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poned the festival for a whole month, in order to give the priests time to sanctify themselves, and to enable the people to assemble at Jerusalem from the distant parts of the land; for he desired that, on that occasion, the Israelites should flock to the capital from Dan to Beersheba. He sent out his messengers not only through Judah, but to the towns of the rival kingdom, inviting them to take part in the great feast of gratitude and rejoicing. In the provinces of Israel the messengers were generally received with the utmost scorn and derision. Yet a few from the tribes of Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulon obeyed the summons and joined the people of Judah, who all hastened to the Temple as with one heart. For so long a time had the Divine commands been neglected, that many appeared in the holy place unsanctified. But Hezekiah, rejoicing at their presence, prayed for them. “The good Lord pardon every one that prepares his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purifications of the Sanctuary!' The Passover was celebrated with great solemnity and innumerable sacrifices for fourteen days; it was the beginning of a new religious life that dawned upon Judah.
Hezekiah displayed equal energy in protecting his kingdom from external dangers. He undertook an expedition against the Philistines who, restless and aggressive as ever, menaced his territory; he demolished their forts, took their stronghold Gaza, and devastated a large portion of their land.
Then aspiring to greater aims, he determined to shake off the galling yoke of dependence, refused to pay the tribute money, and rebelled against Assyria. This daring step naturally provoked the anger of the mighty king Sennacherib; his troops poured into Judah, and easily took the fenced cities. Hezekiah's courage failed him, he saw no hope of deliverance or victory, and sent a messenger
to the king of Assyria with these humiliating words: 'I have offended; return from me; that which thou puttest on me will I bear. Sennacherib, greedy for treasure, eracted three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. To comply with this demand, Hezekiah was compelled to despoil his own palace and the Temple of God, even to tear the gold from its doors and pillars. It appears, however, that he entered into secret negotiations with the king of Egypt, who promised assistance. The rumour of these plots reached the ears of Sennacherib; his anger was aroused, and he now insisted upon the absolute subjection of Judah. He was encamped in Lachish, in the land of Judah itself. From thence he sent his three generals Tartan, Rabsaris, and Rabshakeh, with a large army against Jerusalem, to which they at once began to lay siege. It was a terrible trial for the people of Judah.
The king sent out three of his counsellors, Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah, to speak with the Assyrian officers, whilst the people came thronging upon the wall to hear the reply of the enemy. As soon as the Hebrew messengers approached, Rabshakeh addressed them in these haughty terms : "Speak you now to Hezekiah, Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest? Thou sayest (but they are but vain words), I have counsel and strength for the war. Now on whom dost thou trust, that thou rebellest against me? Now, behold, thou trustest upon the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt, on which if a man lean it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to all that trust on him. But if you say to me, We trust in the Lord our God: is not that He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and Jerusalem, You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem ? Now, therefore, I pray thee, give pledges to my lord the king of Assyria, and I will deliver
thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders
them. How then wilt thou withstand one captain of the least of my master's servants, and put thy trust on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen ? Am I now come up without the Lord against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, Go up against this land and destroy it.'
Eliakim and his two friends were greatly alarmed at these insulting words; they feared that the people on the walls, hearing them, would lose all courage, and perchance waver in their allegiance to their king. So they bade the spokesman use the Aramæan tongue instead of the Hebrew. But Rabshakeh, easily divining their intention, cried with a loud voice in the language of the people of Judah : “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria. Thus says the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you; for he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand. Make an agreement with me by a present, and come out to me, and then shall every man eat of his own vine and every one of his fig-tree, and every one shall drink the waters of his cistern; until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil-olive and of honey, that you may live and not die; and hearken not to Hezekiah, when he persuades you, saying, The Lord will deliver us.'
When the words of the Assyrians were reported to the king, he rent his garments and put on sackcloth, and went into the Temple of the Lord. Then, in the anguish of his heart, he sent some of his servants to the great and pious Isaiah, entreating him to pray to God for His unhappy people. But the prophet saw no cause for alarm; even from the power of the mighty Assyrian monarch the Lord would save His chosen nation.
Meanwhile Sennacherib had advanced from Lachish to Libnah. Here he was informed that Tirhakah, king of
Ethiopia, was marching northwards with an army, perhaps to aid the king of Egypt in the approaching danger that threatened him from the Assyrians. He now insisted upon Hezekiah's immediate and unconditional submission. He sent again messengers to him with a letter containing these words : •Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly; and shalt thou be delivered ? Have the gods of the nations delivered them whom my fathers have destroyed, as Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden which were in Thelasar ? Where is the king of Hamath, and the king of Arpad, and the king of the city of Sapharvaim, of Hena, and Ivah?' Hezekiah went up into the Temple with the letter in his hand, and spread it out before the Lord.' Then he prayed with all the agony of despair, and with all the fervour of his pious and trustful nature. That cry was heard and answered. Through the prophet Isaiah he received glad tidings; help was near at hand; the Assyrian was to fall, but not by the archers of Benjamin or the warriors of Judah; a greater power than theirs was to lay the proud heathen low. He shall not come,' concluded the prophet,
into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast up a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, says the Lord.'
The prediction of Isaiah was fulfilled : that very night the vast Assyrian army, encamped before the walls of Jerusalem, was smitten with pestilence by the angel of the Lord. The trembling people of Judah beheld in the dim morning light the scattered corpses—silent witnesses of the power of their God. Sennacherib had escaped, but only to meet a death hardly less terrible ; for when he
returned to Nineveh, and was worshipping in the temple of his god Nisroch, he was murdered by two of his sons, who escaped into Armenia, while their brother Esarhaddon was proclaimed king of Assyria.
Not long after these events, Hezekiah became dangerously ill, and he felt that death was approaching. Isaiah came to him and said, “Set thy house in order, for thou shalt die and not live. When the king heard these words, he prayed fervently to the Lord that he might be permitted to recover. The request uttered with tears was granted; it was again the voice of Isaiah which brought the joyful message that the king's life would be prolonged for fifteen years; and it was the hand of Isaiah that put the healing figs upon the boil which threatened the king's days. So wonderful did this recovery appear to the grateful Hezekiah, that he entreated Isaiah to convince him by a sign of the efficacy of the cure. The miracle was vouchsafed by the intercession of the prophet; the shadow on the sun-dial which stood in the garden of the palace, went back ten degrees. Hezekiah marked his final restoration to health by a beautiful hymn of praise, which he offered up to the Lord as he entered the Temple.
About this time, glimpses are revealed to us of a vigorous people—the Chaldeans or Babylonians—who suddenly emerged from obscurity, and were soon to assert themselves as one of the greatest powers that ever ruled in the East. That people was destined to overthrow the mighty empire of Assyria, which was now fast decaying through its inordinate pomp and luxury.
Merodach Baladan, the first Babylonian king, had heard of the little empire of Judah and of its pious monarch Hezekiah, and most probably also of the dreadful fate that had befallen the Assyrian army under Sennacherib before the walls of Jerusalem. Partly out of curiosity, and partly with a view to ultimate conquest, he