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§ 642. The salvation and defence, the moral beauty
and glory, of Judah, as of Samaria, came from the justice
and righteousness of Jehovah of Hosts, and through his
true worship and service. He himself would be a spirit
of judgment to the guides of the people, and the saving
strength of the forlorn hope that would be left to turn back
the battle at the gate (xxviii. 5, 6). But what a deplor-
able contrast to this ideal was presented by the people of
Jehovah, when their very prophets and priests and judges
— that is, the great mass of the whole official bod}^ to
which a simple, paternally governed, and theocratically
instructed people looked perpetually for relief from bur-
dens of civil oppression, or for redress from social tyranny,
or for acquittal from ceremonial blame, or for direction in
the manifold embarrassments of daily life — when even
these were rendered incapable, by gross indulgence in
strong drink, of fulfilling the ordinary duties of their

§ 643. There is evidently here a worse state of matters
than that described by Isaiah at the opening of the reign
of Ahaz (cf. § 323). Social injustice and class divisions
and the luxury of the wealthy had now borne fruit in the
almost total abandonment of public right and private
morality (§ 592 ff.). The frivolit}^ of an age of supersti-
tion (Isa. ii. 6) liad now superadded to it the reckless impi-
ety of a time when Jehovah was virtually, if not avowedly,
dethroned in the minds of the court and the ruling classes,
and when his Prophet was openly llouted as he delivered
his simple and well-worn message of the fundamental laws


of his kingdom. The baneful influence of the Assyrian
league, and its implied treason to Jehovah, is nowhere
more instructively indicated than in the contempt with
which these brutalized minions of the vassal king, " the
men of scorn that rule this people which is in Jerusalem "
(xxviii. 14), treat the utterances of the Prophet of the
ancient covenant. They mock, in speech made thick and
stammering with intoxication, the child-like plainness and
simplicity of the precepts of righteousness on which he
keeps insisting with unwearying iteration, and which they
deride as goody-goody nursery rhymes (vs. 9, 10). At the
same time they I'eveal their own folly and infatuation by
trusting to the fancied security and prestige of the Assyr-
ian alliance. And they ignore the moral and political
teaching of the whole past history of Israel, which warns
them that their worn-out and harassed country can have
repose and recuperation only when it rests in Jehovah
alone (v. 12).

§ 644. Micah, whose work falls mainly within the
reign of Hezekiah (Jer. xxvi. 18) utters a more indignant,
or at least a fiercer and more personal, outcry against the
sins of the time and country. How prevalent and per-
nicious the debauchery of the people had become is re-
vealed in the passionate declaration that their favourite
prophet is one who utters falsehoods, pursues vanity and
deceit, and prophesies to them of wine and strong drink
(ii. 11). In his assaults upon the necromancers and
diviners (iii. 7 ; v. 12) we may see a reference to the
progress of Babylonian magic under the auspices of Ahaz
and his astrological paraphernalia (§ 640). His bitterest
phrases are employed to stigmatize the rapacious nobles,
and especially the landed gentry, who "pluck the skin"
off the poor peasants and day labourers, and "strip their
flesh off their bones " by their exactions and unlawful
expropriations (iii. 2 f. ; ii. 2). Such flagrant acts of vio-
lence and fraud were not merely the outcome of the covet-
ousness and dishonesty upbraided by Isaiah a few years


earlier (Isa. v. 7 f.), but are probably also to be partly
attributed to the necessities of the land and property
owners, who were responsible (§ 310) for the payment of
the Assyrian imposts, now becoming yearly more op-
pressive. Micah thus supplements Isaiah in showing that
the country outside of Jerusalem was being cursed by the
miseries as well as the vices that were eating away the
moral and spiritual life of the capital. He shows us also
what was the political outlook of an intelligent and patri-
otic citizen of the western or Philistian border of Judah.
As the two Prophets thus agree in their portraiture of
the civil and religious condition of their common country,
they still more strikingly coincide in their forecasts of
its impending fate.^

§ 645. To both Isaiah and Micah it was a moral cer-
tainty that their country would be crushed almost to de-
struction by the power of Assyria. At the present stage
(just before the fall of Samaria) the dangers that threat-
ened Judah were seen more vividly and more in detail by
Micah, because of his proximity to the Philistian plain.
For this was the arena of international strife and the
marching-road of the Assyrian hosts, a region also where
Judaite suzerainty had recently been acknowledged and
was doubtless still upheld (§ 268). Hence his grief over
the anticipated surrender of the border towns, down to his
own little Moresheth-Gath (i. 10-16). The bitterness of
his lament is disguised in any translation by being ex-
pressed in accordance with the canons of Oriental literary
style, which permitted unlimited playing on words in the
most serious passages.

