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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Isaiah 36

 

 

Verse 4

MODERN RABSHAKEHS, AND THEIR ATTEMPTS TO TERRIFY GOD'S PEOPLE INTO A HUMBLE SURRENDER

Isa . What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?

Sennacherib is surprised at the attitude of resistance taken by Hezekiah, and sends an embassy to dissuade him from his mad project. When they appear outside the walls, some officers of Hezekiah's court come out to confer with them, and Rabshakeh opens upon them with the taunting question, "What confidence," &c. The proud king of Assyria had another end beyond that of conquest. His aim was to show that Jehovah was on a level with the gods of the nations. This was, therefore, a religious war. Every country he subdued was another god overcome, and if only Jerusalem were taken, his triumph would be complete. The situation here described is an image of the Christian faith assailed by modern unbelief. The forces of infidelity have become bold and insolent. The Bible is subjected to the hostile criticism of men who would rejoice to see it overthrown. Unbelief is marshalling her forces against the citadel of revealed truth. She has on her side some prominent leaders of modern thought, and employs both press and lecture room for accomplishing her destructive designs. If she can only get the Christian faith out of the way, the world will be her own. Our modern Rabshakehs are hurling against us the taunting question, "What confidence," &c.

I. What is this confidence of ours which is so assailed

The question implies that we have a confidence. Our opponents admit it, though to them it is inexplicable. They are forced to bear testimony to a strange but courageous faith by which we are supported in life and death. Jerusalem had nothing to rest on but God's presence and promise. Their king had encouraged them with the noble words of 2Ch . Here is the secret of the confidence which so surprised the Assyrian king; and on the same ground do we take our stand against the opposing hosts of unbelief. God's presence and faithfulness are the bulwarks behind which we may safely entrench ourselves. We have believed God's Word and have taken shelter in Christ (Php 3:3). On His exalted throne He is directing the Church's energies, restraining her enemies, and giving success to her enterprises.

II. What assaults are made upon our confidence?

They correspond to those by which Rabshakeh tried to subvert Hezekiah's confidence. He puts the question in a contemptuous tone, and then proceeds to answer it, and to show that the confidence cherished had no solid basis.

1. He points to the slenderness of Hezekiah's resources (Isa ; Isa 36:8-9). "The Egyptians can no more be relied on than the frail reeds that grow on the banks of their Nile. No help can come from abroad; and see how weak you are in yourselves. If you can find riders, I will supply 2000 horses." How could such a puny kingdom withstand the power of Assyria with its magnificent military equipment? So unbelief tries to undermine faith, not knowing that God's strength is perfected in human weakness. Cardinal Cajetan tried to browbeat Luther,—"Do you think that your electors will take up arms for you? I tell you, no; and where then will you be?" The brave answer was, "Then, as now, in the hands of God."

2. Rabshakeh tries to close the door of Divine help (Isa ). "How can you expect support from a God whose worship you have suppressed?" But this was a needful reform, for these rural places of worship had degenerated into scenes of idolatry. So the enemies of the faith in our day try to make capital out of the changes and reforms that have taken place. They point to our ecclesiastical divisions and theological controversies as an argument against us. "How can that be true about which there is so much diversity of opinion? How can Divine help be expected to defend the Christian faith, when there are so many sects and parties, disestablishment agitations, and ecclesiastical rivalries?" We answer that there is a unity among all who love the Lord Jesus, and however much we may deplore the need of change and reform, we are not to be deterred from effecting them by any fear of God's displeasure. It can never offend God to maintain His truth and worship in all their purity (H. E. I. 1372-1374).

3. Another reason for surrender is urged in Isa , where the Assyrian claims to be commissioned by God to destroy the land. This was only a piece of bluster intended to alarm Jerusalem. It has its counterpart in our day in those men of science, who come to us in the name of God with the truths they have discovered, and throw them in our face as inconsistent with faith in the Scriptures. But there can be no real disagreement between science and revelation. We are not going to open our gates to arrogant scientists who claim that their department embraces everything; to materialists who tell us that our heaven is six feet below the ground. Let science keep to its legitimate sphere. It was a good remark made by Professor Ball to a lady who put to him some questions about comets, to each of which he replied, "I do not know." "Then," she said, "may I ask what is the use of your science?" "To let me know, madam," he replied, "that I cannot know some things" (H. E. I. 538, 539).

4. Rabshakeh presses a surrender in view of the hardships the people would have to endure. He threatens them with famine and thirst, and (Isa ) promises them ease and plenty if they will but suppress the sentiment of patriotism, abandon their confidence, and give up their city into his hands. This is an old and well-used device to make the believer cower in the face of trials and privations. But the men of faith are proof against such selfish considerations. They will fight the Lord's battles at whatever cost; for however hard their outward lot may be, they have inward joys which more than counterbalance the loss of all things.

