Friday, October 7, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 101

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 101

Hezekiah has been praying in the temple over the dreadful and blasphemous letter Sennacherib of Assyria has sent him. The letter says that Hezekiah's God is no different than the gods of any of the nations Assyria has conquered. It's important for us to note that while Assyria's own ancient historical records include a vast list of all the cities and national capitols they conquered, the name of Jerusalem is significantly missing from the list. Sennacherib decorated the walls of his palace at Nineveh with reliefs of battle scenes in which he was victorious, but none of these scenes depict Jerusalem. These accounts of Sennacherib's great accomplishments are important to us for what is not included. Cities all around Jerusalem fell before the Assyrian army but Jerusalem itself stood strong and Sennacherib, like most ancient kings, has nothing much to say about this. It wasn't typical of kings to record their failures, so he glosses over why he failed to take Jerusalem and instead brags about how much tribute he had been able to previously extort from Hezekiah.

While Hezekiah prays, the prophet Isaiah receives the answer to Hezekiah's prayer. "Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Because you have prayed to Me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word the Lord has spoken against him:" (Isaiah 37:21-22a) Before we continue with what the Lord says about Sennacherib, I want to stop here and point out that prayer changes things. A dire fate awaits Jerusalem's enemy because, as the Lord says, "you have prayed to Me". What if Hezekiah had not? What if he had continued to hope Egypt was coming to the rescue? What if he had bowed to other gods as the nations around him and even Israel had done? Jerusalem may well have fallen just as the capitol of Israel and many others had already fallen. I wonder how many blessings we have missed in life because we have not prayed for them. I wonder how many times we could have had a glorious victory but we didn't ask the Lord. As Jesus' brother James said, there are times when "You do not have because you do not ask God." (James 4:2b) This ought to encourage us to pray more. It's an awesome privilege to be able to come into the presence of the Lord and present our requests to Him. I don't want to stand before Him someday and see with my eyes His astonishing greatness and know He wanted to do so much more for me but I didn't have the faith to ask.

Sennacherib's field commander taunted the people of Jerusalem in person and Sennacherib taunted them with an insulting letter. Now the Lord responds to this prideful king in the same manner, "Virgin Daughter Zion despises and mocks you. Daughter Jerusalem tosses her head as you flee." (Isaiah 37:22) How puzzling Sennacherib would have found this statement if he could have heard it coming from the prophet's lips. Assyria has Jerusalem surrounded. Sennacherib himself bragged in his own historical accounts that he had Hezekiah closed up "like a bird in a cage". So how dare Jerusalem toss her head at him in scorn? How can she despise and mock him? Because her God is fighting for her! The Lord calls Jerusalem a "virgin" because she has never yet been invaded or taken captive by an enemy. He calls her "daughter" because He is going to defend her virtue like a father defending a daughter from a man with impure motives.

Sennacherib may believe he has only insulted Jerusalem's king and a god that's the same as the idols of the nations, but he is wrong. The Lord asks of him, "Who is it that you have ridiculed and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride? Against the Holy One of Israel! By your messengers you have ridiculed the Lord." (Isaiah 37:23-24a) It's one thing to ridicule gods that don't exist and to throw their false idols on the fire. It's entirely another thing to blaspheme the living God. 

The king of Assyria believed, because of his military successes, that he was greater than any king and any god. "And you have said, 'With my many chariots I have ascended the heights of the mountains, the utmost heights of Lebanon. I have cut down its tallest cedars, the choicest of its junipers. I have reached its remotest heights, the finest of its forests. I have dug wells in foreign lands and drunk the water there. With the soles of my feet I have dried up all the streams of Egypt." (Isaiah 37:24b-25) In a sense, Sennacherib with his bragging has declared himself a "god" over the earth. 

But these victories occurred only because the Lord allowed them. It was God's will for Assyria to conquer certain nations. It was His will for Assyria to conquer the northern kingdom of Israel as discipline for their idolatry. Sennacherib could have done nothing if the Lord had not allowed it, as we see here in God's answer to the king's boasts, "Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone. Their people, drained of power, are dismayed and put to shame. They are like plants in the field, like tender green shoots, like grass sprouting on the roof, scorched before it grows up." (Isaiah 37:26-27) The nations Assyria has conquered fell because they had no roots, no heart for God, no nourishment that comes from being connected with the Creator. Because they persisted in idolatry and heinous religious rituals, the Lord let them be conquered. But not so with Jerusalem! Her roots go deep. She is founded on the word of God. She draws nourishment and strength from faith in the Lord. 

Because at this time in her history Jerusalem is standing on the promises of God, God will deliver her. She will not be put to shame like the nations that fell before Assyria. We will conclude with some beautiful words written by King David, a man who knew what it was like to receive victory from the Lord. "In You, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in You; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause." (Psalm 25:1-3) "I sought the Lord and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame." (Psalm 34:4-5) 

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