Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 98

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 98

The field commander of King Sennacherib of Assyria is calling to the people along the wall who have been listening to his conversation with the three officials of King Hezekiah of Judah. Assyria is threatening to lay siege to Jerusalem unless the people surrender. 

This man knows Hezekiah has cautioned the people to stand firm, no matter what they hear, and he is intent on making them believe their king is deceiving them. "Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, until I come and take you to a land like your own---a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards." (Isaiah 36:16-17) This is the true deception. Like the enemy of our souls, King Sennacherib lies about what will be the result of the people's surrender. If the people surrender to the field commander, they will not be sitting peaceably in the shade as he promises, but will be under marshal law. And the land they will be carried to may indeed be flowing with grain and new wine, but they will not enjoy these pleasures: they will be taken as slaves. The Assyrians had a practice of putting a large ring through each prisoner's nose and running a rope through it, then tying a long chain of prisoners together in this fashion and force-marching them all the way to Assyria. 

We surrender to sin because it has been made to look attractive to us. We think it's something we are going to enjoy, and quite often we do enjoy it for a season. But it's slavery. It's a forced march into a dry desert place where we find no satisfaction for our souls. 

The field commander seems to know the people are living on faith at this time and so he attacks again their confidence in the Lord. "Do not let Hezekiah mislead you when he says, 'The Lord will deliver us.' Have the gods of any nations ever delivered their lands from the hand of the king of Assyria?'" (Isaiah 36:18) He knows the answer to this is "no". No gods have delivered their nations from the king of Assyria. How could they? They are false idols. They are incapable of seeing or hearing or helping. Again we see how mistaken the Assyrians are about just who the God of Judah is. They believe He is like the carved idols of all other nations. They believe the prayers of the people of Judah are useless and ineffective, that their God is as incapable of hearing as any idol of any other land. 

"Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim?" (Isaiah 36:19a) Hamath was located in upper Syria in the valley of Lebanon near the upper border of Israel. Archaeological finds in the area have shown it to have been originally populated by Arameans and later by the Hittites, both of which worshiped pagan idols. Arpad too was populated by Arameans and Hittites and was located in northwestern Syria, just north of Aleppo. Sepharvaim was likely the large double city of Sippara which sat by the Euphrates just above Babylon, and its people worshiped a sun god. The gods of Hamath, Arpad, and Sepharvaim fell before the Assyrians because they were not gods.

Now the field commander fires an especially sharp arrow at the people of Jerusalem by saying these words, "Have they rescued Samaria from my hand?" (Isaiah 36:19b) Samaria was the capitol of the northern kingdom of Israel and it had already fallen to Assyria by this time. This man is saying something like, "Don't you people of Judah worship the same God as the people of Israel? He wasn't any help to them at all. My king conquered Israel as easily as he conquered anyone else. If God didn't deliver Israel from his hand, why would He deliver you?" 

The people of Israel had fallen headlong into idolatry long before they were conquered by Assyria. Since they rebelled against Solomon's son Rehoboam and elected their own king, Jeroboam, they stopped worshiping at the temple in Jerusalem and began worshiping two golden calves that Jeroboam set up as "substitutes" for the God who brought them out of Egypt. This set the stage for even more idolatry to move in and they began worshiping the gods of the nations around them. So when the field commander taunts the people with the fact that the gods of Israel did not help them, he doesn't realize that Israel's gods were not the God that Judah is currently trusting in. I am sure his remarks were hurtful to the people, because at one time Judah and Israel were one nation, but he shows his ignorance in equating the gods of Israel with the God of Judah. 

"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 my hand?" (Isaiah 36:21) God is a god who is able to hear. He hears these blasphemous words against the righteousness of His name. He hears the cruel mocking of His people. He is going to show the king of Assyria exactly how He can deliver Jerusalem from his hand.

"Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went to Hezekiah, with their clothes torn, and told him what the field commander had said." (Isaiah 36:22) These men leave the presence of the field commander without saying another word, keeping an outward calm, but inside they are grieving and we know it because they tear their robes on the way to deliver this message to Hezekiah. The sharp arrows of the man from Assyria have found their mark and these men are brokenhearted inside. He has managed to make them feel discouraged and doubtful. 

"When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord." (Isaiah 37:1) Amen! When we have a problem that is too big for us, the best thing to do is take it to the One who is bigger than all things. 

Hezekiah tears his clothes to show his intense grief at the situation facing him, but he also puts on sackcloth which symbolizes repentance and humility. He is sorry for not taking this problem to the Lord long before now instead of sending envoys and expensive gifts to Pharaoh. He knows he should have gone to the Lord first. He realizes he made the mistake of letting his enemy become bigger in his eyes than his God. When Hezekiah enters the temple, he enters it with a change of heart. He feels convicted of his sin in not trusting the Lord and for not listening to the words of the Lord's prophet Isaiah. God, the one and only God, the God who is able to hear and to help, will accept Hezekiah's sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart. He will hear his prayer and deliver the city. God will defend His people and will defend His own name, which has been blasphemed by Assyria. Soon everyone involved in this situation will know that there is a God in Judah, a God who acts on behalf of those who call on Him, a God who is mighty to save.

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