5. The last argument which Rabshakeh employed is this (Isa ): Other gods were unable to defend their worshippers against his victorious march, and why should the Lord be able to defend Jerusalem? This was his last thrust, and was intended to bring home to the people the utter baselessness of their confidence. This reasoning is not unlike the patronising tone in which infidels speak of the Christian religion, as one of the many superstitions, all well enough for their day, but now effete, or destined to perish before the advance of intelligence; as one of those venerable systems, all of which are now losing their hold on the intellect and heart.

III. Why should we still hold to our Christian confidence in spite of these attempts to overthrow it?

The agnosticism and infidelity which in our time are so loud and pretentious are only systems of negation; they have no substitute for that which they endeavour to destroy. If we allow them to rob us of our faith, we are spiritually bankrupt, for these destructive agencies have nothing to satisfy the heart and conscience. Never let us lower our flag for all their threats and boastful arrogance. Perhaps the best way to deal with them is that which was followed by Hezekiah's officers (Isa ; Mat 7:6).

IV. What will be the end of all the assaults made upon the Christian faith?

We know what came of the boastful insolence of Rabshakeh. Not only did he fail to unhinge the confidence of Hezekiah, but he brought upon himself confusion and defeat. God answered his blasphemies. God employs the hostile efforts of unbelief to confirm us in our confidence. What our enemies intend for the subversion of the truth only places it on a more solid basis. Christianity can never suffer from the most rigid investigation, for this only reveals its immovable strength. We throw back on our opponents their own question, "What confidence have you, what light in the dark lonesome hour of death?" Oh, the strange "credulity of unbelief," which accepts the most glaring fallacies, whose reason is clouded by a proud and insolent defiance of God! We have nothing to fear, then, from the boastful Rabshakehs of our day. The assaults to which our faith is now subjected are nothing new. Old weapons are refurbished, old stratagems resorted to; but it has survived attacks as clever as those now made upon it (H. E. I. 1165).

CONCLUSION.—Let me put to you the question in a different tone with all affection and anxiety for your spiritual welfare. It is good to have our position assailed that we may see its strength (H. E. I. 1138-1139). Is yours a confidence that can resist the thrusts and subtle reasonings and plausible solicitations of the world? The best answer you can give to the insolence of unbelief is to hold your peace, and go quietly forward in resolute faith and persistent well-doing, giving not the answer of the lip, but of the life—a life nourished, strengthened, and beautified by faith in Christ.—William Guthrie, M.A.


Verse 5

IN WHOM ART THOU TRUSTING?

Isa .… Now on whom dost thou trust?

The question is important in ordinary life, but it is overwhelmingly so in spiritual things.

I. A LITTTE BUNDLE OF ANSWERS.

1. "I do not know that I have thought about the matter; I have left the matter of dying, and of eternity, and of judgment out of my consideration." How foolish! There are more gates to death than you dream of. Have not you walked with dying men? Suppose you were sure of a long life, why delay being happy? Christ says of the rich man in hell, "He lift up his eyes." He might and should have done so before, but he said, "Tell my brethren."

2. "I thank God I am about as good as most people." Company in being ruined will not decrease, but rather increase the catastrophe. You are trusting in yourself. But is conscience quiet? Only the absolutely perfect man can be saved by his own works.

3. "I trust in my priest." Has any priest grace to spare for you? You are, or may be, as much a priest as any man can be; Christians are "a royal priesthood."

4. "Well, God is merciful." You are trusting in the mercy of God; but, as you state it, you are trusting in what you will never find. If you go to God out of Christ, you will find Him to be a consuming fire; instead of mercy you shall receive justice (H. E. I. 2316-2317, 2349-2350).

5. "Well, I do not say that I can trust to my works, but I am a good-hearted man." There is much truth in the saying, "If it is bad at the top, it is worse at the bottom; and if it is not good on the surface, it will never pay for getting at it" (Jer ; H. E. I. 2669-2680).

II. THE CHRISTIAN'S ANSWER.

I trust a triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I trust to the Father's choosing me; to the Son, as my Redeemer, Intercessor, my resurrection, and life; to the Holy Spirit, to save me from my inbred sins, to sanctify me wholly.

To some men this does not look like a real trust. "We cannot see God; how do we know all this about the Trinity?" Cannot you trust in a thousand things you have never seen or heard? You have never seen electricity nor gravity. Those that have trusted in God find Him to be as real as if they could see Him. "Can we prove that God interferes to help His people?" Yes, He hears prayer. A Christian is sometimes asked whether he has a right to trust God. He has God's promise to help him. "Is He worthy to be trusted?" He has proved Himself faithful and true. The Christian commends God to others in saying that he feels he can rest upon Him for the future.