§ 646. Isaiah in the present prophecy is more general
in his terms, but very explicit in his announcement of the
peril. As was natural with this master of political ethics,
the punishment is made to fit the crime : each moral
offence is to be visited by its appropriate retribution.
Where the frivolous debauchees who misruled the people

^ bee Note 8 iu Appendix


and made a hideous mockery of their judicial functions,
caricature the Prophet's message in the stammering tones
of babes and drunkards, he informs them that they shall
be practically taught the moral validity of his precepts of
righteousness ; for Jehovah would speak to them through
" the barbarous lips and strange language " of the Assyrians
(xxviii. 11). When they reply, in words put into their
mouths by the Prophet, that by their adroitness and cunning
they have made even death and Sheol their allies, so that
the threatened scourge of the Assyrian invasion of Pales-
tine would not reach to them (v. 15), he rejoins by assuring
them that there is but one foundation on which Jehovah's
land and people can rest and be secure, " the stone that is
laid in Zion, the tried stone, the costly corner stone of
sure foundation." He adds that as the righteous Jehovah
is their true stay and refuge, so the fortress of their pres-
ent hopes, which is but a refuge of lies, shall be tried by
the line of justice and the plummet of righteousness (cf.
Amos vii. 7 ff.) and, when found false and unsure, shall
be swept away by the hailstorm of judgment, so that the
waters shall overflow their hiding-place (vs. 16 f.).

§ 647. Strange as such a catastrophe may seem, and
foreign to the nature of the God of Israel in the popular
conception, it will still most certainly be brought to pass,
and that by the predetermined act of Jehovah, whose
fixed purpose it is to chasten his whole land by repeated
inroads of warriors on the march. So when this " over-
whelming scourge " shall come in, none shall escape the
terror or the ruin of the rushing tide of invasion (xxviii.
18, 19, 21, 22). In any case the present political and
social relations are unnatural and galling — they are like
a couch too short for rest, with a covering too scanty for
shelter (v. 20). The God of Israel is a God of order, and
the laws that regulate his earthly kingdom are as rational
and at the same time as imperative as those which divinely
guide the familiar operations of husbandry. To those laws
his people and all peoples are amenable (vs. 23-29).


v^ 648. At tlie date of the utterance of these drastic
prophecies there was manifestly as yet no break with the
Assyrian suzerain. Even of negotiation with Egypt on
the part of Judah there is as yet no sign. A reference to
it is commonly supposed to be made in Isa. xxviii. 15, 18
(the "covenant with death and agreement with Sheol").
But the language employed then is of an entirely general
character, and relates to the notorious disregard of truth
and honour on the part of the rulers and judges, and their
defiance of the judgments so frequently threatened by the
Prophets. If Ahaz was still on the throne at that date, as
we guppose (§ 635 ff.) there was no likelihood of any rupt-
ure of the Assyrian league, galling as its exactions were
doubtless becoming. The "slave and the son" of his
Assyrian deliverer, and the servile imitator of Eastern cus-
toms in civil and religious life, was extremely unlikely to
encourage or tolerate disloyalty. But very soon after the
downfall of Samaria, and almost coincidently, as it would
seem, with the chastisement inflicted on the same city in
its league with Hamath and Gaza and Sib'e of Egypt, a
new regime began in Judah, which was religiously and
politically opposed to the Ninevite domination. It intro-
duced at the same time the most important epoch in the
history of the Southern Kingdom, the era of Hezekiah.



