2 Chronicles Chapter Twenty-eight
2 Chronicles 28
The wicked reign of Ahaz in Judah.
Israel gained this victory because God was wroth with Judah, and made them the rod of his indignation. He reminds them of their own sins. It ill becomes sinners to be cruel. Could they hope for the mercy of God, if they neither showed mercy nor justice to their brethren? Let it be remembered, that every man is our neighbour, our brother, our fellow man, if not our fellow Christian. And no man who is acquainted with the word of God, need fear to maintain that slavery is against the law of love and the gospel of grace. Who can hold his brother in bondage, without breaking the rule of doing to others as he would they should do unto him? But when sinners are left to their own heart's lusts, they grow more desperate in wickedness. God commands them to release the prisoners, and they obeyed. The Lord brought Judah low. Those who will not humble themselves under the word of God, will justly be humbled by his judgments. It is often found, that wicked men themselves have no real affection for those that revolt to them, nor do they care to do them a kindness. This is that king Ahaz! that wretched man! Those are wicked and vile indeed, that are made worse by their afflictions, instead of being made better by them; who, in their distress, trespass yet more, and have their hearts more fully set in them to do evil. But no marvel that men's affections and devotions are misplaced, when they mistake the author of their trouble and of their help. The progress of wickedness and misery is often rapid; and it is awful to reflect upon a sinner's being driven away in his wickedness into the eternal world.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on 2 Chronicles》
2 Chronicles 28
 Wherefore the LORD his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria; and they smote him, and carried away a great multitude of them captives, and brought them to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who smote him with a great slaughter.
His God — God was his God, tho' not by special relation, (which Ahaz had renounced) yet by his sovereign dominion over him: for God did not forfeit his right by Ahaz's denying it.
 For Pekah the son of Remaliah slew in Judah an hundred and twenty thousand in one day, which were all valiant men; because they had forsaken the LORD God of their fathers.
Forsaken — Ahaz walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and God chose the king of Israel for his scourge: it is just with God, to make them a plague to us, whom we have made our patterns, or partners in sin.
 But a prophet of the LORD was there, whose name was Oded: and he went out before the host that came to Samaria, and said unto them, Behold, because the LORD God of your fathers was wroth with Judah, he hath delivered them into your hand, and ye have slain them in a rage that reacheth up unto heaven.
A rage — An unbounded rage, which cries to God for vengeance, against such bloody men.
 And now ye purpose to keep under the children of Judah and Jerusalem for bondmen and bondwomen unto you: but are there not with you, even with you, sins against the LORD your God?
To keep under — It ill becomes sinners to be cruel. Shew mercy to them, for you are undone, unless God shew you mercy.
 So the armed men left the captives and the spoil before the princes and all the congregation.
Left the captives — And herein they shewed a more truly heroic bravery, than they did in taking them. It is true honour for a man to yield to reason and religion even in spite of interest.
 And the men which were expressed by name rose up, and took the captives, and with the spoil clothed all that were naked among them, and arrayed them, and shod them, and gave them to eat and to drink, and anointed them, and carried all the feeble of them upon asses, and brought them to Jericho, the city of palm trees, to their brethren: then they returned to Samaria.
Were expressed — Who were appointed to take care about the management of this business.
 At that time did king Ahaz send unto the kings of Assyria to help him.
Kings — Princes, who may be called kings in a more general signification of the word.
 For the LORD brought Judah low because of Ahaz king of Israel; for he made Judah naked, and transgressed sore against the LORD.
Low — As high as they were before in wealth and power. They that will not humble themselves under the word of God will be humbled by his judgments.
Naked — Taking away their ornament and their defence and strength, namely their treasures, which he sent to the Assyrian to no purpose; their frontier towns, and other strong holds, which by his folly and wickedness were lost; their religion, and the Divine protection, which was their great and only firm security.
 And Tilgathpilneser king of Assyria came unto him, and distressed him, but strengthened him not.
