Saturday, October 1, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 95

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 95

This next section we will be studying for several days is action-packed. It takes place when King Sennacherib of Assyria attacks the outlying cities of Judah and finally threatens Jerusalem itself. Those of you who did the study of the kings with us will recall this story, but Isaiah repeats it in his own book because it needs to be there. He has been assuring King Hezekiah of Judah and the people that God will be Judah's help. This comes true when Sennacherib's troops camp outside Jerusalem and Isaiah inserts the story in his book so the people will understand he is a true prophet of God. They can trust all his other prophecies because they have the proof that this one came true. More importantly, they can trust the God who gave the prophecies.

We learned from our study of the kings and from earlier chapters of Isaiah that when Sennacherib clamped down hard on the nations who rebelled against paying him tribute, Hezekiah quickly tried to make peace with him. He apologized to Sennacherib and asked how much tribute he should send to Assyria to make things right. We find in 2 Kings 18:14b that Sennacherib demanded three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold, which amounted to about eleven tons of silver and one ton of gold. Accepting Hezekiah's tribute was the same as accepting his apology. The people of Judah breathed a sigh of relief, thinking they were safe from Assyria, but Sennacherib did not keep the peace treaty. He betrayed King Hezekiah and attacked the nation anyway. "In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah's reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. Then the king of Assyria sent his field commander with a large army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. When the commander stopped at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer's Field, Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went out to him." (Isaiah 36:1-3) 

This past week archaeologists announced the discovery of desecrated pagan shrines at the gate of Lachish, where we find King Sennacherib headquartering himself in today's chapter. These are some of the very shrines King Hezekiah himself desecrated during his reign and even the news networks attribute this work to him. He instituted wonderful religious reforms during his reign, desecrating pagan shrines so they could not be used again, destroying the high places where the people worshiped false gods. One way to desecrate an altar was to make it into a public latrine, which we learned during our study of the kings, and the archaeologists working at the Lachish gate have proven this was so. The carved latrine they found this past week was probably symbolic and not literally used, but the mere fact that it was there made the altar unusable. Archaeology has done nothing but prove the historicity of the Bible. Places and people whom historians once believed only existed in folk tales have been proven to be real places and real people. When the Bible tells us King Hezekiah did away with the idols in the land of Judah, it's telling us the truth. The Lachish where Sennacherib headquartered himself was a real place and the work done there by archaeologists has revealed it was an important city of Judah, just as the Bible says.

Three of Hezekiah's top officers go out to speak with Sennacherib's field commander. "The field commander said to them, 'Tell Hezekiah: 'This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours? On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me?'" (Isaiah 36:4) It's important for us to remember that at this point Hezekiah is not rebelling against Sennacherib. In his terror of the destruction Assyria had already done to the nations around him, Hezekiah apologized to him and sent the tribute he demanded. But Sennacherib cannot get over the fact that Hezekiah dared to rebel against him in the first place. His ego can't take it. He thinks of himself as "the great king", the greatest king on earth, and he thinks he will appear weak if he accepts the apology of Judah. Sennacherib says to himself, "Who does Hezekiah think he is?" It wouldn't surprise me if what lies behind Sennacherib's wounded pride is the desire he harbored his whole life to prove himself to his father. His father Sargon is dead by the time he attacks Judah, but historical records point to the fact that King Sargon thought little of his son's ability to lead an army or plot military strategy. Sargon thought of himself as a great warrior but looked upon his son as weak and book wormish, useful only as a palace administrator. Sargon never thought enough of Sennacherib to allow him to ride into battle. This is why, upon Sargon's death and Sennacherib's ascension to the throne, a coalition of nations formed to rebel against Sennacherib. They believed what his father had said about him. But his father was wrong. Sennacherib was a greater general and military strategist than his father ever dreamed of being. I think Sennacherib probably had deep-seated issues from his conflict with his father, and the fact that any nation would look upon him as weak is something he just can't stand, because he father always looked upon him as weak.

Sennacherib has misjudged something and it's something of utmost importance. He believes he will trample on the gods of Judah the same way he trampled on the gods of other nations. He has failed to understand that the God of Judah is the one true God. He's correct when he says Egypt isn't coming, but Hezekiah has already come to terms with that. But Sennacherib is sorely mistaken when he says Judah's God isn't coming.

The field commander continues relating the words of his king, "Look, I know you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him. But if you say to me, 'We are depending on the Lord our God'---isn't He the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, 'You must worship before this altar'?" (Isaiah 36:6-8) Sennacherib has made a fatal mistake. You've probably heard the saying "know thy enemy" and it doesn't come from the Bible but was penned by the ancient Chinese warrior Sun Tzu who wrote a book called "The Art Of War". However, any military man at any time in history should be able to understand the value of such advice. When planning military strategy, it's vitally important to find out everything you can about the people you are fighting. Sennacherib shows his ignorance in the words he gave his field commander. He doesn't get it that Hezekiah was in God's will when he removed the high places and the pagan altars. Hezekiah was destroying things that were abominations to the Lord and he was honoring the Lord by insisting the people could only worship at the temple. Sennacherib is judging Judah by his own culture and he trusts so much in his own military might that he thinks it's useless to understand the culture of his enemy. He thinks Judah has a pantheon of gods, just like Assyria and all the other nations. He believes Hezekiah has insulted the gods by demolishing and desecrating altars. He thinks Hezekiah has dishonored the gods by claiming there is only one God, therefore no supernatural help will be forthcoming for Judah.

But if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31) What more does Hezekiah need? This idolatrous king who believes he is the greatest king to ever live, greater even than any god of any nation, is soon to come face to face with an enemy he cannot defeat. When he fights against Judah and her godly king he is fighting against God Himself. Later in Chapter 36 we will find Sennacherib boasting, "Who of all the gods of these countries have been able to save their lands from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from me?" (v 20) While it's true that the nonexistent gods of other lands have done nothing to stand against Assyria, Sennacherib is not facing down a nonexistent God at Jerusalem. He is facing down Almighty God, the great I Am, the Rock of Ages, the Creator of all there is. How puny Sennacherib, "the great king", is when he boasts against the King of kings! How meager is his strength! He is about to find out exactly how the Lord will deliver Jerusalem from him.

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