyrians invaded his kingdom.
This invasion had been foretold by Isaiah. The prophet paints the course of the invading army with great vividness and beauty. As if looking down from some lofty eminence, he first descries the enemy coming from the north-east, at Aiath, on the frontiers of Judah. Now they are moving through Michmash, which is still nearer Jerusalem. Here he lays up his carriages, stores, and baggage, as some suppose, on account of the difficult pass between it and Geba. He has crossed the pass and taken up his lodging for the night at the latter place. Ramah, a little out of the line of march, at the west, is afraid ; and Gibeah of Saul, still more remote, has fled. Now he has come to Anathoth, which is full of consternation; anon, he has taken up his position at Nob, a little north-east of Jerusalem, on a ridge of Olivet, where he shakes his hand in defiance“ against the mount of the daughter of Zion.” But his impious threats are vain. “ Thus saith the Lord of hosts, O my people that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian: he shall smite thee with a rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee, after the manner of Egypt. For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction.” The enemy may be suffered to proceed to the very portals of Jerusalem ; but there God will inflict signal vengeance on the proud invader. As if to reprove the Hebrews for their present distrust of the divine