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CONTEMPLATION VIII.-THE UTTER DESTRUC
TION OF THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL.
2 KINGS XVII.
JUDAH was at a sore heave; yet Israel shall miscarry before it. Such are the sins of both, that they strive whether shall fall first; but this lot must light upon the ten tribes. Though the late king of Judah were personally worse than the most of Jeroboam's successors, yet the people were generally less evil; upon whom the encroachments of idolatry were more by obtrusion, than by consent: besides that, the thrones of Judah had some interchanges of good princes; Israel, none at all. The same justice, therefore, that made Israel a scourge to Judah, made Assyria a scorpion to Israel.
It was the quarrel of Judah, that first engaged the king of Ashur in this war against Israel: now he is not so easily fetched off: : so we have seen some eager mastiff, that hath been set on by the least clap of the hand, but could not be loosened by the force of staves.
Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, comes up against Hoshea, king of Israel; and subdues him, and puts him to his tribute. This yoke was uncouth and unpleasing. The vanquished prince was neither able to resist, nor willing to yield : secretly, therefore, he treats with the king of Egypt, for assistance; as desiring rather to hazard his liberty by the hand of an equal, than to enjoy a quiet subjection under the hand of an overruling power. We cannot blame princes, to be jealous of their sovereignties.
The detaining of his yearly tribute, and the whisperings with new confederates, have drawn up the king of Ashur to perfect his own victories. He returns therefore with a strong power; and, after three years' siege, takes Samaria, imprisons Hoshea ; and, in the exchange of a woeful captivity, he peoples Israel with Assyrians, and Assyria with Israelites.
Now, that abused soil hath, upon a surfeit of wickedness, cast out her perfidious owners ; and will try how it can fare with heathenish strangers. Now, the Assyrian gallants triumph in the palaces of Samaria and Jezreel; while the peers and captains of Israel are driven manacled through the Assyrian streets, and billetted to the several places of their perpetual servitude. Shortly, now, the flourishing kingdom of the ten tribes is come to a final and shameful end; and so vanished in this last dissipation, that, since that day, no man could ever say, “ This was Israel."
Oh terrible example of vengeance, upon that peculiar people, whom God hath chosen for himself, out of all the world! All the world were witnesses, of the favours of their miraculous deliverances and protections: all the world shall be witnesses, of their just confusion.
It is not in the power of slight errors, to set off that infinite mercy. What was it, O God, what was it, that caused thee to cast off thine own inheritance? What, but the same that made thee to cast the angels out of heaven? even their rebellious sins. Those sins dared to emulate the greatness of thy mercies, no less than they forced the severity of thy judgments: they left all the commandments of the Lord their God; and made them molten images, even two calves ; and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven; and served Baal ; and caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire ; and used divination und enchantments; and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger.
Neither were these slips of frailty, or ignorant mistakings, but wilful crimes, obstinate impieties, in spite of the doctrines, reproofs, menaces, miraculous convictions of the holy prophets, which God sent amongst them. Thy destruction is of thyself, 0 Israel. What could the just hand of the Almighty do less, than consume a nation so incorrigibly flagitious ? a nation so unthankful for-mercies, so impatient of remedies, so incapable of repentance ; so obliged, so warned; so shamelessly, so lawlessly wicked!
What nation under heaven can now challenge an indefeasible interest in God, when Israel itself is cast off? What Church in the world can show such dear love-tokens from the Almighty as this, now abhorred and adulterous spouse? He, that spared not the natural olive, shall he spare the wild ? It is not for us, sinners of the Gentiles, to be high-minded, but awful.
The Israelites are carried captive into Assyria. Those goodly cities of the ten tribes may not lie waste and unpeopled. The wisdom of the victor finds it fit, to transplant his own colonies thither ; that so he may raise profit thence, with security. From Babylon therefore, and Cuthah, and Ava, and Hamath, and Sepharvaim, doth he send of his own subjects, to possess and inhabit the cities of Samaria.
The land doth not brook her new tenants. They feared not the Lord; (how should they, they knew him not ?) Therefore the Lord sent lions amongst them, which slew some of them.
Not the veriest Pagan can be excused, for his ignorance of God: even the depravedst nature might teach us, to tremble at a Deity. It is just with the Almighty, not to put up neglect, where he hath bestowed reason.
The brute creatures are sent, to revenge the quarrel of their Maker, upon worse beasts than themselves. Still hath God left himself champions in Israel. Lions tear the Assyrians in pieces ; and put them in mind, that, had it not been for wickedness, that land needed not to have changed masters. The great Lord of
the World cannot want means to plague offenders. If the men be gone, yet the beasts are there ; and if the beasts had been gone, yet so long as there were stones in the walls, in the quarries, God would be sure of avengers. There is no security, but in being at peace with God.
The king of Assyria is sued to, for remedy. Even these Pagans have learned to know, that these lions were sent from a God; that this punishment is for sin; They know not the manner of the God of the land; therefore he hath sent lions among them. These blind heathen, that think every land hath a several god, yet, hold that God worthy of his own worship; yet, hold that worship must be grounded upon knowledge; the want of that knowledge, punishable ; the punishment of that want, just and divine. How much worse than Assyrians are they, that are ready to ascribe all calamities to nature, to chance! that, acknowledging but one God of all the world, are yet careless to know him, to serve him !
One of the priests of Israel is appointed to be carried back to Samaria, to teach the Assyrian colony the fashions of the God of the land ; not for devotion, but for impunity. Vain politicians think to satisfy God, by patching up religions. Any forms are good enough, for an unknown deity. The Assyrian priests teach and practise the worship of their own gods; the Israelitish priest prescribes the worship of the true God: the people will follow both; the one out of liking, the other out of fear.