Distressed — Or, straitened him, by robbing him of his treasures.
Strengthened not — A most emphatical expression: for tho' he weakened his present enemy the Syrian, yet all things considered, he did not strengthen Ahaz and his kingdom, but weaken them; for by removing the Syrian, who, tho' a troublesome neighbour, was a kind of bulwark to him, he smoothed the way for himself, a far more dangerous enemy, as appears in the very next king's reign.
 And in the time of his distress did he trespass yet more against the LORD: this is that king Ahaz.
That Ahaz — That monster and reproach of mankind, that unteachable and incorrigible prince, whom even grievous afflictions made worse, which commonly make men better. This is he, whose name deserves to be remembered and detested for ever.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on 2 Chronicles》
28 Chapter 28
For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel.
The ways of the kings of Israel
Israel was for the most part more powerful, wealthy, and cultured than Judah. When Ahaz came to the throne as a mere youth, Pekah was apparently in the prime of life and the zenith of power. He is no inapt symbol of what the modern tempter at any rate desires to appear: the showy, pretentious man of the world, who parades his knowledge of life, and impresses the inexperienced youth with his shrewdness and success, and makes his victim eager to imitate him, to walk in the ways of the kings of Israel. (W. H. Bennett, M.A)
Molten images for Baalim.--
Molten images for the Baals
The prospect of making images for the Baals is an insidious temptation. Ahaz perhaps had found the decorous worship of the one God dull and monotonous. Baals meant new gods and new rites, with all the excitement of novelty and variety. Jotham may not have realised that this youth of twenty was a man; he may have been treated as a child and left too much to the women of the harem. Responsible activity might have saved him. The Church needs to recognise that healthy, vigorous youth craves interesting occupation, and even excitement. If a father wishes to send his son to the devil, he cannot do better than make that son’s life, both secular and religious, a routine of monotonous drudgery. Then any pinchbeck king of Israel will seem a marvel of wit and good fellowship, and the making of molten images a most pleasing diversion. A molten image is something solid, permanent, and conspicuous, a standing advertisement of the enterprise and artistic taste of the maker; he engraves his name on the pedestal, and is proud of the honourable distinction. Many of our modern molten images are duly set forth in popular works; for instance, the reputation for impure life, or hard drinking, or reckless gambling, to achieve which some men have spent their time and money and toil. Other molten images are dedicated to another class of Baals: Mammon the respectable and Belial the polite. (W. H. Bennett, M.A.)
A prophet of the Lord was there, whose name was Oded.
The story of the prophet Oded
Probably few will recognise this name. It is associated with no book of perpetual instruction, with no course of heroic action. No mighty deeds like those of Elijah or Elisha adorn his story; no length of stately service like that of Daniel is rendered by him. He is a man of one achievement; his prophecy only an argument to brotherly kindness and affection, and yet few men have ever rendered a nobler service to their fellow men than that recorded of him. It exhibits the possibility of finest usefulness as lying more near and within our reach than we had thought. The circumstances are soon told. Already the shadow of the great Assyrian monarchy had fallen on more western lands, and Damascus, Israel, Judah were threatened by it. Their policy would have been union for mutual defence; national contrition and development of those virtues which would have engaged the approval of God. Unfortunately, instead of uniting with each other, Damascus, Samaria, Jerusalem alike forget the impending danger which ultimately overtakes them; and, as if there was no foe to be feared, by their conflicts with each other destroy their power of saving themselves. One campaign had just ended. Israel and Damascus had united, and between them had inflicted a crushing blow on Judah. A hundred and twenty thousand slain is the enormous register of Judah’s loss, and in addition Israel has taken captive of women and children two hundred thousand more. With the bitterness that belongs to a feud between kinsmen, no compunction enfeebles the elation of their victory. It has not entered any mind that any other course should be pursued but simply to use or sell the captives as slaves. They will indulge their lust, they will increase their wealth. With such purposes they bring all their spoil and all their captives to Samaria. When as they are about to enter in unbrotherly triumph, a prophet of the Lord went out to them; of no great