Saturday, September 24, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 88

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 88

Isaiah has been speaking about the treachery of Assyria. King Hezekiah of Judah had entered into a coalition of nations to rebel against paying tribute to Assyria because a new king, Sennacherib, was on the throne. The nations expected him to be a weak king because his father had treated him as such, giving him nothing but administrative duties, scorning his ability to lead an army. But Sennacherib proved to be an even better general than his father. Realizing he was a sitting duck at Jerusalem with no help from allies coming, Hezekiah sent very valuable articles of silver and gold from both his palace and the temple treasuries to pay the amount of tribute Sennacherib specified. Sennacherib accepted the tribute and the offer to become his vassal again, but he broke his word. Deceit was in his heart when he accepted the valuable items and when he pretended to make peace with Hezekiah.

The book of 2nd Kings leads us to believe it must have been the Lord's will for Hezekiah to rebel against Assyria, for in the passage extolling Hezekiah's faithfulness and virtues, it also mentions, "He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him." (2 Kings 18:7b) This passage is naming all the great things about Hezekiah, so I assume the Lord approved of his decision to make Judah sovereign again, accountable to no one but the Lord. Hezekiah must have known Assyria wouldn't take this lightly but when Sennacherib began attacking the outermost cities of Judah, Hezekiah wavered in his faith. Samaria, the capitol of Israel, had already fallen to the Assyrians, and now they were marching against Judah. Hezekiah didn't appeal to the Lord to fight on Judah's side but instead sent a message to Sennacherib apologizing for his rebellion and asking how much he needed to pay. "The king of Assyria exacted from Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold." (2 Kings 18:14b) To put the amount of tribute into perspective, it amounted to about eleven tons of silver and one ton of gold! No wonder all the people of Judah are outraged when Sennacherib's army marches right up to the gates of Jerusalem! They paid him an exorbitant amount, an amount that was burdensome on a small nation, and he took it and came to destroy them anyway.

But woe is coming on the treacherous nation, as we studied yesterday. In one night the Lord destroyed the army detachment camped near Jerusalem. Sennacherib withdrew to Nineveh, where he would end up betrayed by his own sons, who would assassinate him. The faith of the people of Judah is renewed. "At the uproar of Your army, the peoples flee; when You rise up, the nations scatter. Your plunder, O nations, is harvested by young locusts; like a swarm of locusts people pounce on it." (Isaiah 33:3-4) The nation who plundered Israel and Judah will find itself plundered. Assyria is on the downswing, though its king doesn't know it yet. A nation called Babylon is rising and will swallow Assyria up. 

"The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high; He will fill Zion with His justice and righteousness. He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure." (Isaiah 33:5-6) The unnamed author of Psalm 111 said something similar, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His precepts have good understanding." (Psalm 111:10a) King Solomon, in his treatise on wisdom, said, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." (Proverbs 9:10) The Lord is promising the people some beautiful things: justice and righteousness, a sure foundation, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge. But they cannot have these blessings unless they fear Him. This type of holy fear means reverence for the Lord: that they hold Him in high esteem, that they respect and obey His word, that they view Him with a sense of wonder, and that they direct all their worship to Him. They will be fulfilling what the Lord Jesus said was the first and most important commandment, to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind. They will inherit the blessings promised here by seeking "first His kingdom and righteousness" so that "all these things will be given to you as well". (Matthew 6:33) 

The promises in verses 5 and 6 are things the people of Judah can have immediately. This assurance is not for future generations but for the generation living in the times of Isaiah. The Lord promises to be "the sure foundation for your times", if only they will put all their trust in Him. We talked yesterday about how the Lord stood up and fought for Jerusalem because her king and her citizens turned to the Lord, sincerely and humbly, and asked Him to step in. They obtained deliverance because they genuinely called out to the Deliverer. Assyria was unsuccessful in its bid to conquer them and Jerusalem continued to stand strong in that generation. Generations later, the Lord would allow Babylon to conquer the city because idolatry was running rampant, but the generation who lived at the time of Isaiah turned back to the Lord and received His help. 

I am reminded of this beautiful prayer of the prophet Habakkuk, "Lord, I have heard of Your fame; I stand in awe of Your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy." (Habakkuk 3:2) Habakkuk knew the word of God and all the miracles of old. He knows God is still the same God. He knows that the God who fought for Israel in the past is still just as mighty in battle. Habakkuk predicted the invasion of Babylon and knew that God was righteous in His judgment against idolatry, but at the same time he pleads for mercy, "In wrath remember mercy." So many times the predicaments we find ourselves in are of our own making. Hezekiah's predicament was of his own making, because he trusted in pagan nations instead of the living God. The generation that suffered the Babylonian invasion was in a predicament of their own making, because they were bowing down to idols instead of to the Lord. Yet those who remained godly in the land had the confidence to cry out, "Lord, we know we deserve Your judgment, for we have sinned. We know You are righteous when You judge. But we also know You are merciful. In Your anger, please remember to be merciful." The Lord answered Habakkuk with a promise that the enemy would meet his downfall. The nation that plundered Judah would itself be plundered in time. 

God is not going to allow Babylon to destroy His people or hold them captive forever. Within seventy years after the people of Judah are taken captive to Babylon, Persia will conquer Babylon, and King Cyrus of Persia will set God's people free.

Here in the United States we have fallen quite far from the Lord and from Biblical principles, but God still has His faithful ones. It is our duty as Christians to cry out to Him for mercy. It is our responsibility to plead for our nation. Yes, we have sinned and fallen short. Yes, God would be within His rights if He passed judgment on us. But for the sake of those who belong to His dear Son, we can ask Him to bless this generation. We can ask Him to be the sure foundation for our times. We can ask Him to repeat His great deeds in our day. Why shouldn't we dare to ask great things from a great big God? The godly men and women of the Bible did and were rewarded for their faith. They received blessings because they believed God was merciful and good and would hear their prayers. What have we got to lose? 

Please join with me in this prayer for our country. "Lord, our generation and the generations before us have sinned. We are mortal and weak, failing daily to live perfect lives. But You still have those here who proclaim the name of Christ and are the children of the living God. Please hear our prayer. Please be the sure foundation for our times. Be merciful to our generation. We know of Your deeds of old and we believe everything the Scriptures say about You. You alone are God and nothing is too hard for You. We know that You never change and are still the same God that You always were, fully capable of fighting our battles and performing marvelous wonders. In our times, repeat Your great deeds. Make Your name known to this generation. Revive us, Lord. Pour out Your Spirit in our day. We are not looking to presidents or congressmen or senators for help. We are looking to You, Almighty God, our Father, to renew and revive our nation. We ask these beautiful blessings in the name of the One who gave Himself for us, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen."

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