Saturday, October 15, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 109

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 109

Yesterday we found King Hezekiah recovered from his illness and King Marduk-Baladan of Babylon sending envoys to him with a congratulatory gift and personal handwritten letters. We discussed the likelihood that the first letter handed to Hezekiah was probably one that established a basis of friendship between the two men. Marduk-Baladan wanted Hezekiah to know how pleased he was about his recovery. This was a good way to set the stage for the second letter, which was the invitation to join the rebellion against Assyria. Carried away with the privilege of being noticed by such a great kingdom, one that was swiftly becoming a major world power, Hezekiah hurried to show the envoys the surprisingly great wealth of Judah along with the weaponry, shields, and chariots of the army. He wanted to prove to the Babylonian king that he was a worthy ally in the struggle against Assyrian domination.

The envoys must have stayed with Hezekiah for at least several days, for we were told, "There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them." (Isaiah 39:2b) During that period of time it's notable that Hezekiah avoided the prophet Isaiah entirely. Isaiah was a man who regularly appeared in the court and in the private quarters of the king. I think he was so well known and so trusted by Hezekiah that he could freely enter the palace whenever he chose. All of Hezekiah's officials and palace guards knew him well and I bet whenever they saw Isaiah approaching they just waved for him to go on inside. He didn't have to show a badge or prove he was on the king's guest list. But while the envoys are in town, Hezekiah has no contact with the prophet at all, and I wonder if that's because he knew Isaiah would disapprove of how he was handling his guests.

As soon as the envoys hop on their camels and head back to Babylon, Isaiah appears before the king. "Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, 'What did those men say, and where did they come from?'" (Isaiah 39:3a) I am sure Isaiah knew exactly who these men were. Everyone in Jerusalem must have known they were from Babylon. You would have to be living under a rock not to know that the king of Babylon sent envoys, probably with a huge entourage of servants, to King Hezekiah with a magnificent gift and personal letters. Their arrival would not have gone unnoticed and I think the whole city was talking about it. The citizens would have seen Hezekiah, along with his bodyguards and officials, showing the men around town and all over the countryside with much fanfare. Isaiah's question is intended to provoke Hezekiah into admitting what he has done; it's not a request for information. This is similar to the Lord's questioning of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He already knew what they had done but it was essential that they confess it. Restoration and forgiveness cannot come until acknowledgement of sin has been made. 

Hezekiah attempts to impress Isaiah with the honor that was shown him by the arrival of these guests, "'From a distant land,' Hezekiah replied. 'They came to me from Babylon.'" (Isaiah 39:3b) Hezekiah completely glosses over the fact that Isaiah has asked him what the men said. He doesn't want to tell Isaiah what the men said about the proposed alliance against Assyria. He hopes to distract the prophet from this question by bragging about how far the men traveled to see him. As the crow flies, it would have been about five hundred miles from Jerusalem to Babylon's capitol, but it was as much as nine hundred miles if traveling by foot or by camel along the Euphrates. 

Isaiah is no dummy. He knows Hezekiah's propensity for pride and he has heard the talk about town that Hezekiah squired these men all over the place showing them the kingdom. He suspects the envoys have seen everything worth seeing in Jerusalem and Judah. "The prophet asked, 'What did they see in your palace?'" (Isaiah 39:4a)

I can't help but picture Hezekiah standing tall and puffed up with pride right now, with a smug expression on his face, when he answers, "'They saw everything in my palace,' Hezekiah replied. 'There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.'" (Isaiah 39:4b)

A fearsome prophecy is issued next. At the time of this prophecy, Assyria looks like the nation to be dreaded. It has already brought down the northern kingdom of Israel and many other neighboring nations. Babylon looks like a good friend and ally, a rising world power capable of helping Judah get out from under Assyrian oppression once and for all. But God's ways are not man's ways. Things aren't always how they appear to us. Assyria will indeed fall to Babylon but Babylon will be no friend to Judah. God was Judah's friend. God was going to rescue Jerusalem from the Assyrian army. But Babylon would be like a snake that turns around and bites its handler. "Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, 'Hear the word of the Lord Almighty: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.'" (Isaiah 39:5-7)

