« הקודםהמשך »
enness was a national vice, and the nobles abandoned themselves to disgraceful debauchery. There was a general demoralization of the people more fearful in its consequences than even idolatry. Judah was no exception to the ordinary fate of nations; the everlasting sequence — pertaining to institutions as well as nations, to religious as well as merely political communities — was here seen, — “ Inwardness, outwardness, worldliness, and rottenness.”
It was in this state of political danger and a general decline in morals, with a tendency to idolatry, that Isaiah – preacher, statesman, historian, poet, and prophet — was born.
Less is said of the personal history of this great man than of Moses or David, of Daniel or Elisha, and it is only in his writings that we see the solemn grandeur of his character. We infer that he was allied with the royal family of David; he certainly held a high position in the courts of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. He was a man of great dignity, experience, and wisdom, but ascetic in his habits and dress. Although he associated with the great in courts and palaces, a cell was his delight. He was a retiring, contemplative, rapt, austere man, severe on passing follies, and not sparing in his rebukes of sin in high places, — something like Savonarola at Florence, both as preacher and prophet, — and exercising a commanding influence on political affairs and on the people directly, especially during the reigns of Ahaz and Hezekiah. He denounced woes and calamities, yet escaped persecution from the grandeur of his character and the importance of his utterances. He was a favorite of King Hezekiah, and was contemporary with the prophets Hosea, Amos, and Jonah. He lived in Jerusalem, not far from the Temple, and had a wife and two sons. He wrote the life of Uzziah, and died at the age of eighty-four, in the reign of Manasseh. It is generally supposed that although Isaiah had lived in honor during the reigns of four kings, he suffered martyrdom at last. It is the fate of prophets to be stoned when they are in antagonism with men in power, or with popular sentiments. His prophetic ministry extended over a period of about fifty years, and he was continually consulted by the reigning monarchs.
The great outward events that took place during Isaiah's public career were the invasion of Judah by the combined forces of Israel and Syria in the reign of Ahaz, and the great Assyrian invasion in the reign of Hezekiah.
In regard to the first, it was disastrous to Judah. The weak king, the twelfth from David, was inclined to the idolatries of the surrounding nations, but was not signally bad like Ahab. Yet he was no match for Pekah, who reigned at Samaria, or for Rezin, who reigned at Damascus. Their combined armies slew in one day one hundred and twenty thousand of the subjects of Ahaz, and carried away into captivity two hundred thousand women and children, with immense spoil. The conqueror then advanced to the siege of Jerusalem. In his distress Ahaz invoked the aid of Pul, or Tilgath-pilneser II., one of the most warlike of the Assyrian kings, whose kingdom stretched from the Armenian mountains on the north to Bagdad on the south, and from the Zagros chain on the east to the Euphrates on the west. Earnestly did the prophetstatesman expostulate with Ahaz, telling him that the king of Assyria would prove “a razor to shave but too clean his desolate land." The inspired advice was rejected; and the result of the alliance was that Judah, like Israel, fell to the rank of a subject nation, and became tributary to Assyria, and Ahaz a mere vassal of Tilgath-pilneser. The whole of Palestine became the border-land of the Assyrian empire, easy to be invaded and liable to be conquered.
The consequences which Isaiah feared, took place in the time of Hezekiah, in the actual invasion of Judah by the Assyrian hosts under Sennacherib. Not the splendid prosperity of Hezekiah, little short of that enjoyed by Solomon, — not his allegiance to Jehovah, nor his grand reforms and magnificent feasts averted the calamities which were the legitimate result of the blindness of his father Ahaz. Sennacherib, the most powerful of all the Assyrian kings, after suppressing a revolt in Babylon and conquering various Eastern states, turned his eyes and steps to Palestine, which had revolted. Hezekiah, in mortal fear, made humble submission, and consented to a tribute of three hundred talents of silver and thirty of gold, and the loss of two hundred thousand of his people as captives, and a cession of a part of his territory, — as great a calamity as France suffered in the late war with Prussia. Considering the prosperity of the kingdom of Judah under Hezekiah, it is a difficult thing to be explained that the king could raise but three hundred talents of silver and thirty of gold, although David had contributed out of his private fortune, for the future erection of the Temple, three thousand talents of gold and seven thousand talents of silver, besides the one million talents of silver and one hundred thousand talents of gold which he collected as sovereign. It would seem probable that an error has crept into the estimates of the wealth of the kingdom under Solomon and under the subsequent kings; either that of Solomon is exaggerated, or that of Hezekiah is underrated.
Notwithstanding his former defeat and losses, Hezekiah again revolted, and again was Judah invaded by a still greater Assyrian force. The king of Judah in this emergency showed extraordinary energy, stopped the supply of water outside his capital, strengthened his defences, gathered together his fighting men, and encouraged them with the assurance that help would come from the Lord, in whom they trusted, and whom Sennacherib boastfully defied. For the ringing words of Isaiah roused and animated the hearts of both king and people to a noble courage, announcing the aid of Jehovah and the overthrow of the heathen invader. As we have seen, the men of Judah showed their faith in the divine help by preparing to help themselves. But from an unexpected quarter the asssistance came, as Isaiah had predicted. A pestilence destroyed in a single night one hundred and eighty-five thousand of the Assyrian warriors, — the most signal overthrow of the enemies of Israel since Pharaoh and his host were swallowed up by the waters of the Red Sea, and also the most signal deliverance which Jerusalem ever had. The calamity created such a fearful demoralization among the invaders that the over-confident Assyrian monarch retired to his capital with utter loss of prestige, and soon after was assassinated by his own sons. No Assyrian king after this invaded Judah, and Nineveh itself in a few years was conquered by Babylon.