Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 112. King Hezekiah Of Judah, Part 10

Prophets And Kings
Day 112
King Hezekiah Of Judah
Part 10

When we left off Tuesday, King Hezekiah had taken the letter from King Sennacherib to the temple of the Lord. It was a threatening letter full of blasphemy and Hezekiah prayed over it for the Lord's help. Today the Lord answers through the prophet Isaiah.

2 KINGS 19:20-37
Hezekiah has just finished praying to the Lord over the terrifying letter from King Sennacherib of Assyria. He has been asking the Lord to see the blasphemies in the letter and to act against the wicked king. The Lord has seen the letter and intends to act. "Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I have heard your prayer concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria." (2 Kings 19:20) What welcome words! Does anything make us feel more like rejoicing than knowing God has heard our prayers? 

"This is the word that the Lord has spoken against him: 'Virgin Daughter Zion despises you and mocks you. Daughter Jerusalem tosses her head as you flee.'" (2 Kings 19:21) It seems apparent that the Lord intends these words to be insulting to King Sennacherib and to Assyria. King Sennacherib believes he has Jerusalem in his grasp, trapped and easily plundered like a young maiden backed into a corner. Up til this time Judah has never been taken captive and so the Lord refers to her as Virgin Daughter Zion. No one has spoiled her because of His protective grace. Furthermore, this trapped virgin laughs at Assyria instead of cowering in fear, knowing her mighty Father won't allow her virtue to be besmirched by the pagan blasphemer known as the king of Assyria. 

"Who is it you have ridiculed and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride? Against the Holy One of Israel!" (2 Kings 19:22) King Sennacherib's scornful words weren't spoken against flesh and blood but against the living God. Whenever an enemy contends with a child of God, that enemy is contending with God Himself. The Lord said through the prophet Zechariah that whoever dared lay a hand on one of His people was touching the apple of His eye. (Zechariah 2:8) The apple of the eye would be the pupil, so God is saying that when someone hurts one of His children, it's the same as if that person poked their finger into His own eye. He won't ignore it. 

"By your messengers you have ridiculed the Lord. And you have said, 'With my many chariots I have ascended the heights of the mountains, the utmost heights of Lebanon. I have cut down its tallest cedars, the choicest of its junipers. I have reached its remotest parts, the finest of its forests. I have dug wells in foreign lands and drunk the water there. I have dried up all the streams of Egypt.'" (2 Kings 19:23-24) I believe the Lord is using the references to trees and streams as metaphors for all the nations Assyria has conquered. King Sennacherib is prideful, boasting in his conquests, bragging about plundering his foes. It's true that the king of Assyria has accomplished many military victories. He's been so victorious that he's allowed it to go to his head. Now he dares to try and stand before God Himself, thinking he is bigger than the God of Judah, believing this God is like all the others that he cast into the fire. 

The Lord points out the fact that King Sennacherib could do nothing unless He allowed it. "Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone. Their people, drained of power, are dismayed and put to shame. They are like plants in the field, like tender green shoots, like grass sprouting on the roof, scorched before it grows up." (2 Kings 19:25-26) Sennacherib couldn't even take the next breath unless God allowed it, much less conquer a nation. It was God's will to use Assyria as an instrument of discipline against wicked pagan nations. It was even God's will for Assyria to conquer the ten northern tribes of Israel. But Assyria's day is coming, just as Sennacherib's day is coming.

"But I know where you are and when you come and go and how you rage against Me." (2 Kings 19:27) This is the same as God saying, "I know where you live. I know your daily routines. I can strike you down anytime I please."

"Because you rage against Me and because your insolence has reached My ears, I will put My hook in your nose and My bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came." (2 Kings 19:28) God will destroy King Sennacherib because he rages against Him. Sennacherib has no respect for God and seems to actually delight in blaspheming His name. Sennacherib hates the Lord. 

God uses some particularly important imagery when He refers to putting a hook in the king's nose. There are still ancient Assyrian sculptures which show captives being brought before the king. Prisoners had large hooks, like a ring, driven through their noses or sometimes their upper lips. Then a chain or cord would be passed through the ring of each prisoner, essentially tying a long line of prisoners together. The only way to break loose would be to suffer the loss of your nose or lip, by tearing hook and flesh away, so this was an effective method of keeping prisoners bound together. The Lord intends to put His own hook in King Sennacherib's nose and drag him back to Assyria.