importance, as men generally would have judged; single-handed, with none to back him. He goes forth, and addressing not the chiefs alone with whispers of policy, but the host great and small, calls on them to forego their pleasure and their wealth, and as brethren to abstain from reducing to slavery their brethren whom the fortune of war had put into their power. His argument is striking. There is no mention of Assyria, as there might have been, and of the importance of a united front; no flattery or appeal to desire for generous fame. Solemnly he points out that Judah’s defeat is the penalty of Judah’s sin. That in the slaughter of such multitudes as they put to death they have already committed crimes enough. That to enslave their brethren would be to provoke the anger of their Father God still more, and therefore they should liberate those whom they intended to enslave. The single voice avails. Alone in making the suggestion, he is not long left alone. “Certain heads of the children of Ephraim” stand up stoutly against the more violent that oppose the prophet’s word. “Ye shall not bring in the captives hither,” they say, with the courage of their nobler mood. When lo! with that openness to generous and noble appeals that sometimes marks a multitude, the whole host suddenly catch the glow of nobler feeling, and at once the resolve to set the captives free is framed and put in execution. The treasure of the spoil is taken to relieve their wants. An incident of a kind too rare, but one which yet indicates to us how much of noble service might be rendered if all did their part towards making the world a little brighter and better than it is.
I. The responsibility of leaders. A prophet worthy of his calling, and the chief men of Israel having the courage of their position, together sway the whole people with a generous impulse. No greater mercy comes from the Father of lights than leaders whose worth adorns their eminence. The tendencies to good and evil hang on so fine a balance, that let the leaders appeal to the nobler part, and it will respond. Let them appeal to the baser, and it will respond, unchecked by any scruple. If you are in any position of leadership in Church, or world, or lowly home, minister or layman, remember grand things are possible if you are faithful. Do not fall into sin of rulers, assuming a waywardness in the people which you thenceforth do nothing to control. Give those around you a clear keynote of noble duty or generous wisdom, and you will always find some to back you, and sometimes sufficient backing to achieve a grand success. An heroic leader in war will infuse his courage into feeblest followers. A generous leader in peace may win victories no less noble. Let leaders study Oded, till they learn, like him, to forego all flattery and all care for popular acceptance, and find the stately courage which can urge the worthy course upon their fellow men.
II. The importance of individual action. How utterly hopeless must it have seemed to dream of turning the people from their purpose. Their blood was heated with their triumph, their passions all inflamed, their self-interest involved. What could one man do to stem such forces? But let him stand alone, or find plentiful support; let his testimony be resented with contempt or accepted with humility, Oded feels his business is to utter what seems to him to be the will of God. And uttering it, lo, he is not long alone. His generosity infects others. Try to count up the service then rendered. Two hundred thousand captives set free, and their dismal fears changed into restful gratitude. His nation saved from the guilt of a great crime. His people ennobled by a generous deed. One man did this, or rather was the occasion of its being done. One man set the bail a-rolling. Learn hence that there is no limit to what, God inspiring and using him, one man may do. Athanasius, Augustine, Luther, Knox, Wesley, their lives are but variations of this story. The conviction of the one to-day becomes that of the many to-morrow.
III. The importance of presence of heart. So many, when the occasion of rendering great service rises, finding themselves with confused feelings, with heart unequal to the demand made on it. There were other saints in Samaria, doubtless, grieved over this civil war, and shrinking equally with him from idea of their brethren being made their slaves. But Oded was not confused, perplexed, overawed by concurrence of a vast multitude in a great wrong. Nor did he need a week to think what it would be best to do or say. There and then, in all calmness and self-possession, he saw what it was best to do and say, and he did and said it. That calmness comes not because the nerve is cool; it has a higher origin. It comes from walking with God and talking with Him; the sight of His throne, the knowledge of His providence; the habit of asking instructions and waiting for them, and acting when they come. (Richard Glover.)