§ 649. Hezekiah (" My strength is Yahwe," 719-690)
was the son of Ahaz, and the pupil, though not always the
obedient disciple, of Isaiah. That he differed so much in
temper and spirit from his father was largely due, without
doubt, to the training of the great statesman-prophet,
through which his natural piety and ideality were fostered,
and a sentiment of devotion to Jehovah and true patriotism
sedulously encouraged. He, at the same time, was of a
somewhat weak, or, at least, pliant disposition, and more
capable of lofty resolves than of heroic endeavour and
steadfast endurance. The brilliant hopes which Isaiah
had conceived of his youth were destined to grave abate-
ment as the years went on, especially in the line of politi-
cal action ; and this is to be accounted for partly by his
temper and habits and partly by the influence of faction.
The events of his reign before 701 cannot be clearly traced,
as the Biblical narrative is very meagre, and we are com-
pelled to rely almost exclusively upon contemporary proph-
ecies mostly undated, with the Assyrian notices of the
period as a sort of historical and chronological frame-

§ 650. The accession of Hezekiah, who must have
begun his reign while still a mere youth (§ 638), did not
at first make any material change in the attitude of the
nation towards the Assyrian over-lord. But the fateful
crisis was not long in coming. We can distinguish four
periods or stages in Judah's relations with Assyria in



Hezekiah's time : quiescence, intrigue, open disaffection,
armed rebellion. Each of these stages requires illustration.

§ G51. The influence of the counsellors of Ahaz, which
it was impossible to shake off at once, together with the
recollection of the deliverance afforded by Assyria, secured
for a time the maintenance of the status quo ante. But the
counter-influences were strong, and their ultimate preva-
lence inevitable. The first great motive was the still
unquenched national sentiment and the desire for inde-
pendence. The re-establishment of good government was
of itself sufficient to raise the spirit of the people, and this
was speedily secured under the kindly auspices of the new
regime. The reform in religion, begun immediately upon
the accession of Hezekiah (2 Chr. xxix. 3 ff.), and carried
out later more effectuall}- under more favourable condi-
tions, must of itself have for a time sobered and steadied
the administration of justice. And the energetic measures
adopted for putting the land in a state of defence, and
renewing its hold upon the Philistian possessions (2 K.
xviii. 8), must have renewed the patriotic spirit. So again
the revival of industrial pursuits and public works, after
the fashion of the times of Uzziah (2 Chr. xxxii. 27 ff.),
tended to put heart into the people once more, humbled as
they had been by vassalage, and impoverished by the drain
of tribute-sfiving'.

§ 652. We must also take account of the influence of
the environment. Judah was but one of several small
states in Palestine, and though favoured, or rather little
injured by Assyria, it still had finally to cast in its lot with
its neighbours and share the good or bad fortune of the
harassed West-land. Among these communities sedition
Avas rife, and intrigue with Assyria's chief rival kept up
without intermission. There must have been, from the
later years of Ahaz onward, an Egyptian party in Jeru-
salem, or at least some politicians who urged the advan-
tages of an alliance on equal terms with a nation held to
be as powerful as Assyria and more tolerant. This party


soon became prominent under Hezekiah, and proved a
veritable thorn in the side of Isaiah, and the chief object
of his rebuke and opposition. Under the combined opera-
tion of these various influences, the period of quiescence
passed gradually into that of intrigue.

§ 653. That Judah took no part in the affairs of 720
and 715 is certain. But it is very probable that in the
latter year (§630) its allegiance to Assyria, which had
been renewed in 720 (§ 624), even if not regarded by
Sargon as open to question, was somewhat precarious. Of
overt opposition, or even withholding of tribute, there
can have been none, else its consequences would have
been mentioned in the full reports of Sargon. It is to be
noted, moreover, that the whole country north, west, and
south of Judah was in that busy year more firmly bound
to Assyria. Egypt was cut off from the commerce of
Arabia and the use of the latter territory as a basis of
action in Asia. She found it even expedient to propitiate
Sargon by gifts. Samaria was more thoroughly dena-
tionalized and secured against further revolt by the im-
portation of Arabian captives. Finally, the restless Philis-
tines found no opportunity of provoking an invasion. But
the withdrawal of the troops of occupation through the ne-
cessities of the northern and eastern campaigns of Sargon
was soon followed by a characteristically volcanic out-
break among the overstrained western nationalities, and
four years later (§ 631 f.) a small special force had to be
despatched to the coast to quell the disturbance at Ashdod.

§ 654. The comments of Isaiah upon this apparently
trifling event reveal to us, by virtue of the illuminating
function of Prophecy, the historical situation in Judah.
They indicate clearly the headlong drift of sentiment
towards an Egyptian alliance and the popular desire to
escape at all hazards from the Assyrian incubus. The year
711 consequently finds Jerusalem on the eve of a surrender
to Egyptian influence, or at least in the midst of compro-
mising negotiations with the head of the Ethiopian dynasty.

