The Ambassadors From Babylon
In the midst of his prosperous reign King Hezekiah was suddenly
stricken with a fatal malady. "Sick unto death," his case was
beyond the power of man to help. And the last vestige of hope seemed
removed when the prophet Isaiah appeared before him with the message,
"Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die,
and not live." Isaiah 38:1.
The outlook seemed utterly dark; yet the king could still pray to the
One who had hitherto been his "refuge and strength, a very present
help in trouble." Psalm 46:1. And so "he turned his face to
the wall, and prayed unto the Lord, saying, I beseech Thee, O Lord,
remember now how I have walked before Thee in truth and with a perfect
heart, and have done that which is good in Thy sight. And Hezekiah wept
sore." 2 Kings 20:2, 3.
Since the days of David there had reigned no king who had wrought so
mightily for the upbuilding of the kingdom of God in a time of apostasy
and discouragement as had Hezekiah. The dying ruler had served his God
faithfully, and had strengthened the confidence of the people in Jehovah
as their Supreme Ruler. And, like David, he could now plead:
"Let my prayer come before Thee:
Incline Thine ear unto my cry;
For my soul is full of troubles:
And my life draweth nigh unto the grave."
Psalm 88:2, 3.
"Thou art my hope, O Lord God:
Thou art my trust from my youth.
By Thee have I been holden up."
"Forsake me not when my strength faileth."
"O God, be not far from me:
O my God, make haste for my help."
"O God, forsake me not;
Until I have showed Thy strength unto this
And Thy power to everyone that is to come."
Psalm 71:5, 6, 9, 12, 18.
He whose "compassions fail not," heard the prayer of His
servant. Lamentations 3:22. "It came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone
out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him,
saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of My people, Thus
saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I
have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou
shalt go up unto the house of the Lord. And I will add unto thy days
fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of
the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for Mine own sake, and
for My servant David's sake." 2 Kings 20:4-6.
Gladly the prophet returned with the words of assurance and hope.
Directing that a lump of figs be laid upon the diseased part, Isaiah
delivered to the king the message of God's mercy and protecting care.
Like Moses in the land of Midian, like Gideon in the presence of the
heavenly messenger, like Elisha just before the ascension of his master,
Hezekiah pleaded for some sign that the message was from heaven.
"What shall be the sign," he inquired of the prophet,
"that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up into the house
of the Lord the third day?"
"This sign shalt thou have of the Lord," the prophet
answered, "that the Lord will do the thing that He hath spoken:
shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?"
"It is a light thing," Hezekiah replied, "for the shadow
to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten
Only by the direct interposition of God could the shadow on the
sundial be made to turn back ten degrees; and this was to be the sign to
Hezekiah that the Lord had heard his prayer. Accordingly, "the
prophet cried unto the Lord: and He brought the shadow ten degrees
backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz." Verses
Restored to his wonted strength, the king of Judah acknowledged in
words of song the mercies of Jehovah, and vowed to spend his remaining
days in willing service to the King of kings. His grateful recognition
of God's compassionate dealing with him is an inspiration to all who
desire to spend their years to the glory of their Maker.
"I said In the cutting off of my days,
I shall go to the gates of the grave:
I am deprived of the residue of my years.
"I said, I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord, in the land of
I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world.
"Mine age is departed,
And is removed from me as a shepherd's tent:
"I have cut off like a weaver my life:
He will cut me off with pining sickness:
"From day even to night wilt Thou make an end of me.
I reckoned till morning, that,
As a lion, so will He break all my bones:
"From day even to night wilt Thou make an end of me.
Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter:
I did mourn as a dove:
Mine eyes fail with looking upward:
O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me.
"What shall I say?
He hath both spoken unto me,
And Himself hath done it:
I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul.
"O Lord, by these things men live,
And in all these things is the life of my spirit:
So wilt Thou recover me, and make me to live.
"Behold, for peace I had great bitterness:
But Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of
For Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back.
"For the grave cannot praise Thee,
Death cannot celebrate Thee:
They that go down into the pit cannot hope for Thy truth.
"The living, the living, he shall praise Thee,
As I do this day:
The father to the children shall make known Thy truth.
"The Lord was ready to save me:
Therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments
All the days of our life in the house of the Lord."
In the fertile valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates there dwelt an
ancient race which, though at that time subject to Assyria, was destined
to rule the world. Among its people were wise men who gave much
attention to the study of astronomy; and when they noticed that the
shadow on the sundial had been turned back ten degrees, they marveled
greatly. Their king, Merodachbaladan, upon learning that this miracle
had been wrought as a sign to the king of Judah that the God of heaven
had granted him a new lease of life, sent ambassadors to Hezekiah to
congratulate him on his recovery and to learn, if possible, more of the
God who was able to perform so great a wonder.
