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"the churl said to be bountiful—when the liberal shall devise liberal things, and by liberal things shall he stand, when Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim,—when thine eyes shall behold the King in • his beauty, and see the land that is very far off.'

Isa. xxxü. 3, 5, 8, xi. 13, xxxiii. 17.

457

CHAPTER XXXVIII.

HEZEKIAH.

B.C.

With the death of Jotham, a change passed over the face of the Jewish monarchy. The hollow religion which had called forth the warnings of Isaiah, during the latest years of Uzziah and during the reign of Jotham, was unable to hold its ground against the heathen worship, with which the rices of the Jewish aristocracy naturally allied themselves. The increasing power and neighbourhood of Assyria brought new divinities and new forms of worship into view. Of Ahaz. this superstition, the King himself was the centre. He

741-726. seems, without fanaticism, to have had a mania for foreign religious practices. Not only did he employ to the utmost all the existing sanctuaries, but he introduced new ones in

every direction. The worship of Molech, the savage god of Ammon, was now established not only on the heights of Olivet, but in the valley of Hinnom, in a spot known by the name of Tophet,3 close under the walls of Jerusalem. There the brazen statue of the god was erected, with the furnace 4 within or at its feet, into which the children were thrown. To this dreadful form of human sacrifice Abaz gave the highest sanction by the devotion of one or more of his sons. To this extreme conclusion had the sacrificial

1

2

2 Chr. xxviii. 4; 2 Kings xvi. 3. 2 Kings xvi. 3.

and comp. Diod. Sic. xx. 14 (Dict. of
Bible, MOLECH).

Isa. xxx. 33 (Heb.). • Kimchi on 2 Kings xxiii. 10;

5 2 Kings xvi. 3; Chr. xxviii. 3.

system of the previous reigns been carried, and it was this which in all probability provoked from Micah the Prophetic protest in a form which, though couched in language drawn from the ancient history of the people (perhaps from that of an alien and heathen nation), almost anticipates the Christian system. Not the thousand rams at the altar, nor the torrents of sacred oil, not even the sacrifice of the firstborn son, could so propitiate the Divine favour as justice, mercy, and faith.' As Tetzel called forth Luther, so it may almost be said that to the extreme superstition of Ahaz we are indebted for one of the most sublime and impassioned declarations of spiritual religion that the Old Testament contains.

More innocent customs or superstitions appeared in every part of the country and city. Golden and silver statues glittered throughout Judæa. Soothsayers came from the far East; wizards, familiar spirits, ghosts, were consulted, even by the most outwardly religious. Altars were planted in the corners of the streets. In the palace was raised a flight of steps, on which the sun's shadow fell; in all probability suggested by some Babylonian traveller.3 To the Temple itself the same Oriental influences penetrated, and even materially affected the structure and appearance of the building. On its roof were erected little altars, apparently for the worship of the heavenly bodies of the Zodiac. At the entrance of its court were kept chariots dedicated to the sun, with their sacred white horses, as in Persia and Assyria, ready to be harnessed on great occasions. The King's chief work, and that apparently on which he most prided himself, was the new altar, framed after the model of one which he had seen at Damascus. The High Priest Urijah, the friend

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of Isaiah, lent himself to this innovation. The venerable altar of David, which had always been somewhat out of keeping with the magnificence of the Temple, was now displaced, and remained apart on the north side of the Temple court, reserved for any use which the innovating King might think fit to make of it. To the new altar he devoted all his reverence, and, with all the royal state of the ancient sacrifices, he came there morning and evening to present in his own person the accustomed offerings. With these additions to the grandeur of the Temple worship, were combined changes of a very different kind. Not only were sacred treasures confiscated, as often before, to appease the invaders, but the sacred furniture and vessels themselves despoiled. The brazen bulls, which stood beneath the great bason, were taken away, and the bason placed on a pedestal of stone. The curious brazen engines of the lesser basons as well as the canopy of brass over the royal stand, and the brazen ornaments of the royal entrance, were removed, as if belonging to an inferior age. Towards the end of his reign, the great doors of the Temple were shut up, the sacred lamps were not lighted, nor incense offered inside, and the whole interior left to decay and neglect.

It was not without strong outward pressure that these spoliations were made. The neighbouring nations had taken advantage of the weak character of the young prince to assert again an independence which the vigorous rule of the three previous kings had kept at bay. Now took place that formidable union of Syria with Israel which has been before described. Far down to the Gulf of Akaba the shock of the invasion was felt. Elath, the favourite seaport of Jehoshaphat and Uzziah, was recovered from Judah and made over to

1 2 Kings xvi. 15 (Heb.). 2 Ibid. 17, 18.

3 The closing of the Temple gates and extinction of the candlesticks is

still celebrated as a fast on the 18th of Ab (end of July or beginning of August).

* 2 Chr. xxviii. 24, xxix. 3, 7, 16, 17.

4

The Syrian the adjacent Edomites.' Jerusalem itself was threatened ; a war.

usurper was to be established on the throne of David. The alarm was extreme in the royal family when the news of the hostile alliance came. It was as if a burricane had passed over the city, and every heart heaved and rustled in the wind of the general alarm.3 The King and the nobles, in their survey of the weak points in the fortifications and waterworks of the city, had reached a well-known public spot just outside the city walls, when Isaiah, with his eldest son, suddenly appeared before them.

The importance of the crisis was worthy of the Prophet's decisive messages. In words, and by signs, now difficult to decipher, he foretold the rapid destruction of the two hostile powers. There was to be a sudden and wonderful birth of a child, bearing a Divine name, whose childhood should not be finished before the deliverance ? came. The deliverance was to appear unexpectedly, through the coming of the distant Assyrians. There was inscribed in large letters, in the public square of the city, Rapid spoiler, speedy prey, which within the year became the name of another child of the Prophet.' An heir was to spring up to the throne of David, combining all the noblest qualities of God and man.10 It is the same amalgamation of the highest and the widest hopes with contemporary events, which is familiar to us through the fourth Eclogue of Virgil, in part, possibly, founded on this very passage. The expectation of an actual child within a short time, and the endeavour to concentrate on that child the far loftier aspirations with which, as it were, the air was full, is almost the same in the Hebrew Prophet and the

8

1 2 Kings xvi. 6 (LXX.).
2 Isa, rii. 6.
s Ibid. 2.
4 Ibid. 13.
• Ibid. 3.
• Ibid. 3, xxxvi. 2; 2 Kings xviii.

17, 26.

? Isa. vii. 14-16 (see Ewald and Gesenius, ad loc.).

$ Ibid. 17-20. • Ibid. vüi. 1-4. 10 Ibid. ix. 1-6.

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