Thursday, October 6, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 100

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 100

Yesterday King Hezekiah of Judah received some good news and then some bad news. The prophet Isaiah assured him that the Lord wasn't going to let King Sennacherib of Assyria to take the city of Jerusalem. He promised that Sennacherib would hear a message that would make him return to his own country. This happened when word came to Sennacherib that he was being attacked by the king of Cush (which in those days meant Cush and Egypt combined). Knowing he must withdraw from Jerusalem to defend his own nation, Sennacherib made a parting shot at Hezekiah, sending him an ugly message that said none of the gods of any other country had ever withstood him. He called the Lord a liar for promising to deliver Jerusalem.

"Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord." (Isaiah 37:14) What a beautiful and simple act of faith. This is the man who formerly sent donkeys and camels to Egypt, loaded down with fine gifts, to secure a treaty with Pharaoh for help against their common enemy. This is the man who shook in fear when the Assyrians reached the borders of Judah and began to scorch the countryside. Now, with the "peace that passes all understanding" (Philippians 4:7), Hezekiah calmly reads the letter and takes it to the only One capable of helping him. I picture him bowing on his knees in the temple with the letter spread open before him, in quiet trust appealing to his God.

"And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 'Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth." (Isaiah 37:15-16) Hezekiah reminds himself of God's awesome power. This is the God who spoke the universe into existence by merely saying the words. He is almighty; nothing is too hard for Him. This is the God whose glory came down between the cherubim on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant, the God who proved He was among them. He is the God of Israel, the God who made a covenant with Father Abraham that his descendants would be as uncountable as grains of sand along the seashore. This is the God who promised David to preserve the line of Judah forever and that the Messiah and King would come from his line. Hezekiah reassures himself with these wonderful promises.

Now, having strengthened himself in the Lord, Hezekiah comes to his request. "Give ear, Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God." (Isaiah 37:17) Hezekiah doesn't appeal for help on the basis of his own righteousness. He knows he failed to stand firm in his faith. He doesn't appeal for help because the people of the city have been righteous; they've been quaking in terror at the approach of the Assyrian army. Both he and the citizens made the mistake of looking first to man for help instead of to an all-powerful God. Hezekiah asks the Lord to defend His own name. Sennacherib has said things about the Lord that are not true. He has called God a liar. He has equated the God of Abraham with the false idols of the nations. Sennacherib thinks he himself is greater than any god and that they must all bow before him. 

"It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands." (Isaiah 37:18) The boasting of Assyria is not without merit. They have trampled underfoot every nation that has dared to stand against them. They have been successful in conquest, which has only served to add to their overweening pride in themselves. They see themselves as superior to other people and superior to the very gods themselves. 

But it's easy to overthrow a god that is false. "They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands." (Isaiah 37:19) Victorious armies in ancient times had a habit of throwing the idols of the conquered onto bonfires. This signified the pre-eminence of the victors and of the victor's gods. But these were gods made by human hands, carved of stone or wood, incapable of hearing or helping, unable to save even themselves from the fire. Sennacherib's pride is based on how he has overthrown the gods of the nations but this accomplishment is nothing but smoke and mirrors, an illusion. Any man can conquer gods who don't exist. But who can stand against the living God, the God of Israel, the Maker of all things, the Sustainer of life?

"Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You, Lord, are the only God." (Isaiah 37:20) Yesterday we found Hezekiah sending a message to the prophet Isaiah in which he referred to the Lord as "the Lord your God". Hezekiah, feeling broken and humbled by his failure to make a stand of faith, dared not even call the Lord his Lord yesterday. But today, having his relationship with the Lord mended, having repented of his sin, now enjoying the sweet fellowship of being in God's will, Hezekiah declares the Lord his God and the God of all the people of Judah. The king is at last standing firmly on the Rock of Ages and at his example the people take heart in the God of their fathers. 

At the same time Hezekiah is praying in the temple, the God who is everywhere at all times is giving a message to the prophet Isaiah. He's telling Isaiah that Hezekiah's prayer is answered and we will study this lovely answer tomorrow morning. 

Often we find ourselves in Hezekiah's condition, praying earnestly over an overwhelming problem, unaware that at the same time the Lord is at work to bring us the answer. If only we could see into the spiritual realm I think we would fall to our knees speechless over just how hard the Lord is working on our behalf in ways we never imagined. In the stillness of the temple, Hezekiah's head is bowed over the upsetting letter, imploring the Lord to rise up and defend His name. Another man is praying in Jerusalem and the Lord gives him the answer Hezekiah seeks. Isn't it beautiful how He weaves our lives together this way? God could simply have spoken to Hezekiah directly but, as He quite often does, He involves other people in the answer. This way the faith of many is strengthened at the same time. In the interchanges between king and prophet, messengers and top officials are involved and they are privy to the conversation. When the Lord delivers Jerusalem, these men will all feel like they were personally invested in the outcome and their faith will be built up. They will see with their own eyes the promises coming true. Isn't this how we feel when we have labored in prayer with other Christians over a certain situation? When God comes through and turns things around, don't we feel like we had a personal stake in it? Don't we feel invested in it? Our participation allows our faith to be strengthened when God takes action. The work and the glory are God's alone but because He brings people together in this way, intertwining our lives, we are able to grow together in the faith and to be an encouragement to each other. 

Today's passage is short and simple but it speaks volumes. We see a quiet confidence in the prayer of Hezekiah. We see boldness to enter the presence of the Lord, a boldness based on the assurance that his heart is now right with Him. We see the calm trust of a child with his Father. Whatever our problems are today, let's lay them before the Lord. He alone is God. He is able to do "immeasurably more than all that we ask or seek". (Ephesians 3:20) Like little children, let's take our problems straight to our Father, and "approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need". (Hebrews 4:16)

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