Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 99

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 99

King Hezekiah has heard the awful words of the field commander of King Sennacherib of Assyria. An army is outside the gates, ready to lay siege until the people of Jerusalem surrender as Samaria did. Surrounded, with no place to turn, Hezekiah tore his robes and put on sackcloth, indicating a repentant heart. He is a godly king but he lost faith when faced with such a formidable army and turned to pagan nations for help instead of to the Lord. Now he realizes he should have run to the Lord first.

"He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz." (Isaiah 37:2) Up til now Hezekiah has ignored Isaiah's advice because it was contrary to what he wanted to do. He wanted to join with the nations who were rebelling against Assyria. He wanted to send envoys with great and expensive gifts to Pharaoh to ensure his protection. But it has all been for nothing. Now Hezekiah can't wait to hear what Isaiah has to say.

When in trouble, even those who don't know the Lord will often ask a Christian to pray for them or for their loved ones. In their dire circumstances they want to talk with someone who walks closely with the Lord and get their advice. Hezekiah, though a believer, backslid in his faith but now sees he should have been hanging onto Isaiah's every word, because Isaiah's words came straight from God.

The men go to Isaiah and tell him everything that has happened. They relate to him Hezekiah's request. "They told him, 'This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the moment of birth and there is no strength to deliver them. It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that He will rebuke him for the words the Lord your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives.'" (Isaiah 37:3-4) It's important for us to note that Hezekiah's actions have resulted in the death of his countrymen. Jerusalem is still standing but the outlying cities of Judah have already been attacked and burned because of his rebellion against Assyria and his refusal to turn solely to the Lord for assistance. The countryside of Judah is a wasteland, with crops and fields ruined, with many men killed trying to defend their homes and families. This is why he speaks of the people at Jerusalem as "the remnant that still survives". Hezekiah has blood on his hands. Like King David after he had Bathsheba's husband killed, Hezekiah is now face to face with the enormity of his sins and he is feeling their backbreaking weight. He's humbled by conviction like the man in Jesus' parable who went into the temple and didn't even dare lift his eyes to heaven, instead beating his breast and saying, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." (Luke 18:13) Though a believer, Hezekiah is too humbled to even refer to the Lord as his Lord in the message to Isaiah but instead calls Him "the Lord your God". He hopes for mercy, not for his own sake, not because he has lived righteously, but because the Lord's name has been blasphemed. He hopes the Lord will rise up and show the king of Assyria who the true and eternal King is.

The Lord is going to rise up and defend His name but possibly even more importantly He is going to show mercy and grace to Hezekiah. The king's repentance is real. He is broken by his sins. The sackcloth he's wearing on his body mirrors the sackcloth on his heart. We don't know whether Hezekiah took a literal sacrifice with him to the temple; the Bible doesn't say that he did. But we know he took the sacrifice King David said was accepted in the eyes of God, "You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart You, God, will not despise." (Psalm 51:16-17) Like David, I think Hezekiah went up to the temple in this attitude, "Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God." (Psalm 51:14a) 

Isaiah speaks comforting words to Hezekiah's men, "When King Hezekiah's officials came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, 'Tell your master, 'This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard---those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me. Listen! When he hears a certain report, I will make him want to return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.'" (Isaiah 37:5-7) The word translated here as "underlings" means something like "flunkies" or "errand boys" in the original language. The Lord deliberately uses language that makes these men seem puny in the eyes of the people of Jerusalem. Mighty though the Assyrian army may be, it is made up of mere men, and who are they compared to the living God? They are shouting and cursing, stomping their feet, rattling their sabers outside the walls of Jerusalem. But God peers down at them much as we might peer down at an ant hill; this is how tiny they are in His sight. 

Sennacherib has been headquartered at Lachish during this time but is forced to break camp to put down an uprising in the Judean town of Libnah. The field commander gets word of this and withdraws from Jerusalem to help his master. "When the field commander heard that the king of Assyria had left Lachish, he withdrew and found the king fighting against Libnah." (Isaiah 37:8) Hezekiah probably thinks this is the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy but Sennacherib isn't done with Judah yet. Even when more bad news comes to the king of Assyria, he will be shaking his fist at Judah from afar. "Now Sennacherib heard a report that Tirhakah, the king of Cush, was marching out to fight against him." (Isaiah 37:9a) 

At this time Egypt and Cush are one united nation and Pharaoh is a Cushite, not an Egyptian. When Sennacherib gets this report he likely believes the Egyptians have returned to try and defend their allies against him. He has to leave off his assault on Judah to be ready to defend his own nation. Neither Assyria nor Egypt has any historical records of a battle at this time, so it's possible this was simply an unfounded rumor. The Lord said through Isaiah that Sennacherib would "hear a certain report"; the Lord did not say that the report was true. 

But the king of Assyria can't resist a parting shot. He has to have the last word. He wants Hezekiah to know that, as soon as he squashes the Egyptian rebellion, he will be back. Upon receiving the message that Pharaoh is about to attack him, Sennacherib sends his own messengers to the king of Judah. "When he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah with this word: 'Say to Hezekiah king of Judah' Do not let the God you depend on deceive you when He says, 'Jerusalem will not be given into the hands of the king of Assyria.' Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my predecessors deliver them---the gods of Gozan, Harran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar? Where is the king of Hamath or the king of Arpad? Where are the kings of Lair, Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah?'" (Isaiah 37:9b-13) Sennacherib says, "Your God is lying to you, Hezekiah! All the prophets of the gods of the nations lied when they promised victory. Your God is lying too!"

Sennacherib knows a lot, even what has been said by Isaiah behind closed doors to Hezekiah's men, but he is not sensitive to the fresh new wind sweeping through Judah. Hezekiah is a different man than the one who shook in his boots when Assyria first crossed the border into his nation. He has repented and his heart is right with God. All his eggs are in God's basket and he is expectantly waiting for God to act. And God will act.

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