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INTRODUCTION TO PSALM LXXX.
PSALM OF ASAPH.
Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah, was a worthless prince, obsequiously devoted to the vilest superstition of the heathen nations. He restored the old Canaanitish idolatry, so expressly forbidden in the law of Moses, (Leviticus xx, 1-5; Deuteronomy xii, 29–32,) and offered human sacrifices to Moloch, and filled the land with the altars of Baal. He was the most corrupt monarch that had hitherto reigned in Judah.
In the former part of his reign, Pekah, king of Israel, and Rezin, king of Syria of Damascus, leagued together to subjugate the kingdom of Judah and extirpate the house of David, with a view to place upon the throne of Judah'a foreigner, the son of Tabeal, as we learn from Isaiah vii, 4-6. Of this Tabeal we know nothing more; but we are left to infer that it was probably their intention to erect a power, by this triple alliance, sufficiently formidable to check the Assyrian arms, which had for about thirty years previous been making alarming advances west of the Euphrates, and of late had threatened Syria and Israel. If the plan was bold in its conception, it lacked not vigour in its execution. On the south, the Edomites were excited to revolt, and Ahaz was thereby stripped of all his dominions in Arabia; while on the west, the Philistines invaded the low countries and captured several cities.
In a great battle with Rezin, Ahaz was defeated, and a multitude of captives were carried to Damascus; while in another, with Pekah, one hundred and twenty thousand men of Judah were left dead upon the field, and two hundred thousand women and children were taken captives, who, however, were subsequently set free by the interposition of the prophet of God. Thus, baffled in every movement, Ahaz was quickly reduced to the most perilous straits, and his kingdom seemed about to be engulphed in a vortex of calamities.
In this extremity the Prophet Isaiah was commissioned to offer relief to the king, on condition that he would renounce his idols and place his confidence in Jehovah alone; at the
same time admonishing him, saying, “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.” The prophet proceeded further, and offered a sign to the king, if he would accept it, as an encouragement to his faith. (Isaiah vii, 3–12.) This relief, together, with the proffered sign, the besotted king declined, having resolved to call in the aid of the Assyrians. It was this decision of Alaz to ally himself with the Assyrians, by making his voluntary submission to them, which was the occasion of a new epoch of disasters to the kingdom of Judah. Tiglath-pileser (or the Tiger-lord of Assyria) was then king, and gladly accepted the rich presents of Ahaz, which furnished him an opportunity of renewing the Syrian war and extending the conquests which his father Pul had commenced about thirty years before.
He now marched an army into Syria, overthrew the kingdom of Damascus, and advancing into the territories of Israel, ravaged all eastern and northern Palestine, laying the two kingdoms under heavy tribute. In all this, however, Ahaz experienced no relief. In the significant language of Scripture the king of Assyria “came unto him, and distressed him, but strengthened him not." The cities which had been captured by Pekah and Rezin, and re-captured from them by Tiglath-pileser, were not restored to Ahaz, and that prince now found that in ridding himself of the kings of Israel and Damascus, by submitting to the king of Assyria, he had only exchanged tyrants. Ahaz was treated by the haughty Assyrian as a subject, not as an ally, and he afterward died in dishonour, leaving his kingdom in a mutilated and enfeebled condition, and subject to the Assyrian yoke.
Hezekiah succeeded Ahaz, his father, B. C. 727, and was one of the most pious of the kings of Judah. Meantime Hoshea slays Pekah, king of Israel, and, after an interregnum of anarchy of ten years, succeeds him on the throne, three years before the death of AhazOne year later, Tiglath-pileser also dies, and is succeeded by Shalmaneser.
As Hoshea is a usurper, and indicates a symptom of revolt, Shalmaneser marches into Palestine and reduces him to tribute.
Such was the condition of the Hebrew kingdoms when Hezekiah took the reigns of government. The tribes east of Jordan, together with the northern tribes west, had been devastated by the army of Tiglath-pileser, who had carried the
burden of the Hebrew population into captivity, and scattered them through the provinces of Assyria, Armenia and Media. Hoshea, the last king of Israel, now sat upon the throne, and, as the event proved, the kingdom was within six years of its final overthrow by the Assyrians. The kingdom of Judah itself, though in a better state than that of Israel, was in a dismembered and dishonoured condition, corrupted by the basest forms of heathen superstition, and a degraded vassal to a heathen conqueror. It was under these circumstances that Hezekiah began his reign by the most vigorous efforts to reform the national religion. In the first month of his reign he opened the temple, which had been long shut up and neglected; assembled the Levites, and addressed them upon the general condition of the temple and its worship, adverting to the judgments of God which had been visited upon the land for their idolatry; and commanded them to sanctify themselves for their appropriate office and work, and also to cleanse and set in order the sanctuary. The orders of the king were fulfilled in eight days, and the re-opening of the temple service was solemnized by sacrifices and incense, and songs of thanksgiving and confessions. As the time for the celebration of the passover was by law fixed upon the fourteenth day of Nisan, (March,) and as the temple was not cleansed and ready for use, neither the priests themselves sanctified till the sixteenth of that month, (2 Chronicles xxix, 17, and xxx, 1-3; compare Exodus xii, 6-18,) Hezekiah proposed, and upon counsel resolved, to celebrate the passover on the second month instead of the first, judging that the exigence of circumstances would excuse this informality.
Into this measure the king, his princes, and the Levites entered with pious zeal. Hezekiah, indeed, proposed to reclaim not Judah alone, but also the kingdom of Israel. He looked upon the shattered state of the Hebrew family, and justly attributed all their woes to their departures from Jehovah; and now resolves to make one universal effort to recall the mind and conscience of the nation to the religion of their pious ancestors. In this commendable and morally sublime undertaking he was powerfully seconded by the best men of the nation. The prophets Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah were then living, and threw all the weight of their sacred office and influence in favour of the reformation. Especial concern was elicited for the unhappy kingdom of Israel. The prophets foresaw that its end was near, and directed many especial warnings, and promises, and encouraging exhortations to the people.
The prophetic annunciations of Hosea and Micah belonging to this period, often blend into one and the same discourse distinct addresses to Judah and Israel; showing that they often lost sight of the political distinctions of the two kingdoms in their strong Hebrew and ancestorial affinities. It was to restore the Hebrew family, as such, to the pure law of Moses, that they lifted their voice, and foreshadowed the Divine judgments.
“For the transgression of Jacob is all this,
Micah i, 5, 6.
“Thou shalt sow_but thou shalt not reap;
ye shall bear the reproach of my people.”—Micah vi, 16, 18.
Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people;
And the pride of Israel testifieth to his face:
“Woe unto them! for they have fled from me:
“Sow to yourselves in righteousness—reap in mercy;
" When Israel was a child, then I loved him, And called my son out of Egypt. As they called them, so they went from them: They sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images. I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; But they knew not that I healed them. I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love: And I was to them as they that take off the yoke on their jaws, And I laid meat unto them.
“He shall not return into the land of Egypt, But the Assyrian shall be his king, Because they refused to return.
"O Israel! return unto the Lord thy God;