Friday, May 27, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 110. King Hezekiah Of Judah, Part 8

Prophets And Kings
Day 110
King Hezekiah Of Judah
Part 8

When we left off yesterday, the men of King Sennacherib of Assyria were outside Jerusalem taunting the people. They want the people to surrender without a fight. Today's passage takes place right after the men relay Sennacherib's message to King Hezekiah's officers.

2 KINGS 18:26-37
"Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah, and Shebna and Joah said to the field commander, 'Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it. Don't speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall.'" (2 Kings 18:26) Yesterday we talked about discouragement being the main weapon of Sennacherib. He hoped to discourage the people of Jerusalem to the point of surrendering. His message attacked their confidence in their king, their confidence in their allies, and their confidence in their God. The officers of King Hezekiah don't want these men speaking their ugly words in Hebrew so that all the city can understand. The officers know if the people in the city hear these words and lose heart, they may decide to come out and surrender, and there is nothing the officers or even King Hezekiah can do to stop them. 

"But the commander replied, 'Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the people sitting on the wall---who, like you, will have to eat their own excrement and drink their own urine?'" (2 Kings 18:27) This is a graphic description of what conditions will be like during a siege. Without the ability to bring fresh food and water into the city, people will begin to starve and to die of thirst. This commander accuses Hezekiah's men of trying to keep the bad news from the people of Jerusalem by asking him to speak in Aramaic. He is saying, "Why shouldn't the people on the wall know what they are up against? They will be hungry and thirsty soon. They will be so hungry and so thirsty they will do anything. Better to surrender now than let your people die."

"Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew, 'Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! This is what the king says; Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand. Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, 'The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.'" (2 Kings 18:28-30) I picture this man stepping back so he can look up at all the people sitting along the walls, shouting so loudly he hopes his voice reaches all the way to the palace and to Hezekiah's ears. His objective is to break down the people's faith. He attacks their faith in Hezekiah and in the Lord, claiming that neither is able to help them.

Now he offers terms of surrender, "Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, until I come and take you to a land like your own---a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey. Choose life and not death!" (2 Kings 18:31-32a) These terms of surrender are false, for conditions will not be pleasant for Judah under Assyrian rule. What will actually happen is that the people of Judah will sit trapped in their own nation, under marshal law, until the king of Assyria has them transported as captives. They will never see their land again. They will never be a free people again. It was the custom of the Assyrians to remove the native people from any nation they conquered and resettle it with subjects loyal to them. If Judah surrenders she will belong to the king of Assyria; she will be enslaved by him. But this commander is trying to persuade the people that it really won't be so bad and that it's preferable to a slow death of starvation and thirst under siege.

"Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, 'The Lord will deliver us.' Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?" (2 Kings 18:32b-35) The commander compares the one true God to all the false gods of the pagan nations Assyria has already conquered. But God cannot be compared to any other god. Indeed, there is no other god! The prophet Isaiah, who was an adviser to King Hezekiah during the times we are studying, said this through the Spirit of the Lord, "This is what the Lord says---Israel's King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from Me there is no God." (Isaiah 44:6) "I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from Me there is no God." (Isaiah 45:5a) The king of Assyria boasts in his strength, proclaiming himself "the great king". But he will not be able to stand in the face of the King of kings and Lord of lords, the God of Israel and Judah, the Maker of heaven and earth. There is only one "great king" and He is Almighty God. It's true that the gods of the other nations haven't helped them, but this is because they weren't gods. Sennacherib is making a grave mistake in assuming the God the people of Jerusalem worship is like a false idol. God will soon be repeating Sennacherib's own words back to him, "Hear the word of the great King!"

The commander finishes his speech and expects something to happen next, probably a full-scale surrender. He is looking up at the people thinking at any minute they will all thrust their hands in the air. But this is what happens instead, "But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded them, 'Do not answer him.'" (2 Kings 18:36) Hezekiah knew Sennacherib's commander would speak words to break down their morale. He knew this man would attack their faith from every angle and so he cautioned them not to say a word. When our enemy comes against us with lies, it's best not to engage in conversation with him. Remember what happened to Eve when she engaged in conversation with the serpent? He threw her into confusion. He made her doubt what God had really said. He made her believe God didn't have her best interests at heart. If we reply anything at all to the lies of our enemy, it must only be what the Lord Jesus replied during His temptation in the wilderness. He could have cut Satan to the quick in a split second but instead He simply quoted the inerrant, infallible, eternal word of God. Jesus did not enter into a debate with that serpent of old; He merely quoted the truth of God's holy word. This is why it's so important that we study our Bibles and store the truth in our hearts. Then, when Satan comes against us with his lies, we won't fall for them. We won't lose hope because we know the promises of our faithful God. 

Hezekiah's officials who went out to meet with Sennacherib's officials are putting on a brave face but they are heartbroken inside. They show no fear, no emotion at all, while standing before their enemy. But as they go back inside the city walls to speak with Hezekiah, we see the depth of their sorrow, for they tear their garments in grief. "Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went to Hezekiah, with their clothes torn, and told him what the field commander had said." (2 Kings 18:37) The tearing of their clothes may also indicate humility before God because these men know He is their only hope. Of course the taunts of Sennacherib's men have had an impact on them; not even the northern kingdom of Israel escaped being conquered by Assyria. In their hearts the people of Judah must harbor doubts as to whether God will spare them. If He allowed Israel to be taken into captivity, can they be certain He won't surrender them to the same fate? 

But there is a major difference between Israel and Judah at this time in history. Israel was still stubbornly clinging to idolatry when she was conquered and taken captive. During the reign of Hezekiah the people of Judah have turned back to their God. They have torn down all the pagan altars. They have even removed the old altars to God because these are a temptation to slip back into idolatry. They are living according to God's law and are worshiping at His temple as commanded. God is going to hear their prayers. They have returned to the Lord and so He has returned to them, which reminds me of a plea He made to the people during the time of the prophet Zechariah, "Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Return to Me,' declares the Lord Almighty, 'and I will return to you,' says the Lord Almighty." (Zechariah 1:3) During the reign of Hezekiah, the people of Judah have repented and have received forgiveness. They are in fellowship with their God. They have made peace with their mighty Defender. In the verse from Zechariah above we find the Lord speaking of Himself to the people as "the Lord Almighty" or "El Shaddai" and this is very important. This title means omnipotent, powerful, strong, mighty, glorious, and all sufficient. It can also be translated as the One who overpowers or destroys. God is saying to the people that if they will return to Him, He (the one who is able to overpower and destroy their enemy) will return to them. If they will return to the Lord their God, He (the one who is strong in power, mighty to save) will rescue them from their enemy. 

If they bow their knees to Lord their God, they will not have to bow their knees to the king of Assyria. You may have heard the saying, "He who kneels before God can stand before anyone." The northern kingdom of Israel did not kneel before God, not even during the three years she was under siege by Assyria. But before Assyria came against Judah, that nation had already voluntarily decided to kneel before God. They didn't wait for hardship to come; they were willing to kneel before God in times of prosperity. Now, as hardship rushes in like a mighty wind, how much more will they kneel before their God and Helper? How much more will His ears be open to their cries? These people have returned to Him and He has returned to them. He will hear them speedily.

We will continue our study of 2nd Kings on Tuesday, May 30th. I'll be out of town for a few days visiting my mother-in-law. She doesn't have internet and it would take me several hours to type the blog on my tablet, so we will suspend our study for a few days and pick it back up on Tuesday. In the meantime, let's still study our Bibles and spend time with our mighty God in prayer. I wish you a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend and I wish you every blessing in the Lord. 

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