But are there not with you, even with you, sins against the Lord your God?
A home question
This question is pertinent to--
4. Individuals. I shall--
I. Put a home question to--
1. The moralist.
2. The accuser of the brethren.
3. The outwardly religious.
4. Those who make no profession of religion.
5. Other classes I may have omitted. “Are there not with you, sins against the Lord your God?”
II. Put a common-sense question: “Who are you that you think to escape the punishment of sin?”
III. Give a little advice.
1. Leave other people alone with regard to finding fault.
2. Treat yourselves as you have been accustomed to treat others.
3. Look to the eternal interests of your own souls. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
An object may be placed in such close proximity to the eye as to escape all distinct perception. It may be brought into such near contact with the organs of vision as to become wholly invisible. Analogous to this natural difficulty of a close self-inspection is the general inability or indisposition of men to form a correct estimate of their own moral and spiritual character. Consider--
I. Some of our distinguishing privileges and advantages.
II. The solemn and awful question, as it relates--
1. To public, national, legalised transgressions.
2. To social and individual sins.
A home sin
At a meeting of the Mission to Foreigners in London, Lord Shaftesbury said he remembered taking tea with a notorious German Socialist who propounded the most destructive theories about society. His lordship mentioned to this German a nobleman who was one of the richest men in the world. The Socialist boiled over with indignation, and said that the possession of such wealth was a degradation and a scandalous robbery. Perceiving that he wore a brilliant diamond breast-pin in his shirt-front, probably worth £50, his lordship said to him, “You have a diamond, I see; now if you will accompany me to-night to my ragged school, I will show you ragged, shoeless children, and if I were to say, ‘Here is a diamond worth £50 that this gentleman wears in his shirt,’ they too might boil over with indignation, and declare it was iniquitous, scandalous, and a crime.” He replied, “Well, my lord, you have me this time.”
Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign.
The mysterious in human development
The growth of humanity is not after a horticultural manner. We cannot say that a good tree will have good off-shoots, if we are speaking of humanity. The holiest father may have a murderer for his son. The sweetest mother may die of a broken heart. Only a foolish criticism is reckless in fixing definite responsibilities in this matter of the nurture and culture of children. The Lord rebukes us when we say that because the father was good the son must be good; or because the father was evil the son must be evil. The Lord permits men to come in between who are bad, or who are good, that all our little speculation about heredity, and all our arrangements for moral progress, may be thrown back and lost in confusion. Herein is the working of that mysterious law which is often misunderstood when denominated the law of election. We cannot tell what God is doing. Your son ought to have been good, for where is there a braver soul than yourself? The boy ought to have been chivalrous, for he never knew you do a mean deed or give lodgment to an ungenerous thought. In a way, too, he was proud of his father; yet there was no devil’s work he would not stoop to do. He did not get the bad blood from his mother, for gentler, sweeter soul never sang God’s psalms in God’s house. Yet there is the mystery, and it is not for a reckless criticism to define the origin and the issue of this mysterious phenomenon in human development. (J. Parker, D.D.)
Holy influences resisted produce increased wickedness
It is very noticeable that those who, in their early days, have resisted holy influences generally turn out the most wicked of men. This, indeed, is a fundamental law of character. Just as a good man, who is good notwithstanding a very bad up-bringing, and despite the most pernicious examples around him, is not infrequently one of the best of men, so a youth who has come from a godly home, and turns out evil himself, is one of the worst characters you can meet with.
The bad son of a good father
I. It is a sorrowful fact that good men are sometimes the fathers of bad sons. “Like father, like son,” we have often heard men say. But this is not always so. Alas! we know but too well that piety, virtue, goodness do not always run in the blood. You may pass on the crown, the throne, the kingdom, but the high moral and religious qualities which make a man a king among men do not always go with the crown and sceptre.