The visit of these messengers from the ruler of a far-away land gave
Hezekiah an opportunity to extol the living God. How easy it would have
been for him to tell them of God, the upholder of all created things,
through whose favor his own life had been spared when all other hope had
fled! What momentous transformations might have taken place had these
seekers after truth from the plains of Chaldea been led to acknowledge
the supreme sovereignty of the living God!
But pride and vanity took possession of Hezekiah's heart, and in
self-exaltation he laid open to covetous eyes the treasures with which
God had enriched His people. The king "showed them the house of his
precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the
precious ointment, and all the house of his armor, and all that was
found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his
dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not." Isaiah 39:2. Not to
glorify God did he do this, but to exalt himself in the eyes of the
foreign princes. He did not stop to consider that these men were
representatives of a powerful nation that had not the fear nor the love
of God in their hearts, and that it was imprudent to make them his
confidants concerning the temporal riches of the nation.
The visit of the ambassadors to Hezekiah was a test of his gratitude
and devotion. The record says, "Howbeit in the business of the
ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to inquire of
the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that He
might know all that was in his heart." 2 Chronicles 32:31. Had
Hezekiah improved the opportunity given him to bear witness to the
power, the goodness, the compassion, of the God of Israel, the report of
the ambassadors would have been as light piercing darkness. But he
magnified himself above the Lord of hosts. He "rendered not again
according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted
up." Verse 25.
How disastrous the results which were to follow! To Isaiah it was
revealed that the returning ambassadors were carrying with them a report
of the riches they had seen, and that the king of Babylon and his
counselors would plan to enrich their own country with the treasures of
Jerusalem. Hezekiah had grievously sinned; "therefore there was
wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem." Verse 25.
"Then came Isaiah the prophet unto King Hezekiah, and said unto
him, What said these men? and from whence came they unto thee? And
Hezekiah said, They are come from a far country unto me, even from
Babylon. Then said he, What have they seen in thine house? And Hezekiah
answered, All that is in mine house have they seen: there is nothing
among my treasures that I have not showed them.
"Then said Isaiah to Hezekiah, Hear the word of the Lord of
hosts: Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that
which thy fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried
to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord. And of thy sons that
shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and
they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.
"Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, Good is the word of the Lord
which thou hast spoken." Isaiah 39:3-8.
Filled with remorse, "Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of
his heart, both he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath
of the Lord came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah." 2
Chronicles 32:26. But the evil seed had been sown and in time was to
spring up and yield a harvest of desolation and woe. During his
remaining years the king of Judah was to have much prosperity because of
his steadfast purpose to redeem the past and to bring honor to the name
of the God whom he served; yet his faith was to be severely tried, and
he was to learn that only by putting his trust fully in Jehovah could he
hope to triumph over the powers of darkness that were plotting his ruin
and the utter destruction of his people.
The story of Hezekiah's failure to prove true to his trust at the
time of the visit of the ambassadors is fraught with an important lesson
for all. Far more than we do, we need to speak of the precious chapters
in our experience, of the mercy and loving-kindness of God, of the
matchless depths of the Saviour's love. When mind and heart are filled
with the love of God, it will not be difficult to impart that which
enters into the spiritual life. Great thoughts, noble aspirations, clear
perceptions of truth, unselfish purposes, yearnings for piety and
holiness, will find expression in words that reveal the character of the
Those with whom we associate day by day need our help, our guidance.
They may be in such a condition of mind that a word spoken in season
will be as a nail in a sure place. Tomorrow some of these souls may be
where we can never reach them again. What is our influence over these
Every day of life is freighted with responsibilities which we must
bear. Every day, our words and acts are making impressions upon those
with whom we associate. How great the need that we set a watch upon our
lips and guard carefully our steps! One reckless movement, one imprudent
step, and the surging waves of some strong temptation may sweep a soul
into the downward path. We cannot gather up the thoughts we have planted
in human minds. If they have been evil, we may have set in motion a
train of circumstances, a tide of evil, which we are powerless to stay.
On the other hand, if by our example we aid others in the development
of good principles, we give them power to do good. In their turn they
exert the same beneficial influence over others. Thus hundreds and
thousands are helped by our unconscious influence. The true follower of
Christ strengthens the good purposes of all with whom he comes in
contact. Before an unbelieving, sin-loving world he reveals the power of
God's grace and the perfection of His character.
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