Sunday, May 04, 2008

Weekly Meditations: Is. 36-37 (part 3)

[continued from here and here

In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer's Field. And there came out to him Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.

And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? Behold, you are trusting in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. But if you say to me, “We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar”? Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master's servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this land to destroy it? The Lord said to me, Go up against this land and destroy it.’”

Then Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” But the Rabshakeh said, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and drink their own urine?”

Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you. Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, “The Lord will surely deliver us. This city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” Do not listen to Hezekiah. For thus says the king of Assyria: Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards. Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”

But they were silent and answered him not a word, for the king's command was, “Do not answer him.” Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn, and told him the words of the Rabshakeh. (Is. 36)

As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, ‘This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’”

When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”

The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “He has set out to fight against you.” And when he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’”

Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.”

Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:

“‘She despises you, she scorns you—the virgin daughter of Zion; she wags her head behind you—the daughter of Jerusalem.

“‘Whom have you mocked and reviled? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes to the heights? Against the Holy One of Israel! By your servants you have mocked the Lord, and you have said, With my many chariots I have gone up the heights of the mountains, to the far recesses of Lebanon, to cut down its tallest cedars, its choicest cypresses, to come to its remotest height, its most fruitful forest. I dug wells and drank waters, to dry up with the sole of my foot all the streams of Egypt.

“‘Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass, that you should make fortified cities crash into heaps of ruins, while their inhabitants, shorn of strength, are dismayed and confounded, and have become like plants of the field and like tender grass, like grass on the housetops, blighted before it is grown.

“‘I know your sitting down and your going out and coming in, and your raging against me. Because you have raged against me and your complacency has come to my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will turn you back on the way by which you came.’

“And this shall be the sign for you: this year you shall eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs from that. Then in the third year sow and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh. And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword. And after they escaped into the land of Ararat, Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place. (Is. 37)

After looking through the entire 2 chapters, the miraculous story of God's deliverance of Hezekiah and the kingdom of Judah from the powerful Assyrian army can be seen. This is a story of faith indeed, of faith in the impossible because with God all things are possible, of trust in God for deliverance because God promised to spiritually deliver us for His Name's sake (Judah's experience being the type for the Church today). We can learn that God is always with us and for us, so that the enemies of God are never able to do anything against us except by God's permissive will.

As we see the miraculous and faith-inspiring experience of Judah under King Hezekiah, it would do well to compare and contrast the invasion of Judah under King Ahaz with the invasion of Judah under King Hezekiah, that we may learn something from it.

Invasion under King AhazInvasion under King Hezekiah
Ruler of Judah King Ahaz King Hezekiah
Nature of Ruler WickedGodly
Response of leader when invaded Terrfied, shaken Trusting in God
InvadersSyria & Ephraim Assyrian Empire
Military might of Invaders, approximate (on a scale of 1-10) 7+9
Military might of Judah then, approximate (on a scale of 1-10) 73
Message from God Isaiah pass message to Ahaz Hezekiah enquired of the Lord
God's method of deliverance ProvidenceMiraculous elimination of Assyrian army
Additional aids utilized by Judah Send tribute to Assyria to 'purchase' help None, only prayer

As it can be seen from the table, the difference between how King Ahaz and Kinh Hezekiah tackled the invasions during their respective lifetimes were very different. Ahaz, the wicked king, even with a reasonably strong army against a reasonably strong coaltion was terrified of the enemy, while Hezekiah, the good king, trusted God despite the fact that materially and militerally there was no way of winning the battle unless God intervenes. In Ahaz's case, even the clear promise of God that the confederate forces of Syria and Ephraim could not succeed is not enough for Ahaz, who called on Assyria to help him. In Hezekiah's case, even before Isaiah prophesied against Assyria God's judgment, Hezekiah had the full assurance and confidence that God will help him win this battle.

The differences between these two kings illustrate the importance of a relationship with God and of having faith in God. Ahaz was a total failure due to his wickedness and syncretism, and could not stand firm despite God's explicit promises that the confederate forces would not succeed. Hezekiah on the other hand could stand firm and hope against hope in the promises and deliverance of God despite the worse situation he is in compared to Ahaz. Thus, we can see the importance of having a genuine relationship with God through faith in Him, and this faith would be able to sustain us through our trials and difficulties. Without faith in Christ, everything seems like insurmountable moutains, but trusting in God's promises liberates us from having to depend on our own strength and able to know that God will work for us, thus making our trials seem small in comparison to God's power. Certainly therefore, a Hezekiah is much more preferable to a Ahaz, even if we can discount Ahaz's practical wickedness.

The rewards of a life lived by faith is also certainly most rewarding. Ahaz can only savour what is the physical and material, as he schemes and makes 'unholy' alliances in order to save Judah. Lacking faith in Christ and spiritual sight, he cannot see the spiritual blessings of God in the deliverance of Judah through His providence. Hezekiah however, lives his life by faith and therefore has eyes to see the working out of the power of God, and this not only because the elimination of the 185,000 of the Assyrian army by the angel of the Lord was so dramatic. For those who cannot see, even such a slaughter of the Assyrian army can be attempted to be explained away somehow, as what liberal scholars have definitely tried to do. Therefore, the rewards of a life lived by faith in Christ is rewarding in Hezekiah's life as he experiences the mighty power of God in protecting and defending His own for himself, and see the mighty arm of God in fulfilling His promises.

Let us therefore yearn to be more and more spiritually minded, living by faith in Jesus Christ as what Hezekiah has done. Not only will this give us peace and joy, but we would be able to experience God more and more as we see how real He is to us, and trust His promises more and more as we see Him being faithful in keeping them to us. Amen.

[The END!]

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