Ch. Ill, § 055 ISAIAH ON THE CRISIS 261

As yet we do not see any sign of open revolt. Sargon,
however, in his record of the same event (§ 632), accuses
the Judaites, as does his great contemporary among them-
selves, of plotting with Egypt. The situation was thus
continually becoming graver. The additional indemnity,
or increase of tribute, which was undoubtedly enforced
by Sargon as the penalty of disaffection (§ 633), made the
Assyrian vassalage all the harder to bear, and hastened the
inevitable revolt at the favourable moment.

§ 655. A considerable section of the book of Isaiah
(ch. xviii.-xx.) has to do with this period of intrigue and
disaffection, of which 711 is the critical year. The motive
of these sections is the danger and wrong of Judah's
alliance with Egypt. But their contents range widely,
after the fashion of this imperial type of prophecy, among
international issues and the interests of Jehovah's kingdom
upon earth. Chapter xviii. is the earliest and therefore the
most dispassionate. The Ethiopian monarchy in the land
of the Pharaohs appears not so much an aggressor and
intermeddler as an aspiring rival of Assyria. The revival
of the old national spirit, with its ambitious aims of Asiatic
dominion, prompts a divine oracle, which goes far beyond
the designs or expected achievements of the new rulers of
Egypt. An embassy, sent from the Ethiopian home-land,
far up the Nile, to the states of Western Asia, has arrived
at or near Jerusalem. Its purpose is to alarm the nations
with the prospective terrors of Assyrian supremacy, and to
secure their adhesion to a combination that will drive the
eastern aggressors back across the Euphrates (xviii. 1, 2).
Isaiah is commissioned to declare that the work of repelling
the Assyrians is not assigned to the present or any dynast}'
of rulers in Egypt or Palestine, but is reserved to Jehovah
himself. He watches from his throne in the heavens the
movements and plottings of men and nations, and after
his purposes have been subserved with Assyria, he will
obliterate her suddenly and utterly (xviii. 3-6). The
picturesque and dramatic imagery of the prophecy is the


vehicle of a message as profound and luminous as it is
sublime. The matter in hand is taken at once out of the
sphere of human politics and lifted into the realm of divine
providence. The convulsions and revolutions of the whole
following century, with the humiliation of Egypt and S3'ria,
and the triumphs of Assyria, are all overseen. Yet they
are unnoticed, except for their issue in the catastrophe
that is to end the present drama, the ruin and desolation
of Assyria itself. Egypt is nothing, Assyria is nothing,
Judah itself is nothing, save for the truth and righteous-
ness of Jehovah,

§ 656. Chapter xix. goes a step farther. In the pre-
ceding prophecy the work and fate of Egypt are simply
ignored, in view of the grand finale. Here they form the
chief subject. While throughout the Prophet's ministry
Egypt was known as an intermeddler in Asia, a very demon
of international strife, singularly enough this, her normal
function, is unmentioned here. Her own misfortunes and
misery excite interest by themselves alone. Yet the wider
relation is not forgotten, rather it forms the unrecorded
motive of the utterance. The futility and wrong of the
Egyptian alliance were the chief burden upon the heart
of the statesman Isaiah. In no one of his leading speeches,
from the time of Ahaz onward, does it fail to appear. So
here, in her evil influence, Egypt is regarded as the foe
of the Holy People. The issue for which the prophet
stands is thus a struggle between the true God and the
" no-gods " of Egypt. In Chapter xviii. 4 Jehovah repre-
sents himself as sitting, unmoved and serene in his heav-
enly mansion, biding the ripening fate of Assyria. Here,
in one of the episodes of the great action. He is presented
as riding upon the swift-flying cloud, and descending upon
Egypt, while the no-gods shiver before him in terror, and
the hearts of the people melt for fear (v. 1). The main
instrument used for the punishment of Egypt is her fierce
and cruel rival Assyria, the same rod that was wielded in
Jehovah's hand against her would-be ally Judah (v. 4).


