“And Hezekiah was glad of them, and shewed 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 armour, and all that was found in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah shewed them not.” – Isaiah 39:2
Hezekiah had recently been healed miraculously of a fatal illness. Merodach Baladan, King of Babylon, sent a delegation of distinguished Babylonians to congratulate him on his recovery. At least this was the reason set forth by Babylon. We usually have more than one reason for every act, and we do not always give the main one.
The truth was that Merodach Baladan cared little for Hezekiah’s recovery. He was, however, very much interested in the resources of the kingdom of Judah. And this embassy was practically a band of spies instructed to inspect the country and its treasures, so that if Babylon should ever desire to invade Judah, the undertaking could be accomplished more intelligently. Espionage is not new; it goes back into the dim past. Claiming to be solicitous for Hezekiah’s health, this Babylonian delegation came really to inspect the arsenals and the golden and silver treasures which they hoped one day to rifle.
Hezekiah was taken in by their flatteries and showed them his treasures, which had been gathered laboriously through many generations – even the sacred vessels of the temple fashioned of the purest gold.
Then the shadow of the prophet fell across the king’s self-satisfaction. The prophet inquired who these visitors were and what they wanted. And when Hezekiah told him, the prophet said that the king had been weak and foolish, and that an unhappy result would follow his vanity. At some distant day this then small Babylon would become a formidable enemy, a great power at war with the world, and would plunder the kingdom of Judah, rob the Temple, and desecrate the holy things in heathen revels.
Our inner spiritual nature is this kingdom of Judah, rich in the treasures of heaven. Those Divine promptings that come to us, those hopes and visions that are granted us, those longings for what is right and pure and good, those standards of character, are some of these treasures.
But Job writes, “When the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, Satan came also among them.” So it is, when good desires and thoughts come to us, the evils in and about us rise up to meet them.
The Lord accommodated Himself to those He met. To John He revealed His deeper affections and truths, and to the other disciples more exterior ones. To Pilate He “answered not a word.” We find about ourselves companionships of every grade and shade of receptivity, and we need to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” A teacher, for example, must be aware of the needs of each individual pupil and also of his ability.
There is a surface lesson in this story of Hezekiah. However great our outward possessions, we should not make a display of them. To be proud of these things is childish. An evil and ignorant man may dress richly and live in outward splendor; yet all these outer things eventually pass away, leaving the man who was underneath them – only the character, such as it is, will stand. But while it is childish to think that outward possessions make a man, it is tragic to feel that what is good and wise in us is our own and to feel proud about it. Hezekiah exhibited the inner resources of his kingdom with personal pride, even those sacred things in the temple dedicated to Jehovah.
Let us not be deceived. There is nothing that determines so surely the essential quality of a man’s life and character clear down to its depth, below all seemings or disguises as just this: whether he believes and acts from self, ascribing to self the good that he does, the truth that he knows, the virtues and talents that he may have, with never a thought of the higher power whence these things are, or whether he learns as a principle of faith and tries to remember in actual life this truth: that anything of goodness or of wisdom or of ability or of success or of blessing which he has been allowed to think of as his own has been made possible through the infinite resourcefulness and goodness of the spirit of the living God operating in him and by means of him.
The deadliest form of pride is pride in personal goodness. A display of goodness or truth as our own puts a blight upon it. The effort to let others know how commendable we are makes all honors invalid, and reveals weakness. Even attention called to qualities we actually possess tends to depreciate them in the estimation of our friends: there is an unwritten law that one should be allowed to discover another’s virtues for himself. To be reminded of them by the person himself brings disappointment.
This leads to the question, “Are there any who are actually standing upon a lower plane than we?” Off-hand we can say, “We know that there are.” This is not conceit; it is merely intelligence. And we can know that there are people above us also. Life is a school that ranges from the kindergarten to the university. And the law holds even in the heavens. There are, we are told, angels and archangels in heaven. In heaven, as the Lord said, there is a right hand and a left. Creation rises rank on rank in both the material and the spiritual spheres of equality. Progress and development are eternal, and there is no dead level for human life. We should acknowledge this and, without either pride or abasement, conduct ourselves accordingly.
We should meet those below us in any particular field of accomplishment not with condescension but with common sense, realizing that we were once where they are now, and that they may soon be where we are now or higher. And if we cannot communicate our highest to all, we can still do something for them; we can help them so far as they are willing and able to be helped by us; we can give them what they are willing and able to take – just as those who are above us and cannot reveal to us their very highest, may give us what we can comprehend and assimilate today.
This same thing is going on within us; there is little equality in our own complicated individuality. There goes on within us a continual conflict of ideals. We realize this when we recognize in ourselves unworthy promptings and bid them begone, because they are unworthy of our higher natures.
Babylon is at first the small but swift-growing power of self-love. It comes from a far country and secretes itself in our deeper life. The self-love may be little now, but it is dangerous to nurse or favor it, for if permitted, it will grow, and some day, like Babylon, will plunder the treasures of the spirit. The love of self takes away from the soul one treasure after another until almost nothing but the sensuous is left.
The end of the story of the text is that Babylon ultimately invaded Judah, carried captive her people, and stripped the country bare.
This is the lesson that we are asked to learn both individually and nationally, and also spiritually.
When the Lord praises childhood, drawing a little child to His side and telling His hearers that if they would enter into the kingdom, they must be as this child, He is telling us that our first need is of trust in the Lord and of looking to Him for instruction, guidance, and strength.
“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.”