II. The bad sons of good fathers are often ruined by the sins they allow to deceive them. Read the twenty-third verse of this chapter. It is very instructive. Ahaz, weakened by his questionable ways, and not supported by the power of the God whose worship he had forsaken, fell into the hands of the foreigner. Conquered by the superior forces and better trained men of Damascus, he fondly imagined that they won because their gods, their idols, helped them in battle. Deceived, deluded, blinded by all this, he determined to follow their bad example. Others are involved in his fall. “They were the ruin of him and of all Israel.” It would be sad enough if he were the only one blinded and deluded by sin. But unfortunately its victims are all about us.
III. This chapter teaches that God often chastens the sons of godly parents who fall into sin, and seeks to win them back to Himself. God did not leave Ahaz without warning, reproof, and trouble. Through his long night of sin God often spake to him. God made this man understand that the way of the transgressor is hard. It is a mercy that God does not allow the sinner to go to hell without warning. (C. Leach, D.D.)
Entering on a royal inheritance
Every young man enters, like Ahaz, upon a royal inheritance; character and career are as all-important to peasant or a shopgirl as they are to an emperor or a queen. When a girl of seventeen or a youth of twenty succeeds to some historic throne we are moved to think of the heavy burden of responsibility laid upon unexperienced shoulders and of the grave issues that must be determined during the swiftly passing years of the early manhood or womanhood. Alas! this heavy burden and these grave issues are but the common lot. His lot is only the common lot set upon a hill, in the full sunlight, to illustrate, interpret, and influence lower and obscurer lives. (W. H. Bennett, M.A.)
Men should be educated to reign
Men should all be educated to reign, to respect themselves and to appreciate their opportunities. We do in some measure adopt this principle with promising lads and gifted girls. We need to apply the principle more consistently and to recognise the royal dignity of the average life and of those whom the superior person is pleased to call commonplace people. It may then be possible to induce the ordinary young men to take a serious interest in his own future. (W. H. Bennett, M.A.)
The kind of “reign” a source of anxiety to parents
The fortunes of millions may depend upon the will of some young Czar or Kaiser; the happiness of a hundred tenants or of a thousand workmen may rest on the disposition of the youthful inheritor of a wide estate or a huge factory; but none the less in the poorest cottage mother and father and friends wait with trembling anxiety to see how the boy or girl will “turn out” when they take their destinies into their own hands and begin to reign. (W. H. Bennett, M.A.)
For the Lord brought Judah low because of Ahaz king of Israel.
The sin of Ahaz
I. I would draw attention to some special points in the history of ahaz.
1. The king himself was peculiarly the transgressor.
2. The people also were transgressors.
3. Mark the special sins enumerated in the history.
4. Mark the consequences of all this: national desolation and ruin.
II. Let us see how far our present circumstances as a nation are parallel to those here presented.
III. Two practical questions.
1. What can be done with our rulers?
2. What can be done with our people? (J. C. Goodhart, M.A.)
And in the time of his distress did he trespass yet more against the Lord.
When affliction may be said to have failed of its object
I. I suppose that you have set your heart upon some cherished design--that you have dwelt upon it to such a degree as to neglect for it many social duties and all your thoughts of God. You have missed attaining it, and are deeply disappointed. If you have not learned thenceforward to strive more soberly, to plant and sow, and build and labour, and not look for success without uttering, “Father, if it seem good to Thee, nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt”; if you are still engaged in the same projects with the same temper, or one even more infatuated--then distress has been sent to you in vain: you are sacrificing to the gods that smote you; trespassing yet more against the Lord.
II. Suppose that you have been smitten with some disease, mental or bodily--the not unnatural, consequence of dissipation or thoughtlessness, or perverseness, or the like. If you have not learned from God’s displeasure; if you have not resolved that with renewed health you would walk in newness of life; if you have returned to your old sins with new zest from being for a time debarred from them--then the distress which God sent you has hardened and not softened you. You are worshipping the idols of your own hearts with a devotion which it will be more difficult than ever to displace.