But the conquest of the foreigner was to be facilitated by
the anarchy and strife which should continue to vex Egypt,
one petty kingdom or " nome " being incited against the
other, so that all national spirit would be lost (vs. 2, 3).
Then her productiveness of soil should fail, and her indus-
tries languish, through the neglect of the water-ways of
commerce and irrigation, and of the fisheries, and the
undermining and breaking-up of the pillars of government
(vs. 5—10). Dismay should seize upon the counsellors and
sages of Egypt, renowned as they were for their wisdom
and resource. The princes of Zoan and Memphis, the
bulwarks of the ancient empire, should, by foolish advent-
ures, lead their people to ruin. Social order should be
subverted ; and in the desperation and bewilderment of all
classes of the state, the whole body politic should, like one
intoxicated, reel to its destruction (vs. 11-15 ; see § 768).
§ 657. But now, with a mighty bound of his eager
imagination, the Prophet overleaps the time of confusion
and misery, and from his favourite Messianic standpoint
beholds the whole arena of the contending empires finally
united in the acknowledgment and worship of Jehovah
(vs. 16-25). Egypt itself, at first terrified and unmanned
by the very mention of tl» God of Judah, because of his
inexorable purpose to smite and destroy, shall be brought
to own, not only his sovereignty, but his grace (vs. 16,
17). The five most renowned sacred cities, the seats of
the ancient religion, with Heliopolis at their head, shall
"speak the language of Canaan ^ and swear allegiance to
Jehovah of Hosts" (v. 18). Even the forms of Jehovah's
worship shall be introduced — altar and pillar, sacrifice and
offering. In answer to their prayers a deliverer shall be
sent to the Egyptians, and they shall be healed of the
wounds of Jehovah's own smiting (vs. 19-22). To crown
all, Israel, as the centre of the whole regenerated region,

1 Notice the selection of what is at once the most effective instrument
and the surest evidence of an assimilation of adjacent peoples — the use
of a common language.


shall minister mediatorial blessings to the reconciled rivals
on either side. " Israel shall be one of three with Egypt
and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth." And
Palestine, the marching-road of their contending armies,
shall become a highway of peaceful intercourse between
Egypt and Assyria, and a common ground on which they
shall meet to worship the God of Israel (vs. 23-25).

§ 658. These flights of prophetic prevision, so wide in
their range and so indefinite in the historic conditions,
both of their occasion and of their fulfilment, have as their
practical counterfoil a very specific prophetic act in the
following chapter. Egypt was not simply one of the actors
in a great political drama, one of the factors in the scheme
of divine providence, and a predestined member of the
earthly kingdom of Jehovah. She was a dangerous and
persistent power that needed to be reckoned with sharply
and resolutely at the present juncture. The crisis of
Egyptian influence was reached for Judah, as all our
information shows us, at the time of the revolt of Ashdod
(§ 653 f.). General warnings against trusting to Egypt had
not availed to loosen the hold of her diplomacy or to dis-
solve the spell of her ancient prestige upon the susceptible
minds of the hard-pressed Judaifces. Clubs and cliques of
Egyptian partisans were finding leaders, and Isaiah was
meeting rivals to his influence over Hezekiah in the king's
chief ministers. Judah now plots with other states of Pales-
tine and with Egypt against Assyria, and is about to sup-
port Ashdod in the concerted revolt. If words have no
avail to check the infatuation of the revolutionary party,
it would be seen what effect can be exercised by a solemn
outward symbolizing of the results of an Egyptian alli-
ance. The Prophet is bidden, like a captive, to ungirdle
his flowing outer robe and draw off his sandals, and thus
stripped and barefooted to walk about in the public view
three years " as a sign and a portent against Egypt and
against Ethiopia: thus shall the king of Assyria lead away
the captives of Egypt and the exiles of Ethiopia, young

Ch. Ill, § 659 EFFECT OF THE LESSON 265

men and old men, stripped and barefoot " (xx. 1-4).
"• And they shall be dismayed and ashamed at Ethiopia
their reliance, and at Egypt with her glamour over them.
And the dwellers in these ruins shall say in that day:
behold such is our reliance to which we fled for help that
we might be rescued from the king of Assyria ; and how
shall we be saved?" (vs. 5, G).

§ 659. This speaking symbolism was brought into play
upon the imagination of the men of Judah for three years,
beginning early in 711. Did it have any effect? Un-
doubtedly. It is very probable that it was to Isaiah's
influence that Judah owed its escape from the folly of
openly joining with the revolters at Ashdod, and its con-
sequent immunity from annexation and devastation. Pos-
sibly, also, it was due to him that at least outward quiet-

Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 24 of 39)