What a prodigious mixture was here of religions; true with false, Jewish with Paganish, divine with devilish? Every division of these transplanted Assyrians had their several deities, high places, sacrifices. This high priest of Israel intercommons with every
of them: so that now these fathers of Samaritanism are in at all; They fear the Lord, and serve their idols. No beggar's cloak is more pieced, than the religion of these new inhabitants of Israel. I know not how their bodies sped for the lions; I am sure their souls fared the worse for this medley. Above all things, God hates a mongrel devotion. If we be not all Israel, it were better to be all Ashur. It cannot so much displease God, to be unknown or neglected, as to be consorted with idols.
CONTEMPLATION IX.-HEZEKIAH AND
SENNACHERIB. 2 KINGS XVIII., XIX. ; 2 CHRONICLES XXIX. ; ISAIAH XXXVI., XXXVII. ISRAEL is gone ; Judah is left standing; or rather some few sprigs of those two tribes: so we have seen, in the shredding of some large timber-tree, one or two boughs left at the top to hold
up the sap. Who can but lament the poor remainders, of that languishing kingdom of David ?
Take out of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, one hundred and twenty thousand, whom Pekah, the king of Israel
, slew in one day: take out two hundred thousand, that were carried away captive to Samaria : take out those, that were transported into the bondage of the Edomites; and those that were subdued in the south parts by the Philistines : alas, what a handful was left to the king of Judah, scarce the name of & dominion !
Yet, even now, out of the gleeds of Judah, doth God raise up a glorious light to his forlorn Church; yea, from the wretched loins of Ahaz, doth God fetch a holy Hezekiah. It had been hard to conceive the state of Judah worse than it was: neither was it more miserable, than sinful; and, in regard of both, desperate; when, beyond hope, God revives this dying stock of David, and out of very ruins builds up his own house. Ahaz was not more the ill son of a good father, than he was the ill father of a good son. He was the ill son of good Jotham, the ill father of good Hezekiah. Good Hezekiah makes amends, for his father's impiety; and puts a new life, into the heartless remnant of God's people. The wisdom of our good God knows when his aid will be most seasonable, most welcome ; which he then loves to give, when he finds us left of all our hopes. That merciful hand is reserved for a dead lift; then, he fails us not.
Now, you might have seen this pious prince busily bestirring himself, in so late and needful a reformation ; removing the high places, battering and burning the idols, demolishing their temples, cutting down their groves, opening the temple, purging the altars and vessels, sanctifying the priests, rekindling the lamps, renewing the incense, reinstituting the sacrifices, establishing the order of God's service, appointing the courses, settling the maintenance of the ministers, publishing the decrees for the long-neglected passover, celebrating it and the other feasts with due solemnity, encouraging the people, contributing bountifully to the offerings, and, in one word, so ordering all the affairs of God as if he had been sent down from heaven to restorc religion ; as if David himself had been alive again in this blessed heir, not so much of his crown, as of his piety.
O Judah, happy in thy Hezekiah! O Hezekiah, happy in the gracious restoration of thy Judah!
Ahaz shall have no thank for such a son. The God, that is able of the very stones to raise children to Abraham, raises a true seed of David, out of the corrupt loins of an idolater. That infinite mercy is not tied to the terms of an immediate propagation.
For the space of three hundred years, the man after God's own heart had no perfect heir, till now. Till now, did the high
places stand: the devotions of the best princes of Judah were blemished, with some weak omissions : now, the zeal of good Hezekiah clears all those defects, and works an entire change.
How seasonably, hath the providence of God kept the best man, for the worst times ! When God hath a great work to do, he knows to fit himself with instruments.
No marvel, if the Paganish idols go to wreck, when even the brazen serpent, that Moses had made by God's own appointment, is broken in pieces. The Israelites were stung with fiery serpents : this brazen serpent healed them; which they did no sooner see, than they recovered. But now, such was the venom of the Israelitish idolatry, that this serpent of brass stung worse than the fiery: that, which first cured by the eye, now by the eye poisoned the soul; that, which was at first the type of a Saviour, is now the deadly engine of the enemy.
While it helped, it stood; it stood, while it hurt not; but when once wicked abuse hath turned it into an idol, what was it but Nehushtan?
The holiness of the first institution cannot privilege ought, from the danger of a future profanation ; nor, as the case may stand, from an utter abolition. What antiquity, what authority, what primary service might this serpent have pleaded? All that cannot keep it out of the dust. Those things, which are necessary in their being, beneficial in their continuance, may still remain, when their abuse is purged; but those things, whose use is but temporary, and whose duration is needless and unprofitable, may cease with the occasion, and much more perish with an inseparable abuse. Hezekiah willingly forgets who made the serpent, when he sees the Israelites make it an idol. It is no less intolerable for God, to have a rival of his own making.
Since Hezekiah was thus, above all his ancestors, upright with the Lord, it is no marvel, if the Lord were with him; if he prospered, whithersoever he went. The same God, that would have his justice magnified, in the confusion of the wicked princes of Israel and Judah, would have his mercy no less acknowledged, in the blessings of faithful Hezekiah.
The great king of Assyria had in a sort swallowed up both the kingdoms of Judah and Israel ; yet not with an equal cruelty. He made Israel captive; Judah, upon a willing composition, tributary. Israel is vanished in a transportation; Judah continues under the homage, wherein Ahaz left it. Hezekiah had reigned but six years, when he saw his neighbours of Israel packing into a miserable captivity, and the proud Assyrians lording in their cities; yet, even then, when he stood alone in a corner of Judah, durst Hezekiah draw his neck out of the yoke of the great and victorious monarch of Assyria ; and, as if one enemy had not been enough, at the same time he falls upon the encroaching Philistines, and prevails. It is not to be