III. Or, in conclusion, suppose that you have given way to ill-temper, and that God has punished you by alienation of friends, by retaliation on the part of ill-wishers, by distrust on the part of all. Has this set you upon governing the impetuousness of passion, or checking the reproachful word? Or have you merely turned your spirit into some more unkindly channel--moroseness, peevishness, misanthropy? If so, distress and chastisement have not done their proper work upon you. Like Ahaz you are going on to trespass yet more against the Lord. (D. Hessey.)
Ahaz’s persistent wickedness
I. A conspicuous example of persistent wickedness. He pushed on in face of many and powerful barriers placed in his way.
1. He had a godly ancestry. “Oh, sir,” said an aged sinner who came to his minister in great distress, “to think of my father’s and mother’s prayers, and then of the vile wretch that I have been!”
2. It would seem that other like influences continued to surround Ahaz in his own palace. The mother of his son Hezekiah was the daughter of the wise and good Zechariah.
3. God often makes use of goodness to bring men to repentance. He tried this upon Ahaz. In a time of peril and alarm Isaiah was commissioned to “say unto him, Take heed and be quiet; fear not, neither be faint-hearted.”
4. When goodness fails, it is God’s way to try severity.
II. What came of all this?
1. The king’s life was one of ill, not of good.
2. Ahaz brought ill upon others: “He made Judah naked.” “If,” says Dr. South, “a man could be wicked and a villain to himself alone, the mischief would be so much the more tolerable. But the case is much otherwise. The guilt of the crime lights upon one, but the example of it sways a multitude. Especially is this true if the criminal be one of note or eminence. For the fall of such an one by any temptation is like that of a principal stone or stately pillar tumbling from a lofty eminence into the deep mire of the street. It does not only plunge and sink into the black dirt itself: it also dashes or bespatters all that are about it, or near it, when it falls.”
3. In character and influence Ahaz went from bad to worse.
4. He went to an unhonoured and hopeless grave. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Sinning under the rod
I. Ahaz was the son of a pious king of judah.
II. For his wickedness God visited him with a series of sad calamities.
III. We see here the guilt and danger of hardening ourselves under God’s afflicting hand.
IV. Those who receive afflictions may grow more rebellious under them.
V. The guilt of any approach to such a condition may be easily seen.
VI. It becomes us to inquire, what have been the effects of God’s chastenings upon ourselves? (W. H. Lewis, D.D.)
The use and danger of despising afflictions
I. The use of afflictions. The end of all the Divine dispensations towards mankind is their eternal salvation, in subserviency to the honour of His great name. This end can only be accomplished in the way of repentance, faith, and holiness. The aim, therefore, of all ordinances, providential dispensations, and means of grace, is to beget or strengthen in us these three branches of Christianity. Among the various means which the Lord makes use of for this end, affliction is one of the chief. The right use of afflictions will lead us--
1. To humble ourselves beneath His mighty hand.
2. To ascribe righteousness to Him by confessing our sins and acknowledging the justice of His dealings with us.
3. To return to Him by Jesus Christ.
4. To cleave to Him with full purpose of heart.
5. To submit to His will.
6. To depend upon His grace and power.
7. To walk in His ways.
Lessons from the life of Ahaz
I. That a course or sin is continually downward. Sin propagates itself, but is not reformatory.
II. That God is faithful in checking men in this downward course. God ever seeks by His providence and Spirit to turn men from an evil course which will end in ruin.
III. That if men will not be checked in an evil course, they may become notable examples of punishment. (James Wolfendale.)
1. Evil habits strengthen by indulgence.
2. The world increases its power over its votaries as they advance in life.
3. Sinners in mature years lose the perception of religious truth.
4. There is a limit to Divine endurance. (Biblical Museum.)
Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them.