"This will be the sign for you, Hezekiah: This year you will eat what grows by itself, and the second year what springs from that. But in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit. Once more a remnant of the kingdom of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this." (2 Kings 19:29-31) This prophecy is both good news and bad news. It promises that, even though Jerusalem is surrounded by the enemy, crops will spring up on their own. These are the type of crops we called "volunteer plants" when I was growing up in rural Virginia. God is going to sustain His people even under the current threat, even though they have not been able to bring seeds or plants into the land in time for the growing season. In addition, Judah will prosper and will remain in the land for over one hundred more years. The bad part is that God indicates trouble in Judah's future, that she will fall just as Israel fell, and that what will be left is a remnant of the nation's former glory. Even in this there is grace, for God could have wiped His chosen people out for their idolatry, but He chose instead to extend mercy. He would be within His rights to wipe us all out for our sins, but He has chosen instead to extend mercy to us through His Son.

"Therefore this is what the Lord says concerning the king of Assyria: 'He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares the Lord. I will defend this city and save it, for My sake and for the sake of David My servant.'" (2 Kings 19:32-34) Sennacherib can boast all he wants but God will have the last word.

"That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning---there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there." (2 Kings 19:35-36) We don't know what method was used to kill these soldiers, whether natural or supernatural. God may have struck them down supernaturally or He may have allowed some plague or virus or even poisoning by food or water to come into the camp. Whatever struck these men, it was swift and deadly, killing them during the overnight hours. When the people of Jerusalem woke up in the morning they found their enemies lying dead. Sennacherib, whom we last saw fighting in the nearby regions of Lachish and Libnah, immediately abandons his plans for Jerusalem and returns to his capitol city of Nineveh, probably fearing contagion. 

Ancient Assyrian records contain details about Sennacherib's former subjugation of Judah, when he required Hezekiah to pay him tribute, but the records do not contain any claims that Sennacherib ever conquered Jerusalem. Sennacherib kept a record of forty-six cities which he conquered, but the name of Jerusalem is conspicuously absent from the list. The Assyrians make no mention of their defeat by either plague or supernatural means, but ancient kings weren't in the habit of describing their defeats. Ancient kings tended to drone on and on about their mighty victories, embellishing the stories to paint themselves in the best possible light, but defeats were generally passed over.

Sennacherib lives on for about twenty years but he doesn't trouble Judah again during those years. God had already said through the prophet Isaiah that Sennacherib would be cut down by the sword in his own country and although two decades will pass before this takes place, I believe those two decades were decades of grace. God gave the wicked blasphemous Assyrian king twenty years to repent. God gave him twenty years to think about his inability to defeat the people of Judah. God gave him twenty years to think about why he was unable to defeat Judah. During that time Sennacherib could have had his heart and life changed by the realization that God was fighting for Judah. He could have come to the knowledge that Judah's God is the living God, the only God. But Sennacherib never repented and so the dire prophecy about him came true, "One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king." (2 Kings 19:37)

We know Sennacherib never turned to the living God because he was struck down while worshiping a pagan idol. There is an ancient legend that Sennacherib intended to sacrifice these two sons to his god in thanks for allowing him to return safely to Nineveh. Whether this particular story is true or not, we find that these two sons harbored an intense hatred for their father, so much so that they conspired together to kill him. Sennacherib was likely as cruel as a father as he was as a king.

Hezekiah's faith in God was not misplaced. When trouble came, he went directly to the only One who could rescue him, and God heard his prayer. The divine deliverance of Jerusalem strengthened the faith of Hezekiah and the people. It may even have had some effect on the Assyrian people, at least a few, for now they know that the God of Judah is a God mighty to save. If the people had not returned to Him during the reign of Hezekiah, I think things would have turned out differently. I think God would have allowed Judah to be conquered and taken captive, just as He allowed Israel to be conquered and taken captive. But God is so gracious! We fail time and time again but, like a good Father, God accepts our repentant hearts and our desire to do better. He knows He made us from the dust of the ground. (Psalm 103:14) He knows we are weak and tempted and tried. He knows we have an enemy whose main weapon is discouragement. But God is faithful to His children. When we fall and reach a hand up for help, He gently gathers us to our feet again.

Below is our worship song link for today.
What A Savior

No comments:

Post a Comment