Friday, October 14, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 108

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 108

Today we will study the first half of Chapter 39. It's quite a short chapter but we have to take the time to look at a little history before getting into the text. 

Here in Chapter 39, King Hezekiah of Judah has recovered from what would have been a terminal illness if the Lord had not stepped in and healed him. The news of his miraculous healing has spread even as far as Babylon, where the current King Marduk-Baladan is impressed with the story of the shadow of the sun moving backwards.

At this time King Sennacherib of Assyria considers himself the rightful king of Babylon because his grandfather, Tiglath-Pileser III, subjugated that nation and declared himself king over it. During the reign of Tiglath-Pileser's son Sargon II, Marduk-Baladan (a chieftain or district ruler in Babylon) claimed the throne of Babylon and drove the Assyrians out with the help of the Elamites, the descendants of Jacob's brother Esau. After about ten years passed, Sargon marched against Babylon and retook it, sending Marduk-Baladan fleeing into the desert, at which time Sargon declared himself the king of Babylon. But now Sargon is dead in battle and his son Sennacherib has ascended to the throne of Assyria, and it is at this time that scholars and historians believe Marduk-Baladan reclaimed the throne of Babylon and sent envoys to King Hezekiah to enlist his help in a revolt against Assyria. We need to keep in mind that Isaiah has taken us backwards in time a bit to relate the story of Hezekiah's illness and his visit from the envoys of Babylon. These events occurred before the Assyrian army came to lay siege to Jerusalem and they happened at about the time Hezekiah decided, along with the nations around him, to rebel against paying tribute to Sennacherib.

"At that time Marduk-Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift, because he had heard of his illness and recovery." (Isaiah 39:1) This must have seemed like a perfect opportunity for Marduk-Baladan to present his plans for rebellion. Sending letters and a congratulatory gift gives him an excuse to get his men into the presence of the king. Hezekiah might or might not have agreed to see them if they came boldly inciting revolt, but it's hard to turn people away from the door when they come bearing a fine gift and personal letters from the king. 

As Bible scholar J. Alec Motyer points out, the Assyrians considered Marduk-Baladan a terrorist and a fierce enemy, but he was regarded by the Babylonians as a hero, and he thought of himself as a freedom fighter. As a native Babylonian who took the throne back from the hands of the Assyrians, he believed he was the rightful heir, and he wanted nothing more than to push the occupiers out and set his people free, to make Babylon a sovereign nation once again. Marduk-Baladan had his ear to the ground and he knew unrest was growing in Palestine and Egypt. He knew alliances were forming to overthrow Assyrian domination and that Egypt was actively recruiting Judah into the coalition of rebellion. It was important to Marduk-Baladan to know that Hezekiah, whom Bible scholar Barry G. Webb calls "the de-facto leader of the anti-Assyrian coalition in southern Palestine", was a friend of his.

Hezekiah is thrilled with the arrival of the envoys, with the gift and the impressive letters from the king. This is a big deal to him. Babylon is a valuable friend in these troubled times and to have the "hero king" send personal congratulations on his recovery must have made Hezekiah feel special. He is the king of a small nation in comparison to the nations around him, yet this renowned freedom fighter has taken the care and the time to recognize him as a worthy ally. Hezekiah becomes so carried away with this honor that he hastens to show the envoys that Judah is a wealthy and valuable nation to have on their side. "Hezekiah received the envoys gladly and showed them what was in his storehouses---the silver, the gold, the spices, the fine olive oil---his entire armory and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them." (Isaiah 39:2) 

The Bible doesn't describe the gift Marduk-Baladan sent but we can logically assume it was of high value as would befit a gift sent from one king to another. The Bible also doesn't tell us the content of the letters or how many there were. I feel there were at least two. The first letter presented to Hezekiah was probably the one that broke the ice, that immediately congratulated him and expressed thankfulness that he had recovered, and that said wonderful things about his leadership and his nation. This first letter set the mood of mutual friendship and appreciation. I think then that the envoys presented the second letter, the letter that revealed Marduk-Baladan's true motive, which was an invitation to join the revolt. He would have laid the plans out step by step, along with all the reasons why it was in Hezekiah's best interests to join, and it was likely full of flattery about how necessary the cooperation of Judah was to the rebellion's success. This would explain why Hezekiah was so eager to show off his wealth. 

Hezekiah has forgotten the lesson he learned during his illness, during which time he realized how important it was to stay close to the Lord. In his dealings with these men he has failed to seek the will of the Lord. While he was sick he prayed fervently for the Lord's help and spoke with the Lord's prophet Isaiah for guidance. But now he's whole and well again, on top of the world, and has forgotten the promises he made while he was sick to "walk humbly all my years". (Isaiah 38:15) Overwhelmed by relief at his recovery, feeling strong and powerful, flattered and lifted up in pride at the attention from Babylon's king, Hezekiah makes a mistake. He throws caution to the wind and becomes instant friends with the nation that will later conquer his own. Instead of proving Judah a valuable ally, his unwise pride causes him to prove only that Judah is worth conquering. The small nation of Judah has been blessed by God and I think that the enormous wealth he showed to the envoys came as a surprise to Babylon. About a hundred years later, when Babylon is at its height of power and actively involved in nation-building, a king named Nebuchadnezzar will remember the wealth of Judah and all that was in her palace and storehouses and temple...and he will come for it.

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