We may not try to substitute one god for another, or to patch out our tattered theology by borrowing and misappropriating the ideas of the enemy. There is one fountain at which we may draw and draw evermore, and that is the Bible. We never knew any man oppose the Bible who had really comprehended its inner meaning. No man can doubt the inspiration of the Bible who has read it, not galloped through it. But once lose the feeling, “Surely God is in this book: this is none other than the book of God,” and we take the course of Ahaz; we go down and see what is being done in the world. One man has been delivered by wealth, and we begin to worship the golden idol; another has been delivered by various factitious circumstances, and we instantly become artificers in life, and try to mechanise life and set into motion forces that can co-operate with one another and modify one another, and issue in a plentiful harvest of good fortune for ourselves. And after all this toil we come home wasted, weakened in every joint, the subjects of a complete and disastrous collapse. (J. Parker, D. D.)
But they were the ruin of him.--
Seeking false inspirations
How many men have been mistaken in seeking false inspiration or in coveting false benedictions? The young man says he has a difficult task to-morrow, he has to meet persons with whom he has no sympathy and from whom he expects no quarter; constitutionally he is nervous, self-distrustful, somewhat afraid of a certain aspect of controversy; he therefore says, I will fortify myself, I will take wine, the wine will quicken the flow of my blood, will pleasantly and usefully excite the nervous centres, and I shall go forward boldly and confidently and make the best of myself”;--but it was the ruin of him. There are others who will sacrifice at the altar of appearances. Over their poverty they will put some borrowed rag in the hope that observers will look at the rag and not at the poverty, and treat them as occupying a certain social position. False pride will be the ruin of them. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Costly and fatal help
Ahaz came to the throne when a youth of twenty. From the beginning he reversed the policy of his father, and threw himself into the arms of the heathen party. He did not plunge into idolatry for want of good advice. The greatest of the prophets stood beside him. Isaiah addressed to him remonstrances which might have made the most reckless pause, and promises which might have kindled hope and courage in the bosom of despair. Hosea in the northern kingdom, Micah in Judah, and other less brilliant names were amongst the stars which shone even in that dark night. But their light was all in vain. He was ready to worship anything that called itself a god, always excepting Jehovah. He welcomed Baal, Moloch, Bitumen, and many more with an indiscriminate eagerness that would have been ludicrous if it had not been tragical. From all sides the invaders came. From north, north-east, east, south-east, south, they swarmed in upon him. They tore away the fringes of his kingdom; and hostile armies flaunted their banners beneath the very walls of Jerusalem. And then, in his despair, like a scorpion in a circle of fire, he inflicted a deadly wound on himself by calling in the fatal help of Assyria. Nothing loth, that warlike power responded, scattered his less formidable foes, and then swallowed the prey which it had dragged from between the teeth of the Israelites and Syrians. That was what came of forsaking the God of his fathers.
I. First then, let me ask you to notice how this narrative illustrates for us the crowd of vain helpers which a man has to take to when he turns his back upon God. If we compare the narrative in our chapter with the parallel in the Second Book of Kings, we get a very vivid picture of the strange medley of idolatries which they introduced. This story illustrates for us what, alas! is only too true, both on the broad scale, as to the generation in which we live, and on the narrower field of our own individual lives. Look at the so-called cultured classes of Europe to-day; turning away, as so many of them are, from the Lord God of their fathers; what sort of things are they worshipping instead? Scraps from Buddhism, the Vedas, any sacred books but the Bible; quackeries, and Charlatanism, and dreams, and fragmentary philosophies all pieced together to try and make up a whole, instead of the old-fashioned whole that they have left behind them. But look, further, how the same thing is true as to the individual lives of godless men. Many of us are trying to make up for not having the One by seeking to stay our hearts on the many. But no accumulation of insufficiencies will ever make a sufficiency. You cannot make up for God by any extended series of creatures, any more than a row of figures that stretched from here to Sirius and back again would approximate to infinitude. The very fact of the multitude of helpers is a sign that none of them are sufficient. There are no end of “cures” for toothache, that is to say, there is none. Consult your own experience. What is the meaning of the unrest and distraction that marks the lives of most of the men in this generation? Why is it that you hurry from business to pleasure, from pleasure to business, until it is scarcely possible to get a quiet breathing time for thought at all? Why is it but because one after another of your gods have proved insufficient, and so fresh altars must be built for fresh idolatries, and new experiments made, of which we can safely prophesy the result will be the old one. You are seeking what you will never find. The many pearls that you seek will never be enough for you. The true wealth is One, One pearl of great price.