Isaiah's prophecy comes on the heels of Hezekiah's unwise behavior with the envoys, but Judah's fall to Babylon a hundred years later is not exactly a direct result of what has just happened. The main reason the Lord will allow the southern kingdom of Judah to be conquered is because of idolatry and wickedness. Had the people remained faithful to the Lord, the Lord would have protected them even though they once had a king named Hezekiah who made a bad choice. Hezekiah's bad choice was in proving to Babylon that Judah was a wealthy nation worth plundering; but his actions are not what caused the Lord to take His protective hand off the nation. Isaiah makes his pronouncement at this specific time in order to say, "This kingdom you feel so warm and fuzzy towards will return in about a hundred years and carry off everything the envoys have seen here. Marduk-Baladan may have offered you his hand of friendship but he won't live forever. A king named Nebuchadnezzar will arise and make Babylon one of the greatest world powers ever known. He will have access to all the historical writings of his predecessor Marduk-Baladan and in them he will read of the vast treasures of Judah, the treasures with which the Lord our God has blessed us. The nation you now trust in to deliver you will someday drag your descendants in shackles to a foreign land. Everything in the palace and the temple and the storehouses will be carried to Babylon, along with the royal family."

We would expect the king's mouth to drop open in horror about now, with him crying out to the Lord to deliver the nation from such a fate, with him begging the prophet to intercede on behalf of the people. But instead he says a very self-centered thing, "'The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,' Hezekiah replied. For he thought, 'There will be peace and security in my lifetime.'" (Isaiah 39:8) The Babylonian invasion won't come in Hezekiah's generation and so he simply shrugs his shoulders, knowing he won't have to deal with it. He's wrong when he thinks he will have peace and security, for he has yet to face the arrival of Assyrian troops at the gates of Jerusalem, but his lack of concern for his descendants is shocking. He's not a man with long-term views. He's caught up in the here and now. God, however, sees all of history as one long interwoven story. God is able to look at all of time all at once. He sees how one thing builds upon another, how one bad choice leads to another bad choice, and He knows the far-reaching consequence of some of these bad choices. God can look ahead and say, "If you continue down this path, disaster awaits." Or He can say, "If you remain faithful as you are today, you will accomplish much for My kingdom! The example you have set will even live on after you, bringing your family members to Christ. Your godly life will be a legacy you leave behind for your descendants." 

We make choices every day. Some of our mistakes have few consequences; some have consequences that endure for a long time, generations even. Hezekiah's poor judgment in showing the Babylonian envoys his treasures will come back to haunt the nation a century later. In addition, during the fifteen years the Lord adds to his life, Hezekiah will father the most wicked king Judah ever had. He will fail to instill godly character in his son. We don't know exactly how this happened, but it may have been rooted in the pride Manasseh saw in his father. Manasseh was only twelve when his father died and he himself ascended to the throne, but the training in the early years of a child's life are vital. As King Solomon said, "Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) Manasseh was deeply idolatrous, even going so far as to have the prophets of God slaughtered. It is thought he was responsible for the death of the prophet Isaiah: his father's friend and adviser. What went wrong in Hezekiah's final fifteen years as king that led to such a horror in Jerusalem, that led to his son being such an ungodly man? In the kingdom of Judah, it is mostly downhill from here. After Hezekiah there will be only seven more kings, and out of those seven only one will be a godly man. Judah is on the downswing and within a century will be destroyed to such a degree that it will appear she cannot rise again. But again, things are not always as they seem, which is why the Lord begins our next chapter with the key verse of our whole study, "Comfort, comfort My people, says your God."

No comments:

Post a Comment