III. SOME WORDS OF ADVICE TO THOSE WHO ARE TRUSTING.

1. Drive out all unbelief. With such a God to trust to, let us trust with all our might. It is an insult to Him to doubt Him. The devil calls God a liar, but it is hard if a man's own child is to think ill of his father. We are verily guilty in speaking hard things of our God.

2. Seek the Holy Spirit's help. We have often said we would not doubt again, yet we have Let us ask to be strengthened. We often forget that the Author of our faith must be the Finisher of it also.

3. Try to bring others to trust where we have trusted (Joh ; Joh 1:45).

4. Love Him who thus gives Himself to be trusted by us. The sister graces ever live together. Show your love.

4. We must prove our faith by our works. Let us do more for God. "No day without a deed." Cease working and you will soon cease believing.—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol xi. pp. 469-480.


Verse 21

HEZEKIAH'S PRUDENT SILENCE

Isa . But they held their peace, &c.

Dr. Geikie says of Hezekiah, "Ready for war when necessary, and alike brave and skilful in its conduct, he was more inclined to the gentle arts of peace." Among these "gentle arts" should be reckoned his cultivated gift of prudence. Prudence is undervalued by some, as not taking rank among the higher virtues, and even sometimes decried as essentially selfish. But prudence guards the life of the highest virtue, and thus becomes of almost equal importance with it. Prudence is short for "providence;" "the provident man," as the phrase is used, shows prudence in one direction, and is praised for it. Greater praise is surely due to the all-round prudent man. Prudence in man is, in one aspect, but the counterpart of providence in God, and those who are given to esteem it lightly are not pious, like Hezekiah, but already doubters of, and disbelievers in, the general and special providence of God, or likely to become so (P. D. 2914).

It is prudent to be silent—

1. When the judgment, based upon the knowledge of available facts, dictates silence as sound policy. Silence may, and often does, imply something quite different from a wisely calculated policy; it may indicate abject fear, cowardice, indifference. All silence is not "golden;" sometimes the basest metal goes to its composition. The order to be silent, whether addressed by Hezekiah to his ambassadors, or to the people generally, or to both, may be conjectured to have sprung from the king's desperate case. But even if we leave out this element, enough remains to justify the command, "Answer him not." It may be presumed that the messenger of the "great king," "dressed in a little brief authority," conducted himself as Hezekiah foresaw he would, outdoing Sennacherib himself in blasphemy and all impiety. "A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself." Hezekiah did this in the most literal sense, and his command to all concerned was to hide the spirit of their mind behind a veil of silence. Such prudence, then, is more than foresight, it is foresight connecting itself with a certain course of action as the wisest or best possible in certain given circumstances (P.D. 3086, 3089). How rare is such prudence! Not from evil intent, but through want of thought, do many persist in running their heads against adamant. Available knowledge is neglected, and judgment, where there is any in such a case, is adrift and mistaken.

2. When the deepest feelings are agitated so as to be beyond immediate control. Hezekiah's ambassadors obeyed their orders until Rabshakeh uttered words the effect of which upon the people there was good reason to dread (Isa ); then they broke in, carried on a great wave of impulse (Isa 36:11); but only to make the blasphemer more arrogantly insolent. Feeling, like fire, is a good servant but a bad master; it is blind, and blindly seeks its own objects. Only in the most highly educated moral natures can it ever be expected to flow in proper channels; but in none should it be intrusted with the reins of government. "I will keep my mouth with a bridle," said the Psalmist, "while the wicked is before me" (cf. Jas 1:19-20; Jas 1:26).

3. When wise counsel is at hand (Isa ). "Hezekiah went into the house of the Lord;" "and he sent Eliakim unto Isaiah the prophet." There is a kind of piety which disdains human aid, because each man may go direct to God. This may not have wrought so much harm in the world as the Romish doctrine of mediators, but it is equally mistaken. Blessed is the man who knows of a prophet—a brother-man of spiritual insight, moral integrity, and Christian courtesy—before whom he can lay his case! Thrice blessed he who, knowing such an one, can hold his peace until he has sought and obtained the Heaven—provided help! God may well hold us insincere if we go to Him and neglect His servants' aid.

CONCLUSION.—Let us hear and understand the words of the preacher: "There is a time to keep silence," as well as "a time to speak." We are lacking in silence and reserve. Silence is a glorious temple, but in it there are few worshippers. Be it ours to wait and worship there!

The worshippers find the very walls translucent, the rays of heaven descend in unbroken brightness there. Silence is the birthplace of the world's progress, and from the rays of truth that flash into it are born the grand visions of the prophets of God, and kingly purposes too; and from these are forged the weapons with which men shall sweep away the hindrances to all wisdom.—J. Macrae Simcock.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 36:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/isaiah-36.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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