II. So, notice again, how this story teaches the heavy cost of these helpers’ help. Ahaz had, as he thought, two strings to his bow. He had the gods of Damascus, and of other lands up there, he had the King of Assyria down here. They both of them exacted onerous terms before they would stir a foot to his aid. As for the northern conqueror, all the wealth of the king and of the princes and of the temple was sent to Assyria as the price of his hurtful help. Do you buy this world’s help any cheaper, my brother? You get nothing for nothing in that market. It is a big price that you have to pay before these mercenaries will come to fight on your side. Here is a man that “succeeds in life,” as we call it. What does it cost him? Well! It has cost him the suppression, the atrophy by disuse of many capacities in his soul which were far higher and nobler than those that have been exercised in his success. It has cost him all his days; it has possibly cost him the dying out of generous sympathies and the stimulating of unwholesome selfishness. All! he has bought his prosperity very dear. There are some o! you who know how much what you call enjoyment has cost you. Some of us have bought pleasure at the price of innocence, of moral dignity, of stained memories, of polluted imaginations. The world has a way of getting more out of you than it gives to you. At the best, if you are not Christian men and women, whether you are men of business, votaries of pleasure, seekers after culture and refinement or anything else, you have given heaven to get earth. Is that a good bargain? Is it much wiser than that of a horde of naked savages that sell a great tract of fair country, with gold-bearing reefs in it, for a bottle of rum and a yard or two of calico?
III. Lastly, we may gather from this story an illustration of the fatal falsehood of the world’s help. Ahaz pauperised himself to buy the hireling swords of Assyria, and he got them; but, as it says in the narrative, “The king came unto him and distressed him, but strengthened him not.” He helped Ahaz at first. He scattered the armies that the King of Judah was afraid of like chaff, with his fierce and disciplined onset. And then, having driven them off the bleeding prey, he put his own paw upon it, and growled “Mine!” And where he struck his claws there was little more hope of life for the prostrate creature below him. Ah! and that is what this world always does. A godless life has at the best only partial satisfaction, and that partial satisfaction soon diminishes. The awful power of habit, if there were no other reason, takes the edge off all gratification except in so far as God is in it. Nothing fully retains its power to satisfy. Nothing has that power absolutely, at any moment: but even what measure of it any of our possessions or pursuits may have for a time, soon, or at all events by degrees, passes away. And do not forget that, partial and transient as these satisfactions are, they derive what power of helping and satisfying is in them only from the silence of our consciences, and our success in being able to shut out realities. One word from conscience, one touch of an awakened reflectiveness, one glance at the end--the coffin and the shroud and what comes after these, slay your worldly satisfactions as surely as that falling snow would crush some light-winged gauzy butterfly that had been dancing at the cliff’s foot. Your jewellery is all imitation. These fatal helpers come as friends and allies, and they stop as masters. Ahaz and a hundred other weak princes have tried the policy of sending for a strong foreign power to scatter their enemies, and it has always turned out one way. The foreigner has come and he has stopped. The auxiliary has become the lord, and he that called him to his aid becomes his tributary. Ah! and so it is with all the things of this world. Here is some pleasant indulgence that I call to my help lightly and thoughtlessly. It is very agreeable and does what I wanted, and I try it again. Still it answers to my call. And then after a while I say, “I am going to give that up,” and I cannot. I have brought in a master when I thought I was only bringing in an ally that I could dismiss when I liked. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》