Friday, September 23, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 87

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 87

Chapter 33 begins with a denouncement of the behavior of Assyria. When King Hezekiah of Judah first joined with Egypt and the coalition of nations that stopped paying tribute to Assyria, the wrath of Sennacherib came against him. The Judean countryside was shattered by repeated incursions by the Assyrians, so Hezekiah hastened to apologize to the king and send him wealth, both from the palace and from the temple of the Lord. But Sennacherib was not appeased, though he accepted the gift as if he accepted Hezekiah's apology. Instead of withdrawing his troops, a detachment of Assyrian soldiers was sent to stand outside Jerusalem's gates and hurl insults against Judah's king and against her God. The soldiers urged the citizens to go ahead and surrender or else face such a long siege that they will, in the words of Sennacherib's field commander, "Eat their own excrement and drink their own urine." (2 Kings 18:27b)

The people of Judah feel betrayed. Sennacherib accepted Hezekiah's lavish gift and his promises to serve the Assyrian king, but he doesn't withdraw from the land. Instead, he presses the attack even further, right up to Judah's capitol city. Because Sennacherib has dealt falsely with the people, Isaiah pronounces woes upon Assyria. "Woe to you, destroyer, you who have not been destroyed! Woe to you, betrayer, you who have not been betrayed! When you stop destroying, you will be destroyed; when you stop betraying, you will be betrayed." (Isaiah 33:1) 

Assyria is so powerful that she has no concept of being destroyed or betrayed. She doesn't believe it can happen. Her king, Sennacherib, has the same attitude. He probably thinks, "How dare this puny nation think it can defy me? I will punish Judah for conspiring to rebel against me! Hezekiah's gift means nothing to me compared to the insult I suffered when he refused to pay me tribute. I will take the gift but I intend to teach him a lesson." 

As we learned from our study of the kings, when it became apparent that no allies were coming to defend Judah, Hezekiah placed his faith wholeheartedly in the Lord. Hezekiah was generally a godly man, instituting many needed religious reforms in Judah, leading the nation according to God's laws. But in the face of such a powerful army, his faith wavered. Because he trembled in fear at the thought of Assyria and its powerful king, in his mind the enemy became bigger than God. The people likewise, no doubt influenced by his example, looked to surrounding nations for help instead of repenting of their waywardness and appealing to God for help. But when Hezekiah realized his mistake and went to the temple to plead directly with God, God answered. God sent His angel to bring a plague on over 180,000 Assyrian soldiers camped near Jerusalem and they perished during the night. Sennacherib withdrew to Nineveh, probably to regroup and figure out what to do next, and while there two of his own sons assassinated him. This fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy that when Sennacherib stopped destroying (withdrawing from Jerusalem) he would be destroyed. This fulfilled the prophecy that the betrayer would himself be betrayed. As the Lord Jesus once put it, a man reaps what he sows. 

The Lord answered Hezekiah because his prayer was genuine. I believe it came from a repentant heart. If Hezekiah had simply gone up to the temple to appeal to the Lord as a last resort, without his heart really being in it, things might have turned out differently. But his prayer was simple and humble and heartfelt. He didn't ask for the Lord's help because he himself is anybody, or because the people of Judah are a part of God's chosen nation. He merely asked the Lord to defend His own name against the taunts of a pagan nation. He asked the Lord to rise up and show Assyria and all the nations that Judah's God fights for her. With Him on their side, who else do they need? Hezekiah says nothing about the reforms he has made or about what an honest king and judge he has been; he just asks the Lord to show His glory. "Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, Lord, are God." (2 Kings 19:15-19)

Encouraged by this display of their king's faith, the people of Judah pray this prayer, "Lord, be gracious to us; we long for You. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress. At the uproar of Your army, the peoples flee; when You rise up, the nations scatter." (Isaiah 33:2-3) A revival breaks out when the people see how the Lord has dealt with the Assyrian soldiers. Once too small in their eyes to be any help to them, now the people realize God is greater than anything or anyone who could ever come against them. They respond properly to correction. The Lord allowed the Assyrians to oppress them in order to lead them to repentance. Had Hezekiah and the people not given their hearts fully to God at this time, the Lord very well may have allowed Jerusalem to fall just as He allowed Samaria to fall. But He grants them a reprieve. Over time the people will fall again into idolatry and by then Babylon will have become such a world power that Nebuchadnezzar is able to conquer Jerusalem. But for the time being the people have repented and the Lord has acted on their behalf. Even though God knows all things and He knows the revival of faith is temporary, still He is faithful to the nation. He is faithful to the generation that repents and turns back to Him. For their sake, He is gracious, just as He will be to our own generation if the people of God "will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14)

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